Today's Fair Shots - May 4th, 2017

1-SB 4 a Defining Moment, in a Bad Way, for Legislative Session

2-'Buy American' Bill Wins Senate Approval

3-House Advances Bill That Generally Improves School Rating System

4-Abbott Proposal to Count Texas in on Rewrite of U.S. Constitution Headed to House Vote; Dallas News: Idea Funded by 'Handful of Multimillionaires'

5-Call Your Member of Congress Now -- 866-829-3298 - to Stop 'Repeal and Replace' and Save Healthcare for Tens of Millions of Americans

1) The Senate yesteday gave final approval to SB 4, the "sanctuary cities" bill, adopting House amendments and sending the measure to Gov. Greg Abbott for signature and referral to our system of federal courts.

   As Texas AFL-CIO President John Patrick said last week, this is a sad moment for the state. The bill wrongly tilts the playing field toward state enforcement of immigration law. It has justifiably been referred to as a "Show me your papers" bill, giving police discretion to ask about immigration status any time police detain or arrest someone. The lawmakers who say discretion will be applied evenly might want to buy a bridge I have for sale in the area of Brooklyn.

  SB 4 will discriminate against both citizens and immigrants, in our estimation. And from labor's standpoint, SB 4 will bless and perhaps expand the ability of unscrupulous employers to threaten deportation whenever an immigrant worker offends management, perhaps by speaking up for better working conditions. The bill is the furthest thing from the comprehensive federal immigration reform that our nation needs.

  Democrats in the Senate challenged the bill's author, Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, on a variety of points, but the die had been cast when Senate leadership decided not to send the bill to a House-Senate conference committee to settle differences between the Senate and House versions.

  Sadly, SB 4 is about to be the law of the state unless courts intervene. After the Senate adjourned and a few committees began organizing for quick votes on the Senate floor, a group of protesters began chanting "Racist! Perry! Racist! Perry!" Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick banged the gavel and ordered the gallery cleared. The hard feelings on this bill, both within the Legislature and outside it, are a defining moment in this legislative session and may well figure in the national perception of Texas for years to come.

  The Texas Tribune noted the details:

  The legislation makes sheriffs, constables, police chiefs and other local leaders subject to a Class A misdemeanor if they don't cooperate with federal authorities and honor requests from immigration agents to hold noncitizen inmates subject to deportation. It also provides civil penalties for entities in violation of the provision that begin at $1,000 for a first offense and climb to as high as $25,500 for each subsequent infraction.

But the final version also includes a controversial House amendment that allows police officers to question a person's immigration status during a detainment, as opposed to being limited to a lawful arrest. Democrats and immigrant rights groups argue this makes the bill "show-me-your-papers"-type legislation that will allow police to inquire about a person's immigration status during the most routine exchanges, including traffic stops.

Before Wednesday's vote, some lawmakers were still hopeful the bill would go to a conference committee where lawmakers from both chambers could strip the amendment from the bill. But during a floor debate Wednesday before the measure was approved by the Senate, the bill's author, state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, said that the bill doesn't require that officers ask a person's immigration status. However the language does leave the door wide open for officers to make such inquiries if they feel the need during routine stops. 

"We certainly don't want 'walking while brown' to lead to reasonable suspicion," said state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston. "It will happen. And in some parts of my district, it already is happening."

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2) A "Buy American" bill that provides a modest preference for purchase of U.S.-made iron and steel on state-funded projects has cleared the Senate.

  The final vote was 22-8.

  SB 1289 by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, won approval only after senators approved an amendment that undoes a 2013 law that applied similar provisions to water development projects in Texas. That amendment by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, was opposed by Creighton, but Creighton's motion to set it aside failed on a 9-22 vote. Creighton argued there is no empirical evidence that "Buy American" provisions discourage competition, and experience in the field has been the opposite.

  Nevertheless, the movement of the bill is a signal achievement for working people who support growth of domestic jobs in key manufacturing and construction industries. The United Steelworkers union has been instrumental in helping move the bill. Several union members, including Lee Medley, who watched the ups and downs of the Senate debate today, have done shining work to arrive at this moment.

  Creighton said foreign governments, including "Communist China," are undermining, not supporting, a free market system when they dump steel in the U.S. at below-market prices. 

  "We want Texas companies to compete with other companies, not other countries," Creighton said.

  The next step for SB 1289 is the Texas House, where an identical bill had been scheduled for floor debate today. The House will apparently wait for the Senate version before taking action.

3) The Texas House yesterday approved a bill that modifies the rating system for school districts approved last legislative session.

  Our Brothers and Sisters at Texas AFT suggess HB 22 by Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, has its strong points as this session's "accountability bill":

  The most important part of HB 22 would delay implementation of A-F school ratings until the 2019-20 school year, giving the Legislature one more regular session in 2019 to review and possibly replace this ill-advised rating system. The bill also would prohibit labeling a district or school with a single overall letter grade. Instead, schools and districts would be rated in three domains of student performance, school progress, and school climate.

Student performance on state exams could not account for more than 50 percent of the ratings within the student-performance and school-progress domains.

Districts could use multiple other measures of student performance.

HB 22 is not without flaws. It does not address the sanctions scheme tied to ratings that makes for a high-stakes system still too heavily reliant on students' scores on state exams. It also includes a problematic provision authorizing use of those scores as part of an indicator of teacher quality to be developed by the commissioner of education. The bill also obviously does not simply get rid of the A-F rating system.

  The Texas Tribune posted more background on HB 22:

In 2015, legislators changed the system for rating schools and districts, from a pass/fail system to an A-F letter grade system. Educators argued the proposed grades were too reliant on standardized tests and did not adequately represent school achievement.

The original proposal for the new graded system would give schools and districts letters in five categories: student performance on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exam, student progress on STAAR, closing the achievement gap, college and career readiness, and community engagement.

HB 22 would roll back those categories to just three: student achievement, student progress and school climate.

Districts would also be able to use locally selected exams, not just the state STAAR test, as a factor in their grades.

It would require grading schools on factors beyond standardized tests, including student participation in fine arts and extracurricular activities. It would also delay implementation of the new system from 2018 to 2019, and require the state to release two preliminary reports with unofficial grades for each school and district.

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4) The House later this week is set to consider a proposed resolution that would count Texas among states calling for a national convention to rewrite significant portions of the U.S. Constitution.

  The United Labor Legislative Committee has OPPOSED SJR 2, which is championed by Gov. Greg Abbott.

  The Dallas Morning News today editorialized against the idea of a convention and accused Abbott of taking anything but a "conservative" approach:

  His crusade seems more calculated to raise his national profile than produce sound governance.  

  At best, the movement might be a way to let Washington know that people outside the Beltway are fed up with federal gridlock and meddling. At worst, the campaign risks radically altering the balance of power established in the Constitution by our Founding Fathers - and the Bill of Rights with it.

  Ostensibly, the package of proposals would allow a convention of states to amend the Constitution to require a balanced budget, term limits for Congress, and curbs on federal regulation of state activities.  One of Abbott's proposals also would allow a vote of two-thirds of the states to overturn Supreme Court decisions or any act by Congress.

  To be sure, the issue of federal overreach merits attention, and there is considerable grass-roots support for a balanced budget and term limits. But, as they say, the devil is in the details.  Penalties such as jail time and fines have been added to the Texas package that are supposed to prevent convention delegates from sneaking in whatever hot-button issue is in fashion at the time, such as bathroom labels. But the risk of "mission creep" remains.

  It is also troubling that the campaign in Texas and around the country has largely been funded by a handful of multimillionaires who see it as an opportunity to circumvent Congress.  

  The convention campaign is cloaked as a "conservative" effort, but a true conservative believes in restraint - which is why so many responsible Republicans favor judges who look to the Founding Founders' intent and tread cautiously.

  Besides, who or what would protect an individual's right of free speech, religion or political association, if any decision by the Supreme Court could be overturned by statehouses thanks to funding from the wealthy?

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5) In an object lesson on how perilous any seemingly stable legislative situation can become, the U.S. House is poised to vote Thursday on a truly awful version of "repeal and replace," The New York Times reports. 

  Do something! Call your representative using this toll-free number: 866-829-3298. If you live in the district of U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio, who is reportedly still undecided, the urgency to make that call is even greater. 

  Yesterday's e-mail noted an announcement by a key lawmaker that he would oppose the "repeal and replace" bill. An inadequate infusion of cash for people with pre-existing conditions was enough for him to reverse course:

  Representatives Fred Upton of Michigan, an influential voice in Republican health policy, and Billy Long of Missouri, a close ally of President Trump's, told reporters after a meeting with Mr. Trump on Wednesday that the latest revisions had won them over. Those included $8 billion in additional funds over five years to supplement the insurance of people with pre-existing health problems.

  Mr. Upton predicted the bill was "likely" to pass the House, a tremendous reversal of momentum for a measure that has twice been pulled back from a vote for lack of support.

  Their announcement gave a big lift to Speaker Paul D. Ryan and other Republican leaders who are trying to round up enough votes to push the bill through the House this week. In an interview on a Wisconsin radio station on Wednesday morning, Mr. Ryan expressed confidence in the bill's chances.

   "We've got some momentum," Mr. Ryan said.

  Democrats, once confident of another collapse, tried to slow that momentum. The liberal health advocacy group Families USA said another $8 billion would do little to improve so-called high risk pools that would be set up by state governments to help insure people unable to afford insurance on the open market.

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