HDC’s Health Care Work Group Discusses 2021 Priorities

On September 16, Representatives from the House Democratic Caucus’ Health Care Work Group hosted a live discussion on Facebook to share Caucus priorities for next session, as well as how the COVID-19 pandemic has shaped those priorities.

HDC Chair Chris Turner was joined by Representatives Garnet Coleman (Houston), John Bucy (Austin), Lina Ortega (El Paso), Julie Johnson (Carrollton), Gina Hinojosa (Austin), Terry Meza (Irving), Jon Rosenthal (Houston), Donna Howard (Austin) and John Turner (Dallas).

Watch the video below, or visit our Facebook page.

Texas HDC in 2021: #TheWorkContinues

This fall, the Texas House Democratic Caucus is excited to launch a month-long communications campaign in anticipation of the 2021 Legislative Session.

As we look forward to next year, we are redoubling our efforts to continue fighting for real solutions for all Texans. Next year, we are excited to work together towards:

  • Increasing access to quality, affordable health care
  • Passing overdue criminal justice reforms
  • Fully investing in public education
  • Fostering an economy that works for all Texans

Over the next couple of weeks, we will be sharing our plans for 2021, all centered around one common theme: “the work continues.” 

Democratic Members of the House have always been fighting for Texas at the Capitol . As public servants, we have always been working for you. Next year, that work continues.

We are ready to hit the ground running again.

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 needs real solutions to solve major COVID problems.

Ever since COVID-19 hit Texas in March, our caucus has repeatedly called for data-driven policies informed by medical experts, and for a prioritization of the safety of all Texans over politics. By contrast, Governor Abbott and Texas Republicans have chosen an entirely different path — willfully ignoring the science, playing political games and refusing to lead.

As our state becomes the fourth in America to reach the grim milestone of 10,000 deaths, we are confronted with the consequences of six months of bad choices. Make no mistake — our COVID numbers and the related impacts were not an inevitability. States headed up by decisive, informed leaders are faring far better than we are. Unless we take action, Texans will continue to struggle. 

We are confronted with two simple questions: what are the biggest problems we are facing at this moment, and how can we solve them?

Problem #1: Vital COVID statistics that should be used to drive decision-making are inconsistent and unreliable.

From the very beginning, Texas’ reporting and analyzing of COVID data has been questionable. Whether it was the state’s conflation of viral and antibody tests, or the recent, dramatic spike in positivity rates that don’t match hospitalization numbers, it’s been difficult to trust the state’s numbers as providing an accurate picture. These discrepancies are compounded by the state’s periodic changes in how data is reported, such as the recent shift to death certificates instead of county reports for COVID fatalities, making it difficult to track changes over time.

Data issues have real-world consequences. How can we create good pandemic policy if we don’t know the current pandemic situation? How can we feel comfortable sending our kids back to school if we have no idea what the actual positivity rate is? How can we make thoughtful decisions about re-openings and closings if we can’t reliably track the key metrics the governor originally stated should determine those decisions?

The Solution

Right now, Gov. Abbott is the only person with oversight on how Texas agencies are collecting, analyzing and distributing COVID data. This is a major concern. The Texas Legislature needs to be allowed to fulfill its responsibilities by keeping the executive branch accountable as we manage this crisis.

Gov. Abbott should instruct the State Preservation Board to open the Capitol in Austin so the Legislature can begin holding safe, socially distant hearings.

Gov. Abbott should instruct the State Preservation Board to open the Capitol in Austin so the Legislature can begin holding safe, socially distant hearings. Legislators must be allowed to call agencies in to better understand the data issues and discrepancies. Texans deserve more transparency around the governor’s and the agencies’ processes, not less.

Problem #2: The COVID pandemic is putting a massive strain on Texas’ budget, depressing forecasted revenue and driving us to a recession.

In late July, the State Comptroller released his prediction of a $4.6 billion revenue shortfall — a dramatic drop from the originally expected multi-billion dollar surplus. Agencies delivering essential services such as health care and unemployment assistance face potential cuts going into next year, which is particularly troubling in a time when we need those services most. The latest actions from the federal government have not provided as much help as was hoped. The promise of extra unemployment benefits carried the caveat that the state must chip in a quarter of the cost, and the U.S. Senate has just adjourned for the rest of summer without agreeing on a new coronavirus relief plan. 

The Solution

Our current economic situation is devastating, especially for workers and families without a job. But there are solutions available to us. Now is not the time to just “tighten our belts.” Now is the time for the governor to expand Medicaid and immediately infuse billions of federal dollars into our economy. Not only would Medicaid expansion yield a much-needed economic boost, it would also help cover the nearly 30% of Texans under 65 that are now uninsured. 

Now is the time for the governor to expand Medicaid and immediately infuse billions of federal dollars into our economy.

In the longer term, Texas House Democrats are committed to closing special interest tax loopholes next Session. By updating state tax policy to ensure everyone pays their fair share, we can increase our state revenue without increasing financial burdens on individual Texas families.

Conclusion

Our state is facing unprecedented challenges as a result of this pandemic. So many of today’s issues have roots in Gov. Abbott months-long track record of poor decisions. Though it’s frustrating, we must take action and pursue the solutions outlined above — and the many more our caucus Members have advocated for — so we may win the war against COVID-19 and restore confidence and competence in our state government.

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.

HDC Hiring New Communications & Outreach Director

The HDC is looking to hire a third position in our office — a communications and outreach director. This person will compliment the current Executive Director and Deputy Executive Director, with a major focus on helping with HDC and Member-specific communications needs. A job description with information on how to apply is embedded here. Please feel free to apply yourself or to share with your networks and/or anyone you think might be interested.

Harris County Residents Wait Until 1:00AM to Cast Votes

Last night, voters across Texas showed up to cast their votes for the 2020 primary elections. Unfortunately voters at Texas Southern University were met with excessive wait times that kept residents there until 1:30 am. Thankfully, countless Harris County residents still persevered through six hour lines to vote, but we need to address why this happened and come to a solution that keeps polling places moving and voters voting. 

 

Harris County holds separate elections for Democratic and Republican primaries, which means voters are only allowed to use machines reserved for their own party, despite others potentially being open. This, combined with a number of voting machines failing due to 20-year old technology and an unexpectedly large Democratic turnout, contributed to the excessive wait times residents endured last night. 

 

County officials and polling locations must all work together to address these flaws so that everyone has a reasonable opportunity to vote. Standing in line at a polling location for over six hours is next to impossible for most residents and no one should be asked to do so to exercise a critical right. 

 

Hervis Rogers, the last voter at Texas Southern University’s polling location, had the following to say as he left… 

 

I wanted to get my vote in, voice my opinion… I wasn’t going to let anything stop me, so I waited it out.

 

Democracy lives and breathes with active participation in elections. It is imperative we do everything in our power to ensure all voices are represented and residents are given a fair chance to vote. 

 

Photo courtesy of Houston Public Media. 

First Ever Texas Girls in STEM Day

On Sunday, March 1, Texas recognized the first annual Texas Girls in STEM Day. The day marks a chance to celebrate and encourage the participation of girls in this state in fields related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — and is the result of House Bill 3435, passed by Representative Rhetta Bowers during the 86th Regular Session. The legislation encourages school districts to embrace programs, ceremonies, and class instruction that emphasizes women in STEM-related careers.

Texas Girls in STEM Day gives many young girls the opportunity to learn, ask questions, and dive deeper into subjects they may not have been encouraged to explore otherwise. We are confident that this will help increase participation in STEM subjects by giving names, faces, and credit to the Texas women who are currently succeeding in their STEM careers. Thank you to Representative Bowers and the participating institutions for making yesterday the first of many successful Texas Girls in STEM Days.

 

Image courtesy of Representative Bower’s office.