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Rep. Eric Johnson declares for Speaker

It’s not as crazy as it sounds.

Rep. Eric Johnson

State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, filed Wednesday to run for speaker of the Texas House, making him the first Democrat to enter the race to succeed retiring House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

In a statement sent to The Texas Tribune, Johnson pointed out that, if elected, he would be the first speaker under the age of 45 since former House Speaker Price Daniel Jr. in 1973 and the first person of color to ever serve as speaker of the Texas House.

Johnson enters a speaker’s race that already includes three Republicans: Tan Parker of Flower Mound, Phil King of Weatherford and John Zerwas of Richmond.

“I’m in it, and I’m in it to win it,” Johnson told the Tribune.

[…]

“I am deeply troubled by the far rightward shift in our state government and the excessive partisanship and the poor legislation this shift has spawned,” Johnson said in a separate statement. “Texas has become a one-party state, and this has been to Texas’s detriment.”

As a Democrat, Johnson would need bipartisan support to be elected speaker in the Republican-dominated House. Ahead of the next regular session, House Republicans agreed to select a speaker in their caucus and then vote as a bloc on the floor — a move that could completely cut out Democrats from picking the chamber’s next leader. Prior to the March 6 primaries, House Republicans pushed incumbents and candidates to sign a form promising to ultimately support the caucus pick. While Parker and King have signed the form, Zerwas has not.

Let’s state up front that Republican members are not going to vote for a Democrat for Speaker, at least not as long as they have a majority in the House. Let’s also state that it is…unlikely…that the Republicans will lose the majority in the Texas House. So, barring something very unexpected, Rep. Eric Johnson will not be the next Speaer of the House.

What could happen is that Republicans fail to coalesce behind a single one of their Speaker candidates, so that none of them can get a majority to become Speaker. In that case, Eric Johnson and his Democratic supporters can make a deal with one of them to push him over the top in return for some concessions. This is a more likely scenario with Democrats numbering in the mid-to-upper sixties (or higher, of course), but it could still happen with something more like the current caucus size. This is not unlike how Joe Straus became Speaker himself in 2009; I trust you will find the irony of that if it happens to be as delicious as I will. Having Johnson file as Speaker should mean that the Dems will be unified behind him, rather than making their own individual deals a la Tom Craddick in 2003.

And that’s the key. Being able to elect a Democratic Speaker would be awesome, of course, but the way the House map is drawn they’d need not just to win the statewide vote, they’d need to win it with some room to spare. That just isn’t going to happen. But being in a position to get a seat at the table, that’s a fine consolation prize. The more seats we do win in November, the closer we can get to that.

Senate passes AirBnB bill

As you know, I don’t care for this.

A Senate bill that would limit local government control of short-term home rentals in Texas passed out of the upper chamber Tuesday in a 21-9 vote.

Under Senate Bill 451 by state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, Texas cities would be prevented from banning short-term rentals and their ability to write ordinances restricting the practice would be narrowed. Austin, San Antonio and Fort Worth are among the cities that have enacted such restrictions.

Critics of the bill said it would lower property values and allow Texans to rent houses to people who might host disruptive parties and increase traffic in their neighborhoods.

Proponents say SB 451 would protect homeowners from strict local laws that infringe on property rights while still allowing a limited amount of local regulation, such as prohibitions on short-term renters housing sex offenders or selling alcohol or illegal drugs to guests.

“The bottom line is you cannot ban short-term rentals,” Hancock said Tuesday.

Among local policies that would be limited in scope by Hancock’s bill: a Fort Worth regulation that requires property owners to obtain a bed-and-breakfast permit only available to homes built before 1993 and an ordinance in Austin that has capped the number of short-term rentals with no live-in owners.

During Tuesday’s debate, several legislators expressed concerns about the effects the measure would have on their communities. State Sen. José Menendez, D-San Antonio, even proposed a failed amendment to exempt his home district from the bill.

The lower chamber’s companion to Hancock’s legislation, House Bill 2551 by state Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, was heard in the House Urban Affairs Committee on Tuesday afternoon. Testimony was divided over whether short-term rentals would be better regulated at the local or state level.

See here for the background. The reservations I expressed then remain with me now. At the very least, if the Legislature is going to insist on taking away cities’ autonomy on this matter, they could include a provision to require collection and remittance of state hotel taxes, so individual cities don’t have to negotiate their own deal with AirBnB as Houston just did. A little consistency would be nice, though apparently too much to ask. The House bill was left pending in committee, so this is may be as far as this effort goes this time. If so, you can be sure it will be back in 2019.

The coming legislative border battle

Here we go again.

House Republicans on Wednesday said they aren’t backing away from recent efforts to secure the southern border despite an incoming president who made beefed-up immigration enforcement a hallmark of his campaign.

And as a final admonishment of President Obama, they said they intended to bill the federal government more than $2.8 billion for state spending on border security since January 2013. The amount includes a combination of expenses incurred by the Department of Public Safety ($1.4 billion), Texas Parks and Wildlife ($20.2 million), Texas Military Forces ($62.9 million), Texas Health and Human Services ($416.8 million), the Texas Education Agency ($181.1 million) and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission ($671,000), according to House Republicans. Another $723.8 million has been spent by local and state governments related to incarceration, they said.

“We understand the principles of federalism, and while we surely don’t want the federal government meddling in our schools and deciding our environmental policies or setting our health care policies, we sure as heck want them doing their limited duties, which are: enforcing the border, standing up for a strong military and delivering the mail,” said state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton.

Two years ago, Bonnen was the author of House Bill 11, an omnibus border security measure that increased by 250 the number of Texas Department of Public Safety officers on the border. The legislation was part of the record $800 million lawmakers appropriated for border security during that legislative session.

Lawmakers learned earlier this week they will have billions of dollars less in state revenue to work with this year as they craft the next biennial budget, even as the Department of Public Safety has said it would ask lawmakers for an additional $1 billion for border security. Bonnen said he hadn’t yet reviewed the request.

Although they said they had high hopes that President-elect Trump would fulfill his promise to secure the border and let Texas off the hook, House Republicans reiterated that lawmakers will need to wait and see what the incoming administration does and how soon it acts on border security before making a decision on future expenditures.

“We’ll have to see, [but] I think the Trump administration has made clear that they intend from day one, starting next Friday, to get to work on this issue,” Bonnen said, citing the day of Trump’s scheduled inauguration.

State Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, the chairman of the House Republican Caucus, left the door open to Texas lawmakers approving more funding for state-based border security efforts if necessary.

“Republicans in the Texas House are absolutely committed to continuous border security — be it from the state of Texas and what we’ve been doing all these years or from our federal government,” he said.

Part of Trump’s proposed solution includes building a wall along parts of the southern border. When asked what he would tell a Texas landowner whose property could be seized by the federal government for that effort, Bonnen said: “My response would be whatever we need to do to make our border secure and controlled by the federal government.”

If you’re going to pass the buck, as it were, why not skip the middleman and send the invoice straight to Mexico? It’s what Trump (says he) would do, and it has about the same odds of getting paid. It’s a stunt, so make it as stunt-y as you can. As for the claims that Dear Leader Trump will spend more money on “border security”, thus enabling the state to spend less, who knows? It’s a bad idea in general to believe a word the guy says, but there is certainly enthusiasm in Congress to spend money on it, so I won’t be surprised if it happens. Note that whether or not it does happen, legislative Republicans plan to spend more on it as well, which highlights again the sham nature of their “invoice” for what they (quite happily) spent in the last session. As Rep. Cesar Blanco says in the story, they all have primaries to win. Look for even more speeding tickets to get written in the area.

The Observer highlights the resistance.

Legislators and advocates on Wednesday announced Texas Together — a new effort that aims to resist anti-immigrant proposals in the Texas Legislature, including those that would revoke funding from so-called sanctuary cities and repeal in-state tuition for undocumented students. The campaign is an initiative of the Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance, a coalition of immigrant advocates and activists from across the state.

“We are here to stand against the attempt to put anti-immigrant rhetoric into bills,” said state Senator Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, at a Capitol press conference Wednesday. “We oppose these politics that have become poisoned with misinformation about immigrants and border life.”

[…]

Captain Shelly Knight of the Dallas Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday that SB 4 would strain law enforcement budgets and damage trust between communities and officers.

“All of that [trust] we’ve built up will be gone,” Knight said. “So therefore they won’t come and report violent crimes, such as family violence.”

Stand and fight, y’all. The Republicans are going to pass whatever they’re going to pass. Don’t give them any help on this.

House chubfest kills several bad bills

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

Squalius cephalus, the official mascot of talking bills to death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Straus, though, was coy.

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tesla tries again

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

Let the car haggling resume at the Texas Capitol.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senate passes SB1569, but may not be able to override a veto

The Senate passed SB1569, the bill that accepts stimulus funding for unemployment insurance, by a 19-11 vote today. As Elise noted on Twitter, two Senators flipped to No for final passage; one other Senator was either absent or did not vote. We don’t know who exactly the changed and missing voters were yet. For the record, the second reading vote went as follows:

Yeas: Averitt, Carona, Davis, Deuell, Duncan, Ellis, Eltife, Estes, Gallegos, Harris, Hinojosa, Lucio, Ogden, Shapiro, Shapleigh, Uresti, Van de Putte, Watson, Wentworth, West, Whitmire, Zaffirini.

Nays: Fraser, Hegar, Huffman, Jackson, Nelson, Nichols, Patrick, Seliger, Williams.

The same group voted to suspend the rules so the bill could be brought to the floor. As predicted, the entire Harris GOP contingent voted against. The final margin of 19-11 means the Senate would not vote to override a Governor Perry veto if it comes to that and no one flips back; even if the absentee voted Yes it would be insufficient. So if there’s the be any stick to induce Perry to sign this thing, it’ll have to be the Yvonne Davis amendment.

Speaking of the House, HB2623 by Rep. Joe Deshotel, which is listed as “similar” to SB1569, had its committee report sent to Calendars on Friday. Given that the “identical” HB3153 by Rep. Tan Parker is still in committee, I’d say that’s the bill to watch in the lower chamber. There’s still time to allow for a veto override attempt, if they don’t get bogged down. Patricia Kilday Hart has more, and a statement by Sen. Leticia Van de Putte is beneath the fold.

UPDATE: Via Postcards, the answer is that Sens. Shapiro and Estes switched their votes between second and third readings, and Harris was absent.

UPDATE: The Statesman has more on the prospects in the House.

Although there are six weeks left in the session, lawmakers need to finish a bill within the next month to attempt a veto override. During that period, the governor must veto a bill within 10 days of its final passage or it becomes law.

Business and Industry Committee Chairman Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, said the House is “up against a wall” to get the bill to the governor.

“Every day now counts,” said Deshotel, who will sponsor Eltife’s bill in the House. “We can make it through if it doesn’t stall somewhere.”

It was unclear Monday which House committee will take up Eltife’s bill and how long it will take to clear that committee and get to the floor for a vote. Then, assuming the governor vetoes the legislation, the hard work would begin in getting the support in both houses necessary to override a veto.

Given Perry’s clear opposition and the jam-packed legislative schedule, Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, said it would be “irresponsible of us to waste the citizens’ valuable time (taking up the measure) if the governor already says it is vetoed.”

“Why should we kill other bills that might be able to help the citizens of Texas if we know that this is a nonproductive exercise of yelling at each other on the House floor?” said Christian, a leader of conservatives in the House.

Deshotel said the possibility of a veto should not deter the House because the policy issue is a critical one.

He also said the governor might not veto the bill if he sees that it has broad-based support from both Democrats and Republicans, including House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie.

“The governor can always change his mind. I want to get the bill to the governor,” Deshotel said.

Especially if the budget provision that moves money from the Texas Enterprise Fund to the unemployment insurance trust survives the budget conference committee. I’m sure the Governor has a fallback position prepared just in case. Speaking of that provision, a statement from Rep. Armando Walle, who was the initial author of that amendment, has been added beneath the fold.

(more…)

Parker versus Perry

I like this.

Houston City Controller Annise Parker sharply criticized Texas Governor Rick Perry today for rejecting $555 million in federal stimulus money that would have funded unemployment benefits for out-of-work Texans.

“In January alone, more than 65,000 Houstonians were unemployed – the most since 2004 – and our economy is slowing,” said Parker. “While the Governor makes his political point, our local economy is losing out on millions of dollars in stimulus funds – and Houstonians are hurting.”

[…]

Parker recently called on Perry to allow more transparency and local input into decisions about allocating stimulus dollars, to ensure that Houston receives its fair share of funds. She also met with local legislators in Austin to discuss the use of stimulus funds.

“I support the efforts of our local representatives to bypass the Governor’s rejection of these funds and bring more stimulus dollars to Texas and to Houston,” said Parker.

“As the impact of the national economic crisis hits home in Houston, our leaders should be doing everything they can to keep our economy growing,” she said. “The Governor’s rejection of these badly needed funds is a failure of leadership.”

I’d like to see more city officials follow suit. Cities, big and small, are going to feel the effects of Governor Perry’s foolishness directly. Governor Perry can afford to fret about the possible years-off effects of expanding unemployment insurance to match what many other states do. (He can fit it in between Tweeting about his upcoming TV appearances.) Those who are on the business end of this action need to be concerned about what is happening now, to thousands of people and their families. Perhaps with sufficient pushback from local leaders, the Lege will be encouraged to override Perry’s bad decision. Good on Annise Parker for taking the lead.

Of course, if there’s one person you’d think would be taking the lead on this, it would be Perry’s main opponent in the 2010 primary, Kay Bailey Hutchison, since this stunt (like everything else he’s doing these days) is about the primary. But so far, nothing but some meaningless platitudes from KBH, which one presumes isn’t making her supporters happy. What pushback there has been has mainly been from Dems in the Lege and responsible economic types.

“The tax implications for 2010 are much, much worse if you do not take the stimulus money,” said Don Baylor, a senior policy analyst for the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for low-income Texans. “The fund is basically going to be out of money by the OU game.” In other words, by October.

Economist Ray Perryman testified to a panel of lawmakers earlier this week that “it is unrealistic to assume the system can continue in its current form.”

The federal money would be enough to pay for the increase in benefits, including changes in state law, for a decade, Perryman told the House committee charged with making recommendations to spend the federal stimulus money.

House Democratic Leader Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, who chairs the committee, said the move is so counterproductive it “has to be 100 percent political.”

“What is taking the money going to do to your taxes? Nothing,” Dunnam said. “Put this $555 million up and it will pay for the whole program for a decade. Maybe in a decade there may be some impact … there is no rational basis for it.”

The crazy thing is that this should be a hanging curve for KBH. All she has to do is say that Perry is grandstanding about refusing to take responsibility to help those who are getting laid off, while not raising a peep at the prospect of stimulus funds being spent by TxDOT on toll roads. This isn’t rocket science, you know? But I guess she’s going to need The Lege to do the dirty work and save her bacon.

Bills to expand benefits — and thus allow Texas to get the money — have been filed by lawmakers including Reps. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, and Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound; and Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, whose bill was signed onto by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, has backed taking the money. Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, filed a resolution to take all the stimulus money.

“It’s a bipartisan effort in the House to get these funds,” Dunnam said. He noted rising unemployment and said a state jobless benefit fund could need a federal loan and state bonds to stay in good shape. Business taxes pay for the fund.

[…]

A veto override would require a two-thirds vote — particularly difficult in a Legislature dominated by Republicans. The last veto override occurred in 1979.

Dunnam said an override isn’t the only option: “There are more than a handful of ways to skin a cat.”

Rep. Garnet Coleman agreed, noting that legislative bargaining is common as the session’s end nears. “There may be ways to move forward that don’t require a veto-proof majority,” said Coleman, D-Houston. “At the end of the day, there are things that Rick Perry wants.”

You mean, besides the spotlight? In the meantime, if you’re looking for work, or in a position to help someone who is, there’s a volunteer group called ROPE with HOPE that’s available. From an email that Andy Neill sent me about the group:

The group name “Rope With Hope” signifies – R.O.P.E. (Recruiters Offering Professional Expertise) With H.O.P.E. (HR Offering Professional Expertise) – and it is an online network of Corporate Recruiters and HR personnel that have come together to assist area Job Seekers in their attempts to gain meaningful employment.

Unemployed Houstonians are encouraged to email their resumes if they would like a professional assessment to HoustonRWH@hotmail.com, and every HR or Recruiting professional that would be interested in volunteering for “Rope With Hope” is asked to do one of the following:

* Allot 1-2 hours per week (can be after-hours/weekends) to offer your HR, Interviewing, Recruiting, or Resume review expertise to unemployed candidates.

* Attend an event or meeting that would either allow you to announce this new resource for displaced or unemployed workers; or conduct a presentation on interviewing or resume writing techniques. This is as simple as appearing at your own existing HR Society, Civic Association, Church Group, or Chamber of Commerce meeting and introducing the concept of “Rope for Hope – Houston”.

Anyway, I wanted to introduce the concept and group to you and encourage you to spread the word if you could. Even if you could just pass this info on to your Corporate HR/Recruiting folks at your “normal job”.

They have a Facebook group as well. Send an email to HoustonRWH@hotmail.com if you have any questions.

Lege versus Gov on unemployment funds

Showdown time.

The House committee charged with recommending how to use the federal stimulus money does not see eye to eye with Gov. Rick Perry on the $555 million for unemployment insurance.

In a 5 to 1 vote, the committee on Thursday endorsed enacting the necessary changes to state law so that Texas would be eligible for the money. Earlier today, Perry said Texas should not take the money.

House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts was the only Republican among the “ayes.” Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, voted against the measure and argued that action should be delayed.

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Also, Pitts plans to join Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, as a co-author of a bill that would enact the required legislative changes but allow the extended benefits to expire when the federal money is gone. Estimates indicate the federal money would cover seven years of the additional benefits.

Crownover objected to the vote being today – she says two other members of the committee were in the building but didn’t think any action was being taken. Be that as it may, she hasn’t said she’d reject the funds. And as Phil notes, Texas Workforce Commission Chair Tom Pauken will be working with Reps. Pitts and Parker to craft that legislation. It’s entirely possible to me that the Lege will vote to bypass Governor Perry. Whether they can do it in time to make a veto override attempt is another story. But the stage is set for a rebuke. This will be fun to watch.

Economist Ray Perryman, testifying before the committee, said taking the money is on balance a good deal for Texas. The federal infusion would lessen a tax increase on employers now and would cover the extended benefit for at least seven years.

He added that the unemployment tax does not affect Texas’ ability to compete for jobs. Property taxes and the business tax are much bigger considerations when businesses choose where to set down roots, Perryman said.

Perry is of course simply playing to a small audience – he has a primary to win, after all, and it must be noted that he’s got KBH on her heels right now. The kind of person Rick Perry is trying to please by taking this action is in fact pleased by it. Who cares what the rest of us think?

Here’s a copy of official motion (PDF), which lays out the case for accepting the funds, and a copy of a statement from Rep. Garnet Coleman (PDF), which notes that Texas is already mostly in compliance with the federal law for the funds. EoW, Vince and Vince again, Eileen, McBlogger, and the CPPP have more; I also have a couple of press releases, from Rep. Coleman and State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte. By the way, did you know that 32 million people are on food stamps, and one in 11 of them is in Texas? Or that Texas’ unemployment rate is now 6.4% and climbing? Just FYI. Maybe someone should inform the Governor.

UPDATE: More from Texas Impact.

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