Legislative Lowdown-Feb. 1, 2019

Today is Day 25 of the 140-day regular session of the 86th Texas Legislature.

  • The Texas Secretary of State late last Friday trampled on the constitutional right to vote when he launched a list that flagged tens of thousands of Texans who at some point had noted in state records that they were non-citizens and at some later point had voted or registered to vote. President Trump, Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton were hot on the trail, alleging without evidence that the list indicated mass illegal voting. Here’s the problem: Not a word of it was valid.
  • As became obvious, virtually all those on the list, which stretches back as far as two decades on the “non-citizen” part, were erroneously placed or became naturalized citizens before registering. Of some 95,000 names, not one at this writing has been flagged for illegal voting. The McLennan County voter registrar said all 366 names given to the county for possible investigation were in fact citizens eligible to vote. Other counties asked by the state to vet voters and potentially remove them from voter lists if they did not respond promptly suggested similarly overwhelming numbers. The intimidation list flagged voter suppression targets as potential felons.
  • Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted thanks to Secretary of State David Whitley and indicted Attorney General Ken Paxton "for uncovering and investigating this illegal vote registration." Paxton said he would “prosecute crimes against the democratic process.” A senator filed a bill that would require proof of citizenship just to register to vote (current law requires such proof to cast a ballot). When the arrival of facts shot the list full of holes, radio silence from these officials ensued.
  • The Texas AFL-CIO called on Abbott, Paxton, Whitley and others involved in this voter intimidation scheme to apologize and asked for a probe. Texas AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Montserrat Garibay, whose sister showed up on the list sent to Travis County even though she is a naturalized citizen, said, ““Our lawmakers, rather than make voting harder, should get to the bottom of this sorry episode to make sure it never happens again.”
  • A major property tax bill that would cap at 2.5 percent the ability of local governments to raise rates without the likelihood of a local election was filed with the support of the “big 3” of Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen. The cap is currently 8 percent. City, county and school board officials, many Democrats and a few Republicans said the measures would override the priorities of local voters and shortchange basic services. The bills are HB 2 by Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, and SB 2 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston. Most observers see the legislation, which also includes appraisal reform and transparency measures, as a starting point. The leadership endorsement and the bill numbers send a signal about the relative priority of the tax bill and school finance reform (HB 1 and SB 1 are always the appropriations bills).
  • The Texas Tribune took note of bipartisan bills that aim to disconnect failure to keep up with student loan payments from the ability to hold a professional license in Texas. The Texas AFL-CIO fair shot agenda has a plank that questions the disproportionate effect of minor offenses – in this case, a civil debt matter – on the ability of working families to improve their lives. As lawmakers of both parties are now saying, current law makes it harder for working people to earn what they need to pay off education loans and move forward. Link to article: https://bit.ly/2MFrpoO
  • The battle to improve state incentives to attract film productions to Texas is again under way in the budget process at the Capitol. The Austin American-Statesman reports Texas is losing productions to other states because the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program’s $32 million budget over the last two years is not competitive. The Texas AFL-CIO has supported creative professionals, including the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) and other craft unions, on the issue. “We’re on life support,” one studio representative said. Link: https://atxne.ws/2S5i3rR
  • Congratulations to Art Fierro, State Representative-elect in Texas House District 79 after winning 53 percent of the vote in a special election. Fierro grabbed the first-round majority with the endorsement of the El Paso Central Labor Council. On the same day, voters in HD 145 in Houston sent the dual endorsees of the Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, Christina Morales and Melissa Noriega, into a runoff election. Still pending, but without a labor endorsement, is a Feb. 12 special election in Bexar County’s HD 125.
  • AFSCME Correctional Officers Local 3806 President Richard Salazar drew kudos from the Chair and a leading senator on the Senate Finance Committee for his testimony seeking a pay raise and an improved career ladder. "Employees are constantly pushed to do more with less and fill in the gaps," Salazar said. "We cover extra shifts, we work overtime, and we spend more and more days away from our families trying to fulfill the mission of TDCJ…The consistent under-staffing put me and my fellow TDCJ employees at risk.”
  • The Texas Senate honored Stephen Willeford, a hero in preventing an even worse tragedy during the mass shooting at a Sutherland Springs church, with a resolution. Per tradition, he was greeted one on one by each senator after the reading of SR 75 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo. Willeford is a member of Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 142. We salute him.