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.

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.

Texas Republicans Lay Groundwork for Voter Purge w/o Evidence

Late last Friday, Sec. of State David Whitley and Attorney General Ken Paxton announced, without evidence, that tens of thousands of non-citizens in Texas — at some point after having requested a driver’s license — voted. In the statement, Whitley issued a request to county election officials to review these voters as “WEAK” matches [all-caps by the state].

 

According to the Texas Tribune, this means “counties may now choose to investigate the eligibility of the individuals who were flagged, which would require them to send a notice asking for proof of citizenship within 30 days, or take no action.”

 

Let’s be clear: these accusations do nothing to further citizens’ trust in the electoral process. 

 

Furthermore, these claims should be taken with great skepticism. State officials provided no documentation for their claims, relying on data from the Texas Department of Public Safety. As you know, DPS’ data can’t be automatically trusted. In 2012, the Houston Chronicle found that the state’s effort to purge voters was based on countless errors:

 

“State election officials repeatedly and mistakenly matched active longtime Texas voters to deceased strangers across the country – some of whom perished more than a decade ago – in an error-ridden effort to purge dead voters just weeks before the presidential election, according to a Houston Chronicle review of records. 

 

Voters in legislative districts across Texas with heavy concentrations of Hispanics or African-Americans were more often targeted in that flawed purge effort, according the Chronicle’s analysis of more than 68,000 voters identified as possibly dead.”

 

Conservatives in the Texas Republican party have a long history of discrimination and voter intimidation, as federal courts have repeatedly ruled in recent years. This weekend’s claims are just another shameful attempt at discrediting the will of Texas voters in the 2018 election.

 

These partisan efforts at voter suppression are happening across the country, too:

 

 

It’s time for Texas Republicans to end these voter suppression efforts, and stop making claims without evidence as an excuse to cancel voter registrations. For House Democrats, our focus will be to continue our fight for every Texan to enjoy their right to vote free of discrimination and intimidation.

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.