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Ryan Guillen

School finance and property tax update

From last week.

Rep. Dustin Burrows

Blasting the Senate for taking a symbolic approach on school district taxes, a panel of House lawmakers heavily altered then approved the upper chamber’s version of priority property tax legislation late Thursday. And committee members pointedly included a provision meant to rebut claims that they were not committed to wholesale reform.

The chair of the tax-writing Ways and Means committee, state Rep. Dustin Burrows, said the House had kept a provision in Senate Bill 2 that attempts to constrain school district property taxes. While he and finance experts have said the language needs to be addressed in the Education Code, there “is an intent in the Senate to symbolically express that they are committed to lowering school property taxes,” Burrows said.

“Well, because of that, I want to make sure that the House also expresses its full commitment to lowering people’s property tax bills related to schools,” the Lubbock Republican said.

The Senate had tried to limit schools’ tax rate increases to 2.5%, without an election.

“We actually used a 2.0 number,” Burrows said, “to show that the House is equally as committed to doing significant things this session for the property taxpayers of the state of Texas.”

The insertion of the 2.0 figure may be a dig at hardline conservatives and Senate lawmakers, who have suggested the House gutted its own property tax reform package when they removed school district language from it in March. The lower chamber’s approach, however, has earned the backing of experts who say a separate public education bill is the most feasible way to make changes to the school finance system.

“To do property tax reform for schools, you really have to do it in the Education Code. I think that all of the experts agree,” Burrows said. “This bill has never touched the Education Code. It can’t touch the Education Code, that is House Bill 3,” he said, referencing the lower chamber’s omnibus school finance package.

As adopted in a 8-3 vote Thursday, SB 2 now closely resembles House Bill 2, a companion measure passed by the House committee last month — even taking on the same name: The Texas Taxpayer Transparency Act. The Democratic vice chair of the committee, state Rep. Ryan Guillen, joined Republicans in support of SB 2’s passage Thursday.

In the latest version of the bill:

  • Cities, counties and emergency service districts must hold an election if they wish to raise 3.5% more property tax revenue than the previous year
  • Those entities can increase their property tax levies by $500,000 a year, without triggering an election
  • Other taxing units — namely, hospital districts and community colleges — remain at an 8% election trigger, with Burrows’ citing the inflation of medical and education expenses
  • Homestead exemptions offered by local municipalities can be factored into the revenue growth calculation, preventing cities and counties from being penalized if they offer their residents tax reductions
  • A five-year carry-over provision lets taxing units bank unused revenue growth

[…]

A final change Thursday makes passage of SB 2 contingent on HB 3’s approval.

“These two are tied together,” Burrows said.

See here for more about HB3, and here for more on SB2. Ross Ramsey gets into the politics of the moment, which includes the Republican leadership’s continuing fealty to the property tax for sales tax swap that isn’t going anywhere. It’s hard to compare, because each session is its own story, but it sure feels to me like not a whole lot has happened so far, with less than five weeks to go. The big ticket items dragging along and seeming to go nowhere isn’t unusual, but what else has even made it to the floor of the other chamber? Not that I’m complaining, mind you, I’m just curious. Word is that SB2 will be up in the House today, so we’ll see how it goes. There’s still a wide range of possible outcomes.

The women challenging Democratic men

One more point of interest from The Cut:

And Democratic women aren’t leaving the men of their own party undisturbed. In Minnesota, former FBI analyst Leah Phifer is challenging incumbent Democratic representative Rick Nolan; Sameena Mustafa, a tenant advocate and founder of the comedy troupe Simmer Brown, is primarying Democrat Mike Quigley in Illinois’s Fifth District. And Chelsea Manning, former Army intelligence analyst and whistle-blower, announced recently that she’s going after Ben Cardin, the 74-year-old who has held one of Maryland’s Senate seats for 11 years and served in the House for 20 years before that.

While the vision of women storming the ramparts of government is radical from one vantage point, from others it’s as American as the idea of representative democracy laid out by our forefathers (like Great-great-great-great-grandpa Frelinghuysen!). “Representative citizens coming from all parts of the nation, cobblers and farmers — that was what was intended by the founders,” says Marie Newman, a former small-business owner and anti-bullying advocate who is challenging Illinois Democrat Dan Lipinski in a primary. “You come to the House for a while and bring your ideas and then you probably go back to your life.” Not only has her opponent been in office for 13 years, Newman notes, but his father held the same seat for 20 years before that. “It’s a family that has reigned supreme, like a monarchy, for over 30 years,” she says.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton, Newman and the rest of this girl gang are eyeing the aging cast of men (and a few women) who’ve hogged the political stage forever and trying to replace them. Replacement. It’s an alluring concept, striking fear in the hearts of the guys who’ve been running the place — recall that the white supremacists in Charlottesville this summer chanted “You will not replace us” — and stirring hope in the rest of us that a redistribution of power might be possible.

So naturally that made me wonder about what the situation was in Texas. For Congress, there are eleven Democrats from Texas, nine men and two women. Two men are not running for re-election, and in each case the most likely successor is a woman. Of the seven men running for re-election, only one (Marc Veasey) has a primary opponent, another man. Both female members of Congress have primary opponents – Sheila Jackson Lee has a male challenger, Eddie Bernice Johnson has a man and a woman running against her. That woman is Barbara Mallory Caroway, who is on something like her third campaign against EBJ. Basically, nothing much of interest here.

Where it is interesting is at the legislative level. Here are all the Democratic incumbents who face primary challengers, sorted into appropriate groups.

Women challenging men:

HD31 (Rep. Ryan Guillen) – Ana Lisa Garza
HD100 (Rep. Eric Johnson) – Sandra Crenshaw
HD104 (Rep. Robert Alonzo) – Jessica Gonzalez
HD117 (Rep. Phillip Cortez) – Terisha DeDeaux

Guillen’s opponent Garza is a district court judge. He was one of the Dems who voted for the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment back in 2005. I’d like to know both of their positions on LGBT equality. Speaking of which, Jessica Gonzalez is among the many LGBT candidates on the ballot this year. Note that Alonzo was on the right side of that vote in 2005, FWIW. Crenshaw appears to be a former member of Dallas City Council who ran for HD110 in 2014. There’s an interesting story to go along with that, which I’ll let you discover on your own. Cortez was first elected in 2012, winning the nomination over a candidate who had been backed by Annie’s List, and he drew some ire from female activists for some of his activity during that campaign. I have no idea how things stand with him today, but I figured I’d mention that bit of backstory.

And elsewhere…

Women challenging women:

HD75 (Rep. Mary Gonzalez) – MarySue Fernath

Men challenging men:

HD27 (Rep. Ron Reynolds) – Wilvin Carter
HD37 (Rep. Rene Oliveira) – Alex Dominguez and Arturo Alonzo
HD41 (Rep. Bobby Guerra) – Michael L. Pinkard, Jr
HD118 (Rep. Tomas Uresti) – Leo Pacheco
HD139 (Rep. Jarvis Johnson) – Randy Bates
HD142 (Rep. Harold Dutton) – Richard Bonton
HD147 (Rep. Garnet Coleman) – Daniel Espinoza

Men challenging women:

HD116 (Rep. Diana Arevalo) – Trey Martinez Fischer
HD124 (Rep. Ina Minjarez) – Robert Escobedo
HD146 (Rep. Shawn Thierry) – Roy Owens

Special case:

HD46 (Rep. Dawnna Dukes) – Five opponents

We know about Reps. Reynolds and Dukes. Bates and Owens represent rematches – Bates was in the 2016 primary, while Owens competed unsuccessfully in the precinct chair process for HD146, then ran as a write-in that November, getting a bit less than 3% of the vote. Alonzo and Bonton look like interesting candidates, but by far the hottest race here is in HD116, where TMF is seeking a return engagement to the Lege, and a lot of his former colleagues are there for him. I imagine things could be a bit awkward if Rep. Arevalo hangs on. Anyway, I don’t know that there are any lessons to be learned from this, I just wanted to document it.

The fallout from the chubfest

Cleaning up some loose ends…The campus carry bill that was the subject of much chubbing passed on final reading.

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The battle over “campus carry” is headed back to the Texas Senate after House lawmakers gave final approval Wednesday to legislation requiring universities in the state to allow concealed handguns on campus.

Senate Bill 11 from state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, narrowly avoided becoming a casualty of a key midnight deadline Tuesday before House members brokered a last-minute deal to accept several amendments limiting the measure’s reach.

Despite speculation that opponents would put up a fight before Wednesday’s vote on final passage, the measure sailed through in a 102-44 vote. Three Democrats — Tracy King of Batesville, Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City and Abel Herrero of Corpus Christi — voted with Republicans for the measure.

The language added in the House exempts health facilities, lets universities carve out gun-free zones, and states that private colleges would have to follow the same rules as public universities. It is a significant departure from the version that passed the Senate, where Birdwell rejected several amendments attempting similar changes.

If the Senate does not concur with the new language, lawmakers will then head to conference committee to iron out their differences. After that, both chambers will have to approve the final version of the bill.

Seems unlikely to me that the Senate will concur with the changes, which both weakened and broadened the bill. If I had to guess, I’d say they’ll take their chances in a conference committee. We’ll see.

Speaking on conference committee, that’s where the other carry bill is headed.

After outspoken opposition from the state’s law enforcement officials, the Texas House on Wednesday took a step toward removing a controversial provision from legislation allowing licensed Texans to openly carry handguns.

At the center of debate was language added to House Bill 910 in the Senate that limits the power of law enforcement to ask those visibly carrying guns to present their permits. Opponents say that provision amounts to a backdoor effort to repeal licensing requirements for handgun-toting Texans altogether, endangering the lives of police officers and the public.

The issue will now be hashed out by Senate and House appointees behind closed doors in a conference committee.

The move to negotiate in conference committee passed against the wishes of the bill’s author, state Rep. Larry Phillips. The Sherman Republican said the language was needed to clarify current law.

He found support from some unlikely allies, including state Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, who said the provision was needed to prevent racial profiling.

“I’m not willing to give up my liberty in order for the police to go catch some criminal,” said Dutton, who unsuccessfully proposed the amendment when the bill first came up in the House. He gave a fiery speech on Wednesday in favor of keeping the language, which had been added in the Senate by Republican Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas.

[…]

The two former police officers in the chamber — state Reps. Allen Fletcher of Houston and Phil King of Weatherford, both Republicans — also teamed up to argue against it.

King urged lawmakers to give law enforcement officials the courtesy of at least allowing a committee to explore a compromise on the issue.

“I honestly believe that the unintentional result of the amendment … is to make it very difficult to do their job,” said King.

The partisan dynamics of this one are interesting, to say the least. I have no idea what will happen in committee. As the story notes, if the process takes long enough, the bill could wind up being vulnerable to a last-day filibuster. Who will put on the pink sneakers this time?

The other bill that generated a bunch of chubbing was the ethics bill. That passed, too, but not without a lot of drama.

After a passionate and sometimes raunchy Tuesday night debate, the Texas House on Wednesday gave final sign-off to a far-reaching ethics reform package that would shine light on so-called “dark money” while heavily restricting undercover recordings in the state Capitol.

The bill faces a potentially bruising showdown with the Senate over the details. A stalemate could torpedo the bill, and along with it a significant chunk of Gov. Greg Abbott’s top priorities for the session. But the 102-44 vote in favor of the Senate Bill 19 keeps it alive as the 2015 session comes to its dramatic finale over the next few days.

State Sen. Van Taylor, a Plano Republican who has carried ethics reform in his chamber, quickly issued a statement on Tuesday night expressing “astonishment for the elimination of meaningful ethics reform” in the House version of the bill.

“Some in the House apparently don’t think elected officials are the problem and instead muddled the bill with a litany of bizarre measures that point the finger at everyone besides themselves, including a page from Hillary Clinton’s playbook to launch an assault on the First Amendment,” Taylor’s statement said. “This is one of those head shaking moments that rightfully raise doubts in the minds of our constituents as to the Legislature’s resolve to serve the people above all else.”

The bill author, Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, said dark money has had a corrupting influence on politics in the United States and warned that without reforms those abuses will eventually visit Texas. In the 2012 election cycle, politically active non-profits spent more than $300 million in dark money to influence elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. A dark money scandal in Utah also brought down that state’s attorney general.

Quoting from a message to Congress from President Ronald Reagan, delivered in 1988, Cook said the right to free speech depends upon a “requirement of full disclosure of all campaign contributions, including in-kind contributions, and expenditures on behalf of any electoral activities.”

[…]

There’s a deep split among Republicans — and between the House and Senate — over the dark money provision in the bill. It would require that large contributions of dark money — or anonymous donations made to politically active nonprofits — be disclosed.

Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, objecting to the dark money and other provisions, tried to gut the bill, which he said was “designed to protect us from the people. It’s not designed to protect the people from us.”

But his amendment failed 133-33.

That means a showdown is looming, and that could jeopardize SB 19 once it leaves the House floor.

Which could mean a special session if it fails, since this was an “emergency” item for Abbott, though he hasn’t really acted like it’s that important to him since then. Once again I say, I have no idea what will happen, but it should be fun to watch.

As noted in the previous post, the last minute attempt to attach Cecil Bell’s anti-same-sex-marriage-license bill to an otherwise innocuous county affairs bill was likely to come to nothing – late last night, Rep. Garnet Coleman sent out a press release saying the bill had been pulled from consideration in the Senate, which settled the matter – but that didn’t stop the Senate from thumping its chest one last time.

Following an emotional floor debate, the Texas Senate passed a resolution Wednesday evening reaffirming the state’s opposition to same-sex marriage, an action taken as it became clear that a bill to prevent such marriages in Texas was dead.

The body’s 20 Republican senators and state Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, voted for Senate Resolution 1028, authored by state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, that affirmed “the present definition” of marriage in the state.

“This resolution is intended by those of us who signed it to demonstrate that we continue to support what the people of this state have expressed,” state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said.

Whatever. I’m too tired to expend any energy on this. It has the same legal effect as me saying “Senate Republicans and Eddie Lucio are big fat poopyheads”, and about as much maturity.

Finally, here’s a look at criminal justice bills and where they stand – some good things have been done – and an analysis of how the rules were used as the clock waned. I’m ready for a drink, a long weekend, and sine die. How about you?

Driverless car legislative update

Like just about everything else under the sun, there were bills filed last week to deal with driverless cars.

As self-driving cars move from futuristic concept to plausible technology, the Texas Legislature is looking to become a magnet for the fast-developing industry.

Three lawmakers have filed bills aimed at encouraging the use of the technology in Texas while allowing for some government oversight.

“It’s the kind of futuristic thinking you easily associate with California, New York,” state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said. “Texas ought to not be behind the curve. We ought to be ahead of the curve.”

Last week, Ellis filed Senate Bill 1167, which would create a pilot program aimed at both monitoring and encouraging autonomous vehicle testing in the state. Under the bill, the Department of Public Safety would create minimum safety requirements for autonomous vehicles. Companies building or working with self-driving cars would have to notify DPS before they could drive them on public roadways. Any such vehicles in use would need a “driver” with an “autonomous motor vehicle operation designation” on his or her driver’s license awarded by DPS. The bill would also allow the Texas Department of Transportation to work with private firms to test autonomous technology for freight transport.

[…]

Along with Ellis’ bill, two House lawmakers have filed legislation dealing with self-driving vehicles. State Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, filed House Bill 933, a measure similar to Ellis’ bill that would also allow DPS to explore using autonomous vehicles for border security. House Bill 3690 from state Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, would allow TxDOT to explore using autonomous vehicles for construction and maintenance work.

Aside from bills filed this session to encourage research in self-driving cars, TxDOT is also requesting extra funding to partner with Texas universities and study emerging transportation technology. Last year, the agency had announced plans to request $50 million for the initiative but later reduced that to $20 million.

House budget writers didn’t fund the request but added it to a lengthy legislative wish list.

“This session, members are calling for more funding for roads to address the mobility issues plaguing our state, so that is where the Appropriations Committee prioritized funding for TxDOT,” House Appropriations Chairman John Otto, R-Dayton, said. He added that the full House would have the chance to weigh in on TxDOT’s request when the budget reaches the House floor for debate just before Easter.

The Senate Finance Committee, where the Senate version of the budget is being written, has not made a decision on TxDOT’s $20 million request.

See here for more on TxDOT’s request. There was one bill filed last session dealing with driverless cars, but it never go a committee hearing. We’ll see if there’a any further action this time.

Banning e-cigarette sales to minors

You’d think this would have a decent chance of passing.

Legislators in Texas, one of just nine states that permit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, will consider banning such sales amid concerns about growing use of the “safer” alternative to smoking among youth.

Even as the Texas Medical Association and Texas Public Health Coalition plan to lobby the 2015 Legislature to regulate e-cigarettes, three bills have been filed to forbid their sale to anyone under 18, a group now found to favor the battery-powered devices that turn liquid nicotine into a vapor the user inhales. The product isn’t considered harmless, particularly in young people.

“Why should it be OK for minors to buy one nicotine product and not another?” asked state Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, author of one of the bills. “I don’t know how you justify that. I don’t know how any responsible adult would justify that.”

Alvarado, who as a Houston City Council member spearheaded passage of the ordinance that bans smoking in restaurants and bars, said she’s optimistic the Legislature will pass a bill restricting the sale of e-cigarettes. The idea enjoys bipartisan support, she said, and she is not aware of any likely opposition. The other bills were filed by Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City.

[…]

The planned lobbying effort by the Texas Medical Association and Texas Public Health Coalition stresses banning e-cigarette sales to minors but also includes extending state regulation of tobacco products to e-cigarettes too. Other provisions would fund research on e-cigarettes’ effects and provide for more school-based education about the effects of e-cigarettes, nicotine, tobacco, and other addictive substances.

But Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, a Texas Medical Association leader and chairman of the Texas Public Health Coalition, said prohibiting sales to minors is the most important goal.

“E-cigarettes are too easy for young people to access,” said Sanchez. “It should be just as difficult for young people to obtain and get hooked on them as combustible cigarettes.”

Rep. Alvarado’s bill is HB 170. SB 96 and SB 97, both filed by Sen. Hinojosa, would prohibit the use of vapor products on school property, and apply many of the regulations on cigarettes to vapor products, respectively. Some cities outside Texas have taken action to treat e-cigs the same as regular smokes, though cities like Houston have not done so yet. That may change depending on what the state does. None of the usual arguments against statewide smoking bans apply in a case like this, and as Rep. Alvarado notes it’s hard to imagine any lobbying being done in opposition to these bills. Doesn’t mean they’ll pass – it’s always a matter of priorities as much as anything – but if this gets on the calendar I’ll expect it to wind up on Greg Abbott’s desk for a signature.

Republicans will push pro-discrimination bills

I have three things to say about this.

RedEquality

Two days after the Plano City Council approved an ordinance prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people, a Texas legislator filed a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit the ability of cities to enforce such laws.

On Wednesday, Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) filed House Joint Resolution 55, which is similar but not identical to Senate Joint Resolution 10, filed last month by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels).

Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano), one of several lawmakers who sent a letter to the Plano City Council opposing the nondiscrimination ordinance, also announced on Twitter Tuesday that he’s drafting a bill “to protect Texas business owners from unconstitutional infringements on their religious liberty.” As of Thursday morning, Leach’s bill hadn’t been filed, and he didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.

Nevertheless, a month before the session begins, the flurry of legislation suggests that, thanks in part to the legalization of same-sex marriage across much of the nation, conservatives will challenge gays rights in the name of religious freedom in the 84th Texas Legislature.

The resolutions from Campbell and Villalba would amend the Texas Constitution to state that government “may not burden” someone’s “sincerely held religious belief” unless there is a “compelling governmental interest” and it is the “least restrictive means of furthering that interest.”

Experts say such an amendment would effectively prevent cities that have passed LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances from enforcing them. In addition to Plano, those cities include Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

That’s because business owners could claim exemptions from the ordinances if they have sincerely held religious beliefs—such as opposition to same-sex marriage—making it legal for them to fire employees for being gay or refuse service to LGBT customers.

“It blows a hole in your nondiscrimination protections if people can ignore them for religious reasons,” said Jenny Pizer, senior counsel at the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal.

But Pizer and others said an even bigger problem could be the amendments’ unintended consequences.

Daniel Williams, legislative specialist for Equality Texas, said in addition to the First Amendment, the state already has a statute that provides strong protections for religious freedom—known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA. But Williams said the proposed constitutional amendments would supplant RFRA and go further, overriding exceptions in the statute for things like zoning regulations and civil rights laws.

[…]

Williams noted that similar resolutions from Campbell have failed in previous sessions. Amending the state Constitution requires two-thirds support in both chambers as well as a majority public vote.

“That’s a very high bar, and the Legislature’s a deliberative body,” Williams said.

But Williams said the key to defeating the legislation this go-round will be economic arguments.

“This would have a detrimental affect on businesses that are looking to relocate to Texas,” he said. “Businesses that want to relocate to Texas will think that their LGBT employees and the family members of their LGBT employees are not going to be welcome.”

1. Between equality ordinances, plastic bag bans, payday lender regulations, and anti-fracking measures, the obsession that Republican legislators may have this session with nullifying municipal laws may overtake their obsession with nullifying federal laws. I continue to be perplexed by this obsession.

2. We are all clear that these “freedom to discriminate” bills are, intentionally or not, also about the freedom to discriminate against Jews or blacks or whoever else you don’t like, right? I mean, every time they get pinned down on it, proponents of such bills admit as much. I don’t suppose it has ever occurred to the Donna Campbells of the world that one of these days they themselves could be on the receiving end of such treatment, if someone else’s sincerely held religious beliefs hold that antipathy towards LGBT folks is an abomination before God. I’m just saying.

3. Assuming Speaker Straus maintains the tradition of not voting, the magic number is fifty, as in fifty votes in the House are needed to prevent any of these travesties from making it to your 2015 ballot. There are 52 Democrats in the House, plus one officially LGBT-approved Republican, so there are three votes to spare, assuming no other Republicans can be persuaded to vote against these. We know that there are four current House Dems that voted for the anti-gay marriage amendment of 2005. One of them, Rep. Richard Raymond, has since stated his support for marriage equality. Another, Rep. Ryan Guillen, may be persuadable. The current position of the others, Reps. Joe Pickett and Tracy King, are unknown. Barring any absences or scheduling shenanigans, we can handle three defections without needing to get another R on board. This is the key.

(Yes, eleven votes in the Senate can also stop the madness. Unfortunately, one of those votes belongs to Eddie Lucio. I’d rather take my chances in the House.)

Unfair Park and Hair Balls have more.

More on the initial bill filings

From the Trib, a sampling:

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

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

Guns

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

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

Transportation

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

Health

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

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

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

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

Education

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

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

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

Voting

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

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

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

Energy and Environment

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

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

Other

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

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

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

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

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

Good times for craft distillers

Just as Texas’ craft brewing industry finally got legislation passed that will allow them to operate more freely, so too did Texas craft distillers.

Gov. Rick Perry on Monday declared September “Texas Craft Spirits Month” as the state begins to implement new laws that give distillers more freedom to produce and sell in the state.

“I think that the main benefit of this is making sure that we have got a solid framework for our distilled craft industry to grow,” state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, who co-sponsored four new laws that affect Texas distillers, said during a Monday press conference.

Van de Putte said the new laws put Texas in line with other states that have more relaxed distilled spirits laws, paving the way for Texas to quickly gain national traction in the industry. Distilled spirits include alcoholic beverages such as vodka, gin, tequila and rum. In Texas, distilling is a growing industry with companies like Treaty Oak producing rum and Deep Eddy Vodka making the drink named for one of Austin’s famous swimming holes.

“For the longest time, Kentucky and Tennessee have been the states that have had bragging rights on distilled spirits,” Van de Putte said.

Much of the new legislation seeks to put Texas distillers on a level playing field with other states, giving them more options to produce and sell. Under one bill co-sponsored by Van de Putte and state Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, Texas distillers can now buy beer and other liquor used in the making of spirits from other Texas distillers. Another bill by Van de Putte and Guillen allows distillers to solicit and take orders from wholesalers — something only out-of-state distilleries could do previously — and lets companies conduct product samplings at their distilleries with a specific permit to do so.

Daniel Barnes, president and cofounder of the Texas Distilled Spirits Association, said the new legislation would help the industry grow because consumers can now sample the products at the distilleries where they are made and talk to the experts who make them.

“They’ll be able to not only appreciate the craft spirit, but get to know us and get to know how to use craft spirits,” Barnes said.

See here for the background. You know that I approve of this, and would ideally like to see more done on all of these fronts to put craft brewers and distillers on even footing with their larger competitors and with other states. What we got was still a big win after a long and complex battle, and it’s very much something to build on. One of the things I noted when I blogged that earlier story was that the Yellow Rose distillery was planning to move from a suburban location to one near Old Katy Road and Loop 610 inside Houston city limits if these bills passed. They are in the process of moving and hope to have tours available beginning around Thanksgiving. I’m not a spirits drinker myself, but I’m glad to hear that and I wish them all the best.

Now there will be an app for your auto insurance

Good.

Legislation allowing Texas drivers to prove their insurance coverage with a wireless communications device is on its way to the governor after winning final approval from the Senate on Thursday. The measure by Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, would bring Texas in line with six other states that already enable drivers to prove insurance coverage with a smart phone or wireless device. Another 21 states also are considering such a change.

Hegar said his bill allowing cell phone insurance verification “is just another step into the 21st century for Texans” and mirrors the growing use of cell phones for a variety of purposes other than phone calls. For several years,Texas drivers have had to carry an insurance ID in their vehicles, or risk being ticketed and paying a fine if stopped by a police officer. Failure to comply with the law can eventually lead to revocation of a drivers license.

The bill in question is SB181. When I wrote about this before, the story was about a couple of House bills that did the same thing; in the end, one of the authors of a House bill, Rep. Ryan Guillen, was a sponsor of Sen. Hegar’s bill. Several insurance companies already offer such apps since this is legal in some other states, and others are sure to follow. I’m not a big phone app person, but I am a person who often forgets to put his insurance card in his car, so this will be one for me to download.

Payday lending prospects look grim in the House

From the Observer:

Late into the night on Monday, the payday loan industry strutted its stuff before a very friendly House committee. The hearing came just a week after the Senate passed a surprisingly tough bill that the industry insists would shut down most of Texas’ 3,400 payday and auto-title storefronts. Even though the legislation aired last night is a faint shadow of the Senate bill, it got a rough treatment from six of the seven committee members.

Only the chairman and author of the bill, Rep. Mike Villarreal (D-San Antonio) evidenced any interest in cracking down on the industry.

“I think the tone of the committee was that clearly there was no support for what Villarreal put out there, at least right now,” said Ann Baddour of Texas Appleseed.

What happens next is anyone’s guess but it is possible that payday reform is dead for the session.

[…]

Villarreal’s bill is considered by consumer groups to be a minimalist reform effort. The Senate version would close a loophole that allows payday and title lenders to get around Texas’ anti-usury laws and charge unlimited rates. Instead it would impose a strict 36 percent APR cap on loans, effectively scuttling the business model in Texas. The Villarreal proposal, which focuses on limiting the number of “rollovers” and imposes modest limits on the size of loans based on borrower income, has only received tepid support from consumer groups.

The wording here is a little confusing. Rep. Villarreal has his own bill, HB2706, which was heard in committee on April 22 and which is pending in committee. I believe this bill is similar to the pre-amendment version of Sen. Carona bill, which is SB1247. That now-tougher bill, which passed the Senate last week, is what Rep. Villarreal brought up in committee this Monday. Rep. Villarreal is the chair of the Investments & Financial Services committee, but only one other member of the committee is a Democrat, and two of the Republicans are quoted in the story giving rhetorical foot massages to the payday lenders and the curious notion that their lightly regulated existence is necessary for truth, justice, and the American way. As the man said, you don’t need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

What happens next is impossible to predict but billions in revenues hang in the balance.

Daniel Freehan, the CEO of Cash America International, acknowledged as much on a conference call with analysts last week.

“Dozens of different scenarios could unfold at this point that run the gamut of this bill never getting out of the House committee, to a bill that passes the House in identical form of Senate Bill 1247. In between these two extremes are multiple permutations that could develop, and it’s impossible to predict how this may unfold with any reasonable degree of confidence.”

A worst-case scenario from the point of view of the reformers is legislation that would strike down city ordinances but not add any new statewide regulations. One such pre-emption only bill, House Bill 2953 by Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City), is already headed to the House floor.

Last night, Rob Norcross of the Consumer Services Alliance of Texas, a group that represents 80 percent of all the payday and title storefronts in Texas, tried to play down the pre-emption issue, saying that he believed the industry would prevail in its court. But there’s no doubt that ordinances passed in Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, El Paso and Denton are cutting into profits. In January, Mark Kuchenrithe, the CFO of Austin-based EZCorp, told analysts that the company’s “profitability… was negatively impacted by over $1 million” during the last quarter of 2012 “as a result of ordinances enacted in Dallas and Austin.”

Here’s HB2953. Far better that nothing passes than this does. I’m okay with rolling the dice in the courts if it comes down to it. BOR has more.

UPDATE: The Trib adds on.

Getting on the same page on marriage equality

Harold Cook asks a darned good question.

As SCOTUS hears arguments on marriage equality this week, it reminds me of when the Texas Legislature voted for the state constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage in Texas eight years ago. Texas voters subsequently approved the measure that November by a 3-to-1 margin. I wonder if any of the legislators voting on that piece of crap would vote differently today?

I am particularly reminded of the Democrats who voted yes (or Present, Not Voting). Some of the statements of vote (scroll to the bottom) are surprising and disappointing, including those made by various House Democrats, two of whom are now in the US Congress and several of whom remain in the legislature or otherwise in the public eye. (and one of whom was, ironically, drummed out of office in part for gay baiting).

In the Senate (in which it was debated with zero votes to spare, while two Democrats voted yes):

HJR 6 was adopted by the following vote: Yeas 21, Nays 9.

Yeas: Armbrister, Averitt, Brimer, Deuell, Duncan, Eltife, Estes, Fraser, Harris, Jackson, Janek, Lindsay, Lucio, Madla, Nelson, Ogden, Seliger, Shapiro, Staples, Wentworth, Williams.

Nays: Barrientos, Ellis, Gallegos, Hinojosa, Shapleigh, VanideiPutte, West, Whitmire, Zaffirini.

And in the House:

The roll of those voting yea was again called and the verified vote resulted, as follows (Record 396): 101 Yeas, 29 Nays, 8 Present, not voting.

Yeas — Mr. Speaker(C); Allen, R.; Anderson; Baxter; Berman; Blake; Bohac; Bonnen; Branch; Brown, B.; Brown, F.; Callegari; Campbell; Casteel; Chisum; Cook, B.; Cook, R.; Corte; Crabb; Crownover; Davis, J.; Dawson; Delisi; Denny; Driver; Edwards; Eissler; Elkins; Escobar; Farabee; Flynn; Frost; Gattis; Geren; Gonzalez Toureilles; Goodman; Goolsby; Griggs; Grusendorf; Guillen; Haggerty; Hamilton; Hamric; Hardcastle; Harper-Brown; Hartnett; Hegar; Hilderbran; Hill; Homer; Hope; Hopson; Howard; Hughes; Hunter; Hupp; Isett; Jackson; Jones, D.; Keel; Keffer, B.; Keffer, J.; King, P.; King, T.; Kolkhorst; Krusee; Kuempel; Laney; Laubenberg; Madden; McCall; McReynolds; Merritt; Miller; Morrison; Mowery; Olivo; Orr; Otto; Paxton; Phillips; Pickett; Quintanilla; Raymond; Reyna; Riddle; Ritter; Rose; Seaman; Smith, T.; Smith, W.; Solomons; Straus; Swinford; Talton; Taylor; Truitt; Van Arsdale; West; Woolley; Zedler.

Nays — Allen, A.; Alonzo; Anchia; Bailey; Burnam; Coleman; Davis, Y.; Deshotel; Dukes; Dunnam; Dutton; Farrar; Gallego; Herrero; Hochberg; Hodge; Martinez Fischer; McClendon; Moreno, J.; Moreno, P.; Naishtat; Noriega, M.; Puente; Rodriguez; Strama; Thompson; Veasey; Villarreal; Vo.

Present, not voting — Castro; Chavez; Giddings; Gonzales; Jones, J.; Leibowitz; Turner; Wong.

Absent, Excused — Eiland; Luna; Menendez; Nixon; Oliveira; Pitts; Smithee.

Absent — Flores; Martinez; Pena; Solis; Uresti.

I’ve helpfully highlighted all of the yea-voting Democrats in bold. All of the non-voters were Democrats except for Martha Wong, Joe Nixon, Jim Pitts, and John Smithee. You should click over to read some of the statements made by the non-voters, several of whom would have voted Yes and several of whom had less-than-stellar reasons for voting No. The good news is that there’s only a handful of yea-voting Dems left in the Lege – Eddie Lucio in the Senate; Ryan Guillen, Tracy King, Joe Pickett, and Richard Raymond in the House. Allan Ritter is still in the House but switched to the GOP in 2011.

I wanted to know what these legislators thought about marriage equality today. I sent the following emails to their communications directors and/or chiefs of staff:

As you know, the Supreme Court is hearing two cases this week that have to do with marriage equality. Eight years ago, the Texas Legislature approved HJR6, which was “a constitutional amendment providing that marriage in this state consists only of the union of one man and one woman”, which was subsequently ratified by the voters. Recent polling makes it clear that as with the rest of the country, Texans’ attitudes towards marriage equality are evolving, and Texans today are more favorably inclined to the idea than ever before. Democrats in particular are quite favorable to marriage equality, but that wasn’t always the case. In 2005, [your boss] was one of only three Democrats to vote Yes on HJR6 in the Senate/fifteen Democrats to vote Yes on HJR6 in the House. I would like to know, if he had to do it again today, would he still vote for HJR6?

This session, there are several joint amendments that would repeal this amendment – HJRs 77 and 78, and SJR 29. While I recognize that it is highly unlikely any of these resolutions will come to a vote, I would like to know if one of them did come up for a vote, would [your boss] vote for it?

I am sending this question to all five Democratic members of the Legislature who voted for HJR6 in 2005 and who are still serving as Democrats in the Legislature today. I intend to print the responses on my blog when I receive them. I look forward to receiving [your boss’] answer. Please let me know if you have any questions. Thanks very much.

The only complete response I got was from Rep. Richard Raymond:

In 2010 I decided that the only position I would take on the issue of marriage would be that I am pro marriage. Period.

Whether a person is gay or straight should be irrelevant.

What matters is that two people who love each other and want to get married should be able to do so.

Obviously, I’m glad to hear that. I wish I could say I got the same kind of answer from everyone I asked, but I can’t. Rep. Ryan Guillen responded that he had not read the legislation to repeal HJR6 – “I typically read bills as they come up for consideration and make my decision at that time”, he said. I followed up to inquire about whether he had changed his mind about his vote on HJR6, but did not get a response. Sen. Lucio declined to comment. I got no response from Reps. Tracy King or Joe Pickett despite two and three emails sent to them, respectively. So there’s still work to be done here. But we have come a long way. As Texas on the Potomac noted, not a single Texas Democrat voted against DOMA in 1996 – Sheila Jackson Lee, who voted “present”, was the only one not to vote in favor of it – but now many of them are full-throated in support of marriage equality. We will get to where we need to be, with marriage equality. I don’t know how long it will take, and I don’t know who will refuse to come along, but ultimately we will get there. It’s just a matter of time.

There oughta be an app for your auto insurance

This is a no-brainer.

Digging through a cluttered glove compartment to find proof of insurance while a police officer waits may soon be an antiquated frustration in Texas.

Lawmakers are considering bills that would allow drivers in the state to prove financial responsibility using a paperless method — their smartphones. Multiple versions of the bill have been filed including HB 239, authored by state Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, and HB 336, authored by state Rep. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio.

The measure would allow flexibility and convenience for both consumers and peace officers but would be optional, said Guillen.

“This change would put Texas on the cutting edge,” he said.

State Rep. Gary Elkins, who chairs the House technology committee, said the state should go one step further and include proof of state registration and inspection.

[…]

Guillen also said the bill bans law enforcement agents from searching any other location on the phone and holds wireless carriers harmless of wrongdoing or failure to show proof.

Gotta say, I’m not always so good about remembering to put one of those pieces of paper in my wallet and/or my glove compartment. I’d be all over this if it were an option. Given all the other formerly printed things that you can now carry on your smartphone – boarding passes, event tickets, and so forth – I can’t think of a good reason not to allow this. Please make this happen, OK? Thanks.