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May 10th, 2007:

HB159 goes down

Good.

An attempt to overturn a groundbreaking 2001 Texas law allowing certain illegal immigrants to receive cheaper in-state tuition rates at state universities all but died in the House late Wednesday.

After Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, upheld a challenge to House Bill 159 on a technicality, the legislation’s sponsor, Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington,said it was too late to bring the bill back to the floor.

[…]

Zedler said he would look for an opportunity to attach the bill to other legislation during the session’s waning days.

I’m sure he will. Eternal vigilance is still needed to ward off this kind of crap.

House Bill 159 would have amended the Texas Education Code, prohibiting illegal immigrants from being considered residents and eligible for the cheaper tuition.

Since 2001, 11,130 of the millions of students attending Texas higher education institutions have used the law to qualify for cheaper tuition at 81 state universities, health-related institutions and community, technical or state colleges.

The figure includes undocumented students and legal residents, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Since Texas enacted the law, with strong bipartisan support and little opposition, nine other states have passed similar legislation.

But with Congress unable to find solutions to illegal immigration, state legislatures are struggling to decide whether to extend or deny in-state tuition to illegal immigrants.

In other words, this bill was a scapegoat hunt. It deserved to die.

Two things to add here, both from Quorum Report. First, on the nature of the point of order that killed the bill:

For those prone to read tea leaves, Speaker Craddick’s decision to uphold [Rep.] Tommy Merritt’s point of order tonight was significant on a couple of points.

First, Merritt’s move forestalled a potential test vote on benefits for illegal immigrants. Some thought this vote paralleled the vote taken on vouchers in 2005 that proved the litmus test leading to Leininger’s millions in the 2006 primary season. Merritt, one of those targeted by the fabled Leininger Five, would have been more sensitive to that than most.

The background agreement tonight had been to allow that test vote — on Noriega’s amendment to gut the bill — before sustaining a point of order raised by Noriega.

But Merritt was one step ahead with his point of order, which leads to the second major point.

The reverberations from Monday night’s would-be putsch continue. Speaker Craddick had little choice but to sustain Merritt’s point of order even though it voided the previous arrangement. In the end, though, the Speaker could not afford to stir up an already on-edge House with an overrule on an obvious point of order. With the House having already demonstrated a willingness to over rule the Chair, venturing too far from the rules could be risky business.

Make of that what you will. Secondly, on the bill analysis:

QR is not advised as to whether plagiarism constitutes valid grounds for a point of order, but we’d like to point out some striking similarities between the bill analysis for HB 159 and a column written in March 2003 by Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly.

HB 159, authored by Rep. Bill Zedler (R-Arlington), would repeal legislation passed in 2001 that allowed non-citizen Texas residents to pay in-state tuition at public universities. The topic, which was heavily debated in last year’s gubernatorial election, seems likely to spur more rhetorical fireworks when its turn on the calendar arrives. That could happen as soon as later this afternoon.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the HB 159 bill analysis with Schlafly’s piece, entitled “In-State College Tuition For Illegal Aliens?”:

— From the analysis: “The monetary difference, which varies, can be more than $12,000 per student. This windfall was given despite the need for additional funding in Texas higher education.”

From Ms. Schlafly: “The monetary difference, which varies from state to state, can be as high as $11,000 per year, and this windfall is given even though most state governments are crying about budget shortfalls because of the current state of our economy.”

— From the analysis: “Federal law (Title 8, Chapter 14, Sec. 1623) states: ‘an alien who is not lawfully present in the United States shall not be eligible on the basis of residence within a State … for any postsecondary education benefit unless a citizen or national of the United States is eligible for such a benefit (in no less an amount, duration, and scope) without regard to whether the citizen or national is such a resident.'”

From Ms. Schlafly: “Federal law (Title 8, Chapter 14, Sec. 1623) states: ‘an alien who is not lawfully present in the United States shall not be eligible on the basis of residence within a State … for any postsecondary education benefit unless a citizen or national of the United States is eligible for such a benefit (in no less an amount, duration, and scope) without regard to whether the citizen or national is such a resident.'”

— From the analysis: “When Congress passed this law and President Clinton signed it in 1996, there was no misunderstanding about what this law meant. Conference Report 104-828 stated, ‘this section provides that illegal aliens are not eligible for in-state tuition rates at public institutions of higher education.'”

From Ms. Schlafly: “There was no misunderstanding about what this law means, either when Congress passed it or when President Clinton signed it in 1996. Conference Report 104-828 stated, ‘this section provides that illegal aliens are not eligible for in-state tuition rates at public institutions of higher education.'”

— From the analysis: “Universities have circumvented this federal law by the ‘loophole’ of simply not asking or documenting whether student applicants are legally in this country.”

From Ms. Schlafly: “The universities think they can circumvent this federal law by the ‘loophole’ of simply not asking student applicants whether or not they are legally in this country.”

It must be noted that the grafs in the bill analysis did not bear any attribution. When asked, Zedler said he was unaware of the Schlafly column or any similarities between the bill analysis for his bill and the column. He noted that an analysis is sometimes written by the author’s staff and sometimes by the committee staff.

Since this bill is all about higher ed, the question must be asked, Would the author of the analysis be able to submit this to his college professor and say it’s original work?

So it wasn’t just bad public policy, it was bad public policy by op-ed column. And wasn’t that mighty nice of Rep. Zedler to blame the plagiarism on his underlings? What a guy.

Rep. Farrar’s personal privilege speech on HB1098

The following speech was delivered on the floor of the House by Rep. Jessica Farrar after HB1098 became law without Governor Perry’s signature:

Mr. Speaker and Members-

I come before you today to deliver the first personal privilege speech of my 13 year career with the House. I have always said that the day I got up here to speak, it would be on an issue that I felt was worthy. That issue is saving women’s lives.

I knew in November of last year when I pre-filed HB 215 to require the HPV vaccine for girls entering the sixth grade that I was going to have an uphill battle. However, I had no idea that a medical breakthrough that prevents a form of cancer in women would be so unwelcome by this legislative body.

We all know that Gov. Perry issued his Executive Order on February 2 requiring the HPV vaccine for girls entering the sixth grade. HB 1098 by Rep. Bonnen followed and has effectively insured that Gov. Perry’s Executive Order will never be implemented.

Yesterday, Governor Perry decided he would not veto HB 1098 due to the fact that he knows the legislature has the power to override his veto. Perhaps he also decided to not veto the bill for other reasons. I cannot speak on Gov. Perry’s behalf nor do I want to. Instead, I am here today to speak for myself and the many girls and women affected by the fact that we as a legislative body have essentially blocked access to this life-saving vaccine for so many of our Texas girls.

When HB 1098 was debated on the floor, we heard Rep. Bonnen and others repeatedly say they had nothing against Texas families having access to the HPV vaccine for their daughters. I’m here to tell you that in blocking the school-based requirement for the vaccine, these people did indeed deny many of our girls access to the HPV vaccine.

After all, we live in Texas. Since this legislature is very much responsible for the fact that we do not have more and better healthcare programs for the children of our state, we should know that many Texas children do not have medical homes. They do not have the regular check-ups with their pediatricians that allow parents to hear about the newest medical advances. They are victims of a broken system that is made up of the haves and the have nots, and they are on the losing end.

Even the middle class that has access to some kind of health coverage has to limit when they see their doctors because they can’t afford the insurance or the co-pays. For too many of our children, their interaction with the medical community comes in the form of emergency care, and that’s it. They see medical professionals when their coughs have turned into pneumonia and hopefully when it is time for their routine vaccinations.

So you see, those conversations between a parent and a pediatrician that Rep. Bonnen would have you believe are so available are the reality of a privileged few in our state. We had the chance to level the field a little bit, and we decided to not take it. That will be something we as a legislative body will have to answer to in the future.

In about a decade we will have to look into the faces of the girls, by then young women, that would have been subject to the school-based HPV vaccine requirement in our state. By then, I regret to say, some will have developed pre-cancerous cervical cells that require invasive and expensive medical treatment in an effort to stave off cervical cancer. I also regret to say that at least some of them will have developed cervical cancer, as this disease can hit a woman when she is 20 or 40. I know this because I met such women, the ones fortunate enough to have survived, and I also met the loved ones of the women that were not quite so fortunate during the course of my research into this subject. I also know this because I am one of those very fortunate women that had access to medical care to treat pre-cancerous cells caused by HPV.

Those young women that were denied access to the vaccine will deserve an answer, and I invite every member of this House that voted against a school-based HPV vaccine requirement to start thinking of one because it will be on you to provide it to them.

I also invite the members that authored and supported amendments to our state budget that prohibit the use of state money for a school-based HPV vaccine requirement to think about this. Think of how you will explain to those young women why you saw it fit to spend money on everything under the sun minus their cancer-free futures.

And for those of you that in any way voted against making this life-saving vaccine available to all of the girls in our state, I invite you to also explain to these young women why you saw it fit to get your own daughters and granddaughters vaccinated against HPV through the physicians your private health insurance plan pays for. If they are worth protecting, why aren’t all of the girls of Texas worthy of the same?

But this isn’t just about the HPV vaccine. It’s about the fact that our priorities in this legislature are focused on everything but what the residents of our state truly need. We’ve allowed fear and misguided ideology to determine our course, and that is reprehensible. The debate on the HPV vaccine has just been a sad commentary on the state of this legislative body.

From the beginning, the debate on HPV and the vaccine to prevent its infection in this House has been about everything but saving women’s lives. It has been about misinformation on the merits of the vaccine, misinformation on the effect it would have on teen sexuality, and it has most certainly been on everything but the scientific and medical facts that tell us the vaccine prevents both suffering and death.

It has been about the Governor overreaching his authority. This is especially disturbing given the events of the past few days. HB 13, which gives the Governor massive amounts of power, was just passed with almost no hesitation or debate from the vast majority of this House. Yet those same members that voted for HB 13 condemned what they saw as an overreach of power by the Governor when he actually tried to prevent cancer in women. If that’s not hypocrisy on the part of the members of this House, I don’t know what is.

The debate has also been about the false belief that vaccine requirements intrude on parental rights. Requiring the HPV vaccine for school admission would not force anyone to get the vaccine. What it would do is require parents to make an informed decision whether or not to vaccinate their daughters against HPV. It would also provide access to the vaccine to the huge portions of our population that would otherwise never know about it or be offered it.

And finally, the debate has been about judgment. Judgment of the poor and uninformed-apparently they don’t deserve to have access to this vaccine. Judgment of the women that contract HPV-apparently having sex, even if it’s with your only lifetime sexual partner, is enough for you to deserve the virus and its potential consequences.

But, again, this isn’t just about the HPV vaccine. It’s about the fact that our priorities in this legislature are focused on everything but healthcare, education, children, families, counseling, violence prevention programs, consumer protection, protecting the environment, and generally helping those that most need help. It’s about the fact that I believe we have lost our way, and refusing to help save women’s lives is a particularly glaring example of this.

So today when HB 1098 becomes law and effectively denies a life-saving cancer vaccine to so many of our Texas girls, I ask you to think about what we have done. I ask that you think of the girls, boys, women, and men our decisions and actions affect on a daily basis. And I ask you to put yourself in their shoes the next time you have to decide how to vote on something as important as a cancer vaccine.

Thank you.

Targeting 2008: CD10

BOR lists “Five Things You Can Do To Help Win TX-10”. We know there’s two announced candidates on the Democratic side, and we know that incumbent Michael McCaul won with a modest 55% in 2006. What else do we know about this district and the chances of winning it in 2008?

Well, ask me a question like that and I’ll give you a spreadsheet. Here’s how the statewide candidates did in CD10 last year:

Republican Votes Pct Democrat Votes Pct ======================================================= Combs 107,403 63.1 Head 62,564 36.8 Abbott 107,990 62.9 Van Os 63,605 37.1 Hutchison 107,988 62.5 Radnofsky 64,818 37.5 Dewhurst 104,155 61.7 Alvarado 64,540 38.3 Patterson 97,762 58.9 Hathcox 68,328 41.1 Staples 97,273 58.1 Gilbert 70,124 41.9 McCaul 97,712 57.8 Ankrum 71,415 42.2 Ames Jones 95,750 57.7 Henry 70,112 42.3 Keller 98,243 57.3 Molina 73,136 42.7 Willett 89,899 54.4 Moody 75,343 45.6

Remember that all percentages are for the two-party totals, and that every race except Keller/Molina had a Libertarian in it; Mike Badnarik scored about 4% in CD10. Basically, McCaul compares poorly to the other Republicans on the ballot. An incumbent with his financial resources should have done better than he did.

I believe the key to making CD10 a viable target in 2008 is Travis County. You may recall that Ted Ankrum commissioned a poll in CD10 back in July, which showed the race splitting 50/42, with Libertarian Michael Badnarik getting the remaining 8. The poll skewed towards Travis – 47% of the respondents were from Travis County, 36% from Harris, and the remainder elsewhere. I noted that this was a critical factor, because Travis was going to be the main source of Democratic support. I also noted that this was a significant departure from 2004, where Harris slightly outpolled Travis. Here’s how everybody performed in the CD10 portion of Travis County last year:

Republican Votes Pct Democrat Votes Pct ======================================================= Combs 34,418 49.1 Head 35,667 50.9 Abbott 33,790 47.5 Van Os 37,321 52.5 Hutchison 33,359 46.3 Radnofsky 38,654 53.7 Dewhurst 32,597 46.3 Alvarado 37,798 53.7 Patterson 29,295 42.6 Hathcox 39,512 57.4 Staples 28,972 41.9 Gilbert 40,256 58.1 Ames Jones 28,539 41.9 Henry 39,638 58.1 McCaul 28,576 40.9 Ankrum 41,351 59.1 Keller 28,962 40.4 Molina 42,769 59.6 Willett 25,479 37.3 Moody 42,845 62.7 Puryear 30,765 42.5 Brees 41,550 57.5 Waldrop 28,578 39.8 Coronado 43,191 60.2 Wilson 28,564 39.6 Henson 43,647 60.4 Connor 27,069 38.1 Baird 44,070 61.9

The bottom four candidates are all judicials. Ankrum did well here, but again there’s room to grow. (There’s also room to drop if you’re not as good a candidate as some others, which I think explains the disparity between Mina Brees and her judicial colleagues.) More importantly, Travis County took in more votes than Harris did – where Harris was about 40% of the vote in 2004 and Travis 39%, it was 41% Travis and 37% Harris in 2006. A strong turnout operation could boost performance and total vote even more, which brings you that much closer to a win.

You can’t do it all in Travis, of course. The Democrat will have to move the baseline up in Harris County, where the average statewide contender got 23% – Ankrum for 27%, Moody 29%. Topping 30% – ideally, getting 32 or 33 percent – has to be the goal. Which is easier said than done, given the utter lack of Democratic infrastructure in that part of the district. But if you believe CD10 is winnable – and I for one do – then this work needs to get done. Having the necessary financial resources would help a lot. Hopefully, the DCCC and the in-state money people are paying attention. We’ll see.

Feds keep circling around Tom DeLay

Poor Tom DeLay. He’s just a little ol’ citizen-journalist now, but those nasty ol’ Feds won’t leave him alone.

DeLay said he has given the FBI documents exonerating his wife, but an associate of the former lawmaker said that agents have followed up with a fresh round of subpoenas.

The inquiry appears to be focused on determining whether DeLay’s wife, Christine, earned her pay from two organizations controlled by Ed Buckham, a lobbyist once closely affiliated with the former Republican leader, according to sources interviewed by federal investigators. Several former employees of the groups have received subpoenas for documents, some in the past few weeks.

DeLay told The Hill that he gave the FBI documents and computer records proving his wife was a legitimate employee of ARMPAC, a fundraising committee, and Alexander Strategy Group, a lobbying firm once controlled by Buckham.

The Justice Department’s persistence shows it has run amok, DeLay says, echoing a charge leveled last week by Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) in response to reports that he is under federal investigation.

“They’re not going after me,” DeLay said of the FBI. “They’re going after other people and they’re questioning the other people about whether they know anything I may have done. And we’ve given them all the records and that’s the problem they’re having.”

DeLay said the evidence shows that his wife did not accept improper payments: “She did her work and she was underpaid for the work she did and they can’t make the case. It’s a Justice Department that is running amok. Fish or cut bait. Do something.”

Fine by me. You heard the man – do something!

DeLay said neither he nor his wife is the target of the investigation. But sources contacted by the FBI or familiar with the probe say Christine seems very much in the agency’s sights. The FBI has asked former ARMPAC and Alexander Strategy Group employees what work Christine DeLay did.

“They were really focused on Christine DeLay and whether she was doing anything that would warrant her salary,” said one person contacted by agents.

The Washington Post reported that Buckham’s lobbying firm, Alexander Strategy Group, paid Christine DeLay a monthly salary of about $3,300 between 1998 and 2002.

ARMPAC, DeLay’s leadership political action committee (PAC), which was also tied to Buckham, paid her and her daughter, Dani DeLay Ferro, about $350,000 in consulting fees and expenses between 2001 and 2006, according to the Post.

Buckham employed ARMPAC’s executive director, Jim Ellis, as a consultant at Alexander, and staff of the two organizations shared an office building in Georgetown. Former DeLay associates described Buckham as a leader at ARMPAC.

The FBI has subpoenaed Ferro and investigators have questioned former DeLay associates about her work for ARMPAC. But the focus is mostly on Christine, sources say. Ferro refused to comment.

One source familiar with the investigation said federal officials have given immunity to at least one senior member of DeLay’s political circle who may now be cooperating with investigators. Former associates of the majority leader say investigators are apparently attempting to indict DeLay for corruption by proving that Buckham sought to influence him with unearned payments to his wife.

Greg in TX22 has more on this, including some solid speculation about who that “senior member of DeLay’s inner political circle may be. As always, stay tuned, and keep your popcorn bins amply supplied.

Metro gets some corridors started

And the next phase of the Metro light rail/guided rapid transit system is underway.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority board approved a $77.3 million agreement Tuesday with an Idaho-based engineering and construction firm to begin work on the city’s next four rapid transit lines.

Under the contract, Washington Group Transit Management Co. will organize, schedule and perform early design and construction work on the North, Southeast, East End and Uptown corridors.

All four lines are expected to start out with Bus Rapid Transit, which uses trainlike buses in guideways, and be converted to light rail when ridership justifies the additional cost.

The project also includes a transfer hub, known as the Intermodal Terminal Facility, on North Main near the University of Houston-Downtown, where bus and light rail lines will meet.

The board also approved awarding the firm $2.5 million for precontract work.

Greg P.Therrien, president of infrastructure for the parent company, Washington Group International, said the design work would likely be completed by March.

The Metro board will take action on a separate design and construction contract in a later phase of the project, which could also include a contract to operate and maintain the completed line.

The Universities corridor will be done separately. I’m not sure what the time frame is on that. I’m also not sure what the status of the “lawsuit” is – I haven’t heard anything, and haven’t had the time to try to call someone at Metro and find out. Regardless, at least this piece is moving along.