Saturday, April 22, 2017

#TXLEGE: Stickland posts Constitutional Carry ACTION ALERT


"Every one of the builders had his sword girded at his side as he built. And the one who sounded the trumpet was beside me."
Nehemiah 4:18

Speaks for itself:
Bottom Line: If Phil King wants to be the guy who kills Constitutional carry, that's his business, but that doesn't stop activists from leaving everything on the field.

Friday, April 21, 2017

#TXLEGE: Patrick/Senate risk flushing their credibility with "Buffett Bill"....


"Dishonest scales are an abomination to the Lord,
But a just weight is His delight."
Proverbs 11:1

Whoa, whoa...wait a second...sssay whaaaaaat?!?
A couple of years ago, famed billionaire Warren Buffett got into the auto dealer business without realizing a protectionist state law could stop him from selling cars in Texas.

On Monday, Buffett met with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and — according to multiple Capitol sources and an unchallenged news story — Gov. Greg Abbott.

On Tuesday, the Texas Senate used emergency powers to introduce what was quickly dubbed the “Buffett Bill,” Senate Bill 2279, granting the Oracle of Omaha a special exemption. On Wednesday the author set the bill for a public hearing in a Senate committee. And on Thursday it shot out of the panel like a lightning bolt toward the Senate floor.

In Capitol parlance, what Buffett is getting is known as a “carve-out,” a special deal for one company. In the case of Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Automotive, it was an exemption from the supposedly hallowed rule that vehicle manufacturers can’t be vehicle dealers. Berkshire Hathaway also owns an RV manufacturer, Forest River Inc., in Indiana.

If the Legislature fixes Buffett’s problem, it won’t be the first time lawmakers have come to the aid of powerful interests. What makes the Buffett carve-out extraordinary is the speed with which it passed through the often clunky legislative process, the powerful auto dealer alliance supporting it and the stark contrast with other attempts — including by electric car maker Tesla Motors — to open up the state’s heavily-regulated auto market.

The special treatment for Buffett’s bill also lays bare the tensions between the statewide political establishment — led by Abbott and Patrick — and the drain-the-swamp grassroots that have helped put them in their current jobs.

“I do have a problem with a gazillionaire blowing into Texas and meeting with our officials and suddenly a bill gets fast-tracked,” said East Texas Tea Party activist JoAnn Fleming, one of the early and most enthusiastic backers of establishment-busting U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. “Republicans all run on being free market people except where there’s an asterisk, and then there’s a bunch of exceptions.’’

Economic protectionism is a touchy subject in the offices of the governor and lieutenant governor, neither of which answered questions about the Buffet Bill or the auto dealers’ firm grip on the Texas Legislature. Patrick’s office did confirm he met with Buffett.

....

A bill being pushed by Tesla Motors — arch enemy of an auto dealer network that has pumped millions into the campaign coffers of Abbott and others — is heading into oblivion faster than the company’s sleek Model X.

The Tesla bill hasn’t even gotten a public hearing, and nobody in the know at the Capitol is predicting the bill will go anywhere even if it does. That leaves Texas increasingly isolated from other big economies that have embraced the direct-to-consumer sales model Tesla has pioneered around the world — including in approximately 30 U.S. states.

....

But Tesla represents a direct threat to auto dealers because the bill would allow any manufacturer — not just the electric carmaker — to bypass car dealers altogether and sell directly to consumers. And a threat to auto dealers is a threat to the establishment.

In recent years, auto dealer interests, led in large part by one of Abbott’s largest donors — Houston billionaire Dan Friedkin of Gulf States Toyota — have poured money into the campaigns of the state’s top elected officials as part of a well-financed fight against Tesla, according to a 2015 study by Texans for Public Justice, a liberal watchdog group that tracks money and influence. Auto dealer interests have given nearly $11 million to state politicians between 2013 and 2016, with Abbott and Patrick, respectively, at the top of the heap, according to preliminary TPJ figures.

As it turns out, Friedkin, whom Abbott appointed to the board of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, has his own carve-out of sorts. His company is the exclusive distributor of Toyotas in Texas and four other states — while also having ownership interests in dealerships.

Friedkin's business empire might have run afoul of state laws designed to stop both manufacturers and distributors from becoming dealers themselves. But Carroll Smith, chairman of the Texas Auto Dealers Association, said Friedkin was cut out of the law because he had pre-existing dealerships when the bills were passed more than a decade ago. It's known as the "Friedkin exemption."
So...a liberal billionaire who helped raise money for Obama and Hillary Clinton visits the Capitol and a "narrowly tailored" bill starts moving while the bill that repeals the entire law in question languishes in committee?!?

Got it.

In fairness to those pushing the bill, an argument can be made that RV's and consumer automobiles are fundamentally different businesses and that a law intended to cover the latter shouldn't apply to the former.  Then there's the issue of what's politically feasible.  It isn't a crazy argument, but it is incredibly weak.

It's also the type of argument we normally hear from the House...but this time we're hearing it from the Senate.

-----

For the most part, this session, the Senate has been moving the ball in the right direction.  While we certainly don't agree with every action they've taken, it's hard to deny that they're considering and passing bills that deliver tangible progress on a wide range of priorities.  From property taxes, to taxpayer funded lobbying, to corporate welfare on the local level, to dismemberment abortion, to university tuition, to sharing economy issues, to any number of other issues, if the bills working their way through the Senate cross the finish line they will represent tangible (if imperfect and incomplete) progress.

And, similarly, the contrast with the House speaks for itself.

For now.

But if they press forward with a carve out bill for a liberal Obama donor while killing a much stronger free market bill that addresses the same issue, it doesn't take a genius to see how it would be used against them.  The (basically accurate) Senate good/House bad narrative becomes muddied and more difficult to explain.  This becomes even truer if Straus ultimately kills this measure.

[Note: If we were Joe Straus, and we got this bill from the Senate, we would kill it just to mess with Patrick.]

-----

We spent several hours this morning working Senate sources and, to the best of our knowledge, nobody seems to have any clue what's going on besides Dan Patrick and Kelly Hancock.  That's both a bad thing and a good thing.  It's bad because it's incredibly shady but it's good because it suggests that, in the club-like atmosphere of the Senate, there doesn't seem to be consensus among the members to move forward...yet.

-----

One silver lining: If this bill does move forward, it's vulnerable to a floor amendment that could substitute the Tesla bill for the "Buffett bill."  All it would take would be to have a Senator force the vote during floor debate.  But we've also learned from experience that courage from an individual Texas senator is...fleeting.

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Bottom Line: This is...difficult to understand.

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Office of the Lieutenant Governor: (512) 463-0001
Senator Kelly Hancock: (512) 463-0599

Thursday, April 20, 2017

#TXLEGE: Bonnen hears yet ANOTHER 24 special interest carve out bills (75 for session)....


"Dishonest scales are an abomination to the Lord,
But a just weight is His delight."
Proverbs 11:1

It's that time of week when we check on the latest from Dennis Bonnen and the Texas House Ways and Means committee:

  • HB 824        Turner
    Relating to an exemption from the sales and use tax for certain lightbulbs for a limited period.
  • HB 902        Nev├írez                
    Relating to the use by certain municipalities of hotel occupancy tax revenue to improve or expand certain airports.
  • HB 939        Keough                 
    Relating to the use of municipal hotel occupancy tax revenues in certain municipalities.
  • HB 1494       Morrison, Geanie W.    
    Relating to the use of municipal hotel occupancy tax revenue by certain municipalities.
  • HB 1548       Dutton                 
    Relating to the exemption from ad valorem taxation by a school district of certain property used to build low-income or moderate-income housing.
  • HB 1623       Blanco                 
    Relating to the authority of certain counties to impose a hotel occupancy tax.
  • HB 1806       Reynolds               
    Relating to the use of municipal hotel occupancy tax revenue by certain municipalities.
  • HB 1853       Simmons                
    Relating to the authority of certain municipalities to pledge certain tax revenue for the payment of obligations related to certain projects.
  • HB 2354       Isaac                  
    Relating to the use and allocation of municipal hotel occupancy tax revenue in certain municipalities.
  • HB 2445       Stucky                 
    Relating to the use of municipal hotel occupancy tax revenue in certain municipalities.
  • HB 2526       Canales                
    Relating to the use of municipal hotel occupancy tax revenue for sporting-related facilities in certain municipalities.
  • HB 2538       Raymond                
    Relating to the authority of certain municipalities to pledge certain tax revenue for the payment of obligations related to hotel projects.
  • HB 2714       Bohac                  
    Relating to the exemption from ad valorem taxation of leased motor vehicles that are not held primarily for the production of income by the lessee.
  • HB 3181       Springer               
    Relating to authorizing certain counties to impose a hotel occupancy tax and to the purposes for which that tax revenue may be used.
  • HB 3366       Bohac                  
    Relating to the application of the sales and use tax to certain property and services.
  • HB 3484       Paddie                 
    Relating to the use of municipal hotel occupancy tax revenue by certain municipalities.
  • HB 3485       Neave                  
    Relating to the use of municipal hotel occupancy tax revenue for homeless assistance programs.
  • HB 3575       Bonnen, Greg           
    Relating to the authority of certain municipalities to use certain tax revenue for certain projects and to pledge that revenue for the payment of obligations related to those projects.
  • HB 3626       Hunter                 
    Relating to the definition of eligible central municipality for purposes of the municipal hotel occupancy tax.
  • HB 3731       Davis, Yvonne          
    Relating to the use of tax revenue by certain municipalities for the payment of certain hotel-related bonds or other obligations.
  • HB 3838       Zerwas | et al.        
    Relating to the definition of eligible central municipality for purposes of the municipal hotel occupancy tax.
  • HB 3973       Burrows                
    Relating to the use of municipal hotel occupancy tax revenue by certain municipalities.
  • HB 4029       Oliveira               
    Relating to the use of municipal hotel occupancy tax revenue to construct, enhance, upgrade, and maintain coastal sports facilities in certain municipalities.
  • HB 4173       Hinojosa, Gina         
    Relating to the portion of the municipal hotel occupancy tax revenue collected in certain cities that can be utilized to promote the arts.

#TXLEGE: Constitutional Carry gets GUTTED in committee


"Every one of the builders had his sword girded at his side as he built. And the one who sounded the trumpet was beside me."
Nehemiah 4:18

Oh good grief:
A Texas House committee Tuesday approved legislation to allow handguns to be carried without a license, with two Democrats voting against and five Republicans voting in favor even though they believed the measure doesn’t go far enough.
The version of House Bill 1911 approved by the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee contained several substantial changes from the version that drew extensive public testimony three weeks ago, including:
• To carry without a permit, gun owners would have to meet the restrictions to obtain a license to carry, which is generally available to those who are 21 or older, have no felony convictions and are eligible to purchase a weapon under federal and state laws. The earlier version allowed guns to be carried by those 18 and older.
• Churches and places of worship would be removed as prohibited places to carry a gun, although signs banning guns would be allowed.
• Openly carried handguns would still be required to be kept in a holster, but HB 1911 would omit the requirement that it be a belt or shoulder holster.
The revised bill by Rep. James White, R-Hillister, would not change any laws related to campus carry, a statute passed in 2015 that allows licensed gun owners to carry concealed weapons into most areas of public universities, said Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford.
In addition the bill, as it currently stands, prohibits anyone who's been CHARGED (note: not convicted, charged) with a class A or B misdemeanor over the past five years from carrying.

LoneStarVoice has behind the scenes details:
Chairman Phil King had been working with Reps. White and Stickland for the last couple weeks, discussing changes he wanted to see to both bills before he would allow them out of his committee.

According to activists, a deal had been reached last week between White, Stickland, King, and group leaders, but they say the deal was breached with Tuesday's vote.

They say White had agreed to strengthen his bill. They say that all parties had agreed to accept these changes and support White's bill. But in the days before the vote, King decided he would only allow White's bill to pass if White agreed to undo the agreed-upon changes.
Lone Star Gun Rights has even more:


There's a small chance the bill can be strengthened via floor amendment, but there's a long history of the lawless house leadership making up excuses to refuse to consider amendments.

Bottom Line: As it currently stands, HB 1911 is not a constitutional carry bill.  It's a fee reduction bill.  Don't get us wrong, a fee reduction bill would be an improvement on the status quo. It might be worth passing.  But it's not constitutional carry.  And you shouldn't believe anyone who attempts to tell you otherwise.

-----

Update: Open Carry Texas has more....

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

#TXLEGE: Straus uses Uber bill floor debate to send a message


"Perversity is in his heart,
He devises evil continually,
He sows discord."
Proverbs 6:14

The House just voted out their version of the Uber bill.  We said our piece on it yesterday; we're glad it passed.  But notice something interesting about the floor debate:


19 amendments...with 12 by Democrats?!?

At 10 minutes per amendment, that's 190 minutes.  That's more than three hours.  And several of the amendments took closer to 20.

All afternoon long, we've been wondering why the Democrats were spending so much time on this bill.  This is even more true once you consider that the House is also holding floor debate today on a major school finance bill (Note: We don't want to get sidetracked on school finance, but that bill is a whole separate hot mess).  Considering that most of the Democrat amendments came from the Austin delegation, we assumed they were attempting to protect the city and the broader local government mafia.

Making matters weirder, the debate morphed into a discussion of "discrimination."

Then we remembered a bill that's up in the House state affairs committee after today's floor session:
HB 2899       Simmons | et al.        
Relating to the regulation of discrimination by political subdivisions.
That's the House equivalent of the privacy act.

Bingo.

They're debating two major bills on the floor today, both of which are accompanied by lots of amendments.  And they're taking their sweet time with those amendments.  They're doing this to delay the start of tonight's state affairs hearing.

Consider further that Austin Democrat Celia Israel offered five of those amendments...and wasn't Celia Israel also the one who introduced the phrase "Operation Slowdown" in the first place?!?

This isn't about ridesharing, it's about telegraphing what they're going to do with the privacy act.

And we doubt they get off the floor before 9 pm tonight...which means the hearing begins around 10...and there are 10 total bills being heard.

Bottom Line: Tonight is going to be a late night, and that late night was pre-planned.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

#TXLEGE: Short Term Rental bills move forward in both chambers


"A ruler who lacks understanding is a great oppressor,
But he who hates covetousness will prolong his days."
Proverbs 28:16

[Note: The House hearing can be viewed here; the STR bill begins about 3ish hours into the broadcast and our testimony is two hours after the bill discussion began.]

Big news out of the legislature on short term rentals; first up, the Senate voted their bill out of the full chamber today:
A Senate bill that would limit local government control of short-term home rentals in Texas passed out of the upper chamber Tuesday in a 21-9 vote.

Under Senate Bill 451 by state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, Texas cities would be prevented from banning short-term rentals and their ability to write ordinances restricting the practice would be narrowed. Austin, San Antonio and Fort Worth are among the cities that have enacted such restrictions.

....

Among local policies that would be limited in scope by Hancock's bill: a Fort Worth regulation that requires property owners to obtain a bed-and-breakfast permit only available to homes built before 1993 and an ordinance in Austin that has capped the number of short-term rentals with no live-in owners.
Meanwhile, the House just wrapped up hearing their companion bill; to be honest, the House hearing was more of what anyone who's been following this debate has come to expect.

Supporters of the bill shared stories of small scale entrepreneurship and the benefits to their families and communities that resulted.  The attacks on their property rights threatened those accomplishments.  After being attacked by cities like Austin and Ft. Worth, they're coming to the legislature for help.

Mayor Adler waiting to testify

Mayor Adler testified against the bill and attempted to obfuscate the difference between owner occupied and owner offsite short term rentals.  While only the latter are fully banned, Austin's ordinance imposes many of the same requirements on owner occupied units.  For example, the limitations over how many people can be present on the property applies regardless.  Of course, Adler knows this and he was attempting misdirection with the community.  In addition to his suggestion to the Mayor that Austin eliminate zoning entirely, we enjoyed watching Representative Gary Elkins school the Mayor on property rights.

Mayor Adler was joined in opposition by hotel industry trade associations, taxpayer funded lobbyists, and 'urban planning' professionals.  There were also a couple of local Austin homeowners who shared horror stories about being next to bad STR properties.  While we understand the awfulness of the situation they faced, that doesn't change the fact that the issues with which they dealt could have been addressed by enforcing the noise/nuisance ordinances the city already had on the books.

We testified about the frightening enforcement powers the City of Austin claimed for itself out of thin air.  The Austin STR ordinance empowers the city code department to perform warantless searches on any property they suspect of being a type-2 STR at any time with no warning.  Note that we didn't say the police department has this authority (which we also wouldn't support, but for which we could see a justification)...we said the code department.  It doesn't take a genius to see how this this type of authority could grow into something really dangerous.  Likewise, in a committee with a Democrat chair (Carol Alvarado), it seemed prudent to mention that in the wrong hands this type of authority could be used in a racially discriminatory way.

Bottom Line: We'll have to see what happens, but these bills are far enough in the process that there's still time.

#TXLEGE: House Uber Bill > Status Quo


"The Lord has made all for Himself,
Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom."
Proverbs 16:4

LoneStarVoice peruses the Uber bill set to be voted on in the House tomorrow and finds it lacking:
  • Bans cash transactions. Presumably, the state is interested in keeping records of all transactions for taxation purposes.

  • Bans large vans and sports cars. All vehicles must have four doors, and a seat capacity of no more than eight.

  • Mandates government-run background checks. Rather than allowing the company to run checks on its employees like most companies in America, this bill mandates each employee be submitted to local, state, and federal background checks. Interestingly, some of the same Republicans who oppose universal background checks on gun sales over privacy concerns are supporting this bill.

  • Interferes with internal disciplinary measures. If a driver is even accused of driving while intoxicated, the bill mandates that he or she be locked out of the system until an investigation has been completed. But additionally, it requires the investigation records be kept on file for two years after the incident.

  • Requires dangerous pick-ups. The bill requires drivers to pick up anyone soliciting a ride, regardless of what part of town they are in. If a driver has reason to avoid certain areas, he or she will have the choice to go there or face a penalty.

  • Requires companies to direct riders to competitors. If a rider is physically disabled, and the ride-share company cannot provide a wheelchair accessible vehicle, under this bill, they will be required to find another company that can, and direct the rider to that business.
In addition to the criticisms listed above, LSV also raises concerns about a $5000 fee TNC's will have to pay to the state.  In the abstract, we agree with these criticisms.  There's a reason why SB 113 (Huffines) is the only bill on which we testified in favor.

But we don't live in the abstract...and we see nothing in the bill that's a dealbreaker.

It's the difference between obnoxious regulation (bad but not disqualifying) and something truly awful and unworkable (eg. the Austin ordinance).

Specifically, consider the background check provision:
(2)  conduct, or cause to be conducted, a local, state,
 and national criminal background check for the individual that
 includes the use of:
                    (A)  a commercial multistate and
 multijurisdiction criminal records locator or other similar
 commercial nationwide database; and
                    (B)  the national sex offender registry database
 maintained by the United States Department of Justice or a
 successor agency; and
              (3)  obtain and review the individual's driving record.
As a point of comparison, we would excerpt the similar provision from the Austin ordinance, but it's three pages.  You can read it for yourself here.  We might not be crazy about either, but there's a significant difference between using one paragraph to set a broad requirement with wide leeway for how to fulfill it compared to three pages micromanaging the entire process.

The fact that the House bill is 3.5 pages, compared to 12 pages for the Austin ordinance, is revealing.

And that's before you consider that TNC trips often cross jurisdictional boundaries, so that standardization is beneficial in and of itself.

It's not a secret that the Texas legislature's commitment to free enterprise is...conditional at best.  It would be nice if that weren't the case, but it is.  Given the underlying reality of who controls the legislature, we fail to see how HB 100 is anything other than a significant step in the right direction.

In terms of letter grades, we'd give the House bill a "C."  While we'd give the Huffines bill an "A," we'd also give these local ordinances an "F."  In a choice between living in a "C" reality or living in an "F" reality, we'll choose the "C" reality.

Bottom Line:  This isn't the bill we would have written, but we see nothing disqualifying.