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May 6th, 2009:

No sunset for SBOE

Well, that‘s too bad.

Just yesterday the Texas House approved on second reading House Bill 710, which would have made the Texas State Board of Education subject to periodic review by the Sunset Advisory Commission. That vote was 74-68. But the House just voted down the measure on third reading, 71-73. Only one Republican crossed the aisle to vote for HB 710.

The vote came after religious conservatives — rallied by a virtual “who’s who” of right-wing pressure groups — bombarded House offices with e-mails and phone calls opposing this common-sense bill. That pressure campaign didn’t surprise us — far-right groups have been thrilled that the state board is controlled by ideologues who keep dragging public schools into the culture wars. But the vote should be terribly disappointing for parents and other taxpayers who are tired of extremists using the State Board of Education as a playground for promoting ideological agendas.

That means we’re gonna have to beat ’em at the ballot box, starting next year with Cynthia Dunbar. An equivalent to the Texas Parent PAC for the SBOE, to facilitate going after those who need to be taken out in a GOP primary, would be nice. Elise has more.

IG for DPS

I just have one question regarding this story.

Top lawmakers voiced support for creating an inspector general at the Texas Department of Public Safety on Tuesday, a day after the sudden resignation of the agency’s director amid allegations of unprofessional actions with female staffers.

The idea of an official who could look into issues and report directly to the agency’s governor-appointed oversight commission has been among proposals for overhauling the DPS, which is undergoing its periodic “sunset” view.

Some said it was particularly appropriate after the departure of Col. Stanley E. Clark, who left amid allegations that he touched women at the agency in an unprofessional way, “demonstratively” blew kisses to one and called a veteran employee “his girl.”

How is it that we didn’t already have an Inspector General for the DPS? I’d have thought such a thing would be standard practice. That’s small government for you, I suppose.

Bell lawsuit against Perry advances

In November of 2007, Chris Bell filed a lawsuit against Governor Rick Perry’s 2006 re-election campaign and the Republican Governor’s Association claiming they illegally hid $1 million in donations from Houston homebuilder Bob Perry. The suit alleges that the RGA was not legally set up to make donations at the time of the contributions to Perry. More information on the allegations in the suit is here. On Tuesday in Austin, the plaintiffs survived a motion to dismiss.

District Judge John Dietz late [Tuesday] denied efforts by Texans for Rick Perry and the Republican Governors Association to throw out a lawsuit brought against them by Democrat Chris Bell, who ran against Perry in 2006, said Bell lawyer Buck Wood.


Wood said the Dietz ruling did not address Bell’s own effort to have a summary judgment in the case. If that effort is also denied, the case will move closer to a trial.

Good for Bell. These things obviously move very slowly, so don’t expect the next update to come any time soon.

Voter ID still pending

No hurry, fellas. Seriously, take all the time you want.

Rep. Todd Smith, the Euless Republican who helms the House Committee on Elections, said today he’s still trying to gather the five committee votes he needs to send a voter ID measure to the full House. Smith, you’ll remember, initially said he hoped to win the committee’s sign-off on his approach sometime last week.

Noting that House rules permit members to act on Senate bills for three weeks’ more, Smith said: “We don’t have a gun to our heads. I’m going to give the members of the committee time to get comfortable with a proposal.”

Smith did not confirm that he’s backed off his rewrite of the Senate-approved proposal that circulated last week, though there’s been talk that he’s willing to implement the ID mandate in 2011 rather than 2013 as he suggested last week.

There’s also chatter that Smith is amenable to requiring photo IDs of every voter, one of several principles listed in a letter signed by 71 House Republicans. Under the must-have-a-photo-ID approach, a voter without an ID could still cast a provisional ballot (subject to being counted after regular ballots) by presenting documents indicating her or his identity.

“We all have our preferred route” to a proposal, Smith said. “Everybody is going to have to give a little bit.”

Much as I want this to die, I wonder if the best result is for the GOP-preferred punitive bill to come to the floor, then lose because Reps. Tommy Merritt and Delwyn Jones vote against it. That may be the result the gives the most discouragement to it coming up again in a special session. Dying in committee may suggest to Governor Perry that all he needed was more time, not more votes. Just a thought.

Meanwhile, the League of Women Voters and five other non-partisan advocacy groups released a document (PDF) that outlined their preferred approach to election reform.

Problems that need addressing:

1. Texas was 46th in voter turnout by voter eligible population in the 2008 general election. Only Hawaii, West Virginia, Utah and Arkansas had a lower voter turnout than Texas.
2. Texas has the highest number of recent violations under the Voting Rights Act.
3. Rejection rates for provisional ballots for Texas are among the highest in the country.
4. Advocacy groups report a significant number of instances of poll workers not following existing election law on provisional ballots and ID requirements but Texas doesn’t have an adequate method of reporting and dealing with these issues.
5. Hispanic registration rates are significantly lower than white-non-Hispanic registration rates in Texas.
6. Despite the mistaken belief that many voters are not eligible to vote, there is virtually no evidence of voting by non-citizens or voter impersonation.

Principles for addressing these issues:

1. Register all eligible Texas voters and make sure their votes get counted accurately.
2. Protect the rights of all Texas voters from deceptive practices that intimidate voters or provide false information about voting.
3. Encourage all eligible Texans to participate in all Texas elections.
4. Provide avenues to identify, report, investigate and resolve election issues.
5. Prosecute cases of voter and election fraud.
6. Substantive changes in voting policies, including any change in identification requirements, must be accompanied by a robust and multifaceted public and poll worker education campaign.

Good luck with that. Link via Vaqueros and Wonkeros.

UPDATE: A new draft bill made the rounds, with some concessions such as a 2011 implementation date but also some hardlining, as all non-photo forms of ID were removed as acceptable for casting a non-provisional ballot. Dems were not happy and circulated a letter demanding more hearings, which Rep. Smith was not inclined to do. Republicans aren’t that happy with this, either, and so no committee vote was held today. Postcards has the most comprehensive take on it, but see also Texas Politics, Elise Hu, and Rep. Pena.

UPDATE: Floor Pass has a more thorough analysis of what’s wrong with the “compromise” bill.

Can’t wait to see the transcript of this one

Speaking of appointments, the Senate Nominations Committee today will consider Governor Perry’s naming of Shanda Gillaspie (Perkins) to the Board of Pardons and Parole. You remember her – she’s the anti-sex toy activist best known for her war on dildos. I’m going to resist the urge to make any bad puns and just note that as Grits says, she’s unqualified for the post. But she does serve a political purpose, and sometimes that’s all that’s needed.

Donations and appointments

A lot of the people Rick Perry has appointed to various government offices have contributed to his campaign. Who knew?

Gov. Rick Perry has accepted nearly $5 million in political campaign donations from people he appointed to state boards and commissions, including some in plum jobs that set policy for state universities, parks and roads, records show.

Nearly half the appointee donations came from people serving as higher education regents, including more than $840,000 from those at the University of Texas System, according to a Houston Chronicle review of campaign-finance records.

Political patronage is nothing new for Texas governors in both political parties. The contributions are a legal and common practice, though it has been fodder for critics over the years.

“The reason people should care is that it would be nice to think that government functioned as a meritocracy,” said Andrew Wheat of the watchdog group Texans for Public Justice, which has tracked appointee donations in the past.

Perry’s office didn’t dispute the Chronicle’s analysis, but rejected any notion that the governor considers donations in choosing his appointments. His spokesman, Mark Miner, noted that many people serving the state for the governor aren’t donors.

Indeed, only about one in 10 of the 2,400 people currently serving Perry have written campaign checks, according to the review, which matched names and other records in computerized data to flag donors.

The appointees have given about $4.9 million since Perry became governor in late 2000, with the average donation topping $7,000. The total is only a fraction of the more than $60 million the governor has raised since he took office.

You know, I dislike Rick Perry as much as anyone, but I don’t see what the story is here. There’s no indication that the level of giving is significantly different than it was in the past; the story acknowledges this is nothing new, but has no numbers to compare him to, most likely because the historic data isn’t accessible, at least not easily. All other indicators – the ratio of contributors to non-contributors, the total share of their donations, the lack of any allegation that there’s a pay-to-play aspect to this – take whatever edge there might have been off of this.

Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand Andrew Wheat’s point, and Lord knows there’s plenty of examples of quid pro quo in our campaign system. I’ve said many times that the reason many big donors give the huge sums they do to various campaigns is precisely because they expect a return on their investment. Had this article shown some kind of connection between the donors, their legislative and/or regulatory interests, and the appointments they received, that would have been a different matter. But the fact that the class of political appointees contains a number of political donors as well shouldn’t be seen as something onerous in and of itself. If it were, then logically anyone who might be a meritocratic selection to fill some chair or board or whatnot would be barred from contributing to the campaign of a candidate they believe in, lest they render themselves un-appointable later on. Surely that’s not a desirable outcome.

Scaling back steroid testing in the schools

Yes, yes, yes.

House and Senate budget negotiators will decide in the coming weeks whether the [$3 million a year program to test high school student athletes for steroids] continues — and its scope and pace.

“It’s not needed. House members think that we should not do the test at all,” said House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie. Pitts will lead House members in their negotiations with Senate counterparts.

A scaled-down program is possible, Pitts said. And that would satisfy Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, who sponsored the steroid-testing legislation two years ago.

He prefers a scaled-down program where random tests for steroid use are given to students who participate in football, track, weight lifting and wrestling, sports in which steroid abuse is most prevalent, as opposed to volleyball, for example.

“No, we don’t have a whole lot of people that we caught, but the whole idea was for them not to use it,” Flynn said. “It was a fairness and health issue, and we think we raised that level of awareness to a bar where it’s been successful.”

As noted, in the story, a grand total of 11 athletes, out of 29,000 tested, came up positive. Both Rep. Flynn and Lt. Gov. Dewhurst, who was also quoted in support of this foolishness, have given all kinds of silly justifications for this in the past as well. Even Governor Perry supports scaling this back. Now three million bucks is chump change in the context of the budget. Killing this program isn’t going to achieve any real savings. That’s not the point. Steroid testing was done for a reason, whether you believe it was deterrence or fact-finding or something else, and the results have shown that it’s not needed. We should pay heed to those results and take the next logical step.

Cottage foods update

A month ago, I wrote about a website called Texas Cottage Food Law, which is working to pass a bill that would allow folks who bake bread and cakes and whatnot to sell their wares from their homes. I’m pleased to report that they’re making some progress in their quest.

For the past four-and-a-half weeks HB 3282 has been held up in the Public Health Committee. The bill was voted out of the Public Health Committee by a unanimous vote of 9-0 around 6:30 p.m. on April 28. A report is now being prepared to be sent to the Calendars Committee to await placement for floor debate and vote. This alone could take up to a week.

“If no actions are taken by May 11 the bill dies,” Magnolia area home-school student and cake enthusiast Emily Doty said. “I am so passionate about the passing of this bill because my grandma baked for years and it is something I would like to have the option to do later.”

Doty said that the bill has a lot of public support. Rep. Dan Gattis discussed his bill allowing for the production of baked goods in an individual’s home before the Committee on Public Health, on March 27.

He introduced the Cottage Food Production Act after being contacted by a constituent who wanted to see a change in the law.

Cake Boss Kelley Masters of wrote the representative seeking assistance so individuals such as herself could legally sell baked goods made in their homes. In addition to hearing from Masters, Gattis received numerous calls and a signed petition from more than 2,000 Texans supporting such legislation, according to a Texas House of Representatives press release.

“The Cottage Food Production Bill is about encouraging entrepreneurship among individuals who want to legally sell their baked goods,” Gattis said. “A number of successful businesses began in people’s homes, from Microsoft and Dell, to Paula Dean and Tiff’s Treats. This bill provides a starting place for bakers in Texas to earn some additional income and opens the doors for additional successful businesses in the future.”

Reps. Allen Vaught and Debbie Riddle are now co-authors of HB3282, and according to Masters, who sent me the link to this article, Sen. Steve Ogden has agreed to sponsor it if it reaches the Senate. It’s all up to the Calendars committee now, so contact its membership if you want to see this move forward.