Special Session Wrap-Up

Reposted with Permission

Below is a wrap up of the dearly departed Special Session of the Texas Legislature that I hope you will find helpful.  Some bad things got stopped but 3 more abortion bills passed – there just seems to be a never ending list of impediments the lege finds to keep women from taking care of their own health the way they prefer.

The State of Texas, represented by the Governor and Attorney General, suffered another blow when the three-judge federal panel in San Antonio ruled that two of the state’s congressional districts are unconstitutional and have to be redrawn.  That could result in a gain for Democrats.  More on this in a few days.  We are also waiting for that panel to release its decision on the state representative districts – should be coming quickly.

What else on earth can that Trump guy do to embarrass us and our country?  Let’s get into the upcoming issues should the congress actually start to legislate when they come back from vacation.  I’ll be sending some information to you from the national Indivisible group that should help prepare us all for the fights ahead.

Please help us grow this group by send the names and email addresses of friends who would like to be a part of the Trump resistance.   The work is only beginning and the 2018 very important elections are not that far away.

Sunset legislation     Passed          

During this year’s regular session, lawmakers failed to pass “sunset” legislation needed to prevent some state agencies from closing

SENT TO GOVERNOR

Teacher retirement benefits   Passed

Abbott asked the Legislature to put more money into the Teacher Retirement System amid concerns that retired teachers would no longer be able to afford their medication amid rising health insurance premiums and health care costs.

FAILED TO PASS

Increasing teacher pay    Died

Abbott asked lawmakers to require school districts to rearrange their budgets to increase teacher salaries by an average of $1,000, a measure  educators vehemently opposed and criticized as an “unfunded mandate.”

SENT TO GOVERNOR

School finance reform     Passed   

Note:  This is not reform – the Senate took out the $1.8B that the House passed which would have been the first step towards real finance reform and would give all school districts some relief. 

At first, Abbott said he would task legislators with creating a commission to study the school finance system. But in July, he added immediate school funding reform to the session’s agenda amid complaints from Democrats and moderate Republicans in the House that the state’s beleaguered system for funding public schools deserved more concrete action.  On the last day of the special session, the House reluctantly agreed to the Senate’s version of House Bill 21, which put $351 million into public schools. That funding includes a transitional grant for small, rural districts to offset the upcoming loss of a state aid program, money for charter schools to pay for new facilities, and funding for an autism and dyslexia grant program for public schools. The bill also tasks a commission with studying future reform to the school finance system.

LED TO PASS

“Vouchers” for kids with disabilities  Died

During the regular session, the Senate passed a measure to subsidize private school tuition using state funding. But school-choice proposals have long faced significant opposition in the House, particularly from Democrats and rural Republicans. Abbott narrowed the issue for the special session by calling for “private school choice” specifically for students with disabilities. The Senate passed a bill on this issue but the House never took it up.

 Property taxes SB1   Died

       Note:  Every once in a while the truth comes out.      House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, told members from the front mic that they would be foolish to go back to their home districts and try to convince voters that this proposal would cut their property taxes.  To be perfectly clear, Rep. Bonnen said SB 1 does not offer “one ounce” of property tax relief.

In an exchange with House Democratic Caucus Chairman Chris Turner of Arlington, Chair Bonnen also said the only way for the Texas Legislature to cut the property tax bills around the state would be to increase the state’s share of the cost of public education.  “School finance reform is the only way for the legislature to reduce school taxes,” Bonnen said plainly.

Amid Texans’ complaints about rising property tax bills – often driven by rising property values – Abbott called on the Legislature to tackle measures aimed at reining in increases in local property taxes. Local government officials argued the bills would hamstring their ability to deliver services their residents expect. The Senate passed a measure, Senate Bill 1,  to limit the amount local entities could raise taxes.  SB 1 required local entities to hold property tax rate elections if the tax increase passed a trigger of 4%.  The House responded by raising the trigger to 6 percent.   Leaders in both chambers tried to negotiate a compromise but on the 29th day of the session, the House abruptly moved to stick with their original proposal and then voted to end the special session. The Senate then adjourned as well, rejecting a final offer to accept the House’s plan.

FAILED TO PASS

Caps on state government spending  Died

Abbott asked lawmakers to require future legislatures to limit how much state spending can grow to the estimated combined growth in population and inflation, a figure that is often lower than the one lawmakers currently use. The Senate passed a bill on this issue. During the last weekend of the special session, a House bill was derailed by a parliamentary tactic known as a point of order and was then never revived.

FAILED TO PASS

Caps on local government spending  Died

Abbott asked lawmakers to cap how much additional money local governments could spend each year without an election, drawing immediate criticism from city and county officials. They say such a limit would make it difficult to develop long-term financial plans and fund maintenance and services that residents want from their local governments. Neither chamber passed a bill directly related to this issue during the special session. 

Limits on local tree regulations    Passed

Dozens of cities and towns across Texas have ordinances protecting trees on private property; in many cases, property owners either have to pay a fee or plant new trees if they cut down larger trees on their land. Abbott tasked lawmakers with looking at measures that would weaken those local ordinances or make them illegal. While the Senate originally advocated for a more restrictive measure, it eventually agreed to a House proposal that was very similar to a bill Abbott vetoed in May that would allow property owners to plant new trees to offset municipal fees for tree removal on their land.

FAILED TO PASS

Speeding local government permitting      Died

Lawmakers considered measures to make it easier for developers to get approval for projects in cities. Abbott wanted state law changed so that permits would be approved automatically if cities didn’t respond to them fast enough.  The Senate passed a bill on this issue that never passed out of the House.

ILED TO PASS

Texting while driving              Died

Texas will be under a statewide texting-while-driving ban startingSept. 1. But Abbott has complained that this measure leaves in placedriving safety regulations that differ across cities and counties. He has called on lawmakers to effectively pre-empt existing local ordinances in more than 40 Texas cities that are stricter than thestatewide ban. The Senate passed a bill on this issue, but it never reached the House floor.

FAILED TO PASS

Bathroom Bill     Died     

Among the most contentious issues during the regular session, proposals to bar transgender men, women and children from restrooms that do not match their biological sex are back under consideration in legislative overtime. Efforts to pass such restrictions fizzled out in May as part of an ongoing fight that’s pitted Republicans against businesses and Republicans against Republicans.  While the Senate passed a bill on this issue during the special session, bathroom legislation never received a vote on the floor of the Texas House.

FAILED TO PASS

Union dues deduction     Died

State lawmakers considered for the second time this year a measure that would have ended the practice of collecting membership dues automatically from the paychecks of certain public employees who are in labor unions or other associations. The proposal would have applied to public school teachers, corrections officers and other government employees, but firefighters, police officers, emergency first responders and charitable organizations would have been exempt. That carve-out drew a lot of pushback, even from some of the law enforcement groups that would have benefited from the exemption. The Senate passed a bill on this issue, but it never reached the House floor.

FAILED TO PASS

Taxpayer funding for abortion      Died

State and federal law already prohibit using tax dollars to pay for abortions, but Abbott wanted the Legislature to broaden that ban to block local and state government agencies from entering into any financial contracts — including lease agreements — with clinics that are affiliated with abortion providers (Planned Parenthood), even if those clinics don’t perform abortions. The Senate passed a bill on this issue, but it never received a vote on the House floor.

SENT TO GOVERNOR

Abortion insurance   Passed

The Legislature approved a measure requiring Texas women to pay a separate health insurance premium if they want their health plans to cover abortions performed outside of medical emergencies. House Bill 214 was sent to Abbott, who signed it.

Abortion reporting 2 Bills      Passed

The Legislature sent two bills to the governor on this issue. House Bill 13 requires physicians and facilities to report more details about abortion complications — and fine those who do not comply. Another measure, House Bill 215, requires additional reporting from doctors on whether minors seeking abortions did so because of a medical emergency and whether they obtained parental consent or a judicial bypass. Abbott signed both bills.

SENT TO GOVERNOR

Do-not-resuscitate protections     Passed

The governor asked lawmakers to ensure that doctors couldn’t issue a do-not-resuscitate order until a patient or legal guardian consented to it. Proponents argued such a law codified practices already in place at many hospitals, while some opponents said it would needlessly complicate the process of issuing such orders. Both chambers ultimately passed the same version of Senate Bill 11, which creates both a criminal penalty for doctors who willfully violate a patient’s do-not-resuscitate wishes, and an exception to that penalty for doctors who err “in good faith.”

SENT TO GOVERNOR

Mail-in ballot fraud   Passed

Texas lawmakers this year put a newfound focus on mail-in ballot fraud, a documented vulnerability in elections. During the 2017 regular session, Abbott signed into law a bill that overhauls absentee balloting at nursing homes, in an attempt to shore up that process. During the special session, lawmakers approved Senate Bill 5 which widens the definition of mail-in voter fraud and increase penalties for those who commit it. The bill also repeals the nursing home law Abbott had signed just weeks earlier, after various Republicans described their earlier support for that law as a mistake (KL Note: they realized the bill they had passed would actually help people in nursing facilities to vote).    Abbott signaled that he too believed he shouldn’t have signed that nursing home bill by signing SB 5 withinhours of the Legislature sending it to him.

SENT TO GOVERNOR

Maternal mortality     Passed

In 2013, lawmakers created The Task Force on Maternal Mortality and Morbidity to examine why so many Texas mothers die within a year after their pregnancies end. A study last year in the medical journal Obstetrics and Gynecology showed that Texas’ maternal mortality rates had nearly doubled between 2010 and 2014. While public health experts and legislators have not been able to pinpoint reasons for the spike in deaths and pregnancy complications, there was bipartisan support behind extending the task force until 2023 to continue its work.   Lawmakers were able to steer Senate Bill 17 to the governor’s desk during the special session. Abbott signed the bill.

SENT TO GOVERNOR

Municipal annexation      Passed

A bill that would have allowed homeowners targeted by a city for annexation to vote on the proposal died during the regular session.  After Abbott added annexation reform on the special session agenda, lawmakers in both chambers debated tweaking the original measure. Eventually both chambers passed Senate BIll 6, which included a five-mile buffer around military zones, and Abbott signed it. Menendez told The Texas Tribune on Sunday that his filibuster was worth it because of the revised bill’s changes.

SB25: “Eliminating the Wrongful Birth Cause of Action”

Quick take: If this is an issue you care deeply about, by all means call your representatives or testify at the hearing. There will be bigger battles ahead.

On Monday, Feb. 27 there is a public hearing at 9 a.m. in the Senate Chamber on Senate Bill 25 “Relating to eliminating the wrongful birth cause of action.” (“Cause of action” is a legal term which basically just means grounds for filing a lawsuit.)

This is an anti-abortion bill, no question. But it’s going to affect a very small percentage of women. The vast majority of abortions take place before information about potential fetal abnormalities would even be available. And SB25 doesn’t prohibit a doctor from providing information, nor does it completely protect one for withholding information.

It does shield a health care provider from one possible cause of action, but there could still be a cause of action for medical malpractice for any consequence other than abortion—like failure to provide proper prenatal care if the woman were at higher risk as a result. (For example, some spinal defects can be treated in utero.)

In other words, this bill is bad but not as bad as lots of them. Also, a woman has a legal right to an abortion with a few limits. A creative lawyer could sue on some version of denial of civil rights.

There is an argument based on fiscal responsibility to made against any bill that is almost guaranteed to lead to litigation. Huge amounts of taxpayer money has been spent on lawsuits because of legislation that is unconstitutional on its face.

Further reading:

Texas Senators Consider Wrongful Birth Law

Should wrongful birth lawsuits be permitted in Texas?

 

Sen. Kirk Watson Introduces Bills to Protect Sexual Assault Victims

In response to the ongoing scandals at Baylor University, State Senator Kirk Watson (District 14) has introduced a suite of bills aimed at strengthening sexual assault laws and protecting victims.

SB 967: Closes several loopholes in the Penal Code’s definition of “consent” for sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault.

SB 970: Requires an affirmative consent standard across all institutions of higher education.

SB 966: Protects minors who report sexual assault to health care providers, law enforcement personnel, or Title IX coordinators from being prosecuted for underage possession or consumption of alcohol.

SB 969: Provides amnesty to students who commit a student conduct code violation ancillary to a sexual assault incident if they are a victim of that sexual assault or a reporting witness.

SB 968: Requires institutions to provide an option to students and employees to electronically report an incident of sexual assault, family violence, or stalking. The electronic option must include the option to report anonymously.

Read Senator Watson’s Statement Here. 

 

ACLU Video on SB6: “I Pee with LGBT”

The ACLU of Texas created this video on SB6, aka the “Bathroom Bill.” Since its introduction, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s office has been deluged with calls. Keep up the great work!

Also read Indivisible Austin’s post on SB6.

And here’s what happened at a Town Hall in Coppell, TX, when a constituent at a Town Hall asked about the economic impact of SB6. (Keep watching – it gets heated.)

An Immigration Attorney and an Activist Scholar Explain Why SB4 is a Terrible Idea and What You Can Do to Stop It.

Reposted with permission from Indivisible Austin

By Mark Kinzler kinzlerimmigration.com and Shaun Glaze, M.S

girl-flag-croppedImage courtesy Flickr user jvoves https://www.flickr.com/photos/jvoves/138556236

Why the “Sanctuary Cities” bill must be opposed and how to do it effectively

Texas Senate Bill No. 4, or “a bill relating to the enforcement by certain governmental entities of state and federal laws governing immigration and to the duties of law enforcement agencies concerning certain arrested persons” was introduced by Texas state senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) and seeks to require law enforcement agencies (LEAs) in Texas to assist and participate in the investigation and determination of the legal status of immigrants who come into their custody. Generally, the job of arresting, detaining, and deporting immigrants is carried out by a branch of the Department of Homeland Security called U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (commonly referred to as “ICE”). SB4, was born from the current storm of anti-immigrant sentiment, with great support from Governor Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who are commonly known to make factually questionable and often clearly disingenuous statements about immigration problems in Texas. SB4 is misguided for several reasons:

  1. Public Safety – Cooperation agreements between ICE and law enforcement agencies have existed for many years. Nevertheless, the agreements are not mandatory, and different law enforcement agencies have been able to choose their level of involvement with ICE officials. Many LEAs throughout the U.S. have chosen to have minimal cooperation with ICE. Though there are several reasons often cited by the LEAs for the choice to provide minimal cooperation, one very common reason is the fact that the LEA’s cooperation with ICE actually damages the ability of the LEA to properly investigate and prosecute crime. In areas with high populations of immigrants, trust between the immigrant community and the LEA is crucial to the ability of the LEA’s fundamental task of protecting and serving the community as a whole. If the immigrant community is aware that the LEA readily cooperates with ICE, or is legally required to assist ICE in its efforts to apprehend deportable persons (a la SB4), members of that community will be fearful of cooperating with the LEA. When members of the community fear having contact with the police, the policy impedes the LEA’s ability to solve local crimes because the effectiveness of that job relies on information from witnesses and statements from victims and other members of the community.
  2. Resources and training of the law enforcement agencies – Local police agencies have an extremely difficult job as it is, and they are often underfunded. Many LEAs do not support cooperation with ICE because it adds another level of investigatory requirement to their already strained workloads and budgets. In order for local officers to properly and lawfully act in a role as an immigration enforcer, the officers would need extensive training in federal and immigration law and would have to increase work hours to comply with the new requirements.
  3. Federal preemption – Under a constitutional principle called federal preemption, state and local authorities are generally not allowed to enforce federal law, particularly when an enforcement procedure is already in place. This is a long-standing principle that has been addressed by several federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. The policy is also reasonable on a practical level because federal authorities are usually in the best position to enforce federal law. Specialization and extensive training is often required to carry out this enforcement due to the complicated nature of the laws being enforced. Also, federal preemption precludes states from enacting their own laws related to federal matters so that overlapping jurisdictions do not end up with conflicting laws on the same matter. Generally, if that happens, the federal law will supersede the state law and the state law will be invalid.

Governor Abbott’s Cruelty Will Be His Undoing

Reposted with permission from Indivisible Austin

Authoritarian regimes succeed only when there are enough lackeys willing to brutalize their fellow citizens on behalf of the autocracy. These lackeys do it without being told, and they do it with zeal.

One such lackey is Gov. Greg Abbott, whose fealty to Trump is painfully evident in the case of a Tarrant County, Texas, woman named Maria Ortega, who was sentenced to eight years in prison for voter fraud.

Ortega, a mother of four who has lived in Texas since infancy, is a U.S permanent resident. In other words, she is here legally, with a Green Card. Although Green Card-holders are prohibited from voting, Ortega voted (for Mitt Romney) in the 2012 election, and has said that she misunderstood the rules for voter registration and voting as a legal permanent resident. When the Tarrant County election office discovered she was not a citizen, and that she had voted in previous elections, they filed charges.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, for whom Ortega also voted, offered to dismiss the charges. In normal times, the charges would have been dismissed, or at worst Ortega would have been sentenced to probation.

But these are not normal times.

Tarrant County Attorney General Sharen Wilson disregarded Paxton’s offer and took the case to trial. A jury convicted Ortega of felony voter fraud and sentenced her to eight years. (It’s confusing, but in this case the jury, not the judge, determined the sentence. See first paragraph about lackeys.)

This injustice would have gone largely unnoticed had Trump not brought voter fraud into the national spotlight, and had Gov. Abbott not amplified it.

Our governor is gloating about separating a mother from her children for eight years. She will be in prison and then deported. There is no planet on which this punishment fits the crime, and our governor seems delighted about it.

Side note: The voting rights of Green Card-holders are not exactly clear. In fact, these are Google’s “instant results” for “Can you vote with a green card?”

This is clear as mud. Ortega voted in a state election, which this definition from Legal Zoom makes seem legal. But it’s not!

Whether or not Ortega knew she was repeatedly breaking the law by voting, eight years is an insane prison sentence.

So what can we do?

For Ortega: Probably not much, although watch this space for any updates.

But we are Indivisible and you know what that means…

If you live in Tarrant County

Call Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson at (817) 884-1400 and ask why she decided to move this case to trial when Ken Paxton offered to dismiss charges. Ask if eight years seems like a fair sentence. Also: The DA in Tarrant County is an elected office and in 2015 Wilson ran unopposed in the general election. (Please do not call if you are not a Tarrant County resident.)

If you live in Texas

Call Gov. Greg Abbott and ask him whether eight years in prison is a reasonable term for a mother of four who simply…voted when she wasn’t supposed to. Ask him if he’s ever made a mistake, and how he’d feel to have his family torn asunder over something so minor. Rapists and murderers do less than eight years. And when it comes time to for you to vote, remember Maria Ortega’s name.

If you live outside of Texas

Consider donating to the Women’s Storybook Project of Texas, which connects incarcerated mothers to their children through literature.