Author: Staff

With election wins, Texas House Democrats become central factor in Speaker’s race

“The Democrats are shopping. They’re buyers in this market, and they’re going to be empowered to find somebody who’s going to give them a good deal,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor and analyst from the University of Houston.

— “Democrat wins will shift the race for Texas House speaker,” Houston Chronicle

 

This week’s historic elections will re-make the Texas House for the coming session. Texas voters embraced Democrats’ positive vision, promoting real solutions for all Texans on critical issues such as public education, affordable health care, and a stronger economy for everyone.

 

Voters at the ballot box sent a strong message: the next Speaker will be elected only with bipartisan support, and House Democrats will be a central part of that decision.

 

The HDC congratulates all of its new Democratic members, as well as its returning members, and looks forward to working with each and every one of them in the next Legislature toward a better future for all Texans.

Voting begins today — here’s what is at stake

Today, as we begin early voting in Texas, we are reminded of just what’s at stake in the coming election.

 

A ruling late Thursday from a 3-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that Texas’ foster care system, as managed by the Texas Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS), remains in dire straits, even after improvements made by the Texas Legislature during the 85th Regular Session. The 5th Circuit Court ruled that the State of Texas continues to violate the Constitutional Rights of children in the state’s care by having an inadequate number of caseworkers and other protections against abuse.

 

In the 86th Regular Session, our state budget will need to account for changes necessary to make improvements to our foster care system. Our priorities for next session will also include:

 

  • Revamping our school finance system, so we can invest more in Texas children while lowering property taxes for everyone

 

  • Transforming our health care system, including Medicaid managed care, to ensure all Texans have access to reliable, quality health care

 

  • Fully fund all rebuilding and recovery efforts from those impacted by Harvey, and improve planning and preparations for future natural disasters

 

Bill filing for the Texas Legislature starts in three weeks. The HDC looks forward to working with everyone to ensure our caucus is fully prepared to take a lead on these and other issues critical to all Texans who are headed to the polls in the coming weeks.

Tomorrow, Oct. 9th — Deadline to register to vote!

Tomorrow, October 9th, is the deadline to register to vote, and we encourage everyone to do all they can to spread that information far and wide. Click here to find the best website to push people to in order for them to get registered.

 

As of a few weeks ago, more than 15.6 million Texans were registered to vote — marking an 11-percent increase from the 2014 midterm elections. But there’s still plenty of people who need to register, and we should do all we can to ensure every voice is heard and everyone in Texas has the opportunity to enjoy their constitutional right to vote.

 

Share this voter registration site with your lists, social media pages, friends, family, and neighbors. Let’s turn Texas into a voting state!

Supporting Dr. Blasey Ford must go further

Last week’s U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearings with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh were at times inspiring and at times infuriating. Dr. Ford was credible and confident when recounting the trauma she lived through and has carried for decades. Meanwhile, Judge Kavanaugh’s irate and dishonest testimony made it clear he does not have the temperament to serve on the Supreme Court.

 

Dr. Ford’s courage has rightly inspired thousands upon thousands of Americans across the country, but supporting her must go further than this one moment in time. The cultural changes advanced by the #MeToo movement are absolutely critical. Additionally, we must pursue policy changes that can help those impacted by sexual assault, violence, and harassment.

 

Last session, members of the House Democratic Caucus passed laws that took important steps to combat sexual assault. The Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA) has a comprehensive list — here’s a few examples to highlight.

 

  • Rep. Victoria Neave passed HB 1729, creating a grant program to cover the costs of thousands of untested rape kits.

 

  • Rep. Donna Howard passed HB 281, creating an electronic tracking system to track the location and status of sexual assault evidence kits statewide.

 

  • Rep. Carol Alvarado passed SB 77 (HB 1766), which ensures that victims of abuse are not forced to co-parent with their attacker.

 

  • Rep. Ana Hernandez passed HB 249, which ensured definitions for “abuse” and “neglect” were uniform across the Department of Family and Protective Services while also giving CPS authority to investigate cases of alleged abuse and neglect that occur at a child-care facility.

 

  • Rep. Senfronia Thompson passed a series of laws — at least eight, according to TAASA — to help combat human trafficking and sexual offenders across the state.

 

  • Rep. Ina Minjarez passed HB 2124 to ensure state and federal agencies share information about active duty members of the U.S. Armed forces under investigation for abuse or neglect.

 

  • Rep. Terry Canales passed HB 822 designating April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and Reps. Joe Moody, Eddie Lucio III, Diego Bernal, and Gene Wu passed various House and Senate bills that will fix and improve processes in family law courts, public schools, and evidence collection.

 

Our caucus has accomplished a lot, and there is a lot left to be done — including necessary improvements of internal policies and practices at the Texas Capitol as it relates to sexual assault, violence, and harassment. As the HDC continues its work on public education, health care, and criminal justice in preparation for the 86th Regular Session, we are confident our caucus will keep the values and policies of the #MeToo movement front and center in our efforts.

 

Public Charges and Immigration

A few months ago, the House Democratic Caucus learned about a proposed rule on “public charges” as it pertains to immigration. We also helped convene a meeting with legislative offices to learn more from stakeholders about how the law would work. Now that there is a formal rule to consider, we have a better understanding of exactly how the Trump administration intends to discriminate against immigrants and their families.

 

From Vox, an explainer:

 

At the heart of the new regulation is a change in how the government looks at public benefits an immigrant has already used or is likely to use. While only cash benefits are considered right now — benefits that only 3 percent of noncitizens use — the new approach would include Medicaid, SNAP (food stamps), Section 8 and other housing benefits, and subsidies for low-income earners in Medicare Part D.

 

The proposed rule is just another disgusting attempt to scare up support among Trump’s base, even if it jeopardizes necessary assistance for immigrant families and the more than one-in-four Texas children (1.8 million) who have at least one undocumented parent.

 

We encourage you to follow along with national and state groups on the latest developments on this issue, as we anticipate more news — and ongoing debate — in the weeks and months ahead. The CPPP has a new blog that helps explain the matter further, as well. We will be sure to stay up-to-date on this important issue, and will share opportunities for action as they develop.

Update: Less schools funded, less insured by health care

Improving public education and increasing access to quality, affordable health care are two of the biggest priorities of our caucus. Last week, we got upsetting news about each.

 

On education, we learned that the Texas Education Agency has requested more than $3 billion less for our local schools for the next biennium. Rising property taxes will continue to cover up the Republican leadership’s refusal to invest more in our kids’ future. This morning’s Houston Chronicle editorial couldn’t have put it any clearer: “You pay billions more in property taxes so that the state can pay billions less and your local school district ends up with the same amount of money.”

 

At the same time, Texans’ access to health care is getting worse. New numbers from the U.S. census found that hundreds of thousands more Texans were uninsured in 2017 than in 2016, reversing a years-long trend of steady improvement Texas had enjoyed under President Obama and the Affordable Care Act. The total number of Texans without health insurance jumped from approximately 4.5 million to 4.8 million residents, which meant a corresponding increase in the rate of uninsured from 16.6 percent to 17.3 percent.

 

Under President Trump, we are going in the wrong direction and Texans are suffering. Every man, woman, and child in Texas should have access to quality, affordable health care. Instead, we’ve seen purposeful efforts by the White House to wreck our health care system, and, sadly, these are the results.

 

We must remain committed to do everything we can to find legislative solutions for our schools and uninsured Texans. The future of our state depends on it.

Voter registration deadline is one month away

Texas’ voter registration deadline is October 9, 2018 — just one month away. The coming month is our chance to make sure all Texans are prepared and ready to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

 

The Secretary of State website has all the resources you need to register to vote, find out if you are registered, and the latest on what type of ID you may need to vote.

 

Members of the House Democratic Caucus have worked to improve access to voting for years. Unfortunately, Texas is still one of only 12 states without online voter registration, and Texas high schools aren’t following voter registration laws.

 

That’s why our education efforts are critical in the coming weeks. I encourage you to send out information about the registration deadline to all constituents, and to partner when possible with community organizations on voter registration drives. We must do all we can to make sure every Texan is eligible and able to vote.

Texas Education Agency to roll out school ratings

On Wednesday, the Texas Education Agency will roll-out its first “A-F” ratings for every school district in the state of Texas. Campuses won’t receive a letter grade until 2019, but will receive a numeric score on a 0-100 scale.

The letter grades, which come out as students and families prepare to go back to school, will be issued at a time when Republicans in control of the Texas Legislature continue to underfund our local schools. Consider:

 

    1. Texas is relying more on more on rising property taxes to cover the state’s share of funding our students and local schools (Source: CPPP)

 

    1. TEA and the state of Texas need to find up to $3.2 billion to get our state’s special education services up to standards (Source: Houston Chronicle)

 

    1. Our retired teachers haven’t received a pay bump in over a decade, and Texas – which contributes less to its state pension fund than any other state – would need to identify $786 million annually in order to ensure our retired teachers get the support they deserve (Source: Austin American-Statesman)

 

I expect that Texas’ A-F ratings for school districts will stir up plenty of discussion about Texas’ local schools. In that conversation, we should remember what is possible — that Texas, one of the richest economies in the world, could and should be doing much more to invest in the future of our kids and our local schools.

Gov. Abbott’s inaction on school safety

Two months ago, Gov. Greg Abbott announced a lengthy “school safety plan” to address the tragic shootings at Santa Fe High School. The announcement pacified the immediate call from community leaders for gun violence prevention. But in those two months, Texans have seen no action or leadership from Abbott on the topic — and the biggest concern about his proposal remains unaddressed.

 

Abbott Already Caving on Red Flag Laws

In his original plan, Gov. Abbott encouraged lawmakers to examine how “red flag laws” — laws that allow a judge to issue a court order to remove guns from individuals that are determined to be a threat to themselves or others — may be amended during the next session. Chairman Joe Moody held a lengthy Criminal Jurisprudence Committee meeting on the subject that generated positive discussion on how the law could work.

Unfortunately, Abbott showed no leadership on the matter. And once Lt. Governor Dan Patrick spoke out in opposition to the policy idea, Abbott — just like he did all last session — deferred to Patrick’s politics and has now signaled he doesn’t see this issue moving forward.

 

Misusing Federal Dollars for School Hardening?

As the Caucus laid out in its report on Abbott’s proposal, two-thirds of his suggestions that require funding specified no method of financing at all. And there are still serious questions about how he intends to finance the “school hardening” proposals in his plan.
In his plan, Abbott suggested that the state could use up to $62 million in federal grant dollars for “immediate school safety improvements, including school hardening.” However, the grant dollars he identified cannot be used for metal detectors or one-time school facility improvements, a fact that even the Texas Education Agency made clear in the updated grant application instructions they sent to school districts following Abbott’s announcement.
How does Abbott plan to pay for safer schools for our students?

With billions in the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund, the state has money ready for these kind of one-time expenditures. Would Abbott and Patrick be willing to use those Rainy Day Fund dollars to keep our kids safe?

 

Texas House Democrats Taking Action

These past two months have left us with more questions than answers. To date, the Santa Fe School Shooting appears to follow the unfortunate cycle of so many other school shootings in recent years — tragedy, outrage, and then nothing of substance from Republicans who are unwilling to support real solutions for gun violence prevention.

Texas Democrats are taking action. Rep. Joe Moody continues to push his red flag law proposals. Rep. Canales is exploring legislation to limit the 3D printing of guns, and Rep. Eddie Rodriguez and Rep. Gina Hinojosa continue to meet with student activists who are committed to making their schools safe places to learn. A full list of proposals from House Democrats is listed below.

 

The stakes are too high for us to do nothing. Hopefully, Abbott and Patrick will reconsider their positions on these important issues.

 

The list above details some of the gun violence prevention proposals members of the Texas House Democratic Caucus have laid out in recent sessions.

 

 

The Family Separation Crisis — How to Help

The family separation crisis at our border continues. In the last two months, nearly  2,342 children have been separated from their families. A federal judge gave the Trump administration until Tuesday to reunite all children under age 5 with their parents, a deadline they are sure to miss.

 

None of this should have happened. President Trump’s zero tolerance policy, which Greg Abbott defended, created this crisis – and House Democrats are taking it head-on. HDC members marched for justice, worked with state agencies to get answers, and shared resources — any and all actions available to help separated families.

 

There are more ways we can all continue to help. Click here to view and download a list of resources to help children and families who are separated. 

 

If you know of organizations we should add to this list, let please let us know. Additionally, be sure to check with Chairman Rafael Anchia and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, who are coordinating member visits and organizing additional ways we can all help.

 

We encourage you to share this list with your own email lists and organizations, on your social channels, and any other way we can help spread this information.