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May 16th, 2023:

Abbott threatens special session if he doesn’t get his voucher bill passed

It’s not the Lege these days without a special session threat.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Sunday said he would veto a toned-down version of a bill to offer school vouchers in Texas, and threatened to call legislators back for special sessions if they don’t “expand the scope of school choice” this month.

“Parents and their children deserve no less,” he said in a statement. His dramatic declaration came the night before the House Public Education Committee was scheduled to hold a public hearing on Senate Bill 8, the school voucher bill. That measure passed the Senate more than a month ago, but has so far been stalled in lower chamber as it lacks sufficient support.

The committee is set to vote Monday on the latest version of SB 8, authored by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, which would significantly roll back voucher eligibility to only students with disabilities or those that attended an F-rated campus. This would mean that fewer than a million students would be eligible to enter the program.

Abbott doesn’t believe the revised version does enough to provide the state with a meaningful “school choice” program. Since the start of the legislative session, Abbott has signaled his support to earlier proposals that would be open to most students. The governor also said he has had complaints over the new funding for the bill, saying it gives less money to special education students. It also doesn’t give priority to low-income students, who “may desperately need expanded education options for their children,” he said.

The centerpiece of the original Senate bill was “education savings accounts,” which work like vouchers and direct state funds to help Texas families pay for private schooling.

The version approved by the Senate would be open to most K-12 students in Texas and would give parents who opt out of the public school system up to $8,000 in taxpayer money per student each year. Those funds could be used to pay for a child’s private schooling and other educational expenses, such as textbooks or tutoring. But that idea has faced an uphill climb in the House, where lawmakers signaled last month their support for banning school vouchers in the state.

I haven’t followed the ups and downs of this latest version to suck money out of the public school system and use it to subsidize private schools. I will note that as in previous sessions, there was a budget amendment passed in the House to block any money being spent on vouchers, and in last week’s “get stuff done before the legislative calendar deadlines”-palooza, a motion to suspend the rules for an amended version of SB8 was shot down. Neither of those things happen without Republican support, and that’s been the key thing about the voucher fight all along – at least in the House, the votes for it aren’t there.

Abbott, like Rick Perry before him, has successfully used special sessions to pass Republican bills that Democrats have blocked via parliamentary means in regular sessions, like the omnibus voter suppression bill in 2021 and the bill aimed at shutting down abortion clinics that Wendy Davis filibustered in 2013. The extra time was what Republicans needed to overcome these procedural obstacles. Here, though, the resistance is coming from other Republicans. When special sessions have been called to overcome that kind of friction – see, for example, 2017 and the efforts then to pass a bathroom bill (who would have thought those would be the good old days) – they have generally ended in failure.

That could happen here. As Scott Braddock has noted on Twitter, there’s nothing to stop Speaker Phelan from taking a motion to adjourn sine die right after gaveling in the special session. I doubt that would happen, but it may be the case that there’s nothing Abbott and/or Dan Patrick can do to cajole or coerce the reluctant Republicans to change their minds. We’ll just have to see, if it comes down to it. The two people in Austin right now that I bet are rooting against that the hardest are probably Sens. John Whitmire and Roland Gutierrez, both of whom have other things to pursue as soon as they’re able to start fundraising again. Stay tuned.

WaPo says Gutierrez going to challenge Cruz

This is from last week and I don’t see any other stories to this effect, but it’s what we have.

Sen. Roland Gutierrez

Texas state Sen. Roland Gutierrez (D), a longtime lawmaker whose district includes Uvalde, Tex., intends to join the U.S. Senate race to challenge Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) in 2024, according to three people familiar with Gutierrez’s plans who spoke on the condition of anonymity because a formal announcement has not yet been made.

Gutierrez, 52, has served in the Texas state legislature since 2008 and represents the district where a gunman fatally shot 17 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School nearly a year ago. The mass shooting was the second-deadliest to take place at a school in the United States since 2012, when 20 children and six adult staff members were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

The shooting — and Gutierrez’s work with the families of the Uvalde victims afterward to try to enact gun legislation — galvanized the state lawmaker to seriously consider running for higher office, according to a person close to Gutierrez who has been familiar with his thinking over the past year.

“It changes you,” the person said. “Seeing all of that failure, knowing all of that stuff, knowing what the state has purportedly done or not done … and then going into a session and talking to your colleagues and realizing that they still don’t [care]. They are just going to be cowards. And they will sit there and they will cry with the families, but then they won’t do anything.”

Gutierrez would become the second Democrat to join the race, after Rep. Colin Allred (D-Tex.) announced his campaign last week. Texas state law prohibits sitting state lawmakers and other statewide officeholders from accepting campaign contributions during the regular legislative session. This year, the first day Texas lawmakers could accept political contributions would be June 19.

When reached Tuesday, Gutierrez declined to confirm whether he was running.

“The only thing that matters for the next three weeks is fighting for these families,” Gutierrez told The Washington Post. “That’s what I’m focused on right now.”

He added that he would make “decisions on other things” after the Texas legislative session was done.

I noted this story in my earlier post about Rep. Allred getting the “round of introductions” treatment. Sen. Gutierrez himself isn’t saying anything he hadn’t said in a report from late April, but this time we have the “three people familiar with Gutierrez’s plans” speaking for him. As I was saying before the Allred announcement, one does not expect that this sort of thing happens without the full knowledge and approval of the subject, so we have to take it seriously. I don’t see any similar stories out there – I’m a little surprised that the Trib or the Express News hasn’t done something to confirm or deny this – so this is what we have. And we also now have that special session threat from Greg Abbott, which might delay this announcement further. No point in announcing the candidacy if he can’t fundraise off of it. Anyway, this is where we are. Maybe we’ll know more in two weeks, maybe we won’t.

And another Dallas ransomware update

Recovery is a long and painful process.

In the immediate aftermath, the attack forced the city to take offline the police and fire department’s computer-aided dispatch system, the police department’s website and the city’s website. The city also closed its municipal court’s system. The city’s development services, public works, permitting and zoning couldn’t take applications or payments, nor could permits be issued.

“Unfortunately, mistakes have been made,” said Jim McDade, president of the Dallas Fire Fighters Association. “Some people have had difficulty getting in through 911, getting their calls answered in a timely manner, and then getting the proper equipment dispatched to them to take care of their emergencies. It’s impossible to know exactly how many mistakes were made.”

As of now, the computer-aided dispatch system is partially back online. The websites have been restored. Development services can accept payments, issue permits and receive plans electronically.

The municipal courts still cannot take payments in person, online or by phone, according to the court’s website. It also says there are “no court hearings, trials or jury duty until further notice.”

The situation’s far from normal for the police and fire departments.

Officers continue to handwrite reports. They still can’t use their in-car computers to check license plates or check for warrants, and instead they have to rely on dispatchers to do it for them.

“If you’re running a tag on a car, there may be a five or 10-minute delay,” said Sgt. Sheldon Smith, chapter president of National Black Police Association.

“If you run a person, you get that same type delay. Nothing is coming fast. Nothing,” he said.


Technicians are painstakingly checking every computer. As of Wednesday afternoon, for example, about 30 fire department devices had been found to be infected with the virus, so now they’re having to be wiped and reimaged.

See here for the previous update. There’s a lot of work still being done via analog means; Sergeant Smith is quoted elsewhere saying they’re “working like it’s 1965”. As I said before, my inference from this is that they are not going to pay a ransom but are instead trying to rebuild and restore from backup. This has clearly hit a few snags, not unexpected for a network that likely has a broad range of devices and systems, but it is progressing.

The most important thing at this point is to really understand the lessons of this attack, both in terms of how it happened and what needs to be done to prevent future occurrences, and how the recovery process can be improved for the future. As we well know in Houston, catastrophic outages can be caused by things other than hacker attacks. I hope local governments around the state are paying attention to this and taking their own lessons from it. This threat isn’t going away, we all need to be ready for its next appearance.