07.10.13

HB 2, omnibus abortion bill, passes House

Posted in 83rd Legislature, Around The State, Special Session at 10:37 am by wcnews

Yesterday HB 2 passed the House (98 – 49) with five Democrats voting for the bill and one Republican voting against it, House Gives Early OK to Abortion Restrictions.

After more than 10 hours of debate, the House voted 98-49 to tentatively approve the abortion regulations in House Bill 2, which would ban abortions at 20 weeks and add regulations to abortion providers and facilities that opponents argue would effectively eliminate access to abortion in Texas. The House must approve the bill again on another calendar day before it will be sent to the Senate.

In closing remarks on HB 2, Republicans emphasized that their goal was to protect women and unborn children, while Democrats expressed concern that the legislation would harm women by decreasing access to safe and legal abortions without offering any alternatives, such as education.

The Democrats had a different goal in the amendment process this time then to stall the action, via QR, “Democratic action today [was] geared toward building legal record for future court challenge”.

Kuff has a great wrap-up of Monday’s hearing in the Senate and yesterday’s action on the House floor, Back to the House. In it he points to an editorial, (Get ready for all those babies), which is likely to expose the Texas GOP’s neglect of it’s stewardship of state government even more.

By the way, while Texas Republicans are pushing bills like HB2 to prove how “pro-life” they are, here are some things they’re not doing.

With new abortion laws in place, Texans can expect a significant increase in the number of babies born every year. That’s the whole point—to turn more pregnancies into live births.

We can expect the mothers of a multitude of these “extra” babies to be teens, unwed and/or poor. Those are the demographics of a significant proportion of women who choose abortions.

Since the moral impetus for reducing, if not eliminating, abortions is advocacy for life, then Texans should demonstrate our support for these babies. When you examine many of our current practices and policies, you understand why outsiders claim Texans are more concerned about fetuses than babies, children and teenagers.

Texas is among the nation’s leaders in child poverty, teen pregnancy, dropout rates and illiteracy. We’re also among the nation’s lowest-spending states on child poverty, teen pregnancy, dropout rates and illiteracy. Some people attribute these maladies to dependence on government, the product of a so-called welfare state. If that were true, then their incidence would be higher in states that spend the most on child welfare, anti-poverty programs and education, not the least-spending small-government states, like Texas.

Ironically, conservative states composed of higher percentages of Bible-believing Christians—from Texas across the South—suffer the blights of child poverty, teen pregnancy, dropout rates and illiteracy much more promiscuously than their more secular counterparts. Those are the states many Texans and Southerners call “pagan” and “dark.”

This disparity is an affront to the name of Jesus. Small wonder unbelieving outsiders doubt the compassion of Christ and the credibility of Christians. We often treat people Jesus called “the least” worse than unbelievers do.

If Texans’ conservative moral values prompt our state to implement one of the nation’s most stringent abortion codes, then we should accept the responsibility for all those babies we will bring into the world. We need to do right by them.

Yeah, that’s not going to happen. Not while Rick Perry is Governor, and not if Greg Abbott becomes Governor. These things are not important to them.

Anyway. In the end, HB2 passed as expected, and if it passes on third reading today it could then be taken up by the Senate as early as Friday, though Monday may be more likely. Either way, needless to say it will be well outside the filibuster zone. The next stop will be the federal courthouse, where a similar law from Wisconsin was at least temporarily blocked. Of course, we have the Fifth Circuit to overcome, but let’s keep hope alive anyway.

For more on the House debate, see BORTexpatriate, the ObserverTexas PoliticsRaw Story, and PoliTex. Finally, the Village Voice reminds us that a whole lot of the bill supporters currently infesting Austin are outside agitators, while Sen. Wendy Davis and a bunch of actual Texans are touring the state to stand against these needless bills

Texapate has more on this and other legislation that is moving in the special session, Lege Update 7/9. And PDiddie has more on the incredible hypocrisy of Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker), As dumb as bean dip.

Further Reading:
Follow the Money Rick Perry & Abortion Edition.
Elections have consequences.

06.30.13

The GOP gets personal

Posted in 83rd Legislature, Around The State, Had Enough Yet?, Special Session at 4:38 pm by wcnews

Perry and the wing nuts look like they’re coming unhinged.  That’s what happens when an enetitled group, that has been allowed to roam free for years, is finally having to deal with a competent and successful opposition, Sen. Davis: ‘Rick Perry’s statement is without dignity’.

Davis later responded to Perry’s comments.

“Rick Perry’s statement is without dignity and tarnishes the high office he holds,” she said. “They are small words that reflect a dark and negative point of view. Our governor should reflect our Texas values. Sadly, Gov. Perry fails that test.”

Even Republicans are realizing that it’s OK to call them our for their shameful rantings, Straus: Perry Crossed Line on Davis Comments.

“Disagreements over policy are important and they’re healthy, but when he crosses the line into the personal, then he damages himself and he damages the Republican Party,” Straus said.

Perry’s beeen making oops-worthy statements for a couple of years now.

Dewhurst must really be feeling the heat after his weak showing.  He’s taken to threatening to arrest members of the capitol press corps, Lt Gov David Dewhurst decides against arresting Texas media.

The problem for the GOP is that they are trying to hide their real intentions, (shutting down access to legal abortion), behind protecting women’s health.  Which is a solution in search of a problem.  It’s similar to voter ID, where they tried to hide their true intenion, (disinfranchising likely Democratic voters), behind  the non-existant problem of voter fraud.  They’re following a pattern.

They feel they need to hide their true intentions becauste while many people may believe abortion is wrong, they also know that making it too difficult to get a safe legal abortion may force women to take drastic measures.

State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) made the rounds of the Sunday shows today.  My favorite comment was the one asked by David Gregory on Meet The Press when he asked if she’s just delaying the inevitable.  She responded by saying, “I don’t thinks it’s every acceptable to concede the argument on incredilby important issues like this”.  And that’s the point even if this fight is lost, fighting for it is likley to bring those who have been sitting out into this and future fights.

The longer this fight goes on the better it is for the Democrats and worse it gets for the GOP.  The 2nd special session starts tomorrow.  Or as Kuff says, Time to lace up your Mizunos and head back to the Capitol.

Further Reading:
Filibuster Drama Shows Side of Texas Rarely Seen.
Wendy Davis says Rick Perry talks small government but likes big government when to his political advantage.

06.19.13

Senate passes new abortion regulations

Posted in 83rd Legislature, Around The State, Commentary, Special Session at 2:29 pm by wcnews

Last night the Texas Senate passed SB 5, an omnibus anti-abortion bill, on a 20-10 vote.  To Republicans it’s a bill to improve the quality of care, and to Democrats it is a bill that will restrict access to abortion.  From the Texas Tribune, After Hours of Debate, Senate OKs Abortion Regulations.

“My objective first and foremost, second and third, is to raise the standard of care,” said state Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, the author of Senate Bill 5, which passed 20-10 and now heads to the House for approval.

SB 5 includes three abortion regulation measures that failed to reach the floor of either chamber during the regular legislative session: a requirement that abortions be performed in ambulatory surgical centers, which state Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, has filed as SB 24 in the special session; a requirement that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion facility; and a requirement that if doctors administer the abortion inducing drug, RU-486, they do so in person, which state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, has proposed separately in SB 18 in the special session.

[...]

The Republican-led Senate tabled all of the amendments to SB 5 offered by Democrats, including a measure to exempt drug-induced abortions from the requirement that abortions be performed at surgical facilities, a proposal to push the effective date of the surgical facility requirements from 2014 to 2015 to allow existing clinics more time to comply with the regulations, and a provision to exempt abortion facilities located more than 50 miles from another facility that primarily serve rural communities. The Senate also rejected proposals by Democrats to increase financing for women’s health services, expand Medicaid coverage to poor adults and reduce unwanted pregnancies by offering evidence-based sexual education in public schools.

“Truly, this isn’t about making women safe,” said state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. She highlighted legislative testimony by medical experts, such as the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, who argued the abortion regulations in SB 5 would endanger women by requiring the use of outdated medical protocols and decreasing access to legal abortion services. “It’s about political primaries and making sure you’re feeding the red meat [to] the people who will be voting in those primaries,” she said.

According to the Department of State Health Services, the most recent death in Texas related to an abortion procedure occurred in 2001 from a drug-induced abortion. The most recent death from a surgical abortion occurred in 2000.

Deuell, a family physician, denied Davis’ assertions that the abortion legislation was “red meat” for GOP primaries and defended the provisions in SB 5.

“Medicine has found out that when you adhere to certain standards for certain surgical procedures that the outcomes are better — there’s less infection, there’s less bleeding, there’s less complications,” he said. Deuell also argued that abortion providers have the money to improve their facilities to meet the regulatory standards in SB 5 and SB 24, and he said the legislation would result in more than 30 clinics becoming ambulatory surgical centers.

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, a pharmacist, offered an amendment, which was rejected, that would have removed a requirement in SB 5 that physicians follow the FDA regimen for drug-induced abortions. She argued that the regimen the FDA developed 13 years ago is outdated and that most doctors currently follow an evidence-based protocol backed by medical associations to induce abortion with lower doses of the medication.

“Why would we endanger a women with three times the dose of that drug when that’s not the way it’s currently used?” Van de Putte asked Hegar. “It’s more toxic. It’s got more side effects, and if this is really about women’s health, why would you do that?”

Hegar defended the drug regimen required by the bill, saying that the “FDA has not signed off on these additional evidence-based methods that you mentioned.” Later, he accepted an amendment offered by Deuell to allow evidence-based protocol for the administration of drug-induced abortions.

Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) hit the nail on the head last night when he said that the best way to reduce abortions is to limit the number of unintended pregnancies.  A major factor regarding why a woman terminates a pregnancy is her financial circumstance, which is one result of income inequality.  According to XXXX:

As the economic downturn continues, abortion rates – especially among poor women – are rising. Birth rates are falling, and demand for contraceptive services, including vasectomies, is increasing. Currently available research and data support the explanation that lower incomes and rising unemployment are affecting Americans’ choices about pregnancies. This is consistent with research showing that financial circumstances have always been a major determinant of women’s choices regarding unintended pregnancy. Poor women are more likely to terminate unintended pregnancies than their more well-to-do counterparts. As more women and families fall below the poverty line and are otherwise constrained by financial circumstances, abortion rates can be expected to rise.

Texas, of course, is known to have a high rate of income inequality, which likely contributes significantly to the incidence of unintended pregnancies being terminated in Texas.  Also note that poor women, as opposed to wealthier women, are more likely to terminate a pregnancy and those poorer women are exactly the ones who will be affected the most by these new regulations.  Fixing economic inequality and the neglect of social issues in Texas would do more to prevent the number of abortions than shutting down accessibility to abortion.

Sen. Watson also tried to pass an amendment to reduce unwanted pregnancies by offering evidence-based sexual education in public schools, which is much needed.  Sen. Eddie Lucio’s (D-McAllen) pro-life comments have gotten much play, but what’s missing are the comments he made about the GOP, and I’m paraphrasing, caring only about the unborn and not wanting to provide for children once they’re born.

Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) has again shown herself as a champion for women’s issues and the issues of hard working Texans.  She is definitely one of the brightest stars on the Democratic side not named Castro.

The bill now moves to the House where Speaker Joe Straus will have to decide if he’s going to allow this bill to move to the floor for debate and likely passage. Will Straus allow a vote and force his lieutenants and fellow “moderates” to choose between voting anti-abortion or pro-choice, where they would have to choose between giving red meat to either a primary opponent or general election opponent?

The last thing on this is that if SB 5 becomes law, will this change anything in Texas, politically speaking? Will this issue, the GOP’s attack on women, which infuriates a lot of women in Texas, be a driving force in the 2014 election cycle in Texas? The GOP has done some really infuriating things in the recent past–defunding public education, children’s health care, Medicaid–and it’s hasn’t changed how Texans vote. But until there is a movement of the poeple to get rid of the current elected representatives and replace them with some new ones, nothing is going to change.

Further Reading:
Democrats reaction via First Reading, Change of venue: Senate sends abortion and roads bills to the House.

“Democrats focused much of their ire on the surgical center provision, charging that it is intended to close the state’s 37 clinics by making it too expensive to meet certification standards, including large operating rooms with specialized medical equipment, sterile-environment ventilation systems, backup generators, difficult-to-retrofit standards such as minimum widths for hallways and other rules found in 117 pages of government regulations.”

“Tonight, a majority of my colleagues advanced a bill that they claim would protect women’s health and safety. In fact, it will deny them their constitutional rights,” said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, “It is obvious that the real goal of this bill is to make it harder, even impossible, for women to elect a procedure that is perfectly legal — especially women who live hundreds of miles from major urban areas, the only places in the state that will still have abortion facilities if this bill becomes law.”

06.12.13

Redistricting deal, probably not, just political posturing

Posted in Redistricting, Special Session at 3:46 pm by wcnews

Came across this last night and It’s hard to understand why this report got as much play as it did, Texas redistricting-deal outlines emerge. Mainly because of the sourcing in the article.

A Republican lawmaker and an attorney for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus said there was a consensus that minority groups would accept maps that create one to two more congressional districts in which Texas minorities hold sway and five to seven more seats in the state House.

[...]

Some on the committee seemed frustrated that Attorney General Greg Abbott — a driving force in the redistricting process — has not attended any court hearings or hearings by the Legislature.

“Why wouldn’t Attorney General Abbott let us know what he’s thinking?” asked state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, head of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.

Abbott’s office said last week that that the attorney general believes the interim maps are constitutional. The chairman of the redistricting committee, state Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, on Monday said he has no plans to call Abbott to testify.

Garza, the lawyer for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said that if the Legislature does what Perry and Abbott want, it would make a charade of the fact-finding process that’s going on now. “It would be evidence of intentional discrimination,” Garza said.

In other hearings, state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, has posed tough questions to witnesses advocating maps other than those supported by Perry and Abbott. But on Monday, he seemed more interested in what the price of peace with minority groups would be.

“We’re in 98 percent agreement,” Villalba said.

Garza said one to two additional seats in Congress and five to seven in the state House could be the basis for a deal.

“We’re not advocating maximization,” he said. “If we were talking maximization, it would be a much higher number.”

Some observers have said it’s in the interest of Republicans to make a deal with minority Democrats because if they leave map drawing to the courts, it will be done without regard to who is an incumbent.

I’m with Kuff in being skeptical of this. The article points to a deal and quotes a freshman GOP house member and the lawyer for MALC. Those are not really big players in the Texas GOP. And the plan seems very generous to Democrats.  Perry and the wing nuts didn’t want a special session to give away House and Senate seats to the Democrats.

Burka’s take is much more realistic.

I suspect Perry is furious with Abbott about this ham-handed redistricting play, which is rapidly developing into a fiasco. It really makes one wonder whether Abbott knows what he is doing and whether he is adept at the law. The triangulation among Perry, Abbott, and Dewhurst has turned in Dewhurst’s favor; it looks as if Abbott has been isolated and Dewhurst has Perry’s back now. This reinforces my belief that Perry wants to run again, but it won’t be any picnic if he has to face Abbott in a Republican primary.

Why would Perry want to run again? The answer is simple: It’s the lifestyle, stupid. He lives the life of an Oriental potentate — even as I write, he is off in New York living a life of luxury, the best hotels in New York, the best restaurants, the kingpins of Wall Street, and don’t forget that state pension. By running again, he extends his ability to lead the Good Life for four more years, plus run for president on the taxpayers’ dime. Nice work if you can get it, and he’s got it.

Texas is ruled by one party. It’s unaccountable and arrogant and see the state government as it’s playground. None of what happens in this special session will do anything to make the lives of Texans better. But it will allow those who run our state to score political points.  Especially as the Senate Redistricting Committee rubber-stamped the interim redistricting plan today.

06.11.13

Redistricting special session is turning into free-for-all

Posted in Around The State, Special Session at 2:02 pm by wcnews

With the likelihood of nothing being resolved regarding redistricting, whether a bill passes or not, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has decided to open the special session up to other issues. He started yesterday with transportation, Perry adds transportation funding to special session.

In his directive, Perry asked the Legislature to consider the “funding of transportation infrastructure projects” during the 30-day session, which began late last month.

“Texas’ growing economy and population demand that we take action to address the growing pressure on the transportation network across the state,” Perry said in a statement. “As we enjoy the benefits of a booming economy, we have to build and maintain the roads to ensure we sustain both our economic success and our quality of life.”

[...]

“I’m excited about the opportunity that’s before us on this,” Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, said in a statement. “Transportation funding was the one bit of unfinished business coming out of the regular session that we really need to take care of.”

The plan appears to be putting another constitutional amendment on the November ballot, like they did with water. SJR 2 which will:

S.J.R. 2 proposes a constitutional amendment which will dedicate 50 percent of all oil and gas severance taxes currently transferred to the Economic Stabilization Fund to the state highway fund. S.J.R. 2 also allows the state highway fund to repay principal and interest on bonds issued under Section 49-p of the Texas Constitution.

Approval of this constitutional amendment will give TxDOT a predictable revenue stream which they can use to implement the state’s long-range transportation plan.

As proposed, S.J.R. 2 proposes a constitutional amendment to provide for the transfer of certain general revenue to the state highway fund and the economic stabilization fund and to authorize the payment from the state highway fund of the principal and interest on certain highway improvement bonds.

Today he opened it up to more issues.

  • Legislation relating to the regualtion of abortion procedures, providers, and facilities.
  • Legislation relating to establishing a mandatory sentence of life with parole for a capital felony committed by a 17-year-old offender.

An SJR will need two-thirds votes in both chambers to pass. Adding abortion to the call may be enough to blow up the entire session, unless Straus finally relents on the House side. Either way it isn’t just redistricting anymore. And it will give members of The Lege, not on either redistricting committee, something to do.

06.03.13

Special session looking foolish

Posted in Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Redistricting, Special Session at 4:39 pm by wcnews

The House came in for a very short time today and then recessed for two weeks.  While they were in Redistricting Committee Chair Rep. Drew Darby announced three committee hearings in the next two weeks.

Any hope of getting out of the current special session in short order has now evaporated.

State Rep. Drew Darby, chair of House’s redistricting committee, told members of the House on Monday that he has scheduled three additional redistricting hearings around the state.

Originally, the San Angelo Republican had planned on just two days worth of hearings last week in Austin.

Darby also said last week that he hoped to have a committee vote on redistricting maps by Friday. But with hearings now scheduled in Dallas on June 6, in San Antonio on June 10 and in Houston on June 12, the committee won’t be able to kick bills out for a while.

The whole House isn’t scheduled to convene again until June 17 at 10 a.m.

Darby didn’t give a reason for the new hearings, but since Texas still needs the blessing of the federal government before it can pass redistricting maps — or any other change to election law — Darby could be trying to minimize any federal interference in the process.

State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo and chair of the Senate’s redistricting committee, has scheduled hearings in Austin on Thursday and on June 12.
Soon to be posted, are additional hearings in Corpus Christi on Friday and in Houston on Saturday, his staff said.

@PhilipMartin on Twitter said the reason the House recessed instead of adjourning was:

so they recessed instead of adjourned so if items are added to the call, committees could meet

Harvey Kronberg at QR posted this, Special Session Unhappiness—Have Wheels Come Off?

Dewhurst in France, lawmakers in unanticipated field hearings, no one clear on end game

Today we heard grumbling that Lt. Governor David Dewhurst forcefully advocated for a special session on redistricting and subsequently wrote a letter to the Governor seeking a catalog of red meat Republican issues be added to the call.

He then left for Europe on Saturday for a D-Day commemoration just as the wheels were coming off the redistricting effort. If the Governor did add Dewhurst’s laundry list of items to the Call went the grumbles, the Lite Guv would have to be notified overseas.

Spokesman Travis Considine told QR, “”Lt. Governor Dewhurst has chosen to honor his father’s memory and heroics during D-Day by visiting the Normandy Museum he has helped build in remembrance of those brave men who gave their last breath in service to our country during World War II. Those in the Senate who feel that he should not honor his father or our World War II veterans have not expressed this sentiment to Lt. Governor Dewhurst.”

This hastily called special session is starting to look hastily called. It looks like our so-called leaders didn’t think this through. Oh well, what’s $2 million to our elected leaders?

05.31.13

Redistricting session won’t be quick, or keep state out of court

Posted in Around The State, Redistricting, Special Session at 9:45 am by wcnews

A special session on redistricting that was supposed to be a quick “rubber stamp” by The Lege of the current “interim” districts and get the state out of court will likely fulfill none of those aims.  On Wednesday in San Antonio there was a hearing on the upcoming court case regarding The Lege’s discriminatory maps from 2011. At that meeting it was determined that any new districts approved by The Lege will still have to go through the court.

Today’s redistricting hearing in San Antonio was largely procedural but did have the court wrestling with some key threshold issues.

Indeed, much of the hearing centered the possible legal consequences of the Texas Legislature making the interim maps permanent.

Hispanic and African-American plaintiff groups took strong issue with the State of Texas’ argument that the case would essentially begin anew.

Jose Garza, counsel for the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, told the three-judge panel that, if the Legislature were adopt the interim maps as permanent, the plaintiffs would be amending their pleadings to include claims based on those maps – and that case law supported the court’s retention of jurisdiction in those circumstances.

And they argued that because the new legislative maps would not really be new maps but rather a variant of the legislatively enacted maps that the court previously considered, the court’s work would essentially pick up where it left off when the interim maps were adopted.

At various points in the hearing, the narrowness of Gov. Perry’s special session call came into question.

Although the state’s lawyer David Mattax said that he could not say whether the call would restrict consideration of alternate maps, lawyers for plaintiff groups – and Circuit Judge Jerry Smith – suggested that it did – and plaintiff groups said that was further evidence that not only were the maps not new, but that Republican leaders had predetermined the outcome – and once again excluded meaningful input from minority groups.

This session won’t be a quickie as was originally thought and the redistricting process in Texas likely won’t end soon either.

Kuff has a few items of interest on the session so far:

- If the Lege slows things down and allows amendments, alternate maps, and public input at other hearings around the state, it’s almost certainly because the Republicans have come to realize that to do otherwise would be to repeat some of the behavior from 2011 that got them cited for discrimination. First Reading discusses how Democrats are setting them up for this (scroll down to the section that begins “Stop. Don’t. Come Back.”), and it’s clear from the questions at the Senate hearing that they’re laying down a paper trail for future litigation. We’ll see if the Republicans can avoid the trap – the Senators appear to be at least somewhat aware of the danger – or if they come under pressure to just get it done and leave all the worrying about the legal stuff to Greg Abbott.

– As Greg notes, if the floor is open for amendments, it is also possible that the Rs might want to tweak the Senate map, which is now acceptable to Sen. Wendy Davis. However, if that happens, it seems likely that they would all have to run for re-election in 2014; Sen. Royce West brought that up in his questioning. If so, that could put a damper on some Senators’ plans for the future, since at least three of them are thinking about running statewide – Hegar and Williams for Comptroller, Dan Patrick for Lite Guv. Hegar and Williams drew four year terms at the start of the session, meaning they could run for something in 2014 without putting their seat at risk if nothing changes, while Patrick drew a two year term and would have to make a choice.

– It’s not clear to me if the longer timetable for redistricting makes it more likely that Rick Perry will add to the call of the session, as Trail Blazers suggests, or less likely. Arguably, since there will be empty days between the committee hearings and the votes, Perry could add other items that could fill in the voids. Against that, the session is 30 days long, and we’ll be well past the halfway point by the time the maps are voted on at the current pace, which is almost two weeks later than originally projected. If the Rs do put more effort into taking public testimony, especially if they hold field hearings around the state, they’ll be hard pressed to do much else while redistricting is on the menu – and remember, Perry has basically said not to ask about anything else until redistricting is done – and they’d have a short horizon for anything else afterward. Not impossible, of course, and Perry can always call a second session if he wants – it’s all about what he wants, after all – it’s just not clear which way is more conducive to an expanded call for anything remotely controversial. As always, we’ll know when he wants us to know.

It looks like, at this point, that the intended purposes of this special session are already out the window, and we have Attorney General Gregg Abbott and Gov. Rick Perry to thank for this.

05.28.13

Goodbye and hello, regular session ends and special session begins

Posted in Around The State, Redistricting, Special Session, The Lege at 10:22 am by wcnews

Yesterday was the last day of the 83rd regular session, Sine Die! While the only thing they have to get done did get done, the budget, many things did not. As Kuff points out, Wrapping up the rest of the regular session.

The things that did not get done in regulation time are redistricting, about which we know what happened; transportation funding, which just sort of quietly slipped off the radar once Perry stuck a shiv into a bill that would have raised vehicle registration fees; and all of the wingnut wish list items like abortion and gun rights and what have you. This as I’ve said before is simply a matter of what Rick Perry wants to do. There’s plenty of speculation about what Perry may do and what may or may not be good politics for him to do. All I know is we’ll know when he tells us. Rick Perry does what he thinks is best for Rick Perry, and that’s all there is to it.

The worst kept secret of the last week was that there was going to be a special session of the Texas Legislature called as soon as the regular session ended. Perry orders special session on redistricting.

In a statement announcing the special session, Perry praised the Legislature for its work to put in place a $2 billion plan for water infrastructure, cut business taxes and create a new mega university in South Texas.

“However, there is still work to be done on behalf of the citizens of Texas,” he said.

Perry placed only redistricting before lawmakers initially, but he was peppered with requests to add a list of conservative issues and could do so. Only Perry can call lawmakers into special session, and he sets the agenda.

“I expect the governor to add more topics to the call” as lawmakers make progress on redistricting, which is the subject of a Thursday hearing by a special Senate committee, said Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. He has asked Perry to add issues including anti-abortion and pro-gun measures to the agenda.

Perry specifically assigned lawmakers the task of making permanent a set of interim redistricting maps drawn by a three-judge panel in San Antonio.

To get up to speed on what the redistricting issues are there’s no better place to go then to TxRedistricting and this, Texas redistricting tip sheet. And he has a press round up on redistricting too.

The Senate Select Committee on Redistricting will hold a hearing on four bills at 9 AM on Monday, which will include public testimony. The current maps were drawn by the courts and the public never had a chance to comment on them. Obviously, Perry and Abbott believe that the current membership, elected under these maps, will be quick to ratify them.

But Dem disagree.  They may also be making the calculation that the longer the redistricting process takes, the less time there will be for the governor to add items to the special session. The laundry list of items the wing nuts wants taken up in a special session, at least for now, Perry won’t be add until redistricting gets done. Which is another reason for dragging the process out. That’s if you trust Rick Perry to stick by that.

There’s still questions of how the Senate will run during a special session.

The key question in redistricting is whether the 2/3rds rule will apply in the Senate; if it does, then the 12 Democrats can block intentionally discriminatory maps from coming to the floor if they stick together.

Initially, Dewhurst told reporters that the 2/3rds rule would not be in effect for a special session. During tonight’s floor discussion, Senator Kirk Watson attempted to determine if that was indeed true.

Watson asked specifically about “blocker bills,” which are meaningless, silly bills passed out of committee quickly to occupy the top spot on the calendar and thus force Senators to suspend the rules to bring up any other bills out of order, which requires 2/3rds of the Senators to vote for the suspension.

Dewhurst claimed that there would not be blocker bills and that there hadn’t for 10 years; Watson countered with actual historical examples of blocker bills in previous special sessions.

If there is no blocker bill, then there is no need for the 2/3rds rule to be used to bring a bill (such as redistricting) up for a floor vote.

Having a blocker bill is purely at the discretion of the Lt. Gov. Even if the entire Senate wanted to put one on the calendar, Dewhurst could remove it. And even if he did let a “blocker bill” come up, he could remove it later anyways.

WIthout a blocker bill, legislation is considered in the order it comes out of committee. Dewhurst indicated tonight that there will be no blocker bill. If that is the case, there will be no 2/3rds rule and a simple majority could pass a redistricting plan.

And as Burka wrote yesterday about Perry, Dewhurst, Abbott and a special session.

There is a missing person in this report, and that is Rick Perry. No one, perhaps including the governor himself, knows what he is going to do. Perry has fashioned the modern Texas Republican party and changed Texas politics forever by driving the state GOP to the far right. The betting around the Capitol is that he won’t run for a fourth term as governor, but I didn’t think he would run again in 2010. There is also the possibility that he will run for president, but he would have no chance to win. Maybe he doesn’t care; his goal may be to show that he is still a formidable politician and one who might have been a serious contender in 2012, had it not been for the limitations imposed by his back surgery.

Perry’s immediate future, however, will include a decision of whether to call a special session of the Legislature. Greg Abbott wants a session on redistricting, but it is hard to see what advantage Republicans can gain. They are already facing a ruling that the interim maps represent intentional discrimination; at some point Abbott is going to have to come to grips with that finding. If, as David Dewhurst wants, the special session agenda will be a smorgasboard of uberconservative social issues, that could turn ugly for Republicans. They are on the wrong side of a lot of the social issues, especially gay marriage. The world is going in one direction, and the Texas Republican party is going in another. I think Rick Perry is smart enough to figure that a special session driven by social issues is a non-starter these days. On that point, we’ll know soon enough.

Perry had to call a special on redistricting to take the issue off the table in case he does run again, and against Abbott. Whether he needs to bring up the wing nut laundry list as well we will just have to wait and see. We should assume that the GOP House leadership, aka Straus’ team, still doesn’t want anything to do with the wing nut laundry list.

And Democrats, for their part, should just make sure to highlight how the so-called “conservatives” are again wasting taxpayer money for their own partisan political gain. None of the issues that are likely to be taken up in this special session will have any positive impact on the lives of poor, working, and middle class Texans.

Further Reading:
From the Legislative Reference Library of Texas, What’s Next? Post-Regular Session FAQs.

 

06.29.11

When Fools Rule

Posted in 82nd Legislature, Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Commentary, Education, Had Enough Yet?, Public Schools, Right Wing Lies, Special Session, The Budget, The Lege at 10:34 am by wcnews

As the Lege descended into chaos yesterday it was impossible not to be notice the absence of leadership that exists in our state. As the special session Texas GOP Gov. Rick Perry called drew to a close, where the Governor (California dreamin’)?  Again he’s off galavanting around the country.  And it’s as if Lt. Gov. Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus don’t even talk anymore, as the Senate adjourned “Sine Die” without waiting for the House to get all it’s ducks-in-a-row, as is customary. The reason that custom exists is to protect against something like this, which causes “feelings” to get hurt.

The Senate has adjourned Sine Die, leaving the burden of the TSA “anti-groping” bill in the House’s lap. That leaves the House with one very unlikely option: Putting the wheels in motion to fast-track the Senate’s version of the bill.

The Senate has put the House in a “take it or leave it” position, said Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas. Branch said both the governor and House Speaker Joe Straus asked the Senate not to adjourn, and also to pass the House’s non-binding resolution in the event a full bill couldn’t get passed.

The Senate’s move was “not very respectful,” Branch said. “This is a bicameral system of government that takes two chambers to pass law… We’ve had time tonight and tomorrow to finish the peoples’ business. Apparently they were in a hurry to get out of town.”

What that did was force the hand of the GOP Texas House on one of the biggest non-issues of the special session.  The issue Speaker Straus called a stunt on Friday, Texas bill on TSA pat-downs facing final showdown today.

After surviving a progression of near-death experiences, a controversial bill to ban intrusive searches by federal airport security officers faces a final showdown today, the last day of the special session.

House members will consider the bill in what is make-or-break time for Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, and Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston. The two conservative Republicans have waged a vigorous effort to push the measure into law and concede that today’s vote is their last opportunity.

Simpson can pass the bill with a simple majority of the 150-member House but he needs a four-fifths vote — 120 members — to suspend the rules and bring the measure up for consideration on the final day. He cleared one hurdle Tuesday when the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee voted 7-1 to advance the bill to the House floor.

[...]

House Speaker Joe Straus earlier denounced the bill as a “publicity stunt” but dropped his resistance to the measure after the House gave preliminary approval to a bill substantially retooled by Simpson. The measure that will be up for a vote today is Patrick’s Senate-passed measure, which he described as “significantly stronger” than the House bill.

Watching the debate it was Democratic state Rep. Garnet Coleman [Updated w/Coleman's statement] that pointed out Lt. Gov. Dewhurst’s mistake of making this a political issue, which it wasn’t previously, by making this statement.

With the passage of SB 29, the Texas Legislature is not only telling the TSA to change their policies ? we’re telling the Obama Administration we will not be intimidated and we will vigorously defend our Constitutional rights.”

Dewhurst’s attempt at placating the tea party, by making that partisan political statement, will likely make it impossible to get the needed Democratic support to pass the bill. Which is a non-issue because if it was passed it would not change a thing.

Now on to the legislation that had to pass yesterday to keep Gov. Perry from calling another special session. No, not TWIA, which everyone thought would be the problem, it wound up sailing through both chambers without issue. Turns out the problem was with the bill that really had to pass to balance the budget, SB 1, the bill that cuts $4 billion plus from public education.

We may never know why this actually happened, it could be the House wing-nuts were sending a message to Straus, but the initial vote on SB 1 made it look as those Straus, and his team, just assumed it would pass and didn’t even count votes before the vote was taken. Which is taught on the first day of Legislative Leadership 101 – never take a vote unless you already know the outcome. House votes down school finance and revenue raising bill.

The Texas House, in a surprise turn of events late Tuesday afternoon, tentatively voted down a must-pass bill that distributes the pain of school-funding cuts and uses accounting tricks to help balance the two-year state budget.

The 79-64 vote against the bill saw 32 House Republicans, including a few key members of Speaker Joe Straus’ leadership team, defect. They cast a “nay” vote that, unless reconsidered and reversed, could force the Legislature into another special session. The Senate adjourned for good earlier in the afternoon.

House Republicans immediately went into a caucus to try to sort out the mess.

Among the “nays” were State Affairs Committee chief Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, who complained bitterly in a floor speech that the bill cravenly caved to Gov. Rick Perry’s desire to protect the Department of Information Resources and also placed on financially strapped rural counties an unfunded mandate that they audit court fee collections. [Emphasis added]

Other Straus allies who opposed the bill were Redistricting Committee head Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton ; Ways and Means leader Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville; and Sunset Advisory Commission Vice Chairman Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton.

The excuse given was that a right wing think tank had concerns about the bill, and then those concerns were allayed during a GOP caucus meeting, after which a re-vote of the bill was taken and it passed, GOP caucus enacts school cuts.

The special legislative session nearly collapsed into disarray Tuesday when the Senate went home early and the House initially killed a must-pass school finance bill.

But after first rejecting legislation imposing a $4 billion cut on public schools, House Republican leaders immediately called a caucus meeting and persuaded 16 colleagues to change their votes, salvaging the final hours of the special session, which ends today.

After voting against the bill, Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, asked for another vote, explaining to his colleagues that misunderstandings over the bill had been cleared up.

“Our understanding of the bill has changed,” King explained.

House Democratic leader Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, joked that a few of her GOP colleagues suffered broken kneecaps after a 79-64 vote against the must-pass Senate Bill 1 miraculously turned into an 80-57 vote for it.

[...]

Rep. Randy Weber, R-Pearland, said he initially voted against SB 1 because “we did not fix the school formula funding.
“I have been hearing from my school districts and decided I wanted to call attention to that fact,” he said. “I asked the Speaker if he would appoint an interim committee to study school formula funding and he said yes. So I said I’ll change my vote. If we get to draw attention to the problem and elevate awareness, I think I’ve accomplished my goal.”

Other members said they also took into account concerns raised by the conservative Eagle Forum, which urged a “no” vote on SB 1 because they feared it included language that would broaden charter schools’ access to public school construction dollars.

In particular, they voiced concern about Harmony charter schools because they were founded by a Turkish-Muslim group. They changed their vote after the Texas House General Investigating Committee agreed to look into the issue, lawmakers said.

Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring, said she voted against the bill because it failed to fix inequities in school funding.
“Cy-Fair is one of my larger school districts and I’ve been telling them for the last three sessions that I’ve been here that we were going to address the inequities in school funding,” she said. “This bill doesn’t do it.”

The Texas Eagle Forum is an off-shoot of the wing-nut ’60’s movement conservative Phyllis Schlafly, that apparently holds more power over GOP members of the Texas House then Speaker Straus does.

It’s clear from these decisions that whether it’s Perry, Dewhurst, of Straus their biggest concern is a fringe vocal minority that show up to vote on a regular basis in the GOP primaries – protection for their next election.  They care more about them then they do about the majority of Texans and their families.  This is what happens when fools rule.

06.28.11

Update: Second to last day of Special Session

Posted in 82nd Legislature, Around The State, Commentary, Education, Had Enough Yet?, Health Care, Public Schools, Special Session, The Budget, The Lege at 9:43 am by wcnews

Kuff posts on yesterday’s action at the Lege, Fiscal and health care bills pass. The worst part being that again the Texas GOP showed their willingness to defund public education.

One provision that didn’t make in the final version of SB 2 was an amendment from Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, that called for $2 billion from the rainy day fund for schools if the fund brings in more than expected.“A choice was made when we had money in the bank to say: ‘No, we’re not going to appropriate any more here to our schools’,” Howard said. “We’re going to leave billions in the bank when we’re asking our schools to cut.”

[...]

Ogden said the Howard amendment had promise with some modifications, but the House members wanted it gone.

“They were for it and then they were against it,” Ogden said.

Yes, after they were reminded by the people who hate public education that they need to hate it, too. That’s the choice they made, and the voters need to be reminded about it every day between now and next November.

Regarding the health care bill there are significant issues, Texas health care bill with Medicare, abortion provisions goes to Rick Perry.

[Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound,] said the measures would help tackle “unsustainable growth in our health and human services budget.” The Senate approved the bill 22-8 and the House 96-48.

Democrats objected to GOP leaders’ decision to attach to the bill two separate measures sought by conservative activists wanting to curb federal power. Under a “health care compact” proposal and a “global waiver” plan for Medicaid, state officials could seek freedom to use federal health dollars under Medicaid to nudge the needy into private health insurance with taxpayer subsidies.

The proposed interstate compact, if approved by Congress, could let Texas also take over the management of elderly residents’ federal Medicare benefits, though Zerwas played down that possibility.

Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said the state budget assumes Texas will be freed from Medicaid rules on eligibility and benefits and will save $700 million over the next two years. He called that folly, given state officials’ hostility toward President Barack Obama’s administration.

Zerwas did not argue, saying that “these are some tense times.”

The bill also would deny $34 million to Planned Parenthood from family planning grants, curb abortions at public hospitals and promote use of adult stem cells from the patient’s own body in new medical treatments. Abortion opponents were thrilled, while women’s health advocates warned that family planning cuts would lead to more unwanted pregnancies and more abortions.

Kuff has more on the state of this legislation.

A lot of what was in this bill was in similar legislation from the regular session. As it happens, on the same day this happened, the state of Indiana got swatted down by a federal judge for trying to legislatively de-fund Planned Parenthood. I don’t know enough about what either state has done to know how comparable the two situations are, but earlier this month Texas got some pushback from the feds over this, so there’s clearly some parallel. I feel confident there will be litigation here as well. The Trib has more on the legislation, and Jason Stanford has a righteous rant on what it does.

As a reminder of how fruitless it is for any Democrat to attempt to work with the Texas GOP, here’s a cautionary tale from state Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, A senator needs a dicho.

“Just today, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst called on House Republicans to exercise their majority strength and push sanctuary cities through the process. But the House Republican leadership is looking to justify their futility, and one small piece of that would come via the removal of a Senate Hispanic’s amendment.

“I voted to increase funding for border security in S.B. 2. I represent a border district with more skin in border security than, say, a state representative from Tarrant County. For me and my constituents, border security is more than political theater and food for my political base. For us, border security is a daily reality, and the policy implications a necessity for continued investment in our economy, our communities, and our families.

“The brand of Republicanism promoted by the Texas House leadership has and will continue to alienate a Hispanic community that is pro-family, pro-education (and soon-to-be majority in the public education system), and proud Americans. We are veterans, teachers, soldiers, university system chancellors, star athletes, mayors, mothers and sons, deserving of equal protection under the law.

“The truth of an issue is best appreciated in the context of the response it provokes. Sanctuary cities profiles Hispanics based on appearance – skin color, dress, and other perceived ‘un-American qualities.’ The response from House Republican leaders? ‘Block the Hispanic Senator’s local amendment – that will show him.’

“Show us it does. Their true nature.”

The TexasTrib has the list of what’s done, and to do, in the next two days, The Final Push: A Special Session Update. It looks like most of the GOP’s energy will be spent trying to satisfy the base, by voting on non-issues like the s-called “sanctuary cities” legislation, without damaging their party too much in 2012 by actually passing the legislation. Even though the damage may already be done, Hispanics notice when they are being bashed.

Led by the legislative actions of Arizona state officials, Gov. Rick Perry has taken the lead in enacting similar imprudent laws here in Texas.

Specifically, he and the Texas legislature are pushing bills that are negatively aimed at Hispanic citizens. Three dubious bills are as follows: (l) Voter ID Bill, (the 21st Century equivalent to the Poll Tax); (2) Redistricting Bill, (an old trick to gerrymander voting districts to diminish the Hispanic vote); and (3) Sanctuary Cities Bill, (an offensive mandate to intimidate and question the citizenship of loyal Texas citizens that look Mexican and/or speak Spanish).

To be sure, laws are necessary in society and are meant to keep citizens safe and secure. However, oftentimes they have been used in U.S. history to terrorize citizens, not to protect them. For example, Jim Crow laws were officially enacted in the U.S. to deny equal rights to Black citizens. Those abhorrent laws remained on the books from the end of the Civil War to 1965.

Likewise, the three bills named above are reminiscent of similar anti-Hispanic laws in our state’s past. They echo the negative Jim Crow-type mindset of post-1836 that subjected Spanish Mexican Texans to despicable discriminatory practices imposed by the Anglo Saxon majority. Officially, that state-supported bigotry lasted for over 120 years.

If that’s how they feel and, as was alluded to in  Sen. Hinojosa’s remarks above, that the attack on public education is being seen as an attack on Hispanics, as they head to a majority in the public school system, then there is certainly a civil rights and social justice message that Democrats must use in 2012 to win back legislative and Congressional seats.  Because nothing is going to change until Texas elects different people.

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