Author: Staff

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.

Abbott Endorses Trump’s Position on Family Separations

On Sunday’s Lone Star Politics, Governor Greg Abbott endorsed President Trump’s position on family separations, repeating the lies that the immoral and despicable Administration practice of separating children from their families requires a legislative solution.

Here’s exactly what Abbott said:

“And [Trump] was adamant. He said, Listen, if the Democrats would agree with him right now they could pass a law today that would end the ripping apart of these families and make the border secure, and so the President and Republicans have an offer on the table. All the Democrats have to do is to take it, and this could end today.”

Gov. Abbott has a long history of repeating the falsehoods of the extreme right, and his silence about any number of harmful Trump policies has been disappointing. But this is something else.

The Trump administration created this policy. The administration can end this policy. For the Trump Administration to take these children hostage as leverage for policy negotiations is absolutely, unquestionably wrong – and those who defend or endorse this policy are equally wrong.

I’m proud of the efforts of many House Democrats to speak up, loudly and forcefully, for the end of this policy. This dark chapter in our nation’s history needs to end immediately.

On Gov. Abbott’s support for family separations

On Sunday’s Lone Star Politics, Governor Greg Abbott endorsed President Trump’s position on family separations, repeating the lies that the immoral and despicable Administration practice of separating children from their families requires a legislative solution.

 

Here’s exactly what Abbott said:

 

“And [Trump] was adamant. He said, Listen, if the Democrats would agree with him right now they could pass a law today that would end the ripping apart of these families and make the border secure, and so the President and Republicans have an offer on the table. All the Democrats have to do is to take it, and this could end today.”

 

Gov. Abbott has a long history of repeating the falsehoods of the extreme right, and his silence about any number of harmful Trump policies has been disappointing. But this is something else.

 

The Trump administration created this policy. The administration can end this policy. For the Trump Administration to take these children hostage as leverage for policy negotiations is absolutely, unquestionably wrong – and those who defend or endorse this policy are equally wrong.

 

The Caucus is proud of many House Democrats for speaking up, loudly and forcefully, for the end of this policy. This dark chapter in our nation’s history needs to end immediately.

The leadership vacuum in Texas has never been so apparent

The leadership vacuum in the state of Texas has never been so apparent as it was last week. At a time when the people of Texas need their elected officials speaking up for them, Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick have remained silent:

 

 

  • Silent on the removal of false, confederacy-glorifying plaques in the Capitol
    Neither Abbott nor Patrick replied to a direct request from Attorney General Ken Paxton to weigh in on who has the legal authority to remove the insulting plaques in the Capitol that falsely state that the Civil War was not fought for slavery. Chairman Joe Moody requested the Attorney General opinion from Paxton.Meanwhile, Rep. Eric Johnson continues to lead on the removal of this plaque, an unnecessarily difficult task he has worked on since August 2017.

 

  • Silent on Trump’s insulting remarks about the heroes of Hurricane Harvey
    In yet another bizarre and pants-on-fire statement, President Trump said last week that the Coast Guard had to rescue Texans during Hurricane Harvey who were just watching from their boats. As anyone – literally, anyone – who paid attention to the storm can attest, the people of Houston went out in boats to rescue their neighbors, and their courage was a true display of the Texas spirit.

 

 

Abbott and Patrick, of course, said nothing to correct Trump or speak up for the hundreds of people who risked their lives for their fellow Texans.

The leadership vacuum in this state is deeply worrisome. The people of Texas deserve elected officials who are unafraid to speak up and fight for real solutions to the challenges facing our state. The HDC is proud of the work that members of our caucus do, every day, to fulfill the promise to serve.

Update: health care and family separations at the border

The Dallas Morning News has published an incredible, heart-breaking series titled “Pain & Profit” that details how the state’s managed care system is failing Texas’ most fragile citizens. The key summary, from their report:

 

We reviewed more than 70,000 pages of documents, including patient medical records and material that state officials and the companies tried to keep secret. We crunched financial and insurance-industry data and talked to hundreds of families, doctors and policy experts.

 

We found that state officials are protecting a booming multibillion-dollar industry while the most vulnerable Texans wait in vain for wheelchairs, psychiatric drugs and doctors’ appointments. That system has failed countless disabled adults and sick children who can’t advocate for themselves.

 

To date, they have released three parts of their series:

 

Part 1: The preventable tragedy of D’ashon Morris

Part 2: As patients suffer, companies profit

Part 3: Texas pays companies billions for ‘sham networks’ of doctors

 

The HDC will continue tracking these articles and will provide additional information that comes to light about what’s gone so wrong with so many aspects of managed care for fragile Texans.

 

Update: HDC Responds to Gov. Abbott’s School Safety Report

 

Last week, Gov. Abbott revealed his policy response to the tragic Santa Fe High School shootings. Though some of his proposals will gain bipartisan support, others – including the expansion of the school marshal program while simultaneously reducing the training requirements to become a marshal – are highly troublesome.

 

The most substantial fixes we need — more counselors, school facility upgrades, and additional support for our students — require funding, something Gov. Abbott largely glossed over in his proposal. Look for a more detailed analysis of his proposal from the HDC later this week, as we continue the discussion on how best to increase the investment in our local schools in order to keep our kids safe.

 

Quotes from the Ending the Separation of Families Events Last Week:

 

San Antonio rally: 

Rep. Bernal: “There is no strand of faith that makes what’s going on OK.”

Houston rally:

Rep. Wu: “This our civil rights moment. We are going to be on the right side of history. We will not let families be separated and treated like cattle.”

Houston rally:

Rep. Alvarado: “People proclaim to be pro-family when it comes to certain issues. Si estas con nuestras familias, you will end this ridiculous family separation policy that is inhumane.”

Austin rally:

Rep. Rodriguez: “It is bigotry and it is wrong. How we treat these children is not an immigration issue. It is a moral issue, and separating families is wrong.”

Statement regarding the Santa Fe school shooting tragedy

The Texas House Democratic Caucus is heartbroken about the senseless tragedy in Santa Fe Friday, a mass shooting that left ten people dead and several others injured. We stand together in offering our sincere condolences to the students, parents, educators, administrators and first responders who were affected by this mindless act of gun violence.

And while it is right to send our condolences, our thoughts and our prayers, we also know that is not enough. As Chairman Rafael Anchia said Friday:

 

 

The roundtables Gov. Abbott has called for are fine – we welcome that discussion. We’ve been ready to have that discussion for a long time, and we welcome our seat at the table to have serious conversations about solutions to the gun violence epidemic in Texas and across this country. However, we have a responsibility also to act and to act immediately to prevent an increase of gun deaths to prevent the loss of more life in Texas and across the country and protect the children of our state.

 

Many members of our caucus have already proposed real solutions. Last session, over eighteen pieces of legislation were filed by Members of our caucus to promote gun safety and prevent gun violence in our communities. Chairman Chris Turner sent a letter to Gov. Abbott and encouraged him to include the Democratic authors of these bills in his roundtable discussions.  The Democratic Caucus is ready to act swiftly to better protect all Texans, especially our children.

 

HDC Statement on Santa Fe School Shooting 

During our caucus retreat last week in Houston, we issued a statement via Facebook Live regarding the Santa Fe school shooting. We appreciate all members who have already shared this video on their social pages.You can watch and share our full statement here.

 

HDC Legislation to End Gun Violence

Below is an overview of legislation filed by Democratic members to help address gun violence and promote gun safety. If there is legislation your office filed that you would like to see here, please let us know and we will be happy to list it as we continue to promote and support the efforts of our caucus.
  1. HB 111 by Rep. Joe Moody
    Creating an educational program to improve firearm safety
  2. HB 259 by Rep. Rafael Anchia
    Creating offenses concerning firearm sales at gun shows & charging a fee
  3. HB 291 by Rep. Eric Johnson
    Allows Dallas to opt out of open carry laws
  4. HB 465 by Rep. Rafael Anchia
    Prosecuting offenses involving carrying guns at amusement parks or places associated w/ schools
  5. HB 631 by Rep. Donna Howard
    Creation of a public awareness firearm safety campaign
  6. HB 866 by Rep. Joe Moody
    Creates a lethal violence protective order a court may issue to stop an individual from possessing or purchasing a firearm
  7. HB 1929 by Rep. César Blanco
    Prohibiting the transfer of a firearm to someone included in the FBI terrorist screening database
  8. HB 2034 by Rep. César Blanco
    Requiring a national instant criminal background check in connection with internet firearm sales
  9. HB 2543 by Rep. Poncho Nevárez 
    Relating to the unlawful possession of a firearm by persons who are subject to certain judicial determinations
  10. HB 2583 by Rep. Armando Martinez
    Creating a class A misdemeanor for the reckless discharge of a firearm
  11. HB 2655 by Rep. Poncho Nevárez
    Limit transfer of firearms to individuals with certain adjudicated mental health conditions
  12. HB 2712 by Rep. Tomas Uresti
    $100 buyback program for guns, paid by state
  13. HB 2880 by Rep. Harold Dutton (Effective 9/1/17)
    Penalty if someone threatens to use or exhibit a gun at school or on a school bus
  14. HB 3057 by Rep. Rafael Anchia
    Possessing a gun in a secured area of an airport
  15. HB 3340 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson
    On providing info about gun safety & suicide prevention
  16. HB 3989 by Rep. Eric Johnson
    Prohibiting carrying of handguns at Texas State Fair and other places where amusement rides are available
  17. HB 4037 by Rep. Rafael Anchia
    Stop purchase-and-transfer of firearms from one who can buy legally to one who may use them illegally
  18. HB 4200 by Rep. Gina Hinojosa
    Report those banned from buying firearms who try to purchase them; add additional penalty for individuals who are banned from purchasing firearms who try to buy them

Supreme Court to hear Texas redistricting case

Friends,

The Texas redistricting case is before the Supreme Court on Tuesday, as the nine justices hear arguments about whether or not the state of Texas intentionally discriminated against Hispanic and black voters when drawing Texas’ congressional and state house maps.

Here is some key information and resources in advance of the trial:

  • Two Congressional, Nine State House Districts Under Review
    To learn more about the seats in question, read this Texas Tribune article that includes maps and a primer about each of the districts.
  • Ten Rulings of Intentional Discrimination in redistricting and voting rights cases, there have been ten findings of intentional discrimination by the Republican-controlled Legislature since 2011. Rep. Rafael Anchia and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus had an excellent briefing last week that discussed these rulings and other critical questions the court will consider. If you missed the briefing, you can watch their briefing here.
  • Will Texas Be Put Back Into Pre-Clearance? A major issue yet to be resolved is whether or not the state of Texas – because of its consistent pattern of discrimination – will once again be required to get pre-clearance by the U.S. Department of Justice before implementing any election, voting, or redistricting laws in the future. Rep. Garnet Coleman and the Texas Legislative Study Group have put out an excellent policy paper on this and other matters related to redistricting.

The right to vote is sacred. Texas Republicans have repeatedly and purposefully disenfranchised voters across the state with discriminatory redistricting maps. We will be closely following Tuesday’s oral arguments, and we will continue to provide updates on this important issue.

Sincerely,

Chris Turner
Chair, Texas House Democratic Caucus

 

House Democrats Proposing Real Solutions…

Rep. Helen Giddings Launches Women’s Leadership Summit
“I am so inspired, motivated and exhilarated,” [Rep. Giddings] gushed. “It was, by all accounts, extremely successful and extremely well received.”

The UTD Foundation co-sponsored the summit, called “Making a Difference — While Rising to the Top,” at which 106 women — half established, half aspiring — gathered April 13-14 at Dallas’ Renaissance Dallas Hotel. Events included top-level, black women telling personal stories of how they overcame obstacles to reach their lofty positions.

 

Rep. Eddie Rodriguez on Gun Violence in Texas Schools
State Representative Eddie Rodriguez and Congressman Lloyd Doggett, both Austin Democrats, spoke alongside a handful of students, teachers and other activists on the South Steps of the Capitol after the march.

“Children shouldn’t have to overcome the fear of being shot at school when they get on the bus in the morning,” Rodriguez said.

Next Texas House speaker will be elected with bipartisan support

The editorial below by Chairman Chris Turner originally appeared in the Texas Tribune:

On January 8, 2019, the 86th Legislature will convene and the 150 members of the House of Representatives will cast what may be their most important vote of the entire session, a vote prescribed by the Texas Constitution: “The House of Representatives shall, when it first assembles, organize temporarily, and thereupon proceed to the election of a Speaker from its own members.”

The election of a speaker necessitates that members of the House give up some of their power in order to empower a speaker. The speaker is then entrusted to organize and lead the House. It’s a significant decision for every member.

Running for speaker is a test of a member’s ability to build a broad coalition and convince colleagues he or she has the leadership qualities to preside over a House whose members have varied and competing interests. Every speaker in modern times, in building a winning coalition, has done so by first building a bipartisan coalition. Next year, the new speaker, whoever he or she is, will be elected only after earning bipartisan support.

With three announced candidates and likely several more waiting to jump in, the Democratic Caucus is taking the opportunity to look at what the next leadership should look like.

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston has agreed to chair our caucus’ Committee on Governance and Practices of the Texas House. She and other members are identifying the key attributes of a new speakership that our caucus can unify behind and advocate for. Additionally, the committee is evaluating the overall governance of the House and will make recommendations on possible improvements.

Our proactive focus is to find consensus on the type of leadership that works best for all Texans, regardless of party. It’s a conversation our caucus will further explore during a May retreat in Houston, and one I know will continue through next January.

Just as the eventual list of speaker candidates remains unknown at this point, so does the partisan makeup of the House in the next session. After first predicting Republicans would never nominate Donald Trump in 2016 and then confidently dismissing any serious chance of him actually being elected president, I am no longer in the political prediction business. Therefore, I won’t try to guess what the numbers will be in the House after the November election. However, there is good reason to believe the House Democratic Caucus will be bigger than it is today.

A marked increase in Democratic primary turnout compared to 2014 is one leading indicator. For example, in Dallas County, Democrats outnumbered Republicans by more than 50,000 votes — a huge swing from the 14,000-vote advantage Republicans had in the county in 2014. With several competitive races in Dallas County and elsewhere across the state, there are significant opportunities for Democrats to gain seats in the House.

And of course, the party of a president typically loses seats nationwide in mid-term elections. With President Trump’s historically low approval ratings, there is no reason to think Republicans can escape this reality in 2018.

With the potential for so much change in the November elections, we still have a long way to go until the speaker’s race really takes shape. That’s still eight months — and hundreds of presidential tweets — away.

When the election dust settles, we look forward to working with our Republican colleagues to make a decision about a new speaker, one who will allow members of the House to serve their districts well and address the issues important to our constituents.