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Budget Night: 2019

Yesterday the Texas House debated the budget for nearly 12 hours, eventually approving the $251 billion that will fund numerous programs and agencies. This budget came to the floor with many key Democratic priorities. We owe a big ‘thank you’ to the Democrats on the Appropriations Committee who helped shape this bill. In several ways, the budget became better during yesterday’s debate.

What we fought for

Below are just some of the amendments House Democrats passed directly onto the budget:

  • Rep. Julie Johnson amended the budget to protect Medicaid recipients from having their services cut as the result of cost-saving efforts.
  • Rep. Rafael Anchia amended the budget to measure the success of border security outcomes and provide accountability to how we spend those dollars.
  • Rep. Shawn Thierry amended the budget to put more money into community mental health support.
  • Rep. Michelle Beckley amended the budget to study immunization coverage rates at Texas child care centers.

Of course, there were many issues we fought for that did not prevail, such as Rep. John Bucy’s Medicaid expansion amendment. That amendment would have brought a million more Texans affordable health care, provided thousands of jobs, and put billions into the state’s economy. While we are disappointed in the party-line vote, we are proud knowing that yesterday’s vote was the closest Texas has ever come to joining the majority of other states in the U.S. that have expanded Medicaid.

There’s still a long way to go.  HDC members and allies will continue advocating for the issues we all care about until the budget is officially adopted by both chambers at the end of session.

We want to commend all the work done yesterday, the days prior, and throughout the weekend. Texas Democrats have a lot to be proud of, and we couldn’t have done it without everyone working together and fighting for real solutions for all Texans.

The Halfway Point

Today is the 70th day of the 86th Legislature, the halfway point in our 140-day regular session. Of course, in many ways, the session is just beginning – but will ramp up very quickly in the days and weeks ahead.

Tomorrow, the House will consider legislation on the floor for the first time this session.  Today, the House Appropriations Committee voted out HB 1, the 2020-21 state budget bill, along with a supplemental appropriations bill, HB 4. The full House is expected to debate those measures next week.

As these important debates approach, we are thrilled that there will soon be 67 Democrats – the most since 2009 – on the floor of the House.  This afternoon, Rep.-Elect Christina Morales of Houston was sworn-in on the House floor.  It is expected that Rep.-Elect Ray Lopez of San Antonio will be sworn-in in the next few days as well.  We welcome these newest members of the House Democratic Caucus and look forward to working alongside them to provide opportunity to all Texans.

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.

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.