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May 4th, 2007:

Dewhurst finally sees the light on CHIP

I’ve been told that the best way to deal with someone who finally comes around to your way of thinking after resisting for a long time is to pretend he’s always agreed with you. With that in mind, let me just say how nice it is to see this.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Thursday that he has been persuaded to drop his opposition to a House bill expanding coverage in the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Dewhurst has been under pressure from community activists and children’s advocates to give a year of coverage instead of requiring families to reapply every six months.

“I have been increasingly persuaded to go to a one-time paper application for 12 months’ eligibility,” Dewhurst said in an interview.

He added that he wants some income checks for families whose incomes are near the upper limits but that those families would not have to complete a new application.

Dewhurst said he thinks the majority of the Senate will support expansion of CHIP, the government-subsidized health insurance program for working families.

“I want and I believe my colleagues want to ensure that any and all children eligible under the CHIP program are covered,” he said.

Barbara Best, Texas director of the Children’s Defense Fund, applauded Dewhurst’s change of heart.

“We thank him for doing the right thing. This is an excellent step he is taking to improve children’s health coverage in Texas,” Best said.

I don’t know what prompted Dewhurst’s change of heart – whether it was seeing the CHIP rolls drop again, or the realization that the chucklehead caucus wants to blow even more money on property tax cuts, or something else entirely. Whatever the case, he’s seen the light, and I’m glad for it. I join Ms. Best in thanking him for that.

Meanwhile, the Observer notes that among the myriad explanations being offered for the drop in CHIP re-enrollments, don’t overlook the obvious one: that the Accenture fiasco had a large role in it. We’re going to pay for that mess for years to come. Heck of a job, Albert.

HB13 maneuvering

HB13 keeps hitting potholes in the House, as a point of order sent it back to committee, but not before Speaker Craddick got a little desperate.

Speaker Tom Craddick took the unprecedented move, at least for him, of asking the House Wednesday night to override its own rules to save the border security bill.

“This is a priority for the state and the whole country,” Craddick told reporters, explaining his rare manuver. “This was a real bi-partisan bill. It wasn’t a political bill and (is) a true need for the state.”

Yet Craddick’s move was so rare — and the tensions on the House so acute — that it never came to a vote.

Instead, a teary sponsor, Rep. David Swinford, relented and watched his bill be returned to committee over a technicality.

“I do think this rule is sort of over the top,” Swinford said of Craddick’s effort. But he added: “I’ve never been so disappointed in this body.”

The bill returns to committee where Craddick, from the podium, said he “hoped” it could return to the House floor by Monday or Tuesday.

Afterwards, however, the speaker raised the prospect that the only homeland security bill of the session could be killed by the delay. Thursday is the last day for the House to pass its bills on second reading, and there is no Senate equivalent dealing with homeland security and the border.

“I’m not sure we can get it back,” Craddick said.

Rep. Jessica Farrar, in her latest press release, explains what happened:

On Thursday, May 3, HB 13 by Chairman Swinford (R-Dumas) was heard by the full House. Speaker Craddick (R-Midland) rejected an initial point of order raised by Rep. Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) which pointed out that the bill analysis referenced a section of the Government Code that does not exist. Despite the fact that this could cause a problem in the future if the referenced section of the Government Code is ever actually created, Speaker Craddick overruled Rep. Martinez Fischer’s point of order.

After several hours of debate, Speaker Craddick sustained a point of order raised by Rep. Herrero (D-Robstown). Chairman Swinford, with the support of Speaker Craddick, then asked the House to vote to suspend all necessary rules to ignore the point of order and continue with the debate. This was despite the fact that the rules of the House exist to protect the public’s interest. “I can’t remember that having happened at any time in the 13 years I have served in the House. We have rules and procedures for a reason, and it is inappropriate for the Speaker to encourage the House to ignore those rules in the manner that he did,” said Rep. Farrar.

Rather than have the House vote on the motion to suspend the rules, Chairman Swinford decided to recommit HB 13 to the House Committee on State Affairs. The committee met immediately afterwards to once again consider the bill. “I appreciate the fact that Chairman Swinford was willing to go back and confer with us in committee. As legislators, we have a duty to address the concerns that both we and the public have regarding every bill, and HB 13 is not an exception to that.”

Chief among Rep. Farrar’s concerns with HB 13 are the placement of the State Office of Homeland Security in the Governor’s Office, the granting of program management of the Texas Data Center (TDEx) to the Governor’s Division of Emergency Management, and the placement of the Texas Fusion Center in the State Office of Homeland Security. She has also questioned the granting of authority to the State Office of Homeland Security to allocate border and homeland security funding and to develop, administer, and evaluate border and homeland security programs even though it is not a law enforcement agency.

“Border and homeland security are extremely important issues, and I think House members demonstrated their commitment to addressing those issues today. We should not vote out a bill that is not up to par just to be able to say we voted something out. In the interest of what is best for the state of Texas, we should make sure that the final product that leaves the House is what it should be and does not give the public a false sense of security,” stated Rep. Farrar.

HB 13 is expected to be reconsidered by the full House on Monday or Tuesday of next week, as it was once again voted out of the House Committee on State Affairs on Thursday evening. The language in the version of HB 13 that will be sent to the floor is much the same as what was considered on the floor today. While Chairman Swinford recommitted the bill, he chose not to change the language except for minor changes and instead prefers to have it amended on the floor.

The two amendments that were passed on the floor on Thursday will need to be re-considered when HB 13 is heard again. The first amendment, by Rep. Raymond (D-Laredo), would have completely moved TDEx to the Texas Department of Public Safety without program management by the Governor’s Division of Emergency Management. The second amendment, by Rep. Noriega (D-Houston), would have subjected the Director of the State Office of Homeland Security to confirmation by the Senate.

Emphasis mine. You think that might explain Steve McCraw’s little temper tantrum towards Rep. Noriega? Note that even HB13 sponsor David Swinford thinks McCraw should have kept his trap shut. We’re still waiting on a real response from Governor Perry, by the way. Just, you know, FYI.

Grits has a lot more on this. He notes that Rep. Swinford snapped at an ACLU lobbyist on his way out of the chamber, saying it would be on them if the bill failed. The only place I saw any coverage of that was in the subscription-only Rio Grande Guardian. I’ve got an excerpt here:

With aides by his side, Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, was leaving an impromptu meeting of the State Affairs Committee that, just before 9 p.m., had rewritten, for the third time, HB 13.

Out of the corner of his eye Swinford noticed Rebecca Bernhardt, the ACLU’s immigration, border and national security policy director, huddled with legislative staff.

Swinford turned on his heels, pointed a finger at Bernhardt and said: “If this bill dies, it will be on your conscience.” He then turned and trudged off.

The ACLU has had serious reservations about HB 13, particularly a provision that allows the Governor’s Office to oversee the state’s intelligence operations. Asked what she thought of Swinford’s remark, Bernhardt said: “I think he exaggerates my or my organization’s influence over the process.”

Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, a leading critic of HB 13, said it was folly to blame the ACLU for the fact that the legislation was derailed.

“I think the whole bill has been flawed throughout,” said Farrar, the only Hispanic on the State Affairs Committee. “The reason we have had three major revisions is thanks to you (media) guys that have aired this. But there has been resistance.”

As Grits said, you could also include the Texas Observer and its crackerjack reporting on TDEx as reasons why this bill has been justifiably stuck in the muck. More coverage is in the Chron, the Star-Telegram, the Morning News, the Statesman, the El Paso Times, and the McAllen Monitor. Probably the most important nugget, buried in there somewhere, is that Swinford will accept the two amendments Farrar described when the bill comes back out of committee. That will allow for at least a little more oversight of this beast. Stay tuned.

HB218: No action in the Senate yet

The rumor was that the voter ID bill HB218 was going to come up in the Senate yesterday, but according to the TLO all that happened was a cosponsor was authorized. I sure hope Sen. Gallegos is either in Austin or prepared to get back there on a moment’s notice, because who knows when this will actually come up.

Did you catch the KPRC story about some bogus voter registration applications that came into the Harris County Tax Assessor’s office? Quite the propitious timing, that. Racy Mind has a screenshot and a bit more to the story:

It appears a number of voter registration applications have trickled into the Harris County Tax Office since February, according to the Office spokesman I talked to. Over 50 applications were mailed from El Paso, listing a non-existent Houston address.

The Tax Office spokesman said the news crew was there for something else entirely, but they saw the voter fraud memo on a desk and the reporter said “hey, there’s a story!” So they did one.

Never mind that no fraudulent votes could have taken place – there would be nowhere to deliver the voter reg cards since the address doesn’t exist.

Not to mention that the reg cards received by the Tax Assessor’s office are clearly not Texas forms, as anyone who has ever registered a voter well knows. Among other things, party affiliation is not part of the registration form under current law. Which is something I’m sure Paul Bettencourt knows. If this is the “widespread voter fraud” that the GOP swears (but has no evidence to prove) is happening, it’s clearly not much of a threat to anything.

UPDATE: The Statesman answers my questions about Sen. Gallegos and HB218.

Sen. Mario Gallegos Jr. of Houston, who’s been away from the Capitol most of the legislative session after a liver transplant, showed up in the Senate on Thursday to join a bloc of Democrats opposing the voter ID bill.

Under Senate rules, two-thirds of the chamber, or 21 senators, must agree to bring a bill up for debate. With Gallegos present, the 11 Democrats have enough power to block it.

“We’re 11 strong in unity,” Gallegos said Thursday. He said he planned to be there every day for the rest of the session to help stop the bill. The five-month session ends May 28.

Gallegos said he feels up to being at the Senate for the rest of the month.

“Is it easy? No. No, I’m not going to lie to you,” he said. “I feel OK. I’m not a hundred percent, so I’ve got to take my medicine.”

Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the Senate’s presiding officer, had warned that he might call the voter bill up for debate as soon as Thursday and gave Gallegos a 24-hour warning, as he’d requested. The proposal never came up Thursday.

[…]

Dewhurst said he’ll take his first opportunity to pass the bill.

My interpretation of that last sentence is “Dewhurst will wait and hope that Gallegos needs to return to Houston at some point, at which time he will bring up HB218”. Have I mentioned that we need to keep Sen. Gallegos’ continued good health in our prayers? Link via Stace.

UPDATE: A commenter points out that the registration form shown in the KPRC story is a federal form, which is valid for any state. It’s still a very clumsy attempt at fraud, if that’s what it really was, and quite convenient from a timing perspective.

Early voting: West University Place

I know pretty much nothing about the election going on in West University Place for its Mayor and City Council, other than I’ve seen quite a few signs advertising this candidate or that along Kirby and Buffalo Speedway. For those who do want to know more, the West U Examiner reports from a candidate forum, with a summary of each contender’s opinions on various issues. Anybody out there have a comment on these folks?

I’ve cast my ballot for Melissa Noriega. Have you cast yours yet? In the spirit of early compliance with the proposed new voter ID regulations, I offered to give a DNA sample to the election judge so they could be 100% sure of my identity and citizenship. For some reason, they didn’t take me up on it. Obviously, some training will be needed prior to implementation.

Remember, in addition to voting for her, you can help Melissa by phone calling and blockwalking. Early voting ends on Tuesday, May 8, and Election Day is Saturday, May 12. Please get involved in any way you can.

Benefit for Mark Strawn tonight

The fundraiser for Mark Strawn is tonight. Marty Hajovsky has all the details. We hope to see you there.

Mayor White editorializes for clean air

Not sure why this is in the Morning News and not the Chron, but here it is:

In Texas, we value freedom and resist bureaucratic interference. But we also understand that “a person’s right to throw their fist ends where another person’s nose begins.”

Texas took a big step backward, in violation of these principles, with the state Senate passage on Wednesday of SB 1317, which limits the age-old right of cities to protect citizens from public nuisances. Two years ago, Houston used this established right to dramatically cut levels of a dangerous carcinogen – butadiene 1,3 – emitted by a petrochemical company.

On some blocks in the mostly Hispanic Manchester area, which had been exposed to this chemical for years, most of the households of long-term residents have experienced cancer. We now seek to reduce excessive concentrations of benzene, another carcinogen, in parts of our city.

SB 1317 strips away the power of cities to protect their citizens from toxic substances put into the air upwind from large concentrations of residents.

And the shame of it all is that it didn’t have to happen. Let’s hope that the House is more responsible.

Bye-bye, Three Brothers

A month ago, Weingarten officially announced its plans for the River Oaks Shopping Center. And now today is the last day there for the Three Brothers Bakery.

“We got a phone call from Weingarten (the property owner) that we need to be out by May 4,” said Janice Jucker, wife of Robert Jucker, a second generation owner.

And as that date quickly approaches, the Juckers are scrambling to find another space, which, according to Jucker, hasn’t been easy.

“If we could find comparable rent in the same area, that would be great,” she said. “But the thing you have to really consider is we’re selling cakes and cookies. We’re not selling $100 shoes, so we have to sell a lot to make a lot.”

As of April 26, Jucker said they had not received a written notice from Weingarten, only a phone call. However, she added Weingarten had at one time offered a space at Highway 290 and Hollister Street, about 10 miles from their current location.

The Three Bros. River Oaks location serves as a storefront, while Jucker said all of the baking and about 70 percent of the business is done at the 4036 S. Braeswood Blvd. location. That is where the company is directing its River Oaks customers until an alternative is found.

[…]

Jucker said Three Bros. will not shut its doors quietly. She is in the process of planning a farewell party for its last day.

“We’ll probably serve cookies shaped like wrecking balls,” she said.

I think I know where I’ll be stopping on my way home from work. Just a shame it won’t be for a happier occasion. Hopefully, they’ll find something in the area that they can afford.

No speed trap cameras

While red light cameras remain controversial, automated devices for nabbing speeders got a unanimous thumbs down in the House.

Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Southlake, said there’s no conclusive evidence that automated devices such as cameras or radar result in fewer road crashes. Moreover, cameras could be used not just to crack down on speeders, but to go after motorists not wearing seat belts or motorists with expired inspection stickers. “At what point do you stop? What does it end?” she said.

Truitt said she has a good feeling House Bill 922 will sail through the Senate. It’s sponsored by Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas.

A half dozen House members railed against the use of automated devices to go after drivers, saying they constitute an invasion of privacy and are nothing short of an attempt by municipalities to “pick the pockets” of constitutents , as one member put it.

Heated debate centered not on the automated traps but on whether the bill should be amended to include a ban on red light cameras at intersections, which House members have tried to pass in other sessions. Ultimately, the amendment was rejected on the grounds it might ruin the chances of HB 922 passing in the Senate.

Automated speed traps have been installed by at least two towns, Rhome and Marble Falls.

In case you’re curious, Carona’s bill to limit the amount of revenue a municipality can derive from red light cameras, which passed the Senate a month ago, is still in committee in the House.