Thursday, June 4, 2015

Texas Legislature Roundup

Texas State Capitol in Austin
The 84th Texas Legislature adjourned the end of May. So it’s time to look at what happened, and what didn’t happen.

In our local Tea Party, I have the assignment of making a list of bills for us to follow. We take our list to all of the legislators who represent people in our group, which is about two visits a month for four months. We visit their local offices while they’re in Austin, although we did get a couple of visits with the legislators themselves, and some also visited us at our Tea Party meetings.
The Texas Legislature meets every other year, from mid-January to the end of May. So a lot of business gets compressed into these few months.
Our list was longer this year than in the past, with more people contributing bills they were interested in. So, while it was a bit more work to keep track, the interest is good. It means we’re awake, and we’re hopeful that our speaking up will have an effect.
Texas is a very “red” state, with GOP majorities in the House and the Senate. So you’d think it would be a breeze to get the right kind of legislation through. But that’s not totally true. There are thousands of bills filed during the session, sometimes several on the same issue, so finding the bill that will catch attention and move is a challenge. Also, the Democrat minority is still active in committees, and they have some influence over the House Speaker, who influences what moves.
This report today isn’t what the news thinks is most important. It’s my personal list plus the list of interests of other locals who spoke up. But I think it might be interesting to see what caught the attention of our little corner of conservatism.
First, here’s the list of principles our Tea Party has adopted, which we shared with our legislators:

Principles of Cypress Texas Tea Party 

·         We support the US Constitution and conservative principles in the Texas Constitution.
·         We support low taxes and limited government spending and oppose ever having a state income tax.
·         We support handling each issue at the most local authority possible—with individual and family decisions as the default authority.
·         We support asserting 10th Amendment states’ rights against usurpation by federal government.
o   We particularly oppose allowing national health care to be imposed on the people of Texas.
·         We support parental rights in the education and upbringing of their children, including local control over spending and curriculum in public schools.
·         We do not as a group endorse candidates, but we provide a platform for sharing information so our members can make informed decisions; individual members may endorse, work for, or become candidates. 

Now, instead of repeating the whole bill list here, I’ll mainly identify categories and issues. 

Immigration Law and Homeland Security
We were in favor of e-verify, a method for employers to verify eligibility of employees. If you’re going to hold employers accountable for hiring illegals, you have to give them a way to meet the law. Several bills were put forward. SB 374 passed.
We were against sanctuary cities; the bill we followed, SB 185, disallowed cities from proclaiming they would refuse to obey the law. The bill was approved in committee but died in Intent Calendar.
There are several calendars, and I’m not sure we ever fully understood them all. There’s Intent Calendar, Calendars (not specified), General State Calendar, and Constitutional Amendment Calendar. That last one was for joint resolutions that would be sent to the Secretary of State to be put on the November ballot, to be voted on in a general election. The others were about scheduling votes for passage of bills in the House and Senate at different stages. Calendars, generally, is where bills go to die. If they don’t get a scheduled vote, that’s the end. We probably need to pay more attention to who is on the various Calendars committees, and pressure them with phonecalls and emails. There’s always more to do.
In the last couple of months we became aware of some bills related to infrastructure safety—particularly the electronic grid—both from terrorism and natural disaster causes of an EMP. (I wrote about this here.) Protection would be relatively inexpensive and extremely valuable insurance. We appreciate that loca State Senator Lois Kolkhorst was a co-author, but the bill didn’t progress this session. You might be interested in the testimony by Frank Gaffney, for future reference:  

State and Citizen Rights Preservation
We followed several bills that were intended to assert our Tenth Amendment state’s rights. A couple of them simply asserted the Tenth Amendment. One was specific to declare through state constitutional amendment that Texans would not be subject to a federal requirement to purchase Obamacare. None of these bills progressed. That in no way means Texas won’t assert its Tenth Amendment rights. There are lawsuits underway, and there are other various approaches.
We became aware, about halfway through the session, of several attempts to impose “climate change” rules on Texas. We were against the junk science approach to limiting Texas’s economy. Fortunately, none of these bills progressed.
We followed some tax lowering bills, aimed at the homestead exemption and taxes on inventory located in the state prior to shipping. But they didn’t progress. We also followed some bills that could have raised taxes, including increasing gasoline tax while that industry is depressed, which we were against. Fortunately those failed. 

Article V Convention
The Article V Convention comes under states’ rights, but probably deserves its own subheading. I was not an expert on this issue, but we had a member among our legislator visitors who was, and he was quite persuasive. I still need to read Mark Levin’s book The Liberty Amendments to bring myself up to speed; I can’t yet explain the issue adequately. But the general idea is for enough of the states to propose a US constitutional amendment change, and then the US Congress would have to take up that issue. If the amendment passed, then it would be sent on to the states for ratification—a long and challenging process. Article V refers to that portion of the US Constitution that describes this possible remedy.
Two of the bills, HJR (House Joint Resolution) 77 and HJR 79 both were approved in the House and then died in the State Affairs Committee of the Senate. HJR 77, which was authored by a couple of our local representatives, Fletcher and Bohac, looked like it had possibilities, with a public hearing May 25, but it was left pending in committee, and then time ran out. 

Second Amendment
There were two issues we favored related to carrying firearms. One was open carry—which means that a person who is at least 21 and has a concealed carry permit is allowed to carry openly (not hidden). This puts us in the company of the majority of the states, and takes us out of the company of a half dozen anti-gun states the likes of California and New York. The bill passed.
Friends from out of state told me the news had characterized the debate as trying to make Texas allow open carry for anyone, regardless of mental state or criminality, like the Wild West—which people kind of think Texas is anyway. But, seriously, we’re not crazy. We’re just in favor of allowing the good guys to defend ourselves.
The other issue was campus carry—allowing concealed carry licensees to carry concealed weapons on college campuses. This passed, but with amendments. I think it was watered down so that each campus school board gets to decide. It sounds like a decent compromise, but it actually nearly nullifies the law. I can understand the argument against arming live-on-campus freshmen who drink too much or get depressed their first time away from home. But you have to be 21 to get a concealed carry license. On campuses like our local Lone Star Community College system, average age is 24+, and no one lives on campus. Nevertheless, only one or two board members are willing to allow these adults, coming from their jobs to classes on campus, to defend themselves and others—even though we have had incidents in which attackers had to be taken out by brave fellow students, because it took too long for security to arrive. So, this was a win that’s not quite a win. 

Marriage and Religion Protection
These issues are combined now, because everywhere marriage isn’t protected, religious freedom is lost. One bill would refuse to allow local judges to grant same-sex marriage licenses (or any license not allowed in the Texas Constitutional definition of marriage). Other states are trying this as well. It’s an assertion of the Tenth Amendment, which can be done regardless of this bill. But it was a declaration of Texas’s intent prior to a decision by the Supreme Court that could try to usurp Texas’s sovereignty. The bill didn’t move. Another reiterated that Texas would retain its state constitutional definition of marriage; this one got a public hearing and was approved in committee, but died in Calendars.
Another bill declared that Texas could only apply Texas law, and no foreign law. This was in reference to attempts to apply sharia law, particularly in reference to family/divorce law. This should be a given without the bill, but it has been an issue, even in Texas. What we really need is judges who apply the actual law. Again, the bill got a public hearing, was approved in committee, and died in Calendars. 

Hunting, Fishing, and Wildlife
I’m no expert in this, but we had a member who brought these to our attention. One bill, SJR 22, to protect the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife, was approved and will appear on the November ballot. Another bill, HB 158, meant to use taxes imposed on the sale, storage, or use of sporting goods for parks and wildlife, passed as well. So that was good. 

Education/Parental Rights
We had a little success in parental rights. There was an HHS bill, meant to clean up and make more efficient in necessary ways, that had a provision that would allow state agencies to remove a child from home without imminent danger. We were against that. Fortunately, when that provision was brought to the attention of the committee, a substitute bill without that wording was put forward, and that passed. Other bills attempted to give the state agencies that power, but fortunately they didn’t progress.
Yet again there was an attempt to restore parental rights. The situation is that grandparents can sue for rights, and sometimes judges grant them access or custody, taking children from fit parents. The issues that bring on these suits are often related to the religion or education choices of the parents. These cases are always overturned at the Texas Supreme Court level, but getting there can cost millions, and some families lose control of their children when they are impoverished by the repeated lawsuits. This should be corrected and prevented in the law; fit parents should have the right to decide on the care and upbringing of their children.
Currently homeschool and private school students (with a single exception) are prevented from participating in UIL competitions—even though UIL was created at a time when nearly all students in the state were homeschooled or privately schooled. This needs to be corrected. The last two sessions this was referred to as the Tim Tebow Bill, because the professional football player had been homeschooled. Again this session the bill progressed. SB 2046 passed the Senate, but languished in the Public Education Committee in the House.
There was a success with SB 1543, which higher education discrimination against homeschoolers and non-traditional students. The bill passed.  

Voter Integrity
We watched a number of bills that could have allowed for greater voter fraud, including online registration, same-day registration, getting felons to vote, trying to dilute Voter ID, and trying to remove judges from party voting (so even less would be known about judge candidates). All failed to move.
There were others we were happy to see pass. HB 621 allowed for dismissal of a volunteer voter registrar that failed to follow the law. This is to prevent the Turn Texas Blue arm of ACORN from doing their fraud here. SB 795 creates a mechanism for interstate voter registration crosschecking, which is a common sense approach to preventing voting in multiple places.

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