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Richard Raymond

You can’t arrest the quorum-busters, at least not yet

Good to know.

A state district judge in Travis County issued an order blocking the arrest of House Democrats who have broken quorum by leaving the state, paving the way for those who remain outside of Texas to return home without threat of apprehension.

State District Judge Brad Urrutia, a Democrat, granted the temporary restraining order late Sunday night restricting Gov. Greg Abbott and House Speaker Dade Phelan from “detaining, confining or otherwise restricting” the free movement of House Democrats within the state or issuing any warrants ordering their confinement.

The order expires in 14 days unless extended by Urrutia. The court will hear arguments on a temporary injunction on Aug. 20 where Abbott and Phelan must show why a temporary injunction should not be filed against them.

[…]

The petition for the restraining order appears to be preemptive in nature, as the House has not yet voted to renew a call of the House in the second special session which began Saturday.

“[T]he Speaker thinks he can wave his hand and have his political opponents rounded up and arrested. We’re watching a major political party backslide in real time from fair representation, the rule of law, and democracy itself,” said Dallas State Rep. Jasmine Crockett, one of the plaintiffs in the case.

Enrique Marquez, a Phelan spokesman, said Monday morning the speaker’s office had not yet been notified of the suit or restraining order. Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 19 House Democrats by attorneys Samuel E. Bassett, Jeremy Monthy and Megan Rue.

“No matter what the Governor or Speaker have said, it is a fundamental principle in this country that no one has the power to arrest their political opponents. That is why this action had to be filed,” Bassett said in a statement.

The plaintiffs are Reps. Gina Hinojosa, Alma Allen, Michelle Beckley, Jasmine Crockett, Joe Deshotel, Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, Vikki Goodwin, Celia Israel, Ray Lopez, Armando “Mando” Martinez, Trey Martinez Fischer, Ina Minjarez, Christina Morales, Mary Ann Perez, Ana-Maria Ramos, Richard Peña Raymond, Ron Reynolds, Eddie Rodriguez and Ramon Romero, Jr. All of the plaintiffs broke quorum and left the state in July.

It is the second lawsuit filed by House Democrats in an attempt to avoid arrest if they returned to Texas. The other was filed Friday by attorney Craig Washington in federal court in Austin on behalf of 22 House Democrats. It was riddled with problems, including subsequent statements by at least four of the plaintiffs that they had not authorized the suit on their behalf.

The lawsuit in federal court also named State Rep. James White, R-Hilister, as a defendant. White is not named as a defendant in the case in state court.

In his order, Urrutia said Abbott and Phelan erroneously interpreted Texas law and legislative rules to allow the apprehension of members of the House in response to a call for quorum. He barred the defendants from detaining or restraining the Democrats’ movement in any way and from issuing warrants or other documents ordering their apprehension. Urrutia also barred the defendants from ordering law enforcement to arrest the lawmakers.

A copy of this lawsuit is here, and of the judge’s order is here. As the story notes, this has nothing to do with that other lawsuit, filed in federal court, which did not seem to make much sense. This one at least I can understand, and it has bought the Dems some time. Whether they choose to remain out of the Capitol during this time or not remains to be seen, but at least now they have the option. KXAN, the Current, and the Chron have more.

UPDATE: Though more Dems did show up yesterday, the Lege still fell short of a quorum. Tune in again today at 4 PM to see the next episode.

Better cut your police budget now while you still can

That’s one possible takeaway from this.

The Texas House on Friday passed a bill to financially penalize the state’s largest cities if they cut their police budgets. The measure was sent to the Senate after two days of heated debate and emotional speeches, with the bill authors calling to “back the blue” and the opposition decrying the bill as political propaganda.

House Bill 1900 comes after a year of civil rights advocates calling on cities to reduce what they spend on policing and to reform police behavior. Those calls were spurred by high-profile deaths at the hands of police like George Floyd’s in Minneapolis and Mike Ramos’ in Austin.

Among Texas’ largest cities, only Austin cut its law enforcement funding last year, though almost all of that decrease came from an accounting shift of money that still allows traditional police duties to remain funded, but potentially in different city departments. Still, the city’s response to some activists’ calls to “defund the police” prompted harsh and immediate backlash from Republican state leaders, who have pointed to fast-rising homicide rates throughout the state and country as a reason to maintain police funding levels.

Gov. Greg Abbott became laser-focused on Austin’s budget and “backing the blue,” making legislation to punish cities that decrease police funding one of his emergency items this year.

After initial passage Thursday, HB 1900 was finally approved on a 90-49 vote Friday and sent to the upper chamber. The Senate’s related bill, which would require an election before cities could decrease police funding, passed out of the upper chamber last month. It’s unclear how either chamber will react to their counterpart’s proposal.

HB 1900 was authored by Republican state Reps. Craig Goldman, Will Metcalf, Greg Bonnen and Angie Chen Button and Democrat Richard Peña Raymond. If a city with more than 250,000 residents was determined by the governor’s office to have cut police funding, the bill would allow the state to appropriate part of a city’s sales taxes and use that money to pay expenses for the Texas Department of Public Safety. Such cities would also be banned from increasing property taxes or utility rates, which could have been used to compensate for the reapportioned sales taxes.

The bill does allow cities to cut police department budgets if such a decrease is proportionally equal to an overall city budget decrease. Cities can also get approval to cut police budgets if expenses for one year were higher because of capital expenditures or disaster response. The bill would also let neighborhoods annexed in the last 30 years to vote to deannex themselves from a city that has decreased funding to its police department.

[…]

Several other Democrats offered amendments Thursday to add exceptions for when a city could cut police department funding. State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio offered leniency so city council members wouldn’t opt against a necessary increase in police funding for fear they could not turn it back the next year. And state Rep. Jarvis Johnson of Houston filed multiple amendments, including one to not punish cities for cutting civilian positions within law enforcement agencies. He said the Houston Police Department has more than 1,200 civilian jobs, including janitors and other positions he listed off.

“At any given time that Houston Police Department decides we no longer need a car attendant, we no longer need a car attendant supervisor, we no longer need a truck driver, we no longer need a typist, that does not mean that the city of Houston has decided to defund the police,” he said.

The amendments failed, as the Democrats denounced what they called partisan rhetoric and a move for state control over large cities.

On Friday, state Rep. Gene Wu, a Houston Democrat, offered up amendments to first eliminate the 250,000 population cap which Democrats argued only punished larger, more liberal cities. When that failed, he attempted to set the population cap at 50,000, then 200,000. Both amendments failed. His argument that the 250,000 limit was an arbitrary number and goes against the legislative intent of public safety for all Texans could buttress potential legal challenges if the bill is signed into law.

“If we’re true to our word to say why we are doing this … then we should accept this amendment to apply to all 30 million Texans,” he said.

Well, the real reason they’re doing this is because Greg Abbott was mad at Austin, but it’s not polite to bring that up. And not having a significant minimum population requirement means the law might have to apply to places that Republicans represent (*), and we can’t have that. So here we are. By the way, law enforcement agencies from the cities that this bill targets opposed it, and got the same result they got in opposing permitless carry. We have a strange definition of “backing the blue”, it seems.

Anyway. My suggestion in the title is not original to me, I got it from Grits for Breakfast post.

The Legislature gets to write the laws, but even they are not immune from the Law of Unintended Consequences. I don’t think legislators have considered the incentives they’re putting in place in HB 1900 punishing cities that “defund” police department (by which in Austin’s case they mean delaying cadet classes by one year). Going forward, cities that increase police spending can never again lower it. But they often need to do so. Now, cities will decline to spend more, knowing they won’t be allowed to spend less. Bill authors even rejected amendments so that overtime for one-off special events – like a Super Bowl weekend in Houston – would be counted against them the following year. If I’m right about the new incentives facing city councils under this legislation, the result will be to suppress police spending instead of bolster it. I predict that if HB 1900 becomes law, when we look back five years from now the growth rate in police budgets will have flattened, not rallied.

Indeed, the most delicious irony may well come if HB 1900 ends up itself defunding the police!

Note that this is the same logic that led to Harris County Commissioner’s Court proposing a property tax rate increase in 2019 as a way to hedge against the revenue cap law that the Lege passed that year, which would essentially prevent them from ever raising rates in the future regardless of situation or need. (This was only defeated because of an anti-majoritarian quirk in the law that allowed a minority of Commissioners to prevent the vote by breaking quorum.) I don’t actually think any city will take this action for the simple reason that it turns the heat on them in an uncomfortable way, but the incentive is there. I do think Grits is correct that the future effect will be to introduce extreme reluctance to approve any increase in police budgets, because it’s a one-way ratchet that can only have negative effects elsewhere. Indeed, it’s likely just a matter of time before city controllers and city managers start releasing five-year budget projections that warn of various consequences from this bill. Among other things – and I expect this is why the big city police departments opposed this – this will put downward pressure on wages and benefits for police officers, as well as a strong disincentive to approve overtime. Cities are going to do what they need to do. If you don’t like it, go yell at Greg Abbott.

(*) – Technically not true, though the large majority of State Reps from the cities this will apply to are Democrats. That may change in the near future, as places outside the big urban counties like Frisco, Grand Prairie, and McKinney become covered by HB1900. Maybe that will make their Republican representatives more receptive to the idea of modifying or repealing that law in the future, or maybe these cities will follow in the footsteps of places like Garland and Irving and just become Democratic cities themselves. The list on unintended consequences here could wind up being very long indeed.

Today is not the day we expand Medicaid

Tomorrow isn’t looking so good either.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

The Texas House on Thursday rejected an attempt to direct the governor and state health officials to use billions in federal dollars to expand health care coverage for uninsured Texans, including working poor who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to afford their own health insurance.

On a vote of 80-68, lawmakers voted down the proposal, which was floated as a two-page amendment to the state budget on Thursday.

The debate, which was highly anticipated by advocates of expanding coverage for uninsured Texans, was expected to be heated and drawn out. It lasted less than 20 minutes.

[…]

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat who sponsored the amendment, said it wouldn’t force the state to expand traditional Medicaid but would direct Abbott and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to negotiate a federal funding agreement, known as a 1115 demonstration waiver, to create a plan that would cover more uninsured Texans, including those who would qualify for coverage under a traditional Medicaid expansion plan.

The resulting plan could have been a traditional expansion of Medicaid to cover adults who earn up to a certain amount, or a “look-alike” that combines state and federal funds to create a state program that accomplishes a similar goal, Coleman said.

Such state-crafted plans have been passed in several states, mainly conservative states like Indiana and Ohio.

“I would like for us to expand traditional Medicaid in the optional way that the ACA says you can do it,” Coleman said on the House floor. “But we can’t do that. And we know that … That is not what this amendment does.”

Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, said the idea “puts Texas in the driver’s seat, and really Gov. Abbott in the driver’s seat” instead of forcing their hand or pushing through a program unpopular with conservatives.

But Republican state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, the only House member to speak against the bill during Thursday’s debate, said that creating a new health care program — Medicaid or otherwise — is far too complicated an endeavor to tackle in a two-page amendment and cautioned that it in fact looked like a way to expand Medicaid without a public hearing or extended floor debate.

“This topic is incredibly important, it’s complex, and frankly, it’s not appropriately handled in this amendment,” Capriglione said.

House Democrats, a handful of Republicans, and health care advocates, as well as nearly 200 groups and community leaders across Texas, still have some hope for House Bill 3871 by state Rep. Julie Johnson, D-Carrollton. That bill creates the “Live Well Texas” plan that uses a 1115 waiver to capture the federal dollars and expand Medicaid eligibility, and it includes incentives for people to continue working as well as increases in Medicaid reimbursements to attract more doctors to the program.

The bill has 76 House sponsors, nine of whom are Republicans, giving it enough support to pass the House. But it has been stuck in the GOP-led House Human Services Committee since March, waiting on a hearing that becomes increasingly less likely as the Texas Legislature barrels toward its final days at the end of May.

Only one of the Republican sponsors of HB 3871 voted for the Coleman amendment.

See here and here for the background. In a vacuum, I can accept Rep. Capriglione’s explanation for why this was the wrong vehicle to handle a complex health care topic, but given that the Lege has refused to consider Medicaid expansion for a decade, and as Rep. Coleman notes we’re only trying to do this the hard way because Republicans refuse to do it the easy way, I’m less sympathetic. Even if this amendment had been adopted, there would be no guarantee it would be in the final budget – as Scott Braddock notes, what matters is the conference committee. In theory, that means this could be revived there, but let’s just say one should not bet on that outcome. All respect to Reps. Coleman and Johnson, but we’ve seen this movie before, and I don’t expect it to end any differently this time around.

The opening bid on power outage response

Not bad, but there’s a long way to go and not a lot of detail just yet.

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan on Monday announced seven priority bills responding to the winter weather crisis last month that left millions of Texans without power.

The proposals include overhauling the governance of the state’s electric grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas; mandating “weatherization” of power facilities and establishing a statewide disaster alert system. There is also legislation to ban variable-rate electricity pricing plans such as were offered by the company Griddy, which was recently effectively shut down in the state after customers were hit with bills in the thousands of dollars.

Phelan’s office called the proposals the “first phase” of the House’s proposed reforms in the wake of the winter storm. Not all the bills have been filed yet, so the specifics of some proposals have not yet been made public.

“We must take accountability, close critical gaps in our system, and prevent these breakdowns from ever happening again,” Phelan, a Republican, said in a statement.

[…]

House Bill 10, for instance, aims to reform ERCOT by restructuring its board. The legislation would replace the board’s “unaffiliated” members with members appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker. The bill would also mandate that all board members live in Texas. And it would add a new board member to “represent consumer interests,” according to Phelan’s office.

Some other ideas could prove challenging. House Bill 11, for instance, would order the Public Utilities Commission to require power generators to implement measures to avoid service outages during extreme weather events, including winter storms and heat waves. But retroactively equipping power plants and the state’s energy system to withstand cold temperatures is likely to be difficult and costly, energy experts have said. Building energy infrastructure that from the start is designed to perform in winter conditions is easier and cheaper, they have said.

Phelan’s office described another bill, House Bill 14, which hasn’t yet been filed, that would require the Railroad Commission of Texas to require pipeline operators to update their equipment to ensure reliability during extreme weather. It’s unclear how much either bill would cost the state or the power generators. Abbott has indicated in the past that he is interested in funding at least some of the weatherization.

These fall under the emergency items declared by Abbott, so they can be taken up ahead of other legislation. Once they’re written and filed, of course. I don’t have any immediate complaints – the general direction is good, and they seem to have hit the high points – but it’s very early in the process, and there will be plenty of opportunity for shenanigans and just plan resistance, so as always we will have to keep an eye on it. The pushback from the energy industry seems to be that the power outages themselves were the main driver of the natural gas shortage, not the wells and pipes freezing up. There’s probably something to that, but I’m sure you’ll understand if I decline to take their word for it. At least three of the bills will be carried by Democrats – Reps. Richard Raymond, Ana Hernandez, and Joe Deshotel. We’ll see what we get, and we should very much remember that a lot of this is about undoing or at least mitigating the effects of Republican deregulation, but this is a decent start.

Beer vending machines

Sure, why not?

beer

Patrons of bars and businesses with proper alcohol licenses would be able to grab a cocktail or beer from an automatic dispensing machine — much like a soft drink — if the legislature passes legislation offered by a Laredo lawmaker.

Texas is actually one of the few states that do not allow these self-serving machines used in bars and casinos in New York, Ohio, Florida and Louisiana, according to James Nicol, CEO of Easybar, the company that has sold more than 400 liquor service stations.

States such as California and Nevada, which have strong service unions, have been opposed to the self-serve machines.

“It sounds like Texas has been the same way,” Nicol said. “Legislation could open that up, and there’s definitely going to be an opportunity there.”

Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, filed House Bill 2118, which would give businesses that are authorized to sell alcoholic beverages the option to use an automated machine to dispense their drinks.

According to the bill, only those who are 21 years of age or older with a credit card that matches the name on their drivers license may use the machines. But some people question how the machines would be monitored.

At Rice, in one of the residential colleges, there was for years a soda machine that would randomly dispense a beer. It was a student’s job to keep the machine stocked, so you can see how this might happen, and once it did it of course became a tradition. I rather doubt it still exists today, as the regulatory environment we live in these days would not tolerate it, but it’s a fun memory from The Good Old Days. I don’t have a point to that story, it just seemed like as good a time as any to tell it. As far as HB2118 goes, I’m mostly curious as to where one might be likely to find a beer-dispensing machine. I totally understand why a bar that doesn’t have a kitchen might want to have a snack-vending machine on premises. I’m a little unclear as to why a bar that has, you know, a bar, might want one of these. Texas also doesn’t have casinos, so that’s one less potential customer. Has anyone ever encountered one of these things? I’m genuinely puzzled about where and why they would exist.

Republicans will push pro-discrimination bills

I have three things to say about this.

RedEquality

Two days after the Plano City Council approved an ordinance prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people, a Texas legislator filed a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit the ability of cities to enforce such laws.

On Wednesday, Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) filed House Joint Resolution 55, which is similar but not identical to Senate Joint Resolution 10, filed last month by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels).

Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano), one of several lawmakers who sent a letter to the Plano City Council opposing the nondiscrimination ordinance, also announced on Twitter Tuesday that he’s drafting a bill “to protect Texas business owners from unconstitutional infringements on their religious liberty.” As of Thursday morning, Leach’s bill hadn’t been filed, and he didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.

Nevertheless, a month before the session begins, the flurry of legislation suggests that, thanks in part to the legalization of same-sex marriage across much of the nation, conservatives will challenge gays rights in the name of religious freedom in the 84th Texas Legislature.

The resolutions from Campbell and Villalba would amend the Texas Constitution to state that government “may not burden” someone’s “sincerely held religious belief” unless there is a “compelling governmental interest” and it is the “least restrictive means of furthering that interest.”

Experts say such an amendment would effectively prevent cities that have passed LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances from enforcing them. In addition to Plano, those cities include Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

That’s because business owners could claim exemptions from the ordinances if they have sincerely held religious beliefs—such as opposition to same-sex marriage—making it legal for them to fire employees for being gay or refuse service to LGBT customers.

“It blows a hole in your nondiscrimination protections if people can ignore them for religious reasons,” said Jenny Pizer, senior counsel at the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal.

But Pizer and others said an even bigger problem could be the amendments’ unintended consequences.

Daniel Williams, legislative specialist for Equality Texas, said in addition to the First Amendment, the state already has a statute that provides strong protections for religious freedom—known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA. But Williams said the proposed constitutional amendments would supplant RFRA and go further, overriding exceptions in the statute for things like zoning regulations and civil rights laws.

[…]

Williams noted that similar resolutions from Campbell have failed in previous sessions. Amending the state Constitution requires two-thirds support in both chambers as well as a majority public vote.

“That’s a very high bar, and the Legislature’s a deliberative body,” Williams said.

But Williams said the key to defeating the legislation this go-round will be economic arguments.

“This would have a detrimental affect on businesses that are looking to relocate to Texas,” he said. “Businesses that want to relocate to Texas will think that their LGBT employees and the family members of their LGBT employees are not going to be welcome.”

1. Between equality ordinances, plastic bag bans, payday lender regulations, and anti-fracking measures, the obsession that Republican legislators may have this session with nullifying municipal laws may overtake their obsession with nullifying federal laws. I continue to be perplexed by this obsession.

2. We are all clear that these “freedom to discriminate” bills are, intentionally or not, also about the freedom to discriminate against Jews or blacks or whoever else you don’t like, right? I mean, every time they get pinned down on it, proponents of such bills admit as much. I don’t suppose it has ever occurred to the Donna Campbells of the world that one of these days they themselves could be on the receiving end of such treatment, if someone else’s sincerely held religious beliefs hold that antipathy towards LGBT folks is an abomination before God. I’m just saying.

3. Assuming Speaker Straus maintains the tradition of not voting, the magic number is fifty, as in fifty votes in the House are needed to prevent any of these travesties from making it to your 2015 ballot. There are 52 Democrats in the House, plus one officially LGBT-approved Republican, so there are three votes to spare, assuming no other Republicans can be persuaded to vote against these. We know that there are four current House Dems that voted for the anti-gay marriage amendment of 2005. One of them, Rep. Richard Raymond, has since stated his support for marriage equality. Another, Rep. Ryan Guillen, may be persuadable. The current position of the others, Reps. Joe Pickett and Tracy King, are unknown. Barring any absences or scheduling shenanigans, we can handle three defections without needing to get another R on board. This is the key.

(Yes, eleven votes in the Senate can also stop the madness. Unfortunately, one of those votes belongs to Eddie Lucio. I’d rather take my chances in the House.)

Unfair Park and Hair Balls have more.

House passes redistricting bills

They accepted a couple of amendments but otherwise the process wasn’t much different from the Senate or the House committee.

A daylong debate on redistricting maps in the Texas House drew frustration from Democrats and growing concern from Republicans on Thursday as House leaders agreed to some amendments to one of the maps.

Gov. Rick Perry called the 83rd Legislature into special session in hopes it would ratify — without changes — the interim redistricting maps that a panel of federal judges drew for use in the 2012 elections. The Texas Senate did that earlier this month. But the House deviated, adopting three amendments on the state House district map moments after gaveling in.

The chairman of the House Select Committee on Redistricting, Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, told members from the start that he would be accepting “small, necessary tweaks” to the maps providing they meet specific criteria — unite communities of interest, are agreeable to members of neighboring districts and are in accordance with the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.

In a matter of minutes, Darby approved, and the House adopted three such amendments. Two would swap out precincts between members of neighboring House districts. A third, by state Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, brings all of Texas A&M International into his district.

Beyond that, state Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, was among a handful of members who began questioning Darby, puzzled as to why amendments were being accepted when, he said, members had been told “any change made would open the door for other problems.” He also cited the fact that the amendments hadn’t come through committee.

Darby restated his criteria, adding that the amendments he’s accepting don’t impact geography or the demographic makeup of districts. With that, more members began filing amendments. Two more, which also swap out precincts between neighboring districts, were adopted.

Those were the only three that were accepted. I commend you to read Greg and Texas Redistricting for the full blow-by-blow; see also this post for the map that was planned.

Three points of interest. One, not all redistricting fights fall along party lines.

“You’re a liar,” state Rep. Pat Fallon of Frisco yelled at his colleague, state Rep. Bennett Ratliff of Coppell.

Other House Republicans tried to hush Fallon, but his fury wouldn’t ebb.

“Touch your buddy Gene because you’re in the same party as him,” a red-faced Fallon loudly continued, as Ratliff walked away and placed a hand on state Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, as he passed by.

Asked a few moments later what the dust-up was all about, Fallon said simply, “Forgot.”

The hollering could have stemmed from a quiet dispute brewing during the redistricting debate. On Thursday afternoon, some tea party-affiliated members of the House had been upset about an amendment that removed one of Ratliff’s primary opponents from his district. The amendment, which passed earlier in the day without much trouble, put tea party favorite Matt Rinaldi into the safely Democratic district of state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas.

Temper, temper. And I must say, I too would buy a Touch Me, I’m Gene Wu’s Buddy t-shirt, too. Someone get on Cafepress.com and make this happen, OK? Oh, and as Greg says, I’d take Bennett Ratliff for my team if the Rs don’t want him, too.

Two, the ball is now in the Senate’s court.

The Senate, which is scheduled to meet Friday, still has to sign off on changes made Thursday by the House to its maps before sending the bills to Perry for his signature. Sen. Kel Seliger, the upper chamber’s redistricting chief during the special session, has said he plans to accept changes the House makes to their political boundaries.

I guess it wouldn’t have killed them to accept some cleanup amendments after all.

And three, the missing man makes an appearance:

MALC chair State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer and African-American and Hispanic members asked the AG to have someone testify at redistricting hearings. But the AG’s office ignored those requests and redistricting committee chair, State Rep. Drew Darby, said that he would not use subpoena power to require attendance.

In fact, Darby said today in response to questioning that he never even asked the AG’s office to come testify voluntarily.

All that might be logical if the AG’s office took that position that it was the office’s job to defend whatever maps emerged, not to give advice on them.

But that doesn’t appear to be the case. Instead, Abbott’s office appears to have met with the House Republican caucus on at least two occasions, including today during an early afternoon break in floor action.

And after emerging from today’s meeting – reportedly with Abbott’s chief deputy – House Republicans seem to have experienced a major sea change in their willingness to accept even minor agreed amendments, such as one offered by State Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) to adjust for the fact that a mountain runs oddly through HD 77 in El Paso. Whereas before the break, redistricting chair Darby had agree to five relatively minor amendments (one of which was proposed to unite a parking lot at Texas A&M International with the school itself), afterwards he would take none.

Now, since what was said in the meeting isn’t known, it’s not clear that advice from the AG’s office caused the change. But it’s at least a little awkward – both legally and optically – that the AG’s office seems to be acting as counsel for the Republican caucus rather than the Legislature or the state as a whole.

It also seems to have left the Legislature in a precarious position legally.

Too chicken to talk to non-Republicans, I guess. Or maybe he’s just forgotten how. But at least he’s consistent. Go read the rest of that post, it’s all good.

And again, now that redistricting is done for the day, the House can be like the Senate and get to what really animates them, which is making life miserable for women.

House Bill 60 would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, require doctors providing abortions to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles, require abortion clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical clinics, and regulate how doctors administer pills for medical abortions.

HB 60 would originally have required women receiving medical abortions to take the Food and Drug Administration’s recommended dosage, which physicians have said is dangerously high. The committee substitute introduced in the hearing reduced the dosage to that recommended in obstetrician-gynecologist guidelines.

The bill’s Senate version, Senate Bill 5, passed Tuesday night after an amendment removed the 20-week ban. State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, who sponsored the House legislation, has said she hopes to revive the ban in the Senate by passing HB 60.

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, questioned Laubenberg about the justifications for the 20-week ban, which is premised upon research that suggests fetuses at 20 weeks of gestation can feel pain. Though research indicates fetuses respond to stimuli at that point of pregnancy, there is no consensus on whether they feel pain.

Farrar also asked whether HB 60 would deprive women of choice, to which Laubenberg responded, “The Legislature should err on the side of life, not death.”

[…]

Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, asked why the legislation included no exception for cases of rape or incest.

Rape is “a horrible violation to a woman,” Laubenberg said, adding that the state should focus on punishing the perpetrator but still not allow abortion if the fetus is past 20 weeks.

[…]

Matthew Braunberg, an ob-gyn from Dallas, said the legislation would needlessly limit women’s access to abortions despite what he said were decreased medical risks, compared to carrying a pregnancy to term.

“The last thing we want is for them to go to Doctor Google to figure out how to do this,” he said.

Carol Everett, an anti-abortion advocate, said the bill would help women by raising standards for abortions.

“This is a health protection for her,” she said.

I think David Dewhurst let the cat out of the bag on that, Carol. Kudos for sticking to the script regardless. Maybe someone should tell Rep. Laubenberg that if this bill passes and a bunch of clinics close because they can’t meet the needlessly onerous requirements that HB60 would impose, then an awful lot more women are going be be horribly violated, since there wouldn’t be any place for them to get an abortion before 20 weeks anyway. But hey, it’s all about protecting women, since they obviously don’t know what’s best for themselves. Besides, rape victims don’t get pregnant anyway, am I right? Pro-choice advocates are hoping to run out the clock, which has as much hope as any other strategy. Good luck gumming up the works, y’all.

Some are elected to do things, others are elected to not do things

Meet the opposite ends of the spectrum in the Legislature.

Not Ted Cruz

Not Jonathan Stickland

They were the freshest of the freshmen — the two youngest members of the largest freshman class of the Texas House in 40 years. And even before they took office, Mary González, an El Paso Democrat who will turn 30 in October, and Jonathan Stickland, a tea party Republican from the Fort Worth suburbs who will be 30 in September, each had made a defining declaration.

Stickland announced his ambition to compile the most conservative voting record of any member of the Texas House. “It’s time to do battle,” he said.

And González, uncomfortable with the imprecision of being described as the first openly gay woman to be elected to the Texas Legislature, announced to the Dallas Voice that she was actually “pansexual.” She explained that gender isn’t binary but a spectrum, and she has said that while her partner may be a lesbian, “I’m not.”

“Authenticity is important to me,” she said in a recent interview.

It was a breathtaking bit of sharing, especially for a representative who was from a socially conservative district and who was about to enter an institution that is dominated by an older generation of men and has had only one openly gay member — Austin’s Glen Maxey, who left the House a decade ago.

Though the 83rd Legislature ended its regular session just two weeks ago, it isn’t too soon to conclude that its two youngest members, in very different ways, had successful freshman seasons. Their experience offers a window into the sometimes surprising workings of the Legislature, and how novice members find their way amid the hurly-burly of the biennial mayhem, and why it is that a member of the board of the Texas organization for “queer people of color” might find herself more welcome than the darling of the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party.

[…]

Some of this might be the Seinfelds of informed opinion purposely placing the stocky Stickland in the role of Newman (“Hello, Stickland”) as an inviting target. But insults in Austin are music to the ears Stickland cares about back home. Think U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

“Has Ted Cruz ever passed a bill? I don’t think he has, but he’s one of the most influential and powerful senators, and he’s done it as a freshman,” said Stickland, who, in fact, passed a bill with state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, to allow excused school absences for the children of active-duty military personnel. “Ted Cruz has become a sensation because of what he’s fought against and not what he’s fought for. People love him for it.”

Yes, I’m sure it’s now the fondest wish of Jonathan Sticklands everywhere to grow up to be Ted Cruz. No question, from reading the story or just generally following the news from the Capitol this year, Stickland had a lot of success with his mission to obstruct anything he didn’t like. If that’s what he wants out of being a legislator, and that’s what the people who elected him want out of him, then mission accomplished. I’m sure there will be some political opposition to his tactics back home, not to mention opportunities for payback among his colleagues if the people of Stickland’s district ever ask him to get a bill passed for them, but he’ll just turn that into fuel for his persecution complex, like every other straight white boy from the suburbs who’s convinced that he’s the real victim here.

On a much more pleasant and productive note, there’s fellow freshman Rep. Mary González, who was paired with Stickland in this article not just for their youth but also for their position on the political spectrum, with Stickland measuring as the most “conservative” member while González was the most liberal.

González’s success, which might have seemed even more unlikely, was her ability to surmount her exotic introduction, emerging from the session as the Mexican American Legislative Caucus freshman of the year, and, it seems from relationships she’s forged across party lines, something like the Miss Congeniality of the class of 2013. In her unique 140-day gestation in the Capitol hothouse, she seemed to find a way to become one of the boys without becoming one of the boys.

“It’s been a lot of hard work to go to 149 members to get them to go beyond their projections, beyond their stereotypes, beyond the stigma and beyond the boxes,” González said. “Hey, I’m getting a Ph.D. Hey, I grew up on a farm. Hey, I am so much more than the one thing, the only thing that people want to write about.”

Or, as state Rep. Poncho Nevarez, D-Eagle Pass, a fellow freshman who sits next to her in the House and represents an adjoining border district, put it, “Mary’s the only woman on this floor who can palpate a cow.”

“In heels,” adds González.

How the cow got into those heels…never mind. I was channeling Groucho Marx there for a minute. Carrying on:

Rep. Mary Gonzalez

Earlier in the session, state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, who chairs the State Affairs Committee, serves on Calendars and sits diagonally behind her on the House floor, told her, “ ‘You’re basically the same age as my daughter, so you’re going to be my adopted daughter on the floor,’ and that’s kind of what we did. She’s a wonderful young lady to work with.”

Of Cook, said González, “I’m so surprised how close I have gotten to him.”

Asked to compare her approach to Stickland’s, Cook said, “I think you catch more bees with honey.”

And, unlike Stickland, González focused mostly on more targeted legislation for her district.

“We were able to get wastewater service to three colonias, sewerage to over 1,000 families in my district,” González said of the impoverished neighborhoods. “That’s amazing. No one is ever going to write about that, but I know what it means.”

“Mary is pretty much positive, not only a sunny disposition but a very positive person,” said state Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, a veteran Democrat from Laredo. “You get the sense with Jonathan that he’s just not very content with anything.”

[…]

When she showed up as a member of the Agriculture and Livestock Committee, Chairman Tracy King, D-Batesville, said he assumed she had gotten stuck with the assignment, but he was delighted to find out that she grew up in 4H, the daughter of a Texas A&M agricultural extension agent in El Paso, and that the committee had been her first choice.

“We developed a kinship sitting next to one another on the ag committee,” said state Rep. Kyle Kacal, R-College Station. “I like to judge people for myself, and we’ve formed an incredible relationship.”

[…]

For González, the real drama during the session was internal.

She recalled staying up all night when she was a UT student to testify against capping automatic admissions to state universities under the top 10 percent law.

“I wouldn’t be here without it,” she said of the law guaranteeing state university admission to those in the top 10 percent of their high school class. Then last month, a bill by Higher Education Chairman Dan Branch to extend the limits that she opposed was headed to the House floor, and she realized the bind she was in.

“When I was in my previous life, I could more actively fight it, but I’m a member, and you know Chairman Branch has done a lot for El Paso and a lot for my district, as far as bringing the medical school to El Paso,” González said.

“It’s this tension,” she said, “between sticking up for what you think is important and against what you think is oppression, and the reality that you still have to work with these people tomorrow and they can stop your bills, which are also trying to end oppression.”

In the end, she said, “I asked a few questions on the back mic; I talked to him,” but it was clear the bill was going to pass. She was still one of only seven votes against it, but she wasn’t as vociferous in her opposition as the old Mary might have been. “You’ve got to pick your battles.”

I was in Austin for a training class last month, and had the pleasure of meeting Rep. González at the ten year reunion of the Killer Ds. My impression of her, even before meeting her, was as positive as everyone else quoted in the story. She’s already got at least one opponent for next March, and the story notes that her predecessor, former Rep. Chente Quintanilla, is also thinking about getting in. Rep. González will have the support of her caucus mates, who have committed to her over their former colleague, and she’ll have mine as well. The world is full of Jonathan Sticklands, but it’s the Mary Gonzálezes that truly leave a mark. Stuff does need to get done, and we need the people who are there to get it done working for us.

Monday House action

The main action on Monday in the House was the House Redistricting Committee hearing. Where there’s a redistricting hearing, there’s Greg with a liveblogging session. Pay close attention to the stuff Greg writes about the questions that the Dems, in particular Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer (TMF) are asking, because they’re all about the future court fights. A big part of this has to do with who is advising the committee on legal matters, and why the Attorney General is not being made to testify before the committee.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

TMF turns his attention to [David] Archer [of the Texas Legislative Council], asking if there are legal issues seen in [Rep. Yvonne] Davis’ map. Archer notes that the plan is within the committee’s “discretion.” This is pretty much what TMF wants to hear. [Rep.] Senfronia [Thompson] has some questions for Archer, affirming his redistricting bona fides, which leads TMF to follow up with questions to affirm his legal bona fides re: redistricting. He then turns his back & forth with a point that it is the Att. General that ultimately defines those legal points on behalf of the state. He’s trying to back Archer up to a point where Archer can’t offer the answer TMF is fishing for. Archer says he’s “not trying to pass the buck …”, but he seems to realize the corner TMF is trying to paint him into. TMF notes that there is a limit to the advice that Lege Council can give, which builds from Archer’s own statements. He’s building the new court case for MALC pretty well. There are points in this line of questioning that are pure genius to observe. Archer is doing his best to just not break down and say: “Yeah, you need to talk to the Att. General’s office about that.”

TMF is done with Archer for now. Davis follows up by asking Archer about Sec. 2. This is going to be her strongest case for her plan being “legally required.” Ultimately, that definition comes down to the mood of the chair, the barometric pressure, and a number of other issues having nothing to do with law. But it’s a good marker for her to put down on this plan. Davis is exasperated with his analysis, saying he’s not being helpful to the committee by not giving any solid yesses and nos. The nut of this is that Archer’s position with the Lege Council isn’t an advocacy position, it’s a non-partisan role. With that, Davis picks up on TMF’s bigger argument – that this isn’t helping the committee determine what is legally required. It’s coming across as picking on Archer a little (something that TMF avoids in his questioning). But this is aimed at the court, not [David] Archer.

[…]

TMF picks up his opening from [Rep. Jason] Villalba’s questioning, asking again whether Archer is the best person to testify. Let me repeat: Villalba not only extracted testimony from Archer that wasn’t helpful to his side, but he also allows TMF to work in a further point about the inadequacy of Lege Council to be the ones offering legal advice to the committee. He also asks whether Archer would advise that there should be more minority-opportunity districts. Archer begins by answering that he “sees opportunities” but concludes with a “no.” TMF is also asking more questions that sidestep whether or not he thinks Lege Council is the appropriate resource for the committee. This is some more impressive TMF-ery. If the state wants to make the case that Lege Council is perfectly valid and fine, then expect comments like “sees opportunities” to come back around in the courts. This is the grand pitfall of the Lege Council not being in a position to advocate for anything – Archer is obviously trying to be neutral to all sides, but the flipside of that approach is that they aren’t going to say that the interim map is a solid slam dunk that doesn’t need tweaking. It gives TMF the ability to take Archer’s comments to court and get some kind of win (major or minor) regardless of whether the Att. General’s unwillingness to testify is ruled significant. Seriously, this is better than Perry Mason reruns. Along the same lines as above, TMF asks Archer to clarify his comment about “minimizing risk” and “insulation of risk” by taking more legislative action on the map. This won’t be the last time we hear those terms.

[Rep. Richard] Raymond follows that up with some clarity on whether a plan passed by the Lege would have to get preclearance from the DOJ (Yes, it will). Raymond then replays some history by noting that the AG’s office took the preclearance route of the DC Circuit court rather than DOJ last time. Archer notes that the AG has the same discretion of where to take preclearance this time around. Bottom line: I think we can expect this to go back through the DC court.

Texas Redistricting has a more concise wrapup. Both note that HB3, the bill for the House, passed 9-5 when motioned to a vote, but that’s not a majority of the committee and thus technically can’t be brought to the full floor. Instead, HB1 – the bill that does all of three of the affected bodies – was brought up and passed along part lines, despite objections that it brings up the same measure, since HB2 (the Senate bill) had already been approved. It’s getting wild around here, so be on high alert for shenanigans and points of order. I suspect that in the end the House will be as pro forma as the Senate was, and will do whatever it needs to do to get the maps approved.

There were other items of business in the House as well. The possibilities for the Public Integrity Unit warranted their own post. On the matter of the recent items added to the session call, these are the words of a House Speaker who has to deal with wingnut abortion legislation but isn’t exactly thrilled about it.

The House State Affairs Committee is expected to have a hearing on abortion bills Thursday, with consideration by the full chamber possible this weekend.

[…]

“I haven’t seen a bill come from the Senate yet, but I would assume that there would be support in the House, yes,” House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, said Monday.

Asked about Perry adding the abortion issue to the agenda, Straus said, “It’s the governor’s prerogative to add issues to a special session. He controls the agenda during a special session. It’s certainly a right he exercises freely.”

The Senate is expected to approve the bill that was voted out of committee on Friday today. The session ends on the 25th, and while Perry can call more sessions till the cows come home, if this or any other bill hasn’t passed by then, it would have to start over from scratch in a new session.

Finally, a panel of House members will join Perry and Abbott in calling on President Obama to reconsider the denial of federal emergency aid to West. I don’t have any issue with that, though you’d thin that the Congressional delegation, including our two Senators, would be the ones to take the lead on this.

Double secret illegal Medicaid amendment amended

Yes, I know, it’s all so confusing.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

The House on Sunday night accepted Sen. Jane Nelson’s and other lawmakers’ clean up of an amendment by a freshman state representative from Collin County that would require a rubber stamp from the Legislature before Medicaid could be expanded to cover more able-bodied adults.

Basically, they feared Rep. Jeff Leach’s provision could screw up two things — some shifts of the state’s most disabled individuals between so-called “Medicaid waiver programs,” as the bill attempts to improve and shrink the cost of their long-term care services; and the scheduled addition to Medicaid of foster children through age 26 and a subset of youngsters now on the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Under the federal health care law, some current CHIP recipients — those ages six through 18 and just over the poverty line — will have to be shifted to Medicaid. That and the extension of coverage for former foster children are noncontroversial requirements of the federal health care law.

The long term care bill, which would expand use of managed care in Medicaid, received final House approval and was finally sent to the governor. The vote was 146-1.

Last week, Leach, R-Plano, added the provision to the measure by Nelson, R-Flower Mound. Effectively, it would have barred the Texas Health and Human Services Commission from accepting anyone into Medicaid who was not eligible under this year’s rules as of Dec. 31. Leach said he wanted to make sure lawmakers, not just Gov. Rick Perry, have a say on whether Texas expands Medicaid to cover uninsured adults of working age. Texas currently covers almost none.

Rep. Richard Raymond, a Laredo Democrat who was House sponsor of Nelson’s bill, said the new language added by House-Senate negotiators makes sure Leach’s amendment does no collateral damage.

“We have been able through the years to get waivers” for disabled and elderly Texans to stay out of nursing homes and large group homes, he said. But the bill will put those services under managed care, he noted.

See here for the background. Basically, the committee report clears up the aspects of Leach’s amendment that could have caused real problems, and leaves the largely symbolic “do nothing without the Lege’s OK” provision in place. As I said before, it’s not like Medicaid expansion is going to happen without major changes to the state government, if it ever does.

Getting on the same page on marriage equality

Harold Cook asks a darned good question.

As SCOTUS hears arguments on marriage equality this week, it reminds me of when the Texas Legislature voted for the state constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage in Texas eight years ago. Texas voters subsequently approved the measure that November by a 3-to-1 margin. I wonder if any of the legislators voting on that piece of crap would vote differently today?

I am particularly reminded of the Democrats who voted yes (or Present, Not Voting). Some of the statements of vote (scroll to the bottom) are surprising and disappointing, including those made by various House Democrats, two of whom are now in the US Congress and several of whom remain in the legislature or otherwise in the public eye. (and one of whom was, ironically, drummed out of office in part for gay baiting).

In the Senate (in which it was debated with zero votes to spare, while two Democrats voted yes):

HJR 6 was adopted by the following vote: Yeas 21, Nays 9.

Yeas: Armbrister, Averitt, Brimer, Deuell, Duncan, Eltife, Estes, Fraser, Harris, Jackson, Janek, Lindsay, Lucio, Madla, Nelson, Ogden, Seliger, Shapiro, Staples, Wentworth, Williams.

Nays: Barrientos, Ellis, Gallegos, Hinojosa, Shapleigh, VanideiPutte, West, Whitmire, Zaffirini.

And in the House:

The roll of those voting yea was again called and the verified vote resulted, as follows (Record 396): 101 Yeas, 29 Nays, 8 Present, not voting.

Yeas — Mr. Speaker(C); Allen, R.; Anderson; Baxter; Berman; Blake; Bohac; Bonnen; Branch; Brown, B.; Brown, F.; Callegari; Campbell; Casteel; Chisum; Cook, B.; Cook, R.; Corte; Crabb; Crownover; Davis, J.; Dawson; Delisi; Denny; Driver; Edwards; Eissler; Elkins; Escobar; Farabee; Flynn; Frost; Gattis; Geren; Gonzalez Toureilles; Goodman; Goolsby; Griggs; Grusendorf; Guillen; Haggerty; Hamilton; Hamric; Hardcastle; Harper-Brown; Hartnett; Hegar; Hilderbran; Hill; Homer; Hope; Hopson; Howard; Hughes; Hunter; Hupp; Isett; Jackson; Jones, D.; Keel; Keffer, B.; Keffer, J.; King, P.; King, T.; Kolkhorst; Krusee; Kuempel; Laney; Laubenberg; Madden; McCall; McReynolds; Merritt; Miller; Morrison; Mowery; Olivo; Orr; Otto; Paxton; Phillips; Pickett; Quintanilla; Raymond; Reyna; Riddle; Ritter; Rose; Seaman; Smith, T.; Smith, W.; Solomons; Straus; Swinford; Talton; Taylor; Truitt; Van Arsdale; West; Woolley; Zedler.

Nays — Allen, A.; Alonzo; Anchia; Bailey; Burnam; Coleman; Davis, Y.; Deshotel; Dukes; Dunnam; Dutton; Farrar; Gallego; Herrero; Hochberg; Hodge; Martinez Fischer; McClendon; Moreno, J.; Moreno, P.; Naishtat; Noriega, M.; Puente; Rodriguez; Strama; Thompson; Veasey; Villarreal; Vo.

Present, not voting — Castro; Chavez; Giddings; Gonzales; Jones, J.; Leibowitz; Turner; Wong.

Absent, Excused — Eiland; Luna; Menendez; Nixon; Oliveira; Pitts; Smithee.

Absent — Flores; Martinez; Pena; Solis; Uresti.

I’ve helpfully highlighted all of the yea-voting Democrats in bold. All of the non-voters were Democrats except for Martha Wong, Joe Nixon, Jim Pitts, and John Smithee. You should click over to read some of the statements made by the non-voters, several of whom would have voted Yes and several of whom had less-than-stellar reasons for voting No. The good news is that there’s only a handful of yea-voting Dems left in the Lege – Eddie Lucio in the Senate; Ryan Guillen, Tracy King, Joe Pickett, and Richard Raymond in the House. Allan Ritter is still in the House but switched to the GOP in 2011.

I wanted to know what these legislators thought about marriage equality today. I sent the following emails to their communications directors and/or chiefs of staff:

As you know, the Supreme Court is hearing two cases this week that have to do with marriage equality. Eight years ago, the Texas Legislature approved HJR6, which was “a constitutional amendment providing that marriage in this state consists only of the union of one man and one woman”, which was subsequently ratified by the voters. Recent polling makes it clear that as with the rest of the country, Texans’ attitudes towards marriage equality are evolving, and Texans today are more favorably inclined to the idea than ever before. Democrats in particular are quite favorable to marriage equality, but that wasn’t always the case. In 2005, [your boss] was one of only three Democrats to vote Yes on HJR6 in the Senate/fifteen Democrats to vote Yes on HJR6 in the House. I would like to know, if he had to do it again today, would he still vote for HJR6?

This session, there are several joint amendments that would repeal this amendment – HJRs 77 and 78, and SJR 29. While I recognize that it is highly unlikely any of these resolutions will come to a vote, I would like to know if one of them did come up for a vote, would [your boss] vote for it?

I am sending this question to all five Democratic members of the Legislature who voted for HJR6 in 2005 and who are still serving as Democrats in the Legislature today. I intend to print the responses on my blog when I receive them. I look forward to receiving [your boss’] answer. Please let me know if you have any questions. Thanks very much.

The only complete response I got was from Rep. Richard Raymond:

In 2010 I decided that the only position I would take on the issue of marriage would be that I am pro marriage. Period.

Whether a person is gay or straight should be irrelevant.

What matters is that two people who love each other and want to get married should be able to do so.

Obviously, I’m glad to hear that. I wish I could say I got the same kind of answer from everyone I asked, but I can’t. Rep. Ryan Guillen responded that he had not read the legislation to repeal HJR6 – “I typically read bills as they come up for consideration and make my decision at that time”, he said. I followed up to inquire about whether he had changed his mind about his vote on HJR6, but did not get a response. Sen. Lucio declined to comment. I got no response from Reps. Tracy King or Joe Pickett despite two and three emails sent to them, respectively. So there’s still work to be done here. But we have come a long way. As Texas on the Potomac noted, not a single Texas Democrat voted against DOMA in 1996 – Sheila Jackson Lee, who voted “present”, was the only one not to vote in favor of it – but now many of them are full-throated in support of marriage equality. We will get to where we need to be, with marriage equality. I don’t know how long it will take, and I don’t know who will refuse to come along, but ultimately we will get there. It’s just a matter of time.

Are two courts better than one?

Why exactly do we need two top courts in Texas?

A proposal for the upcoming legislative session is resuscitating a debate that goes back to the writing of the Texas Constitution in 1876.

The bill, authored by state Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, would abolish the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest court for all criminal matters, and bring all criminal cases under the Texas Supreme Court, which now hears only civil and juvenile cases.

Texas and Oklahoma are the only two states with their highest courts divided between civil and criminal jurisdictions, though others have considered it as a means to deal with large case backlogs. Last year, lawmakers in Florida considered splitting the state’s Supreme Court, particularly to deal with a growing list of death penalty appeals, but a political battle killed the proposal.

Raymond’s bill and joint resolution, pre-filed last month, would allow the Texas Supreme Court to decide which criminal cases to review but would require that it look at all death penalty appeals.

He says that the change should be a no-brainer, because 48 other states and the federal court system have a single highest court. “The model is there for most of the country,” he said. “The more people talk about it the more they will agree.”

It’s an interesting story, which includes some of the history of the CCA and how it came about. Though the attempt to do away with the CCA has come up multiple times before in the Lege – Rep. Raymond filed similar legislation two years ago that got nowhere – I confess I’d never heard about any of those efforts before. According to Scott Henson, who is quoted in the story and who elaborates on his remarks and the history of the court here, it’s usually the minority party pushing these efforts, as it would result in fewer offices for the dominant party to occupy. That’s as may be, but for what it’s worth I’ve never heard a Democrat talk about this before now. I personally am agnostic on the idea. I doubt it will actually save much money – the extra caseload on a single court would necessitate a much larger staff to handle it – and I do think it will make the appeals process take longer. Having said that, the fact that 48 other states survive with one top court suggests that we’d be just fine, and the fact that “we’ve always done it this way” isn’t really a justification. And hey, if it means that Sharon Keller would be finally put out of a job, then you’d better believe I’d vote for it.

Taxes and fees

The last time a Republican-dominated Legislature got together to deal with a multi-billion dollar deficit, they found many ways to squeeze more money out of the citizenry through more and higher fees, though they later bragged about not raising taxes. You can expect much of the same this year, but if State Rep. Richard Raymond has his way, at least no one will brag about it.

All fees, surcharges and other revenue-raising measures would be classified officially as taxes under a state constitutional amendment proposed today by a veteran House Democrat.

Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, said his “honesty in taxation” measure would prevent politicians — if they peppered taxpayers with higher fees for things like driver’s licenses, hunting licenses and copies of birth certificates — from claiming they balanced Texas’ budget without raising taxes.

“The truth is, if you raise fees, you raise taxes,” said Raymond, vice chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

Not really clear to me how this will work. I mean, how exactly are you going to stop someone from saying “I didn’t raise your taxes”? Unless there are penalties attached – I can already hear Scott Henson banging his head against a wall at the thought – I don’t see what this will accomplish. It’s good politics, I suppose, though you don’t really need a constitutional amendment for that. A press release from Rep. Raymond is here.

First, get someone to actually run

I certainly agree that the Democratic statewide ticket would benefit from the presence of a qualified Latino candidate or two or three. Agreeing on that is the easy part. Finding someone who qualifies as qualified and who is actually willing to get into a race, especially if it means not resigning from or not running for re-election to an office he or she would easily hold indefinitely, that’s the hard part.

Gilberto Hinojosa, chair of Cameron County Democratic Party and a member of the Democratic National Committee, said state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, one of the best known Latino elected officials in Texas, would make a great lieutenant governor.

“Someone like Leticia brings all the attributes we need for a strong candidate for lieutenant governor. She is smart, she is aggressive, she is not afraid to do what is right,” said Hinojosa, in an exclusive interview with the Guardian.

[…]

“The key to everything here in Texas is the Latino vote. That is the make or break, the do or die for the Democratic Party,” Hinojosa said. “If the Latino vote increases by eight to ten percent in this state Texas becomes blue. We would have a Democratic governor, a Democratic lieutenant governor, and every position up and down that ballot. But, unless you increase that vote you are not going anywhere.”

In addition to Van de Putte, Hinojosa said state Reps. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, and Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, would be great candidates for statewide office.

I agree with all this, but someone has to step up and run first. I’m lukewarm on Raymond, but Van de Putte and/or Villarreal would be awesome, for whatever office they wanted. Now how do you make it make it happen?

More names surfacing for statewide runs

Via Greg, it appears that Smokey Joe Barton may want to party like it’s 1993.

No one seems to be mentioning U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Arlington, as a candidate to replace outgoing Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.

Turns out that Barton — who came in third in the 1993 special election that Hutchison won in a runoff — is indeed thinking about running.

“Congressman Barton continues to watch the developments in Texas politics with an interested eye,” spokesman Sean Brown said. “He believes serving the entire state of Texas as their next senator would be an honor. If and when an opportunity presents itself, he will discuss it with his wife, family and supporters before making any decision.”

If he runs, Barton, a congressman since 1985, will not have to give up his seat, but he will have to do something pretty quickly about an awkward situation.

His longtime campaign consultant and spokesman, Craig Murphy, is also the spokesman for Roger Williams, the Weatherford auto dealer and former secretary of state who — oops — is running for Senate.

Barton drew a shade under 14% of the vote in the 24-candidate field, good for third place and a smidgeon ahead of former Republican Congressman Jack Fields. He wasn’t anywhere close to finishing in the money, however, as KBH and appointed Sen. Bob Krueger each received 29%. I have no idea why he thinks he might do any better this time around, but hey, dream big. And I’ll somewhat churlishly note that it’s only a free shot if KBH does in fact resign, which I’ll believe when it actually happens. Burka, who notes that Barton has a decent chunk of change in his campaign coffers, suggests the possibility of Barton being Perry’s appointee to the seat. I dunno about that, but as he says, stranger things have happened.

Meanwhile, via Marc Campos, this Statesman article is mostly about the Governor’s race and the top Democratic contenders (Tom Schieffer) and potential contenders (State Sen. Kirk Watson, Ronnie Earle) for it, but the interesting bit in the story to me was this paragraph:

Barbara Ann Radnofsky, the Democrats’ 2006 U.S. Senate nominee, has announced she’ll run for state attorney general. Others who have run before (Hank Gilbert, agriculture commissioner; Sam Houston, Texas Supreme Court; William Moody, Texas Supreme Court; Richard Raymond, land commissioner; Nick Lampson, U.S. House) are described by party leaders as weighing or intending statewide bids.

I can confirm that Hank Gilbert is running. Moody and Houston are great names to hear, as they were the Democratic frontrunners in 2006 and 2008, respectively. Having them both on the ticket – I’m hoping they’re not each eyeing Harriet O’Neill’s open seat – would be an asset. I know Rep. Raymond has had ambitions for another statewide run, but this is the first I’ve heard of it. As for former Rep. Lampson, I know he mulled a Senate run in 2008 before deciding to try for re-election in CD22. I’ve no idea offhand what office he might have in mind – the Senate special election field is pretty crowded – so I don’t know what to say about this other than it’s the first I’ve heard of it as well.

One more thing from the Statesman piece:

Earle, who earlier said he might run for attorney general, said that he’s no longer eyeing that possibility; he’s had a law enforcement post.

So it’s presumably Governor or nothing for Earle, unless he’s open to the Lite Guv position; I’m assuming he’s not interested in running for Comptroller or Land Commissioner or something like that. But AG is out, so that’s good news for Radnofsky.

House budget conferees announced

Elise Hu names names.

State Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, House Appropriations Chairman
State Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Webb, House Appropriations Vice-Chair
State Rep. Ruth Jones-McClendon, D-San Antonio
State Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton
State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Houston

Give credit to Burka – he called all five. These five will join Senate conferees Steve Ogden, Royce West, Florence Shapiro, Chuy Hinojosa, and Tommy Williams to hammer out the final budget. I don’t know yet when they’ll start their process, but I assume it’ll be soon. Will the Davis-Walle amendment, which drained the Texas Enterprise Fund in the event of a veto of SB1569, survive? Will the Ogden stem cell rider get the heave-ho? The answers to these and other important questions will be known to us soon.

UPDATE: As has been pointed out to me, Zerwas is from Katy, in Fort Bend County. None of the ten conferees are from Harris County; Williams’ district includes a piece of northeast Harris County, though he himself hails from The Woodlands. I hadn’t realized that when I first wrote this, but it strikes me now as being a little strange that the largest county in the state has basically no representation on the budget conference committee. Hope they don’t forget about us…