Legislative Lowdown-Feb. 8, 2019

Today is Day 32 of the 140-day regular session of the 86th Texas Legislature.

  • Texas Secretary of State David Whitley endured a rocky confirmation hearing before the Senate Nominations Committee after implying that a bogus list of supposed non-citizens may have illegally voted or registered to vote. Whitley acknowledged during a four-hour grilling that he had coordinated his news release with Gov. Greg Abbott and indicted Attorney General Ken Paxton. Asked to define “voter suppression,” Whitley declined the opportunity. Nor did he apologize or even fully acknowledge that sending the list to Paxton for potential prosecution before counties had a chance to vet it was wrong.
  • Among the witnesses against Whitley’s confirmation: Texas AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Montserrat Garibay and her sister, Julieta Garibay, a naturalized citizen who showed up on the list. Other naturalized citizens on the list include a staffer for Dean of the Senate John Whitmire, D-Houston, and a Dallas Morning News reporter. The Nominations Committee, per its usual procedure, put off a vote until next week.
  • The Texas Tribune reports several bills have been filed that would give Paxton additional authority he wants to prosecute voter fraud. Paxton’s participation in the Texas Secretary of State list release debacle suggests those bills will get extra scrutiny. “[I]n Texas, most criminal enforcement falls to local prosecutors unless they seek the state's help,” the Tribune states. “And many of those prosecutors say there's no need for the state to take over work they're already handling.” Read more: http://bit.ly/2TG2Nzc
  • Do Something! Write your state senator and ask him or her to OPPOSE the confirmation of Whitley as Texas Secretary of State: http://bit.ly/2RLQ2RK
  • Gov. Greg Abbott’s State of the State speech on Tuesday appeared calculated to avoid the kind of partisan strife that afflicted the last couple of legislative sessions. Abbott’s “emergency” proclamations – a status that lets legislation proceed on an accelerated calendar – steered clear of wedge issues (think, for example, “bathroom bill,” “sanctuary cities” and, yes, “vote fraud”) that have divided lawmakers. The emergency items: school finance reform; increasing teacher pay; school safety; a mental health consortium to collaborate on statewide mental health initiatives; property tax reform; and disaster preparedness and recovery. Despite the absence of discord in Abbott’s words, his record on working family issues counsels a tight watch on his actions.
  • Biennial legislative deliberation over the Texas Enterprise Fund, which amid much hoopla grants state taxpayer money directly to companies that are moving to Texas or expanding here, is under way. Labor’s long-running skepticism over the need to subsidize businesses that often don’t deliver the jobs they promise was fed further when Dallas Morning News columnist Mitch Schnurman offered this statistic: Since 2016, the fund has awarded $60 million, but in that time $36 million has come back to the state because companies did not meet requirements of the grant. See: http://bit.ly/2SdLzMZ
  • A major push to reform the bail system in Texas gathered momentum from a Texas Observer column by a woman who spent 45 days in jail because she couldn’t make bond on a charge of writing a bad $25 check for groceries. “If you are a generally law-abiding citizen, it might seem incomprehensible that anyone would go to jail for a bounced check for $25 worth of groceries. Why wouldn't a person just pay the check and the fees? How could they let it get so bad that a warrant would be issued for their arrest? Why would they miss court dates? Why wouldn't they just post bail? Those questions taunted me for days, even though the answer was simple, had always been simple. I had no money,” Faylita Hicks wrote. Read more: http://bit.ly/2TFQUJi
  • Hat tip to Leonard Aguilar, Executive Director & Secretary-Treasurer of the Texas Building Trades & Construction Council, who will move to a regional job with the Plumbers Union on March 1. Welcome to Aguilar’s successor, Ronnie Smitherman, Business Manager & Financial Secretary Treasurer of Iron Workers Local 263. Smitherman is in the Council’s Austin office, working with Aguilar to ensure a smooth transition as the legislative session continues.
  • RIP Jeanne Ragsdale, long time Office Secretary for Ironworkers Local 482 in Austin, mother of Ironworkers General Vice President Marvin Ragsdale, and for generations of Ironworkers, the woman known fondly as "Mama Rags."

ULLCO Positions

  • ULLCO OPPOSED SB 2 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, and the identical HB 2 by Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, property tax bills that would dramatically reduce the ability of local governments to fund basic services. While the bills contain unobjectionable reforms in the appraisal system and in transparency, they would trigger recall elections when a local government seeks to raise the tax rate by more than 2.5 percent. The current level to trigger such elections is 8 percent.
  • Texas AFT recalls recent history on “property tax relief” that neither provided adequately for public school funding nor eased burdens for homeowners in the long run: ‘The last time the Legislature attempted to reduce property taxes, the results were disastrous. A ‘tax swap’ in 2006-supposedly replacing a reduction local school property taxes with changes to state business taxes-resulted in a loss of about $5 billion per year. Add a Great Recession two years later and public education ultimately faced $5.4 billion in cuts.”
  • ULLCO formally OPPOSED the confirmation of David Whitley as Texas Secretary of State.