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Larry Taylor

Will we ever get an Ike Dike?

We will when it gets funded. When might it get funded? Ummm…

If the Houston-Galveston region continues to boom for the next 60 years and sea level rises as scientists predict, a direct hit to Galveston from a massive hurricane could destroy an estimated $31.8 billion worth of homes, a new study says.

But Texas A&M researchers found that if the government builds a 17-foot barrier about 60 miles long from Galveston Island to Bolivar Peninsula, the potential residential destruction from a storm surge would drop to about $6 billion – a reduction of more than 80 percent.

The only problem: So far, Texas can’t get congressional funding to build the coastal barrier, a proposal that has been floated since Hurricane Ike threatened to make a run for Galveston in 2008.

“The numbers make sense,” said state Sen. Larry Taylor, a Friendswood Republican who has tried for years to get federal funding for a coastal barrier, estimated to cost up to $12 billion. “This investment is going to pay for itself time and time again.”

The cost-benefit numbers could change with additional data: The A&M study only looked at damages to homes and apartments from a storm surge – not flooding caused by rainfall – and excludes the potential harm to the region’s commercial buildings and its bustling ports.

[…]

U.S. Rep. Randy Weber, a Friendswood Republican, said some Republican lawmakers have pushed back against funding infrastructure as part of disaster relief, warning it sets a bad precedent.

Weber said he hopes to get the coastal barrier included in an infrastructure package if efforts to include it in disaster relief ultimately fail.

“This is foolish for us to just keep paying for these disasters over and over and over again,” Weber said. “How about something to prevent this from happening on the next go around?”

That story was from January, before the budget agreement that included disaster relief, but still no Ike Dike. I should note that the state has been officially asking for Ike Dike money since April, well before Harvey. But you know, there was Obamacare to repeal and tax cuts for millionaires to push and collusion investigations to obstruct. The Republicans have just had their hands full, you know? I’m sure they’ll get to it eventually. Hurricane season doesn’t begin for another four months, right? So there’s no rush.

There is trouble with the trees

More to the point, there is trouble with the idea that municipal tree ordinances are somehow a bad thing, but that’s where we are, and it’s got some folks worried.

Never turn down an opportunity to reference a Rush song

More than 40,000 trees were lost to [Hurricane] Ike, according to the nonprofit Galveston Island Tree Conservancy. A replanting campaign that began in 2010 has made significant progress: Volunteers have spent more than 17,000 hours planting more than 16,000 trees, including 250 live oaks and 60 palm trees on Broadway.

Now this effort faces a new threat – not from nature, but from politicians in the state Capitol. Gov. Greg Abbott wants the Legislature to strip cities of the authority to regulate – and essentially protect – trees on private property. It’s one of 21 items the Republican governor has placed on the agenda for a special session that begins July 18.

This action would weaken tree-protection ordinances in more than 50 Texas cities.

Local leaders across the state oppose the idea, but the issue has particular resonance in Galveston because of Ike’s devastating effect on its tree canopy.

In the storm’s aftermath, trees became precious jewels. Homeowners agonized for months, hoping in vain that their treasured oak or magnolia would somehow recover, before accepting the inevitable. Every dead tree that was felled and hauled away left the island a little barer, its people a little more sorrowful.

“Everyone was just so devastated by the loss,” said Jackie Cole, president of the nonprofit Galveston Island Tree Conservancy.

To bolster the recovery effort, the City Council passed a tree-protection ordinance in 2015. The measure requires property owners to seek a permit before removing trees considered significant based on their size or other factors. Trees that are unhealthy, that pose a hazard or that meet certain other criteria may be removed without penalty; others may be cut down only if the owner replaces them with trees of a specified size or pays into a local tree fund.

See here for some background. I would point out that for all of Abbott’s tree-hatred, his little vendetta will still require the consent of the Legislature. I hope the people of Galveston have been directing their concerns to Sen. Larry Taylor and Reps. Wayne Faircloth and Greg Bonnen. If local control still means anything, it needs to mean something to them.

By the way, story author Mike Snyder has a sidebar piece about the effort to defend local tree ordinances, which is being led by Defend Texas Trees. Turns out that most of the municipal tree ordinances in the state aren’t about what homeowners can and cannot do but about what developers can and cannot do, with restrictions and incentives in place to preserve mature trees. In other words, Abbott’s intended ordinance isn’t just an attack on trees, it’s a boon for developers. I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

School finance bill is dead

It started with this.

State Rep. Dan Huberty said Wednesday that he would not accept the Senate’s changes to his school finance bill, launching a last-ditch effort to hammer out a compromise with less than a week left in the session.

After a passionate speech railing on the Senate for gutting his bill, Huberty, a Houston Republican who is chairman of the House Public Education Committee, announced he has decided to request a conference committee with the Senate on House Bill 21.

The bill was originally intended to inject $1.5 billion into the state’s funding for the majority of public schools and to simplify some of the complex, outdated formulas for allocating money to school districts across the state. The Senate took that bill, reduced the funding to $530 million, and added what many public education advocates have called a “poison pill”: a “private school choice” program that would subsidize private school tuition and homeschooling for kids with disabilities.

“Members, some of your schools will be forced to close in the next year based on the committee substitute of House Bill 21,” as passed by the Senate, Huberty said, before moving to go to conference. “I refuse to give up. I’ll continue trying. Let’s at least attempt to rescue this bill.”

The House voted 134-15 to request a conference committee with the Senate on the bill.

See here and here for the background. The House’s request for a conference committee was denied by the Senate.

An effort to overhaul the state’s beleaguered school finance system has been declared dead after the Texas Senate Education Committee’s chairman said Wednesday that he would not appoint conferees to negotiate with the House.

“That deal is dead,” Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, said.

Taylor’s remarks come after his counterpart in the House, Dan Huberty, R-Houston, gave a passionate speech in which he said he would not accept the Senate’s changes to House Bill 21 and would seek a conference committee with the Senate.

HB 21 was originally intended to inject $1.5 billion into the state’s funding for the majority of public schools and to simplify some of the complex, outdated formulas for allocating money to school districts across the state. The Senate took that bill, reduced the funding to $530 million, and added what many public education advocates have called a “poison pill”: a “private school choice” program that would subsidize private school tuition and homeschooling for kids with disabilities.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick pronounced the bill dead in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

“Although Texas House leaders have been obstinate and closed-minded on this issue throughout this session, I was hopeful when we put this package together last week that we had found an opening that would break the logjam. I simply did not believe they would vote against both disabled children and a substantial funding increase for public schools,” he said in the statement. “I was wrong. House Bill 21 is now dead.”

House Speaker Joe Straus said in a statement Wednesday that the Senate has not prioritized school finance reform this session.

“We appointed members of a conference committee today because the House was willing to continue to work on public school finance immediately. Unfortunately, the Senate walked away and left the problems facing our schools to keep getting worse,” he said.

HB 21 was the first time in years that the Legislature has taken up major school finance reform without a court mandate.

HB21 was also the vehicle for addressing the recapture issue that is costing HISD (among other districts) millions and which is being litigated on the grounds that the TEA didn’t make its changes to the formula properly. You can kiss that good-bye as well. It’s somehow fitting that the Lege could not come to an agreement on school finance, as this proves the lie of the Supreme Court ruling that insisted they could do this on their own without the Supremes forcing them to. Not as long as we have Dan Patrick presiding over this Senate they won’t. The Chron has more.

Senate wrecks school finance bill

It’s what they do.

The Texas Senate has scrapped much of a proposal to revise how the state funds education in place of a plan to create a school voucher program for children with disabilities.

The bill passed the Senate 21-10 at 12:50 a.m. Monday, marking the second time in two months the chamber has approved legislation that would allow parents to use public school dollars to subsidize their child’s tuition at a private school.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Sen. Larry Taylor, a Friendswood Republican and Education Committee chairman sponsoring the bill. “This would empower some of those parents to have some leverage.”

The new language, added on the Senate floor late Sunday night, now includes money for charter school facilities, autism grant funding and programming for special education students transitioning out of school. The changes also reduce the amount of new money into education from about $1.9 billion to about $500 million during a tight budget cycle amid lower-than-expected state revenue.

The changes come to House bill 21, the lower chamber’s flagship proposal to begin a multi-year process of rehabbing the state’s school funding formula after the Texas Supreme Court called the system constitutional but in need of improvement. The House measure deleted outdated pieces of the formula, reduced recapture and added weights to allocate more money per student with dyslexia or learning English as a second language.

The Senate hijacked the bill shortly after it arrived in the upper chamber, adding to the bill a school voucher program, which the House has opposed, throwing the fate of the school finance fix into jeopardy.

Basically, HB21 as we once knew it is dead. The AFL-CIO changed its position on it from Support to Oppose a few days ago as these changes were first being made. At this point, the House should stick to its guns on vouchers and reject the amended bill. The Trib has more.

Texting while driving ban passes the Senate

We’ll see if this one gets signed into law.

Rep. Tom Craddick

Legislation that would create a statewide texting-while-driving ban overcame a last-ditch attempt in the Senate on Friday to gut the bill. The bill’s author, state Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, said he will concur with the changes the Senate made. The measure will then head to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

State Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, filed an amendment that would’ve outlined an offense as both having been committed in the presence of an officer and having required evidence the driver was not paying attention. The current version of the bill requires either threshold rather than both.

In laying out his amendment, Taylor said that given the list of exceptions to the law that would permit drivers to use their phone — such as operating a navigational tool, reading what the driver believes to be an emergency message, and playing music — requiring more evidence is warranted.

Taylor held up his cell phone and asked his fellow members, “What am I doing? I’m actually looking at [navigational app] Waze, looking for the quickest way out of here,” he joked. “Now I’m searching the greatest hits of the 60’s. These are all things that are legal. So I have issue with that.”

Several Republican and Democratic members rose to say his change would make the law unenforceable.

“It won’t stop all behavior, but I believe when something is against the law, people will hesitate,” said state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston. “And if this law saves one life, then we’ve accomplished what we set out to accomplish.”

The amendment ultimately failed with a 12-19 vote.

After amendments, state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, the bill’s Senate sponsor, took the floor.

“I have waited 10 years to make this motion: I move final passage of HB 62,” the Laredo Democrat said.

Without any further discussion, House Bill 62 passed the Senate on a 23-8 vote.

See here for the background. For what it’s worth, Sen. Huffman’s argument about the Taylor amendment – I can’t quite tell if she’s arguing for it or against it, not that it really matters – is my view of texting-while-driving bans as a whole. The act of making it illegal will almost certainly cause a significant number of people who are now texting and otherwise fooling around on their phones while driving – and in my observation there’s a lot of those people out there – to stop doing it, just because it is illegal. That to me makes it worthwhile. I strongly suspect that recent massive fatal crash that occurred while one driver was busy texting helped move a few votes. As the story notes, a Craddick texting ban bill was vetoed in 2011 by Rick Perry. Craddick says that Greg Abbott’s office has assured him this one will be signed. We’ll know within the next three weeks or so. The Chron has more.

Vouchers get their Senate hearing

Here we go again with this nonsense.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the meantime, there was this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senate to begin studying school finance changes

We’ll see what this looks like.

Leaders in the Texas Senate are vowing to find ways to overhaul the state’s school finance system, saying a recent Texas Supreme Court decision granted them a prime opportunity to shake up the heavily criticized status quo.

On Monday, they announced the creation of a Senate budget working group — led by Friendswood Republican Larry Taylor — to tackle the issue. That group will work with the Senate Education Committee, which Taylor chairs, to propose replacements for the current school finance system.

“The opportunity is huge for us to get it right,” said Jane Nelson, chairwoman of the Senate’s powerful Finance Committee. “We need a whole new method of school finance.”

They’ll face an uphill climb in a session where legislators face several obstacles to major reform, not the least of which is money. The announcement comes a week after the Senate unveiled its preliminary budget, which did not include additional funding for public education.

During the Finance Committee’s first hearing of the 2017 legislative session on Monday, Nelson, R-Flower Mound, advised the newly formed working group to “start with a clean slate” in recommending a new school finance scheme. “It should be less complicated, innovative and should meet the needs of our students,” she added.

[…]

“We’re left with a question mark as to what this effort will mean by the Senate,” said Lynn Moak, a school finance expert at the Austin-based consulting firm Moak, Casey & Associates. The main question is “whether they’re trying to reform school finance within existing dollars or looking for possible additional dollars to fund the system.”

Nelson last week unveiled the Senate’s $213.4 billion two-year budget proposal, calling it a bare-bones starting point for financial discussions in what promises to be a particularly tight-fisted year. That proposal did not touch funding formulas for public education.

The House’s base budget — also released last week — included an additional $1.5 billion that could be spent on public education only if the Legislature reforms the school finance system.

Here’s the Chron story, which has the local angle.

In Houston, where voters last November overwhelmingly rejected having local taxpayers pay the state for $162 million in so-called “recapture” of school funds, HISD Trustee Jolanda Jones said the creation of the Senate group signaled that the message from the ballot initiative had been heard in Austin.

“They’ve done more with HISD pushing back than they have in 24 years of hearing school districts complain about it,” Jones, a vocal opponent of “recapture,” said Monday. “Recapture is based on the premise of Robin Hood, taking from the rich and giving to the poor, but that’s never what it did. It took from the poor and reallocated to the poor. Help me understand why 75 percent of our kids are poor, really poor, receiving free and reduced-priced meals, and you’re taking money from us? It makes no sense; we need more money, not less.”

Because the district will refuse to pay the recapture fee, the Texas Education Agency has threatened to remove commercial buildings from HISD’s taxing district this July so it can give the money to other “property poor” districts.

HISD Trustee Anna Eastman said she hopes lawmakers will act before the TEA takes the property tax revenue from local commercial properties, though she is not sure overhauling the school finance system can be done in one session. But she was heartened to see the Senate look at the funding system.

“School finance can’t be based on some kind of cryptic formula that makes it so kids in a certain pocket are getting lots of money and others are getting little,” Eastman said. “Areas such as ours shouldn’t be picking up all the slack for areas that can’t generate revenue off property growth. It shouldn’t be that big of a gap.”

In Pearland, where local schools receive $9,358 per student, the lowest share in the Houston area, Superintendent John Kelly said that if the state does not increase its share, his district may have to dip into reserve funds to provide any kind of an increase to employees or to meet rising costs. He said lawmakers have been disingenuous in saying they want to lower taxes while requiring districts to raise more local taxes.

“They talk out of one side of their mouth ‘tax cuts’ for people, but on the other side they’re confiscating the increase in tax values across the state,” Kelly said of the Legislature.

That would need to be a part of any overhaul for it to be worth the name. I’m more wary than optimistic. I fear what we will get will be another shuffling of existing funds that will mostly change who’s getting screwed less. I don’t have any faith that Dan Patrick’s Senate will put more money into the system, or that they will alter it in a way that allows for, let alone mandates, covering the costs of growth in a sensible fashion. Let’s not forget that at the same time this is going on, there will be a renewed push for private school vouchers, which will only drain more money from public education. They could surprise me in a good way, and I will reserve judgment until I see what they come up with, but I do not start out feeling very hopeful about this. The track record of the players involved argues otherwise. RG Ratcliffe, who also sees vouchers in this, has more.

Turner endorses Ike Dike

Interesting.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

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

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

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

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

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

School finance can always get worse

Now here’s a brilliant, why-didn’t-we-think-of-that-before idea: Give schools less money as incentive to do better.

thebeatingswillcontinueuntilmoralei

Depending on whose measure you’re using, Texas is somewhere between 38th and 49th in the nation when it comes to per-student funding. Instead of wallowing in our poor luck, or paying something closer to the national average, Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor convened a hearing Tuesday that considered a more sanguine response: A big round of applause for forcing schools to do so much with so little.

“The school districts are capable of generating high outcomes with low funding,” Education Resource Group President Paul Haeberlen assured the Senate Education Committee. “If you give them less money, they are forced to deal with it.”

Since 1999, Haeberlen’s group has measured and promoted efficiency in Texas school districts. This year, he was one of a handful of experts — along with Lori Taylor of the Texas Smart Schools initiative — invited to address an interim charge from Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick to study “performance-based funding mechanisms that allocate dollars based upon achievement versus attendance.”

In other words, Patrick wants to study how to fund schools not based on their needs, but on their results.

That would be a dramatic shift in how Texas funds its schools. The current system funds schools based on their enrollment, with adjustments for local costs and students’ special needs. The state rates schools on their test scores and graduation rates, but doesn’t tie funding to them. Teachers’ groups are already fighting Texas’ efforts to tie teacher pay to test scores; Now, Patrick wants to consider expanding that to the entire school finance system.

But with the Texas Supreme Court’s recent encouragement — in the form of its school finance ruling in May — for lawmakers to shake up school finance in 2017, even the most fringe ideas are on the table. Taylor, for one, suggested he’d be game to design a whole new finance scheme from ground up.

“If we’re gonna start over,” he said, “my thinking is we start with what does it cost to educate a kid today. Let’s get some real facts. What does it cost, why are those costs there?”

The Legislature has consistently balked at that kind of honest accounting in the past, even though state law requires such a study every two years. During the recent school finance trial, expert testimony put the cost of public education at $6,404 more per student than the state already pays.

But Haeberlen assured the committee that what schools need isn’t more money, just an attitude adjustment. An analysis by his firm, ERG, produced a list of the most efficient school districts in Texas by comparing their spending efficiency with the quality of their test scores and other measures. Haeberlen suggested rewarding those few districts — possibly financially — and encouraging all the rest to follow their lead. “People want rewards, and the rest of the crew will follow,” he said. “It’s just how business works.

What could possibly go wrong?

The good news is that this idea really is as half-baked as it sounds, in that no concrete proposal exists as yet for it. In addition, the foundation for this plan is based on even more reliance on standardized test results, which may be a tough sell even to Republicans. But make no mistake, Dan Patrick’s goal here is to spend less on schools. How he achieves that isn’t important – if this dumb idea doesn’t fly, he’ll find another one. These two Trib stories have more on this “plan” and the hearing at which it was aired, so read up and know what we’re facing. Nothing will change until the Legislature changes.

House chubfest kills several bad bills

Some good news, though as always at the end of a session, the outcome isn’t clean and the details are very murky.

Squalius cephalus, the official mascot of talking bills to death

As the clock struck midnight, the failure of an anti-abortion initiative — dear to the hearts of the far right — marked the end of a tumultuous day on the floor of the Texas House that saw the passage of sweeping ethics reform and a version of legislation allowing concealed carrying of handguns on college campuses.

On the last day that it could approve major legislation that began in the Senate, the lower chamber embarked on an all-day procedural waltz, with Democrats attempting to kill bills by delaying them past midnight, and Republicans looking for openings to move their legislation.

Early in the day, Democrats narrowly shot down an attempt to essentially change the order of the calendar, moving big-ticket items up for faster consideration. They then used every parliamentary trick in the book to slow the pace, delaying consideration of mostly uncontroversial bills.

But after huddling in a secret meeting in a room adjacent to the House floor, Democrats let the action get moving again.

For hours, the House debated an ethics reform bill, dissolving into angry tirades and raunchy debate about the reach of a drug-testing provision for lawmakers.

The passionate debate pitted Republicans against each other — over lifting the veil on “dark money” and restricting people from recording or videotaping politicians without their permission.

With the clock ticking, a few Republicans at one point even sought to postpone debate over ethics legislation — deemed a priority by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott — so the House could take up campus carry and an abortion bill that would have prohibited coverage of the procedure on certain health insurance plans.

Republican state Rep. Matt Schaefer of Tyler asked state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, the House sponsor of the ethics legislation, to temporarily pull down the measure so that it did not chew up the time left on the clock.

After Cook declined, Democrats took to the mic to reiterate that ethics reform was declared an emergency item by the governor and was supposed to be prioritized over the rest of the calendar.

The House eventually passed the ethics bill, including the dark money provision, then went back to an innocuous agency-review bill, also known as a Sunset bill, to reform the Department of Family and Protective Services.

[…]

The biggest victim of the midnight deadline was Senate Bill 575 by Republican Sen. Larry Taylor, which would have banned abortion coverage on plans sold on the federal Affordable Care Act’s marketplace.

Originally, SB 575 would have banned abortion coverage on both ACA plans and private health insurance plans. But the House State Affairs Committee amended the bill to mirror a measure filed in the House by state Rep. Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown, and approved by the committee this month before dying on a House bill deadline.

Republicans had said they intended to amend it on the floor to bring back the private insurance ban.

The bill — passed in the Senate earlier this month — died in the House after a turbulent ride in the lower chamber.

It was cleared by the State Affairs Committee on Saturday in a last-minute vote on the last day the committee could clear Senate proposals.

Killing SB575 was a big one, and one of the Democrats’ main goals for deadline day. They also succeeded in preventing an amendment allowing child welfare agencies to discriminate against LGBT families to a sunset bill for the Department of Family and Protective Services, another main goal. What did get passed was a somewhat watered-down version of campus carry that will allow university trustees to designate certain “gun-free zones” as long as there isn’t a blanket ban on carrying firearms by those with concealed handgun licenses. The campus carry bill could possibly have been stopped, though (this is where we get into the messy and murky stuff) that could have had effects that would make the victory a lot more pyhrric. The Morning News hints at some of what might have happened.

Late Tuesday, the House was debating the gun measure, though it was unclear if it would pass.

Several Republicans said that after the initial slowdown, Speaker Joe Straus intervened in the early afternoon, to get things moving. There were conflicting accounts, though, of precisely how Straus, a San Antonio Republican, did so.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Tan Parker of Flower Mound said that in conversations with individual Democrats, “the speaker was firm that he would use everything,” meaning parliamentary “nuclear options,” to shut down debate and force votes.

Straus, though, was coy.

“I didn’t talk to Democrats,” Straus told a reporter. “But I intend to get through this,” he added, referring to the House’s agenda.

One consideration may have been that the campus carry bill is part of a grand bargain on tax cuts, border security, guns and ethics. The deal may allow lawmakers to finish their work Monday, as scheduled, instead of having a special session.

As passed by the Senate, the campus carry measure would allow the licensed concealed carrying of handguns in most public university buildings. There were rumblings the House might restore a campus-by-campus opt-in provision, as it did two years ago, or let the measure die when the clock struck midnight.

Whether Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and his GOP allies in the Senate would consider that a breach of the grand bargain remained unclear.

[…]

Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, said he was upset that some senior Democrats relented.

“We’ve given away too much leverage,” he said.

There was talk that Martinez Fischer and other long-serving Democrats were worried the minority might be asking for too much, especially after gaining key House GOP leaders’ cooperation in squelching bills aimed at unions and stopping hailstorm damage lawsuits.

[Rep. Trey] Martinez Fischer, though, called that too facile.

“You can’t view everything as a quid pro quo,” he said. “It’s not personal. It’s all about business.”

Martinez-Fischer had a point of order that could have killed the campus carry bill, but he pulled it down after some intense discussion, and thus it went to a vote. How you feel about all this likely correlates directly to your opinion of his dealmaking ability and trustworthiness in making such deals. It’s also the case that this isn’t the end of the story, as the Statesman notes.

Cutting off debate ended a daylong Democratic effort to avoid a floor vote on the campus carry legislation before a drop-dead midnight deadline to have an initial vote on Senate bills.

After the vote, Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, said Democrats voluntarily pulled down their amendments after winning a key concession with an approved amendment allowing colleges and universities to have limited authority on banning guns in certain campus areas.

In addition, he said, Republicans were prepared to employ a rarely used maneuver to cut off debate with a motion that had already lined up agreement from the required 25 House members.

[…]

The bill-killing tactics appeared headed for success late Tuesday, until Speaker Joe Straus abruptly called for a vote on SB 11 about 20 minutes before the deadline.

The move avoided a bitter blow for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury.

Based on assurances from House leaders that campus carry would get a floor vote in their chamber, Patrick and Birdwell declined last week to add the school gun bill as an amendment to House Bill 910, a measure to allow openly carried holstered handguns that is now one small step away from Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

Before approving SB11, the House voted overwhelmingly to allow each college and university to regulate where guns may be excluded, as long as firearms are not banned campus-wide. Each plan would have to be approved by two-thirds of the board of regents under the amendment by Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, that was approved 119-29.

The House also adopted an amendment by Rep. Sarah Davis, R-Houston, to exempt health care-related institutions and the Texas Medical Center from campus carry.

“Never assume the Democrats gave up on campus carry. Democrats did not give up on campus carry,” said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. “The Zerwas amendment waters it down. The bill will go to conference and we will continue to have our input in the process.”

Here’s a separate Trib story on the campus carry bill, an Observer story about the ethics reform bill that was a main vehicle for Democratic stalling tactics, and a Chron story on the overall chubbing strategy as it was happening. Newsdesk, RG Ratcliffe, and Hair Balls have more on the day overall, and for the last word (via PDiddie), here’s Glen Maxey:

LGBT people are finally, FINALLY free from all types of mischief and evilness. The Senate gets to debate the Cecil Bell amendment by Sen. Lucio put on a friggin’ Garnet Coleman bill tomorrow. It’s all for show. Garnet Coleman is one of the strongest allies of the LGBTQ community. They could amend all the anti-gay stuff they want on it and he’ll strip it off in conference or just outright kill the bill before allowing it to pass with that crap on it. This is for record votes to say they did “something” about teh gays to their nutso base.

And lots of high stakes trading to make sure that other stuff didn’t get amended onto bills today (labor dues, TWIA, etc.) and making sure an Ethics Bill of some sort passed. We didn’t want that to die and give Abbot a reason to call a special session.

Campus carry got watered down… no clue what happens in conference. And the delaying tactics kept us from reaching the abortion insurance ban.

Four good Elections bills passed today. Three on Consent in the House, three in the Senate all will be done by noon Wednesday.

And Lastly: Pigs have flown and landed. HB 1096 the bad voter registration bill is NOT on the Calendar for tomorrow and is therefore DEAD. I am one proud lobbyist on that one. With it’s demise, no major voter suppression bills passed (well, except for Interstate Crosscheck which is only bad if implemented badly, and we have to stay on top of it to make sure it’s not), and over forty good ones survived.

Just a few technical concurrences, and we’re done. Thank the goddess and well, some bipartisanship for once.

As someone once said, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. See the next post for more on that.

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.

Where the education reform bills stand

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

Jimmie Don Aycock

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Observer updates us on some other education bills.

“Parent Empowerment”

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

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

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

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

Virtual Schools

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

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

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

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

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

Vouchers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, the Senate won this skirmish.

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

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

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

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

Senate passes a voucher bill

Hopefully, this will die in the House.

Some low-income families unhappy with their public schools would get help paying private school tuition under a plan that won tentative approval in the Texas Senate Monday.

Senate Bill 4, which would use state tax credits to entice up to $100 million in business donations to fund a scholarship program, cleared the chamber 18 to 12 with two Republicans, Konni Burton of Colleyville and Robert Nichols of Jacksonville, breaking party lines to vote against the measure. One Democrat, Eddie Lucio of Brownsville, voted in favor.

Before it passed, Democrats raised concerns about the plan, arguing that it diverted money that should be going to public education into an unaccountable private school system. “They don’t have the same kinds of requirements that our public schools do,” said state Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso. “I can’t seem to get around that.”

While defending his proposal, state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, insisted that the legislation should not be considered a private school voucher program — a notion that has proven politically toxic in the Legislature.

“I don’t think we are taking money from the public schools. The student is leaving,” said Taylor, who chairs the Senate Education Committee. “This is private money — not state money — that is donated.”

Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, said he viewed the legislation as a way to “short circuit around the whole voucher concept.”

“It is money that a corporation will be giving to a scholarship program in lieu of paying tax,” he said.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, called on Taylor to add language banning private schools participating in the program from using Common Core, the national set of curriculum standards that Texas lawmakers prohibited in the state’s public education system in 2013.

“It just defies logic that you would apply a different standard to private schools using taxpayer subsidized money,” said Ellis, after his amendment was tabled at Taylor’s urging.

Senators Rodriguez, Menendez, and Ellis have hit the highlights here. This is a strong point, too.

Rev. Charles Johnson, director of Pastors for Texas Children, a public school advocacy group, said the push for vouchers is more a fight for money than improving educational opportunity for poor students.

“If this were about kids, we’d target those 70 or 80 struggling schools out of 8,500 public schools and we would give them the resources they need to succeed,” he said. “The Legislature consistently refuses to do that.”

Well yeah. That would cost money. Dan Patrick already thinks we spend too much money on public education. Even the credulous Erica Greider notes that under this bill, families with above-median incomes would be eligible for these “scholarships”, a name that’s more about branding than anything else. It’s a giveaway to people who don’t need it at the expense of people who do, and there’s no evidence from existing voucher programs elsewhere that it does anything to improve educational outcomes. Like I said, let’s hope it dies in the House, as it should.

Ending exemptions for vaccines

Hear, hear.

A Texas Republican is taking aim at a provision in state law that allows parents with personal or religious objections to vaccines to opt their children out of school immunization requirements.

State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, said Friday he will soon propose legislation to eliminate what are called “conscientious exemptions” because of the reemergence of diseases like measles and whooping cough attributed to growing numbers of parents choosing not to vaccinate their children.

“We are just saying, ‘Look, if you are going to send your children to public schools, they need to be vaccinated,'” he said. “We are going to ask that you keep other children safe.”

The measure, which Villalba said he would file next week, comes as several other states are reevaluating their immunization laws as they battle a measles outbreak linked with exposure to an unvaccinated woman in a California amusement park.

Texas is among 20 states that waive school vaccine requirements because of personal beliefs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. All but two states — Mississippi and West Virginia — grant exemptions from school immunization requirements on religious grounds.

Under Villalba’s proposal, Texas would not allow an exemption for either of those reasons. Students would still be able to receive medical waivers, which doctors grant in cases where an allergic reaction or a weakened immune system could cause health complications.

As you know, I’m down with this. Texas’ overall rate of getting exemptions isn’t that high, but in some places it is. That’s an outbreak waiting to happen, so I hope the rest of the Lege falls in behind Rep. Villalba’s bill when it is filed. On that score, the Senate may be a challenge.

Even with a measles outbreak dominating headlines, don’t expect an avalanche of immediate support for a high-profile idea to cut down on the ability of Texas parents to opt their children out of school immunization requirements.

Two state Senate committee chairmen told the Houston Chronicle they have hesitations about a bill that state Rep. Jason Villalba said Friday he plans to introduce to eliminate religious and philosophical exemptions to the requirements.

State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, who leads the Health and Human Services Committee, said through a spokesman that while he views vaccines as a “critical component of protecting the public health…(he) would prefer to increase education about the safety of these vaccines rather than imposing new mandates that would ask Texas parents to act against their own conscience or their deeply-held religious beliefs.”

The chairman of the Senate education committee, Republican Larry Taylor of Friendswood, offered a more moderate response but noted that in Texas, “there is also a long standing tradition of giving parents the right to make decisions regarding their children’s healthcare.”

“I stand ready to hear parents’ and legislators’ opinions on this very serious issue,” Taylor said.

I hope he’s also ready to hear doctors’ opinions, too. California’s legislature is taking similar action, as are legislatures in several other states. Hopefully, at least one good thing will come out of the Disneyland measles epidemic of 2015.

Ike Dike versus Centennial Gate

It’s an academic storm surge mitigation smackdown!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still no call to expand the call

Rick Perry may yet expand the call of the special session, but so far he’s sticking to his script about dealing with redistricting first.

snl-church-lady-special

Gov. Rick Perry is leaving the door open for more items on the agenda of the newly called special legislative session, but he said Friday he wants lawmakers to bring him specific proposals that have a chance of passage before putting more on their plate.

“We’re not going to be adding things to the call just for the sake of adding things to the call,” Perry said. “We want to be relatively assured that we’re going to be successful.”

The governor, speaking to reporters at an event highlighting the state’s emergency response capabilities, was asked if he would consider adding to the agenda a fix for the troubled Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, or TWIA, the state’s insurer of last resort for coastal residents.

Perry said that was “certainly possible,” but added that he wanted lawmakers to “get a little closer to what I would consider to be an agreement” before he’ll add the item to the agenda.

While the governor signaled it was “still a little premature” to speculate about expanding the session beyond redistricting — the only issue eligible for action right now — he said other priorities may soon emerge.

“There may be something, whether it’s on the budget, or whether it’s another piece of legislation that ends up being vetoed, or line-item vetoed, that we want to put back on the call and say, hey, you know we didn’t agree with this, let’s see if we can find a way to fix it,” Perry said.

To me at least, that doesn’t suggest that he’s considering the addition of all those wingnut wish list items that David Dewhurst and others are begging for, but then he could just be playing it close to the vest. Texas Politics expands on this, and also provides a peek at Perry’s thoughts on the one item that is on the agenda at this time.

Perry said he wants to drill down to the needs and “TWIA is one of those needs, frankly, that we have in this state.”

He added that “we’re not going to bring it forward until we get a little closer to what I would consider to be an agreement between the disparate groups that are out there.”

Perry responded to reporters’ questions at a news conference after a state emergency readiness activation exercise at Austin Bergstrom International Airport as part of National Hurricane Preparedness Week.

Regarding TWIA, the insurer of last resort for windstorms, Perry said that “it’s one that we have spent a lot of time working on and trying to find a solution to. It’s a complex issue, as diverse as this state is, with the huge exposure that we have along the Gulf Coast.

“Let me just leave it — it is a possibility as a special session item, but still a little premature in the session to be naming any additional issues that we have,” he said.

Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, said previously that Perry had told him TWIA would be part of a special-session agenda if one were called. Only Perry has the authority to call lawmakers into special session, as he did on redistricting, and to set the agenda, which he hasn’t yet expanded.

Perry also was asked about discussion among lawmakers that while he could call a special session on a particular subject such as redistricting, that he couldn’t restrict its scope to only ratifying the interim court-drawn maps.

His call for the session specified ratification of those maps, a move advised by GOP Attorney General Greg Abbott. Democrats and minority interests have protested the idea.

“The intent of the call was very clear,” said Perry, who has the power to veto legislation that doesn’t suit him.

That sounds like a contradiction of the Senate’s opinion that while Perry can set the agenda, he can’t dictate what the actual legislation looks like. If the Lege sends him a redistricting bill that alters either the House or Congressional districts, especially with Democratic amendments, it’ll be interesting to see if he vetoes it. Definitely worth keeping an eye on this.

Meanwhile, the House had its redistricting hearing yesterday, and once again Greg brought the liveblogging. Here’s the House committee’s tentative schedule, which suggests a bill could be voted out as soon as June 7, after which it would be debated by the full House. Committee Chair Rep. Drew Darby was interviewed about the process afterwards, and you can listen to the audio of that here. We’re all still in the positioning phase, but things will start to get real once amendments and possibly alternative maps get formally proposed. Texas Redistricting has more.

UPDATE: Here’s Greg’s Liveblog Part II, covering today’s House committee hearing.

Bad ideas never die

And so we find ourselves once again talking about tax breaks for yacht buyers.

Just think how much you would save on this baby

From capping the sales tax on yachts to phasing out the state business levy, some lawmakers are pushing for tax breaks even as others say the system is already riddled with too many special-interest exemptions.

The breaks are most often cast as a driver for economic development, and a Monday hearing on the yacht tax break was no exception.

Senate Bill 862 “is not about giving tax breaks to the rich. It is all about jobs and protecting our Texas economy,” said Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, who pitched it before the Senate subcommittee on fiscal matters as necessary for the state to compete for boat business.

The subcommittee, which left the bill pending, is trying to have hearings on at least a representative sampling of the tax breaks that have been proposed, said its chairman, Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy. “Obviously, the question always becomes do they, at the end of the day, provide a benefit to the taxpayers overall?” said Hegar.

[…]

A similar measure sank two years ago. Backers emphasized then, as they are now, a decision by Florida to cap its sales and use tax at $18,000. They said that has prompted buyers to purchase and keep their boats in Florida.

As filed, the legislation would cap the amount of boat tax at $15,625 per retail sale, the amount typically paid for a $250,000 yacht. Taylor has a substitute to change that to $25,000.

The subcommittee left the bill pending while it awaits a new fiscal note on the change.

As noted, a similar bill was introduced last session, but it did not pass. The fiscal note for SB862 says it would cost $2,893,000 for the upcoming biennium, which is slightly more than the fiscal note of the previous bill. Perhaps the Legislative Budget Board is forecasting more yacht purchases for this biennium, or maybe it’s just that yachts are more expensive these days. In either case, I doubt that Taylor’s substitute bill will make that much difference in this department.

I expended all the snark I have on this two years ago. There’s only so much time available in a legislative session, and it really says something about John Davis and Larry Taylor that they think this particular issue, which would greatly benefit a very small number of people at the expense of the general revenue fund, is worth their limited time and energy. I haven’t even seen a bogus “economic benefit” report on behalf of the yachters, making the usual dubious claims about how much more money this would actually mean for Texas despite the fiscal note, which is telling in itself. As Rodney Ellis says in the story, our tax code is already an unmanageable jumble of bizarre, obscure, and often needless tax breaks that cost billions for no clear reason. We don’t need to add to that.

What they’re saying about transportation

So far in all the stories I’ve read about the beginning of the legislative session, education and transportation are two of the biggest items everyone talks about. Here’s a sample from the Chron.

Story #1:

[Rep. Ed] Thompson said funding for transportation is another high priority going into the session.

“The gas tax has not been visited since the early 1990s,” he said. “It’s not generating enough money. We’re going to have to figure out a way to fund highways going forward.”

[Sen. Larry] Taylor agreed. “Transportation is a huge issue particularly in our area,” he said. “We have to get more dollars to our roads and highways, and how we do that is up for debate.”

He said fuel taxes and increased registration fees are possible options.

“To build roads and maintain what you have, you need to have funds,” Taylor added. “And the system we have is not doing the job. We need additional funding.”

I cited that article in my earlier post about education discussion. I wanted to revisit it after I saw what was said in story #2:

Transportation is another key issue, [Rep. Bill] Callegari said.

“Texas is doing really well bringing business to the state, but if we can’t bring adequate transportation, they’re going to stop coming,” he said.

Funding for transportation could be a topic for debate, he added.

“We have a gas tax that we use to fund transportation,” he said. “Cars use less gas, and less gas means less income. We’re going to have to look for ways to finance transportation in the future.”

Improving infrastructure is how Callegari believes the state can protect the economy.

“Our economy is doing well, but it is contingent on making sure we have more funding for transportation, water and rail,” he said. “The most important thing is that we can keep rolling to work and keep moving goods across the state to keep our economy moving.”

So is this genuine concern about finding adequate funds for transportation – and they’ll need a lot of funds – or just boilerplate talking points going in to a new session? With the happy budget news, it seems to be more the former, but we’ll see how that actually plays out. For now at least I will note that the discussion has mostly centered on what the state needs and the need to pay for it – water issues are another common thread – and there’s little to no talk about the need to cut back. Again, maybe this means nothing, but it is a different sound than what we were hearing two years ago. Make of it what you will.

What they’re saying about education

The Chron has a couple of stories focusing on area legislators and their priorities for 2013. There will be many new faces in the Lege and the Senate in this session, so the more we know about what these folks have in mind, the better. This story is about Pearland Rep. Ed Thompson (R, HD29) and Sen. Larry Taylor (R, SD11), who was previously the State Rep. in the Friendswood-anchored HD24. The story covers a lot of ground, but I’m primarily interested in their thoughts on education.

Rep. Ed Thompson

District 29 State Rep. Ed Thompson, R-Pearland, said the state’s growing population is an indicator of economic strength.

“People are coming to Texas, because it’s a pro-business state,” Thompson said. “And our unemployment is dropping. It proves that our economy in Texas is improving.”

Thompson hopes these indicators will translate to a higher budget for the next biennium.

“With the economy doing better, revenues are going up. How much there’s going to be and what we’re going to do with it, that’s the question,” he said. “There will be a lot of discussion going back and filling holes in the budget from our last biennium.”

Taylor is optimistic that a stronger economy in the state will prevent the budget shortfall and resulting issues from last session, but he also said there will be several topics of debate in the session.

“Our economy is doing better than it was, but we are still facing a lot of challenges,” he said. “There are a lot of hard decisions ahead.”

Sen. Larry Taylor

Taylor said his second priority after creating a balanced budget is education reform.

“We are in the process of transforming our educational system for the 21st century,” he said.

Among the changes he hopes to see are increased use of technology and more focus on career training.

“We should be reaching out to people with different talents and gifts,” he said. “Not everyone needs to attend a four-year university. We have people gifted with their hands, and we need to reach out to them and help them get good jobs.”

Thompson also wants schools to offer students more career training options.

“Only about 30 percent of jobs in the U.S. require a four-year degree,” he said. “I think we need to allow them to pursue certifications and technical degrees that will allow them to get a job when they finish high school.”

While funding for education remains a hot topic, Thompson believes the issue cannot be fully examined until the court makes a final ruling on multiple lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the state’s school finance system.

“I think the Legislature will probably take a wait-and-see position pending the decisions on the lawsuits in the courts,” he said.

Superintendent John Kelly from Pearland Independent School District and Superintendent Fred Brent of Alvin Independent School District also expect the Legislature to delay decisions until the court case is resolved.

The Pearland district has joined one of the lawsuits.

“I would be the most surprised person in the state if the system is not declared unconstitutional,” Kelly said.

Kelly has worked in education for the past 30 years and said over that time, state regulations have increased, while funding has decreased – a challenging combination.

“If people are going to keep passing laws that increase the burden on school districts, they need to provide the funding,” he said. “If they don’t have the funding, they need to reduce the regulatory burden.”

Kelly hopes to also see a reduction in the amount of required testing, particularly the end-of-course exams. He recommends reducing the average number from 15 to around five.

“These 15 tests are in addition to the PSAT, SAT, ACT, AP and dual-credit tests the students are taking,” Kelly said. “It’s not like we don’t have enough tests.”

Kelly believes legislators are aware of the problem. “I think there’s a strong push to address this,” he said. “I think there’s momentum in that direction. The Legislature has heard from so many parents and school districts. They have to listen to that.”

Brent said, “Indicators show that state revenue is increasing, however, not at the rate of population growth and increasing student enrollment.

“The state needs to account for the increased student population growth and look for opportunities to help schools, and fast-growth districts, address the changing facility needs and instructional dynamics that come along with increasing student enrollment.”

Brent hopes the Legislature will make education funding a priority. “I do believe there will be opportunities to put money back into the school funding system that was pulled out, denied or supplanted with federal funds during the previous biennium,” he added.

In previous sessions, state dollars were replaced with federal funds, Brent noted. “However, the federal funds have ceased and it is critical that this funding is restored from the state level,” he said.

It’s encouraging to hear Thompson talk about growing the budget. We’ll see what that means in practice, but it sure beats talk about artificially restricting the budget for ideological purposes. As for education, it’s unfortunate that neither Thompson nor Taylor had anything substantive to say. At this point, talking about technology and vocational training is practically a shibboleth. Everyone agrees these are Good Things – as do, I, sincerely – and as far as I can tell there’s no actual opposition to these points. That doesn’t mean that there will necessarily be legislation addressing those issues, nor does it mean there won’t be a debate over how much to spend on tech and vocational training versus other things, but at the end of the day no one is lobbying against them. Hearing that Thompson and Taylor support them tells us nothing.

What we do need to know boils down to two things. How much of the $5.4 billion that was cut from public education last session do you want to see restored, and what do you think about Sen. Patrick’s so-called “school choice” proposal? I will stipulate that the Lege is certain to wait and see what the courts do with the ongoing school finance litigation, and that Sen. Patrick’s proposals are not fully formed yet, and as such I’ll be tolerant of a certain amount of hedging and “wait and see”-ing. But this is where the rubber meets the road, and I want to know what everyone’s general philosophies are, and what they hope to attain or to prevent. Moreover, Thompson is a Parent PAC candidate. The Texas Parent PAC was founded in part to oppose vouchers, and one of their guiding principles is to “ensure that local and state taxes collected to fund preK-12th grade education are used only to fund Texas public schools”. That’s a pretty clear statement. How does Rep. Thompson evaluate Sen. Patrick’s proposal in light of that? It’s important that we know.

A second article about one of the new legislators from Fort Bend does at least partially address these questions.

Rep. Phil Stephenson

For state Rep. Phil Stephenson, freshman Republican for the new District 85, encompassing Rosenberg and Needville, parts of Fort Bend County and Wharton and Jackson counties, education, transportation infrastructure and water are major concerns for him and his constituents.

While public safety, fiscal discipline, economic development and children’s health and education are priorities for seasoned state Sen. Joan Huffman, a Republican representing Senate District 17, comprising Brazoria, Fort Bend and Harris counties.

Having been a trustee on the board of Wharton County Junior College for 16 years until Stephenson took state office, fixing public education from kindergarten through 12th grade is essential.

“We’ve got to do a better job of K-12 education,” he said. “We have to have a properly educated work force.”

He wants to cut the amount of testing under the State of Texas Assessments for Academic Readiness, put more teachers in classrooms, pay them more and bring in more programs for higher education.

A certified public accountant, Stephenson supports restoring some funding to education but not all the $5.3 billion that was cut in the last session. Rather than raise taxes, he said lawmakers must look at areas to cut funding, such as the Texas Education Agency, to spread the money around.

That doesn’t tell us much – how much funding would Rep. Stephenson want to restore, and how would he pay for it? His actual suggestion sounds like funny accounting to me – but it tells us more than the other story did. Favoring any kind of restoration is good to hear, because not everyone favors that.

Finally, this story gives the school district perspective top billing.

Officials from the Cy-Fair Independent School District are hopeful that the new session will result in more funding for education.

“It’s going to be an interesting session, and I think there will be a lot of focus on education,” said Teresa Hull, associate superintendent, governmental relations and communications for CFISD.

Hull believes that state legislators are receptive to the concerns of educators.

“There’s a lot of support across the state from the school districts and the legislators,” she said. “We’re feeling very optimistic about some positive outcomes.”

Hull said the district has several priorities going into the session.

Adopting a school finance system that is adequately funded and equitable is at the top of the district’s wish list – which would include restoring the previous biennium’s funding cuts.

Hull acknowledged, however, that the Legislature may not be able to move forward on the issue until the court makes a final ruling on multiple lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the state’s school finance system.

[…]

Hull said that while the state might put education finance on the back burner, there are other school-related areas that can be addressed.

“The ones I think we’re going to see get the most attention right off the bat will be accountability and testing,” she said.

The district would like to see a reduction in the amount of high-stakes testing, as well as the elimination of the requirement that an end-of-course exam count for 15 percent of a student’s final grade.

Hull said CFISD also wants districts to have more flexibility to manage classroom personnel based on individual school and student needs.

“Let us decide how we want to allocate money into those programs instead of dictating how much and where it will go,” she said.

Hull also hopes to gain more local control for the districts.

This would include the elimination of a standard school start date.

She said that the district plans to oppose legislation that would divert funding from public education, such as voucher programs.

Instead, she prefers policies that expand on public school choice programs that already exist.

“It’s not that we’re opposed to choice,” she said. “But the idea of public funds going to private and parochial schools is concerning. It diverts public funds from public education.”

Cy-Fair is of course in SD07, home of “school choice” bill author Sen. Patrick, whom Hull praises as a “good listener”. We’ll see about that. The story does also include quotes from a legislator:

District 132 State Rep. Bill Callegari, R-Houston, said several educators have communicated concerns about the high number of tests required for students to graduate.

“They have to take 15 or more tests to graduate from high school. A lot of people feel that’s just too much emphasis on testing,” he said. “I’ve talked to teachers, parents and superintendents, and they just think it’s overdone.”

Callegari would also like to see more emphasis on career and technical training.

“These are not menial jobs – they are very important jobs,” he said. “We need to bring a stronger advocacy for career and technical training, making sure we provide the opportunity to get training and not precluding anyone from going to college.”

Again with vocational training, which is to say nothing much, plus some concerns about testing, which is both good and the continuation of a theme. But nothing about restoring funds or vouchers. These are the questions we need answered, and if you see any story in which a legislator is quoted on matters relating to education but these questions aren’t addressed, the article is incomplete. We need to know, and we need to know now before the debating and voting begin.

30 Day finance reports, other state races

To complete my tour of the 30 day finance reports, here are the 30 day finance reports from Democratic legislative primaries around the state.

Dist Candidate Raised Spent Loans Cash ========================================================== 035 Gus Ruiz 11,047 27,858 25,000 2,067 035 Joseph Campos 18,620 4,338 0 0 035 Oscar Longoria 34,421 47,823 61,000 42,704 040 TC Betancourt 6,015 8,857 0 0 040 Gus Hernandez 30,714 41,857 1,212 1,301 040 Robert Pena 6,750 26,425 30,000 10,148 040 Terry Canales 4,000 43,661 0 0 074 Poncho Nevarez 22,977 15,470 12,200 2,062 074 Efrain Valdez 074 Robert Garza 400 17,296 0 0 075 Mary Gonzalez 56,725 27,517 0 26,571 075 Hector Enriquez 8,925 19,927 0 19,927 075 Tony San Ramon 3,650 2,078 1,000 92 077 Marisa Marquez 77,921 51,394 0 44,051 077 Aaron Barraza 35,607 24,983 0 8,814 090 Lon Burnam 88,523 67,827 0 68,372 090 Carlos Vasquez 16,382 9,647 0 10,955 095 Dulani Masimini 1,990 2,356 0 0 095 Nicole Collier 27,486 9,701 242 17,660 101 Paula Pierson 27,935 50,666 16,000 39,860 101 Chris Turner 65,398 58,155 0 60,395 101 Vickie Barnett 0 6,645 0 6,645 107 Don Parish 107 Richie Butler 107 Carol Kent 110 Toni Rose 55,328 14,929 0 3,578 110 Larry Taylor 9,820 7,561 0 2,456 110 Cedric Davis 6,010 7,470 0 968 117 Tina Torres 49,936 73,040 0 45,270 117 Philip Cortez 31,985 31,700 0 19,474 125 Delicia Herrera 15,580 13,905 0 1,786 125 Justin Rodriguez 40,970 33,419 0 65,832

Efrain Valdez has a report that’s been filed but not posted. Carol Kent and Richie Butler only have January reports that I can see, while Don Parish has none. If I show a zero in the cash on hand column, it’s because that was either listed as zero or left blank by the campaign. In some cases, such as Terry Canales, it’s because the candidate mostly spent personal funds. In the case of Toni Rose, her cash on hand totals is as small as it is given her amounts raised and spent because most of her contributions are in kind from Annie’s List – basically, they paid most of her campaign expenses for this period.

Of the 12 races here, eight are for open seats: HDs 35 (GOPer Jose Aliseda was drawn into HD43 and chose to run for a local office instead); 40 (Aaron Pena, and good riddance); 74 (Pete Gallego); 75 (Chente Quintanilla); 95 (Marc Veasey); 101 (new district in Tarrant County); 110 (Barbara Mallory Caraway); and 125 (Joaquin Castro). Quintanilla is running for El Paso County Commissioner, the other Democrats are running for Congress. HDs 77 and 90 are challenges to incumbent Dems, and HDs 107 (Kenneth Sheets) and 117 (John Garza) are Republican-held seats.

Annie’s List is a prominent player in these races – they are backing Mary Gonzalez, Nicole Collier, Paula Hightower Pierson, Toni Rose, Carol Kent, and Tina Torres. Justin Rodriguez is endorsed by Texas Parent PAC and also by the AFL-CIO, as are Phillip Cortez, Collier, Lon Burnam, Terry Canales, Oscar Longoria, and two candidates in HD74, Robert Garza and Poncho Nevarez.

I can’t say I’ve followed these races closely, but the Trib has had some coverage of the contests in HD75, HD77, and HD101. For the El Paso race, the Lion Star Blog has been an invaluable resource; I wish there were something like that for San Antonio and Dallas/Fort Worth. BOR had a nice overview of the legislative races last week. The one other tidbit I’ll pass along is this DMN endorsement of HD110 candidate Larry Taylor, which contained this head-scratcher:

[Taylor] acknowledges that he voted for the GOP in the 2008 primary, which created a ruckus when aired during a recent candidate forum. Taylor noted that this was a somewhat popular choice for Democrats in 2008. He voted Democratic in the general election and he assures us that this is indeed where his political heart lies. A key party leader agrees.

I’m more tolerant than some of Dem candidates with GOP primary histories, but I’m hard pressed to think of a reason why any Dem would have voted in the GOP primary in 2008, of all years. The common “I had a friend in a judicial primary” trope is not on exhibit here, and it would have been somewhat ridiculous in Dallas County, where Dems have dominated the last three countywide elections. I have no idea why Taylor would claim that was a “somewhat popular choice for Democrats” in 2008; 2.8 million Democratic primary voters would demur. I don’t know Mr. Taylor and I don’t know how credible he sounds when he discusses this, all I know is that my jaw hit the table when I read that.

Anyway. That’s it for now with finance reports. Those of you who know more about these candidates than I do, please weigh in on them. Thanks!

Jackson to run for Congress, Anderson to primary Harris

State Sen. Mike Jackson makes official what had been speculated.

As expected, state Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, will run for Congress next year instead of for re-election to the Texas Senate.

He’ll be running in the newly created CD-36. Jackson, the Senate’s president pro tempore, has been in that body since 1999, and served in the Texas House for ten years before that. He’ll turn 58 this weekend.

Jackson’s main claim to fame is his valiant attempt to protect the right of manufacturing plants to pollute the city of Houston. Other than that, to the best of my recollection, he hasn’t done much; certainly, he’s done very little that was constructive. He’ll fit right in with the other Republicans in Washington. State Rep. Larry Taylor has announced his interest in Jackson’s seat. The names may change but that’s about it – there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the two. The new Senate map doesn’t make SD11 any more competitive than it was, so I would not expect much of a fight for this open seat next November.

Moving up north, there’s a primary battle brewing for a different Senate seat.

Freshman state Rep. Rodney Anderson, R-Grand Prairie, plans to challenge state Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, in the March Republican primary, according to a source familiar with Anderson’s plans.

In this year’s state House redistricting, Anderson was drawn into a district that would have had him running in 2012 against fellow GOP Rep. Linda Harper Brown of Irving.

Anderson lives in Harris’ Senate district, and much of his current House district is within that seat.

I guess he figured Harris was the easier target. SD09 was drawn to be about eight points more competitive than SD11, but that means Sam Houston lost it by ten in 2008 instead of 18. Still, the Democrats might have won that seat in 2008 had they run a real candidate, and if there are any changes made to Sen. Wendy Davis’ SD10 as a result of current litigation, there will be an effect in SD09 as well. Whether that would make it any more or less competitive, I couldn’t say. Nonetheless, this is a seat that really ought to be fought for, just as Davis fights to retain hers.

House passes texting while driving ban

Put that phone down and drive.

This is no LOL matter: Texting while driving could soon be prohibited statewide. The House preliminarily passed a bill [Thursday] that singles out “text-based communication” — texting, instant messaging or e-mailing — while driving as a punishable traffic offense. Using other applications, like GPS, Google or Facebook, on a smart phone would not be banned.

“Why is this being singled out when there are a multitude of things that distract us while driving?” asked Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, who voted against the bill. “I’m concerned about limiting freedom and making people criminals for just reading an electronic message.”

But Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, who authored the bill, told lawmakers the chances of someone having an accident while texting is 20 times that of a drunk driver. The majority of the House, 124 members, voted in favor of the bill; 16 members voted against it.

Current Texas law already prohibits drivers from using a mobile device in any capacity while driving in a school zone. Nor can teenage drivers under 18 text and drive. (Making an emergency call is an exception for both laws.) According to Craddick, texting is “just one more piece of the puzzle” that needs to be prohibited to keep roads safe.

Craddick’s bill is HB243, and it passed on third reading on Friday. The text specifies “a communication sent from a wireless communication device for the purpose of manually communicating with another person in a written medium”, which basically means texts, emails, and instant messages; whether you could get ticketed for a tweet or a Facebook status update or some other typing is unclear to me. Note Larry Taylor’s amendment, which narrows it to writing, not reading, and Marc Veasey’s amendment that adds in “The term does not include a text-based communication that is voice-activated and displayed in a manner that allows the driver to view the material on the dashboard or above the steering wheel.” In other words, there are still ways around this.

I have assumed for some time that Texas would eventually adopt a statewide ban, as many cities have adopted varying ordinances of their own. Among those that have already acted on this: West U, Bellaire, Galveston, Conroe, Seguin, and San Antonio. I have also assumed that the state would set a standard that would override local ordinances, but I don’t see anything in the bill that would specify that. So, even if this bill passes, be aware of those local variations.

The House finds a few extra bucks

Where has this been all along?

State Rep. Rob Orr, R-Burleson, introduced two bills to the House Appropriations Committee that could add several million dollars to the public schools budget over the next two years.

HB 2646 proposes allowing the School Land Board to transfer at least half of the net revenue it collects from a land trust it oversees to the Available School Fund (ASF), an endowment that puts money directly into public schools in Texas. Orr said that pot of money has risen to more than $2.5 billion in market value and contains more than $1 billion in cash. If that trend continues, the fund could supply the state with an additional $500 million in the next biennium.

“I think it’s irresponsible to have that much cash sitting around when our public schools need that money,” Orr said.

Getting this measure to pass requires companion legislation, so Orr is also sponsoring HJR 109, a constitutional amendment that would allow the General Land Office, which oversees land that belongs to the Permanent School Fund, to distribute revenue directly to the ASF. The resolution would be placed before voters during the Nov. 8 election.

I’m not terribly familiar with the details of these funds, but judging by the reaction to Orr’s bills, which range from “sounds OK to me” to “praise Jeebus!”, I welcome the legislation and hope there’s more where it came from.

There’s also this.

The House’s chief champion of giving poor, elderly and disabled Texans discounts on their utility bills is so frustrated, he wants to kill a surcharge funding the program and use all unspent money as a one-time fix for gaping holes in the state’s social services budget.

“The surcharge needs to be ended. You cannot redirect it … and be honest with the people who are paying,” Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, said Thursday.

Turner reacted coolly to Senate budget chief Steve Ogden’s suggestion earlier Thursday that the fee money could help pay for Texas’ Medicaid program, presumably on a continuing basis.

“Either you end it or you rename it and call it what it is — a utility tax,” said Turner, vice chairman of House Appropriations.

This is the System Benefit Fund, which is supposed to be used for the purpose of helping the needy pay their utility bills in the summertime but which never gets appropriated for it; the sizable balance of the fund is used to certify the budget. That would be one of the usual accounting tricks the Lege is known for. I too would prefer to see the SBF used for its intended purpose, but if that isn’t going to happen, and history strongly suggests it won’t be, then putting it to use elsewhere is far better than pretending it’s general revenue so it can help balance the budget.

On a more general note, Burka examines the role that House GOP Caucus Chair Larry Taylor may play in determining how far the House will go with ideas for extra revenue. None of this stuff will matter if the slash and burn crowd decides that it’s not really about “living within our means” but about cuts for the sake of cuts.

What’s happening in the House

The House will be debating the budget well into the night, and very likely into tomorrow, if not Sunday. If you want an in-depth analysis of what’s being discussed and what the effect of each line item will be, you can’t beat Legislative Study Group’s floor report on HB1. If you want to get a gut-level feel for what the politics of this will be, check out this excellent use of the passive voice by House Republican Caucus Chair Larry Taylor.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Larry Taylor of Friendswood says Texans should understand that the House’s GOP supermajority is simply being prudent — not callous — by cutting spending and avoiding higher taxes.

“It may be a form of tough love,” Taylor said Friday morning, on the eve of floor debate of a two-year budget that cuts spending by nearly $23 billion.

“It’s easy for our Democratic colleagues to want to spend money we don’t have and to support taxes we can’t afford,” he said. “But we know the short term, feel good, share the wealth approaches to solving our problems by the Democrats are a recipe for disaster.”

[…]

“There will be numerous attempts to portray Republicans as heartless, without compassion and cruel,” he said, predicting the tenor of Friday’s debate. “But the reality is we had the courage and conviction to tell the taxpayers the truth. … This is the hand that we’ve been dealt.

Emphasis mine. Of course, the Republicans have been in complete control of Texas’ government for the past eight years, so one wonders who Taylor thinks the dealer of that hand is. The economy had something to do with it, to be sure, but if cutting public education and Medicaid and what have you is such a dandy idea, why didn’t we do it before now? Who do you think is going to want to talk about this more in 2012, the Democrats or the Republicans? Rep. Mike Villarreal, who’s been very strong on messaging throughout this debate, EoW, and Back to Basics have more

The next step for voter ID

Very likely, the courthouse.

While the Democrats have little chance of stopping the bill from getting the votes to pass, this particular piece of legislation may very well be tied up in lawsuits for years. And today, Democrats can lay some of the groundwork for those future cases.

As I wrote when the Senate passed this piece of legislation, this particular voter ID bill would be the most stringent in the nation—more stringent, even, than the Indiana bill that it’s based on. Currently, it only allows five forms of photo identification and only exempts people over 70. The Indiana law allows student IDs from state universities to count—our version doesn’t. And while the Indiana version gives folks missing suitable ID ten days after they voted to bring it in, the Texas version only gives voters six days. Many worry the bill would suppress voter turnout, particularly among the poor and black and Latino voters. In fact, the legislation is so dramatic that after it passed the Senate, I called Wendy Weiser, the director of Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. In addition to having one of the better titles I’ve heard, Weiser is an expert on voting rights.

Weiser said Texas was going to have a tough time implementing the law—despite the widespread legislative support. That’s because our fine state is one of seven singled out in the Voting Rights Act Section 5. Thanks to our history of discriminatory election law—poll taxes, literacy tests, etc. the Voting Rights Act requires that we get the okay from the Department of Justice or the courts before implementing certain changes to our election law, a process known as “preclearance.”

Because of its stringency, this bill will undoubtedly get a close look—and Weiser said that the legislative debate around the bill can play a role in determining whether or not it violatese the Voting Rights Act. For instance, if the Legislature rejects amendments that would make it easier for certain groups to obtain IDs, that could send up red flags for the Department of Justice. The legislative debate, Weiser said, “is relevant the extent to which the state takes proactive efforts to make sure that law is not excluding groups.”

This would be why GOP Caucus Chair Larry Taylor wanted Democrats to keep quiet and allow the bill to pass as it inevitably would without any fuss. This would also be why it’s never a good idea to take advice from your political counterparts. Fortunately, the Democrats are smart enough to recognize this for what it is, and in the end they stalled the House vote for at least a day via a point of order. That sent the bill back to the Calendars committee, where this issue was fixed and the bill voted out again, so the process can repeat itself as early as Wednesday. This would also be why Governor Perry declared voter ID and all those other silly, pointless things “emergency” items: It put them at the front of the calendar, which leaves sufficient time to correct errors like this one, which was about “days” versus “business days”. Later on in the session, what kills these bills isn’t necessarily the point of order but the lack of time to go through committee again.

Anyway. Greg does his usual bang-up job of liveblogging, which you need to read to understand just how ridiculous this exercise is. Stace, Eileen, Texas Politics, TrailBlazers, and Postcards have more.

Larry Taylor’s conflict of interest

KHOU takes a look at State Rep. Larry Taylor.

In four years, the co-chairman of oversight of a state insurance agency made more than $300,000 off the company he is supposed to oversee on behalf of consumers in Texas.

State Rep. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), a veteran member of the House Insurance Committee and the co-chair of a subcommittee that oversees Texas Windstorm, is also an insurance salesman who receives commissions for selling insurance policies from the company. Windstorm is the state’s insurer of last resort.

“It raises the specter of a conflict of interest,” said Dave Levinthal, of the non-partisan Center For Responsive Politics in Washington D.C. “It strikes to the question as to whether he’s putting on his insurance agent hat or his public official hat.”

It’s a long story – must have been at least three minutes of air time – and it doesn’t make Taylor look especially good. The argument he has with TWIA over whether or not they accept new insurance applications via email is bizarre. Check it out and see what you think. Coby and Back to Basics have more.

Travis County DA to investigate Double Dip Driver

The Republican wave helped him survive re-election this year, but State Rep. Joe Driver’s troubles aren’t over just yet.

Assistant District Attorney Gregg Cox, head of the public integrity unit, which oversees official corruption cases, said Tuesday that prosecutors had begun reviewing the travel practices of Rep. Joe Driver before the November elections. Now that the elections are over, that review has turned into an active criminal investigation, Cox said.

“We were presented a complaint that appeared to be sufficient to require additional investigation to determine whether or not the law was violated,” Cox said. “Now that the election has passed, the review, and the investigation, is taking place.”

Driver, a Garland Republican who was re-elected to his 10th two-year term, has acknowledged that for years he collected reimbursements from taxpayers for travel he already had paid for using donated campaign money. He paid for luxury hotels, airline tickets, meals and conference registration fees with campaign funds and then submitted receipts for those same expenses to the state.

Driver said he didn’t know he was doing anything wrong, but he reimbursed his campaign $49,426 after the AP revealed the double dipping.

It’s a pretty high bar to clear to be worthy of an indictment, but if Driver really was dumb enough to think what he was doing wasn’t wrong, the odds are good he did something dumb enough to get nailed for. And he may have company in the dock, thanks to similar transgressions committed by House GOP Caucus Chair Larry Taylor.

Because lawmakers are not required to disclose travel expense reimbursements, Taylor acknowledged his handling of expenses could look bad. He said he always repays his campaign account after the state reimbursement arrives, and he produced bank statements to back up his claim.

An ethics watchdog, however, filed a complaint against Taylor with the Travis County district attorney last week, questioning the lawmaker’s online bank statements.

According to the complaint filed by Dave Palmer, a California-based ethics watchdog, Taylor has used his campaign/officeholder account to pay for $31,952 worth of travel expenses, including 90 airfares, 12 hotel bills, 5 conference registration fees and a car rental – all of which Taylor also billed to the state. The Houston Chronicle independently verified more than 80 of the airfares that showed up on both Taylor’s campaign expense account and in state vouchers for reimbursement since 2005.

Don’t be surprised if there are others like Driver and Taylor out there, too. Greg has more.

Dunnam wants Lege to study gambling now

State Rep. Jim Dunnam, the Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, noting that Speaker Joe Straus has maintained his pledge to stay out of processes that involve gambling-related legislation because of possible conflicts on interest, sent a letter to three of his counterparts suggesting that they take action and form a working committee now to do some study on the issue, as it will surely arise again in the next session.

In the 81st session, an overwhelming and bipartisan majority of the House voted to give this issue the serious consideration it deserves. HCR 220, by Kuempel, among other things called on “the lieutenant governor and speaker of the house of representatives to create a joint interim committee to study the gaming industry in Texas and its potential direct and indirect economic impact on specific markets and on the state as a whole…” This measure passed the House on a 98-36 vote, then died in the Senate for lack of time. The will of the House is clearly for this issue to be studied, and our constituents are owed more than us just waiting for the inevitable issue to arise in January 2011 with no prior comprehensive study of the issue.

Therefore, I am asking that you join with me in establishing a bi-partisan ad hoc committee to fully explore all aspects of any and all gaming proposals that might be before the Texas House during the upcoming 82nd Legislative Session.

You can read the letter, which he sent to House of Representatives Republican Caucus Chair Larry Taylor, Legislative Study Group Chair Garnet Coleman, and Texas Conservative Coalition President Wayne Christian and cc’ed to the rest of the House here. You know how conflicted I am about expanded gambling in Texas, but I certainly agree that it will be a big issue next spring, and as such it is the right idea to start the official discussion of it now. The fact that it won’t have any impact on the budget for this biennium doesn’t matter. I strongly suspect legislation allowing for expanded gambling will be broadly popular, and since such things tend to come from crisis times, I’ll be shocked if there isn’t something to vote on next November. So let the conversation begin and we’ll see what happens. Stace and the Trib have more.

Open beaches

Got the following email from a colleague and thought it was worth mentioning:

Very late Sunday night a “deal” was made in the Texas legislature to make an exemption in the Texas Open Beaches Act – the law that guarantees public access to our beaches.

Rep. Wayne Christian of Center, Texas use to have a beach house on Bolivar. Hurricane Ike destroyed it. I feel badly for him and the thousands of others who lost property. But state law prohibits construction of houses on the public beach. Why? Because its the PUBLIC BEACH, not private beach.

Anyway Rep. Christian wants to build a new house on what is now PUBLIC BEACH, and he snuck a law through that exempts front-row owners in Bolivar to build new houses on our beach. That is bad public policy. Beaches are like public parks, you can live near them but not in them.

Right now, please phone Gov. Perry and respectfully ask him to “veto HB770, building houses directly on the public beach will cost us billions of dollars in the next storm”.

512-463-2000

Rep. Christian was on the conference committee for HB770, which is (I presume) where this amendment was added. The Galveston News had a story about HB770 on Monday.

House Bill 770 started as a bill to allow homeowners whose houses were destroyed by a hurricane to maintain their homestead exemptions — even if a final decision on whether to rebuild hadn’t been made.

But the law also appears to have exempted houses along the Bolivar Peninsula from the requirements of the Texas Open Beaches Act for four years.

Under existing law, buildings must be behind the line of naturally occurring vegetation.

The bill would exempt from state open beaches laws a house “located on a peninsula in a county with a population of more than 250,000 and less than 251,000 that borders the Gulf of Mexico.” Only one area in the state meets that description — the Bolivar Peninsula.

The bill, which was co-authored by Galveston County’s state representatives, Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, and Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, won unanimous approval in the state House and easily earned passage in the Senate. One of Galveston County’s two state senators, Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, was the bill’s sponsor in the Senate.

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, whose agency is responsible for managing the open beaches laws in Texas, blasted the law.

“I don’t think building houses on the beach, with the waters of the Gulf beneath them, is a good idea or good public policy,” Patterson said. “This bill is so poorly drafted that will happen.”

Here’s the bill text. I agree with Commissioner Patterson on this, and think a veto is not a bad idea. And according to today’s Chron, he plans on sticking to his guns.

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson has asked Gov. Rick Perry to veto the bill containing the amendment. The bill has not yet crossed the governor’s desk, and he will not make a decision until he sees it, said Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger.

“I don’t think building houses on the beach, with the waters of the Gulf beneath them, is a good idea or good public policy,” Patterson said.

If the governor signs the bill, Patterson vowed that he would not enforce the amendment. “My option is just to say, ‘Screw you, Wayne Christian,’ because the Legislature didn’t pass this, one guy passed this,” he said.

Patterson said the Legislature would have to impeach him if lawmakers wanted the provision enforced.

That would be going too far – filing a lawsuit strikes me as the better way to stop enforcement of that law – but at least we know where he stands. Christian, for his part, says this wasn’t about him:

Christian said his vote for the amendment benefited other peninsula property owners and therefore was not a breach of ethics. “If I were to pass a law that affected only Wayne Christian, that would be a conflict,” he said.

At least 12 of his neighbors want to rebuild but can’t without the amendment, Christian said.

The amendment will keep property on the tax rolls that otherwise would be taken off if left undeveloped, Christian said. He also insisted the amendment is “not mine,” because it was put forward by Rep. Mike “Tuffy” Hamilton, R-Mauriceville.

“I did sign with him because I approved the concept,” Christian said. The amendment targeted the Bolivar Peninsula because it bore the brunt of the storm, he said.

He denied that it was improper to add the amendment to a bill so close to the end of the session. “This is not an unethical, deceptive method of doing anything,” Christian said. “This is the way it’s been ever since government was invented.”

Well, that much is certainly true. As has also been the case since government was invented, sometimes these last-minute deals contain unpalatable provisions. And so here we are.

You’ll be hearing more about the Open Beaches Act this November, as the passage of HJR102 means there will be an amendment voted on to make the Open Beaches act part of the Constitution instead of an ordinary law that could be changed by a majority vote in the Lege. The above-linked story, and this Chron story from last week have more info about that.

The push to protect public access comes in the wake of lawsuits challenging what is public and what is private along the 367 miles of mostly wild Texas coastline.

The Open Beaches Act prohibits houses seaward of the vegetation line, which crawls steadily landward as the beaches erode.

While trophy houses, subdivisions and hotels have sprouted along the Gulf of Mexico, rising seas, sinking land and storms have led to the rapid erosion of Texas coastline. By some estimates, as much as 10 feet of beach front washes away each year.

As the sandy shore shifts over decades, a barrier island, such as Galveston, may look the same, but it will be farther landward. Houses that once stood hundreds of feet from the surf will be encroaching on the Gulf.

In some cases, the Texas General Land Office, which is responsible for the coastline, has sued to remove houses from the beach.
Jerry Patterson, the state’s land commissioner, suggested that the proposed amendment wouldn’t change anything along the coast.

“We work every day at the Texas General Land Office to ensure the public’s right to access the beach,” he said.

Property owners contend that the existing state law tramples on their rights and that a constitutional amendment would make matters worse, according to the House’s analysis of the pros and cons of the bill.

J. David Breemer, a Pacific Legal Foundation attorney who is challenging the land office’s enforcement of the Open Beaches Act, said he doesn’t believe a constitutional amendment would insulate the state from lawsuits.

“The issue is how the law is used, not the intent,” Breemer said. “The easement keeps rolling over land that the public hasn’t ever walked and development has already happened.”

Still, beachgoers and environmentalists expressed enthusiasm over the proposed amendment, which cleared the state House on a 140-1 vote and the Senate on a 29-2 vote.

Ken Kramer, director of the Sierra Club’s Lone Star chapter, said the environmental group would campaign in favor of the ballot measure.

“It’s a great issue to elevate people’s awareness of coastal protection,” he said.

This KHOU story has more on that lawsuit. I’ll be voting for this proposition, and I look forward to seeing how the Supreme Court deals with it when that lawsuit, which has been sent its way by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, comes before it.

UPDATE: Land Commish Jerry Patterson keeps pushing this, with a press conference tomorrow in Galveston. From his release:

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson will hold a press conference at 10:30 a.m. Friday on the beach in Galveston to rally Texans to demand Governor Perry kill a proposed law that would exempt the Bolivar Peninsula from the Texas Open Beaches Act.

The press conference will be on the beach in the Pirates Beach subdivision in Galveston, just seaward of the 4200 block of Ghost Crab Lane.

“Call Governor Perry now and let him know you want to keep Texas beaches for the enjoyment of the public,” Patterson said. “An eleventh hour amendment to HB770 would allow an elite few to rebuild their houses on the public beach or even in the surf. That’s not just a bad idea, that’s bad public policy.”

Patterson urged Texans who love the beach to call Governor Perry’s office at (512) 463-2000 and ask him to veto HB770.

The amendment was covertly slipped into the bill without any public debate on the first day of the 2009 hurricane season, which was the last day of the 81st Legislature.

“As Gulf Coast residents were thinking about the next storm, a few lawmakers were actually sneaking an amendment on to a bill that would allow their neighbors to rebuild their houses on the public beach or even in the surf zone of the area hardest hit by Hurricane Ike,” Patterson said. “That’s just unthinkable.”

Far as I know, there’s been no public comment from Governor Perry yet. He probably won’t say anything until he takes action on the bill, but it’s possible he could telegraph his intent.

House approves windstorm insurance bill

The one known threat of a special session has just been dramatically reduced.

House members today approved the conference committee report shoring up a fund supporting hail and windstorm insurance coverage for coastal property-owners.

Assuming the Senate similarly OK’s the legislation, it’ll go to Gov. Rick Perry, whose threat to call a summer special session if lawmakers didn’t address the windstorm topic helped kick-start negotiations about 10 days ago.

Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, said a moment ago he expects Senate approval tonight. Referring to previous efforts to amend the windstorm law, Fraser said: “This represents six years of work, so we’re excited.”

Details are in the Postcards entry. According to TrailBlazers, the vote was 147-0 in favor, so one hopes that this will carry forward and get signed. Doesn’t mean there can’t or won’t be a special session, but it does mean the one issue that Governor Perry explicitly said could trigger one will be resolved. That’s all one can hope for at this time.