Tuesday, April 21, 2015

84th Texas Lege: just as bad as we thought it would be

-- The Senate passed school vouchers.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has championed school voucher legislation since he entered the Senate in 2007, comparing the effort to the civil rights struggle. After numerous defeats during past sessions, Patrick’s voucher crusade came a step closer to reality today as the Senate passed Senate Bill 4, by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood).

The bill passed 18-12 on mostly partisan lines. Only one Democrat voted for the bill, Sen. Eddie Lucio (R-Brownsville), while two Republicans voted against it, Sen. Konni Burton (R-Colleyville) and Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville).

Taylor’s bill would create scholarships for mostly low-income students to attend private and religious schools. Under the measure, private businesses would receive a tax credit for funding the scholarships. The bill is similar to one proposed by Patrick in 2013, which died in committee.

“This is not a voucher bill,” Taylor said during the debate.

And I'm a NASA astronaut.

-- The House strips the Public Integrity Unit away from the Travis DA's office.

The Texas House voted 94-51 Monday to give initial approval to a stripped-down bill that would remove public corruption cases from Travis County’s Public Integrity Unit.  Final House approval is expected Tuesday.

House Bill 1690 was amended on the House floor to apply solely to corruption allegations against elected or appointed state officials, who would be investigated by the Texas Rangers and prosecuted, if the allegations are confirmed, in the official’s home county.

House members adopted an amendment dropping state employees from home-county prosecution, keeping the status quo that would keep those cases in the county where a crime occurred — typically Travis County, where most state employees work.

State Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, joined Democrats in arguing that home-county prosecution would create a special privilege, and a “home-court advantage” for state officials that is not available to other Texans.

“I just want to plead with you that you not create, with this bill, a specially protected class,” Simpson said. “I urge you not to treat yourself better than the constituents who you serve.”

Another lonely Republican voice of reason silenced under the crimson wave.  But at least they didn't let Lazy Eye escape unscathed.

Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, won approval of a provision potentially affecting Paxton. It would require a local prosecutor who currently or in the past has had “a financial or other business relationship” with the target of a probe to ask the judge to let him be recused “for good cause.” If the judge approved, the hometown prosecutor would be considered disqualified, Turner’s amendment says.

As he explained the amendment, Turner did not mention Paxton or Willis or their offices. Bill author Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, accepted the amendment, which passed on a voice vote.

Last year, Paxton, then a state senator from McKinney, admitted breaking a securities law. He submitted himself to the wisdom of the Texas State Securities Board, which made him pay a $1,000 fine. The case wouldn’t go away, though.

It will be awhile before we know if that grand jury is a runaway or a whitewash.

Update (from a couple of days ago):

(On April 20) Public Integrity Unit director Gregg Cox rejected DPS director Steve McCraw’s request for the investigation of the agency’s alleged “no bid contract” to be resumed.

(Cox said): “It is very timely that you should choose now to write me a letter pointing out that there is no other agency in state government that is equipped to investigate allegations concerning your department."

As Cox noted at the time, Governor Rick Perry’s veto of the funding for the Public Integrity Unit effectively killed the investigation into an agency run by a Perry appointee and long time ally.

-- Open carry is almost a done deal.

After turning back last-minute attempts to let city voters opt out, the Texas House gave final approval Monday to legislation allowing gun owners with concealed weapons licenses to carry their side arms openly.

House Bill 910, by Rep. Larry Phillips, R- Sherman, passed on third reading 101-42. Similar legislation has already passed the Senate, and Gov. Greg Abbott has promised to sign open carry legislation. Minor differences in the bills will most likely be ironed out in conference committee before the measure is forwarded to Abbott's desk.

Nothing could possibly go wrong, with either the bill itself or Texans' reaction to it once it is in force.  nonsequiteuse with the best response.

We don’t have reliable statistics, of course, about gun violence, because the National Rifle Association has spent buckets of money lobbying against any attempt to do so, but I appeal to your common sense and lived experience.

When was the last time you were in the grocery store, delicately testing avocados to find the one that would be ripe in time for dinner, when you had to drop everything and squeeze off a couple of rounds because someone was threatening the lady at the cantaloupe display?

When was the last time you were sitting at home with friends, watching a movie, when you had to shoot someone who kicked in the door to your kitchen?

When was the last time you were at a museum and had to hide behind a full-scale model of a dinosaur while bringing down a nefarious character with a single shot to the heart from your snub-nosed whatever who had just grabbed a rare opal and a screaming 6-month-old from the Hall of Gems?

Are you always tense thinking about the gun battles that ensue every time you go to the bank to cash a check?

No,  you are not.

The best way to fight back on this one is with your wallet and not your Glock.  If you are in the grocery store, or a restaurant, or any other place of business and see someone openly carrying a firearm, leave immediately.  Leave your basket in the aisle, walk the check (call them back and tell them you'll return and pay as soon as the guys/gals with guns leave).

Let's allow the invisible hand of the free market -- our free hand, the one not holding a weapon -- decide whether we should transact business in a "politely armed" society... or not.

-- Finally, Texas draws the same warning from Uncle Sam that he gave Florida on Medicaid: take the free money we're giving you to expand access to healthcare for the poor, or lose it... and more.  Via Burka -- with the scolding -- National Journal.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services indicated to Texas officials Thursday that whether the state expands Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act would factor into the renewal of a multibillion-dollar Medicaid funding stream next year, according to state officials.

Federal officials requested a call with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, during which they outlined their position, Linda Edwards Gockel, a spokeswoman for the Texas health agency, said in an email to National Journal.

The call came the same day that Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he would sue the Obama administration, accusing CMS of pushing the state to expand Medicaid by leveraging $1 billion in federal Medicaid funding, which is up for renewal this summer and helps cover some uncompensated care.

The TexTrib gets a little deeper in the weeds, but the choice is clear: forfeit almost $4 billion for being obstinate, or receive $9 billion to swallow your bitter partisan pride.  With hundreds of thousands of Texans' lives hanging in the balance, to say nothing of the ancillary economic benefits, maybe we should send Greg Abbott a bottle of water to wash it down.

1 comment:

Gadfly said...

The Public Integrity amendment is, of course, bullshit. Suggesting someone ask for recusal is far different than demanding it.