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We could have had an excise tax on e-cigarettes

But then Greg Abbott got involved.

At the urging of the nation’s biggest tobacco company, Gov. Greg Abbott launched a late-hour push to change Texas legislation creating a 10% state retail excise tax on e-cigarette and vapor smoking products.

That bill died in House action Thursday night due to a legislative maneuver, known as a point of order, offered by Republican Rep. Jonathan Stickland of Bedford. It has no realistic chance of revival because of legislative deadlines and the mandate that tax measures originate in the House, not the Senate.

Stickland said Friday his aides spotted the technical error and he pointed it out in the House out of concern about ladling taxes on e-cigarettes and vape products.

“A lot of people have used e-cigarettes to quit other bad habits,” Stickland said Friday. “It’s just a freedom issue for me. I think that taxes are theft.”

After the bill’s death, Dallas Democrat Nathan Johnson, the author of the Senate version of the bill, said in a text message: “I’m disappointed, to say the least. This bill would protect kids and save public costs. It had overwhelming support in the House.”

Critics said earlier that Abbott’s late move — targeting a bill touted as deterring youths from buying addictive e-cigs — would effectively ease taxation of products such as Juul pods that concentrate nicotine in not much liquid.

[…]

Abbott’s suggested changes would have scrapped a proposed first-in-the-nation retail tax predicted to generate about $20 million a year for public education. Instead, Texas would tax vape products at the wholesale level at five cents per milliliter of “consumable liquid solution.”

Four states — Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana and North Carolina — tax vape products at five cents per milliliter, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, with New Jersey and West Virginia levying higher rates.

The Abbott-backed changes also would have put a $1 per ounce tax on every initial sale of heated tobacco products, which produce an inhalable aerosol primarily by heating, not burning, tobacco. The FDA authorized U.S. sales of the products, made by Philip Morris International, late last month. Corey Henry of Philip Morris International said in an email that the product will be commercialized by Altria in the U.S. through a licensing agreement.

Proceeds from the double-barreled tax were to help fund public schools.

Rob Crane, an Ohio State University physician who heads the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation, said in an email that the resulting e-cig tax would have been so light, it would make “no difference” to children or adults considering purchases of such nicotine delivery products.

The first link in the story gives some background on the bill, as it was and what it was intended for. I confess, I wasn’t aware of any of this before I read the story, so I don’t have much to add beyond what you can read at the two links. Mostly, this is a reminder of why it’s hard to pass bills in the Lege. Time is against you, there are many veto points, and the closer you get to the end of the session the easier it is kill things. All you can do is note how far you got this time, and vow to try again in two years.

Chris Bell looking at a Senate run

We haven’t had one of these stories in a couple of weeks.

Chris Bell

Chris Bell, the former Democratic congressman and gubernatorial nominee from Houston, is mulling a bid for U.S. Senate in 2020 against U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

Bell told the Tribune on Monday that he is taking a “serious look” at the race in the wake of the recent decision by U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, to pass on a bid against Cornyn. Bell said he is in the “very early” stage of deliberations but believes he would need to make a decision by this summer to be able to run a viable campaign.

There are already several Democratic candidates, including former U.S. House contender MJ Hegar, and a couple of other prominent names are still weighing whether to run. Bell expressed confidence that he could break through.

“I certainly think it’s a field I could compete in,” Bell said, touting his long record helping build up the party in Texas. “Many of us believe this is the year the pendulum finally swings.”

[…]

Bell, who now has his own law firm in Houston, said he thought he was done with running for office but like many Democrats, he felt compelled to “stay involved or get involved” after President Donald Trump’s election in 2016. Bell said he had hoped Beto O’Rourke, the former El Paso Congressman who made an unsuccessful but high-profile bid for U.S. Senate last year, would run for the U.S. Senate again in 2020. After both O’Rourke and Castro opted against challenging Cornyn, Bell began considering what he could bring to the race.

“I think a big part of my message would be a lot of people are looking to Texas now for guidance, and we’re in a perfect position to lead,” Bell said, pointing to issues such as immigration reform and climate change. He also echoed other Democrats in claiming Cornyn has been afraid to stand up for Texas, shrinking behind Trump as well as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

I like Chris Bell. He was a good member of Congress, whose career there was cut short by the DeLay re-redistricting of 2003. He was a better candidate for Governor in 2006 than he’s ever gotten credit for, and if the trial lawyers had gotten over their obsession with Carole Keeton Strayhorn and figured out they needed to help push Democratic voters to support the Democratic candidate in that year’s multi-candidate pileup for Governor, he might have won. (VaLinda Hathcox, the Democratic candidate for Land Commissioner in 2006, got more votes in her race than Rick Perry did. Look it up.) He ran a progressive campaign for Mayor in 2015. (*)

All that said, I’m hard pressed to think of anyone who’d be excited by a Chris Bell candidacy. Going by the criteria I suggested for potential John Cornyn opponents, he doesn’t really meet any of them. He’s held office and run statewide before, and he’ll have some measure of support in Houston. That gives him a shot in a primary, but it would also probably spur Emily’s List to quit waiting to see if Amanda Edwards jumps in and start getting behind MJ Hegar now. It’s fine by me if Chris Bell want to run for Senate. As stated before, I’d prefer a primary with more than one serious candidate in it, if only to ensure that everyone starts engaging voters now. Chris Bell is welcome to run, and may the best candidate win. But that’s about as enthusiastic as I’m gonna get about it.

(*) – He then threw that all away to endorse Bill King in the runoff. Democratic primary voters will remember that. The Chron has more.

“What is dead may never die”, bad bills edition

That nasty anti-LGBT bill that was killed in the House has been revived in the Senate.

After LGBTQ lawmakers in the Texas House killed a religious liberty bill they feared could be dangerous to their community, the Texas Senate has brought it back — and looks to be fast-tracking it.

House Bill 3172, by state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, effectively died on Thursday after members of the lower chamber’s first-ever LGBTQ Caucus torpedoed it with a pair of procedural ploys. On Monday, a companion bill filed in the Senate by Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, moved for the first time in weeks: After being unexpectedly added to an afternoon committee docket, it was swiftly voted out of the panel on a party-line vote.

Within the hour, the bill was placed on the Senate’s agenda, making it eligible for a vote later this week.

As filed, the Senate bill prevents the government from taking “adverse action” against individuals for acting in accordance with their own “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction, including beliefs or convictions regarding marriage.” Advocates fear that would embolden businesses to decline service to members of the LGBTQ community.

[…]

Five Republicans on the committee voted for the bill and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, voted against it.

If the bill is to proceed, it will have to maintain its current blistering pace: Next Tuesday is the deadline for the House to approve Senate bills. Before it reaches the House floor, the measure would need to win approval from the full Senate, be referred by the House speaker to a committee, get scheduled for a hearing and earn a positive vote from a House committee.

Advocates have long feared that floor debate on the bill in the socially conservative Texas Senate could result in a slew of anti-LGBTQ amendments. In a one-page handout issued to Texas House members last week in anticipation of floor debate, the advocacy group Equality Texas warned that if the measure came up for debate, it could spark a “‘bathroom bill’ style floor fight.”

The Texas Senate has already passed a different religious refusals bill. Senate Bill 17, which advocates call a “license to discriminate,” would allow occupational license holders like social workers or lawyers to cite “sincerely held religious beliefs” when their licenses are at risk due to professional behavior or speech. Advocates say the Hughes bill moving this week — at least in its original form — contains all that language and more troubling provisions.

See here for the background. The Hughes bill is SB1978. The House bill had been amended to water it down somewhat; the Hughes bill is what that bill was originally, but Sen. Hughes says he wants to amend it in the same fashion. Even if that made the bill all right, the concern as noted in the story is that amendments proposed by individual legislators could wind up making it much worse, which is why the best course of action is for it to not come to a vote. The good news there is that time is short, but you can be sure Dan Patrick will do his best to move it along. Now is a good time to call your Senator and let them know they need to oppose SB1978. The DMN has more.

How should we feel about Joaquin Castro not running for Senate?

The Chron’s Erica Greider has opinions.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

In announcing that he won’t challenge Republican U.S. Sen John Cornyn next year, Texas congressman Joaquin Castro explained that he wanted to focus on the “important and meaningful work” he is doing in Congress.

Many Texas Democrats were saddened by this news because they were hoping Castro would run statewide. Others were disgruntled by it because they would like to flip the Senate seat, and Castro would have been a strong candidate in a year when Democrats hope to recapture control of the U.S. Senate.

I would have been proud to vote for Castro, but have little sympathy for those who denounced his decision as overly cautious. Both he and his twin brother, Julián, have faced this criticism at various points during their respective careers in electoral politics, and it’s not entirely baseless. The Castro twins are deliberate in their decision-making, and reluctant to take unnecessary risks.

[…]

Cornyn was re-elected by a 26-point margin in 2014, but he can hardly be considered invincible given the strong showing of Democrats in last year’s midterm elections. Other Democrats have taken notice. M.J. Hegar, an Air Force veteran and the 2018 Democratic nominee in Texas’ 31st Congressional District, threw her hat in the ring last month. Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards is also mulling a bid, and other contenders may come forward now that Castro has taken a pass on a 2020 Senate race.

And although there’s a sense among Democrats that now is the time to stand up Preisdent Donald Trump, it’s worth remembering that Castro is already in a position to do that as a member of Congress. He represents a heavily Democratic district, and is unlikely to face a primary challenge. His stature in Washington has grown with the Democratic takeover of the House last fall, as has his presence in the national media: he’s a frequent guest on cable TV news shows to discuss the Russia investigation or Trump’s border policies.

Frankly, Castro can probably serve as the congressman from Bexar County until he decides to do something else.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the issue is not that Joaquin Castro decided to stay put in Congress. The issue is that someone on behalf of Joaquin Castro let it be known that he was “all but certain” to announce his candidacy. If you do that, and then you follow it with weeks of silence and an announcement that you’re not running, well, people are going to wonder what you were thinking, and doing. Had it not been for that initial “all but certain” trail balloon, we wouldn’t be having this conversation now. I wish I knew the story behind how and why that story got floated in the first place. Maybe some day we will.

In the meantime, there’s another person out there pondering a possible run, and this story about Stacy Abrams’ visit to Houston checks in on her.

The annual fundraising event drew a who’s-who of local Democrats, some of whom expressed similar optimism about the upcoming election cycle — including At-Large Councilwoman Amanda Edwards, who told reporters she still is mulling a run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

“I’m feeling encouraged right now,” Edwards said. “I think that change is on the horizon in Texas, and I think the 2020 election cycle is when it will take place.”

Edwards said the Democratic nominee would have to “galvanize the base” to beat Cornyn, adding that her prospective campaign would draw lessons from the one run last cycle by Beto O’Rourke, whom Edwards said she has spoken with about her own possible run.

I remain skeptical of an Edwards candidacy, for basically the same reason why I was initially skeptical of Joaquin for Senate: Edwards has no opposition of note for re-election to Council At Large #4, and four years from now she’d make a very credible candidate for Mayor if she wants to do that. Would you give that up for a longshot at the Senate? Maybe Amanda Edwards would, I don’t know. I feel like she’s unlikely to draw this decision out for too long – if nothing else, the filing deadline for Houston municipal elections is the end of August – but we’ll see.

Bad bill alert: SB9

We’re a bit more than two weeks out from the end of this legislative session. It feels like it’s been pretty quiet, but perhaps that’s just in comparison to the last session when it was a nonstop fight over the bathroom bill. I’m not going to say this has been a good session, but it hasn’t stood out as a terrible one yet, which again may just be a comment on other recent Leges than a statement about this one. Be that as it may, we are at the point where bills can be killed by virtue of the constrained calendar that remains. The Texas House LGBTQ Caucus knocked off one bad bill recently, and now the time comes to go after another. Progress Texas explains.

After historic voter turnout in the 2018 midterms, Republicans started to get a little nervous. Too many new voters spell a disaster for the GOP that has long been out of touch with everyday Texans, so Republicans in the legislature got to work to prevent our fellow Texans from voting.

The “Slow Down the Vote” bill, known as SB 9, proposes a long list of changes to state voter laws, some of which could make access to the polls more difficult for our friends and neighbors. We need lawmakers to protect the fundamental right of every eligible citizen to vote and create an election system that works for all Texans.

Here’s everything you need to be up to date on the Republican voter suppression scheme:

Act Now: Stand up for Fair Elections: Say NO to the “Slow Down the Vote” Bill

Blogs:

There are some videos at that Progress Texas link with some good discussion about SB9, so click over to see them. This link provides the details of what SB9 would do.

The “Slow Down the Vote” bill, known as SB 9, proposes a long list of changes to state voter laws, some of which could make access to the polls more difficult for our friends and neighbors. Some of the items include:

Require people giving rides to the polls to sign sworn affidavits

Make it harder for people with disabilities to receive assistance at polls

Make it harder for some people to vote by mail

Take away the safe harbor to cast a provisional ballot

Allow registrars to reject voter registrations if any item is left blank

Allow campaigns to observe voters who require assistance

Allow the currently indicted Attorney General direct access to the state voter registration database

Allow the Secretary of State to share voter Social Security numbers with other states and jurisdictions

Create a mandate that countywide polling places be located within 3 miles of every registered voter, but only for the five most populous counties

We’ve previously written on the dangers of this bill, as have our friends at the Texas Civil Rights Project. The bill passed the Texas Senate in March and is on its way to the House.

The Current also had a story about an anti-SB9 rally at the Capitol. The good news here is that it’s just now getting a committee hearing in the House, which is scheduled for Wednesday, May 15, at 8 AM. That brings tactics like delays and points of order into play, with the goal of running out the clock before this thing can get a vote on the House floor. You can show up to testify against this bill – you should register as a witness beforehand. You can also call your own representative and urge him or her to oppose SB9. If you’ve been looking for a chance to Do Something this session, here it is.

Revitalizing recycling

This is encouraging.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini

On Monday, bipartisan legislation designed to help offset the sapped demand for recyclables abroad cleared a final legislative hurdle at the Texas Capitol.

Senate Bill 649, which passed the Senate last month on a 21-10 vote, cleared the Texas House on an informal voice vote. The bill aims to increase the number of Texas plastics and paper manufacturers using recyclables as industrial feedstock to produce consumer and other products.

It will require the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Economic Development and Tourism Office to figure out how best to increase demand for recyclable materials among the manufacturing industry, identify the quantity and type of recyclables cities and industrial sources are currently collecting and estimate how much of it isn’t currently being reclaimed. The bill also calls for the development of a statewide campaign to educate the public about the economic benefits of the recycling industry and how to properly recycle.

[…]

State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, who authored the bill, said in a statement that the legislation is not only about propping up the recycling industry but spurring business growth. The Laredo Democrat noted the results of a recent economic impact study that discovered the recycling industry has a meaningful economic footprint in the state.

We’ve discussed some of the challenges faced by the recycling business at this time. It’s going to take building up our domestic infrastructure for recycling to get things where they need to be. I don’t know how much this bill would do, and of course it still has to pass the House and get signed, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Senate protects Confederate monuments

I will never understand this.

Sen. Brandon Creighton

After nearly four hours of testimony and an emotional show of opposition from some legislators of color in the Texas Senate, the upper chamber approved Tuesday a bill that would expand protections for historical monuments.

While the legislation doesn’t explicitly single out Confederate markers for protection, several Democrats needled the author of the bill, Republican state Sen. Brandon Creighton of Conroe, since his measure would effectively shield such landmarks from being removed.

“The bill that you’re carrying on the Senate floor today is disgraceful,” said state Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston. “I ask that you consider some of the pain and heartache that we have to go through — myself and some of the brothers and sisters on this floor of color and what we’ve had to go through as it relates to our Texas history.”

Creighton’s Senate Bill 1663 would require two-thirds of members in both legislative chambers to approve of the removal, relocation or alteration of monuments or memorials that have been on state property for more than 25 years. City or county monuments that have been up for at least 25 years could only be removed, relocated or altered if approved by a supermajority of the governing board.

Monuments and memorials that have been around less than 25 years could not be altered without approval from a state agency, state official or local government body, depending on who erected it. State or local entities who skirt the law would be subject to a fine for each violation. The bill tentatively passed the upper chamber in a party-line 19-12 vote. (Update: The Senate gave the measure final approval later in the night.)

“Our history is part of who we are and part of the story of Texas, but history is never just one person’s account,” Creighton told other senators Tuesday. “We’ve seen a trend across the nation and the world where controversial monuments are removed or destroyed, often without any input, study or process. I fear that we’ll look back and regret that this was a period where deleting history was more important than learning from it.”

Democrats, meanwhile, pushed back on the notion that tearing down landmarks amounted to erasing history. At one point, members of the Texas House’s Legislative Black Caucus left the lower chamber, which was also in session, crossed the Capitol and congregated in the upper chamber to stand in solidarity against the bill. Meanwhile, other senators advised Creighton to remember the lawmakers of color in the chamber — saying the issue surrounding Confederate monuments hits closer to home for them.

“Are you aware as we’re having this discussion the pain and hurt of state Sens. Miles and [Royce] West?” state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, asked Creighton of the two black lawmakers in the Senate. “Do you have any idea on how you’re removing the scabs of some of their most painful experiences? … Are you aware of what you’re putting them through?”

I mean, I don’t know how else to put this, but in the Civil War, the Confederacy was the bad guys. You want to honor its heritage, go crowdfund a museum for it. Don’t litter the streets with monuments to people who took up arms against the United States.

The Observer ties this to the ongoing war against cities being conducted by the Republicans in the Legislature.

It’s just another example of how Republicans are using their unprecedented control of state legislatures to dismantle political power in the country’s increasingly liberal cities. Creighton is at the center of that fight this session. He also authored a sweeping set of bills that would eviscerate municipalities’ power to set their own local labor standards, such as mandatory paid sick leave. Creighton insisted those measures are simply about protecting struggling small businesses and low-wage workers from those same overzealous city-hall liberals. That package passed out of the Senate and could soon get a House vote.

Texas isn’t alone. For years, red states have enacted laws prohibiting cities from establishing local minimum wages and other labor protections. In the face of renewed public opposition to Confederate monuments, several Southern states have passed laws making it extremely difficult to remove historical monuments.

Call it the “Monuments and Minimum Wages” doctrine. For state-level conservatives, preemption is about both consolidating economic power and preserving cultural power. But at its core, it boils down to one thing: maintaining political power. This multi-front attack on local control falls disproportionately on the shoulders of people of color in the South.

The blue dots in those red states — Atlanta, Birmingham, Charlotte, Jackson, Memphis, Dallas — have long served as epicenters for black political power. But the mostly white Republicans who control these states’ legislatures have systematically undercut the authority of democratically elected city leaders.

Take Birmingham, for example. Alabama’s largest city is majority black, as is its city council. When local activists first called for the removal of a 52-foot Confederate monument in 2015, Republican state legislators (most, if not all, of whom are white) rammed through a bill preventing cities from removing historical monuments. When that city council and the city’s black mayor passed an ordinance in 2016 raising Birmingham’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, the state legislature quickly rushed through a law preempting local minimum wages.

Now Texas Republicans want to follow suit.

Did you notice that two-thirds majority requirement to approve changes? The Republicans may not think they’ll ever be a governing minority in this state, but they’re preparing for it anyway.

The law mandates a fine of up to $1,500 per day for a first violation, and up to $25,000 per day for subsequent violations. I have this fantasy of a city just straight up defying this law, declaring it to be invalid, and refusing to pay the fines. Strike a blow for local control and racial justice, all at once. It’ll never happen, and the rational part of my brain can’t actually endorse it, but that’s how contemptuous I feel of this bill. We cannot vote these guys out of power soon enough.

House passes a bail reform bill

For what it’s worth.

Rep. Kyle Kacal

The Texas House gave an initial stamp of approval Thursday to a bill that addresses bail practices, which courts recently deemed unconstitutional in the state’s two most populous counties for discriminating against poor criminal defendants who can’t pay for their release from jail.

But a last-minute amendment actually limits who can be released from behind bars without having cash.

Reform advocates have called for a system that could get poor, nonviolent defendants out of jail before their trial, but the amendment by state Rep. Oscar Longoria, D-Mission, is more restrictive than current law on no-cost releases. It would not allow judicial officers to release defendants on no-cost bonds for numerous reasons, including if they haven’t shown up to a court hearing in the previous two years, were charged with a violent offense or were charged with a crime that involves more than 4 grams of a controlled substance.

House Bill 2020 was one of several bail reform measures filed this year after federal court rulings, jail deaths and a state trooper’s murder drew attention to Texas’ pretrial jailing practices after the last legislative session. As it was presented to the chamber, the bill would have required officials to consider a defendant’s risk of danger or skipping court before making bail decisions. The successful amendment nixed that requirement if a defendant is released on a preset bail amount.

The bill’s author, state Rep. Kyle Kacal, R-College Station, said he worked in coordination with Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s office on the measure, but it has changed significantly since it was filed in March. One of the most notable revisions before coming to the floor was that it no longer puts the power over systemic bail changes under the governor’s office.

[…]

Longoria’s amendment drastically alters the bill, but he emphasized that the move to restrict release for defendants on personal bonds — which have no upfront cost — for some defendants was based on safety, noting that it limited no-cost release for sexual assault and family violence offenses.

“It was more of a community safety issue,” he told The Texas Tribune after the bill passed. “A lot of judges don’t have the proper training to basically admonish the defendants and set proper bond.”

The amendment went against what many advocates have pushed for, and Marc Levin with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, said he would push to have the Senate remove it if the bill finally passes the House.

“It certainly would contribute to inequality in the system, and it could contribute to dangerous people who have money being released when they shouldn’t,” he said.

Some bail reform advocates have also criticized the bill for still relying on money bail instead of presuming release on no-cost bonds for nonviolent defendants. At a hearing last month, the criminal justice advocacy group Texas Fair Defense Project claimed the bill at that time didn’t adequately address federal court rulings that said Harris and Dallas counties’ bail practices kept people in jail simply because they were too poor to pay their bonds, and the group called for individual bail hearings within two days. The organization also said the bill’s requirement of a risk assessment would prohibit judges from automatically releasing from jail most misdemeanor defendants on a no-cost bond. Newly elected judges in Harris County adopted that practice amid legal woes the county faced from the federal ruling.

“We would like to see … that they’re still allowed to make a decision to automatically release defendants on really low-level, nonviolent offense,” Emily Gerrick, a staff attorney for the organization, said at the hearing.

Amendments to allow counties to release defendants on no-cost bonds before a risk assessment and to address the court rulings that called for individualized bail hearings failed Thursday.

See here and here for the background. Earlier bills by Rep. Andrew Murr and Sen. John Whitmire appear to be dead at this point, so it’s this bill or nothing. Grits believes none of these bills were going to address the main constitutional flaws in the existing system, which should be clarified in the coming months by the Fifth Circuit. After reading through this story, I’m inclined to agree. If this bill falls short of what the court is likely to order, what’s the point? Whatever the case, it’s up to the Senate now.

House passes two bills to expand medical marijuana use

Bill Number One:

Rep. Eddie Lucio III

The Texas House on Monday advanced a bill that would expand the list of debilitating conditions that allow Texans to legally use medical cannabis.

House Bill 1365 would add Alzheimer’s, Crohn’s disease, muscular dystrophy, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism and a bevy of other illnesses to an existing state program that currently applies only to people with intractable epilepsy who meet certain requirements.

The bill would also increase from three to 12 the number of dispensaries the Texas Department of Public Safety can authorize to begin growing and distributing the product and authorizes the implementation of cannabis testing facilities to analyze the content, safety and potency of medical cannabis.

After a relatively short debate, the lower chamber gave preliminary approval to Democratic state Rep. Eddie Lucio III’s bill in a 121-23 vote. But the legislation still faces major hurdles in the more conservative Texas Senate before it can become law.

“Today, I don’t just stand here as a member of this body but as a voice for thousands of people in this state that are too sick to function or that live in constant, debilitating pain,” Lucio, D-Brownsville, told other lawmakers.

The Compassionate Use Act, signed into law in 2015, legalized products containing high levels of CBD, a non-euphoric component of marijuana, and low levels of THC, the psychoactive element in marijuana, for Texans with intractable epilepsy whose symptoms have not responded to federally approved medication.

Patients also must be permanent state residents and get approval from two specialized neurologists listed on the Compassionate Use Registry of Texas. While Lucio’s bill strikes the residency requirement, state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, successfully tacked on an amendment Monday saying those wanting to try the medicine only needed approval of one neurologist from the registry and a second physician who only needs to be licensed in the state of Texas and have “adequate medical knowledge” in order to render a second opinion.

Lucio’s bill is one of two which aim to expand the scope of the narrow Compassionate Use Act that have gained traction this legislative session. Another measure by Fort Worth Republican Stephanie Klick, an author of the 2015 program, is scheduled to get debated by the Texas House later in the week.

See here, here, and here for some background. The Compassionate Use Act was a big step forward, but it was also very limited, which this bill aims to improve on. As does Bill Number Two:

Four years after state Rep. Stephanie Klick authored legislation that legalized the sale of medical cannabis oil to Texans suffering from intractable epilepsy, the House gave tentative approval Tuesday to a bill by the Fort Worth Republican that would expand the list of patients eligible for the medicine.

House Bill 3703 would add multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and spasticity to the list of debilitating medical conditions that qualify for cannabis oil.

Her bill would also allow the state’s three dispensaries that are eligible to grow and distribute the medicine to open other locations if the Texas Department of Public Safety determines more are needed to meet patients’ needs. And the legislation calls for a research program to assess how effective cannabis is as a medical treatment option for various conditions.

[…]

The Compassionate Use Act, authored by Klick in 2015, legalized products containing high levels of CBD, a non-euphoric component of marijuana, and low levels of THC, the psychoactive element in marijuana, for Texans with intractable epilepsy whose symptoms have not responded to federally approved medication.

Under the law, Texans with intractable epilepsy only qualify for the oil if they’ve tried two FDA-approved drugs and found them to be ineffective. Patients also must be permanent state residents and get approval from two specialized neurologists listed on the Compassionate Use Registry of Texas.

Klick successfully added an amendment to her bill Tuesday saying the second doctor only needed to be a licensed physician, rather than a specialized neurologist.

Unlike Klick’s bill, Lucio’s strikes the residency requirement and says those wanting to try the medicine only need approval of one neurologist from the registry and a second physician who must be licensed in the state of Texas and have “adequate medical knowledge” in order to render a second opinion.

Either or both bills would be fine, and would do a lot to help people who need it. Alas, we live in a state that has unwisely chosen to give a lot of power to Dan Patrick. Sucks to be us.

The tax swap is dead

For this session, at least. Most likely, barring anything strange.

State Rep. Dan Huberty, the top public education leader in the Texas House, postponed two items of legislation Tuesday that would pay for long-term, ongoing school district tax cuts by raising sales taxes — effectively killing any chance of passing the legislation this year.

Huberty tabled until 2021 — the next legislative session — House Joint Resolution 3 and the accompanying House Bill 4621, which would ask voters to increase the state sales tax by one penny to buy down school district property taxes. The Houston Republican’s move came the day after the Senate, headed by a lieutenant governor who had endorsed the proposal, stripped such a provision from its version of the school finance bill in what was perhaps a signal that the measure would be dead in the upper chamber anyway.

Despite Tuesday’s postponement, the idea could still be revived this session; lawmakers could use a different bill as a vehicle to fund school district tax cuts.

Huberty criticized members of the Senate on Tuesday who “have spent their whole careers calling for property tax relief” but did not vote for the school finance measure the day before. And he repeatedly affirmed questions by House colleagues that suggested state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, the Houston Republican who leads the upper chamber’s property tax committee, had failed to take responsibility for coming up with a viable mechanism for property tax cuts when he was part of a school finance commission last year and during the current legislative session.

Bettencourt has arguably been the most vocal GOP senator opposed to the tax swap proposal, a position that has caught some by surprise since he’s closely aligned — both personally and professionally — with Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has made clear he supports the measure. Bettencourt marked himself “present, not voting” on the school finance bill Monday, while the majority of the upper chamber approved the legislation. And on Tuesday morning, ahead of business in both chambers, Bettencourt took to Facebook to once again reiterate his opposition to the tax swap, saying there is “simply no need to raise taxes even higher.”

In response to House members’ criticisms, Bettencourt said he’s long been clear about his concern that the tax swap proposal could amount to a tax increase. When Huberty proposed that the tax swap devote 80% of the new sales tax revenue to property tax cuts and the remainder to public school funding, for example, “I immediately red-flagged that,” Bettencourt said.

“Emotions run high when bills fail,” Bettencourt said. “If you have the votes, pass your bill — don’t blame somebody in the other chamber. That’s just kind of a rule that I’ve learned.”

[…]

On Tuesday morning, before the House gaveled in for the day, Bonnen told House Republicans during a caucus meeting that there would be no point in bringing up the proposal for a vote in the lower chamber if it was considered dead in the Senate, according to multiple people who were at the gathering. Caucus members at the meeting, according to those sources, largely agreed with Bonnen, who said the Senate stripping such a provision from its version of the school finance bill Monday suggested the upper chamber couldn’t muster enough support to approve a tax swap proposal.

After Huberty postponed the tax swap legislation, a Bonnen spokesperson said in a statement that the proposal had been “an opportunity for lawmakers to further reduce property taxes” and sustain tax relief found in the lower chamber’s school finance bill.

“Speaker Bonnen believes it is in the House’s best interest to devote the limited time left in session to our Day One priorities — passing legislation to provide meaningful school finance and property tax reform for all Texans,” the statement read.

See here for some background. To an extent, I agree with Bettencourt, in that a sales tax increase is a terrible idea. Of course, Bettencourt sees no need to pay for tax cuts. He just wants to cut them, and nothing else really matters as far as he’s concerned. The tax swap is a terrible idea that deserved to die, but at least Huberty was trying to pay for what he wanted to do. What happens next, with school finance and everything else, we’ll see.

Where goes the tax swap plan from here?

We start with the double down.

Showing their usual united front, the state’s “Big Three” political leaders on Friday tried to remake their case for why the Texas Legislature should deliver on long-term, ongoing property tax relief before the session wraps up this month.

They also expressed confidence that they would get the work done — even as House Democrats said they appeared to have the votes to block the lower chamber’s current main vehicle to provide the biggest property tax cut.

“Our goal is really simple: We’re going beyond the point of hoping to reform property taxes to the point where we’re hoping to to deliver true property tax relief through property tax reductions,” Gov. Greg Abbott said at a Capitol press conference Friday afternoon, flanked by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, the Republican leaders of the Senate and House, respectively.

The three reaffirmed their commitment to a proposal that would increase the state sales tax one percentage point, raising about $5 billion per year to lower school district tax rates — which many have seen as a long shot from the start, with lawmakers from both parties skeptical about a sales tax hike.

The proposal has been moving through the Capitol so far in the form of a joint resolution, which needs two-thirds of each chamber to pass — at least 100 votes to pass the House and 21 votes to pass the Senate. If it passed both chambers, the proposal would then land on the November ballot for voters to decide, which leaders in support of the resolution have framed as a more democratic process.

House Joint Resolution 3 — which would ask voters to approve the sales tax swap for property tax relief — and its enabling legislation, House Bill 4621, passed out of the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday. The tax swap is expected to head to the lower chamber for a debate Tuesday.

The original version of the bill would have used 20% of the increased sales tax revenue to fund schools and 80% for property tax relief. That changed earlier this week, when state Rep. Dan Huberty, a Houston Republican who authored the legislation, tweaked the proposal to instead funnel all new sales tax dollars into property tax relief.

The move seemed to be an effort to bring on some of the Legislature’s more conservative members who had signaled they could be on board with a proposal if the new revenue was entirely dedicated to property tax relief. But it also seemed to solidify Democrats’ opposition to it, especially since the sales tax is regressive, meaning it takes a higher percentage of income from poorer people than richer people. A sales tax swap would raise taxes overall for Texas households earning less than $100,000 and would bring tax relief for households above $100,000.

State Rep. Chris Turner, who chairs his House Democratic Caucus, told The Texas Tribune that there are more than 60 “hard no” votes from Democrats against the proposal. If that opposition sticks for Tuesday’s expected vote on House Joint Resolution 3, its chances of passing the lower chamber would seem unlikely.

Patrick said he hoped both chambers would be able to get the needed two-thirds approval for the joint resolution from each chamber, but indicated he was open to getting it passed in different ways, exclaiming, “If it doesn’t, we’ll make it happen anyway!”

Sure, Dan. If you want to know why some of us are so skeptical of this, while plutocrats like Dan Patrick love it, consider this.

The state-run Legislative Budget Board estimated that the top 40% of wealthiest Texas households would see enough property tax savings to offset their increased sales tax payments in fiscal 2021. The bottom 60% of Texas households would pay more in taxes overall.

Households that make less than $99,619 would pay a total of $171 million more in taxes under the tax swap. Households that make more than that would pay a total of $424 million less in taxes, according to the analysis.

The disparity is because poor Texans tend to spend a greater portion of their money on taxable items.

The bottom fifth of Texas household incomes — those with incomes less than $37,630 — spend about 7.3% of their income on state sales tax while households in the top fifth of incomes — those with incomes of $149,453 and more — spend 1.6% of their income on state sales tax, according to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

Of course, we’ve known this forever, but the same bad idea crops up every few years and gets beaten down by the club of the same evidence. So we go through the motions. You can catch up on reading about this at various locations – the DMN, the Chron, Better Texas Blog with a handy chart – but be sure to read the analyses of the politics of this by Ross Ramsey and Scott Braddock. The reason the Big Three are putting on such a show of bravado is because they’re holding an eight-high hand in a game of five card stud, and they know it. And as Braddock notes on Twitter, so do members of the Lege.

Which may be why in the end, we got this.

The Texas Senate on Monday approved a bill to massively overhaul public school finance, but did so while backing away from a proposal to use an increased sales tax to lower school district property taxes.

After an hours-long debate on dozens of proposed changes, the Senate voted 26-2 on House Bill 3, which under the version passed by the upper chamber would increase student funding, give teachers and librarians a $5,000 pay raise, fund full-day pre-K for low-income students, and lower tax bills.

The House and Senate will have to negotiate their significant differences over the bill — including how to offer teacher pay raises and property tax relief — in a conference committee before it can be signed into law.

“When you’re doing something as complex as this, there’s going to be something you don’t like,” said state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, the bill’s author, anticipating tension throughout the day’s debate.

[…]

Taylor stripped the [sales tax] increase from HB 3 and offloaded some of the more expensive property tax relief provisions in the bill. The bill no longer includes an expansion in the homestead exemption from school district taxes. It lowers property tax rates by 10 cents per $100 valuation, instead of 15 cents, saving the owner of a $250,000 home $250 instead of $375.

The legislation would still limit the growth in school districts’ revenue due to rising property values, a proposal pitched before session began by the governor. School districts that see their property values significantly increase would have their tax rates automatically reduced to keep tax revenue growth in line. That would now start next year, instead of in 2023.

“The bill before us today has no linkage to the sales tax and is not contingent upon a sales tax,” Taylor said.

Instead, the bill creates a separate “Tax Reduction and Excellence in Education Fund” to fund school district tax relief. State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said a working group came up with a plan to get $3 billion from several sources, including the severance tax on oil and gas extraction and an online sales tax.

“This does not increase any taxes of any kind,” he said.

So does this mean that the tax swap is dead? Well…

In for a penny, in for a million pounds, I guess. Have fun taking that vote, Republicans.

Measles, schmeasles

Eh, no biggie.

With U.S. measles cases this year reaching historic levels since being practically eradicated nearly 20 years ago, a host of bills targeting vaccination policies in Texas don’t appear to be gaining traction in the Legislature.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 704 cases of the measles in 22 states so far this year, the most of any year since 1994. Fifteen of those cases have been in Texas, the Texas Department of State Health Services said.

Considering the scope of the crisis, Rekha Lakshmanan, policy director for the Immunization Partnership, a group devoted to eradicating vaccine-preventable diseases, said lawmakers this session are missing an important opportunity to pass what she called “common-sense immunization laws,” among them bills aimed at increasing data transparency.

Notable among those measures are Senate Bill 329, filed by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, which would require the Department of State Health Services to publish the immunization opt-out rates for individual public schools. Currently, the health department is only required to post this information for districts as a whole and private schools. Another, House Bill 1966 by Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, would empower child care facilities to list their immunization opt-out rates for parents who are interested.

Vaccine advocates say making this data available would help parents choose the best place to send their children, particularly if the children have compromised immune systems and can’t be vaccinated.

“If you cannot vaccinate your child, then you need to place them in a child care facility with children who are vaccinated, I think, for the obvious reason that you know those children would not spread it to your child if there is a contagion that goes through the population,” Wu said of his legislation.

Opponents say the information does not reflect the overall health of a facility and could lead to kids being discriminated against for not being vaccinated, even though names would not be published.

Lawmakers heard testimony on both bills in committee hearings last week but did not vote on either. Next week is the deadline for the House to advance bills. The Senate has until May 22.

See here, here, and here for some background. This story was from the weekend, so please note that the House deadline for voting out bills is tonight at midnight. After that, it’s Senate bills or attaching amendments if your bill died in committee. The anti-vaxxers complaints do not move me. I see this as a matter of giving parents the information they need to make good choices. If that means that preschools and child care facilities are less inclined to take kids whose parents chose not to vaccinate them because it’s bad for their business, well, that should tell you something.

Also, too:

Amid a record-breaking national outbreak of measles, the number of Texans who exempt their children from vaccination for non-medical reasons took another big leap this past school year.

The number increased 14 percent in 2018-2019, continuing a 15-year-long trend that public health officials worry is leaving communities vulnerable to the resurgence of preventable diseases such as measles, which has been confirmed this year in 23 states, including Texas. The number of measles cases this year is the largest since 1994.

“Seeing non-medical exemptions increase again on a double-digit scale should create outrage for everyone,” Allison Winnike, president and CEO of the Houston-based Immunization Partnership, said in a statement. “It’s time for Texans to take action.”

Porfirio Villarreal, public information officer for the Houston health department, added that it’s “disappointing to see yet another rise in the number of parents opting out of life-saving vaccines, mostly due to the vast amount of misinformation on the internet and social media channels.”

The number of exemptions are still small, 64,176, but they represent a roughly 2,000 percent increase since 2003, when the state began allowing parents to decline immunization requirements for reasons of conscience. There were about 3,000 in 2003-2004, and a little under 57,000 in 2017-2018.

[…]

Texas is one of 17 states that allow waivers of school vaccine requirements based on parents’ conscience or personal beliefs. Only three states — California, Mississippi and West Virginia — don’t grant exemptions on religious grants. All 50 states allow exemptions for medical conditions, such as a compromised immune system.

Of course, tightening up the rules for exemptions is not on the table at all. The report that produced this data breaks it down by school district but – as we know – not by individual school. I don’t even know what else to say.

Senate passes scooter safety bill

Cool.

Sen. Royce West

Texans could soon be banned from riding electric scooters along sidewalks in the cities where the divisive devices have recently popped up. The Texas Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would add that prohibition and require that scooter users be at least 16 years old.

Citing safety concerns, some local governments have imposed restrictions on electric scooters, like creating restricted areas where they can’t be used — but Texas legislators wanted to impose minimum statewide guidelines.

“It’s like the wild, wild west out there with no rules,” said state Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen.

Senate Bill 549, authored by Dallas Democrat state Sen. Royce West, would also prohibit more than two people from riding a scooter at once. Plus, the bill adds new guidelines for parking, so a rider can’t obstruct a road or sidewalk when they finish their ride.

[…]

State Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, decried the prohibition from riding on sidewalks, saying that there are some situations where it’s safer for a rider be on the sidewalk than on the street. But Houston Republican state Sen. Joan Huffman, who says she’s been nearly hit three times by a scooter, said the sidewalk ban is key for safety.

“What about my personal liberty, my personal safety, when I’m walking on a sidewalk?” she said. “Not a side scooter-way, a side runway, or a side speedway — but a sidewalk.”

See here for the background. I don’t know what Sen. Hughes’ experience is, but we ban bicycles on sidewalks, too, and for the same reason. I’ll be rooting for this one in the House.

One anti-worker bill made slightly less bad

It’s still a bad bill, just not maximally bad.

Sen. Brandon Creighton

Republicans’ legislative efforts to ban cities from mandating benefits for employers’ workers took another twist late Wednesday night after a Texas House committee added protections for LGBTQ workers that the state Senate had removed from previous legislation.

Senate Bill 2486, which the House State Affairs Committee advanced Wednesday in a 10-2 vote, is part of a larger package of legislation state Sen. Brandon Creighton filed to limit the ability of cities to regulate private companies’ employment policies.

After hearing roughly eight hours of testimony Wednesday, state Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, advanced a reworked version of the bill — adding the language explicitly protecting local nondiscrimination ordinances to the measure, which would bar cities from enacting rules on how businesses schedule their employees’ shifts.

The move comes after several legal experts and LGBTQ advocates raised alarm bells that without the language in place, the potential new state law could undermine the enforceability of local anti-discrimination ordinances. They fear it would allow businesses to selectively pick and choose which of its employees are eligible to receive benefits that go beyond monetary compensation.

Phelan later told The Texas Tribune he chose to reintroduce the nondiscrimination protection language into the bill to help ensure local ordinances — already in place in six major Texas cities — aren’t gutted should the measure become law. And he told Tribune CEO Evan Smith in a podcast interview that he’s “done talking about bashing on the gay community” and didn’t want to push legislation that could be used as a vehicle for discrimination.

“It’s completely unacceptable… This is 2019,” he said.

Many business groups told lawmakers they support the nondiscrimination language being added, when asked pointedly throughout the night by state Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo.

A spokeswoman for Creighton, a Conroe Republican, said early Thursday the senator was not immediately available for comment on the House’s change to his bill, which came shortly before midnight. But the senator has previously maintained that none of the bills would threaten non-discrimination provisions. Other legal opinions, including one from Texas Attorney General’s Office, have backed up Creighton’s claim.

Aside from SB 2486, the remaining three bills in Creighton’s splintered package of legislation would prevent local governments from mandating paid sick leave, regulate certain benefits practices and preempt local rules that disallow employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal history.

The House committee did not act on Creighton’s other three measures Wednesday evening. Phelan told the Tribune the panel would need more time to deliberate over the three bills, and some legal experts say the lower chamber will still need to add the nondiscrimination language to two of the senators’ remaining bills in order to ease advocacy groups’ concerns.

“The best thing they could do at this point is add the language back to all of those bills and make sure the language is the same,” said Anthony Kreis, a visiting assistant professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law.

See here, here, and here for some background. Putting the NDO protection back into this bill, and presumably the others, is better, in the way that a blunt stick in the eye is better than a sharp stick in the eye. Of course, the Senate can reject the House’s change, which would send the bills to a conference committee where anything can happen. All this in service of bills that will make the state worse for workers, for no real gain. Oh, and there are still other bills out there that can serve as vehicles to attack non-discrimination ordinances. You can never rest till sine die. The Observer has more.

Joaquin is out for Senate

In the end, it’s hard to see this as a surprise.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro has decided not to seek the Democratic nomination to challenge Sen. John Cornyn, choosing instead to continue pursuing a fast-rising career in Congress focusing on security and border issues.

Castro’s decision could pave the way for a contest in 2020 between Cornyn and Mary Jennings “MJ” Hegar, an Afghanistan war veteran who ran a strong but losing race for Congress last year and who declared her candidacy last week.

Castro, 44, of San Antonio, announced his decision to stay out of the race in an interview with Hearst Newspapers.

“Right now, I’m going to focus on my work in the House of Representatives. I’ve been doing what I feel is important and meaningful work here,” he said. “If and when I run for another office, it is likely to be something that takes me back home to Texas.”

[…]

His brother’s presidential campaign could have been helpful to Castro, creating excitement among Latino voters and national attention to the unprecedented effort of twins seeking high office.

But Joaquin Castro’s race also might have produced the uncomfortable scenario of extraordinarily close brothers parting ways on issues.

Joaquin Castro also had a ringside seat to his brother’s struggles to raise money, reporting a modest $1.1 million in receipts in the first three months of 2019. Thus far, Joaquin Castro has paid little attention to his own fundraising, bringing in just $36,000 in the first quarter, his Federal Election Commission report shows.

He said he is impressed with Hegar and others considering the race. “And like I have for many years, I’ll do everything I can to help our Democratic nominee win,” he said.

Barring another surprise at this point, that nominee will be MJ Hegar. The straws were in the wind after Hegar made her announcement. In a way, we’ve come full circle. When we started this cycle, I thought Joaquin Castro would be the best non-Beto option for Senate, but I also thought he’d stay put on the grounds that he’d be giving up too much for an iffy shot at a promotion. I should etch those words into a plaque and hang it on my wall, so I can enjoy being right about something till the end of time. I also noted that MJ Hegar was my next choice, so that all worked out pretty well.

I can totally understand why Joaquin Castro chose not to run. What I can’t understand is why we went through this whole “he’s in!” “he’s surely gonna be in as his friends give him a public pep talk” “um, someone else is in now what in the world is he doing?” “nvm, he’s out” cycle. Maybe someday someone close to him will spill the whole story to a reporter. The main lesson to learn here is don’t allow a story about how you are probably going to run for some higher office to get published unless you have a clear plan and a short time frame for following it up with a definitive answer. People are going to remember this, and when the 2022 and 2024 cycles come around and talk begins about who might run for what (Ted Cruz will be up again in 2024), there will be a strong tendency among the faithful to roll their eyes at the mention of Joaquin Castro. I hate to say this, but he may be on a path to John Sharp status.

One more thing, from the Trib:

Hegar is one of four Democrats who have announced they are running against Cornyn. The others are Michael Cooper, Sema Hernandez and Adrian Ocegueda.

Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards has also said she is considering a run for the seat, and state Sen. Royce West of Dallas has been discussed as a potential candidate. Shortly after Castro announced his decision Wednesday, West told the Tribune that he is focused on the current legislative session and its two big issues: school finance and property tax reform.

I’m not at all surprised about Royce West not being a candidate. He was a very recent mention, and my guess is that it came up from speculation generated by Castro’s dithering rather than an actual desire on West’s part to run statewide. As for Amanda Edwards, I’d say the clock is ticking. MJ Hegar is now raising money and getting a bunch of press, and may soon have Emily’s List in her corner. Make a decision one way or the other. Finally, I stress again that Hegar needs to be running hard now, not just for November but also for March. Don’t let these no-hope candidates get primary votes by virtue of primary voters not knowing who you are. Texas Monthly and the Current have more.

More action on the school finance/property tax front

From Tuesday:

Rep. Dan Huberty

The Texas House gave preliminary approval to a priority property tax reform package Tuesday, teeing it up for negotiations with the Senate and impelling the upper chamber to act on an omnibus school finance measure.

Together, the education and tax overhaul bills have been the top policy issues of the 2019 legislative session, and they are ultimately expected to be ironed out behind the scenes — and perhaps simultaneously.

Tuesday’s vote marks a small milestone for House leadership, which has muscled its must-pass budget, public education and tax reform bills to passage, all before the last month of session begins. But the House and Senate will next need to reconcile notable differences among the three measures, and the upper chamber has yet to move the school finance bill out of committee.

“We have done our job in the House — and we have sent everything over to the Senate,” said state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, author of the school finance bill.

Senate Bill 2 was approved on a 107-40 margin after a half-dozen hours of debate. More than 20 Democratic lawmakers broke party ranks to support the measure, which has garnered adamant opposition from city and county officials since its introduction.

See here for the previous update. The House version of SB2 makes it contingent on the House version of school finance reform passing, namely HB3. The Senate started that process yesterday.

The Senate Education Committee held a hastily arranged hearing Wednesday morning to vote out comprehensive school finance reform legislation — accelerating the bill’s journey to the Senate floor and eventual negotiations with the lower chamber.

The fast-tracked revision and vote on House Bill 3 came the day after House lawmakers voted through a property tax reform bill, making it contingent on school finance reform passing this session. State Sen. Larry Taylor, the Senate Education Committee’s chair, had originally told The Texas Tribune on Tuesday he did not anticipate a committee vote on school finance until Thursday or next week.

The full Senate is now expected to vote Friday on the legislation, which aims to increase the base funding for each Texas student, increase teacher pay, provide money for full-day preK for low-income students, and allow for long-term property tax relief.

Many details of the bill still need to be ironed out, however, and committee members voted Wednesday without an official analysis of how their districts would fare financially. Still, the vote seemed to address concerns that the Senate was moving too slowly on school finance.

[…]

Senate Education Committee members voted out a version of the school finance legislation that differs in many ways from the version the House voted out in early April. It includes a $5,000 across-the-board raise for full-time classroom teachers and librarians, funding for districts that want to pay higher-rated teachers more, money for districts with better student academic outcomes, and a few different long-term property tax relief proposals.

The House’s version of the bill requires districts to use a portion of their additional base funding per student on raises for all school employees and designates extra money for raises to be given at districts’ discretion. It lowers school tax rates by 4 cents per $100 valuation — $100 off a tax bill for the owner of a $250,000 home — and lowers rates further for districts taxing higher. But it doesn’t include a proposal for long-term, ongoing tax relief.

As we know, the Republican plan to pay for property tax “relief” is raising the sales tax. That would require a constitutional amendment, and for the House version of the joint resolution to be voted out of committee by next Tuesday at 11:59 PM. As you know, I think that’s a terrible idea and am rooting for it to fail. The clock is ticking, but at least by next Tuesday we’ll know what parameters the conference committees will have to work with.

One more thing, from the first story:

Few attempts to make major changes to the bill were successful Tuesday.

One amendment, from state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, seems to bar anyone but licensed attorneys from representing taxpayers in the property tax appeal process on a contingency fee basis. The change would likely affect the author of SB 2, state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican and a property tax consultant.

“It affects a lot of people. We’ll talk about it in conference,” Geren said. He added, “I don’t believe in contingency fees, but if we have to have contingency fees to do this, then I want the lawyers to do that.”

Heh. Someone please give Charlie Geren a fist bump for me. The Chron has more.

Today is Joaquin Castro Decision Day

At least, that’s what we were told last week. Maybe it won’t be today but a few days later. In any event, it’s safe to say that expectations are not high right now.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

“I would say at this point, he’s not going to run,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University.

One Democratic operative who spoke on condition of anonymity put the odds at 50-50 but added, “If somebody bet me $50 he’s running, I wouldn’t take it.”

Castro, who still has his admirers, has promised supporters he will announce his decision by the first week of May.

But to many observers, the signs are clear that he is already out of the running — and a lot of it has to do with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

[…]

Schumer, who sources said had been frustrated by Castro’s indecisiveness, has taken an outsized interest in defeating Cornyn, the former majority whip. Earlier this year, Schumer tried to recruit Beto O’Rourke, who nearly defeated U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in 2018.

When O’Rourke made it clear he was running for president, Schumer interviewed Castro and then summoned Hegar to Washington.

Hegar was bolstered by polling done by the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee and Emily’s List, a PAC that supports female pro-choice candidates, that showed her with a wide lead over Castro, according to three sources who had been briefed on the private polling.

Schumer’s stance does not prevent Castro from running, although the leader has made clear that Hegar is his preference, say Democratic sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

“I don’t think Schumer was ever for Castro,” one Democratic operative who has spoken privately with the Senate leader told the American-Statesman. “He felt it was a mistake for both Castro brothers to run. Schumer never did think that (Joaquin) Castro was the right choice.”

[…]

“A lot of us wish he would decide,” said Matt Angle, director of the Lone Star Project, a Democratic PAC. He added that many Texas Democrats were “scratching their heads” at the delay.

“This is a cold-blooded business. In Texas, it’s a $50 million proposition to run for U.S. Senate,” he said

Donors are already deciding. Aimee Cunningham, an Austin philanthropist and Democratic contributor, told the American-Statesman that she has been a longtime Castro supporter but supported Hegar, as well, in 2018, and urged the military vet to run for office again.

“I told Joaquin that if MJ ran for Senate, I would have to enthusiastically support her,” Cunningham said.

Latino lawmakers who want a Hispanic candidate near the top of the ballot in Texas, in a presidential year with anticipated high turnout, are particularly upset by Castro’s delay.

“Incredibly indecisive, and you can use that,” said U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, by text, adding that he was “exasperated” with Castro.

Brandon Rottinghaus, professor of political science at the University of Houston, said, “The line between caution and indecisiveness can be hammered pretty thin, and it is pretty much see-through at this point for Castro.”

This story came out the same day as others that were asking the same questions, but I didn’t see it at the time, and this one has more details. I’m sure people won’t be thrilled with Chuck Schumer’s involvement, but at least he’s invested in beating John Cornyn. The bottom line is that the story about Castro being “all but certain” to be in for Senate was in mid-March, more than six weeks ago. Usually, when you see a story like that, it’s followed up withing a couple of days with something official. It means a decision has been made, and the announcement will happen once the last few loose ends have been tied up. It doesn’t take this long. I have no idea what was happening here, but it’s hard to escape the impression that the initial story, which I presume was the result of some authorized person giving the big-picture view so that the ground could be laid for the forthcoming announcement, came before the decision was made. Maybe we’ll find out, maybe we won’t. Whatever the case, something went wrong.

None of this means Joaquin Castro can’t or shouldn’t announce for Senate. He’s lost most of the advantage he would have had if he had followed the expected script and timetable, but he’s still an incumbent Congressman with a built-in base and some establishment support awaiting him. Give him a splashy rollout of his own, followed by strong fundraising for the rest of the quarter (and going forward), and this little episode will fade away. I would advise being quick about it, but after that there’s plenty of time to get back on track. It still fundamentally comes back to what Joaquin Castro wants to do, and when he’s prepared to tell us about it.

House votes to ease up a bit on pot

It’s a small step forward, but it’s a step forward.

Rep. Joe Moody

After a brief discussion, the Texas House gave preliminary approval Monday to a bill that would reduce the penalties for low-level possession of marijuana — a move lauded as a win by those eager for the state to take its first major step toward loosening its staunch marijuana laws.

But hopes of turning the bill into law remain slim. After the House grants final approval for the bill — usually just a formality — it will head to the Senate, where presiding officer Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has expressed opposition to the idea of loosening marijuana possession penalties.

The lower chamber voted 98-43 in favor of House Bill 63 by state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, after he changed it on the chamber floor from a decriminalization measure to one that reduces the penalties for possession. The bill lowers possession of 1 ounce or less from a Class B to a Class C misdemeanor, which is the same classification as a traffic ticket.

After state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, who applauded Moody for spearheading the bill, asked the Democrat why his measure had been “watered down,” Moody said he did so in the hopes of getting it to the governor’s desk.

“I’m not going to sacrifice the good for the perfect. If this is what we can do, then this is what we must do,” Moody said. “We can’t keep hauling 75,000 Texans to jail every year.”

Those found to possess 2 ounces or less or marijuana but more than 1 ounce would be charged with a Class B misdemeanor — punishable by a fine of up to $2,000, jail time or both.

“When I first proposed changing our criminal penalty for personal use of marijuana to a civil penalty, there was some support and even more caution,” Moody told other representatives.

The revised version of HB 63 would make it so Texans caught with 1 ounce or less of marijuana can’t be arrested. Instead, judges would automatically put those offenders on deferred adjudication probation. If an offender successfully completes the terms of his or her probation and does not commit more than one offense in a calendar year, his or her record would be expunged, Moody said Monday. The bill would also ensure that Texans possessing 1 ounce or less of marijuana will not have their driver’s licenses suspended.

As Rep. Moody says, this is not the reform we deserve, but it’s the best we can hope to do now. Unfortunately, it’s all symbolic thanks to the implacable opposition of Dan Patrick. You want better marijuana laws in Texas, you need to vote Dan Patrick out of office. Still, just getting this vote to the floor is a first. Maybe it can be tacked onto something in the Senate as an amendment. Baby steps, baby steps. The Observer has more.

Two items about MJ Hegar and John Cornyn

Ross Ramsey makes an obvious but necessary point about the fight MJ Hegar hopes to have with John Cornyn.

MJ Hegar

It was money that made [Hegar’s close race in 2018 against Rep. John Carter] possible, just as money made O’Rourke’s challenge to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz last year. O’Rourke had a lot going for him then, as Hegar does now. He’s got a knack for getting attention. His 254-county tour of Texas got him a lot of notice. Cruz is popular with Texas Republicans and gets the full-throated support of the loud ones. But he has the opposite effect on Democrats and Democratic activists. In the early days of the race, when the average Texan could pass O’Rourke in a parking lot without noticing him, the El Paso Democrat was already running pretty well against Cruz.

In a University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll a year before the election, 69% of Texans had no real impression of O’Rourke; only 17% didn’t view Cruz positively or negatively. In another UT/TT Poll in March of this year, the neutral opinions of O’Rourke — one measure of his recognizability — had dropped to 12 percent.

One of the many things that happened between point A and point B on the O’Rourke timeline was $70 million in campaigning. He was a good candidate, but money made him a threat.

Hegar’s congressional race was probably a beneficiary of whatever Democratic momentum O’Rourke built up. But she also had money, a good story and, in her case, a less energetic incumbent to knock off. If she’d pulled a few more votes in veteran-heavy Bell County — she’s a veteran, too, which is why the door from the helicopter she flew in Afghanistan is in her dining room — she might be in Congress today.

Hegar had to wrestle her way to Carter, finishing first in last year’s Democratic primary and then prevailing in a runoff with Christine Eady Mann. She’s the most serious Democrat to enter the race with Cornyn, but U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, has been openly considering a run.

The two face obstacles O’Rourke overcame, starting with introductions. Neither has run a statewide campaign, and both can expect to see a lot of strangers on their way to a 2020 race.

So yes, MJ Hegar is going to have to raise a lot of money to make sure the voters know who she is, and why she’s the better choice to represent them. As I’ve said, she needs to start raising this money now so she can spend some of it for the primary, regardless of whether or not Joaquin Castro or anyone else gets in, because there will be an awful lot of people casting votes in the 2020 Democratic primary, and it would be nice (read: it is vitally necessary) if those voters know who she is.

One thing I’m not worried about is how Hegar will respond to the farrago of baloney that is already coming her way from the right wing noise machine.

As U.S. Sen. John Cornyn derides her as “Hollywood Hegar,” his newest Democratic challenger, MJ Hegar, says she’s not backing away from her celebrity fans — including comedian Patton Oswalt — and is happy to debate the Republican incumbent on the sources of their support.

“Not at all,” Hegar said in an interview Friday when asked if she felt the need to account for the high-profile backers. “I think it’s very clear to be able to be a working-class mom of two and veteran and to be able to take on an entrenched, establishment, dark money-backed Washington lackey, that I’m gonna have to be able to excite people and gain momentum and gain attention and get people excited and energized. I’m proud of my ability to do that and I’m frankly surprised that he wants to start the conversation by looking into where we get our support from.”

Citing Cornyn’s contributions from corporate PACs, the National Rifle Association and the pharmaceutical industry, Hegar added, “We can talk all day about where our support is coming from.”

That’s the way you do it. Now go raise a bunch of money so you can say that directly to the voters.

Why would any Dem Senator change their mind on Whitley?

I can’t think of a good answer to that, but the man himself is going to try.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Acting Secretary of State David Whitley, whose confirmation has been stalled in the Texas Senate after a controversial advisory from his office questioned the citizenship of nearly 100,000 voters, has asked to meet with Senate Democrats following a settlement agreement that rescinded and re-worked the advisory on Friday.

Sen. José Rodriguez, a Democrat from El Paso who leads the chamber’s Democratic caucus, said Whitley asked to meet with the caucus on Tuesday. Rodriguez said he was polling the caucus to see if any member had an objection to Whitley attending the caucus meeting. The caucus meets on a regular basis during the session.

“Obviously, he wants to talk about the settlement agreement,” Rodriguez said. “For me, it doesn’t change anything.”

In a statement, the secretary of state’s office said: “Secretary Whitley welcomes the opportunity to meet with the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus to discuss the settlement agreement and voter registration list maintenance going forward. He looks forward to addressing the concerns of the Caucus and receiving feedback on ways to enhance access to the ballot box in Texas.”

[…]

Advocacy groups are pressuring Senate Democrats to block his confirmation. On Monday, 22 groups including several that participated in the lawsuit against Whitley, sent a letter to the caucus urging them to vote against his confirmation.

“While we are grateful that the legal challenges to Mr. Whitley’s actions have been resolved, the settlement does not let Mr. Whitley off the hook for his decision to target tens of thousands of naturalized Americans for disenfranchisement and wrongful criminal prosecution,” the letter read.

“Texans deserve better than Mr. Whitley. Public service is a privilege, not a right, and there are a number of other qualified people that the Governor can appoint to this position,” the letter read. “We ask you to continue to block Mr. Whitley’s confirmation, so that we as a State can turn the page on the Whitley scandal and continue to have faith in our elections system.”

Several Senators are quoted in the story, all of whom reconfirm their No votes. It would take two Dems to change their minds for Whitley to have a chance, and I just can’t think of any reason for that. Whitley has yet to demonstrate that he understands why people objected so strongly to the purge effort – he has yet to demonstrate that he understands why people called it a “purge” – and on top of that he’s just straight up bad at this job. We’ve seen plenty of SOSes over the years, and none I can think of have been this controversial. Greg Abbott can surely find another crony with less baggage to install for this post.

Also, too:

I’m not opposed to a little horse-trading, but the first horse on offer needs to be one of theirs. The Chron, which quotes some other Senators and suggests that online and/or same day voter registration would be a good horse to swap for Whitley support, has more.

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.

April 2019 campaign finance reports: Congress

It’s April, and that means it’s time once again to review campaign finance reports for Congressional candidates. The January roundup is here, which closed out the 2017-18 election cycle; these reports are the first ones for the 2019-20 cycle. A list of all Texas Democratic Congressional candidate campaign reports is here. A few points to note before we get started:

– FEC reports are cumulative for the cycle, so each number reported – raised, spent, on hand – is the current total for the entire cycle. Other systems – for Texas, for Harris County, for Houston, for HISD and HCC – are for that period only, though the cash on hand total will be as of that report. The point here is that for that cycle, raised + loans – spent = cash on hand for FEC reports, but not for other reports. For other reports, subtract the amount spent from the amount raised, then add or subtract as needed from the previous report’s cash on hand amount, and you should get the current cash on hand amount. Unless there are loans involved, in which case it gets more complicated. Trust me on this.

– Cash on hand carries over from 2018, however. For candidates that ran in 2018, that means that the “raised minus spent” total needs to be applied to the cash on hand amount from the previous cycle, and the same process as described above for other systems is what you need to use.

– Some of these reports are broken out by cycle, so for some candidates who were also on the ballot in 2018 you can choose to see the 2017-18 cycle or the 2019-20 period. Others, like for Mike Siegel and Sri Kulkarni, are not. This may be a function of timing, as it was originally the case that only the winners from 2018 (Lizzie Fletcher and Colin Allred) were done this way, but now others are as well. If so, then this will eventually be how it is for Siegal and Kulkarni.

– The report below for MJ Hegar is her Senate finance report. Her Congressional finance report from 2018 is separate. She did carry over her cash on hand from that cycle, as noted above. If Joaquin Castro does run for Senate, the linked report below will not be the one used for his Senate campaign.

– Most serious candidates from 2018 appeared during Q2 of 2017, so the short list of candidates now is to be expected. Look for this list to grow in the Q2 and Q3 roundups. Some announced candidates, like Kim Olson and Candace Valenzuela in CD24, either did not do any Q1 fundraising or were not yet officially in the race.

I think that covers everything. Here are the reports:

MJ Hegar – Senate
Joaquin Castro – CD20/Senate?

Lizzie Fletcher – CD07
Colin Allred – CD32

Todd Litton – CD02
Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Lori Burch – CD03
Mike Siegel – CD10
Pritesh Gandhi – CD10
Sri Kulkarni – CD22
Nyanza Moore – CD22
Gina Ortiz Jones – CD23
Liz Wahl – CD23
Jan McDowell – CD24
Julie Oliver – CD25
Carol Ianuzzi – CD26


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
20    Castro           36,028     77,076        0     87,572
      Hegar             2,281     12,858        0     36,904

07    Fletcher        582,918     79,831        0    545,154
32    Allred          530,399    106,816        0    527,027


02    Litton            2,346     12,221        0     11,157
02    Cardnell         19,697      3,750        0     16,046
03    Burch            41,623     16,006   20,149     24,339
10    Siegel          143,232     44,081        0    102,641
10    Gandhi          162,380      5,320        0    157,059
22    Kulkarni              0     14,539        0     13,228
22    Moore            43,561     24,932        0     18,583
23    Ortiz Jones           0     14,828        0    103,518
23    Wahl              4,581      3,304        0      1,277
24    McDowell         15,193     13,515        0     14,998
25    Oliver           
26    Ianuzzi          47,731     12,465   40,695     35,266

New names here include Elise Cardnell, Pritesh Gandhi, Nyanza Moore, Liz Wahl, and Carol Ianuzzi. Mike Siegel and Sri Kulkarni are repeat candidates from 2018 that we have already noted. For the others, Julie Oliver is back, Lorie Burch is back, Gina Ortiz Jones is reportedly back, Jan McDowell is back and appears to be raising money as she never quite did in 2018. I don’t know if Todd Litton is back or not, but I included him here just in case. It’s possible there are some other active candidates among the no-money-raised reports included on the FEC summary page, but I’m not going to sweat that now. We’ll know much more when the Q2 reports come out. For now, this is what we have.

A first attempt at regulating scooters

A bill by Sen. Royce West may impose some rules on e-scooters.

Sen. Royce West

Under existing law, a city or county may prohibit the operation of a motor-assisted scooter on a street, highway or sidewalk if its governing body finds the prohibition necessary for safety’s sake. [Sen. Royce] West’s bill preserves that local leeway and specifies that counties and cities may further restrict the age of e-scooter operators, related speed limits and parking limits.

His measure, endorsed by a Senate committee, also would:

— Bar more than a person at a time from riding an e-scooter;

— Require riders to be at least 16 years old;

— Restrict rides to bike paths or roadways with speed limits of 35 mph or less;

— Limit riders to going 15 mph on stand-up scooters or 20 mph on sit-down scooters;

— Bar all e-scooter rides on sidewalks and disallow any parking of a scooter that creates an obstruction.

[…]

No one opposed West’s legislation at a Senate hearing this month. It drew support from an advocate for a seated e-scooter company, California-based Ojo Electric, and representatives of Houston’s mayor’s office and Texans for Disability Rights. Ojo, with permission from Dallas city government, has started placing 100 of its Vespa-like scooters around downtown Dallas, the company’s Matt Tolan later said.

West told senators on the panel that Dallas tallied 450,000 scooter rides from July into late September — compared to 31,000 rental bicycle rides.

West told the committee: “So, we need to get ahead of the curve.”

GOP Sen. Robert Nichols, who heads the Senate Transportation Committee, replied: “I think you’re on the right track. The cities are having a hard time keeping ordinances up” with the rental scooters. The committee voted unanimously to advance the proposal toward the Senate.

West said this week he’s also amenable to the state studying the impact of motorized scooters. Austin Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, a Democrat, has won a committee’s approval of legislation directing the Texas Department of Transportation to study motor-assisted scooters by December 2020, before the 2021 legislative session.

Sen. West’s bill is SB549. I like this approach – these are sensible rules that fill in a gap in the motor vehicle code. Even better, and unlike so many other things lately, this allows local governments to set their own rules as they see fit. Electronic vehicles are not allowed on Houston’s bike trails, for example, and this bill would not change that. As for Rep. Rodriguez’s scooter study bill, it’s HB2715, and I noted it here. These bills still need to get a floor vote, but if they do I expect them to pass.

So what’s with Joaquin?

Nobody knows but him.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

From the nation’s capitol to the state capitol, the scuttlebutt was that Democratic U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro would announce within days — if not hours — his campaign for U.S. Senate.

That was four weeks ago.

Back then, practically everyone in politics assumed his challenge to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn was inevitable. More than a handful of political allies rushed to publicly and privately add their political clout to his potential campaign, with the belief that a long-pined-for statewide Castro campaign would be unstoppable.

Now, over a dozen Texas and national Democrats say they are increasingly skeptical that Castro will run at all.

Those allies are baffled and frustrated with the the lack of political clarity coming from the Castro camp, especially given that veteran M.J. Hegar announced her own run for the Democratic nomination earlier this week.

One of Castro’s closest friends in the Congressional delegation, Filemon Vela, went so far as joining a draft Castro campaign. This is the second time Vela has thrown his support behind his colleague. Castro similarly spent the spring of 2017 publicly mulling a run against Ted Cruz, the state’s junior senator, only to return his focus on the U.S. House. Vela texted the Tribune on Wednesday that he is “exasperated with the indecision” — an oft-repeated sentiment that a half-dozen state and national Democrats expressed privately.

But an announcement is nigh. Castro will announce his decision by Wednesday, according to his top political aide, Matthew Jones.

[…]

Several news reports in mid-March stated that Castro’s announcement was imminent. Politicians across the state began to organize around the notion of Castro running for Senate, trying to avoid holding major events on speculated dates when he might announce. Up in Washington, House Democratic leaders were sizing up potential candidates who might run to succeed him in his San Antonio-based Congressional seat.

And then, according to nearly a dozen state and national Democrats interviewed for this story, Castro went quiet.

Patience wore thin in mid-April when Castro filed his quarterly campaign finance reports.

U.S. House members have a unique advantage when running for Senate: They can raise money for their House campaigns without officially announcing for the upper chamber. Once he or she makes those Senate intentions known, the member can then transfer the House money to their Senate accounts. Oftentimes, House members will put out the message they are running in order to raise their profiles and coffers, only to pull back.

Castro’s filing showed he raised $36,000, a sum that could barely cover the cost of a statewide poll in Texas. In comparison, then-U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona raised $677,000 in the same window two years ago as she geared up for her eventual Senate run.

See here, here, and here for some background, here for Hegar’s announcement, and here for Castro’s finance report. Hegar has barely raised anything so far – she has $36K left from the 2018 cycle after disbursements from Q1 are factored in – but she wasn’t a candidate yet, so that’s not a surprise. My guess is she’ll make up for it quickly, and I’d expect Emily’s List to jump in soon. As for Joaquin, we’ve been over this several times. The main lesson here is that if you’re not moving forward then someone else is, and your window of opportunity may close faster than you think it will. We’ll see about that on Wednesday, maybe. In the meantime:

Besides Hegar, Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards is still considering a run. Two Dallas sources tell the Tribune that state Sen. Royce West has had recent conversations about his own potential run. And businesswoman Sema Hernandez is running again, after giving O’Rourke a run for his money in several Rio Grande Valley counties.

Amanda Edwards we know about. This is the first I’ve heard about Royce West, who was re-elected in 2018 and thus would not have to give up his seat to take a shot at this next year. I’ll wait to hear more about his potential interest before I make any judgments. As for Sema Hernandez, wake me when she files a campaign finance report. Until then, she’s a name on the ballot who will get a few votes from people who don’t know who any of the candidates are, and nothing more than that.

Add CD10 to the contested primaries list

It has been that way for awhile now, but I’m only just noticing that there is a second candidate for the Democratic nomination in CD10. This Statesman story, which is about the multiple Congressional districts being targeted by Democrats for 2020, has the scoop.

Mike Siegel

There is perhaps no better example of the changed political landscape in Texas than the 10th Congressional District, stretching from West Austin to the Houston suburbs, where Democrats are already lining up to challenge incumbent Michael McCaul, the Austin Republican once considered invincible.

Mike Siegel, who ran an underfunded campaign in 2018 and lost to McCaul by just 4.3 points, will face political newcomer Pritesh Gandhi, an Austin primary care physician for the underserved, in the 2020 Democratic primary, possibly among others considering candidacies.

Gandhi, 36, a former Fulbright scholar and Schweitzer fellow, has the poise and bearing of someone who has been preparing all his life for this opportunity, and thinks he’s got what it takes to do what Siegel, 41, was unable to.

“What a lot of folks are asking, ‘Mike did a great job last year, why are you running?’” said Gandhi, who was born and raised in the Houston area and is the associate chief medical officer for People’s Community Clinic in Austin. “It is important for the party to have an open and honest discussion around what the issues are and the kind of candidate we can nominate that can beat McCaul.”

Siegel, meanwhile, left his job as a former assistant city attorney in Austin to run full-time. He has hired a campaign manager and is spending 20 to 30 hours a week calling potential contributors.

[…]

Pritesh Gandhi

Siegel said if he had lost by 10 points, he would not be making another go at McCaul.

But he recalled, on “election night, we were on the CNN board until late at night when the rural county Republican surge came in.”

“The fact that we came so close without money really made me wonder, if I did everything the DCCC tells me to,” Seigel said. “I had a grassroots, progressive coalition helping me, which is key. That’s a huge advantage in this primary for 2020. That is a big part of the foundation I’m building on, so what I’m hoping to add to that is the full-fledged D.C.-approved campaign structure.”

Gandhi said he and his wife on Nov. 6 were watching the election.

“We saw the outcome, and right then and there we knew that this was going to be in the cards,” he said.

“It’s really not about Mike McCaul,” Gandhi said. “It’s about the Mike McCauls of the world and it’s about holding the Mike McCauls of the world accountable for the votes they take in office and for the party they support and for the president they support,” Gandhi said. “So I had to run. It was no choice for me.”

On Tuesday, a week after his third daughter was born, Gandhi was at the monthly meeting of the Austin Tejano Democrats at Casa Maria restaurant on South First Street in South Austin, introducing himself.

“I’ve spent my career fighting for people in this region, fighting for paid sick leave. I was on the border last year in Tornillo fighting for families and I do that every day in my job and so I’m happy to be here,” Gandhi said. “I’m sure in the next year I will get to know a whole bunch of you.”

“I think Mike (Siegel) is a great guy, a great dad. He’s a good lawyer. I have absolutely nothing negative to say about him,” Gandhi said after the meeting. “But I wouldn’t be running if I didn’t think the campaign we are building is the one that’s going to beat Mike McCaul, and I think part of the story here is that I have been fighting for these issues my whole life, all day and all night and every weekend long before I thought about politics.”

CD10 joins CD24 and CD22, and in the end probably all of the interesting districts and most of the not-as-interesting districts, inn attracting multiple viable candidates. That’s an encouraging sign. As it happens, I agree with both the proposition that Siegel did a great job in 2018, and that the voters in the Democratic primary should get the chance to decide whether Siegel or Gandhi or someone else represents the best choice to defeat the incumbent. Let’s talk it out – Gandhi is certainly modeling a good way to do it – and make a decision. And in the meantime, let’s be reaching out to all those voters.

As noted, the story is about multiple districts, all of which we are familiar with. Nothing to add for CD21, where Wendy Davis is still thinking about it, or CD31, where MJ Hegar still has a decision to make. As I discussed before, we’re about on par with where we were in 2018 for candidate announcements. By the time of the Q2 finance reports in 2017, many of the serious contenders were in, but there are quite a few names that hadn’t shown up (at least in time to raise some money) by then, including Mike Siegel, Sri Kulkarni, Gina Ortiz Jones, and MJ Hegar. So don’t panic if your district doesn’t have a candidate yet. There’s still plenty of time.

Hegar is in for the Senate

Boom.

MJ Hegar

Former Democratic congressional candidate MJ Hegar is running for U.S. Senate in 2020.

Hegar, a former Air Force helicopter pilot, mounted a high-profile bid to unseat U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, in November, fueled by attention-grabbing ads and massive fundraising. She ended up losing by less than 3 percentage points in the traditionally Republican district.

“Texans deserve a senator who represents our values, strength, courage, independence — putting Texas first,” Hegar said in an announcement video made in the style of her 2018 ads. “I didn’t get a pilot slot my first time trying. We Texans don’t give up easy, and everything we’ve accomplished is just the beginning.”

In the video, a motorcycle-riding Hegar emphasized Cornyn’s closeness with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Through last year, the Texan served as McConnell’s majority whip, making him the second highest-ranking Republican in the Senate.

“For those of you who don’t know, Sen. John Cornyn, he’s that tall guy lurching behind Mitch McConnell in basically every single video,” Hegar said. “He calls himself Big John, but he shrinks out of the way while Mitch McConnell gets in the way of anything actually getting done in our government.”

[…]

To take on Cornyn, Hegar could face a competitive primary with U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, who has said he is considering a run and will make an announcement soon. Another Democratic elected official, Houston City Councilmember Amanda Edwards, has also said she is mulling a campaign.

Three mostly lesser-known Democrats are already running: Michael Cooper, Sema Hernandez and Adrian Ocegueda.

I’m going to bullet-point this:

– Apparently, I’ve been saying MJ Hegar’s name wrong all this time. It’s “Hey-gar”, not “Hee-gar”, as I’ve been intoning it. I guess her pronunciation of her name in the “Doors” video didn’t make an impression on me.

– With all the attention that’s been paid to a Joaquin Castro candidacy, you have to wonder if Hegar jumping in before he (apparently) makes up his mind will cause him to reconsider. It’s one thing to give up a safe Congressional seat as a member of the majority party with some seniority for at best a coin flip shot at a Senate seat. It’s a whole ‘nother thing to give it up for a coin flip shot at getting that coin flip shot. I have no idea what Castro wants to do, but not having a clear path to the nomination has to make him recalculate his risk/benefit analysis.

– Regardless of whether Castro gets into the race or not, I can’t stress enough the importance of Hegar running a real campaign for the primary. That’s especially true if her only opponents are the no-names currently in the race, plus maybe some others like them. The history of Democrats voting for non-viable candidates in primaries because they have no idea who they’re voting for is long and grisly, and even when it doesn’t lead to the likes of Gene Kelly and Jim Hogan on the November ballot, it far too often leads to embarrassing questions about the lackluster vote totals for the anointed choices. (See: Beto O’ Rourke 2018, Wendy Davis 2014, Rick Noriega 2008, etc etc etc.) I can’t emphasize this enough: MJ Hegar not only needs to start raising money now, she needs to plan to spend a bunch of it between now and March. I don’t care how viral she was in 2018. I guarantee you, she needs to start introducing herself to voters, because she won’t like what happens if the voters don’t know who she is.

– I mean, turnout for the Dem primary in 2020 is going to be off the charts. It’s going to make 2008 look antiquated. Texas is going to play a big role in picking the Democratic Presidential nominee. An awful lot of people who are not in CD31 – millions, quite likely – will be voting in March. MJ Hegar needs to make sure they all know her name. This, more than anything else, is the reason why a high-profile, well-funded, contested primary among quality candidates is a good thing and not a bad thing. It’s the surest way to make sure that the voters do know who their candidates are.

– On a side note, I have no idea who Plan B is for CD31. Doesn’t mean there isn’t someone out there, but it’s more likely than not that we don’t know who that person is yet. Alternately, CD31 may slide off the top tier pickup list, which would be a shame. I sure hope we find someone who can do half as well at exciting voters in CD31 as Hegar did in 218.

– The Republicans may express a lot of bravado about their odds of winning, but they’re not taking anything for granted. I got not one but two screeching press releases from the state GOP in the first few hours following Hegar’s announcement, including one that hilariously called on her to “disavow support from Patton Oswalt”. (No, I don’t know why. Life is too short to read stupid press releases.)

– Finally, as a friend said on Facebook, this race needs to be about Donald Trump. Lots of people turned out in 2018 to vote against Donald Trump. We need all of them and about a million more to do it again in 2020. If we do that, MJ Hegar, or Joaquin Castro, maybe even Amanda Edwards, can beat John Cornyn. Mother Jones, Daily Kos, and the Chron have more.

Republicans have no incentive to worry about redistricting being used against them

I appreciate the thrust of this story, but it omits a key fact.

Rep. Donna Howard

One way to determine if Texas is truly gerrymandered is to compare the total vote share that Republican and Democratic candidates for the U.S. Congress received in the 2018 midterm election.

Republicans received 53 percent of those votes. Democrats got 47 percent.

If the 36 seats in the Texas congressional delegation were divided with that proportion then there would be 19 Republican members of congress from Texas and 17 Democrats.

Instead what Texas has is 23 Republican congressmen and 13 Democrats.

The Republicans appear to get four additional seats because of the way the maps are drawn. And to see how they do that look no further than Austin.

“If you look at the city of Austin and Travis County as a whole, we have six congressional reps,” said State Representative Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat. “There is not a single district that has more than 25% of the Austin population. So six different congressional representatives, five of whom are Republican, one Democrat representing the city of Austin and Travis County.”

Howard is working to end gerrymandering in Texas with the establishment of an independent redistricting commission. She says it’s not just Republicans who gerrymander. When the Democrats had control in the state they did it too.

Howard added that “whichever party’s been in power basically has used this situation to draw lines that protected incumbents that ensure that a certain people can be elected that pack districts with a part, the party in power.”

[…]

Michael Li, an expert on redistricting at the Brennan Center for Justice, said this is a pivotal time for Texas.

“It’s really a great time for people to be statesmen,” Li said.

Li said because of where the political pendulum is in its swing, this is a rare time when both political parties could be motivated to actually pass meaningful redistricting reform.

“Republicans had better provide themselves with some insurance and at the same time Democrats don’t know when that’s going to arrive so they have that incentive to continue to want to be fair,” he said.

So will this legislature be able to move forward on redistricting reform? Don’t bet on it.

Howard’s bills and similar ones were left pending. Essentially they are left in legislative limbo, stuck there until there’s another committee meeting to vote them out. Howard said it’s her impression that the House Redistricting Committee will not meet again this legislative session. So unless something changes, the issue is dead.

Rep. Howard’s bill is HB312, which would establish a nonpartisan redistricting commission. It’s a fine idea, and the logic that Republicans ought to help set something up that won’t be hostile to them when they lose power makes sense. The reality is that in 2021, when redistricting will happen, Greg Abbott will still be Governor and Republicans will have a majority in the Senate. The best case scenario for Dems is winning the nine seats they need to take the majority in the House. But even then, if no maps can be agreed on, the task ultimately falls to the Legislative Redistricting Board, which is “composed of the lieutenant governor, speaker of the house, attorney general, comptroller, and commissioner of the general land office” and thus four to one Republican in the scenario I’m laying out. In other words, Republicans have this covered in 2021. There’s no incentive for them to ease up on the gas pedal, especially with a Supreme Court that will have their backs.

Now, in a truly blue-sky world, Dems sweep into statewide control in 2023, and following the Tom DeLay precedent redraw all the lines in that session. Let’s just say this is a longshot scenario, and not risky enough for the GOP to consider mitigation. Realistically, the next chance Dems will have to extract payback will be in 2031, and I think it’s fair to say that that’s far enough off to not be worth anyone’s time to worry about. If the statewide offices were up next year, then this might be a different story. But as things stand today, the Republicans have no reason to veer off the path they’re on now. They control the process now, and they will control it again in two years when it counts.

DCCC polls Trump in three target districts

News flash: Donald Trump is not very popular.

Surveys the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recently conducted found that 41 percent of voters approved of Trump’s job performance in Texas’ 24th congressional district, where Rep. Kenny Marchant serves, while 44 percent disapproved.

In Rep. Mike McCaul’s 10th district, 44 percent approved and 45 percent disapproved of the job Trump is doing. And in Rep. Chip Roy’s 21st district, 45 percent approved and 48 percent disapproved.

Trump carried all three suburban seats by ten points or fewer during the 2016 presidential election.

[…]

To flip these traditionally GOP seats, Democrats say they are relying on moderate Republicans who have soured on the Trump-led party, as well as minority voters who have become a larger share of the electorate.

The DCCC’s polling, for example, showed Marchant’s district has increased its African American population by 26 percent between 2010 and 2016 among citizens of voting age. The Hispanic population rose by 29 percent, and the Asian population by 42 percent.

[…]

The Democratic polling showed that Marchant was viewed favorably by 26 percent of voters and unfavorably by 19 percent, while 55 percent didn’t know enough to have an opinion.

For McCaul, 31 percent viewed him favorably compared to 14 percent who viewed him unfavorably. As for Roy, 28 percent viewed him favorably and 19 percent viewed him unfavorably.

The DCCC conducted the surveys using a mix of live and automated calls from April 3-6 (the poll in the 21st district was in the field April 4-6). The 10th district and 21st district polls had a margin of error of +/- 4.9 percentage points, while the 24th district poll had a margin of error of +/- 4.6 percentage points.

See here for 2018 numbers. As discussed, Trump’s 2016 number in the district was a decent predictor of the Beto number in 2018, though that was always at least a bit higher than the Dem Congressional number. The bottom line is that the worse Trump is faring in the district, the harder it’s going to be for the Republican Congressional incumbent, especially with these three CDs on the radar from the beginning. I hope we get to see similar results from other districts (yes, I know, it’s possible other districts were also polled but those numbers weren’t as good so these are the only ones we get to see). I have a feeling that there will be plenty of data to hang our hats on this cycle.

Castro says he’ll make a Senate decision “soon”

Yes, please.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro said he still has not made a decision on whether he will run against U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in 2020.

“I’ll have an announcement soon,” Castro said during a stop at the Texas Capitol Building on Wednesday.

Castro, the 44-year-old San Antonio Democrat, pointed out that in past races he’s made a decision by May 1.

As Castro weighed his decision, other prominent Democrats have said they, too, are looking at jumping into the race. MJ Hegar, a former U.S. Air Force helicopter pilot, has said on social media that she is considering making a bid.

When asked about Hegar on Wednesday, Castro spoke more generally about how competitive primaries are likely going to be the norm in Texas politics.

“I think probably the era of uncontested primaries in both parties in Texas is over,” Castro said.

Castro has been reported to be in for a month, with everyone waiting for the official announcement since. Whether this possible timeline has been affected by Hegar’s repeatedly expressed interest in the race – or, perhaps, has had an effect on Hegar’s intentions – is a question we can’t answer at this time. I do agree that a competitive primary among serious candidates is a good thing and a sign of health. Check back on May 1 and we’ll see where we stand.

This was a busy week for dumb lawsuits

Exhibit A:

“Objection Overruled”, by Charles Bragg

Houston mayoral challenger Tony Buzbee followed through his pledge to sue Mayor Sylvester Turner Wednesday, claiming that donated billboards for the city’s AlertHouston! campaign violate campaign finance laws because they feature a photo of Turner.

The lawsuit, filed in the 281st state district court, names Turner and Clear Channel Outdoor Inc., the company that donated the 27 billboards, as defendants.

Buzbee’s petition claims Clear Channel is “blatantly supporting” Turner in the November mayoral race “by plastering his smiling face across this city while promoting him as a civic-minded, safety conscious leader.”

The billboards promote AlertHouston!, a system that sends alerts to Houston residents during emergency situations.

I’m not going to waste our time on the details here. Let’s refer to this earlier story for the reasons why this is dumb.

Buck Wood, an Austin-based campaign finance lawyer, equated Buzbee’s allegations to a hypothetical real estate agent who, after announcing a run for public office, would then have to take down any advertisements for their private business.

“I have never seen anything like that,” he said.

Proving the billboards are illegal, Wood said, would require Buzbee to show that the company and Turner struck a deal explicitly aimed at aiding the mayor’s re-election.

“You’d have to have good, strong evidence that they put up these pictures just for the purpose of helping elect him,” Wood said. “…You’d have to prove a conspiracy, and that’s basically impossible to do in this situation.”

Each year around hurricane season, former Harris County Judge Ed Emmett would appear on billboards, in some years directing people to the county’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management website. Emmett said he used campaign funds to pay for the billboards during election years.

I mean, I know Tony Buzbee is supposed to be a super duper lawyer and all, but maybe he might have asked another lawyer about this first? Just a thought.

Exhibit B:

Months after being denied media credentials for the Texas House, the conservative organization Texas Scorecard — a product of Empower Texans, a Tea Party-aligned political advocacy group with one of the state’s best-funded political action committees — has filed a First Amendment lawsuit arguing that its rejection from the lower chamber constitutes “unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.”

Before the legislative session kicked off in January, two employees of Texas Scorecard, Brandon Waltens and Destin Sensky, applied for media credentials in both chambers of the Legislature. In the Senate, their credentials were granted; in the House, they were denied. The two chambers follow similar rules about who is allowed special journalistic access to the floor, and both prohibit lobbyists. But the chambers’ political atmospheres are different.

House Administration Chair Charlie Geren, a Fort Worth Republican who has sparred with Empower Texans and its PAC in the past, told the group in a January rejection letter that it was ineligible for media credentials because “the organization you are employed by, Texas Scorecard, has a close association with a general-purpose political committee (GPAC) and that the organization’s website prominently displays advocacy on policy matters before the legislature.” As evidence of the group’s affiliation with the PAC, Geren cited the organizations’ shared address — but by the time Geren’s letter was issued, the lawsuit claims, they no longer shared that address.

Empower Texans PAC has backed primary opponents to Geren and has given Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who leads the Texas Senate, more than $850,000 in the last five years.

Now, Empower Texans is very likely to get a friendly hearing from the State Supreme Court, so at least from a strategic perspective, this isn’t a dumb lawsuit. It’s very likely to be a successful lawsuit. But come on. If these Empower Texans flunkies count as “journalists”, then that word has no meaning. All of us are made a little more dumb by the existence of this lawsuit.

Senate passes all of its SB15 alternatives

When one big bill won’t do but four smaller bills will.

Sen. Brandon Creighton

The Texas Senate on Tuesday preliminarily approved the last two bills in a package of splintered legislation aimed at limiting the ability of cities to regulate private companies’ employment policies.

The bills from state Sen. Brandon Creighton, a Conroe Republican, would preempt local rules that disallow employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal history and bar cities from enacting rules on how businesses schedule their employees’ shifts.

In 2016, Austin passed an ordinance — known as “ban the box” — preventing private employers with 15 or more employees from asking potential job candidates’ criminal history before extending a conditional job offer. At the time of passage, city officials said one of the goals was to reduce unemployment and lower the chances that people with criminal histories would reoffend. But more recently, some have slammed the city’s proposal for lacking teeth since it wasn’t being enforced.

If passed, Creighton’s bill would ensure local governments couldn’t implement such laws in the first place.

“I don’t dispute that many people are deserving of a second chance, but I do want private employers to make that decision and not the government,” Creighton told other senators. “It’s a lose-lose for both the applicant and the employer to go through a lengthy process just to learn that a felony may disqualify the applicant.”

Senate Bill 2488’s initial passage came in a party-line vote of 19-12, with only Republicans in support. It will need to get final approval from the Senate before it can head to the House.

According to the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group that works to strengthen protections for low-income or unemployed workers, 34 states and more than 150 cities and counties have adopted “ban the box” ordinances. Some business owners and Republicans, however, have said that such laws potentially make an employer liable to their workers’ actions — should they go on to commit a crime.

See here and here for some background. Look, I can understand the argument for having a uniform set of rules under which businesses operate. I disagree with the proposed remedy – the undergirding force of all this was the Austin ordinance mandating sick leave, and if it were up to me there’d be a federal law mandating it for all businesses, because it’s a fricking stupid and harmful idea to make sick people go to work – but the principle makes sense.

In this case, though, the “such laws potentially make an employer liable to their workers’ actions” argument is totally specious. I mean, in the very sentence before that one, we learn that 34 states and more than 150 cities and counties have these “ban the box” laws in place. That’s more than enough actual experience to draw real, fact-based conclusions about the effect of these laws. Have any employers in any of those locations been successfully sued for hiring someone with a criminal record who was subsequently convicted of a crime? Either the data supports your hypothetical or it doesn’t, so which is it? The fact that bill proponents relied on a hypothetical suggests what the answer to that is.

No-nuke version of SB2 passes the Senate

Dan Patrick gets his bill, without having to do any nasty partisan maneuvering.

The Texas Senate broke a logjam Monday that had paralyzed a piece of priority legislation for weeks — blunting a controversial provision in its property tax reform package and then advancing the bill, without having to deploy a procedural “nuclear option” to move it.

A vote on Senate Bill 2, a top imperative for state leaders, had been expected last week. But an apparent lack of support stalled the vote in the upper chamber, where the backing of 19 senators is generally required to bring a bill up for debate. After Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick threatened to blow past decades of tradition and bring the measure to a vote with a simple majority, state Sen. Kel Seliger, a vocal dissenter, relented Monday, allowing the bill onto the floor. He did not support its passage.

Seliger’s announcement came alongside a reworked bill with a handful of technical changes and one notable concession. As updated, SB 2 will force cities, counties and other taxing entities to receive voter approval before raising 3.5% more property tax revenue than the previous year — a change from the 2.5% trigger originally proposed. School districts would still face the 2.5% threshold under the version of the bill approved Monday.

Revenue generated on new construction does not count toward the threshold. And small taxing units, with sales and property tax levies under $15 million annually, will need to opt into some of SB 2’s provisions in an election.

[…]

After three hours of debate, SB 2 passed on an 18-13 vote, with Seliger joining the upper chamber’s Democrats in opposition. It was then given final approval on an 18-12 vote — with Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, voting present — and will be sent to the House for further debate.

The lower chamber, meanwhile, has postponed discussion of its property tax reform legislation until April 24. Unlike the Senate’s version, the House has exempted hospital districts, community colleges, emergency service districts and school districts from abiding by a 2.5% election trigger — a move that has enflamed far-right lawmakers and activists, who say homeowners will feel scant relief if those entities are exempted.

See here for the background. One way or another, this was going to pass. Sen. Seliger made a point about comity and tradition, for whatever those things are worth to Dan Patrick, and he voted according to his conscience, which is a good thing as long as one has a good conscience. Which Sen. Seliger has, and I appreciate his effort. Now it’s just a matter of what the conference committee bill looks like, since the House version will be different. Figure this one will more or less go down to the wire, but it will pass in some form similar to this. It’s a lousy bill and lousy policy, but (say it with me one more time), nothing will change until we change who we elect. Texas Monthly has more.

Using Beto 2018 to project Beto 2020

The NYT recently took a deep dive into the 2018 election data from Texas, and came out seeing a real swing state, partly because of Beto and partly for other reasons.

Mr. O’Rourke’s close result wasn’t because of an exceptional turnout that will be hard for other Democrats to repeat in 2020. Republican voters, defined as those who have participated in a recent Republican primary, turned out at a higher rate than Democratic ones. Neither the Hispanic nor youth voter share of the electorate was higher than it was in 2016, when President Trump won the state by nine points.

On the contrary, Democrats in 2020 can be expected to enjoy a more favorable turnout because presidential races tend to draw in more young and Hispanic voters. Mr. O’Rourke might have won Texas last November if turnout had been at the level of a contested presidential race, based on an Upshot analysis of Times/Siena poll responses, actual results and voter file data from L2, a nonpartisan voter file vendor.

The data yields an estimate of how every registered voter in Texas would have voted, based on a long list of geographic and demographic factors that predicted vote choice in the Times/Siena polling. Importantly, turnout in 2018 is among those factors, which allows us to fully untangle how much of Mr. O’Rourke’s strength was because of strong turnout among his supporters.

The data indicates that two opposing turnout trends influenced the results. The electorate was older, whiter and more Republican than the state as a whole — or than the 2016 electorate. But an O’Rourke supporter was generally likelier to vote than a demographically and politically similar supporter of Mr. Cruz. This was the pattern nationwide, so it is not obvious that this can be attributed to Mr. O’Rourke specifically; it could have been the favorable Democratic environment more generally.

Either way, the extra turnout boost probably cut Mr. Cruz’s margin of victory by two points.

Mr. O’Rourke might have won with a turnout of around 10 million voters. (The actual turnout was around 8.4 million.) Without the extra edge of a Democratic wave year, it might have taken 11 million votes, a number that is not out of the question in 2020 if Texas is contested as a battleground state.

So how did Mr. O’Rourke fare so well? He did it through old-fashioned persuasion, by winning voters who had voted for Republicans and for minor-party candidates.

[…]

No matter how you explain it, the president’s disapproval rating in Texas would seem to imply that there’s at least some additional upside for Democrats there, beyond what Mr. O’Rourke pulled off. And the president’s far lower approval rating among all adults (as opposed to among registered voters) hints at another opportunity for Democrats: mobilizing unregistered voters. In both cases, Hispanic voters could represent the upside for Democrats.

Mr. O’Rourke’s strong showing had essentially nothing to do with the initial vision of a Blue Texas powered by mobilizing the state’s growing Hispanic population. The Texas electorate was only two points more Hispanic in 2018 than it was in 2012, but President Obama lost the state by 16 points in 2012, compared with Mr. O’Rourke’s 2.6-point loss.

At the same time, Mr. O’Rourke fared worse than Mr. Obama or Hillary Clinton in many of the state’s heavily Hispanic areas, particularly in more conservative South Texas. This could reflect Mr. Cruz’s relative strength among Hispanic voters compared with a typical Republican.

Instead, Mr. O’Rourke’s improvement came almost exclusively from white voters, and particularly college-educated white voters. Whites probably gave him around 33 percent of their votes, up from a mere 22 percent for Mr. Obama in 2012.

I’ve been sitting on this for a little while, in part because of there being lots of other things to write about, and in part because I’ve been thinking about it. I want to present a few broad conclusions that I hope will help shape how we think about 2020.

1. I haven’t tried to study this in great detail, but my general sense since the 2018 election has been that Democratic base turnout could have been higher than it was, and that to carry the state of Texas in 2020, the Democratic Presidential nominee will need to aim for five million votes. Both of these are validated by this story.

2. The other point, about persuasion and flipping people who had previously voted Republican, is another theme I’ve visited a few times since November. Some of the districts that Dems won in 2018 – CDs 07 and 32 in particular – just weren’t going to be won by better base turnout. Better base turnout was always going to be needed, it just wasn’t going to be enough. Remember, in a Presidential year, John Culberson won CD07 by eleven points, and Republican judicial candidates won it by similar margins. There weren’t enough non-voting Democrats to make up for that.

3. The key to the above was Trump, and that statement in the story about “winning voters who had voted for Republicans and for minor-party candidates” (emphasis mine) was the mechanism. CDs 07 and 32 were on the map, as were other districts like SD16 and the Dallas County State Rep districts, because they had been carried by Hillary Clinton. You may recall that I was skeptical of these numbers because it was clear that Clinton won those districts because a number of nominal Republicans just didn’t vote for Trump. It was an open question to me what they’d do in the next election. Clearly, now we know.

4. To be more specific, the not-Trump voters, who include those who voted for Gary Johnson and Evan McMullen and Jill Stein as well as those who actually crossed over to Clinton and those who skipped the race entirely, really did vote for Democratic candidates in 2018, at least in some races. Those candidates included Beto, most of the Congressional Dems, Mike Collier, Justin Nelson, Kim Olson, most of the legislative Dems, and some other downballot Dems. Some Republicans held onto the not-Trumpers – Greg Abbott, Glenn Hegar, George P. Bush, and Christie Craddick – but by and large these people were quite willing to stray. The proof is in the districts where the Trump percentage from 2016 was the ceiling for these Republicans in 2018.

5. Given this, the basis for Texas as a swing state, as well as a Congressional battleground, in 2020, is precisely the idea that these voters will again not vote for Trump, and base Democratic turnout will be higher. Implicit in this is the idea that the not-Trump voters who were also not-Hillary voters will be more inclined to vote for the 2020 Dem, which I think is a reasonable assumption. Dems will have their work cut out for them – we’re talking a million more votes than Beto got, which was 200K more votes than Hillary got and 500K more votes than Obama ’08 got – but the path is clear.

6. For example, Beto carried Harris County by 200K votes, with 1.2 million votes cast. If turnout in Harris is 1.5 million – hardly crazy, assuming 2.4 million registered voters (registration was 2.3 million in 2018), which in turn would be turnout of 62.5%, basically a point higher than it was in 2016 – you can imagine a Dem carrying the county 900K to 600K, which is about where the Republican vote total has plateaued. That’s 20 percent of the way to the goal right there, and it doesn’t even assume a heroic turnout effort.

7. Do I think Democratic turnout in Texas will be better if Beto, or for that matter Julian Castro, is the nominee than if someone else is? Maybe, but honestly I don’t think it would be by much, if at all. I think it really is about Trump more than it is about who the Dem is. Beto was very much the right candidate at the right time in 2018, but I don’t believe 2020 depends on him. I do think Beto as a Senate candidate may well have outperformed any Dem Presidential candidate (with the possible exception of Castro) in 2020, but that’s not the situation we will have. As a Presidential candidate, I don’t think he’d be that much different.

8. Bottom line, keep registering voters, and keep talking to people who haven’t been habitual voters. We’re going to need everyone working together to make this happen.

Here comes the DCCC

National Dems really are serious about competing in Texas next year.

National Democrats are ratcheting up their Texas offensive yet again ahead of 2020.

The chairwoman of U.S. House Democratic campaign arm announced Tuesday morning that her committee will open a new satellite office in Austin. The move replicates the committee’s 2018 California playbook, when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had a substantive, on-the-ground presence in the Golden State and flipped seven U.S. House seats there.

“When it comes to places where House Democrats can go on offense, it doesn’t get any bigger than Texas,” said U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., the chairwoman of the DCCC. “In 2018, Texas Democrats proved that they can win in competitive districts. That’s why we are continuing our investments in the Lone Star State by opening a new DCCC:Texas Headquarters.”

The DCCC previously announced a national offensive effort for the 2020 elections that would install staffers in the Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio suburbs. Monday’s announcement takes that initiative a step further, opening a central office in Austin with eight staffers including Texas Democratic operatives Roger Garza and Michael Beckendorf.

[…]

Back in 2017, the DCCC’s decision to open an office in Orange County – the home of President Richard Nixon – was met with skepticism. Democrats swept the county, picking up four seats and won three others to the north in Los Angeles County and in the San Joaquin Valley.

As for Texas Republicans, there are mixed emotions about this kind of spending and rhetoric.

A number of Republican insiders working in the state look back at the 2018 midterms as a perfect storm with Democrats benefitting from a uniquely talented standard-bearer in former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke running against a polarizing incumbent in U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, and a statewide burst of organic enthusiasm that may already be subsiding.

But other Texas Republicans are anxious about the U.S. House map. Many of the concerned conversations are happening in private, but the Republican Party of Texas has been eager to ring the alarm and raise money off of these kinds of DCCC announcements.

Roger Garza is a Facebook friend of mine, and he worked on Rep. Colin Allred’s successful 2018 campaign. I approve of his hire.

I mean, we all know the story here. There’s a lot of action, and a lot of potential pickups for the DCCC in these locations. We saw what can happen last year, and there’s no reason to believe it can’t happen again this year. Buckle up, it’s going to be a wild ride.