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.

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.