Tag Archives: texas lege

Americans United: Bills Threatening Church/State Separation Defeated

I got some good news from Americans United for Separation of Church and State in the inbox. Some pretty awful bills were killed with the end of the Texas Lege session this week. Here’s the story:

The Texas legislature introduced a variety of bills that threatened to violate the separation of church and state that is vital to true religious liberty. But, thanks to your action and hard work, these bills were defeated! Here is an example of some of the problematic bills that did not pass:

Anti-Sharia Bills:Texas House Bills 562, 670, and 3698 did not mention Sharia law specifically, but were really motivated by anti-Muslim animus. Their purpose was to combat the unfounded fear that Sharia law could be applied in Texas courts. This precaution is unnecessary as Texas courts are already empowered to refuse to enforce foreign law judgments if they violate Texas and U.S. laws.  The bills’ only effect, therefore, would have been to spread anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Voucher Bills: Senate Bills 4, 642, and 1178, each would have created a different kind of voucher scheme. Whether in the form of a “scholarship,” “grant,” or tax credit, these voucher programs would have funneled taxpayer money into primarily religious schools, violating our country’s commitment to the separation of church and state.  Studies show voucher programs do not improve academic achievementor provide greater educational opportunities for disadvantaged students.  According to multiple studies of the District of Columbia, Milwaukee, and Cleveland school voucher programs, students offered vouchers do not perform better in reading and math than students in public schools. They also often lack accountability, oversight, and civil rights protections.

So-Called “Religious Freedom” Bills: The Texas legislature introduced over 20 of these so-called “religious freedom” bills that could have trumped the civil rights of all Texans, and the LGBT community in particular. House Bill 4105, which was later added to House Bill 2977, attacked marriage equality specifically. Even if the Supreme Court decides this month that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, this bill would have prohibited state or local public funds from being used for an activity that includes the licensing, support, or recognition of a same-sex marriage. This bill would have also codified a particular religious view of marriage to the exclusion of other religious views held by many Texans.

House Bill 3864 would have allowed state-funded child welfare agencies to discriminate against potential parents for religious reasons. For example, adoption agencies could have refused to place a child in a good home with a same-sex couple, previously divorced individuals, or adherents to a religion with which they disagree. Not only would this bill have permitted government-funded discrimination, but it would have placed the child welfare agency’s interest above that of a child’s.

Thank you for contacting your legislators and helping us defeat these bills! There will be no legislative session in Texas in 2016, but please watch for our Federal action alerts and help to make a difference defeating bad bills in Congress!

As long as right-wing zealots exist, these bills will continue to re-appear. Thankfully, good activists exists who advocate for those who are constantly under attack.

The 84th Lege is Over!

Well, this time around, I didn’t get to blog much about Lege happenings. My compadres in the blogosphere did a lot of good writing and that was good enough for me.

The main bills I kept an eye on were targeted ones, like legalized racial profiling (sanctuary cities), a ban on in-state tuition for undocs, and, because I have family members who work in higher education, guns on college campuses. If Abbott signs the campus carry bill despite the amendment which allows University and college presidents to designate gun-free zones, then I’ll have gone two out of three. Not that that’s a good thing, considering the danger of allowing concealed guns on campus.

There were other victories that came in the form of dead bills–bills that either didn’t make the cut or were chubbed by Democrats, especially anti-LGBT bills. Of course, some of our favorite reps and senators passed bills that affected or impacted their respective districts. I’m sure the press releases will start trickling in.

One huge pile of waste is the almost one billion dollars that will go to Greg Abbott’s brand of border security through the use of an overburdened DPS. It’s already been proven a waste, but in order for gringo Republicans to feel the warm and fuzzies, I guess this needs to be done, right? It certainly doesn’t make Texas safer.

So, while this session is over, I’m sure we’re in for more during the 85th, including a whole new fight over sanctuary cities and in-state tuition, and anything else the bigots come up with in the name of “sovereignty” and “border security.”

Anyway, Happy Sine Die!

Former Trustee Debra Kerner Responds to Chron Editorial on HCDE

Some of you may have seen a scathing editorial in Sunday’s Chron in which various complaints were listed against the Harris County Department of Education. HCDE has been under attack by Republicans for a long time and there is a current movement by Paul Bettencourt of the Texas Senate to get rid of it.

According to former HCDE Trustee Debra Kerner, the editorial contains a lot of misinformation that she wanted to clear up. Here is her own letter-to-the-editor which, hopefully, the Chronicle will also run.

Dear Houston Chronicle Editorial Page Editor,

Regarding “HCDE draws sharp look” (Sunday, May 24, 2015, pg.1), I served as a countywide elected Trustee for the Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) from January 2009 to January 2015. During that time, I held various Board positions including Vice President. I read the article, “HCDE Draws Sharp Look” from Sunday, May 24, 2015 with intense interest and felt that as a private citizen and former board member, I had to respond.  I would ask that the public consider these clarifying facts.

1) HCDE serves students, educators and school districts.  Their services are provided at the request of Harris County school districts.  They seek to enhance and innovate and provide services to the school districts and the residents of Harris County.  All 25 of the school districts in Harris County choose to use at least some of the services from HCDE.  HCDE provides even more services than are listed in the article, including Safe and Secure Schools.  As told to me by the head of Region 4, all of these services cannot be duplicated by the Education Service Center (Region 4).  Who would provide these services, if HCDE had to close?

2) During my tenure, HCDE underwent several audits and a Texas legislative study.  These studies determined that HCDE’s education services saved taxpayer dollars and that it would cost school districts significantly more to replicate. While areas for improvement were identified, none of the studies recommended closure.  The Board had always taken steps to improve the department and continues to do so.

3) One example that was noted in the article was the policy on hiring political consultants.  The Board did not have the chance to vote on the Eversole contract.  Once the board learned about these hirings, the policy was changed to bring more transparency to the process of hiring political consultants. While I understand, the concern about using tax dollars for this purpose, I believe it would be unfair to the students and educators served by HCDE to not give them a voice regarding the educational resources that are so valuable to them. Many school districts also hire lobbyists and political consultants to help educate legislators and others about their needs.  In addition, HCDE has a group consistently seeking its abolishment.  Three year olds and other students with severe disabilities cannot go to Austin to indicate the true value of HCDE, so HCDE does it for them.  HCDE is a voice for those who can’t speak for themselves.

4) Ms. Vera and the Houston Chronicle have initiated countless open records request.  HCDE has been compliant and constantly sought to increase transparency.  Responding to these requests has been costly; however, none of these requests have yielded information that rises to the level of criminal activity. Any issues that were found, the Board had already initiated steps to improve the situation. At the same time, HCDE has continued to educate students, train teachers and provide valuable wraparound services.

5) We should focus on what HCDE is doing now. HCDE has hired a new superintendent, James Colbert, who is moving forward. The Board has made changes to address policies and procedures to ensure that things are done correctly and transparently.   HCDE continues to respond to the needs of partner districts. I participated in the hiring of Mr. James Colbert and from what I’ve seen thus far, he is a true leader who is very responsive to the educational needs in Harris County.  The reason HCDE has fought against additional studies regarding abolishment is that it is hard to plan for the future when the threat of closure hangs over their heads.

I was honored to serve with Trustees who truly cared about enhancing education in our county in a fiscally responsible way.  It is a shame that the voices of a few are taken as fact when thousands of students and the 25 Harris County school districts find value in HCDE every single day.


Debra Kerner

Former Trustee, Harris County Department of Education

Senator Garcia Votes Against State Budget Proposal; It Fails to Address Needs

This just in to the inbox:

AUSTIN – Today, Senator Sylvia Garcia voted against the Senate’s State Budget proposal. The Senate Budget failed to address billions of dollars in identified needs such as:  education,  facilities, healthcare, pre-k, and transportation.

“Texas should not be conducting corporate tax giveaways at the expense of kids and families – it should be providing the services that taxpayers have paid for, such as schools and highways. We made a promise to invest in Texas schools after the 2011 cuts, but instead we face a looming school finance lawsuit,” Senator Garcia stated.

“We were elected to wisely invest Texans’ hard-earned money and grow the Texas dream, but this budget does neither. When the state underfunds schools and roads, it penalizes the hardworking taxpayers that rely on the state to meet these fundamental needs. The budget fails to adequately fund healthcare, pre-k, and other priorities of working families in Texas.”

“In an unprecedented move, Department of Public Safety’s budget is nearly tripled to $811 million in an alleged response to border security threats in South Texas. Meanwhile, crime rates are increasing across Houston and other areas of the state. I cannot honestly tell my constituents that we’re representing their best interests by putting $811 million into policing the border, when they feel unsafe in their own communities hundreds of miles away.”

Texas Republicans Insist on Racial Profiling Law

tmf185Yep, that didn’t take long.

The Republicans are insisting on a law that legalizes racial profiling for the purpose of local law enforcement playing the role of migra mouse in Texas. In other words, the same law that was passed in Arizona. What was delayed by Democrats this morning is back on the calendar!

Senator Jose Rodriguez had the best point-by-point of how this would just be bad public policy. Read it!



COMMITTEE:    Veteran Affairs & Military Installations-S/C Border Security

TIME & DATE:  8:00 AM, Monday, March 16, 2015

PLACE:        2E.20 (Betty King Cmte. Rm.)
CHAIR:        Senator Brian Birdwell

SB 185        Perry

Relating to the enforcement of state and federal laws governing immigration by certain governmental entities.



Rodriguez: SB185 is a Rehash of Bill Defeated in 2011

senrdzSenator Jose Rodriguez outlined reasons why SB185, the s0-called “sanctuary cities” bill, is bad public policy. While it’s been delayed, chances are it will be brought back up by the committee.

This bill, a rehash of legislation that was defeated in 2011, is simply bad policy and bad business. I’ve summarized six major points that illustrate why it’s such a time-waster for a Legislature that has important business to take care of — budget and taxes, education funding, access to health care and other key governance issues.

1. It seeks to solve a non-existent problem. There is no indication that local law enforcement needs this authority, which is reserved exclusively for the federal government, to keep communities safe. Quite the opposite, as point number two illustrates. I find this particularly ironic given that it’s being put forth by representatives who claim they are for small government.

2. It harms public safety. In 2011, this legislation was overwhelmingly opposed by county sheriffs and police chiefs. El Paso County Sheriff Wiles spoke out against this legislation because as he stated it would undermine his ability to work with immigrant communities and effectively combat cartel activity. Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo and many others made similar comments.

3. It’s bad business for Texas. Similar legislation in Arizona cost $5 million in lost taxes from SB 1070 and $135 million in lost economic output. We can’t afford to lose current business or future investors. It also does not make sense to drive workers away from labor-intensive but critical sectors such as construction and agriculture.

4. It targets children. While SB 185 exempts school officials, it includes school peace officers. I’m not one who thinks it makes sense to punish children who are in our communities, regardless of documentation, by pushing them out of school and into the streets.

5. It has legal implications that don’t appear to have been thought through. It will inevitably lead to racial profiling. It is likely to lead to violations of the Equal Protection Clause, the Supremacy Clause and the Fourth Amendment. In fact, the issue already came up in El Paso County, where the El Paso County Sheriffs Department was sued for pulling passengers off a bus and asking them their immigration status; the lawsuit was settled when the department agreed to establish a written policy and train its officers. Further, it places schools in an untenable position: If their peace officers do not ask immigration questions they could lose state funding, and if they do ask they could be sued in federal court.

6. It hurts families. So called “sanctuary cities” policies have the potential to divide mixed-status families in Texas. Leading faith leaders opposing this legislation in 2011 including the Catholic Conference of Bishops, the Christian Life Commission, Texas Impact, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Anti-Defamation League, Evangelical Pastors, and numerous other religious orders and clergy members.

Only a few days ago, President Obama, in his Selma speech, reminded us of one of our country’s enduring sources of greatness, immigration. The United States of America still is the world’s greatest destination for those yearning to breath free. We need to fix our system to reflect that reality, not punish those who have risked everything to be here.

Did You Sense Sadism in Their Tweets?

So, all of the pro-migrant groups (good and bad) have told me that the right-wing anti-immigrant federal judge’s temporary injunction on President Obama’s immigration executive order will be overturned or overruled or something. We shall see.

abbott-el-diablitoThat all of this money is being wasted by Republicans to stop an executive order that only does so much in regards to reform says a lot about these bigots. What was more disturbing were the celebratory tweets by Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, and Ted Cruz in which they declare victory against “executive amnesty.” Given their past vitriol, I’d guess they mean Obama AND Latinos (immigrants).

I think I sense a little sadism in their tweets.

I’ve seen some local groups trying to talk right-wing Republicans into “saving” HB1403 (in-state tuition). Pretty soon, some will be begging to stop Greg Abbott’s continued militarization of the border. Perhaps there will be some groveling to right-wingers to stop any “sanctuary city” legislation. Frankly, the Republicans are set in their ways–they’re bigots and are set on putting on an anti-immigrant sideshow.

So, are we done playing that fake game of “bipartisanship”? Because there’s no sense in our side looking like masochists when the other side continues to perfect their ability to inflict pain on the defenseless.

What’s Next?

While the blame game continues between campaigns, organizations, and Democratic volunteers who gave a huge part of their lives to the 2014 effort, the Republicans are already brewing up a storm for the 2015 Texas legislative session. Hopefully, everyone will release some steam and then move on to what is next.

With the Texas Lege session looming, we may be headed toward a dark period in Texas.

Will Republicans go full-on-crazy by making budgets cuts that will leave state services for the poor, the elderly, children, college students, and most state services underfunded beyond belief? Will Dan Patrick go full-on-racist (more than usual) and make Arizona’s SB1070 look like no big deal? Will the GOP leave Medicaid for the Elderly even worse than it is, thus, lowering nursing home quality, bed availability, and leaving thousands homeless? Well, Democrats better start thinking about these issues before we get into 2016 or 2018, or whenever the “data” tells us we will finally win with the same effort as in the past.

The problem is, these issues are usually left to nonprofits and low-funded lobbying and organizing groups. While some legislators will carry the weight when we are on the defensive, we need some sort of apparatus to keep people and activists informed. And that also can effectively communicate with the constituencies.

There is no doubt that constituencies best represented by the Democrats will be on the defensive during those 140 days of the legislature. What kind of communications and message plan will be in place to keep people informed about what the Republicans are attempting? What kind of defense plan against the worse the Republicans will offer will be in place to make the peoples’ voices heard at the Texas Capitol?

Nothing looks better to constituencies who are attacked than politicians who defend and fight back against the attacker. It might even look good to those who didn’t show up to vote, as well as those who usually wouldn’t have voted, anyway. When it comes to the majority of Latinos, much like we remember 2 million deportations, thousands of warehoused immigrants, and thousands of Central American kids escaping violence being vilified, we’ll remember our defenders in November.

That said, today some of our Democratic state legislators filed their initial bills for the 2015 session:

From State Senator Sylvia R. Garcia:

  • SB 141 would create a voter education program for high school seniors and provide an opportunity for them to register to vote.
  • SB 142 would allow potential volunteer deputy registrars to receive online training.
  • SB 143 would help those voters whose voter registration has been rejected by specifically notifying them of the errors on their registration forms.

From Trey Martinez Fischer:

  • HB 41, HB 42, HB 174, HJR 26 – Minimum Wage – Raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour; establish a living wage policy for those doing business with the state.
  • HB 116 – Healthcare – Expand Medicaid eligibility and bring $90 Billion dollars to our state to create jobs and alleviate additional tax burdens on property tax payers and local governments
  • HB 124 – Education – Full-day, universal prekindergarten for every Texas 4 year old
  •  HB 111 – Voting – Same day voter registration
  • HB 145 – Government Reform – Require the Legislature to pass a budget, school finance legislation, and pending sunset bills before the 100th day of the legislative session, placing Texas’ priorities first and political agendas last.

From State Rep. Rafael Anchia, Garnet Coleman, and State Senators Rodriguez and Hinojosa:

  • HB 130 – Legislation to authorize same-sex marriage.
  • HJR 34 – Constitutional Amendment to repeal same-sex marriage ban.
  • SJR 13 and SB 98 – The same types of legislation, above.

Those are just a few of the good ones. While the bad ones haven’t all been filed, I did see a few filed by Republicans:

HB209 by right-wing-nut Stickland is the first attack on the Texas DREAM Act (in-state tuition for immigrant kids). The bill strikes the three-year residency requirement for non-citizens to achieve Texas residency status, thus, qualifying for in-state tuition.

HB 183 and HB 88 make the very flawed employee verification program (E-Verify) mandatory for state agencies and state contractors, respectively. SB 54 targets the poor on TANF benefits with drug testing. There’s even one that allows counties to build tent-jails like Joe Arpaio in Arizona.

This is just to name a few, but something tells me this is something we’ll need to keep monitoring.

I’m just trying to say that the work that needs to be done for 2016 starts with this coming legislative session.

Texpatriate has a lot more on bills.


Kroger’s, Macy’s Opposed Equal Pay Law; Sen. Garcia Cancels Macy’s Appearance

It was quite disappointing to hear that two of my favorite stores, Kroger’s and Macy’s, lobbied and sent a letter to Rick Perry asking him to veto the Equal Pay bill passed by a bipartisan Texas Legislature. Rick Perry responded by vetoing the bill.

The bill, authored by State Senator Wendy Davis and State Rep. Senfornia Thompson, would have given legal standing to women who are paid less for doing the same job as a man.

Progress Texas is asking Texans to sign a petition and to join a boycott of Kroger’s and Macys until they reverse their position on the Texas Equal Pay Law.

Your opposition is infuriating. It is shameful that while you are busy convincing Moms and Millennials to spend money on clothes and lunch boxes at back-to-school sales, you are advocating behind their backs to deny women equal pay for equal work.

In response to the news of Macy’s involvement, State Senator Sylvia Garcia (Senate District 6) cancelled an appearance at Macy’s in the Galleria which would have commemorated the 2013 Back to School Sales Tax Holiday.

“While I strongly support the tax free weekend that allows parents struggling to provide clothing and supplies for their children before they return to school, I was dismayed to learn that Macy’s and Kroger would oppose equal pay for equal work.  As a co-sponsor of the legislation and supporter of  equal rights, I am supporting the call to boycott  until these stores  reverse their position and declare their support for equal pay, ”  stated Senator Garcia.

Additional background (below).

Continue reading

In November, You Will Also Vote on State Amendments

That’s right. While we discuss Houston’s Mayoral and Council elections from now on through the fall, we will also be discussing what else is on the November ballot. Texas voters will consider and vote on nine (9) constitutional amendments, and the Secretary of State has now determined the order in which they will appear.

I’ll be doing some more analysis of the proposed amendments and will also inform you all about how I intend to vote on them. For now, here’s the Trib’s description of each.

First on the ballot will be HJR 62, by state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, which would authorize the Legislature to provide a property tax exemption for the spouses of veterans. This amendment specifically authorizes a tax exemption for all or part of the market value of the residences of spouses of military members who are killed in action.

Second will be HJR 79, by state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, which would eliminate a requirement for a State Medical Education Board and a State Medical Education Fund. Neither is in operation, with the State Medical Education Board having been defunct for more than a quarter-century.

HJR 133, by state Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, will appear third on the ballot. The amendment would extend the tax exemption period on storing aircraft parts in the state and would provide more tax relief to aerospace manufacturers, which often hold such parts in inventory for an extended period of time.

HJR 24, by state Rep. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, will follow and authorize the Legislature to give a partial property tax exemption on charity-donated residences to disabled veterans or their surviving spouses. The amendment would strike the current requirement that qualifying residents be “100 percent” disabled.

SJR 18, by state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, will appear fifth on the ballot and would allow homeowners age 62 or older to use reverse mortgages to purchase residences. The current law only expressly allows traditional mortgages, which lets such homeowners borrow against the equity of their homes. The amendment would allow the prospective borrower to use a Federal Housing Administration-insured home equity conversion mortgage to help buy a new home.

Next will be SJR 1, also known as the Rainy Day Fund Amendment. The amendment would create two funds to help finance key projects in the state water plan by pulling about $2 billion from the Texas Economic Stabilization Fund. Authored by state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, the amendment has been opposed by conservatives who have argued that pulling money from the Rainy Day Fund would endanger Texas’ economic health.

HJR 87, by state Rep. Sergio Munoz, Jr., D-Palmview, will appear seventh on the ballot. It would authorize home-rule municipalities to choose how to fill city council vacancies if the positions have less than 12 months remaining in a three- or four-year term. The amendment would remove the requirement to hold a mandatory special election for those positions.

HJR 147, by state Rep. Bobby Guerra, D-Mission, will come next on the ballot. It would repeal a constitutional provision authorizing the creation of a hospital district in Hidalgo County.

Last on the ballot will be SJR 42, by state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston. It would authorize the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to use additional disciplinary actions — including public admonition, warning, reprimand, or required additional training or education — against judges or justices after a hearing. The current law allows the SCJC to issue a public censure or recommend a judge’s removal or retirement.