Category: Monday Memo

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Today we celebrate and remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose remarkable life changed the trajectory of America for the better. Dr. King devoted his life’s work to taking on the evils of racism and poverty, challenging us to build a better country in which every American has an equal opportunity.  Today is a day to reflect on how far we have come – but also to remind ourselves how far we still have to go if we are to truly realize Dr. King’s dream.

 

Chairman Harold Dutton of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus shares this statement on the occasion of this national holiday:

 

“There is no question that our democracy is full of darkness and hate, but as we celebrate the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., let’s remember his words –“darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

 

To all who have participated in parades, community events or a day of service today to honor Dr. King, thank you.  Let’s honor Dr. King not just today, but every day, through our work to build a more perfect union.

Texas House Democrats are already making their presence known

With the start of the 86th Legislative Session last Tuesday, House Democrats have already begun to make their presence known at the Capitol:

 

Wednesday, the Texas House voted for a bipartisan effort to strengthen sexual harassment policies. Reps. Donna Howard and Nicole Collier played a major role in crafting the policy, along with other Democratic members of former Speaker Straus’ working group on the issue: Reps. Lina Ortega, Abel Herrero, and Gene Wu. These reforms were overdue and we are appreciative of the efforts of all the House members who made the new policy a reality.

 

On Thursday, Representatives Jessica González, Mary González, Celia Israel, Julie Johnson, and Erin Zwiener announced the formation of the Texas Legislature’s first ever LGBTQ Caucus. The formation “marks a turning point in the fight for equal representation. Nearly one million Texans identify as part of the LGBTQ spectrum, signaling a drastic need for representation at all levels of elected office,” Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Mary Gonzalez said.

 

On Friday, the State Preservation Board voted to remove an historically inaccurate and racist plaque from the Texas Capitol. Rep. Eric Johnson led the effort to remove the plaque, and I would like to thank him for his unwavering leadership on this issue. Thanks also to Rep. Joe Moody, who requested the AG opinion that ultimately led to the Preservation Board taking action.

 

The Texas House Democratic Caucus is helping diversify the Texas Legislature. For example, our Caucus now has 27 women in it, comprising nearly half of our Caucus and more than 80 percent of all the women in the House. Last Thursday, Democratic women held a press conference outlining legislative priorities and goals on key issues, including education funding, foster care, violence against women, the minimum wage and gun safety.

Re: Texas Comptroller’s 2020-2021 BRE

Earlier today, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar released the state’s biennial revenue estimate. Based on projections for the state’s economy, Comptroller Hegar certified $119 billion in state funds available for the coming biennium and budget cycle. He noted that the number could shift some before the end of session.

 

Today’s revenue estimate shows that the Legislature should fund a significant, added investment in public education, which in turn would reduce pressure on property taxpayers.

 

While the Legislature must first deal with unpaid bills stemming from the current budget, today’s estimate, combined with the $15.4 billion projected balance in the Economic Stabilization Fund, demonstrates there are resources available to craft real solutions for Texans on a number of major issues.

 

Texas teachers deserve better pay and we need to address health care costs for current and retired educators. We need to make college more affordable and accessible if we are to have the skilled workforce our state’s economy demands. Our state’s Medicaid managed care system must be improved to better serve medically fragile Texans. The recovery from Hurricane Harvey requires our attention, as well. These are just a few examples of important issues that must be addressed this session.

 

The revenue estimate provides a blueprint of what is possible. It’s up to the Legislature to build a budget that reflects our values and commits the resources and ingenuity of our great state to achieving real solutions for each and every Texan. That’s what Texas House Democrats will be fighting for.

With 5 weeks until session, Texas House Democrats continue to file substantial bills

With only five weeks until session, the HDC wants to continue highlighting some of the important bills that Caucus members have filed:

 

HB 56 by Rep. Armando Martinez – Cost-of-Living Increases for Retired Teachers
Rep. Martinez’s legislation would require the Teacher Retirement System to meet the last week of October and increase benefit rates at a rate equal to the increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI), provided the fund is deemed actuarially sound.

 

HB 60 by Rep. Lina Ortega – Educate College Students on Women’s Health Programs
The bill would require universities to email all students, at the start of each academic year, information regarding eligibility for and services provided by the Women’s Health Program, to better educate college students about what is available to them.

 

HB 100 by Rep. Eric Johnson – Make Texas Ready for Climate Change
Rep. Johnson’s legislation would require that a number of state agencies — TCEQ, the PUC, DPS, the GLO, etc. — include in their strategic plan an analysis of expected changes, including adverse impacts, in the services provided by the agency because of projected changes in weather, water availability, and climate variability, as determined by the Texas state climatologist ’s report.

 

HB 198 by Rep. Shawn Thierry – Improved Mental Health Services for Students
Rep. Thierry’s bill would ensure that school health centers are also permitted and encouraged to provide mental health services and education, as part of their regular work with students and the school community.

 

On education, the environment, and improved health care, Texas House Democrats are taking the lead in putting forward real solutions for all Texans.

Texas House Democrats filed 2/3 of all bills as of Nov. 26th

Bill filing is well underway, and House Democrats are actively preparing legislation that will provide real solutions for Texas families. The HDC  ran the numbers, and of the 436 House Bills and House Joint Resolutions filed as of today, 287 of them — nearly two-thirds — have been filed by House Democrats. We’re off and running for the 86th Regular Session!

 

In the coming weeks, we’ll be highlighting a number of those bills — starting today with some legislation Members have already asked us to showcase:

 

  • HB 52 by Rep. Gina Hinojosa – Leveling the Playing Field for Texas Families
    Rep. Hinojosa’s legislation will create a pilot program allowing employers to contribute to an employee dependent care flexible spending account — one that will help Texas workers earning less than $65,000 a year.

 

  • HB 131 by Rep. Joe Moody – Extreme Risk Protective Orders to Keep Texans SafeRep. Moody’s legislation would allow an individual that feels their life or the life of another could be in danger due to violent behavior of an individual with serious mental illness can request that a “risk protective order” be issued by a court.

 

  • HB 255 by Rep. César Blanco – The Every Texan Counts Act
    From Rep. Blanco: “The Every Texan Counts Act will form Texas’ state-wide complete count commission to promote a complete and accurate counting of all Texans in the upcoming 2020 census…With our rapidly growing population and historically hard-to-count populations and areas along the border, we need a statewide effort that maximizes our statewide count so that our communities and state get their fair share of federal resources and political representation.”

 

  • HB 266 by Rep. Diego Bernal – Ensure Access to Safe, Decent Housing for All Texans
    Rep. Bernal’s legislation would clearly define what is meant by safe, decent housing as it relates to affordable housing and ensuring families with moderate income can compete in the private market for a good place to live.

 

  • HJR 11 by Rep. Mary González – Funding for Economically Distressed Communities
    From Rep. González: “Texans across the state, including residents of my district, have long endured a lack of access to potable water and adequate wastewater infrastructure. In the year 2018, there are people in Texas who cannot flush their toilets, or get clean water from their taps; that is an unacceptable reality that must be changed.”

 

The HDC looks forward to working with our Members to support these and hundreds more pieces of legislation in the coming weeks and months as we advance our agenda throughout the coming session.

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.

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.

 

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.