Katherine Haenschen is a doctoral candidate at UT focusing on digital media. She has previously managed successful candidate, issue, voter registration, and GOTV campaigns. She is active with Austin Young Democrats and is UCONN's #1 fan in Texas.
With only days to go in the 83rd regular session, the Legislature still needs to come to an agreement on the budget and pass an education bill. Negotiations on HB 5, the bill that sets curriculum and requirements for high school graduation, among other things, continued late last night.
Today, the Texas Tribune reported that the lawmakers working on the bill were joined by some very special, very sleazy guests: Texans for Lawsuit Reform!
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst; House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio; Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston; and Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, were among the elected officials present for the negotiations. The meeting also included staff from Gov. Rick Perry's office, and Texans for Education Reform lobbyists Mike Toomey, Dick Trabulsi and Florence Shapiro, a former senator who preceded Patrick in leading the upper chamber's education committee.
Texans for Education Reform is a group of folks from Texans for Lawsuit Reform who have decided to focus their efforts this session on promoting charter schools and school "choice."
TLR, as y'all well know, is also the group dedicated to the defeat of Democrats, both through their funding of predominantly Republican candidates. They also take a more round-about way of doing this through their lobbying and efforts to weaken the rights of citizens to seek justice in our civil courts, which is intended to hurt the financial success of trial lawyers, traditionally donors to Democratic candidates.
And what lobbyists did TLR -- excuse me, TER -- send to the Capitol? None other than Mike Toomey, Perry's former Chief of Staff and BFF and noted corporate lobbyist,; former State Senator Florence Shapiro, who left public service to chase big dollars as a lobbyist; and Dick Trabulsi, a founder of TLR and chairman of the group's PAC.
Right-wing pro-corporate lobbyists should not be writing our public education legislation. We need education policies that focus on educating all of our Texas children to succeed in a competitive 21st century economy.
I have my doubts about whether an organization dedicated to representing corporations' interests in dodging legitimate lawsuits should really be shaping public education policy. TLR erects barriers to justice for regular Texans who deserve their day in court. They aren't qualified to represent the best interests of the over 4.9 million students in our Texas public schools.
As long as Republicans are in charge of our state, we can expect this business to continue. While Democrats are fighting to restore $3.9 billion to public education, Republicans are letting corporate lobbyists shape our education policy. It stinks, and it's another reminder that it's high time we took back this state and let real leaders make the decisions.
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.
As the 83rd Legislative session draws to a close, our elected officials are burning the midnight oil. Today, the following chart circulated on Twitter tracking the progress of both chambers:
Last night, the House cast a largely symbolic vote blocking the Medicaid Expansion provided by the Affordable Care Act -- though it's not like Governor $10,000-Degree-Oops-Hairdo-"Back Pain" was going to let that happen anyways. Over in the upper chamber, Senator Whitmire claims that concealed carry on campus doesn't have the votes to get to the floor.
Today was a huge win for the Democratic members of our Texas Legislature: they held firm in budget negotiations and restored $3.9 billion in funding to public education.
In 2011, the Republican supermajority slashed $5.4 billion from our public schools, resulting in teachers losing their jobs and school children being unable to gain a competitive education. Restoring those funds has been a priority for Democrats this session. Today, Democrats held firm and struck a deal that restores $3.9 billion, which is the best that 55 Democrats in the House and 12 in the Senate can realistically do.
Pragmatically, this is the best we can do with Republicans in charge of our state who still seek to shortchange our children, and represents practically the highest dollar amount discussed to be restored to public education this session.
Under Friday's deal, the $2 billion in water funding will come from the state's Rainy Day fund, a reserve made up mostly of oil and gas taxes. That funding will be found in House Bill 1025, a supplemental budget bill that addresses funding on various issues.
The roughly $4 billion for public education hews closely to what Democrats had pushed for all week after acknowledging they were not going to be able to completely restore last session's cuts. Budget conferees agreed to $3.2 billion for the Foundation School Program, the main account the state uses to fund public education. Another $200 million is expected to be added to the Foundation School Program in HB 1025.
As part of the $4 billion education package, negotiators also agreed on a $330 million infusion into the Teacher Retirement System's pension fund.
All in all, this is a major win for Democrats, who restored more funding to education in the budget conference committee process than was present in the House or Senate versions of the budget.
While many Democrats and progressives want to see all $5.4 billion restored, this is still a tremendous leap forward for Democrats, who maximized our leverage by standing together and standing firm against Governor Rick Perry's attempts to prevent funding from being restored to public education.
Special thanks goes to Senators Wendy Davis and Sylvia Garcia and Representatives Rafael Anchia, Lon Burnam, Nicole Collier, Joe Farias, Mary Gonzalez, Ana Hernandez Luna, Abel Herrero, Trey Martinez Fischer, Justin Rodriguez, Chris Turner, and Armando Walle, who voted against the budget in the Senate and House respectively, setting a high bar for what was necessary to gain final passage.
This early opposition to an inadequate budget helped give Democrats leverage to fund education, because their votes in the House were needed to fund the Water Plan. Democrats held firm, and now our Texas school children will have a better chance at success.
Good work today, Democrats. Y'all deserve to celebrate this tremendous effort to restore $3.9 billion to public education. Let's finish strong and keep doing the best we can -- and that happens when we stick together.
Democrats must stand firm in this last round of budget negotiations and use their leverage to restore $4 billion to public education.
A little Democratic obstinacy can go a long way in restoring the draconian cuts to public education meted out by the 2011 legislature. So far, House and Senate Democrats have held firm during budget negotiations on restoring as much of the $5.4 billion cut from public education as possible. Thanks to our picking up several seats in the 2012 election cycle, there are now 55 Democrats in the House, which provides our party actual leverage.
The key here is Governor Rick Perry's desire to fund the state's new water plan -- an urgent and critical priority to be sure, as is public education. 100 votes in the House are needed to tap the Rainy Day Fund -- the proposed mechanism to fund the water plan -- and since several Republicans are balking at spending money on basic civilization, even more Democratic votes are needed to pass it.
This leverage has enabled and finally empowered our Democratic caucus to stand firm on restoring cuts to education. A deal was within reach earlier this week, when Governor Rick Perry reportedly tried to peel away education funding.
Democrats held firm, and now there is a strong chance that Democrats can force the restoration of $4 billion dollars in cuts to public education. This is the most additional funding for education on the table to date this session.
Rep. Sylvester Turner, emerging from a caucus of House Democrats, had blamed Republicans for reneging on a deal that had called for putting an extra $3.9 billion back into public schools, which absorbed historic spending cuts two years ago.
"For anyone to represent that Democrats have changed their position or asked for more is absolutely not true," Turner said. He went on to accuse Perry of swooping in late and telling Republicans not to vote for an agreed-upon plan because too much was being spent on reversing public school cuts.
Perry wants $1.8 billion in tax cuts and a new $2 billion water fund, but money is running tight and time is running out. One $500 million bump the House already approved for classrooms, Turner said, was now being targeted to pay for highway projects instead.
The message to Democrats in the House and Senate today is crystal clear: stand firm and restore $4 billion in education.
It's our party's top priority this session, and poll after poll makes clear that restoring education funding is the voters' top priority as well.
The reason why Democrats worked so hard to win elections in 2012 -- to elect new Democrats to the House and re-elect Senator Wendy Davis -- was to force our way into holding a seat at the table, to make the Legislature focus on the urgent needs of the people of Texas.
The $4 billion on the table today presents a real and rare chance to use our political power to do some tremendous policy good. Democrats must not squander this opportunity. Restore this funding through the budget, and make sure every Texas child has the educational resources to succeed.
That's what we sent y'all to the Legislature to do, and we expect nothing less.
Today, as Republicans in Congress tried to come between Americans and their doctors with their 37th feckless attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, staunch progressive and champion of healthcare Congressman Lloyd Doggett stood up and offered his strong defense of the bill.
In his remarks, Doggett took it to the GOP for being the party of "No," and emphasized how Republicans like Governor Rick Perry are still standing in the way of millions of Americans receiving access to affordable, quality care through the refusal to expand Medicaid.
Watch Doggett's remarks below:
Read the full transcript of his statement below the jump.
Perry's going to need some ointment for that sick statistical burn.
PPP will have their first national presidential poll out this week that includes Cruz. Will he have a stronger showing than Governor "Oops," who is little more than a rounding error to GOP primary voters at this point?
In the meantime it's just another sign that Perry's reign of terror is drawing to a close. The Republican Legislature has openly pushed back against him on the UT Board of Regents, and even members of his own party are opposing some of his priority agenda items.
The only concern I have with these numbers is that they might convince Perry to stick around for another term as Governor of Texas, since clearly he's got no hope of winning a 2016 Presidential Primary and can't possibly be construed as a "value add" to any national ticket. However, Perry's donors seem to be making their preference for Greg Abbott in 2014 clear, if their contribution trends are any indication.
Oh, John Cornyn, what a perilous position you have put yourself in, trying to advocate for a humane approach to immigration while currying favor with the GOP base.
Yesterday, our senior senator penned an emotional Op-Ed for Fox News, in which he calls on Americans to have sympathy for the horrors faced by undocumented immigrants who come to America for a better chance at life. While his message is true and probably something the Fox News crowd needs to internalize a bit more, it's not as if Cornyn is calling for an actual comprehensive reform policy with a pathway to citizenship.
Read what he wrote and why it's such feckless hypocrisy below the jump.
Just a little levity from last week. On the race to the midnight deadline to pass bills out of the house, freshman Republican Pat Fallon was able to avoid the traditional hazing process that comes with passing his first bill. Rep. Richard Pena Raymond made up for it the next day when the bill came up for third reading:
Rick Perry's at it again, attempting to score cheap points with right-wing conservatives by promoting anti-LGBT bigotry. In the video below, Perry speaks to noted hate-monger Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council in support of the Boy Scouts of America's ban on gay scout leaders and apparent "don't ask, don't tell" attitude towards gay scouts.
Describing the push for full LGBT equality as the "flavor of the month," Perry makes a tortured argument in which he equates those advocating for second-class status for gay Americans -- i.e. the bigots who oppose LGBT rights -- with Texas Governor Sam Houston's refusal to leave the union over the issue of slavery.
Watch the video courtesy of Right Wing Watch:
I know, you're all "Wait, what? He's equating opposition to LGBT civil rights with support for abolition?" Yes, he sure is. But what else do you expect from an intellectual heavyweight who got a C in U.S. History and a D in Principles of Economics?