Monday, May 06, 2019

The Weekly Wrangle

Answering the call to action ...

... members of the Texas Progressive Alliance joined women's rights activists at the state Capitol for a lunch time demonstration today.

A great deal more Lege coverage here in your round-up of Lone Star lefty blogs and news sources as bills reach the life-or-death stage.  The most significant bill of the entire session is HJR3 (funding public education by swapping a sales tax increase for a property tax reduction) and debate in the Senate began this morning.  Justin Miller at the Texas Observer has your primer.

Dan Patrick’s face said it all. At a Friday afternoon press conference in the Texas Capitol, the lieutenant governor looked downright sullen as Governor Greg Abbott finally admitted what everyone in the Legislature had known for months: Republicans’ high-profile plan to cap the growth of local property tax revenue at punishingly low annual rates would merely slow the increase of homeowners’ tax bills. A tax cut it was not.

As the session has advanced, the Empower Texans wing of the GOP has grown increasingly livid that party leadership, Patrick in particular, seemed to be sacrificing major property tax overhaul in favor of pumping billions of state dollars into public schools.

In a desperate attempt to assuage their critics, the Big Three are doubling down on their plan -- formally known as HJR 3 -- to secure a tax cut with a tax hike. Abbott, Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen are proposing to raise the state sales tax by 16 percent (a one cent increase to the rate) as a way to finance a big buydown of local school property taxes. This would put the Lone Star State in a tie with California for the nation’s highest sales tax rate. ...

The so-called tax swap has prompted more backlash than GOP leadership may have anticipated, forcing rank-and-file Republicans to grapple with the short-term political realities created by their party’s long-term ideological project. A generation’s worth of GOP-led tax and spending cuts have fueled an internecine crisis of underfunded schools and soaring property taxes. It’s called the Texas Miracle.

In an effort to slap a Band Aid on that festering wound, The Big Three is testing the political limits of trickle-down economics: How long will their party march in lockstep with a plan that raises taxes on the vast majority of Texans while benefiting only the upper echelon? The proposed sales tax swap would only deliver a net tax cut to households making more than $150,000, about 10 percent of Texans, the Legislative Budget Board found in a new report.

Follow the play-by-play at #HB3 or #TXLege to watch the sausage being made.

Equality Texas posts developments on pending civil rights legislation:

(On Thursday, May 2), the House State Affairs committee passed (9-2) SB 2486 (Creighton), which pre-empts local ordinances regarding private businesses with restored language protecting local mon-discrimination ordinances (NDOs). This is a huge victory for the LGBTQ community, although the work is far from over. The language is unlikely to survive Dan Patrick’s Senate, which early in the session stripped the NDO carve-out from the original bill. ...

We are also closely watching two threats that have been sent to the House Calendars Committee: HB 3899 (Springer) and HB 3172 (Krause). Both bills are vehicles for anti-LGBTQ amendments on the House floor and have the potential to deeply undercut the LGBTQ community if altered in the Senate.

As the first statistics about the number of arrests from traffic stops become known -- one of the results of the Sandra Bland Act -- Grits for Breakfast blogs that the Texas House will consider a bill (HB 2754) that limits arrests from fine-only traffic offenses.

If it's true that more than 76,000 people were arrested for Class C (misdemeanors) annually, that makes it one of the largest arrest categories. Texas DPS estimated that roughly 75,000 people per year are arrested in Texas for user-level marijuana possession, as a point of comparison. So it turns out, these arrests take up a significant chunk of police officers' time.

How much savings are we talking about? Austin PD recently changed its local policies to restrict Class C arrests in a way that conforms with the requirements of HB 2754. They saw an immediate 57% decrease in Class C arrests after the new policy was implemented, with no associated harms to public safety.

In a year when the Legislature wants to cap growth in property tax revenues, it would behoove them to also reduce local expenses. Eliminating tens out thousands of jail stays for Class C misdemeanors would be a boon to local budgets that helps counter growing caseloads and costs. (Ditto for reducing marijuana penalties, btw.)

Jeremy Wallace at the Houston Chronicle writes that the Texas Senate has voted to authorize the use of herbicides at the Rio Grande border ... to control illegal immigration.  And Luke Metzger at Environment Texas testified in support of HB 3035, a bill ending the rights of Texas companies who violate state environmental laws to profit from doing so.

There were municipal elections across the state on Saturday, and the Texas Tribune's coverage was comprehensive.  Stephen Young at the Dallas Observer recapped Big D's vote.  Sanford Nowlin at the San Antonio Current covered the Alamo City's closer-than-expected mayoral contest.  And KERA reported that despite several helping hands from Democratic presidential candidates, Deborah Peoples came up short in her bid to unseat Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, who was re-elected to an unprecedented fifth term.  And Stace at Dos Centavos congratulated one of his amigos on his election to the Santa Fe (TX) city council.

In Houston, following city council's 10-6 vote to begin terminating the employment of more than two hundred fire fighters as a result of the Proposition B ordinance, court-ordered mediation to resolve the implementation has also officially failed.

Off the Kuff goes down the redistricting rabbit hole one more time.  Michael Li Tweets from the Texas Voting Rights Act bail-in hearing.  And Texas Standard's podcast quotes Li and has more background, including the three federal judges' differing perspectives, what the plaintiffs are asking for, and what happens if the judges rule against them.

Vince Leibowitz writes at the Colorado County Citizen that the Lower Colorado River Authority has filed to intervene in the state’s lawsuit against Inland Environmental & Recycling, alleging violations of the Texas Water Code in connection with conditions at its site and contamination of the region's Skull Creek.  Mark Dent at Texas Monthly chronicles the battle between Hill Country landowners and a new pipeline cutting through.

In October, (Randy Zgabay) received a notice from Kinder Morgan, the Houston-based pipeline giant, that a portion of a 430-mile natural gas pipeline from the Permian Basin to the Houston area was slated for his 28-acre ranchette in Fredericksburg. Called the Permian Highway Pipeline, the $2 billion project threatened to gobble up 360 pecan trees that Zgabay had planted over the past fourteen years as a source of retirement income. Best he could tell, the 42-inch pipeline would also cross under the home plate of the baseball field he built for his son. But then in April, Kinder Morgan representatives told him they were shifting the pipeline route across the road onto his neighbor’s place. Zgabay is far from relieved. He estimates the Permian Highway will still be 1,200 feet from his house and 400 feet from the baseball diamond. 


(Landowners) who do not reach an agreement with Kinder Morgan -- or, like Zgabay, are among the landowners who have benefited from about 150 minor route adjustments -- could be forced to cede property through eminent domain. Their circumstances illustrate an increasingly tense tug-of-war between two of Texas’s most cherished resources: land and oil. No longer are the effects of the fracking boom confined to the drilled-to-hell oil patches of West Texas. Record amounts of fossil fuels -- about 4 million barrels of oil and 13 million cubic feet of gas per day in 2019 -- need to get from the Permian Basin to Gulf Coast refineries and the global market.

Downwinders at Risk won a $20,000 grant from Ben and Jerry's Foundation to help build a new high-tech air quality monitoring network in the DFW area.

Christof Spieler at Trains, Buses, People analyzes the forthcoming Houston Metro referendum.

SocraticGadfly asks in the wake of his recent arrest: is Julian Assange a journalist?

Latino Rebels sees JOLT using quinceañeras to increase Latino turnout in Texas.

Harry Hamid has been blogging about his experiences as a cancer patient.

The Rivard Report has a story about the just-concluded oyster season in Rockport.

And after seeing Bob Seger for the final time live in concert, Bob Ruggerio of the Houston Press noted that while "Sweet 16 turned 73", rock n' roll never, ever forgets.

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