Monday, June 5, 2017

#TXLEGE: On the issues, grading the 85th (Regular Session Edition)....

"Therefore by their fruits you will know them."
Matthew 7:20

[Note: Our assessment of the 84th can be viewed here.]

It's that time of the political cycle!  The regular session of the 85th Texas Legislature is over.  How'd they do?!?

Border Security: B -- They passed the Sanctuary cities bill and maintained border security funding in the budget; if border security is one of your top issues, you can't deny that they made tangible progress on this issue this session.

But we've publicly stated doubts about whether the approach behind the sanctuary cities bill will ultimately accomplish it's stated objective, and we've found the discussion to be very theatrical.

In other words, they notched a couple of first downs but missed other opportunities to reach the end zone.

Pro-Life: B -- The top realistically achievable pro-life priority, the dismemberment abortion ban, was successful.  In addition, we had a couple of pro-life victories in the budget.  But we'll repeat what we said two years ago: "The only reason meaningful pro-Life legislation passed this session was the dogged and indefatigable work of Texas Right to Life."

Unfortunately, for no reason besides political spite, House leadership killed efforts to eliminate abortion subsidies in the health insurance market and to prohibit involuntary due not resuscitate orders in hospitals.

Finally, while it had no realistic path to 76 votes, for Byron Cook to kill the abolition bill without a hearing speaks for itself.

Austin Bashing: C -- The Uber bill crossed the finish line.  On housing issues, they lost linkage fees.   And it's not a secret that a number of local politicians have cynically grandstanded over sanctuary cities.

But the overwhelming majority of bills to reign in the City of Austin's abusive practices died in House committees chaired by Democrats.  Pro-property rights bills related to historical zoning and short term rentals died in Carol Alvarado's Urban Affairs committee, while bills to stop micromanaging hiring practices and pre-empt tree cutting ordinances were slow walked in Rene Olivera's Business and Industry committee.  Alvarado and Olivera killed several other bills without hearings.  It's worth noting that none of Paul Workman's Austin bashing bills were successful.

Finally, an attempt to prohibit other forms of housing price controls died late in the Senate.

Religious Liberty: C -- Conscience protections for adoption service providers successfully passed and that's a pretty big deal.  In addition, efforts to reign in some of the most abusive actions we saw in  the 2014/15 Houston saga were successful.  Both of those are fairly substantial victories.

But any number of other religious liberty bills died in the House.

It wasn't terrible, but it was underwhelming.

Higher Education: D [Note: Senate C, House F] -- The good news: The Senate passed strong bills on tuition and free speech.  Unfortunately, both predictably died in the House.  Nevertheless, those Senate bills are a solid foundation from which to build in future sessions.

The bad news: In the one place where the Senate had leverage and the House was irrelevant...the Senate rubber stamped the damn regent nominees.  Thus, we expect the higher ed. status quo to continue in the short term.  In addition, the Senate caved and increased higher ed. funding in the budget.

The only reason we're giving them a passing grade is because UT had to back down on the Houston land grab.

Ethics: D [Note: Senate A, House D] -- The first bill the Senate unanimously passed was an ethics bill that would have accomplished the following objectives: "barring politicians convicted of a felony from holding office or drawing a pension, requiring lawmakers to disclose government contracts, bond counsel, and legal referral fees, enacting more effective disclosure of lobbyist wining and dining of legislators, and banning elected officials from being employed as lobbyists while in office and eliminating the “revolving door” by adding a one session cooling-off period before former lawmakers can become lobbyists."  In addition, the Senate began the process of reigning in taxpayer funded lobbying.  Over the course of this session we have become convinced that eliminating taxpayer funded lobbying is, by far, the most important ethics reform the legislature could make.

Unfortunately, the only parts of that package that survived the House were the parts about barring pensions for convicted felons and a watered down form of contract disclosure.

Finally, it's worth noting the degree to which the House has treated Greg Abbott with contempt over this topic.  For the past two sessions, the Guvnah has made ethics reform an emergency item, to only receive the crumbs from House leadership we detailed in the preceding paragraph.  That Abbott won't even fight for his own stated priorities is quite revealing.

Two Year Budget: D -- We said our piece about the budget two weeks ago but the TL,DR version is that the this budget met the bare minimum standard (kept the top line number under inflation+population growth) but went no further and funded a lot of garbage.

Tax Relief: F [Note: Senate B, House F] In one of the highest profile discussions of the session, the Senate passed a bill that would have begun the process of structurally reforming the property tax system; the Senate bill didn't go far enough, but it was a fairly significant step in the right direction.

Unfortunately, due to a combination of incompetence and mendacity from Ways and Means chairman Dennis Bonnen, that effort collapsed in the House; we detailed Dennis Bonnen's debacle in real time.

They didn't even get margins tax elimination across the finish line.

Second Amendment: F -- Constitutional carry remains undone.  Mom's Demand Action bragged about having a successful session.  Case closed.

Education: F [Note: Senate A-, House F] -- While they had to modestly water it down to get to 19 votes, the Senate passed the strongest parental educational choice bill the legislature has ever considered.

In the House, Chairman Dan Huberty thumbed his nose at the Republican party platform and killed parental choice.  The House followed up with a budget vote that further illustrated their loyalty to government bureaucrats over parents and children.  Huberty also attempted to use a shady process to pass a "school finance" bill that would have accomplished little besides pouring additional money into the same failing system.

The only silver lining is that when the school finance bill made it to the Senate, they rewrote it in a way that might point the way towards a long term compromise.

"Fit hits the Shan" Preparation: F -- For as little as was getting done this session, we thought there was a decent chance grid security could pass, but it ultimately didn't; right to use cash legislation and the Texas Sovereignty act similarly died.

Structural Fiscal Reforms: F [Note: Senate A, House F] -- For future state budgets, the Senate passed a strong spending limit bill in late March.

In addition, the Senate took a hard look at various corporate welfare programs, 'economic development' shenanigans at the local level, and ballot integrity for local bond elections; these are a strong foundation on which to build future efforts.

None of these efforts went anywhere in the House.

Transportation: Incomplete -- As far as we can tell they didn't do anything terrible (though they tried), but neither did they do anything particularly good.

Overall, we would give the Senate a B and the House an F.

Bottom Line: The good news is that most of the bad stuff died; the bad news is that most of the good stuff also died.


  1. Adam, here are a few of the pro-life accomplishments of the legislature your list does not include. I am a bit surprised that you missed so much given the amount of time we see you in the Capitol.

    Basically, we had another sensational session. Many thanks are due to the pro-life leadership of Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick, and Speaker Straus:

    1. Shut Down Planned Parenthood's Trafficking in Baby Body Parts (SB 8 by Sen. Charles Schwertner/Rep. Cindy Burkett with amendments from Rep. Byron Cook and Rep. Matt Schaefer).

    • Bans partial-birth abortions.
    • Bans sale and donation of organs and tissues after elective abortion.
    • Bans research on tissues and organs of victims of elective abortions.
    • Requires humane disposition of the bodies of babies who die from abortion and miscarriage (language from HB 35 by Rep. Byron Cook).
    • Creates a standard abortion definition across Texas statutes and ensures treatment of ectopic pregnancy is not reported as abortion (amendment by Rep. Byron Cook).
    • Requires monthly electronic reporting of abortions performed by the abortionist (amendment by Rep. Matt Schaefer).

    2. Protect Women from Forced Abortion, Especially Victims of Sex Trafficking (HB 2552 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson/Sen. Joan Huffman, with amendment by Rep. DeWayne Burns).

    • Requires human trafficking hotline signs at abortion facilities and hospitals.
    • Creates first degree felony (up to 99 years) for killing an unborn child of a minor girl who is a victim of sex trafficking.
    • Creates enhanced penalties for assaulting a woman to force her to have an abortion.

    3. Conscience Protection for Foster Care Providers (HB 3859 by Rep. James Frank/Sen. Charles Perry).

    • Protects the rights of foster care providers to follow their sincerely held religious beliefs to not provide or refer for abortion.

    4. Protect Victims of Rape (SB 77 by Sen. Jane Nelson/Rep. Carol Alvarado & Rep. Tony Dale).

    • Provides easier termination of the paternity rights of rapists.

    (Continued in the next comment)

  2. (Continued from the comment above)

    5. Promote Donation, Not Destruction, of Human Embryos (HB 785 by Rep. John Raney/Sen. Charles Perry).

    • Requires physicians involved in IVF to provide information regarding the option of donation of unused human embryos.

    6. Ban Telemedicine Abortions (SB 1107 by Sen. Charles Schwertner/Rep. Four Price).

    • Prohibits drug-induced abortions by telemedicine.

    7. Numerous Pro-Life Provisions in the Two-Year State Budget (SB 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson/Rep. John Zerwas).

    • Continued funding for the state’s Alternatives to Abortion program:
    o $9.15 million/yr for the Alternatives to Abortion Program (HHSC Strategy D.1.2).
    o Additional $20 million if the agency determines there is a demand based on program utilization (HHSC Rider 222).

    • Continued defunding of Planned Parenthood.
    o No direct or indirect funding of abortion (HHSC Rider 52).
    o State money may not be distributed to abortion providers and affiliates (Article IX, Sec. 6.25, amendment by Rep. Drew Springer and Rep. Matt Rinaldi).
    o Abortion providers and affiliates may not be contractors in the Breast and Cervical Cancer Services (BCCS) Program (HHSC Rider 51) and the Healthy Texas Women Program and Family Planning Program (HHSC Rider 56).
    o No funds for Medicaid Family Planning or Instruction my go for abortion providers or materials prepared by abortion providers & affiliates (HHSC Rider 53).
    o Family Planning Program funds are prioritized to entities that provide “comprehensive primary and preventative care” (which Planned Parenthood does not offer) (HHSC Rider 58).

    • Numerous other pro-life provisions in SB 1:
    o Contractors must report suspected child abuse, including statutory rape (DSHS Rider 24, HHSC Rider 150).
    o Limit sexuality education spending to programs that comply with each of the A-H components of abstinence education (HHSC Rider 49).
    o No funds for prescription drugs to minors without parental consent (HHSC Rider 57).
    o State funded long acting contraceptives may not include abortifacients (HHSC Rider 59).
    o $1 million/yr for umbilical cord stem cell banks (HHSC Rider 81)
    o $1.6 million/yr for Texas Heart Institute Adult Stem Cell Program.


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