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Joe Deshotel

Turner endorses Ike Dike


Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has endorsed the “Ike Dike” storm surge protection proposal, raising the possibility that Houston could be one of the last cities in the Galveston Bay area to endorse the $6 billion project.

If the Houston City Council passes a resolution endorsing the Ike Dike concept, the Bayou City would become the 27th municipality in the region to back the plan aimed at protecting Harris, Galveston and Chambers counties.

A Houston City Council resolution supporting the plan would give important political momentum to the Ike Dike concept, which would need federal money to be undertaken.

“I look forward to advancing this effort with my colleagues on the Houston City Council,” Turner wrote in his Aug. 5 letter to state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, and state Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Port Arthur, the co-chairman of the Texas Joint Interim Committee to Study a Coastal Barrier System.

See here for previous Ike Dike blogging. There have been two main hangups to getting something done for hurricane mitigation – agreeing on a single plan, and funding it. Mayor Turner’s endorsement of the Ike Dike consolidates support for that particular idea, and consolidating political support behind one plan makes it more likely that Congress will eventually be persuaded to cough up some money to pay for it. Getting the Lege behind that plan, which is what the Mayor’s letter alludes to, would help with that as well. Another thing to keep an eye on next spring.

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.


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.

Perry doesn’t have to show up at his court hearing

He’s excused this time. But don’t push it.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

My corndog can’t be there either

Gov. Rick Perry does not have to appear at an Oct. 13 court hearing in his case, but that does not mean he has a pass to skip all future hearings, Visiting Judge Bert Richardson ruled on Friday, according to the special prosecutor in the case.

This week, Perry’s legal team asked Richardson, a Republican, to excuse the governor from the Oct. 13 hearing and every other pretrial hearing. Perry faces felony charges of abuse of official power and coercion of a public official. In that same motion, the lawyers noted that the special prosecutor in the case, lawyer Mike McCrum, had requested that the governor be present in every pretrial hearing. McCrum had responded that there’s nothing in the criminal code that allows a defendant to be excused from every hearing.

On Friday, Richardson notified lawyers in the case that he granted the Perry team’s request that the governor skip the Oct. 13 hearing because it is a status conference or a check-in by both parties. But the judge denied the request that the governor does not have to make any future appearances at pre-trial hearings.

See here for the background. This seems like a reasonable ruling to me, but we’ll see what it becomes in practice. I’m sure at some point Judge Richardson will have to set some guidelines.

In the meantime, this case takes yet another strange turn.

In a criminal complaint sent Monday to the Travis County district attorney’s office, Houston criminal defense attorney David Rushing says special prosecutor Michael McCrum is abusing his official capacity by billing the county $300 per hour, or more than three times the highest possible rate set by a state law.

Travis County’s guidelines for the law, however, make it possible for an attorney in McCrum’s situation to earn less or more per hour if the circumstances are unusual. Perry, who has characterized the case against him as politically motivated, is the first Texas governor to be indicted in nearly a century.

“These attempts of character assassinations against our great governor here is bad enough on its own, but when you really analyze it, it’s not just a political game but lining the defense’s pockets at the taxpayers’ expense,” Rushing told the Chronicle.

The district attorney’s office confirmed it received the complaint but declined to comment further. McCrum did not respond to a request for comment Thursday evening.

Rushing’s argument is based on the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure and Travis County’s guidelines for the Fair Defense Act, a state law dealing with the right to counsel. The guidelines say appointed attorneys should be paid an hourly rate of $70 to $100 for time spent in court and $60 to $90 for time spent out of court. The guidelines also say an appointed attorney can be paid less or more in an “unusual case.”


Acknowledging some may see the complaint as a political ploy, Rushing said he has not been involved in Texas politics for nearly a decade. He served until 2005 as the chairman of the Young Conservatives of Texas, a group of college students that has backed Perry for governor and had him speak at its annual convention.

If the name “David Rushingsounds familiar to you, this would be why. I’m delighted to know that some things never do change. As for his complaint, I’m not a lawyer, but it seems to me that McCrum’s hourly rate and the invoices he submits will have to be approved by Travis County Commissioners Court, one of whose members is a Republican, and you’d think they might have noticed if McCrum’s fees were illegally high. (Who had his own role to play in this ongoing saga, not that it matters now.) My guess is that the main effect of this complaint will be the need to appoint another special prosecutor, since I’m sure the Travis County DA won’t want any part of this investigation, either. I doubt it gets any farther than that, but who knows? I’m sure we have not seen the last surprise this story has for us.

And then if that wasn’t enough, this happened late Friday.

An Austin lawyer with Democratic ties has sued Gov. Rick Perry and Comptroller Susan Combs, arguing that the Republican leaders had no authority to spend taxpayer money on criminal defense attorneys for the governor, who is fighting an abuse-of-office indictment.

Larry Sauer, an Austin defense attorney who specializes in drug cases, is asking a state district court in Austin to declare the expenditures unlawful and to slap an injunction on the governor’s and comptroller’s offices to prevent future spending on outside criminal lawyers for Perry.

“State law is clear that public officials cannot use taxpayer or other state funds to defend a criminal charge, unless and until the official has been found not guilty,” the lawsuit said. It was filed Thursday and issued a docket number Friday afternoon, an attorney for the plaintiff said.

The lawsuit is being waged by attorneys with deep Democratic connections. Sauer has made numerous contributions to Democrats, according to state ethics records. He also gave $300 to Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, according to a 2008 story in the Austin American-Statesman.


When it comes to paying the legal bills incurred in connection with the grand jury investigation, Perry has never wavered from his argument that he has the right to use taxpayer money to pay for criminal defense lawyers.

After his aides said last month that Perry would pay for the attorneys out of his flush state campaign account, the governor said during a stop in Midland that he decided to use political funds only because people complained about it.

“I look at this as an appropriate defense of a state official,” Perry told reporters, according to news reports. “But just to keep from having folks grouse about it, we’ll pick up the cost as we go forward.” That statement is a central feature of the lawsuit.

Because Perry has asserted a right to tap taxpayer money for the legal bills, the lawsuit says taxpayers have no way to stop it from happening again.

“Governor Perry claims the right to pay criminal defense attorneys fees and expenses out of taxpayer funds at his whim, and Defendant Combs claims she must pay such expenses if Perry makes such a request,” the lawsuit alleges. “This leaves the taxpayer without the ability to prevent them, without judicial review.”

No doubt there are partisan motives here as well, but at least the legal question is more interesting. State Rep. Joe Deshotel requested an AG opinion about what the limits and requirements are for an indicted Governor billing the state for his or her legal fees. According to the Trib story, then-AG John Cornyn opined in 2000 that public servants who bill the government for criminal defense lawyers must be declared innocent first. So whatever the motivation, it seems fair to say that the issue here is not settled. Any thoughts on how this one might play out?

Ike Dike versus Centennial Gate

It’s an academic storm surge mitigation smackdown!

Lawmakers on Monday told representatives of two of Texas’ most distinguished universities to stop feuding and come together on a plan for protecting the Houston region from a storm surge similar to the one spawned by Hurricane Ike six years ago.

At a hearing at Texas A&M University Galveston, members of the Joint Committee on a Coastal Barrier System expressed frustration that the universities who took the initiative to devise a storm protection plan – Texas A&M Galveston and a Rice University-based center – were still arguing over the best approach.

“The fact is that Hurricane Ike was six years ago and we are still talking about how to come to a consensus,” said Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood and the co-chairman of the joint committee. “We’ve got to move forward.”

Legislators said they wanted a proposal they could turn into legislation soon. “You have to come up with a plan that can be passed,” said committee Co-Chairman Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont.

If the two sides fail to come together by the time the committee reconvenes in September, legislators said, they will take steps to bring about an agreement. “We’ll do something to encourage them,” Taylor said, adding that it could include picking a person or a committee to work out a deal.

“We have ways of making you achieve consensus,” Sen. Taylor did not say, definitely not twirling his mustache while not saying it. Sorry, got carried away for a minute there. Won’t happen again, I promise.

Texas A&M is backing a storm protection barrier proposal known as the Ike Dike, which would stretch from San Luis Pass at the western end of Galveston Island to High Island on the eastern end of the Bolivar Peninsula. Skeptics have said the idea is too costly.

Texas A&M marine scientist William Merrell proposed the concept soon after Ike caused an estimated $25 billion in damage to the Houston area, making it the costliest storm in Texas history.

The SSPEED Center, which draws on ideas from all over Texas, originated the proposal for the Centennial Gate at the head of the Houston Ship Channel. That plan calls for a ring barrier around the populated portion of Galveston Island, and a storm levee along Texas 146 to protect the western edge of Galveston Bay.

After the hearing, Jim Blackburn, a professor at the SSPEED Center, said he was confident that an agreement could be reached. But when Merrell was asked if there was a chance of a compromise, he responded, “No.”

“We’ve got a concept, we think it’s a good one and we are going to keep doing it,” Merrell said. “The Centennial Gate never did hunt.”

Merrell said he would welcome the backing of the SSPEED Center.

“Save time, see it my way,” Merrell did not say. Yeah, I know I said I wouldn’t do that again, but sometimes it’s just too easy.

See here and here for some background. I don’t know what the “right” answer is here. It’s a matter of how you calculate the risk and how much you’re willing to pay to mitigate that risk. There is such a thing as too much insurance, but there’s also such a thing as too little. What’s it worth to you? How will you pay for it? Answer those questions and you’ll answer the other one. Lisa Gray is right, that’s the Legislature’s call.

AG opinion sought for Perry’s use of taxpayer funds for defense


Corndogs make bad news go down easier

These corndogs don’t come cheap ya know

A Democratic House leader has asked for a legal opinion on how and if Gov. Rick Perry can bill taxpayers for his $450-an-hour criminal lawyer defending him in a grand jury probe.

Perry is under a grand jury investigation on potential bribery and coercion charges after trying to force Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to resign last year after she pled guilty to drunk driving.

He hired Austin criminal attorney David Botsford in a contract that runs through October.

Perry has acknowledged that he threatened to veto $7.5 million in state funding for the Public Integrity Unit, administered by Lehmberg’s office, if she did not step down. She did not resign and he vetoed the money.

If Lehmberg, a Democrat, had quit, Perry would have named her replacement. The Public Integrity Unit at the time was investigating the operation of one of Perry’s signature achievements — the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

One of CPRIT’s top officers was indicted in December for steering an $11 million award to a company without subjecting it to the standard review process.

Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Port Arthur, requested that Attorney General Greg Abbott study the issue to see if there are limits on a governor hiring outside counsel at taxpayers expense.

In a 4-page letter, the House Land and Resource Management Committee chairman asks if the governor has taken criminal actions beyond the scope of his official capacity, should the state be obligated to pay for his defense.

It also asks if the governor can be forced to accept a state lawyer on staff at the Attorney General’s Office as opposed to paying for outside counsel.

The Lone Star Project has a copy of the letter, with more here. My original assumption was that this was similar to Perry paying for his travel security with public funds, but perhaps I thought too soon. I’ll be very interested to see how Abbott opines on this. The Trib and BOR have more.

Meanwhile, more details about Perry’s efforts to oust Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg keep dribbling out.

Officials and sources said Perry, through intermediaries, offered several options to Lehmberg to entice her resignation, culminating in promises to restore funding to the unit, another position in the District Attorney’s office, and the selection of her top lieutenant to serve as the new district attorney.

The offer was “clear,” said a public official who was involved the talks, but who asked not to be identified.

Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daughtery, a Republican, said he reached out to Perry’s office following the veto to see if there was some way to restore state funding for the anti-corruption Public Integrity Unit. He said that negotiations eventually included allowing Democrats, who dominate Travis County politics, to pick Lehmberg’s replacement.

“There was this massive amount of fear that if Rosemary steps down, it’s the governor who gets to appoint someone,” Daughtery said. A Lehmberg aide was floated as a potential replacement to make it palatable to Democrats.

Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe confirmed that Perry’s office had said that Lehmberg would be replaced with another Democrat currently working in the district attorney’s office.

“Then the offer was made, I was told, that the governor would appoint a Democrat, and preferably one already working in the DA’s office,” he said.

Biscoe added that he never directly communicated with Perry or his staff during the talks.

In late July, the offer was sweetened again, the two sources said, when the Governor’s office communicated that Lehmberg would be allowed to remain at the district attorney’s office in another capacity if she resigned her elected position.

I’m amazed by all this, and I must say a little puzzled. The presumed reasons why Perry would want to force Lehmberg out the door are to derail the CPRIT investigation, and generally cripple the Public Integrity Unit. Both of which could be accomplished by installing a Republican as DA, which Perry would have gotten to do if Lehmberg had stepped down. I get that Perry might need and be willing to sweeten the pot to achieve his (again, presumed) goals, but if all this is true you have to wonder what he thought he was accomplishing. I just don’t understand the motivation. If it was just about believing that Lehmberg was unfit to serve, then why would Perry offer to let her stay at another job in the office? Makes no sense to me. Jason Stanford has more.

House passes major changes to testing and graduation requirements

This is a big deal.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Rep. Harold Dutton knows what he makes of it.

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

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

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

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

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

The Observer tracked the amendments that were proposed for HB5.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On peeing in a cup

Another solution in search of a problem from the Republican leadership.

Out of the more than 250 bills filed Monday, the first possible day to file legislation for the 83rd session, one measure — concerning drug testing for welfare applicants — is already drawing the support of the state’s top lawmakers and the criticism of civil liberties advocates.

Senate Bill 11 would require applicants to the Texas Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to undergo a drug test. If applicants fail the test, they would not be eligible to apply again for a full year, unless they attended a substance abuse treatment program. The bill was written by state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, and several other Republican lawmakers.

“This will help prevent tax dollars from going into the pockets of drug abusers,” Gov. Rick Perry said Tuesday at a news conference. He said that the goal of the bill is to “empower every Texan to reach their potential,” because “being on drugs makes it harder to begin the journey to independence.”

“It is a legitimate function of government to help people that are not able to help themselves,” added Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. He said that because “virtually every” business he has encountered uses random drug testing on employees, it’s a good idea for the state and will lead to reduced unemployment by proving to employers that the people they are hiring have been certified by the state as drug-free.

“We owe it to all Texans to structure our welfare and unemployment programs in a way that guarantees that recipients are serious about getting back to work,” he said.

“This is not all about punishment,” Perry added. “This is also an incentive to get people off of these drugs.”

But critics of the bill say the bill is needlessly punitive and will mainly harm innocent children, whose parents are found to have even a minor amount of drugs. “The purpose of TANF was really to help children,” said Terri Burke, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Texas. “If you don’t give the moms the money, then the children lose out.”

She pointed specifically to the bill’s provision that would require the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to report applicants with drug abuse problems to Child Protective Services. “Now we’re going to take the child of a parent who has smoked a couple of joints and give them to CPS,” she said. “If there’s a genuine concern about drug abuse, let’s do something about it. There’s no evidence that poor people abuse drugs more than other folks, but we keep coming up with bills that target poor people.”

“Adding insult to injury,” Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said in a press release, “is that Perry would pay for the drug testing out of the very TANF funds that should go to provide assistance to people. In other words, he’s taking about $350,000 worth food and assistance from all families from the general TANF grant just to try to find a few violators. This is simply callous and perverse.”

I don’t have much to say that hasn’t already been said by Lisa Falkenberg, Burka, Jason Stanford, BOR, Stace, or EoW. I’m particularly fond of Rep. Joe Deshotel’s response, noted in that BOR post, which was a call to add a drug test requirement to the application to run for state office in Texas. Lord knows, for the amount we spend on Rick Perry’s travel detail, we ought to get some assurance he’s not taking the opportunity to toke up while out on the road.

All other concerns aside, the bottom line is that this has been done in other states, most notably Florida, and there were no savings to be had and very few users getting caught. Burka astutely noted the parallel to the failed program of steroid testing for high school athletes, another expensive way for the state to (if you’ll pardon the expression) piss its money away chasing something that wasn’t there in the first place. For a gang that likes to rhapsodize about getting government out of people’s lives, they sure sing a different tune when it comes to the lives of people they don’t like.

More on worker’s comp fraud

Elise Hu has a followup to her story from last week about worker’s comp fraud and the lack of investigation of same. It seems she attracted the attention of the Lege.

“My primary concern is patients getting improper treatment — things that are going to end up hurting them or getting them hooked on painkillers,” said state Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, who chairs the House Business and Industry Committee, which oversees workers’ compensation laws in Texas. “What’s the impact of fraudulent claims on our already strapped budget?”

Deshotel said he plans to hold a committee hearing as early as mid-June to address the enforcement questions. Nearer on the horizon — May 25 — is the Sunset Advisory Commission’s public hearing and final recommendations for changes to the Division’s statutory structure, which will guide legislation next session. Bordelon is expected to appear before the Sunset commission, according to its chairman, state Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy.

“I will ask the Commissioner questions regarding the issues brought up in the [Tribune] story,” Hegar says. “I firmly believe that Texans deserve quality medical care, especially those who have been injured in the workplace. We don’t want any doctors scamming the system in any shape, form or fashion. I am very interested in making sure there is a fair and equitable process.”

Good, and not surprising. This really is low-hanging fruit, the proverbial “waste, fraud and abuse” we’re all supposed to be on the lookout for. Why it hasn’t been pursued more vigorously is a question that deserves an answer. I’m glad to see the Lege playing its role in getting to that answer.

House committee passes SB1569


The House Business and Industry Committee wasted no time approving the Senate bill that would open the door for Texas to get $555 million in federal stimulus money to expand unemployment eligibility.

SB 1569 landed in the committee yesterday and the members passed it out Tuesday afternoon in a 6-2 vote. Republican Reps. Wayne Christian of Center and Rob Orr of Burleson were the nays.

Time is of the essence, of course, since there is a good chance Gov. Rick Perry will veto the measure and the chambers could try to override that veto. Perry has not said he will veto the legislation, which passed the Senate last week, but he has repeatedly objected to taking the money.

One significant change made to the bill in committee would undo an amendment proffered by Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, that would make the eligibility changes contingent upon getting the federal money.

The U.S. Department of Labor, however, indicated that Texas would not get the money if that provision remained so the House committee stripped it.

Committee Chairman Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, said the bill could come to the House floor next week.

If I’m reading the Constitution correctly, if the bill gets to Governor Perry more than ten days before sine die (Sundays excluded), then there would still be time to override a veto. Easier said than done, of course, but at least there’s a chance. Keep your fingers crossed.

Senate passes SB1569, but may not be able to override a veto

The Senate passed SB1569, the bill that accepts stimulus funding for unemployment insurance, by a 19-11 vote today. As Elise noted on Twitter, two Senators flipped to No for final passage; one other Senator was either absent or did not vote. We don’t know who exactly the changed and missing voters were yet. For the record, the second reading vote went as follows:

Yeas: Averitt, Carona, Davis, Deuell, Duncan, Ellis, Eltife, Estes, Gallegos, Harris, Hinojosa, Lucio, Ogden, Shapiro, Shapleigh, Uresti, Van de Putte, Watson, Wentworth, West, Whitmire, Zaffirini.

Nays: Fraser, Hegar, Huffman, Jackson, Nelson, Nichols, Patrick, Seliger, Williams.

The same group voted to suspend the rules so the bill could be brought to the floor. As predicted, the entire Harris GOP contingent voted against. The final margin of 19-11 means the Senate would not vote to override a Governor Perry veto if it comes to that and no one flips back; even if the absentee voted Yes it would be insufficient. So if there’s the be any stick to induce Perry to sign this thing, it’ll have to be the Yvonne Davis amendment.

Speaking of the House, HB2623 by Rep. Joe Deshotel, which is listed as “similar” to SB1569, had its committee report sent to Calendars on Friday. Given that the “identical” HB3153 by Rep. Tan Parker is still in committee, I’d say that’s the bill to watch in the lower chamber. There’s still time to allow for a veto override attempt, if they don’t get bogged down. Patricia Kilday Hart has more, and a statement by Sen. Leticia Van de Putte is beneath the fold.

UPDATE: Via Postcards, the answer is that Sens. Shapiro and Estes switched their votes between second and third readings, and Harris was absent.

UPDATE: The Statesman has more on the prospects in the House.

Although there are six weeks left in the session, lawmakers need to finish a bill within the next month to attempt a veto override. During that period, the governor must veto a bill within 10 days of its final passage or it becomes law.

Business and Industry Committee Chairman Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, said the House is “up against a wall” to get the bill to the governor.

“Every day now counts,” said Deshotel, who will sponsor Eltife’s bill in the House. “We can make it through if it doesn’t stall somewhere.”

It was unclear Monday which House committee will take up Eltife’s bill and how long it will take to clear that committee and get to the floor for a vote. Then, assuming the governor vetoes the legislation, the hard work would begin in getting the support in both houses necessary to override a veto.

Given Perry’s clear opposition and the jam-packed legislative schedule, Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, said it would be “irresponsible of us to waste the citizens’ valuable time (taking up the measure) if the governor already says it is vetoed.”

“Why should we kill other bills that might be able to help the citizens of Texas if we know that this is a nonproductive exercise of yelling at each other on the House floor?” said Christian, a leader of conservatives in the House.

Deshotel said the possibility of a veto should not deter the House because the policy issue is a critical one.

He also said the governor might not veto the bill if he sees that it has broad-based support from both Democrats and Republicans, including House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie.

“The governor can always change his mind. I want to get the bill to the governor,” Deshotel said.

Especially if the budget provision that moves money from the Texas Enterprise Fund to the unemployment insurance trust survives the budget conference committee. I’m sure the Governor has a fallback position prepared just in case. Speaking of that provision, a statement from Rep. Armando Walle, who was the initial author of that amendment, has been added beneath the fold.


Senate committee passes unemployment insurance reform

You’d think, after all the high-profile squabbling over stimulus funds for the unemployment insurance trust fund, that the news of SB1569‘s advancement in the Senate might get a bit more notice than this, but apparently not. The only other story I could find was this from the Tyler Telegraph:

A Senate bill authored by a local legislator that would place provisions for Texas to accept $555 million in federal stimulus funding passed unanimously out of committee Monday.

Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, authored Senate Bill 1569 in the hopes that the state would accept hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government and avoid “strings” attached to the funding. The bill passed from the Senate Committee on Economic Development and is the first Unemployment Insurance Modernization legislation to pass out of a House or Senate committee.

The bill would place provisions to allow the state to accept the stimulus dollars for Texas’ Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.

“I am pleased to keep the bill moving forward,” Eltife said. “I will continue to refine the legislation so that Texas can be eligible for the $555 million in federal stimulus money for the Unemployment Trust Fund. This will help many of our fellow Texans who are out of work while at the same time keeping the burden on business to a minimum.”


Eltife said with the provisions the state can accept the money and avoid future burdens.

The Statesman’s Virtual Capitol has a little more on what that means.

[Eltife’s] plan no longer includes a sunset provision, which is barred by the federal legislation, but calls for a review of the changes after they are put into law. Gov. Rick Perry remains opposed. It will be interesting to see whether Eltife can round up enough Republicans to bring this measure up, which would be a direct challenge to Perry. Chairman Joe Deshotel will have similar legislation in his Business and Industry Committee on Wednesday, according to the Statesman’s Kate Alexander.

I think this measure can and probably will pass both chambers, though it certainly could fail in the Senate. Passing it with enough votes and with sufficient time to override a veto, that’s a much steeper hill to climb. Maybe it would be useful to remind the Lege that they have smacked Governor Perry before, and can do it again.

As far as the attempts to come up with a sunset provision that isn’t really a sunset provision, if that’s what it takes to pass this, then that’s fine by me. I think it’s a bit ridiculous to have to go over such hurdles, given that the marginal cost to the state some number of years down the line for expanding its unemployment insurance program and collecting that $555 million in stimulus money today is tiny compared to the overall budget – something like 0.2% of state revenues – and the marginal benefits are substantial, as Ray Perryman has estimated that every $1 from these unemployment benefits would add $2.66 to the economy. That doesn’t even take into account the hit that businesses will take when the unemployment tax gets hiked in the coming months to keep the unemployment trust fund from going dry. All this, and we help a lot more people make it through some hard times intact. Point being, this is a good deal regardless of whether or not we think we might need to repeal it later. I mean, I understand the politics of this. I just don’t understand the logic.

UPDATE: Typically, Bill Hammond of the Texas Association of Business opposed this bill, defying all logic and (given the provisions in the bill making it easier for victims of domestic abuse to claim the benefits) compassion. Burka summarizes a debate among three lawmakers over the stimulus funding for UI.

Parker versus Perry

I like this.

Houston City Controller Annise Parker sharply criticized Texas Governor Rick Perry today for rejecting $555 million in federal stimulus money that would have funded unemployment benefits for out-of-work Texans.

“In January alone, more than 65,000 Houstonians were unemployed – the most since 2004 – and our economy is slowing,” said Parker. “While the Governor makes his political point, our local economy is losing out on millions of dollars in stimulus funds – and Houstonians are hurting.”


Parker recently called on Perry to allow more transparency and local input into decisions about allocating stimulus dollars, to ensure that Houston receives its fair share of funds. She also met with local legislators in Austin to discuss the use of stimulus funds.

“I support the efforts of our local representatives to bypass the Governor’s rejection of these funds and bring more stimulus dollars to Texas and to Houston,” said Parker.

“As the impact of the national economic crisis hits home in Houston, our leaders should be doing everything they can to keep our economy growing,” she said. “The Governor’s rejection of these badly needed funds is a failure of leadership.”

I’d like to see more city officials follow suit. Cities, big and small, are going to feel the effects of Governor Perry’s foolishness directly. Governor Perry can afford to fret about the possible years-off effects of expanding unemployment insurance to match what many other states do. (He can fit it in between Tweeting about his upcoming TV appearances.) Those who are on the business end of this action need to be concerned about what is happening now, to thousands of people and their families. Perhaps with sufficient pushback from local leaders, the Lege will be encouraged to override Perry’s bad decision. Good on Annise Parker for taking the lead.

Of course, if there’s one person you’d think would be taking the lead on this, it would be Perry’s main opponent in the 2010 primary, Kay Bailey Hutchison, since this stunt (like everything else he’s doing these days) is about the primary. But so far, nothing but some meaningless platitudes from KBH, which one presumes isn’t making her supporters happy. What pushback there has been has mainly been from Dems in the Lege and responsible economic types.

“The tax implications for 2010 are much, much worse if you do not take the stimulus money,” said Don Baylor, a senior policy analyst for the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for low-income Texans. “The fund is basically going to be out of money by the OU game.” In other words, by October.

Economist Ray Perryman testified to a panel of lawmakers earlier this week that “it is unrealistic to assume the system can continue in its current form.”

The federal money would be enough to pay for the increase in benefits, including changes in state law, for a decade, Perryman told the House committee charged with making recommendations to spend the federal stimulus money.

House Democratic Leader Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, who chairs the committee, said the move is so counterproductive it “has to be 100 percent political.”

“What is taking the money going to do to your taxes? Nothing,” Dunnam said. “Put this $555 million up and it will pay for the whole program for a decade. Maybe in a decade there may be some impact … there is no rational basis for it.”

The crazy thing is that this should be a hanging curve for KBH. All she has to do is say that Perry is grandstanding about refusing to take responsibility to help those who are getting laid off, while not raising a peep at the prospect of stimulus funds being spent by TxDOT on toll roads. This isn’t rocket science, you know? But I guess she’s going to need The Lege to do the dirty work and save her bacon.

Bills to expand benefits — and thus allow Texas to get the money — have been filed by lawmakers including Reps. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, and Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound; and Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, whose bill was signed onto by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, has backed taking the money. Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, filed a resolution to take all the stimulus money.

“It’s a bipartisan effort in the House to get these funds,” Dunnam said. He noted rising unemployment and said a state jobless benefit fund could need a federal loan and state bonds to stay in good shape. Business taxes pay for the fund.


A veto override would require a two-thirds vote — particularly difficult in a Legislature dominated by Republicans. The last veto override occurred in 1979.

Dunnam said an override isn’t the only option: “There are more than a handful of ways to skin a cat.”

Rep. Garnet Coleman agreed, noting that legislative bargaining is common as the session’s end nears. “There may be ways to move forward that don’t require a veto-proof majority,” said Coleman, D-Houston. “At the end of the day, there are things that Rick Perry wants.”

You mean, besides the spotlight? In the meantime, if you’re looking for work, or in a position to help someone who is, there’s a volunteer group called ROPE with HOPE that’s available. From an email that Andy Neill sent me about the group:

The group name “Rope With Hope” signifies – R.O.P.E. (Recruiters Offering Professional Expertise) With H.O.P.E. (HR Offering Professional Expertise) – and it is an online network of Corporate Recruiters and HR personnel that have come together to assist area Job Seekers in their attempts to gain meaningful employment.

Unemployed Houstonians are encouraged to email their resumes if they would like a professional assessment to, and every HR or Recruiting professional that would be interested in volunteering for “Rope With Hope” is asked to do one of the following:

* Allot 1-2 hours per week (can be after-hours/weekends) to offer your HR, Interviewing, Recruiting, or Resume review expertise to unemployed candidates.

* Attend an event or meeting that would either allow you to announce this new resource for displaced or unemployed workers; or conduct a presentation on interviewing or resume writing techniques. This is as simple as appearing at your own existing HR Society, Civic Association, Church Group, or Chamber of Commerce meeting and introducing the concept of “Rope for Hope – Houston”.

Anyway, I wanted to introduce the concept and group to you and encourage you to spread the word if you could. Even if you could just pass this info on to your Corporate HR/Recruiting folks at your “normal job”.

They have a Facebook group as well. Send an email to if you have any questions.

Will we or won’t we fix unemployment insurance?

There’s a lot of money riding on the answer to that question.

The lure of $555 million in federal stimulus money for additional unemployment insurance has Texas legislators mulling whether to expand unemployment benefits to more workers.

To get that money, Texas would have to implement some key changes to state law — including modifying some eligibility requirements to include tens of thousands of low-wage workers. Such changes have been considered but not enacted in previous sessions.


Gov. Rick Perry is reviewing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed by President Barack Obama this month and the strings attached to all the money, a spokeswoman said.

The unemployment money would be the mostly likely candidate if Perry were to reject anything from the stimulus package.

Perry has said the stimulus money should be used only for one-time projects, not ongoing expenses.

“The hardest thing to remove from government is a temporary program,” Ken Armbrister, Perry’s legislative director, said at a Wednesday hearing.


The federal money could lessen the need for new taxes on business, said state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, who is chairman of the Technology, Economic Development and Workforce Committee.

“Failure to adopt the policy changes … would result in a higher burden on business taxpayers in the immediate and near term during the recession” than would expanding the benefits, Strama said.

I can understand the reluctance to taking one-time money for potentially ongoing expenditures. But sometimes these are things you should have been doing anyway, and will at worst take on a relatively small expense while getting a worthwhile return on it. A little more analysis and a little less sloganeering would go a long way here.

The Workforce Commission is still determining how much the change would cost.

But an analysis of a similar 2007 bill put the price tag at about $35 million to $45 million a year as 74,000 additional workers would become eligible for benefits, according to the Legislative Budget Board.

The number, however, would probably be somewhat higher given today’s higher unemployment rates.

That change alone would open the door to Texas receiving $185 million of the stimulus money.

The Legislature has some options for how to tap the remaining $370 million. Lawmakers would need to enact two of four policy changes, such as allowing people to get benefits while searching for part-time work.

The Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for low-income Texans, estimates that all of the reforms combined would cost $55 million to $75 million a year, so the federal money could cover the costs for seven years or more.

No one knows the true cost because that would be driven by how many more people took advantage of the benefits, said Talmadge Heflin of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which advocates for limited government.

“The upside is all short-term,” Heflin said. “The downside in future years will greatly outweigh any upside.”

Funny, you could say the exact same thing about those big property tax cuts we enacted last session when we had some extra cash lying around. I don’t recall there being a whole lot of angst from certain quarters about how we were going to pay for it going forward – there may have been something about the beauty of the free market, or the Laffer curve, or magic pixie dust, I’m not sure. You want to talk about something that’s tough to get rid of, try repealing an irresponsible tax cut. In contrast, this would cost about $150 million per biennium – likely less in the future when the economy improves and more people are working again – which is about 0.2% of the total state revenue we have for this period. It would also help a lot of people who could really use it, and would be quite economically stimulative, as the recipients would be spending all that money on frivolities like food and housing. Seems like an easy decision to make, if you ask me. Patricia Kilday Hart sums up the hearings, in which Texas Workforce Commission Chair (and former chair of the Republican Party of Texas) Tom Pauken spoke in favor of getting stimulus money, as follows:

So, to review:

1. An escalating unemployment rate means the trust fund is paying out 120 percent more than it did this time last year and

2. At current rates, the trust fund will be broke by fall and

3. Bill Hammond [of the Texas Association of Business] doesn’t want to take any federal stimulus money to fix it because somebody might have to pay higher taxes in the future.

Like I said, seems like an easy call to me. Press releases from the AFL-CIO of Texas and Senators Rodney Ellis, Eddie Lucio, Leticia Van de Putte, and Representative Joe Deshotel, who are urging Governor Perry to declare this a legislative emergency, are beneath the fold.