This week, the Governor announced that the Texas Legislature will come back next month for a special session to address issues that are important to Lieutenant Governor Patrick, and his far-right base. This special session could have been avoided, but Lt. Governor Patrick refused to act on the sunset bill.
There are many terrible policies announced in the special session call including attacks on local control, women’s health, and transgendered individuals. Over the next couple of weeks, the Coleman Chronicle will go more in depth on each one of these topics.
Governor Abbott included Senate Bill 2 by Senator Bettencourt which was one of Lt. Governor Patrick’s top priorities, and a constitutional amendment to cap tax revenue growth by inflation plus population growth in his special session call. Additionally, the Governor called for several other measures to continue to limit local governments ability to govern.
The Texas House passed property tax reform through an amendment on Senate Bill 669, allowing for more transparency and accountability unlike the far-reaching SB 2. Through the amendment by Representative Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton), local governments would have to announce a “no-new- revenue” tax rate each year and compare it to the rate they’re actually proposing. The information would be available to the taxpayers who would decide whether or not to hold an election on the proposed rates.
The revenue caps the Governor and Lt. Governor support come at the cost of underfunding police departments, fire departments, and public education. Revenue caps do not provide significant tax relief, however they will limit local control and create a long list of challenges that will be detrimental to Texans from all corners of the state.
Texas local governments–cities, counties, community colleges and hospital districts– provide vital services to their constituents. Locally elected officials decide how to provide these services and how to pay for them, an arrangement that reflects the values and desires of local voters. The Texas Legislature is interfering in these local decisions by limiting the ability of local governments to collect enough revenue needed to deliver the public safety, health care, education, parks, libraries and other services their communities want.
Under SB 2, if revenue raised by local entities increases by more than 5-percent, an automatic rollback election is held. This can happen even in situations where the amount an individual pays in taxes remains the same, because when cities grow, the amount of revenue raised increases because there are more people and companies paying taxes.
Additionally, SB 2 is unnecessary because the people can already vote to roll back the revenue increase. Right now, an 8-percent property tax increase is in place and allows voters to petition for an election to be held on the issue. Furthermore, if the citizens do not agree with the actions of their local government, they can vote them out.
It is important to remember why Texas relies so heavily on property taxes: to fund public schools. In 2011, the Legislature cut $5.4 billion from public education and has yet to fully restore those cuts. Texas has no state income tax, therefore it relies heavily on sales and property taxes. The state and local entities split sales taxes, but only local entities receive property taxes. It’s unconstitutional for the state to levy property taxes, and state lawmakers do not have the power to set those rates. If property taxes are the problem, the solution begins with the funding of public schools.
I am proud that the Texas House addressed school finance reform during the regular session and passed House Bill 21 by Representative Huberty on to the Senate. HB 21 as it passed the House reworked the school finance formula to be more equitable to Texas students and added nearly $2 billion in public school funding over the biennium.
However, the Senate made major changes to the bill, including adding a voucher program that would divert funding away from our public schools. When HB 21 came back to the Texas House, Speaker Strauss assigned House members to a conference to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions. However, Lt. Governor Patrick refused to appoint Senate members to the conference committee which killed the bill. By killing H.B. 21 Lt. Governor Patrick prevented additional funding to our public schools and real property tax relief for Texans.
Governor Abbott’s call for school finance reform and increased teacher pay cannot be taken seriously, when at the same time he says he will not provide additional state funding, will divert available funds to private schools, and wants to put caps on the abilities of local governments to raise revenue.
- Private-school vouchers for students with disabilities
- State caps on local property-tax increases
- A limit on state and local spending growth based on population and inflation
- Overriding local governments’ control and regulations regarding protection of trees, the pace of permitting, and rules for construction projects
- Overruling municipal annexation policies
- Preempting local regulation of texting while driving
- Overriding local policy and mandating a statewide policy on which public bathrooms transgender individuals may use
- Prohibiting the “use of taxpayer dollars to collect union dues” at the state and local level (even though the author of the bill concedes no taxpayer expense is involved)
- Adding a new array of abortion restrictions to state laws
- Imposing new penalties on mail-ballot voter fraud
- Continuing the work of a task force on maternal mortality
Texas Nurse Practitioners celebrating passage of SB 919, by Representative Coleman and Senator Rodriquez. Courtesy of @TNPAustin on Twitter.
Harris County Commissioners Court: Drop the Appeals
In May, Representative Armando Walle (D-140) and I sent a letter to the Office of the Harris County Attorney (click here to read) regarding the recent decision by the Harris County Commissioners Court to appeal the April ruling by Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal in O’Donnell v. Harris County, ordering Harris County to release misdemeanor defendants on personal bonds within 24 hours after they sign an affidavit stating they cannot afford cash bail. We are disappointed in the county’s decision to continue litigation and appeal Judge Rosenthal’s thorough and comprehensive decision condemning Harris County’s pretrial detention system, especially when the county has already paid almost $3 million to outside counsel representing defendants in the case.
This week, a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the county’s efforts to postpone implementation of Judge Rosenthal’s orders. Sheriff Ed Gonzalez started releasing misdemeanor defendants whose rights were found to be violated by the current system.
It is time to settle the lawsuit and adhere to the reforms ordered by Judge Rosenthal. Once again, we urge Harris County to drop the appeals, move forward with the judge’s orders by settling the lawsuit in the bail case, and release all indigent misdemeanor defendants on a personal bond within 24 hours of arrest, unless they are subject to another hold, per Judge Rosenthal’s direction. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Presiding Judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals both agree that the traditional money bail system is unconstitutional as it jails people who cannot afford bail money.
It is unacceptable to continue wasting millions of taxpayer dollars to defend this cruel treatment of the poorest members of our society. We must put an end to jailing people who are charged with misdemeanors simply because they cannot pay bail.
Click here to read an editorial on the matter featured in the Houston Chronicle on June 6, 2017.
striking North Carolina’s legislative districts
In another victory for democracy, on Tuesday, June 6th the Supreme Court upheld North Carolina v. Covington holding that North Carolina’s racial gerrymandering is unconstitutional. Yesterday the governor of North Carolina called a special session to address redistricting. I encourage Governor Abbott to do the same for Texas. This victory continues to lay the groundwork for similar cases like ours in Texas. Click here to read my most recent update on the racial gerrymandering case in Texas.
Click here to read more on the ruling.
The U.S. House G.O.P. healthcare bill will leave 23 million people without coverage by 2026 as a result of cuts to Medicaid, subsidies and rising premiums. This would be the single largest one-year decline in coverage in recorded history. The U.S. House G.O.P. claims their plan would lower healthcare costs for many Americans in the long run, but at the cost of our most vulnerable populations like the children, elderly, and those with pre-existing conditions.
The U.S. House G.O.P. plan will allow for insurance companies to raise prices for people with pre-existing conditions, like cancer. It also cuts funding for Medicaid and temporarily cuts off funding for Planned Parenthood.
The newest CBO analysis shows that the G.O.P. health care bill will:
- Add an average of about 20 percent to individual market premiums next year, on top of the projected 6.5 percent annual increase under the current law
- Let insurers charge older Americans five times more than they charge young adults (up from the three times more allowed under Obamacare)
- Insurers may withdraw because of “substantial uncertainty,” and markets with one-sixth of the nation’s residents could become unstable starting in 2020
It’s reported the the U.S. Senate legislation would set a limit on future federal spending for Medicaid and is considering a per-person spending limit, known as a per-capita cap. But the U.S. Senate version would exempt some Medicaid beneficiaries, such as the elderly, the disabled, pregnant women and children. It may also include tax credits to help people purchase private insurance, unlike the U.S. House G.O.P. version where tax credits are primarily based on age.
The U.S. Senate G.O.P. claim they are nearing consensus on their G.O.P. driven AHCA, but uncertainty remains. After the U.S. Senate, the bill would go to a conference to work out the differences between the U.S. House and Senate versions. Then it would have to pass the U.S. House and the Senate again before it ever gets to the president. Please call U.S. Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and ask them to vote NO on the G.O.P. healthcare plan.
(202) 224-2934 in Washington D.C.
(713) 572-3337 in Houston
Fax: (202) 224-5220
Click here to email Senator Cornyn.
(202) 224-5922 in Washington D.C.
(713) 718-3057 in Houston
Fax: (202) 228-0755 in Washington D.C.
Click here to email Senator Cruz.
I will continue to keep you updated on this very important issue.
On the evenings of Friday, June 2 and Saturday, June 3, the Montrose Bridges over Highway 59 were illuminated in orange for National Gun Violence Awareness Day. Over one hundred landmarks across the country participated in the Orange Skyline Project including the Empire State Building, Niagara Falls, and Houston’s City Hall at the request of Mayor Turner.
Thank you to the Montrose Management District and Moms Demand Action for Gun Safety for organizing the event.
WHAT: IMOC Program Session V
WHEN: Next Saturday, June 17, 2017
WHERE: Palm Center
5330 Griggs Road
Houston, TX 77021
Click here to reserve your seat or call (713) 952-5066.