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Rafael Anchia

Keeping the push for immigration reform

From the Texas House:

Democratic Texas House members [have] filed an immigration resolution that could serve as a litmus test for Republican support for reforms being suggested at the national level.

House Concurrent Resolution 44, which urges the U.S. Congress to “swiftly enact and fund comprehensive immigration reform that creates a road map to citizenship,” comes after President Obama’s Tuesday State of the Union Address, where he again pushed Congress to craft a bill to address the 11 to 12 million people living in the country illegally, and to repair the nation’s existing immigration system. Filed by state Reps. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, and Ana Hernandez Luna, D-Houston, it incorporates statistics from the Texas Comptroller, the Cato Institute and the Partnership for a New American Economy, and statements of support for immigration reform from former state Reps. John Garza, R-San Antonio and Raul Torres, R-Corpus Christi, the Texas Federation of Republican Women and a national reform framework authored by a bipartisan group of U.S. senators.

Anchia said he wanted the resolution to have some substance and make a strong statement: that Texas can lead the way on immigration reform.

[…]

Anchia said he would reach out to the House Republican Caucus and open up the resolution to joint authorship. He said the timing was ideal after seeing that lawmakers in Texas were unwilling to pass “divisive” state-based immigration measures similar to bills passed in Arizona and Alabama.

“Texas has resisted that and I am proud of the state for having done that,” he said. “If we do not keep momentum going and it fails I worry we won’t be able to get anything accomplished for a long, long time.”

The resolution states that, according to a 2006 study conducted by the comptroller, the deportation of the millions of Texans in the state illegally would have resulted in a loss to the state’s gross domestic product of $18 billion. Figures from the Cato Institute indicate an overhaul of the country’s immigration system would add an additional $1.5 trillion to the country’s GDP.

HCRs aren’t bills, and if adopted they have no force of law behind them. They’re basically legislative petitions, saying “this is what we believe”. It’s a symbol, but if a resolution like this were to be adopted, especially by a strong majority, it would be a powerful symbol, one that just might perhaps get some attention from the folks who can do something about it. Our members of Congress, in other words. Of course, some of them need to hear it more than others. Congressional Democrats are almost entirely on board. Here’s the five Democratic Congressional freshmen from Texas opining on the subject:

Comprehensive immigration reform must include a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants living in this country who pass a background check, pay a fee along with back taxes and meet basic citizenship, civics and English language requirements.

In addition, the plan should include funding to increase the number of customs and border patrol officers at our ports of entry while also allocating resources to improve infrastructure at these ports. These investments will create jobs on both sides of the border and keep our border economies sustainable and thriving.

Immigration reform should include interior enforcement measures to improve the removal process for those who want to do our country harm. Worksite enforcement must also make mandatory the use of employment verification systems while improving that system to weed out criminals.

Finally, the package should reform temporary worker programs and create the opportunity for all, while ensuring we remain competitive in all industries and areas in our country and abroad.

The time is now to make the move on immigration reform, and we support efforts to carry out this monumental task. The time is now because of the needs of our country — the urgent need for a younger and more diverse workforce and the need to ensure that the next generation of Americans pays their fair share and keeps vital programs such as Medicare and Social Security solvent. We also need to know who is here so we can weed out those who pose a threat to our country and criminals who should not be here.

We will continue to secure this country from people who would do us harm and must support the men and women on the front lines of this effort by providing them with the necessary equipment and manpower to effectively protect our country. We, however, will remind our colleagues that some border cities like El Paso and others along the South Texas border are regularly ranked as the safest in the United States. We can no longer delay immigration reform. The time to move forward is now.

The words are clear, and the need is clear. Who’s on board, and who will stand in the way?

We need to fix birth certificates

This needs to happen.

Texas law prevents gay parents from both being listed on supplemental birth certificate forms for adoptive children. The forms provide space for only one mother, a woman, and one father, a male. The gender-specific language was added in 1997 as a part of a renewed commitment to conservative values, said the amendment’s author, former state Rep. Will Hartnett, R-Dallas.

Opponents of the provision say it compels same-sex families to present unwieldy paperwork to prove legal parentage for medical care, school enrollment and international travel, and prompts extra scrutiny that can embarrass or confuse children.

Connie Moore, a Houston adoption lawyer, said children do not “understand the legal distinction” when their birth certificate causes a hold-up “while in line to sign up for soccer.”

Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, has filed legislation this session to strike the 1997 amendment from the Texas Health and Safety Code. The first two efforts to pass the bill in pervious sessions died in committee.

[…]

For Anchia, the bill is more about children than about parents. “When you point out to people that children can be adversely impacted by an inaccurate birth certificate, then the argument becomes clear and persuasive,” he said.

Hartnett, who did not seek re-election last year, said he would want the measure to be reconsidered if there was evidence it was “causing some hardship for the children.”

Though supporters of Anchia’s measure think growing national support for gay rights bodes well for its passage this session, its success may hinge on its initial fate in the House Public Health Committee.

Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, who has chaired the committee in recent sessions and is likely to do so again this year, said she would wait to see if the bill had the votes.

“It’s a cultural shift and a big issue,” Kolkhorst said, adding, “You never want to throw a bill out there that just cuts the membership up.”

Rep. Anchia’s bill is HB201. There are still plenty of haters out there who will whine and stomp their feet and tell lots of lies in a desperate attempt to prevent the undoing of this wrong – one of the more prominent such people is quoted in the story – but the flame of their hatred is dying out, and it’s just a matter of time before this is seen as the incomprehensible anachronism that it is. I don’t expect Anchia’s bill to pass, because stuff like this always takes more than one session to come to fruition, but if it doesn’t happen this session the existing law may be made moot by upcoming Supreme Court rulings. Even if that doesn’t happen, we all know this is a relic. We can do the right thing now, or be forced to do it later. The only difference is how many people are hurt in the interim.

Repealing the Texas double secret illegal anti-gay marriage amendment

Some things you do because they’re the right thing to do.

On the right side of history

Reps. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, and Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, are seeking to reverse the state’s prohibition against gay marriage or same-sex civil unions.

Their proposed constitutional amendments — HJR 77 and HJR 78 – would repeal a 2005 amendment passed by Texas voters that bans recognition of same-sex unions.

Coleman cited recent polls that show sentiments have changed for a majority of Texans. “Two-thirds of Texas’ voters now believe the state should allow some form of legal recognition for committed same-gender couples,” he said.

Anchia said he represents many couples and families who are discriminated against by the state’s Defense of Marriage Act.

“It is time we revisit this issue; it is time we treat all Texans with dignity and respect,” Anchia said.

The representatives are taking particular aim at a provision of the act that would deny gay couples any civil or legal benefits reserved to husbands and wives. A statewide poll from last year showed that only 25 percent of Texans believe that same-gender couples should neither be allowed to marry or enter int a civil union.

There’s also SJR 29, filed by Sen. Jose Rodriguez in the Senate on Friday, and SB 480 by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, which would serve as enabling legislation for these resolutions if their accompanying amendments were adopted. See here for more.

Back to the Trail Blazers story, the poll cited is this UT/Texas Trib poll from October that showed approval of marriage equality with a plurality of 36%, and approval of civil unions at 33%; only 25% disapproved of both. Those are encouraging numbers, but I don’t see that translating into legislative action any time soon, especially since it will take a Constitutional amendment, which requires two-thirds support from the Lege to get passed. Maybe someday, but not when Republican legislators and other assorted officeholders are urging the Boy Scouts to keep banning gays because gayness is icky and immoral. We’re getting to the point where more and more people have realized that supporting equality is the truly moral thing to do, but we’ve still got a long way to go in Texas, and I don’t think we’ll get there – more specifically, I don’t think two-thirds of the Legislature will get there – before the Supreme Court does. I applaud Sens. Rodriguez and Hinojosa and Reps. Anchia and Coleman, who has done this every session since 2005, for their action, and I certainly urge everyone to call their Rep and Senator and ask them to support these joint resolutions, I’m just saying it’s too early to get one’s hopes up. Equality Texas has more.

UPDATE: The Dallas Voice has more.

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.

Cutting spending is always good for job creation

It must be true.

Eagle Ford Shale

A study by the University of Texas at San Antonio estimated that 20 counties in the Eagle Ford Shale supported 47,097 full-time jobs in 2011, a number that’s expected to grow to 116,972 full-time jobs by 2021.

For now, many of the jobs in demand are for truckers. And a pay range of $25,000 to $80,000 a year is attracting many applicants, according to Workforce Solutions Alamo officials. But even solid job applicants are being stymied by the licensing system, panelists said.

The whole process of getting the commercial driver’s license, or CDL, is backed up, said [Leodoro] Martinez, who also is chairman of the Eagle Ford Consortium.

The Texas Department of Public Safety is responsible for handling commercial driver’s license applications.

DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said that DPS “is addressing the increased demand for CDLs with our existing resources, and our examiners are processing them as quickly as possible.”

The department is expected to continue having to make do with existing resources. Rep. Rafael Anchía, D-Dallas, said that because of budget cuts, he isn’t hopeful that the Legislature will be able to increase funding to help expedite applications.

So, were it not for the budget cuts last year, these applicants would have an easier time filling these much-needed jobs, thus making life better for them and making the economy better for all of us. And even with sales tax revenues up and a cash balance of over $5 billion, the odds of these cuts being reversed are slim, partly because the last Lege deferred a huge amount of obligations to this biennium, partly because it’ll cost more money just to keep up with growth, and partly because our government leadership has its head up its posterior. Sometimes, there just isn’t enough magic in the free market to overcome determined shortsightedness.

Examining the voter ID lie

I’ve complained quite a bit at how the media in Texas lazily reports the voter ID issue as a simple “he said/she said” dispute when a cursory examination of the facts shows how ridiculous the pro-voter ID case is, so I’ll give the Chron some credit for this story that asks whether the facts justify the voter ID law. But I’m still going to complain.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Despite scant evidence of actual cheating at the polls, allegations of voter fraud fueled the controversial law that makes a picture ID necessary to vote in Texas.

Fewer than five complaints involving voter impersonations were filed with the Texas Attorney General’s Office from the 2008 and 2010 general elections, which drew more than 13 million voters.

The Department of Justice has deemed the law in violation of the Voting Rights Act, finding that it would disproportionately affect minorities, who are less likely to have a photo ID.

Proponents of the embattled legislation contend the actual number of voter impersonations is hard to prove without the photo requirement.

Texas has suffered from “multiple cases of voter fraud,” Gov. Rick Perry said in a recent Fox News interview, though the attorney general handled just 20 allegations of election law violations in the 2008 and 2010 elections. Most involved mail-in ballot or campaign finance violations, electioneering too close to a polling place or a voter blocked by an election worker.

To sell the voter ID law, however, supporters conjured up images of “busloads of illegal immigrants being transported up from Mexico to vote straight-ticket Democratic in an election near you,” said Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas. “That was the fantasy, the scary narrative.”

No one disputes some level of voting abuse, said Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston. “However, what every investigation has proven is that the kind of fraud voter ID laws would address – voter impersonation – doesn’t really exist,” Ellis said. “In fact, there are more UFO and Bigfoot sightings than documented cases of voter impersonation.”

The story makes a decent effort to air the anti-voter ID perspective, but it still comes off as a dispute between partisans. It would have been nice to quote a few people who are not actively engaged in the litigation. And while I appreciate the effort to point out that the state of Texas has failed miserably to demonstrate that there are any crimes that might be deterred by its voter ID law, it’s still being said too politely. The fact is that voter ID proponents have been telling a lot of lies about the vote fraud they claim exists but can never find, and that can’t be said often enough. I come back once again to Daniel Davies’ classic post The D-Squared Digest One Minute MBA – Avoiding Projects Pursued By Morons 101, which is unfortunately now not publicly visible but which can still be seen here, in which he notes that “Good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance.”

Maybe it’s too much to ask for a newspaper to call a lie a lie. If so, I guess I should be happy with what this story gives. But look, the Republican proponents of voter ID have said many ludicrously implausible and provably false things about why this legislation is supposedly needed, yet the issue is treated as a matter of partisan dispute rather than a factual one. It’s one thing to say “If you adopt policy X, then Y will happen”. It’s another to say “Because X has already happened, policy Y is needed”, especially when you cannot show any evidence that X has in fact happened. The Republicans may succeed at getting voter ID implemented, and they may succeed at their bigger goal of gutting or overturning the Voting Rights Act. But they’ll never succeed at finding an objective non-partisan justification for voter ID because there isn’t any for them to find. Ed Kilgore has more.

Still waiting on SCOTUS

Responses to the State of Texas’ stay request for State House and State Senate elections were due Thursday. Responses to the stay request for Congressional elections, which was filed Wednesday, are due this morning. It’s not clear when SCOTUS will rule on the requests. We’ve now had a full week of candidate filing, with ten more days to go, and there have been some high profile entries and exits. It seems to me that delaying these elections would throw all of that into chaos, as well as ensuring two very different electorates for the two different election dates. I would think that would weigh on the Court’s decision, but what do I know?

In the meantime, AG Greg Abbott has taken his whining to another level.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today accused the Department of Justice of unnecessary delay tactics in the lawsuit over Texas’ redistricting maps, venting his frustration in a letter to the department’s Civil Rights Division head Tom Perez.

Abbott’s claims come less than two weeks after a Justice Department filing blamed Texas for the delays.

The 1965 Voting Rights Act requires Texas to get preclearance on its electoral maps, either from a federal court or the Justice Department. Last July the state filed suit in federal court asking for a judgment of approval that would circumnavigate the Justice Department. The Department found fault with the Texas maps, declaring them discriminatory against racial minorities and setting the stage for a courtroom showdown.

Abbott said he and Perez agreed to handle the litigation as quickly as possible, but says the DOJ is now delaying the process in an attempt to impose upon Texas the interim maps drawn by a panel of federal judges.

“For example,” Abbott’s letter reads, “shortly after Texas filed its petition for declaratory judgment, we filed a motion asking the district court to review this matter on an expedited basis. Your office opposed that motion. Further, despite the fact that we promptly responded to the Civil Rights Division’s repeated requests for additional information about the State’s redistricting plans, your office nonetheless demanded extensive discovery that further delayed the process.”

State Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer has the appropriate response.

“Abbott is attempting to pivot and shift the blame,” said Martinez Fischer, who chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, which has sued the state for creating maps that the caucus says dilute the minority vote.

Martinez Fischer said the pre-clearance process would have been quicker if Abbott, a Republican, had chosen to have pre-clearance considered by the Department of Justice instead of letting a District of Columbia federal court decide.

Since census data was released this spring, the Justice Department said it reviewed and pre-cleared 18 statewide redistricting plans in seven states, including Alabama, Louisiana, Virginia, North Carolina and Alaska. It also pre-cleared Texas’ proposed boundaries for the State Board of Education.

The Justice Department said in a filing last month that “the State itself has caused the delay in the pre-clearance process.” The department noted that Texas waited until the end of the legislative session to pass the state House and Senate plans and didn’t pass a congressional map until a special session in June.

The department also said that Gov. Rick Perry waited almost a month after the state House and Senate plans were enacted before he signed them into law.

Since the initial DC Court ruling denying summary judgment came down, the commenters there have been pretty brutal on Abbott, blaming him and his staff for the GOP’s setbacks so far in the legal process. They have now been joined in their criticism by State Sen. John Carona.

Carona confirmed that there were many Republicans at the Capitol who are not happy with the way that Abbott has defended the state’s redistricting plans for the Texas House, Senate and congressional districts in federal court.

“The attorney general’s office appeared to be late in the game and they obviously made some critical tactical errors from a Republican perspective. Those things will, perhaps, work themselves out over time — the real issue here today and the reason for my posting, is just that I think, in the role of attorney general for this or any other state, he ought to be all about making unemotional and factual arguments.”

He continued: “I don’t see where finger pointing or accusations towards the Department of Justice improve our position, particularly for the Republican majority of voters that exist today. For us to further stir the pot with the Department of Justice in an emotional manner just weakens our position and ultimate outcome.”

Pretty strong stuff. In addition to that, this statement from an interview with Professor Henry Flores, who testified for the plaintiffs, adds some more perspective:

[T]he Attorney General used lawyers who were corporate- or litigation-types, but they didn’t know election law and voting rights law. But on the other side, with Nina Perales and the rest of the lawyers you were looking at hundreds of years of experience in civil rights cases.

Perhaps this is why the AG went out and got an expensive hired gun for the stay requests. The plaintiffs added their own expert as well, hopefully at a slightly lower rate. Abbott is now pushing for a trial in the DC court to begin next week; the court will have a status conference on Wednesday, at which I presume that subject will arise. What’s Abbott’s game here? The response to his whining from U.S. Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez sheds some light:

Perez laid the blame solely for delays at the feet of the State of Texas:

[T]o be clear, the State of Texas bears responsibility for any delays in the preclearance process – by waiting until the end of its legislative session and even into a special session before seeking preclearance, by further delay after passage before seeking preclearance, and by inexplicable litigation decisions that have slowed the resolution of this matter.
Perez said those ‘inexplicable litigation decisions’ included the state’s rejection of an October 17 trial date offered by DOJ and instead its insistence that no trial was needed because the DOJ was using the wrong legal standard and that, under the “correct” alternative standard developed by Abbott, he could show that the state’s maps passed muster as a matter of law.

Readers will recall that a three-judge federal panel in Washington rejected the state’s theory on November 8, and Perez reminded Abbott:

The Department has maintained from the outset that this action could not be resolved by summary judgment, as the Court’s order denying the State’s [summary judgment] motion now makes clear. Indeed, at a September 21 scheduling conference, the Court itself offered the State the opportunity for a speedy trial instead of proceeding with a summary judgment motion, but the State also refused that offer and insisted on seeking summary judgment. The State has taken this course knowing full well that candidate qualifying under the State’s own schedule was to begin in November 2011.

Perez also rejected Abbott’s call for a quick mid-December trial, saying that no trial date could be set before knowing whether the Supreme Court would stay the interim maps:

[U]nder the governing case law, the court-drawn interim plans from [the San Antonio case] could become the new benchmarks whether the statewide redistricting plans at issue in the D.C. District Court will receive preclearance under Section 5 … It would be a waste of resources to spend time preparing for a trial in mid-December based on the current benchmarks if we will know shortly whether the plans adopted by the [San Antonio] court will be new benchmarks.

And that maybe gets at the heart of why Abbott’s a little jumpy.

Indeed. This is shaping up as a huge week. The Star-Telegram, SCOTUS Blog, Michael Li and Burka have more, including a lot more Abbott-bashing in the comments.

Finally, on a related matter, State Rep. Rafael Anchia writes about the other Texas matter pending with Justice, the voter ID law.

I have always argued that any photo ID law contain vote-saving provisions ensuring no duly-registered Texas voter is left behind. In Idaho, among the reddest of red states, the photo ID law allows duly registered citizens without photo ID to issue an affidavit under penalty of perjury in order to vote. In Florida, the Republican photo ID law allows voters without photo ID to cast a ballot that undergoes a signature match (like we do with mail-in ballots in Texas). During the debate on the House floor, I offered amendments based on these models, but they were rejected.

At the risk of saying, “I told you so,” it comes as no surprise to those of us who predicted that the DOJ would take issue with the more onerous provisions of this legislation. During the house debate, I also offered an amendment that would have delayed enactment of the strict photo ID law until the SOS had furnished the very type of data that the DOJ is requesting today. Disturbingly, no voter impact analysis had been conducted and, during the debate on this bill, I introduced studies suggesting that between 150,000 and 500,000 registered voters in Texas do not have the kind of photo ID that would be required to vote. As it turns out, I was too conservative in my estimates, and in fact we now know that up to 600,000 Texans may not be able to cast a regular ballot under the new law.

You would think that, before pushing for this legislation, the authors would have asked how the bill adversely affects Texans’ right to vote. What was their acceptable threshold for disenfranchisement? Was it 100, 100,000, or 600,000 Texas voters? To put 600,000 voters in context-that’s about the number of people who live in each of the states of Vermont and Wyoming. It seemed as though Texas Republicans never really wanted to answer that question. Despite the studies predicting that the bill would adversely affect the voting rights of hundreds of thousands of Texans, undoubtedly among them thousands of Texas Republicans, the authors of the bill simply ignored these inconvenient data points.

And the reward for that indifferent attitude should be not getting to implement that discriminatory law.

Voter ID passes the House

As expected. There was a long and often contentious debate, but when you have a 2/3 majority as the Republicans currently do, you usually get what you want.

Gov. Rick Perry declared the voter ID issue an emergency issue, which also ranks as a high priority for the Texas Republican Party. The House tentatively approved the measure, 101-48. Republicans control the chamber, 101-49.

Because Republicans defeated amendment after amendment intended to make it easier for voters to cast ballots, Democrats suggested Republicans were primarily interested in suppressing votes of minority Texans – who usually lean Democratic.

“We fear it’s about voter suppression,” said Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas.

“It’s all about shaping the voter pool to benefit the Republican Party,” Rep. Joaquin Castro said.

Legislators spent nearly 12 hours considering some 60 amendments.

Republicans defeated an amendment that would have allowed college and high school students to use their government-issued ID cards for voting. Democrats also lost their bid to extend photo identification to same-day registration, which would allow eligible voters to simultaneously register and cast a ballot if they produced proper identification.

So you can’t use your government-issued student ID card to vote, but you can use your government-issued concealed carry license to vote. Go figure.

This isn’t quite the end in the Lege for this. As with the sonogram bill, the House and Senate versions differ – among other things, the House stripped out the Senate’s exemption for voters over the age of 70 on an amendment by Republican Rep. Dennis Bonnen – so it will have to go to a conference committee to iron it all out. Unlike the sonogram bill, the resulting legislation doesn’t need to be acceptable to any Senate Democrats, as there is no two-thirds rule for voter ID bills. I don’t expect there to be any serious complications.

As I said before, this will all ultimately be decided in the courts. The Texas Independent notes that a current case may have an effect on that, and gives some general background.

Some observers, including an Indiana law expert, believe that Pres. Barack Obama’s DOJ might be inclined to act differently than Bush’s DOJ, especially given the strictness of Texas’ legislation. Read the Texas Independent for previous reporting.

If the voter ID bill becomes law, then Texas would also have the option of bypassing the DOJ in favor of a three-judge panel in D.C. Whether the judicial panel would be more favorable than the DOJ to Texas’ law is up for speculation.

Saying that the DOJ “really should have denied preclearance” to the Georgia law — considering that DOJ staffers’ recommendation to disapprove the law was overruled by White House appointees — election law professor Daniel P. Tokaji said, “I think there’s a very good chance Texas will be denied preclearance if [voter photo ID legislation] becomes law.”

Tokaji is a professor of law at The Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law. He recently wrote a commentary opposing voter photo ID legislation being considered in Ohio.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in support of Indiana’s voter photo ID law largely because opponents were unable to produce sufficient proof of voter disenfranchisement. However, as Tokaji points out, those guidelines are different for a Section 5 preclearance decision.

“In a Section 5 challenge, the covered entity actually has the burden of proving the measure will not have a retrogressive impact on minorities,” he said.

“I think there’s a very strong argument that it would violate Section 5,” Tokaji said.

Clearly, there’s much about this that’s still up in the air, and we may not know the final outcome for months, if not years. Until then, ponder this:

Rep. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, wanted to give counties an exemption from complying with the legislation if it would cost them money to implement. Nearly 90 lawmakers have sponsored a resolution this session opposing unfunded mandates for local communities.

Menendez lost, 98-48.

Some unfunded mandates are better than others, obviously. Greg, EoW, and the Trib has more, and a statement from Democratic Caucus chair Rep. Jessica Farrar is beneath the fold.

(more…)

The next step for voter ID

Very likely, the courthouse.

While the Democrats have little chance of stopping the bill from getting the votes to pass, this particular piece of legislation may very well be tied up in lawsuits for years. And today, Democrats can lay some of the groundwork for those future cases.

As I wrote when the Senate passed this piece of legislation, this particular voter ID bill would be the most stringent in the nation—more stringent, even, than the Indiana bill that it’s based on. Currently, it only allows five forms of photo identification and only exempts people over 70. The Indiana law allows student IDs from state universities to count—our version doesn’t. And while the Indiana version gives folks missing suitable ID ten days after they voted to bring it in, the Texas version only gives voters six days. Many worry the bill would suppress voter turnout, particularly among the poor and black and Latino voters. In fact, the legislation is so dramatic that after it passed the Senate, I called Wendy Weiser, the director of Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. In addition to having one of the better titles I’ve heard, Weiser is an expert on voting rights.

Weiser said Texas was going to have a tough time implementing the law—despite the widespread legislative support. That’s because our fine state is one of seven singled out in the Voting Rights Act Section 5. Thanks to our history of discriminatory election law—poll taxes, literacy tests, etc. the Voting Rights Act requires that we get the okay from the Department of Justice or the courts before implementing certain changes to our election law, a process known as “preclearance.”

Because of its stringency, this bill will undoubtedly get a close look—and Weiser said that the legislative debate around the bill can play a role in determining whether or not it violatese the Voting Rights Act. For instance, if the Legislature rejects amendments that would make it easier for certain groups to obtain IDs, that could send up red flags for the Department of Justice. The legislative debate, Weiser said, “is relevant the extent to which the state takes proactive efforts to make sure that law is not excluding groups.”

This would be why GOP Caucus Chair Larry Taylor wanted Democrats to keep quiet and allow the bill to pass as it inevitably would without any fuss. This would also be why it’s never a good idea to take advice from your political counterparts. Fortunately, the Democrats are smart enough to recognize this for what it is, and in the end they stalled the House vote for at least a day via a point of order. That sent the bill back to the Calendars committee, where this issue was fixed and the bill voted out again, so the process can repeat itself as early as Wednesday. This would also be why Governor Perry declared voter ID and all those other silly, pointless things “emergency” items: It put them at the front of the calendar, which leaves sufficient time to correct errors like this one, which was about “days” versus “business days”. Later on in the session, what kills these bills isn’t necessarily the point of order but the lack of time to go through committee again.

Anyway. Greg does his usual bang-up job of liveblogging, which you need to read to understand just how ridiculous this exercise is. Stace, Eileen, Texas Politics, TrailBlazers, and Postcards have more.

More proof of my theory

That would be my theory that fifty or sixty years ago, a number of terror cells infiltrated the US and impregnated a bunch of women with babies who were groomed from birth to become utter morons who would destroy the country from within by their sheer, unbounded stupidity. It explains Louie Gohmert, and it explains Debbie Riddle. Honestly, whatever terrors her paranoid yet feeble mind conjures up that keeps her awake at night, they could not possibly be as scary as she herself is. Hair Balls, Stace, and In the Pink have theories of their own.

Voter ID not about facts

State Rep. Linda Harper-Brown admits that voter ID legislation has nothing to do with the facts.

“There are a lot of things that we pass laws on down here that we don’t have a hard, firm fast number on. Uninsured children, I think, is a good example of that,” she said. “We extrapolate a lot of the numbers and pass a lot of laws based on estimates, not on hard facts.”

Of course, we do have a pretty solid grasp of how many uninsured children there are in Texas (many, many, many) and for that matter we have a good idea how many allegations of election fraud there have been that involved people showing up at a polling place to vote as someone other than themselves (very, very few). But I’m glad to see Rep. Harper-Brown admit for the record what most of us have known for a long time, that voter ID legislation has nothing to do with things like facts and evidence. BOR has more.

The DMN on the food stamp situation

It’s depressing reading these articles, but it’s important to do so, to really understand why we’re so screwed up. First and foremost, it’s an attitude problem. As in, the people who have the most power over it have the least concern about it.

Advocates for the poor and several Democratic state representatives say they welcome recent signs that President Barack Obama’s administration won’t tolerate the delays. Firmness will be needed to force Texas to finally fix the mess, they say.

Some state GOP leaders admit they were slow to see the onset of the eligibility-screening system’s latest crisis.

“It should not have been a surprise to me, but it was,” said Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, the Senate’s chief budget writer. “So I take responsibility for that.”

Last spring, lawmakers rejected the commission’s request for 822 additional workers to ease the backlog. Instead, they inserted a fall-back provision that would allow for that many new workers to be hired over two years, but only if Gov. Rick Perry and 10 key lawmakers who sit on the Legislative Budget Board grant permission.

In August, the commission asked to add 649 new workers. State leaders took seven weeks to act, approving only 250 new hires and stressing the commission should fill 400 vacancies first.

Eight House Democrats, including Dallas Rep. Rafael Anchía, called state leaders’ response “a disgrace.”

“It’s indicative of the governor’s unwillingness to address the serious performance issues” in the program, they wrote to federal food-stamp official William Ludwig.

Perry spokesman Chris Cutrone responded: “Our office is closely monitoring this issue, and we expect [the commission] to handle it in an efficient and timely manner.”

“Not that we’ll lift a finger to help them, of course. We’re too busy meddling in more profitable affairs to care about that,” he did not add.

Though federal program rules are complex, more than half of today’s 7,700 frontline workers have less than two years’ experience, compared with 8 percent five years ago. [William] Ludwig, Dallas-based regional administrator at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, said recent departures of the state system’s three top executives haven’t helped.

To speed things up, he asked Texas to suspend fingerprint imaging of new applicants. He also urged that the state stop checking the value of applicants’ vehicles and their bank-account balances. And Ludwig urged that more interviews be conducted over the phone, not in person.

[Stephanie] Goodman, the state spokeswoman, said phone interviews are common, but “you still have to collect so much information it hasn’t been a big time-saver.”

I’ll bet it is for the interviewees, especially those who don’t have cars. That inability to empathize with those who need the help is the problem in a nutshell.

Gearing up for the voter ID showdown

SB362 was not on the calendar today, but it is expected to be brought to the House floor before the Tuesday deadline for approving Senate bills, perhaps as early as tomorrow. House Dems had a press conference today, accidentally pre-empting a Republican presser in the process, to decry voter ID and vow to fight it tooth and nail if it does come to the floor. None of that is new, though the hints that there might be a quorum-busting maneuver, plus the suggestion (on Twitter) that the Dems have the votes to defeat SB362, are. I suppose if the latter is true then there’s no need for the former, though given Rep. David Farabee’s comment that he could support a voter ID proposal that had a phase-in period, I suspect no one wants to take any chances in the event the Republican hardliners decide to grab the half a loaf that’s almost surely available to them. The clock is the Democrats’ friend on this (at least until Governor Perry calls a special session), and they emphasized the short amount of time remaining till sine die and the long list of things like windstorm insurance reform that still need to get done. I think in the end it will come down to counting noses. If the Dems really can beat this thing, which I think they can do as SB362 stands (remember, the GOP is a vote short right now), it’ll die. If the Republicans give a little, they can probably peel off enough support to get something passed. I’d say the choice is theirs.

UPDATE: Via Twitter, voter ID is not on the calendar for Friday. This is just a guess, but maybe Jim Dunnam is right and the votes aren’t there to pass it, and the delay is to give the Republicans time to get a majority. At which, needless to say, I want them to fail. Keep hope alive.

Campaign finance bill passes the House

I’ve had plenty of harsh things to say about House Elections Committee Chair Todd Smith this session, but he’s always been one of the good guys on campaign finance reform.

Texas could start regulating how political parties use corporate and union campaign contributions under a bill the Texas House passed Friday 71 to 63.

House Bill 2511 would close what author Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless, has called an “absurd” loophole that enables corporations and labor unions to escape a century-old ban against political donations by funding issue ads that stop short of urging a vote for or against a candidate.

Under the bill, donations from corporations and unions could only go toward a political party’s or political action committee’s administrative costs.

You may recall that a broad definition of just what “administrative costs” are was a key part of the fight over what TAB and TRMPAC did in the 2002 elections, as they had claimed things like polling were “administrative” in nature.

The Texas Pastor Council sent an email blast urging a vote against the bill.

“HB 2511 will censor free speech and drastically change how nonprofit organizations communicate with their supporters about important policy issues,” the group wrote. “This very email could be ruled illegal under this proposed law, prohibiting nonprofits from highlighting elected officials and their bad votes on legislation affecting all Texans.”

Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, said he head received a letter from a host of conservative groups including Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, Texas Eagle Forum and the Texas Alliance for Life that were worried about the bill.

“They are concerned that this will limit their ability to come out and talk about issues,” King said.

If all those folks are against this bill, it must be doing something right. Though HB2511 only got 71 votes to pass, six of them were Republicans – Delwin Jones, Charlie Geren, Will Hartnett, Brian McCall, Tommy Merritt, and Smith; the latter three were coauthors of the bill, along with Rafael Anchia and Mark Strama. Still, I suspect that this won’t make it through the Senate; that two-thirds rule that ol’ Dan Patrick hates so much will surely see to its demise. A previous version of this bill died a messy death in the 2005 Lege amid allegations of partisan sniping at then-Speaker Tom Craddick. I like how now-former Rep. Terry Keel basically tells Tommy Merritt he’ll never eat lunch in this town again in the aftermath of that. Karma sure is a strange thing sometimes.

UPDATE: Burka figures out the reason for the partisan split on this one.

High school registrars

We know that the Republicans like voter ID. We shouldn’t be too surprised that they don’t much like voter registration.

[The House] barely passed a bill Monday night that would allow high school principals to appoint four deputy registrars to help 18-year-old students sign up to vote.

The bill passed, 73-72, before a roll-call verification vote to make sure all members had properly voted. The verified vote was 72-70 for the bill. However, the outcome could change during a final vote on Tuesday.

All 70 opposition votes came from Republicans.

“You are taking a principal and directing them to register voters. We know in some school districts that will be done in a very partisan fashion,” Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, said.

Texas ranks behind 41 other states when it comes to registering 18-to-24-year-olds.

HB 1654 would require each high school principal to designate four people as deputy registrars. The four deputies could be either employees of the high school or employees of the school district in which the high school was located and who were serving at the high school. At least three of the four would have to be classroom teachers or certified full-time counselors.

All GOP members of the Elections Committee voted for the bill in committee. But only Elections Chairman Todd Smith, R-Bedford, and Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, voted for it on the floor.

One Democrat, Rep. Tracy King of Eagle Pass, voted against it; unclear to me what his deal was with it. The bill passed yesterday on final reading 75-71, with the difference being a function of fewer absent members.

Of course, given the narrow passage and partisanized nature of this bill, it seems unlikely to get through the Senate. Add that to the failure of Rep. Vo’s measures to allow those who turn 18 between March and November to vote in the primaries to make it out of committee, and Republicans can relax. It won’t be any easier for the kids to vote in 2010 than it is now.

Busy day yesterday

There were a lot of bills passed yesterday by one chamber or the other. My mailbox is full of press releases touting them. I’m going to go ahead and print them beneath the fold as a roundup. A few bills that got notice in the media:

– The Tim Cole Act passed out of the House.

Texans wrongfully convicted of crimes will get a much larger paycheck from the state for their incarceration under a bill tentatively approved by the state House today.

Wrongfully convicted persons currently are paid $50,000 in two installment payments. The new proposal would pay $80,000 per year of wrongful incarceration. An identical measure by Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, is pending in the Senate.

“Think for a few moments about walking in their shoes,” Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, one of the authors of HB 1736, told his colleagues.

[…]

The measure is known as Tim Cole Act to honor a former Texas Tech student wrongfully convicted of sexual assault. Cole died in prison from an asthma attack in 1999 – about halfway through a 25-year sentence.

“This bill cannot make people whole. But we can do better,” Anchia said.

The measure passed on a voice vote without opposition and prompted applause in the chamber.

The record vote on third reading (PDF) was 136-1. I noted Anchia’s bill last month. We’ll see if it passes muster with Governor Perry. Grits has more.

– Ignoring a mandatory evacuation order for a hurricane and then needing a rescue may cost you in the future.

More than 20,000 people stayed on Galveston Island last year despite a mandatory evacuation order as Hurricane Ike approached the Texas coast. Allison Castle, spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Pery, said there were 3,540 rescues in the region by state and local authorities, and the U.S. Coast Guard.

“They have that right to remain if they choose to,” said bill author Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas. “But they stay at their own peril, and they stay with the possibility that if recovery is necessary to preserve their lives, they’d pay the related cost.

“And that’s potentially a lot of money.”

The cost of a helicopter rescue is about $4,400 an hour.

I believe the bill in question is SB12, which passed unanimously on third reading. I agree with the principle of the bill, though I wonder what mechanism will be used to collect the fees from the people who will need such rescues. What if they claim they tried but were unable to get out? There will be an interesting legal battle over this some day, I expect.

– Not a bill, but the Senate budget conferees were announced. No word yet on the House contingent.

There were more bills passed, and we can expect a lot more action in the coming weeks. Click on for the press releases.

(more…)

Go Solar Texas

You won’t see this ad in Houston, but it is running in other parts of the state in support of solar energy and legislation to promote solar energy in Texas.

In honor of Earth Day tomorrow, ACT Texas gives us an update on three renewable-energy bills:

SB 545 – Senator Fraser: relating to the creation of a distributed solar generation incentive program.

This bill creates a five-year incentive program, administered by electric utilities, for commercial and residential customers to increase the amount of distributed solar generation installed. The incentive program would be funded by a nominal monthly fee on residential, commercial and industrial customers. The program would generate an estimated $50 million per year and lead to approximately 70 MWs of on-site renewables by 2015.

HB278 – Representative Anchia: relating to energy demand and incentives for distributed renewable generation.

This bill creates incentive programs, administered by electric utilities, for commercial customers, residential customers, and homebuilders to build on-site solar and geothermal generation. It also sets the goal of an additional 2,000 MWs of generating capacity from distributed renewable energy sources to be installed by the state by 2020, and at least 1,000 MWs by 2015.

SB 541 – Senator Watson: relating to incentives for Texas renewable energy jobs and manufacturing.

Seeks to create renewable energy manufacturing jobs in Texas by giving extra credit for electricity produced by equipment that is made in Texas. The bill increases the goal for renewable energy and seeks to expand on Texas’ success with wind power, by setting a 3,000 megawatt goal for non-wind renewable generation in Texas

SB545 passed out of the Senate yesterday, so that’s good news. The biggest enemy of all these bills at this time is the clock, or more appropriately the calendar. Maybe with the budget passed we’ll see some more action. As always, it’s never a bad idea or a bad time to contact your Rep or Senator’s office in support of a bill you favor.

Public financing for judicial races

In addition to the other ethics and campaign finance reform bills that I mentioned previously, one other bill set to come up in committee hearings on Wednesday the 15th is HB3146 by Rep. Rafael Anchia, which would allow for the creation of a public financing system for certain judicial races in Texas. It’s only at the appeals court and higher (Supreme Court and CCA) levels, and it’s an option rather than a requirement, so it’s not quite the solution that I’d press for to deal with the issues of judges taking campaign cash from attorneys and other interested parties that regularly appear before them, but it’s light years better than the “solution” of non-partisan judicial elections being pushed by the likes of John Cornyn and Wallace Jefferson, since it actually has something to do with the problem at hand. If nothing else, I consider this to be a good start. Vigilant has information if you want to register your support for this bill in committee.

Innocence, exoneration, and compensation

We’ve seen all of the stories about inmates being freed from jail in Texas after however many years inside, the result of DNA evidence proving they could not have committed the crime for which they were convicted. But what happens to these men once they are freed? Often, it’s not so good.

Wiley Fountain spent 15 years in a jail cell for a rape he did not commit.

Now the wrongly convicted man is serving another kind of time. He’s free, but he’s homeless.

After squandering nearly $390,000 he received from the state as compensation for his time behind bars, Fountain, 52, spends his days collecting aluminum cans for 35 cents a pound. He spends his nights in a tattered sleeping bag on the asphalt behind a liquor store in a run-down South Dallas neighborhood.

To other exonerees and their lawyers, Fountain is the worst-case example of the need for reforms in how the wrongly convicted are compensated. They are asking the Texas Legislature to increase compensation and to expand its offering of social services to give newly freed men a better shot at a second chance.

[…]

[U]nlike parolees, exonerees get almost no help from the state when they first re-enter society.

That could change this year.

State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, filed a bill to increase lump sum compensation from $50,000 to $80,000 for each year of incarceration. The bill also would require the state to pay some of the compensation in annuities, assuring exonerees a lifetime income. The payments would be retroactive to exonerees who already received lump sum payments, including Fountain, and would cease if there was a subsequent felony conviction.

“I don’t imagine any of us locked up more than 20 years have a lot of experience managing personal finances,” said Charles Chatman, who was exonerated in January 2008 after nearly 27 years.

The bill also would provide exonerees the same health insurance given to state employees, a crucial benefit for those who often emerge from prison with severe health problems but no way to get medical coverage.

[…]

Exoneration hearings have become common events in Dallas courtrooms in recent years. They’ve also highlighted the lack of social services available to the wrongly convicted.

Such services are commonplace for convicts paroled out of prison. Parolees receive $50 and a bus ticket to anywhere in Texas upon release, and another $50 when they meet up with their parole officers, said Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

There are re-entry centers in major cities that offer employment help, counseling and substance abuse treatment, and there are halfway houses for parolees who need additional supervision.

“We’re not releasing people so they can be homeless,” Clark said. “That doesn’t happen.”

But that’s what routinely happens to exonerees, who are released suddenly and with no place to go.

“It’s really terrible,” [Billy Smith, a Dallas exoneree who served about 20 years of a life sentence on a wrongful conviction of aggravated sexual assault,] said. “People who get out on parole have a better chance of getting started on the right foot than a person who has been exonerated.”

I don’t think it’s too much to ask to give people who were wrongly imprisoned at least as much help once released as the people who get out via parole. The state wrecked their lives, and it has a responsibility to try and make them whole again. Grits has more.

On a related note, as we also know, a lot of these men were convicted on the basis of faulty eyewitness testimony. State Sen. Rodney Ellis is the point man in the battle to improve witness identification procedures, but his efforts have been watered down somewhat.

The exonerations have not convinced all police and prosecutors that sweeping changes are needed. They don’t want lawmakers to mandate policies they believe are unworkable, and they fear losing court evidence because of honest police mistakes or technical violations. But leading law enforcement figures have agreed that eyewitness identifications could be improved.

Those pushing for reform, including defense lawyers and public interest groups, want language stiff enough to compel mandatory identification procedures.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, dropped his original version of the bill that would have ordered police agencies to follow specific lineup methods or face exclusion from trial of identification evidence. Gov. Rick Perry vowed to veto any bill that applied laws on evidence exclusion to eyewitness identifications, said Keith Hampton, legislative director of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers.

The compromise legislation requires police agencies to have written policies on identifications that reflect the latest scientific research. But it specifies that the judicial rule governing what is admissible evidence does not apply to eyewitness identifications.

“I’m more optimistic [about reform legislation becoming law] than I’ve been in my 19 years in the Senate working on these issues,” Ellis said in an interview last week.

Hampton said prosecutors had gutted the aim of the original bill.

“This is a pathetic response,” he said. “It’s a bill that does nothing.”

Prosecutors do not want real reform, Hampton said, and are conducting a “whisper campaign” to prevent Ellis’ bill from being debated on the Senate floor even if, as expected, it clears committee.

[Edwin Colfax, state director of The Justice Project, a national reform group,] agreed that the original bill was softened by opposition. But he said it would establish a framework for future meaningful change.

“It’s not as if the defense lawyers are not coming off better than they were before,” he said.

It’s possible for something to be better than what we had before and still not be very good. In this case, there’s room for it to be a lot better and yet still not really satisfactory. I don’t know if that’s the case here or not, but I’ll take any step forward if we can get it. Perhaps by demonstrating that the sky didn’t fall, further steps can be made later. At least, we can hope for that

Finally, I recently stumbled across this old Baseball Prospectus article, which illustrates how one cannot always rely on one’s memory to know what actually happened. Check it out.

Senate wraps up voter ID

In the end, after more debate and a bunch of Democratic amendments that were rejected by the same 19-12 vote, SB362 itself was passed on second reading in the Senate on a 19-12 party line vote. There were two amendments that were tacked on.

The amendment, introduced by Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, and adopted unanimously, seems to remove the requirement that a voter must show their voter registration cards. Under SB 362 as amended, if photo identification is not presented, a voter will still be able to vote by providing a combination of two other documents, such as a utility bill and a library card. There is confusion around whether voter registration cards would retain any relevance if this passes. This point will likely be clarified prior to the Senate’s final vote tomorrow.

A second amendment authorizes the secretary of state to use any funds available, including federal funds, to educate voters on the new requirements. The amendment drew criticism from Democrats for seeming to betray the falsehood of the bill’s fiscal note, which says there will be no fiscal impact to the state. The Senate Finance Committee has already put a rider into the appropriations bill dedicating $2 million for this purpose should SB 362 pass.

That first amendment almost makes you wonder what the point of all this was. I suppose we’ll learn that today. If not, that $2 million, which must have been found in the couch cushions somewhere, will presumably help to teach us.

Lord only knows when the House will get to this, given that the House has gotten to very little so far. Some Dems such as Rep. Rafael Anchia have been saying that SB362 will not make it through the House. I don’t feel quite that confident, but it wouldn’t surprise me if some watered-down version of this, perhaps the Chuck Hopson compromise bill, gets sent back to the upper chamber. Given that there’s already talk of a special session because of concerns that the budget won’t get passed on time and/or will get vetoed by Governor Perry as part of his continued grandstanding tour over stimulus money, I don’t think we can count on running out the clock. I expect something to pass, and then it’ll be up to the feds to decide whether or not it sticks.

Dems seek repeal of new DPS rules

We didn’t have any voter ID action yesterday, but we did have this.

Some Democratic lawmakers joined by Texas residents who have had trouble getting drivers’ licenses under new Department of Public Safety rules pushed Monday for legislation that would undo a policy they say harms U.S. citizens and legal immigrants.

Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, of San Antonio, said the DPS overstepped its authority by creating new identification rules last fall for drivers’ license applicants without getting approval from the Legislature.

“It’s far-reaching, it’s completely uncalled for and it’s completely unnecessary,” she said.

McClendon filed a bill that went before a House committee on Monday to stop the policy. Democratic Sen. Judith Zaffirini, of Laredo, filed an identical proposal in the Senate.

McClendon’s bill is HB1278; Zaffirini’s is SB2261.

Under the new DPS rules, people seeking drivers’ licenses who aren’t U.S. citizens must show they are in the country legally and that their immigration documents don’t expire within six months. DPS also changed the look of the licenses given to legal residents and added the designation “temporary visitor” on the card.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry supports the DPS rules, which took effect Oct. 1. His spokeswoman, Katherine Cesinger, said the rule change “ensures public safety and national security.” She said the identification requirement is not unreasonable and shows that applicants are who they say they are.

The Public Safety Commission, which oversees DPS, said it wanted the change to enhance security and deter fraud. DPS officials say the change brings Texas closer to compliance with the impending federal REAL ID Act launched after the September 2001 terrorist attacks and governing drivers’ license security.

The REAL ID act is unpopular with many states, and McClendon said it amounts to an unfunded mandate.

Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Dallas Democrat, said some elderly Texans do not have birth certificates. He specifically mentioned a 98-year-old woman in Fort Worth, whose original certificate burned in a courthouse fire years ago. Other U.S. citizens who were delivered by midwives don’t have birth certificates, he said.

We’ve already heard about Bessie Jenkins Foster. State Rep. Joe Farias said at the hearing that he has no birth certificate, because he was born at home. This is a big deal, because it’s not so easy to get a birth certificate if you don’t already have one. And that has implications for – you guessed it – voter ID.

To get a Texas photo ID for the first time, you have to provide a birth certificate. A certified copy will cost you 22 smackeroos (Fraser’s bill does not waive that fee), if you can manage to get one at all.

I asked DPS spokeswoman Tela Mange if there was any way to get a Texas photo ID without a birth certificate. She answered, “We gotta know who you are.”

Getting a birth certificate so you can get a photo ID is a Catch 22 at the Texas Department of State Health Services. To get a copy of your birth certificate, you need to submit a copy of your photo ID. Technically, if you don’t have an ID card, the DSHS Web site says you can submit an immediate family member’s photo ID, or copies of two documents bearing your name, one with a signature. But the application http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/vs/reqproc/forms/vs142.3.pdf for a birth certificate reads, in bold caps, “APPLICATIONS WITHOUT PHOTO ID WILL NOT BE PROCESSED.”

Summary: Getting a photo ID in Texas requires a birth certificate … which requires a photo ID … which requires a birth certificate … which requires a photo ID … and if you manage to stumble across the information about the technicality allowing alternative documentation, it’ll still take DSHS 6 – 8 weeks to process your request if you pay with a check or money order … by which time it may be too late to vote.

Pretty nifty little trick, isn’t it? For a party that claims to hate big government, they sure do seem to like big bureaucracy. As the story notes, there are two lawsuits pending over the new DPS rules. I don’t expect these bills to pass, so in the end I presume it will be the courts that settle this.

Voter ID already moving in the Senate

I hope you’ve all enjoyed the relative quiet in the Lege these past few weeks, because it will be coming to an end soon.

The controversial Voter ID bill that triggered a nasty Senate fight last month over a rules change today was referred directly to the full Senate for a vote, setting the stage for new unpleasantness.

Now that it has been referred, Senate Bill 362 could be brought up for consideration as soon as next week, several senators said.

[…]

[Tuesday’s] referral came without fanfare, one of more than 50 bills that were assigned today to various committees. While mostly symbolic, it could promises to put outnumbered Democrats who oppose it on alert against the Upper Chamber’s Republican majority.

Normally, bills are referred to Senate committees for review and approval before they come to the full Senate for debate and a vote. This bill was referred directly to the Committee of the Whole, the full Senate.

The controversial measure by Sens. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, and Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, would require Texas voters to verify their identity before they could cast a ballot.

No immediate word on when the measure will be brought up for Senate debate.

I suppose this is to be expected, given that voter ID is the single most important issue facing Texas today. I realize that the Senate Republicans and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst have done everything they can to stack the deck in their favor on this, but I trust that the Senate Dems still have plenty of fight in them and will take whatever action they think is needed, given that their colleagues see them as little more than nuisances that need to be quelled. We know that the House Dems will do their part. See this video of State Rep. Rafael Anchia, who is on the Elections committee, for the evidence. Todd Hill kindly provided a transcription of the relevant bit:

When I looked at the [committee] assignments on the Elections committee, the speaker didn’t really follow through on bi-partisanship in that committee. He didn’t even put a veneer of bi-partisanship. Most of the committee’s you have a Democratic Chair with a Republican majority-he didn’t do that here.

He put a Republican Chair in place and a Republican majority-including people who have voted for the worst kind of voter disenfranchisement Bill in the past.

So that’s a place of concern. If you’ve got a grandparent at home who might be a Korean War veteran, and 85 years old without a driver’s license they are going to be required to bring their voter registration card and their driver’s license as well. I think that’s going to disenfranchise a lot of people.

So if they want to move a partisan disenfranchisement Bill then they’re going to have a fight on their hands.

We get can stuff done this session, or we can blow it up over voter ID. That’s the choice the Republican leadership has to make.

Musical chairs

When the State House reconvenes next Monday, I presume one of the first orders of business for new Speaker Joe Straus will be to name committee chairs. This sort of thing may seem like the most boring of inside-baseball stuff, but it’s what makes the Lege go ’round. Good committee chairs not only mean good legislation coming to the floor, it more importantly means bad legislation will get quietly strangled without that ever happening. So to that end, I’m liking Burka’s list of guesses about chairs. Two in particular stand out to me:

Elections: Joaquin Castro or Trey Martinez-Fischer. This is one of the committees that the Democrats really want to control. Anchia, a veteran of the Voter I.D. battle with penalty-box-bound Leo Berman, is the obvious choice, but his skills could be put to better use elsewhere. Because of Dallas’s concerns with coal plants, I have him as a possibility for Environmental Reg; other contenders there could be Menendez and Strama. Castro or Martinez-Fischer could provide a decent burial for the Voter I.D. bill.

[…]

Environmental Regulation: Dennis Bonnen has been a controversial chairman; two years ago he bottled up a host of clear air bills, promising a comprehensive bill in 2009. I doubt that he will get that opportunity. I would not be surprised to see Kuempel, a member of the committee, move up to chairman, although this change in leadership may not produce a change in philosophy. If Kuempel doesn’t want it, Straus, who is pretty green himself (no pun about inexperience intended), could turn to a green Democrat such as Anchia or Menendez or Strama. As is the case with Elections, Environmental Reg is one of the committees the D’s would dearly love to control.

Something to look forward to next week. As with the Presidency, the out-with-the-old is as consequential as the in-with-the-new. Obviously, this is just one person’s guess, and none of it could be right, though I think Burka made some decent guesses and for a change his commenters haven’t jumped all over him. Some of my colleagues think the Democrats got suckered on voter ID. I tend to disagree with that, but I’ve been saying all along we’ll know for sure once we see the list of chairs. Here’s hoping.