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Bob Hall

State Rep. James White not running for re-election

I have three things to say about this.

Rep. James White

State Rep. James White, R-Hillister, has decided not to seek reelection, he told East Texas TV station KLTV in a roundtable with lawmakers. And he hinted to another news station that he’s considering a statewide run.

The Texas House doesn’t have term limits, but White suggested that his longevity in the lower chamber was a factor in his decision. He was first elected in 2010.

“I’m a term limit guy by nature,” White told KLTV on Thursday. “I wish we had term limits in Texas… I think we can continue being a great state even without me being in the Texas House.”

White is the chairman of the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee, and is the only Black Republican in the Texas House. He represents solidly Republican House District 19 in East Texas.

On Friday, he suggested to KFDM/Fox 4 News in Beaumont that he is mulling a run for statewide office.

“Don’t be surprised if you see me on the Republican Primary ballot for statewide office,” the station reported him as saying.

1. Rep. White may be a “term limit guy by nature”. He will also have served 12 years in the House when his term ends, which means he is fully vested in the pension plan for state reps, worth $34,500 a year as of 2012 for a 12-year veteran over the age of 50 (White is 56, according to his bio). Everything else he says here may be true. It’s just that it’s also true that this is an optimal time for him to call it quits, financially speaking.

2. White’s HD19 voted 81.77% for Trump in 2020, making it the fifth-most Republican district in the state. I think we can all picture what the primary to replace him will look like, even if the redrawn HD19 is slightly less red. I have no warmth for Rep. White, who is as crappy and complicit as everyone else in his rotten caucus, but he does have a record as a serious policymaker and has done some worthwhile work on criminal justice reform. The odds are great that his successor will be less of a policy person and more of a grievance-driven performance artist, as that is the norm in Republican primaries these days. And that has an effect, because one of the few restraints on the two legislative chambers in recent years has been the number of actual legislators in ridiculously Republican districts, especially as those members attain positions of influence.

To put this another way, both James White and Briscoe Cain were committee chairs last session. That’s what happens when the Briscoe Cains of the world replace the boring old establishment guys like Wayne Smith. This is one of the reasons the Senate sucks so bad – since 2012, we’ve swapped Kevin Eltife for Bryan Hughes, Bob Deuell for Bob Hall, and Robert Duncan for Charles Perry (who it must be noted has some criminal justice policy chops as well, but spent this session pretending to be a medical expert on trans youth, which he most emphatically is not). It’s not that Eltife and Deuell and Duncan were great, it’s that their replacements are Dan Patrick’s foot soldiers, and that’s before you take into account the special kind of crazy maliciousness that a Bob Hall brings. Every time you take out Dan Flynn for Bryan Slaton, Rob Eissler for Steve Toth, John Zerwas for Gary Gates, you make the House a little worse. I very much fear we’re about to have the same thing happen here.

3. What statewide office might White run for, if he does run for something statewide? Land Commissioner makes sense – it’s open, and there’s no reason White couldn’t make it a race against Dawn Buckingham. Ag Commissioner is a possibility, even if Sid Miller runs for re-election instead of jumping into the Governor’s race. And though it’s not a statewide office, I will note that State Sen. Robert Nichols, whose SD03 contains all of HD19, is 76 years old, and the post-redistricting election cycle is always a popular time to peace out. Just a thought.

UPDATE: I drafted this over the weekend, but the just-released Texas Monthly Best and Worst Legislators list for this session illustrates the point I made in item two damn near perfectly.

Think of the kids today

Today, the anti-trans sports bill SB29 is on the House calendar. Hopefully, it will fail to make it to the floor before midnight, which is the deadline for Senate bills to be passed by the House. Whatever the case, spend a few minutes today thinking about the kids who have been targeted by these bills and have had to spend weeks at the Capitol trying to persuade a bunch of uncaring Republican legislators about their humanity, because as much as this session has sucked overall, it’s really sucked for them.

Houston mother Lisa Stanton says every parent’s instinct is to keep their children safe.

When she and her young daughter, Maya, earlier this year traveled to the Texas Capitol to testify against two bills restricting transgender children’s access to transition-related medical care, including hormone therapy and puberty suppression treatment, she worried for her daughter’s well-being — both physical and mental.

“We don’t want our kids to face adversity,” Lisa Stanton said. “And that’s the thing I struggle about the most.”

Maya was scared, too. At just 10 years old, she faced a difficult task: convincing a conservative-leaning group of legislators not to advance legislation that would label her mother a child abuser and revoke the license of her doctor for providing gender-affirming medical care.

The Stantons are among the transgender Texans, parents and advocates who have spent late nights and early mornings fervently testifying, holding rallies and lobbying legislators not to support bills targeting transgender people this session.

Texas is one of at least 20 states that have considered bills limiting access to transgender health care in 2021, according to the ACLU, and one of at least 31 states with bills that would limit the school sports teams they can join. But according to Equality Texas, there have been more anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in Texas this legislative session than any other state.

[…]

While no legislative proposal can be considered dead until both chambers gavel out, those missed deadlines spell doom for some of the major bills focused on transgender Texas children. And it doesn’t leave much time for the school sports bill. But LGBTQ advocates say the mere specter that such measures could become law has already done damage.

In The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 94% of LGBTQ youth responded that recent politics had negatively impacted their mental health. That figure is higher than in previous years, according to Sam Brinton, vice president of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project.

Over the last year, the organization — which offers crisis counseling for LGBTQ youth — has received over 9,400 crisis contacts from Texas.

“Young people are listening,” Brinton said.

There’s more, and the Chron had a similar story a few days back. This is as the story notes very much part of a concerted national effort by anti-trans activists, pushing basically the same bills in multiple states because they think it’s good politics. Writing these posts always takes me a long time because they make me so mad, I have to stop and collect myself every couple of minutes. The level of cruelty and depravity it takes to victimize children – children who are telling you, as loudly and clearly as they can, that you are hurting them – all for political gain, I cannot fathom it. I don’t know how these people sleep at night.

Anyway. Watch the clock today and give a thought to these kids and their parents, who have had it much rougher than anyone should have had over these past few months. And then remember that there will be a special session this fall, currently to deal with redistricting and appropriating federal CIVID relief funds, but there’s no reason there couldn’t be other items on the agenda. We saw that in 2017 with the bathroom bill. These kids won’t be safe until we’re past all of that, too.

Senate is right back on the anti-trans agenda

In case you were wondering.

The Texas Senate on Monday quickly revived and advanced a bill banning gender-affirming health care for children under 18, days after a similar House bill failed to advance in the lower chamber.

Under Senate Bill 1311, any physician who prescribes hormone therapy or puberty suppression treatment for the purpose of gender transitioning would have their medical license revoked and could not be covered under liability insurance. It would also apply to doctors who perform transition-related surgeries for children, which is rarely used before puberty. The Senate gave the bill initial approval in a 17-13 vote. The bill still needs a final approval in the upper chamber before it can be considered by the House.

LGBTQ advocates have decried the bill as unconstitutional and criticized its negative impact on mental health. In a Senate State Affairs committee hearing, transgender Texans and medical experts testified that access to gender confirmation care is key to reducing the elevated risks of suicide and depression among transgender Texans. Businesses leaders also singled out S.B. 1311 as a bill they say may scare workers and businesses away from Texas.

The bill’s author, Edgewood Republican Bob Hall, said its intent was to improve the mental health of Texans who may later come to regret their transition, citing statistics that many children may cease to experience gender dysphoria later in life.

However, experts have said those studies often include children who aren’t transgender, but just don’t conform to typical gender norms, such as a boy who plays with dolls.

[…]

Last week, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Texas vowed to challenge in court House Bill 1399, the House’s version of the ban, if it passed. Though the bill later failed to meet a deadline in the House last week, Shelly Skeen, a senior attorney for Lambda Legal said the bills were “nearly identical” and presented similar legal issues.

See here for the previous update. Two things you need to keep in mind. One is that Bob Hall is a hydroxychlorquine humper, which among many other things makes him completely unqualified to offer any medical opinions about anything. And two, I’ll let Ross Ramsey explain.

[L]awmakers have a sprint in front of them as they hurry to finish the work they promised voters earlier in the session. They have two weeks left on the calendar, but earlier deadlines loom on their internal calendars. It’s already too late for a House bill to be considered for the first time in the House; another deadline — for Senate bills — comes next Tuesday.

The legislation promised and proposed after February’s storm and the outages that came with it — from a warning system for the state when something like that is approaching to weatherization that would help electric plants stay in operation — still hasn’t won legislative approval.

The state budget is pending, but on track. But lawmakers haven’t explained how they’ll spend billions in federal relief money that isn’t included in that budget. That’s still on the list. So are many of the police reforms promised by Abbott and others after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd almost a year ago.

The list of things still undone is formidable — a regular feature of this stage of a legislative session.

Lawmakers haven’t finished yet, but they haven’t had to. Now they’re up against a hard deadline. That’s when we find out what they really think is necessary.

This is what the Senate has prioritized. Never forget that. This is what 2022 has to be about.

Another anti-trans bill advances

This just makes me angry.

Transgender Texas children, their parents, medical groups and businesses have vocally opposed many of the bills lawmakers are pursuing. Equality Texas CEO Ricardo Martinez said Texas has filed more anti-LGBTQ bills this session than any other state legislature.

“It’s insulting,” Indigo said. “These lawmakers think that we don’t know what we want with our own bodies and we’re not able to say what we want and mean it.”

House Bill 1399 would prohibit health care providers and physicians from performing gender confirmation surgery or prescribing, administering or supplying puberty blockers or hormone treatment to anyone under the age of 18. The House Public Health Committee advanced the bill Friday.

Senate Bill 1311 by Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, would revoke the medical license of health care providers and physicians who perform such procedures or prescribe such drugs or hormones to people younger than 18. The Senate State Affairs Committee advanced that bill Monday.

The Senate last week passed Senate Bill 29, which would prevent public school students from participating in sports teams unless their sex assigned at birth aligns with the team’s designation. While that bill would only affect students in K-12 schools, two similar bills in the House would include colleges and universities in that mandate.

SB 29 has been referred to the House Public Education Committee, which is slated to meet Tuesday and hear testimony on identical legislation that was introduced in the lower chamber.

It’s unclear, though, whether any of this year’s measures targeting transgender Texans have a chance at getting through both chambers. Last session, Dade Phelan, the Beaumont Republican who is now House Speaker, demonstrated a lack of appetite for bills restricting rights for LGBTQ Texans.

“It’s completely unacceptable,” he said at the time. “This is 2019.”

See here, here, and here for some background. Unfortunately, it’s not 2019 anymore, and it’s clear what the Republicans in the Legislature as well as Dan Patrick and Greg Abbott want. I missed SB1311’s advancement on Monday, authored by a guy who thinks that every one of these trans kids that have told him and the rest of the Lege in no uncertain terms how these bills are directly harmful to them is “just going through a phase”. This article leads off with the experience of Indigo Giles, whose mom is my friend Mandy Giles. I honestly don’t know how you can hear what people like Indigo have to say about their lives and themselves and conclude that they must be confused or deluded or lying, but then I’m familiar with the concept of “empathy”. What I do know is that Indigo and everyone like Indigo needs more than weak reassurances and the biennial need to make a road trip to Austin to defend their humanity to the likes of Bob Hall. The one way they’re going to get that is electing more Democrats in Texas. Say it with me now: Nothing is going to change until our state government changes.

The Senate outlines its opening plans

Seems inadequate to me, but what do I know?

All Texas senators attending the opening day of the 2021 legislative session will be tested for the coronavirus and media and public access to the chamber will be limited, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced Monday morning.

In a public memo, Patrick outlined a list of protocols for the Texas Senate’s Jan. 12 opening day, which typically sees the Texas Capitol packed with members, guests and families.

“Senators have agreed to a much shorter opening day ceremony to reduce the time spent in a large gathering,” he wrote. “The Senate is reducing all ceremonial events and gatherings this session to focus solely on their constitutional legislative duties.”

Access to the Senate floor will be restricted to lawmakers and one family member at each senator’s desk. There will be no floor seating outside the brass rail or anywhere else on the Senate floor — a stark difference from past years when the chamber floor was fully in use for family and guest seating.

A pool of four members of the media who have been granted credentials will be allowed in the second-floor gallery on opening day. In normal times, credentialed members of the media are allowed to sit at a table on the Senate floor.

Each lawmaker or incoming member will have three guest seats for family, friends or constituents in the gallery, a move Patrick said will limit the gallery to fewer than 100 guests and ensure space for social distancing. Patrick’s memo made no mention of masks and it was not immediately clear whether masks would be required in the chamber. The state House has announced that it will require them on opening day.

See here and here for the background. Visitors to the Capitol are required to wear masks, but Senators are special, so you know. They’re also, you know, old: Bob Hall, Chuy Hinojosa, Eddie Lucio, Robert Nichols, John Whitmire, and Judith Zaffirini – not to mention our very own Dan Patrick – are all over 70, and at least five others are over 60. I hate to be morbid, but just in the past week we’ve learned of two state legislators and one incoming member of Congress who died from COVID, and all of them were younger than that. Maybe everyone will show up wearing masks and it won’t be a big deal, but I cannot get over the casualness. Even worse, I’m not sure that someone in the Lege dying of COVID will change anyone’s behavior or beliefs. All I know is, I’m glad I don’t have to be there, and I fear for everyone who does.

Our nanny state and vote by mail applications

Sen. Paul Bettencourt purses his lips and wags his finger and is very disappointed in your county government.

Republican state lawmakers have filed bills to codify the Texas Supreme Court decision that blocked Harris County from sending mail ballot applications to all of its 2.4 million registered voters.

Senate Bill 208, authored by Sens. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston; Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe; Brian Birdwell; Bob Hall and Kel Seliger, would stop election officials from sending absentee ballot applications, regardless of eligibility. State Rep. Valoree Swanson, a Republican from Houston, filed a companion bill, House Bill 25.

“We must recognize the obvious that we didn’t need to mail 2M+ absentee ballot applications to registered voters in Harris County to have a record 11.2 million Texas voters cast their ballots in November,” Bettencourt said in a statement. “It is important to note that the 66.2% turnout in 2020 was without wasting taxpayer money by doing shotgun mailings to everyone on the voter roll.”

Harris County Clerk Christopher Hollins’ plan to do so, an attempt to make voting easier during the pandemic, was thwarted after the county’s Republican Party sued. The Texas Supreme Court ruled in early October that Hollins would be exceeding his authority, though two lower courts had previously approved of the mass mailings.

Hollins had already sent out nearly 400,000 applications to Harris County voters who were 65 and older by the time the suit arose. The proposed legislation filed this month would extend to even such mailings to eligible voters because they would prevent counties from sending any unsolicited mail ballot applications.

Emphasis mine. So that first sentence about codifying the State Supreme Court decision is misleading, since this bill would now prohibit something the Court explicitly allowed. Let’s be clear about that.

Let’s also be clear that there’s no valid justification for this bill. If the voters of Harris County don’t like the way that Commissioners Court appropriates and spends money, the voters of Harris County have a simple and direct way to express that disapproval. This is Paul Bettencourt and others expressing their disapproval of Harris County voters, because he has that power.

I’m sure there will be more bills like this one, and while most of them probably won’t pass I’ll be surprised if this one manages to fail. the good news, for what it’s worth, is that the Harris County Democratic Party can continue its very successful campaign of sending mail applications to its voters, then following up with them to ensure they get and return their mail ballots. I won’t be surprised if there’s some dropoff in mail voting in the next couple of elections, as people were motivated to vote by mail due to the pandemic, but I’d expect most of those voters to just go back to voting in person. This is a legislative temper tantrum, and it can some day be fixed, but don’t forget that it happened. Republicans like Paul Bettencourt want it to be hard to vote, and they will do what they can to make it hard to vote. We should make a bigger deal about this in our campaigns.

Another lawsuit against Abbott over emergency orders

This one is a bit more serious due to the lack of Hotze and Woodfill, but it’s still not a great way to have the debate about this issue.

Five Republican Texas lawmakers are suing Gov. Greg Abbott over the state’s $295 million COVID-19 contact tracing contract to a small, little-known company, alleging the agreement is unconstitutional because it wasn’t competitively bid and because the funds should have been appropriated by the Legislature in a special session.

In the Travis Country district court suit filed Monday, State Reps. Mike Lang, Kyle Biederman, William Zedler, Steve Toth and state Sen. Bob Hall named as defendants Abbott, the Texas Department of State Health Services and the company awarded the contract, the Frisco-based MTX Group.

Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton have defended the contract. Abbott did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawmakers are seeking a court order voiding the contract for lack of statutory authorization and deeming unconstitutional the governor’s application of the Texas Disaster Act of 1975, which gives him broad powers in the case of an emergency, in granting the contract.

“The Texas Constitution requires a separation of powers, and that separation leaves policy-making decisions with the Texas Legislature,” the lawsuit states. “These decisions are not changed by pandemics.”

Abbott has declined to convene a special session since March when the coronavirus pandemic began, instead leaning on his emergency powers to issue a series of sweeping executive orders governing what businesses can open, where people can gather in public, and mandating safety measures including wearing face coverings in public.

While the law has been used by governors for years, the time span of the coronavirus-related orders is unprecedented and raises questions about the durability of that legal justification.

As the story notes, the Supreme Court just rejected several Hotze lawsuits relating to executive emergency powers, saying he lacked standing. I don’t know if that is likely to be an issue in this case or not. I still agree with the basic premise that we need to have a robust debate about the parameters of the Texas Disaster Act, including when the Governor should be compelled to call a special session so that the Lege can be involved in the decision-making process. I also still think that this is a lousy way to have that debate, and while these five legislators have more gravitas than Hotze, that’s a low bar to clear. To put it another way, the anti-face mask and quarantine lobby still isn’t sending their best.

There’s no doubt that the contact tracng deal was a boondoggle, and I welcome all scrutiny on it. And I have to admit, as queasy as I am with settling these big questions about emergency powers by litigation, there isn’t much legislators can do on their own, given that they’re not in session and can’t be in session before January unless Abbott calls them into a session. I’m not sure what the right process for this should have been, given the speed and urgency of the crisis. The Lege very much needs to address these matters in the spring, but I’m leery of making any drastic changes to the status quo before then. In some ways, this is the best argument I’ve seen against our tradition of having a Legislature that only meets every two years. Some things just can’t wait, and we shouldn’t have to depend on the judgment of the Governor to fill in the gaps. I hope some of the brighter lights in our Legislature are thinking about all this. The Trib has more.

Maybe that Republican convention won’t happen after all

First, there was this.

The Texas Medical Association is encouraging Texans to practice social distancing, stay home when possible and wear masks to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. But despite the potential mixed message it may send, the state’s largest medical organization said Monday it is not reconsidering its sponsorship of the Texas Republican convention next month. Some 6,000 people from across the state are expected to gather indoors without a mask mandate at the convention in Houston, one of the nation’s fastest-growing COVID-19 hot spots.

A spokesperson for TMA, which represents more than 53,000 Texas physicians and medical students, told The Texas Tribune that it will honor its commitment to the event.

“The agreement will not be revisited,” Brent Annear said in an email Monday.

He added that despite the fact that the GOP organizers won’t require attendees to wear masks, TMA “encourages everyone who goes anywhere to wear masks.”

“To our Republican friends — and our Democrat friends (and independents and those of other parties) — we say wear a mask, wash your hands, stay socially distant if you must be in groups, and stay home if you can,” Annear said.

[…]

Annear said TMA’s agreement with the Republican Party of Texas was set in stone “before the pandemic was a major issue here — before we hit any stay-home suggestions or mandates, mask policies or anything like that.”

And because the group signed on to the sponsorship before the pandemic began and “no conditions like that were discussed,” it will not back out of the agreement, he said.

“This low-rung sponsorship entitles TMA to have a brief video play for the conventiongoers that reminds them that Texas physicians are here to care for Texas patients,” Annear said. “We paid the same low-level sponsor amount to the Democrats for their convention, and we had a video play during their virtual convention with essentially the same message.”

Dr. Diana Fite, the president of the Texas Medical Association, wrote in an online letter to Texas physicians that they should encourage patients, friends and family members to “for your sake, for your neighbors’ sake, for my sake, and for your grandma’s sake, wear a mask, Texas.”

Earlier this spring, TMA canceled its own annual conference, TexMed 2020, which was scheduled to take place from May 1-2 in Fort Worth, and suspended the 2020 TMA House of Delegates meeting both in-person and online “until the crisis has subsided.”

See here for the background. I get the rationale for participating in the convention and have no quarrel with that. But my goodness, this is not a great look for the TMA. It’s really hard to make the case for wearing face masks, social distancing, avoiding risky behavior, etc etc etc, when you’re hanging out at a crowded indoor venue with a bunch of people who thinks mask wearing is a commie plot meant to bring down the President. It’s exactly this kind of mixed message that has gotten us into the trouble we’re in now. And boy, that’s some weak justification by the TMA.

But it turns out, there was another option. And so on Tuesday, we got this.

The Texas Medical Association on Tuesday called on the Republican Party of Texas to cancel its in-person July convention scheduled to take place in Houston, one of the country’s fastest growing coronavirus hot spots.

The latest development comes one day after The Texas Tribune reported on the Texas Medical Association’s sponsorship of the convention, an indoor gathering that is not requiring masks of the 6,000 people expected to attend. On Monday, TMA told the Tribune that it would not rescind its sponsorship. But at the time TMA had not yet called on the Republican Party to cancel its convention.

In an open letter to party leadership Tuesday, Dr. Diana Fite, TMA president, cited the growing number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Harris County as a reason for the Texas Republican Party to cancel its Houston convention. The county has the highest number of cases and deaths in the state.

“The daily chart of active cases in Harris County has been nearly a straight line upward for the past two weeks,” Fite wrote. “As an emergency physician in Houston treating patients with COVID-19, I speak from firsthand experience: It would be best for the health of your conventiongoers and the residents of Houston for the RPT not to hold its biennial convention there as planned.”

TMA said it made $5,000 contributions to both the Republican Party of Texas and the Texas Democratic Party in exchange for a brief video advertising TMA’s mission at each convention.

“Our staff reassured RPT staff that TMA would advertise in a virtual gathering, but asked that if an in-person meeting would occur to please utilize CDC, state and local guidelines for social distancing and wearing masks,” Fite wrote Tuesday.

In an interview Tuesday, Fite said a variety of factors influenced TMA’s decision to send a letter to the Republican Party of Texas, including pressure from members after The Tribune’s story published.

“We were hearing from a lot of members and some of our board members were concerned,” she said. “And so we definitely want to discuss that situation. We had just heard very recently that the event was going to be held in Houston.”

[…]

Fite’s letter mentioned that TMA previously canceled its own in-person convention in May, stating that “like the RPT, a sizeable fraction of the TMA annual convention consists of longtime activists and leaders — men and women who are now at that age where they are particularly susceptible to the worst that a case of COVID-19 can deliver.”

Protecting the group’s elderly members was “among the reasons” TMA canceled its May convention, Fite said, and is urging the Texas GOP to do the same.

“This is just not the time to bring thousands of the party faithful from around the state to an indoor meeting in a county that, as I write, reports more than 18,000 active COVID-19 cases,” Fite said.

You can see a copy of the letter here. I mean, yeah. Anyone can see the logic in Dr. Fite’s argument. As the story notes, the RPT is actually thinking about it. Scott Braddock is on the spot.

I’ll post an update when I see one. This is clearly the right answer. It may be difficult for the GOP to switch to a virtual convention now, given that the real thing was scheduled to start July 16, but that’s on them. The risk/reward calculation is clear. They just have to recognize it.

UPDATE: Still in wait-and-see mode:

The Texas GOP’s plan for an in-person convention next month in Houston is looking increasingly uncertain as criticism mounts over plans to host thousands of people indoors as the new coronavirus surges across the state.

Party Chair James Dickey said Tuesday that the State Republican Executive Committee will meet Thursday to consider options for the future of the event, which he assured includes an “ultimate contingency plan” to move the event online.

“We have prepared for an online convention as the ultimate contingency plan if we are forced by a government order at any level and not able to hold our convention in person,” Dickey said during a livestreamed announcement Tuesday evening. “We’ve had that plan in place since the beginning of the pandemic so that we can be fully prepared for any turn of events.”

The State Republican Executive Committee, a 64-member body including Dickey and Vice Chair Alma Jackson, could take action ranging from mandating masks at what is expected to be a roughly 6,000-person event to relocating it to another city or moving the convention online.

[…]

State Rep. Sarah Davis, a Houston-area Republican, said it seemed “incredibly irresponsible” to hold such a large gathering and said she does not plan to attend this year’s event.

“I think it’s a horrible idea to proceed with holding the in-person convention,” Davis told the Tribune on Tuesday. “Houston is the last place we need to have a crowd of 6,000 gathering, given our COVID-19 positivity rate increases.”

Other Republicans, such as state Sen. Bob Hall of Edgewood, have brushed aside such concerns, arguing instead that Texans should return to some sense of normal in an effort to prevent further damage to the economy.

“Canceling the convention sends the exact opposite message that Republicans should be sending,” Hall said in a statement Tuesday. “There is no reason to cancel a gathering that will help unite Republicans behind a limited government platform.”

Well, good luck unifying your factions. We’ll see what they decide tomorrow night.

Republican former Senators defend anti-majoritarian practices

I appreciate the spirit in which this was offered, but it’s completely out of touch with reality.

The purpose of the 31-member Texas Senate is similar to that of the U.S. Senate: to cool down some of the fevered legislation filed in the Senate or passed by a simple majority of the Texas House of Representatives.

This is accomplished by a Senate rule that requires a super-majority vote (60% of senators on the floor at this time) to bring up a bill for debate. This rule was enacted in 2015; for 70 years previously, a larger, two-thirds vote was required (21 votes of those present).

It’s no coincidence that the 2015 rule change mirrored the Senate’s partisan balance. It allowed Republicans, who held 20 seats, to bring up and pass a bill without any Democrat support. Now — with the possibility that Democrats may gain Senate seats in the general election — the idea has been raised to further lower the threshold during the 2021 legislative session to require only a simple majority vote.

As former Republican senators — with a total of 80 years of service in this wonderful, deliberative body — we oppose this possible change. Requiring only a simple majority would be bad for the Texas Senate, the Texas Legislature, and the State of Texas.

[…]

A stronger rule encourages, even forces, senators to work with colleagues across the political aisle. In our experience, working in a bipartisan manner led to better legislation and made the Texas Senate a more collegial body.

It also ensures legislators from rural and urban areas work together. In our heavily urban state, rural areas could be more easily outvoted under a rule change. In fact, some senators believe this issue is more about the urban/rural split than a partisan one.

Democrat and Republican Lt. Govs. Bill Hobby, Bob Bullock, Rick Perry, Bill Ratliff and David Dewhurst had successful terms under the two-thirds rule. It could be argued that this rule made them better leaders and improved the landmark legislation they passed (school finance, criminal justice reform, tort reform, tax cuts, worker comp reform, etc.).

Anyone notice which Lite Governor they left out of that recitation in the last paragraph? It’s not a coincidence, I assure you.

Let’s put aside the fetishization of super-majorities and the mythmaking that it’s the House producing all of the fever dream legislation these days while the Senate awaits with calm and wisdom to sort out the wheat from the chaff. (Tell me again, which chamber passed the “bathroom bill” in 2017?) The whole “require Senators to work across the aisle for the betterment of The People” thing sounds all nice and “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington”-like, but it ignores the utterly predictable reality of what will happen when and if Democrats achieve a majority in the upper chamber: Republican State Senators will immediately adopt of a model of intractable opposition to any bill that represents a Democratic priority, in the same way that Republican US Senators under Mitch McConnell used the filibuster to block literally everything President Obama wanted to do.

One reason for this is because Democratic State Senators have, to a large degree, taken similar action on many high-profile Republican priorities: redistricting, voter ID, more abortion restrictions, de-funding Planned Parenthood, “sanctuary cities”, “bathroom bills”, and so on. This is exactly why Dan Patrick, and to a lesser extent before him David Dewhurst, first weakened and then replaced the two-thirds rule, on the grounds that an elected legislative majority should be able to pass its bills with majority support. I hate these bills and I hate the effect they have had, but that’s why we have elections. I want a Democratic majority to be able to pass its bills with majority support when it is in that position as well.

But it’s the notion that requiring bipartisan consensus will be a net improvement to the process that is so laughable. Perhaps former Senators Deuell and Estes have forgotten, but the entire reason they are former Senators is because they were defeated in Republican primaries by opponents who successfully argued to the Republican voters in their districts that Deuell and Estes were too bipartisan, and too accommodating to the Democratic minority. They showed insufficient fealty to the Republican orthodoxy, and they needed to go. Would either of them argue with a straight face that Senators Bob Hall and Pat Fallon would “work with colleagues across the political aisle” in a hypothetical 16-15 or 17-14 Democratic Senate, in order to encourage better legislation and a more collegial atmosphere? I couldn’t even type that last sentence without snorting. The outcome we will get in a Senate with a modest Democratic majority and any kind of super-majoritarian rules is a Senate that passes no bills.

Again, I understand why this super-majority idea has some appeal. Maybe in a Democratic Senate where the likes of Krier and Ratliff and Sibley and Ogden and Deuell and Estes were the typical Republican Senators and none of them feared being tarred and feathered by their seething primary voters, we could indulge in this little fantasy. We don’t live in that world any more. I can’t even see it in my rearview mirror. The only thing this proposal would accomplish is the extended lifespan of every Republican priority from the past 20 years, possibly forever. I suspect they all know this, and that it appeals to them a lot more than the let’s-all-join-hands-and-work-together ideal ever would.

So long, red light cameras

Like ’em or not, they’re on their way out, barring a veto from Greg Abbott.

Going, going…

The Republican-led push to rid Texas intersections of red-light cameras moved one step closer to becoming law after the state Senate signed off on a measure with that aim Friday, sending the bill to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

House Bill 1631 cleared the chamber on a 23-8 vote after several back-and-forths among senators about studies that both support and challenge the efficacy of the devices when it comes to promoting safer streets. The Senate left in place a key provision to allow local governments to continue operating cameras until they finish out any contracts in effect as of May 7.

“Red-light cameras violate the right to due process guaranteed under Article 1 of the Texas Constitution by creating a presumption that the registered owner of the car committed a violation when in fact that may not have been the case,” said state Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, who is sponsoring the legislation originally offered by state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford.

Many city officials and local law enforcement officials oppose the legislation, arguing that cameras reduce deadly accidents and bring in revenue for trauma care centers and local governments. Gesturing toward a binder with 25 studies that suggest the opposite, Hall fended off questions from fellow senators who asked about the potential loss of revenue, particularly the dollars that go to trauma care centers, from fines on drivers who run red lights.

I am officially retired from the business of arguing about red light cameras. I have come to the conclusion that the available data is just simply insufficient to answer the basic questions about their efficacy. You either believe they’re a common sense tool to discourage and penalize running red lights, or you believe they’re an unacceptable infringement on freedom. (You may also think that the contracts cities sign with camera providers are highly sketchy and will lead to cities becoming dependent on the revenue the cameras generate, with the accompanying incentive to mess with yellow light times to maintain the cash flow.) I’m sure I’d have some feelings about this if Houston still had its cameras, but this is the one incursion on local control this session that does not directly affect us. I guess I’m glad that unlike cable franchise fees, the Lege saw fit this time to allow cities that were affected some time to make adjustments.

The anti-vaxxers keep on coming

Eternal vigilance, and some more problematic legislators getting booted out of office, are required.

Among the new Texas proposals is an “informed consent” bill filed by state Representative Bill Zedler, an outspoken anti-vaccine member of the House Public Health Committee. Zedler drew national attention after he downplayed the resurgence of measles, which he had as a child, telling the Observer last month, “Today, with antibiotics and that kind of stuff, they’re not dying [of measles] in America.” (Hundreds of Americans died of measles each year before the disease was considered eradicated in 2000, thanks in large part to the development of a vaccine. Also, antibiotics don’t treat measles, which is a virus.)

[…]

bill filed by state Senator Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, would ban vaccines that haven’t met criteria that Hall — a retired business owner — has determined the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should be using for approval. The bill also requires the state health department to post online a “disclosure of any known injuries or diseases caused by the vaccine” and that the vaccine be “evaluated for [its] potential to: cause cancer, mutate genes, affect fertility or cause infertility, and cause autism spectrum disorder.”< The bill is “dangerous” and a “misunderstanding of how science and clinical trials work,” Lakshmanan said. Any link to autism, first proposed in a now-retracted study, has been repeatedly debunked. “The insinuation of this legislation is that vaccines are not well-tested and not safe, which is erroneous, incorrect and misleading,” she said. Hall did not respond to a request for comment.

Also of top concern for immunization advocates are proposals to make it even easier to opt out of vaccine requirements, even as “conscience” exemptions have skyrocketed in Texas from about 2,300 in 2003 to nearly 53,000 in 2017. A bill filed by House Freedom Caucus member Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, would allow nurses to sign off on exemption forms rather than just doctors. Another, from state Representative Tony Tinderholt, would prohibit doctors from refusing to see patients who aren’t vaccinated. And one from caucus member Matt Krause would make it easier to submit vaccine exemptions, and prevent the state health department from tracking them. Health experts say this would prevent the state from preparing for potential disease outbreaks, as well as make it impossible for families of very young or immunocompromised kids to know which communities have low vaccination rates.

See here for some background. You can find all these bills and more by going to the Texas Legislature Online page and doing a word/phrase search for “immunization”. It’s not always easy to tell with the language in these bills, but SB1813 by Sen. Jose Rodriguez, which appears to loosen requirements for pharmacists to administer vaccinations, looks good. I don’t see anything positive relating to the so-called “conscience clause” exemption, which is what allows parents to enroll unvaxxed kids in school because they don’t want to get them immunized. I don’t think we’re there yet for something like this. The best we can do this session is most likely going to be not letting anything bad get passed. Then we need to follow it up by beating as many of these anti-vax schmoes at the ballot box as we can. Make note of those names, these are the targets of interest.

An early look at bills about voting

From the Texas Civil Rights Project.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Below are some bills to keep an eye on going forward.

SB74: Slashing early voting by seven days

In 2018, early voting in Texas surged, with over 4,514,000 Texans casting in-person ballots. To paraphrase more festive words, the folks down in Texas like early voting a lot. But Senator Bob Hall, who filed SB74 last Monday, apparently does not.

Current Texas law gives us 12 days of early voting in November elections. If early voting were a classic holiday song, it would describe the many types of people who vote early through lyrics such as: five souls to polls!four frequent fliersthree student voterstwo busy moms, and a guy who can’t get weekdays off. SB74 seeks to cut early voting from 12 days to only five for all November elections, getting rid of the only early voting weekend in the process.

Which makes complete sense. If you don’t want Texans to vote.

HB378: Proof of citizenship to register

It’s already hard to register to vote in Texas. Why not make it harder, and also add more racism? That seems to be the idea behind HB378, filed by Representative Mike Lang, which requires proof of citizenship to register to vote. As we know from recent history, the only people who will be asked to show proof of citizenship are people who get profiled as non-citizens. (Okay, we mean Latinx people. And black people. And basically everybody except white people.) Never mind that the Supreme Court declared the Arizona version of this law unconstitutional in 2013 and a district court did the same for the Kansas version just last summer.

HB154: Allows election officials to photograph voters and record voter documentation

The voter ID laws in Texas are already draconian, only allowing you to use a photo-less ID if you absolutely cannot get a photo ID and you swear that you are who you say you are. Representative Valoree Swanson’s HB 154 requires a voter using a non-photo ID—which, again, is 100% legal—to submit to being photographed by election officials. Under this bill, election officials can also act as democracy bouncers, forcing you to stop and pose if they suspect that you’re trying to vote using a fake ID. Nothing screams “Texas loves democracy” like a poll worker with a camera barking, “Turn to the right!”

There was a similar “proof of citizenship” bill last session. It died in committee like most bills do. I’m a little worried about it this session, and a little worried about the cut-early-voting bill, but only a little because both of those things would also inconvenience Republican voters. Nobody likes more bureaucracy, and nobody likes waiting on line. Always be vigilant, of course, but my gut says there will be other bills to worry about more. As the story notes there is also another attempt at doing an online voter registration bill. The good news here is that neither the Harris County Tax Assessor nor the Harris County Clerk will oppose such a bill any more. It’s still an underdog, but the odds are marginally better now. I’ll be keeping an eye on this sort of thing as usual.

Republicans “against” Dan Patrick

RG Ratcliffe reports on a “loose coalition” of business and education interests who are seeking to clip Dan Patrick’s wings.

[FBSID Board President Kristin] Tassin is now running for a seat in the state Senate, and she is just one candidate in a growing coalition of education and business groups that want to roll back the social conservative agenda of Patrick and Governor Greg Abbott. And recognizing the ineffectiveness of the Texas Democratic Party, they are concentrating their efforts on the upcoming March Republican primaries instead of betting on candidates in the general election. “There is a perfect storm brewing, and it goes a lot deeper than just a vouchers vote,” Tassin told me. “What really led me to step into this race is I really see this past session as an indicator of failed leadership and, often, particularly in the Senate.”

This is, at best, a loose coalition. Some by law are restricted to urging people to vote based on certain issues, while others are gathering money to put behind candidates who will clip Patrick’s dominance in the Senate. If they just pick up a few seats, Patrick will no longer be able to steamroll controversial bathroom bills and school voucher bills through the Senate, because he will lack the procedural votes needed to bring the legislation to the floor for debate.

[…]

One of the main groups that fought against the bathroom bill was the Texas Association of Business, and its political committee currently is evaluating which candidates to support in the primaries. “You’re seeing more and more business leaders engaged in this election—this time in the primaries in particular—than you probably ever had,” TAB President Chris Wallace told me. He said the leaders are motivated because “we had such a divisive time” during the 2017 legislative sessions.

Most of the TAB endorsements will be made over the next several weeks, but the group already has endorsed state Representative Cindy Burkett in her Republican primary challenge to incumbent Senator Bob Hall. In the TAB scorecard for pro-business votes, Hall sat at 53 percent and Burkett was at 94 percent, even though she supported the “sanctuary cities” legislation that TAB opposed. Hall voted in favor of the bathroom bill, but it never came up for a vote in the House. Because Burkett also carried legislation adding restrictions to abortion last year, she probably would not gain much support among Democrats. But as an advocate of public education, she already is opposed by the Texas Home School Coalition.

Emotions already are running high. When Hall put out a tweet that he is one of the most consistently conservative senators, a former school principal responded: “No, @SenBobHall, the reason we’re coming after you is because you side w/ Dan Patrick over the will of your constituents time and again. That’s why we’ll vote for @CindyBurkett_TX in the Mar. Primary. We’re not liberals, just ppl who want to be heard. #txed #txlege #blockvote.”

The Tassin race may create divisions in this loose coalition. She is challenging incumbent Senator Joan Huffman of Houston in the primary. Huffman gave Patrick a procedural vote he needed to bring the voucher bill to the floor, but then voted against the legislation. Huffman also voted in favor of killing dues check-offs, which allow teacher groups to collect their membership fees directly from a member-educator’s paycheck. But Huffman’s pro-business score is almost has high as Burkett’s, even though Huffman voted for the bathroom bill. Huffman also received a Best Legislator nod from Texas Monthly for helping negotiate a solution to the city of Houston’s financial problems with its police and firefighter pensions. However, the firefighters are angry over that deal and likely will work for Tassin in the primary. Huffman, though, has received an endorsement from Governor Abbott. We can’t make a prediction in that race until the endorsements come out.

I agree with the basic tactic of targeting the most fervent Patrick acolytes in the Senate. Patrick’s ability to ram through crap like the bathroom bill and the voucher bill is dependent on their being a sufficient number of his fellow travelers present. Knocking that number down even by one or two makes it harder for him to steer the ship in his preferred direction. Neither Kristin Tassin nor Cindy Burkett are my cup of tea, but they have a very low bar to clear to represent an improvement over the status quo.

The problem with this approach is twofold. First and foremost, depending on Republican primary voters to do something sensible is not exactly a winning proposition these days. There’s a reason why the Senate has trended the way it has in recent years. To be sure, it’s been an uneven fight in that there has basically been no effort like this to rein in the crazy in favor of more traditional Republican issues. To that I’d say, were you watching the Republican Presidential primary in 2016? The traditional interests didn’t do too well then, either. The Texas Parent PAC has had a lot of success over the years supporting anti-voucher candidates, often in rural districts where that issue resonates. I have a lot of respect for them and I wish them all the best this year, along with their allies of convenience. I just don’t plan to get my hopes up too high.

That leads to point two, which is that there needs to be a part two to this strategy. The two purplest Senate districts are SDs 10 and 16, where Sens. Konni Burton (who also scored a 53 on that TAB report card, tied with Bob Hall for the lowest tally in the Senate, including Democrats) and Don Huffines (and his 60 TAB score) will face Democratic challengers but not primary opponents. It’s reasonable for TAB et al to not have any interest in those races now, as they work to knock off Hall and (maybe) Huffman. If they don’t have a plan to play there in the fall, then at the very least you’ll know how serious this “loose coalition” is. I fully expect TAB and the other business groups to roll over and show Patrick their bellies after March. But maybe I’m wrong. I’ll be more than happy to admit it if I am. I wouldn’t bet my own money on it, though.

Filing roundup: State Senate

In 2014, Democrats contested five of the eleven Republican-held State Senate seats on the ballot, plus the seat that was vacated by Wendy Davis, which was won by Republican Konni Burton. This year, Democrats have candidates in eleven of these twelve districts. I wanted to take a closer look at some of these folks. For convenience, I collected the filing info for Senate and House candidates from the SOS page and put it all in this spreadsheet.

Kendall Scudder

SD02Kendall Scudder (Facebook)

SD03 – Shirley Layton

SD05Brian Cronin (Facebook)
SD05Glenn “Grumpy” Williams
SD05Meg Walsh

SD07David Romero

SD08Brian Chaput
SD08 – Mark Phariss

SD09Gwenn Burud

SD10Allison Campolo (Facebook)
SD10Beverly Powell (Facebook)

SD16Joe Bogen (Facebook)
SD16Nathan Johnson (Facebook)

SD17Fran Watson (Facebook)
SD17Rita Lucido (Facebook)
SD17 – Ahmad Hassan

SD25Jack Guerra (Facebook)
SD25Steven Kling (Facebook)

SD30Kevin Lopez

I skipped SDs 14, 15, and 23, which are held by Democrats Kirk Watson, John Whitmire, and Royce West. Whitmire has two primary opponents, the others are unopposed. Let’s look at who we have here.

Kendall Scudder is a promising young candidate running in a tough district against a truly awful incumbent. First-term Sen. Bob Hall is basically Abe Simpson after a couple years of listening to Alex Jones. If he runs a good race, regardless of outcome, Scudder’s got a future in politics if he wants it.

Shirley Layton is the Chair of the Angelina County Democratic Party, which includes Lufkin. Robert Nichols is the incumbent.

All of the contested primaries look like they will present some good choices for the voters. In SD05, Brian Cronin, who has extensive experience in state government, looks like the most polished candidate to take on Charles Schwertner. Grumpy Williams is easily the most colorful candidate in any of these races. There wasn’t enough information about Meg Walsh for me to make a judgment about her.

I’ve previously mentioned Mark Phariss’ entry into the SD08 race at the filing deadline. He doesn’t have a website or Facebook page up yet, but you could read this Texas Monthly story about him and his husband for a reminder of who Phariss is and why he matters. This seat is being vacated by Van Taylor, and the demonic duo of Angela Paxton and Phillip Huffines are running for it on the GOP side.

I couldn’t find much about either David Romero or Gwenn Burud, but in searching for the latter I did find this Star-Telegram story, which tells me that the Tarrant County Democratic Party did a great job filling out their slate. The incumbent here is Kelly Hancock.

Elsewhere in Tarrant County, the primary for SD10, which is overall the most closely divided district, ought to be salty. Powell is clearly the establishment candidate, having been endorsed by folks like Wendy Davis and Congressman Mark Veasey. Campolo identifies herself as a Bernie Sanders supporter. I expect there will be some elbows thrown. The winner gets to try to knock out Konni Burton.

Joe Bogen and Nathan Johnson seem pretty evenly matched to me. They’re battling for the right to take on the awful Don Huffines, whose SD16 is probably the second most vulnerable to takeover.

In SD17, Fran Watson, who is a former President of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, has been in the race for a few months. Rita Lucido, who was the candidate against Joan Huffman in 2014, filed on deadline day. The presence of perennial candidate Ahmad Hassan means this one could go to a runoff.

Both Jack Guerra and Steven Kling look like good guys in SD25. No doubt, both would be a big improvement over the zealot incumbent Donna Campbell.

Last but not least, Kevin Lopez is a City Council member in the town of Bridgeport. He joins Beverly Powell, who serves on the Burleson ISD Board of Trustees, as the only current elected officials running for one of these offices. The incumbent in SD30 is Craig Estes, and he is being challenged in the Republican primary.

Winning even one of these seats would be great. Winning two would bring the ratio to 18-13 R/D, which would be a big deal because the old two thirds rule is now a “sixty percent” rule, meaning that 19 Senators are enough to bring a bill to the floor, where 21 had been needed before. Needless to say, getting the Republicans under that would be a big deal, though of course they could throw that rule out all together if they want to. Be that as it may, more Dems would mean less power for Dan Patrick. I think we can all agree that would be a good thing. None of this will be easy – Dems are underdogs in each district, with more than half of them being very unfavorable – but at least we’re competing. National conditions, and individual candidates, will determine how we do.

Two GOP State Reps seek Senate promotions

Item One:

Rep. Cindy Burkett

State Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale, launched a challenge Tuesday to state Sen. Bob Hall of Edgewood, setting up a Republican primary clash in North Texas.

“I am proud of what I have accomplished for Texas and for all people who share my conservative values,” Burkett said in a news release. “Serving in the Texas Senate will allow me to continue and expand this work.”

Burkett is serving her fourth term in the House, where she chairs the Redistricting Committee. She first won election to House District 101 in 2010. After HD-101 was altered by redistricting in 2011, Burkett successfully ran for House District 113, which she currently represents.

Hall, a Tea Party activist, won the Senate District 2 seat three years ago in an upset victory over Bob Deuell, the Republican incumbent from Greenville. Burkett was once an aide to Deuell in the Senate.

[…]

At least two candidates are already running for Burkett’s seat in HD-113. They include Garland Republican Jonathan Boos and Rowlett Democrat Rhetta Bowers, both of whom unsuccessfully challenged Burkett in 2016.

This race is of interest for several reasons. First and foremost, HD113 is a top target next year. Like all Dallas County districts, it was carried by Hillary Clinton, but it was also very close at the downballot level. Having it be an open seat is likely to be better for the Democrats, and may possibly be a signal that the Republicans don’t like their prospects. Bob Hall is a dithering fool, but much of SD02 is outside Dallas County, and some of that turf may not be very hospitable to a suburban establishment type, especially one who is already talking about playing well with others. If Burkett means what she says, she could be a marginal improvement on Hall – the bar is pretty low here, as Hall is awful – but Burkett was the author of the regular session omnibus anti-abortion bill, so don’t expect much.

Item Two:

State Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Frisco, is making it official: He is challenging state Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls.

“They just desperately want somebody new,” Fallon said of voters in Senate District 30, which Estes has represented since 2001. “It’s been 16 years — it’s going to be 18 years. They want a change. They don’t see him around.”

Fallon had been seriously mulling a Senate bid for months, crisscrossing the 14-county district in North Texas since at least the end of the regular legislative session in May. He first shared his decision to run Tuesday with a newspaper in SD-30, the Weatherford Democrat.

In an interview with the Tribune, Fallon said he was “shocked” to learn in his travels how many local officials view Estes as an absentee senator. Fallon, who loaned his campaign $1.8 million in June, also said he was prepared to “spend every dime and then some” to get his message out in the race.

“It’s a moral obligation,” he said. “We simply need in this district to close one chapter and open up a new one.”

Not much to be said about this one. Estes is basically a waste of space, while Fallon is more of a new school jackass. Neither district is competitive. Someone will win the race, but no one will truly win.

Finally, along those same lines, Angela Paxpn – wife of you-know-who – has officially announced her candidacy for SD08, where she will face off against Phillip Huffines, brother of Sen. Don Huffines. We first heard about this a couple of weeks ago. With any luck, Huffines will spend a bunch of his money attacking Angela Paxton by attacking Ken Paxton. Surely that’s not asking for too much.

House takes a different direction on trees

Better than the Senate version, for sure.

The Texas House added a potential wrinkle to Gov. Greg Abbott’s special session agenda on Thursday, giving early approval to a bill that would allow property owners to plant new trees to offset municipal fees for tree removal on their land.

The initial 132-11 vote on House Bill 7, a compromise between builder groups and conservationists, is a replica of legislation from this spring’s regular legislative session that Abbott ultimately vetoed, saying the bill did not go far enough. His preference: barring cities altogether from regulating what residential homeowners do with trees on their property.

[…]

State Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont and the author of HB 7, said the bill was the result of months of negotiations between developers, conservationists and city officials. He said his bill and laws that go further to undercut local tree ordinances could coexist.

“This isn’t a Republican or Democrat bill, this isn’t a liberal or conservative bill, this is where people choose to live,” Phelan said at a Tuesday committee hearing. “They know it’s there when they decide to live there.”

See here and here for some background. I can’t see the Senate accepting this bill in place of the one it passed, a House version of which is in the House Urban Affairs Committee, whose Chair, Rep. Carol Alvarado, says there’s no need for it now that HB7 has been passed. The remaining options are a conference committee, in which we get to see which chamber caves to the other, and letting the matter drop. Good luck with that, Dan Patrick.

By the way, if you want to get a feel for how ridiculous that Senate bill and the whole idea of a glorious fight against socialistic tree ordinances are, here’s a little story to illustrate:

On Wednesday, during floor debate over SB 14, [bill author Sen. Bob] Hall answered a Democratic senator’s half-serious question about why he hated trees by saying, “I love trees … I also love liberty.” Hall has lived in Texas less than a decade and is perhaps best remembered as the guy who claimed that “Satan” had a “stranglehold” on his GOP opponent, former Senator Bob Deuell. In Hall’s statement of intent on SB 14, he played constitutional scholar, claiming that “private property rights are foundational to all other rights of a free people” and that “ownership gives an individual the right to enjoy and develop the property as they see fit.” Therefore, placing any restrictions on when a property owner can prune or remove a tree “thwarts the right to the use of the property.”

This absolutist formulation, which in casual speech is reduced to “I luv liberty,” would seem to disallow virtually any restrictions on what property owners can do to their property. What exception is possibly allowed here?

Well, plenty, if you’re a Republican who has very special trees in her district that must be protected from personal liberty. It was a minor moment on the floor on Wednesday, but it was a telling one: Senator Lois Kolkhorst, she of bathroom bill fame, got assurance from Hall that his bill wouldn’t touch Section 240.909 of the Texas Local Government Code, a statute that “applies only to a county with a population of 50,000 or less that borders the Gulf of Mexico and in which is located at least one state park and one national wildlife refuge.” That’s Lege-speak for Aransas County, whose beautiful and iconic windswept oak trees you may have seen if you’ve ever vacationed in Rockport.

In 2009, Representative Geanie Morrison and Kolkhorst’s predecessor, Glenn Hegar, passed a bill allowing the Aransas County Commissioners Court to “prohibit or restrict the clear-cutting of live oak trees in the unincorporated area of the county.” It seems some unscrupulous people were clear-cutting the oak trees, upsetting the locals, diminishing property values and harming the tourist economy. Something had to be done: Personal liberties were chainsawing the shared values of the community.

Hall assured Kolkhorst that his bill wouldn’t touch Aransas County, an apparent exception to Liberty’s purchase on the other 253 counties in the state that he didn’t bother to explain. But when Senator Jose Menendez, a San Antonio Democrat, asked if an exception could be made for San Antonio’s ordinance, which he said helps keep the air clean, Hall balked.

And thus, the important Constitutional principle of “my trees are better than yours” is upheld. God bless Texas, y’all.

Third time for Tesla

If at first (and second) you don’t succeed

Tesla is not giving up at the Texas Capitol. In fact, it’s getting more ambitious.

Instead of looking to create any kind of carve-out that favors the high-end electric car maker, legislation filed Friday would simply allow any vehicle manufacturer to sell directly to Texans — bypassing the middleman dealers — in Tesla’s biggest challenge yet to a longstanding state ban on the practice.

The proposal “will allow manufacturers of vehicles any weight, class, size or shape to sell direct to consumers,” said state Rep. Jason Isaac, the Dripping Springs Republican who filed the legislation in the House. “It’s a simple, free-market bill to allow that to happen.”

State Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, is carrying the legislation in the upper chamber. He and Isaac filed their bills, Senate Bill 2093 and House Bill 4236, on Friday with hours to go until the deadline to submit legislation for the biennial session.

[…]

Dealerships have long argued the Texas direct-sales ban protects customers by ensuring that they have locations where they can buy cars across the state, not just in highly populated cities where manufacturers, if given the chance to sell directly, might otherwise set up shop. The opposition to such legislation also has an ally in Gov. Greg Abbott, who said after the 2015 session that Texas’ automobile sector seems to be “working quite well the way that it is.”

“Tesla’s legislation seeks to unravel the entire franchised dealer system in Texas, in favor of direct sales of motor vehicles by a manufacturer,” Texas Automobile Dealers Association president Bill Wolters said in a statement Friday. “SB 2093 and the reduced competition it will bring about in the new vehicle sales and service market will come at the expense of Texans and Texas.”

“No other vehicle manufacturer is seeking to change the law, and Tesla doesn’t need to either,” Wolters added.

For Isaac, the issue goes beyond Tesla. He recalled having something of an epiphany after recently touring an Amazon facility in Texas and seeing robots zip around with pallets: What if similar technology could one day be used to haul containers up and down the state’s highways?

“I really believe in the next 10 to 20 years we are going to see a complete change in our transportation system,” Isaac said, “and the last thing I want is any barrier to that technology being available.”

See here for previous Tesla blogging. I side with them on this, though as before I don’t expect them to overcome the resistance to their business model. (Neither does bill author Rep. Isaac, but I agree with his assertion that it’s worth having the conversation.) I love how Greg Abbott has sided with the legacy system here. It’s an apt summation of his vision and purpose. Anyway, as with driverless cars, this has been going on since 2013. It’s beginning to feel like a tradition making note of these bills each session. I just hope it’s a tradition that eventually has an end.

And the red light camera ban dies again

This time it should be permanent.

Gone

Gone

A resurrected effort to ban red-light cameras in Texas died Friday after a House lawmaker called a point of order—a procedural tactic used to kill bills—on his own transportation legislation.

Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, the bill’s author, said he was opposed to the red-light camera ban as it was written in the amendment. Texans should have the ability to determine at the local level whether or not their city keeps a red-light camera program, he said.

“If there had been an amendment that was a better red-light camera bill we might have considered it,” Pickett told reporters. “The public should decide…each municipality should have a referendum on whether or not their community has red-light cameras.”

Late Wednesday, the Senate tacked to Pickett’s transportation bill a proposal that would prohibit new red-light cameras at intersections and halt the use of existing camera programs as contracts between the city and camera operators expire.

“This just wasn’t the way to do it. It was very unprofessional and not what we do around here,” Pickett said.

See here for the background. I may need a neck brace for the whiplash. That’s the end of a legislative session for you.

Bill to kill red light cameras lives again

It ain’t over till it’s over.

Gone

Gone

Legislation that would gradually shut down red-light cameras in Dallas and other Texas cities – a measure that appeared to be dead earlier this week – was resurrected in the Senate on Wednesday night.

The proposal by Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, would initially prohibit the future use of the cameras at intersections and then halt the use of existing camera programs as contracts between cities and camera operators expire.

Senators approved the ban as an amendment to a transportation funding bill that was passed and sent to the House. Hall had earlier passed an identical measure in the Senate, but it failed to come up for debate in the House before a legislative deadline on Tuesday.

See here and here for the background. You’d think by now I’d have considered that possibility before declaring a bill dead. According to the Chronicle, this was House Bill 13, authored by House Transportation Chair Joe Pickett. I don’t know if he’ll accept the bill as amended or not. If he does, all it takes is a vote to concur in the House. If not, it’s off to our old friend, the conference committee. Stay tuned.

Senate passes anti-red light camera bill

Is this finally the end?

Gone

Gone

Red-light cameras in Dallas and other Texas cities would be gradually turned off under legislation approved Wednesday by the Senate.

The measure by Sen. Bob Hall, a Republican whose district includes part of Dallas County, along with Rockwall and Kaufman counties, would initially prohibit the future use of the cameras at intersections. Existing camera programs would have to be shut down as contracts between cities and camera vendors expire.

Senators passed the bill on a 23-7 vote and sent it to the House, where it has a good chance of passing.

“This is a concept that sounded good on paper but failed miserably in real world application,” Hall said, citing strong opposition from the public to cities’ use of red-light cameras.

[…]

Hall argued that red-light cameras originally were “sold to the public as a tool to improve public safety with a carefully worded and cleverly designed sales pitch by corporations who expected to make great profits.”

But the red-light camera programs “trample on constitutional rights” while doing little to make roads safer, he said.

The bill in question is SB714. I don’t have any desire to re-litigate any of this, but for what it’s worth I don’t think the constitution has anything to say on this subject. I also see this as yet another attack on local control, which I’m not crazy about. All that said, if it passes the House, it passes the House. I think if it gets to a vote in the House it will pass, but given how crazy things have been so far, there’s no guarantee of that. I do find it interesting that this bill was passed with all but one Republican Senator voting for it, given that in the 2010 referendum in Houston, Republicans strongly supported red light cameras. Just a reminder that partisan preferences can and do change sometimes.

Senate bill to kill high speed rail advances

Didn’t know there was one of these.

The Senate Transportation Committee voted 5-4 to pass out Senate Bill 1601, from state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, which would strip firms developing high-speed rail projects from eminent domain authority.

Texas Central High-Speed Railway is developing a privately financed bullet train to carry passengers between Houston and Dallas in less than 90 minutes, with a single stop in between near College Station. The company has said it hopes to have the train running by 2021 and has vowed to not take any public subsidies. While the project has drawn strong support in Houston and Dallas, officials in the largely rural communities along the proposed route have expressed opposition.

Kolkhorst said Wednesday that she didn’t want to see private landowners lose their land for a project that she believed is likely to fail.

“While I think in some countries it has worked, I don’t see a whole lot of high-speed rail across the United States,” Kolkhorst said. “I just don’t see it, and I’m not sure I want Texas to be the guinea pig on this.”

Four Republicans joined Kolkhorst in voting for the bill: Transportation Chairman Robert Nichols of Jacksonville, Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay, Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills and Bob Hall of Edgewood. Voting against the bill were two Houston Democrats, Rodney Ellis and Sylvia Garcia, and two North Texas Republicans, Don Huffines of Dallas and Van Taylor of Plano.

[…]

Texas Central Chairman and CEO Richard Lawless told the committee he felt his company was being unfairly singled out.

“All that we ask that this train be treated like any other private train in Texas,” Lawless said. “It does not seem fair to us that this train should be prohibited in Texas just because it goes faster than other trains.”

Those informational meetings sure look like a necessary idea. I noted a bill filed in the House that would have required each city and county along the route to approve the idea. Maybe that was overkill, as that bill has not been scheduled to be heard in committee as yet. What’s most interesting here is that the vote against it was bipartisan, with two Metroplex-area Senators not joining with their mostly rural colleagues (Kelly Hancock being the exception) on this. That suggests to me that this bill might have a hard time coming to the floor, or even getting a majority. If that’s the case, I’m okay with that. Hair Balls has more.

Sanctuary cities bill clears first Senate committee

As expected.

Senate Bill 185 by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, would cut off state funding for local governments or governmental entities that adopt policies that forbid peace officers from inquiring into the immigration status of a person detained or arrested.

Some Texas cities have taken the position that such enforcement is the federal government’s job, not theirs — which Perry patently disagrees with. “Rule of law is important and we must ensure that local governments do not pick and choose the laws that they choose to enforce,” Perry told the subcommittee.

The bill now goes to the full Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs and Military Installations, where it’ll likely be passed and sent to the full chamber. The debate in the full Senate promises to be a repeat of the emotion-fueled scene of 2011, the last time the controversial legislation was considered. That year Democrats argued the bill would lead to racial profiling, costly litigation and make witnesses to crimes reluctant to cooperate with law enforcement.

[…]

The bill was voted on Monday on a party-line split, with state Sens. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, and Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, voting for it. State Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, voted against. Monday’s adopted version was tweaked from the original bill; it now does not apply to commissioned peace officers hired by school districts or open enrollment charter schools, and exempts victims or witnesses to crimes.

It gives entities found out of compliance 90 days to change policies after they are informed they are in violation.

During the debate, Lucio asked Perry why a handful of amendments that would have made the bill more palatable to him weren’t adopted, including one that would have exempted faith-based volunteers who do humanitarian work within the immigrant community from being questioned if they were detained.

“I walked out of here pretty happy,” Lucio said, referring to last month’s hearing when the original bill was heard and he was told his amendments would be considered. “I would have co-authorized your legislation.”

Perry said that after discussions with legal experts, including staffers in the office of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, he decided to go another way. Republicans argue the bill is a simple measure that allows local police to ferret out undocumented immigrants who are in the country to do others harm.

See here and here for some background. This bill will very likely pass the Senate, on party lines, but it may or may not make it through the House, partly because time is short and partly because there’s less appetite for it there. I know it’s been six years since Tom Craddick was deposed as Speaker, but I still find it hard to believe sometimes that the House is now the more mature and deliberate chamber. Relatively speaking, anyway. It’s scary to think we could have had Speaker Craddick in addition to Dan Patrick running amok in the Senate. Things really can always get worse.

That wasn’t the only bill heard yesterday.

Heartless, draconian and economically irresponsible. That’s what opponents of Senate Bill 1819 Monday called the effort by state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, to stop allowing certain undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at Texas colleges and universities.

The bill was laid out in a Senate subcommittee on border security during a marathon hearing. As of Monday afternoon, about 160 witnesses had signed up to testify before the committee, including dozens of students who donned caps and gowns amid a standing-room only crowd. As of Monday evening, the vast majority of witnesses urged the committee to vote against the measure.

It marked the beginning of the first true attempt in years to repeal 2001’s HB 1403, by former state Rep. Nick Noriega, D-Houston. Since then, minor attempts to repeal the tuition law have generally faltered without fanfare or attention, usually as amendments that failed to pass.

Current law — approved with near unanimous legislative consent 14 years ago — allows undocumented students who have lived in Texas for at least three years and pledge to apply for legal status as soon as they can under federal law to pay in-state tuition rates.

Campbell’s bill would end that, and allow universities to establish a policy to “verify to the satisfaction of the institution” that a student is a legal resident or citizen

Campbell was as mendacious and ill-informed during the hearing as you’d expect. As of this writing, we don’t know if the bill was voted on in committee or not, but the same thinking applies to it as to the sanctuary cities bill. If time runs out on them, it will be interesting to see if Greg Abbott forces the issue with a special session. RG Ratcliffe, recalling one of the few worthwhile things Rick Perry said during his otherwise disastrous 2012 Presidential campaign, and the Observer have more.

Call to action: DREAM Act repeal hearing set for Monday

You know the drill.

The push to repeal a 2001 law that allows some undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities is returning to the legislative spotlight, but on an unusual stage.

On Monday, the border security subcommittee of the Senate’s Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Committee is scheduled to hear Senate Bill 1819, by state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, which would do away with the in-state tuition provision.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s decision to send the bill to the border security panel — instead of the education or state affairs committees — strikes some lawmakers as a signal that the deck is being stacked in its favor.

State Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, said treating tuition rates as a question of border security was also an affront to undocumented students pursuing college degrees.

“Referring in-state tuition repeal to border security is implying these students are threats to the country, when in fact they are trying to contribute to the country,” he said. “It is a disservice for this bill to be heard in border security.”

Monday’s hearing was scheduled on Wednesday, a week after a similar bill, SB 1429 by state Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, was referred to the Senate’s State Affairs Committee. But as of Thursday, Hall’s bill hadn’t been scheduled for a hearing. (Patrick’s office declined to shed light on why Campbell’s bill was referred to the subcommittee and immediately considered.)

But while the measure is likely to easily pass the Senate, it may meet more resistance in the House.

[…]

When the session began in January, state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, said he supports the current policy despite the political firestorm it’s caused. On Wednesday, Zerwas, chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, said debating the policy is healthy, but he still stands behind it.

If SB 1819 passes the Senate, Zerwas said it likely won’t be referred to his committee but instead the House Committee on State Affairs. The chairman of that committee, state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, said his support for the current policy is double-tiered.

“Number one, Texas made a commitment to these students, and as Texans we should honor our word,” he said. “Additionally, it would seem to me that having educated young people is much more productive for the economy of the state.”

Good for you, Reps. Zerwas and Cook. As for Donna Campbell, she’s doing her best to become Debbie Riddle 2.0. Details for Monday’s hearing are here; it was originally scheduled for last Monday but was postponed for a week. If it’s at all possible for you to be there and voice your opposition, please do so.