Yesterday, the State Senate finally passed the Texas version of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which will give Texas women the right going forward to seek redress for gender-based pay discrimination. The bill's next stop is the desk of Governor Rick Perry.
This is a milestone and a significant achievement for State Representative Senfronia Thompson, who introduced HB 950, and Senator Wendy Davis, who have championed this issue.
Also deserving of thanks are the bill's additional authors in the State House, Democrats Nicole Collier and Carol Alvarado, and Republicans Sarah Davis and Jason Isaac. (Credit where due, y'all.)
This is a major economic issue for Texas: if working women are paid less than men for the same day's labor, then they're being denied the economic opportunity to fully participate in society that they've earned. If working mothers are shortchanged on their paychecks, it hurts the entire family -- and Texas school children have suffered enough at the hands of the Republican Legislature as it is.
However, the bill didn't pass unanimously in either chamber -- far from it. The Senate gave the bill a narrow 16-15 victory, and in the House the margin was 70-65 on second reading, 79-50 on third reading.
Click below the jump to find out which Republicans -- and which Republican women, for crying out loud -- don't think women deserve redress for pay discrimination in Texas.
Texas may soon take some important strides in gender equality.
In late April, the Texas House passed a bill to tweak state laws to conform to the national version of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (the first bill that President Obama signed into law in 2009). It's now heading to the Senate, where a companion measure has already made its way out of committee, thanks to State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth).
In 2012, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the federal version of the Ledbetter Act doesn't offer protection in state cases. This bill, introduced in the House by Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), would extend the Ledbetter Act's protections to state cases, meaning women have more time to sue for wage discrimination and to seek restitution in state courts. Without it, women essentially have to become aware of discrimination and take action within six months of their first paycheck.
The law passed the House by a margin of 79-50, which means there are 50 members of the Texas House - all Republicans - who do not believe women should have more than 180 days from their first discriminatory paycheck to file suit against an employer.
Despite this disappointing opposition, if the bill becomes a law, Texas will be the first state in the nation to tweak its state laws to support the federal act.
The bill will also be an important step in addressing Texas's vast gender wage gap. According to the National Women's Law Center, women in Texas earn 82 cents for every dollar earned by a man. Read about how the wage gap affects different groups of women after the jump.
Last week, the Senate passed SB 1247, the Payday Lending Reform Bill, with strong bipartisan support. It was considered tougher than expected, in large part due to amendments passed by State Sen. Wendy Davis.
The bill would allow cities to establish payday lending ordinances, impose limits on fees and interest rates, allow civil penalties against payday lenders who try to offer consumers unauthorized products, limit multiple-payment payday loans and auto title loans from extending beyond 180 days or being refinanced, limit the number of credit extensions permitted and impose a "cooling off" period between loans.
Right now, Texas is a pretty good place to be if you're a payday lender. Not so much if you're a consumer. According to the Dallas Morning News: "The Pew Charitable Trusts classified the Lone Star State as one of 28 permissive states when it comes to payday loan regulations. Pew found that 8 percent of Texas residents use payday loans, above the national average of 5.5 percent."
The payday lending bill now has to make it through the House, where the payday lending industry is expected to ramp up its efforts to change the bill from what was passed in the Senate. Sen. Davis doesn't feel too optimistic about its chances there: "They're going over to the House and try to kill it... There are 3,500 payday and auto title storefronts in Texas, more than the number of Whataburgers and McDonalds combined."
But it does have the support of both parties, as well as many consumer advocates. According to the Center on Public Policy Priorities (CPPP): "Texas Impact, CPPP, and other consumer groups supported the committee version of the Senate bill. Among other consumer protections, the committee version would save Texas consumers at least $132 million annually by prohibiting excessive fees."
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also released a white paper last week, which found problems with habitual use of payday loans:
"These products may become harmful for consumers when they are used to make up for chronic cash flow shortages. We find that a sizable share of payday loan and deposit advance users conduct transactions on a long-term basis, suggesting that they are unable to fully repay the loan and pay other expenses without taking out a new loan shortly thereafter. Two-thirds of payday borrowers in our sample had 7 or more loans in a year. Most of the transactions conducted by consumers with 7 or more loans were taken within 14 days of a previous loan being paid back-frequently, the same day as a previous loan was repaid... It is unclear whether consumers understand the costs, benefits, and risks of using these products."
The New York Times reported that federal regulators will soon be cracking down on payday loans as well by focusing on the big bank competitors to payday lenders, like Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank, which offer short-term, high-cost loans tied to checking accounts. Soon, banks will have to assess a consumer's ability to repay the loan before issuing it, and to impose a mandatory 30 day "cooling off" period between loans to prevent consumers from taking out even more loans to cover debt on previous loans.
Texas Lunch links is a daily collection of Texas-related news and views, with a heavy focus on happenings at the Texas Legislature.
OBAMA IN WEST: "We may not all live here in Texas, but we are neighbors, too," said President Obama on Thursday during a memorial service for the victims of last week's West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion. Watch Obama's speech below.
Texas Lunch Links is a lunchtime buffet of links to Texas-related news and views.
PAYDAY LENDING: "I'll leave it to the will of the body. I just want to go home and feed my cat" was the resigned expression, which you can watch below the fold, by Dallas Republican Senator John Carona on Monday evening after an intense a floor debate on his payday lending reform bill, SB 1247. Carona lost control of the bill on the floor of the Senate as amendments to strengthen consumer protections were tacked on. Carona had a heated exchange with Senator John Whitmire, and he suggested the amendments would probably end up killing the bill he carefully negotiated.
CARONA'S CAT: Following Senator John Carona's cat comment, some jokester created the twitter account @CaronasCat, to which Senator John Carona tweeted:
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.
ECONOMIC STABILIZATION FUND: Republican Senator Tommy Williams, the chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, announced on Thursday that he is willing to consider taking $6 billion from the Economic Stabilization Fund for transportation and water projects.
PAYDAY LENDING: The San Antonio Express Editorial Board authored a hard-hitting piece that says "it looks like lobbyists with deep pockets are running the show" on payday lending. Senator John Carona's payday lending bill would gut local governmental regulations, such as those passed in Austin and San Antonio, on payday lenders.
SALES TAX COLLECTION UP: Sales tax collection in Texas is up 5.5% from last year, with manufacturing and retail trade driving the growth in revenue.
ENTERPRISE FUND: A bill authored by Senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) that would audit the Texas Enterprise Fund received unanimous approval from the Senate Economic Development Committee on Wednesday. The audit would look at the grant approval process, contract compliance, and any modifications to existing grant agreements.
WELFARE: Flower Mound Republican Senator Jane Nelson's bill that would require Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients to undergo drug testing received unanimous approval from the Senate Health & Human Services committee on Wednesday.
A tremendous Democratic campaign manager in Texas got her due in the New York Times today, in a well-deserved profile that sums up a pretty incredible past year and a half.
It's great to see Terrysa Guerra -- who in 2012-2013 worked on Rep. Chris Turner's primary win, and managed Senator Wendy Davis's critical re-election andSenator Sylvia Garcia's special election to SD-6 -- garner this attention for all of her tremendous hard work. The human talent and capitol that goes into campaigns such as those of Turner, Davis, and Garcia is a huge part of their eventual success, and it's great to see Terrysa's amazing bad-assery getting recognized in our nation's paper of record.
Go read the profile in the Texas Tribune or the New York Times and share it with those annoying nay-sayers who think Texas Democrats don't have anything to be proud of, and then get busy like Terrysa has in working hard to turn this state around. And while politics can still be a bit of a boy's club, it's pretty awesome that here in Texas, the best man on the ground is a woman!
As the Lone Star Project said in an email this morning, "When Democrats look back in a cycle or two and consider how our party recovered and returned new responsible leadership to Texas, it's very likely Terrysa will have played a key role."
It's easy for lazy folks in the media to write off the efforts of Texas Democrats, but when you look at the 2012 cycle, and our big wins in Wendy Davis, Pete Gallego, the legislative seats we picked up, and major local races around the state, it's clear that when we have strong candidates with sufficient funding and talented staff, Democrats can and do win. Terrysa brings the "talented staff" part of the equation in a major way, and I am sure she will only continue winning major races and electing Democrats who stand firm for our progressive values.
Moments ago, by a vote of 29-2, the Texas Senate passed a budget that fails to restore all of the $5.4 billion cut from public education in the 2011 session. Democratic Senators Wendy Davis and Sylvia Garcia were the lone votes against it.
The chart below shows how this budget will not fully restore the cuts to public education made in the 2011 session. While it does add some funds, it establishes a "new normal" in depressed per-pupil spending that still robs our school children of the funds we now know were available to be spent last session, and are available now in the Rainy Day Fund.
The Texas State Teachers Association immediately issued the following statement on the budget vote:
TSTA: Senate budget neglects Texas school children
Texas State Teachers Association President Rita Haecker said today that she hopes the House does a better job than the Senate in addressing the needs of Texas public schools, educators and students.
"Our state senators should not be congratulating themselves for neglecting the school children of Texas. The budget plan they approved doesn't come close to restoring the $1,062 that the Legislature cut from each student two years ago," Haecker said.
"Legislators must use all available funds, including the $12 billion Rainy Day Fund, to finish repairing the damage inflicted on the schools in 2011. This money belongs to the taxpayers, and most taxpayers expect lawmakers to spend part of it on their local public schools. There is enough money in the Rainy Day Fund to restore all the education cuts and meet other important state needs without raising another dime from Texas taxpayers," Haecker added.
A recent bipartisan poll commissioned by TSTA showed that two-thirds of Texas voters believe that restoring the school funding cuts should be a top priority for using the Rainy Day Fund. The support was strong among Republicans, Democrats and independents.
The Senate budget plan would restore only $1.5 billion, about one-fourth, of the $5.4 billion slashed from public school budgets two years ago.
On the eve of the bill-filing deadline last Friday, four Democratic State Senators -- Wendy Davis, Rodney Ellis, Eddie Lucio Jr, and Jose Rodriguez -- stood up for our common values and some straight-up good government by filing legislation to tap the $12 billion Rainy Day Fund and use the money to restore cuts to education and financial aid, and expand Medicaid.
Together, the two bills, SB1377 and SB1378, use the $12 billion dollars to restore funding that was cut in 2011. The bills draw $4 billion from the fund and add it to the Foundation School Program, draws $500 million for TEXAS Grants and other financial aid programs, and uses $50.4 million to expand Medicaid.
Best of all, the voters agree. A poll commissioned by the Texas State Teacher's Association found overwhelming support amongst Republican and Democratic voters for using the RDF to fund education. As the graphic at left shows, restoring funding for education outpaces support for funding water and road projects.
Bottom line: Texans want the Rainy Day Fund to be spent, and education is their top priority for where it should go.
Restoring funding to our public education should be top priority for the Legislature this year. Educating a strong home-grown workforce is critical to the short- and long-term economic success of Texas. Our Texas children must not be short-changed.
It's clear now that the Republican Legislature didn't need to cut $5.4 billion dollars from public education last session -- we ended up with more than enough revenue to maintain the 2009 funding formula and provide for enrollment growth.
We need to fight back against using the 2011 public education funding formulas as the "new normal" that ignores two years' worth of enrollment growth -- i.e. fails to account for the new students who were not factored into education funding in 2011 -- and go back to the 2009 formula, and start building again from there.
This is a winning issue for Democrats, so it's great to see four of our Democratic state senators standing up for our values and calling for education funding, TEXAS Grants, and a Medicaid expansion.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, Republican Senator Dan Patrick filed SB 1410, the largest single voucher program we've seen this session, which serves as a means of letting businesses take a 15% cut on their franchise taxes and letting insurance companies take a tax credit against what they owe the state. In one fell swoop Patrick is taking revenue from our state coffers and using it to subsidize corporations by giving them a tax break that defunds public education. That's what conservatives stand for: massive tax breaks on the backs of our public school children and teachers, all with no accountability.
These bills offer a compelling choice for how to address the needs of our growing public school population, and how to train the next generation of Texas workers to compete in a 21st Century economy.
It's a simple choice: folks are either with Senators Davis, Ellis, Lucio, and Rodriguez in their fight to restore funding and put Texas kids first, or they're with Dan Patrick's efforts to provide corporate subsidies that further rob our Texas schoolchildren of the chance to achieve their fullest potential.
The full release sent by Senator Ellis's office is below the jump.
A new poll released today by the Texas State Teachers Association shows strong support across partisan lines to use Rainy Day Funds to restore the $5.4 billion that was cut from Public Education. The poll conducted at the end of February by Democratic pollster Keith Frederick and Republican pollster Jan van Lohuizen, was done by telephone of 800 likely Texas voters.
The poll also shows majority support even among Republicans to, "hire more teachers, reduce class sizes and restore important academic programs". On the question of using the RDF, public education outperforms both water and roads. Given the option, 66% of Texas voters would use the Rainy Day Fund to restore public school funding. The poll suggests there also a growing sentiment that the cuts in funding are hurting the overall quality of education students receive. Some 61% of likely voters now say the funding cuts hurt the quality of education. A similar poll in 2011 found only 47% predicted such disruption if cuts were made.
Last sessions cuts came out to over $1,000 per student dropping Texas' ranking to 49th in the US, or about about $3,000 less per student than the US average. Over 600 of the state's school districts have filed suit over funding and the issue is currently being heard by the State Supreme Court, but legislators do not need a directive from any magistrate to restore funding - only political will. Earlier this week Senator Wendy Davis (D-Dallas) filed 2 bills that seek to reverse damages done to Public Education. One, SB 1048 would eliminate an unnecessary cut over the next biennium and return $1.05 billion back to schools and taxpayers. The other, SB 1047 would increase the state's per student funding for the first time since 2009.
In response to the poll results, TSTA president Rita Haecker released the following statement:
"Texans are not fooled by the rhetoric coming from the education-cutters in Austin...The vast majority of voters - Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike - know that the budget cuts have hurt our classrooms. The also know that the Legislature has enough money to restore the funding without raising anyone's taxes, and they demand that their legislators do the right thing for our children."