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Kel Seliger

2018 primary results: Legislative

Rep. Sarah Davis

Statewide Dem totals
Statewide GOP totals

Harris County Dem totals
Harris County GOP totals

(Please note that all results were coming in very slowly. I expect there will still be some precincts not yet reported by the time this publishes. So, I’m going to be less specific than usual, and may have to make a correction or two by Thursday.)

I’m gonna lead with the Republicans this time. Sarah Davis and Lyle Larson, both viciously targeted by Greg Abbott, won their races easily. Sarah, here’s that picture I mentioned before. Also, too, the anti-vaxxers can suck it (in this race; they unfortunately appear to have claimed a scalp elsewhere). Abbott did manage to unseat the mediocre Wayne Faircloth, who was the most conservative of his three targets. Party on, Greg!

Back to the good side: Rita Lucido was leading Fran Watson in SD17, but was short of a majority. Beverly Powell won in SD10, Wendy Davis’ old district. Mark Phariss was leading in SD08, but it was too close to call. On the Republican side, Rep. Pat Fallon destroyed Sen. Craig Estes in SD30, but Sen. Kel Seliger beat back the wingnuts again in SD31. Sen. John Whitmire won easily. Joan Huffman easily held off Kristin Tassin on her side of SD17. And Angela Paxton won in SD08 over the lesser Huffines brother. Apparently, two Paxtons are better than one, and also better than two Huffineses.

Other incumbents in both parties had more trouble. On the D side, longtime Rep. Robert Alonzo lost to Jessica Gonzalez in HD104; her election increases the number of LGBT members of the Lege by one. First term Rep. Diana Arevalo lost to former Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer in HD116, and first-term Rep. Tomas Uresti, no doubt damaged by his brother’s legal problems, lost to Leo Pacheco. And Dawnna Dukes’ odyssey came to an end as challengers Sheryl Cole and Chito Vela both ran way ahead of her. Other Dems, including (sigh) Ron Reynolds hung on, though Rep. Rene Oliveira was headed to a runoff with Alex Dominguez in HD37. For the Rs, Rep. Jason Villalba was going down in HD114 – he was an anti-vaxxer target, though there were other factors in that race, so it sure would be nice for Dems to pick that one off in November. Rep. Scott Cosper was headed to a runoff in HD54. Other incumbents, including those targeted by the extreme wingnut coalition, made it through.

For Harris County, the following challengers won: Natali Hurtado (HD126; she celebrated by going into labor, so double congratulations to her), Gina Calanni (HD132), Adam Milasincic (HD138). Sandra Moore was briefly above 50% in HD133, but ultimately fell back below it to wind up in a runoff with Marty Schexnayder. Allison Lami Sawyer had a slightly easier time of it, collecting over 90% of the vote against the idiot Lloyd Oliver. Maybe, just maybe, this will be enough to convince Oliver that his run-for-office marketing strategy has come to the end of its usefulness. Sam Harless was on the knife’s edge of a majority in HD126 on the R side; if he falls short, Kevin Fulton was in second place.

There will be a few runoffs in other races around the state. I’ll get back to that another day.

What West Texas can do to improve their schools

Here’s an op-ed from the Statesman about one educator in West Texas who has had enough.

My hero this week is Graydon Hicks, Fort Davis superintendent of schools.

A West Texas publication published his open letter to Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick raking them over the coals for “the lack of positive legislative action for public schools in Texas” at the most recent session, which adjourned at the end of May without passing a school finance bill.

Hicks is a West Point graduate and an experienced school administrator. He is no-nonsense guy who does not mince words. After detailing the effect of shrinking state financial support for public schools on Fort Davis schools over the past 10 years — combined with an increasing number of unfunded mandates and requirements — Hicks wrote, “How much more do you want to harm our children?

“If your intent is to dissolve public education (and your actions are more than a clear signal of such), then simply go on the record with that statement and remove the state’s authority to further overburden us without financial support. Quit pontificating about bathrooms. Quit hiding your intentions behind righteous statements about school vouchers and choice.”

Hicks accompanied his letter with a chart showing the annually declining amount of state funding available to the Fort Davis school district and the increasing burden on local taxpayers since 2008. That year, state funding amounted to $3.9 million, or 68 percent of the school district’s budget. Local property taxes provided $1.8 million, or 32 percent. In 2017, the state will contribute $378,000 — about one-tenth of its 2008 commitment, or 15 percent of the total budget. Local taxes this year will provide $2.2 million, or 85 percent.

“The Fort Davis ISD has 226 students,” Hicks wrote. “It has no cafeteria, has no bus routes, has dropped our band program, has eliminated (or not filled) 15 staff positions, has cut stipends for extra-curricular activities, has frozen (or reduced) staff pay for one year, has cut extra-curricular programs, has no debt, and has increased our local tax rate to the maximum allowed by the law.

“We have nothing left to cut.”

I agree that Superintendent Hicks sounds like a fine fellow who is speaking truth to power. That said, I feel compelled to point out how Jeff Davis County (*), which is where Fort Davis ISD, voted in the last gubernatorial election:

Greg Abbott             623  60.54%
Wendy R. Davis          366  35.57%
Kathie Glass             31   3.01%
Brandon Parmer            9   0.87%

Lieutenant Governor
Dan Patrick             560  56.62%
Leticia Van de Putte    375  37.92%
Robert D. Butler         48   4.85%
Chandrakantha Courtney    6   0.61%

Hold that thought. Now here’s a similar story about the school funding woes in West Texas:

Educators were excited to hear Gov. Greg Abbott announce he would call lawmakers back to Austin for a special legislative session to consider $1,000 teacher pay raises.

But Donna Hale, superintendent at 200-student Miami ISD in rural Roberts County, is wondering where the money is going to come from. An unfunded mandate, she said, could throw a wrench into their already difficult budgeting process.

“That’s the last thing we really need – the state saying you’ve got to do this when they’re not offering any support for us,” said Hale, who already doubles as the district’s librarian and said she was considering taking over as principal to cut payroll costs.

A wind farm and a sea of oil and natural gas wells in Roberts County has been good to Miami ISD, giving the district a flush tax base to pay for teachers and buildings. But its $1 billion dollar tax roll was cut in half this last year amid tumbling oil and gas prices. A state aid provision that it has relied on in recent years to guard against economic downturns expires in September and will take more than a third of the district’s budget with it.

Many rural schools like Miami ISD, the only school district in the county, are facing a similar dilemma and pleading with the State Legislature to act. Lawmakers return to the Capitol next month for a legislative overtime period, but school finance reform has taken a back seat to bills regulating bathroom use and creating a school choice program.

Again, I sympathize, and again, I wonder how did Roberts County vote in 2014?

Greg Abbott             324  93.91%
Wendy R. Davis           15   4.35%
Kathie Glass              5   1.45%
Brandon Parmer            1   0.29%

Lieutenant Governor			

Dan Patrick             320  93.29%
Leticia Van de Putte     12   3.50%
Robert D. Butler         10   2.92%
Chandrakantha Courtney    1   0.29%

I think you get where I’m going with this. Now, I will stipulate that in 2014, one might have been able to believe that Greg Abbott, who was touting an expansion of pre-K, and Dan Patrick, who had served as the Senate Education Committee chair and had passed some bipartisan bills during that time, could at least have been okay on education and school finance issues. Here in June of 2017, after a session that included the Senate refusing to consider HB21 and a special session that includes vouchers on the agenda, it’s really hard to believe that now. Further, both counties are represented in the Lege by pro-education members. Roberts County is served by Sen. Kel Seliger, who was the only Senate Republican to oppose the main voucher bill, and by Rep. Ken King, who was endorsed by Texas Parent PAC in the 2012 primary. Jeff Davis County has two Democrats, Sen. Jose Rodriguez and Rep. Cesar Blanco, in the Lege. Both were unopposed in 2016, and Blanco was unopposed in 2014, but in all three cases they drew a comparable number of votes to Republicans on the ballot. In addition, former Rep. Pete Gallego carried Jeff Davis County in 2010, even as Rick Perry and the rest of the Republicans were also winning it. The voters there do vote for pro-education candidates. Will they – and other counties like them – recognize in 2018 that “pro-education” does not describe Abbott or Patrick? I for one will have a lot more sympathy for their plight if they do.

(*) Yeah, I know.

Investigation requested into voucher astroturfing

From the Quorum Report:

Rep. Gina Hinojosa

Following a criminal complaint by a GOP former lawmaker, an Austin representative has asked the Travis County District Attorney’s Office to look a letter-writing campaign that has deeply troubled rural Republicans in the Texas House who are opposed to school vouchers.

In a letter obtained by Quorum Report this evening, Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, told prosecutors that she’s heard from many of her Republican colleagues who cannot believe the way in which many of their constituents’ names were used.

As QR readers who have followed this are aware, rural Republicans from East Texas to West Texas have received about 17,000 letters orchestrated by a group called Texans for Education Opportunity. The group claimed credit for the letter campaign but has said everything was done properly.

The problem, though, is that many of those letters utilized the names of people who are opposed to school vouchers in any form and, in fact, some of them have raised concerns about whether their identities were stolen for this campaign.

Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, has said he thinks lawmakers are being “defrauded” by these letters. One of the letters Seliger received, but the way, was sent in the name of someone who had died months before the letter was sent.

“I am writing to ask you and your office to immediately open an investigation into a massive letter writing campaign that appears to be fraudulent,” Rep. Hinojosa wrote to the Travis County DA Margaret Moore.

See here for some background, and here for a copy of the letter. Rep. Hinojosa is the second person to ask a DA to investigate this, following former Rep. Rick Hardacstle, who was one of the people claimed to be a voucher supporter by this phony campaign. I Am Not A Lawyer so I have no opinion as to whether the civil code or the criminal code would be the more appropriate remedy for this, but it’s definitely fraud of some form, and if my name had been on one of those faked letters I’d want someone in power to Do Something about it, too. We’ll see what happens.

UPDATE: Scott Braddock has more.

Vouchers get their Senate hearing

Here we go again with this nonsense.

Senate Bill 3, authored by Republican Sen. Larry Taylor of Friendswood, would establish educational savings accounts and tax credit scholarships to fund various costs associated with parents moving their children from traditional public schools to private, parochial, or charter schools.

In an online payment process, parents could use the accounts, called ESAs, to pay for items like private school tuition, educational software and tutoring for home school students. However, the bill would prohibit parents from using the money for food or child care.

SB 3 would also allow low-income students to qualify for a tax break, Texas businesses can donate to the scholarship fund, according to the proposal.

Senators did not take a vote on SB 3 after Tuesday’s meeting, leaving the matter pending for another day. However, Taylor’s counterpart in the House, Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty of Humble, long has opposed so-called ‘school choice’ measures and said the bill likely is dead on arrival in his committee.

At Tuesday’s hearing, which drew more than 100 witnesses, Taylor defended his bill from charges that it diverts public money from cash-strapped public school districts and gives it to private schools. He said districts would retain some funding in the first year that a student decides to leave a public school, giving it time to adjust without losing all per-pupil money they currently receive from the state.

“Basically, the school will have money without a student. It will actually have more money to spend on the kids who are still there,” he said. “It gives them a year to transition or maybe in the year, to see what they need to do to move their program forward, to be more competitive.”

I’m not going to rehash the arguments for why vouchers (by any name; there’s a reason they have been rebranded as “education savings accounts”) are lousy public policy. Search my archives for “vouchers”, or read this from the CPPP if you need a reminder. Though a vote wasn’t taken at the time of the hearing, the committee did subsequently pass it out on a 7-3 count, with Republican Kel Seliger voting No. This is one of Dan Patrick’s priorities, and a rare bill on which Greg Abbott has an opinion he’s willing to say out loud, so I’m sure it will pass the Senate, and most likely die in the House. This is what victory looks like these days.

In the meantime, there was this.

A number of House members said they have received fraudulent letters in the last couple of months addressed from constituents asking them to back the ESAs.

State Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, was suspicious when his office fielded 520 letters between mid-February and mid-March from constituents of his rural district, who are more likely to oppose private school choice than support it. All the letters were addressed from Austin and had the full names and addresses of each constituent at the bottom.

Springer started making calls. “We talked to a couple of dozen constituents. No one knows where they’re coming from. None of them agree with the positions that they’re even taking,” he said. He knows of about 10 other representatives who got similar letters.

One of Springer’s letters was addressed from former state Rep. Rick Hardcastle, who vacated the seat currently held by Springer about six years ago. “I don’t believe in vouchers of any kind,” Hardcastle said Monday. “It ought to be illegal … representing me for something I have no interest in supporting or helping.”

Asked about the letters, school choice advocate Randan Steinhauser said there’s a lot of enthusiasm about the issue. “We’re excited to see that many folks are contacting their legislators. We’re looking forward to hearing more about the ways these elected officials are being contacted.”

Sue Dixon, a public school teacher in Gatesville for the last 20 years, got a call from state Rep. J.D. Sheffield’s office asking whether she had sent a letter lobbying her representative to vote for vouchers.

“I said, ‘Absolutely not!'” Dixon said. “I’m upset that someone would hijack my views.”

Sheffield, a rural conservative from Gatesville, said he had received about 550 of those letters.

Here’s a more detailed article about this bizarre story. I am reminded once again of Daniel Davies’ words, that good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance. I don’t know if this was the work of amateurs or exceedingly hardened cynics, but I do know it is not the work of someone who is confident that the people are with them.

STAAR screwups

From the Observer:

Texas’ standardized testing program wasn’t exactly popular before the 2015-2016 school year, but this year’s State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) has been an especially frustrating experience for Texas students, parents and school officials. New testing contractor Educational Testing Service, in the first year of a four-year, $280 million contract to administer the STAAR, has seemed overwhelmed by the task: It misdelivered tests, lost records of test answers, and took weeks longer than promised to deliver test scores. Meanwhile, new Education Commissioner Mike Morath and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) are under fire for how they’ve handled the STAAR so far, with critics saying they haven’t adequately recognized the magnitude of the problems schools faced — some of which, like missing student records and an unfinished website for teachers to access test data, were apparent even before the tests even arrived.

It can be tough to keep track of all that’s gone wrong, so here’s a blow-by-blow of the biggest problems schools faced with STAAR this year.

Click over and read the whole thing. I’d heard of some of these screwups, but not all of them. It’s impressive in its way. A lawsuit was filed last month to force the state to not use this year’s test results to rate students, something which TEA Commissioner Mike Morath is not willing to do so far. The Observer piece notes that Senate Education Chair Kel Seliger has said Texas shouldn’t pay ETS for its delivery of the STAAR test this year. Hard to argue with that, if you ask me. Anyway, it’s a mess and I’m sure we’ll be arguing about it next spring.

Bill to kneecap Public Integrity Unit gets unstuck

And away it goes.

Sen. Joan Huffman

Senate Bill 10, filed by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, passed on second reading along party lines. The integrity unit is currently a state-funded division of the Travis County DA’s office that investigates public corruption, insurance fraud and tax fraud. Some Republicans have said the unit has had partisan motives for its prosecutions.

SB 10 must be voted on one more time before it passes from the Senate to the House.

In addition to moving the public integrity unit from the Travis County DA’s office, the bill would allow lawmakers and state employees to face prosecution in their home counties for alleged crimes committed in Travis County. On Wednesday in the Senate, Huffman said the public had lost confidence in the unit.

“I firmly believe it will be a better process, and there will be more accountability,” Huffman said.

The bill had originally put the unit under the attorney general’s office, but a substitute to the bill removed the AG’s office from the process and gave the Texas Rangers sole authority to pursue investigations.

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said the bill gave lawmakers a special privilege of facing prosecution in their home counties.

“I believe this bill has created a special class of people that has the opportunity to go back to their hometown county, hometown judge and hometown prosecutor,” Watson said.

He also said the bill could allow lawmakers to face their prosecution in any county where they own property. Huffman said that was not the bill’s intent.

See here and here for the background. Via the Chron, we now know who the holdouts were.

Disagreement over having the Attorney General involved in the investigation and prosecution of cases, and the issue of prosecuting the violations in the counties where they occurred, had stalled the passage of Senate Bill 10 for more than two weeks.

With Sens. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, and Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and all Senate Democrats opposed to the anywhere-but-Austin prosecution exception for statewide officeholders, lawmakers and lobbyists, Huffman had been unable to get her bill called up for a vote by the full Senate.

Seliger last week had proposed allowing the Texas Rangers to investigate all cases, and to have a special prosecutor appointed by the chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court handle any charges filed.

Opponents of Huffman’s original bill said the revised plan would not solve the issue of sending cases to the home counties of politicians and lobbyists, where they are more likely to get favorable treatment.

“This perpetuates the problem, because now you will move these cases back in a home county where a courthouse cabal will not go after a state rep or other official because they are part of that local group,” said Tom Smith, Texas director of Public Citizen, a government-watchdog group. “They will have every reason to protect one of their own.”

I’m still a bit unclear on the details – was the special prosecutor bit still included or not? I suppose a system like that could work, jerry-rigged as it is. It’s just that the more moving parts you add, the more likely something will gum it all up. Of course, that would be considered a feature, not a bug. RG Ratcliffe, who isn’t a big fan of the current system, lays out his objections to the proposed one.

Merely turning ethics investigations over to the Texas Rangers is an almost equally bad idea. The governor appoints Texas Public Safety Commission. The current director of DPS was an aide to Governor Rick Perry before taking the top job at DPS. Through a governor’s influence over the public safety commission, a governor could halt or prompt almost any investigation. Imagine an unscrupulous governor bending legislators to his will by threatening to have their campaign accounts investigated. This is as bad a public policy as leaving ethics investigations in the office of one elected district attorney in heavily Democratic Travis County. Besides, I’d rather have the Texas Rangers chasing drug dealers, murderers and other crimes that endanger the public’s safety.

Seliger’s idea has some merit in that it allows the Supreme Court chief justice to name a special prosecutor, but it still involves the Texas Rangers and the political influence a governor can bring to the case. The federal experience also has shown that special prosecutors don’t seem to believe they’ve done their job unless they indict someone.

Probably the best course would be to finally give the Texas Ethics Commission some real powers to investigate and enforce the state’s ethics laws and election codes. As the Texas Tribune reported last week, at least one member of the commission is frustrated by how little power the commission actually has.

But if you are looking for a means of spreading the concentration of power involved in ethics investigations, the commission is a pretty good start. The commission consists of two appointees by the House speaker, two by the lieutenant governor, and four by the governor. Properly funded and authorized, the commission staff could investigate complaints and make recommendations for civil or criminal cases to the full commission. The commission could then decide whether to refer criminal cases to the Texas Supreme Court, which in turn could name a special prosecutor. Allow the court to also establish the county of venue for the prosecution, excepting the counties within the district of the accused offending politician.

Yeah, well, there’s no way they’d want to empower the TEC. The great irony here is that the Rick Perry case, which was the catalyst for all this, was driven by a special prosecutor appointed by a Republican judge. Be careful what you wish for, I guess. More from Ratcliffe here.

Bill to kneecap Public Integrity Unit stuck in the Senate

For now, at least.

Rosemary Lehmberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Tuition re-regulation on the menu

There are different ways it could go.

Sen. Charles Schwertner

Tuition at Texas universities has more than doubled in the 12 years since state lawmakers authorized colleges to set their own rates.

Now legislators are pushing to take back that control. It’s not a new idea, but it stands a chance for the first time since 2003, when the state deregulated tuition, largely because it enjoys rare bipartisan support.

At least three lawmakers, including Houston Democrat Sen. Rodney Ellis, have filed bills to re-regulate tuition in some way. The chair of the Senate’s higher education committee Kel Seliger, an Amarillo Republican, plans to pitch tying tuition increases to performance by colleges – essentially making them earn a tuition bump. And Dan Patrick, the state’s new lieutenant governor, said last week that the “issue will be addressed this session.”

“It marries together Democrats, who want to make higher education more affordable, and tea party conservatives who are inherently suspicious of higher education,” Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said. “In some ways this is a way for the Legislature to do something about education, but with relatively low cost.”


Deregulation essentially transferred costs to the universities and their students. That’s something Texas and other states have done for decades.

A recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office says students are now paying public colleges more than the states are. Tuition accounted for 25 percent of the average public colleges’ revenue in 2012, up from 17 percent in 2003, the study found. That surpassed state funding, which accounted for 23 percent of schools’ budgets in 2012.

Texas now funds less than 20 percent of the University of Texas at Austin’s budget, for example, compared to 85 percent in the 1970s. State funding accounts for 22 percent of UH’s budget now, compared to 61 percent in 1985. Students now pay for 42 percent of the budget, compared to 11 percent 30 years ago.


While Ellis says he will advocate for additional funding for higher education, his bill to end deregulation is actually the stricter of the two senate bills that have been filed so far, because it would cap tuition at 2015 rates and require universities to get legislative approval to raise it. Mary González, a House Democrat from Clint, has proposed a similar bill.

The other Senate bill, by Schwertner, would allow for annual tuition increases based on inflation. Ellis and Schwertner have talked about finding a compromise bill, but Ellis said last week that he wouldn’t support inflation-based increases, which he said is “almost like institutionalizing the thievery from middle class families.”

The third possible route to re-regulation could fold in another popular higher education proposal: tying funding for universities to performance measures such as graduation rates. Seliger said he plans to file a bill that would tie tuition increases to those performance measures. He calls it “performance-based tuition.”

Seliger pointed out that while tuition has increased at a faster clip since deregulation, lawmakers weren’t doing much to keep it down before. From 1994 to 2002, tuition and fees went up 102 percent.

“It was still increasing at a pretty good rate, because people wanted to see universities make big increases in improvement,” he said.

See here for the background. Sen. Schwertner’s bill is SB233. Neither Sens. Ellis nor Seliger have filed their bills yet, but Sen. Ellis’ bill from 2013 was SB125; I would presume what he files this year is identical or almost identical to it. I prefer his approach, because the problem is that the state is not contributing enough to cover the cost of higher education. That was the deal made to cut costs in 2003; it was rotten then, and it’s rotten now. I don’t expect Sen. Ellis’ approach to be adopted, but now that Republicans have come to regret their past actions – most likely because they’ve finally started hearing it from their constituents – I have some hope that he and Sen. Schwertner can work out a deal that at least comes closer to his approach.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, Sen. Ellis’ bill is SB255.

More on the initial bill filings

From the Trib, a sampling:

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Energy and Environment

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The Senate is likely to get stupider again

The cause.

Sen. Robert Duncan

The Texas Tech University System Board of Regents officially named state Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, the sole finalist to be the system’s next chancellor in a press release issued Monday afternoon.

Duncan is expected to start in his new position on July 1. A special election will have to be held to replace him, and at least one candidate — state Rep. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock — has already announced an intention to run.

“To be able to serve the great universities in the Texas Tech University System is a tremendous honor for me and my family,” Duncan said in a statement. “I love the people of West Texas and will devote all of my energy to continue to grow the reputations for excellence of all the universities in the system.”

Mickey Long, the chairman of the Texas Tech board, expressed delight that, though the regents undertook a national search for the replacement for outgoing chancellor Kent Hance, they ended up with a new chancellor with strong personal ties to the region and to Texas Tech University.

The effect.

If current trends hold, [Duncan] may well be replaced by a tea party fire-breather for a 2015 session that will be seriously deficient in “credibility, calm, and collegiality.” Here’s another way to think about that: The Rice University political scientist Mark P. Jones created an ideological pecking order of the Texas Senate after last session. He compared votes and identified the most liberal (relatively speaking) and conservative senators.

There were 19 GOP senators last session. Of the six most moderate, only three will be left next session. It’s possible that there will be only two. Duncan is leaving, and state Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) already left, each to take a university job. State Sen. John Carona, the most moderate according to Jones’ standard, lost a re-election bid.

State Sen. Bob Deuell (R-Greenville) faces a surprisingly competitive primary runoff against a challenger with an extremely problematic personal history; that contest will be resolved May 27. That leaves only state Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), who squeaked past a surprisingly competitive primary challenge of his own, and state Sen. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler).

If he wins next week’s lieutenant governor runoff, Dan Patrick has talked about ending the senate’s two-thirds rule and stripping all committee chairmanships from Democrats, which would turn the chamber, effectively, into his own private club. As if that weren’t enough, the bottom third of Jones’ chart—the small group of plugged-in, moderate Republicans—is fading away. In 2011, Texas Monthly wrote that “legislatures can’t function without members like Robert Duncan.” It looks like we’ll soon find out if that’s true.

You don’t have to buy Mark Jones’ ideology-identifying methodology to recognize that Sen. Duncan is in the increasingly smaller “let’s get something done” bucket on the Republican side of the Senate. We already know what we’re getting from some of the replacement Republican Senators, and the possible additions of Deuell’s completely unhinged challenger – who would be elected, it must be noted, by equally unhinged voters – and teabagger Rep. Charles Perry if he wins the future special election in SD28 – will only serve to make it worse. Duncan had long been expected to be the next head of Texas Tech and I will wish him well in his new job, but his good fortune will not be good for the rest of us.

Dallas adopts plastic bag fee

A fee, not a ban.


Stores in Dallas will charge customers five cents for most kinds of plastic or paper carryout bags, under a measure approved Wednesday by the City Council.

At the urging of council member Dwaine Caraway, the council voted 8-6 to assess an “environmental fee” for single-use carryout bags. The five-cent charge takes effect Jan. 1.

Single-use bags will be banned entirely at retail outlets in city buildings and at city-sponsored events. The ban apparently would apply, for example, to gift shops at city-owned museums, American Airlines Center, even the Omni Dallas Hotel, which adjoins the Dallas convention center.

Caraway has complained for months that plastic bags, in particular, were creating litter problems throughout the city.


The Texas Retailers Association opposed the bag fee, even though stores will keep 10 percent of the money they collect, and even though the measure approved Wednesday is less stringent than the outright ban on single-use bags that Caraway originally sought.

Gary Huddleston, a member of the association’s executive committee, said the fee will be burdensome to stores and customers alike.

“We personally believe the solution to litter in the city of Dallas is a strong recycling program and also punishing the people that litter, and not punishing the retailer,” said Huddleston, director of consumer affairs for the Kroger Co.

Stores will have to devote administrative resources to tracking the fees, he said, and the nickel that customers must pay for each disposable bag is a nickel that otherwise might have been used “to buy more product in my store.”

City officials said the money collected from the bag fee will go toward enforcement and education efforts. Those efforts could cost $250,000 and require the hiring of 12 additional employees, said Jill Jordan, an assistant city manager.

After the council vote, Huddleston would not rule out a legal challenge by the retailers association. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has already been asked to weigh in on the legality of Texas cities’ banning of single-use bags. Council member Sheffie Kadane, who opposed the five-cent fee, said the city can almost count on being sued by retailers or plastic bag manufacturers or both.

See here for some background on the debate in Dallas. As you know, AG Greg Abbott has been asked for an opinion about the legality of municipal bag laws. This opinion was requested by State Rep. Dan Flynn, on behalf of the Texas Retailers Association and its CEO, Ronnie Volkenning. The Trib reports on environmental groups responding to this request.

Supporters of the ordinances say plastic bags harm the environment. The Texas Campaign for the Environment has been one of the most vocal supporters of the ordinances. “We want the attorney general to stay out of this issue altogether,” said Robin Schneider, the group’s executive director.

The Texas Municipal League was the first to submit a brief to the attorney general’s office. The brief included a statement from state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, from 2011 in which he argued for local control over the issue.

“For the state to determine what a city’s problems are or solutions that it may have or may not have is a little bit of an overextension of the Legislature,” Seliger said.

Because the cities are responsible for supplying plastic bags, they should be able to determine if they wish to ban them, he said in an interview.

“They spend much more time as garbage than they do as carriers of groceries anyway,” Seliger added.

The Texas Municipal League argued in its brief that a plastic bag should not be classified as a “container” or a package” — the two words specifically mentioned in the Heath and Safety Code.

“A plastic bag is not a container or a package, but merely the means by which a container or a package is transported,” the brief said.

Volkening said the most environmental position would be to encourage the recycling of plastic bags, not banning their use.

That may be Volkening’s opinion, but as you may recall from Tyson Sowell’s guest post here, groups like the Texas Campaign for the Environment think the ban is the way to go. In fact, they’d push for a ban on paper bags as well. Regardless, I like Seliger’s statement, which you would think would be appealing to conservatives. And it is for many, but there’s a significant number for whom local control is only for policies they like. We’ll see which group is happy with Abbott’s forthcoming opinion.

Special Session 3: Beyond Thunderdome

Beyond ridiculous, if you ask me, not that they did.

Same hair and same amount of crazy as Rick Perry

Standing before mostly empty chairs in the 150-member Texas House on Tuesday, House Speaker Joe Straus adjourned the second special session and announced that Gov. Rick Perry would be calling them all back for a third special session later in the day.

After gaveling in the House at 2:36 p.m., Straus briefly thanked members for their time and hard work during the second special session before acknowledging Perry would probably call a third special session 30 minutes after both chambers had officially adjourned the second special session.

“See you in 30 minutes,” he quipped, telling the few dozen House members in the Capitol to stick around for the opening of the third session.

An aide to Perry confirmed that the governor plans to call a third special session shortly.

Some Republicans would like to blame the Democrats for this fine mess they’re all in.

“I think we need to remember why we are having this extra special session. One state senator, in an effort to capture national attention, forced this special session,” Capriglione told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I firmly believe that Sen. Wendy Davis should reimburse the taxpayers for the entire cost of the second special session. I am sure that she has raised enough money at her Washington, D.C., fundraiser to cover the cost.”

State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prarie, who leads the House Democratic Caucus, said Capriglione calling on Davis to reimburse taxpayers is “absurd.”

“The special sessions have largely been political and just a continuation of decade-old culture wars that do very little to resolve policy and do a lot to continue to divide Texans and in the process wasting a lot money,” Turner said. “The decision to call a special session is the governor’s and governor’s alone, he has to decide if its worth the costs.”

State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, tweeted Monday evening that Dewhurst should have passed the transportation bill in the first special session on the night of Davis’ filibuster.

Lt. Gov. is blaming House for TXDOT $. History lesson: he had SJR ready to go in the 1st Special & killed it to score political pts #txlege

— Joe Moody (@moodyforelpaso) July 29, 2013

A resolution to fund transportation had cleared both Houses and members of either party had said publicly the measure had enough support to pass. Dewhurst declined an appeal from Democrat lawmakers to bring up and pass the measure before the abortion filibuster began and the measure – like the abortion restrictions – failed to pass the first special session.

“It seems to me the lieutenant governor’s priority was focusing on partisan issue of abortion and trying to score political points rather than taking care of the business of the state ready to be resolved,” Turner said.

Not to mention, as Texpatriate points out, that Capriglione can’t count votes.

Anyways, the House only voted 84-40 in favor of the bill, sixteen short of the supermajority required for passage. Among the 40 dissenting votes, only 13 were Democrats. This means that even if every Democrat in the room had supported the bill, it would have failed. Make no mistake, the Tea Party killed HJR2.

And as I noted that’s a lot of absentees and/or abstentions. The Republicans only needed six Democratic votes to get to 100 if they were uniformly in favor. They got 27 Yeas, so any shortfall is indeed their fault.

Rumor has it that once again there will be other items on the call. At least one additional item, if there are to be any, would be welcomed by members of both parties.

Despite broad bipartisan support, Texas lawmakers have been unsuccessful this year in their efforts to pass a bill issuing tuition revenue bonds — or TRBs — to fund campus construction around the state. Returning for yet another special session, which Gov. Rick Perry called on Tuesday, may provide them with an opportunity to try again.

“I don’t think any of us have ever given up hope,” state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said. “We would certainly like to see TRBs on the call.”

At the end of the regular session, the TRB bill was held up by political jockeying as the clock ran out. In the two subsequent special sessions, Perry did not add the issue to the official to-do list. Lawmakers could have tried to move a TRB bill, but when the legislation is not on the governor’s special session call, it’s easy to defeat on a technicality.

Before the second special ended, Perry indicated that he might consider adding TRBs to that call. “Once we get the transportation issue addressed and finalized, then we can have a conversation about whether or not there are any other issues that we have the time and inclination to put on the call,” he said.

But a plan to address the state’s transportation funding needs failed, and so TRBs were never added. Now, Perry has called lawmakers back for a third 30-day special session, and transportation funding remains the only item on the agenda — for now.

“If and when both chambers pass the transportation bill, I believe very strongly that the governor will add TRBs to the call,” state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said.

Zaffirini pushed for a TRB bill for the last three regular sessions and has already filed a bill in the just-called special session. State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, are among the 21 co-authors on Zaffirini’s legislation and have also filed TRB bills of their own.

No other items as yet, but it’s early days.

As for the main event, a little leadership might help it finally get passed.

Rep. Joe Pickett, a leading House transportation policy writer, says the Legislature’s infantry is exhausted and it’s time for a meeting of the generals.

“We’ve taken this pretty far a couple of times now,” Pickett said of lawmakers’ efforts this summer to provide a modest boost in state funding of roads and bridges.

But the push got snared by abortion politics in the first special session. In the second, it caught its pants leg in a complex bramble of disagreements that include philosophical clashes over how much money is needed in the state’s rainy day fund; many Democrats’ resentment that public schools play second fiddle to infrastructure in the state budget process; and increasingly petty resentments among Republicans who run the show. The whole thing is playing out as top Republicans figure out their futures, in a game of musical chairs for statewide offices, and lowly Republicans look over their shoulders to see if they’re getting a primary opponent this winter.

“Maybe the Big 3 should meet and see if they have any suggestions on how to get this over the line,” Pickett said, referring to Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

“Give us some guidance or an outline” Pickett pleaded. He said several lawmakers belonging to both parties have suggested that the top leaders should huddle.

A better funding mechanism wouldn’t hurt, either. But don’t hold your breath waiting for that. BOR and Texpatriate have more.

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.

House passes redistricting bills

They accepted a couple of amendments but otherwise the process wasn’t much different from the Senate or the House committee.

A daylong debate on redistricting maps in the Texas House drew frustration from Democrats and growing concern from Republicans on Thursday as House leaders agreed to some amendments to one of the maps.

Gov. Rick Perry called the 83rd Legislature into special session in hopes it would ratify — without changes — the interim redistricting maps that a panel of federal judges drew for use in the 2012 elections. The Texas Senate did that earlier this month. But the House deviated, adopting three amendments on the state House district map moments after gaveling in.

The chairman of the House Select Committee on Redistricting, Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, told members from the start that he would be accepting “small, necessary tweaks” to the maps providing they meet specific criteria — unite communities of interest, are agreeable to members of neighboring districts and are in accordance with the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.

In a matter of minutes, Darby approved, and the House adopted three such amendments. Two would swap out precincts between members of neighboring House districts. A third, by state Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, brings all of Texas A&M International into his district.

Beyond that, state Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, was among a handful of members who began questioning Darby, puzzled as to why amendments were being accepted when, he said, members had been told “any change made would open the door for other problems.” He also cited the fact that the amendments hadn’t come through committee.

Darby restated his criteria, adding that the amendments he’s accepting don’t impact geography or the demographic makeup of districts. With that, more members began filing amendments. Two more, which also swap out precincts between neighboring districts, were adopted.

Those were the only three that were accepted. I commend you to read Greg and Texas Redistricting for the full blow-by-blow; see also this post for the map that was planned.

Three points of interest. One, not all redistricting fights fall along party lines.

“You’re a liar,” state Rep. Pat Fallon of Frisco yelled at his colleague, state Rep. Bennett Ratliff of Coppell.

Other House Republicans tried to hush Fallon, but his fury wouldn’t ebb.

“Touch your buddy Gene because you’re in the same party as him,” a red-faced Fallon loudly continued, as Ratliff walked away and placed a hand on state Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, as he passed by.

Asked a few moments later what the dust-up was all about, Fallon said simply, “Forgot.”

The hollering could have stemmed from a quiet dispute brewing during the redistricting debate. On Thursday afternoon, some tea party-affiliated members of the House had been upset about an amendment that removed one of Ratliff’s primary opponents from his district. The amendment, which passed earlier in the day without much trouble, put tea party favorite Matt Rinaldi into the safely Democratic district of state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas.

Temper, temper. And I must say, I too would buy a Touch Me, I’m Gene Wu’s Buddy t-shirt, too. Someone get on and make this happen, OK? Oh, and as Greg says, I’d take Bennett Ratliff for my team if the Rs don’t want him, too.

Two, the ball is now in the Senate’s court.

The Senate, which is scheduled to meet Friday, still has to sign off on changes made Thursday by the House to its maps before sending the bills to Perry for his signature. Sen. Kel Seliger, the upper chamber’s redistricting chief during the special session, has said he plans to accept changes the House makes to their political boundaries.

I guess it wouldn’t have killed them to accept some cleanup amendments after all.

And three, the missing man makes an appearance:

MALC chair State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer and African-American and Hispanic members asked the AG to have someone testify at redistricting hearings. But the AG’s office ignored those requests and redistricting committee chair, State Rep. Drew Darby, said that he would not use subpoena power to require attendance.

In fact, Darby said today in response to questioning that he never even asked the AG’s office to come testify voluntarily.

All that might be logical if the AG’s office took that position that it was the office’s job to defend whatever maps emerged, not to give advice on them.

But that doesn’t appear to be the case. Instead, Abbott’s office appears to have met with the House Republican caucus on at least two occasions, including today during an early afternoon break in floor action.

And after emerging from today’s meeting – reportedly with Abbott’s chief deputy – House Republicans seem to have experienced a major sea change in their willingness to accept even minor agreed amendments, such as one offered by State Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) to adjust for the fact that a mountain runs oddly through HD 77 in El Paso. Whereas before the break, redistricting chair Darby had agree to five relatively minor amendments (one of which was proposed to unite a parking lot at Texas A&M International with the school itself), afterwards he would take none.

Now, since what was said in the meeting isn’t known, it’s not clear that advice from the AG’s office caused the change. But it’s at least a little awkward – both legally and optically – that the AG’s office seems to be acting as counsel for the Republican caucus rather than the Legislature or the state as a whole.

It also seems to have left the Legislature in a precarious position legally.

Too chicken to talk to non-Republicans, I guess. Or maybe he’s just forgotten how. But at least he’s consistent. Go read the rest of that post, it’s all good.

And again, now that redistricting is done for the day, the House can be like the Senate and get to what really animates them, which is making life miserable for women.

House Bill 60 would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, require doctors providing abortions to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles, require abortion clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical clinics, and regulate how doctors administer pills for medical abortions.

HB 60 would originally have required women receiving medical abortions to take the Food and Drug Administration’s recommended dosage, which physicians have said is dangerously high. The committee substitute introduced in the hearing reduced the dosage to that recommended in obstetrician-gynecologist guidelines.

The bill’s Senate version, Senate Bill 5, passed Tuesday night after an amendment removed the 20-week ban. State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, who sponsored the House legislation, has said she hopes to revive the ban in the Senate by passing HB 60.

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, questioned Laubenberg about the justifications for the 20-week ban, which is premised upon research that suggests fetuses at 20 weeks of gestation can feel pain. Though research indicates fetuses respond to stimuli at that point of pregnancy, there is no consensus on whether they feel pain.

Farrar also asked whether HB 60 would deprive women of choice, to which Laubenberg responded, “The Legislature should err on the side of life, not death.”


Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, asked why the legislation included no exception for cases of rape or incest.

Rape is “a horrible violation to a woman,” Laubenberg said, adding that the state should focus on punishing the perpetrator but still not allow abortion if the fetus is past 20 weeks.


Matthew Braunberg, an ob-gyn from Dallas, said the legislation would needlessly limit women’s access to abortions despite what he said were decreased medical risks, compared to carrying a pregnancy to term.

“The last thing we want is for them to go to Doctor Google to figure out how to do this,” he said.

Carol Everett, an anti-abortion advocate, said the bill would help women by raising standards for abortions.

“This is a health protection for her,” she said.

I think David Dewhurst let the cat out of the bag on that, Carol. Kudos for sticking to the script regardless. Maybe someone should tell Rep. Laubenberg that if this bill passes and a bunch of clinics close because they can’t meet the needlessly onerous requirements that HB60 would impose, then an awful lot more women are going be be horribly violated, since there wouldn’t be any place for them to get an abortion before 20 weeks anyway. But hey, it’s all about protecting women, since they obviously don’t know what’s best for themselves. Besides, rape victims don’t get pregnant anyway, am I right? Pro-choice advocates are hoping to run out the clock, which has as much hope as any other strategy. Good luck gumming up the works, y’all.

Perry goes on a veto spree


Here’s the full list. Among the victims are the omnibus ethics bill HB217, thus giving Allen Blakemore his fondest wish; two bills aimed at reducing the number of standardized tests some students must take, one of which will make William McKenzie happy; SB15, which would have placed new limits on the power of the University of Texas System Board of Regents to fire campus presidents; a Dan Patrick gun bill (!); the Lilly Ledbetter bill as previously noted; a bill that would have allowed voters to pick an interpreter of their choice, within certain limits, while voting, a bill that Perry either misread or misrepresented; and quite a few others, not to mention the funding for the Public Integrity Unit.

Here are some reactions to the vetoes from the Chron:

Friday, the Austin-based Texans for Public Justice filed a legal complaint that Perry’s threat amounted to official coercion so he could win an appointment and short-circuit the unit’s investigation into the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

“No surprise Perry would act to de-fang the state’s corruption watchdog. It’s a watchdog that might bite him and his cronies,” said Craig McDonald, TPJ director. “Our legal complaint against his bullying tactics remains in play, however.”

McDonald and Tom Smith, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen, also faulted Perry’s veto of a bill reforming the Texas Ethics Commission. “Perry’s office is an ethical black hole,” said McDonald. “Reforms go in. Nothing comes out.”

Smith pointed out that the bill would have required Railroad Commission Barry Smitherman, a Perry appointee, to resign his office before running for attorney general. “It is stunning that the governor is so intent on protecting one ambitious politician that he would veto a bill that drastically improved enforcement at the Texas Ethics Commission.”
Whether any of this represents Perry reasserting himself (again) in preparation for his next election or just a last middle finger to the rest of us before he rides off into the sunset on the wingnut welfare wagon I couldn’t say. Texas Vox bemoans the veto of the omnibus ethics bill, and I’m sure there will be plenty of other reactions, just in time for Perry to gallivant off to New York. What bills on the veto list – or not on the veto list – surprised you, one way or the other?


Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, chairman of the Senate Higher Education committee, filed Senate Bill 15 after a February dust-up over whether University of Texas System regents had micromanaged or maligned the character of UT Austin President Bill Powers. UT Regents Chairman Gene Powell has denied those allegations.

“Limiting oversight authority of a board of regents … is a step in the wrong direction,” Perry wrote in his veto. “History has taught us that the lack of board oversight in both the corporate and university settings diminishes accountability and provides fertile ground for organizational malfeasance.”

Seliger expressed frustration that Perry vetoed the bill, saying he had accepted all changes suggested by the governor’s staff.

“It is duplicitous,” he said.

In vetoing the Lilly Ledbetter Act, Perry wrote that “Texas’ commitment to smart regulations and fair courts is a large part of why we continue to lead the nation in job creation. House Bill 950 duplicates federal law, which already allows employees who feel that have been discriminated against through compensation to file a claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.”

“I thought Gov. Perry always wanted us to do things the Texas way and not the federal way, but apparently not in this case,” Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, said in a statement. “Now, Texas women will have no choice but to rely on the federal government to protect their rights. The governor took office at the dawn of the 21st Century, but you wouldn’t know it from his actions today.”

Rick Perry does what is best for Rick Perry. There are no other considerations. Whether all this is a sign of him asserting his power in preparation for his next campaign or just a parting middle finger to the rest of us as he prepares to ride off into the sunset on the wingnut welfare wagon, I couldn’t say.

Other reactions to Friday: Texas Vox bemoans the veto of the omnibus ethics bill. Grits is bewildered by the veto of one de-incarceration bill, and games out the ploy to defund the Public Integrity Unit. Burka is relieved that things weren’t any worse. Texas Watch applauds the signing of three bills designed to improve transparency for Texas home and auto insurance customers. Juanita is spitting mad at the veto of the Lilly Ledbetter bill. Texpatriate summarizes the whole day’s activity. Egberto Willies talks to Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the author of the Lilly Ledbetter bill, about Perry’s veto. She vows to bring the bill back next session. What vetoes and signatures surprised or didn’t surprise you?

Senate approves redistricting bills

As pro forma as they wanna be.

The Texas Senate voted to ratify court-drawn political maps that were used for legislative and congressional races in 2012. The bills now head to the House.

In party-line votes, Senators voted 16-11 to approve the interim maps for congressional and state House districts. The map of the state’s 31 Senate districts passed with unanimous consent.

Senate Redistricting Chair Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, defended the maps against criticism and questions from Senate Democrats.

“As I’ve said before, I believe this map is fair and legal,” Seliger said on the Senate floor, referring to the Congressional map.


But after several hearings from around the state on the pros and cons of the court-drawn lines, Senate Democrats questioned why Seliger was blocking efforts to change the Congressional and House district maps. State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, said members of the redistricting committee had privately told her that Seliger had refused to consider any changes to the maps.

Seliger said no redistricting map is going to please everybody.

Near the end of a lengthy back and forth, state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, accused Seliger of admitting to refuse to consider input from critics of the maps.

“That may be what you thought you heard me say but it may not be what I thought I said for you to hear me say,” Seliger said.

I’m not even going to try to parse that last sentence. Hard to believe that some unnamed sources once thought that a deal to create more minority opportunity districts might be in the works, isn’t it? The bills will go to the House on Monday and be summarily approved some time next week. Texas Redistricting has more on this action. In the meantime, both chambers can now get down to the real business of regulating vaginas, which is about the only thing some of them ever wanted to do. There were some hearings in the Senate on Thursday on the anti-abortion uber-bill, which was voted out of committee on Friday shortly after the redistricting business was over, but I just can’t bring myself to write about it. Go read the Observer and BOR for the depressing details – I recommend having a drink handy when you do. Oh, and Rick Perry also vetoed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. It sure is a great time to be a lady in Texas, isn’t it?

Redistricting deal in the works?

Color me skeptical of this.

Original interim State House map

The contours of an agreement might have emerged Monday as a special committee of the Texas House debated maps of congressional and legislative districts.

A Republican lawmaker and an attorney for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus said there was a consensus that minority groups would accept maps that create one to two more congressional districts in which Texas minorities hold sway and five to seven more seats in the state House.


[Jose] Garza, the lawyer for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said that if the Legislature does what Perry and Abbott want, it would make a charade of the fact-finding process that’s going on now. “It would be evidence of intentional discrimination,” Garza said.

In other hearings, state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, has posed tough questions to witnesses advocating maps other than those supported by Perry and Abbott. But on Monday, he seemed more interested in what the price of peace with minority groups would be.

“We’re in 98 percent agreement,” Villalba said.

Garza said one to two additional seats in Congress and five to seven in the state House could be the basis for a deal.

“We’re not advocating maximization,” he said. “If we were talking maximization, it would be a much higher number.”

Some observers have said it’s in the interest of Republicans to make a deal with minority Democrats because if they leave map drawing to the courts, it will be done without regard to who is an incumbent.

Adding five to seven seats in the House puts us roughly in line with the original interim map drawn by the San Antonio court. That map was based on the pre-redistricting map, on the grounds that it was the last known map to have been pre-cleared, but then SCOTUS ordered the court to base its fixes on the legislatively-drawn maps, which had a smaller baseline for minority districts. By my count, looking at the 2008 election returns for Plan H302, Democrats would expect to win 59 seats, Republicans would expect to win 88, and there are three districts I’d classify as tossups – HDs 26 and 134, which lean GOP, and 105, which leans Dem. I don’t have 2012 numbers for this plan, and I’m counting HD23 as a Dem seat – it’s the same district as in the current interim map – so consider this to be plus or minus one or two either way. We could have skipped a whole lot of trouble if this is the endgame. That’s even before we get to the Congressional map, which I can’t even remember any more. I guess that’s why I’m skeptical of there being a deal like this that would be so much in the Dems’ favor, that and the feather-light sourcing of this story. I freely admit that anything is possible, but this would be a major departure from the Republicans’ party line, which is that the 2012 interim maps already fix everything that needed fixing.

All in all, I think the Trib insiders have it right, and that if anything happens it’ll be what Perry wanted in the first place, which is a ratification of the existing maps. Democratic amendments may get voted on, but if so they’ll be voted down, on straight partisan lines. I think Rep. Darby and Sen. Seliger may have had good intentions with the hearings and all, but having those hearings also served the Republican purpose of addressing the complaint about steamrolling the process and ignoring public input. The special session might provide the chance for the Republicans to do redistricting in a way that deals with reality and avoids more drawn-out litigation, but that’s a mighty selfless thing to ask any political party to do. And now that Rick Perry has thrown some red meat onto the agenda, all bets are off.

Feisty redistricting hearing in Dallas

There really aren’t any other kind of redistricting hearings, when you get right down to it.

Most of the testimony centered on whether to approve interim political maps used in the 2012 elections, or toss those lines out in favor of proposals that would create three congressional districts in North Texas where minorities could elect the candidate of their choice.

Black voters currently control two congressional districts in North Texas — one represented by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas and one by Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth. Both are Democrats.

Activists and Democrats want a third district that would be anchored in Dallas and give Hispanic residents the chance to elect their chosen candidate.

There are 2.3 million minority voters in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, including 1.3 Hispanic residents.

“It is clearly possible to draw an effective Latino district in North Texas,” said Tarrant County Commissioner Roy C. Brooks.

Plans put forward by Democratic Reps. Yvonne Davis and Rafael Anchia, both of Dallas, would create three minority districts, including a new Hispanic district either wholly or mostly in Dallas.

Others testified that changing interim maps, drawn by a federal court, was a waste of time and taxpayer money.

“People need to be conservative with money,” said Dallas Republican Adryana Boyne. “The judges in San Antonio drew a good map. It’s not perfect, but it’s fair.”


Republicans, in firm control of the Legislature, want to endorse the boundaries. Democrats contend that even though they were drawn by federal judges, they share some of the same discriminatory features of the maps the Legislature tried to pass.

Republicans have the votes to approve the interim maps, and Perry is expected to sign a bill into law. But Democrats are using the hearings to set the stage for legal challenges.

The strategy led to contentious exchanges at Thursday’s meeting at DART headquarters. Dallas County Republican Party Chairman Wade Emmert took exception to questions by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio.

Emmert contends that Republicans and many activists opposed to the Legislature’s original plan agreed to the interim boundaries. Fischer asked Emmert to name the parties that agreed with the interim plan and Emmert refused.

None of this is likely to change anyone’s minds, certainly not anyone who attended this hearing or any of the others, and while it’s possible that the interim maps could be modified by the Lege when and if it gets around to doing something, this is all really for the benefit of the judges in San Antonio. Everyone involved has a to do list, and the boxes are being checked.

Texas Redistricting also reported from Dallas.

The most frequent complaint from witnesses was about the absence of a Hispanic opportunity congressional district in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex to complement the African-American ability-to-elect districts currently represented by Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson and Congressman Marc Veasey.

Several witnesses noted the the DFW Metroplex closely paralleled the demographics and population size of Harris County, which supported two African-American and one Hispanic ability-to-elect districts, but said that under the interim maps, currently only 2 of 9 districts in Dallas County qualified as ability-to-elect districts. Even with the addition of a Hispanic opportunity district, the witnesses told the committee only 3 of 9 districts would elect non-Anglo candidates of choice.

On the state house map, other witnesses also discussed what they said was the illogical fragmentation of Mesquite and Garland in eastern Dallas County.

State Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth) also asked questions of several witnesses about the possibility of an additional state house opportunity district in Tarrant County – which he said could support four such districts out of 11 current state house seats.

A number of witnesses also questioned why the Legislature was doing anything now, given the pendency of the Shelby Co. case – with one witness, who described himself as a political independent, telling the committee that they should tell Gov. Perry “to stick his call where the sun don’t shine,” and that by pushing through maps now the committee would only be causing rather than reducing litigation.

One answer to that question is that the two committees are attempting to do now what they were supposed to do in 2011, which is to involve and engage the public in this process and base the maps at least in part on the feedback they receive. The fact that the public, especially minority communities, were systematically excluded from the process in 2011 was a significant part of the litigation and of the DC court’s finding of discrimination. I’m sure that fact wasn’t lost on Sen. Kel Seliger and Rep. Drew Darby or the lawyers that they had advising their committees, even if it didn’t ever seem to occur to Rick Perry and Greg Abbott.

The attorney general said the Legislature could cut away some of the tangled litigation that had the state defending its maps in separate federal courts in Washington and San Antonio. The special session would be over in seven to 10 days, lawmakers said.

Instead, it is like taking a shortcut through a swamp — the sort of well-intentioned romp that marks the beginning of so many classic horror movies. The legal and political monsters appeared right on cue, and what was supposed to be a quick march could become a hard slog.

Legislative leaders expanded the size of the committees considering the political maps, the better to include viewpoints from more of the state’s geographical and demographic groups.

When the San Antonio judges who drew the maps held a hearing last week to find out where things stood, they made it clear that their own interim maps would be subject to the same kind of review any other map might face. They drew them without public input and without intending them to be used more than once.

So now lawmakers are holding redistricting hearings in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Corpus Christi — in addition to Austin — giving the public a chance to talk about new maps. Some are starting to worry that the whole exercise could affect the timing of the 2014 elections. A couple of them have suggested holding even more hearings in more far-flung cities like Laredo and El Paso.

This is not the tidy little package promised by the state’s top lawyer.

Let’s be clear here: Greg Abbott doesn’t represent the interests of the state of Texas, he represents the interests of the Republican Party of Texas, which occasionally but do not as a rule align with the interests of the state as a whole. The idea of the quickie session to ratify the judge-drawn maps and thus fortify the defense of them was a piece of political strategy from the get go. Turns out political strategy and solid legal advice don’t always align, either. It would be funny if the Lege modifies the maps in a sincere (if likely half-hearted) attempt to address some of the issues raised by the DC court only to have the bills they pass vetoed by Perry. At this point, all I can say is that whatever Perry and Abbott thought they would get out of this special session on redistricting, they’re not going to get it. Greg, who will be attending and liveblogging the Houston hearings, has more.

Redistricting hearings schedule

Attend one if you can.

Senate and House committees tapped to work on redistricting during the special session Tuesday released times, locations and dates for field hearings around the state.

The Senate will hold two field hearings, one in Corpus Christi and one in Houston.

  • – Friday, 5 p.m. at Texas A&M University, HRI Conference Center, 6300 Ocean Drive, Corpus Christi.
  • – Saturday, 11 a.m.  at the University of Houston, Michael J. Cemo Hall, 4800 Calhoun Road, Houston
  • – The Senate will wrap up hearings with one last session in Austin on June 12.

The House will hold three of its own, one each in Dallas, San Antonio and Houston.

  • – Thursday, 2 p.m., DART Headquarters, Board Room, 1401 Pacific Ave., Dallas
  • – Monday, 2 p.m., VIA Metro Center, Terry Eskridge Community Room, 1021 San Pedro Ave, San Antonio
  • – June 12, 2 p.m. – University of Houston, Michael J. Cemo Hall, Room 100 D, 4800 Calhoun Rd., Houston

It’s probably too late by the time you read this, but Sen. Sylvia Garcia is holding a community breakfast briefing on redistricting today from 8 to 9 at her East Aldine district office – 5333 Aldine Mail Route Road, Houston, TX 77093. For more information about the hearings, see Texas Redistricting.

It’s a short time frame for hearings, but it’s more than we expected going into this special session. It’s unclear at this point if the Lege can get maps approved in the time they will have. And even if they do, as this AP story reminds us, we’re still nowhere close to a resolution.

The two Republican committee chairmen responsible for redistricting, Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo and Rep. Drew Darby of San Angelo, have promised to consider amendments and even alternative maps, if they’ll make the 2012 maps “more legal.” They have scheduled hearings next week to consider all alternatives.

Considering any changes, though, could blow up the special session. Two federal courts heard hundreds of hours of testimony and reviewed thousands of pages of documents to determine that the Legislature’s original maps were unconstitutional. Introducing all of that evidence to argue for changing the 2012 maps could take months and a special session is limited to 30 days.

Perry was also very specific in his call, saying he only wanted lawmakers to adopt the existing maps. And even if the Legislature and Perry were to agree on new maps, there is nothing to stop additional lawsuits or court reviews.

The three judges in San Antonio did not give any indication of whether they thought the adoption of new maps, either drawn by them or created by lawmakers from scratch, would end the lawsuit. But when ordering Texas to use the 2012 maps, the court explicitly said the maps were “not a final ruling on the merits of any claims” of discrimination.

Quite likely, whatever the Legislature does in the next three weeks, the product will become just another tool in the ongoing fight over Texas’ political maps. If past decades are any indication, redistricting will be settled in 2017. Just three years before the next census in 2020, after which the whole process will begin again.

Indeed, the 1996 and 2006 elections included newly-drawn Congressional districts, the result of SCOTUS finally settling the legislation that followed those redistrictings. We could have different maps for each of the first three cycles.

The special session won’t be so short

The original idea behind the special session on redistricting was that it would be a quickie – gavel in, vote to adopt the interim maps as permanent, maybe vote on a few wingnut wish list items, and gavel out again. That may yet be the basic timeline, but it will take more time than first thought.


At the first hearing of the special session, Chairman of the Select Committee on Redistricting Sen. Kel Seliger laid out an expanded meeting schedule that includes a possible joint public session with the House on Saturday.

If all goes according to plan, Seliger hopes to push a bill out of committee on June 12, setting up debate and a final Senate vote by the end of that week.

“That, right now, tentatively looks like our target date,” said Seliger, R-Amarillo.

Gov. Rick Perry called lawmakers into a special session Monday, immediately after the Legislature gaveled out of its regular session. He sent lawmakers back to work with the specific mandate to ratify a set of voting maps drawn last year by a three-judge panel in San Antonio.

It’s unclear how long it could take the House to bring a bill to the floor. The lower chamber will hold its first hearing Friday.

The timeline Seliger laid out bucked the general thinking at the Capitol, where observers expected Republicans to use their strength in numbers to certify election maps by next week.

Along with Thursday’s hearing and one scheduled for Saturday, the Senate committee will now hold a total of three additional public sessions, including a pair specifically for civil rights groups to air concerns.

Seliger also opened the door for amendments to be floated by June 10 — the first indication that Republicans are open to even considering tweaks to the interim maps. Up until now, the narrow scope of Perry’s call for the special session had raised questions as to whether Democrats could even bring up amendments.

Greg, who remains in Austin because of the special session, was there to liveblog the Senate hearing, and I trust will liveblog the House hearing as well. A few points of interest:

– If the Lege slows things down and allows amendments, alternate maps, and public input at other hearings around the state, it’s almost certainly because the Republicans have come to realize that to do otherwise would be to repeat some of the behavior from 2011 that got them cited for discrimination. First Reading discusses how Democrats are setting them up for this (scroll down to the section that begins “Stop. Don’t. Come Back.”), and it’s clear from the questions at the Senate hearing that they’re laying down a paper trail for future litigation. We’ll see if the Republicans can avoid the trap – the Senators appear to be at least somewhat aware of the danger – or if they come under pressure to just get it done and leave all the worrying about the legal stuff to Greg Abbott.

– As Greg notes, if the floor is open for amendments, it is also possible that the Rs might want to tweak the Senate map, which is now acceptable to Sen. Wendy Davis. However, if that happens, it seems likely that they would all have to run for re-election in 2014; Sen. Royce West brought that up in his questioning. If so, that could put a damper on some Senators’ plans for the future, since at least three of them are thinking about running statewide – Hegar and Williams for Comptroller, Dan Patrick for Lite Guv. Hegar and Williams drew four year terms at the start of the session, meaning they could run for something in 2014 without putting their seat at risk if nothing changes, while Patrick drew a two year term and would have to make a choice.

– It’s not clear to me if the longer timetable for redistricting makes it more likely that Rick Perry will add to the call of the session, as Trail Blazers suggests, or less likely. Arguably, since there will be empty days between the committee hearings and the votes, Perry could add other items that could fill in the voids. Against that, the session is 30 days long, and we’ll be well past the halfway point by the time the maps are voted on at the current pace, which is almost two weeks later than originally projected. If the Rs do put more effort into taking public testimony, especially if they hold field hearings around the state, they’ll be hard pressed to do much else while redistricting is on the menu – and remember, Perry has basically said not to ask about anything else until redistricting is done – and they’d have a short horizon for anything else afterward. Not impossible, of course, and Perry can always call a second session if he wants – it’s all about what he wants, after all – it’s just not clear which way is more conducive to an expanded call for anything remotely controversial. As always, we’ll know when he wants us to know.

Lots to watch for, and lots to think about. Texas Politics and Texas Vox have more.

Special session is called

And no one is surprised.

With the ink barely dry on the bills passed during the 83rd Legislature’s regular session, Gov. Rick Perry called lawmakers back into an immediate special session to consider redistricting measures for the Legislature and the Texans who serve in the U.S. Congress.

Speculation had been mounting for days that Perry would follow Attorney General Greg Abbott’s recommendation to reconvene the Legislature so lawmakers can approve the court-drawn maps currently in place for legislators and members of the U.S. House. Republican leaders believe it will help the state’s case in court and forestall any delays of next year’s primaries.

For now, the agenda for the 30-day session only includes redistricting, though that could change. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who is anxious to burnish his conservative credentials after his loss in the U.S. Senate race to Tea Party firebrand Ted Cruz, wants Perry to add to the agenda a host of conservative measures that failed during the regular session. Dewhurst also says he will not adhere to the so-called two-thirds rule, which the minority party can use to block divisive legislation.

Many conservative activists have advocated for the state Senate, where the GOP has a 19-12 edge, to jettison the rule, which has kept many of their initiatives bottled up but also has reduced the threat of open partisan warfare.

In a letter to the governor Monday, Dewhurst said he needed to the flexibility to pass a variety of pet conservative issues, including abortion restrictions, expanded gun rights and school vouchers.

“Given that a number of members from both chambers have demonstrated their unwillingness to find consensus on these important legislative items, I can see no other alternative than to operate under a simple majority vote in the special session,” Dewhurst wrote.

That pronouncment is already causing a stir. Though the two-thirds tradition has been lifted in redistricting measures during special sessions, Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said it generally remains in place for other issues. Watson said the Legislaure shouldn’t be used to bolster Republicans’ political fortunes with issues that failed to get approved in the regular session.

“Middle class Texans have a lot on their plate right now,” said Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. “What they don’t need is to worry about somebody’s party primary. We need to be doing the business of the state and not wasting taxpayer dollars trying to carry out a political agenda just because they didn’t get it achieved during the regular session.”

So far, the call is only for redistricting, but Perry can add other items at any time, or call other sessions as he sees fit. The issue of the 2/3 rule, which as I often noted was frequently described as being “not in use” for special sessions, is already an issue as noted by BOR.

Initially, Dewhurst told reporters that the 2/3rds rule would not be in effect for a special session. During tonight’s floor discussion, Senator Kirk Watson attempted to determine if the 2/3rds rule would be in effect for the special session.

Watson also asked specifically about “blocker bills,” which are passed out of committee quickly to occupy the top spot on the calendar and thus force Senators to suspend the rules to bring up any other bills, which requires 2/3rds of the Senators to vote for the suspension.

Dewhurst claimed that there would not be blocker bills and that there hadn’t for 10 years; Watson countered with actual historical examples of blocker bills in previous special sessions. If there is no blocker bill, then there is no need for the 2/3rds rule to be used to bring a bill up for a floor vote.

Much of this early questioning is about potential future redistricting litigation.


Watson’s request to clarify the 2/3rds rule and [Sen. Rodney] Ellis’s motion to get it in the record is in response to previous cases in which the Federal courts slammed Texas for departing from traditional procedural norms to force through a discriminatory map. Should Dewhurst ignore the 2/3rds rule during the special session, that hands Democrats — who would be on the receiving end of any partisan redistricting malfeasance — a huge weapon to use in a future lawsuit against whatever maps might pass without it.

At this point it’s not clear to me what the rules are for the special session. The Senate is now in recess until Thursday, though the House will gavel in tomorrow for no clear reason. The Senate Redistricting Committee will meet Thursday morning, but beyond that we’ll have to wait and see what happens. Even if the Senate adopts a two-thirds rule at the beginning, it can always remove it later, by passing the blocker bill or by other means. If Perry wants to grant Dewhurst’s wishes, then that is what will happen.

Fewer tests in the future

If you’re tired of standardized tests, this will be good news for you.

Under House Bill 866 by state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Humble, which passed the Senate on Tuesday night, students who do well on state exams in third and fifth grades could skip exams in fourth, sixth and seventh grades. All students would be tested in math in the third and fifth grades, on reading in third, fifth and eighth grade, on writing and science in fifth and eighth grades, and on social studies in eighth grade.

Senators approved an amendment on Tuesday night adding writing tests back in for fourth and seventh grades, meaning the House will have to sign off before the bill hits the governor’s desk.

Speaking to reporters after the legislation passed, Sen. Kel Seliger, the Amarillo Republican who carried the bill in the Senate, said that the governor was “very open-minded” about the bill when he and Huberty met with him earlier. The upper chamber approved the bill with only two no votes — Sens. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, and Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury.

To avoid losing federal funding, the legislation would require state education officials to request an exemption under the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires 14 exams in grades three through eight.


Another measure addressing testing in younger grades, HB 2836, also passed the upper chamber Tuesday. But not before the Senate made significant changes to it, including adding SB 1718 to it after the bill died earlier that day in the House. The bill, from Rep. Bennett Ratliff, R-Dallas, originally eliminated fourth- and seventh-grade writing tests and required exams in lower grade levels to be reworked so that most students can complete them within two hours. The Senate version instead orders a study of the state’s curriculum standards and limits the number of benchmark exams school districts can administer locally.

I had previously blogged about HB2836. Looks like the two bills started out as much the same before HB2836 got altered, though the latter now no longer contains SB1718. I suppose Huberty gets the advantage of seniority here. The basic idea of allowing students who tested well one year out of testing for the next was first floated by Scott Hochberg in 2011, and I think it’s sensible. We’ll see if Rick Perry agrees. In the meantime, several other education bills remain works in progress as time runs down. Texpatriate has more.

Abbott predicts special session for redistricting

For the first time, someone says out loud the rumor of a special session on redistricting.

Still not Greg Abbott

Attorney General Greg Abbott let House members know in the Republican caucus meeting on Tuesday that he expects and is hoping for a special session on redistricting — sooner than later.

Several lawmakers in the meeting confirmed that Abbott was hoping the governor will call a special session very shortly after the regular one ends on May 27.

“Don’t pack your bags on May 28,” several members quoted him saying.


Everything is kind of on hold until the Supreme Court rules on whether the pre-clearance requirements, mostly imposed on Southern states with a history of discrimination, is even legal. That is likely to come next month.

In the meanwhile, Abbott would very much like to codify the maps tweaked by the courts, giving him strength if he needs to return to court to defend the districts.


If Perry does call a special session, he’s likely hoping it will be swift and sure because the maps are already in place. While there is certain to be a minority push for better representation, the truth is everyone in the Legislature got there last November running in those districts.

With a filing deadline for offices coming in early December, the Legislature would have to get the maps to the court by late August to give adequate time for review, Li said. That’s cutting it pretty close.

More likely in June. But there’s also another deadline looming: Perry is expected to become a grandfather for the first time around June 20. Bets are he won’t want to be dealing with a special session when he’s got something more special going on.

See here, here, and here for some background. “Expects” and “is hoping for” are two different things, so it’s still not clear if this means anything more than rumor, albeit a better-sourced rumor. It still doesn’t really mean anything until we hear Rick Perry say it. And Perry still isn’t talking, though just about everybody else is.

“I think a special session is pretty much certain,” said state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas. “The reason is that the attorney general wants the Legislature to approve the maps the courts have drawn for redistricting. There are a number of people (Democrats) who won’t vote for that. (The Republicans) don’t have the votes to get it through in the regular session, but they can push it through during a special session.”

During the regular session, Senate Democrats can block legislation under the so-called two-thirds rule, which requires 21 votes to bring up a bill for debate. That rule doesn’t apply during special sessions.

State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, who chaired the Senate’s redistricting committee two years ago, acknowledged that redistricting might be the focus of a special session.

“Even though no one has uttered a word to me about it,” he said, “we all know that’s out there.”

In the House, state Rep. Dan Branch, a Republican from Dallas and member of House Speaker Joe Straus’ leadership team, called a special session on redistricting a “real possibility.”

State Rep. Drew Darby, R- San Angelo and chairman of the House Redistricting committee, said his staff is looking into what would be involved if a special session on redistricting is called.

“We stand ready. We are preparing for any eventuality,” Darby said.

For all the speculation about a special session, the governor’s office has remained quiet on the issue. And only the governor has the power to call one and to put items on its agenda. Josh Havens, a Perry spokesman, said it’s premature to talk about a special session.

Once again, the mere fact of a special session doesn’t mean the two thirds rule is not in play. The Senate sets its rules at the start of each session, and it can choose by majority vote whether or not to adhere to that rule. I’d expect that they would choose not to, but my point again is that it is a choice, not a default.

The reasons for having a special session now remain unclear, at least to me. Dems want to wait till SCOTUS rules on Section 5, while Abbott is talking about how having the interim maps be codified by the Lege would make his position in court stronger. That sounds like both of them have some expectation that Section 5 will survive, though it should be noted that there were Section 2 violations found in the original maps as well, so regardless of what SCOTUS says there likely will be some ongoing litigation. We know that most of the plaintiffs are not willing to settle for the interim maps, though the fact that everyone in the Lege was elected under those maps, nearly all more comfortably than in 2008, might complicate things a bit. I’m still not sure that everyone has thought all of this through, and I’m not sure it’s even possible to do that coherently. At this point, I have no idea what to expect.

Dark money

It’s a small step, if it’s allowed to be taken, but the bill to require donor disclosure on so-called “dark money” is a step in the right direction.


Senate Bill 346 takes direct aim at the cloak of anonymity that currently shields so-called “dark money” groups – those tax-exempt organizations whose donors drop big bucks to influence elections and ballot measures but have not been required to reveal who is behind the spending.

Under the proposal, non-profits set up under section 501(c)4 of the federal tax code would be required to publicly disclose contributors who pony up more than $1,000 to any “dark money” group that spends $25,000 or more on politicking. Labor unions are exempt.

SB 346 by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, passed on a 99-46 vote.


A Perry spokeswoman said Monday that the governor will review the final bill if it hits his desk. However, the House lawmaker shepherding the proposal through the lower chamber speculated Monday that its fate could be all but sealed once it leaves the House.

“They’re staying real quiet on it,” Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, said after Monday’s vote. “But they’ll veto it.”

The issue has been a political lightning rod since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v the Federal Election Commission. That decision paved a path for outside groups like super PACs and 501(c)4s to raise and spend unlimited sums from corporations, labor groups and deep pocketed individual donors.

And while both 501(c)4s and super PACs can accept unlimited sums of cash, only super PACs are required to identify donors.

As a result, super PACs tend to set up sister outfits in the form of a 501(c)4s to funnel money anonymously to candidates or to fund attack ads. That’s how they got the ominous title “dark money” groups.

According to Texas Redistricting, the vote in favor on second reading was actually 95-50, but that’s a nitpick. The bill has now been approved on third reading by a 95-52 margin, and since it was not amended – which is what the real fight in the House was about – it’s on it’s way to Rick Perry. It’s amazing this bill got to a vote at all considering what it went through on the way to the House. The Trib touches on that.

The bill, which would affect major political givers on both sides of the aisle, originally passed the Senate 23-6; a day later, led by state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, senators voted 21-10 to reverse themselves, some saying they hadn’t understood what the bill required. Seliger said at the time that his colleagues had faced heavy lobbying by major political donors to change their votes.

The Senate’s effort was too late; the measure was already in the custody of the House. State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, the bill’s House sponsor, has been shepherding the measure through the lower chamber, working to get it passed without amendments so it doesn’t have to return to the Senate.

“Certain groups keep scorecards and continuously bombard the internet. All that’s fine, it’s what this process is about,” Geren said. “The problem occurs when these groups wade deep into the political process … and use a loophole that keeps their donors secret.”

See here and here for more on the history of SB346. Among the fascinating things about this is the fact that it’s happening against the backdrop of the revelation that the IRS targeted some conservative 501(c)(4) groups for investigation. While the national media is saying that no progressive groups were similarly targeted, there is reporting from 2012 that indicates otherwise, and the IRS did the same thing to liberal groups when George Bush was President. It would be nice if Congress tightened the language governing who does and doesn’t qualify for 501(c)4 status so that the decision isn’t simply left up to IRS agents to determine, but we all know how this will play out.

Be all that as it may, you may wonder why legislative Republicans are taking this action. Simply put, they have more to fear from 501(c)(4) groups than Democrats do in this state, with the likes of Empower Texas and other slash-and-burn groups spending copious amounts of money in Republican primaries. Geren in particular has survived numerous such challenges, as has Speaker Straus at this point. The peril will even out as Democrats gain more footing, but as Democrats have more ideological reasons to support legislation like this, there was enough of a coalition to get it passed. I’ll be shocked if Rick Perry doesn’t veto it, as Geren and Seliger expect he will, but at least they made the statement. The Observer and the TSTA have more.

Senate passes amended HB5

The Senate has passed its version of House Bill 5, which makes sweeping changes to standardized testing and curriculum requirements for high school students.

Texas high school students would have new curriculum requirements under legislation unanimously passed by the Senate on Monday — but they won’t be the ones the House envisioned when it approved its version of the legislation more than a month ago.

The Senate version of House Bill 5, which the upper chamber reached consensus on after weeks of extensive negotiations that continued through Monday afternoon, still drops the number of required state exams for graduation from 15 to five in biology, U.S. history, algebra I, and English I and II. It would still allow students to complete diplomas in specialized areas or “endorsements,” like humanities, science and technology, and business and industry.

But it changes the courses that students must complete to graduate under those endorsements, most significantly requiring four years of math for all of them.

The legislation now goes to conference committee, where representatives from both chambers will meet to work out their differences.

Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said HB 5 provided the structure for “the most rigorous, most flexible” high school graduation plan in the country. He also emphasized the legislation’s commitment to reducing high-stakes testing, which he said had taken the “fun out of teaching.”

Many Senate Democrats, along with Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, favored preserving the current “4×4” curriculum — which includes four years each in science, social studies, English and math — but adding more options for career skills and advanced math courses. Patrick pushed to keep the plan passed out of his committee, which has four years of English but drops to three years of science, math and social studies in certain endorsements to give students chances to take specialized courses.

The proposal that emerged from Senate negotiations, which Patrick called the “flex 4×4,” puts all students on track to completing four years of math and English, with algebra II as a requirement for all endorsements except the business and industry track. The advanced math course, which some education researchers say increases students’ chances at post-secondary success, would be required for automatic admission to state colleges under the top 10 percent rule and to apply for certain state scholarships.

Under the House version, students would opt into a college preparatory curriculum with the additional years of math, science and social studies. That plan has encountered criticism from groups like the Texas Association of Business, La Raza and the Education Trust, who believe it would reverse the state’s progress in improving students’ preparation for post-secondary education and result in fewer low-income and minority students heading to college.

Here’s HB5, and here’s what I wrote about the House passage of it. The main points of contention were about the algebra II requirement and whether the default endorsement was the most rigorous one or not – in other words, whether a student had to opt in or opt out. The person pushing the opt out path was Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, and the Observer reports on her activities.

Under an amendment tacked on by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), students on the foundation plan must complete four years of science and four years of math with Algebra II to qualify for automatic admissions to state universities under the Top Ten Percent Rule.

That means some students who graduate with the career endorsement may not qualify for automatic admissions, depending on which math classes they choose. Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio), who led Friday’s negotiations, introduced an amendment that would have required Algebra II for all students.

“I tell ya, I find it quite insulting,” Van de Putte said of people who insinuate that some students just can’t succeed in Algebra II, which is considered a college-ready indicator.

Van de Putte said her amendment would reduce the possibility of reverting to an old system that tended to steer minority students into career and technology fields instead of college—a concern that prompted groups like the National Council of La Raza to agitate against the bill. Van de Putte said today’s system already funnels minority students into the lower degree plan.

“I want to make sure with this amendment that we’re not failing our kids because we’re so afraid with failing ourselves,” Van de Putte said.

However, Van de Putte ultimately withdrew her amendment so lawmakers could discuss her idea in conference committee.

In a statement after the bill passed, she explained her lingering concerns with a graduation path that isn’t built for college readiness. ”I worry that some ninth-graders, especially from families without a history of higher education, won’t realize what they can achieve. I fear that choosing the minimum plan will lead to a minimum wage job,” she said.

Van de Putte also tried, unsuccessfully, to require multiple notifications to students reminding them that choosing the career endorsement may disqualify them from automatic college admissions. “If we’re going to let 15-year-olds decide what their endorsements are, we need to let them be fully informed,” Van de Putte said.

Several legislators from both parties said one notice would be enough, and Patrick raised his voice saying that he didn’t want blue collar work to be stigmatized.

Among Van de Putte’s successful amendments was an option for school districts to offer a seal of bi-literacy on qualifying students’ diplomas, and another protecting dropout recovery schools from being penalized for low test scores.

The Texas Association of Business, which continues to veer between being a force for good and a petulant bully, continues to be unhappy with the thrust of this legislation.

Texas Association of Business president Bill Hammond criticized the Senate bill, saying the weaker requirements will “doom generations of students to a mediocre education and low-wage jobs.”

He noted that only about 25 percent of Texas high school graduates are college- or career-ready.

The requirements are “meant to increase that number and put in place [higher] standards,” he said.

The bill now goes to conference committee to get the differences worked out. I doubt what emerges will be any more to Bill Hammond’s liking than the Senate version is now, but perhaps the final bill will resemble the Senate version more than the House version. It’s mostly been parent groups like TAMSA that have pushed for limits on end of course exams, and they have proven to be a fairly loud voice in this process as well. I’m really not sure what to make of all of this. I do think we test too much, but I also think algebra II should be taught, and I’m a little concerned about weakening curriculum requirements. I have a hard time sorting out all the data on this. If there’s one thing I am sure of it’s that we will revisit this subject again in 2015, and probably 2017 and 2019 and who knows how many future sessions. I don’t think this will ever be anything but a work in progress.

Redistricting remains a partisan issue

We’re not surprised by this, right?

Alternate Plan C236 by Rep. Yvonne Davis

Amarillo Sen. Kel Seliger offered a redistricting bill to the Senate State Affairs Committee that would formally adopt interim maps drawn by a federal court in San Antonio last year. The maps for Congressional, state Senate and House districts were used for the 2012 election while a federal court in Washington DC reviewed maps drawn by the Legislature after minority groups filed a lawsuit to block them.

After the 2012 primary, that federal three-judge panel determined that the Republican-controlled Legislature intentionally discriminated against African Americans and Latinos, prompting Attorney General Greg Abbott to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court and challenge the court’s authority to review the maps under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Seliger throwing out the old maps and formally adopting the San Antonio court’s interim maps would end the litigation.

“The interim maps represent the court’s best judgment as to the maps that would be fully legal and constitutional,” he said. “Enacting these lawful and constitutional interim plans will help bring to a close this chapter of redistricting, enacting these plans will practically ensure that the ongoing litigation over Texas redistricting plans will come to a swift end and bring some surety of the primaries ensuing.”

The Senate Democratic Caucus, Mexican American Legislative Caucus, NAACP and voting rights group Common Cause leapt to oppose the measure and Seliger’s assertions.

“Neither I nor my 11 colleagues … can trust the redistricting process,” said Sen. Kirk Watson, representing Senate Democrats. “Texas was the only state in the nation subject to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act that was found to have deliberately discriminated against African American and Latino citizens.”

He said Abbott’s efforts to overturn Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and to restore the original maps the Washington court found discriminatory could only lead Democrats and minorities to distrust Seliger’s bill.

Jose Garza, an attorney with the Mexican American Legislative Caucus who argued before the Washington court, said Seliger mischaracterized the interim maps and said Washington court’s decision called for the San Antonio court to draw yet another set of maps. He promised continued litigation if the Legislature adopted the interim maps.

In fact, MALC has opposed the plan to adopt the interim maps as permanent all along. I don’t have any idea where he gets the impression that adopting the interim maps would end litigation. The San Antonio court did draw the interim maps based on instructions from SCOTUS to fix what they thought were problems with the legislatively drawn maps, but all that was done well before the preclearance trial, in which the DC court found persistent discrimination in the maps and the process. If they knew then what they know now, it’s very possible, if not likely, that the San Antonio court would have drawn different maps. You can certainly argue that the interim maps are sufficient, the point is that you can also argue that they are not. For that simple reason, adopting them as permanent would not settle the arguments.

Texas Redistricting recaps the hearing, which he calls “relatively sedate”. Of interest is that the Senate Democrats refused to budge at all on this.

Watson told the committee that the Democratic caucus was opposed even to the possibility of taking up the state senate map on a stand alone basis.

Watson explained that’s because although there is no dispute on the interim senate map, the caucus was concerned that House Republicans would amend the bill to add back the state house and congressional maps, after which only a simple majority would be required in the senate to pass the bill. Watson said that after years of redistricting battles, senate Democrats no longer felt they could trust the process.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) also expressed concerns about the process and the possibility that Republicans might try to circumvent the 2/3 rule, noting that deviations from the established rules in 2011 were one of the things cited by the D.C. court as supporting a finding of discriminatory intent.

Senate Dems can use the two-thirds rule to block Sen. Seliger’s map from reaching the floor. House Democrats are also unanimous in their opposition to adopting the interim maps as permanent, though there’s not much they can do to stop it in their chamber short of a walkout. It’s still remarkable to see all 67 Dems in the Lege unite on something.

Anyway, there’s no sign of the House taking up the companion bill by Rep. Drew Darby as yet. Written testimony to the Senate committee is due by 5 PM on April 24.

Senate committee to take up interim maps bill

From Texas Redistricting:

The Texas Senate’s state affairs committee has scheduled a hearing for Thursday, April 18, at 2 p.m. (or upon adjournment) to consider SB 1524 – State Sen. Kel Seliger’s bill to adopt the court-drawn interim maps as permanent.

As drafted, the bill would apply to all three maps that are currently in litigation (state house, state senate, congressional).

As of this time, the House redistricting committee still has not scheduled a hearing on the companion bill filed by State Rep. Drew Darby (or any hearings for that matter).

Here’s SB1524. These are the interim maps, and the Abbott strategy that has puzzled me so. There’s no remaining argument over the Senate map, so making that one permanent should cause no grief, but the House and Congressional maps remain in dispute and could be modified further by the San Antonio court even if Section 5 is thrown out, given the DC Court’s finding of discrimination in them. Be that as it may, I don’t expect the process to be as contentious as it usually is, on the grounds that everyone in the Legislature was elected under these maps, in most cases by comfortable margins. As one of the Trib’s insiders notes, the incumbents all like the existing maps. So we’ll see how this goes, but I won’t be surprised if there’s a lack of fireworks. Having said all that, I completely agree with the Express News.

Here’s a better idea: Take to heart the federal court decision that denied preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, and then craft maps that give minority voters a shot at the representation their numbers merit. Failing that, the San Antonio federal judges will have to craft better maps.

The best move in any case would be to ultimately remove the responsibility for redistricting from the Legislature, whose members will always be more concerned with re-election and party dominance than drawing maps fairly.

Clearly, the attorney general is hoping — not without reason — for a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in another case to gut Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 5 requires states with histories of discrimination to get changes to voting and election law precleared. Texas is appealing the lower court’s refusal to grant preclearance to the state’s maps.

But even if Abbott gets his desired ruling, that doesn’t mean the retrogression and discrimination didn’t happen. It will simply mean states such as Texas can get away with its shenanigans until — or only if — they are challenged under a different section of the Act, a much more difficult task for challengers.

Lawmakers should reject Abbott’s recommendation.

I’m not going to hold my breath for any of that. For a much more detailed look at the continuing dispute over the Congressional map, see this Texas Redistricting post about treatment of Hispanics in North Texas, and this post about Travis County. There’s a whole lot more that could and really should be done, but what matters is what’s legally required, and we won’t know that for some time.

Abbott asks for the interim maps

Very interesting.

The recently dormant Texas redistricting issue woke up Thursday with a disagreement between the state’s attorney general and a Latino legislators’ group.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has called on the Legislature to make the current — and interim — redistricting maps permanent.

Abbott’s letter to Texas House Speaker Joe Straus — which was dated March 8 and just uncovered by Michael Li, a redistricting expert and author of a redistricting blog — said if the interim maps become permanent, then further intervention from federal courts might not be necessary. That, Abbott’s letter said, could “ensure an orderly election without further delay or uncertainty.”

“Enacting the interim plans into law would confirm the Legislature’s intent for a redistricting plan that fully comports with the law, and will insulate the State’s redistricting plans from further legal challenge,” Abbott wrote.

The Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, or MALC for short, responded in a filing with the San Antonio federal court that approved the interim maps. MALC said the interim maps for the Texas House and the U.S. House of Representatives still might not comply with the U.S. Voting Rights Act.

“The attempt of the State of Texas to circumvent the judicial process through legislation that fails to provide a final remedial redistricting plan for Texas House and Texas Congressional Districts is even more reason for this Court to begin the process that will lead to a final and just remedial plan for future Texas elections,” MALC said in its filing.

Here’s the Texas Redistricting post the story refers to, and the MALC advisory that contains and objects to Abbott’s letter. I had previously noted the earlier Texas Redistricting post that pointed out the late-filed bills to make the interim maps permanent. At the time, I wondered if Republican Sen. Kel Seliger and Rep. Drew Darby had consulted with Abbott about this before they filed. Now I know. What’s curious about this is that Abbott’s intent in appealing the DC court’s ruling that denied preclearance to the Supreme Court was to get the original legislatively-drawn maps enacted for 2014. I’m not sure what he has in mind by changing direction in this way. Is it a hedge against a potentially adverse ruling from SCOTUS, or is there something else to it that I’m not seeing? Burka thinks he’s playing partisan games, but I still can’t see towards what end. Whatever the case, this also answers my question about whether the plaintiffs would accept that deal as insurance against Section 5 being gutted. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

The redistrictor’s dilemma

Some fascinating news from Texas Redistricting.

Dallas and Tarrant counties under Plan C236

Friday’s bill filing deadline in the Texas Legislature brought bills by State Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) – chair of the House redistricting committee – and State Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) to make permanent the three interim maps drawn by the San Antonio court last year.

The identical bills (SB 1524 in the Senate and HB 3840 in the House) set out legislative findings that the interim maps “comply with all federal and state constitutional provisions or laws applicable to redistricting plans, including the federal Voting Rights Act” and that adoption of the maps on a permanent basis would “diminish the expense of further time and money by all parties in Texas’ ongoing redistricting litigation” and “avoid disruption of the upcoming election cycle.”

Ahead of Friday’s bill deadline, the chair of the House Democratic caucus, State Rep. Yvonne Davis of Dallas also filed placeholder bills (HB 3846 and HB 3847) to redraw the state house and congressional maps.

If I were in charge of the Texas Democratic Party and had the proxy of all of the plaintiffs and intervenors in the redistricting litigation, and the Republicans came to me with the offer of keeping the interim maps for the rest of the decade in return for not pursuing any further appeals to SCOTUS, I’d consider it to be a pretty tempting offer. If I felt confident that SCOTUS would leave the Voting Rights Act intact in the Shelby case, and in the Texas redistricting and voter ID cases, and anything else after that, I’d thank them and decline, on the grounds that I would expect further remediation of the existing maps from the San Antonio court. Given that it’s at best a coin flip that Section 5 stays in place after SCOTUS rules, I’d stick out my hand and say “You’ve got a deal”. Given that the state intends to have the maps drawn by the Legislature in 2011 implemented in the event of Section 5’s demise, as a straight-up expected value proposition it’s hard to see a downside to this. That in turn makes me wonder who Darby and Seliger talked to before filing these bills. I figure the reaction in Greg Abbott’s office is something like “WTF are they doing over there?” I haven’t seen any news stories about this, so I’m just speculating, but it sure is intriguing.

As for Rep. Davis’ bills, there’s a link to the maps for them here. The Congressional map is especially interesting. It restores CD25 as a Travis County-anchored district, and restores Travis County to having only three districts in it (CDs 10 and 21 being the other two), while creating a new Latino district in Dallas (CD03), restoring CD27 to South Texas, and moving CD34 to Central Texas. CD33 moves to be entirely within Tarrant County, and remains a black/Hispanic district, probably at least as favorable to Rep. Marc Veasey as the current district is. Going by the population distribution (compare to the current map here), I would expect Dems to pick up CDs 03, 25, and 27, lose CD34, and I can’t tell what might happen in CD23. I haven’t taken a close look at the legislative map, but I will note that it makes HDs 105 and 107 in Dallas County a lot less white (compare current to proposed demographics), so you can draw your own conclusions. It’s a little hard to imagine a scenario under which these bills would be taken under consideration; my guess is that they’re creating a baseline for the San Antonio court to evaluate if Section 5 is left alone. I’m just guessing.

Anyway. Tomorrow is the deadline for both sides in the San Antonio case to submit their briefs outlining what they think should happen after SCOTUS rules one way or the other on the Voting Rights Act. That may tell us a lot about how confident each side is of their position.

More STAAR changes proposed

Everyone’s least favorite standardized test is a fat target these days.

State Sen. Kel Seliger, the Amarillo Republican who chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee, filed a bill Tuesday offering broad changes to student assessment and high school graduation requirements in Texas.

Senate Bill 225 would significantly reduce the number of state standardized tests students must pass to graduate — from 15 to five in reading, writing, biology, Algebra I and U.S. history. It would also leave whether to count the state exams toward anything besides graduation requirements up to local school boards. A rule that requires state end-of-course exams to count toward 15 percent of students’ final grade is currently suspended, but it would take effect again next year if lawmakers do not change it.

Seliger’s bill would restructure high school graduation plans so that the current requirement of four years each in math, science, English and social studies, known as the “4X4,” would be replaced by a 26 credit “Foundation High School Program.” That program would require students to earn 16 credits in core subject areas — four in English, three in math, three in social studies, two in science, two in foreign language, and one in each physical education and fine arts — plus 10 elective credits. The program would allow students to earn diploma “endorsements” by completing five credits across areas of studies like humanities, science, engineering, technology and math, or business and industry.

Here’s SB 225, which has quite a lot to it. Rep. Mike Villarreal filed similar legislation in the House on Tuesday as well. You never know how these sweeping efforts will fare, but if there’s ever a session for this sort of thing, it’s this one, with public support aligned and the biggest booster of the STAAR standing down.

And here’s an alternate proposal that has some merit.

When Texas debuted its much-maligned STAAR test last school year, some of the harshest criticisms came from teachers, who complained they’d been given little guidance about what sorts of questions the test would include. In fact, Texas keeps the tests under wraps for three years so it can reuse them.

A bill from state Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin) would change that, to release STAAR questions and answer keys every year. Texas would pay the testmaker, Pearson, $2.1 million annually to develop new questions every year, according to the Texas Education Agency.


Dineen Majcher, president of the board for Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment, agrees it’s a problem that teachers have to wait up to three years to see old tests. But she said Strama’s bill still doesn’t go far enough.

“While he’s going in the right direction, that still doesn’t give us diagnostic data,” Majcher said. “Diagnostic data shows in detail where the student made errors or did well and you can use that information to help that student improve.”

Unlike the STAAR test, Majcher said, her daughter brings home class tests that allow her to see what concepts she didn’t understand and better understand any mistake she originally made. Major changes to standardized testing must be implemented for students to better learn from the questions they’ve missed, Majcher said.

“Seeing the test itself is the best way to do that…in everyday school life that’s how students learn,” Majcher said. “I appreciate what Mark is trying to do, but if we’re going to do this, let’s do it right.”

Strama’s bill is HB554. I think what Majcher is saying is that being able to take practice tests and get feedback on what you got wrong is best. I agree with that but it seems to me that if you have the tests you can do the rest. Maybe I’m not fully understanding her concern. In any event, keep an eye on this one as well. It’ll be interesting to look back and see how the STAAR has been changed. If it somehow survives mostly intact, it won’t be from lack of effort and ideas. For a good discussion on the issues with STAAR and some proposed solutions, see this Texas Principal post from September.

The split primary blues

Republicans have them.

Republican lawmakers turned up the heat on the Texas GOP leadership Wednesday, asking them to keep Texas’ primaries on a single election day while their own party continues to push for two primaries, one in March and a second in May.

Most of the Texas congressional delegation signed a letter sent late Wednesday to a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio,which presided over earlier challenges to the state’s redistricting maps, asking it to back a solution that would keep all of Texas’ primary contests on the same day. Earlier Wednesday, 15 of the 19 Republicans in the Texas Senate issued a joint statement, making a similar request.

“Unless it is absolutely necessary, which it may be, … [the second primary] is sort of the mother of all unfunded mandates,” said GOP state Sen. Kel Seliger, who chairs the Senate Redistricting Committee.

Seliger said he was concerned that a second primary election would confuse voters and election officials and reduce turnout.

Yeah, that’s pretty much what the Democrats have been saying. The GOP officeholders will deny that they’re worried about their own chances against a teabagger opponent in a low-turnout primary, but we all know that they are. I do have some sympathy for them, and am glad they’re speaking up about this. And yes, the cost of a second primary, and a second runoff, is not trivial and counties will wind up absorbing much of it, to the detriment of other things they have budgeted for. That reason alone should be enough to support a single election date.

Now, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with separating the Presidential primary from the other races. A number of states do exactly that, which allows them to have meaningful participation in the Presidential process while not requiring candidates for other office to commit to it so early. If we want to talk about exploring that option for 2016, I’ll be happy to join in. But springing this on the electorate in 2012 with no prior discussion and lumping in a bunch of other races with the Presidential contest while separating out only the legislative races, that makes no sense at all. Not being able to have the March primary that everyone is used to will be a big enough unexpected change. We shouldn’t make it any worse than that.

Finally, a Profile in Courage award to AG Greg Abbott:

Back when he was asking the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott told the high court that it should move the primaries for legislative and congressional races to May 22 while keeping everything else on March 6.

But when MALC’s chair, State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, sent Abbott a letter today calling on him to support a unified primary, Abbott shifted course.

Now he tells the Quorum Report it’s not his job to get involved in the conduct of primaries.

Here’s the letter Rep. Martinez Fischer sent. Kind of late for AG Abbott to say he doesn’t want to get involved, isn’t it? Having the state take the unified primary position would bring this to a much swifter resolution. At this point, I’m not sure who besides Steve Munisteri is advocating anything else, but as yet we have neither an agreement nor a court order. BOR has more.

Expand the Senate?

I think there’s a lot of merit to this.

From state Sen. Kel Seliger, a member of the smaller-government Republican Party and an architect of the Legislature’s redistricting maps that were nixed by federal judges last week, comes this:

Consider expanding the Texas Senate from 31 to 37 members.

At a public forum at the University of Texas [last] Tuesday, Seliger, of Amarillo, floated the idea “to start the discussion in public.”

He said his staff is researching a proposed constitutional amendment that could come up for debate the next time the Legislature meets in regular session, January 2013.

“If you asked most people what they thought about having more legislators in Austin, they’d probably say: ‘Oh, great. That’s a horrible idea,'” said Seliger, chairman of the Senate Redistricting Committee.

“But if you look at it from the standpoint of representation, state senators now represent around 800,000 people — and in some parts of the state, that covers a whole lot of ground. It makes really representing those people very difficult, makes interaction with constituents very difficult.”


“To those people who would say this is a bad idea, I would say, ‘Suppose you’re in Glasscock County, which has no incorporated city and no airport?'” Seliger said, citing a county in his district. “Do you want to increase your chances that your voice will be heard in Austin or not?

“When I go out there, I fly my single-engine plane into a crop-dusting strip. It’s way out there, but those people deserve representation the same as anyone else.”

Seliger said Texas senators will represent more people than members of the U.S. Congress. The last time the Senate’s district boundaries were redrawn, state senators each represented an average 672,000 people.

I completely agree with this. Texas gained four Congressional seats because of its big increase in population. It doesn’t make sense to me that Senate districts should be left to become that much larger because we don’t have a mechanism for adjusting the size of the Senate to the size of the state. I don’t know what Sen. Seliger has in mind, but my suggestion would be to not do this as a one-time fix, but to propose an amendment that would tie the number of Senators to the number of Congresspeople that Texas has. This way, we can ensure that Senate districts don’t get too big, and it provides a mechanism to shrink it back down if population trends change.

Veasey joins in redistricting litigation

Add another redistricting lawsuit to the pile.

Brought by state Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, the lawsuit is another attempt to get a three-judge panel hearing redistricting cases to reconsider the entire state map by focusing on how the districts are drawn around the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.

“You want to show that, statewide, 90 percent of the growth has been minority and to show that you can make a map that is a lot more reflective of that,” Veasey said. “(Republicans) figured out how to draw another seat for voters who are shrinking in population.”

Veasey’s lawsuit filed in San Antonio argues that two additional minority majority districts should be added to the Metroplex, one for Hispanic voters and another for African-Americans.

“A lot of people fail to realize that the Metroplex has the second-fastest-growing African-American population in the country,” Veasey said.

Republicans have staunchly defended their redistricting map against Democratic charges that it shortchanges minority voters.

“It’s a purely partisan statement,” said Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, who led the redistricting effort in the Texas Senate. Efforts to avoid drawing oddly shaped districts that could be overturned in court made it harder to reflect the state’s minority population growth in the new maps, Seliger contended.

See PoliTex for more. The Lone Star Project gives some of the details of Veasey’s suit:

Excerpts from the complaint:

  • Voting Rights Act Section 2 Violations
    “Though minority communities accounted for 90% of population growth between 2000 and 2010, and Texas received four additional congressional seats because of that explosive population growth, minorities only control one of the four new districts created under the State’s Plan. And though the Anglo population now comprises only 45% of Texas’ total population, Anglos control 72% of Texas’ congressional districts under the newly enacted map. This configuration constitutes an unlawful dilution of minority voting strength under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.”
  • Voting Rights Act Section 5 Violations
    “The State’s Plan was drawn with the purpose of, and has the effect of, minimizing and reducing the strength of minority populations in Texas. While the pre-2011 congressional map contains eleven effective minority opportunity districts, the State’s Plan contains only ten such districts. Reducing the number of effective minority opportunity districts constitutes unlawful retrogression under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.”
  • 14th Amendment Violations
    “That Republican leadership did not extend meaningful opportunities for effective participation in redistricting to those Representatives elected by communities of color and the general public is an affront to democratic values and is unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Excluding minority Representatives of choice from the redistricting process also violates Article I, Sections 2 and 4 of the United States Constitution, as well as the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

I was on Houston8 with Ernie Manouse on Friday, talking about the special session, and got into it over redistricting with Sen. Dan Patrick, who made the standard claim about how diffuse the Latino population is and how that makes it hard to draw fair districts for them. The problem with that, and I wish I had said it more clearly, is that when someone then tries to draw a minority-opportunity district or two, as Veasey did during the session, people complain about “gerrymandering”, as if that would not apply even more to the things that were done to prevent the creation of such districts. If you take the “too diffuse” argument to its logical end, the “solution” is for Latinos to pack themselves into designated areas instead. I’m sorry, but when more than a half dozen plausible maps are presented for consideration that draw winnable Latino seats, then “too diffuse” becomes an excuse, not an argument.

Anyway. We’ll see what the courts have to say. I had previously noted fourteen other lawsuits; the story referenced five. I’m sure several have been combined by now. Whatever the case, we likely won’t see resolution for several years; my prediction remains that we’ll have some changes to districts for the 2016 election.

Opening bids on the next deficit

Do I hear $7 billion? Ten billion? How about $15 billion?

Early projections indicate that when the Legislature convenes in 2013 it could face another revenue shortfall. Not as severe as this year’s $27-billion gap, but still problematic.

“I think we’re going to have a $10- to $15-billion budget deficit next session,” Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said.

For Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, the gap in the 2013 session could be at least $7.1 billion.

“This is not responsible governance,” Davis told the Austin-American Statesman.

Like most Republicans in the Legislature, Patrick was against tapping into the Rainy Day Fund. But Davis and all Democrats – as well as a few influential Republicans such as Sens. Kel Seliger of Amarillo and Steve Ogden of Bryan, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee – argued that because of the severity of this year’s fiscal crisis, it would be wise to tap into the fund to balance the state budget.

The debate over how much in the hole the Legislature will be in the next session is expected to intensify during the interim, especially when key legislative panels such as the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee host a series of public hearings.

Of course, as we know, the remaining balance in the Rainy Day Fund is already accounted for. That means there will be much less wiggle room in 2013, and it means that either we face up to and finally deal with the underlying structural problems, which begins with the shortfall caused by the business margins tax and its inability to pay for the property tax cuts of 2006, or we slash and burn again. Which is why the mantra for every Democratic candidate in 2012 and 2014 needs to be “The Republicans said they could fix the budget through cuts alone. They were wrong.” We can’t fix the problem until we fix the Legislature.