Category Archives: Texas Lege

Local TX House Delegation Asks Harris Co to Join SB4 Lawsuit

A group of Houston Texas House members has penned a letter to the Harris County Commissioner’s Court requesting they join the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of SB4–the “Show Me Your Papers” racial profiling law signed by Greg Abbott.

Texas House members include:  Alma Allen, Carol Alvarado, Garnet Coleman, Harold Dutton, Jessica Farrar, Ana Hernandez, Jarvis Johnson, Mary Ann Perez, Ron Reynolds, Shawn Thierry, Senfronia Thompson, Hubert Vo, Armando Walle, and Gene Wu.

Pointing to various constitutional flaws in the law, the group also made a case for the lawsuit citing the law’s threat to public safety:

With the fifth largest foreign born population in the country, Harris County is especially at risk. All people in the community must feel safe and free to report crime and call law enforcement when necessary, without the fear of the same law enforcement asking for their papers. The provisions of SB4 will diminish trust and chill the reporting of crime, making our county less safe.

The letter further states the constitutional liability the county could face for unlawfully detaining individuals without warrant or probably cause.

Already, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, and the tiny town of El Cenizo, along with Bexar, El Paso, and Maverick counties have joined the lawsuit. Efforts have increased to add more parties to the lawsuit, including Brownsville, Pasadena, and other Texas communities.

For the latest on the lawsuit, head over to MALDEF’s twitter feed for the latest arguments being made by the good guys and the bad guys at the federal court hearing in San Antonio.

Thanks to the office of State Representative Armando Walle for keeping us informed and for their work on these efforts. [copy of letter below]

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Tell Your Houston City Council Members to Support SB4 Lawsuit (Agenda Item 16)

The Mayor and Houston City Council will be hearing public comments today and many opponents of the “Show Me Your Papers” law (SB4) are expected to show up today to voice their concerns. If you cannot make it, but want to urge your district Council Member and At-Large Council Members to vote in favor of joining the lawsuit against Senate Bill 4, here are their numbers:

District A Brenda Stardig 832-393-3010
District B Jerry Davis 832-393-3009
District C Ellen Cohen 832-393-3004
District D Dwight Boykins 832-393-3001
District E Dave Martin 832-393-3008
District F Steve Le 832-393-3002
District G Greg Travis 832-393-3007
District H Karla Cisneros 832-393-3003
District I Robert Gallegos 832-393-3011
District J Mike Laster 832-393-3015
District K Larry Green 832-393-3016

At-Large 1 Mike Knox 832-393-3014
At-Large 2 David Robinson 832-393-3013
At-Large 3 Michael Kubosh 832-393-3005
At-Large 4 Amanda Edwards 832-393-3012
At-Large 5 Jack Christie 832-393-3017 (* Still Abstaining?)

SPECIFICALLY, ask your district and At-Large Council Members to support Agenda Item 16 (6/21/2017).

RESOLUTION in support of the City of Houston joining the litigation to challenge Senate Bill 4 (Commonly known as the Texas Sanctuary Cities Bill)

Recent head-counts show that the Council isn’t fully united in support of the lawsuit. If anything, it’s pretty split for a city that enjoys selling its diversity when trying to attract sporting events and business interests, Those in red may need some extra convincing, including my own CM Steve Le.

Bottom line:  A politician shouldn’t be on the wrong side of history on this one.

KUDOS:  To the Meyerland Area Democratic Club for sending their own message to City Council in support of the SB4 lawsuit. Last night, they passed a resolution stating their support showing that such laws are a threat to all sectors of Houston. Thank you to their president Art Pronin!

FIEL: Time’s Up, Mayor Turner, Sue Texas Over SB4

Immigrant rights group, FIEL, held a press conference this morning to remind Mayor Sylvester Turner that the end of the legislative session has come and that it is time for Houston to join other cities in filing a lawsuit against Greg Abbott and the State of Texas over its new racial profiling law, SB4. Turner has stated he would begin to look at SB4 after the legislative session.

KPRC reported on today’s action. FIEL has provided video of the press conference.

“Our community and many of its leaders have been very patient and have continued to have trust in Mayor Turner. We are less than 100 days from SB4 being implemented. We do not need more promises of a welcoming Houston. We need the mayor and City Council to take action to protect Houston immigrant families,” said Cesar Espinosa, executive director of FIEL.

Mayor Turner has since responded with a press statement.

Now that the Legislative session is over, the city is in the process of reviewing and analyzing all bills that passed the House and Senate, including Senate Bill 4. The city, of course, will adhere to all laws that are deemed constitutional and consistent with the rulings of the Supreme Court.  SB4 does not take effect until September 1, 2017. In the meantime, the city of Houston will do its analysis.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

On Wednesday, May 31, the City Council will hold a public session and SB4 opponents are expected to appear to ask the Mayor and City Council for legal action against the State of Texas.

The last-day-of-session antics of Republican State Rep. Matt Rinaldi (Irving) in which he stated he had called ICE on Texas Latinos who were protesting SB4 at the State Capitol prove the intent of bigoted racial profiling laws created by Republicans. These laws do nothing for public safety; if anything, they have a negative effect on safety and the economy. But everyone involved already knows this. Let’s call it what it is–state-supported racism.

City leaders have a duty to protect its residents from these kind of laws, and the only recourse left (other than the 2018 and 2019 elections) is the courts. Frankly, if the City of Houston can pay for lobbyists to push for pension reform, then it can pay for lawyers to ensure its residents are protected from SB4.

Or, maybe the Mayor is just waiting for the governor’s signature on pension reform. And for the ink to dry.

Will Houston Sue Texas for SB4?

traveladvisoryAt a community forum in which Mayor Sylvester Turner, Chief Art Acevedo and others participated, it seemed the City’s priorities did not include any concrete decisions regarding SB4. At least, not until later.

Turner said that his administration would evaluate the bill after the legislative session ends May 29.

For those of us who would be targeted for racial profiling by local cops (it’s not just immigrants, but brown people in general), the lack of prioritization on challenging SB4 and defending from Republican targeting of Latinos has left a community wondering if it matters to elected leaders.

From Turner, the response to SB4 all along has been the same:

“I want you to know that Houston will be a welcoming, just and compassionate city that will work to protect all people from discrimination.”

Acevedo who had previously said that his department would not be a local INS, changed his commentary, though:

Acevedo made clear that police will be required to fill out a report and detail why they felt it necessary to ask someone’s immigration status.

“If you stop somebody for jaywalking and the only reason you’re asking because they don’t speak English,” Acevedo said, “that will be profiling, and we will not tolerate it.”

So, it is pretty obvious that, much like Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, HPD intends to follow the law. But there is no indication of whether Houston will join other smaller cities and the City of Austin in suing the State of Texas to challenge the law’s constitutionality. Certainly, I don’t expect the right-wing-heavy commissioners court at the County level to do anything, and certainly, Judge Ed Emmett has remained quiet. Frankly, the City’s lawyers should already be studying the law in anticipation of a decision to sue BEFORE it goes in effect on September 1.

In my opinion, nothing says “welcoming city” like a city suing the state government because of a racist law that targets at least 50% of the population. Certainly, it would show the city’s leaders are fighting for people, and not just using “diversity” as a means to increase tourism and business profits.

No doubt, Mayor Turner is awaiting the fate of the pension bill, which is the city leadership’s top priority. But as much as our city’s coffers should be a priority, so should its inhabitants. Immigrant or not, brown or not, we all pay taxes and shouldn’t live in fear of our own law enforcement. And if city coffers are the priority, certainly, Mayor Turner and the City Council should also consider the feasibility of SB4’s enactment and its effect on HPD’s budget, considering that being a Local INS will cost a lot more–in monetary term and in terms of crime-reporting, as the Chief has already specified.

Obviously, let’s stay tuned.

 

 

You Gotta Love ACLU’s Texas Travel Advisory

Unfortunately, this is very real.

Greg Abbott and the Republicans have placed a target on anyone who looks Mexican or has brown skin. It will take lawsuits to try to stop this in the short-run; however, in the long-run, it will take tough-spined candidates who don’t scapegoat immigrants and play politics with immigration to defeat those who create public policy from racist attitudes.

Get involved!

 

Greg Abbott’s War on Latinos Continues

uglyLet’s face it, when it comes to the issue of immigration, Republicans like Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Donald Trump have placed a target on Latinos. They’ve gone from supporting a ban on sanctuary cities to wasting billions of tax dollars on a border surge. Now, Abbott wants to target college campuses who protect immigrant college students from immigration raids.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is promising to cut funds to public universities that become what he described as “sanctuary” campuses for immigrant students. The Republican provided no other details.

Abbott tweeted the vow Thursday in response to a story about Texas State University students urging school leaders to declare the campus a “sanctuary” as immigrant students nationwide fear deportation under President-elect Donald Trump.

Trump pledged during his campaign to launch a “deportation force” and end the practice of granting temporary status to students in the U.S. illegally. The University of Pennsylvania, Trump’s alma mater, has pledged to block federal agents without a warrant from removing students in the country illegally.

No, there’s nothing specific, but Republicans in the Texas Lege have already filed bills to ban sanctuary cities, cut financial aid and in-state tuition for DREAMers, among other bills. These racist threats against Latinos have only increased since election day, including a new call to cut funding for city governments deemed sanctuary cities.

Abbott, who gained some favor for his campaign by parading around his hispanic mother-in-law is showing what he really thinks about the Latino community–again! While immigrant students may be the target, there’s no doubt that federalizing local law enforcement will increase racial profiling. It affects us all.

And for what? To earn political capital with his right-wing-nuts?

With exit polls showing Trump earned less than 20% of the Latino vote, the Republican Party is showing how little they respect the Latino electorate. They’ve been doing it for a long time, but in kinder, gentler tones. Now, there’s a good chance their racism will turn into public policy.

It looks like it’s another legislative session on the defensive for Latinos.

 

 

A State Rep Working On Real Issues

With today’s news that Dan Patrick is more interested in potties and sending back billions in federal education dollars to DC, it’s time to remind folks that there are folks representing us in Austin that are actually serving their constituents.

Last weekend, I attended State Rep. Gene Wu’s (HD137) town hall. Having lived in the district for a few years, I had yet to attend one, but since this one would have much to do with moving toward a set of legislative priorities, I thought I’d better go.

Upon arrival, I found a pretty diverse crowd that looked just like Houston. “De todo un poco,” or, a little of everything. And Wu didn’t make the meeting all about him, though I wouldn’t blame him since he’s up for re-election. In fact, he showcased some local experts on issues, such as education, health care, and public safety.

H.D. Chambers, chief at Alief ISD, presented on the realities about public education in the area, and especially on the lawsuit filed by numerous Texas school districts regarding education finance. (The lawsuit was decided today by the Texas Supreme Court and, let’s just say, the kids, the people, and the schools lost). The lawsuit was mainly about having the courts decide how enough resources would be provided to meet expectations that we place on our schools. The Court decided that the state met minimum constitutional standards of funding.

Anyway, he reminded us that there are 5 million students in K-12, but that there are 3.5 million children age 0-3, who by 4 should be getting into Pre-K. Of course, Pre-K support from the state is non-existent. This poses a major threat to the future of Texas, which includes a startling statistic:  If a child cannot read by 3rd grade, there is a 35% chance that the child will dropout of school.

Freddy Warner from the Memorial Hermann system spoke regarding health care from a major system standpoint. He stated that health care and education are among the top funding priorities in the Texas legislature and that in the coming session, they may be crowding each other out. Considering Texas was just bailed out by the Obama administration regarding Medicaid, one would think that Medicaid expansion would be a priority. Warner stated that there is zero chance it would be addressed as health care doesn’t seem to be a priority for most in Austin. He did mention that Memorial Hermann does provide $1.4 billion in charity care.

A startling statistic he provided is that we shouldn’t be surprised if there is a budget shortfall in 2017. While the State Comptroller based a budget on $65 per barrel oil, we’re currently at $40 ($46 today) per barrel. It just doesn’t look good for our next budget.

Now, take Dan Patrick’s potty boycott of $10 billion of our federal money that we’ve paid into the system into consideration. Now, open a bottle of booze and start worrying.

Next up was Januari Leo of Legacy Health, which is a federally qualified health center. The majority of people seen by them are uninsured who cannot afford the emergency room or private clinics. They weren’t helped when Harris Health changed their qualification threshold, thus cutting 19,000 patients from their services.

With uncompensated care growing, and Obama bailing out Texas Medicaid, if a politician for state or local office (Republicans) promised you a cut in property taxes, it is not going to happen. Texas needs to pay its bills. How that is accomplished when we take losses in oil revenue, dismal tax collections and other budgetary nightmares into consideration, well, go ahead and open a second bottle of booze.

The public safety presentations by Assistant County Attorney Vinson and Lt. Conn from HPD centered on some of the things their agencies are working on. The County Attorney’s office is mostly working on ridding the district of nuisance businesses–massage parlors and after-hours clubs. They attract crime, drugs, etc. HPD’s Midwest division helps businesses develop surveys of the areas they serve as to type of crimes and how to protect themselves. They have programs to work at Lee HS with at-risk youth.

Overall, a very interesting meeting that has prepared me for the 2017 session. While State Rep. Wu will definitely have a list of priorities based on open communications with constituents, he’ll have to deal with some of the odd-ball and bigoted priorities being presented by Dan Patrick and his potty buddies.

Ultimately, elections matter. We have a run-off coming up and early voting begins on May 16. You best start practicing for November.

Thanks to Rep. Wu’s staff for putting on an informative meeting and for that open door.

 

2016: Brandon Dudley for Tax Assessor-Collector

dudley.jpgAnother friend of mine, Brandon Dudley, has also filed for the Democratic nomination for Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector. I’ve known Brandon since his 2010 run for a judicial post here in Harris County, and I appreciate his work on the Wendy Davis campaign in 2014.

He has served my own State Senator Rodney Ellis for a decade as Chief of Staff and General Counsel, and his work in criminal justice reform is very impressive.

Here’s more on Brandon:

Brandon’s commitment to public service began at an early age, working in programs for at-risk youth while attending the University of Texas at Austin. Brandon worked as a juvenile counselor after earning his degree, and went on to the Graduate School for Social Work at UT-Austin to further develop his administrative skills in the field of public service. After graduate school Brandon came to Houston to create and direct outreach, crime prevention, and community economic development programs for at-risk youth.

These experiences inspired Brandon to attend the University of Houston Law Center, where he twice received the Public Interest Fellowship Award. This also led him to pursue legal and policy advocacy work in the areas of criminal justice reform, economic fairness and voting rights.

After graduating from UH Law School and being licensed to practice, Brandon worked for the Innocence Project, which works to secure the freedom for those wrongfully convicted and advance criminal justice reforms. He later served as managing consultant for the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition’s Harris County Project to advance “smart on crime” reforms to improve public safety, increase fairness and justice, and save taxpayer dollars.

Read more on Brandon here and his platform is here.

I’m running because the right to vote is an essential component of our democracy, and ensuring that freedom is protected for all eligible voters is key to holding our government accountable.

But right now too many citizens’ freedom to make their voices heard in Harris County is under attack by intentional barriers making it harder to vote, tactics that wrongfully deny eligible voters their freedom to vote, and antiquated voting systems that are prone to mistakes, cause long lines, and increase taxpayer costs.

I’m running because the people of Harris County deserve a Tax Assessor that’s standing up for all us, not working against us.  A Tax Assessor that will fight for a fair and equal tax system and protect our freedom to vote, so we can have the Harris County we deserve.

We deserve better schools for our children, an economy that works for all of us, fair and equal justice, and a Harris County that treats all people equally and fairly.

But we have to stand up for it. We have to fight for it.  And we have to vote for it.

Stay informed, folks!

Anti-Latino Bills Move Forward in Texas Senate

Credit: Denver Post (Click to Enlarge)

I think this is the most unsurprising news of the week. A Texas Senate subcommittee on “border security” moved two bills forward that would, (1) Legalize racial profiling of Latinos for immigration purposes, and (2) Stop in-state tuition rates for immigrant students whose families have more than established residency in Texas. Both bills move on to a full committee. Of course, all of this happened after dozens of students and advocates testified against both bills versus a few who spoke in favor.

While Republicans call these bills changes in policy, the targeted nature of these bills says a lot more. Anti-Latino attitudes by Republicans have once again come up to the surface and more lies are spread about the community. Some will call it fear, I’ll call it downright bigoted policy-making for their own political purposes.

Then there are those who will say that Latinos need to vote in larger numbers. I don’t disagree, but the caveat is that Democrats need to do a better job of defending Latinos and immigrants, instead of playing to right-wing voters by talking anti-immigrant nonsense with some delusion that they will earn their votes. Frankly, these attempts at “centrism” remind me of Rahm Emanuel working with racist Tom Tancredo on immigration reform.

Whether Republicans will come to their senses and kill these bills is still up in the air. Obviously, there’s a race against the legislative clock. How hard they work for these nonsense bills versus bills of dire importance will further show us what they are really about.

Update:  Earlier today, this post caught my attention. In other words, SB1819 (in-state tuition ban) can be beaten. It’s time to deluge Republican senators with phone calls telling them to vote NO on SB1819 if it reaches the Senate floor.

UPDATE:  Both bills (sb185 and sb1819) were approved by the full committee and will be sent to the full Texas Senate.

Inbox: Anti-Immigrant Bill Heard in Senate Subcommittee

Credit: State Senator Sylvia R. Garcia

Since I’ve been busy with my move to another part of Houston, I was unable to take part in the actions today at the Capitol. Thanks to Senator Jose Rodriguez’s staff, we got this e-mail about the Subcommittee hearing on SB185–the racial profiling bill (aka sanctuary cities).

 

AUSTIN – Senate Bill 185, which was heard in the Senate Subcommittee on Border Security today, would outlaw so-called “sanctuary cities” — a term that has not been defined — by prohibiting Texas governmental entities from passing laws to restrict police from asking about immigration status.

The bill affects cities, counties, special districts, and districts attorneys. It exempts school districts and hospital districts, but includes peace officers employed or commissioned by school districts and hospital districts.

S.B. 185 specifically prohibits policies that prohibit:

  • Inquiring into immigration status lawfully detained;
  • Sending or requesting information from U.S. CIS or ICE;
  • Maintaining the information;
  • Exchanging information with other state or federal entities;
  • Assisting or cooperating with a federal immigration officer as reasonable or necessary; and
  • Permitting a federal immigration officer to enter and conduct enforcement at a jail.

S.B. 185 provides that any entity in violation shall be denied state grant funds for the following fiscal year after a finding of a violation by a judicial determination. Senator Rodríguez issued the following statement:

Even after today’s lengthy committee hearing, it is still unclear what problem S.B. 185 is attempting to solve. If it’s an attempt to address criminal activity along the border, then we need to better fund local law enforcement, not interfere with local governments’ ability to work with their respective communities. If it’s an attempt to address immigration issues, then that is clearly within the purview of the federal government, not the state.

This bill is a repeat of legislation that was defeated in 2011, and it’s simply bad policy and bad business for our state. I am concerned about the message S.B. 185 sends. Even if it’s not written exactly as Arizona’s S.B. 1070, the intent appears to be the same. The goal seems to be to encourage more local enforcement of immigration laws, and although it could affect anyone, it’s aimed at Texas’ immigrant communities.

With less than eleven weeks left in the legislative session, we have serious business that we need to attend, including passing the budget, school finance, infrastructure and other key governance issues. Yet here we are spending far too much time on legislation that is unwarranted and divisive. I hope that we will prevail as we did in 2011, and the Legislature will demonstrate that Texas is not a “show me your papers” state.

Six major points illustrate why S.B. 185 is bad for Texas:

  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.
  1. It harms public safety. Today, El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles and El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal spoke out against this legislation because it would undermine law enforcement’s ability to work with immigrant communities and effectively combat cartel activity. Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo and many other local law enforcement leaders have made similar comments.
  1. It’s bad business for Texas. Similar legislation in Arizona cost $5 million in lost taxes from S.B. 1070 and $135 million in lost economic output. As President/CEO of the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce Richard Dayoub testified today, 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.
  1. It targets children. While S.B. 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.
  1. It has legal consequences that will inevitably lead to racial profiling, and 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 Sheriff’s 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.
  1. It hurts families. So called “sanctuary cities” policies have the potential to divide mixed-status families in Texas. Leading leaders speaking against this legislation today, including the Catholic Conference of Bishops, the Anti-Defamation League, Evangelical Pastors, and numerous other religious orders and clergy members.