Wednesday, June 3, 2015

On The Issues: Grading the 84th #TXLEGE

"He who covers his sins will not prosper,
But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy."
Proverbs 28:13

The 84th Texas Legislature is mercifully over.  How'd they do?!?  They had a few modest successes, but on most issues they did the bare minimum if they addressed it at all:

Two Year Budget: B -- Whatever their performance elsewhere, this legislature produced a "reasonably not crappy" budget.  To their credit, the growth rate in this year's budget came in under 'Inflation + Population.' Last Summer, the conservative budget coalition identified the Inflation + Population target as 6.5% growth in the all funds budget.  The final growth rate came in a smidgen under 4%.  In addition, the budget contained meaningful pro-life riders and ended one major transportation diversion.

Pro-Life: C -- The good news: The 84th Legislature passed two substantive pro-life laws.  HB 3994 (Morrision) closes the loophole ridden process by which a minor may obtain an abortion without parental consent.  HB 3074 (Springer) begins to reform the draconian Texas Advance Directives Act.  These are both meaningful improvements.  Unfortunately, even getting these two bills across the finish line required pulling teeth.

The Bad News: Byron Cook.  SB 575 (L. Taylor) would have prohibited insurance companies from forcing Texans to subsidize elective abortions.  After the bill came over from the Senate, Cook slow walked it for two weeks.  Then Byron Cook gutted the bill out of spite.  Then, on the final day to consider legislation, Cook killed SB 575 in order to focus on anti-First Amendment legislation.

The Bottom Line: The only reason meaningful pro-Life legislation passed this session was the dogged and indefatigable work of Texas Right to Life.  Unfortunately, even on the successful bills, the process unnecessarily dragged on for months.  Pro-lifers were often forced to resort to floor amendments because hostile leadership in the Texas House wouldn't pass meaningful legislation out of committee.  All this in a legislative body with 97 allegedly pro-Life Republicans.  Don't get us started on J.D. Sheffield.

Tax Relief: C- -- Reductions in tax rates are always welcome.  The good news is that the 84th legislature cut rates instead of coming up with gimmicky "tax credits."  Nonetheless, we find it difficult to get excited over this tax package.

While lower rates are always welcome, the 84th legislature failed to address the primary economic burden of either the margins tax or property taxes.  The primary burden of the margins tax are compliance costs.  Appraisal creep is the main way property taxes hurt Texans.  Neither the margins tax nor the property tax system were structurally reformed.  Unfortunately, efforts to do so either died in committee or on the House floor.

The tax relief package from this session can best be described as a "lukewarm"; as Jesus tells the Church at Laodecia: "So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth."

Border Security: D -- The 84th legislature passed a bill that throws money at the border without addressing the core problem.  While no one opposes having the national guard in South Texas, HB 11 allows them to do little more than continue the Federal Government's catch and release 'strategy.'  While it's better than nothing, the changes are more cosmetic than substantive.

The most important piece of legislation, the interstate compact for border security, passed the Senate before dying in the House.  In addition, efforts to end sanctuary cities and tuition subsides for illegal aliens fell flat.  The legislature did pass a watered down version of e-verify for state agencies.

The result was a package that, while it's an advancement from the status quo, nonetheless remains uninspiring.

Second Amendment: D -- Well whoop-de-doo, open carry and campus carry passed!!!  Huzzah!!!  Our second amendment rights have been restored!!!

Sarcasm aside, the 84th Texas legislature did the bare minimum to advance the second amendment.  Both open carry and campus carry were substantially watered down during the legislative process.  Similar to pro-Life, getting these bills across the finish line was like pulling teeth.

Meaningful second amendment legislation (ie. Constitutional Carry), meanwhile, failed to get a hearing in the Senate and was lawlessly and maliciously killed in the House.

Transportation: D -- During last year's campaign, Governor Abbott promised to fix Texas' roads "without raising taxes, fees, or tolls."  To their credit, the legislature fixed one of the minor diversions by which money intended for transportation gets siphoned off into other uses in the budget.  Texans will vote this fall on whether to approve a complicated new funding source for road construction.

Unfortunately, the Governor and legislature took TxDOT's claim they need an additional $5 Billion at face value.  There was never a serious effort to reform TxDOT or other transportation entities.  Thus they poured money into the same dysfunctional system.

Meanwhile, the 84th legislature did little to address the double-taxation inherent in the state's toll road system.  Under the leadership of Joe Pickett in the House and Robert Nichols in the Senate, the most important toll road reforms failed to get a hearing.  They failed to stop the flow of public money to toll roads or to retire tolling after construction debt is repaid.  Instead, we got a toll road elimination "study."  Another noteworthy development was that Joe Pickett remained so committed to red-light cameras that he killed his own bill rather than pass a prohibition (and, of course, this).

Education: F -- The 84th Texas legislature failed to pass reforms to the state's education bureaucracy.  School choice received some buzz at the beginning of the session.  Unfortunately, the final version of the bill was watered down in the Senate before being killed in the House.

The primary action on education was the Governor's bizarre, myopic, commitment to pre-K.  While Tea Party opposition helped defang the bill, the Governor's inexplicable commitment sucked the oxygen out of all other education reform efforts.  Massive missed opportunity.

Meanwhile, the grassroots are stuck asking the Governor to veto SB 313/HB 2811, two bills that would undermine Texas' educational standards in favor of a Common Core lite approach.

Ethics: F -- Where to begin?!?

After the Governor made Ethics reform one of his priority items, Senator Van Taylor filed a strong Ethics reform bill.  Even after having been watered down in the Senate, the bill was still a meaningful step forward.  The bill passed 31-0 in the Senate and headed to the House.

In the House, Byron Cook sat on the bill for two weeks before completely re-writing it.  Rather than require information from public officials, the re-written bill repackaged House leadership's longstanding anti-Empower Texans legislation with a new provision banning filming lawmakers.  A bill that was supposed to be about accountability for public officials instead became an assault on the rights of private citizens.  Fortunately, the re-written bill was D.O.A. in the Senate.  And yes, this is the bill that was used to kill pro-life legislation that we discussed above.

"Fit hits the Shan" Preparation: F -- The 84th legislature passed a "Gold Bullion Depository" bill that was so watered down as to be meaningless.  Efforts to harden Texas electrical grid from EMP attack went nowhere once the electric companies voiced their opposition.  American Laws for American Courts passed the Senate too late for it to matter and was killed twice in the House.

Religious Liberty: F -- On no other topic was the 84th Texas Legislature more callow or pathetic.  The Texas Association of Business created a Potemkin Village and gullible Republicans took the bait.   You know it's bad when the Texas "Freedom" Network sends out this type of congratulatory press release.

While a meaningless "Pastor Protection" bill was passed, efforts to reign in local tyranny or protect the conscience rights of adoption providers went nowhere.

There could yet be a special session on this topic.

Structural Fiscal Reforms: F -- In 2012, 94% of Republican primary voters endorsed a constitutional amendment that would limit growth in state spending to inflation + population growth; for the second session in a row, Republicans in the Texas Legislature failed to deliver.

At the beginning of the session, Lt. Governor Patrick and Jane Nelson floated a clever idea that would have altered the rules for how state fiscal policies were recorded.  The Patrick/Nelson proposal would have encouraged tax relief and debt repayment over traditional government spending.  Unfortunately, this proposal went nowhere as it couldn't even get all the Senate Republicans on board.

SB 9 (Hancock) was a statutory attempt to tighten the current spending limit.  It passed the Senate in plenty time.  Unfortunately, John Otto gutted and killed it in the House.

Higher Education: F- -- They gave the universities a brand-new $3 BILLION slush fund.  They overwhelmingly confirmed Abbott's AWFUL U.T. Regent nominees.  Repeal of Tuition DeReg died in Committee.

Bottom Line: We had low expectations heading into this session; it met them.


  1. Excellent analysis, Adam!

    I would add one more category to the analysis:

    Resistance to Unconstitutional Federal Acts: F

    The Texas legislature did not pass a single statute or resolution doing anything to stop an out-of-control federal government.

    Rep. Dan Flynn’s bill (HB 98) to streamline the process by which the Texas legislature can declare acts of the federal government to be unconstitutional died in Calendars. Lyle Larson’s bill (HB 165) to nullify the indefinite detention provisions of the NDAA died in Calendars. Sen. Brandon Creighton’s symbolic, toothless resolution that declares Texas’ Tenth Amendment sovereignty passed the Senate and died, in you guessed it, Calendars.

    And other bills failed that flexed Texas muscle against federal outrages such as Sen. Hall’s border security compact bill and all the bills to prepare Texas resistance to a possible supreme court decision gutting marriage and the Texas constitution on that issue.


    NEWS RELEASE: Texas Legislature Passes Five Pro-Life Bills and Numerous Pro-Life Budget Provisions

    AUSTIN, TX -- The Texas Legislature has concluded the 84th regular session at the Capitol in Austin, but not before it passed five substantial pro-life bills as well as multiple pro-life provisions in the budget.

    Noteworthy members of the Speaker's leadership team include Reps. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth), Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi), and Jim Keffer (R-Eastland). House Republican Caucus Chair Tan Parker (R-Denton) was also instrumental in the success of the session.

    The Legislature passed HB 3994 by Rep. Geanie Morrison (R-Victoria) and Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) -- a pro-life bill to reform the judicial bypass process in Texas law that allows a judge to authorize abortions on minor girls without notification or consent of parents. HB 3994 closes several loopholes in the current judicial bypass process. The Senate vote was 21-10 and the House vote was 102-43.

    The Legislature passed HB 3074 by Rep. Drew Springer (R-Muenster) and Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) to give patients at the end of life the right to food and water if requested. Supported by a large coalition of pro-life and disability rights organizations, HB 3074 passed unanimously in both chambers.

    Third, the Texas Legislature passed HB 416 by Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-Spring) and Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) to require training for abortion facility workers and volunteers to identify and assist victims of human sex trafficking. This bill passed the House unanimously and passed the Senate on a 24-7 vote.

    The Legislature passed HB 3374 by Rep. Morrison and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) to require physicians to offer state-provided educational materials to parents of an unborn child newly diagnosed with Down syndrome. An amendment by Rep. Brooks Landgraf (R-Odessa) assures that the state materials do not advocate for abortion.

    A fifth pro-life bill is HB 177 by Bill Zedler (R-Arlington) and Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) to create the Texas Adult Stem Cell Research Consortium. This bill promotes life-saving treatments using adult stem cells rather than embryonic stem cells, which require the destruction of human embryos.


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  4. (continued)

    Amendments to HB 1295 by Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford) and Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) require researchers at public universities to reveal their funding sources. The Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TPEP) at the University of Texas at Austin, whose activities and publications are overtly hostile to pro-life policies passed in recent years by the Legislature, has raised concerns because it hides its funding sources from the public.

    Finally, the General Appropriations Act, HB 1 by Rep. John Otto (R-Dayton) and Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) includes multiple pro-life provisions in the budgets for the Department of Health and Human Services (DSHS) and the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC):

    *HB 1 increases funding for alternatives to abortion from $5.15 to $9.15 million per year.

    *HB 1 continues funding $2.5 million per year for adult stem cell research at the University of Texas Heart Institute.

    *DSHS Rider 72 excludes Planned Parenthood from the Breast and Cervical Cancer Services program. Planned Parenthood currently receives $1.4 million per year.

    *DSHS Rider 53 by Reps. Four Price (R-Amarillo) and Molly White (R-Belton) limits funding for abstinence sexual education only to contractors that comply with each of the federal A-H components of abstinence education and requires an annual report for the Legislature on contractor compliance.

    *DSHS Rider 63 and HHSC Riders 29, 74, 85, 87 and 88 continue to exclude Planned Parenthood from women's health programs.

    *HHSC Rider 31 by Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) bans Medicaid funding to abortion providers and their affiliates for human sexuality education.

    *DSHS Rider 14 and HHSC Rider 8 continue to require contractors to report suspected child abuse, including statutory rape.

    *HHSC Rider 31 and 86 continue to prohibit dispensing prescription drugs such as birth control drugs and devices without parental consent.

    *HHSC Rider 59 appropriates $1 million per year for banking adult stem cells obtained from umbilical cord blood.

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