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Kirk Watson

Hog apocalypse update

The poison plan for controlling feral hogs is set to be put on pause by the Legislature.

A bill poised to pass the Texas House would amend the Texas Agriculture Code to prohibit the Department of Agriculture from registering, approving for use or allowing use of any pesticide for feral hog control unless a study by a state agency or university recommends such action.

That legislation – HB 3451, by Rep. Lynn Stucky, R-Denton – was filed in the wake of the Texas Department of Agriculture’s emergency rules issued earlier this year (and since suspended by a state judge) that set regulations for use of the first pesticide approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency for use controlling feral hogs. Texas holds more than 2 million feral hogs, an invasive species causing significant environmental and economic damage in the state. While extermination of feral hogs is almost universally approved by Texans, the move allowing use of the pesticide proved controversial, drawing intense opposition from a wide range of individuals and organizations concerned about the potential negative effects on humans and non-target animals from warfarin, the pesticide’s active ingredient.

Stucky’s bill, which has more than 120 House members as co-sponsors, sailed through its committee hearing, initial procedural readings on the House floor and could see final passage by the House as soon as this week.

The bill can expect to be well received in the Texas Senate, where a companion bill – SB 1454 by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin – has almost a third of the Senate as co-sponsors.

See here and here for the background. That column was published on Wednesday. HB3451 was postponed, first till Thursday and then till Monday, at which time it was overwhelmingly approved by the full House.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s push to use a warfarin-based poison to kill feral hogs in the state has a long list of opponents that now includes more than two-thirds of the Legislature where Miller once served.

House lawmakers voted 128 to 13 to preliminarily approve legislation Monday that would require state agency or university research before the use of lethal pesticides on wild pigs. A companion bill in the Senate has 10 co-sponsors.

[…]

A coalition of hunters, animal rights advocates, conservationists and meat processors has mobilized against the use of the poison. The Texas State Rifle Association, Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation, the Texas Hog Hunters Association and the Texas Veterinary Medical Association are all among the groups that support the bill.

Lotta love for ol’ Sid there. SB1454 has not had a committee hearing yet. Sure seems likely this will pass, especially given that House vote, but it’s never over till it’s over in the Lege. There’s more about other outdoors-related bills in that column, so check it out if that’s your thing.

Let’s have a study of that hog apocalypse first

Maybe we should figure out what the effects of poisoning feral hogs might be before we start poisoning them.

Two bills from Texas lawmakers — state Rep. Lynn Stucky, R-Denton, and state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin — would require state agency or university research before the use of lethal pesticides on wild pigs.

The legislation comes after outcry from Texas hog hunters and meat processors over state approval of a new feral hog poison called Kaput, which they say would hurt their businesses and contaminate other game animals and livestock. A state judge issued a temporary restraining order against the rule on March 2. Wild Boar Meat, the Hubbard-based company that sued to stop use of the poison, processes hog meat to sell to pet food companies.

Kaput contains a chemical called Warfarin, which at varying concentrations is used as a rat poison and a blood thinner in humans. It causes hogs that consume it to die of internal bleeding, a process that takes four to seven days.

House Bill 3451 and Senate Bill 1454, both filed this week, would require scientific studies of the poison to include controlled field trials and assess the economic consequences to the state’s property owners, hunters, and agriculture industry.

[…]

When Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller announced a state rule change in February that allowed the use of Kaput — which the Environmental Protection Agency approved for feral hog control earlier this year — he called the poison a “long overdue” solution to the extensive damage the wild pigs cause every year.

“The ‘Hog Apocalypse’ may finally be on the horizon,” said Miller, who as a state legislator passed a measure known as the “pork-chopper bill” that allowed the hunting of hogs by helicopter in 2011.

The department has defended the new rule, saying it imposes licensing restrictions to protect against misuse of the poison.

See here for the background. On the one hand, it’s long been clear that hunting the hogs, even with no restrictions or bag limits and even from helicopters, will never be enough to slow down the population growth. Warfarin is approved by the EPA, and it just might work. On the other hand, it’s hard to take seriously any claim by Sid Miller that’s he’s being a careful and conscientious steward of the environment. On balance, I’d say it’s better to be a bit more deliberate with this.

Turns out a little budget flexibility is a good thing

Some lessons have to be learned the hard way.

More than a year after Texas voters approved routing billions in state sales taxes to roads and bridges, some lawmakers are questioning whether the first payment of $5 billion should move forward as planned.

Texans voted in 2015 to boost funding for state’s public roadways and bridges, which have strained under the state’s growing population. Proposition 7 — loudly cheered by top Texas leaders and supported by 83 percent of voters — changed the constitution to route some taxes collected on car sales to the State Highway Fund.

But in an unusually tightfisted legislative session, some Texas lawmakers are raising the prospect of reducing that initial cash infusion to the State Highway Fund scheduled for this year to free up money for other state programs.

No one has publicly backed such a move, but key budget writers have privately discussed the option. And at a Senate Finance Committee hearing Monday, Sens. Kirk Watson of Austin and Charles Schwertner of Georgetown asked Legislative Budget Board staffers about how it might work.

It turns out that the enabling legislation for that referendum included an escape hatch, in which a two-thirds vote can be used to divert some of that $5 billion for other purposes. That probably won’t happen, though I presume it’s no less likely than a vote to tap the Rainy Day Fund to get through this session and hope that things will be better in 2019. We can certainly debate whether it should happen or not, but my reason for highlighting this is that it’s yet another example of why artificial budget constraints are so often a bad idea, whose main effect is to force budget writers to come up with creative ways around said constraints. I say it’s more honest to just let them have the flexibility to figure it out rather than be forced into certain choices, but that’s not how we do things.

More Congressional seats are likely on the way

If current trends continue, that is.

Texas could pick up two, perhaps three, new congressional seats following the 2020 decennial Census if current population growth continues through the decade, political and demographic experts said Thursday.

With continued growth in Texas’ four major metropolitan areas, they said, the state could almost match the gains it made in political representation after the 2010 Census, when it added four seats in Congress.

The Houston metropolitan area has led the way this decade, according to Census Bureau data released Thursday, potentially positioning the area for two additional seats in fast-growing Fort Bend and Montgomery counties.

The San Antonio area likely would be at the top of the list for an additional congressional seat, as well, said state demographer and University of Texas at San Antonio professor Lloyd Potter.

All told, the state’s largest metro areas – anchored in Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio – added about 400,000 people last year, more than any other state in the country.

[…]

The greater Houston area, which includes The Woodlands and Sugar Land, added about 159,000 residents between July 2014 and July 2015, while the second-fastest-growing Texas metro area, Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, saw an increase of 145,000.

The state’s population growth was led by Latinos in the last decade, Potter said, a trend that has accelerated.

“I can see areas that, maybe historically, were largely non-Hispanic white shifting and becoming more integrated in terms of having people of Hispanic descent, Asian and even African-American in them,” Potter said.

Under those circumstances, it could become increasingly difficult for Republicans, who will control the state legislature for the foreseeable future, to draw the new congressional and state district lines in ways that favor their party.

In the short term, given the party’s firm grip on power in Texas, growth in the state will favor the GOP, but that political calculus cannot last in the long-term, according to Bob Stein, a political science professor at Rice University.

“There simply aren’t enough bodies to go around to draw what we might call safe Republican districts,” Stein said. “Nonetheless, I think Republicans will find a way to advantage themselves, particularly in the statehouse. But increasingly, what you’re going to find is a black and Hispanic population become an obstacle to drawing districts.”

Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here. As I said before, let’s wait and see what the next estimates have to say, because things could slow down considerably before the actual Census takes place if the oil and gas industry is still in a slump. There’s also the matter of that pesky never-ending litigation spawned by the 2011 redistricting (technically, we’re fighting over the 2013 maps), which if nothing else may offer some direction on how the GOP might proceed in 2021. With all that said, here are a few thoughts:

– If trends continue and Texas does get three new Congressional seats, I fully expect two of them to be drawn as Republican districts. Never mind that it was almost entirely growth in the minority population drove the increase – that didn’t matter to the Republican map-drawers in 2011, and it won’t matter to them in 2021 unless they are forced to take it into consideration by the courts. Even then, the only scenario under which I see more than one Democratic district being drawn is if the Republicans conclude that they can’t draw any more GOP districts without putting their incumbents at risk.

(I will stipulate here that the Democrats thought this way when they were in charge, too, and that we’d be having a different conversation now if we had some kind of independent redistricting commission in place. That ain’t gonna happen, and I will further stipulate that it won’t happen if by some miracle the Dems seize control of the Lege in 2021. Let’s keep our eye on the ball that is actually in play.)

– I fully expect the Republicans to try once again to draw Lloyd Doggett out of a district. They tried in 2003, they tried in 2011, why wouldn’t they try in 2021? Death, taxes, and Lloyd Doggett has a target on his back in redistricting.

– You can also be sure that they will try to make CD23 as Republican-friendly as possible. That district is one of the few that is still under dispute in the ongoing litigation, and if there’s one lesson to be taken from the 2011 experience it’s that whatever egregious thing you do in drawing the maps, you’re going to get at least two cycles of benefit from it before any corrections are made, so why not go for broke? That will be the case in 2021, and assuming President Trump doesn’t dissolve Congress in his second term, I’d bet it’s a point of contention in 2031, too.

– Moving on to other entities, I wonder if the Republicans will try to do to Kirk Watson in the Senate what they’ve tried to do to Doggett in Congress. It amazes me that Travis County has pieces of so many Congressional districts in it – I joked back in 2011 that if the GOP could have figured out a way to put a piece of all 36 Congressional districts in Travis County they would have – all but one of which is held by a Republican, yet the large majority of SD14 is in Travis County, and the large majority of Travis County is represented by good old liberal Watson. Maybe it’s harder to stick a shiv in a colleague than some chump in Washington, I don’t know. But if SD14 survives more or less intact in 2021, I will begin to wonder just what Sen. Watson has on his fellow Senators.

– I also wonder if SD19, which has a lot of overlap with CD23, might get tinkered with in a way that would make it more of a district that could be won by either party based on whether or not it’s a Presidential year. SD19 isn’t that heavily Democratic, though Sen. Uresti survived 2010 intact and is on a Presidential cycle this decade. There’s less pressing a need for this from a GOP perspective since the two thirds rule was killed, and there’s still that pesky litigation and the queasiness they may feel about knifing a colleague, but hey, a seat’s a seat.

– The GOP will likely try to make SD10 a little redder, and if they think about it, they might take a look at SD16, too. That district can be pretty purple in Presidential years (it’s on a non-Presidential cycle this time around), and with a less-congenial member in place now than John Carona was, it could be a tempting target. Major surgery isn’t required to shore it up, just a little nip and tuck. Just a thought.

– As for the State House, the two main questions for me are whether Harris County will get 25 members again, and if Dallas County, which lost two seats in 2011, will get one or more back. We won’t know the answer to these questions until the Redistricting Committee gets down to brass tacks in 2021.

– The ongoing litigation is as much about the State House as it is Congress, though in both cases the number of districts currently in dispute is small. As with the Congressional districts, I fully expect that the same fights will occur over the same places, which includes the places where the court ruled against the plaintiffs initially. Some of those places – western Harris County (HD132), Fort Bend (HD26), the Killeen/Fort Hood area (HD54) – could support districts that are tossup/lean Dem right now if one were inclined to draw such things. I suspect that battleground will be bigger in 2021.

– Since the debacle of 2010, much has been written about the decline of Anglo Democrats in the Lege. That number has dipped again, thanks to the retirement of Rep. Elliott Naishtat and subsequent primary win by Gina Hinojosa. What could at least temporarily reverse that trend is for Dems to finally win a couple of the swingy Dallas County seats that are currently held by Republicans, specifically (in order of difficulty) HDs 114, 115, and 102. (HDs 105 and 107 are far closer electorally, but checking the candidateswebsites, the Dems in question are both Latinas.) Longer term, if the Dems can make themselves more competitive in suburban areas, that number will increase. This is a corollary of Mary Beth Roger’s prescription for Texas Dems, and it’s something that needs more emphasis. Texas Dems ain’t going anywhere till we can be a credible electoral threat in suburban counties. Our pre-2010 caucus was bolstered by the presence of legacy rural incumbents. We’re not winning those seats back any time soon. The good news is that we don’t need to. The opportunities are elsewhere. The bad news is that we haven’t figured our how to take advantage of it, and it’s not clear that we’re putting that much effort into figuring it out.

Complaint filed against Sid Miller

Game on.

Sid Miller

A liberal advocacy group on Monday asked the Texas Rangers to investigate whether Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller used taxpayer money to fly to Oklahoma to get an injection known as “the Jesus Shot” that is supposed to cure all pain for life.

The group, Progress Texas, filed a two-page complaint alleging Miller intentionally abused his office in February of 2015 by using at least $1,120 in public money for private gain.

Abuse of office involving using that amount of money for private gain is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

“Politicians like Sid Miller using their office to benefit themselves is inexcusable,” said Lucy Stein, advocacy director for the group. “These guys think that they’re above the law, and they aren’t.”

The complaint stems from a Houston Chronicle article published last week that raised questions about the February 2015 trip, which Miller took to Oklahoma City with a top aide, billing the taxpayers at least $1,120.

[…]

Monday’s action marks the first criminal complaint against Miller.

It also is among the first complaint of its kind to be filed with the Texas Rangers, which was given authority during last year’s legislative session to probe allegations of misconduct by state elected officials and employees. The move took that power away from the Public Integrity Unit in the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, which was accused by Republicans of initiating cases for political reasons.

Stein said she had trouble figuring out who to contact with her complaint and was referred to multiple employees within the Texas Department of Public Safety.

“It’s very complicated now — nobody knows what they’re doing,” said Stein, who worried that the process could scare off some Texans with fewer resources. “It shouldn’t be so hard for an ordinary citizen to file a complaint against a statewide elected official.”

Stein said she had been told that the Rangers were “reviewing” the complaint.

See here for the background. This will be an interesting test of that new procedure, as defined by the Lege last year. Among other things, if the Rangers decide there’s enough evidence to hand off to a prosecutor, that would presumably mean giving it to the District Attorney of Erath County, where Miller attends church and hung his hat as State Rep in HD59. Here’s Sen. Kirk Watson, in the comments to an RG Ratcliife post on Facebook, explaining the details:

Of course the answer is a little complicated because of the way the bill (HB 1690) was drafted.

HB 1690 says “venue … IS the county in which the defendant resided at the time the offense was committed.” However, then the bill defines residence for 4 categories of people: legislators, members of the executive branch, certain judges, and everyone else. For members of the executive branch, residence is defined as the county where the person “claimed to be a resident before being subject to residency requirements under Article IV, Texas Constitution.” (That’s the former requirement that certain executive offices must reside in Travis county.) The Ag. Commissioner used to be subject to the residency requirement since he’s elected statewide (see SJR 52).

So, piecing it all together, I think he can only be prosecuted where he claimed to be a resident before he was elected Ag. Commissioner. The bill doesn’t provide any guidance re: what constitutes claiming to be a resident.

This is the PIU bill not any “ethics” bill that was vetoed. Remember a key problem with what was being done was that they were creating a special class of defendants. Instead of trying a person (ever other person) in the place where the crime is committed, they create a special class of people that can and will be tried in some place other than where the crime is committed. The place they claim residency.

Got all that? This presumes, of course, that the Erath County DA would not be conflicted up the wazoo and have to recuse himself a la the Collin County DA and Ken Paxton. In which case we’d have yet another special prosecutor prosecuting yet another elected Republican. Isn’t this fun? I’m getting ahead of myself here – we don’t even know what the Rangers are going to do with this just yet – but keep that in your back pocket for future contemplation.

One more thing: Ross Ramsay wrote that for now, the lack of two-party competitiveness in Texas means that all this is water of Sid Miller’s back, at least until a grand jury returns an indictment and/or he draws a primary challenger. I’ve seen more than one lament, on Facebook and elsewhere, about how pathetic the Democrats must be for us to be in this situation. Well, the simple fact is that there are more Rs than Ds in Texas right now. There are things that may change that, in the long term and the short term, one of which I have noted is for more than a few Rs to become fed up with their party, or at least a few specific members of it, and refuse to support them any more. Dirty elected officials, and the colleagues who apparently have not problem with them, are a possible reason why they may do this. Perhaps that effect will be noticeable in 2018, and perhaps it will not. For now, it’s all a matter of numbers. As with most things in politics, things are they way they are until all of a sudden they’re not. Trail Blazers has more.

Immigration bills fail

Another thing to celebrate from this session.

As the sun begins to set on the 84th Texas Legislature, promises to enact tough immigration legislation remain unfulfilled. State Sen. Donna Campbell says she’s not giving up just because the last gavel is about to drop.

Campbell, a New Braunfels Republican, tried unsuccessfully to pass Senate Bill 1819, which would have eliminated a 14-year-old policy that allows non-citizens, including some undocumented immigrants, to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities.

“Unfortunately, it takes a [three-fifths] vote to bring a bill to the floor, and I was unable to find those final two to three affirmative votes once the bill passed out of committee,” she said in an email Saturday. “I am disappointed that we were unable to get this bill passed under the current body, but I have two years to change a couple members’ minds and try again next session.”

Republican lawmakers could take a similar conciliatory tone on another contentious issue, Senate Bill 185, by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock. That bill sought to ban so-called “sanctuary cities” – the common term for local governments whose peace officers don’t enforce immigration laws.

The proposals seemed likely to pass, at minimum, the upper chamber in the early months of the session. The crush of unauthorized migration last summer in the Rio Grande Valley kept the issues at the forefront, and some GOP senators said during their campaigns that passing immigration legislation was a priority.

But two Republican senators, Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, and Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, opposed the measures. Eltife said the issues were about local control; Estes said he feared both could have dire unintended consequences. Their opposition blocked both from going before the full chamber for a vote.

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said a coalition opposing the bills formed early, and it held “regardless of a great deal of pressure that was put on some people.”

“We spent time talking to individual members and talking to people outside the Capitol who in turn talked to members, so that we could be sure we weren’t making any assumptions about where someone might be on these bills, simply because of their party,” said Watson, chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

See here for some background. I don’t expect this issue to go away despite the huge amount allocate in the budget for “border security” or the reality that immigration patterns have changed greatly in recent years. This will be a “crisis” in need of “immediate action” for as long as it has potency as an election issue. Stace has more.

There’s still time for bad bills to be passed

Bad bill #1:

Never again

Never again

After four hours of debate and more than a dozen failed amendments offered by Democrats, the Senate on Monday gave preliminary approval to far-reaching restrictions on minors seeking abortions in Texas without parental consent.

On a 21-10 vote, the upper chamber signed off on House Bill 3994 by Republican state Rep. Geanie Morrison of Victoria to tighten the requirements on “judicial bypass,” the legal process that allows minors to get court approval for an abortion if seeking permission from their parents could endanger them.

The vote was along party lines with one Democrat, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville, joining Republicans to pass the measure.

[…]

After it reached the Senate, [Sen. Charles] Perry did some rewriting on HB 3994 to address two of the bill’s most controversial provisions on which both Democrats and some conservatives had raised concerns.

As expected, he gutted a provision that would have required all doctors to presume a pregnant woman seeking an abortion was a minor unless she could present a “valid government record of identification” to prove she was 18 or older.

The ID requirement — dubbed “abortion ID” by opponents — raised red flags because it would apply to all women in the state even though the bill focused on minors.

Under Perry’s new language, a physician must use “due diligence” to determine a woman’s identity and age, but could still perform the abortion if a woman could not provide an ID. Doctors would also have to report to the state how many abortions were performed annually without “proof of identity and age.”

Perry said the revised language “gives physician more latitude” to determine a woman’s age.

But Democratic state Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin, who spoke in opposition to the bill and questioned Perry for almost an hour, questioned the ID requirement altogether.

“I can’t think of another instance where we presume women are children,” Watson said. “I certainly can’t think of any situation where we presume a man is a child.”

Perry also changed course on a provision that would have reversed current law such that if a judge does not rule on the bypass request within five days, the request is considered denied. Under current law, the bypass is presumed approved if a judge does not rule.

Perry cut that denial provision from the bill, saying it is now “silent” on the issue. But that did little to appease opponents who pointed out a judge’s failure to rule effectively denies the minor an abortion.

“In essence, the judge can bypass the judicial bypass by simply not ruling,” Watson said, adding that the appeals process is derailed without a denial by a judge.

HB 3994 also extends the time in which judges can rule on a judicial bypass case from two business days to five. Perry said this was meant to give judges more time and “clarity” to consider these cases.

But Democratic state Sen. Sylvia Garcia of Houston, who also offered several unsuccessful amendments, questioned whether Perry’s intentions were rooted in a distrust of women and judges.

“I’m not really sure who it is you don’t trust — the girls, the judges or the entire judicial system?” Garcia asked.

See here for the background. The Senate version is not quite as bad as the original House version that passed, but as Nonsequiteuse notes, it’s still a farce that does nothing but infantilize women. It’s a cliched analogy, but can anyone imagine a similar set of hoops for a man to jump through to get a vasectomy or a prescription for Viagra? The only people who will benefit from this bill are the lawyers that will be involved in the litigation over it. Oh, and Eddie Lucio sucks. Good Lord, he needs to be retired. TrailBlazers, the Observer, and Newsdesk have more.

Bad bill #2:

In a dramatic turn of events, the House Calendars Committee on Sunday night reversed course and sent a controversial bill prohibiting health insurance plans sold on the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace from covering abortions to the full chamber for a vote.

Earlier in the night, the committee voted not to place Senate Bill 575 by Republican Sen. Larry Taylor on the lower chamber’s calendar for Tuesday — the last day a Senate bill can be passed by the House. After fireworks on the House floor instigated by a lawmaker who believed he had entered into an agreement to get the bill to the full chamber, the committee reconvened and reconsidered its vote.

Under SB 575, women seeking coverage for what Taylor has called “elective” abortions would have been required to purchase supplemental health insurance plans.

On Saturday, state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, had threatened to force a House vote to prohibit abortions on the basis of fetal abnormalities by filing an amendment to an innocuous agency review bill. But Stickland later withdrew the amendment, telling the Austin American-Statesman that he had agreed to pull it down in exchange of a vow from House leadership that they would move SB 575 forward.

The bill did make it out of the House State Affairs Committee, chaired by state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana. But when it got to Calendars, that committee voted it down, leading Stickland to go after Cook on the House floor. Stickland had to be separated from Cook, and House sergeants immediately ran over to prevent a lengthier tussle.

Again, infantilizing women. And speaking of infants, what more can be said about Jonathan Stickland? I know there’s a minimum age requirement to run for office. Maybe there needs to be a minimum maturity requirement as well. Hey, if we can force doctors to assume that women seeking abortions are children, we can assume that any first-time filer for office is a callow jerk. We sure wouldn’t have been wrong in this case.

Bad bill #3:

Senate Republicans on Monday voted to move the state’s Public Integrity Unit out of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office. The action was spurred in part by last year’s indictment of former Gov. Rick Perry.

The legislation by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, would move key decisions about investigating public officials to the Texas Rangers and away from the Democratic-controlled Travis County District Attorney.

The bill was approved in a 20-11 vote, with Democrats casting all the no votes.

[…]

Under the proposed law, any district attorney looking at suspicious activity by a state official would refer the matter to new Public Integrity Unit within the Texas Rangers. That office would then use a Texas Ranger to further investigate the allegation, with expenses handled by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

If confirmed, the recommendation for further action would be sent to the district attorney in the home county of the public official. That district attorney could pursue or drop the investigation.

See here for the background. As I said before, I don’t think this is the worst bill ever, but I do think it’s a guarantee that some future scandal will result from this. And as others have pointed out, it sets up legislators to be treated differently than every other Texan in this sort of situation. That’s never a good precedent to set.

And finally, bad bill #4:

Gays and same-sex couples could be turned away from adopting children or serving as foster parents under an amendment filed by a social conservative House member and expected to be heard Tuesday.

The measure also would allow child welfare providers to deny teenagers in foster care access to contraception or an abortion under a wide umbrella of religious protections for the state contractor.

Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, has filed the measure that gives state contractors for child welfare services the right to sue the state if they are punished for making decisions based on their religious beliefs.

The state could not force contractors to follow policies providing for contraception or allowing same-sex couples to adopt, for instance. If the state tried to terminate a contract or suspend licensing for the state contractors’ failure to abide by such polices, the contractor could sue, win compensatory damages, relief from the policy and attorneys fees against the state, according to the proposal.

Sanford tried to pass as separate bill earlier in the session, but it failed. The proposal now has resurfaced as an amendment to the sunset bill that would reconstitute the Department of Family and Protective Services.

I’m just going to hand this one off to Equality Texas:

TUESDAY, MAY 26TH, Rep. Scott Sanford will try again to pass an amendment allowing child welfare agencies to discriminate against LGBT families

Tell your State Representative to oppose the Sanford amendment permitting discrimination in Texas’ child welfare system.

Rep. Scott Sanford has pre-filed an amendment that he will seek to add to SB 206 on Tuesday, May 26th. This cynical “religious refusal” amendment would authorize all child welfare organizations to refuse to place a child with a qualified family just because that family doesn’t meet the organization’s religious or moral criteria.

If enacted into law, the Sanford Amendment would allow child welfare providers to discriminate against not just gay and transgender families, but also against people of other faiths, interfaith couples and anyone else to whom a provider objects for religious reasons.

The only consideration of a child welfare agency should be the best interest of the child – not proselytizing for a single, narrow religious interpretation.

SB 206 is not objectionable. However, adding the Sanford Amendment to SB 206 must be prevented.

Urge your State Representative to OPPOSE the Sanford Amendment to SB 206.

Amen to that.

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.

Statewide non-discrimination ordinance filed

From the Inbox:

Sen. Jose Rodriguez

On the 179th anniversary of Texas Independence Day, Senator José Rodríguez (D-El Paso) filed Senate Bill 856, a bill that would prohibit discrimination in the areas of employment, public accommodation, housing, and state contracting based upon sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression. The bill was joint-authored by Senators John Whitmire (D-Houston), Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), Kirk Watson (D-Austin), and Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston).

“Fair treatment for workers, families, and people who visit our state—including gay and transgender people—is a crucial factor in the ongoing strength of the Texas brand. An inclusive Texas is crucial to recruiting and retaining talent, attracting entrepreneurs and company relocations, and maintaining a strong travel and tourism industry. Moreover, discrimination of any kind runs counter to the values of opportunity, personal faith, and freedom from discrimination that all Texans hold dear,” Senator Rodríguez said.

“Discrimination of any form has no place in Texas. Not in our schools, our government, or our services. I am proud to co-author this legislation and proud to stand strong for the fair treatment of all Texans especially our friends in the LGBT community who for too long have been the target of discrimination,” stated Senator John Whitmire, Dean of the Texas Senate.

“I’m proud to coauthor legislation to prevent fellow Texans from being discriminated against due to who they love,” said Senator Ellis. “All hardworking Texans, including our LGBT neighbors, should have the chance to earn a living, provide for their families, and live like everyone else without fear of getting fired or evicted solely because of who they are. ”

“Every Texan deserves to be treated fairly, and this legislation will make our state stronger by protecting this important ideal,” Senator Watson said.

“All Texans should enjoy equal protection under the law. This important legislation would ensure that our LGBT brothers and sisters can express who they are without fear of discrimination. It would also send a message to the rest of the world that Texas welcomes anyone that wants to contribute to our great state, regardless of sexual orientation,” Senator Garcia said.

According to the 2012 FORTUNE 500 Non-Discrimination Project from the Equality Forum, 48 of 52 Fortune 500 companies in Texas already prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Many others also extend that protection to gender identity or expression. In 2012, the Center for American Progress reported that work environments hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) employees cost companies $1.4 billion in lost output every year.

Because Texas does not protect people who are gay or transgender from discrimination, many municipalities have already acted to extend discrimination protection to those residents. Currently 35.5% of Texans live in a city where discrimination against sexual orientation is prohibited. 33.9% live in a city where gender identity is protected.

“It is time—past time,” said Senator Rodríguez, “to make sure that all Texans have the independence our state claimed for itself almost 200 years ago. To be free of discrimination based on who you are, and to be treated fairly and equally is an environment Texas should be leading the way in creating, not being late to adopt. That’s what businesses want. But most importantly, all Texans deserve the right to provide for themselves and their families, secure a place to live, participate in the Texas economy, and contribute to the Texas economy, no matter what city they live in or visit and regardless of who they are or whom they love.”

Business leaders agree.

Catherine Morse, General Counsel and Director of Public Affairs at Samsung Austin Semiconductor: “Like so many other companies in Texas, Samsung is competing globally for the best talent. We believe that nondiscrimination measures will help us in that regard.”

Mellie Price, serial entrepreneur and Managing Director of Capital Factory: “For small and large businesses across Texas to compete for top talent, we must have workplaces and communities that are diverse and welcoming to all people.”

“I chose today—Texas Independence Day—to file this important legislation,” Senator Rodríguez concluded, “because Texas values—such as hard work, opportunity, and the Golden Rule—are the reason why Texas remains strong 179 years later. That is why we must act definitively to ensure everyone in the Lone Star State is treated fairly and equally.”

Here’s SB856. It’s not going to go anywhere – it’s going to be a hell of a fight to fend off legislation that would nullify local non-discrimination ordinances; yet another such bill was filed around the same time as Sen. Rordiguez’s bill – but that doesn’t matter. I’ll say again, if we don’t stand up for what we believe in, what are we even doing? I commend Sen. Rodriguez and his four co-authors for doing the right thing. I hope the rest of their colleagues follow their example. The full press release is here, and Equality Texas has more.

What’s the Lege going to do with the revenue?

Not as much as it should, of course, because the Lege never comes close to doing as much as it should. It’s a question of whether they’ll try to address some real problems, or just engage in an orgy of tax cutting.

BagOfMoney

Texans can expect tax relief, a laser focus on border security and more efforts to fight traffic congestion when a cash-flush Legislature convenes in January.

The budget priorities line up with campaign promises from Republican state leaders and lawmakers, who handily won their spots with a message of keeping state government lean while carefully weighing any additional spending for its benefits.

At least some outnumbered Democrats also appear to be on the tax-relief bandwagon, as the state welcomes the prospect of having $5 billion or more in greater-than-expected revenue when the current two-year budget period ends. Anticipated economic growth is expected to yield billions more, with the caveat that uncertain oil prices must temper expectations.

The tax-relief issue “crosses party lines,” said Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound. “Property taxes are really something that people would like to address.”

Besides property-tax relief – pushed by Sen. Dan Patrick, the incoming lieutenant governor – the potential for cutting the state’s business tax has been highlighted by Attorney General Greg Abbott, the governor-elect.

The devil, as always, is in the details of a state budget that totals $200 billion in the current two-year fiscal period, including state and federal funds that are largely spoken for before lawmakers convene. Education and health and human services alone take up nearly three-quarters of the total.

“I fully expect there to be some tax relief. The question is, what’s the nature of it?” said Rep. John Otto, a Dayton Republican who serves on the House Appropriations Committee.

[…]

What’s clear is that despite the billions of greater-than-predicted dollars awaiting lawmakers’ allocation, the list of programs that can use more money is far longer than the dollars can cover, especially in light of a spending cap on certain general revenue.

“It’s sort of easy when there’s not a lot of money. You just say we haven’t got the money,” said Rep. John Zerwas, a Richmond Republican who serves on the House Appropriations Committee. “Whereas now, I call it kind of a food fight. You’ve got a lot of food on the table, and people are going to start grabbing for it and trying to make sure they get their programs funded at a level that they want.”

Simply keeping current levels of services to a growing population would cost an additional $6 billion to $7 billion in state general revenue, said Eva De Luna Castro of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which focuses on services important to middle- and lower-income Texans. That’s without addressing the lingering cuts from 2011.

“All we’re hearing about is tax cuts. Nobody is talking about, ‘What did we cut out of the budget in 2011?’ ” she said. “I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that our future economy and prosperity are at stake. We need good roads but we also need good schools and universities.”

If you think that last bit is just the usual liberal happy talk, you should see what the Texas Association of Business’ wish list for the legislative session looks like. They expect to spend the next six to eight months fighting against the people they just supported for election on these issues, because that’s how they roll. “Border security” is a huge boondoggle for which all indicators are always that we should keep doing what we’ve been doing, which is to say to spend more and more and more on it. And no, the feds aren’t going to cover that check no matter how nicely Greg Abbott asks the President for it. As for property tax “relief”, the proposals put forth by Sen. Kirk Watson and others to increase the homestead exemption would be the most equitable way of doing this, which means it is also the least likely way of it happening. But I suppose anything is still possible before the session begins, just like the possibility than your favorite NFL team can go 16-0 while training camp is still going on. We’ll see what happens when the games start getting played for real.

Look behind the scenes

There’s another angle to consider the Perry indictment saga, which is that the indictment isn’t so much about what Rick Perry said publicly regarding Rosemary Lehmberg and the Public Integrity Unit but what he was saying behind the scenes. Erica Greider explores this, with a minor detour first.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

To review those facts, in 2013 the Travis County district-attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg, was arrested for drunk driving and sentenced to 45 days in jail. It was a penalty that no one could find fault with after viewing video footage of the field sobriety test and her subsequent behavior at the station that evening (she served about half the sentence and entered a treatment program after leaving prison). A number of Texans felt that she should resign, among them Perry, who publicly warned that he would use his line-item veto to remove state funding to the Public Integrity Unit—an anti-corruption outfit located in the Travis County DA’s office—unless she stepped down.

At the time, Democrats grumbled that Mr Perry’s threat was politically motivated. The Public Integrity Unit investigates corruption among statewide officials, which means, in the context, that it’s a check on Republicans like Perry and his pals. If Lehmberg stepped down, Perry would, in theory, have had a chance to replace a Democrat with a Republican appointee more friendly to his agenda. And after Lehmberg refused to resign and Perry vetoed the funding, the watchdog group Texans for Public Justice filed a complaint, charging that the veto had been politically motivated. That led to yesterday’s indictments; the charges are coercion and abuse of power.

Perry, unsurprisingly, responded Saturday by doubling down, dismissing the indictment as “outrageous.” More surprising, perhaps, is how quickly public opinion has moved in his favor, or at least in favor of proceeding with caution. Republicans were quick to rally round, but even independents and Democrats, after the initial fizzle faded, seemed skeptical of the indictment.

“Skeptical” is an overbid, some national pundits notwithstanding. (Some of those national pundits would do well to read Forrest Wilder. Or Progress Texas. Or me.) If Democrats here have tempered their response to this news, it’s not because we think Rick Perry is being railroaded, it’s because we’ve seen this movie before and we’ve learned the hard way how long a distance it is from “indictment” to “conviction”, especially a conviction that sticks. KBH walked. Tom DeLay may be let off the hook by the most pro-prosecution court in the country. We know better than to count our chickens before they hatch.

Back to the main thesis:

It’s worth emphasizing that the indictments don’t lay out all (or even much) of the special prosecutor’s evidence, and I suspect the focus on the veto, which is mentioned in the second count, will prove to be a red herring.

[…]

More intriguing, to me, is the chatter that around the time of the veto, Perry’s camp had some behind-the-scenes discussions with Travis County officials about a potential deal wherein, if Lehmberg resigned, he would appoint a Democrat to replace her. These rumors have been reported before, and several Democratic sources have suggested to me there’s something to it. This has always struck me as plausible. Perry’s critics argue that he was targeting Lehmberg opportunistically, as a way to stifle the PIU, either by removing its funding or by appointing a Republican to oversee it. But if Perry wanted to stifle the PIU, he could have simply vetoed its funding years ago (or, for that matter, left it in the care of the beleaguered Lehmberg). It would have been more shrewd, actually, to proceed quietly.

Worth considering is an alternative account of Perry’s political motivation. In June 2013, when he vetoed the PIU funding, he was signing the overall budget for the 2014-2015 biennium—a budget that restored billions of dollars of funding to public schools and expanded funding to worthy priorities such as higher education and mental health care. It was a budget that had been passed by the legislature with widespread bipartisan support and that was opposed only by a handful of tea partiers, who accused the Legislature and the governor of taking the state on a California-style spending spree. They were wrong, but they were clamorous, and Perry’s defense of the budget risked costing him some standing with the Republican base. My impression, at the time, was that the governor was aware of those risks. On a Monday, he said that his critics needed remedial math lessons; he then turned around and added abortion to the call for the special session that was already in progress. And on the day he signed the budget, to widespread applause, he made a point of using his line-item veto to remove state funding from a unit overseen by a Democratic district-attorney who had just spent several weeks in prison.

If my thinking is correct—if his goal was to cover his right flank rather than to gut the PIU—it’s not hard to believe that months later, Perry (or his people) would let Democrats know that he was open to replacing Lehmberg with a Democrat, that he would help find another job for Lehmberg, and even that he would restore funding to the PIU if they proceeded with such a deal. In such negotiations, though, the governor may have extended his constitutional authority, and so if Perry did have such discussions, I suspect turn out that the prosecutor’s evidence will have more to do with those backroom agreements than with a public warning about his intention to exercise his constitutional powers. If so, the legal case against Perry might be more serious. The ethical case against him would potentially less so, though.

Peggy Fikac followed the grand jury investigation as it was going on, and she fills in some details from her perspective outside the jury room.

The grand jury meets behind closed doors, but we sat in the hallway with our laptops, getting an idea of where the case was going by the people who came and went during a half-dozen meetings before the big one last Friday.

There were current and former Perry staffers, Travis County employees and state lawmakers.

Each had a part – directly or through their expertise – in the drama surrounding Perry’s threat to veto funding for the public corruption unit overseen by Democratic Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg unless she resigned after an ugly drunken-driving arrest.

The Republican governor had the clear right to veto the money, but the road to his indictment started with his use of that power to try to force out a locally elected official.

Each person’s presence was a piece of the story, even though it wasn’t clear how many of them actually testified to grand jurors.

There was Perry spokesman Rich Parsons. He was quoted in last year’s initial story on the threat, conveying Perry’s concerns to the Austin American-Statesman about “the integrity of the Public Integrity Unit” and saying his position had been relayed to Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin.

Watson was tapped to convey the veto threat to Lehmberg. At some point after the funding was killed, Travis County intergovernmental relations coordinator Deece Eckstein set up a meeting among Perry’s legislative director and former Democratic state Sen. Ken Armbrister from Victoria, Perry deputy chief of staff Mike Morrissey and Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, a Republican. Daugherty earlier told my colleague, Nolan Hicks, that he reached out to Perry’s office to see if there was a way to restore the two-year, $7.5 million in funds.

Sources told Hicks that if Lehmberg had been willing to resign, Perry aides offered to restore funding, allow Lehmberg to continue working at the DA’s office in some capacity and pick her top lieutenant as her successor.

All went into the grand jury room this summer; Armbrister did so several times.

Besides them were a former Perry chief of staff; his former and current general counsel, and an assistant general counsel; an adviser; and his former communications director.

Perry’s technology manager was among them; so was a Travis County Attorney’s office employee who works closely with the commissioners court; and Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, who last year pressed for Lehmberg’s resignation and said he couldn’t support using state dollars for her “utter disrespect of the law.”

Perry – who didn’t testify – told reporters in June that he didn’t initiate any sort of deal, and that he didn’t personally make phone calls with regard to asking Lehmberg to step down.

Asked about the post-veto machinations on Saturday, Perry said his decision making was clear. He said he had promised to “veto those dollars as long as they had someone in that office who I lost confidence in, and I did exactly what I said I would do.”

The takeaway from all this is that there’s almost certainly more to this than what we can see right now. If Mike McCrum is as smart and capable as people say he is, he’s surely got a few cards up his sleeve, which he’ll reveal when he’s ready. That doesn’t mean this can’t come crashing down around him once it hits a courtroom, but it does mean we don’t know enough to judge how this case will go just yet. Perry’s over the top response may be more of his usual bluster, or it may be because he knows what shoes are out there waiting to drop on him. We’ll know soon enough. Campos, Ed Kilgore, Alec MacGillis, the Trib, and Jim Moore have more.

More Democratic statewide possibilities

From this story about Democratic hopes for Wendy Davis’ presumed gubernatorial candidacy comes these tidbits about who else might be on the ticket with her.

Sen. Carlos Uresti

State Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, told Express-News columnist Gilbert Garcia this month that he is seriously considering a run for attorney general.

“Politics is about timing,” Uresti said. “And I certainly think it’s the right time for the Democratic Party and for myself, as well.”

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, said he is planning to file for re-election but, on the other hand, is “listening and entertaining” the idea of a statewide run.

“I have expressed some hesitancy to look at a statewide campaign for me in 2014, but politics is when timing and opportunity collide,” Fischer said. “And I also recognize that you cannot want change if you’re not willing to be the agent of that change.”

Other candidates being courted by Democrats to make the leap are state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, who has more than a million dollars in his campaign account, state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, and state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. The three officials did not return calls for comment.

Some of these names have come up before, but this is the first time I can recall Sen. Uresti being in the conversation. I’m still mad at him for selling out on the sonogram bill in 2011, but it goes without saying that he’d be about a billion times better than anyone from the clown show on the GOP side of the house. Sen. Uresti is not up for election next year, so he can run for AG without giving up his seat, which is good. He has $70K on hand in his July finance report, which would need work. While I’d be happy to support Sen. Uresti’s candidacy if he runs, I have to say that Rep. Martinez-Fischer is much closer to my ideal for an AG candidate, at least in terms of temperament. But as I said in that other post, and as much as I admire his willingness to put his money where his mouth is, I think we still need that fighting spirit and tactical know-how in the House. It’s exactly people like Sen. Uresti – and Sen. Rodney Ellis, who I’m going to keep mentioning even if I’m the only one doing so – who have no election next year to worry about that need to step up. Kudos to him for being willing to do so.

One more thing from that story:

“Wendy Davis would not be able to help no-name Democrats for lieutenant governor, comptroller and attorney general, but if you had recognizable names with their own accomplishments, you could get a cumulative, positive effect,” said Cal Jillson, political science professor at Southern Methodist University.

Jillson said it’s more likely Democrats will pick up a healthy number of state House seats than a statewide post in 2014, but “that’s where you start.”

“When you’re zero for 100, you start looking for singles rather than home runs,” Jillson said.

This is true. We want to win, but we have to move the ball down the field, if you can stomach another sports metaphor. Everyone has a role to play, beginning with but certainly not ending with the candidates.

How I would campaign against Greg Abbott

If you’ve been following Greg Abbott’s gubernatorial campaign kickoff, you’ve probably noticed that in addition to being light on substance, the Attorney General has been hitting his personal story hard, in an attempt to portray him as some kind of empathetic figure.

How Greg Abbott views the process, without the wildebeest stampede

Who needs policies when you have destiny?

Over nearly two decades of public appearances as a political figure, Greg Abbott has not shied from noting the obvious: He uses a wheelchair.

During speeches, the Texas attorney general, who is now a gubernatorial candidate, is known to pre-emptively address any questions on the topic — often humorously — with an explanation of the 1984 accident that left him partially paralyzed. At campaign events dating back to 2002, he has shown brief video clips describing how a falling oak tree crushed his spinal cord while he was jogging with a friend through the Houston neighborhood of River Oaks.

He emerged on the statewide political scene in 1995, when, after Gov. George W. Bush appointed him to the Texas Supreme Court bench, the court building updated its facilities to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Court builds ramp to justice, for a justice,” reads one headline from the Austin-American Statesman.

Now, the adversity that Abbott has faced has become the symbolic centerpiece of his recently launched gubernatorial campaign, which he announced on Sunday — the 29th anniversary of his accident.

“My greatest fight began on this date,” he said to a crowd gathered in San Antonio. “It was a challenge that made my even being here, highly improbable.”

In a five-day, 10-city tour across the state since then, Abbott has been introducing himself as a fighter for strong Texas values, a candidate with a literal spine of steel. As someone who uses a wheelchair, he says, he knows what it means to struggle with physical and emotional challenges.

“I demonstrate what every Texan exemplifies every day — the ability to overcome adversity,” he said at a campaign stop in Houston.

See his heartwarming intro campaign video for a distilled version of this. Now we both know that the only thing Abbott fights for is the interests of the powerful. But a lot of people don’t know Greg Abbott well, and they don’t know that he’s never done a thing for regular Texans. To someone who doesn’t know Greg Abbott and is just tuning in now, he might look like an underdog himself, and as long as he manages to avoid talking about his actual record and his beliefs, he might sound downright appealing. The key is making sure that people know about the real Greg Abbott.

Whether Abbott can sway blue-collar voters is uncertain.

Joe Silva, 54, a worker at the boot factory and a lifelong El Pasoan, said he would probably vote for Abbott despite not knowing a lot about him.

“He’s a good man, I heard. He went through that tough accident,” he said.

But when asked if Abbott’s opposition to the federal health care reform legislation or support for the voter ID law mattered to him, Silva paused.

“Oh, I didn’t know that,” he said. “ I guess we’ll see what he has to say. I don’t know much about him.”

Remember, Abbott isn’t used to talking to people who don’t habitually vote in Republican primaries. That’s why he thinks that wooing voters by bragging about the things he’s done that they don’t like is a good idea. He just has no experience talking to non-true believers. That’s all to the good, but we can’t count on that. More to the point, we can’t let Abbott get away with using his personal story as a way to smooth out his extremely rough and, well, extreme edges. To borrow a page from the Karl Rove playbook, we need to turn his strength into a liability.

How to do that? There’s no question that Abbott has overcome a great deal of adversity in his life, the kind of adversity that most of us are fortunate to never face. That speaks well of his character and inner strength, but there’s an aspect to his success at overcoming that adversity that I have not yet seen mentioned anywhere. I don’t know Abbott’s medical history, but I think it’s safe to say that it includes surgeries, medication, physical therapy, medical equipment, and other things that undoubtedly cost a lot of money to provide. I have to wonder where Greg Abbott might be today if he had been one of the millions of Texans that don’t have health insurance at the time of his awful accident. Medical bills force millions of people into bankruptcy every year. Many other people deal with the problem by simply not getting the help and treatment that they need. Last week, Dear Prudence ran a letter from a woman who lost several teeth during a prolonged stretch of unemployment for her and her husband because she just couldn’t afford to go to the dentist. I guarantee you, there are a lot more stories like that in Texas than there are stories like Greg Abbott’s, and it’s not because the people behind those stories lacked character.

Thankfully for Greg Abbott, he never had to deal with any of that. Yet he has spent the past three years doing everything he can to keep the millions of Texans who lack health insurance from getting it by his relentless litigation against the Affordable Care Act. If he has any alternate ideas how to alleviate this longstanding problem, he’s not talking about it now, and never once in his ten plus years as Attorney General has he used his platform – never mind his personal experience as someone who relies heavily on quality medical care – to advocate for those in that position. In short, he would deny the same type of care that he himself has benefited from to millions of people who could not now receive it. His personal story may be admirable, but it sure hasn’t helped him to learn empathy. If Democrats don’t start pointing that out now, he might just be able to get through this campaign without people realizing that. We cannot let that happen.

Note that I made it this far without mentioning the multi-million dollar award that the strongly pro-tort “reform” Abbott received after his injury. Lisa Falkenberg talked to him about that, and somewhat to my surprised threw him off his talking points a bit. I say “somewhat to my surprise” because Sen. Kirk Watson tried to make an issue of this in the 2002 AG race and it largely backfired on him. That was before the strict med-mal cap was adopted, though, so perhaps another go at it might be worthwhile. It’s clear from reading Falkenberg’s piece that Abbott has the same lack of insight about just how far removed his own experience has been from so many other people’s as he does with health insurance. The point remains that there are some very tough questions that Abbott can and should face, and the sooner the better.

I do not expect another Ardmore

The AusChron tries to get out the Democrats’ strategy for Special Session 2.

When the Texas House convened last last month to pass, on third reading and onto the Senate for final passage, Senate Bill 5, the omnibus abortion regulations bill, Austin Rep. Elliott Naishtat heard several colleagues discussing whether House Dems would be ready to walk out – to break quorum – in order to stop the measure from moving forward.

Among the questions before Democrats as they face today’s start of a second-called special session, with passage of abortion regulations first on Gov. Rick Perry’s to do list, is whether a mid-summer, out-of-state sojourn may be in the cards. “There was talk about it” on the floor last month, he said, “and there will undoubtedly be talk about it again.”

[…]

With the 30-day special-called session only getting under way today, there is plenty of time for Republicans to maneuver to pass the divisive measures – as one Capitol staffer said last week, not even Davis can talk for 30 days. But there remain other strategies to explore, said Austin Democratic Sen. Kirk Watson – though he declined to offer specifics. “I’m not going to get into strategies,” he said, “but we’re not going to give up the fight.”

[…]

Requiring testimony in each chamber may be one way to moderate the legislation’s forward progress, but it is unlikely to do much to halt the ever-forward movement. So, might a mid-summer trip to a nearby state be the way to go? That’s certainly an option, says [Rep. Donna] Howard. Though, realistically, says Naishtat, he isn’t sure that it would work to derail the measure completely. “I don’t see how House or Senate Democrats could break quorum for the amount of time necessary to defeat the bill – it could be as much as three weeks,” he said. “On the other hand, other people doubted that Sen. Wendy Davis could pull off a filibuster. So what I’m saying is, you never know.” Indeed, Naishtat agrees that at this point, every option is on the table. And it would be “foolish,” he said, for Republicans to “underestimate our power, our intelligence, our mastery of the rules, and our commitment to doing everything legal to prevent the passage of … anti-pro-choice bills.”

I’m not privy to the Dems’ thinking, and I certainly wouldn’t dismiss any feasible possibility out of hand, but I have a hard time seeing how a quorum break would be successful. As with the Davis filibuster, all it can do is delay. It can’t prevent any of this awful legislation from passing, because Rick Perry can just keep calling more sessions, which you know he will. The reason why Ardmore was doable in 2003 was that the Dems only needed to be gone for five days. As with the previous special session, the re-redistricting bill came up late, and it was close enough to the deadline for passing bills out of the House for the Senate to take up that they could bug out on Monday and return on Saturday having accomplished their task. Busting quorum now would be like what the Senate Dems tried to do later that summer. As was the case back then, there was no magic day after which you could say you were in the clear. Maybe they’ve though this through and they know what their endgame is, but I have my doubts. It’s asking an awful lot of a lot of people, and I don’t know how practical it is. I hate to be a wet blanket, and I could be wrong about this, but that’s how I see it.

Two more factors to consider. One is that in the aftermath of Ardmore and Albuquerque, there were some rule changes made in each chamber to make future quorum busts more difficult and more punitive to the fleeing party. I don’t remember the details, but I do feel confident that the Rs would be extremely vengeful towards a caucus that skipped town. Two, back in 2003 the Governors of Oklahoma and New Mexico were both Democrats, and thus unwilling to cooperate with the efforts to locate and extradite the Killer Ds. Both Governors are Republicans now, so no such assistance would be in the offing. The only neighboring state now with a Democratic Governor is Arkansas, but I would not want to put my fate in that state’s hands. The nearest state where I’d feel safe, politically speaking at least, is Colorado. Point being, any out of state excursion would need to be done by air, not by bus, which increases the cost, the risk factor, and the likelihood of something going wrong because there’s just too much you can’t control.

Anyway. If it were up to me, I’d do everything I could to drag the proceedings out, while giving the crazier members of the GOP caucus as many opportunities to say something as stupid as Rep. Laubenberg did last session, and I’d lay whatever groundwork I could for litigation to block the law. The name of the game is the 2014 election. Go down fighting, keep everyone engaged, and be ready to pick up where you left off as soon as the session ends. Be sure to read the whole AusChron story, there’s a lot more in there besides quorum breaking.

No action on SB5 in the Senate

The name of the game is running out the clock.

Right there with them

Right there with them

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the meantime, let the blame game begin!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transportation funding advances

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

Sen. Robert Nichols

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perry will veto Integrity Unit funds unless Lehmberg resigns

This could be checkmate for Rosemary Lehmberg.

Rosemary Lehmberg

Gov. Rick Perry will veto financing for the public integrity unit — the state’s ethics enforcement division — unless embattled Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg resigns, an official close to the governor said Tuesday.

The Austin American-Statesman reported Monday night that Perry would use a line-item veto to cut funding for the unit unless Lehmberg, who was convicted and served jail time for drunken driven this past spring, steps down.

So far, Lehmberg has declined to do that, and Democrats are concerned that if she does, Perry would be able to choose her replacement.

“Ultimately this is Rosemary’s decision,” said state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. “If she decides to resign, I will work with the governor’s office to make sure that whoever is appointed to that position is someone who represents Travis County appropriately.”

The deadline to veto bills, including line items in the state budget, is this weekend. Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle said the governor’s office is “going through the budget line by line, and the governor has deep concerns over the integrity of the Public Integrity Unit.”

The Statesman story is behind their new paywall, which unlike the Dallas Morning News doesn’t appear to be subverted via a Google News search. I’ve been of the opinion that Lehmberg’s crime doesn’t necessitate resignation, but unless there’s something else to this Perry has the trump card. It would be better for Lehmberg to resign and a new DA to be elected next year than for her to risk the funding of the Public Integrity Unit. If Sen. Watson can work with Perry’s office to name a replacement – I’ve said before that allowing Travis County Commissioners Court to nominate a replacement would be a good idea – then so much the better. It would be unfortunate for Lehmberg if it comes to this, but the office is bigger than she is. Texas Politics, Juanita, and Texpatriate 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.

Don’t count your victories too soon

While I wouldn’t call this legislative session anything to be terribly happy about, it could have been far worse. That’s because a whole lot of nasty red meat bills never got voted on, and Democrats are justifiably happy about that. I’m happy, too, but not quite ready to do a victory dance about it.

All abortion-related bills were stopped before they could reach the Senate or House floor this session, marking a rebound for Democrats after Republican efforts successfully scaled back family planning funding and abortion resources in 2011.

“Democrats stuck together very well this session and made strong arguments and strong advocacy on behalf of a woman’s right to choose,” said Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, who leads the Democratic caucus. “Just this week, I’ve had pressure from leadership pushing to bring up bills in an almost threatening way, and we have stood up to that. … Now we’re at the end of the session, and they’re dead.”

At least 24 abortion-related bills were filed this session, some of which garnered the support of Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. Three marquee proposals for anti-abortion lawmakers failed to gain traction: a bill that would have banned abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, a bill that would increase regulations for abortion facilities and a bill that would require doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges to a hospital within 50 miles.

[…]

The bills were somewhat different from last session, Watson said, but Democrats were victorious on women’s health issues this session. “I feel very strongly that we won,” he said.

Maybe. I sure hope Sen. Watson is right. But as I worried about two weeks ago, the real danger is in a special session. While we appear to have avoided the need for a special session on the budget and other major priorities, the buzz now is that there will be a special session on redistricting. If that’s all it’s about, then there’s nothing to worry about. But special sessions are about what Rick Perry wants, and to a lesser degree what the people who have Rick Perry’s ear want. One of those people is David Dewhurst, who needs as much of a boost to his wingnut credentials as he can muster, and he’s urging Perry to call a special on all the wingnut business that went unfinished.

Dewhurst told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Thursday that Gov. Rick Perry should call lawmakers back quickly to pass several other conservative-backed bills that have stumbled in the regular session.

In addition to redistricting, Dewhurst said lawmakers should return to take up measures on abortion, school choice, guns on college campuses, drug testing for welfare recipients, the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association and the state’s constitutional spending cap.

[…]

“I’m mad at the partisanship that blocked these bills, and I’m particularly mad at some of the things that happened over in the House,” he told the Star-Telegram’s Dave Montgomery. “But at the end of the day, I think that everybody’s here trying to do the best they can.”

Though Perry threatened a special session if lawmakers failed to send him a budget that contained $2 billion in water infrastructure funding and $1.8 billion in tax relief, he has so far stayed quiet about calling for overtime on other issues. Perry’s office said on Thursday that the governor would not make any announcements until the regular session concludes.

But Dewhurst said he had urged Perry on Wednesday to call lawmakers back. “I think he’s seriously considering doing that,” Dewhurst said.

Dewhurst almost certainly feels like he needs a special session to score some wingnut victories to help him win his next primary, especially after his loss to Ted Cruz. of course, just because Dewhurst is asking doesn’t mean Perry will answer. He has his own stuff to deal with, and he’ll do whatever he thinks is best for himself, as he always does. But it’s hard to see how calling a wingnut special hurts Perry, especially if he is running for something, in 2014 or 2016. Despite progress made in this past week, there’s still a lot of unfinished real business, and nay failures there definitely opens the window for a special. If that happens, then all bets are off. I remain very concerned about this. Burka has more about Dewhurst.

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.

Here come the craft beer bills

From Brewed and Never Battered.

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

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

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

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

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

What the Bills Do

SB 515

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

SB 518

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

SB 516 & 517

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

White Ds and non-white Rs

A few points to make about this.

White Democrats are an increasingly vanishing species in the Texas Legislature, where there will be only 10 when the new legislative session starts in early January.

The face of the Legislature has undergone a dramatic transformation in the past 25 years, and the state’s rapidly changing demographics are expected to guarantee even more profound changes over the next quarter century.

Twenty years ago, the Legislature included 83 white Democrats. Today, the white Democratic lawmaker is a rarity in the 181-member Legislature.

Vanishing rural, white Democrats account for most of the changes. There were 56 rural, white Democrats sitting in the 1987-88 Texas Legislature. Today, Rep. Tracy King, D-Batesville, (Zavala County) is the only rural white Democrat remaining. He did not return phone calls for comment.

The Chron needs to check its math. By my count, there will 11 Anglo Dems sworn in to the Lege in 2013:

Rep. Craig Eiland – HD23
Rep. Donna Howard – HD48
Rep. Elliott Naishtat – HD49
Rep. Mark Strama – HD50
Rep. Joe Pickett – HD79
Rep. Tracy King – HD80
Rep. Lon Burnam – HD90
Rep. Chris Turner – HD101

Sen. Wendy Davis – SD10
Sen. Kirk Watson – SD14
Sen. John Whitmire – SD15

I suspect Rep. Chris Turner, who was elected in 2008 then wiped out in 2010 before coming back in a newly-drawn district this year, is the one they overlooked. Note that in the three biggest counties (Harris, Dallas, Bexar), there are no Anglo Dems in the House and only one in the Senate. After the 2008 election, Harris had Reps. Scott Hochberg, Ellen Cohen, and Kristi Thibaut; Dallas had Reps. Robert Miklos, Carol Kent, Kirk England, and Allen Vaught; and Bexar had Rep. David Leibowitz. All except Hochberg were defeated in the 2010 massacre, and Hochberg retired after the 2011 session.

You really can’t overstate the effect of the 2010 election. As I said before, the loss of all those rural Dems means that the road back to parity for Democrats is that much steeper. It also significantly de-honkified the existing party. The rural Dems were for the most part dead men walking whether they realized it or not, but losing them all at once rather than over the course of several cycles radically changed things. The Dems have a number of possible pickup opportunities for 2014, some of which may elect Anglo Dems, but even in a wildly optimistic scenario, you’re looking at a tough slog to get to 60, and that’s a long way from parity, even farther away than they were after the 2002 election. Beyond that, you’re either waiting for demographic change in some of the suburban districts, or hoping for some kind of external game-changer. It’s not a pretty picture, at least in the short term.

The long term is a different story, even if the writing on the wall is in a six-point font:

For years, Republicans made a high priority of targeting white Democrats for defeat, via election when they could win, or redistricting when they couldn’t, contended former Texas Democratic Party executive director Harold Cook.

“The irony is that in their efforts to limit Democrats to minority real estate through redistricting, they also separated themselves from the fastest growing demography. In 20 years they may well see that they wrote their own political obituary,” Cook said.

Twenty years is an awfully long time, and I think we can all agree that way too many things can affect current trajectories to have any confidence in them. That said, while there are 11 Anglo Dems out of 67 total Dems in the Lege (16 percent of the total), there are all of six non-Anglo Republicans out of 114 total, which is five percent. (The six are, by my count, Reps. JM Lozano, Larry Gonzales, Jason Villalba, James White, Stefani Carter, and Angie Chen Button.) That’s down from eight last session – nine if you count Dee Margo – as Reps. Aliseda, Garza, Pena, and Torres departed but only Villalba and the turncoat Lozano arrived. To Cook’s point, Aliseda, Pena, and Torres were all adversely affected by redistricting – Aliseda and Pena (another turncoat) declined to run because they didn’t have a winnable district, and Torres ran for Senate after being paired with Connie Scott, who wound up losing by 15 points. Only Garza had a shot at re-election, and his district was a major point of contention in the redistricting litigation. Barring a 2010-style election in 2014, the Rs don’t have many obvious targets in Latino-heavy districts. You can’t assume the current trajectory will continue, but as long as it does this is the way it’s going.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, I also overlooked an incoming freshman, Rep. Scott Turner in the new HD33, who is a non-white Republican, thus upping that total to seven. My apologies for the oversight.

The Constitutional amendments

In addition to all of the local races that will be on your ballot next month, there are ten Constitutional amendments up for ratification. Unlike some previous years, and somewhat surprisingly given the divisive and ideological nature of the session, there are no particularly high profile or controversial measures on the ballot. (Proposition 2, which authorizes the Texas Water Development Board to lend $6 billion via a bond fund dedicated to building and fixing water infrastructure, drawn btoh support and opposition.) If you want to know more about the referenda, and this includes me as I’ve spent approximately zero time thinking about them, State Sen. Kirk Watson and State Rep. Scott Hochberg have you covered. This Chron story has more detailed information about Props 2 and 8, both of which relate to water. Happy reading!

This is an excellent time to cut funding for fighting wildfires

That’s exactly what the Republicans did in the budget that came into effect last week.

Cash-strapped state lawmakers – led by Gov. Rick Perry’s stand against raising taxes or dipping too deeply into the state rainy day fund – cut appropriations for the Texas Forest Service even as they had to dig for more money to meet its existing expenses.

Even the supplemental spending bill they passed this year won’t be enough to cover the expense of fighting fires through Aug. 31, the end of the 2010-11 fiscal period.

The Texas Forest Service, the state’s lead agency for fighting wildfires, anticipates it will need another $61 million just to cover those costs.

More money also will be needed to cover expenses in the 2012-13 budget period that began Sept. 1, said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan.

Ogden said he didn’t have a number on how much additional funding the agency would need in 2012-13, “but it’s going to be a lot.” He also said the state is “well-positioned to cover our financial obligations.”

The Texas Forest Service was appropriated $117.7 million for the 2010-2011 fiscal period, which ended Aug. 31. It was appropriated $83 million for 2012-13, according to the agency.

[…]

The Forest Service’s associate director of finance and administration, Robby Dewitt, when asked whether the funding cut affected agency staffing, equipment or ability to fight fires, said by e-mail, “The budget cuts for FY2012-13 have had no impact on the current wildfire response approach.”

Ogden said the only significant cut to the Forest Service budget was a grant program for volunteer fire departments. He said it’s a good program but said, “The reason we did it is because the budget was tight and we had to cut it.”

He and DeWitt said the service’s operating budget was flat.

DeWitt said the Forest Service uses a “tiered approach” in fighting wildfires, relying on volunteer and paid fire departments as “the first line of defense.” After that, the Forest Service and other state agencies assist, and then the state brings in federal resources.

Perry is of course already whining about federal resources not being fast enough to suit him. These fires are going to cost a ton to fight, and given how long the drought may last, we’re probably going to be doing a lot more paying. Just because you don’t adequately budget for something doesn’t mean the need for it goes away. As for those volunteer fire fighters who are key to dousing these blazes, this wire story from May discusses how the reduction in grant money will affect them.

Chris Barron, executive director of the State Firemen’s and Fire Marshals’ Association, said volunteer fire departments rely heavily on grant funding. He said $135 million in requests are backlogged from volunteer fire departments.

“That alone should say that the departments out there greatly need the funding,” he told Reuters.

“Stuff in the fire service is not cheap,” Barron added.

He said many volunteer fire departments already have worn-down equipment and without funding for new equipment, response times will almost certainly increase.

I sure hope they have what they need to do this job, and the ones that will surely follow.

Thanks for helping us balance the budget, fishermen

The Chron’s Shannon Tompkins explains how budgetary shenanigans have an adverse effect on Texas’ hunters and fishers.

Every year, tens of millions of dollars in hunting and fishing license fees are left sitting in the state account used to fund Texas wildlife, fisheries and boating programs. Those millions of dollars in Fund 9 account balances – $31 million at the end of this month, jumping to an estimated $48 million this time next year and as much as $64 million by Aug. 31, 2013 – are there because the Legislature holds those millions hostage in the scheme used to produce, on paper at least, the balanced budget that it is required to fashion.

[…]

For a state to qualify to receive the federal funds, it must pass a state law prohibiting using hunting and fishing license revenue for anything other than wildlife and fisheries programs.

If a state legislature dips into hunting and fishing license accounts to pay for, say, roads or hospitals or any other program, the state stands to lose all of its federal excise tax reimbursements.

So, as much as the Texas Legislature might be tempted to stick its hands into a flush Fund 9, particularly in times such as these when the state faces crippling general-revenue shortfalls, the prospect of losing that $40 million in federal money is incentive enough to prevent such plundering.

But the Legislature has found other ways of using that Fund 9 money without actually spending it.

For TPWD to spend money from the Fund 9 pot, that money has to be appropriated by the Legislature through its budget and appropriations acts.

By appropriating only some of the license money, the Legislature can count the “unappropriated balance” in Fund 9 on the positive side of the ledger when calculating the overall state budget.

This tactic is not restricted to hunting and fishing license revenue. It happens with revenue generated from the sale of vehicle license plates (horned toad, bluebonnet, etc.) benefiting state parks, wildlife, hunting and freshwater fishing.

All of these “unappropriated balances” – money Texans spent believing all of the dollars would be used to fund programs they voluntarily support by paying additional fees for the specialized license plates – are rat-holed and left dormant in accounts as a way to offset negative balances in other state programs.

Couple points here. First, if you’ve been paying attention you know that this sort of prestidigitation is as old as the Texas constitution itself. It’s easy to do and it’s mostly painless, unless you’re directly affected by a program whose revenues are held hostage. State Sen. Kirk Watson has advocated legislation that would mandate using dedicated funds only for their intended purpose, but for a variety of reasons they mostly haven’t gone anywhere.

Second, the hunters and fishers are lucky in that the fee revenues they generate will eventually be used for their intended purpose. They’re not being actively re-appropriated into general revenue like some other dedicated funds. As I’ve said before, just go say the words System Benefit Fund to Rep. Sylvester Turner, then stand back and watch the fireworks. It could be worse, that’s all I’m saying.

Finally, the main point that you need to take away from all this is that the underlying cause for this kind of trickery is the pernicious idea that budgets need to be “balanced” as of some arbitrary date. All that really matters, all that really should matter, is whether or not current and future cash flow can accommodate current and projected expenses. The fact that we claim to “balance” our budgets by deferring payments, pretending that certain things will cost less than we know they will, and shuffling funds from one pocket to another should convince us that this model is a complete fiction that does us far more harm than good. I don’t expect that to happen, of course, so we’ll continue to get the kind of budgeting we’ve asked for. Just don’t act surprised or outraged when it happens.

TV recycling redux

Back in 2009, the Lege passed a bill that would have required television manufacturers that sell TVs in Texas to set up a recycling program for old sets. This was modeled after similar legislation passed in 2007 for computers and computer manufacturers. Unfortunately, the bill was vetoed by Rick Perry despite assurances from his staff that he was okay with it. Well, recycling advocates have gotten another bill passed, SB329, which they hope won’t get vetoed this time. Here’s the press release from Texas Campaign for the Environment:

Austin, TX – Environmentalists and recycling groups are celebrating a victory as a bill to spur recycling for obsolete televisions (Senate Bill 329) has passed through the Texas House of Representatives. The legislation, which already passed in the Texas Senate, would ensure that all manufacturers selling TVs to Texas consumers will offer recycling programs for all residents. With support from industry groups, local governments and recycling advocates, the bill will soon head to the Governor’s desk.

“This measure will keep toxic lead and mercury out of Texas landfills, while creating jobs in the recycling industry and saving local tax dollars,” said Robin Schneider, Executive Director for Texas Campaign for the Environment. “We’re proud of our State Representatives and Senators for passing this important bill, and we urge Governor Perry to sign it into law when it reaches his desk.”

Each year, Americans dispose of an estimated 25 million televisions. Old-style CRT televisions can contain several pounds of lead and many newer flat-screen TVs contain mercury. Typically, only one in every five TVs is recycled. The legislation, sponsored by Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin) and Representative Warren Chisum (R-Pampa), puts the companies that make and sell televisions in charge of recycling them.

The legislation is similar to a 2007 state law that made computer manufacturers responsible for recycling their products in Texas. Under this law, computer-makers collected and recycled over 24 million pounds of old electronics in Texas last year.

Industry support has been a key factor in the bill’s success so far. The Consumer Electronics Association, which represents over 2,000 electronics companies, supports the bill. Local governments have also voiced their support – dozens of cities and counties, representing over half of all Texans, have passed local resolutions in favor of the bill. Twenty-four other states have passed similar laws for electronics recycling.

“It’s not just our environment that benefits – this program will also save local taxpayers money,” said Zac Trahan, Houston Director for Texas Campaign for the Environment. “We applaud the manufacturers for taking responsibility for recycling old TVs. We should not spend our tax dollars to subsidize the handling of this waste.”

The version of the bill passed by the State House is slightly different than the version passed by the Senate. A special conference committee will work out the differences between the two, and then the bill will be sent to the Governor’s desk.

The Statesman has editorialized in favor of SB329. If you want to help TCE with their efforts to convince the Governor that this worthwhile bill, which passed nearly unanimously, should be signed, go here. I hope that in this case it’s the second time that’s the charm.

More on the budget deal

From the Statesman:

The agreement is hinged on the House passing a so-called fiscal matters bill, Senate Bill 1811, that would free up money to help pay for the $3 billion in additional spending to which the House negotiators agreed.

“Once they get (SB) 1811 passed, I think we’ll resume deliberations on the budget, and hopefully we can get it closed out tomorrow,” Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said Friday.

The Senate agreed to back off $1 billion in spending to reach consensus on the budget – of paramount importance to the state’s Republican leaders, who want to avoid a special legislative session this summer.

[…]

On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate did its part to deal with the budget package by advancing its school finance plan.

The budget deal shorts school districts by $4 billion over the next two years compared with current law. But neither chamber had passed separate legislation that would change that law and reduce the state’s obligation.

Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, had previously been unable to muster the 21 votes to bring the school finance bill up for debate in the Senate because Democrats refused to support a $4 billion reduction in funding for school districts. But an opportunity presented itself when Senate Bill 1581, a budget-related education bill, got kicked back to the upper chamber because of a procedural issue.

Senators voted 17-13 to attach their school finance proposal, which changes how state aid is distributed to districts. The House might take it up as early as Monday.

Shapiro said this approach is “the best chance, the very best chance that we have as a body to protect the classroom.” She added that the Senate plan might not be perfect, but it is an effort to soften the impact of reduced funding for public education.

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said cuts to public education are inevitable. But he said he voted against the measure because Senate leaders had failed to fix a system that they acknowledge is broken. “We are going to accept broken as normal,” he said.

As noted by the Trib’s liveblog, the House passed SB1811 at about 1AM Saturday morning. I figure today and tomorrow will be about passing other bills, with SB22 being a top priority for the House next week. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: If you really want to get into the nuts and bolts of SB1811, read the LSG analysis of it and the many amendments to it that were filed.

“Sanctuary cities” bill lives again

This is why no bill is truly dead until sine die.

In another surprise move by the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security committee, Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, made a motion to reconsider a vote the committee took Wednesday that replaced the original language of House Bill 12, the sanctuary cities legislation. It would prohibit local governmental entities from adopting policies that prevent local law enforcement from inquiring about immigration status of people lawfully detained or arrested. The issue was designated an emergency item by Gov. Rick Perry and the bill passed the House earlier this month on a party line vote.

But the substitute Williams accepted Wednesday gutted the sanctuary cities language from HB 12, and replaced it with language from one of his own bills, SB 9, an omnibus homeland security bill that had passed the Senate but was stuck in a House committee. Friday, the House Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security took up SB 9, however, and voted it out.

The motion to reconsider the vote in the Senate committee passed on a party line vote, 5 to 3. Williams then made a motion to consider HB 12 as it was passed out of the full House earlier this month, with the sanctuary cities language in tact. The motion passed on the same party line vote.

[…]

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, raised concerns in the hearing that the surprise move did not allow stakeholders enough time to regroup and provide testimony on sanctuary cities.

“I feel that some people may feel like they didn’t get an opportunity [to testify].” Watson said.

Yeah, well, at this point I doubt any Republican that wants to pass this evil bill cares about that. I’ll just say again that no Democrat has any reason to vote for this, or to vote to suspend the rules. If the GOP wants to bend the rules again to pass this, that’s on them. Postcards has more, and statements from Sen. Jose Rodriguez and Rep. Armando Walle (who was actually commenting on SB9, but it’s close enough) are beneath the fold.

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Senate redistricting map approved by committee

That didn’t take long.

Rejecting pleas to keep most of Travis County in a single Senate district, the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting [Friday] morning approved a plan that will divide the capital city into four senatorial districts.

The Republican-dominated panel also rejected an amendment to the plan that would have returned Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to the Senate district of Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin.

Instead, the airport was left, as proposed, in the district of Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.

Committee Chairman Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, said the committee-approved plan will be voted on early next week by the full Senate.

Sure, that makes sense, having a Senator from Laredo represent the Austin airport. Redistricting is just plain weird.

One point to note:

Republicans who control the state Senate hope the plan could help them elect 20 or more senators, cementing their majority status.

Currently, the Senate has 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats. Under Senate rules, 12 members can block legislation.

Actually, it takes 11 members to block legislation, as 20 is less than two thirds of 31. Of course, one of those 11 would be Eddie Lucio, so the Democrats need to have a little slack. As for Republican hopes of getting more than 20 seats, it’s not gonna happen. I won’t be surprised if they decide that 19 votes are more than enough to pass this bill, however. Texas Politics has more.

Senate redistricting hearing

So the Senate Redistricting Committee hearing was today. See if you can spot a theme here. Sen. Kirk Watson expressed his dissatisfaction with the map that was introduced by Sen. Kel Seliger.

At a morning hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting, Watson blasted the proposed Senate plan as dividing historical minority constituencies in south and east Austin. He said that would violate previous court decisions that required minority voting patterns in Travis County to be kept intact.

“Inappropriate attention was paid (in the Senate plan) to protecting minority voting patterns in Travis County,” Watson said, urging the panel to approve his plan instead.

“There’s no need to do this.”

By splitting Austin among four senators, Watson said, voters would face less cohesive representation and turnout could be discouraged. “Montopolis would be represented by a senator from Laredo,” he said. “Southwest Austin would be represented by a senator who lives in Horseshoe Bay. South Austin would be represented by a senator who lives in San Antonio.

Voters would be asking themselves: Why should I vote for someone who doesn’t even live in my county.”

Sen. Wendy Davis expressed her dissatisfaction with the map.

An emotional Davis told the committee that the map was a slap in the face to the African-American and Hispanic communities that were pivotal in electing her to office in 2008.

“Not very long ago, I was a single mother,” Davis said, choking back tears. “I lived in southeast Fort Worth, in a trailer…Like many that I represent, I often came home to my electricity being turned off, unable to drive my car when I couldn’t afford to insure it.”

Davis said she still identifies strongly with her humble roots.

“I am the people of the district that I represent,” Davis said. “I am a part of that minority coalition of voices that elected me to serve them.”

Sen. Judith Zaffirini expressed her dissatisfaction with the map.

Seliger said the map was released as soon as it was ready. There was nothing nefarious about the timing, he said.

When asked if he felt a day was enough time for Texans to learn about the map and arrange to come to Austin to comment, Seliger said, “I believe it has been a fair process and a legal one.”

State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, repeatedly brought up the issue at Thursday’s hearing.

When Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, testified in support of the map, Zaffirini asked him when he learned about how his district was being redrawn. Birdwell told her he learned last Friday.

Zaffirini and State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, both said they were “kept in the dark” about the map until Tuesday.

“Most members representing minority districts saw the map for the first time less than 48 hours earlier,” Zaffirini said.

You get the idea. Several other maps have been proposed today – you can see them all here. And where there’s a redistricting hearing, there’s Greg liveblogging it. We’ll see how long it takes for the final version of this map to get voted out. With the budget situation still up in the air, it’s going to be fighting for floor time.

Senate map is out, controversy precedes it

Before we had a State Senate map, we had a brawl brewing over one proposed district on it.

Accusing the state Senate’s Republican leaders of a “shameful partisan attack,” Sen. Wendy Davis said Tuesday that a new redistricting map for her Tarrant County senatorial district violates the federal Voting Rights Act by ripping apart a powerful minority coalition that was crucial to her election over a Republican incumbent in 2008.

After reviewing the map for the first time Tuesday, the Fort Worth Democrat fired off an angry letter to the head of the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting and said she plans legal action to challenge the plan, which revamps her 10th senatorial district.

“I’m very sure we will be in a court battle,” Davis told the Star-Telegram.

Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, chairman of the redistricting committee, is expected to release the proposed map for the state’s 31 Senate districts today. The committee plans a hearing Thursday to take public testimony.

Davis said she was not given an opportunity to provide input for the plan or review preliminary maps, despite repeated requests. She vowed to fight the proposal “with every resource I can muster.”

“I will not allow the voting rights of hundreds of thousands of constituents in Tarrant County to be trampled to satisfy the partisan greed of the Senate leadership,” Davis said.

[…]

Davis said Seliger’s plan would shift African-American voters in southeast Fort Worth, Everman and Forest Hill into redrawn District 22, represented by Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury. Hispanic neighborhoods in north Fort Worth would become part of District 12, represented by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound.

Putting aside the minority voting strength issue, it’s hard to see how folks in an urban area like that can be served by a Senator from another county in a district that’s mostly rural. What communities of interest do Granbury and Flower Mound share with Fort Worth? Regardless, minority voting strength will certainly be the focus of any legal action that may be taken against the upcoming map. A press release from Sen. Davis that talks about the cracking of these communities is here, a letter from Davis to Sen. Seliger over the latter not meeting with her before the map was created is here, and a letter from four current Fort Worth City Council members to the Justice Department is here.

In the meantime, the Seliger Senate map has now been released into the wild. I know what you want, so here it comes. First, some pictures. Here’s the Metroplex, source of Sen. Davis’ consternation:

Metroplex Senate districts

SD22, Sen. Birdwell’s district, stretches all the way down to Falls County, south of McClennan. It’s closer to Austin than Fort Worth at that end. Speaking of Austin:

Travis County Senate districts

Sens. Troy Fraser and Judith Zaffirini each wind up with a piece of the Capitol county. Neither Zaffirini nor Sen. Kirk Watson are particularly happy about it. I think if the GOP could draw a map that put a piece of Travis County into every single district, they would. Finally, here’s Harris:

Harris County Senate districts

Sen. Joan Huffman’s SD17 goes south but loses the tail that had snaked east across the coast through Galveston into Jefferson County. Sen. Mike Jackson gets all of Galveston, while Sen. Tommy Williams gets all of Chambers and Jefferson. And I am once again moved into a new district, as nearly all of my part of the Heights gets separated from Sen. Mario Gallegos’ SD06 in favor of Sen. John Whitmire’s SD15.

As for electoral data, see here for 2010 and here for 2008. As the map is drawn, it’s hard to see how Sen. Davis can hold on in a district that topped out at 43.50% for Sam Houston (43.12% for Obama), though I suppose it’s not totally out of the question. Interestingly, the Democrats could have some other opportunities over the long term:

Dist Incumbent Molina Houston old Houston new =================================================== 09 Harris 39.4 47.6 43.4 10 Davis 42.3 47.4 43.5 16 Carona 41.0 46.9 43.4 17 Huffman 43.6 47.6 40.8 19 Uresti 55.1 57.0 57.2 20 Hinojosa 55.7 59.7 59.7

I threw in Sens. Carlos Uresti and Chuy Hinojosa as points of comparison, as they were the least Democratic non-Davis districts, with Obama numbers around 55%. Sam Houston wasn’t the high scorer in their districts, either – Linda Yanez got 60.5% in SD20, and both Yanez (59.0) and Susan Strawn (58.4) did better in SD19. I’m not too worried about either of these guys. I wish I had Molina numbers from 2004 for the new districts to compare, but I don’t. I still suspect these districts are bluer now than they would have been then, and will be more so in 2012, but I can’t quantify that. I also suspect there’s only so much that can be done to protect Sens. Carona and Harris, though it may be enough to get them through most if not all of the decade. As with the SBOE, the draw to determine whether they run again in 2014 or 2016 could make a difference. I am sure that there will be alternate maps filed, starting with one from Sen. Davis, so we’ll see how it goes from here.

UPDATE: Something I had not noticed before: Sen. Zaffirini, whose district stretches from Laredo to Austin, would no longer have a piece of Bexar County.

Under the proposed changes, the number of senators representing San Antonio would slip from four to three because state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, would have a district that completely avoids Bexar County.

Zaffirini was upset she wouldn’t represent San Antonio if the proposal were to pass. It has her district running all the way from Laredo to East Austin’s historically black neighborhoods.

“I’ve worked hard for Bexar County,” she said. “I especially carry their higher education agenda passionately; I’ve made a difference for Bexar County over the years.”

There’s a good side-by-side comparison at the story.

UPDATE: Greg has more.

Senate fails to bring the budget to the floor

It started Monday when Senate Finance Chair Sen. Steve Ogden said he might pull same Rainy Day funds out of the budget in order to get more Republican (read: Dan Patrick) support for it. After some discussion about alternate ways of incorporating Rainy Day funds and some griping about the Comptroller, CSHB1 was brought up for debate about suspending the rules on Tuesday afternoon. The Trib liveblogged the action, in which Ogden laid out the game plan:

Ogden started by telling lawmakers that if they vote to suspend — to take up the budget bill for debate — he’ll take out the provision that would dip into Rainy Day Funds if state revenue comes up short. He’d reduce Medicaid spending by $1.25 billion (more on that in a second), and would include a contingent appropriation equivalent to a 1.2 percent across-the-board spending increase in everything except public education and debt services.

The across-the-board cuts would take place if the comptroller says the money isn’t available; if it is, those cuts won’t happen.

And the Medicaid cuts are a sleight of hand: Lawmakers will be back in January 2013 and if Medicaid comes up short — by, say, $1.25 billion — they’ll take care of it then. In fact, the budget without any changes pushes $3 billion in Medicaid spending off for the next Legislature to deal with.

That was not acceptable to Democrats, and after three hours the vote to suspend fell short, 19-12, on straight party lines. But as Nate Blakeslee noted, the Republicans have another card to play.

Under the Senate rules, Wednesdays are “House bill days” in which House bills already on the calendar may be brought up for consideration without suspending the regular order of business—that is, without a two-thirds vote of the senators present. You do have to take the House bills in the order they currently appear on the calendar. The next House bill on the Senate’s official Regular Order of Business calendar—that green book you see floating around the Senate that nobody ever looks at because it is usually totally irrelevant–is HB 1, the budget. Tomorrow is a Wednesday.

It’s clear that this is what will happen today.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said the decision before the senators is not about the budget but whether “to change the whole nature of how things operate here.”

Ogden agreed that if he could not get the 21 votes needed today, Senate traditions were at risk.

“That is why I have worked so hard and done everything that I could possibly think of to get to 21 votes,” Ogden said.

But Ogden pointedly noted that “we were not sent down here to preserve the two-thirds rule. We were sent down here to govern.”

“People of the state of Texas don’t give a diddly about the two-thirds rule,” he said.

I do agree with Sen. Ogden about that. People for the most part don’t know or care about procedural minutiae. I for one am not going to defend any supermajority requirements, not after all the crap we saw in the US Senate these past two years. Let the debate happen, and if in the end it passes on another straight party vote, as was the case in the House, then so be it. If this is what the Republicans want, if this is what they think they were elected to do, then let them do it. I’m happy to have that debate. There was some speculation earlier in the week that Democrats, on the House side at least, were hoping for Senate budget talks to break down and force a special session, but politically speaking this does nearly the same thing.

So we’ll see where it goes from here. Robert Miller thinks this is the demise of the Senate’s 2/3 rule, and I think he’s right. Jason Embry had wondered why conservative activists hadn’t been rebelling against it before; now they may not have to. What I know is that ownership of all of the bad effects of the budget is now fully in the Republicans’ hands. Let’s get the next election season started, shall we? A statement from Sen. Kirk Watson is here, a statement from the Texas AFL-CIO is here, and a letter to Sen. Wendy Davis from the Legislative Budget Board about her request “regarding historical funding of student enrollment growth in the Foundation School Program” is beneath the fold.

UPDATE: EoW and the Trib have more.

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Senate makes progress on the budget

They still haven’t gotten to the actual budget yet, but they’ve passed a bill that allows for some extra “non-tax revenue” plus a bunch of accounting gimmicks, which makes their less-penurious-than-the-House budget possible.

The Texas Senate, digging publicly for money while it battles quietly over a proposed budget, approved a “non-tax revenue” bill that would make $4.3 billion available for spending over the next two years. The vote was 21-10, with all of the no votes coming from Republicans.

Senators walked around taxes, wary of a constitutional provision that requires revenue-raising measures to start in the Texas House. They talked about taxes on small cigars, on full-time residents of hotels and motels, and on ending exemptions to producers of high-cost natural gas. Other ideas, like sweeping the balances in the governor’s economic development funds, were presented and then pulled down before they came to a vote.

The Senate Finance Committee voted out a budget a week ago that depends on the money in SB 1811, and also contains a provision for tapping into the state’s Rainy Day Fund for up to $3 billion. That provision, combined with the fact that the budget cuts 5.9 percent from current spending, has senators struggling to assemble the 21 votes it would take to call up the budget for debate.

Given the 10 Nays from Republicans, you can see how difficult it is for the Senate to thread the needle on this budget. Ogden thinks the budget may come to the floor on Monday. I’ll bet there’s an awful lot of intense negotiations between now and then.

Along the way, the Senate rejected Republican amendments to impose a hiring freeze at state agencies as well as some other salary cuts, and they adopted some transparency initiatives that had been pushed all session by Sen. Kirk Watson. All this happened while Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was whining about Democrats being mean and partisan without saying who he had in mind, which drew a sharp retort from Sen. Judith Zaffirini, who is generally not one of the hotheads. Like I said, this ought to be a fun weekend for them. And finally, in separate action, a Senate committee voted to stick a knife in the guts of Planned Parenthood, which as we all know will do ever so much to improve the health of women everywhere. EoW and BOR have more.

Dewhurst flips, then flops, on using rainy day funds

First he says he’s against it.

[Lt. Gov. David] Dewhurst sounded supportive of the overall level of spending in the Senate plan, but voiced a preference for using what he calls nontax revenue items instead of the rainy day fund. Some of the supposed nontax revenue ideas that senators haven’t embraced include selling some state land and property, or trying to liquidate state tobacco settlements that are now in endowments.

“I disagreed with them,” said Dewhurst, who presides over the GOP-dominated Senate. “But again, this is a process; we want to keep it moving; we want to get it into conference (committee).”

You can see a transcript of the conversation Dewhurst had with reporters over this here. The man is good at ducking and weaving, I’ll give him that.

The rainy day fund money is a critical difference between the Senate plan and the House plan, which does not spend any rainy day dollars. The Senate version also spends more than the House’s because it would allow some accounting tricks, including a speedup of tax collections and a brief delay in payments to school districts; however, the House has appeared willing to support those measures as well.

So if Dewhurst does not support using rainy day dollars, members of the Senate — particularly Democrats — may have little incentive for bringing it up for a debate on the floor. Those dollars could disappear in a conference committee with the House, since House leaders, and Perry, have said they don’t want to spend rainy day money over the next two years.

The question of whether to bring the budget to the floor has set off considerable debate in Democratic circles. One school of thought says that if Democrats block the budget, perhaps pushing the debate into a special session, Republicans will have no incentive to work with Democrats and will pass the House’s cuts-heavy approach.

But without the rainy day fund, there may be little difference between the House and Senate approaches. And the rule requiring a two-thirds vote to bring the bill to the floor would not be in effect for a final House-Senate compromise, meaning Republicans could pass it without any Democratic support.

In a memo to Democratic colleagues obtained by the American-Statesman, Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said Tuesday that he believes the use of the rainy day fund will vanish in a House-Senate conference committee.

“I truly believe it would be a mistake to take any position on the budget that assumes the final version will have significant new revenues — particularly from the Rainy Day Fund — to pay for Texans’ basic needs and priorities,” Watson said. “I’m unconvinced we can trust that those in control of this process truly intend to put significant new dollars into these priorities.”

Then he says he’s for it, more or less.

A day after telling reporters that he’d resisted and been surprised by the Senate Finance Committee’s decision to allow for the use of $3 billion more from the rainy-day fund to support its spending plan, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst issued a letter to senators saying he supports the measure and asking them to do the same.

Dewhurst leaves himself a bit of wiggle room in the letter, saying that if “Texas keeps growing the way it is now, we may not need much, if any, from the Rainy Day Fund”, and calling on Comptroller Susan Combs to certify an increase in future revenue for the Senate to use, with any remaining gap to be taken from the RDF. What Plan B is if Combs refuses to do that is unclear.

I think there’s a lot of merit to Sen. Watson’s concerns. Dewhurst’s comments changed the dynamic of the debate over the Senate budget, as Rep. Garnet Coleman and the CPPP are now urging a No vote on it. I don’t know if they still feel this way after his latest change of direction. Republican Sen. John Carona is pushing back as well. Not surprisingly, Finance Committee Chair Sen. Steve Ogden, who has been struggling to find 21 votes for the budget, called Dewhurst’s remarks not helpful. You can say that again.

Consideration of HB1 is on the Senate intent calendar, but a vote may or may not happen today as there aren’t enough Yeas to suspend the rules for it – via Texas Politics, Nate Blakeslee says at least four Republicans are No votes on it, which means it may not have even a majority, let alone two thirds support. Should be a fun day in the Senate today. The Trib has more.