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Lois Kolkhorst

Special election coming in HD13

We have an opening act for November.

Rep. Leighton Schubert

State Rep. Leighton Schubert, who previously said he wouldn’t seek re-election this year, has decided to resign early to take a job at a local junior college.

The Caldwell Republican will step down Feb. 4 and go to work for Blinn College in Brenham, according to Richard Bray, a spokesman for Blinn. Bray said Schubert, who was first elected to the House in 2015, will work in the college’s legal affairs office, handling both legal and governmental matters.

Schubert confirmed the news in a release.

“Serving the people of District 13 over the past two terms has been a great honor,” he said. “As a fifth-generation resident of this district on both sides of my family, one of my main goals as state representative was to help make our area an even better place to live, work, and raise a family.”

[…]

Schubert surprised many when he announced late last year he would not run for another term, citing the need to focus on his family. Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, had already endorsed him for re-election.

Five Republicans and one Democrat had signed up to run to replace him in the 2018 election. Now, a special election will be called for sometime this spring to fill out the remainder of Schubert’s term. But that election will be entirely separate from the regularly planned March 6 primary.

I must have missed the announcement that he was not running again. Schubert won a special election to succeed former-Rep.-now-Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, who won a special election herself to earn the seat formerly held by now-Comptroller Glenn Hegar. I suppose there’s a certain poetry in him requiring a special election to fill out his term, though the stakes are much lower in this case because of the timing. The winner will just get to serve till the end of the year, so unless that person is also the November winner that’s all he or she will get. You can find the November hopefuls via the SOS filings page; filter on both parties and Washington County. I figure most if not all of the primary candidates will also run in the special, as a win in both races means a boost in seniority over all the other 2018 winners. I’ll check back after the election is called and the lineup is set.

Senate has a hearing on its sexual harassment policy

The babiest of baby steps.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst

There has only been one official sexual harassment complaint in the Texas Senate since 2001, the secretary of the Senate said Thursday.

The Senate Administration Committee debated possible ways to revise current sexual harassment policy Thursday. The meeting comes a week after online publication The Daily Beast reported on multiple alleged instances of sexual misconduct by Sens. Borris Miles of Houston and Carlos Uresti of San Antonio, both Democrats.

The news outlet based its accounts on interviews and communications with an unnamed female political consultant, current and former legislative employees and current and former journalists. An unnamed Democratic state representative corroborated one of the women’s stories, it said.

After the report, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asked Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, the head of a Senate panel that handles internal matters, whether the chamber is doing all it should to shield lawmakers and Senate employees from lurid and “inappropriate behavior.”

Senators quizzed secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw and director of human resources Delicia Sams on what current policy dictates for people complaining of sexual harassment and people accused of sexual harassment.

Spaw confirmed that the single official sexual harassment complaint in the Senate she received did not involve a lawmaker. She also said she knows there have been instances where chiefs of staff deal with “inappropriate conduct” within a senator’s office.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, who is not a member of the Senate Administration Committee but attended Thursday’s hearing, expressed surprise at Spaw’s number. The Houston Democrat cited media reports that led her to believe sexual harassment was a bigger problem than official records may show.

“There’s got to be a flaw in our system if people feel more free to talk to the press than they do to us,” Garcia said. “And it has to be a process that’s open and that’s independent, and one that’s going to ensure fairness and accountability to anyone who’s accused no matter who they are.”

Senators who are accused of sexual harassment will be dealt with according to the severity of their actions, Sams explained. For instance, if a senator made an inappropriate comment, the secretary of the Senate would talk to him or her about it. If the offense was worse, the secretary would then take the complaint to the Senate Administration Committee and lieutenant governor to how to proceed.

While the recent reporting about rampant sexual harassment at the Capitol came up, no one was mentioned by name. The Chron adds on.

During Thursday’s hearing, lawmakers learned that while the Senate offers sexual harassment prevention training once every two years, not all Senators and their staffs get the training. It is mandatory training for the staff of the secretary of the Senate and for the lieutenant governor’s office. But individual senators and their staffs do not have to attend the training.

Also, lawmakers got assurances from the Secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw that there is no secret fund to pay out sexual harassment claims in Texas as was the case in Congress. In addition, she said that as far as she knew, there have been no payments made to settle sexual harassment claims since she became the Secretary of the Senate in 2001.

Spaw assured lawmakers that her office takes any issues on the topic with sincerity.

“I know I have always taken it seriously,” Spaw said.

After the hearing, Spaw said some individual Senate offices may have handled sexual harassment issues on their own but she did not provide details. She said the only formal complaint handled by her office was in 2001, but she refused make public details of that case. She only said people lost their jobs and it was an issue between staff members and didn’t involve elected senators.

One of the problems with the current system is that there is no accountability or reporting procedure for how individual Senate offices are handling sexual harassment issues, Garcia said.

“No one is tracking those numbers,” she said.

That seems like a pretty obvious place to begin. You can’t hope to fix something that you can’t measure. Of course, you have to have a reliable reporting system to get good data first. The House just updated its policies, so maybe that’s a place for the Senate to start.

And for now at least that may be all we’re going to get. No one is willing to talk about the specific people who have been named as a part of the problem just yet. I can think of a variety of possible explanations for that, but the one I’m settling on is that there isn’t enough pressure on anyone to talk in anything but generalities. Our attention is split a million ways – I mean, the national scene is dumpster fires everywhere you look – and partly because of that our state scandals tend to have a much harder time penetrating the consciousness. I don’t know what exactly it will take for this to become a higher profile issue. I just know that at some point, perhaps when we least expect it, it will become one. The Observer and the Current have more.

So now that names have been named, now what?

Maybe some hearings? I don’t know.

Texas leaders called for a review of sexual harassment policies at the state Legislature following a Texas Tribune story detailing how current procedures offered little protection for victims and describing a wide range of harassment at the Capitol. The Texas House approved changes to its policy last week. The Senate, where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has asked state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst to lead a review of the chamber’s policy, has yet to hold any public hearings on the matter.

“These are serious allegations that have been denied by the senators,” Patrick said in a statement responding to the calls for resignation Thursday, adding that he had asked Kolkhorst to “determine if there are additional steps we should take.”

“I know she has been meeting with senators and staffers over the past several weeks and I expect that she will post a hearing notice soon to be sure that we are doing all we can to make sure every staff member and every elected official is protected from sexual harassment and all other inappropriate behavior,” Patrick said.

Earlier today, state Sen. José Rodríguez, chairman of the chamber’s Democratic caucus, said the behavior alleged in the Daily Beast article is “unacceptable” in any situation, but especially so for an elected official.

“Any person in a position of power who engages in such deplorable conduct should be fired or removed,” he said in a statement before Annie’s List announced their call for resignation.

State Senator Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, said in a statement that she finds the recent stories in the media “very alarming.”

“It’s a sad state of affairs when people feel their only option is talking to the press,” she said.

Rodríguez and Garcia both called for independent investigations of sexual misconduct at the Capitol. The Texas Tribune previously reported that those in charge of investigating and resolving sexual harassment complaints have little to no authority over lawmakers. Garcia said she is also calling for a hotline to report abuse.

“As this discussion continues at both the national and state levels, I applaud those who have come forward and encourage more women to continue shedding light on the culture of many of our industries and institutions, including the legislature, so we can create a culture shift where these incidents can be fully investigated, and hopefully, prevented,” Rodríguez said.

See here for the background. Since this story was published, Sen. Kolkhorst has agreed to hold a public hearing, on December 14. Details are here. According to Equality Texas, testimony is by invitation only, but the hearing is open. What if anything will come out of this is unclear, but it’s something.

I want to add that since that Daily Beast story was published, two friends of mine have posted on Facebook about their experiences with Sen. Miles. One reported that Miles “grabbed me and kissed me on the mouth”, the other said “I was “hugged” so closely, for so long and so…ummm….thoroughly (??) that I joked with one of my colleagues upon recounting the incident that I might ought to take a pregnancy test”. I’m not naming them because I didn’t ask them if I could name them here, but as I said they’re both friends of mine. I have no doubt that there are plenty of others with similar stories. This isn’t going away, and no number of complaints about anonymous allegations or “powerful enemies” will change the fact that there are real women out there with real stories to tell. What are we going to do about that? You know what I think. We need to know what our leaders think.

The bathroom bill would affect disabled people, too

Yet another problem caused by this harmful “solution”.

As lawmakers this summer debate yet another controversial measure regulating bathroom use based on biological sex, disabled Texans say they — like many transgender men and women — believe the Legislature is further complicating something that’s already difficult to navigate.

On Tuesday, the Texas Senate advanced Senate Bill 3, which would restrict bathroom use in local government buildings and public schools based on the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate or DPS-issued ID, and gut parts of local nondiscrimination ordinances meant to allow transgender people to use public bathrooms of their choice.

The bill’s author, state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, argues her measure is meant to protect privacy in the bathroom and would dissuade sexual predators from taking advantage of trans-inclusive bathrooms policies.

But for many caretakers and disabled Texans, the issue goes much deeper. Rosanna Armendariz said she fears if a “bathroom bill” passes, people might think her [8-year-old autistic] son is breaking the law — even though the Senate’s version of the measure exempts people with disabilities.

“As my son gets older, someone might get upset and call the police if they see him in the women’s room,” she said. “It’s horrifying to think me or my disabled son could be subject to criminal prosecution just for using the toilet.”

In an effort to address this exact issue, state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, tacked an amendment on to Kolkhorst’s bill on Tuesday exempting disabled Texans from having to use the bathroom matching their biological sex.

Advocates for the disabled say it’s not enough: Not all disabilities are obvious, and even with Lucio’s amendment, they say, a person with a disability would be forced to prove they have one.

“When you look at the word ‘disability,’ it covers a very broad scope of people — from mental illness to physical disabilities to someone who might be in a wheelchair,” said Chase Bearden, director of advocacy and engagement for the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities. “You don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes.”

It should be noted that the version of SB3 that was introduced contained no exemptions for people with disabilities, not even the exemptions that had been in the bathroom bill that the Senate passed during the regular session. “Because of some of the signals we received from the governor’s office, we left [those exemptions] out” was how bill author Sen. Lois Kolkhorst described it. That’s some kid of compassion and empathy right there. The point here is that even with this exemption, the bill is still bad for people with disabilities because it further singles them out and increases the burden on them. It’s bad for a lot of people, in a lot of different ways. I keep thinking we’re going to run out of ways to say that, and then we keep finding new ones.

House takes a different direction on trees

Better than the Senate version, for sure.

The Texas House added a potential wrinkle to Gov. Greg Abbott’s special session agenda on Thursday, giving early approval to a bill that would allow property owners to plant new trees to offset municipal fees for tree removal on their land.

The initial 132-11 vote on House Bill 7, a compromise between builder groups and conservationists, is a replica of legislation from this spring’s regular legislative session that Abbott ultimately vetoed, saying the bill did not go far enough. His preference: barring cities altogether from regulating what residential homeowners do with trees on their property.

[…]

State Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont and the author of HB 7, said the bill was the result of months of negotiations between developers, conservationists and city officials. He said his bill and laws that go further to undercut local tree ordinances could coexist.

“This isn’t a Republican or Democrat bill, this isn’t a liberal or conservative bill, this is where people choose to live,” Phelan said at a Tuesday committee hearing. “They know it’s there when they decide to live there.”

See here and here for some background. I can’t see the Senate accepting this bill in place of the one it passed, a House version of which is in the House Urban Affairs Committee, whose Chair, Rep. Carol Alvarado, says there’s no need for it now that HB7 has been passed. The remaining options are a conference committee, in which we get to see which chamber caves to the other, and letting the matter drop. Good luck with that, Dan Patrick.

By the way, if you want to get a feel for how ridiculous that Senate bill and the whole idea of a glorious fight against socialistic tree ordinances are, here’s a little story to illustrate:

On Wednesday, during floor debate over SB 14, [bill author Sen. Bob] Hall answered a Democratic senator’s half-serious question about why he hated trees by saying, “I love trees … I also love liberty.” Hall has lived in Texas less than a decade and is perhaps best remembered as the guy who claimed that “Satan” had a “stranglehold” on his GOP opponent, former Senator Bob Deuell. In Hall’s statement of intent on SB 14, he played constitutional scholar, claiming that “private property rights are foundational to all other rights of a free people” and that “ownership gives an individual the right to enjoy and develop the property as they see fit.” Therefore, placing any restrictions on when a property owner can prune or remove a tree “thwarts the right to the use of the property.”

This absolutist formulation, which in casual speech is reduced to “I luv liberty,” would seem to disallow virtually any restrictions on what property owners can do to their property. What exception is possibly allowed here?

Well, plenty, if you’re a Republican who has very special trees in her district that must be protected from personal liberty. It was a minor moment on the floor on Wednesday, but it was a telling one: Senator Lois Kolkhorst, she of bathroom bill fame, got assurance from Hall that his bill wouldn’t touch Section 240.909 of the Texas Local Government Code, a statute that “applies only to a county with a population of 50,000 or less that borders the Gulf of Mexico and in which is located at least one state park and one national wildlife refuge.” That’s Lege-speak for Aransas County, whose beautiful and iconic windswept oak trees you may have seen if you’ve ever vacationed in Rockport.

In 2009, Representative Geanie Morrison and Kolkhorst’s predecessor, Glenn Hegar, passed a bill allowing the Aransas County Commissioners Court to “prohibit or restrict the clear-cutting of live oak trees in the unincorporated area of the county.” It seems some unscrupulous people were clear-cutting the oak trees, upsetting the locals, diminishing property values and harming the tourist economy. Something had to be done: Personal liberties were chainsawing the shared values of the community.

Hall assured Kolkhorst that his bill wouldn’t touch Aransas County, an apparent exception to Liberty’s purchase on the other 253 counties in the state that he didn’t bother to explain. But when Senator Jose Menendez, a San Antonio Democrat, asked if an exception could be made for San Antonio’s ordinance, which he said helps keep the air clean, Hall balked.

And thus, the important Constitutional principle of “my trees are better than yours” is upheld. God bless Texas, y’all.

Anticipating the future bathroom-related litigation

It will be a matter of when, not if, should a bathroom bill passes.

[B]oth sides agree if any version of the bathroom bill becomes law, it will likely trigger a protracted legal battle that could have implications for the transgender community in Texas and nationwide.

“If it does in fact pass, it will be a big test for civil rights organizations,” said Anthony Kreis, an assistant professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Chicago-Kent College of Law. “It will also be a huge, landmark case in the courts to test the scope and limits of transgender rights in this county.

Senate Bill 3 and Senate Bill 91, authored by Brenham Republican Lois Kolkhorst, are nearly identical. They would both require public and charter schools to ensure that every multiple-occupancy bathroom, shower and locker room “be designated for and used only by persons of the same sex as stated on a person’s birth certificate.”

A few schools in Texas allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity, according to Joy Baskin, legal director for the Texas Association of School Boards. But Kolkhorst’s bills would force trans girls, for example, who are born male but identify as female to use either a private, single-stall bathroom or the boys’ restroom.

School districts would also not be able to protect athletes from discrimination, unless they are already covered under state or federal law, such as Title IX. Courts in other parts of the country have ruled Title IX’s prohibitions on sex discrimination against female athletes also apply to transgender students. But there’s been no similar decision that applies here in Texas.

The University Interscholastic League, which regulates most high school sports, already segregates competition based on the sex listed on an athlete’s birth certificate. This year, it famously barred a transgender boy from wrestling other boys; he went on to win the girls state title.

[…]

Legal experts agreed that while the legislation won’t create a state-funded “potty police,” it will likely land Texas in the courtroom if it becomes law.

Dale Carpenter, a constitutional law professor at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law, questioned the legality of Kolkhorst’s bills as well as two pieces of legislation pending debate in the House.

The House bills, pushed by Carrollton Republican Ron Simmons, are far narrower and seek to shift the power over regulating bathroom from municipalities and schools to the state government.

But TASB’s Baskin says Simmons’ schools bill won’t require them to change their current policies because it would not force trans kids out of the multi-stall restrooms that match their gender identity. Simmons disagrees, but understands most schools are already only providing single-stall bathrooms for trans kids.

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has called the bathroom debate unnecessary and the legislation anti-business, but one of Simmons’ two bathroom bills already has more than 40 Republican co-sponsors in that chamber.

Carpenter said the Senate bills would be more susceptible to a legal challenge because they restrict rights based on biological sex and gender identity. The House bills don’t explicitly use these terms or limit bathroom use based on “birth certificate,” so they’d be tougher to fight in court, he said.

“The (Senate) bill, it seems to me, is directly aimed at preventing people from using restrooms associated with their gender identity,” Carpenter said. “But, no matter which of these laws passes, it will probably be challenged.”

Obviously, it would be best if it didn’t come to that, but best to be prepared for the worst. My assumption has been that there will be more than one lawsuit, as there will be multiple angles to attack this from. The fact themselves that the bills being considered seem to have a lot of loopholes and room for broad interpretation is also an invitation to litigate. Like so many other things the Lege and our Republican leaders have deemed to be top priorities, this will be tied up in the courts for years.

But first, there’s the hard work to try to stop these bills from becoming law, and a big part of that is the public testimony against them. One takeaway from the fight over HB2, the omnibus anti-abortion legislation that Wendy Davis filibustered and the Supreme Court eventually invalidated, was how much the public testimony contributed to the court case, by showing how indifferent and willfully ignorant the Republicans were to objective fact and contradictory evidence. I feel pretty confident the same sort of thing will happen here with the potty bills, if they make it to the finish line. There’s live coverage of the hearings in the Trib, and there’s plenty of activity going on outside and around the Capitol, as the Texas Association of Business runs anti-bathroom bill ads and the national Episcopal Church comes out against the bills. It’s never a bad idea to call your legislator and let them know how you feel, so make your voice heard. And remember, in the end, the one message every politician receives is losing an election. The Observer, BurkaBlog, the Current, the Rivard Report, and Texas Leftist have more.

UPDATE: In the end, SB3 passed out of committee, as expected. On to the floor of the Senate, then it’s up to the House.

Five anti-Texas Central bills approved by Senate committee

It just got real.

Five bills filed by state lawmakers fearful a high-speed rail project planned between Houston and Dallas will be a dud and need help from the state passed a key committee Wednesday, breezing their way past opposition from supporters of the line.

The bills approved Wednesday by the Senate Transportation Committee, three by state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, and one each by state Sens. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, and Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, address various concerns.

[…]

Schwertner said the efforts by skeptics are “simply about taxpayers and keeping them off the hook should a private high speed rail project fail.”

Supporters of the lines called them poison pills not just for Texas Central, but innovation in Texas.

“It sends a chilling message to business across the world and across the country that want to bet on Texas,” said Chris Lippincott, executive director of Texas Rail Advocates, a group supportive of the line. “These bills turn the Texas welcome mat into a do-not-enter sign.”

See here for the background. The Trib has specifics.

The five bills are among more than 20 pieces of legislation aimed at privately-operated high-speed rail in Texas that lawmakers have filed this session. All five also have House companions that have yet to be heard in that chamber’s committees.

[…]

Senate Bill 979 originally would have prevented any privately operated high-speed rail company from using eminent domain. But state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, removed that provision in a version of the bill presented Wednesday morning. The bill still requires a company that takes land under the “threat” of eminent domain for a high-speed rail project must return the land to the previous owners if the project isn’t eventually built.

The bill passed out of the committee unanimously.

Schwertner authored two of the other bills passed Wednesday. Senate Bill 977would forbid lawmakers from allocating any state funds to a privately operated high-speed rail project. It would also prohibit any state agencies from using state money on the planning, construction or operation of a bullet train line.

Schwertner’s wording on that provision of the bill is similar to a provision in the Senate’s proposed budget that he wrote. Texas Central called that budget wording a “job killer” that would create “vague and ambiguous questions” about its ability to coordinate and work with the Texas Department of Transportation, which is helping shepherd the project through the federal approval process.

But Schwertner on Wednesday presented a memo from TxDOT government affairs director Jerry Haddican. The letter said the state agency should still be able to answer questions from Texas Central, review and provide advice on the company’s plans and build state roads and highways that connect to development around high-speed rail stations under Schwertner’s budget rider.

Texas Central president Tim Keith said Wednesday that the memo “was received well” after he “quickly” reviewed a copy of it but the company did not formally change its position on Schwertner’s bill.

State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, cast the sole dissenting vote against that bill.

Kolkhorst’s Senate Bill 981 would require Texas Central’s line to allow for more than one type of train technology. Texas Central currently only plans to allow for one type of train on its tracks. It is partnering with Central Japan Railway, the company the developed the technology for the Shinkansen bullet trains that run throughout Japan, for the Texas line.

Kolkhorst said her bill is aimed at preventing a monopoly, especially if the line is expanded to other cities inside or outside of Texas.

“This allows a more comprehensive network to be developed and allows train operators to purchase trains from a variety of manufacturers,” Kolkhorst said.

Keith said the line will physically fit other types of trains. But its signaling and safety systems will only be built to accommodate the bullet trains.

“The Japanese system is designed that way to avoid crashes,” said Holly Reed, a company spokeswoman. “That’s part of the safety system.”

Garcia again cast the sole dissenting vote against Kolkhorst’s bill.

The transportation committee also unanimously passed out Senate Bill 975, which would require high-speed rail operators to reimburse law enforcement agencies for any officers’ time used. The committee also passed Senate Bill 980, which would prohibit any privately operated high-speed rail line from receiving state money or loans unless the state first puts a lien on the project or receives a security interest in it. Garcia also cast the sole dissenting vote on that bill.

The bills sound less onerous than when they were first introduced, but Texas Central still opposed them all and said when they were introduced that they considered them all a serious threat to their business. What I would be concerned about right now if I were Texas Central is that Sen. Garcia was the only No vote on any of these bills, even though the Senate Transportation Committee has three Democrats plus Metroplex-area Sen. Kelly Hancock. That’s the first concrete sign that the mostly rural antis have broadened their base of support. If you didn’t know anything about Texas Central, some of these bills would sound pretty reasonable, which may be why they all passed out of committee so easily. But I think it’s fair to say that whatever goals Texas Central had in lobbying against these bills, they didn’t do as well as they surely might have liked. From here on out, it’s crunch time for them.

North Carolina “repeals” HB2

It’s “repeal” in a mostly meaningless sense.

Late Wednesday night, for the second day in a row, North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore (R) and Senate leader Phil Berger (R) held a press conference announcing that they’d established yet another “compromise” to repeal HB2 with Gov. Roy Cooper (D). They are planning to force it through the legislature on Thursday. The “compromise” is not a clean repeal of the anti-transgender law, HB2. It would maintain much of the discriminatory aspects of the law its replacing.

The reason Republican lawmakers are rushing is that the NCAA reportedly set Thursday as a deadline for the state to repeal HB2 or risk losing the opportunity to host any championship games through 2022. This means that Thursday’s “compromise” effort is specifically geared toward making money off all those games, but if the NCAA’s concern was removing discrimination from the law, this effort doesn’t meet the standard.

Thursday’s “compromise” bill actually maintains many aspects of HB2. The law prohibited municipalities from establishing LGBT protections at the local level and mandated that in all public facilities, transgender people could only use facilities that match the sex on their birth certificate. The proposed “compromise” repeals HB2, but then immediately reinstates much of it:

  • Only the state legislature would be able to pass any legislation related to the use of multiple-occupancy bathrooms. Thus, no city or public school could assure trans people that they can use facilities that actually match their gender identity.
  • Municipalities would still be banned from passing any LGBT nondiscrimination protections until December 1, 2020.

Cooper agreed to the plan without consulting any LGBT groups. Cooper said he supports the “compromise,” explaining, “It’s not a perfect deal, but it repeals House Bill 2 and begins to repair our reputation.”

LGBT group’s anger over the “compromise” has been directed as much at the Democratic governor who promised to repeal HB2 as the Republicans trying to hold onto it.

Businesses are opposing the “repeal” bill as well, since for all intents and purposes it isn’t really repealing anything. Naturally, the Republicans who are pushing SB6 think this is great.

“North Carolina appears to be replacing their original law with a new measure that is similar to our state’s SB 6, the Texas Privacy Act,” Republican state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, the author of the Texas proposal, said in a statement. She added it’s “no surprise the Texas Privacy Act is seen as a thoughtful solution to protect everyone equally while allowing businesses to set their own policy.”

[…]

The Texas proposal includes some of the original restrictions that North Carolina is now repealing. Kolkhorst’s Senate Bill 6 would limit bathroom use in government buildings on the basis of “biological sex” rather than gender identity and would nix local anti-discrimination laws meant to allow transgender residents to use public bathrooms based on gender identity.

[…]

Meanwhile, tourism officials from big Texas cities have warned that the proposal could cost them hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue. Almost a week after Houston hosted Super Bowl LI, the NFL raised the prospect that SB 6 could impact future championship football games in Texas. And in a statement regarding Texas’ proposal, the NBA has indicated it considers “a wide range of factors when making decisions about host locations for league-wide events like the All-Star Game; foremost among them is ensuring an environment where those who participate and attend are treated fairly and equally.”

Pointing to the North Carolina vote, representatives for the Texas business community on Thursday indicated it should serve as another warning sign for Texas lawmakers.

“The turmoil of the past year, coupled with today’s action by North Carolina lawmakers, should send a loud and clear message to our own Texas Legislature: reject Senate Bill 6, a discriminatory and unnecessary bill that does nothing to address safety,” Texas Association of Business president Chris Wallace said in a statement.

The right answer is to not pass discriminatory legislation in the first place. And if someone else passes discriminatory legislation, don’t screw around with compromises. Repeal away. The Current and the DMN have more.

First shenanigan spotted

There will be more to come, I’m sure, but this will be happening today.

A Tuesday debate over the future of the state agency that regulates the oil and gas industry could instead become a showdown over immigration and where transgender Texans use the bathroom.

House Republicans will look to force a vote on the regulations proposed in the Senate’s controversial “bathroom bill,” which House Speaker Joe Straus has decried as “manufactured and unnecessary.” Tyler Republican Matt Schaefer has filed two amendments that would essentially require the Railroad Commission to enact some of the bathroom-related regulations proposed in Senate Bill 6 — a measure that would require people to use the bathrooms in public schools and government buildings that align with their “biological sex.”

A separate amendment by state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, appears to target transgender people by requiring the commission to define women business owners — who can qualify for certain benefits in contracting — on the basis of the “physical condition of being female, as stated on a person’s birth certificate.”

Schaefer and Tinderholt are members of the socially conservative Texas Freedom Caucus, which is expected to repeatedly offer up portions of the “bathroom bill” as amendments to other measures. On just the second day of the legislative session, Schaefer, who leads the caucus, unsuccessfully attempted to amend a routine resolution with language requiring people in the Capitol to use bathrooms corresponding with their biological sex.

See here for the background. According to the Chron, the bill in question in HB1818. As RG Ratcliffe notes, the amendment will likely be killed by a point of order, but that won’t put an end to the effort. The rest of the session may well turn into an exercise in swatting flies, as I doubt these guys will be deterred by reason, threats, or humiliating defeat. Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

There’s also this:

On the immigration front, an amendment by state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, would require that a company regulated by or contracting with the Texas Railroad Commission certify that it doesn’t hire undocumented workers and charged with perjury if found to have lied. The amendment would also require the commission to alert Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the local district attorney if a company CEO or supervisor is in violation of the provision.

Anchia, the chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said he has no desire to expand state-based immigration enforcement, and doesn’t expect his fellow Democrats to vote for the amendment. It’s symbolic: He wants businesses to be more vocal against what he called extreme immigration proposals the Legislature is considering this session, specifically Senate Bill 4. That measure, passed by the Senate last month and now pending in a House committee, would ban “sanctuary” jurisdictions in Texas and vastly expand the immigration enforcement powers of local police.

“For Republicans to only demonize immigrants but not talk about the insatiable appetite on the part of businesses for immigrant workers is hypocrisy at its best,” he said.

I respect Rep. Anchia and I get what he’s trying to accomplish here. I don’t know if it will work – if nothing else, I’m sure there’s a point of order with this amendment’s name on it as well – but it’s about making a point. We’ll see how it goes.

UPDATE: Schaefer’s shenanigan gets averted, while Anchia’s amendment gets adopted.

When your gender doesn’t match your birth certificate

The Daily Beast looks at what it means in practice to be a transgender person in Texas facing the prospect of having to use your birth certificate to use the bathroom.

According to the Williams Institute, an LGBT think tank based out of the UCLA School of Law, there are over 125,000 transgender adults in Texas, most of them black or Latino. North Carolina, for comparison, is home to about 45,000 transgender adults. The Texas total falls just shy of 9 percent of the 1.4 million transgender adults in the entire country. No other state besides California has a larger trans population.

And if SB6 clears the state house—an uncertain possibility, given that Republican House Speaker Joe Straus has said he’s “not a fan of the bill”—those 125,000 transgender adults and thousands of transgender minors would be barred from using public restrooms unless they have successfully updated the gender markers on their birth certificates.

That’s where things get especially tricky for transgender Texans.

“Getting your documents updated in the state of Texas is rather difficult,” Lou Weaver, Transgender Programs Coordinator for the LGBT advocacy group Equality Texas, told The Daily Beast.

“Rather difficult,” in this case, is an understatement. The majority of U.S. states have written policies allowing transgender people to change the gender markers on their birth certificates with either a doctor’s letter specifying that they have had “appropriate clinical treatment” or proof of sex reassignment surgery, which not all transgender people want or can afford. About twice as many states require surgery as those that do not.

But the state of Texas goes a step further, requiring transgender people to obtain a court order—generally after surgery—to change the sex on their birth certificates.

Not all judges are willing to provide such an order.

As the National Center for Transgender Equality notes, “current case law and evidence indicates that some Texas officials and judges are averse to issuing the necessary court orders.”

Transgender people may have to travel to a different county to locate a court that will accommodate their request. And even when they people do find a willing judge, the process takes time.

In other words, someone who has had gender reassignment surgery but who has not been able to get the arduous process of updating their birth certificate changed would still have to use the public restroom of their birth gender under SB6. You want to see people with penises in the ladies’ room? SB6 will do that.

“It’s harder to paint us as monsters when there’s a human face on it”

Words of wisdom from one very dedicated and engaged citizen.

Stephanie Martinez

Monday marked Stephanie Martinez’s 12th time participating in a lobby day hosted by Equality Texas at the Capitol. But this session, in response to Senate Bill 6, the 48-year-old transgender woman from Austin felt compelled to do more.

After waiting 16 hours to testify against the anti-trans “bathroom bill” during a Senate committee hearing March 7, Martinez called the offices of all 31 senators to encourage them to vote against SB 6.

She said she was “shocked” when she received a return phone call from the office of Senator Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, the lone Democratic senator to support the bill, who requested a personal meeting. Lucio’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

When they met last week, Martinez said Lucio told her she was the first trans person he’d spoken to one-on-one, which inspired her next campaign. Beginning last Thursday, Martinez visited the offices of all 181 members of the Texas Legislature over three days, using vacation time from her job as a programmer at AT&T.

“I decided I could not let this session go forward without visiting every office and saying, ‘I’m here, I’m real, I’m a Texan, I’m transgender, and this bill would hurt me,’” Martinez said. “It’s harder to paint us as monsters when there’s a human face on it.”

Read the whole thing, which includes a report from the Equality Texas Lobby Day. I sure hope Stephanie Martinez is right that by meeting with all the legislators, or at least their staffs, she is putting a human face on something they have been blithely abstract about, if they had given the matter any thought at all. Unfortunately, as the incredibly mean-spirited and downright un-charitable comments made by the likes of Sen. Lois Kolkhorst – who as literally one of the most powerful people in the state has no business claiming to be “persecuted” – and her ideological cohort in this story make clear, she has her work cut out for her. As do we all. I stand in awe of Stephanie Martinez’s effort and commitment.

Senate proposes to make our tax system more broken

That’s what this will surely do.

The Texas Senate on Tuesday approved a controversial bill that seeks to curb the growth in property taxes that local government agencies like cities and counties levy on landowners.

Senate Bill 2, which passed in an 18-12 vote, could require taxing entities to hold an election if the amount of operating and maintenance funds they plan to collect from property taxes is, in general, 5 percent more than what they took in the previous year.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt’s bill has split scores of Texas homeowners and the local officials that they elect. Landowners and some government officials say the bill is needed to slow the increase in property tax bills they must pay every year.

Bettencourt, R-Houston, said from the Senate floor Tuesday that many homeowners are seeing increases of 8 percent to 10 percent in what they pay in property taxes each year. He said commercial property owners are repeatedly seeing 15 percent to 20 percent hikes.

“I for one don’t want to continue to climb the ladder above states like Illinois and New York,” Bettencourt said.

But many local and state officials say the Legislature is sidestepping the real issue that leads to rising tax bills: school districts levying more in property taxes because lawmakers won’t change the state’s system for funding education. State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, conceded that point on Tuesday.

“It’s a fine balance between respecting our local elected officials and having an understanding that we still have a lot of work to do,” she said.

Critics of the bill say it glosses over the fact that an election could be triggered when the actual tax rate remains flat because rising property values play a major role in calculating the election trigger. Many local officials also say the bill would threaten their ability to hire police officers, build new parks and fill potholes.

Many police and fire chiefs from across the state testified against the bill last week.

“What do I tell them?,” State Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, said Tuesday morning.

“Vote against the people who voted for this turd” would be my advice. One of the good things that has come out of the HISD recapture saga is the increased awareness of the Legislature’s addiction to local property tax revenues as a way of not only easing their own financial responsibilities, but also providing the godsend of being able to blame the whole mess on the local officials who have been left holding the bag. It just doesn’t get any sweeter than that. At least now some people have begun to recognize the con job for what it is, though it’s a long way from becoming a rallying cry. As with many things, we’ll see what happens with this in the House.

One more thing:

Bill proponents say that the automatic election would allow for more local control because it puts more power in the hands of voters.

What’s that you say? Local control?

As local control battles rage at the Texas Capitol, Gov. Greg Abbott is voicing support for a much more sweeping approach to the issues that have captured headlines.

“As opposed to the state having to take multiple rifle-shot approaches at overriding local regulations, I think a broad-based law by the state of Texas that says across the board, the state is going to preempt local regulations, is a superior approach,” Abbott said Tuesday during a Q-and-A session hosted by the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute, an Austin-based think tank.

Such an approach, Abbott added, “makes it more simple, more elegant, but more importantly, provides greater advance notice to businesses and to individuals that you’re going to have the certainty to run your lives.”

Abbott made the remarks in response to a moderator’s question about legislation this session that would “prohibit any local ordinance from exceeding the standard set by the state.”

In other words, local control when we let you have it, or make you have it, but not when we don’t. The Observer has more.

A really dumb “Trump and the train” article

Ugh.

Texas is closer than ever to building the first high-speed train in the United States, thanks to President Donald Trump’s fascination with these transportation projects and a well-timed pitch to his administration.

Now developers nationwide are looking to the privately owned Texas Central Railway as a test case of what can get done with Trump in the White House.

Former Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane Jr., a member of the company’s board of directors, met recently with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in Washington. He wasn’t seeking any of the taxpayer-funded grants sought by high-speed rail projects in California and the Northeast.

What the $10 billion Texas Central Railway really needs is a green light from the agency Chao oversees.

“It was an opportunity to make a first impression,” said Tim Keith, president of Texas Central Railway.

The meeting clearly stuck. Soon after, Chao mentioned the Texas Central Railway at the National Governors Association winter conference as an example of the kind of “very impressive” project the administration is interested in.

The question now is whether private investment — coupled with regulatory relief — is a model the Trump administration could use to finance and expedite his promised $1 trillion infrastructure push, and not just in Texas.

[…]

California is building a 220-mph high-speed rail system, but that project has been delayed by political opposition. Its trains also have to meet more rigorous federal standards for crash protection because they will share tracks with commuter trains, Amtrak and some freight.

By building a self-contained system where trains will not intersect with street traffic or encounter slower trains, the Texas project can employ off-the-shelf technology in use in Japan for more than 50 years.

“It’s going to be a lot easier than the California project,” said Peter LeCody, president of Texas Rail Advocates and chairman of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, both advocacy groups that support the Texas project. “They’ll have a little harder way to go in California than in Texas.”

[…]

High-speed rail has been a topic in Texas for 30 years, but Keith thinks its moment has come.

“What’s happening in Texas is private entrepreneurs are saying, look there’s demand, there’s pent-up demand,” he said. “We can meet the demand.”

The biggest obstacles for the railway could be back home in Texas. Some landowners along the route want to derail the project, and they have help from allies in the state Legislature.

“You’re talking about property rights. In Texas, we love our land,” said LeCody with Texas Rail Advocates.

LeCody said Texas was changing and needed a transportation system that addressed road congestion and population growth.

“We’re such a growing state,” he said. “We’ve got to learn how to move people from point A to point B without highways.”

See here for previous Trump-and-the-train coverage. Where to begin with this article?

1. The article makes it sound like interest in high speed rail is something unique to Dear Leader Trump. In fact, President Obama had national high speed rail ambitions, which included plans for Texas that unfortunately didn’t pan out due to our own lack of initiative. To be sure, that was government funding for high speed rail, while Texas Central is all about private funding. I’m just saying that the idea of high speed rail here did not originate with Trump.

2. The opposition to Texas Central is barely acknowledged in this story, much less analyzed. There’s a full court press in the Legislature, which Texas Central itself acknowledges as an existential threat. I’ve always been somewhat skeptical of the likelihood of success for the Texas Central opponents, mostly because they don’t appear to have grown their base beyond the mostly rural counties in East and Central Texas, but they are working hard at this and they have some powerful and influential Senators on their side. Not talking to a Brandon Creighton or Lois Kolkhorst about Texas Central is at the least a disservice to the readers. For crying out loud, the story uses a Texas Central booster to discuss the opposition. Even as a Texas Central supporter myself, I say that’s just lousy journalism.

3. Outside the Legislature, there is a fervent grassroots opposition to Texas Central as well, with a lot of that coming from county and municipal governments in the affected areas as well as from private citizens. There’s already been litigation over access to the land needed for the TCR right of way, and there will surely be more for as long as this project is in its planning and construction phase. One might also note that this opposition comes from places in the state that voted heavily for Trump. Maybe this isn’t the sort of thing that might get a voter to change their mind about a President, but again, not at least acknowledging this leaves the reader with a false impression.

4. Finally, the opposition to TCR includes two powerful Republican Congressmen from Texas, one of whom chairs the House Ways and Means Committee. If you don’t think it’s possible that Rep. Kevin Brady could slip a rider into the budget that guts Texas Central, much like Rep. John Culberson did to Metro and the Universities line, you’ve got an insufficiently active imagination.

Other than that, it was a fine article.

And as if to prove my point, we have this.

The Texas Senate’s chief budget writers Wednesday added a provision to its proposed state budget aimed at limiting state assistance in a private firm’s efforts to build a Dallas-Houston bullet train.

The budget rider approved by the Senate Finance Committee would prohibit the Texas Department of Transportation from spending funds to help plan, build or operate a high-speed train.

The company developing a 205-mph bullet train between Dallas and Houston called the language a “job killer.” Texas Central Partners has vowed it won’t take any state funds to develop the 240-mile line between Texas’ two largest metropolitan areas. But, the company said, it still needs to work with state transportation officials.

“Texas Central engineers and employees need to be able to coordinate with TxDOT on the planning, engineering and construction of the high-speed train to accommodate the state’s growth,” said in a statement released by the company Wednesday.

State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, denied that the budget rider he wrote was meant to kill the project.

“If we are being told that this is never going to take any bailouts, they need to put their money where their mouth is,” he said.

A similar amendment nearly killed the project two years ago, but was eventually omitted from the state’s final budget.

See here and here for the background. Note that it was Sen. Schwertner who tried this trick in 2015 as well. We’ll see what happens with it. I trust you see my point about why this article sucked.

Senate passes bathroom bill

Take your victory lap, Dan Patrick.

The Texas Senate on Tuesday tentatively signed off on the so-called “bathroom bill” on a 21-10 vote with one Democrat — state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville — voting in favor of the bill.

Senate Bill 6, a legislative priority of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and other publicly-owned facilities that match their “biological sex” and not gender identity. And it would preempt local anti-discrimination laws meant to allow transgender residents to use public bathrooms that match their gender identity.

The vote on the controversial legislation came after a four-and-a-half-hour debate over discrimination against transgender Texans, local control and whether the proposed regulations would actually deter men from entering women’s restrooms.

Before passing the bill, senators considered 22 amendments. Republican senators joined the bill’s author, state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, in rejecting all but three amendments that make minor tweaks to the legislation but did not alter the main bathroom policies proposed in the legislation.

More than a dozen amendments were rejected including one that would have added discrimination protections for transgender individuals to the bill and another that would have prohibited individuals from personally investigating the gender identity of someone using a public bathroom. The Senate also rejected amendments that would have required the state to study the bill’s economic impact as well as crimes that occur in bathrooms.

You know the story by now, so I’ll just skip ahead. The Senate has to take one more vote on this, but that will be a formality. All the Republicans and the one Democrat who sorely needs to be primaried supported this atrocity. It’s up to the House to kill it, whether by neglect or by voting it down. Two things to call your attention to: One is the statement from the Texas Association of Business.

“We’re disappointed the Texas Senate would choose to pass discriminatory legislation like Senate Bill 6, despite clear indications that its passage will have an economic impact in Texas. TAB remains committed to fighting and defending the Texas economy against bills that discriminate and run counter to Texas values.

“Our members believe everyone deserves to be treated fairly and equally, and we have heard what they know- equity and non-discrimination is a twenty-first century economic imperative. Senate Bill 6 is simply not worth the risk, and it will do nothing to improve personal safety.

“Given the overwhelming economic evidence, and the clear rejection of the public safety argument from Texas law enforcement, Senate Bill 6 is a solution in search of a problem, and we hope that the Texas House will strongly reject this measure.”

RG Ratcliffe notes how business has lost control of the Republican Party. I’ll just say it again, if the TAB doesn’t work to defeat at least a few of the SB6 advocates, starting with Dan Patrick, then their opposition to SB6 basically meant nothing. Yes, there is a risk in trying to kill the king. This, and bills worse than it, is the risk of doing nothing. Your choice, TAB. And two, I give you this Statesman story on Jessica Shortall of Texas Competes:

Jessica Shortall, head of a Texas business group that advocates for LGBT rights, delivered a thoughtful and impassioned speech about the transgender bathroom debate at the South by Southwest conference on Sunday. It was the kind of speech that brought the crowd to its feet for a standing ovation — twice.

[…]

Shortall’s speech sprinkled anecdotes of her own life, touched on the Texas Competes mission, and worked in themes such as why it’s important to find common ground with political opponents.

“Assume there are no monoliths,” Shortall said. “The second you do that and label a whole group, you miss all the opportunities to find allies and build bridges.”

[…]

On Sunday, with a notepad in one hand and a handful of photos and data points projected on to a screen, she emphasized the need to build bridges with people who hold different beliefs, of finding common ground by rooting arguments in data, not emotion.

Midway through the speech she told the story of a trasngender girl who had an accident in a hallway at school because teachers couldn’t figure out which bathroom she should use.

“I wanted to shout,” Shortall said. “But I took a breath.” She noted that it feels good to be ideological and righteous, and isn’t as fun to stick to a strategy that involves talking to the other side and find common ground.

“Do you think I wanted to be the most boring, most data-driven LGBT advocate in the country?” Shortall said. “I am half-Venezuelan, raised in New Jersey, a very loud person. I like things big. But my job is to create this delicate new space for the business community to get involved in something risky. If I burn that down with my anger, I’d be at zero. I don’t matter. What matters is the goal.”

But she noted that arguments based on data and facts can only get you so far. To create change, you have to tap into empathy and love, she said. “Love is the only bridge that lets us see the people around us simply as people,” she said.

You can see a video of her speech here. I’ll take ten Jessica Shortalls over all 21 Senators who voted Yes on this piece of crap. A statement from Sen. Jose Rodriguez is here, a statement from Sen. Borris Miles is here, and the Chron has more.

The bathroom bill is still terrible (and still about bathrooms)

I don’t care what they do to it. It’s discriminatory, it solves no problems, and it will hurt many people as well as the state’s reputation and economy.

With the measure scheduled for a committee hearing Tuesday, Texas Republicans are expected to offer a new version of the controversial “bathroom bill” with two significant changes.

The modified bill removes a section that would have increased penalties for certain crimes committed in a bathroom or changing facility, according to a copy of a committee substitute obtained by The Texas Tribune. It also adds a new “legislative findings” section that would write into statute the reasoning that the bill’s lead author, Republican state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, has provided in pushing for the bill.

Senate Bill 6 would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities that match their “biological sex.” The measure would also pre-empt local nondiscrimination ordinances that allow transgender residents to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.

Those regulations are largely unchanged in the substitute language expected to be presented tomorrow, but the modified bill does not include a lesser-known section that would have increased penalties for certain crimes in bathrooms by one degree. That would have meant that the punishment for an individual who commits an assault, for example, would have been higher if the assault occurred in a bathroom versus a parking lot or on a sidewalk.

Here’s a report from the committee hearing, for which something like 400 people had signed up to testify. There was of course plenty of bathroom talk, but some of it went like this:

The tone of the hearing shifted slightly when Rev. S. David Wynn, the lead pastor of the Agape Metropolitan Community Church in Fort Worth, sat down to testify before the committee.

A transgender man sporting a full beard and a black suit, Wynn detailed the complications he would face under SB 6. Because the gender marker on his birth certificate still reads “female,” the legislation would require him to go into the same restroom as young girls while visiting government buildings like the state Capitol.

“There’s been a lot of conversation, too, about having men in the women’s bathroom,” Wynn said. “And I guarantee you there’s going to be a problem if I show up in a woman’s bathroom.”

I’ve still yet to hear Dan Patrick or Lois Kolkhorst or any other supporter of this travesty answer why they want the Rev. Wynn or people like Mack Beggs or any other transgender man in the state to be in women’s bathrooms. I mean, they can’t answer it, so they do their best to avoid the question. You will have to ask yourself why this is. If there is one good thing to come out of this mess, it’s that it has really fired up the trans community and their loved ones.

The strategy has also shifted to making this all about imposing a specific and narrow “Christian” morality on the population. It’s the anti-HERO playbook, right down to the lies and the utter perversion of religious faith. The pastors who are out there now saying things like “we’re attacking, ‘Did God really create us male and female?’” were saying things like “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” twenty years ago. Patrick and his acolytes have no answers for the business community. The only message he will ever understand is an electoral message. We need the business community, which by the way also opposes Patrick’s cherished SB4, to remember that next year. In he meantime, SB6 was passed out of committee late last night and will be taken up by the full Senate next week. RG Ratcliffe, the Observer, and Think Progress have more.

Here come the anti-Texas Central bills

From the inbox:

[Tuesday], a group of key state lawmakers filed a slate of legislation to push back against Texas Central Railway’s controversial proposal to construct a high-speed rail line between Dallas and Houston. Senators Birdwell (R-Granbury), Creighton (R-Conroe), Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), Perry (R-Lubbock), and Schwertner (R-Georgetown) joined with Representatives Ashby (R-Lufkin), Bell (R-Magnolia), Cook (R-Corsicana), Schubert (R-Caldwell), and Wray (R-Waxahachie) to file a total of 18 bills addressing a number of concerns ranging from protecting landowners threatened by eminent domain abuse to ensuring the state isn’t later forced to bail out the private project with taxpayer dollars.

[…]

The following bills were filed this morning:

SB 973 by Creighton/HB 2168 by Bell (Railroad Determination Before Surveys) – prohibits a private high-speed rail entity from entering private property to conduct a survey unless the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) first determines that the surveying entity is, in fact, a railroad.

SB 974 by Creighton/HB 2181 by Cook (Option Contract Protection) – voids any high-speed rail option contracts held by a high-speed rail entity upon a bankruptcy initiated by or against the entity.

SB 975 by Birdwell/HB 2169 by Schubert (Security Requirements) – provides a framework of minimum security requirements to be followed during the construction and operation of a private high-speed rail line. Requires the high-speed rail authority to coordinate security efforts with state and local law enforcement, as well as disaster response agencies.

SB 977 by Schwertner/HB 2172 by Ashby (No Taxpayer Bailout) – prohibits the legislature from appropriating new funds, or allowing state agencies to utilize existing funds, to pay any costs related to the construction, maintenance, or operation of a private high-speed rail in Texas.

SB 978 by Schwertner/HB 2104 Bell (Property Restoration Bond) – requires a private high-speed rail entity to file a bond with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) sufficient to restore property used for the rail service to the property’s original conditions if the service ceases operation.

SB 979 by Schwertner/HB 2179 by Cook (Right of Repurchase for Non-HSR Use) – prohibits an entity that operates or plans to operate a high-speed rail from using property acquired for purposes other than high-speed rail. If the high-speed rail authority doesn’t use the property for that specific purpose, the original landowner must be given the opportunity to repurchase the land.

SB 980 by Schwertner/HB 2167 by Schubert (Put Texas First) – prohibits any state money from being used for any purpose related to a privately owned high-speed rail, unless the state acquires and maintains a lien in order to secure the repayment of state funds. Requires that the state’s lien be superior to all other liens, effectively making Texas a priority creditor.

SB 981 by Kolkhorst/HB 2162 by Wray (Interoperability) – requires an entity constructing a high-speed rail line in Texas to demonstrate compatibility with more than one type of train technology.

SB 982 by Perry/HB 2173 by Ashby (High-Speed Rail Feasibility Study) – upon request of a legislator, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) must generate a feasibility study of a proposed high-speed rail project. The study must indicate whether the project is for a public use, whether it will be financially viable, and what impact of the project will have on local communities.

The full press release is here, and a Chron story about it is here. I was expecting some bills to be filed for the purpose of throwing sand in TCR’s gears, but this was more than I expected. Still, the basic dynamics of this fight have not changed as far as I can tell. The legislators leading it are primarily rural – even the ones who are based in suburban areas represent a lot of rural turf as well – and there are only so many of them. I’ve yet to see any legislator from a big urban area sign on to this. Which is not to say that at least some of them won’t go along with their rural colleagues, especially the urban Republicans, but that’s the ground on which this battle will be fought and won. If these legislators can convince enough of their urban colleagues to join them, then TCR is in a world of hurt. If not – if TCR can hold on to the urbanites – then it can survive the session and maybe get to a point where actual construction begins. Getting one or more of Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, Joe Straus, and Ken Paxton to pick a side would help that faction greatly as well. Keep an eye on these bills as the committee hearings get off the ground. The DMN has more.

Counting to 19 on SB6

That’s the number of votes needed to move the Patrick potty bill to the floor of the Senate for a full vote.

At times, it seemed like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was a bit like a man on an island when it came to one of his signature priorities this legislative session: the Texas Privacy Act, otherwise referred to as ‘the bathroom bill.’

He has worked for the weeks to rally support for the measure, facing stiff opposition from the traditionally GOP-friendly Texas business community. House Speaker Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican, has thrown cold water on the proposal at various private and public events. Not only did Gov. Greg Abbott not list it as an emergency item in last week’s State of the State address, he didn’t mention it at all.

Senate Bill 6, sponsored by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham, would prohibit city or county officials from adopting an ordinance that prevents a business from making policies for their bathrooms and dressing rooms. It also would bar local officials from considering these measures when awarding government contracts.

[…]

Getting the state’s largest business lobby on board is one challenge for Patrick, and using the PolitiFact article to weaken opposition is a start on that journey. However, he and Kolkhorst still are working on their Republican Senate caucus, too.

On Monday, Kolkhorst said she has 14 co-sponsors, 15 including her vote. No Democrat has signed onto the bill, and Patrick needs at least 19 senators to move the measure to the floor for a full chamber debate and eventual vote.

She said she respected her colleagues for letting her explain the bill to them, adding that she has verbal support from some senators who are not listed publicly as co-sponsors on SB 6.

The five Senators who are not coauthors (*) of SB6 are Schwertner, Burton, Nelson, Huffman, and Seliger. Doesn’t mean they don’t support it and wouldn’t vote for it, just means they’re not listed as coauthors. I have a hard time believing that at least four of them won’t vote to bring it to the floor once it has passed out of committee, but I suppose anything can happen.

Possibly of interest: The two Republican Senators in the most competitive districts are Konni Burton and Don Huffines, while the two in the next-most competitive districts are Joan Huffman and Kelly Hancock. Huffines and Hancock are coauthors, Burton and Huffman are not. I don’t know that that means anything, I was just curious if competitiveness of a district had any effect on support for SB6. I’ll say again, the single best thing Democrats and progressives can do to make the Senate a better place in 2018 is to take out Huffines, who is a total buffoon as well as being far more extreme than a district like his should allow. The other three need to be targeted as well – Burton’s district is the least red of the four – but Huffines, whose district is entirely within Dallas County, offers a lot of bang for the buck, especially given that a significant portion of his district overlaps with CD32, where the DCCC will be going after Pete Sessions. You don’t have many new worlds left to conquer, Dallas Democrats. Please make this one a priority.

(*) If you visit the link for SB6, you will see that Kolkhorst’s colleagues are listed as coauthors, not co-sponsors. I’m not quite enough of a legislative geek to be able to explain the difference, but I’m sure someone will enlighten us in the comments.

Politifact muddles the economic debate over SB6

This doesn’t change anything, but we must fuss about it anyway.


In what appeared to be an attempt at a show of force, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Monday once again attacked claims that the proposed “bathroom bill” is bad for business in Texas.

Flanked by nine Republican senators — including Senate Bill 6 author state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst — Patrick appeared emboldened by a PolitiFact Texas report that identified flaws in some of the numbers used by the Texas Association of Business to sound the alarm on legislation regulating bathroom use for transgender Texans.

While PolitiFact focused only on weaknesses in the report commissioned by the top business lobby group in the state and did not rule out any actual impact in Texas, Patrick insisted that PolitiFact’s analysis undermined the “bogus” report, which claimed that anti-LGBT legislation could cost the state up to $8.5 billion and thousands of jobs.

“Fearmongering is what that report was about,” Patrick told reporters on Tuesday. “There is no evidence whatsoever that the passage of Senate Bill 6 will have any economic impact in Texas.”

[…]

Ahead of Patrick’s news conference, the Texas Association of Business in a statement defended its report and claims about the economic fallout Texas could be setting itself up for if it passed anti-LGBT legislation similar to laws passed in other states.

Calling it “the tip of the potential iceberg for Texas,” the group highlighted reports indicating the NCAA is on the verge of withholding major events from North Carolina for several years — a move that could keep $250 million in “potential economic impact” from the state.

“The Texas Legislature can protect Texas families and businesses from unnecessary, costly legislation and protect our state from the wide-ranging harm that discriminatory legislation delivers,” the statement read.

Politifact didn’t dispute that there would be a negative economic impact on Texas if SB6 passed, they just didn’t think it would be as bad as the high end of the TAB study’s range (which to be sure is what generally got reported, because everyone loves big numbers) indicated. The study had also drawn from states like Indiana and Arizona, which passed (or in the case of Arizona, had vetoed by the Governor) legislation that didn’t go as far as North Carolina’s HB2 did. And as far as North Carolina goes, we’ve seen plenty of negative effect, more than enough to convince anyone not wearing Dan Patrick’s blinders that SB6 would be bad for Texas. The NCAA has certainly made it clear that there’s a price for passing bills like that, a message that was aimed a San Antonio and the 2018 Final Four as much as anyone. Quibble about the size of the number if you want, it still exists and we can all see it coming. And not to put too fine a point on it, but even if there were no bad economic effects to worry about, SB6 is still wrong and it will still hurt people. There’s no changing that. Texas Monthly, the Texas Observer, and the Dallas Observer have more.

SB6 will hurt people

It will hurt transgender people, who despite what Dan Patrick would have you think, are people like you and me.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has said his so-called bathroom bill isn’t discriminatory because transgender people can update their birth certificates to reflect their gender identity.

However, statistics obtained by the Observer from the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) suggest that fewer than 1 percent of transgender Texans have updated their birth certificates, meaning the overwhelming majority could be forced to use restrooms that don’t match their gender identity under Senate Bill 6.

LGBT advocates said the DSHS statistics, which have not before been made public, underscore the obstacles transgender Texans face if they seek to correct their gender markers on state identification documents.

[…]

According to DSHS, a total of 497 Texas natives updated their birth certificates “to reflect a medical or surgical sex change” from 2006 to 2016. Last year, the Williams Institute at UCLA estimated that 125,000 transgender adults reside in Texas.

DSHS spokesperson Chris Van Deusen said the department doesn’t specifically track the number of transgender people who’ve corrected their birth certificates. However, in response to a request from the Observer, the state agency compiled the data based on how many people have updated their birth certificates using a court order.

“A court order is required to change the sex due to a medical or surgical sex change but not for a change due to an error,” Van Deusen said. “We’re reasonably confident this captures all changes to sex on birth certificates due to a court order.”

Texas has no standardized procedure for transgender people to update their birth certificates or driver’s licenses, and judges in only three of the state’s 254 counties — Bexar, Dallas and Travis — routinely issue court orders granting gender-marker changes, according to LGBT advocates. Last year, a Texas appeals court in Harris County rejected a trans man’s petition for a gender-marker change on his driver’s license.

There’s no standard procedure for updating one’s birth records. If you were born in another state, which may or may not even allow for this kind of correction, you may be out of luck. If you’re under 18, you are definitely out of luck. Even if all of these procedural issues could be resolved, this would still be discriminatory. Why should trans people have to go through all of this time and expense to be able to use a public restroom?

By the way, this is somewhat parallel to the experience of gays and lesbians before the Obergefell decision, in that in order to mimic the legal rights and protections granted under the law to straight married couples, they had to jump through dozens of legal hoops, often spending hundreds or thousands of dollars in lawyers’ fees to achieve it. Requiring a class of people to expend time and money on things that everyone else gets to have for free no questions asked is the definition of discrimination.

Trans people have been using bathrooms without any fuss for decades. It was never a problem until Dan Patrick decided it was one. His “remedy” to this non-problem will help no one, but it will hurt many people. There are lots of valid business and economic reasons to oppose SB6, and I thank the people in the business community who have helped lead the fight against it. But at the end of the day, this is about treating people as people. Dan Patrick wants to treat some people as something less. I cannot abide that.

Yes, SB6 targets transgender people

That is its purpose.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst

The author of the so-called bathroom bill said she is working on potential changes after listening to people “from all walks of life,” emphasizing that her measure is aimed not at the transgender people it would affect but at men who might assert a right to go into women’s restrooms for perhaps nefarious purposes.

“It’s really not about the transgender. It’s about other people that will abuse that. And that side of it’s not been told very well,” Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Bren-ham, said, citing discussions with “lots of women.”

There is no evidence of a transgender person assaulting anyone in a restroom in Texas, and transgender advocates see the measure as indisputably targeting them.

[…]

Chuck Smith, chief executive officer of Equality Texas, said of Kolkhorst’s remarks, “I think it’s probably certainly indicative that she is getting a lot of feedback/pushback related to it. I’m happy that she’s recognizing that there are concerns with the legislation, and I’d welcome the opportunity to share our concerns with her as well.”

Let’s be very clear: By definition, the reference in SB6 to “biological sex” targets transgender people. There’s no way around that. Whatever the intent of the bill, the only way to not target transgender people is to not have any part of the bill apply to people based on their “biological sex”. Take that out and then we can talk. I too am glad that Sen. Kolkhorst recognizes that her bill is problematic. Now do something about that, Senator. The Press has more.

It’s all bathrooms, all the time

People are paying attention to Dan Patrick’s anti-LGBT bathroom bill, and for the most part they do not like it.

In early February, the Super Bowl will be in Houston and in late March, the women’s Final Four will be in Dallas. If Patrick pushes the bathroom bill through the Senate by then, as expected, there will be a lot of unflattering stories.

For a taste of things to come, consider Monday’s subhead in The Economist: “In the toilet.”

How about this comment from a writer at The New York Daily News: “We probably should have stopped playing big-time sports in Texas a long time ago because gay rights have been under siege in Texas for decades.”

Then there’s Rick Riordan, the Texan who wrote the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series. After the bathroom bill was filed last week, he turned down an offer to attend a celebration of authors by the Texas Legislature.

“If they want to honor me, they could stop this nonsense,” Riordan wrote on Twitter.

[…]

There’s already been a backlash. Over a dozen large events, slated to bring in roughly 180,000 visitors, have contacted Dallas officials and said they would cancel, said Phillip Jones, CEO of Visit Dallas, the organization that promotes conventions and other tourism business here.

“That’s the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

An education group with about 20,000 members had penciled in Dallas for 2020, he said. Because of the bathroom bill, the group is considering a Midwest city instead.

Jones cited a survey that showed 53 percent of meeting planners are avoiding cities that don’t have universal bathroom use. Many planners are putting off decisions on Dallas until they see what happens with the Lege.

“We’re already suffering because of this negative perception,” Jones said.

Perception is the right word. Patrick pledged to make transgender bathrooms a top priority for the Legislature. He said it’s about safety and privacy, and not giving in to political correctness. But that’s not how others see it.

“The message to transgender people is stark — we do not and will not accept you,” wrote The Economist.

Dan Patrick, of course, disputes the very notion that Texas would lose any business at all due to his bathroom bill. So whatever you do, don’t show him this.

An academic group is threatening to pull an upcoming conference from Houston next year, citing concerns with a bill before the Texas legislature that would require transgender people to use bathrooms corresponding to their assigned sex at birth.

The American College Personnel Association, a trade group based in the nation’s capital, expects more than 3,100 people to travel to Houston over three days in March 2018 for the conference. Executive Director Cindi Love cited concern for transgender college students’ and attendees’ safety as a reason for potentially relocating the conference.

“We cannot bring transgender-identified members to a city and risk (discrimination) if they leave the facility where we’ve contracted,” Love said Wednesday morning. The group backed out of a conference in North Carolina scheduled for last summer after that state passed a similar law.

Love said the group’s withdrawal from Houston would mean $5.129 million in lost revenue for the city and state, calculating that figure from airfare, ground transportation, hotels, food, entertainment and other conference arrangements.

Yeah, but they’re a bunch of filthy academics, so their money doesn’t really count, right? Everything can be rationalized if you need it to be.

Meanwhile, the business lobby still wants no part of this.

Chris Wallace, the new president of the Texas Association of Business, said his priorities are better roads, expanded education, smarter taxation, sustainable heath care and no legislation that will tarnish the state’s brand.

“Infrastructure … that’s an issue for every legislative session,” Wallace said. “In any taxation discussion, we want to ensure it is fair for business, because business makes up more than 60 percent of the tax base.”

To improve the future workforce, the association wants to see free full-day pre-kindergarten, implementation of the A-through-F school accountability ratings and a way to link 10 percent of a four-year college’s funding to responsible graduation rates.

“Businesses put a lot of money into the education system, and many are questioning the return on investment,” Wallace said.

Other priorities include lowering health care costs by expanding telemedicine access and giving advanced-practice registered nurses more authority.

Stopping the transgender bathroom bill introduced by Houston-area Sen. Lois Kolkhorst may be the biggest fight to save the state’s reputation.

Former Chronicle reporter R.G. Ratcliffe recently explained in Texas Monthly magazine how Toyota Motor Corp. agreed to move its North American headquarters to Plano only after the city council promised an anti-discrimination ordinance that Kolkhorst’s bill would repeal. A non-discrimination ordinance was also a top priority for Apple when it created thousands of jobs in Austin. Major corporations care about this issue more than lawmakers realize.

“We’ll oppose any kind of legislation that would impact any our members’ abilities to recruit their workforce, or that would negatively impact economic development, such as recruiting corporate relocations,” Wallace said.

The association can’t defend business’s interests by itself, though. Wallace needs business leaders to do their part.

“They’ve got to speak up,” he said. “Whatever the issue is, we encourage businesses to make their voices heard with legislators.”

Look, there are plenty of things the business lobby likes that I don’t. The A-F grading system for schools is at best a very rough work in progress, and of course they’re all about tax cuts. But my argument is that almost by default these guys are more in line with the Democrats these days than they are with the Republicans, and they need to recognize that whatever reservations they may have about the Dems, one-party rule in this state is not a good thing for them. They don’t need to link hands with the SEIU, but a limited strategic alliance could be quite beneficial. The fact is, they may well succeed in killing the bathroom bill this session, but as Patrick himself told the Trib, he’s never going to give up on it. If they want this thing to be well and truly dead, there are two ways to ensure that. One is to defeat Dan Patrick in 2018. The other is to reduce the number of Patrick minions in the Senate.

After the vote rejecting West’s amendment to the rules, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, suggested another solution: “I think what we need to do is elect two more Democrats. Then we’d be forced to work together.”

I don’t have precinct data from the Senate districts that will have elections next year, but the names to look at are Konni Burton, Don Huffines, Joan Huffman, and Kelly Hancock. I guarantee, the 2016 numbers will make those seats look at least somewhat competitive, and winning even one of them would make a real difference. If the business lobby is serious about defeating not just this bill but the next however many incarnations of it, this is what it’s going to take. Are they in or are they not? The Observer has more.

Where we begin with school finance

A nice overview from the Trib on school finance, where the problems are many and the budget situation is non-optimal.

The current system is held together by a number of short-term fixes that have not been updated or reformed in decades. The Texas Supreme Court upheld the funding system as constitutional in May, and at the same time put the onus on state lawmakers to reform it — but few believe a major overhaul will come without a court order.

Even if legislators decided to tackle an overhaul of the whole system, experts say there is not enough money in state coffers to increase state spending, lower local spending and relieve Texans upset about rising property taxes. For now, some lawmakers are backing a simple plan to increase money to all school districts through the general appropriations bill, instead of taking apart the complex school finance system. Others have filed bills to tweak individual weights in the system, which provide additional money for disadvantaged student populations.

[…]

Legislators will also have to decide this year whether to re-up a program that provides extra funding for fewer than 200 districts that would otherwise have lost money in previous school finance rewrites. When the Legislature reduced property taxes by a third in 2006, it guaranteed school districts at least the same state funding they received for the 2005-06 school year by creating the Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction initiative.

That aid expires Sept. 1, but the districts still receiving the money are clamoring for an extension. “At some point, it does need to go away for the sake of more equity. But it can’t fall off a cliff at this point in time,” said Guy Sconzo, executive director of the Fast Growth School Coalition, which represents the fastest-growing districts in the state. “It does the entire system no good if any part of the system effectively goes bankrupt.”

So far, five legislators have filed bills to extend the funding program. State Rep. Ken King, R-Canadian, filed House Bill 811, which would extend funding through 2020-21. Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, proposed an extension through 2022-23. Both lawmakers were members of their chambers’ public education committees last session.

King, who is on the short list to chair the House Public Education Committee this session, said some districts are still getting a large chunk of their overall funding through this program and that they cannot be cut off immediately. “I’m going to put a mechanism in place for school districts to roll off of the aid in 2021 and hopefully replace the dollars with another school funding system,” he said.

Other school finance advocates oppose the extension, calling it a “Band-Aid” that exacerbates the inequity among districts.

“It maintains an already inefficient portion of the system,” said Ray Freeman, deputy executive director of the Equity Center, which represents property-poor districts. Instead, he said, legislators should reform the base formulas so districts have access to a stable source of funds.

The Houston Independent School District will be a major focus this session because its voters in November rejected sending $165 million in local property taxes to poorer school districts. In the Texas finance system, districts with a wealthier tax base spend local money to help educate students in districts with less property tax money, as part of the “Robin Hood” or “recapture” system.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath has warned that the state will probably move commercial properties from Houston ISD tax rolls to those of a nearby district. Houston legislators will be under pressure to find a way to ease the burden, as those property owners could face higher tax rates in their newly assigned districts.

David Thompson, an attorney representing Houston ISD, said a legislative win for Houston on school finance could also mean a win for other districts. “There are particular issues that would address some of the concerns in Houston and at the same time be helpful for schools across the state,” he said.

The state should update its formulas for determining which districts get transportation funding, and the state should also provide full-day pre-K funding for all districts, Thompson said.

“Everybody starts by saying, ‘There’s no money.’ There is,” he said. The state should allow the local dollars people are already paying to stay in education, instead of “siphoning local property taxes” for non-education purposes, he said.

But some legislators are saying Houston ISD voters dug themselves deeper into a school funding hole and should live with the repercussions. “I don’t think the Legislature has a lot of appetite to let Harris County out of recapture when everybody else is paying it,” King said.

[…]

School finance experts agree that increasing the basic allotment, the base funding each district receives per student, is likely to be the most popular way of changing the system. The House Public Education Committee recommended this approach in its interim report.

“The amount we set for the basic allotment drives the entire school finance system and, given our current system, increasing that amount would be a prudent move to help all districts,” said State Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin. “It’s important to note, this method can also be achieved through the General Appropriations Act alone, so it may also be the most realistic thing the Legislature can do this session without having to pass a stand-alone bill.”

It’s likely to be a favored proposal in the House, Ashby said. But like many other plans, it requires more dollars to public education, a difficult challenge this session, given that lawmakers have less money to spend than they did when they last met in 2015.

There’s also vouchers, the A-F grading system for accountability ratings, continued discontent with STAAR, curriculum and graduation requirements, etc etc etc. It’s important to remember that the local property tax boom that helped lead HISD and other districts into recapture is also a huge boon for the state budget, and not something legislators will give up easily. I think the best case scenario is some more money from general revenue, adjustments to the funding formula for transportation and pre-K as David Thompson noted, and a temporary extension of the Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction initiative with a plan to fix it next session. HISD will still owe recapture money even if all that is done, but I for one would feel a lot less aggrieved by recapture if these things happened, and would support a recapture re-vote to take place before detachment could begin. We’ll see how it goes.

This fight feels different

The more I read about the forthcoming fight between Dan Patrick and his minions and everyone else over the bathroom bill, the more I am struck by the thought that we have never seen anything quite like this before in Texas.

Standing in front of reporters Thursday, Patrick was still a man on the mission, but the political moment had shifted. In the months prior, a Texas judge had blocked the Obama guidance and the bathroom issue had largely cooled off on the national stage — even contributing to the re-election loss of North Carolina’s governor, by some accounts — and opposition to similar legislation in Texas had begun to gain momentum.

Patrick is now in for a self-admitted “tough fight” in the Texas Legislature, where he faces fierce opposition from the business community and lukewarm support from fellow Republicans, at least outside his Senate. That reality did not immediately change Thursday, when he joined state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, to roll out the highly anticipated Texas Privacy Act, which would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities based on “biological sex.” The bill would also pre-empt local nondiscrimination ordinances that allow transgender people to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Patrick ally and a fellow Houston Republican who chairs the Texas Senate GOP caucus, acknowledged Thursday that it is “going to take some time to talk to the business community, make sure they understand what that bill is” — especially after alarm-sounding by business groups that Patrick allies have criticized as unfounded.

“The beginning of that was obviously” Thursday, Bettencourt said. “Once people can understand what the bill is, certainly the fear of [economic harm] will obviously disappear because it wasn’t real in the first place.”

Patrick was characteristically combative at Thursday’s news conference, saying he had never seen so much misinformation about a piece of legislation before it was filed. He singled out one recent report that suggested he had struggled to find a senator to carry the bill, revealing that he and Kolkhorst had been working on it since Sept. 1. Kolkhorst, for her part, said some of her staff did not even know she was taking up the cause.

The bill’s supporters are betting big that public opinion will overpower whatever resistance they encounter at the Capitol. Their reference point is polling that Patrick’s political operation commissioned last year, which it says shows there is broad support for making it “illegal for a man to enter a women’s restroom.” They also point to the 2015 demise of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance, better known as HERO, which featured much of the same message Patrick is now using with the statewide legislation.

[…]

In the House, state Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, has been outspoken on the issue. On Thursday, he said he was crafting legislation that would only “prevent any local government from regulating bathrooms,” which would be similar to one component of Senate Bill 6. By solely focusing on local governments, the House bill would avoid the more incendiary debates sparked by a potential statewide mandate, Shaheen suggested.

“This bathroom issue is just sucking up a bunch of time and resources,” Shaheen said. “I think because my approach is more of a scope-of-government-type of discussion — I avoid the whole bathroom dialogue in general — I think there’ll be a receptiveness to the bill.”

In any case, the business community has spent months looking to derail any bill related to the issue, warning it could lead to the same turmoil that visited North Carolina when its lawmakers pushed similar legislation. The Texas Association of Business and its allies have been the most vocal, touting a report the group released last month that said such legislation could cost the state between $964 million and $8.5 billion and more than 100,000 jobs.

Caroline Joiner, executive director for the Texas and the Southeast for TechNet, a technology industry group opposed to the bill, said one of its challenges is convincing “individual legislators and their constituents that this is not hypothetical — we will have real, devastating economic impacts.” And while Joiner, like many others, expects the issue to be better received in the Senate than in the House, she said TechNet has an interest in educating lawmakers from both chambers about the potential economic consequences.

“I think we absolutely need to be telling that story as aggressively in the House as we are in the Senate,” Joiner said. “Yes, it’s going to be less of a priority for Speaker Straus, but we want to make sure he has the support from his members to oppose it.”

For Democrats, the debate provides an opportunity to capitalize on the growing schism between the increasingly conservative Texas GOP and the more moderate business community. On Thursday, the state Democratic Party quickly branded Kolkhorst’s legislation as an “$8.5 billion bathroom bill,” citing the Texas Association of Business study.

The report itself has been a source of controversy, with Patrick and his allies denouncing it as misinformation and fear-mongering. Bettencourt said the study “had some holes you could drive a Mack truck through,” while Shaheen said he wants it known that he and several colleagues are “highly disappointed in TAB about they’ve misrepresented the business impact of these types of bills.”

Patrick continued to rail against the report Thursday, suggesting in a radio interview after the bill unveiling that the study’s findings were not uniformly supported by the business community.

“The members of the Texas Association of Business have already said they don’t even believe their own report,” Patrick told Tony Perkins, president of the socially conservative Family Research Council. “That report was based on not any economic data, but just extracting some numbers that some people who I believe are with the TAB who are just against the bill. Period. Just want to try to make their argument, but it’s no real data. It’s ridiculous.”

See here for more on SB6. Let me start by addressing the ccomparisons to the HERO fight being made by Patrick and Bettencourt, among others. They want us to think that because there were no real consequences for repealing HERO, there will be no consequences for passing SB6. This argument fails on a number of levels. First, it is legal today for a transgender woman to use a ladies’ room today, in Houston and anywhere else. It was legal before HERO was passed, and it is legal today. HERO didn’t make it legal, because it was already legal. SB6 would make it illegal, as HB2 in North Carolina did. Repealing HERO, as bad as that was, merely reset things to the previous status quo. SB6 would actively make it worse for transgender people, as was the case in North Carolina. This is why HERO repeal didn’t cause much of a stir, while SB6 passage would.

And not to put too fine a point on it, but we’ve already seen what those consequences are. We saw sporting events get relocated, conventions get canceled, business expansions get called off, jobs get lost. It happened, right before our eyes, in North Carolina. Sure, maybe the Texas Association of Business is presenting a worst-case scenario, pushing the biggest number possible in an attempt to ward off SB6. But even something that falls short of a worst-case scenario is still bad, and there’s nothing hypothetical about it. The warnings are there. The North Carolina experience – and the Indiana experience before that – happened. We all saw it. It’s on Dan Patrick to explain why it wouldn’t happen here. He’s not very convincing when he tries.

Which brings me to the nature of the disagreement between Patrick et al and the business community. There have been schisms between business and the Republicans before. The biggest one in recent years has been over anti-immigration policies, but the TAB has had things like improving education and infrastructure on their agenda as well. In the past, though, these disputes have been characterized as “disagreements between friends”, who are “held in high regard”. Look at the way Patrick and Bettencourt refer to the TAB study. They’re dismissive, to the point of being contemptuous. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but this feels to me like it’s more personal, with each side maybe feeling disrespected by the other. And remember, the session hasn’t even started yet, which is to say that this fight hasn’t really gotten started yet, either. It could get a lot nastier.

Again, I may be overstating this. The invective has gone only one way so far, and it’s hardly anything that couldn’t be walked back later if it had to be. The TAB has no choice but to at least maintain a cordial relationship with Dan Patrick, and the “business as usual” urge is strong. I’m putting a marker down on this now because I noticed it, and if it does continue to develop this way I will point to this as the start of it. What I’m saying for now is that this looks and feels different to me. I’ve been saying for a long time now that at some point the business community needs to come to terms with the fact that Dan Patrick is not with them a significant and increasing amount of the time, and that maybe they need to think about doing something else. We should do what we can to encourage that line of thinking.

Patrick plunges ahead with his potty bill

Brace yourselves.

After months of sparring over whether transgender Texans should be allowed to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Thursday officially set the legislative stage for the debate.

Following North Carolina’s lead, Texas Republicans announced Senate Bill 6, which would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities based on “biological sex” and would pre-empt local nondiscrimination ordinances that allow transgender Texans to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

“We know it’s going to be a tough fight,” Patrick said at a Capitol news conference announcing the bill. “But we know we’re on the right side of the issue. We’re on the right side of history. You can mark today as the day Texas is drawing a line in the sand and saying no.”

Patrick said his support for the legislation is based on privacy concerns, arguing that such policies allow men to enter women’s restrooms and locker rooms.

Republican state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham, who will guide the bill through the upper chamber, said SB 6 would still allow for schools to accommodate transgender students on a case-by-case basis. But public entities that violate bathroom policies based on “biological sex” will be subject to a civil penalty imposed by the state attorney general.

It also appears to essentially exempt convention centers, stadiums and entertainment venues. The legislation would not apply if “if the location owned by a government entity is privately leased to an outside entity,” which is often the case for those sort of venues, Kolkorst said.

The exemption for “convention centers, stadiums and entertainment venues”, which was telegraphed a month ago, appears to be a sop to the business community, to try to buy their acquiescence. We’ll just have to see if it works. The direct attack on municipal anti-discrimination laws is not unexpected, but hasn’t been a focal point of the conversation before now. There will be much more to say about this as we go on, and believe me when I say I hope this all turns out to have been a tempest in a training potty, but for now I think the Lone Star Project has the best response:

“Any statement by Dan Patrick on the health and safety of Texas children should start with an apology for those he has let die on his watch.

“Since Patrick took office, nearly 800 Texas kids have died due to abuse or neglect while in the care of Child Protective Services. Patrick has served in five legislative sessions and has done nothing to help these Texas kids. Patrick’s top ten list of priorities specifically excludes fixing the failed Child Protective Services system.

“Dan Patrick’s only real priority is his political career. There’s no Texan he won’t exploit or neglect to advance himself.”

That’s what I’m talking about. I’ve expressed my concerns about the business community going weak if thrown a bone or two, so this response from the Texas Association of Business is encouraging.

Keep Texas Open for Business strongly opposed Senate Bill 6, calling out the just-filed “Texas Privacy Act,” as discriminatory, anti-business, and unnecessary legislation that is poised to have an immediate and detrimental impact on Texas’ economy. The bill is strikingly similar to North Carolina’s HB 2 law. Both pieces of legislation ban transgender people from using public school, university, and government building restrooms, and prohibit municipalities from passing transgender-inclusive public accommodations policies. The North Carolina law has cost the state nearly one billion dollars in lost economic revenue in just under 10 months.

“All Texans care deeply about safety and privacy, but Senate Bill 6 isn’t about either of those things,” said Chris Wallace, President of the Texas Association of Business (TAB), which leads the Keep Texas Open for Business coalition. “Senate Bill 6 is discriminatory and wholly unnecessary legislation that, if passed, could cost Texas as much as $8.5 billion in GDP and the loss of more than 185,000 jobs in the first year alone.”

“Our communities, our families and businesses across this state face a far more uncertain future if this kind of unnecessary regulation is enacted here. We cannot afford the real human consequences and staggering economic impact of slamming the door on the Texas’ history of openness, competitiveness, economic opportunity and innovation,” added Wallace.

Supporters of SB 6 claim its “unique to Texas”, but the legislation is fundamentally identical to the bathroom and municipal non-discrimination provisions in North Carolina’s HB 2. That law has resulted in companies like PayPal, Deutsche Bank and CoStar pulling jobs and planned investments from the state. Performers and sporting events also have fled North Carolina in the wake of HB 2 – with the NBA, NCAA, and ACC all pulling major championship events that were poised to deliver hundreds of millions of dollars to local economies.

“The so-called Texas Privacy Act won’t make restrooms any safer for men, women and children, and it will do far more harm to them than good. This legislation will needlessly jeopardize jobs, investment, innovation and tax revenue for our state, and it sullies our reputation as an open, inclusive and welcoming state. It is also wholly unenforceable and unsupported by any public safety evidence, and will create situations that invade the privacy of Texans from all walks of life.”

Wallace said that Keep Texas Open for Business and Texas Association of Business would welcome the opportunity to discuss meaningful ways the business community could work with state leaders to address serious, well-documented personal and public safety concerns like online predators, online privacy, and campus safety, while ensuring Texas does not enact discriminatory legislation that will spark statewide boycotts.

Now we need to convince these guys that they need to actually oppose the elections of legislators (and Lite Guvs) that support SB6, because as long as there are no consequences for these actions, there will be no changes in behavior. This is a good start, though.

Equality Texas is going to be at the forefront of this fight, so if you’re looking for a place to direct your activism efforts or dollars, go give them a hand – two immediate opportunities to Do Something are here and here. Texas Competes will also be in the mix on the business side. Patrick is way more out in front of this than either Joe Straus or Greg Abbott, and whatever happens I feel like we’re going to see this play out in next year’s Republican primaries. But let’s not get distracted – first this needs to be killed with fire. Do not sit idly by. Get involved and make your voice heard. Texas Monthly, the Chron, the Current, the Observer, the Austin Chronicle, Texas Leftist, and the DMN have more.

Wait, who supports paper ballots now?

I have three things to say about this.

Following repeated allegations by Republican Donald Trump that the election may be rigged to ensure a win for Democrat Hillary Clinton, Texas lawmakers are actively considering ways to boost confidence in the state’s elections during next year’s legislative session.

Among the ideas drawing interest: adding paper trail backups to thousands of electronic voting machines.

The idea was brought up in a tweet Saturday by Gov. Greg Abbott.

“That’s a great idea & we are considering it as an election reform measure. Election integrity is essential,” Abbott tweeted in response to a voter who tweeted that he wanted printed proof of how he cast his ballot.

Over the last decade, several Texas lawmakers have filed bills to require paper trails on electronic voting machine. The proposals often include adding a printer in a sealed case to the state’s electronic voting machines so voters could check their votes against the receipt. The paper trail could be consulted in the event of a recount.

During the 2007 legislative session, interest in the idea stalled following estimates that adding the printers to all of the state’s voting machines could cost $40 to 50 million, according to a Fort Worth Star-Telegram article from the time.

One of the 2007 bills was authored by then-state Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham. Now a state senator, she said she may re-introduce her previous legislation.

“I agree with Governor Abbott’s call for election reform,” Kolkhorst said Tuesday in an emailed statement. “I have personally spoken with his office about re-introducing my legislation from 2007 to strengthen ballot integrity by requiring a paper record be printed of a person’s vote on an electronic voting machine. Texans have the right to inspect and verify that their vote was accurately recorded.”

[…]

The move toward election reform comes amid an election season in which Texans have expressed concerns about election rigging and voter fraud. Last week, Trump highlighted reports of voting machines in Texas changing votes for president from voters casting straight-ticket ballots. Those reports, however, have been largely debunked by election officials, who have stated that alleged instances of “vote flipping” were the result of user error.

1. I’m old enough to remember when suspicion of electronic voting machines and faith that only paper ballots could ensure the integrity of our electoral system was a shibboleth on the left, largely having to do with dire conspiracy theories about the Diebold corporation and vote counting in Ohio in 2004. Here’s a little blast from the past for those of you who have blocked this out or weren’t there for it the first time. Who knew that a sociopathic sore-losing narcissist could spark such an interest in voting machine integrity among Republicans? For that matter, who knew that so many Republican voters could be that suspicious of the electoral process in a state whose elections they have been dominating for over 20 years? Clearly, all these Republican County Clerks and Republican-appointed elections administrators can’t be trusted.

2. Travis County has already done a lot of the heavy lifting on building a better mousetrap. Maybe we should just emulate their work and save us all a bunch of time and effort.

3. Putting aside the question of paper ballots for a moment, perhaps we should take a moment and contemplate the fact that the electronic voting machines we use now are all a decade or more old, and are generally past their recommended lifespan. If we do nothing else, spending a few bucks to upgrade and replace our current hardware would be an excellent investment.

AG opinion sought on eminent domain power for Texas Central

This could be a big deal.

State Rep. Byron Cook asked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday to rule on whether a private company developing a high-speed train project in the state has the power of eminent domain.

Texas Central Partners has been developing a privately funded bullet train intended to travel between Houston and Dallas  in less than 90 minutes. While the project has garnered strong support in those cities, residents in the largely rural communities along the proposed route have voiced opposition. Cook’s request asks Paxton to determine whether the company has the right, under state law, to enter private property to conduct land surveys “and ultimately take” private land.

“This issue is of great importance to Texans, especially rural Texans, whose property is already being entered upon in preparation for the initiation of eminent domain proceedings,” Cook, a Republican from Corsicana, wrote in his request. “The issue upon which I request an opinion in one of statutory interpretation and the rules that govern your response are straightforward.”

There are currently hundreds of private companies afforded eminent domain authority in Texas, including dozens of private railroad companies, according to a list maintained by the state Comptroller.

Railroad companies have eminent domain rights in Texas, and as of today that includes high-speed rail companies, though Sen. Lois Kolkhorst tried to pass a bill last session that would have ended that. It seems likely she or some other legislative opponent of Texas Central will try again next year, but in the meantime Rep. Cook has asserted in his request for an opinion that TCR doesn’t qualify as a railroad company, at least not as intended by the law as originally written. That feels like legal hair-splitting to me, but these things happen when 19th century legislation is applied to 21st century reality. As we know, AG opinions do not carry the force of law, but it would carry some weight in the litigation that would be sure to follow. Keep an eye on this.

A further look into anti-HERO financing

Regular commenter Mainstream has been investigating the complex money trail of the various anti-HERO factions and documenting it in the comments for the 8 day finance reports: Pro- and anti-HERO post. I’m putting his two most recent entries here to make sure everyone sees them; they were left late Thursday night:

BagOfMoney

The funding for the anti-HERO forces is much more complicated to analyze, because they formed multiple committees, and filed much of their reporting with the State Ethics Commission, rather than with the City of Houston.

All of the interrelated committees have Bart Standley as their treasurer, and the names of the groups include Conservative Republicans of Texas, Conservative Republicans of Harris County, Campaign for Texas Families, Citizens for Restoration (of theocracy).

Former Congressman Tom Delay is being paid by the Campaign for Texas Families about $1400 for travel associated with events, through his Sugar Land based First Principles LLC.

The Campaign for Texas Families gets its money from Conservative Republicans of Texas.

The Campaign for Houston is shown donating $79,000 to Conservative Republicans of Harris County, and the Conservative Republicans of Texas gave $2500 to the Conservative Republicans of Harris County.

Jeff Yates’ consulting company gets paid $80,000 for “advertising expense.”

Harris media in Austin is also being paid. Gulf Direct, which is Kevin Burnette, also in Austin, is also a consultant.

There is a separate statewide Campaign for Houston committee whose main donors are former failed congressional candidate Peter Wareing ($20,000), and Jack A. Cardwell ($25,000) a trucking executive from El Paso who has donated gobs of money to mostly Republicans, but even some Democrat officeholders.

I am not sure what to make of all the back and forth transfers between these committees, and the fact that the reporting is only being done in Austin, and not with the Houston filings.

And I see nothing on the Campaign for Houston filings to correlate with the reported donation of $79,000 to Conservative Republicans of Harris County.

[…]

Digging deeper, I found the $79,000 transfer from Campaign for Houston to Conservative Republicans of Harris County.

I also found $100K for TV to David Lenz Media and $120K to Big Bucks for TV and Radio.

Donors to the state PAC for Campaign for Houston include: County Commissioner Jack Cagle ($1000), city controller candidate Bill Frazer ($500), County Court at Law Judge Clyde Leuchtag ($50), State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst ($5000), voter registrar Mike Sullivan’s office employee Valoree Swanson ($100), former losing congressional candidate Ben Streusand ($2500), former losing judicial candidate Ric Ramos, a family lawyer whose wife is a judge ($15,000), former losing judicial candidate Don Self ($2000), Terry Lowry of the Link Letter publication ($1000), car dealer Mac Haik ($5000), and Alan Hartman ($100,000).

One needs to know who one’s enemies are. My sincere thanks to Mainstream for his diligence and persistence.

Bullet train budget rider battle continues

The budget rider to derail the high speed train is still under contention as the conference committee completes its work.

Tucked in Page 682 of the budget passed by the Senate in April is Rider 48, a provision that would bar the Texas Department of Transportation from spending any state funds toward “subsidizing or assisting in the construction of high-speed passenger rail.”

The budget rider is one of several efforts by some Republican lawmakers to stop Texas Central Railway’s plan to build a high-speed rail line that would travel between Dallas and Houston in less than 90 minutes, reaching speeds of 205 mph.

Texas Central has vowed to not take public operating subsidies. Nonetheless, company officials say the rider would kill the train because TxDOT, as the state agency in charge of transportation, would need to play a role in the project’s construction.

“If enacted the rider would constrain TxDOT’s ability to work with Texas Central Partners to perform important public safety duties,” the company argues on a website it launched this week to rally public support against the rider.

The Senate’s lead budget negotiator, Finance Chairwoman Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said the rider remains one of the final sticking points between the House and the Senate.

“There is some question of whether that would handicap it to the point that you couldn’t build it,” Nelson said Wednesday of the rider. “There are very strong feelings on both sides of that issue.”

[…]

Two vocal critics of the project, Republican Sens. Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham and Charles Schwertner of Georgetown, are among the five senators on the budget conference committee working out a compromise version of the budget.

Schwertner said he was fighting for the rider to remain in the budget, citing concerns about how the project will impact property values and local economies.

“There’s all sorts of potential problems with the project that must be heard,” Schwertner said.

[…]

State Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, is representing the House in budget negotiations related to transportation. Asked about the high-speed rail rider Wednesday, he said that it was not proposed by the House. “That was in their budget. That’s their language. Rider 48. That’s them. It was not in our budget.”

Nelson said there have been multiple discussions about how to amend the rider in an effort to find a compromise.

“I think I’ve probably looked at seven different versions of amendments to the rider,” Nelson said. “I’m trying to come up with something that both sides may not totally agree with but it may calm them down.”

See here for the background. I personally am not a fan of settling policy matters in this fashion. It’s terribly un-democratic, as the finalized budget, with or without Rider 48, is not subject to debate or further amendment, just an up or down vote on the whole thing. The folks who oppose Texas Central Railway, who make their case for keeping Rider 48 on the Texans Against High Speed Rail Facebook page, were able to get bills introduced in each chamber to impede if not completely obstruct TCR, with one of those bills getting out of committee. Neither got any farther than that, but that’s the way it goes for 90% or so of all bills. It seems likely they’ll have another crack at it in 2017, and there’s always the possibility of federal action, too. There’s nothing nefarious about what they’re doing – budget riders are a well-known part of the puzzle – I would just prefer not to see the matter settled in this fashion.

Will the high speed rail opponents get a bill passed?

Seems unlikely at this point, but I wouldn’t count them out.

“The vast majority of the folks between Dallas and Houston are against it,” said Kyle Workman, president of the recently formed Texans Against High-Speed Rail. “They don’t want their land to be taken. They don’t want a train going through their quiet country landscape.”

Starting in 2021, Texas Central hopes to have its high-speed rail up and running, with trains traversing East Texas 62 times a day. The company says its tracks will be no wider than 100 feet at any point, requiring a total of 3,000 acres along its 240-mile route between Dallas and Houston.

The company said in a statement that it plans to “design large, frequent and conveniently located underpasses or overpasses to allow for the free movement of farm equipment, livestock, wildlife and vehicle traffic.” The electric-powered trains will be quieter than an 18-wheeler, the company says.

Workman is helping lead a coalition of high-speed rail critics backing several bills this session that could kill, or at least hobble, Texas Central’s ambitious project. Their partners include the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association and county officials in all nine rural counties along the train’s proposed routes.

Two bills in particular have caught opponents’ attention. A bill from state Rep. Will Metcalf, R-Conroe, would require high-speed rail projects to secure approval from elected officials of every city and county along a proposed route. A measure from state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, would strip all high-speed rail companies of the eminent domain authority given to other rail firms.

Texas Central argues that the bills unfairly target its project just because its train would go faster than most others.

“I get emails every day from very hard-working Texans that want jobs and want this project to succeed,” Texas Central Executive Vice President Kathryn Kaufman said at a recent House Transportation Committee hearing. “All we ask is this train be treated the same as every private railroad in Texas.”

Texans Against High-Speed Rail formed in February. Workman, a construction consultant, lives halfway between Houston and Dallas in Jewett, and current proposed routes suggest Texas Central’s trains will go through his property, he said. His father is state Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin. Though Workman said he doesn’t “broadcast that,” he acknowledged that a familiarity with the Capitol has helped the group quickly ramp up its efforts. (Asked about his position on the project, Paul Workman said in a statement, “This project is bad for all of Texas, and particularly for our rural communities.”)

The group’s leadership also includes Grimes County Judge Ben Leman and Magnolia funeral home director Glenn Addison, who ran for U.S. Senate in 2012.

The group hit a speed bump last month after The Dallas Morning News reported that it had hired an Austin lobbyist who also counted Dallas Area Rapid Transit as a client. DART has publicly backed the bullet train. Following the report, Texans Against High-Speed Rail had to quickly hire new lobbyists.

[…]

With less than a month left in the session, none of the bills targeting Texas Central’s project have reached the full House or Senate for a vote. This session may be the only shot for activists to stop the project at the Legislature. Construction could begin as early as the fourth quarter of 2016 depending on when the current federal review is completed, according to Texas Central. The Legislature is not scheduled to reconvene until 2017.

Workman predicted that if the Legislature doesn’t stop the project this year, growing community opposition will slow the company’s schedule enough that lawmakers will be able to address it in the next session.

“We are telling people that this is a three-year fight and we have two sessions that we have to go through,” Workman said.

See here for the background. Let’s assume neither the Metcalf bill nor the Kolkhorst bill gets passed in any form. If that happens, then it’s a question of how far along Texas Central can get on the federal EIS process by 2017, and whether they can do anything to blunt the opposition by then. There’s also the possibility of litigation, and given the shenanigans that light rail opponents in Houston trotted out, all sorts of delay and distract potential. So overall I’d say Workman is right that this fight will still be going on in the next session, but there’s a wide range of possible places for each side to be when that next session gavels in. Finally, keep an eye on Southwest Airlines and what if any position they take in this debate. They may or may not get involved, but if they do it could have a significant effect.

Profiling the high speed rail opponents

City Lab takes a look at the people who are resisting the proposed Texas Central Railway.

Turns out you don’t need to rely on public money to be hated as a U.S. high-speed rail project. That much is becoming clear from the battering being given to a big Texas bullet train plan that’s privately funded.

A quick recap: Texas Central Railway, a private firm, is pushing a very promising proposal to link Dallas and Houston with a Japanese-style high-speed train capable of doing the trip at 200 mph. By relying on investors rather than taxpayers, the plan seemed poised to avoid a lot of the fiscal (slash ideological) squabbles that have plagued its federally-funded counterparts in California, Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

But with the project advancing toward route selection and environmental review, an intense opposition has emerged. It’s taken the form of anti-HSR groups (e.g. No Texas Central and Texans Against High Speed Rail), local legislation designed to stop the project, packed and panicked community meetings, and pleas for Congressional representatives to block any applications made by Texas Central to the Surface Transportation Board.

So far the high-speed rail pushback seems to be falling into three broad categories.

Click over and see how they were categorized. Nothing really new here, but it’s a succinct summary and a good quick reference guide if you need it.

Speaking of the legislation that has advanced out of committee, the Trib notes that its author, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, hasn’t always been anti-rail.

Yet as recently as 2012, Kolkhorst was listed as a member of the legislative caucus of the Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corporation, a nonprofit that has advocated on behalf of cities and counties to encourage private sector development of high-speed rail in the state.

Kolkhorst’s chief of staff, Chris Steinbach, said there was no contradiction in her actions, as she is not uniformly opposed to high-speed rail.

“While she was involved with discussions about high-speed rail as a concept years ago, that is very different from endorsing the current specific route and methodology,” Steinbach said in an email. “In fact, her bill this session does not speak to the concept of rail, but rather the potential abuse of eminent domain.”

Kolkhorst was a state representative from 2001 to 2014, when she won a special election to take a seat in the Senate. The Dallas-based Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corporation identified Kolkhorst as a new member of its legislative caucus in 2007. Steinbach said the senator joined the corporation at the request of some of her constituents. She has not been a member of the organization’s legislative caucus as a senator.

“She lent her name as a goodwill gesture for constituents who supported the idea of researching rail projects,” Steinbach said. “While she is she known for her open-minded approach to problems, that trait should not be mistaken for any advocacy or endorsement of the current high-speed rail project being discussed in the 84th Legislature.”

The Texas High-Speed Rail and Transportation Corporation launched in 2002 with a focus on encouraging private sector development of the Texas T-Bone, a proposed high-speed rail system connecting San Antonio, Austin, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth, according to David Dean, the corporation’s public policy consultant. The corporation has more recently encouraged private sector high-speed rail development anywhere in the state but is not officially endorsing Texas Central’s project, Dean said.

“We’re glad they’re here,” Dean said. “We hope they’re very successful because we need that true high-speed intercity passenger rail.”

Whatever. Look, people can change their minds, and they can decide that this project is OK but that one is not. As I’ve said before, there are valid reasons for folks in the affected rural reasons to oppose this project. But if this does succeed – and to be clear, I remain in favor of it – then perhaps that also-long-discussed Texas T-Bone would be more likely to finally get built, and it might very well be the kind of boon to the rural communities that TCR will be for Houston and Dallas. A little big-picture thinking would be nice here, that’s all I’m saying.

High speed rail opponents go to Congress

Here’s a press release from Texans Against High Speed Rail:

Lawmakers in Austin who represent thousands of Texans along the proposed Dallas Houston high-speed rail project being promoted by Texas Central Railway (TCR) have officially requested opposition to the project from the Texas delegation in Washington, DC. With an application to the federal level Surface Transportation Board (STB) likely, all five state senators and nine state house members who represent the areas between Dallas and Houston called on the federal delegation representing those areas to preemptively oppose any application for public convenience and necessity by the high-speed rail company at the STB.

Texas State Senators Brian Birdwell, Brandon Creighton, Lois Kolkhorst, Robert Nichols and Charles Schwertner, as well as State Representatives Trent Ashby, Cecil Bell, Jr., Byron Cook, Kyle Kacal, Mark Keough, Will Metcalf, John Raney, Leighton Schubert and John Wray, signed the April 10 letter siting TCR’s intent to use eminent domain to acquire land, loss of property value, project viability concerns and widespread opposition as their reasons for opposing the proposed bullet train.

“For the rural counties impacted by the proposed routes, this project would only serve as a detriment. Although rural counties may benefit from a few jobs during the construction phase, the long-term costs far outweigh any temporary benefit. This project holds real consequences for rural constituents, their property and their livelihoods. Private property interests will be taken by eminent domain. Farm and ranchland, often held by families for generations, will be divided, creating a loss in access and a loss in revenue for those who rely on farming and ranching to make a living. The value of nearby land will decrease due to sight, noise and restricted use of property caused by the high-speed rail.”

The letter went on to state, “We appreciate any assistance you can provide in opposing any TCR application at the STB…As duly-elected officials representing our constituents at the federal level, each of you has a unique opportunity to have an impact on this project before it is unilaterally advanced by the appointees who comprise the STB.”

The federal government is your enemy until you need it to do something for you, I guess. The link comes via Rodger Jones of the DMN, who analyzes it thusly:

What that tells me is this: These 14 rural lawmakers who oppose high-speed rail in Texas fear they’ll fall short of blocking the project in the Legislature, so now they’ve opened up a second front. That makes a better show of things for the folks back home.

Even if Sen. Lois Kolkhorst gets her rail-killing SB 1601 through the Senate, it would have to survive the choke-points in the House.

I agree with his view of the prospects for Sen. Kolkhorst to get her bill passed. The fact that two Republicans on the committee, both from the Metroplex, suggested this would be a tough fight for her, as she couldn’t simply count on partisan advantage.

If you follow this link from Jones’ piece, it’s about the invocations by rail opponents of the much-hated Trans Texas Corridor. While there are some parallels between these two projects, there are some major differences as well, with the amount of right-of-way needed – about 100 feet for Texas Central Railway versus nearly 1000 feet for the TTC – being a key one. I have some sympathy for these rural counties, as there’s not much the Texas Central Railway project will do for them, but I don’t care for fearmongering. To address the allegations that high speed rail opponents have been making, TCR released Texas Central Rumor vs Reality, which is included in Jones’ post. I’ve had the experience of riding the shinkansen in Japan, so I can speak directly to the noise issue: That train is actually amazingly quiet. It’s no louder than Houston’s light rail line, and in comparison to, say, truck traffic on a highway, it’s barely noticeable. There’s more in the document, so go check it out. There are arguments to be made against the TCR, and opponents in rural areas have a point when they argue that they are not beneficiaries of this project. But they lose me when they start making stuff up. The Star-Telegram has more.

Senate bill to kill high speed rail advances

Didn’t know there was one of these.

The Senate Transportation Committee voted 5-4 to pass out Senate Bill 1601, from state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, which would strip firms developing high-speed rail projects from eminent domain authority.

Texas Central High-Speed Railway is developing a privately financed bullet train to carry passengers between Houston and Dallas in less than 90 minutes, with a single stop in between near College Station. The company has said it hopes to have the train running by 2021 and has vowed to not take any public subsidies. While the project has drawn strong support in Houston and Dallas, officials in the largely rural communities along the proposed route have expressed opposition.

Kolkhorst said Wednesday that she didn’t want to see private landowners lose their land for a project that she believed is likely to fail.

“While I think in some countries it has worked, I don’t see a whole lot of high-speed rail across the United States,” Kolkhorst said. “I just don’t see it, and I’m not sure I want Texas to be the guinea pig on this.”

Four Republicans joined Kolkhorst in voting for the bill: Transportation Chairman Robert Nichols of Jacksonville, Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay, Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills and Bob Hall of Edgewood. Voting against the bill were two Houston Democrats, Rodney Ellis and Sylvia Garcia, and two North Texas Republicans, Don Huffines of Dallas and Van Taylor of Plano.

[…]

Texas Central Chairman and CEO Richard Lawless told the committee he felt his company was being unfairly singled out.

“All that we ask that this train be treated like any other private train in Texas,” Lawless said. “It does not seem fair to us that this train should be prohibited in Texas just because it goes faster than other trains.”

Those informational meetings sure look like a necessary idea. I noted a bill filed in the House that would have required each city and county along the route to approve the idea. Maybe that was overkill, as that bill has not been scheduled to be heard in committee as yet. What’s most interesting here is that the vote against it was bipartisan, with two Metroplex-area Senators not joining with their mostly rural colleagues (Kelly Hancock being the exception) on this. That suggests to me that this bill might have a hard time coming to the floor, or even getting a majority. If that’s the case, I’m okay with that. Hair Balls has more.

Opposition to the high speed rail line gets organized

You had to figure something like this was coming. I was recently informed of NoTexasCentral.com, and I’ll let them introduce themselves:

Texas Central Railway (TCR), a Japanese funded Texas-based private railroad company, is set to build and operate a high speed train system from Dallas to Houston. With stations slated only at the ends of the line, the train will run at over 200 mph through some of Texas’ most beautiful farmland, marring the landscape and tranquility of our great state, as well as displacing families and disrupting farming and ranching operations. Closer into the terminating cities, historic neighborhoods and small businesses will be affected in irreparable ways. Property value loss, probable tax hikes to offset lost revenue from lowered property values, property loss, environmental impacts, lack of economic benefit and noise/vibration disruptions will all impact the lives of so many Texans.

We all oppose the current primary and secondary routes being selected by Texas Central Railway. Help us save our homes and farmland from this high speed train by voicing your opposition!

Their Facebook page is here. While rural counties have been resistant to the high speed rail line for some time now, the focal point of the opposition appears to be in Montgomery County, as This story linked from the Facebook page illustrates:

More than 800 people packed the Lone Star Community Center in Montgomery Monday night to learn what they can do to stop a proposed multibillion-dollar high-speed rail route that would cut through West Montgomery County and connect Houston with Dallas.

According to local legislators and county elected officials, the Texas Central Railway, a private company planning the high-speed rail, has the power of eminent domain to make the project happen.

“This is one of the biggest threats to the county I have seen in years,” former Montgomery County Judge Alan B. Sadler told the crowd. “It’s extreme, ladies and gentlemen.”

[…]

“I am not a happy camper,” said state Rep. Will Metcalf, R-Conroe, adding he is frustrated by the lack of transparency on the project. “They are moving forward and we need your help.

“I don’t believe private enterprise should have eminent domain power. In regard to the 10th Amendment, I talked a lot about this during my campaign; we are living it here today. Federal overreach, they are bypassing us at the state, the county, and that is not OK.”

Metcalf urged residents to contact U.S Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

“When Montgomery County is joined together, we are unstoppable,” Metcalf said.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley told the crowd that even though the project would cut through his precinct, he has not been contacted by TCR about the rail line. He said he is determined to stop the project.

“Whatever we need to do to stay united and stay strong, we will support it to make sure this doesn’t happen,” Riley said.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador said while Montgomery County Commissioners Court passed a resolution late last year that it did not support the project, he added it is time for the court to readdress that resolution and “toughen it up.”

I’ve discussed the Montgomery County issues before. At one point, Montgomery County Commissioners Court passed a resolution saying they would oppose any alignment that didn’t include the I-45 corridor. The impression I get now is that the locals there would prefer to try to kill project altogether. They’ve started collecting the support of elected officials to back them up. A story in the Leader News from a couple of weeks ago that as far as I know never appeared online mentioned three State Senators that have signed a letter to TxDOT opposing the use of eminent domain and any state funds for this project – Sen. Lois Kolkhorst was one, Sen. Brandon Creighton was another, and (oops!) I can’t remember the third. There’s a great irony here in that one of the selling points of the TCR approach has been that by not seeking public money for the rail line they can avoid a lot of the political battles and streamline the process. That sure doesn’t appear to be the case any more.

Meanwhile, the Houston-based opposition is still looking for alternate routes.

So what is the alternative? Civic leaders from the neighborhoods under threat from the two proposed routes have joined together to chart a better way forward, seeking solutions that will allow high-speed rail to serve Houston without blighting residential neighborhoods – theirs or anyone else’s. This inter-neighborhood working group has put forward two suggested approaches.

The first is to terminate the line outside Houston’s central business district, at a location such as the Northwest Transit Center, an idea that Texas Central Railroad itself has floated. Unlike many other cities, Houston has multiple commercial centers, and much of the potential ridership here is located west and northwest of downtown. An express bus service or a light-rail line could connect the terminus with downtown; at a public meeting last fall, a METRO spokesperson embraced the idea of providing such a connection. And terminating the high-speed rail line outside the Central Business District would avoid exacerbating traffic and parking problems the way a downtown terminus would, with riders from around the city having to travel downtown to reach it.

Alternatively, if a downtown terminus is deemed necessary, the approach to downtown should be routed not through residential neighborhoods but down highway or industrial corridors. A route along I-45 was one of the routes examined and rejected by the Federal Railroad Administration, but deserves reconsideration. A route along I-10, which Texas Central Railroad representatives have acknowledged as worthy of consideration, should also be investigated as a way to reach central Houston. Several other variations, involving the Hempstead/290 corridor, I-610 North Loop, and/or the Harris County Hardy Toll Road corridor, are worth looking into.

See here for the background. The actual route has not been determined yet, and as this statement from Texas Central, posted on the No Texas Central Facebook page, makes clear, even the two “preferred routes” that have been highlighted so far are really just corridors. We won’t have a clear idea of what we might get until the Federal Railroad Administration posts the scoping report to its website. In the meantime, there’s still a lot of opportunity to affect things. I’ll continue to keep an eye on it.

HD13 runoff date set

We are now all set on special election runoffs.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday scheduled a Feb. 17 runoff in the special election for Lois Kolkhorst’s old seat in the Texas House.

Austin County Judge Carolyn Bilski and Caldwell attorney Leighton Schubert — both Republicans — were the top two finishers in the Jan. 13 special election to replace Kolkhorst, a Brenham Republican. Last year, she won a promotion to the upper chamber, vacating her seat in House District 13, which includes parts of seven counties west of the Houston area.

Early voting in the HD13 runoff has been set for Feb. 9-13.

See here for the first round result in HD13. This means that all four runoffs are now scheduled for the same date, which makes the most sense. I presume the delay in adding this runoff to the calendar was because it hadn’t been canvassed yet. I approve of the quick turnaround, and I hope the special election that will be needed to succeed either Trey Martinez-Fischer or Jose Menendez in San Antonio gets the same consideration. On that note, the Express News’ Gilbert Garcia identifies MALDEF attorney Marisa Bono as a likely candidate in HD116 if TMF is the runoff winner. I can’t see the story, so I can’t tell you more than that (Ms. Bono is on Twitter, if you’re interested), but I’m sure we’ll start to hear about who might be interested in either of those seats soon enough. If we do get the kind of short turnaround I’m hoping for, they’ll need to hit the ground running.