Monday, July 10, 2017

Texas Special Session

Here in Texas, the legislature meets mid-January to early June every other year, so we finished up last month. But the Governor can call the legislature back any time for a limited time. Usually this happens shortly after the end of the regular session, when the governor wanted something to happen that didn’t happen during the session. That’s the case now.

Governor Abbott has scheduled the special session to begin July 18th, and he has listed twenty items for the legislature to deal with. That’s a lot of items. Among them are some bigger priorities. (The full list can be found here.) 

There’s a main reason that these things didn’t get handled in the special session: Speaker of the House Joe Strauss is not on the same side as Governor Abbott. He’s the same party. But the way the speaker is chosen now is slanted toward the liberal side, at least when the Republicans are in power.
The speaker comes from the majority party, but the Democrats in the House will support whichever candidate is most aligned with them. So the speaker gets 100% of the Democrat vote. Then the speaker just needs a relatively small percentage of Republicans.

He can totally ignore the strong conservative masses that have elected Republicans to every statewide office, and a robust majority in the House; he can curry favor with the more “moderate,” i.e., less conservative, House members, offer them their choice of committees and chairmanships, and he locks up the vote. And he’ll get some of the conservative votes too, because anyone who opposes him gets relegated to committees where they can do the least good for their constituents.

So, until we figure out a way to have Republicans do the electing of the House Speaker (as in the US House, where a caucus of each party chooses a speaker, and the one chosen by the majority party wins—so the minority party doesn’t do the choosing), we’re stuck with this roadblock to important legislation.

This past Saturday at the local Tea Party meeting, we heard from State Senator Paul Bettencourt and State Representative Mike Schofield, to talk about the upcoming special session.
Senator Paul Bettencourt

Sen. Bettencourt says there are three possibilities for how the session will go:

1)      The legislature will pass the sunset legislation and go home.
2)      The legislature will pass sunset plus a few items, but leave the big ones undone.
3)      The legislature will handle pretty much the whole list.
The sunset bill is to keep some state agencies from shutting down; it’s assumed to be necessary.

Option 1 would start a House meltdown. There are risks to failing to do what they’re supposed to do. If they do the bare minimum and vote to go home, that will lead to a roll call vote. That puts everyone on record as going against the Governor or not. It won’t go well for them at re-election time if they claim to be conservative but flout the governor’s agenda. Option 2 would be minimal, but still might lead to yet another special session.

There are three main issues among those twenty items:

·         Property tax relief.
·         School choice.
·         Privacy protection.

Property Tax Relief

The bills are not always written the same as for the regular session; sometimes we’ll get something that considers what failed in the regular session, but sometimes we’ll get something better.

Senator Bettencourt has been working for property tax reform. During the session he was asking for a cap of 3% plus inflation; during the special session the cap is lowered to 1% plus inflation. And in the special session he’ll only need 16 or 30 senators to pass it, (50% plus 1) instead of 20 (2/3 of the Senate).

There’s a swath of the state from Dallas-Ft. Worth to San Antonio (not including Austin, this time) with ridiculous property tax hikes. The current cap has been a percentage of home value plus inflation plus economic growth. Since the term “economic growth” is unmeasurable and totally meaningless, caps have been meaningless.

Chip and Joanna Gaines, of HGTV's Fixer Upper
image from here
Senator Bettencourt gave an example of why a real cap is needed. You know the HGTV show Fixer-Upper, with Chip and Joanna Gaines, of Waco, Texas? They take the worst house in the best neighborhood, and they turn it into the buyers’ dream home, right? Well, bureaucrats who assess property values have been following the show and purposely reassessing the value of the fixed-up homes. Homes have had as high as 1000% increases in their property taxes.

People are being punished for using their resources to make their homes nicer to live in; they’re being taxed for creativity and hard work. Those obscene property tax increases can put the cost of living in a house beyond the budget of those buyers—who were making a positive contribution to their neighborhood. That’s not the Texas way.

School Choice

Neither Senator Bettencourt and Representative Schofield were optimistic about school choice—even though they both favor the Educational Savings Account idea. Rep. Schofield says, “There’s too much fear of competition.” That’s fear among teachers unions—which have much more interest in wages for their union members that in education for children. 

We don’t know yet how the bills will read exactly, but the likelihood is that the ESA bill will be aimed at special needs students. While I’d prefer more market forces in every aspect of education, it’s tough to argue against meeting the needs of special needs students at lower cost per student. [Among several PragerU videos on school choice, is "Why Special Needs Students Want School Choice."]

The way it is working in Arizona, the family of the student is given a sum that is something like 90% of the cost of educating that student. It can be used only for education purposes (sort of like how a health savings account is used only for healthcare purposes), but the parents get to decide what is best for their child.

This is different from a voucher, which is a ticket, essentially, that can be spent as a whole at one alternative education place, such as a private school. The ESA can be used in part for a chosen form of therapy, in part for a tutor, in part for a block of a school week at a public or private school, or in part for homeschool curriculum—or any combination.

As they start looking for options, the market responds. And the market always eventually responds with better quality and lower prices.

If the family gets their student’s needs met without spending all the money in a given year, that money stays in the account for use in a later year, when maybe a more expensive program might be needed. If the money doesn’t get spent by high school graduation, the student can use it toward higher education. 

The program is optional, so no students would be forced into it. Any family can choose to stay in public school.

So ESAs are a win-win for special ed students and their families, and for school districts, which have trouble meeting the needs of these students anyway. And that 10% that the family doesn’t get stays in the school budget.

But the public school monolith sees it as the camel’s nose under the tent. If that camel is competition, then it is just barely the nose, but wouldn’t it be great if we had that whole camel in the education tent?

They absolutely don’t want competition. They want a public school monopoly, subsidized by people so frustrated that they pay out of pocket to meet their children’s needs elsewhere.

Opponents are misnaming the ESA option, lumping it in with vouchers, a term that causes a knee-jerk reaction in educators who get their information mainly from their unions.

Anyone who really knows about ESAs would likely vote for this bill, but fear of the overbearing unions will probably block it this time, leaving the special ed students with their critical needs unmet.


The third big issue, privacy, is what we sometimes refer to as the bathroom bill, and which the media mischaracterizes as transphobic.

As Rep. Schofield said, “We didn’t make an issue of it; Anise Parker did.” Transgendered people have been quietly using whatever restroom made them comfortable, from the invention of public restrooms up until 2015, when Houston’s mayor decided to make it an issue by forcing it on the city—including not just public city buildings, but private business properties. She tried to thwart the will of the people by throwing out their petitions, and she really stepped over the line when she tried to subpoena every speech or communication given by churches, so she could search through them for things she might find objectionable.
image found here

Once the courts slapped her down—several times—the people got their say, and this very urban, majority-liberal city, which had twice elected a lesbian mayor, soundly voted against her proposal.

Then Obama got on the bandwagon and decided, by fiat, to force a private space rule on the whole country. To be clear, he said high schools (and of course other facilities with locker rooms, bathrooms, or dressing rooms) must, because of his insistence only, allow any anatomical male who wants to say he is a female (for any purpose—can’t be questioned for actual intent; and note that a male claiming to be transgendered to female is still likely to be sexually attracted to females) to shower naked in front of and with female high school students. No regard for the discomfort this would cause high school girls or their parents would be considered. End of subject. Anyone who objects would be labeled a bigoted, transphobic troglodyte who should be publicly shamed, fired, and never allowed to work or function in society again.

Compromises, such as private showers or bathrooms for transgendered students, were dismissed as insensitive to the transgendered—meanwhile, overruled as not worth considering are the sensitivities of the 99.7% majority.

Obama’s overreaching executive order has been repealed, but many school districts and businesses around the country have kept the rule change to appear “tolerant.” That is why Texas is taking the step of protecting citizens by returning to separate gender private spaces as a rule of law.

I think the bill will pass, because this is Texas, and we don’t like fools telling us we have no right to privacy in our private places. If Strauss fails to bring it for a vote again, it will mean coming back for another special session.

During this special session, expect the media to do its thing against anything good for freedom, prosperity, and civilization. But, if the people send their support to their representatives in Austin, we might get the work done that should have already gotten done.

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