Category: Government

Texas HDC Virtual Retreat Left Dems Organized, Prepared for 87th Session

This week, the Texas House Democratic Caucus hosted a three-day virtual retreat to brainstorm policy, organize priorities and fundraise in preparation for the upcoming 87th Legislative Session.

The retreat kicked off Tuesday morning with the Caucus’ Special Committees (which cover tax loopholes and the environment) and COVID-19 Work Groups (which cover criminal justice, the economy, education, elections, governance and health care) sharing updates on progress made.

On Wednesday, the Caucus met in the morning for a discussion on the redistricting and Census processes. In the afternoon, the HDC collaborated with the House Democratic Campaign Committee to go over the latest political polling.

Thursday, the final day, the Caucus gathered to brainstorm legislative priorities for next session.

The day wrapped up with a virtual fundraiser that brought in over a quarter of a million dollars for the Caucus. At the fundraiser, the Texas HDC premiered its brand-new promotional video highlighting Caucus Members’ accomplishments to sponsors.

After a successful retreat, Texas House Democrats are ready to continue fighting for all Texans in 2021.

Texas Legislative Black Caucus Introduces the George Floyd Act

Today, the Texas Legislative Black Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives held a virtual press conference to announce their plans to file the George Floyd Act during the upcoming 87th Legislative Session.

The act is a comprehensive piece of criminal justice legislation named in honor of George Floyd, a native of Houston who died by a police officer’s use of unnecessary force this past May. The George Floyd Act is the product of a series of town halls the TLBC held following Floyd’s tragic death to discuss dismantling the systemic racism written into our state laws and policies. The legislation is authored by Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) and will be sponsored in the Texas Senate by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas).

During the press conference, members of the TLBC discussed the specifics of the legislation (which can be read in more detail here). In brief, the act would eliminate qualified immunity for police officers, limit the use of force and require bystander intervention by other officers in cases of excessive force.

“Today, we are here to open up that road to equal justice for all Texans, including black Texans and brown Texans,” said Rep. Harold Dutton (Houston), chair of the TLBC. “These dead ends have got to go.”

The George Floyd Act would also pick up where previous criminal justice reform legislation left off last Session. For example, this bill will limit arrest and jail for fine-only violations, a key item for reform from Rep. Garnet Coleman’s 2017 Sandra Bland Act.

“The fury we all feel over this is, in part, because of the crime for which George Floyd died,” said Coleman (D-Houston), a long-time Democratic representative from Harris County. “This bill will finally limit an officer’s ability to arrest (for something so minor).”

Several individuals outside of the Caucus were present at the conference to show their support for the bill. Tezlyn Figaro joined as a representative of the George Floyd Foundation. Attorney Benjamin Crump, who has represented the families of many killed by police brutality, was there. Members of Floyd’s family also attended to honor George’s memory, and speak to the need for legislation like this.

“I wish you guys could have met (George). … He was a great man,” said Rodney Floyd, George Floyd’s youngest brother. “I know he’s going to see this and be cheering us on.”

Bill author, Rep. Thompson, noted the Caucus plans to collaborate with other organizations, coalitions and state leaders to ensure the bill gets passed.

“I have not had the privilege yet (to speak with Gov. Abbott about the legislation),” she said. “I hope I have the opportunity, and I look forward to the opportunity.”

The event closed out with final remarks from Chair Dutton.

“We recognize there’s opposition,” said Dutton. “Some of the opposition is simply because this is the Black Caucus. But that’s never stopped any one of us from doing what we think is right.”

 

The Texas HDC live-tweeted the press conference. Catch up on what you may have missed by checking out our Twitter thread.

Ken Paxton must protect Texas from Trump Administration in face of new Census reapportionment plan

Last week, the Trump Administration announced its intention to exclude undocumented immigrants from the population counts used to reapportion and create Congressional districts. It is the latest unconstitutional effort from a president who has made it his mission to prioritize party over people, politics over government and autocracy over the republic.

Texas House Democratic Caucus Chair Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie) released a letter sent to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton comprehensively breaking down why this policy is amoral, illegal and particularly damaging to Texas’ already tenuous financial situation.

This move has already been decried by the American Civil Liberties Union, and is likely to end tied up in the court system, much like his previous attempts to stifle undocumented immigrants from participating in the Census with a citizenship question.

This new memorandum from the president was almost certainly designed to create more GOP-friendly districts, with the secondary advantage of furthering his immigrant-attacking agenda. It willfully ignores the original text of the Constitution, which only referred to counting “numbers” in states, not citizens or legal residents.

Beyond the partisan impact, if Trump’s plan goes into effect, our state stands to lose out on new Congressional seats that we should be gaining due to our population growth. In turn, we lose influence both in Congress and in electing future presidents.

It is our state attorney general’s responsibility to fight the federal government on our behalf, even when doing so means choosing justice over party loyalty. Given his anti-immigrant history and his loyalty to Trump, we can’t expect current Attorney General Ken Paxton to protect the rights of all Texans to be counted in the Census, regardless of citizenship status.

But there are arguments out there for fighting this bigoted policy that should resonate with Paxton. There is nothing Texas’ Attorney General loves more than to sue the federal government. Organizing another lawsuit against the Trump Administration over this Census policy would be right up his alley, although in this case, the suit would not be frivolous.

Should this policy be implemented, Texas would stand to lose millions of dollars in federal funding that provides necessary services. Especially given the uncertainty of the state’s economy, this loss would be devastating to our health care system, our foster care programs and our infrastructure — just to name a few.

Ken Paxton, who has already proved to be more loyal to money than to the state, should be motivated to ensure Texas gets what it’s owed.

Attorney General Paxton works for Texas and for all Texans, not for the Trump Administration. He must take immediate action to protect our state, and prioritize people over senseless, political action.

Image courtesy of 2020census.com.

Texans face choice between health, right to vote this election season

This week marks the beginning of early voting for the 2020 primary runoff elections in Texas.

 

Unfortunately, as cases spike across the state and the COVID-19 metrics skyrocket into dangerous territory, Texans will not have the opportunity to vote by mail-in ballot. Instead, voters will have to choose to put themselves at risk in order to have their voices heard. Stonewalling the expansion of voting by mail is nothing short of another Republican attempt at voter suppression.

 

This is simply the latest example of Gov. Abbott’s pattern of sacrificing public safety for empty, political gains. It is also another example of Republican leaders encouraging Texas to fall behind. Other states with strict voting regulations similar to Texas’ recently loosened restrictions around who is allowed to vote by mail.

 

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson was quoted as saying: “No Michigander has to choose between their health and their right to vote.”

 

So why is Gov. Abbott forcing Texans to make that choice? Especially when we know that voting by mail is secure, easy and convenient?

 

Next Session, Texas House Democrats will fight to make voting more accessible, because we know nothing is as sacred in politics as the right to have your voice heard. We will continue to fight discriminatory policies that wear the disguise of security, but in reality suppress the voices of the communities we represent.

 

But for this election, please wear your mask, practice social distancing, and go make your voice heard at the ballot box. 

 

Photo courtesy of unsplash.com.

ExxonMobil Lawsuit Battle: The State vs. Harris County

Over the last decade, Texas Republicans have shown a pattern of disregard for public safety and the rights of local governments, notably in terms of environmental protections. We now face contaminated water and air, incalculable injuries, and even fatalities due to the GOP’s indifference.The State repeatedly chips away at local governments’ ability to hold polluters accountable for negligent behavior. This has become increasingly evident in recent State-filed lawsuits against polluters in the Harris County area, specifically in county and State-filed lawsuits against ExxonMobil.

Within a span of five months, the Baytown ExxonMobil power plant had two severe, life-threatening explosions. The first released contaminants into the surrounding area for nearly 8 days following the explosion. The second left 37 people injured. The power plant has also been violating pollution laws since 2013. Harris County immediately took action and filed a lawsuit against ExxonMobil, stating the company violated the Texas Clean Air Act. Days later, the State filed the same lawsuit. 

In a hearing this Friday (1/17), the State will present the case that Harris County’s lawsuit is in violation of the Texas Water Code.

Beyond taking away local governments’ right to file environmental lawsuits that affect their communities, a State-filed lawsuit against ExxonMobil has two very large implications. First, the case will be heard in Austin rather than Harris County. Second, any money from civil penalties will go directly into the State’s general revenue rather than being split between the State and Harris County. 

The fight over the ExxonMobil case is one of many attempts by Attorney General Paxton to stomp out local control. Over the past few sessions, the State voted to limit the amount of civil penalties a county may collect from a lawsuit, forced local governments to notify the State when a lawsuit is filed and allow the State to take over the lawsuit, and barred counties from hiring outside parties. These actions have all been taken under the guise of ‘unity’ and ‘uniformity.’ However, these policies enable the State, and Attorney General Paxton, to control the lawsuits and ultimately let polluters off easy. 

Bill Filing Deadline

Friday marked the last day for members to file non-local bills this legislative session. As of the close of business Friday, more than 4,600 bills were filed, with House Democrats filing nearly half of all bills. Now, the real challenge begins — getting those bills a committee hearing and onto the House floor for a vote.

Legislation filed by HDC members addresses a wide array of issues, from expanding health care access for uninsured Texans, supporting our public schools, protecting voting rights and promoting clean air and water to give just a few examples. These issues reflect our core values as Democrats. They’re also the issues Texans expect state government to address. House Democrats will be working every day to deliver real solutions for all Texans.

 

Check out some HDC members’ bills below:

  • HB 565 by Rep. Coleman would expand Medicaid coverage in Texas and put the Affordable Care Act protections into law.
  • HB 10 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson would create the Texas Mental & Behavioral Health Research Institute to study the causes of mental illnesses in Texas children.
  • HB 100 by Rep. Eric Johnson would require an analysis of expected effects of climate change on Texas agencies’ services.
  • HB 204 by Rep. Thierry would mandate the inclusion of mental health in the current health enrichment curriculum.
  • HB 22 by Rep. Romero would require voting machines to print paper receipts to help address glitches at the ballot box.
  • HB 241 by Rep. Farrar would extend postpartum Medicaid coverage to one year after a woman gives birth or miscarries.
  • HB 328 by Rep. Ortega would allow a county or municipality to establish a local minimum wage.
  • HB 1950 by Rep. Zwiener would allow students at a Texas college campus to use their student IDs to vote.
  • HB 935 by Rep. Bucy would make elections on even years a holiday for state employees

Big Issues Last Week

As the session heats up and bills are being heard in committees, this is a great time to check in on where things stand on several issues Texans greatly care about, including expanding health care access to uninsured people, local control of communities, rising property taxes and long-overdue criminal justice reforms to name a few.

 

Medicaid Expansion

This morning, advocacy groups, citizens, and several HDC members gathered on the front steps of the Capitol to speak out for the need for Texas to accept the billions of federal dollars for Medicaid expansion. They braved the cold for such a great cause, and the rally came at a good time. Tomorrow, the House Committee on Insurance will hear, for the first time in 6 years, a bill regarding the expansion of Medicaid.

Chairman Coleman, the bill’s author, joins several other Democrats leading the effort to expand coverage in the state, including Reps. Beckley, Bucy, Israel, Rosenthal, Bernal, and Reynolds to name a few.

 

The ‘Lavinia Masters Act’

Rep. Victoria Neave should be commended for her tremendous, bipartisan leadership on an issue that deserves our full attention: justice for rape survivors. Her bill, named after Lavinia Masters, a survivor in Dallas, would require an audit to determine the number, status and location of all rape kits in Texas. It is a serious step towards bringing true justice to Texans who need help the most.

As Rep. Neave said:

“Every rape kit sitting on a shelf represents a survivor waiting for justice. House Bill 8 seeks to address the circumstances in Lavinia’s case that led to the delay in the testing of her rape kit so that, in future cases, victims are not denied justice.”

 

Raising the Minimum Wage

This year, we have seen several representatives file bills to raise the state’s minimum wage. These bills would put needed money into the pockets of those who work hard to earn a livable income for themselves and their families. The minimum wage hasn’t been increased since 2009, and it’s about time we get to work fixing that.

 

Property Taxes

On Wednesday, the House Committee on Ways and Means heard testimony on HB 2. While we are glad that the process set by Chairman Burrows is transparent and is not being rushed like its Senate companion was, localities in Texas have serious concerns about the bill. We share some of those same concerns. HB 2 does not lower property taxpayers’ bills, while ultimately tying the hands of our cities and counties.

 

As the Legislature considers even more bills in the coming days, House Democrats will keep in mind what Texans truly want the Legislature to address, and stay focused on providing real solutions for all Texans.

The ‘Texas Kids First Plan’

Last week on Thursday, Texas House Democrats rolled out their ‘Texas Kids First Plan,” an ambitious agenda that tackles several key public education issues. The agenda has gained attention these last few days with several media outlets picking up the plan. Below are just a couple of the notable quotes:

 

The Democrats’ plan is composed of dozens of bills members have filed — or will file — to increase teacher pay and benefits, pay schools more for educating low-income students, and provide more counselors for school districts. It does not include two policy items that may be included in Republican-filed legislation: merit pay for teachers or paying schools more for higher student test scores. 

— Aliyya Swaby, Texas Tribune, Feb. 21, 2019

 

Several bills — some filed and others still being drafted — will comprise the so-called Texas Kids First Plan, which also would increase per-student funding and lower the amount property-wealthy districts, such as the Austin district, pay to the state to support property-poor districts.

Republican leaders are expected to offer their own omnibus public education bill, which is expected to spend far less than the Democratic plan.

— Julie Chang, Austin American-Statesman, Feb. 21, 2019

 

Rep. Mary González, D-San Elizario, sits on the House Public Education committee with Huberty. She said the Democrats’ plan wasn’t meant to compete with Huberty’s bill but is just intended to broaden the conversation.  

“There’s a lot of overlap in what we’re saying here,” she said. “We want to put more money into public education. We want to help people with property taxes. We may have different ideas of how to get there, but we’re all basically saying the same things.” 

— Rebekah Allen, Dallas Morning News, Feb. 21, 2019

 

The proposal lays out some core principles that Texas House Democrats are advocating for this legislative session, including funding full-day pre-k, increasing the basic allotment, giving a meaningful pay raise to teachers and support staff, providing more mental health care access to children, and lowering property taxes for homeowners.

 

Going forward these next several weeks, House Democrats will continue working to see these policy ideas through to the finish.

Trump’s National Emergency Announcement

On Friday, President Trump declared a “national emergency” to build a wall on the US – Mexico border. This lawless act undermines the will of the people and their elected representatives in Congress.  For those of us in Texas, Trump’s rhetoric and actions are an insult – whether he is denigrating Texas’ border communities with false immigration and crime statistics or moving to seize private property owners’ land for his medieval barrier, every Texan should be outraged.

 

The research and evidence is clear: building a wall provides no real solution to stopping drug smuggling and human trafficking. Just because the President made an absurd campaign promise doesn’t mean American taxpayers and Texas landowners should have to pay for it.

 

Rep. Cesar Blanco put it well — “Trump’s national emergency declaration for his border wall is dangerous and radical. There is no national security crisis on the border. The only crisis we have is a humanitarian crisis.”

Update on Sec. of State Nomination Process

Last week, the Texas Senate Committee on Nominations heard testimony from David Whitley, Governor Abbott’s nominee for Secretary of State. During the hearing, Whitely claimed that the definition of voter suppression was “irrelevant” and admitted that the voter list his office released may in fact have contained flawed data.

 

Democrats want to protect the integrity of our election system — and that means we call out voter intimidation and voter suppression. It’s not too much to ask for our state’s chief election officer to get his facts straight and refrain from fear-mongering.

 

Speaking of people who can’t get their facts straight, President Trump will be making a campaign stop in El Paso tonight. El Paso is one of the safest cities in America, and it has been for decades.  No matter how many false statements the President makes, that fact will not change. The House Democratic Caucus stands with El Paso and all of our border communities, and we will continue to send the message that Trump’s demagoguery has no place in our great state. We hope all Texans will do the same.