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Texas Senate

What should we be talking about?

by: Kirk Watson

Tue Oct 08, 2013 at 06:33 PM CDT

If you were us, what would you be talking about?

Every other year, in the interim between the last legislative session and the next one, both chambers of the legislature continue to work.

A lot of what we work on falls in the category of interim charges or interim studies. They're a little like extended research projects: we spend time meeting (typically as committees) and learning about subjects that the Lieutenant Governor (in the Senate's case) or the Speaker of the House (in the House's) put on a list of things to review and analyze. The studies help set the priorities for the ensuing legislative session.

Obviously, these are (as Ron Burgundy would say) kind of a big deal. And the members of the Senate Democratic Caucus think they're too important to leave to the folks who've been failing to deliver on Texans' priorities for all of these years.

So I and the other Democratic Senators want your help in deciding what those priorities should be.

The Caucus has set up a web page where you can give your thoughts on what Texas should be focusing on in this interim.

Just go to bit.ly/14PzGfq and let us know what needs to be on the list.

There are so many areas where Texas can do better - for our kids, our economy and our future - than it's been doing. This is your chance to help make sure the state's priorities are where they need to be.

Please CLICK HERE and let us know what you think. Texas needs to hear it. I'll be sure your ideas are submitted to the Lieutenant Governor and encourage him to put them on the list.  <!--more-->

Good and bad health news

The last weeks have been pretty earth-shaking for anyone who cares about health or healthcare in Texas. And not always in a good way.

Most of the developments have come out of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

The good news is that the Health Insurance Marketplace is now open to help Texans sign up for health insurance. Last week, I joined a number of other community leaders to help spread the word about this opportunity to get health insurance - and the need for Texans to take advantage of it.

(By the way, if you're interested in getting health insurance or know of anyone who would or should be, go towww.healthcare.gov or just call 2-1-1 in Austin.)

Texas Needs Health Insurance

Unfortunately, this great, crucial progress was obscured by raw, destructive politics, mostly from the Governor's office.


Navigator news

First, the Governor seems intent on making life as difficult as possible on healthcare navigators whose job it is to help Texans sign up for insurance. Worse still, the Governor appears to be using - or misusing - a bill I passed during the regular session that had the exact opposite goal: to make it easier for Texans to find insurance in ways that make sense for Texas.

Last week, I spoke at a hearing on potential regulations for navigators. Here are highlights from the Texas Tribune's writeup:

At an informal hearing held by TDI on Monday to take input on Perry's directive, state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said he feared legislation he authored to ensure navigators could effectively help Texans find coverage in the federal marketplace had been wrongly co-opted by Perry in an effort to derail implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

"These provisions were put in place to prevent precisely what I fear may be in motion here today," said Watson. "And that is a politically motivated effort to circumvent federal and state law concerning navigators and an even larger coordinated nationwide effort to shut down implementation of the Affordable Care Act."

Watson told the agency that Senate Bill 1795, which he authored in the last legislative session, requires TDI to make a "good faith effort" to work with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to improve the federal navigator rules before implementing additional state rules. Only after "a reasonable interval" does the law allow the insurance commissioner to begin a rule-making process.

Watson alleged that the agency's decision to schedule a stakeholder meeting to begin the rule-making process shortly after receiving the governor's directive and to hold the stakeholder meeting on the day before the launch of the federal marketplace - "a critical day for navigators" - indicated that the agency's rule-making process could be intentionally impeding implementation of the navigator program.


Don't forget Medicaid

The implementation of the Affordable Care Act also put a spotlight on another wrongheaded decision by the Governor - his refusal to expand Medicaid so more of our fellow citizens can access affordable, reliable healthcare.

This decision has terrible implications for Texas' economy as well as its people. I detailed a number of those in an editorial that ran in the Statesman last week. Here's an excerpt:

It's past time to get serious about health coverage for Texans.

The Affordable Care Act is law. Its primary components start to take effect Tuesday. Many of its benefits are already in place.

The folks running Texas need to face reality. It's time to put the health of Texans, and our economy, ahead of political histrionics.

Right now, the law extends coverage for young adults, allowing them to stay on their parents' insurance plans until they turn 26. It forbids insurance companies from turning folks down because of preexisting conditions. It expands coverage for preventive care and screenings. It lowers costs for people in the Medicare Part D "doughnut hole." And it enhances consumer protections against insurance cancellations.

The only questions left to answer are whether states such as Texas will create barriers to implementing these good changes and whether they'll expand Medicaid to cover, in our case, about 1.3 million to 1.7 million more uninsured citizens. The federal government would pick up nearly all of the costs of the expansion.

So far, the tragic answers are "yes" to barriers and "no" to more people being covered. The governor and others have made a political circus out of health care in Texas by turning their backs on tens of billions of your tax dollars that now won't come back to Texas for your benefit.

By refusing to secure health coverage for about 1.3 to 1.7 million Texans, those in control are costing Texas about $79 billion to $90 billion over 10 years in tax money we'll send to Washington. A Perryman Group study found that expanding Medicaid would boost Texas' economic output by $270 billion.

And don't forget, Texas already leads the nation in the percentage of residents without health coverage. We should put these billions of dollars to work keeping Texans healthy and cutting down on pricey emergency room visits that, in many cases, are ultimately paid for with local property taxes.

And then there are all the lost economic benefits. Expanding Medicaid in Texas would create nearly 200,000 jobs, according to a study conducted by Billy Hamilton (Texas' renowned former deputy comptroller) and the group Texas Impact.

Clearly, the launch of so many important pieces of the Affordable Care Act means last week was one for the history books.

I just hope it's remembered for the right, healthy reasons - not the harmful, political ones.

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What Wendy Wants: Senator Davis' Electoral Options in 2014

by: Joseph Vogas

Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 02:00 PM CDT

Sen. Wendy Davis made her decision. At the end of the 83rd regular session of the Texas legislature, Sen. Davis' own press release stated:

[Sen. Wendy Davis] is seeking re-election in 2014.

Normally, that would be the end of that. But, after the abnormally collegial regular session, everything changed. When Governor Perry bent to the will of his party's social conservatives and made regulating women's healthcare a priority in the special session, Sen. Davis became the last roadblock between the bill and final passage. After her filibuster for women's health, Sen. Davis' name ID has skyrocketed, she has become a feminist hero, her fundraising has accelerated, and new life and energy has been injected into the Texas Democratic Party.

Sen. Davis' newfound stardom has lead to calls from supporters and activists across the state for her to abandon her bid for re-election to the Texas Senate and to instead try for something larger, at a statewide level.

After the jump this entry will take a look at the options Sen. Davis has, should she choose to re-evaluate her election decision in 2014.

There's More... :: (3 Comments, 1333 words in story)

Protest But Don't Go to Jail

by: Edward Garris

Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 10:30 AM CDT

Henry David Thoreau did it.  Mohandas Gandhi did it.  Martin Luther King, Jr. did it.  

They all committed acts of civil disobedience and spent time in prison for the privilege of doing so.  Protesters at the Texas Capitol last week ensured their voices were heard and yet seemed nearly immune from arrest.  However, there are rules in place stating that this is not the case, and there are rumors that this week, the law enforcement presence will be stronger than last week's, if only more numerous.  

While we can't necessarily offer legal advice, we have poked around a bit, asked some questions, and now offer some things to consider when protesting at the Texas Capitol.  

To see the rules, read below the jump.

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CSCOPE vs Republican Senators

by: easyaim

Tue Jun 04, 2013 at 07:14 AM CDT

  How many Republicans does it take to kill a non-partisan lesson curriculum used state-wide?  Two. Dan Patrick (R-SD7) and Donna Campbell (R-SD25) have shown that all it takes is two Senators on the Texas Senate Education Committee to close down one of the few teaching tools available to our public schools.
 And the reason for this action? Fear of teaching the truth to our students.  Real history lessons scare Republican conservatives - they feel that we should hide our nation's mistakes and sweep everything under the rug.  More information here.


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Texas Lunch Links: Tornadoes, Charter Schools and the Economist on Julian Castro

by: Nick Hudson

Thu May 16, 2013 at 00:00 PM CDT

texas our texasTexas Lunch Links is a lunchtime buffet of Texas News and Views with a heavy emphasis on happenings at the Texas Legislature.

TORNADOES: An estimated 10 tornadoes ripped through north Texas on Wednesday, devastating entire neighborhoods, injuring dozens and killing at least six people.

JULIAN CASTRO: The Economist has a political profile of Julian Castro and speculates that by 2018, he might have a real shot at Governor.

TERM LIMITS: The Texas House of Representatives rejected, by a vote of 80-61, a resolution that would have limited statewide officeholders to two consecutive terms.

WEST, TEXAS: The folks at the Texas Tribune have produced a great interactive map of the known 110 facilities that work with ammonium nitrate in Texas, along with esimates of those facilities' proximity to schools and hospitals.

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Demand an Honest Budget

by: Kirk Watson

Mon May 13, 2013 at 07:42 PM CDT

This was supposed to be the year when Texas finally did better when it came to budget honesty.

We were going to use parks money to pay for parks; clean air money for cleaner air; utility fees for utility relief ... The list goes on. 

But taxpayers aren’t seeing the reform they expect, which means your money – tax dollars, fees and such – still aren’t being spent the way you were promised they would be.

Here’s how they get you:

The state budget is honeycombed with hundreds of "dedicated" funds – little piggybanks where those in control collect your taxes and fees. The state promises to spend the money on a specific, usually popular purpose that you probably support. 

But then, much of that money is hoarded in the accounts, diverted from its intended purposes and used to cover other costs.

Over the years, the state has allowed those accounts to get bigger and bigger, starving necessities (like parks, trauma care, 911 service and clean air) that it was meant to pay for and covering up for the failure to fund basic state functions (like schools and healthcare) in more honest, transparent ways.

And, as a result, nearly $5 billion was diverted away from its dedicated purposes in the current 2012-13 budget.

At the start of this session, folks like the Governor and Speaker of the House promised to start weaning the state from its addiction to diversions. But, if anything, things are getting even less transparent.

Right now, those in control of the legislature are pushing a pre-election utility rebate gimmick that would divert more than $700 million from its purpose. That’s money Texans have given the state to help low-income families in deregulated electricity markets pay their utility bills.

The reason the money was collected – the need it’s meant to address – still exists. Hundreds of thousands of poor and elderly Texans still can’t afford their bills in brutally hot months. 

Budget writers are using that broken promise to underwrite another one: they pledge to divert no more than $4 billion -- $4 billion! -- in the next budget. 

That’s close to the $4.95 billion they’re diverting now, minus the $700 million they’re writing off in the rebate scheme.

In other words they’re still addicted to diversions, pursing business-as-usual while shrouding it in fake reform. Worse still, budget writers have rejected calls to craft a plan to wean the state off of this practice over the next few budgets. I filed a proposed constitutional amendment that would bring true, long-term reform to this process; it hasn’t even been given a hearing. 

That’s not real reform. That’s like someone promising he won’t keep drinking any more without promising to drink much less, either.

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Texas Senate Passes Bill to Allow Online Voter Registration

by: Karl-Thomas Musselman

Wed Apr 24, 2013 at 05:20 PM CDT

Yesterday, a bipartisan group of Texas Senators passed very sensible legislation which will provide for the establishment of an online voter registration system for Texans. SB 315, sponsored by Sen. Carlos Uresti, passed by a 21-10 vote on third reading after having passed 7-0 out of committee. It will now move to the House for approval where similar bipartisan legislation has been filed in the form of HB 313. The records of the final votes was as follows.

Yeas: Birdwell, Carona, Davis, Duncan, Ellis, Garcia, Hancock, Hinojosa,
Huffman, Lucio, Nichols, Rodriguez, Schwertner, Seliger, Uresti, Van de Putte, Watson, West, Whitmire, Williams, Zaffirini.

Nays: Campbell, Deuell, Eltife, Estes, Fraser, Hegar, Nelson, Patrick, Paxton, Taylor.

Voters with an unexpired driver's license or personal identification card will be able to go to an official state website where they will be able to register to vote online. The Texas Department of Public Safety already maintains records of most of the required information in order to register to vote and more importantly, maintains a database of signatures used on the cards they issue. The issue of a signature has been the stumbling point in previous calls for online voter registration and thanks to advances in technology is one we can now move past.

"Voting is a fundamental right and a public duty in our democracy, yet many Texans don't participate in the electoral process," Uresti said. "Online voter registration will encourage more people to participate by making the registration process easier and more convenient."

For more details and stats on online voter registration, continue reading below the fold.  

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Texas Senate Unanimously Passes Bill to End Gas Chamber Euthanasia of Pets

by: Karl-Thomas Musselman

Sat Mar 30, 2013 at 11:30 AM CDT

Lorain County Ohio Gas Chamber Sen. Kirk Watson's legislation to enact a statewide ban to the practice of using gas chambers to euthanize pets at animal shelters has sail out of the Senate. Passing unanimously, Sen. Watson's facebook update about SB 360 has been shared over 250 times. No one testified against the Senate version.

Companion legislation HB 858 is being carried in the House with 10 sponsors & cosponsors and has already passed unanimously out of the Environmental Regulation Committee chaired by Rep. Patricia Harless.

Karen Brooks Harper, DMN: I was talking to one of the House sponsors of companion legislation about it, and he said there's been a little blowback by some in the rural shelters who say it's easier and more efficient for them to use the gas over the injection. But a growing national trend to ban the gas is based on studies showing it's cruel, not to mention expensive. Pennsylvania and Louisiana have both banned gas chambers, and 30 Texas cities have opted not to use them, either. That includes Dallas, lawmakers say.

While it may be true for some shelters in farther flung parts of Texas who still haven't gotten breeding or feral pet populations under control, it's time for this practice to end.

Interesting note- what was it like before the Texas Euthanasia Act passed in 2003? According to the analysis posted by the DMN:

"Prior to the Texas Euthanasia Act of 2003, Texas shelters were killing dogs and cats by drowning, shooting, clubbing, strangling, and by carbon monoxide poisoning from truck and car exhaust systems hooked up to makeshift plywood boxes. The 2003 law prohibited most of these methods, limiting shelters to two methods: carbon monoxide gassing or sodium pentobarbital (euthanasia by injection/EBI)."

Growing up in the Hill Country, I remember hearing about cases of pets in sacks getting drowned or clubbed or shot. At the very least there was an attitude that it was generally acceptable, something that feels to have been replaced by a more humane attitude.

Click here to read our previous coverage of this legislation on Burnt Orange Report.

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Texas Lunch Links: Payday Loans, Death Threats and High-Stakes Testing

by: Nick Hudson

Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 11:59 AM CDT

We do our best, but we can't cover everything. To fill in the gaps, please enjoy Texas Lunch Links, a lunchtime buffet of links to Texas-related news and views.

PAYDAY LOANS: Rev. Gerald Green, Jr. of Dallas-based CitySquare proposes four specific changes to Republican State Senator John Carona's, "dramatically weakened payday lending bill."

GALLEGO CHALLENGED: San Antonio Express News is reporting that Representative Pete Gallego, the Democrat who was elected to Texas' 23rd congressional district in November, has an early Republican challenger for 2014.

EDUCATION: The Texas House voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to reduce the required number of high school end-of-course exams from 15 to five and to change high school graduation plans to emphasize career and vocational training.

GUNS: Texas would require its residents to acquire concealed handgun licences in Texas under a bill authored by State Senator Juan Hinojosa, Democrat of McAllen. Texas currently recognizes other states' handgun licenses.

RICK PERRY: Governor Goodhair called the Obama administration's decision to award a competitively bid grant directly to a Texas coalition of women's clinics, instead of Texas' Department of State Health Services, "a clear attempt to circumvent the will of the Texas taxpayers and impose their own values on the people of Texas." The coalition of clinics will serve more than 160,000 women.

WELFARE DRUG-TESTING: Texas' Health and Human Services Committee unanimously approved a bill that would strip welfare recipients of benefits for one year if they fail a drug test this week.

EAGLE FORD SHALE: South Texas' Eagle Ford Shale oil and gas drilling operation had an estimated $61 billion impact on South Texas last year, according to an ongoing University of Texas at San Antonio study released at the Capitol on Tuesday. The study is being paid for by America's Natural Gas Alliance.

WHITMIRE SAFE: A prison investigator says that a death threat against Texas Senator John Whitmire from the Mexican Mafia was an unusual scam by a confidential informant. The death threat, which the Houston Chronicle reported yesterday, was the bright idea of confidential informant who hoped that recruiting and then reporting the conspirators would earn him cash or a reduced prison sentence.

FLASHBACK ON DOMA: Not a single Texas Democrat voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.

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Fact Checked! Ted Cruz's Twisted Economic History

by: Nick Hudson

Sat Mar 23, 2013 at 02:10 PM CDT

While Senator Ted Cruz's keynote address to CPAC last week may have caught the excited attention of red-state nutter-butters, those of us who graduated from the sixth grade noticed that Wackobird needs a history lesson. 

Brooks Jackson of FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, did a good job tracking and correcting what he refers to as, "Ted Cruz's twisted vision of economic history," where, "Ronald Reagan cured double-digit unemployment by cutting spending and reducing the federal debt, and Jimmy Carter was guilty of 'out-of-control regulation.'"

Brooks' post is worth reading in its entirety. Here's a snippet, with the rest below the fold:
In Sen. Ted Cruz's twisted vision of economic history, Ronald Reagan cured double-digit unemployment by cutting spending and reducing the federal debt, and Jimmy Carter was guilty of "out-of-control regulation."

In the real world:
  • Total federal spending soared during Reagan’s deficit-plagued first term, and the national debt nearly doubled. His budget director later resigned and wrote a book criticizing Reagan’s failure to cut spending.
  • And Carter signed landmark bills freeing airlinerailroad and trucking rates from federal regulation, easing regulation of natural gas prices and eliminating federal regulation of interest rates paid by banks to small savers.
These are only a few of the disconnects between economic reality and Cruz’s oversimplified, often inaccurate attempt to paint President Obama’s record as the “exact opposite” of Reagan’s.
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