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Ron Simmons

Halfway through the session

The House is doing House things, and that’s fine.

Rep. Joe Straus

Brushing aside concerns that they are not moving swiftly enough to enact Gov. Greg Abbott’s 20-point agenda, Texas House members opened the second half of the special session Wednesday with a flurry of activity Wednesday.

“We made good progress, and we’re only half the way through,” House Speaker Joe Straus told the American-Statesman.

“I’ve been spending my time, the first half of the 30-day session, trying to get the House in a place to consider the items that the governor has placed on the agenda,” said Straus, a San Antonio Republican. “We work more slowly than the Senate does because we listen to people and we try to get the details right. And so the House committees have been meeting and have shown some good progress, moving many of the items that are on the call.”

[…]

Straus has indicated he opposes a measure — favored by Patrick — that would pre-empt schools and local jurisdictions from making their own transgender friendly bathroom rules.

But, its sponsor, Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, said he considered that bill an “outlier” — the only one he knows of that Straus explicitly opposes, “and so it’s not surprising to me that that has not moved expeditiously.”

Simmons said there had been an effort to discourage members to sign on to his bill and so he only had about 50 members willing to do so, far fewer than in the regular session.

Of his other bill on school choice for special needs students — also part of Abbott’s agenda — Simmons said, “I’m not sure it will get voted out of committee.” He said he holds out a faint hope that it might advance if there is some “grand bargain” on education.

“The governor wants school finance and we’re going to do that; we’re going to pass our plan on Friday,” said Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, chairman of the Public Education Committee. “I think it’s very clear that the House has not agreed on the voucher issue, but we have a solution to help special needs students.”

“The House is doing what it should do, which is being deliberative, thoughtful and being sure that legislation that we would pass is sound policy that would benefit the citizens of the state of Texas,” said Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, chairman of the State Affairs Committee. “The House is not built for speed.”

“This is the House,” said Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, who chairs the House Republican Caucus Policy Committee. “We will use all 30 days. There’s plenty of time.”

Goldman said it looks like the bill he is carrying for the governor to pre-empt local cellphone ordinances is unlikely to make it out of committee.

“Nothing nefarious,” he said; there’s just too much opposition from local police and elected officials who hold great sway with House members.

Imagine that, listening to stakeholders. Who knew? The House will pass more bills, some of which will be amenable to the Senate and some of which will not. Expect to see a lot of gamesmanship, passive aggressiveness, and the occasional bit of decent policymaking, though that latter item is strictly optional.

Dear business community: Dan Patrick is not your ally

Here’s the full Chron story about the latest group of business leaders to call for a stop to the bathroom bill. I want to focus on one key aspect of this:

A week after police chiefs from Houston, San Antonio and Austin joined in protest against the bill, Abbott said the legislation specifically attempts to avoid adding any added burden on local police.

“There is not a role for law enforcement to play,” Abbott said Monday at the annual Sheriffs’ Association of Texas Training Conference and Expo in Grapevine. “Enforcement of this law is done by the Attorney General.”

According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Abbott said because it is a civil action and not a criminal one, police will not be part of the enforcement.

“So what I urge is for everyone to step back, calmly look at what the bill actually says, before they cast some misguided judgment,” Abbott said.

Patrick, another champion of the bathroom bill, blasted the partnership’s letter.

“The Partnership is out of touch with the majority of Houstonians who voted overwhelmingly in 2015 to reject the same kind of ordinance that Senate Bill 3 will prohibit. They warned of economic doom at the time, but there has been no negative impact on the City’s economy. In their rush to be politically correct this business group is ignoring the fact that companies continue to expand and new ones are moving to Houston. The people of Texas are right about this issue and they are wrong,” Patrick said in a statement.

Look at the language Patrick is using to describe business leaders whose companies employ hundreds of thousands of people in Texas. “Out of touch”. “Politically correct”. Patrick has been treating the business community with contempt and hostility since the beginning of this manufactured fight. He will never back down – if SB3 doesn’t pass and Abbott doesn’t grant his wish to have yet another special session, he’ll work to get more legislators like him elected and he’ll be back in 2019. The fight business leaders are putting up now is great, but unless they’re ready and willing to keep fighting, next March and next November, it will mean nothing. Actually, that’s not true. It will mean Dan Patrick will be totally vindicated in his belief that he cannot and will not be stopped by anyone, that there are no checks or limits on his power and his agenda. He’s going to keep doing damage until enough people stand up to him. There’s never been a better time for that.

I keep coming back to this because I keep seeing stories like the recent one about the NFL Draft in which it is implied or outright stated that business organizations may or will lack options if the bathroom bill passes. Which is ludicrous, of course, since their first and foremost option is to stop supporting politicians who oppose them on this very fundamental principle. Turn off the campaign contributions, for a start. Even if it’s too scary to back an opponent, everyone can do that much.

And again, remember that a win on this issue in the special session is not a final victory. Dan Patrick will be back, and it’s up to all of us whether he’s stronger than before or not. The good news is that it’s beginning to look like maybe he will lose this time around.

[House Speaker Joe Straus] may not even refer SB 3 to a committee, leaving it to die untouched by House members.

In addition, the author of two House bills to limit transgender bathroom policies acknowledged Monday that his legislation is at risk.

Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, said he was promised a public hearing — but nothing more — on his bills by the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana.

“Chairman Cook said he going to give us a hearing. At the same time, he said he’s not going to move the legislation,” Simmons said during a downtown Austin event sponsored by the Texas Tribune.

“I think the prospects are not great, not because the (Republican) majority doesn’t want it … but because there are some key leaders who do not want it. That’s the way the system works,” he said.

Simmons predicted that his bills would pass if given a vote by the full House, and Abbott has been pressing House leaders to allow a floor vote.

Abbott also urged conservative Republicans last week to add their names as co-authors to Simmons’ bills as well as to other legislation pertaining to his special session agenda.

By Monday evening, 49 House Republicans had attached their names to House Bill 46, Simmons’ main piece of legislation. A somewhat similar bill had 80 co-authors — 76 votes ensures passage in the House — in the regular session that ended in May.

The special session bills take different approaches.

Here are those House bathroom bill sponsors again, which should be read as a starter’s kit of legislators who need to be voted out. Some of those legislators are in swing districts. Some will need to be taken out in a primary. Opposition to the bathroom bill is broad and diverse. Support for it is narrow and zealous. It’s time to change the culture. We can win, but we can’t let up. The Chron has more.

Long read on the ongoing bathroom bill fight

From the Daily Beast. Covers a lot of ground, some of which is familiar but quite a bit of which is new or at least additive. A small sample:

Two bills, HB 46 and HB 50, have so far been filed for the special session, sponsored by state Rep. Ron Simmons. A further Senate Bill, SB 23, is aimed at prohibiting cities from introducing non-discrimination legislation above and beyond that which has been sanctioned at state level.

HB 46 would stop school boards from enforcing policies that allow transgender youth or staff to use the restrooms of their choice; HB 50 would undo any ordinances passed in specific cities designed to protect the rights of trans people to use the public bathrooms they want.

Simmons told The Daily Beast: “At least in Texas, for 170 years since we’ve been a state, bathroom usage was understood. People used the bathrooms… you know, male used male, female used female.

“All HB 46 and HB 50 does is says this is an issue that needs a lot of debate and a lot of discussion. Right now, we don’t need patchwork of ordinances around the state. We need to keep in place what is currently in place until there is a federal law or a state law change.

“We’re also protecting—just like a transgender woman might feel uncomfortable going into the biological bathroom of her choice; say she’s a biological man, but a transgender woman—a person who is not transgender who might feel very uncomfortable for someone who is biologically male to be in same shower or changing facility as them. We’re protecting their privacy as well.”

Simmons dismissed Speaker Straus’ concerns over trans suicide. “I don’t think there are any statistics that relate trans use in restrooms to suicide rates.” He added he would be happy to study such figures if they existed.

There are, in fact, many statistics showing the high levels of discrimination and prejudice experienced by transgender Texans.

In the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 61 percent of trans Texans reported avoiding public restrooms because they were afraid of confrontations or other problems they might experience. Thirty-six percent limited what they ate or drank so they wouldn’t have to visit a restroom.

There’s a lot more, including further examples of ignorance and made-up statistics from Rep. Simmons. I actually don’t think he’s one of the true bad guys in all this, but he really needs to meet a few trans people and maybe do a little reading outside the right wing bubble. He could start with this article, and I commend you to do the same.

On a tangential note, kudos to Gromer Jeffers of the DMN for saying something that has needed to be said:

Business leaders have been criticized for not doing more to squash the bathroom bill proposals during the regular session. Now that Gov. Greg Abbott has added it to the call for a special session, there’s a likelihood that some sort of legislation will be passed, perhaps one that deals with schools.

The state is at this crossroads in part because business executives didn’t confront Abbott about the proposals with any gusto. They let his position evolve from public indifference to wanting a bill on his desk.

The governor, perhaps, found the arguments made by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and segments of the Republican Party base more persuasive than the faint objections of the business community. That’s extraordinary when you consider that Abbott’s robust campaign war chest includes money he got from influential donors who also oppose bathroom bills.

OK, he’s not the first person to bring this up, but still. Businesses have done an admirable job pushing back against this crap, but there’s a lot more they can do, and they don’t deserve full credit until they do it.

Special session officially set

Brace yourselves, it starts next week.

Gov. Greg Abbott issued a declaration for a special session of the Texas Legislature Monday, formally inviting lawmakers back to Austin to pass “sunset legislation” that will keep several key state agencies open.

The long-awaited procedural move allows lawmakers to begin filing bills for the special session set to begin on July 18.

In addition to the formal declaration, Abbott also released a draft version of 19 additional items he plans to add to the special session agenda later on. Last month, Abbott announced that lawmakers would consider 20 total legislative items during the special session.

[…]

Secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw said her office received a copy of the proclamation around 11:00 a.m., which she forwarded to senators to alert them that they could begin filing bills. A physical copy of the proclamation was also delivered to senators’ offices in the Capitol building. Senators began filing bills Monday afternoon.

Meanwhile the House, which has had an e-filing system in place for years, received over two dozen bills before 1 p.m.

Robert Haney, the House chief clerk, said the first bill filed Monday, House Bill 41 from state Rep. Mike Schofield, R-Katy, was received at 11:42 a.m. The bill aims to change how the state calculates the constitutional spending limit, which restricts how much the budget can grow from one biennium to the next.

Within an hour, dozens of other bills were filed including two pieces of bathroom-related legislation from state Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton. HB 46 would forbid “political subdivisions, including a public school district” from adopting or enforcing measures to “protect a class of persons from discrimination” in regulating “access to multi-occupancy restrooms, showers or changing facilities.” HB 50 is identical except applying only to a school district board.

See here and here for the background. Special sessions are limited to the agenda the governor sets. That has never stopped anyone from filing bills on whatever other subjects they wanted, some good, some bad, and some utterly pointless, because you never know when the governor may exercise his power to add to that agenda. The real question for this session is what happens when some number of Abbott’s bills don’t get passed – indeed, don’t even get a vote. “Sunset and sine die” may be the battle cry, but nothing would stop Abbott from calling everyone right back, as Rick Perry did in the past. How much is enough for Abbott? We’re about to find out.

Next round of bathroom bills getting prepped

Meet the new bills, same as the old bills.

Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, is expected to introduce two bills in the upcoming special session of the Texas Legislature that would regulate which public bathrooms transgender Texans, including schoolchildren, can use.

The first bill, which will closely resemble his bill that failed during the regular session, will be a broad attempt to prohibit cities, counties and public school districts from enforcing non-discrimination ordinances involving multi-occupancy restrooms or locker rooms.

It is expected to allow exceptions for people already protected under state and federal anti-discrimination laws, which do not include sexual orientation or gender identity.

Simmons’ bill would effectively invalidate local nondiscrimination ordinances that allow transgender people to use public bathrooms that match their gender identity, as well as school district policies that make accommodations for transgender students.

That proposal, House Bill 2899, had 79 co-sponsors, all Republicans, before lawmakers left Austin in late May. A bill needs to win a simple majority, or 76 votes, on the House floor to pass.

A second proposal Simmons plans to introduce would apply only to public school districts.

Despite Speaker Joe Straus’ disinterest, I have a hard time imagining a scenario where most of Abbott’s special session wingnut agenda, including a bathroom bill, doesn’t pass. There’s no place to hide, and with the session tucked in between July 4 and Labor Day, there are no holiday weekends to eat up time. Abbott has decided to get involved, which ought to give his items a push. I suppose anything can happen, and for sure we should engage and resist to the max, but I strongly suspect the real opportunity to deliver a message will be next year.

Senate passes ban on straight-ticket voting

It’s happening.

The Texas Senate gave initial approval Wednesday to legislation that would eliminate straight-ticket voting in all elections.

By a vote of 20-10, senators passed House Bill 25 over objections from Democrats who warned of unintended consequences — including a disproportionate impact on minority voters.

“Frankly, I don’t see any purpose for this legislation other than trying to dilute the vote of Democrats and, more specifically, minorities,” said state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas.

The bill’s supporters say it would force voters to make more informed decisions in individual elections. “What we’re doing is showing every race matters,” the Senate sponsor, Republican state Sen. Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills, said Wednesday.

The legislation’s backers also argue it would bring Texas in line with at least 40 other states that do not allow straight-ticket voting, the option for voters to automatically cast their ballot for every candidate from a single party. Straight-ticket ballots made up nearly 64 percent of total votes cast in the state’s 10 largest counties in 2016.

The preliminary approval of HB 25 on Wednesday came after Hancock amended it to postpone its effective date from September 2017 to September 2020. That will allow candidates more time to prepare for the change, Hancock said.

You know how I feel about this. I’ve got no more arguments to make. There’s been talk of a lawsuit, and I won’t be surprised if one gets filed. The Republicans could improve their position by addressing the issue of the longer lines that will result from the removal of this option – more money to counties to buy more voting machines for early and precinct voting locations would help a lot. I don’t they’re any more likely to do this than they were to mitigate the 2011 voter ID bill, but they have that option and they’ll have the 2019 legislative session in which to exercise it. We’ll see what they do. The Press has more.

Bill to ban straight-ticket voting advances in the Senate

This could happen.

Rep. Ron Simmons

A Texas Senate panel approved legislation Thursday that would end straight-ticket voting in all elections.

The Senate Committee on Business & Commerce voted 7-0 to send House Bill 25 for potential consideration by the full chamber. Two members, the only Democrats on the panel, were absent.

The vote came less than a week after the House passed the legislation, mostly along party lines. Starting with the 2018 elections, the bill would take away the option for voters to automatically cast their ballot for every candidate from a single party.

[…]

In the Thursday hearing, proponents of the bill — including its Senate sponsor, Hancock — said it would force voters to make more informed decisions when casting their ballots. Critics suggested it could lead to voting rights violations.

“We believe that this takes away one method of voting that minority voters overwhelmingly use to choose the candidates of their choice,” said Glen Maxey, legislative affairs director for the Texas Democratic Party.

Maxey also questioned why the bill wound up in the Business & Commerce Committee, not the State Affairs Committee. Such a maneuver is “what the federal courts have noted as abnormal legislative procedure,” Maxey said.

A federal judge blocked a similar law last year in Michigan, saying it would disproportionately affect black voters. After that ruling came up in Thursday’s hearing, Hancock noted that the Michigan law moved through a “completely different court system than we’ll move through” if HB 25 becomes law and it is challenged.

Hancock also sought to reassure critics of the bill who said it would lead to longer lines at polling places, saying more locations would solve the problem.

See here for the background. Sen. Hancock is correct that more locations – and more machines per location – can solve the problems, but those words are meaningless without funding from the state to cover the costs. Not covering costs, going through a different committee, taking a vote when the two Dems on the committee were absent – none of this is going to look good when the inevitable lawsuit is filed.

House Democrats on Friday argued eliminating the “one-punch” choice would constitute an attack on Texans’ voting rights, particularly the disabled, the elderly and voters in large cities, where ballots and lines are longer and more people rely on public transportation.

Multiple lawmakers said minority voters rely on the straight-ticket option more than Anglos, evidence that was used as the basis of a 2016 federal court ruling that blocked a similar law in Michigan.

“This bill hasn’t been vetted,” said Representative Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City. “We don’t know how much it will cost; we don’t know if it will violate the Voting Rights Act of 1964. What we do know is that federal courts have ruled recently that laws passed by Texas discriminated against African-American and Hispanic voters.”

Three federal court rulings since March have found that Texas intentionally discriminated against African-American and Hispanic voters in voter ID and redistricting cases. The author of HB 25, Representative Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, said repeatedly during debate Friday night that he was not aware of the rulings.

“I’ve been busy down here,” he said on the House floor, defending his lack of knowledge of the widely reported court decisions.

Representative Harold Dutton Jr., D-Houston, predicted the bill would be challenged “as a voter suppression bill.”

In the Michigan ruling last July, a federal judge wrote that abolishing the straight-ticket option would disproportionately impact African-American voters, who use it more often and already face longer voting lines in urban areas. The measure was designed “to require voters to spend more time filling more bubbles,” which could “discourage voting,” wrote Judge Gershwin A. Drain. The Supreme Court declined to hear Michigan’s appeal in September.

We’ll see what happens. There’s still time for the bill to be amended to address the concerns that Democrats have raised. I don’t expect that – why should the Republicans change their ways now? – but at least they can’t say they weren’t warned.

House bathroom bill will not get a committee vote

Good news.

A proposal to gut cities and school districts’ trans-inclusive bathroom policies did not advance in the House ahead of a crucial deadline, nixing the measure’s chances of getting a vote by the full chamber. But that doesn’t mean that the issue itself is dead.

Up against bill-killing deadlines, the House State Affairs Committee on Monday did not act on House Bill 2899, which some were hoping would serve as an alternative to the Senate’s “bathroom bill.” That means the proposal won’t reach the Calendars Committee, which sets the House’s daily agenda.

The proposal, by Republican state Rep. Ron Simmons of Carrollton, would have banned political subdivisions, including school districts, from enacting or enforcing policies to protect a class of persons if those aren’t already protected by federal or state law as applied to bathrooms, showers or changing facilities.

[…]

Thursday is the last day for most bills that started in the House to win tentative approval, and HB 2899 would have needed to clear the State Affairs Committee on Monday to even have a chance to get onto the House calendar. But the House adjourned on Monday with no plans for the committee to meet.

See here, here, and here for the background. HB2899 had gotten its committee hearing on April 20 but was left pending at that time. Maybe it didn’t have the votes to get out, maybe the committee gave in to business group pressure, maybe it just wasn’t enough of a priority for the committee. Whatever the case, this is a fitting end, though of course there will be efforts to attach the language to other bills as the session winds down. And just because this bill is on life support doesn’t mean it’s all sunshine and puppies. There are still other anti-LGBT bills out there, such as HB3859 and its phony “religious freedom” legislation that could have all kinds of nasty consequences (and no, that is not far-fetched at all). Stay vigilant, it’s never over till sine die.

Bill to eliminate straight-ticket voting passes the House

Here we go again.

Rep. Ron Simmons

The Texas House late Friday night gave preliminary approval to a bill that would eliminate “one-punch” voting, forcing voters to make an individual decision on every ballot item, starting with the 2020 election.

House Bill 25, approved 85-59, could drastically change Texas politics considering straight-ticket ballots accounted for almost 64 percent of total votes cast in the state’s 10 largest counties in 2016. Forty-one states don’t allow straight-ticket voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

State Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, one of the authors of HB 25, said he filed the measure to foster more educated voters since they’d have to go down the ballot and make a decision on every race.

“I think it’ll give us better candidates and better elected officials. It won’t have people getting voted out just because of their party identity,” Simmons told The Texas Tribune on the House floor prior to Friday’s vote.

Opponents of the measure said they’re worried Simmons’ bill will lead to lower voter turnout. On the House floor, several Democrats, including state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, expressed concerns that getting rid of one-punch voting would inconvenience voters and discourage them from participating in future election.

“There are a lot of races on the ballot in these general elections, and voting individually takes extra time,” Turner said. “Instead of one-punch, you’re asking people to individually vote in dozens of races, perhaps even 100 of them. This can be a real impediment.”

[…]

Simmons, however, said that equating a high number of straight-ticket voters to civic engagement is “kind of like comparing apples or oranges.” He pushed back on Democrats who insisted that taking away one-punch voting infringed on the rights of Texans.

“People will still come out to vote, they’ll just take a few more seconds to get down the ballot. And it’ll make sure people know who they’re voting for,” he said.

It will definitely take more than a few extra seconds to vote a full ballot, especially in a big county like Harris. Making such a disingenuous argument against the concerns being raised about this bill does not do anything to relieve suspicions that it’s just a response to Democratic dominance of the big urban counties. I wrote a long piece about this when Rep. Simmons filed the same bill in 2015. My feelings haven’t changed – indeed, they haven’t changed much since 2009 when the elimination of straight ticket voting first gained prominence as a Republican priority – so go read that so I don’t have to repeat myself again.

I don’t think there’s any question that if this bill passes, it will take longer to vote, and given that only one Democrat voted for HB25 while only five or six Republicans voted against it, both parties have a pretty good guess about who will be more affected by that. Those concerns, along with talk of future lawsuits, were mentioned in the Chron story about this bill. It would be quite simple for Rep. Simmons to address those concerns if he wanted to. Extend and expand early voting, with more locations and longer hours and more days (*), mandate more voting machines at every polling place, and expand eligibility to vote by mail. Do that, and put up the money to help counties cover the extra costs, and I’ll drop all my objections. Until then, I question the motive behind this. Matt Angle of the Lone Star Project, writing in Medium, has more.

(*) Republicans have also tried to limit early voting in the past, again after an election where Democrats did well. Limits on early voting were a part of the vote-suppression tactics in places like North Carolina as well. If Republicans don’t want bills like HB25 to be seen as an attack on the ability to vote, it’s on them to understand and address the concerns that these bills raise.

Bathroom bill 2.0 gets its committee hearing

It’s the same old garbage in a new package.

Amid concerns about rolling back local protections for vulnerable Texans and dire economic fallout, a panel of House lawmakers considered a measure into the early hours of Thursday morning that some are hoping will serve as an alternative approach to regulating bathroom use for transgender Texans.

But if the large majority of testimony against the measure serves as any indication, the House proposal will likely continue to face fierce opposition from LGBT advocates and the Texas business community.

Setting aside a more restrictive Senate proposal, the House State Affairs Committee took up House Bill 2899 by Republican state Rep. Ron Simmons of Carrollton. As expected, Simmons revised his original bill in committee to narrow its scope to banning municipalities and school districts from enacting or enforcing trans-inclusive bathroom policies.

“This issue needs to be the same in Austin as it in Abilene. It needs to be the same in Houston as it is in Hutto,” Simmons told the committee. “What we’re saying is this needs to be handled at the state level.”

[…]

Unlike the upper chamber’s Senate Bill 6, Simmons’ proposal does not regulate bathroom use in government buildings, public schools and universities based on “biological sex.” And it doesn’t include a general prohibition on municipalities adopting or enforcing local bathroom regulations.

Instead, the language in Simmons’ proposal specifically focuses on discrimination protections. It reads: “Except in accordance with federal and state law, a political subdivision, including a public school district, may not enforce an order, ordinance, or other measure to protect a class of persons from discrimination to the extent that the order, ordinance, or other measure regulates access to multiple-occupancy restrooms, showers, or changing facilities.”

That would nullify parts of nondiscrimination ordinances in several Texas cities that have been in place for decades to protect certain classes of people from discrimination in public accommodations, including in the bathrooms inside businesses that serve the public.

But because Simmons’ proposal applies to classes of people that aren’t already protected in federal or state law, opponents said it could go further than just pulling back those protections for transgender residents and extend to protections enacted by some of the state’s biggest cities to cover residents based on age, sexual orientation and veteran status.

While Simmons denied that his legislation would have that effect, El Paso County Commissioner David Stout warned the committee that the bill could in fact undo protections for classes of people covered by expanded local policies.

“Currently, federal law does not provide for protection from discrimination on the basis of veteran status, familial status, marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity, and this bill puts all of those classes of people in danger but especially our constituents in the LGBTQ community,” Stout told the committee.

You know the drill by now, so go read the rest. I actually agree in a sense with Rep. Simmons that non-discrimination should be seen as a state issue, but only if by that one means that the state should have a robust non-discrimination law in place to ensure that people in Austin and Alice and Abilene and Arlington and Angleton and everywhere else is treated as a full and equal person. Until such time as the state is willing to do that, then the next best thing is for individual cities to do what they can to pick up the slack. That’s not what HB2899 is about, and as such it deserves no more respect or support than the properly reviled SB6. The bill was left pending in committee, and that’s where it should stay. The Statesman, the Texas Observer, and the Dallas Observer have more.

Another study of bathrooms and business

Short answer: Bathroom bills are bad.

Legislation viewed by many as discriminatory toward LGBT Texans — including proposals to regulate which bathrooms transgender individuals may use — could cost the state $3.3 billion in annual tourism dollars and more than 35,600 full-time jobs associated with leisure travel and conventions, according to a study by the Waco-based Perryman Group. The study was commissioned by Visit San Antonio and the San Antonio Area Tourism Council.

“In other words, what we have been saying all along is absolutely undeniable,” Casandra Matej, president & CEO of Visit San Antonio, said in a statement. “These numbers tell us there will be a significant — and longstanding — adverse impact on San Antonio and the state. We urge our legislators to consider these effects in making their decisions.”

[…]

While it’s “impossible to know with certainty the magnitude of the net effects of the proposed bathroom access policy on travel and tourism in Texas,” the report estimates that the initial impact on business activity could cost the San Antonio-New Braunfels area $411.8 million annually.

“If the Texas Legislature passes a law viewed as discriminatory against LGBT persons, it is likely that some meetings and events would be canceled and that some leisure travelers will also avoid the state,” the study says.

The findings — based on losses experienced in other states and data from a survey by a national travel association — will likely help boost opposition to the legislation from business and tourism groups. Those groups have already pointed to millions of dollars lost in North Carolina following the passage of that state’s original bathroom law, which was recently rewritten amid mounting public and economic backlash.

Tourism officials from the state’s five biggest cities oppose bathroom-related legislation and they have already warned lawmakers that they’ve heard from organizations that are reconsidering planned events in their cities — a move that could cost each of them several millions of dollars.

You can find a copy of the study here. The Rivard Report, which is based in San Antonio, adds some more details.

The local report takes into consideration the counter-flow of conventions and organizations that would prefer to host their event in a city or state that has a “bathroom bill,” Perryman said during a conference call with media Monday morning, which are nominal. “There is a perception that group is much larger than it is. Ninety-plus percent feel the other way [do not support such legislation] … it’s overwhelming.”

There are at least 11 groups that have or are considering backing out of events located in San Antonio already, said Matej, who estimates the impact of those cancellations alone would be around $40 million.

“In other words, what we have been saying all along is absolutely undeniable,” she said Monday during the event announcing the report in the lobby of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. “These numbers tell us there will be a significant and longstanding adverse impact on San Antonio and the state. We urge our legislators to consider these effects in making their decisions.”

[…]

“SB 6 is an idiotic piece of legislation,” said Hispanic Chamber President and CEO Ramiro Cavazos, adding that the laws would be unenforceable and create more problems for cities. “Now is not a time to be apathetic.”

San Antonio, South San Antonio and North San Antonio chamber representatives were also present during the press event on Monday.

City Council will be presenting a “united front” against both bills, said Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3). “Now we have the data and numbers that back up what we’ve been saying.”

Even without the economic impact, Viagran said she would oppose the legislation.

“No matter what, this bill – whatever carve outs or amendments they put to it – it’s still not an inclusive bill,” said Viagran, who chairs the Council’s Public Safety Committee. “It’s still discriminatory.”

Yeah, that’s pretty much it. If you don’t believe that at this point, I don’t know what else there is to say. If there’\s one small bit of good news in all this, it’s that the business lobby isn’t buying it, and remains opposed to this nonsense.

Texas Association of Business President Chris Wallace insists this bill is just as concerning as SB 6.

“This is not just about jobs, this is about discrimination,” he told the Current. “We are hearing from our members that business are steadfastly opposed to any discrimination law.”

Wallace said HB 2899 would “tie the hands” of business owners wanting to recruit top talent, because few people want to work for a place where discrimination is welcome.

“A lot of people, especially Millennials, do not want to work for a business or live in a city or a state that is not welcoming to all people,” Wallace said.

[…]

On Tuesday, a day before a House committee holds a hearing for the new House bill, a group of bipartisan business members representing Apple, IBM, Facebook, Google, Microsoft — and a handful of other national and local businesses — held a press conference at the capitol to oppose Rep. Simmons’ new iteration of a bathroom bill.

“I’m a conservative and a proud Texan. I am especially proud of our state’s reputation for being a warm and welcoming place to live,” said Sally Larrabee, who works for Process Control Outlet, a decades-old Texas tech company. “We don’t need to give our state a reputation for being a place that has laws that discriminate against people.”

Sarah Meredith, an employee of Austin tech startup Umbel, said businesswomen of her generation aren’t okay with being political pawns. “We need a robust economy. What we do not need is to be used as props to promote discrimination for political gain,” Meredith said.

“The people who are promoting discriminatory bills are backed by radical groups that have literally called for driving LGBT people out of the state of Texas.”

Indeed. And I hope all of the Republicans in that bipartisan group of business people remembers that next year when it’s time to vote, for their legislators, their Lt. Governor, and their Governor.

Gov. Greg Abbott is signaling support for House legislation that some hope will serve as an alternative to the Senate’s “bathroom bill.”

In a statement Tuesday, Abbott called the House alternative developed by state Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, a “thoughtful proposal.”

[…]

“I applaud the House and Senate for tackling an issue that is of growing concern to parents and communities across Texas who are now looking to the Legislature for solutions,” Abbott said in the statement. “Rep. Simmons is offering a thoughtful proposal to make sure our children maintain privacy in our school bathrooms and locker rooms.”

Don’t reward bad behavior next year, Texas Association of Business and others. You have one chance to get this right. Get it wrong, and everyone will know that your words mean nothing. RG Ratcliffe has more.

More on the House bathroom bill

Still a very bad idea.

After largely avoiding discussions so far on proposals to regulate bathrooms, the Texas House will wade into the debate this week with a measure some are hoping will serve as an alternative to the Senate’s “bathroom bill.”

Setting aside the Senate’s proposal, the House State Affairs Committee on Wednesday will take up House Bill 2899, which will be revised during the hearing to ban municipalities and school districts from enacting or enforcing local policies that regulate bathroom use.

That would invalidate local trans-inclusive bathroom policies, including anti-discrimination ordinances meant to allow transgender people access to public bathrooms based on gender identity and some school policies meant to accommodate transgender students.

“We believe that those issues should be handled at the state level and if there is an issue that exists in the state that people need to come to the Capitol, they need to convince 76 representatives, 16 senators and one governor of what the policy needs to be,” said state Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, who authored the bill. “Until then, it’s my opinion, we don’t need to change.”

Unlike Senate Bill 6 — a legislative priority for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick which passed out of the Texas Senate in March — Simmons’ proposal does not regulate bathroom use in governments buildings and public schools and universities based on “biological sex.” And it strays from SB 6’s blanket prohibition on “political subdivisions” adopting or enforcing local bathroom regulations.

Instead, the language of Simmons’ proposal specifically focuses on discrimination protections. It reads: “Except in accordance with federal and state law, a political subdivision, including a public school district, may not enforce an order, ordinance, or other measure to protect a class of persons from discrimination to the extent that the order, ordinance, or other measure regulates access to multiple-occupancy restrooms, showers, or changing facilities.”

That would nullify parts of nondiscrimination ordinances in several Texas cities that have been in place for decades to protect certain classes of people from discrimination in public accommodations, including in the bathrooms inside businesses that serve the public. But Simmons’ proposal could go further than just pulling back those protections for transgender residents.

While Texas has no statewide public accommodation law, federal law protects people from discrimination in public accommodations based on “race, color religion or national origin.”

Some of Texas biggest cities have expanded the public accommodation provision of local anti-discrimination laws to include protections based on age, sexual orientation and veteran status. But it appears Simmons’ proposal would outlaw those sort of protections as applied to bathroom use because they go beyond federal protections.

Simmons’ focus on discrimination protections also differs from North Carolina’s law, which was recently revised amid public and economic backlash.

The North Carolina law was rewritten to no longer explicitly regulate which bathroom transgender people can use and instead more simply prohibits state agencies, municipalities and schools boards from regulating multi-stall bathrooms — leaving bathroom regulations to the state.

That revisions remain unacceptable to LGBT advocates. And the Simmons proposal — which only bans local measures that protect certain groups from discrimination — is still a no-go for groups advocating for LGBT Texans. They suggested the Simmons’ measure is actually worse than the alternative that was recently signed off on in North Carolina because they believe it leaves open the door for local policies that target marginalized groups.

“I recognize there are members in the House that are looking for some sort of alternative to Senate Bill 6, but this proposed committee substitute is not acceptable in its current form,” said Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas. “This proposal literally codifies discrimination in Texas law by forbidding enforcement of policies that would protect people by preventing them from ever implementing protections in the future and by allowing discriminatory provisions to be written in.”

It remains unclear how far the Simmons proposal will go in the House and whether it’ll pick up support from Speaker Joe Straus who opposes the Senate’s proposal.

See here for the background. I repeat what I said before – this is a lousy “solution” to a non-problem. HB2899 is “better” than SB6 in the same way that the House “sanctuary cities” bill is “better” than the Senate version, which is to say it’s the difference between eating a turd sandwich on a fresh baked baguette and eating a turd sandwich on Wonder bread. We all know what the arguments are here, so let’s not waste our energy on that. The goal here is either to find something that will meet the grudging approval of the business lobby and the major sports leagues (which have already sold out in North Carolina), or to throw a bone to the Dan Patrick crowd by holding a committee hearing on something but not bringing it to the floor. I’d bet on the former before the latter, so call your House Committee on State Affairs member and let them know what you think of this. This will be heard tomorrow, so don’t wait.

Bathroom bill 2.0

Beware.

House lawmakers will debate a so-called “bathroom bill” next week that supporters hope will be less worrisome to business interests concerned the measure could hurt the Texas economy.

The decision to debate the House bill, and to set aside a more severe version passed last month in the Senate, marks the latest split the two chambers have endured during a particularly divided legislative session. The House bill will probably get the backing of the Dallas Cowboys, their lobbyist said, but the state’s largest business group is withholding its support at this time.

“It’s a bill that’s trying to strike a balance between all the interested parties,” Rep. Ron Simmons, the bill’s sponsor, told The Dallas Morning News on Thursday. “It’s our belief that discrimination issues related to privacy should be handled at the state level.”

[…]

House Bill 2899 will be debated in the State Affairs Committee on Wednesday. The amended bill would ban cities, school districts and any other “political subdivisions” from passing local laws that protect certain people from discrimination in an intimate space. This would render local nondiscrimination ordinances that protect the rights of transgender people to use bathrooms that match their gender identity unenforceable.

“Except in accordance with federal and state law,” the bill’s language reads, “a political subdivision, including school districts, may not enforce an order, ordinance, or other measure to protect a class of persons from discrimination to the extent that the order, ordinance, or other measure regulates access to multiple-occupancy restrooms, showers, or changing facilities.”

While the language isn’t an exact match, Simmons bill looks quite a bit like the revised bathroom law recently passed in North Carolina. Both ban local governments from regulating use and access of restrooms, changing rooms and locker rooms.

Unlike the North Carolina law, Simmons’ measure would not affect colleges campuses. It also would not restrict bathroom use based on biological sex, which the Senate Bill does. The House bill is co-sponsored by Republican Reps. Dustin Burrows of Lubbock, Cole Hefner of Mount Pleasant, Jodie Laubenberg of Parker, Valoree Swanson of Spring and Terry Wilson of Marble Falls.

[…]

The fact that Simmons’ legislation appears similar to North Carolina’s law could be an issue for business, said Texas Association of Business president Chris Wallace, who added that his organization doesn’t think the laws passed there “are right for Texas.”

“We remain focused on stopping discriminatory legislation and keeping Texas open for business and inviting for all,” Wallace said. The TAB is still looking at the House bill, but was “focused on defeating” the Senate version “and other discriminatory legislation,” he said.

Sorry, but any bill that includes overriding local non-discrimination ordinances is a non-starter for me. Forget the local control issues for a minute, this is once again a bad solution for a problem that doesn’t exist. NDOs have been on the books in multiple Texas cities for almost 20 years. Yet we are led to believe that now this is something the Legislature needs to fix? No. The House has had the right idea up until now. Moving forward with this bill would be a terrible mistake.

State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook made the decision to hold debate on Simmons’ bill. In the past, he’s echoed Straus’ concerns that the legislation seems to be a solution in search of a problem. Last month, he said there’s “no evidence” Texas needs a bathroom bill.

But on Thursday, Cook said the House bill was the “appropriate” approach “for the issue before us.”

“It’s important that we contemplate the right kind of balance that speaks to the privacy issue and also ensures that we don’t do something that has a chilling effect on business,” Cook said. “What I’m hopeful is that this legislation will end up being something that people can be for, which I think is important.”

Asked about the Texas Association of Business’ choice not to throw their support behind the bill at this time, Cook said, “I think what you’ll find is that the business community will be supportive of what Mr. Simmons has put forward.”

Sorry, but the only people who are going to be for this are the people who were for SB6. The right answer here is to do what was already being done about that bill, which is to say, nothing. The Chron and Think Progress have more.

Is the end near for straight-ticket voting?

It could be.

Rep. Ron Simmons

Partisan efficiency experts might love the time-saving charms of straight-ticket voting, but a number of the state’s top elected officials are ready to outlaw the practice.

Straight-ticket, or one-punch, voting allows people to cast a ballot for all of one party’s candidates with one pull of the lever, stroke of the pencil or click of the voting button.

One and done.

Its requires partisan faith on the part of a voter, an expression of trust in a party’s primary voters, a conviction that the chosen candidates — no matter who they are, what they’ve done and whether they are qualified — are better than candidates offered by the opposition party.

And it makes the coattails of the people at the top of the ballot very, very influential.

Just ask a judge.

“I will say only a word about judicial selection, but it is a word of warning,” Texas Supreme Chief Justice Nathan Hecht said this week in his State of the Judiciary speech. “In November, many good judges lost solely because voters in their districts preferred a presidential candidate in the other party. These kinds of partisan sweeps are common, with judicial candidates at the mercy of the top of the ticket. I do not disparage our new judges. I welcome them. My point is only that qualifications did not drive their election; partisan politics did. Such partisan sweeps are demoralizing to judges and disruptive to the legal system. But worse than that, when partisan politics is the driving force, and the political climate is as harsh as ours has become, judicial elections make judges more political, and judicial independence is the casualty.”

State Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, has filed legislation — House Bill 433 —to end straight-ticket voting in Texas. He might have some angels: House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have both sponsored bans in the past. Both remain critical of one-punch voting.

The major political parties are reluctant to part with it, however — it’s part of the regulatory advantage that makes the Republicans and the Democrats appear to offer the only viable choices for Americans — or Texans — who want to take part in civic life.

The two-party racket just about kills the possibility that you can find a candidate with whom you completely agree. Instead, you’re generally stuck with two options, left to choose the least undesirable candidate in a field of two.

Libertarians and Greens and Teas and Occupies and who knows who else would love to elbow their way in, but this is a protectorate.

[…]

One of the best arguments for straight-ticket voting is that there are too many people on the general election ballot, that too little is known about them and that the party label is the average voter’s most reliable guide to which candidate is more likely to agree with that voter’s political preferences.

A strong argument against is that partisan coattails can be stronger than brains. Every election seems to end with an unintended consequence, often a good judge tossed aside because the political winds replaced one party’s flag with another — or a loon elected by voters who actually knew nothing about their candidate.

Rep. Simmons filed the same bill in 2015, and what I wrote about it then still stands. Putting aside the fact that nobody had a problem with this until Democrats started winning judicial races in Dallas and Harris Counties, the arguments that Ross Ramsey puts forth just don’t make sense. You can vote straight ticket Libertarian or Green, you know, and if you can’t vote “Tea Party” it’s because no one is identified on the ballot as such because no official political party by that name exists. This past year was in many ways the best year ever for third party candidates, as they racked up big numbers in multiple statewide races, in particular for President and for Railroad Commissioner, despite the prevalence of straight party voting. Plenty of “loons” get elected in primaries and non-partisan elections (see, for instance, Dave Wilson getting elected to the HCC Board of Trustees in 2013). In what way does straight ticket voting make the difference?

The one thing that will change if straight ticket voting is taken away is that it will take longer to vote. If I had any reason to believe that the people pushing this also intended to address that problem, by allocating some money for counties to buy extra voting machines or allowing longer early voting hours or broadening the class of people who can vote by mail, then I would have no strong objection to this. But they don’t, and I have no reason to see this as anything but another way to make voting a little harder and less pleasant for some people. As such, I continue to oppose these bills.

Early eminent domain dispute for Texas Central

It was over before it started.

Lawyers for a proposed high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas withdrew their request for entry to a local landowner’s property, after opponents and the landowner opposed it in front of a Harris County judge, according to opponents of the project.

“It is a great day for the vindication of landowner rights,” lawyer Blake Beckham of Dallas said.

In a statement, Texas Central confirmed the hearing, but was less decisive about its significance.

“No ruling was issued.,” the company said. “The parties agreed to come back to the court as soon as possible to have another hearing.”

Beckham represented Calvin House, owner of 440 acres in northwestern Harris County. Texas Central, planners of the high-speed rail line, want access to House’s property as they determine the best route for the train line. In its filings, the company cited its power of eminent domain as a railroad.

Opponents, however, argued the company is not a railroad because it is neither operating a rail system, nor does it own any tracks or trains.

As part of their filing, Beckham listed the dictionary definitions for “railroad” and “operating” among the exhibit he planned to enter. Texas Central’s lawyers opposed those exhibits in a filing Thursday.

Beckham called the hearing significant in a video statement released by Texans Against High-Speed Rail, a group formed to oppose Texas Central’s plans.

“This was the first case where this issue was to be decided,” Beckham said. “We had a complete victory.”

Perhaps, but I doubt any precedents were set since there was no decision rendered. It’s hard to draw any conclusions from this case since the details about it are so sparse, but even if I did know more I’d still rank it no higher than third on the list of existential threats that Texas Central faces, well behind the forthcoming AG opinion on whether it is a “railroad” for the purposes of using eminent domain, and whatever mischief the Legislature will cook up in the next session. On that score, Rep. Ron Simmons (R, Carrolton), who serves as the Chair of the Transportation Subcommittee on Long-term Infrastructure Planning, predicts TCR will survive. I don’t know that I would take that bet, but Rep. Simmons (whose district is in the Dallas suburbs) is in a better position than I to judge.

Red light camera bill dies in House committee

Better luck next time.

Gone

Gone

A drive to outlaw red-light cameras in Dallas and other Texas cities has reached a red light of its own.

The House Transportation Committee on Friday voted to reject a Senate bill that would’ve gradually phased out the divisive cameras. That means the effort, opposed by police departments, is effectively dead even after passing the Senate last month with ease.

A factor that apparently weighed down the proposal was that it would’ve also prohibited the cameras that capture drivers who ignore stop signs on school buses. And some lawmakers said that time simply ran out this session to sort through those kinds of issues.

“It’s just something that needs a little bit better vetting,” said Rep. Ron Simmons, a Carrollton Republican who voted against the bill in committee. “At least on the House side, we didn’t really have enough time.”

[…]

In years past, the House had passed red-light camera bans only to see them stopped up in the Senate. So Rep. Gary Elkins, long a critic of the cameras, decided to wait this year on the Senate, rather than needlessly put the House through another heated debate.

But when the Senate finally acted this year, he found himself unable to get the measure out of a House committee.

“It’s extremely frustrating,” said Elkins, R-Houston.

See here for the background. Remember the motto o the Legislature: It is designed not to pass bills, but stop them from passing. Those of you that oppose cameras will have to continue to vote them out of cities that have adopted them; as the story notes, that happened in Arlington this month. Beyond that, try again in 2017.

Targeting straight ticket voting

From Trail Blazers:

Texas is one of only 10 states still doing straight-ticket voting but a North Texas legislator is hoping to change that.

At a hearing today, Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) told the Elections Committee that doing away with such an option here would lead to a more informed voter and improve turnout in non-partisan ballot measure.

“The purpose of this bill is to increase the number of Republican elected officials thought out the state of Texas,” he halfway joked. “However I do believe the added benefit will be a more educated voter.”

But Glenn Maxey, of the Texas Democratic Party, said such a move could discourage voters.

“People are going to be standing in line for hours and hours because it’s going to take people not 10 minutes to vote but a half hour to do that kind of marking,” he said.

Bill Fairbrother, of the Texas Republican County Chairman Association, said cost is a concern.

“Think of all the additional machines, clerks, polling places … That instead of being able to click one box to take care of those races, you have to go back and choose on average 25 separate races,” he said.

However, both Maxey and Fairbrother noted that within their parties, there was division as those in more rural areas favored the bill.

Rep. Simmons wrote a TribTalk piece in February about this:

Rep. Ron Simmons

Every campaign season, candidates and interest groups spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to “inform” voters. I use that word — rather than “educate” — on purpose.

Informing is nothing more than providing information to another party. Educating requires action on the part of the recipient, who must want to understand the information and absorb it. There’s no better example of this than at the ballot box. Anyone who has read our Founding Fathers’ writing would agree that their intent was for voters to be educated on the candidates and issues of the day. Unfortunately, current Texas law provides a way for citizens to skip spending the time and energy needed to become educated voters. It’s called straight-ticket voting.

Straight-ticket voting allows someone to simply select one box to vote for an entire slate of candidates from a particular political party. This often leads voters to elect candidates without any knowledge whatsoever of who they are. This subverts the purpose of our electoral process and puts the citizens of Texas at a severe disadvantage.

Virtually all voters educate themselves on candidates at the top of the ticket (president, governor, etc.). But many voters, partially because of straight-ticket voting, make little or no effort to educate themselves on the candidates at the bottom of the ticket running for offices that have the most direct effect on individual citizens — think county clerk, county commissioner, justice of the peace and state representative. These voters simply check the one box, either Democrat or Republican, and move on without giving it a second thought. This is bad for Texas.

I drafted a post at the time but had not gotten around to publishing it. Now seems like as good a time as any to rectify that, so here’s what I wrote in response to that.

Rep. Simmons has filed HB1288 to eliminate straight ticket voting. A different bill, to exempt judges and county officials from straight-ticket ballots in Texas’ largest counties, has been filed by Rep. Jason Villalba. I’ve nattered on about straight ticket voting in the past, and I’ll neither defend it nor condemn it today. I do, of course, have a couple of thoughts about this.

I agree that many voters are not fully educated about downballot candidates. Hell, a lot of voters are misinformed about the top of the ticket candidates, and of the top issues of the day. That problem is outside my scope here, but as a matter of general principle, eliminating straight ticket voting isn’t going to do anything to solve that problem. What it can and likely will do is reduce the number of people voting in those races. Maybe that means the average voter will be slightly more educated in those races, and maybe one can claim that’s a “better” outcome. I think that’s at best an open question.

Which leads to another question: Just how big an effect would this be? Putting it another way, if straight ticket voting were eliminated, how many more people would wind up skipping downballot races? I don’t have the bandwidth to do a thorough study, but here’s a quick and dirty look at the last four non-Presidential elections in Harris County:

Year Straight% CClerk% DClerk% Treas% ========================================= 2002 54.78% 6.74% 2006 47.67% 6.89% 7.99% 6.68% 2010 66.89% 4.50% 4.71% 3.93% 2014 68.04% 3.90% 4.09% 3.46%

“Straight%” is the total percentage of straight ticket votes, which as you can see has been much greater in the last two elections than the first two above. “CClerk%”, “DClerk%”, and “Treas%” are the undervote percentages for the County Clerk, District Clerk, and County Treasurer races. I picked those because they’re pretty far down on the ballot and they’d be targeted by Rep. Villalba’s bill. The County Clerk and District Clerk races were uncontested in 2002, so I don’t have a complete data set, but this suggests that more straight ticket votes means fewer undervotes, which is not too surprising. I wouldn’t draw too much of a conclusion from this, as the partisan environments are stronger now, with both parties making a priority out of urging their voters to fill in an oval in each race. The total effect isn’t that great – three percentage points in a 700,000 voter turnout context is a 21,000 vote difference – but it’s not nothing.

I don’t know what the numbers might look like if straight ticket voting were eliminated. I’m sure the parties would work that much harder to convince their voters to vote in each race. Not being able to depend on straight ticket voters for a potentially significant chunk of their final tally would likely spur these candidates to do more fundraising to raise their name recognition. Outside groups, for which there’s no shortage of money, might also take a greater interest in these races. There are a lot of factors to consider, but it wouldn’t shock me if 50,000 or even 100,000 voters in Harris County might have dropped off without participating in these past races in the absence of straight ticket voting. That’s a wild guess of up to 15% or so of total turnout. I’d expect something similar in other large counties. How much that might change if the parties, candidates, and outside interests responded as I envision is a question I can’t answer.

(If you’re wondering about Presidential years, the rate of straight ticket voting in the last three Presidential elections has been about the same in each – 64% in 2004, 62% in 2008, 68% in 2012. I don’t feel I have enough data to say anything even marginally useful.)

One point that I’ve made before in the context of proposals to separate judicial elections from the partisan voting process is that partisan labels are sometimes the only reliable piece of information voters have about a candidate. Most candidates who call themselves “Democratic” or “Republican” fall within a reasonably well-defined range of policy positions and cultural identifiers. There are plenty of variations, both mainstream (think Sarah Davis and Eddie Lucio and their respective stances on equality, for example) and extreme (think Kesha Rogers), but if you consider yourself a D or an R and you vote for a candidate with the same label but without knowing anything else about that candidate, the odds are pretty good that you’ve just voted for someone that you’d basically like and approve of. More to the point, you’ve probably just voted for someone you’d basically like and approve of more than any of the other options available to you in that race, and yes that includes races with more than two candidates. Is that enough information to justify one’s vote? Is it enough to justify the convenience of being able to vote quickly, instead of having to make the same choice you’d have made anyway several dozen times in a big county like Harris? If all we’re doing is making it take longer to vote, will we also take steps to mitigate that, like having more voting stations available at busy locations so the lines don’t get too long, or making it easier to vote by mail at one’s convenience? I know there are bills filed to do those things, but I don’t expect them to go anywhere.

These are some of the things I think about when I hear someone make the kind of proposals Reps. Simmona and Villalba are making. If Rep. Simmons’ bill were to pass and we found that the number of people voting in, say, County Clerk races was 20% less than in Governor’s races, would we consider that to be a good thing or a bad thing? You tell me. On the one hand, it would be harder to argue that the results of those elections were determined by uneducated voters. On the other hand, a lot of people spend a lot of time every post-election period bemoaning the low number of people who show up to vote. Bemoaning low turnout, and enabling it for what could be a lot of races by eliminating the one-button vote seems to me to be contradictory. Do we want everyone to vote or not? Do we think having some people vote in some races but not in others is the better way to do it? Killing straight ticket voting is an easy answer, though none of these bills may have an easy path to passage. How to get a better-educated electorate is a much harder question. What is it we really want? I’d say we should answer that first. PDiddie has more.

Tesla tries again

They’ve brought more firepower to the fight this time, by which I mean “more lobbyists”, but we’ll see if they can break through.

Let the car haggling resume at the Texas Capitol.

A group of state lawmakers on Thursday filed legislation that would allow Tesla Motors to sell its luxury electric cars at as many as 12 stores in Texas, renewing the California-based company’s challenge to a state law protecting auto dealers.

Tesla’s business model is to sell directly to consumers, bypassing the middleman dealers as it does in many states. But a longstanding law bars that practice in Texas.

New legislation — House Bill 1653 and its companion, Senate Bill 639 — would allow manufacturers that have never sold their cars through independent dealerships in Texas to operate the limited number of stores. It’s modeled on deals Tesla has forged in other states, including New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

“Free market principles are the foundation of our strong Texas economy,” said state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, who filed the Senate bill. “SB 639 helps sustain a competitive marketplace and gives consumers more choices.”

State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin filed the House bill, along with with Reps. Charles “Doc” Anderson, R-Waco; Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker; Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound; and Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton.

Tesla currently showcases vehicles at “galleries” in Austin, Dallas and Houston, but because the galleries are not franchised dealerships, state law prohibits employees from discussing the price or any logistical aspect of acquiring the car.

Tesla calls the traditional dealership model unworkable, because it doesn’t mass-produce its cars — at least not yet. The company allows customers to order customized cars that it later delivers, and it can’t depend on independent dealers to champion its new technology, it says.

“Fundamentally, this company was founded to produce a new technology,” Diarmuid O’Connell, vice president of business development, said in an interview. “No one is as unconflicted as we are in our desire to promote electric vehicles.”

Some Texas dealers have approached Tesla about selling its cars, O’Connell said, and the company has “respectfully declined.”

Tesla and others have also questioned whether a traditional dealer could succeed in selling its cars, because dealerships make much of their money on maintenance — something the company’s highly touted models require little of.

O’Connell said the legislation would let Tesla employees educate Texans about its cars in person, allowing the company to grow its footprint here. He envisions adding stores in Corpus Christi, San Antonio, El Paso, Fort Worth and San Antonio, if given permission.

See here for previous Tesla blogging. The Trib also had an interesting story about the auto dealers’ attempt to get Tesla to work with them; some of that is recapitulated in the story above, but it’s worth reading on its own. Tesla insists that their model doesn’t work with dealerships, though I get a whiff of “the lady doth protest too much” in their argument. I’ve compared Tesla’s efforts to the microbreweries more than once, and one of the things that characterized that saga was that in the end they didn’t get everything they wanted. They scaled their wish list back to the point where they were able to minimize opposition from the big brewers and the distributors, and from there the task became doable. It would not surprise me if in the end Tesla needs to find some form of accommodation with the auto dealers.