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Vicki Truitt

The Lege will take another crack at payday lending

I’m glad to see this, because the Lege definitely left business unfinished last time.

About 83 percent of customers in Beaumont and 75 percent in the Houston and San Antonio metro areas are locked in a loan renewal cycle, latest lender reports show.

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, and state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, both members of a Texas Senate committee examining the problem, said data and testimonials from payday customers statewide support legislation to prevent so many Texans from being financially exploited.

“In a perfect world you wouldn’t need (payday lenders),” Whitmire said. “But I do know that people can’t make it sometimes because they have no line of credit and no credit – and they can go to these institutions, but that doesn’t mean that they have to be held up.”

[…]

The new data confirms Texans typically pay more for short-term credit than consumers in other states. A $500 loan initially costs customers about $110 in Texas compared to only $55 in Florida and $65 in Oklahoma, where the industry is better regulated, said Ann Baddour, a policy analyst for Texas Appleseed, part of a coalition of secular nonprofits and religious groups that advocate stronger rules and lower-cost credit options.

“We find it extremely troubling that Texans are paying more for these products than others in other parts of the country – there has to be a limit to the number of fees set up for the same loan,” Baddour said.

[…]

Last month, members of the Senate Business and Commerce committee led by Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, reviewed data and heard testimony.

“Landmark legislation in the 82nd Legislature enabled us for the first time to get some hard numbers about the payday and auto title loan industry,” Carona said. “We have enough information now to come back and address the abuses in the industry.”

We know what the problem is, it’s just a matter of the Legislature exerting the will to do something about it. This isn’t about ideology – the issue unites such disparate legislators as Rep. Tom Craddick and Sen. Wendy Davis. Unfortunately, the legislation that was passed last time was a water-down compromise that really didn’t do much of anything. As it happens, the person responsible for those watered-down bills, Rep. Vicki Truitt, the chair of the House Pensions, Investments & Financial Services Committee, lost her primary race this May, so someone else will be carrying this ball in the House. I hope that’s a good sign, but the even bigger problem over there remains.

Rep. Gary Elkins, R-Houston, himself a longtime payday loan business owner, was among those who blocked the proposals. He said the cities’ regulations are unnecessary and unconstitutional and existing federal consumer and credit laws provide enough oversight.

“The Legislature clearly considered the issue … and the Legislature decided not to pass those restrictions,” he said. “Anybody can pay off their loan anytime they want so the consumers obviously have that choice. … You can stay in debt on MasterCard or Visa forever.

“Do we need a law to say every month you have to pay down your MasterCard or Visa because some city council thinks that’s what you ought to do?”

You kind of have to admire Rep. Elkins’ sheer brazenness here. He makes his living off the misery of other people, he will do whatever it takes to defend the money he makes through the immiseration of those people, and he doesn’t give a damn what you think about it. He’s a State Representative, he has lobby money and his personal relationship with other representatives in his corner, and you don’t. So there.

UPDATE: Be sure to read Forrest Wilder’s story about new frontiers in the payday lending industry. I’d ask how these guys could get any sleazier, but I fear the answer I’d get.

Texas’ public pension funds are solvent through 2075

There was a hearing in the Lege this week about the state’s pension plans, and the good news is that they’re in pretty good shape. The better news is that the members of the Lege’s pension committee recognize that fact.

State Rep. Rob Orr, R-Burleson, who is said to be in the running to be chairman of the committee in the next legislative session, said state pension funds are in good financial shape and should not be lumped into the discussion about poorly run plans. Both plans have more than 80 percent of the assets they need to cover long-term benefits, which experts deem a critical threshold.

“It appears to me that the state is doing a superior job compared to a lot of the other pension plans, and the focus should be on the plans that are in trouble,” Orr said, adding that some of the municipal plans, in particular, are out of whack.

[…]

“Here in the Austin echo chamber you’re starting to hear it’s going to be a priority,” said state Rep. Rafael Anchía, D-Dallas, who is a member of the committee and opposes doing away with the guaranteed pensions.

Committee Chairwoman Vicki Truitt, R-Keller, who lost her bid for re-election in the primary, urged her returning colleagues not to get caught up in the national tumult around public pensions and instead keep the focus on Texas, where the statewide funds are in good financial shape.

“That is who we need to keep in mind the taxpaying public and the state employees and the welfare of the state in general,” Truitt said during a two-day hearing last week on pensions.

The state has avoided the mistakes that other pension plans have made because of constitutional and statutory provisions that require annual contributions from both the state and the members and that limit benefit increases. Members of both the teacher and employee retirement systems in Texas have not received an ongoing cost-of-living boost since 2001.

Even so, there is a lot of chatter that some powerful political forces will push the issue.

Forrest Wilder wrote about the plans and the reports that documented their good condition a couple of weeks ago.

You may recall that there is a campaign afoot to “reform” (i.e. radically change) Texas’ public pensions for teachers and other public employees. Basically, the reformers want to abandon the defined-benefit model, which guarantees certain retirement benefits, and replace it with a defined-contribution system built potentially on self-managed accounts such as 401(k)s. There’s also talk of raising the retirement age and other cuts to benefits.

The problem, though, is that Texas’ public pension systems are in pretty good shape, popular with workers and the alternative is risky. Still, the interests pushing for change are powerful and persistent. So, the Legislature ordered the Teacher Retirement System and the Employees Retirement System to take a closer look at their funds. The TRS report was released this week.

The study found that switching to a defined-contribution model would be more expensive, result in reduced benefits to retirees and is unnecessary.

As it is, the pension fund is solvent through 2075—a good sight better than, say, Social Security—and could be solvent indefinitely if the state would modestly increase its share from the current 6.4 percent to 8 percent, comparable to other states. Teachers could pay a slightly larger share too to help solve the problem.

If teachers were to invest their retirement benefits, TRS estimates that 92 percent would do worse than the current system. A typical 62-year-old retiree who made his or her own investments could expect to have income of just 28 percent of their teacher salary, about $12,500 a year. The federal poverty level for a household of one is $11,700.

The reason is simple: Professionally-managed investment pools perform significantly better than individual investors—8.6 percent vs. 5.3 percent, according to the TRS report.

2075 is a long way off. I’ll be 109 years old in 2075 if I live that long. Do we not have some more immediate priorities to talk about in this state? I mean seriously, TxDOT will run out of money in 2014 for new road construction. Texas’ long term water needs are woefully under-addressed. By comparison, the pension fund is the Rock of Gibraltor. Yet that’s what we’re talking about because the ideological visigoths that are calling the shots don’t like the pension fund and don’t like teachers. When I talk about a matter of priorities, this is the sort of thing I’m talking about. We’re never going to deal with the real problems of this state as long as the current crew is in charge.

UPDATE: The Statesman urges the Lege to leave the public pension plans alone.

Politicians come and go, but campaign cash is forever

It seems that way, anyway. With the defeat of several incumbents in last week’s primaries, there’s a lot more unneeded campaign war chests lying around.

Millions in unspent contributions have long lurked in former state lawmakers’ campaign bank accounts, often sitting idle until the cash eventually works its way back into the political system. There are several ways to legally get rid of the extra money, but in many cases, the former lawmakers use it to expand their spheres of influence.

Now about $1 million more in unspent cash could soon be added to the total with the primary election losses last week of Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands; Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller; and other members of the Texas Legislature.

When lawmakers return to being private citizens — whether it’s their decision or voters’ — they have a few options for dealing with leftover campaign cash. They may donate it to charity, nonprofit organizations, political parties, other candidates, political action committees, universities or the state treasury. They may also return the money to their contributors or hold on to it for a future run for office.

But one thing is for sure: They are barred from using the donations for personal spending.

Steve Wolens

Eissler and Truitt each said it’s a little too early to know what they will do with their excess campaign cash, which recently amounted to about $650,000 and $240,000, respectively, according to filings with the Texas Ethics Commission.

[…]

Steven Wolens, a former House member and husband of former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, isn’t a lobbyist, but he is another example of a former lawmaker with more than $1 million on hand.

Wolens, a lawyer and Democrat from Dallas, said he might use his $1.2 million in another run for public office, if and when the time is right.

Wolens, as I have noted before, last ran for office in 2002. I don’t know what other offices he might be thinking about running for – his website is still living in the past – I just know that he’s not rushing into anything. Former Congressman Jim Turner, who also last ran for something in 2002, also has a million bucks in the bank for reasons known only to him. Sure would be nice if some of that money found its way to people who were actually running for something, wouldn’t it? Anyway, Reps. Eissler and Truitt, take all the time you need. That cash isn’t going anywhere without you.

Watered down payday lending bills pass Senate

It’s inadequate, but it’s the best we’re going to get out of this Legislature.

Senators took the plunge into payday lending reform Monday, passing two House bills that bring some oversight to the largely unregulated industry in Texas.

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, said the legislation represents a “very, very delicate compromise” between consumer groups and the payday and auto title lending industry.

The legislation by Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller, requires more disclosures by lenders about their fees and requires the companies to obtain licenses and report data to a state agency.

Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, pushed for stronger regulation and a cap on fees. The Truitt proposals don’t cap fees, which can often climb as high as 500 percent.

Unfortunately, the payday lending lobby was very strong, and they managed to avoid the things they didn’t want like caps on their fees. Sen. Davis highlights what was not done and why it matters.

Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, refused to vote on the bill, instead voting “present.” During debate, Davis spoke out passionately against the payday loan industry and said efforts to regulate it have gone nowhere. She introduced several amendments to strengthen the legislation but pulled them “out of respect” for the bill’s sponsor, Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas. Carona said the bill had received widespread support from the players affected by the legislation and that any changes would destroy it.

“We haven’t done anything in the state of Texas to help the people who are at the vulnerable end of this predatory practice,” she said. She also criticized the payday loan lobby for influencing lawmakers.

Davis said the bill does go far enough because it does not cap interest rates, allow partial re-payment options or limit the number of times payday lenders can “roll over” unpaid loans. She pointed out a loophole in the state’s finance code that has allowed the lenders to operate in the same category as those organizations that are supposed to get people out of debt. Instead, she said, their customers end up in “a cycle of debt” and the number of payday lending centers around the state has increased significantly. She also railed against amendments passed in committee that will allow payday lenders to use “installment loans” and charge interest rates in excess of 600 percent.

A press release from Sen. Davis is here, and you can see here and here for some more background.. It must be noted that consumer groups supported passage of these bills, which as a half-a-loaf guy I do understand. My fear in this case is that these inadequate solutions will be seen has having “done something to solve the problem” and make it harder to get any momentum to take the necessary next steps on reform. As with everything else, it’s going to have to start with a better Legislature before any real work can get done.

New map, new opportunities: The Metroplex

Dallas and Tarrant Counties will each have eight districts drawn to elect Republicans in them. For this entry, I’m going to look at each of these districts.

Dallas and Tarrant Counties

First up is Tarrant County, which gains a district (HD101) for a total of eleven. HD101 was drawn to elect a Democrat – Barack Obama received 61.59% of the vote, and no Democrat received less than 60%. The interesting question is what kind of Democrat it will elect. According to the district information, HD101 has a voting age population of 29.5% Anglo, 27.0% African-American, 32.5% Hispanic, and 11.6% Other. (Yes, I know that doesn’t add to 100%. I’m just telling you what it says.) VAP is not the same as Citizen Voting Age Population, however, and in general the Hispanic number will drop a lot more for that than other demographic groups. As such, if I were a betting man, I’d wager on African-American. But don’t be surprised if he or she gets a primary challenge from a Hispanic candidate before the decade is over.

So chalk up one sure gain for the Dems. For the eight Republican districts in Tarrant County, here’s the tale of the tape:

Dist Incumbent Elected 08 Dem High Score ============================================ 091 K Hancock 2006 Houston, 35.10 092 T Smith 1996 Houston, 39.76 093 B Nash 2010 Obama, 41.60 094 D Patrick 2006 Houston, 39.63 096 B Zedler 2010 Houston, 42.35 097 M Shelton 2008 Obama, 41.41 098 V Truitt 1998 Obama, 28.12 099 C Geren 2000 Houston, 38.38

None of these stand out as obvious pickup opportunities. Both HDs 93, which had been won by a Democrat in 2006, and 96, won be a Dem in 2008, were made redder to protect their new and recycled incumbents. I suspect that what looks safe now may not be in a couple of cycles. As Tarrant County got less white over the past decade, it also got less red. I don’t think either of those trends are likely to reverse themselves. It’ll be very interesting to see what the landscape looks like for the 2016 election.

Along those lines, I thought it would be worthwhile to compare the new districts to the old ones, to see who got what kind of protection. Here’s a look at the 2004 numbers in the old district for JR Molina, who was generally the high scoring Democrat that year, with the 2008 Sam Houston numbers in the new district:

Dist 04 Molina 08 Houston ============================== 091 34.1 35.1 092 33.2 39.8 093 46.0 41.5 094 34.1 39.6 096 40.0 42.3 097 36.9 41.3 098 36.9 26.7 099 23.9 38.4

I’m not sure what the deal is with the Truitt and Geren districts, but those numbers sure do stand out. Both districts 93 and 96 were made redder, though the latter only in comparison to what it would have been with no changes. Basically, the creation of a 60%+ Dem district in the county gave mapmakers a lot of room to spread the Republican population around enough to make sure no one was in any imminent danger. You can’t fight demography, but you can delay it a bit.

That will become more clear as we look over in Dallas County. First, the numbers for the eight remaining Republican-drawn districts:

Dist Incumbent Elected 08 Dem High Score ============================================ 102 S Carter 2010 Houston, 46.75 105 * L H-Brown 2002 Houston, 48.18 107 K Sheets 2010 Houston, 48.46 108 D Branch 2002 Obama, 44.88 112 A Button 2008 Houston, 45.68 113 * J Driver 1992 Houston, 47.87 114 W Hartnett 1990 Houston, 45.66 115 J Jackson 2004 Houston, 43.24

Driver was paired with freshman Cindy Burkett (HD101), and Harper-Brown with freshman Rodney Anderson (HD106). Here in a county that’s ten to fifteen points bluer to begin with, the most Republican district is bluer than the swingiest district in Tarrant. It ain’t easy making 57% of the legislative seats Republican in a county that’s 57% Democratic. Here the question isn’t if some of these seats will be ripe for the taking but when. Anywhere from two to six seats could be vulnerable right away, and for sure all of them need to be strongly challenged. While we have seen individual districts that are bluer, there’s no one place that has as many opportunities for gain as Dallas.

Here’s the same Molina/Houston comparison for Dallas:

Dist 04 Molina 08 Houston ============================== 102 43.3 46.7 105 42.8 48.2 107 43.0 48.5 108 39.8 42.2 112 36.0 45.7 113 37.4 47.9 114 38.1 45.7 115 32.7 43.2

Every district is bluer than it once was, some by ten points. Some day Dallas County will look like Travis. It’s already most of the way there. Next up, Harris County.

Lege gets set to tackle payday lending

The good news is that the Lege is ready to tackle legislation dealing with the scourge of payday lenders. The bad news can be summarized by the following remarks in this Chron story.

This week, State Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller, will ask the Texas House to approve a package of three bills written as part of the extraordinary compromise efforts.

Truitt, who chairs the Texas House committee overseeing the issue, summoned mediators from the University of Texas School of Law to craft legislation that would induce lobbyists to drop their opposition.

“The status quo is not acceptable,” Truitt said. “I called the industry people together and told them, if you have to have regulation, this is the Legislature to do it in,” referring to the overwhelmingly conservative membership. “With the makeup of the House, now’s a good time. And I am taking control.”

In other words, this is a legislature that’s dominated by people who don’t really care about the poor and will gladly adopt a minimalist bill that the payday lenders’ lobby can live with so that they can quit having to deal with all these annoying advocates. I never thought I’d say this, but Tom Craddick is showing real leadership on this issue:

Normally suspicious of government regulation, a few years ago, Craddick heard the heartrending tale of a Midland housekeeper who took out a payday loan for a family funeral and fell into a quagmire of debt. Each time she failed to pay her debt in full, it was rolled over into a new loan – with costly fees added each time. In seven months, what started as a $5,000 debt grew to more than $10,000.

The incident outraged Craddick, who tried and failed last session to pass a bill regulating the industry. He does not believe Truitt’s bills go far enough.

Operating as “consumer service organizations,” payday and auto title lenders escape regulations on interest rates by charging exorbitant fees. Until that loophole is closed, Craddick said the industry will continue to make 61 percent of its national profits in Texas, the only state with no regulation.

He also has a personal reason for not trusting industry representatives. After he filed his bill last session, he got an offer from the industry: “If I withdrew the bill, they would fly down and pay off that (the housekeeper’s) loan,” Craddick recalled. When the bill failed, Craddick redoubled his commitment.

“It’s awful,” Craddick told a House committee early in the legislative session. Church money given to the poor ends up in the hands of a payday lender when it “could have been used to buy groceries for a family or a toy for a child at Christmas.”

When a guy like Tom Craddick gets it, you wonder what is holding anyone else back. You’d think the issue of making payday lenders operate under the same basic rules as banks would be a no-brainer, but that’s the power of the lobby and a few million bucks.

State Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, said he is sponsoring Truitt’s bills in the Senate. Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, is advocating stricter legislation, but Corona said he considers Truitt’s legislation an important first step.

“Nobody said these bills are perfect, but they absolutely are better,” he said. “It is a modest first step toward regulating this industry.”

No, subjecting them to the same rules about lending money as banks would be a modest first step. What Rep. Truitt is pushing is inadequate. Sen. Davis’ bill passed out of committee three weeks ago and is on the Senate intent calendar, but likely lacks the votes to come to the floor. Unfortunately, something inadequate is the best we’re going to get. We’re going to need a better legislature before we can do a better job of this.

Payday lending bills advance

Good.

Legislation by Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth that would cap fees and interest on loans made by payday and car title lenders was approved Thursday by the Senate Business and Commerce Committee.

The bill, which now heads to the full Senate, has strong support from a coalition of consumer and faith-based groups, who are calling for tougher regulations on the lenders. The Consumer Service Alliance of Texas, which represents lenders, opposes the proposed caps.

[…]

Other related measures are pending in the House. Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller, chairwoman of the House Pensions, Investments and Financial Services Committee, has introduced a package of three bills that would add regulations, including disclosure requirements, but would not cap fees. Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, is sponsoring more stringent legislation similar to that proposed by Davis and [Se. Royce] West.

The senators’ bill would place payday and car title lenders under the same regulatory framework that governs banks and credit unions.

The bill would impose a 15 percent rate cap on fees for payday loans. It would also limit the size of the loan to 35 percent of a borrower’s gross monthly income up to a maximum of $1,240.

For auto title loans, the bill creates a tiered rate system depending on the size of the loan. Loans of up to $700 would be capped at 20 percent and the next $700 would be capped at 18 percent. Loans over $1,400 would be capped at 15 percent.

The bill would also limit the number of loan rollovers and require lenders to accept partial repayment of the principal to help keep consumers from a worsening pattern of debt. Lenders would be required to offer a repayment plan on a customers’ third consecutive loan renewal.

The Davis/West bill is SB1862. Of the other payday lending legislation that I’ve blogged about, all are still pending in committee except for Rep. Truitt’s bills, HBs 2592 and 2594, which as noted are less stringent than the other bills. Truitt’s position is in line with the payday lenders’, in that she doesn’t favor the caps or limits that other bills include. We’ll see what happens in the House to SB1862 if it passes the Senate. A statement from Sen. Davis is here.

It’s way past time to regulate payday lenders

From the Observer:

As an industry, when you’ve got Tom Craddick, consumer groups, the Midland County District Attorney and Bible-quoting Baptists arrayed against you, most likely you’re facing a serious come-to-Jesus moment. Today, a House committee heard hours of impassioned testimony in favor of legislation that would curb Texas’ Wild West payday and auto-title lending business. As Melissa del Bosque has documented, payday lenders in Texas are virtually unregulated and frequently lock consumers into a cycle of debt. Craddick’s bill, along with three other identical bills, would close a loopholethat allows payday lenders to register as consumer credit organizations (CSOs) and escape regulation.

It was rather incredible to watch former Speaker Tom Craddick, who doesn’t exactly have a reputation as an advocate for the working poor, take the payday lenders to the woodshed. “No longer do I think the Legislature can stand back and watch these businesses take advantage of people in need,” Craddick said today. The impact of rates that can amount to 500 percent APR is “overwhelming – actually it’s awful,” he said.

Under the proposed legislation, payday and auto-title lenders could no longer operate as consumer credit organizations, but instead would be subject to the same laws and regulations as other lenders. A cap of 135 percent – still far above the 36 percent limit imposed by many states – would be imposed on the short-term loans offered by payday lenders.

Craddick’s bill is HB410, and it has a bipartisan plethora of co-authors. Other bills on the subject are HB 656 (Farias), HB 661 (Rodriguez), HB 1323 (Johnson), HB 2594 (Truitt), and HB 2592 (Truitt).

Among the consumer advocates and faith leaders, consensus seemed to be that the best approach would be imposing rate caps, closing the CSO loophole and imposing existing law on the lenders. That’s Craddick’s approach. However, the payday lender industry is basically telling legislators that they will go out of business if that happens and desperate consumers will have nowhere to go for easy credit.

The Craddick approach would “dramatically change the business model as we know it in a detrimental way,” said Rob Norcross, a lobbyist for the Consumer Service Alliance of Texas, an industry group.

Asked today if they could survive with ‘just’ 135 percent APR, Norcross said, “The answer is no. … Those rates aren’t sustainable.”

Cry me a river, dude. If your business isn’t sustainable at that APR level, you don’t have a viable business model and deserve to be made extinct. If that’s what happens, it’s a feature, not a bug.

Basically, payday lenders need to be treated like any other loan-making financial institution. As the group Texas Faith for Fair Lending notes, the problem is that’s not how they operate now.

payday and auto title lenders do not operate as lenders governed by the Texas Finance code as one might expect. Instead, they have found a loophole in a law called the Credit Services Organizations (CSO) Act that sets no limits on rates and fees they charge borrowers.

The CSO statute was enacted in 1997 and is designed to govern how credit repair services can help those repair bad credit. In this statute CSOs are given is the authority to “obtain an extension of consumer credit for a consumer.” The intent is clearly to enable CSOs to help Texans with bad credit build up a positive lending history in order to increase credit scores. Instead, over 98% of registered CSOs in this state are payday and auto title lenders that do anything but help people repair credit.

So, in practice, payday and auto title lenders are merely brokers, or arrangers of credit. They partner with banks or other large lenders who charge an interest rate of below the 10% APR constitutional limit, while the payday lender, registered as a CSO, charges an exorbitant fee. This diagram better illustrates the relationship –

The true lender, the financial institution, charges a small interest rate and makes a little money from the short loan. The CSO charges a high fee to arrange, collect and guarantee the loan. This is typically around $20 per $100 borrowed but there is no legal limit on these fees. The borrower never interacts with the actual lender.

They add nothing of value to the equation but reap huge profits by virtue of the loophole they squeeze through. That loophole needs to be closed. You can see videos of the TFFL press conference here, and more about TFFL, which is a Texas Impact project, here. If you’re a churchgoer, the odds are good that your denomination is involved in this effort. Please check it out and make your voice heard as well.

Stand Up To Help Bloggers Get Needed Protections Under Texas Law

Vince writes about a bill that is of great interest to all us bloggers.

On Monday, the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee will hold a public hearing on a bill which will give Texas bloggers and citizen journalists some much-needed protections under Texas law.

The committee will take public testimony on House Bill 4237 by State Rep. Aaron Pena (D-Edinburg).

This bill gives bloggers and citizen journalists the same protections that the mainstream media has when it comes to covering matters of “public concern,” such as legislative proceedings, school board meetings, and the actions of state officials.

Under current law, commonly known as the “Privileged Matters Clause” of the Texas Civil Practices & Remedies Code (Sec. 73.002), coverage by the mainstream media of matters of “public concern” such as those listed above cannot be used as grounds for a libel action.

Texas bloggers and citizen journalists, however, do not have similar protections. In theory, if a politician or officeholder wanted to cause a blog a great deal of problems, he or she could file a libel or slander lawsuit over writings discussing a matter of “public concern.” It would then be up to the court system–after, no doubt, significant expense for the blogger or citizen journalist–to determine whether or not the “Privileged Matters Clause” applies to bloggers.

Texas bloggers have been fortunate in that no one has been forced to be a test case for this yet. Rep. Pena’s bill ensures that no Texas blogger or citizen journalist ever will. It gives us the same protections as the mainstream media in this regard.

I’m just a hobbyist. I don’t sell ads, I’m not trying to make a living from this. What Vince describes is a situation that would cause me a lot of hardship. I think in 2009, the definition of “journalism” and “journalist” are fluid enough to include people like me and what I do. I support the passages of HB4237, and I hope you will as well. Click over to Vince’s site for a lot more details about this, including how you can register your opinion at Monday’s hearing. Thanks very much.