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Eltife not running for re-election

He will be missed.

Sen. Kevin Eltife

After 23 years in elected office, state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, said he will not run for re-election in 2016 to devote more time to family, friends, his work and his community.

Eltife said he’s loved every minute of his service in the Senate and is proud to have worked with fellow Senators and their staffs. But he said he did not want to hold a title or office without being 1,000 percent committed to the job and fighting for Senate District 1.

“After 23 years, I have to honestly say I need to take a step back, spend more time with my family and friends and recharge my batteries,” Eltife said during an Editorial Board meeting with the Tyler Morning Telegraph. “I will continue to be involved and volunteer at the local and state level to try to help others.”

Senators, both Republicans and Democrats, are hard-working, well-intentioned people who sacrifice time from their families and lives to try to make Texans’ lives better, he said.

“I’m going to stay plugged in,” he said. “I want to make sure northeast Texas voices are heard, and I don’t have to be in public office to do that.”


Eltife said when he arrived his primary focus in Austin was killing bad legislation that preserved local control. But he proved effective navigating bills and lending helping hands to other legislators.

He was instrumental in the creation of a pharmacy school and doctorate nursing program at the University of Texas at Tyler, expansion of craft beer brewers’ access to the market and, most recently, pass of a bill to give epileptics in Texas access to cannabis-based oils.

Those and other bills made a difference for his district, the state and Texans, he said.

Eltife said hearing the testimony from families of suffering epileptic children motivated him to pass the bill they saw as their only hope.

Eltife’s drive to make a difference many times has left him as a lone wolf legislator.

Eltife has been watching, not so quietly, as the state’s debt more than doubled since he arrived in Austin to about $46 billion from $17 billion.

The state used debt to fund road projects and meet needs he said could have been funded if legislators had been honest with Texans and used their political capital to make tough decisions.

Eltife said doing the right thing can mean going against the party line. He’s worked with both sides of the isle to move legislation he felt would benefit his district and the state.

Sen. Elife also spent a lot of time presiding over the Senate in the latter years of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s tenure. By all accounts, the chamber ran a lot more smoothly with him wielding the gavel in Dew’s absence. The Trib adds on.

Several Republicans have already been mentioned as potential candidates for Eltife’s seat.

State Rep. David Simpson of Longview will announce later this month that he is launching a bid for the job.

“Advancing liberty and promoting prosperity in Texas will take conservative leaders who are ready to tell the truth,” Simpson said in a Sunday statement. “We are excited to announce our campaign for Senate District 1 and intend to officially launch our efforts on June 22.”

Rep. Bryan Hughes of Mineola, who was waiting to see whether Eltife would run for re-election, is also considered a likely contender for the post. Thomas Ratliff, the outgoing vice chairman of the State Board of Education, has said he would not rule out a run for the seat if Eltife gave it up. And Dennis Golden, a Carthage optometrist, has said he intends to run.

Eltife has often been a swing vote in a Texas Senate dominated by Republicans but governed by rules that give political minorities more power than their numbers would suggest. It takes consent from 60 percent of the state’s 31 senators to bring most proposals up for debate; issues that can only attract small majorities often languish as a result. And Eltife has found himself in the position of holding such proposals hostage more than once.

He was a rare Republican vote against repeal of the Texas Dream Act, which allows undocumented immigrants who graduate from Texas high schools and who have lived here for more than three years to pay in-state tuition at Texas colleges and universities. That repeal never made it to the full Senate. He opposed so-called sanctuary cities legislation that would require local police to enforce federal immigration laws. And he was a no vote on one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s pet bills, which would have allowed businesses to direct their taxes to scholarship funds for private school students.

Early in the legislative session that ended June 1, Eltife tried to tap the brakes on what he called “a bidding war” between the House and Senate over tax cuts, insisting that lawmakers should be using surplus funds for deferred maintenance, debt reduction and the like. The tax cuts went through, but so did some of what he had pushed for. By the end of the session, he declared himself satisfied with that partial victory.

This is a deep red district (Romney 72.1% in 2012), so it’s all a matter of the Republican primary. Thomas Ratliff would be fine if he ran. David Simpson is an odd duck, a teabagger but not quite cut from the same cloth as the rest of them. He’s just unpredictable enough to at least be a pain in Dan Patrick’s rear end on a regular basis. Bryan Hughes would be bad, and I can’t imagine anyone else would be any better. We’ll just have to see how it shakes out. The one thing I do expect is for there to be a lot of money spent on that campaign, mostly by outside groups. Good luck and best wishes for the next stage of your life, Sen. Eltife. Trail Blazers and RG Ratcliffe have more.

Immigration bills fail

Another thing to celebrate from this session.

As the sun begins to set on the 84th Texas Legislature, promises to enact tough immigration legislation remain unfulfilled. State Sen. Donna Campbell says she’s not giving up just because the last gavel is about to drop.

Campbell, a New Braunfels Republican, tried unsuccessfully to pass Senate Bill 1819, which would have eliminated a 14-year-old policy that allows non-citizens, including some undocumented immigrants, to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities.

“Unfortunately, it takes a [three-fifths] vote to bring a bill to the floor, and I was unable to find those final two to three affirmative votes once the bill passed out of committee,” she said in an email Saturday. “I am disappointed that we were unable to get this bill passed under the current body, but I have two years to change a couple members’ minds and try again next session.”

Republican lawmakers could take a similar conciliatory tone on another contentious issue, Senate Bill 185, by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock. That bill sought to ban so-called “sanctuary cities” – the common term for local governments whose peace officers don’t enforce immigration laws.

The proposals seemed likely to pass, at minimum, the upper chamber in the early months of the session. The crush of unauthorized migration last summer in the Rio Grande Valley kept the issues at the forefront, and some GOP senators said during their campaigns that passing immigration legislation was a priority.

But two Republican senators, Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, and Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, opposed the measures. Eltife said the issues were about local control; Estes said he feared both could have dire unintended consequences. Their opposition blocked both from going before the full chamber for a vote.

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said a coalition opposing the bills formed early, and it held “regardless of a great deal of pressure that was put on some people.”

“We spent time talking to individual members and talking to people outside the Capitol who in turn talked to members, so that we could be sure we weren’t making any assumptions about where someone might be on these bills, simply because of their party,” said Watson, chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

See here for some background. I don’t expect this issue to go away despite the huge amount allocate in the budget for “border security” or the reality that immigration patterns have changed greatly in recent years. This will be a “crisis” in need of “immediate action” for as long as it has potency as an election issue. Stace has more.

Senate still trying to pass “sanctuary cities” and DREAM Act repeal

Time is running out on these bad bills, but as the man said, it ain’t over till it’s over.

After sitting idle in the Senate for more than a month, a controversial bill to eliminate in-state tuition rates for undocumented immigrants is back on the upper chamber’s calendar.

But it remains unclear whether the Senate has the votes to bring the measure up for debate.

Senate Bill 1819 by state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, would do away with what has been standard policy in Texas since 2001: allowing non-citizens, including undocumented students, to pay discounted in-state tuition rates if they have lived in Texas for three or more years.

The proposal was originally placed on the Senate’s intent calendar on April 15 after an hours-long and emotional committee hearing — but it was taken off that calendar next day. During the first 130 days of the session, Senate rules require a bill to stay on the calendar for two days before being brought up for debate.

On Tuesday, the bill was back on the calendar along with another controversial measure, Senate Bill 185 by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock. That proposal seeks to give local law enforcement expanded immigration enforcement powers.

SB 185 has been on and off the intent calendar several times since passing out of committee on April 13, a sign that the measure didn’t have support from 19 senators — the threshold needed to bring it up for a debate. The upper chamber’s 11 Democrats have stood united in their opposition to both measures, and at least two Republicans are firm against it.

See here for the background. The two Republican Senators that are helping hold these bills back are Sens. Kevin Eltife, who is not a surprise, and Craig Estes, who is. Without their resistance, these bills would have already passed the Senate thanks to the two thirds rule change. We appreciate the support, fellas. Hold fast, there’s not much farther to go. Stace, Texas Leftist, and the Chron’s Bobby Cervantes have more.

Anti-immigration bills dying on the vine

I think I’m going to just got to the executive summary at the bottom of this DMN story.


1. Repeal of tuition law: Seeks to change the 2001 law that allows some students who are in the country illegally to pay college tuition at in-state rates.

Status: Out of Senate committee. May not have enough votes to be heard on Senate floor. No House committee hearing scheduled.

2. “Sanctuary cities” bill: Would bar local rules that prohibit police from asking the immigration status of people they stop.

Status: Out of Senate committee. May not have enough votes to be heard on Senate floor. No House committee hearing scheduled.

3. Interstate border security compact: Would potentially allow Texas and other states to enforce federal immigration laws — and perhaps to create their own border security force.

Status: Out of Senate committee. Prospects in full Senate unclear. No House committee hearing scheduled.

See here and here for the background, and read the story for the details. Having been pessimistic about these bills before, I’m delighted to see this. The real question is whether the lack of action on one or more of these bills will cause Greg Abbott to call a special session, a topic Ross Ramsey discussed in the Trib on Monday. I’m not going to speculate, I’m just going to keep rooting for these bills to stay bottled up, and we’ll take our chances from there.

Bill to kneecap Public Integrity Unit stuck in the Senate

For now, at least.

Rosemary Lehmberg

A Republican bill to transfer the Public Integrity Unit out of Travis County has snagged in the Senate, where the legislation does not have enough support to force a floor vote — at least for now.

The author of Senate Bill 10, Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, acknowledged Monday that she is still trying to line up support from Republican senators but added that she remains confident of success.

“I’m close,” Huffman said, raising the possibility of a vote this week. “We’re almost there.”

News that the bill had stalled came in a Monday letter by state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate and who has made moving the Public Integrity Unit out of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office a legislative priority.

Watson said SB 10 does not have the 19 votes needed to allow a Senate vote and asked Patrick not to take advantage of the planned absence of state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, who will be attending funeral services for his brother Joe Lucio this week.

With one senator absent, a floor vote could be triggered by support from only 18 senators.

“I want to make you aware that Sen. Lucio has told me that he would not vote” to bring SB 10 to the floor, Watson said in the letter. “As a result, SB 10 does not have sufficient support to allow for (a vote).”


Because all Democrats oppose the bill, Watson’s letter indicates that at least two Republicans are not on board with SB 10.

Huffman said she would bring SB 10 to the floor during Lucio’s absence only if she has 19 votes. “Clearly it’s going to be close,” she said. “I’m working to make sure I am answering everyone’s questions.”

See here and here for the background. I’d love to know who the two GOP holdouts are, and what their reasons are for hesitating. As of Wednesday, an effort to find a compromise to move the bill forward came up short.

A behind-the-scenes effort to get a controversial ethics bill moving again in the Texas Senate derailed on Wednesday, after a bipartisan plan to move the Public Integrity Unit to a white-collar investigative arm of the Texas Department of Public Safety was rejected by Senate leaders.

Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, author of Senate Bill 10 that would move the ethics-enforcing PIU from the Travis County District Attorney’s office to the Attorney General’s office said she declined an amendment by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, that was designed as a compromise to remedy strong opposition to the measure.


According to senators, the compromise proposed by Seliger and others would have transferred the PIU to a public-corruption section staffed by Texas Rangers at DPS. If an investigation warranted prosecution, the chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court would appoint a special prosecutor, according to a copy of the plan reviewed by the Houston Chronicle.

Huffman said she did not think the proposal was as good as her bill, even as she was continuing to review options to get the measure moving again.

“I’m still listening to suggestions, and I’m still working to get the votes,” Huffman said. “It’s still a work in progress. Let’s just say that.”

Not sure if this means Sen. Seliger is one of the holdouts or if he was just acting as a broker. My expectation at the beginning of the session was that this bill would pass the Senate (its future in the House would be less certain), but now I’m less sure. Again, it would be good to know the who and the why. One way or the other, I strongly suspect we’ll be hearing more about this.

RIP, two-thirds rule

Not a surprise.

With a new lieutenant governor installed for the first time in over a decade Wednesday — and over the cries of Democrats — the Texas Senate voted to break from an almost 70-year tradition intended to encourage compromise among its 31 members.

Now the approval of only 19 senators instead of 21 will be required to bring legislation to the floor for debate. The change — passed on a vote of 20-10 — has the practical effect of allowing Republicans to consider a bill without a single vote from one of the chamber’s 11 Democrats. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, has targeted the tradition known as the two-thirds rule since he first entered the Legislature in 2007.

Fighting to protect the rule, Democrats said the change would strike a blow to the democratic process.

“I think it’s a sad day for the Senate, and one that we will look back on with regret,” said state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston.

But Republicans argued that the rule allowed for too much abuse of procedure for political purposes.

State Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, said while he had supported the rule in the past and he believed it had helped craft better policy, that the time had come to reform it.

“I don’t have to tell you how hard those special sessions we had two summers ago were for the Senate,” he said. “It was a tense time for all of us.”

I was going to write some long-winded blather about this, but this Observer article sums up the main point I was going to make succinctly:

The two-thirds rule was broken anyways, [Sen. Eltife] said. The most partisan bills the Legislature has passed in recent years found a way around the requirement. When bills are brought up during a special session, as 2013’s abortion restrictions were, only a simple majority is needed to get them through the sausage factory. And legislators have plenty of ways to ignore or avoid the two-thirds rule when they really want to during session—that’s the way they passed voter ID.

He has a point. Many Democrats stormed social media today with the hashtag #lockout—the rule change, many said, was patently unfair and would make Texas government dramatically less transparent. But this isn’t a tipping point—it’s more like the Legislature has taken a few more steps down the grand staircase of partisanship that it’s been descending for years. Democrats had very little leverage last session, and they have less now.

This. Basically, the two-thirds rule has been decorative since the second special session in 2003 that enabled the passage of the DeLay re-redistricting. It was a comfortable fiction that among other things gave Eddie Lucio an undue amount of influence. I seriously doubt that any bill will pass this session that wouldn’t have passed via some loophole or other circumvention of the two-thirds rule as it had recently existed. This is the world we live in now. Adapt or die. Newsdesk has more.

Wake me up in June

As we prepare for the 84th Legislative session to begin, let’s pause for a moment and see what we can expect.

Greg Abbott wants to make the world safe for plastic bags.

Dan Patrick wants to cut his property taxes, and ensure that Texas never has enough money to meet its needs.

Donna Campbell wants taxpayers to subsidize private schools.

Ken Paxton is going to go to the office, sue the federal government, and go home. At least until he gets indicted for being an ethical morass. In the meantime, Dan Patrick wants to put Paxton in charge of the Public Integrity Unit. What could possibly go wrong with that?

The Senate is a cesspool.

So yeah, this session is gonna suck. It’s just a question of how much, and how permanent the damage is.

From the “Hope springs eternal” department

Texas Democrats have hope that the upcoming legislative session won’t be any worse than preceding ones.


Despite all of the turnover in state government in 2014, the Texas Legislature will reconvene in January with a familiar balance of power. Democrats, resigned to a perennial minority, remain outnumbered by Republicans by a two-to-one margin.

The majority is seen as most conservative in recent memory, a reality that Democrats say may augur a tougher 140 days than usual for them.

“The bottom line is that I think it’s going to be a very difficult session,” said state Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin. “We are in a complete minority as we have been for a while and on many of these issues … it’s been rough the last few sessions.”

Nonetheless, lawmakers from both parties are quick to note a large part of their work in Austin is not as politically divisive as the legislation that often makes headlines.

“It’s going to be a very conservative Senate, but this is Texas, it’s not Washington, and we have to get things done,” said state Sen. Joan Huffman of Houston, who chairs the Senate Republican Caucus.


Some Democrats take heart in the fact that two of their top priorities – education and transportation – also are among Gov.-elect Greg Abbott’s targets. Since beating Democrat Wendy Davis on Election Day, Abbott has been vocal about the need for bipartisanship to carry out his agenda.

“What he’s been saying is encouraging, and I take him at his word,” said state Rep. Chris Turner of Fort Worth, who managed Davis’ campaign and chairs the House Democratic Caucus. “To the extent he and other Republicans want to focus on education and transportation and other core issues like that, I think they’ll find that Democrats are ready and willing to work together and find solutions.”

Longtime Democratic consultant Harold Cook said it is not all doom and gloom for his party’s legislators, explaining they should feel heartened by the senior staff announced so far by Gov.-elect Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick. Calling the officials “certified grown-ups” and “honest brokers” with bipartisan credentials in Austin, Cook said they should offer a sliver of hope to Democrats worried about this session.

“Let’s face it, a lot of Democrats are not going to agree with the ideological stuff. That happened on Election Day,” Cook said. “What you can deal with is whether your voice is heard and whether your view is considered.”

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said Democrats in recent years have proven adept at doing just that.

“They’ve been very smart and savvy about cutting deals and holding the line when they could,” said Rottinghaus, citing efforts to slow down the legislative process with amendments and points of order. “To be honest, Republicans sometimes bit off more than they can chew.”

It’s true that Republicans have overreached in the past. It’s also rue that they haven’t exactly suffered at the ballot box for it. That said, Texas Democratic legislators have been adept at playing defense and wringing what they can out of the limited opportunities they have had. I believe those abilities will be tested again this session. I’d like to believe that Abbott and Patrick will govern as grownups that are interested in solving the real problems this state faces. I just don’t see a whole lot of evidence in their past records or the campaigns they ran to suggest that they will.

As such, color me even more dubious of this.

In a private meeting with Houston-area state lawmakers last week, Gov.-elect Greg Abbott brought up a topic so radioactive in Texas politics that even the mention of it caught the room off guard, according to three of those present.

The longtime attorney general, who made a name for himself by suing President Barack Obama and his administration, asked for more information about a compromise recently struck by the Republican governor of Utah and the federal government that could pave the way for that heavily conservative state to expand Medicaid through the president’s signature health care law.

“I don’t even know anything about the Utah model, but it was encouraging because it sounded like at least he’s looking at options,” said one of the attendees, Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, who supports Medicaid expansion. “It was like, if he’s bringing this up, he’s not shutting the door on it. I think he’s open to looking at it.”

However brief the exchange, which an Abbott spokeswoman declined to confirm or otherwise discuss, the reaction that it generated in the room illustrates the surprising optimism of some supporters of a Medicaid expansion compromise in Texas heading into next year’s legislative session.

Twenty-seven states now have accepted some form of Medicaid expansion, including eight with Republican governors; proposals are under discussion in seven other states, including Utah, according to the nonprofit Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. An effort to get Texas to negotiate with the federal government on a compromise stalled in the Legislature in 2013, but a coalition of liberals, moderate conservatives, hospitals, businesses, social service organizations and local government officials is gearing up for a heavy push this time around.

We’ve been over this before. The words “block grant” don’t appear in that story, but barring any actual, on the record words from Greg Abbott to the contrary, that remains the goal of any “Medicaid” expansion deal for him and the rest of the leadership. As that is neither “Medicaid” nor “expansion” in any meaningful sense, nor something the Obama administration will touch with a ten-foot pole, it’s not worth wasting time on. Hoping that Dan Patrick will act more like David Dewhurst circa 2003 is the more realistic item for one’s wish list. EoW has more.

Van de Putte to run for Mayor of San Antonio


Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Ending weeks of speculation, state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte said Wednesday she is running for mayor of San Antonio.

Just two weeks after a crushing defeat in the lieutenant governor ‘s race, Van de Putte — who is credited with running a spirited statewide campaign — is expected to electrify the municipal election.

For months, there had been growing speculation that she would enter the fray, and more recently, she had said she was “praying for guidance” about whether to tackle a mayoral race.

Van de Putte, a third-generation San Antonian and West Side Democrat, told the San Antonio Express-News on Wednesday that since entering elected office in 1990, she has fought for the people of San Antonio.

“I think any leader has to have a basis of a character and of that makeup that makes them strong — and not strong physically and maybe not strong emotionally, but strong in the sense of commitment — and for me, that strength comes from a faith and family,” she said in an interview at the newspaper. “And so the decision that our family has made and that I want is to be the next mayor of San Antonio.”

State Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, rolled out his campaign in the wake of then-Mayor Julián Castro’s announcement this summer that he’d be leaving to join President Barack Obama’s Cabinet as secretary of Housing and Urban development.

Van de Putte’s entry into the May 9 mayoral race certainly kills Villarreal’s chances of sailing easily into the office.


Van de Putte said she intends to send Gov. Rick Perry a letter Thursday asking him to call a special election for her seat, which she will hold until a successor is elected.

Her decision shakes up the Democratic landscape, setting off a scramble for the District 26 Texas Senate seat she’s held since 1999 and possibly affecting other offices that might be vacated.

Two Democrats in the Texas House have expressed interest in the Senate seat — state Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer and José Menéndez, and other candidacies are likely in the sprawling district.

Martinez Fischer, a longtime ally of Van de Putte, has represented District 116 since 2001. The outspoken chairman of the Mexican America Legislative Caucus would be a leading contender to replace Van de Putte but hasn’t formally declared his intentions.

Here’s the Trib story, which also mentions Van de Putte’s resignation strategy. I don’t think the two-thirds is likely to be much of a factor, but having a full contingent of Democrats is needed as a bulwark against any attempts to put noxious constitutional amendments on next year’s ballot. Rick Perry still hasn’t called a special election to fill Villarreal’s seat, though he broke records calling one for Glenn Hegar. My best guess is that there won’t be one for SD26 until next November, which may trigger the need for at least one more depending on who wins the election to succeed Van de Putte.

I will admit to being surprised by this. I have no insider knowledge, I just figured Sen. Van de Putte wouldn’t want to jump from one bruising campaign to another so quickly, though at least this one won’t have her on the road all the time. I can understand why she might be ready to leave the Senate, which I expect will be a whole lot of no fun for her this spring. Maybe once you’ve accepted the possibility of one big change, the possibility of another is easier to handle. I wish her well, as I also wish Mike Villarreal well; both would make fine Mayors. For at least the next two to four years, the best prospect for progress in this state is at the local level, where Mayors can push for a lot of things that our state government won’t. I hope both Leticia Van de Putte and Mike Villarreal (and anyone else who joins them in that race) embrace that potential and run a spirited, issues-oriented, forward-looking campaign, and may the best candidate win.

One more thing: It will be a sad day when Sen. Van de Putte leaves the Senate, but change is always inevitable and new blood is a good and necessary thing. It’s a great opportunity for some other talented politicians as well, and Democrats can emerge from all these changes just fine. There’s no point in looking back. What comes next is what matters.

On redistricting and race

Phase Two of the redistricting trial is underway, and if it sounds an awful lot like Phase One to you, you would be right.

Texas’ Republican-controlled Legislature didn’t discriminate against minorities by drawing election maps in 2011 that voting-rights activists say make it harder for Hispanics and blacks to elect their candidates, a lawyer for the state argued Monday as the fight over redistricting continues.

“The plaintiffs must prove the state did more than favor Republicans and harm Democrats who happen to be minorities,” Assistant Texas Attorney General Angela Colmenero said in opening statements at a federal trial in San Antonio taking place before a three-judge panel.

She said that the evidence will show the state did not discriminate in redrawing the congressional maps. The state contends that the maps were designed to improve re-election chances for Republican incumbents and weaken Democratic opponents, not dilute minority voting strength.

Colmenero added that Texas’ explosive minority population growth, and the greatest jumps in the numbers of voting-age Latinos, “occurred in areas that were already Hispanic.”

The activist groups waived their right to give an opening statement.

But in court papers, they and the Justice Department argue that GOP lawmakers intentionally drew congressional districts in 2011 to curb the political power of the state’s booming Hispanic population.

Like I said, we’ve heard this before. The claim that it’s all just partisan politics and has nothing to do with race – nothing actionable, anyway – has been the foundation of the state’s case since the maps were first presented in 2011. Michael Li summed it up at one point as “they would be fine with non-Anglo people if they would just vote Republican”, and it’s easy to see why. Both the San Antonio court and the DC court had previously found reason to believe that the 2011 maps were intentionally discriminatory regardless, but I suppose as with the same sex marriage appellate brief, if a bad argument is all you’ve got, you’re going to keep making it. I also think the Texas Election Law Blog is right to suggest that what Abbott really has in mind is another shot at gutting the Voting Rights Act once the appeals make it to SCOTUS, so one can at least say there’s a method to the madness.

In the meantime, I want to call your attention to this New Republic story about the state of partisanship and race in Alabama.

Mike Hubbard, the speaker of the Alabama House, is not a beloved politician. His Republican colleagues call him “abrasive” and “divisive”; Democrats use other words. From his seat at the front of the House chamber, Hubbard presides in an aggressive fashion. He speaks in a rapid-fire auctioneer’s patter, barreling over anyone who questions his authority, and slams down his giant speaker’s gavel with alarming force. With his slicked-back hair and thin smile, he casts an almost predatory air. Hubbard, in other words, is no deal maker. And as the man who almost single-handedly won Republicans control of the legislature in 2010, he is the most powerful politician in the state.

Hubbard, who grew up in Georgia, moved to Alabama as a young man in the mid-’80s to work in the Auburn University athletic department; he later made a small fortune when he helped the school launch its own sports broadcasting network. In 1998, Hubbard won a seat in Alabama’s House of Representatives, which had been controlled by Democrats since 1874. But unlike so many of his Republican colleagues, Hubbard did not accept Democratic dominance as a fact of life. Instead, he was determined to end it.

It was the Democrats themselves who helped Hubbard realize his goal. During the 2001 legislative redistricting process, Joe Reed and other prominent black leaders were eager to further protect black incumbents. They successfully pushed to fill the House’s 27 majority-minority and the Senate’s eight majority-minority districts with even more black voters. In the process, they endangered the seats of white Democrats, who increasingly relied on African Americans to make up for the growing number of whites defecting to the GOP. James Blacksher, a civil rights attorney who advised Democrats on redistricting, is still stunned by the shortsightedness of this plan. It wasn’t so much a gerrymander, he told me, as a “dummymander.”

In 2002 and 2006, Republicans benefited from this tactical mistake, picking off white Democrats here and there. But in 2010, Hubbard, who had recently become the state Republican Party chairman, proposed the most audacious electoral plan in the history of the Alabama GOP. Rather than take out white Democrats piecemeal, he decided to eliminate them in one brutal election. He put together an 88-page playbook, innocuously titled GOP Alabama State Victory Plan 2010, and pushed the plan to conservative donors not just in the state, but all over the country. Alabama’s campaign-finance laws prohibited corporations from giving more than $500, and some Alabamans were reluctant to contribute to Republicans in case the GOP’s takeover plans didn’t come to fruition. But moneyed conservatives beyond Birmingham and Montgomery didn’t share those concerns and saw a chance to flip the statehouse. Hubbard and his finance chairman, State Senator Del Marsh, ultimately reaped more than $1 million in out-of-state contributions. And in one instance, Hubbard appears to have used a national group, the Republican State Leadership Council (RSLC), to effectively launder contributions to Alabama Republicans from politically toxic gambling interests—a scheme, Politico’s Alexander Burns recently reported, that the RSLC’s lawyers concluded could result in “possible criminal penalties” if it was ever discovered.

Hubbard couldn’t have chosen a better time to attempt a takeover. The election of Obama, and white Alabamans’ visceral distaste for the president (88 percent voted against him in 2008), created a massive shift in the state’s politics. For many years, white voters had often split their tickets, voting Republican in federal and gubernatorial contests but sticking with the Democrats in legislative campaigns. Hubbard realized that, by nationalizing Alabama’s 2010 state races and putting Obama on center stage, he could bring that to an end. Hubbard himself had always been careful never to speak in explicitly racial terms. (Not all of his Republican colleagues were so circumspect. In 2010, a state senator named Scott Beason was caught on a wiretap referring to black Alabamans as “aborigines.”) Now, he didn’t need to explicitly invoke race—he only needed to mention Obama. As the state GOP put it in one ad, “After 136 years, the Democrats have brought us Obama, Pelosi, government health care, liberal policies, higher taxes, and wasteful spending.”

Suddenly, even entrenched white Democrats like Lowell Barron, who’d been in the Senate for 28 years, found themselves in trouble. “People weren’t voting against me in 2010, they were voting against that black man in the White House,” says Barron. “They were pretty specific about it, only they didn’t refer to him as a black man.” Some Republicans concede as much. “Anybody who denies that Barack Obama’s unpopularity in Alabama didn’t help Republicans come to power is just not being truthful about it,” Republican State Senator Cam Ward told me.

The transformation of Alabama politics was nearly instantaneous. Prior to the 2010 election, the Alabama House had 60 Democratic members, 34 of them white and 26 black. Afterward, there were 36 Democrats—ten white, 26 black. Meanwhile, in the Alabama Senate, the number of black Democrats remained seven, while the number of white Democrats fell from 13 to four. The casualties included Barron, who lost to a first-time Republican candidate.

All of this was enough to give the GOP supermajorities in both chambers. Hubbard assumed his role as speaker of the House, and Marsh was elected Senate president pro tem. Having wrested control of the statehouse, now they could begin to change the state.

Link via Ed Kilgore, who adds his own thoughts. Let’s see, we’ve got extreme partisan redistricting, targeting of Anglo Democrats, Republican supermajorities post 2010, an influx of possibly illegal outside money affecting the outcome of elections – any of this sound familiar? And with those supermajorities, black legislators – now a minority in more ways than one – have been marginalized in the legislative process, which is what will happen to Democratic Senators here if Dan Patrick gets sworn in as Lt. Governor next year. Let’s hope we don’t look back on this in a few years and see that it was our future as well.

The Senate is likely to get stupider again

The cause.

Sen. Robert Duncan

The Texas Tech University System Board of Regents officially named state Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, the sole finalist to be the system’s next chancellor in a press release issued Monday afternoon.

Duncan is expected to start in his new position on July 1. A special election will have to be held to replace him, and at least one candidate — state Rep. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock — has already announced an intention to run.

“To be able to serve the great universities in the Texas Tech University System is a tremendous honor for me and my family,” Duncan said in a statement. “I love the people of West Texas and will devote all of my energy to continue to grow the reputations for excellence of all the universities in the system.”

Mickey Long, the chairman of the Texas Tech board, expressed delight that, though the regents undertook a national search for the replacement for outgoing chancellor Kent Hance, they ended up with a new chancellor with strong personal ties to the region and to Texas Tech University.

The effect.

If current trends hold, [Duncan] may well be replaced by a tea party fire-breather for a 2015 session that will be seriously deficient in “credibility, calm, and collegiality.” Here’s another way to think about that: The Rice University political scientist Mark P. Jones created an ideological pecking order of the Texas Senate after last session. He compared votes and identified the most liberal (relatively speaking) and conservative senators.

There were 19 GOP senators last session. Of the six most moderate, only three will be left next session. It’s possible that there will be only two. Duncan is leaving, and state Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) already left, each to take a university job. State Sen. John Carona, the most moderate according to Jones’ standard, lost a re-election bid.

State Sen. Bob Deuell (R-Greenville) faces a surprisingly competitive primary runoff against a challenger with an extremely problematic personal history; that contest will be resolved May 27. That leaves only state Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), who squeaked past a surprisingly competitive primary challenge of his own, and state Sen. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler).

If he wins next week’s lieutenant governor runoff, Dan Patrick has talked about ending the senate’s two-thirds rule and stripping all committee chairmanships from Democrats, which would turn the chamber, effectively, into his own private club. As if that weren’t enough, the bottom third of Jones’ chart—the small group of plugged-in, moderate Republicans—is fading away. In 2011, Texas Monthly wrote that “legislatures can’t function without members like Robert Duncan.” It looks like we’ll soon find out if that’s true.

You don’t have to buy Mark Jones’ ideology-identifying methodology to recognize that Sen. Duncan is in the increasingly smaller “let’s get something done” bucket on the Republican side of the Senate. We already know what we’re getting from some of the replacement Republican Senators, and the possible additions of Deuell’s completely unhinged challenger – who would be elected, it must be noted, by equally unhinged voters – and teabagger Rep. Charles Perry if he wins the future special election in SD28 – will only serve to make it worse. Duncan had long been expected to be the next head of Texas Tech and I will wish him well in his new job, but his good fortune will not be good for the rest of us.

Burns not running in SD10


Joel Burns

Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns announced on Wednesday that he will not run to succeed Wendy Davis in the state Senate.

Burns, who replaced Davis on the City Council in 2007, had emerged as a top Democratic contender for the Senate seat after Davis announced her bid for governor earlier this month. But in an email to supporters on Wednesday, first reported by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Burns said he will not enter the race.

“After many weeks of thought and consideration, my next steps have became very clear to me,” Burns wrote in the email, which he also posted on his Facebook page. “And I want to share with you — my many friends, neighbors and supporters — my decision: Quite simply, the job I most want is the one I already have.”

Burns was my first choice to run for the seat, so I’m disappointed by this. There are other candidates that had been looking at this, so I’m sure someone will step up and run. It was never going to be an easy hold, and if Joel Burns didn’t think he was the right candidate at this time, then so be it.

One more thing:

The fight to replace Davis will be one of the state’s most closely watched races next year. Without her seat, which Davis has won twice in a swing district that leans Republican, Democrats would be left with only 11 seats in the Senate, bringing Republicans within one seat of the two-thirds majority needed in the chamber to bring legislation to the floor for a vote.

The original version of this story said that the loss of Davis’ seat would give the Rs the numbers they needed to overcome the two thirds rule, assuming it still means something in 2015. What Davis gave the Dems was a cushion, but even if we lose her seat the numbers are still there to block bills as needed, and if allowed. I’ve seen some confusion on this point elsewhere, so let me assert my authority here as someone who has a degree in math: 11/31 > 1/3. Put another way, 20/31 < 2/3. It's not that complicated.

We need you, Leticia

Please decide soon.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Leticia Van de Putte did not announce her candidacy for lieutenant governor when she addressed the Bexar County Young Democrats on Wednesday night.

But it was the way Van de Putte didn’t announce it that provided encouragement to the 35 party activists in the Weston Centre conference room and fed the growing buzz that San Antonio’s veteran state senator might have her name on a statewide ballot next year.

This is what we know: Van de Putte is more amenable to a lite-guv campaign this time around than she was four years ago, when Democratic leaders urged her to enter the fray and she turned them down.

One reason the idea looks better to her now is that all six of her kids have graduated from college, and, as she said with a laugh, “are on someone else’s health care plan.”

The other obvious difference is the political phenomenon that Wendy Davis, Van de Putte’s friend and Senate colleague, has become since she filibustered for 11 hours on the Senate floor in opposition to a bill designed to restrict abortion access.


Van de Putte said she plans to meet with Davis sometime this week and made it clear that she wouldn’t entertain the thought of a statewide run without her friend at the top of the ticket.

“It has to be the right combination and a synergy,” Van de Putte told me after her speech. “It’s got to be a cumulative strength.”

While we wait for that decision, we get to put up with the joker that is our current Lite Guv and his chucklehead main opponent.

During his first public encounter with three Republican challengers, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Monday spent an uncomfortable hour in Houston defending his 10-year record against assertions he allowed Democrats and “mob rule” to thwart the passage of conservative legislation.

In a debate sponsored by Houston’s Ronald Reagan Republican Women’s Club, Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said missteps by Dewhurst permitted Fort Worth Democrat Wendy Davis to nearly derail abortion regulations with a filibuster in June that could have been prevented.

“Wendy Davis should never have had the floor that day,” Patrick said. “There are many ways we could have stopped that from happening.”

Though Davis blocked passage of the bill only temporarily, Patrick blamed the theatrics surrounding the legislation on “a lack of planning, a lack of leadership, a lack of vision.” He said he decided to challenge Dewhurst after a shouting crowd in the gallery temporarily halted Senate work in late June.

“As lieutenant governor, I will not ever let mob rule take over the Senate,” he said.


Patrick claimed that Democrats have been allowed to block legislation on sanctuary cities and school choice largely because Dewhurst has given them too much power.

“I will not appoint half of the Democrats as chairman of committees,” he said.

Dewhurst responded that Democrats led only five of 17 Senate committees and assured the crowd that none of them was important.

I’m going to outsource my response on this to Ed Sills, who summed it up beautifully in his daily email:

Not important? This might be news to Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. The panel has helped lead Texas toward some true cutting-edge, bipartisan reforms – perhaps the one area in which Texas has pioneered a progressive and much-imitated approach to legislation in recent years.

It might be news to Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, who chairs the Government Organization Committee, Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, who chairs the Intergovernmental Relations Committee, Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, who chairs the Jurisprudence Committee, Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who chairs the Senate Open Government Committee, and Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, who chairs the Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Committee.

(In fact, it was news to Van de Putte, who published a letter she sent to Dewhurst expressing “great shock” that he thinks the panel that addresses veterans issues was not “important.” See her letter.)

It might be news to Texas veterans, who have prospered from legislation approved by Van de Putte’s committee. It might be news to the many statewide Republican incumbents who have touted the importance of governmental “transparency” that neither Ellis’s nor Zaffirini’s committees matter much to Dewhurst.

It might also be news to Dewhurst, who apparently didn’t realize he has actually appointed six Democrats to chairmanship positions, not five. (Shades of Gov. Rick Perry?)

But the criticism here shouldn’t focus solely on Dewhurst. What Patrick is saying is even more dangerous for working families in Texas. Patrick has made it clear he wants the Texas Senate run like Congress, in which the majority party dominates the agenda and the process. More specifically, he wants it run like the U.S. House, where that dominance is closer to absolute; in the U.S. Senate, the minority party does have the ability to gum up the works and must be reckoned with.

If Patrick becomes Lieutenant Governor and has his way, the “two-thirds rule,” which requires that large majority to cast a procedural vote before legislation can be discussed on the Senate floor, would be no more. We knew that already, based on Patrick’s previous efforts to change the rule. What we didn’t know (though admittedly we could have guessed) was that Patrick apparently intends to let the Republican caucus do all the legislating whenever disagreement runs along partisan lines.

Given the number of enemies Dan Patrick has accumulated among his fellow Republicans, it’s entirely possible that the Senate – which gets to set its own rules, including the rules about what the Lite Guv gets to do – could strip him of power if he wins. Note the comments of the Texas Trib insiders to this point. Sure, they’d likely de-fang Lt. Gov. Van de Putte as well, but on the plus side, a Lt. Gov. Van de Putte would mean that the only way either Dan Patrick or David Dewhurst would get onto the Senate floor is with a visitor’s pass, after having been checked to make sure they’re not carrying any jars of feces, of course. BOR, Texpatriate, Texas Leftist, and Texas Politics have more.

Protest day at the Capitol

Pretty impressive:

View from the Capitol on July 1

The story:

Opponents of Republican-backed legislation to dramatically curtail abortion rights in Texas descended on the Capitol by the thousands on Monday, spurred on by musicians, celebrities and their new hero: filibustering state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth.

Meanwhile, about 100 supporters of the omnibus abortion legislation marched to the Capitol on Monday morning to a press conference orchestrated by women who deeply regretted their decision to have an abortion.

The abortion rights rally drew a crowd that organizers estimated to be roughly 5,000 people and featured performances by Bright Light Social Hour — the band introduced a new song with one word, “Wendy” — and singer Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks.


Other Democratic politicians on hand were received by the crowd like rock stars, something to which they are not accustomed in the Republican-dominated Legislature. “This is the beginning of something that Democrats and the Democratic party have been missing for at least 10 years,” state Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, told the Tribune.

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called on the crowd to continue opposing the anti-abortion bills, which have been introduced this session as House Bill 2 and Senate Bill 1.

“We’ve been shut down and told to shut up,” she said, adding, “My question is, Can you hear us now?”

State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington, the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, acknowledged to the Tribune that defeating the bills would be difficult. “They have the numbers and the clock on their side,” he said of the Republicans. “All we can do is fight like hell every day, and that’s what we intend to do.”

Stace has more on SB1, and BOR has more on HB2. Several other bills have been filed as well – Nonesequiteuse has a list. BOR has a nice liveblog of the event, and if your Facebook and/or Twitter accounts are anything like mine, you likely couldn’t fail to see a ton of updates and awesome photo many times.

For their part, Republicans intend to take away their options, which means no two thirds rule, limited hearings, not accepting amendments, and limiting debate:

Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said that if an attempt to filibuster the omnibus abortion bill, now filed as Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 2 in the second special session, he immediately will rise to stop it.

“I plan to stop Sen. Davis or any Democrat from attempting, for the second time, to slow down or kill our package of pro-life legislation,” Patrick said. “Sen. Davis and the mob had their say last week, it’s time to pass this bill and I intend to do all I can to do so. It’s time the pro-life community had their voice heard.”

Last Tuesday, Patrick gathered the 16 votes he needed to pass a motion to “call the previous question,” a procedure which would have ended the historic filibuster of then-Senate Bill 5 by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. He said he tried several times to get Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to take the action, but “the Lt. Governor said he was not ready to do so,” according to a statement from Patrick’s office.

Dewhurst wanted to wait until 10:30 p.m., but at that point Senate democrats brought up other questions that had to be answered first, thus stalling the bill further. The time the issues were resolved by 11:45 p.m., Patrick’s statement read, but “the Lt. Governor seemed confused at that point in all of the noise and did not attempt to call the vote on the bill until it was too late.”

Because the vote wasn’t registered in the presence of the Senate, as required, it wasn’t passed, and a second special session that started Monday was called, with abortion being one of three issues up for discussion. Patrick said last week’s events won’t be repeated.

“The Lt. Governor should recognize me or another member who rises to call the question,” the statement said. “He gave the Senator in the pink tennis shoes 12 hours to speak last Tuesday. It’s time he gave me or another conservative pro-life Republican a few minutes to move the question and pass the bill.”

Yes, Danny, we know, it’s all about you and your campaign. If David Dewhurst had any cojones, he’d ignore you for the fun of seeing you sputter. And I’m sure you’d never be caught dead wearing anything pink.

We all know how this is going to end, sooner or later. What matters in the end is this.

According to our most recent polling on this question, a plurality of Texas voters, 36 percent, think that a woman should be able to obtain an abortion as a matter of personal choice. But more important for the context of SB 5 and the arguments being levied against it for drastically decreasing access, only 16 percent of respondents believe that abortion should never be permitted — a number consistent with national findings using the same question wording.

Taken together, these polling numbers convey broad support for some specific restrictions focusing on procedures. We don’t find more than token support for drastically reducing or eliminating access. In June 2013, 79 percent of Texans indicated that abortion should be available to a woman under varying circumstances. As for Davis’ core constituency, 59 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of liberals think that it should always be legal and available. As for the GOP: 20 percent of female Republicans think that abortion should always be legal, compared with 11 percent of male Republicans. But maybe more important for future electoral fortunes, there exists a 19-point gap among female and male independents regarding the opinion that abortion should always be available, 41 percent to 22 percent; and one of the most supportive groups of all is suburban women, 45 percent of whom think the procedure should always be legal.

Much of the attention this week has been on the short-term effects — Davis’ rising star, the embarrassment of the Senate devolving into chaos, the attempts to frame the whole event as an instance of “mob rule,” the sense of triumph among the activists who helped force the errors on the Senate floor at the crucial moment and so much else that arose from the five-star political theater Tuesday night. These factors notwithstanding, in the near term, the derailing of SB 5 will likely be rendered a pyrrhic victory in the second special session.

In the longer run, the key question is whether the symbolism of Tuesday’s events will have an impact on the state of Republican hegemony in Texas by stirring up a more potent political alternative. Polling numbers show that the anti-SB 5 mobilization expressed attitudes and feelings rooted in a wide swath of public opinion. Whatever one thinks of their manners in the Senate gallery, the orange-shirted guests were a group of engaged Texans echoing the sentiments of many others, as we know from both the UT/TT polling and the viral response on Twitter and other media.

Whether Tuesday’s events mark a watershed or merely another episode in Texas’ colorful political history will depend on whether a meaningful political alternative to the Texas GOP can capitalize on the symbolic significance of Tuesday’s history-making events and their foundation in public opinion on abortion. This may sound a little conventional, but it’s not out of the question that the symbolism of derailing SB 5, however fleeting the victory, might be the kind of old-school political event that contributes to making Texas politics less a Republican bailiwick and more of a battleground.

In other words, don’t forget about what happens here between now and next November, and remember that we should be the ones making an issue out of this. The Republicans are pushing something the people haven’t asked for and don’t particularly want. It’s on us to make them pay for that. Until then, both chambers stand in recess, though the House State Affairs Committee meets this afternoon, with testimony cut off at midnight as noted above. Texas Leftist, Juanita, Texas Vox, Texpatriate, and the Observer have more.

UPDATE: Stace reports from the Houston event last night.

Patrick is in for Lite Gov

And then there were three challengers to David Dewhurst.

Sen. Dan Patrick

Citing the need for “authentic conservative leadership” in Texas, state Sen. Dan Patrick announced on Thursday that he would run for lieutenant governor against incumbent David Dewhurst.

“Today begins roughly 18 months of hard work,” said Patrick, a Houston Republican who was joined by his wife at the news conference. “I think the people in Texas sense that it is a time for change. 2014 is going to be a change election.”

Patrick came out swinging against current GOP leadership, placing the blame at their feet for the failure to pass omnibus abortion legislation during the recently ended special session. Armed with a list of endorsements from county party officials affiliated with Tea Party groups and the results of a recent internal poll, Patrick also emphasized his widespread support in the Houston area.

“We are going to win Harris County. We are going to win Montgomery County,” he said.

Fort Worth Democrat Wendy Davis’ Tuesday filibuster of an abortion bill, which Patrick cited as an example of why voters should put someone new in office, was a backdrop to many of his comments.

“It was pretty clear to the world who was watching that it happened because of a lack of leadership,” said Patrick. “We allowed someone to stand on the floor for 12 hours and give one side of the story.”

Yes, Wendy Davis is officially Public Enemy #1 to the Texas GOP. There’s video of Patrick’s announcement here if you’re into that sort of thing. Patrick drew a short term at the start of the session, so he will be abandoning his Senate seat in order to run for Lite Gov. Former Harris County Tax Assessor Paul Bettencourt has already announced his candidacy to succeed Patrick. I am confident there will be others joining him.

There was a time when the thought of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made me nervous. That time was back when Dewhurst could still pass as something resembling a serious public official that cared about getting things done rather than advancing ideological interests first. Now that Dewhurst has completed his transition to an angry, pratfalling clown, it’s hard to see what the difference would be. Patrick’s antipathy for the two thirds rule was menacing once, but now that the two thirds rule gets jettisoned whenever it’s convenient, again I ask what exactly there is at risk. (Burka is more alarmed about this.) Patrick could hardly make worse rulings on points of order than Dewhurst. Whatever it was I was worried about before, it’s already here. Patrick may be a more competent Lite Gov than Dewhurst has been, but on the other hand the potential for Real Housewives-style personality conflicts with his former colleagues would at least make it all the more entertaining. So go ahead and run, Danno. You don’t scare me any more.

Transportation funding advances

Between redistricting and abortion, transportation funding has taken a bit of a back seat in the special session despite being the first additional item on the agenda. The Senate took the first step on that yesterday.

Sen. Robert Nichols

Despite concerns raised by both Republicans and Democrats, senators on Tuesday tentatively passed a resolution that aims to solve the state’s transportation funding woes by diverting future revenue from the Rainy Day Fund.

Senate Joint Resolution 2, which would eventually have to be approved as a constitutional amendment in November by voters, would split a portion of oil and gas severance taxes currently earmarked for the Rainy Day Fund between that fund and the State Highway Fund.

With traffic on Texas roads continuing to rise and transportation funding at a 10-year low, the state’s department of transportation “needs a revenue stream that allows for future planning,” said Senate Transportation Chairman Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville.


The resolution is estimated to add nearly $1 billion a year for transportation, money that would keep coming in until the drilling boom dies. But, as Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, pointed out, that is only a fraction of the $4 billion a year that transportation officials say that TxDOT needs to maintain current traffic levels.

“This problem is not going to go away. It’s only going to get worse. The 4 billion barely relieves congestion,” he said. “As politicians we don’t need to go around thumping our chests saying we fixed the problem. We need to be realistic to voters and taxpayers and tell them it’s going to take more money in the form of new revenue to fix this problem.”


SJR 2 needs a final vote to officially pass the Senate, and it must be approved by the House, where lawmakers have offered their own proposals. Instead of directly pumping up the highway fund, House Joint Resolution 16 from Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, would send some of the revenue currently earmarked for the Rainy Day Fund to public education, undoing a long-standing diversion of the state’s 20-cent gas tax, of which a nickel currently goes to schools. The measure has the backing of the House’s lead budget writer, state Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, who has signed on as a co-author.

Pickett’s proposal could draw support from some House Republicans who had opposed additional funding for TxDOT during the regular session in part because the measures didn’t end the gas tax diversion. Yet those same lawmakers may be wary of any proposal that reduces the funding stream to the Rainy Day Fund, widely regarded as the state’s savings account.

For either proposal to pass, they will need to muster strong bipartisan support as both amend the state’s Constitution, a move that requires the backing of two-thirds of both chambers.

The fact that this is a Constitutional amendment and thus requires a two-thirds vote in order to pass actually gives the Democrats some leverage on the abortion issue.

Since there are 12 Democrats in the chamber, Republicans will need the support of at least two of them for the transportation proposal But most of the Democrats are opposed to the abortion measures, so there’s a chance of extracting concessions for their vote on transportation.

Of course, that depends on how things play out among the Democrats. Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, is voting for the abortion measures, so there’s no reason for him to vote against transportation on that front. Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, voted for one of the abortion measures in committee, but against the rest, so I want to ask her what she plans to do. Other Democrats may have reasons for supporting the transportation measure.

Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin, who heads the Senate Democratic Caucus, said some senators are determined to use whatever tools they have “to try to stop this assault on women.”

While Republicans generally support the anti-abortion measures, some have expressed concern about various proposals, which include a ban on abortion at 20 weeks, increased regulations for abortion facilities, requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles and new requirements for administering drugs that cause abortions. The provisions are wrapped into one omnibus bill, and there are separate bills on each.

There was also a math problem for Democrats who oppose the proposed new abortion regulations, related to procedural rules and Tuesday attendance. The transportation measure is ahead of the abortion legislation on the “regular order of business” agenda for the Senate, meaning a two-thirds vote would have been required to take up the abortion measures first and bypass the transportation. But this two-thirds requirement isn’t a hard two-thirds — it’s a two-thirds of those present. And not all the Democrats are present now.

It may all get worked out, but the delay shows the difficulty for Republicans who thought they could discount Democrats by virtue of special-session rules, which don’t require a two-thirds vote to take up all legislation.

Remember, the session ends next Thursday. It will be fine by me if the session runs out without the abortion legislation passing, of course. Yes, I know, Rick Perry can call them back again. But who knows, maybe he won’t. Until something passes, there’s hope. In the meantime, the full House will take up redistricting this Thursday, after the committee cleaned up its little oops from Monday. We are definitely headed into the home stretch. Trail Blazers has more.

UPDATE: Senate Democrats did ultimately get something for their leverage over the transportation bill, but not much.

After hours of emotional debate, the Senate late on Tuesday evening approved omnibus legislation to tighten abortion restrictions.

“My objective first and foremost, second and third, is to raise the standard of care,” said state Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, the author of Senate Bill 5, which passed 20-10 and now heads to the House for approval.

SB 5 includes three abortion regulation measures that failed to reach the floor of either chamber during the regular legislative session: a requirement that abortions be performed in ambulatory surgical centers, which state Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, has filed as SB 24 in the special session; a requirement that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion facility; and a requirement that if doctors administer the abortion inducing drug, RU-486, they do so in person, which state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, has proposed separately in SB 18 in the special session.

In a debate that lasted late into the evening, conservative Republican legislators who supported the measure argued it was designed to protect women and improve the standard of care for abortion services. Most Democratic senators, however, contended the abortion bill was designed to curry favor with GOP primary voters and that it amounted to an attack on women’s constitutional rights to access health care.

Hegar early in the debate offered an amendment, which was accepted, that removed the so-called preborn pain provision that would have banned abortion at 20 weeks of gestation. Although he strongly supported the 20-week ban on abortion, which he filed separately as SB 13, Hegar said he felt it was necessary to remove the provision from SB 5 so that the House would have adequate opportunity to debate the bill. He denied an insinuation by state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, that he had compromised his “pro-life position for political expediency.”

“It appears to me at this point, this committee substitute seems the most practical and logical way for us to talk about standard of care, while also trying to protect innocent life,” Hegar said.

I suppose if the House adds back the 20-week limit or otherwise amends SB5, there’s a chance it could still get blown up before the end of the special session. I sure hope so.

Special session is called

And no one is surprised.

With the ink barely dry on the bills passed during the 83rd Legislature’s regular session, Gov. Rick Perry called lawmakers back into an immediate special session to consider redistricting measures for the Legislature and the Texans who serve in the U.S. Congress.

Speculation had been mounting for days that Perry would follow Attorney General Greg Abbott’s recommendation to reconvene the Legislature so lawmakers can approve the court-drawn maps currently in place for legislators and members of the U.S. House. Republican leaders believe it will help the state’s case in court and forestall any delays of next year’s primaries.

For now, the agenda for the 30-day session only includes redistricting, though that could change. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who is anxious to burnish his conservative credentials after his loss in the U.S. Senate race to Tea Party firebrand Ted Cruz, wants Perry to add to the agenda a host of conservative measures that failed during the regular session. Dewhurst also says he will not adhere to the so-called two-thirds rule, which the minority party can use to block divisive legislation.

Many conservative activists have advocated for the state Senate, where the GOP has a 19-12 edge, to jettison the rule, which has kept many of their initiatives bottled up but also has reduced the threat of open partisan warfare.

In a letter to the governor Monday, Dewhurst said he needed to the flexibility to pass a variety of pet conservative issues, including abortion restrictions, expanded gun rights and school vouchers.

“Given that a number of members from both chambers have demonstrated their unwillingness to find consensus on these important legislative items, I can see no other alternative than to operate under a simple majority vote in the special session,” Dewhurst wrote.

That pronouncment is already causing a stir. Though the two-thirds tradition has been lifted in redistricting measures during special sessions, Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said it generally remains in place for other issues. Watson said the Legislaure shouldn’t be used to bolster Republicans’ political fortunes with issues that failed to get approved in the regular session.

“Middle class Texans have a lot on their plate right now,” said Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. “What they don’t need is to worry about somebody’s party primary. We need to be doing the business of the state and not wasting taxpayer dollars trying to carry out a political agenda just because they didn’t get it achieved during the regular session.”

So far, the call is only for redistricting, but Perry can add other items at any time, or call other sessions as he sees fit. The issue of the 2/3 rule, which as I often noted was frequently described as being “not in use” for special sessions, is already an issue as noted by BOR.

Initially, Dewhurst told reporters that the 2/3rds rule would not be in effect for a special session. During tonight’s floor discussion, Senator Kirk Watson attempted to determine if the 2/3rds rule would be in effect for the special session.

Watson also asked specifically about “blocker bills,” which are passed out of committee quickly to occupy the top spot on the calendar and thus force Senators to suspend the rules to bring up any other bills, which requires 2/3rds of the Senators to vote for the suspension.

Dewhurst claimed that there would not be blocker bills and that there hadn’t for 10 years; Watson countered with actual historical examples of blocker bills in previous special sessions. If there is no blocker bill, then there is no need for the 2/3rds rule to be used to bring a bill up for a floor vote.

Much of this early questioning is about potential future redistricting litigation.


Watson’s request to clarify the 2/3rds rule and [Sen. Rodney] Ellis’s motion to get it in the record is in response to previous cases in which the Federal courts slammed Texas for departing from traditional procedural norms to force through a discriminatory map. Should Dewhurst ignore the 2/3rds rule during the special session, that hands Democrats — who would be on the receiving end of any partisan redistricting malfeasance — a huge weapon to use in a future lawsuit against whatever maps might pass without it.

At this point it’s not clear to me what the rules are for the special session. The Senate is now in recess until Thursday, though the House will gavel in tomorrow for no clear reason. The Senate Redistricting Committee will meet Thursday morning, but beyond that we’ll have to wait and see what happens. Even if the Senate adopts a two-thirds rule at the beginning, it can always remove it later, by passing the blocker bill or by other means. If Perry wants to grant Dewhurst’s wishes, then that is what will happen.

Redistricting remains a partisan issue

We’re not surprised by this, right?

Alternate Plan C236 by Rep. Yvonne Davis

Amarillo Sen. Kel Seliger offered a redistricting bill to the Senate State Affairs Committee that would formally adopt interim maps drawn by a federal court in San Antonio last year. The maps for Congressional, state Senate and House districts were used for the 2012 election while a federal court in Washington DC reviewed maps drawn by the Legislature after minority groups filed a lawsuit to block them.

After the 2012 primary, that federal three-judge panel determined that the Republican-controlled Legislature intentionally discriminated against African Americans and Latinos, prompting Attorney General Greg Abbott to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court and challenge the court’s authority to review the maps under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Seliger throwing out the old maps and formally adopting the San Antonio court’s interim maps would end the litigation.

“The interim maps represent the court’s best judgment as to the maps that would be fully legal and constitutional,” he said. “Enacting these lawful and constitutional interim plans will help bring to a close this chapter of redistricting, enacting these plans will practically ensure that the ongoing litigation over Texas redistricting plans will come to a swift end and bring some surety of the primaries ensuing.”

The Senate Democratic Caucus, Mexican American Legislative Caucus, NAACP and voting rights group Common Cause leapt to oppose the measure and Seliger’s assertions.

“Neither I nor my 11 colleagues … can trust the redistricting process,” said Sen. Kirk Watson, representing Senate Democrats. “Texas was the only state in the nation subject to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act that was found to have deliberately discriminated against African American and Latino citizens.”

He said Abbott’s efforts to overturn Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and to restore the original maps the Washington court found discriminatory could only lead Democrats and minorities to distrust Seliger’s bill.

Jose Garza, an attorney with the Mexican American Legislative Caucus who argued before the Washington court, said Seliger mischaracterized the interim maps and said Washington court’s decision called for the San Antonio court to draw yet another set of maps. He promised continued litigation if the Legislature adopted the interim maps.

In fact, MALC has opposed the plan to adopt the interim maps as permanent all along. I don’t have any idea where he gets the impression that adopting the interim maps would end litigation. The San Antonio court did draw the interim maps based on instructions from SCOTUS to fix what they thought were problems with the legislatively drawn maps, but all that was done well before the preclearance trial, in which the DC court found persistent discrimination in the maps and the process. If they knew then what they know now, it’s very possible, if not likely, that the San Antonio court would have drawn different maps. You can certainly argue that the interim maps are sufficient, the point is that you can also argue that they are not. For that simple reason, adopting them as permanent would not settle the arguments.

Texas Redistricting recaps the hearing, which he calls “relatively sedate”. Of interest is that the Senate Democrats refused to budge at all on this.

Watson told the committee that the Democratic caucus was opposed even to the possibility of taking up the state senate map on a stand alone basis.

Watson explained that’s because although there is no dispute on the interim senate map, the caucus was concerned that House Republicans would amend the bill to add back the state house and congressional maps, after which only a simple majority would be required in the senate to pass the bill. Watson said that after years of redistricting battles, senate Democrats no longer felt they could trust the process.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) also expressed concerns about the process and the possibility that Republicans might try to circumvent the 2/3 rule, noting that deviations from the established rules in 2011 were one of the things cited by the D.C. court as supporting a finding of discriminatory intent.

Senate Dems can use the two-thirds rule to block Sen. Seliger’s map from reaching the floor. House Democrats are also unanimous in their opposition to adopting the interim maps as permanent, though there’s not much they can do to stop it in their chamber short of a walkout. It’s still remarkable to see all 67 Dems in the Lege unite on something.

Anyway, there’s no sign of the House taking up the companion bill by Rep. Drew Darby as yet. Written testimony to the Senate committee is due by 5 PM on April 24.

Zaffirini and Uresti stand against needless abortion restrictions

Good to hear, but given their histories it’s wise to be vigilant.

Texas Republicans are one vote short of passing a controversial abortion bill in the Senate — and the fate of the legislation now rests squarely on the shoulders of two South Texas Democrats.

Sens. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, and Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, oppose the bill, and without their votes it won’t have the supermajority needed under Senate rules to get to a floor vote.

Both senators occasionally have sided with Republicans to pass anti-abortion measures, voting as recently as 2011 for a contentious bill that requires women to have a sonogram before an abortion. But if they maintain their opposition to Senate Bill 537, which would increase regulations for abortion clinics, the bill is stuck.

The measure has been on the Senate’s calendar for nearly two weeks but has yet to be considered. The Senate requires a two-thirds majority, or 21 votes, to consider legislation. SB 537 has 20 supporters — 19 Republicans and a lone Democrat, Sen. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville.


Zaffirini said she is “strongly pro-life” but opposes this bill because it “does nothing to make abortions less necessary” and “has the potential to limit access to critical health care services for thousands of Texas women.”

“Instead of attempting to address problems that do not exist, the Texas Legislature should focus on making women’s health care and prenatal care more accessible and affordable,” she said.

Uresti, who voted against the measure in committee, said it would reduce health care services, including abortion, for women in his district, specifically in rural areas.

“I don’t want to create barriers for women to access health services,” said Uresti, noting that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists opposes the bill.

They’re saying the right things, but believe me, I have not forgotten their role in letting the awful sonogram bill pass in 2011. All we needed was one of them plus Lucio to say no, since Jeff Wentworth was also a No vote, but in the end Uresti sold out for a small modification to the bill that somewhat exempted his own district from its reach. Ultimately, Uresti and Zaffirini need to hear from Democrats, around the state but especially in their district, thanking them for holding fast on this, with at least the vague hint of a threat to be primaried if they cave in. They have it exactly right on what it is that SB537 will do. All they need to do is stick to that.

And before anyone says “Kermit Gosnell”, read this and this and this and this. Kermit Gosnell is what happens when women don’t have access to reliable abortion providers. It’s called the back alley, and it was supposed to have been banished forty years ago. Take away enough other choices, however, and it’s what’s left, just like it was before 1973.

Vouchers continue to be a tough sell

I won’t be happy till they’re dead and buried, but it’s something.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, doesn’t think the Senate has a taste for vouchers. Noting that a two-thirds vote of the 31-member chamber is needed to bring up a bill for discussion, she said, “I believe there are 11 votes to block.”

House Public Education Committee Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, said he and Patrick have discussed the issue. “It would be very difficult to find the votes in committee or on the (full House) floor for any significant voucher program,” Aycock said.

Besides objecting to diverting state support to private schools, some critics suggest it could be problematic to give franchise tax credits for one type of donation and not others. Some raise concerns about how scholarship recipients would be chosen.

Tax consultant Billy Hamilton, whose clients include Raise Your Hand Texas, an education advocacy group that opposes vouchers, said the proposal isn’t good tax policy.

“It’s just another thing that says you can get a special tax break if you do this. If you don’t feel like doing this, you can’t get a tax break, and ultimately your taxes will be higher because other businesses do it,” Hamilton said.

Another complicated tax break that arbitrarily favors some over others is just what our tax code needs, isn’t it? What’s really weird is how at the end of the story Sen. Patrick and his lackey Bill Hammond talk alternately about vouchers being “dramatic change” that will help “transform education”, but also just a small part of a much larger package of reforms that will really only affect a few students, so why is everyone getting all uptight about it already?!? It’s unlikely to be that big a deal on the grounds that private schools don’t serve that many students, won’t be able to accommodate that many more students, and the best of them likely won’t be terribly interested in the kind of students Sen. Patrick claims to be trying to help. It is likely to be a boondoggle for the businesses that take advantage of whatever cookie the legislation would offer, and for some number of parents who were always going to send their kids to private school and now have a way of getting the taxpayers to help pick up the tab for it. The best thing to do here is recognize this for the waste of time that it is and focus on things that might actually have a chance of improving student outcomes.

The war on women continues apace

Honestly, I’m surprised that it’s taken as long as it has for this to happen.

Right there with them

Abortion clinics in Texas may soon face harsh new state requirements that pro-choice advocates say could greatly reduce access to abortion.

Sens Bob Deuell (R-Greenville), Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) and Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) filed a bill this morning that would require abortion clinics to meet the same conditions as ambulatory surgical centers.

The measure, Senate Bill 537, would force abortion clinics to follow the Texas Administrative Code for surgical centers, a 117 page document outlining everything from laboratory, nursing and anaesthesiologist requirements to radiological and construction procedures. Most of this code has little to do with the services provided by abortion clinics.

Filed by three pro-life doctors, legislation like this has been viewed as an underhanded tactic, which, in other states (like Alabama), has been criticized for threatening to close abortion clinics that don’t have the capacity or funding to meet such strict new requirements.

However, Sen. Deuell contends that the legislation is simply a method of increasing safety and health among Texas women. “Just as a medical doctor,” he said, “it came to me that they’re not under the same standards as any other surgical clinics and that we need to put them under that just for the safety of the patients.”

Deuell was adamant that the bill isn’t a pro-life tactic to close abortion clinics or make abortion less accessible. “It has nothing to do with abortions being done or not done.” He continued, “They’re legal, so they’re being done, and it is a surgical procedure, and it needs to be done in a place that has the same standards as a surgical center. Simple as that.”

He also asserted that the legislation would actually improve women’s health and accessibility to abortion providers. “The pro-choice movement talks about wanting to take abortions out of the back alley so they can be done properly. If you’re not certified as a surgical center, then that gets more toward the back alley and not in mainstream medicine, which is where it needs to be,” Deuell said.

Yes, I’m sure this just now came to Sen. Deuell. Of course, by his own reasoning, if he’s so concerned about women’s health, this should have been the very first bill he ever filed in the Senate. I mean, just think about all those poor women, having to get abortions in clinics that don’t measure up to his standards for cleanliness and safety for all these years. It’s scandalous, really. Of course, anyone who is content to let thousands of people die through his or her inaction or out of political spite really has no standing to claim “concern” for anyone’s health. The term “pro-life” is such a travesty these days, Jonathan Swift would be embarrassed to use it.

Not that any of that matters, I suppose. If this passes the Senate it will easily become law, and I have no reason to believe the courts will block it. As such, there are three people in the state that can prevent this from happening: Senators Eddie Lucio, Carlos Uresti, and Judith Zaffirini. It was their support of the awful sonogram bill that allowed it to clear the two-thirds bar in the Senate and make its way to Rick Perry’s desk. It took all three of them to enable its passage, since Jeff Wentworth stood with the other nine Democrats to hold this off. Depending on whether this abomination comes to the Senate floor before or after the SD06 special election is resolved, we may need two or all three of them to say no, this is going too far. This would be an excellent time to call their offices and make your voice heard, especially if you live in their district. It’s up to them to decide who they want to stand with.

Somewhat ironically, that news story cam out at the same time as this one.

Doctors, hospitals, clinics, health care groups, faith organizations and family planning associations urged lawmakers Wednesday to restore funding cut from women’s health programs for contraceptives and health screening.

At the forefront of their fight are two women who serve on the House Appropriations Committee, Republican Rep. Sarah Davis, of West University Place, and Democratic Rep. Donna Howard, of Austin. Both appeared at a Capitol news conference hosted by the Texas Women’s Healthcare Coalition.

Howard cited state estimates that thousands more unplanned births to low-income women as a result of family planning cuts will cost Texas millions more in Medicaid payments.

The state has projected 6,480 more Medicaid births at a cost of $33 million in the current fiscal year due to the reduction in family planning expenses. In the next two-year budget period, an extra 24,000 births are anticipated at a cost of $103 million.

Davis, a breast cancer survivor who is on an Appropriations subcommittee overseeing health and human services, said, “It’s really no longer the time to be playing politics with women’s health.”

In the Statesman, Rep. Davis is quoted saying that some of her Republican colleagues who voted for the cuts “didn’t realize they would hurt other kinds of clinics”, which is a polite way of saying that they’re deeply ignorant. They were told at the time exactly what would happen, they just chose not to believe it. It’s nice to hear that they may be slightly less willfully dumb this time around, but their concern for women’s health remains at best highly selective.

Day One of the Lege

What do we know so far?

Same old Rick Perry.

Gov. Rick Perry called for tax relief and a lean approach to budgeting as he addressed the Senate, even as the state faces a lawsuit from school districts over funding and concerns over the effects of budget cuts approved two years ago.


Perry said the state’s economic rebound is due to a fiscally conservative approach, telling lawmakers that interests across the state see the positive revenue picture as “ringing the dinner bell”

“They all want more for their causes they all figure we have manna falling from heaven and they all have your phone numbers and addresses,” Perry said.

Instead, he said it is time to put the state’s fiscal house in order by implementing his call to reduce diversions of dedicated funds, set a tighter constitutional spending limit, oppose any tax increases and stand against using rainy day fund money for ongoing expenses. He said lawmakers must stop writing IOUs and delaying payments.

“With a better budgetary picture now is the time for us to set the books straight… it’s also time for us to take a look at tax relief,” Perry said.

You didn’t really expect him to say that now was the time to restore services that had been needlessly slashed last session, did you? The man still thinks he’s running for President, but even if he weren’t, he showed us who and what he is a long time ago.

Joe Straus is still Speaker.

After the last of his challengers dropped out Tuesday, San Antonio Republican Joe Straus was elected to a third term as speaker of the Texas House.

That last challenger, Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, never found enough support to threaten the incumbent. An earlier challenger, Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, dropped out weeks ago as Simpson entered the race.

Saying he wasn’t certain of victory and didn’t want to put other members at risk by forcing a vote, Simpson withdrew from the race. “Absent certainty at winning this contest, at the request of my colleagues, I withdraw from this contest,” he said in a speech to the full House.

When it came time for the House to vote Tuesday — the first day of the 83rd Legislature — Straus was re-elected by acclamation.

The process to select the next “Bachelor” had more drama.

The two thirds rule still lives, or at least it most likely will still live.

Speaking after the Senate adjourned Tuesday, [Lt. Gov. David] Dewhurst said that the contentious issue of the two-thirds rule had already been settled and that he expected a vote on the rules on Wednesday.

“In my conversations with the Senate Republicans and the Senate Democrats yesterday, I believe that’s where the senators are, to maintain the two-thirds rule for this regular session,” Dewhurst said.

He did not fully rule out sidestepping the rule for a particular bill, as Senate Republicans have in the past on high-profile measures such as voter ID and redistricting.

“The record is replete with different lieutenant governors in different sessions doing different things, and I’m not going to restrict anything lieutenant governors can do in the future,” Dewhurst said. “But it’s my understanding that the two-thirds rule will be in place for this session.”

Voter ID and redistricting were last session, so there probably isn’t anything that’s sufficiently controversial and sufficiently partisan to warrant an attempt to kill it by the Rs. They know that it’s sometimes convenient to let the Ds kill something that they’d rather not have to vote on. Still, it’s a bit amazing after all the drama of recent sessions that this still lives. Tradition is a powerful thing.

That’s probably the only news of interest for the week from the Dome. As Ed Sills said yesterday, only 139 more days to go. Burka, PDiddie, Stace, the Observer, and TM Daily Post have more.

UPDATE: More from Burka and EoW.

Dan Patrick wants to play doctor

Clearly, the man missed his calling.

Before Texas’ abortion sonogram law passed last legislative session, some women seeking to end pregnancies in rural communities relied on telemedicine, with physicians — working in partnership with medical technicians or nurses — administering prescription drugs via videoconference to induce early-stage abortions.

If new legislation filed by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, passes in 2013, women in remote corners of the state may have even fewer options to get the procedure.

2011’s abortion sonogram law — another measure Patrick championed — requires that a physician, as opposed to a technician or nurse, perform a sonogram on a woman seeking an abortion at least 24 hours ahead of the procedure. That in effect prohibits the use of telemedicine for drug-induced abortions, which opponents of the procedure call a welcome consequence for a little-discussed practice.

SB 97, Patrick’s latest measure, would further increase the in-person requirements for physicians. In addition to the in-person sonogram 24 hours ahead of the abortion, doctors would have to personally administer both of the two medications used for drug-induced abortions, and see the patient again for a follow-up appointment within 14 days, a particular challenge for the roving doctors who treat women in the state’s rural counties.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of the abortion provider Whole Women’s Health, said that before last session’s sonogram law took effect in February, her clinics in Beaumont, McAllen and Fort Worth relied on telemedicine. A technician would perform the sonogram and a physician based in Austin would review the patient’s medical records, then videoconference with the patient to answer any questions.

“Through telemedicine we were able to serve women in communities, mainly more rural communities, where access to abortion was much more difficult,” she said.

Silly woman. Don’t know you know Dan Patrick knows what’s best for you and your patients? Don’t make him have to pass a bill requiring his express written consent for anyone to get an abortion in this state, because he will if you make him mad enough. This would be a good time for those of you whose Senators are Eddie Lucio, Judith Zaffirini, or Carlos Uresti to start calling their offices and telling them not to vote to bring this travesty to the floor, like they did in 2011 with the sonogram bill. With the defeat of Jeff Wentworth, the last pro-choice Republican in the state, we’ll need at least two and possibly all three of them to stand with their fellow Democrats in opposing this, depending on when the election to succeed the late Mario Gallegos is concluded. This would also be a good time for so-called “moderates” like Sarah Davis to do something to earn that designation and actively oppose this ridiculous intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship, instead of waiting till the bill comes to the floor of the House and casting a token vote against it.

Succeeding Sen. Gallegos

With the posthumous victory by Sen. Mario Gallegos, there is still one unsettled matter for 2012 in Texas.

Sen. Mario Gallegos

Mario Gallegos, one of the Texas Senate’s most reliable liberals until his death last month, scored a final win Tuesday, easily defeating his Republican challenger after his name remained on the ballot.

Beleaguered Texas Democrats also withstood a spirited, well-funded challenge to Sen. Wendy Davis in the Fort Worth area. Nevertheless, Republicans will retain control of the Senate with a 19-12 advantage when it convenes in January.

The GOP targeted the Davis seat in an attempt to pull within a single vote of an unbreakable two-thirds majority. The Senate operates under a rule that requires the agreement of at least 21 senators for any bill to be brought up for debate during a regular session.


Gallegos, the first Hispanic elected to the state Senate from Harris County, died last month from complications of liver disease. Under Texas law, his name remained on the ballot because he died less than 74 days before the election.

Voters rallied around his candidacy, handing the longtime lawmaker a victory over Republican R.W. Bray in the heavily Democratic District 6, which covers east Harris County. The win by a dead incumbent was not unprecedented – in 2006, state Rep. Glenda Dawson, R-Pearland, was re-elected two months after dying from a brief illness.

Cynthia Gallegos, his youngest sister, said she had worked at polls all day and repeatedly answered the big question from people: Why vote for the late senator?

“Every person who came up to me was like, ‘Didn’t he die?’ ” she said. “I would bite my lip and explain the process. We want to keep the district Democratic.”

With the posthumous win by Gallegos, Gov. Rick Perry will declare the seat vacant and call for a special election to be held within 45 days, on a Tuesday or Saturday.

Possible Democratic candidates include state Rep. Carol Alvarado and former Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia. At a victory party for Gallegos on Tuesday, Alvarado said she would wait a few days to discuss her plans.

“Tonight is about Mario, to savor his victory,” she said of the former firefighter who served 22 years in the state Legislature.

The win by Sen. Davis removes any incentive Rick Perry may have had to drag his feet on calling a special election to fill the vacancy in SD06. Which doesn’t mean he’ll snap to it, just that the practical effect in the Senate is minimized. If Rep. Alvarado runs and wins, there would then need to be another special election in HD145. I was going to say we’re getting way ahead of ourselves, but then this happened.

The morning after his posthumous victory party, the late state Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, got his dying wish when his choice to succeed him announced her intention to seek the seat he held since 1994.

State Rep. Carol Alvarado, who was re-elected to her House seat without opposition Tuesday, announced her candidacy for the Senate seat in an email Wednesday.


Alvarado is expected to formally announce her candidacy at an event with members of Gallegos’ family on Monday.

Here’s the email. All I know is that I like both Rep. Alvarado and Sylvia Garcia, and I’m glad I was redistricted out of SD06 so I don’t have to choose between them. In the meantime, I salute Sen. Gallegos and his family for his life and his service, and once Perry gives the go-ahead I look forward to a worthy successor being elected to fill his seat in Austin.

More on Sen. Gallegos

For better or worse, we must discuss the politics of Sen. Mario Gallegos’ death this week. The first question to address is what happens next?

Sen. Mario Gallegos

Rich Parsons, a spokesman for Secretary of State Hope Andrade, this morning clarified the timing of a special election in state Senate District 6 if the late Mario Gallegos Jr. wins re-election posthumously.

Gallegos, 62, a Houston Democrat and retired firefighter, died Tuesday from complications of a liver transplant several years ago.

Explained Parsons:

Gallegos’s name cannot be removed from the November general election ballot because it is within 74 days of the election. If he wins on election day, the seat will be declared officially vacant, and Gov. Rick Perry will call an expedited special election to fill it.

It must be held within 21-45 days after Perry calls for the election, officials said, meaning the special election would be held sooner than the May date that Houston officials said late Tuesday was expected.

Gallegos is on the ballot with Republican R.W. Bray, who is considered a long-shot. If Bray should be elected, he will take the seat.

Here’s the relevant statute for why Sen. Gallegos will remain on the ballot. We had a similar situation in 2006 when State Rep. Glenda Dawson passed away in September. As was the case with Rep. Dawson, I fully expect Sen. Gallegos to win re-election and thus trigger a special election to replace him. The real question is when will that special election be? The Trib notes the math.

It’s not a swing district. President Obama got 63.5 percent of the vote in 2008. Republican Gov. Rick Perry got 31 percent in 2010. It’s not a race the Democrats were sweating.


Bray would be the 20th Republican in the 31-member Senate. If Democrat Wendy Davis of Fort Worth were to lose her hotly contested re-election race, Republican Mark Shelton would become the 21st Republican. That’s consequential: Under current rules, it takes consent from two-thirds of the senators to bring up legislation for consideration. With 21 senators, the Republicans would have two-thirds and, on partisan bills, enough votes to disregard the Democrats.

Here are the relevant laws for filling the office of a state legislator who has died. While I expect Sen. Gallegos to defeat Bray (a former staffer of CM Helena Brown, if you’re wondering where you heard that name before), it becomes critical if Sen. Wendy Davis does not win. If Sen. Gallegos wins re-election, then the Democrats will continue to have at least 11 Senators, which is enough for them to block legislation via the two thirds rule, or whatever is left of it when the Senate adopts its rules for the session. At least, they will have that many once the special election is settled, which if it is indeed expedited should be well before any serious votes come up. The important thing if you live in SD06 is that you still have a responsibility to vote for Sen. Gallegos.

At least, that’s how it would be until the special election is held to replace Sen. Gallegos, assuming that he wins in November. But here’s the thing – Rick Perry isn’t required to call the special election until the next uniform election date, which will be in May. Given the near certainty of a runoff in what will be a multi-candidate race, that means that SD06 would go unrepresented for the entire session. Which would be mighty convenient for the Republicans.

Now, Governor Perry does have the discretion to call an expedited election. That’s what he did in the case of Rep. Dawson – the special election to fill her seat came six weeks after the November election, with the ensuing runoff a month later, in plenty of time for all the action of that session. This stands in contrast to his actions in 2005, following the tragic death of State Rep. Joe Moreno, who was killed in an auto accident towards the end of the regular session. Perry called for the special election to replace him in November, despite subsequently calling two special sessions in the interim. What choice do you think he’ll make?

I know it’s distasteful to talk about this while we’re all still grieving the loss of Sen. Gallegos, but I know I’m not saying anything out loud that isn’t being said in private. We may as well be prepared for what is to come.

In the meantime, here are some more tributes to Sen. Gallegos, from Marc Campos, Stace Medellin, State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the Lone Star Project, and beneath the fold from SEIU Local 1.

UPDATE: Here’s information on the memorial services in Austin and Houston for Sen. Gallegos.

UPDATE: I clearly misread that Postcards story when I first saw it, and as such it renders my speculation moot. The election will take place earlier than May in the event Sen. Gallegos wins, and that’s what matters. All Democrats in SD06 need to remember that they must still vote for Sen. Gallegos so that they can then choose a proper successor. I apologize for the confusion.


On hedging one’s bets

Writing in the Trib, Mustafa Tameez tells Republicans that there such a thing as too much of a good thing for them.

Sen. Wendy Davis

If Republicans win in SD-10, there will only be 11 Democrats in the Texas Senate. That means that in order for the majority to pass anything it wants, all they need to do is peel off one member of the opposition (or just wait for a day when one of them is running late, or steps out to use the bathroom) and they can pass anything they like. Think about that for a moment: All that’s standing between Texas and an absolute one-party rule is a traffic jam or a sick day. I don’t care what your politics are — that’s not good.

Suppose you are a large homebuilder with strong ties to the Republican Party establishment. Suppose you embrace many of the same principles as the new Tea Party members of the Legislature. But what happens when say, a sanctuary cities bill gets introduced? Will your opposition even be heard? Or will you simply be denounced as a conservative apostate or worse yet, a RINO, and dismissed from the conversation?

Let’s say you’re a member of a well-moneyed group of business people who firmly believe that dismantling the trial bar in Texas is the only way to secure economic growth. What will you do if the female, minority, or gay members of your group are threatened from separate corners of the political spheres in, for instance, the realm of marriage, voting rights, or reproductive medicine? It wouldn’t take too many dust-ups like these before the vaunted “Three-Legged-Stool” is over turned completely. This is not a hypothetical struggle. This is truly about how big a tent the Republican Party is able to hold up while it is being driven further and further to the right.

Essentially, with the Senate held by a virtual supermajority, the same folks who so ardently supported Ted Cruz would be running the show in Austin this coming January. Like I said: terror or delight.

The Wendy Davis race in SD-10 should be a rallying point for Democrats and for Republicans. It should be a moment to reflect on the larger picture, and not on any one individual issue. After all, this is a fight for their survival and, strangely enough, it depends on a Democrat winning.

If you think Tameez is overstating the case about the two thirds rule being circumvented by circumstance, remember that it’s happened before. I see no reason to believe that David Dewhurst wouldn’t try it again if the opportunity presented itself. Philosophical issues about the two thirds rule aside, a lot of people involved in the process like it as it is. If it’s going to be changed, we should be honest about it and not subvert it with sneak attacks.

The point is this. Dan Patrick has made perfectly clear what his priorities are for this legislative session, and “sanctuary cities” is one of the things on his wish list. Establishment Republican types like Bob Perry and Bill Hammond have been all talk and no action when it has come to pushing back on anti-immigration hysteria in the Republican Party. The SD10 race is a perfect opportunity for these business types to do something about an issue they claim is important to them. If they can’t bring themselves to actually support Sen. Davis – and by the way, a Republican win here would likely make it that much easier to do away with the two thirds rule entirely, this making it that much easier for Dan Patrick to impose his will – then they can at least not actively oppose her. The more Dan Patrick gets what he wants, the less he’s going to feel he owes to anyone who isn’t with him on each and every one of his issues. Like “sanctuary cities”, for starters. What kind of Senate do you want, establishment Republican businesspeople? You have the power to help decide.

A matter of priorities

Compare and contrast.

State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, the outspoken voice of the far right in the Senate, said he will be pushing vouchers that parents of school-age children could use for charter schools, online offerings or additional alternatives to the public schools.

“To me, school choice is the photo ID bill of this session,” he said. “Our base has wanted us to pass photo voter ID for years, and we did it. They’ve been wanting us to pass school choice for years. This is the year to do it, in my view. That issue will do more to impact the future of Texas and the quality of education than anything else we could do.”

Patrick envisions a cornucopia of conservative legislation he’s sure will pass, including sanctuary cities restrictions and bills to allow guns on school campuses and outlaw “groping” by Transportation Security Administration personnel.

Conservatives also will push for a law that only allows spending increases if they are based on population and inflation, and Patrick will continue his crusade to change the Senate rule requiring a two-thirds vote to bring up legislation.

Everything they want to do if they have the numbers to do so is an ideological checklist item, which is a continuation of what they did in 2011. Compare that to what the One Texas PAC is talking about – water, electricity, transportation. You know, the things Texas needs to ensure its future. Which issues would you rather see get addressed?

By the way, if Sen. Patrick et al are going to be pushing vouchers – which, let’s be clear, means public money for private (read: “religious”) schools – I wonder if they’ve had a chat with their friends from Louisiana about unintended consequences. I also wonder if, like Louisiana, these private schools will be held to lower accountability standards than the public schools are, if they are held to any standards at all. Perhaps someone should ask Bill Hammond what he thinks about this little scheme. EoW and the Texas AFT Blog have more.

Let’s be clear about something: I disagree with Dan Patrick as much and as often as anyone can, but I truly lament the fact that he has nothing to offer on the real issues that Texas faces. I don’t pretend that my side has all the answers, but right now my side is the only one seeking them. Dan Patrick is a smart guy, and he could be very productive if he cared about something other than perpetuating his own power. I’m sure I wouldn’t like most of whatever solutions he’d have to offer, but I’m also sure there would be something there that could be a starting point for constructive debate. Instead, all we get is time-wasters, distractions, and assaults on those he disdains. I firmly believe it’s behavior like this that will hasten the downfall of his party, but in the meantime Texas’ problems get deeper and more intractable, and that does no one any good.

In which I try to find common ground with Sen. Patrick

From a news item about President Obama’s nomination to helm the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau:

Congress created the bureau a year ago this week with the enactment of the Dodd-Frank law, which overhauled financial regulations after the credit crisis. The bureau, a centerpiece of the sweeping new law, has since emerged as one of the thorniest topics in Washington and on Wall Street.

Putting a director in place is critical because the agency will not gain the full measure of its powers until the Senate confirms a nominee. The agency can supervise the compliance of banks with existing laws, but the Dodd-Frank financial legislation dictates that it cannot write new rules or supervise other financial companies without a director.


Republicans made it clear on Sunday that they were no more likely to confirm Mr. Cordray than Ms. Warren. Forty-four Republican senators have signed a letter saying they would refuse to vote on any nominee to lead the bureau, demanding instead that the agency replace a single leader with a board of directors.

One of the things my new pal Sen. Dan Patrick and I talked about on that recent Houston8 episode was the Texas Senate’s two thirds rule. He’s against it, in case you hadn’t heard, and he talked at some length about how much more the Senate was able to do in the special session when the two thirds rule was not in effect. I’m certain, therefore, that Sen. Patrick will join me in condemning this obstructive tactic by a minority of Senators in Washington, and call on them to reform their rules so the majority party can do what it was elected to do. If it’s good enough for Austin, it’s good enough for DC. Right, Dan?

Down to the wire for “sanctuary cities”

There’s an 11th hour lobbying effort to stop the “sanctuary cities” bill as it is.

As two of Texas’ most politically-involved business leaders emerged as opponents, a bill banning “sanctuary cities” lost crucial momentum Friday, raising the possibility the measure will be killed or substantially weakened before the special session of the Texas Legislature ends Wednesday.

HillCo Partners’ lobby team, led by Neal T. “Buddy” Jones, is working on behalf of Houston home builder Bob Perry and San Antonio grocery store magnate Charles Butt to alter a proposal that would permit law enforcement officers to inquire about the immigration status of people they detain, Jones’ partner Bill Miller confirmed.

Miller declined to detail the changes Jones hopes to make in the legislation, saying only that they have “given language to members” to consider including in the proposal, which would carry financial penalties for cities that prohibit law enforcement from inquiring about immigration status.

The opposition of the business leaders demonstrates a schism in the Republican Party on the issue, designated a priority by Gov. Rick Perry. Bob Perry, no relation to the governor, is a prolific Republican contributor who has given $2.5 million to the governor’s campaign coffers since 2001. HEB CEO Butt has made substantial contributions to members of both parties.

Friday, the House State Affairs Committee canceled hearings scheduled to pass the bill for the second day in a row, due to a lack of a quorum, as exhausted lawmakers returned home to tend to their businesses and families. A meeting has been scheduled for Monday, but House leaders did not rule out that a meeting could be called during the weekend if enough lawmakers return to Austin.


Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, who sponsored the measure, expressed frustration that the two businessmen are “trying to kill the bill” at such a late hour.

“It’s good to know that my good friend, Buddy Jones, and his clients, Mr. Butt and Mr. Perry, decided after six months what they think a sanctuary cities bill ought to look like,” he said. “I don’t know where they’ve been for six months.”

Well, Burt, not to put too fine a point on it but for the first 140 days they knew that Democrats would kill the bill in the Senate, so there was no urgent need on their part to do anything. With the two-thirds rule out the window for the special session, they figured they needed to get their act together, and that meant lobbying Republicans. Any questions?

Perry and Butt aren’t the only ones telling Republicans to back off, and much as it pains me to say anything nice about the likes of Norman Adams and Steven Hotze, they’re doing the right thing for mostly the right reasons, so kudos to them. If they do succeed here, however, I still believe they need to rethink their strategy going forward, because unfortunately this issue isn’t going away. In fact, unless there’s a miraculous breakthrough on windstorm insurance reform in the next 24 hours or so, it may reappear later this week. So keep fighting the good fight and all that, but try to remember that plugging your fingers into the leaks isn’t the same thing as repairing the levee. PDiddie has more.

“Sanctuary cities” bill passes the Senate

Once it was added to the call, this became inevitable.

Senate Republicans finally passed a priority issue for their party early Wednesday morning when they outmuscled their Democratic colleagues on an immigration-related bill intended to make it easier for law enforcement to corral illegal immigrants.

At its core, SB 9 allows law enforcement officers to ask someone about their immigration status after they are detained and also establishes uniform statewide standards. It also would ban local governments from enacting a policy prohibiting the enforcement of state or federal immigration laws.

But critics say it will invariably result in racial profiling and make it less likely for immigrants to report crime because the legislation also allows police to question witnesses in the course of an investigation. Police chiefs in each of the state’s largest cities oppose the legislation.

Democrats contend the bill is the “largest assault against Latinos” in recent decades and could help inspire Hispanics to vote in next year’s election.

That remains to be seen, of course. Democrats put up a good fight – see Texas Politics and the Trib for more on that – but as has been the case all year, the conclusion was foregone; it was just a matter of time. I want to highlight one point from the Trib story that gives a clear distillation of the objections many people have to this:

Several law enforcement officers testified the bill would not only erode the success of what they labeled “community policing,” but also cost most of them millions more annually to detain immigrants and train officers.

An amendment by state Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, that would have excluded witnesses or victims of crime from being subjected to the inquiry failed on a party line vote. An amendment by Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, that would have excluded children 17 years or younger and victims of crimes, including sex or trafficking crimes, also failed. Williams said the amendments would have the unintended consequences of possibly prohibiting the federal government from issuing the victims of T or U visas, which are given to immigrant victims of sex or trafficking crimes who agree to cooperate with law enforcement. The votes fueled Democrats’ speculation that the bill was not just an attempt to rid the state of criminal aliens, which Williams said was the bill’s intent during his opening remarks.

You may think these fears are overblown. But if you do, you need to acknowledge that some people believe that undocumented immigrants should be afraid to come forward to report a crime. As far as they’re concerned, anything bad that happens to these folks – and that would include a lot of children – is something they deserve. I will never understand that perspective.

One more point to note, which the Statesman cleanly summarizes:

Although sanctuary cities legislation was proposed during the 2009 session, it gained little traction until Perry made it an issue in his 2010 re-election campaign. While campaigning, Perry charged that Houston was a sanctuary city under his Democratic challenger, former Mayor Bill White. Then in January, Perry designated sanctuary cities a legislative emergency item, allowing it to be put on the fast track.

As with voter ID, something that was once a non-issue became an “emergency” when it aligned with larger Republican goals. Perry won’t say what a “sanctuary city” is, but he wanted a law passed to ban them, and he got one. This has always been about what Rick Perry wants. A statement from Sen. Rodney Ellis is beneath the fold, a video of Sen. John Whitmire speaking out against the bill is here, and Melissa del Bosque has more.


Smoking ban lives again

Never say never when the Lege is in session.

The House Appropriations Committee voted 19-1 to recommend their colleagues approve HB 46, designed to stop secondhand smoke from polluting the air and lungs for others.

“It’s the No. 1 public health issue for this session. It’s the No. 1 clean air issue in this session,” said bill author Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, who succeeded her late husband 11 years ago after he passed away from cancer.


The Texas ban would only apply to public places, which would not affect a VFW hall, she noted. Businesses that are licensed by the Texas Health Department or the Alcoholic Beverage Commission would be affected.

“This is not a ‘nanny state’ bill. This bill is about asthma that kills people. It’s about heart attacks,” she said.

The pool hall industry opposes an indoor smoking ban because about 70 percent of its customers are hard-core smokers, said Philip Robert Brinson, general counsel for Fast Eddie’s Billiards, which operates 18 pool halls in Texas.

“It’s a niche business. It’s a pool hall. (Customers) know people smoke. That’s why they go,” the Houston lawyer told the Appropriations Committee.

Here’s HB46. As this was able to pass the House once, the only real question is whether or not the votes are there in the Senate. With the 2/3 rule not being in effect, it’s possible it could pass. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if there is majority support for it, just not 21 votes. We’ll find out soon enough.

Senate Dems block “sanctuary cities” bill

They did it as they said they would.

The state’s contentious sanctuary cities bill failed to move out of the Senate late Tuesday — a move some senators said effectively killed one of the most controversial measures the Texas Legislature has considered this session.

As late as 11 p.m., an aide to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said the Senate leader was still intent on bringing up the matter for a vote. (The Senate debates bills on the floor in the order they come in. Going out of order requires a two-thirds vote.)

But Republicans’ efforts were unsuccessful on Tuesday. Democratic senators stayed true to their word to block the bill — an item designated by Gov. Rick Perry as an emergency piece of legislation — by voting along party lines to keep the bill from making it to the floor.

“You know, it was a party-line vote,” said state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, who sponsored the bill in the upper chamber. The bill, HB 12 by state Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, would prohibit cities, counties and other governmental entities or special districts from adopting policies that prevent law enforcement from asking persons lawfully detained or arrested if they are in the country legally.

Yes, it was a party-line vote. There have been a lot of those this session, more in the House than in the Senate but still a lot, thanks to the extremely partisan agenda that Rick Perry and the Republicans in the Lege have pursued. We deserved some clarity about who stands for what, and I’m glad we got it. As always, nothing is truly dead until sine die, and there’s always the chance Rick Perry could call a special session for this, or add it to the call for a special on something else like school finance, but I’ll take it for now, and I’ll be more than happy to continue this conversation next November. Postcards, Somos Tejanos, and Stace have more.

Senate Dems say they will block “sanctuary cities” bill

This is exactly what they should be doing.

The twelve Democrats in the Texas Senate signed a letter that they delivered today to their colleagues, vowing to oppose the sanctuary cities bill — a move that could, but not necessarily, kill its passage. The Senate this session has side-stepped its rule requiring 21 votes for debate, citing a little-used rule allowing consideration of House bills with a simple majority vote on Wednesday and Thursdays.

House Bill 12, awaiting consideration by the Senate, would ban cities from adopting policies prohibiting law enforcement from inquiring into the immigration status of persons detained in a criminal investigation. Gov. Rick Perry has designated the legislation a priority.

Postcards and the Trib have a copy of the letter. The Republicans may resort to their “we’ll follow our rules when it suits us and not when it doesn’t” ploy if they want, or Governor Perry can call a special session on this if he wants, but the important thing is that the Democrats took a stand and did the right thing. If they get steamrolled in the end, that’s a better argument for having more Democrats than I could make.

There will be additional pressure to pass the legislation because the House failed to put on its calendar a related bill — Senate Bill 9, which has passed the Senate but not the House. That legislation has been attached to House Bill 12 as a precaution by its sponsor, State Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands.

To pass Senate Bill 9, Williams will need to appease Democrats by stripping the sanctuary city language from House Bill 12, or attempt to pass it this Wednesday or Thursday — on Senate “House bill day.”

The best outcome is that both of these bills die. Whatever does happen, at least the Democrats will have gone down fighting. Sometimes, that’s all you can hope for.

Senate redistricting map approved by committee

That didn’t take long.

Rejecting pleas to keep most of Travis County in a single Senate district, the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting [Friday] morning approved a plan that will divide the capital city into four senatorial districts.

The Republican-dominated panel also rejected an amendment to the plan that would have returned Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to the Senate district of Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin.

Instead, the airport was left, as proposed, in the district of Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.

Committee Chairman Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, said the committee-approved plan will be voted on early next week by the full Senate.

Sure, that makes sense, having a Senator from Laredo represent the Austin airport. Redistricting is just plain weird.

One point to note:

Republicans who control the state Senate hope the plan could help them elect 20 or more senators, cementing their majority status.

Currently, the Senate has 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats. Under Senate rules, 12 members can block legislation.

Actually, it takes 11 members to block legislation, as 20 is less than two thirds of 31. Of course, one of those 11 would be Eddie Lucio, so the Democrats need to have a little slack. As for Republican hopes of getting more than 20 seats, it’s not gonna happen. I won’t be surprised if they decide that 19 votes are more than enough to pass this bill, however. Texas Politics has more.