Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Jessica Farrar

The potential Sylvia effect

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

As we know, Rep. Gene Green is retiring, and as we also know, Sen. Sylvia Garcia is one of the contenders to succeed him. As noted before, this is a free shot for Garcia, as she would not otherwise be on the ballot in 2018. If she loses, she gets to go back to being Sen. Garcia, until she has to run again in 2020. The same cannot be said for at least one of her opponents, Rep. Armando Walle, who will not file for re-election in HD140 as the price for pursuing CD29. Unlike Garcia, the downside for Walle is that he would become private citizen Walle in 2019. The same is true for Rep. Carol Alvarado if she joins in.

This post is about what happens if Sen. Garcia wins, because unlike the losing scenario she would step down from her job. Again, the same is true for Rep. Walle, but the difference is that Walle’s successor will be chosen (or headed to a runoff) at the same time Walle’s fate is decided. His successor will be in place to take the oath of office for HD140 in January of 2019, having been officially elected in November.

There is no potential successor for Garcia on the horizon, because her term is not up till the 2020 election. There will only be a need for a successor if she wins. Because of this, the process will be different, and Garcia has some control over it.

For these purposes, we will assume Garcia wins the primary for CD29, which is tantamount to winning the general election; the Rs don’t have a candidate as of this writing, and it doesn’t really matter if they come up with one, given the partisan lean of the district. So what happens when Sylvia wins?

Well, strictly speaking, she doesn’t have to resign from the Senate until the moment before she takes the oath of office for CD29. At that moment, her Senate seat will become vacant and a special election would be needed to fill it. That election would probably be in early March, with a runoff in April, leaving SD06 mostly unrepresented during the 2019 session.

Of course, there’s no chance that Garcia would resign in January. Most likely, she’d want to act like a typical Congressperson-elect, which would suggest she’d step down in November, probably right after the election. That would put SD06 in roughly the same position as SD26 was in following Leticia Van de Putte’s resignation to run for Mayor of San Antonio. The special election there was on January 6, with eventual winner Jose Menendez being sworn in two months later.

She could also resign earlier than that, perhaps after she wins the nomination in March or (more likely) May. Doing that would ensure that her successor was in place before January; indeed, doing it this way would give her successor a seniority advantage over any new members from the class of 2018. I think this is less likely, but I’m sure she’d consider it, precisely for that reason.

Whatever schedule to-be-Rep. Garcia chose to leave the Senate, we would not be done with special election considerations. As was the case with SD26 in 2015, it is at least possible that Garcia’s eventual successor would be a sitting State Rep, which means – you guessed it – that person would then resign that seat and need to be replaced. We could wind up having quite the full calendar through 2018 and into early 2019. The second special election would not be a sure thing, as one top contender could well be soon-to-be-former Rep. Walle, who will spend the next few months campaigning in that area – CD29 and SD06 have quite a bit of overlap – but I figure Reps. Carol Alvarado and Ana Hernandez would be in the mix as well, possibly Jessica Farrar, too.

So there you have it. We could have up to four extra elections in the next twelve to fourteen months. Be prepared for it

Bill to allow discrimination in adoptions and foster care passes the House

Shameful.

Rep. James Frank

Under House Bill 3859, which advanced on a 94-51 vote, providers would be protected from legal retaliation if they assert their “sincerely held religious beliefs” while caring for abused and neglected children. The measure would allow them to place a child in a religion-based school; deny referrals for abortion-related contraceptives, drugs or devices; and refuse to contract with other organizations that don’t share their religious beliefs.

Rep. James Frank, the Wichita Falls Republican who authored the bill and an adoptive father, said repeatedly during a lengthy debate Tuesday that his legislation is not meant to be exclusionary but to give providers some certainty when it comes to legal disputes. He described opposition to the bill as “fabricated hysteria.”

“You can be successful, but it will cost you,” Frank said. “The bill declares a winner and says, ‘You are protected.'”

But Democratic lawmakers who lined up at a podium at the back of the House chamber to question Frank said the legislation would give religious groups license to discriminate against LGBT — or Jewish or divorced — parents who want to foster or adopt, or to avoid getting children vaccinated. A vast array of things could be classified as a “sincerely held religious belief,” they said.

“We’re further casting these children off,” said Rep. Jessica Farrar of Houston. “We’re making it more difficult for them to be adopted.”

See here for the background. The original sin here is the state accepting the idea that it’s okay for faith-based groups to treat children who don’t conform to their faith differently than those who do. By its very definition, it’s not acting in the best interests of the child, but of the providers, who last I checked were supposed to have the best interests of the child as their primary concern. And the “sincerely-held beliefs” dodge is just that, for as Chuck Smith said in that earlier story there are a lot of harmful beliefs out there. Remember this?

So check out the short exchange in the video clip above between Cohen and Becky Riggle, a pastor at Houston’s Grace Community Church. Riggle was testifying against [HERO], arguing that it violates the religious freedom of business owners and others in Houston who think LGBT people are sinful. If a business owner has the right to refuse service to LGBT people because the owner’s religious beliefs are offended, Cohen asks, then should business owners also be able to refuse service to other people — like, say, Jews — for the same reason?

Riggle, clearly realizing she’s trapped by her own argument, proceeds to trip all over her tongue in trying to respond. She ultimately suggests that yes, religious freedom would allow her to discriminate against Jews. But she insists “that’s not the issue” in the case of the Houston ERO.

Actually, that’s exactly what this is about — whether someone’s religious beliefs give them a free pass to discriminate against anyone they choose in civil society.

“Sincerely held” is not a synonym for “commendable” or “worthwhile”. This is a bad idea and it will be directly harmful to children who are already pretty damn vulnerable. ThinkProgress, the Observer, and the Chron have more.

Oh, and on a separate note, there was this:

A foster care bill in the House turned into a heated debate on vaccinations for children on Wednesday.

The bill from Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, is part of the state’s attempt to reform its foster care system. Wu’s House Bill 39, which won preliminary approval, would limit on the number of kids a Child Protective Services worker could supervise. It would also require speedy medical evaluations of children entering the foster care system.

Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington and vice chairman of the staunchly conservative Texas Freedom Caucus, authored an amendment to the bill that would have restricted doctors from including vaccinations in initial medical examinations for children. Zedler said children could be removed from their homes by Child Protective Services, and then given an unwanted vaccination.

On the floor, Zedler told lawmakers that vaccines don’t protect public health and should not be considered an emergency medication. “The vaccination is only for that child to protect that child,” he said.

[…]

Zedler’s amendment had both Democrats and Republicans up in arms. Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, attempted to change Zedler’s amendment to allow doctor’s to distribute a vaccine if it has been proven to prevent cancer. Davis, who has previously been an advocate for vaccinations, said she was “dumbfounded” that lawmakers would vote against preventing cervical cancer.

“My amendment empowers doctors to practice medicine,” Davis said during a testy exchange with Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano. “I think this is so important that we can eradicate cervical cancer.”

Leach said he was concerned that Davis’ amendment would revoke parental rights who do not believe in vaccination, and “rip that decision from the parents and the child and give it to the doctor.”

Emphasis mine. Zedler’s amendment passed, while Davis’ attempt to modify it was defeated. Here are the 2016 election numbers in Zedler’s district and in Leach’s district. Sure would be nice to have some better representatives in those two districts, wouldn’t it? The Trib has more.

Some men just can’t take a joke

Poor babies.

Rep. Jessica Farrar

State Rep. Jessica Farrar accused some Republican men in the Texas House of engaging in “a retaliatory effort”

against her over her filing of a bill that would fine men $100 for masturbating.

On Tuesday, a separate and unrelated bill from Farrar — a measure that would allow attorneys’ fees to be recovered from other legal entities in the state — was taken up on the House floor. As Farrar laid out that measure, House Bill 744,she was asked by state Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, whether it was a “satirical bill.”

“I’m specifically focused on this bill and whether or not this is one of the satirical bills you filed,” Rinaldi said to Farrar.

Last week, Farrar filed House Bill 4260, a set of “proposed satirical regulations” that would penalize men for masturbating and create a required booklet with information about benefits and concerns regarding men seeking a vasectomy, a Viagra prescription or a colonoscopy. In explaining her motivation for the bill, Farrar said men in Texas should be subject to the same “unnecessary” and “invasive” procedures women in the state often had.

[…]

In a statement to The Texas Tribune, Rinaldi said, “When a representative admits to filing bills for satire and treats serious matters of life and death like abortion as a laughing matter, it calls into question the intent behind their entire body of work.”

“While [Farrar] is filing bills for comedy,” Rinaldi said, “Republicans are busy working on a budget, securing our borders, and providing tax relief.”

Farrar said HB 744 was a “simple fix” to ensure consistency for all government entities. The modern business climate, she said, allowed some legal entities to collect attorneys’ fees from corporations, but not the other way around. She added HB 744 was unrelated to HB 4260.

“Unfortunately, we have to deal with these shenanigans,” Farrar said. “We are telling young women you can grow up to be anything you want to be, except when you disagree with certain Republican men.”

See here for the background. I always thought it was women who were supposed to have no sense of humor, but clearly Rep. Rinaldi was busy passing budgets and securing borders when the good Lord was handing them out. We should all try to be nicer to Rep. Rinaldi, you know how he gets when people are being mean to him. Speaking of such things, I should note that Rinaldi represents HD115, which is a district that ought to be quite competitive next year. You know, in case someone wants to recruit a strong female candidate to run against him. But please no one tell Rinaldi about this. We don’t want him falling to pieces on us again.

The “Man’s Right To Know” Act

This is some high-quality trolling.

Rep. Jessica Farrar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

House hears “fetal remains” bill

Seriously?

Rep. Byron Cook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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.

Appeals court upholds Wilson residency ruling

No surprise.

Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson

A state appeals court has sided with Houston Community College Trustee Dave Wilson in a lengthy legal fight over whether he lives in the district he represents.

Ever since Wilson was elected to the HCC board in 2013, the Harris County Attorney’s office has argued that he did not actually live in the district when he ran to represent it.

At issue is whether Wilson lived in an apartment in a warehouse on West 34th Street or with his wife at a home outside the district, which he has listed on tax forms. In 2014, a jury unanimously determined Wilson lived at the 34th Street address. A judge later upheld the ruling, and now the state appeals court has done the same.

“The State…did not conclusively establish that Wilson did not reside at West 34th Street on November 5, 2013,” the ruling says. “Wilson, on the other hand, presented evidence that he started living at the West 34th Street property in early 2012; that he intends for that property to be his residence; that he spends most of his time at that property, including sleeping there five nights a week; that he keeps personal belongings and receives personal mail at that address; and that while he spends two nights a week at the Lake Lane house, he always returns to the West 34th Street property.”

[…]

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan said in a statement that he was disappointed by the court’s ruling, but not surprised, because ” ‘residency’ as the court outlines, is basically where one says he or she lives with relatively insignificant requirements to establish that residency under the law.”

See here and here for the background. I appreciate the County Attorney pursuing this, but we are at the end of the line. Any further pursuit of this matter should be in the Legislature, an option Vince Ryan alluded to in his statement. We’ve discussed this before, and at this point I’d favor an approach that says 1) you can’t claim a homestead exemption at one address and a voter registration at another, and 2) you can’t claim a homestead exemption in one taxing entity (city, county, school district, etc) and run for office in another. No approach to this is foolproof, but this would at least attach a cost to the “I live where I say I live” shenanigans, and that may be the best we can do.

On a side note, I wonder if the absolute thrashing Wilson got in his attempt to knock off Rep. Jessica Farrar in HD148 – she beat him by an 88.1 to 11.9 margin, which is the kind of spread one normally sees when a candidate has only third-party opposition – is partly the result of all the publicity Wilson has reaped from his fluke election to the HCC Board in 2013 and the subsequent attempts to disqualify him. He can’t operate in the shadows the way he used to, because now many more people know who he is and what he’s about. If so, then that’s one positive thing that has come out of this mess.

2016 primaries: State races

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

Not that Gene Kelly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trib liveblog

Observer liveblog

Chron live coverage

Rivard report

Austin Chronicle

BOR

Harris County Dem resultsHarris County GOP results

Democratic statewide resultsRepublican statewide results

Primary Day is today

From the inbox:

vote-button

“Visit www.HarrisVotes.com to ensure you go to the correct voting location and to find your personal sample ballot for the Tuesday, March 1, Republican Party and Democratic Party Primary Elections,” said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, encouraging voters to use the information provided by the County Clerk’s election website before heading to the polls. “Voters can find everything they need to vote, including polling locations, their personal sample ballot, and a list of acceptable forms of Photo ID at www.HarrisVotes.com.”

On Election Day, polling locations will be open from 7 am to 7 pm. In Harris County, the Republican Party will have 401 polling locations and the Democratic Party 383. “Remember, voters are required to vote at the polling location their precinct is designated to vote at on Election Day. During primary elections, the political parties determine where the voting locations are situated based on their respective voter strongholds,” Stanart reminded voters.

In Texas, a registered voter may vote in either party’s Primary Election during an election cycle, but only one party, not both. Overall, in Harris County, there are over 150 races for each party. “Voters can expect to see about 50 contests on their personal ballot. I recommend voters print out their personal ballot, do their homework, and bring their marked up ballot with them into the polling booth,” advised Stanart.

At the close of Early Voting on Friday, 216,961 voters cast their ballots early, or by mail surpassing the 115,958 who voted early in the 2012 primary elections. “Voter participation in the Primary Elections is very important,” concluded Stanart. “If you have not voted, go vote. Your vote will make a difference.”

For more election information, voters can visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call 713.755.6965.

You can find your precinct location here. Do not assume that your normal November location will be open – check first and be sure. You can get a free ride from Metro to your polling station if you need it.

PDiddie names the races he’ll be watching tonight. I agree with his list, and would the four contested Dem primaries involving incumbent State Reps as well – Alma Allen in 131, Gene Wu in 137, Jessica Farrar n 148, and Hubert Vo in 149. All four are vastly better than their opponents, and a loss by any of them would be deeply embarrassing and a kick to the face. I don’t expect any of them to be in danger, but one never knows, and the stakes here are high. The only other contested-incumbent race on the Dem side of interest is in El Paso, where Rep. Mary Gonzalez is being challenged by former Rep. Chente Quintanilla in a race that’s as much about the present and future versus the past as anything else. Quintanilla is one of several former members trying to get back into the game. At least in his case, I’d prefer he stay retired.

Beyond that, I will of course be interested in the rematch in SD26, plus the open seat fight in CD15, where Dolly Elizondo has a chance to become the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas. Most of the rest of the action of interest is on the Republican side, where the usual wingnut billionaires are doing their best to buy up the Legislature, and several incumbent members of Congress are running scared of the seething hoards in their districts. Turnout will be high, which may or may not be good news for Ted Cruz. It’s especially amusing to see professional Cruz cheerleader Erica Greider freak out about Cruz voters ganging up on House Speaker Joe Straus in his primary. I find myself having to root for members like Byron Cook and Charlie Geren, not because they’re great legislators from my perspective but because they’re part of a decreasing faction that still acts like grownups. The Senate is sure to get worse with the departure of Kevin Eltife, thought there’s at least a chance a small piece of that difference could be made up by whoever replaces the execrable Troy Fraser. One must find the small victories where one can. The SBOE is always good for either an atrocity or a belly laugh, depending on how you look at it. Lastly, to my Harris County Republican friends, if you let Don Sumners beat Mike Sullivan for Tax Assessor, you deserve to never win a countywide race again.

I may or may not post results tonight, or I may save them for the morning. Whatever the case, go vote if you haven’t. Remember, you forfeit all right to bitch about who gets elected if you don’t participate.

Endorsement watch: State reps

The Chron makes endorsements in some State Rep races. Here are the ones I’m interested in.

District 126: Cris Hernandez

Two strong candidates who grew up in district are running in the primary and hope to replace Republican Patricia Harless, who is not running for re-election. Cris Hernandez, a projects coordinator for a fiber optics company, is making his second bid for the northwest Harris County district that’s surrounded by Jersey Village, Cypress, Tomball and Spring. In 2014, Hernandez, who described himself as a “policy wonk,” ran as a Libertarian and received 13.7 percent of the vote. Our choice is Hernandez because of his firm grasp of the issues – holding the line on property taxes, equitable funding for Texas public schools and expansion of Medicaid – that will likely come up in the 2017 legislative session. His opponent, Houston attorney Joy Dawson-Thomas has the credentials and the potential to be an influential voice in the district in years to come. The winner of this race will face Republican Kevin Roberts, who is running unopposed.

District 131: Alma A. Allen

Incumbent Alma A. Allen is seeking her seventh term representing this southwest Houston District that includes part of Missouri City, and we believe she well deserves to be returned to Austin. A retired career public school educator who serves as vice chair of the House Education Committee, Allen has been a strong, powerful advocate for children and public education. Her expertise will be especially needed given the anticipated Supreme Court ruling on the way Texas funds its public schools and the possibility of a 2016 special legislative session. Her seniority, wisdom and voice in the education debate will be a plus for residents of House District 131 and greater Houston. Allen’s opponent is businessman John Shike.

Gene Wu

Gene Wu

District 137: Gene Wu

When the federal government announced that it would start resettling Syrian refugees in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott looked at the fleeing families and saw a dangerous threat. State Rep. Gene Wu saw his next constituents. His southwest Houston district of Gulfton and Sharpstown might as well be the Ellis Island of Houston, serving as home to the waves of immigrants that come to our nation in search of freedom and safety. Burmese, Afghani, Iraqi, Syrian, Lebanese, Libyans – Wu can tick off the timeline of new arrivals over the past several years. He knows who they are and knows he’ll be there to help. In the Legislature, he worked to pass an important bill that protected children who were victims of human trafficking, directing them to Child Protective Services instead of jail. And as a former Harris County prosecutor, he’s an important figure in the criminal justice debates in Austin. In this race he’s being challenged by attorney Edward Pollard, a self-proclaimed “conservative Democrat” who opposed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance.

District 148: Jessica Cristina Farrar

Rep. Jessica Farrar

Rep. Jessica Farrar

With 22 years in office, Jessica Farrar has become the 10th most senior state representative in Austin. And now that Sylvester Turner has left Austin for City Hall, Democrats are going to need all the seniority and institutional knowledge they can muster if they want to wage an effective defense against the Republican majority.

Over her 11 terms, Farrar has used her political power to become one of the foremost advocates for women’s issues in the state Legislature. While Farrar has been consistent in her advocacy, her changing north Houston district, which covers Spring Branch East, the Greater Heights, Near Northside and Northline, has brought new challenges to the office. Higher incomes and engaged citizens demand more from her office, and we hope she’s up to the task.

Farrar is being challenged by Dave Wilson, Houston Community College trustee for District II. Wilson told the editorial board that he is running to advocate for the middle class, but voters probably best know him for his anti-gay, anti-abortion stances, and all-around social conservatism.

District 149: Hubert Vo

First elected in 2004, Vo has grown comfortable as an advocate for economic development. He takes pride in supporting the Tier 1 bill that helped push the University of Houston into top ranks – and is still paying dividends as schools like Texas Tech climb the stats. Working to attract new tech companies to Texas, like SpaceX, also sits on his list of accomplishments. If reelected, he said he wants to focus on bolstering the infrastructure around the Port of Houston to accommodate increased trade after the expansion of the Panama Canal.

They call this “Part 1”, but the only Democratic race left to evaluate is in HD144. As such, I suspect Part 2 will be the Republican side, minus the three races they commented on here. In HD126, Joy Dawson-Thomas has so far won all the endorsements from the various clubs that have offered an opinion in this race, which makes me wonder what the Chron saw that they didn’t. Perhaps it was Hernandez’s previous Libertarian candidacy, or perhaps he just didn’t screen with them. As for the incumbents, the case for them all is clear. I’ve begun to hear some chatter that some of their opponents, in particular Dave Wilson and Demetria Smith, are being pushed by Republicans as an exercise in what Karl Rove once called ratf**king. I don’t know how seriously to take that, since Republicans will be plenty busy with their own long slate of contested races (not to mention, you know, the Presidential primary), while Democratic turnout is likely to be high enough to make any such attempt an exercise in futility, but the reward from a GOP perspective of getting one of those clowns nominated is pretty damn big, so a little paranoia is warranted. If only there were a deep-pocketed Democratic donor or two in this town who could write a check for some mailers in support of these candidates. Anyway, pay attention and for goodness’ sake don’t skip out after voting for Hillary or Bernie. The rest of these races matter.

Support Jessica Farrar

From Andrea Greer:

Rep. Jessica Farrar

Rep. Jessica Farrar

Last week, Senator John Whitmire addressed a crowd of supporters at a fundraiser for Representative Jessica Farrar.

“Jessica, I’m here because until today, I gotta be honest,” he admitted, “I didn’t know you had a challenger.”

Senator Whitmire is hardly the only one caught by surprise by not just the fact that this beloved state representative has a challenger, but that he is running in the primary, claiming to be a Democrat.

What can we say about Dave Wilson?

[…]

Jessica Farrar’s experience and expertise are invaluable. She’s a fierce advocate for civil rights, healthcare, animals, schools, and more, but she also understands that governance means learning how to work together with people whose opinions she may not share. She understands that governance is about finding ways to say yes.

Jessica Farrar is the only responsible choice in the March primary. Let’s keep her in the Texas House.

I’m pretty sure everyone reading this blog knows what can be said about Dave Wilson, but go ahead and click over to refresh your memory. I don’t live in HD148 any more – my neighborhood was split in half in the 2011 redistricting, with my half being placed in HD145 – so I can’t vote for Rep. Farrar in the primary, but if you live in HD148 please make sure that you do. I don’t care who you support for President, just don’t miss this race. The stakes are too high to take any of this for granted.

Let the budgetary games begin

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

Killing vouchers.

BagOfMoney

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

“Alternatives To Abortion”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other women’s health funding issues

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

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

Here is the breakdown of funding for each program:

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

Public education

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill filing deadline has passed

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

The Trib highlights a few bills of interest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, one more bill worth highlighting:

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

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

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

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

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

We can always pay for tax cuts later

Item One:

BagOfMoney

Texas House leaders said Monday they can cut taxes by more than the $4 billion initially proposed by their Senate counterparts, upping the ante for the high-profile issue despite other looming big-ticket state needs.

“We really believe that we ought to be able to do more than $4 billion in tax cuts here in the House,” Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, said. “We don’t have a number at this point. We just know that we can do better than that.”

Asked about exceeding $4 billion in tax cuts for homeowners and businesses combined, House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, said, “We’re on the same page.”

It is the closest House leaders have come to identifying a specific tax cut figure they are contemplating.

Straus, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick previously had declared tax relief a priority for this legislative session, with Abbott saying he will not sign a budget that does not include tax cuts for business.

[…]

Some were surprised by the House leaders’ pronouncement.

“Any kind of tax relief needs to be sustainable,” said Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio. “I don’t think anybody wants to pass a tax cut and then retreat in the subsequent (legislative) session.”

Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, said a higher priority should be placed on public education, still struggling after massive cuts in 2011 that have been only partly restored.

“I think we have got to look at our priorities and make sure that we can take care of tomorrow’s workforce,” she said.

Item two.

Flanked by a dozen Republican senators, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Tuesday announced a slate of legislation he said would provide lasting tax relief to businesses and homeowners in Texas.

“At the end of the day, the Texas economy stays strong if people have more money in their pocket, if businesses have more money to create jobs,” said Patrick, a Republican.

Patrick said three recently filed bills — Senate Bills 1, 7 and 8 — would deliver a combined $4.6 billion break from the state’s property and business taxes.

About $2.5 billion of that total would go toward increasing homestead exemptions from school property taxes. Currently set at $15,000, they would instead be 25 percent of the median home market value in the state. In 2016, when the median home market value is projected to be $134,500, that could mean as much as a $33,625 exemption.

Another $1.5 billion would stem from reducing the state’s franchise tax on businesses by 15 percent.

[…]

But there are signs that it may encounter opposition from within Patrick’s own party.

“We have got to deal with the major problems of this state before we commit to tax cuts,” state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, said in an interview after the announcement. “We have some big ticket items that we can actually resolve this session. I think those needs come first.”

Eltife said he wanted to see a long-range plan to fix the significant shortfalls in state-funded pensions and deferred maintenance on state facilities.

“I think it’s the cart before the horse. We need to go through the budget process and make sure we have those needs addressed in our budget before we commit to cutting $4 billion a year in revenue out of the state budget,” he said. “It might work down the road, but I want to see a plan of action for the needs of this state before I commit to cutting taxes.”

Silly Sen. Eltife, and Reps. Larson and Farrar. Tax cuts are the only real need we have. Weren’t you paying attention to the 2014 campaign?

Besides, we all know nothing like this could ever happen here.

Republican governors meeting in Washington last weekend said financial conditions in their states have deteriorated so much that they must raise taxes, even if it means crossing their own party.

In the face of a historical antipathy deepened by the tea party movement, chief executives in Alabama, Nevada and Michigan among other states are proposing increases this year to address shortfalls or to spend more on faltering schools and infrastructure. They advocate higher levies on businesses, tobacco, alcohol and gasoline, in some cases casting the increases as user fees.

The governors are at a crossroads. They are choosing between the path of Gov. Sam Brownback in Kansas, who has refused to change course even after tax cuts provoked furious opposition, and that of Alabama’s Robert Bentley, who has said the state’s perennially precarious budget has reached the breaking point.

“I don’t want to raise taxes, but I also know that we need to pay our debts,” Bentley said. “We don’t have any choice.”

Like I said, that could never happen here. Unless you’re talking about raising sales taxes to pay for property tax cuts, because that’s totally different. PDiddie and RG Ratcliffe have more.

Don’t stop fighting for choice

That’s the message I take from this.

Rep. Jessica Farrar

Rep. Jessica Farrar

They’re pushing a boulder up a hill in the conservative Texas Legislature. But three House Democrats remain laser-focused on repealing the 24-hour waiting period for abortion imposed by the state’s 2011 sonogram law.

“This 24-hour waiting period has proven to be ineffective, unnecessary and cruel,” state Rep. Jessica Farrar, a Houston Democrat and the chairwoman of the Texas House Women’s Health Caucus, said at a Thursday press conference. “It does not change a pregnant Texas woman’s decision.”

[…]

Farrar’s House Bill 709, which was filed in January, would not repeal the requirement that a doctor perform a sonogram before an abortion is performed. It would only remove the provision of the law that requires the sonogram to take place 24 hours before an abortion — which abortion rights advocates say is an obstacle for low-income women who struggle with transportation and child care, and face an already dwindling number of clinics.

Farrar acknowledged that there isn’t enough support in the Legislature to repeal the measure.

“That doesn’t stop us from continuing to talk about this, because the worst thing that can happen is that we all become silent,” Farrar said. “I think history has shown that because people are vocal over time, eventually you have success.”

The 24-hour waiting period bill is part of a package of women’s health legislation filed by Farrar, state Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, and state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin. Those lawmakers are leading a policy campaign to improve reproductive care in Texas. The other bills include measures allowing more comprehensive sex education in Texas schools and carving out a “professional judgment exception” that would give medical professionals performing abortion-related services room to circumvent some state requirements.

Farrar filed a similar 24-hour waiting period bill during the 2013 legislative session, but it died in committee. She said the waiting period is even more burdensome now than it was last session because of the recent closure of so many clinics.

The Austin Chronicle adds more details.

Austin Rep. Donna Howard’s HB 1210 prevents physicians from being penalized for refusing to comply with certain abortion-related directives, including providing inaccurate or inappropriate information. (Like the medically questionable state-approved “Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet that links abortion to breast cancer – given to abortion patients.) “We’ve seen repeated instances of Texas lawmakers inserting themselves into the doctor-patient relationship,” said Howard, a former registered nurse. “… I spoke with numerous doctors who mentioned they were having to choose between their best medical judgment and the directives that were forced onto them by legislators. Politics should never take precedence over medical judgment and certainly not when the health and safety of a mother is at risk.”

[…]

Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, highlighted her House Bill 78 (co-authored by Howard), which seeks to improve sexual education in Texas public schools, an effort to help prevent unintended pregnancies by providing students with medically accurate and evidence-based facts.

Look, I’m well aware of how the last election went, and of what the odds are of any of these bills seeing the light of day. But do you think things are going to get better or worse if we sit on our hands and do nothing over the next few years? It’s one thing to make a strategic retreat and live to fight another day, it’s another thing entirely to give up fighting. If we don’t stand for what we believe in, who will? KUHF has more.

Don’t kill no-kill

I don’t like the look of this.

Stricter enforcement of a previously obscure state regulation is threatening the no-kill movement across Texas and could result in animal shelters euthanizing tens of thousands of additional pets each year, advocates warn.

A “clarification” of state rules by the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners last August already has sparked a court case and caused widespread confusion among city officials and private groups.

At issue is the veterinary care provided to animals in municipal shelters and privately-operated animal rescue organizations.

Under its rules, the Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners requires the same level of medical care and attention for shelter dogs and cats as they would receive from a private veterinarian. That means volunteers and fosters cannot perform routine care, such as administering intake vaccinations, without a trained vet present. It also means shelter veterinarians must provide individual care to each shelter animal upon intake.

Shelters say that requiring a veterinarian be present at all times would bust their budgets and reverse cities’ efforts to reach and maintain the no-kill status of euthanasia rates at or below 10 percent. Without full-time vet staff, animal advocates say, shelters eventually would fall back on euthanizing more animals since state law allows trained staff to administer lethal injections to animals.

“There’s no need for this policy,” said Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, a leading animal advocate in the Legislature who has sponsored numerous humane treatment bills. “We already have high-kill shelters and this would just exacerbate that. They’re just going to turn into euthanasia centers.”

TBVME Executive Director Nicole Oria said the Board always has interpreted the law in this way to protect public health and safety. Shelters, she said, will not be targeted by the agency because it only takes action when it receives a complaint.

Shelter veterinarians and their advocates, however, worry that could leave them open to investigations sparked by disgruntled former employees, volunteers or rival groups.

There’s already been one disciplinary action taken against a no-kill shelter that stemmed from two complaints, one of which turned out to be spurious. I’d like to see some more clarity in the law to ensure that the interests of the animals are being put first. I feel reasonably confident that Rep. Farrar will file a bill to that effect at her first opportunity. But let’s not wait that long till we get this straightened out.

Last minute health insurance enrollment help

From the inbox:

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

The Houston Department of Health and Human Services (HDHHS) will open four of its multi-service centers on Sunday and extend their business hours next Monday to help people sign up for a health insurance plan by the Affordable Care Act’s March 31 deadline.

HDHHS will open Acres Homes, Denver Harbor, Northeast and Southwest multi-service centers on Sunday, March 30, from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. It will also extend the four multi-service centers’ business hours on Monday, March 31, until 10 p.m., setting the last ACA enrollment appointment for 8 p.m.

Approximately 99,000 Houston-area residents have enrolled in one of the more than 40 low-cost ACA health plans available in the region. Those without health insurance have only one week left to sign up.

Residents can set up an appointment for one-on-one help from certified application counselors at HDHHS by calling 832-393-5423. The counselors are able to help residents compare health plans and find one that fits their budget and health care needs.

The phone number connects residents to an ACA call center that HDHHS set up as part of the Gulf Coast Health Insurance Marketplace Collaborative, a group of 13 agencies helping people obtain insurance coverage through the ACA.

Certified application counselors and outreach staff with HDHHS and the other agencies in the collaborative have met face to face with more than 151,500 area residents since the enrollment period began in October. They have also reached out or distributed ACA brochures and information to approximately 538,000 people.

Documents needed to enroll during an appointment include:

  • Proof of U.S. citizenship: social security number or copy of U.S. passport for all family members
  • State residency: driver’s license, housing lease or utility bill
  • Income:  W-2 forms or pay stubs; unemployment or disability; social security, pension and retirement income; or copy of 2012 tax return
  • Current health insurance: policy numbers for any current health insurance and information about job-related health insurance
  • Immigration status or legal residency: Immigration document status numbers.

The press release is here, and Stace was also on this. There are going to be a number of rallies and other events aimed at getting people signed up while they still can. Another event, via State Rep. Jessica Farrar, will be Saturday, March 29th from 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. at the Harris County Department of Education Conference Center, 6300 Irvington Blvd. Anyone who has questions about the exchange or is currently without health insurance is encouraged to attend. Here’s a Trib story about the pre-deadline push.

The Affordable Care Act requires most individuals to purchase health insurance by 2014, specifically by March 31, which will mark the final day of canvassing and enrollment outreach by nonprofits, local governments and community organizations.

At the start of March, 295,000 Texans had selected a coverage plan in the federal marketplace, but the number of total enrollees represents a small fraction of the uninsured in Texas.

National advocates for health reform have homed in on Texas’ enrollment in recent weeks, including U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, who was in Texas last week to promote enrollment efforts, including a final push to mobilize young adults to sign up for insurance through the marketplace.

Enroll America, a nonprofit group promoting the federal health reform law, launched a six-city bus tour through Texas last week to help people enroll in the exchange. Anne Filipic, president of the group, said it has focused on Texas because of the amount of people “who stand to benefit” from the federal health reform.

The organization has also set up a series of enrollment events throughout the state, including the one Donnell attended, as part of the final week of enrollment and is following up with individuals who started their process at one of the events to help them complete their enrollments.

Locally, state Democratic legislators have hosted their own enrollment efforts or have worked with entities like the Texas Organizing Project, a group that advocates for low-income Texans, to host regular enrollment events in Dallas, Bexar and Harris counties.

Federally qualified health centers in Texas also received more than $15 million federal grants to help individuals enroll in the marketplace. Lone Star Circle of Care clinics was among the top recipients in the state, receiving a combined $600,000 in grants to provide enrollment assistance.

Lone Star spokeswoman Rebekah Haynes said its 35 certified application counselors have seen an uptick in demand for enrollment assistance in the last few weeks, and they are working with hundreds of individuals to verify whether they qualify to purchase health insurance through the marketplace.

Texas could have delivered half of the enrollees the Obama administration is banking on. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that 3,143,000 Texans are potential marketplace enrollees, but only 9.4 percent of that population has enrolled. (Potential enrollees include uninsured Texans who are U.S. citizens and have incomes above the amount needed to qualify for Medicaid.)

You have to wonder what might have been if anyone in the Republican leadership cared even a little bit about the vast number of uninsured people in Texas. Be that as it may, if you know someone who needs coverage but still hasn’t signed up yet, do whatever you can to encourage them to get it done now. Time is very much running out.

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.

It’s still Gene Green’s world

I have three things to say about this story about Rep. Gene Green.

Rep. Gene Green

Rep. Gene Green

The affable, low-key former printer’s apprentice is a legend across his gritty, blue-collar domain along the 54-mile Houston Ship Channel, where he represents the most heavily Hispanic congressional district in the nation that has not elected a Hispanic to Congress.

By virtue of his seniority and Republican control of every statewide office, Green is effectively the highest ranking Democrat in Texas politics.

“Whatever I do in Congress doesn’t help people unless I’m also back in my district doing things for them,” Green said. “It’s one of the reasons people have developed a trust relationship with me.”

Green, who is not fluent in Spanish, has organized citizenship days to help legal residents apply for U.S. citizenship in a district that is 76 percent Hispanic. He helped conduct a forum in mid-November that enabled hundreds of Houston-area residents to learn about and register for Affordable Care Act coverage in a state with 6.3 million uninsured. And he has sponsored job fairs twice a year to help the unemployed find work.

“We do a lot of things that provide service to people in my district – and that brings visibility,” said Green, who was a member of the Texas Legislature for 20 years.

Green is well known for his constituent service, and I have no doubt that it is a big part of the reason why he has been so successful in office, both in terms of electoral performance and keeping potential primary challengers at bay. But it’s not just about doing well by your constituents, it’s also about getting along with your peers and would-be rivals. Green works well with others, and has mentored or otherwise directly assisted numerous current officeholders. One example of such is State Rep. Armando Walle, whom Rep. Green supported in his successful primary election against Craddick Dem Kevin Bailey. I tend to think of former Rep. Bailey, who was basically a do-nothing that got crosswise with many of his peers for his support of then-Speaker Tom Craddick and who represented a district as Latino as CD29 is, as something like the anti-Gene Green. It’s not really a mystery why some folks are more successful, and thus long-tenured, than others.

Texas has 12 Democratic House members, but “Green stands out as a pragmatist who is not afraid to break with the liberal Democratic House leadership when he disagrees with its position on an issue,” said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones.

Indeed, Green has voted with the House Democratic leadership only 81 percent of the time – well below the 92 percent loyalty of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, or the 91 percent loyalty of Rep. Al Green, D-Houston.

Green, a loyal oil-patch lawmaker, has backed the Keystone XL Pipeline as well as legislation that would delay implementation of key components of the Clean Air Act related to cross-state air pollution and pollution standards for power plants.

“At least once a week in the Energy and Commerce Committee, I forget that Gene is a Democrat,” said Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, who shares many of Green’s pro-energy positions.

Green’s devotion to helping Houston is apparent to colleagues, too.

“Though Gene and I often disagree on policy, he’s always ready to work across the aisle to get things done when it comes to what’s best for the Houston region and Texas,” said Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, who has served with Green for 16 years. “I’ve found his word to be as good as gold.”

Bipartisanship is a means to an end, not an end unto itself. Whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing depends on the particulars. Be that as it may, are there any Republican members of Texas’ Congressional delegation that could be described in similar terms as Rep. Green was in those paragraphs? Hell, are there any Republican members of Congress from any state that could be described in those terms? I’m thinking the answer is No, but feel free to supply an example if you think one exists. Honestly, if there were any such Republicans, I’d expect they’d be getting primaried within an inch of their lives about now.

When the time comes for Green to step down, at least seven Hispanics are widely expected to eye the seat, led by Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, a former Houston police officer and City Council member who has outpolled Barack Obama in Harris County.

Other potential contenders include state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, a former municipal court judge and Houston city controller; term-limited Houston City Council member James Rodriguez; Houston City Council member Ed Gonzalez, a former police officer; and three state representatives: Carol Alvarado, Jessica Farrar and Ana Hernandez.

I’m sure there’s a long line of hopefuls for CD29 when Rep. Green decides to hang up his spurs. This is the first time I can recall seeing Sheriff Garcia’s name associated with this seat, however. Most of the talk I hear about him and other offices he might someday seek center on the Mayor’s office in 2015. If he has his eyes on a statewide office down the line, I’m not sure what the best springboard for him would be. I think he’s in pretty good shape where he is right now, and staying put until he’s ready for something bigger means he’s not putting anything at risk in the meantime, but I’m not his political adviser and I don’t know what he has in mind for the future. As for the other possibilities, I’ll just reiterate what I’ve said before about generational issues. Generally speaking, all things being equal otherwise, I would prefer a candidate that has statewide ambitions in his or her future to one who doesn’t. Our bench isn’t going to build itself, after all.

Back to the House

After the Senate adjourned on Tuesday morning without a committee vote on its omnibus anti-abortion bill following the long hearing in which there was a lot more hearing than listening, the House took up its bill, with more of the same in store.

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, the chairwoman of the House women’s health caucus, opened the debate by questioning [bill author Rep. Jodie] Laubenberg on a variety of measures in the bill.

In her questions, Farrar suggested that the bill would reduce access to abortion by requiring facilities across the state to upgrade to more expensive ambulatory surgical centers and increasing the cost of abortion as a result. She also asked how requiring drug-induced abortions to be performed in a facility with a post-operative waiting room, pre-operative waiting room and sterilization facilities makes those abortions safer.

“The question should be what is best for the health of the woman,” Laubenberg said in response to whether the facility requirements would increase the cost of abortions. She added that facility upgrades were necessary for abortion procedures, because “the expected outcome is the taking of a life — this is a very unique procedure.”

Other Democrats argued that because only six of the state’s 42 existing abortion facilities meet the existing ambulatory surgical center standards, the bill would create an undue burden on access to abortion, particularly for poor and rural women.

“I’m just concerned your bill is putting obstacles for women who make a choice, a very personal choice to get a procedure done,” said state Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston. She said that when the regulations in HB 2 are coupled with the existing abortion sonogram law, a woman seeking a medical abortion would have to see a physician three times on three separate days. That would put an unnecessary burden on women who live far from the six ambulatory surgical centers that perform abortions, all of which are located in urban areas, she said.

Laubenberg said she does not believe the legislation would force abortion clinics to close. “Raising their standards will not force them to close,” she said.

If Rep. Laubenberg’s answers sound familiar, it’s because they’re the same answers she’s been giving all along. At this point, she’s probably just got a disc of MP3s of her greatest hits that she picks from when needed. It’s not like she has anything original to say, and at least this way she can avoid making any stupid remarks about rape. Like Sen. Hegar in the Senate, she’s not interested in accepting any amendments, including Republican amendments.

State Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Place), a moderate Republican, filed an amendment that would uphold the 20-week ban. However, it would make exceptions for cases like fetal anomalies, many of which are only diagnosed at 20 weeks gestation, and for rape and incest victims whose pregnancies might expose them to risk of suicide. Davis explained that, as a lawyer familiar with the case law pertaining to abortion, she thought that her amendments would give the bill a better chance of surviving a legal challenge by removing some of the ‘undue burdens’.

But perhaps feeling confident about the constitutionality of her bill, Rep. Laubenberg moved to table the amendment. Just before the vote, Rep. Davis argued that her amendments supported good policy making. Anyone who voted to table it was clearly only interested in politics, not good policy, she said.

The House voted to table the amendment by 89-56. Guess we know what Rep. Davis’ colleagues are most interested in then.

We’ve known that all along, but it never hurts to accumulate evidence. I will note that with Rep. Mark Strama’s resignation, the Dems are down to 54 in the House, so at least one of Rep. Davis’ Republican colleagues voted with her on that. We’ll have to check the House journal later to see who it was.

By the way, while Texas Republicans are pushing bills like HB2 to prove how “pro-life” they are, here are some things they’re not doing.

With new abortion laws in place, Texans can expect a significant increase in the number of babies born every year. That’s the whole point—to turn more pregnancies into live births.

We can expect the mothers of a multitude of these “extra” babies to be teens, unwed and/or poor. Those are the demographics of a significant proportion of women who choose abortions.

Since the moral impetus for reducing, if not eliminating, abortions is advocacy for life, then Texans should demonstrate our support for these babies. When you examine many of our current practices and policies, you understand why outsiders claim Texans are more concerned about fetuses than babies, children and teenagers.

Texas is among the nation’s leaders in child poverty, teen pregnancy, dropout rates and illiteracy. We’re also among the nation’s lowest-spending states on child poverty, teen pregnancy, dropout rates and illiteracy. Some people attribute these maladies to dependence on government, the product of a so-called welfare state. If that were true, then their incidence would be higher in states that spend the most on child welfare, anti-poverty programs and education, not the least-spending small-government states, like Texas.

Ironically, conservative states composed of higher percentages of Bible-believing Christians—from Texas across the South—suffer the blights of child poverty, teen pregnancy, dropout rates and illiteracy much more promiscuously than their more secular counterparts. Those are the states many Texans and Southerners call “pagan” and “dark.”

This disparity is an affront to the name of Jesus. Small wonder unbelieving outsiders doubt the compassion of Christ and the credibility of Christians. We often treat people Jesus called “the least” worse than unbelievers do.

If Texans’ conservative moral values prompt our state to implement one of the nation’s most stringent abortion codes, then we should accept the responsibility for all those babies we will bring into the world. We need to do right by them.

Yeah, that’s not going to happen. Not while Rick Perry is Governor, and not if Greg Abbott becomes Governor. These things are not important to them.

Anyway. In the end, HB2 passed as expected, and if it passes on third reading today it could then be taken up by the Senate as early as Friday, though Monday may be more likely. Either way, needless to say it will be well outside the filibuster zone. The next stop will be the federal courthouse, where a similar law from Wisconsin was at least temporarily blocked. Of course, we have the Fifth Circuit to overcome, but let’s keep hope alive anyway.

For more on the House debate, see BOR, Texpatriate, the Observer, Texas Politics, Raw Story, and PoliTex. Finally, the Village Voice reminds us that a whole lot of the bill supporters currently infesting Austin are outside agitators, while Sen. Wendy Davis and a bunch of actual Texans are touring the state to stand against these needless bills.

UPDATE: The House has approved HB2 on third reading. Back to the Senate we go, no earlier than Friday.

Last redistricting bill passes Senate, House debates abortion bills

It was destiny.

The Texas Senate on Sunday wrapped up final redistricting loose ends by concurring with changes made by the House to political boundaries for the lower chamber.

In an 18-11 vote, the Senate signed off on a series of small tweaks to the House maps — changes that swap a couple of precincts in Dallas, Webb and Harris counties.

[…]

Bills outlining state Senate and congressional maps were approved by both chambers with no changes. Only the proposal containing the House maps underwent minute tweaks.

All three bills now await Perry’s signature. Democrats have said they plan to challenge in the court the maps the Legislature passed during the special session on the basis that they still discriminate against minority voters.

Greg fills in a few details. The main show for Sunday of course was the anti-abortion bills, but other items were on the calendar before it. The order of business itself caused outrage and a point of order, but things resumed in the evening. The Trib covered that on a blow-by-blow basis. As of the time that I called it a night, amendments were being filed and fought over on SB5. As that bill has passed the Senate, if the House passes it unchanged it can go straight to Rick Perry for a signature. If it gets amended, the Senate has to concur; there won’t be time for a conference committee. The House may try to pass some of its own bills, which would be one way of resurrecting the 20-week prohibition, but with the session ending Tuesday and the rules requiring a 24-hour wait before the Senate could take up any such bills, Democrats would have a good chance to kill them via filibuster, to run out the clock. Of course, there could then be a second special session. We won’t know what happens until very late, so I’ll update this after I wake up and see what ultimately transpired. Assuming they’re finished by the, of course. BOR and RH Reality Check have more.

UPDATE: Sometime around 3:30 AM, SB5 was brought to a vote and passed. From TrailBlazers:

With a sweeping 97-33, the House voted to tentatively pass the Senate’s catch-all abortion bill largely along party lines after 13.5 hours of debates, parliamentary inquiries and stalling. Instant cheers and jeers exploded on the floor and in the gallery where people have been waiting for a vote since 2 p.m.

While applause rang out among conservatives, the shouts of “Shame” were much louder and many in the gallery were escorted out. In her speech, Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, said the war on women was alive and called SB 5 the second missile fired by Gov. Rick Perry this year.

Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, brought up at 2 a.m. a motion to halt the overall debate on SB 5. It required 25 signatures — he had 40. About 16 amendments went unheard because of the motion.

“Anyone who has been here for the last several hours would not describe this as being rushed by any means,” Hughes said. “The people of Texas expect us to take a position on this bill, pro or con. We’re still miles before we sleep.”

Many Democrats were missing from the chamber when the House moved on to debate the juvenile justice bill.

Outside the doors, Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington, commanded a stairwell full of opponents to the bill.

“Your being here says that the people who come to Austin who are elected officials have to be held accountable and I know you will hold people accountable in the next election,”Turner said “I’ve never ever seen this kind of outpouring on a Sunday afternoon, Sunday night, early Monday morning in late June.”

It now requires a final vote from the House before going over to the Senate, which will more than likely accept the 20-week ban provision and put it up for a vote. Senate Democrats have said they are ready to use whatever tools they can under the law to prevent the bill’s passage.

“If this issue was so important, then it deserves the right — when people come from across this state when they sign up — for every one of them to be heard, to have their say, to stay all night and listen to everyone of our constituents from across the state,” said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, to loud applause from the 100 or so orange shirts still in the gallery.

“All of a sudden to make somebody else’s agenda, we’re doing everything we can to rush through this process,” he said. “If one has the majority that doesn’t mean they should exercise the majority with an arrogance of power.”

The House sponsor of the bill, Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, who had been missing from the front microphone since around 11:50 p.m., came up around 3:20 a.m. to close on her bill. By not debating and instead asking the chair to make motions to table amendments, Republicans saved about 10 minutes per amendment.

The House is in recess until 6:46 AM, which is the earliest that it can reconvene after adjourning at 4:46, at which point it will need to pass SB5 on third reading. Once that has been done, it must go back to the Senate for a vote to accept the 20-week “fetal pain” provision. From the Trib:

To reach the Governor before the special ends, the House must approve SB 5 on third reading on Monday, as the Senate must wait 24 hours to layout the legislation and confirm the changes to the legislation approved by the House. The longer the bill has in the Senate, the longer a Democratic senator would have to filibuster the bill to prevent its passage.

So there’s still some hope, but remember that a second special session is always an option. Just as was the case with putting this crap on the call for this session, it’s entirely up to Rick Perry. I have a hard time believing he will allow this to fail by missing the deadline. My deep appreciation to everyone who showed up to fight against this atrocity, even if you did make poor widdle Rep. Jonathan Stickland wet his pants with fear at having to face people who don’t agree with him. Now let’s channel this energy into 2014. PDiddie, who stayed awake till the bitter end, has more.

UPDATE: There was actually one more thing accomplished last night. From the Trib, same link as before:

With a vote of 86-17 and two present not voting, the House tentatively approved Senate Joint Resolution 2, which would ask voters to approve amending the state constitution to divert half of the oil and gas severance taxes currently earmarked for the Rainy Day Fund to the State Highway Fund. It is estimated to raise close $1 billion a year for road construction and maintenance.

“This will not solve the problem, this is a start to solve the problem,” said state Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, the sponsor of SJR 2.

Perry added transportation funding to the special session call after efforts to find extra money for the Texas Department of Transportation failed in the regular session. TxDOT has said it needs an additional $4 billion a year just to maintain current congestion levels.

An amendment by state Rep. Linda Harper Brown, R-Irving, was added to the bill. It would devote one-third of the growth in motor vehicle sales taxes to the transportation fund.

Critics of the measure have noted, among other things, that the revenue will dry up whenever the current oil drilling boom ends. Phillips added a “perfecting amendment” to ensure the money was not used for toll roads and to make the balance needed in the Rainy Day Fund a floating target instead of a fixed $6 billion.

I presume this has to go back to the Senate as well, so unless it is taken up before SB5, it too would be vulnerable to a filibuster.

UPDATE: Via Michael Li on Facebook, a reminder that to the likes of Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, “pro-life” means what she says it means, no more, no less.

A priceless exchange occurred between Harper-Brown cohort Jodie Laubenberg of Rockwall and Dallas Dem Rafael Anchia. Laubenberg proposed to enforce a three-month waiting period before expectant mothers could begin receiving prenatal and perinatal care under CHIP. Anchia pointed out that the eligibility change would kick nearly 100,000 children out of the CHIP program. “That is absolutely untrue!” Laubenberg shot back, proving her point by waving a sheet of paper. Then again, “That is absolutely untrue!”

“You know,” Anchia replied, “I can hear you yelling, but just because you yelled, it doesn’t make it true.” Anchía pointed out the consequences of denying health care to the unborn. “You do know, don’t you, that these are U.S. citizens?”

“But they’re not born yet,” Laubenberg, a “family values” conservative, retorted. Dukes, standing behind Anchia at the back mic, whipped her head around in a shocked double take. Anchia, smelling blood, observed, “You have an anti-life amendment,” which set Laubenberg off on a loud tirade in which she claimed to be the most pro-life member of the House.

Yeah.

House passes redistricting and abortion bills

Texas Redistricting:

The House has passed SB 3, the redistricting bill for the state house map, on third and final reading.

There was one last floor amendment today offered by State Rep. Toni Rose (D-Dallas), which moved Rose’s mother and a few other hundred voters into her district from HD 109 where they had been previously.

The amendment was accepted with objection.

State Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston) also offered an amendment that would have reunited the Sharpstown community in his district. Wu said the Sharpstown community had always been in HD 137 but under the state’s 2011 and the second interim map had been split between Wu’s district and that of State Rep. Boris Miles (D-Houston).

Wu, however, pulled the amendment after laying it out, saying that he had not been able to obtain full consent to the change.

[…]

As on second reading, SB 3 passed on a party line vote and now heads back to the Senate, where the Senate redistricting chair, State Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), has committed to accept the House’s changes to its map in keeping with longstanding custom that each house draws its own map.

The House returns at 2:15 p.m. for votes on the state senate and congressional maps.

The Senate is out until Sunday at 1 p.m. when it could take up the state house map bill.

And at 2:15 the House returned and passed the other bills with no muss or fuss. Since the Congressional and State Senate redistricting bills were not amended by the House they will go to Rick Perry for his signature. Greg has more.

Meanwhile, this happened.

After abruptly ending hours of public testimony that went into the wee hours of Friday morning, the House State Affairs Committee reconvened on Friday and quietly approved House Bill 60, its companion, Senate Bill 5 — omnibus abortion restriction legislation — and a standalone measure to ban abortion at 20 weeks gestation, House Bill 16.

With the special session coming to an end on Tuesday, opponents of the measures say the decision by Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, to end to the hearing near 4 a.m. — before hundreds of reproductive rights advocates could testify — may open the door to kill the legislation. They also say their efforts to delay the legislation could enable senators to filibuster it when it returns to that chamber for final approval.

“We had a lot of impassioned testimony, which is the public’s right,” Cook told reporters when the committee adjourned. “Your legislative body weighs very seriously people’s concerns.”

The only committee member present that voted against the three bills, state Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, chairwoman of the House women’s health caucus, called the decision to approve the bills despite the testimony of advocates a political farce.

“We all know that abortion will continue to happen, the question is will it be safe and legal,” she said. “It’s all about appeals to the right flank of the Republican party.”

[…]

Farrar and reproductive rights advocates allege Cook’s decision to end testimony could endanger the legislation. House members may be able to kill the bill on a point of order if the committee did not follow proper legislative procedures when they ended testimony. If approved, advocates could also sue the state and seek to overturn the legislation, arguing the state ignored democratic processes by denying them the opportunity to speak on the bill.

We’ll see about that. The “people’s filibuster”, which kept the committee up until almost 4 on Friday morning, made national news, but I think we all knew that in the end the Republicans would do what they had to do to get this out of committee. With the session ending Tuesday, there’s a chance that some further gamesmanship can take place, but I feel pretty confident saying that this is going to pass, one way or another. After that, it’s a matter for the courts and the ballot box. I salute everyone who participated in this little show of force, and I dearly hope it gets our side fired up, because we need to be.

Craft beer bills pass the House

Hallelujah!

A raft of bills that would dramatically alter the way beer is sold and consumed in Texas sailed through tentative approval from the House on Friday after a lengthy and disputatious process between brewers and beer distributors. If finally approved next week, the legislation will go straight to the governor’s desk without another stop.

The bills represent the largest overhaul of the industry in Texas since the Legislature legalized brewpubs in 1993. Under the new regulatory scheme, brewpubs and craft brewers would be allowed more flexibility to sell their products — privileges beermakers have sought for more than a decade.

The package includes Senate Bills 515, 516, 517, and 518, by state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, which decrease restrictions on craft brewers and brewpubs.

Under the new rules, the cap on brewpub production would be doubled, from 5,000 barrels a year to 10,000. Brewpubs would also be allowed to sell their beer to distributors, in addition to selling limited amounts of their own beer directly to retailers.

The bills adjust breweries’ right to circumvent beer distributors and sell beer directly to retailers. Larger breweries than before would now be allowed to self distribute, but the limit on how much they are allowed to self distribute has been lowered.

Also, breweries would now be able to sell beer for on-site consumption — a major victory for Frank Mancuso, the Central Texas sales representative for the Saint Arnold Brewing Company of Houston, the oldest craft brewer in the state. Mancuso came to the House Gallery with a large number of other Texas brewers, who broke into applause when the last of the bills finally passed.

“We’ve been working on this for eight sessions now,” he said. “Selling beer at our location is something we’ve wanted to do for a long while.”

I only remember this going on in the last four sessions, but regardless, it’s been a long and arduous road to this point. I’m going to crack open a Saint Arnold’s to celebrate. Major kudos to everyone involved – I’m especially proud to say that my State Rep through 2012, Jessica Farrar, was an early and ardent leader in this fight. Here’s a little beer music to commemorate the moment. Please note that it contains some naughty language, so exercise care while watching:

We do love beer. Thanks to these bills, it’s easier to love.

House debates its budget

As you know, yesterday was Budgetpalooza in the House.

The House budget puts more money into public education and less into health and human services than a Senate proposal that passed the upper chamber last month.

“No one is or will be entirely happy with this bill, but there is something for everyone this year,” House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, said two weeks ago after his committee approved its version of Senate Bill 1.

[…]

It will be a strikingly different scene from the Senate, which passed its budget proposal last month after about four hours of discussion. Traditionally, senators do not amend their budget plan from the Senate floor. State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, offered an amendment on the bill related to school finance but then withdrew it.

After the House passes a budget bill, both the House and Senate will appoint conference committees to resolve differences between the two proposals.

Neither budget completely reverses last session’s $5.4 billion in cuts to public schools, a goal many Democrats have said is a priority. Several House members have filed amendments attempting to put more money into schools.

Other legislators hope to amend the budget to put more money for uninsured care or specific types of care.

An amendment from state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, aimed at increasing payments to health care providers serving Medicaid patients could spark a protracted discussion over whether Texas should accept federal dollars made available through the Affordable Care Act and expand Medicaid.

House members could also see themselves drawn into debates on hot-button cultural issues. State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, has several amendments aimed at reducing state funding earmarked for “alternatives to abortion” and putting it toward other women’s health services. An amendment from state Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, would block funding for “gender and sexuality centers” at higher-education institutions.

A group of Republican freshmen have filed more than three dozen amendments that would take money away from various state programs and agencies and putting the funds into TRS-Care, the group health insurance program for the Teacher Retirement System, which is projected to have a shortfall by 2016.

TRS-Care has since said that they did not support the freshlings’ effort to de-fund various things on their behalf. A number of those hot-button amendments concerning abortion and women’s health were subsequently withdrawn in a bit of bipartisan detente, which if nothing else should make the whole thing go by a bit more quickly. There are still a lot of other issues to be debated, not all of which get much attention but all of which matter a lot to the people affected by them, and a few messages to be sent. One of the messages sent was about vouchers.

About eight hours into the House’s debate on the state budget Thursday, lawmakers in the lower chamber sent a clear signal about their position on private school vouchers.

An amendment from state Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Corpus Christi, that would ban the use of public dollars for private schools, passed 103-43 with bipartisan support.

“What this amendment basically does is say that you cannot use public money to support private institutions with vouchers,” said state Rep. John Otto, a Dayton Republican who is the House’s head education budget writer.

As they say, this is a big deal. Even Tom Craddick voted against vouchers, amazingly enough. If you listen carefully, you can hear Dan Patrick grinding his teeth. The Observer, Trail Blazers, and Texas Politics, which notes that despite this vote vouchers aren’t quite most sincerely dead yet, have more.

In the end, the House debated the budget well into the night, until almost 10 PM according to Rep. Gene Wu, who heroically live-tweeted the whole thing; BOR liveblogged it as well. Given the big vote in favor, it’s likely that nothing too horrible happened, but we’ll assess the damage later. It’s on to conference committee from here.

The HPV vaccine

This story about HPV and its vaccine is from a couple of weeks ago, but it needs to be read.

The vaccine that blocks a sexually transmitted infection that causes cervical, oral and other cancers was hailed as a home run when it was approved seven years ago, but, given usage rates, doctors still aren’t sure if it’ll ever live up to the promise and render any of the diseases a shadow of their current lethality.

Instead, doctors are huddling to determine how to improve inoculation rates that hover at 33 percent, a figure attributed to controversy that beset the vaccine from the beginning. The controversy included concerns that the vaccine would encourage premarital sex and Gov. Rick Perry’s 2007 attempt to require it of Texas school girls.

“It’s just wrong that politics should play a role in this,” says Dr. Lois Ramondetta, a University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center gynecologic oncologist who treats cervical cancer, the cancer for which the vaccine initially was approved. “This is the only cancer for which we know an infection is the cause and have a vaccine that prevents it. Getting vaccinated should be a no-brainer.”

The virus also is associated with a number of other cancers that researchers have begun finding are spiking – oral cancers that involve the back of the throat, tonsils and base of the tongue, and cancers of the vagina, vulva, penis and anus. Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, recently referred to the increase as “one of the epidemics of the 21st century.”

[…]

Two vaccines – Gardasil and Cervarix – have been shown to protect against the strains of the virus that cause cervical cancer. Because neither provides any therapeutic benefit once an infection takes hold, the Centers for Disease Control recommends a series of three shots to girls at 11 to 12 years of age.

But it was that recommendation that roiled the waters. A Yale study found parental concern the vaccine could make adolescents less wary of casual sex was the biggest single factor in the decision not to vaccinate.

When Perry issued his order – overturned by the Texas Legislature later that session – making the vaccine mandatory for public school girls, the outcry included not just members of the religious right, but the leadership of the Texas Medical Association, who argued that it should stay voluntary until safety and liability issues were vetted.

“Education needs to come first,” said Dr. Joseph Bocchini at the time, then the chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics chairman of infectious diseases. “Much of the public doesn’t know about HPV and its link to cervical cancer and other diseases. You can’t put a mandate ahead of that.”

The whole controversy over Perry’s order – you can see my blogging about it here was bizarre to me. It’s always strange to see Rick Perry do the right thing, though of course in this case he was motivated in large part by helping one of his cronies, who had a large piece of the company that was going to provide the vaccine. I suppose the backlash was predictable, and Lord knows it would probably be even worse today, but it was still depressing to watch. I remain grateful to Rep. Jessica Farrar for being a voice of reason and compassion throughout the debacle. I wonder how many lives might have been saved if sanity had prevailed. I can only hope the next time this comes up, the needs of the kids will come first.

Smaller WHP provider list back up

Maybe they got it right this time.

Right there with them

A revised list of Texas Women’s Health Program providers — with 965 fewer doctors and clinics — has returned to the state’s website.

[…]

The HHSC had previously stated that the Texas WHP had 3,500 participating providers, roughly 1,000 more than the number of providers that participated in the former Medicaid WHP. That list has shrunk to 2,448 doctors and clinics, as 965 providers said they would not accept WHP patients, despite being certified for the program. The contact information for 700 other providers has also been updated on the state’s website.

“HHSC added the provider search back to the Texas Women’s Health Program website late Friday after thousands of calls were made to verify the information,” Linda Edwards-Gockel said in an email. “The search is now set up to display first those health care providers who can serve the greatest number of clients.”

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, said in an email that she remains skeptical of the list’s accuracy. Farrar requested a list of all WHP providers and the number of patients they can serve from the HHSC under the Public Information Act, but the agency is still processing her request. “After briefly going through part of the list for Houston providers, my staff already found numerous duplicates.”

Going from 3,500 providers to 2,448 is a reduction of thirty percent. If I’m reading this correctly, there are now as many providers in the replacement WHP as there were in the original, except that the single largest provider by far is no longer allowed in. Would someone please remind me how it is that this program could possibly be an adequate alternative to the perfectly functional one we used to have? Assuming that this “corrected” list of doctors and clinics is now in fact complete and accurate, which is not a sure bet. We’ve had our fun error-checking the HHSC’s work, but the real issue is still how many of the women who depend on this program will actually be able to receive adequate health care through it? We can’t lose sight of that. Trail Blazers has more.

Where are the doctors?

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

Right there with them

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Precinct analysis: The range of possibility

Here’s a look at selected districts in Harris County that shows the range of votes and vote percentages achieved by Democratic candidates. I’ve thrown in the Obama and Sam Houston results from 2008 for each to provide a comparison between how the district was predicted to perform and how it actually did perform. Without further ado:

HD132 Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 22,336 43.52 Ryan 20,945 40.63 Bennett 20,454 40.35 Obama 21,116 40.29 Oliver 19,873 38.52 08Obama 18,886 39.60 08Houston 18,653 40.60

HD132, which runs out to the western edge of Harris County, incorporating parts of Katy, is a fascinating district. For one thing, as Greg showed, there are these fairly large blue patches out that way, surrounded otherwise by a sea of red. Much of that blue is in HD132, which is why this district wound up overperforming its 2008 numbers by about a point. As Greg said in reply to my comment on that post, you could build a pretty reasonable Democratic district out that way if you were in control of the mapmaking process. In fact, the non-MALDEF intervenors in the San Antonio lawsuit did propose a map that drew HD132 as a lean-Dem district. It wasn’t addressed by the DC court in its ruling denying preclearance on the maps, so we won’t see any such district this decade, but just as the old 132 came on the radar in 2008, the new HD132 should be viewed as an attainable goal, perhaps in 2016. Take the continued population dynamics of Harris County, add in a good candidate and a concerted voter registration/GOTV effort, and I think you could have something.

HD134 Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 36,781 48.07 Ryan 35,431 45.96 Johnson 36,366 45.35 Obama 34,561 42.49 Bennett 29,843 39.47 Oliver 25,886 33.79 08Obama 39,153 46.50 08Houston 33,667 42.60

I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find a district with a wider vote spread than HD134. A couple things stand out to me. One is that four years ago in the old 134, President Obama ran five points ahead of Democratic judicial candidates. I haven’t done the math on the judicials this time around – even in Excel/Calc, it gets mighty tedious after awhile – but I’d bet money that’s not the case this year. I’d call this evidence of Obama losing ground with Anglo voters in Texas, as he did nationwide. Note also that Adrian Garcia did not carry HD134 this time around, unlike in 2008 when he was the only Democrat besides then-Rep. Ellen Cohen to win it. (Michael Skelly, running in CD07, carried the portion of HD134 that was in CD07, which was most but not quite all of it.) Garcia’s overall performance was a couple of points lower this year, but this shows how tough HD134 really was, something which I think wasn’t fully appreciated by most observers. Ann Johnson ran hard and did a good job, but the hill was too steep. I’m sure HD134 will remain a tempting target, but the name of the game here is persuasion, not turnout, and that’s a harder task.

HD135 Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 23,507 44.91 Ryan 21,620 41.26 Obama 21,679 40.37 Bennett 20,786 40.26 Morgan 20,997 39.63 Oliver 20,119 38.42 08Obama 20,430 38.70 08Houston 19,912 39.50

Another not-on-the-radar district that wound up being better for Dems than you would have expected. As with HD132, this would be a good place to focus registration and turnout energies going forward.

HD137 Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 15,682 67.58 Ryan 15,498 65.88 Wu 15,789 65.72 Obama 15,899 65.25 Bennett 14,875 64.63 Oliver 14,700 62.62 08Obama 16,755 62.30 08Houston 16,008 62.40

I haven’t looked this deeply at all of the Democratic districts, but the early indicators are that Democratic candidates generally outperformed the 2008 numbers in the districts that were considered to be competitive. Even by the 2008 numbers, HD137 wasn’t particularly competitive, but with a first-time candidate in an open seat against someone who’d won elections in the same general vicinity before and who could write his own check, who knew what could happen. Rep.-elect Gene Wu had a strong showing in a district where all Dems did well. I mean, if Lloyd Oliver outperformed Obama 08, you know Democrats kicked butt in this district.

HD144 Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 13,555 57.96 Ryan 12,668 53.96 Bennett 12,382 53.63 Perez 12,425 53.35 Obama 12,281 51.47 Oliver 11,966 51.07 08Obama 11,983 48.00 08Houston 13,129 54.50

The disparity between Obama and Sam Houston in 08 makes it a little hard to pin this district down as overperforming or underperforming. It’s fair to say that Rep.-elect Mary Ann Perez won by a more comfortable margin than most people, myself included, might have expected, and it appears that Obama closed the gap a bit this year. This will surely be a race to watch in 2014, whether or not the district gets tweaked by the courts or the Lege. (The DC court rejected the intervenors’ claims about retrogression in HD144, in case you were curious.) Oh, and I hadn’t thought about this before now, but Perez’s win means that there will need to be a special election for her HCC Trustee position in 2013. I have no idea off the top of my head what the procedures are for that.

HD145 Votes Pct ======================== Alvarado 20,829 68.86 Garcia 19,180 67.67 Ryan 17,860 63.04 Obama 17,890 61.13 Bennett 17,252 61.90 Oliver 16,778 59.22 08Obama 16,749 57.10 08Houston 17,315 61.70

Rep. Alvarado was unopposed, so the percentage shown for her is her share of all ballots cast in HD145. I was a little concerned about the possibility of Republicans maybe stealing this seat in a special election if Rep. Alvarado wins in SD06 – one possible incentive for Rick Perry to shake a leg on calling that special election is that he could then call the special election for HD145 in May if that seat gets vacated, as surely that would guarantee the lowest turnout – but I’m less concerned about it looking at these numbers. Yes, I know, the electoral conditions would be totally different, but still. By my count there were 7,013 straight-ticket Republican votes in this district and 12,293 straight-ticket D votes. I think even in a low-turnout context, that would be a tall order for a Republican candidate.

HD148 Votes Pct ======================== Farrar 25,921 64.56 Garcia 23,776 63.87 Ryan 22,413 59.91 Obama 22,393 57.92 Bennett 21,061 57.80 Oliver 19,848 53.34 08Obama 22,338 57.50 08Houston 21,887 59.20

Rep. Farrar had a Green opponent but no R opponent, so as with Rep. Alvarado her percentage is that of the total number of ballots cast. Again, one’s perception of this district as slightly overperforming or slightly underperforming for Dems depends on whether one thinks the Obama or Houston number from 2008 is the more accurate measure of the district from that year. Given the re-honkification of the Heights, I feel like this district needs to be watched in the same way that HD132 needs to be watched, only in the other direction. I feel certain that if there is to be any change in the makeup of HD148, it will happen a lot more slowly than in HD132, but nonetheless it bears watching. I’ll reassess in 2016 as needed. Oh, and there were 9,672 straight-ticket Republican votes to 13,259 straight-ticket D votes here, in case you were wondering.

HD149 Votes Pct ======================== Vo 25,967 61.12 Garcia 25,056 60.64 Ryan 24,325 58.61 Obama 24,770 57.72 Bennett 23,659 57.64 Oliver 23,337 56.27 08Obama 24,426 55.50 08Houston 23,544 56.30

If you wanted to know why I tend to worry less about Rep. Hubert Vo than I do about some other Dems and districts, this would be why. Anyone who can outdo Adrian Garcia is someone with strong crossover appeal. Note again the general overperformance of Dems here compared to 2008. Consider this some evidence of Asian-American voters trending even more blue this cycle.

SBOE6 Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 229,058 43.48 Ryan 216,249 40.88 Jensen 207,697 40.58 Obama 215,053 39.33 Bennett 199,169 38.27 Oliver 188,555 35.69 08Obama 224,088 40.80 08Houston 210,965 40.20

I was hopeful that Dems could build on 2008 in this district, but it wasn’t to be. I think the potential is there going forward, but it will take time and resources. Traci Jensen was a great candidate, who ran hard as the first Democrat in SBOE6 in over 20 years, but there’s only so much you can do in a district twice the size of a Congressional district without a Congressional-size campaign budget.

CD07 Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 99,355 43.93 Ryan 93,819 41.30 Obama 92,128 39.13 Bennett 84,451 37.73 Cargas 85,253 37.44 Oliver 79,037 34.83 08Obama 96,866 40.40 08Houston 88,957 39.10

As with SBOE6, a small step back in performance instead of the step forward I had hoped for. Not sure if it was something John Culberson did to enable him to run ahead of the pack instead of lagging behind it as he did in 2006 and 2008, or if James Cargas’ weak performance had something to do with the ridiculously bitter primary runoff he was in. Be that as it may, I don’t expect much if anything to be different in this district in the near future.

I-45 public forum tomorrow

From the inbox:

I-45 Public Forum ~ October 24th!

Many people who attended the TxDOT public meeting last week (October 9th or 11th ) left with more questions than answers!

Why?

It appears that TxDOT is listening & trying to come up with several alternatives to help the traffic on I-45 … in fact, they came up with 33 alternatives! Alternatives from tunnels to an elevated roadway on Houston Ave to converting the Pierce Elevated to ALL one-way and more!  If you did not have a chance to attend or if you still have questions, you have a great opportunity to get all your answers on

Wednesday, October 24.  The I-45 Coalition is working with TxDOT and hosting a Public Forum at Jeff Davis High School at 6:15 pm.

This Public Forum will be in a completely different format! – TxDOT will go over each of the alternatives and answer any questions that you may have.  Hopefully you will get enough information at this meeting to help determine the best choices … the deadline to get your comments into TxDOT regarding the project is Friday, October 26th.   This meeting is perfect for getting all the answers you are looking for. 

This meeting is important because your comments will impact the future of I-45 from IAH airport to the Pierce Elevated.You need to be invloved!  Please come to:

I-45 Public Forum        Wednesday, October 24        6:15 – 8:15

Jeff Davis High School      1101 Quitman Street       77009

You can see all the TxDOT information on their web site: www.ih45northandmore.com  and go to ‘2nd Scoping Meeting Documents’.

Please plan on attending – tell your neighbors! 

You must tell TxDOT what you want or don’t want or they will do what TxDOT wants to do!!

As Marty Hajovsky notes, that email came from Jim Weston of the I-45 Coalition. Marty summarizes the highlights:

The suggestions and information from the meetings earlier this month are all on the website atwww.ih45northandmore.com at ‘2nd Scoping Meeting Documents’. But among the interesting tidbits for residents of Grota Homestead/Germantown, those interested in Woodland Park and the easternmost parts of theWoodlands Heights is that all the alternatives for Segment 2, meaning the stretch of I-45 between 610 and Quitman, would stay within the existing right-of-way. We’ll see if that stays true.

After the meetings, TxDOT placed a public comment period extending to Oct. 26, but after the intervention of Texas State Representative Jessica Farrar, a Lindale Park resident, the agency extended to public comment deadline to Nov. 9. Public comments can be made at the www.ih45northandmore.com site.

Be there if you can, and whether you can or you can’t, please submit your feedback to www.ih45northandmore.com. Thanks.

More on the microbrewers’ legislative strategy

The Statesman returns to our favorite subject.

The small brewers, generally a young and passionate group, always have been better at creating hoppy and original brews than navigating the Legislature and the network of big-money lobbyists who are experts at quietly influencing politicians. The lack of political savvy among craft brewers has hampered their efforts to make Texas more friendly to craft beers, as Oregon, California and Colorado are.

“Part of our frustration in the past is we have seemingly been fighting against invisible enemies,” [Freetail Brewing CEO Scott] Metzger said. “We never really felt like we got our fair shot.”

They will try again during the next legislative session, which begins in January. But this time, they have a new tactic: befriend the two powerful wholesale beer distributor lobby groups that opposed their measures in the past: the Beer Alliance of Texas and the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas.

“We’re trying to build consensus with the stakeholders who have been in opposition in the past,” said Metzger, founder and CEO of Freetail Brewing Co. in San Antonio and an economics professor at the University of Texas-San Antonio.

The lobby groups have said recently that they appreciate craft brewers and support them. Still, they have been reluctant to back the small brewers for fear that fracturing the three-tier system could threaten their ability to make money.

Craft brewers selling at breweries might take a small piece of distributors’ business, but if larger beer makers somehow exploit exemptions to the three-tier system to self-distribute, then distributors could find themselves losing money.

Rick Donley, president of the Beer Alliance, said his organization is in the middle of “delicate negotiations” with the craft brewers and that his group might be on board next time. “We’re not closing the door,” he said. Still, he has concerns. He said he fears federal court challenges if the three-tier law is changed too much. He wasn’t specific, but he said a federal case could open floodgate for legal issues that could hurt his clients.

Keith Strama, a general counsel for the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, said his organization sees “craft brewers as a strong ally to promote the industry in the state” and gladly will work with them. But, he said, “we’re reluctant to support proposals that further deregulate the system.”

Yes, God forbid we should ever have a free market for beer in Texas. It’s a good thing for the distributors that they have clout in Austin, because if this were ever put to a vote of the people, they’d get creamed. See here for more.

Perry gives another middle finger to public education

It’s a twofer, actually. Here’s one.

Gov. Rick Perry named Michael Williams the new commissioner of the Texas Education Agency Monday.

A fixture of Texas Republican politics — and a former general counsel to the Republican Party of Texas — Williams resigned from the Texas Railroad Commission in 2011 after serving more than a decade on the regulatory body that oversees the state’s oil and natural gas industry.

His appointment comes at a trying time for the agency, which lost a third of its workforce after budget cuts last year. Amid anxiety from parents, educators and administrators — and backlash from lawmakers — over its transition to a rigorous new assessment and accountability system, the state is facing six lawsuits over the way it funds public schools. More than half of Texas public schools failed to meet yearly benchmarks under the No Child Left Behind Act, but the state remains one of the handful that have yet to seek a waiver from the requirements from the federal government. The agency will also begin the Sunset Review process in October.

Williams, who began his career as an assistant district attorney in Midland, has recently been known as a political candidate. After showing early interest in replacing Kay Bailey Hutchison in the U.S. Senate, he campaigned for the congressional district now held by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin. Williams lost the Republican primary to Wes Riddle and fellow onetime U.S. Senate candidate Roger Williams, who ultimately prevailed in a runoff.

When then-Gov. George W. Bush named Williams to the commission in 1999, he became the first African-American to hold a statewide elected position. The Midland native’s career in GOP politics began during the Ronald Reagan administration, when he served as a prosecutor at the U.S. Department of Justice. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush appointed him to the civil rights division at the U.S. Department of Education, a legal position that is his only official previous experience in the realm of education policy.

So Williams has no education experience, but he is severely conservative and he needed a job, so Perry was there to lend him a hand. I guess just because one hates government doesn’t mean one wants to leave it and find a job in that private free-enterprise system we’ve all heard about. Williams is also a proponent of vouchers, but I’m sure he’ll put aside his long-held political beliefs and do his very best to help make public schools the best they can be. What else would we expect from a Rick Perry appointee, after all?

And here’s two:

Perry simultaneously named Lizzette Reynolds, a veteran of the agency who is currently a deputy commissioner, as Williams’ second in command. Reynolds attracted controversy in 2007 when she allegedly pushed to fire the agency’s then-science director Chris Comer for forwarding an email critical of intelligent design in violation of an internal neutrality policy. After Comer was forced to resign, the agency drew national scrutiny that included an editorial in The New York Times.

Forrest Wilder digs up some news from the time on this contretemps, and I blogged about it here, here, here, and here. Being a teacher or other employee of the public schools who supports Rick Perry is like being a chicken who supports Colonel Sanders. EoW and BOR have more, and a statement from Rep. Jessica Farrar is beneath the fold.

(more…)

“Collateral damage”

How’s that war on women going?

In the year since deep cuts to family planning funding took effect, the impact has become apparent. An Observer review of state records has found that 146 clinics have lost state funds, clumped mainly in the Panhandle, Central Texas and on the border with Mexico. More than 60 of those clinics have closed their doors forever. The number of organizations that help poor women plan pregnancy has shrunk by almost half. As in San Saba, low-income women in many areas of Texas now face a long drive, or worse, lack of access to birth control and health screenings.

This isn’t news to conservative state lawmakers. After all, in its 2011 session, the Texas Legislature cut the state’s family planning program by two-thirds. Public health experts warned lawmakers at the time that by defunding Texas’s family planning system, clinics would close and a spike in disease, pregnancies and abortions would follow. Regardless, they slashed the budget. Lawmakers were quite clear about their motivation: They hoped to drive abortion providers out of business. Their specific target—Planned Parenthood—also provides family planning and preventive health care to low income women. In their zeal to attack Planned Parenthood, politicians designed a funding formula that caused collateral damage. They defunded many other family planning clinics that aren’t connected to Planned Parenthood and don’t offer any abortion services.

In fact, of the more than 60 clinics that have closed across Texas, only 12 were run by Planned Parenthood. Dozens of other clinics unconnected to Planned Parenthood nonetheless lost state funds and have closed, leaving low-income women in large areas of the state without access to contraception.

It gets worse. The federally qualified health centers—which lawmakers said could provide family planning services to low-income women and make up for the cuts—have themselves experienced a funding crunch and are struggling to absorb demand. The result is that costs have shifted to patients, and exceptionally poor women now make hard choices about paying for their well-woman care. Some will find the cash, but an alarming number won’t. Indeed, the bipartisan Legislative Budget Board estimated that last year’s cuts would lead to more than 250,000 women losing services and 20,000 additional births covered by Medicaid. When The Texas Observer asked providers what they thought about the cuts, several mentioned the same phrase. They said in hoping to punish Planned Parenthood, politicians had gone too far, with devastating consequences for women’s health. Lawmakers, they said, had thrown the “baby out with the bath water.” In this story, the first in an occasional series, we examine what happened to the family planning providers who have fallen from favor.

The simplest answer to this is that this isn’t a problem to the legislators who committed this assault on Planned Parenthood. If this were only about stopping abortion, then the news that many clinics that are unaffiliated with Planned Parenthood and which do not offer abortion services have been driven out of business would be a cause for concern. If there’s been any remorse about these developments, or any desire to correct them, I sure haven’t heard about it.

You would think that these providers that the state has managed to kill would have been good replacements for Planned Parenthood to deliver Women’s Health Program services. The state continues to demonstrate that it has no idea how to replace Planned Parenthood in it reckless and misguided zeal, but it is willing to lie about its plans.

In a May letter to the governor’s office and the Legislative Budget Board, outgoing HHSC Commissioner Tom Suehs offered a funding mechanism for the program that included implementing cost-saving measures throughout the agency, a hiring freeze and enhancing efforts to recover funds from Medicaid fraud.

But opponents of efforts to oust Planned Parenthood from the program say the state was banking on paying for much of it another way — with the federal health reform Republican state leaders so revile. They point to legal filings and fiscal notes state officials prepared in July indicating they could fold Women’s Health Program clients into Medicaid starting in 2014, the year the Affordable Care Act calls for a widespread expansion of the safety net health care program. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Medicaid expansion is optional, and Perry has vowed that Texas will not do it.

[…]

Planned Parenthood is awaiting an October hearing in district court over whether its clinics can stay in the Women’s Health Program. A separate case is moving through the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. In March, Republican Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for pulling back funding over Texas’ decision to eject clinics affiliated with abortion providers from the program.

On Thursday, state Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, wrote a sharply worded letter to Abbott after learning his office had submitted a July 9 briefing to the appeals court that twice referenced the state’s intent to move WHP clients into Medicaid after the expansion of the program takes effect in 2014. She pointed out that was the same day Perry notified federal authorities that Texas would not extend the program. Farrar requested that Abbott “correct or withdraw” those statements.

State Rep. John Zerwas, an anesthesiologist and Simonton Republican, said the state is caught in a difficult situation because Planned Parenthood is “a very cost-effective provider.” However, he said lawmakers were willing to walk away from federal funds to make a bigger point: They are against abortion and any organization that may refer women for the procedure.

“We have to look at who’s elected to the Legislature and their philosophies and beliefs, and we have to be respectful of those,” he said.

Being respectful of the women who are directly affected by these political games is at best a secondary concern. You can read Rep. Farrar’s letter here. These problems are entirely of the Republicans’ making. They had no thought for the consequences when they did what they did, and they have no idea how to get out of the situation they’ve put themselves and everyone else in. TM Daily Post has more.

Our high maintenance Governor

Ka-ching!

This corndog brought to you at taxpayer expense

Texans have been billed $2.2 million in out-of-state travel expenses for Gov. Rick Perry’s security detail since his November 2010 re-election, including his failed presidential bid and other trips ranging from vacations to state business and political gatherings, according to updated figures released Friday.

The new report released by the Texas Department of Public Safety freshly tallies $199,060.07 in expenses for Perry’s security detail within and outside Texas, with most for out-of-state trips.

The report covers the March-May fiscal quarter. It also includes expenses dating back to the September start of the fiscal year that came in after earlier reports were compiled.

[…]

Perry’s direct travel costs generally are paid by his campaign, but expenses for his security detail are paid mainly through the state highway fund, which includes proceeds from the state gasoline tax and vehicle registration fees.

Travel costs in the report include such items as airfare, rental car, food and lodging.

The quarterly report doesn’t include overtime for Perry’s security detail, which totaled more than $2.8 million from November 2010 through February. The overtime total includes trips within and outside of Texas.

The largest recent travel expense tallied in the report was a trip to San Diego, Calif., for $27,143.76.

[…]

“It seems like everybody else is tightening their belt, except for him,” said state Rep. Jessica Farrar of Houston, House Democratic Caucus leader, referring to state budget cuts and the potential of more to come. “If he’s asking for us to tighten our belts, he needs to look for a few notches himself,” Farrar said.

Perry and his staff have repeatedly turned aside the idea that he should cover the security costs, saying Perry is governor wherever he is and noting that previous governors also had security.

I do agree that governors travel as part of their jobs, and that they are entitled to security when they travel. It’s appropriate for those expenses to be paid by the state, and frankly that’s far superior to his trips being funded solely by campaign contributors. We have enough of a pay to play culture in our politics as it is, thank very much. That said, it is also the case that we are, as the Governor himself likes to proclaim loudly, in lean times that call for sacrifices and cutbacks. It would be nice if Perry could lead by example for once in his life and save us all a bit of money by travelling less often. The private sector uses virtual conference rooms, NetMeeting, Skype, Office Communicator, stuff like that as low-cost substitutes for travel. Perhaps the Governor’s office should look into that.

No Medicaid expansion for you!

So much for that.

Texas will not expand Medicaid or establish a health insurance exchange, two major tenets of the federal health reform that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld last month, Gov. Rick Perry said in an early morning announcement.

“I stand proudly with the growing chorus of governors who reject the Obamacare power grab,” he said in a statement. “Neither a ‘state’ exchange nor the expansion of Medicaid under this program would result in better ‘patient protection’ or in more ‘affordable care.’ They would only make Texas a mere appendage of the federal government when it comes to health care.”

Perry’s office said he’s sending a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius [Monday] morning asserting his opposition, both to accepting more than a hundred million federal dollars to put more poor Texas adults onto Medicaid, and to creating an Orbitz-style online insurance marketplace for consumers.

Of course, opting out of creating a state exchange means that the federal government will create one instead. It does not mean there will be no exchange in Texas. This is why some Republican legislators like Rep. John Zerwas tried to pass a bill to create an exchange, so that it would be implemented by Texas instead of the federal government. The rationale for not implementing the state-run exchange confounds me, but I have never been Rick Perry’s intended audience.

As for the refusal to expand Medicaid, just on Friday the Dallas Morning News reported that Perry was still thinking about it.

Gov. Rick Perry won’t say whether Texas should take or reject the federal largesse that could allow the state’s Medicaid program to cover more poor adults.

But a spokeswoman confirmed Friday that his aides have begun canvassing health care provider groups for their opinions about expanding Medicaid and creating a state health-insurance exchange

Though he’s a staunch opponent of President Barack Obama’s federal health care law, Perry’s reluctance to declare immediate opposition to the Medicaid expansion after the Supreme Court’s ruling last week puts him at odds with several other Republican governors. Some, such as Florida’s Rick Scott, have already vowed to keep their states on the sidelines, taking advantage of the court’s ruling that they can do so without jeopardizing the funds they already receive.

Perry spokeswoman Catherine Frazier played down the calls as routine outreach on a major issue. But several health-care lobbyists and experts said it’s shrewd for Perry to say little because the Supreme Court ruling gives him leverage to negotiate with the Obama administration for tighter Medicaid eligibility rules and leaner benefits before agreeing to the expansion, which would take place starting in 2014.

“It’s smart politics because there’s no need to make a decision at this time, and he and a lot of Republicans are playing for more flexibility within the program,” said Tom Banning, chief executive and executive vice president of the Texas Academy of Family Physicians.

Apparently, he didn’t listen very closely to what the health care providers want, because they have made their preference quite clear.

Getting the Medicaid expansion in place has already become the “number one priority” for the Texas Hospital Association, said John Hawkins, the senior vice president for advocacy and public policy at the organization. “It’s the kind of thing that hits our members right on the margin when they’re trying to digest other payment cuts,” he said.

Twenty-seven percent of working-age Texans, or more than 6.1 million people, were uninsured in 2010, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. That’s the highest rate in the nation and the second-highest number to California’s 7 million people. Under the Medicaid expansion, 2.5 million Texans would qualify, the Urban Institute estimates.

But Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) has been a staunch opponent of health care reform and his administration has indicated a willingness to opt out of the Medicaid expansion. For Texas hospitals, which absorbed $4.6 billion in unpaid bills and charity care in 2010, that’s a problem, Hawkins said.

I’m thinking that will provide for some interesting fundraising pitches this fall. My advice to them is to start donating to Democrats now.

So now Rick Perry will take a victory lap on Fox News and bask in the adulation of his cultish supporters. Everyone else will have to deal with the reality of this, starting with county taxpayers.

It's constitutional - deal with it

Unlike many states, Texas does not directly subsidize the cost of caring for the uninsured. Instead, taxpayers in Dallas County and elsewhere help pick up that tab through property taxes that support safety-net hospitals such as Parkland Memorial Hospital.

Last year, Parkland reported that its own cost for delivering uncompensated care was $335 million. Dallas County taxpayers funded $425 million, or 35 percent, of the hospital’s operating budget.

For the average Dallas County homeowner, that created a hospital tax bill of $370.

Some advocates of health reform say the new revenue from Medicaid payments is large enough that hospital districts — whose budgets are controlled by county commissioners — could reduce their tax rates.

[…]

Some experts expect that Texas will eventually accept the Medicaid funding. After all, the federal government would cover the entire cost of the expansion between 2014 and 2016. Hospitals that have struggled to find ways to offset charity care are certain to demand that state lawmakers take the money.

“It really depends on the political pressure they get from the counties and the hospitals that benefit from having these people covered,” said John Holahan, director of the Urban Institute’s Health Policy Center. “To leave all this federal money on the table will create an intense debate.”

The hospitals are big losers as well.

Hospitals regularly get stuck with bills that the uninsured cannot afford to pay. Every year, the American Hospital Association adds all those bills up to calculate the total amount of uncompensated care that its members provide. Every year, the number gets bigger and bigger, hitting $39.3 billion in 2010. Here’s a chart I put together with the AHA data:

Under the health reform law, hospitals will see reductions in some of their Medicare reimbursement rates. They will be forced to deliver higher quality or see financial consequences.

All of that was worth it, in hospitals’ eyes, because of the insurance expansion. That would finally put someone on the hook for the medical bills that have, for decades, gone unpaid.

If states opt-out of the Medicaid expansion, that essentially means there’s no one on the hook for some of the poorest patients. And that explains why Bruce Siegel, president of the National Association of Public Hospitals, calls states opting out a “potentially disastrous outcome” and is urging Congress to come up with a fix. For them, the status quo is the worst possible outcome: One where they have accepted cuts to Medicare, and still get stuck with billions in unpaid bills.

Remember, a part of the Affordable Care Act was a reduction in the federal subsidy for uncompensated care costs because it assumed the expansion of Medicaid would greatly reduce the number of uninsured patients. Unfortunately, no one foresaw the SCOTUS decision striking down the provision that states would lose existing Medicaid funding if they didn’t accept the subsidies to expand it, and so here we are. Just as a reminder, states like Texas that have a lot of uninsured people would have benefited greatly from it as a result. It was a simple case of red state/blue state math.

The deal the federal government is offering states on Medicaid is too good to refuse. And that’s particularly true for the red states. If Mitt Romney loses the election and Republicans lose their chance to repeal the Affordable Care Act, they’re going to end up participating in the law. They can’t afford not to.

Medicaid is jointly administered between states and the federal government, and the states are given considerable leeway to set eligibility rules. Texas covers only working adults up to 26 percent of the poverty line. The poverty line for an individual is $11,170. So, you could be a single person making $3,000 a year and you’re still not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid in Texas. That’s part of the reason Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the nation.

Massachusetts, by contrast, covers working adults up to 133 percent of the poverty line — partly due to a former governor whose name rhymes with Schmitt Schmomney. It’s a big reason it has the lowest uninsured rate in the nation.

The Affordable Care Act wants to make the whole country like Schmitt Schmomney’s Massachusetts. Everyone earning up to 133 percent of the poverty line, which is less than $15,000 for an individual, gets Medicaid. And the way it does that is by telling states the feds will cover 100 percent of the difference between wherever the state is now and where the law wants them to go for the first three years, and 90 percent after 2020.

To get a sense of what an incredibly, astonishingly, unbelievably good deal that is, consider this: The federal government currently pays 57 percent of Medicaid’s costs. States pay the rest. And every state thinks that a sufficiently good deal to participate.

But, somewhat perversely, the states that get the best deal under the law are states like Texas, which have stingy Medicaid programs right now, and where the federal government is thus going to pick up the bill for insuring millions and millions of people. In states like Massachusetts, where the Medicaid program is already generous and the state is shouldering much of the cost, there’s no difference for the federal government to pay.

So if Texas had accepted Medicaid expansion, it would have gotten a vastly better deal than states like New York, California, and Massachusetts. Now that Texas has decided to “send that money back” to Washington, we will subsidizing the Medicaid expansions of New York, California, and Massachusetts, and getting nothing in return. Does that sound like a good idea to you? BOR, Neil, EoW, Juanita, Hair Balls, Ed Kilgore, Sarah Kliff, and Rep. Garnet Coleman have more, and statements from Rep. Jessica Farrar and Sen. Rodney Ellis are beneath the fold.

(more…)