Special Session Preview: Public Education / Texas’ Voter ID Law / Federal Health Care Update / Sandra Bland Remembrance in Austin

SPECIAL SESSION PREVIEW

Governor Abbott announced that the Texas Legislature will come back on July 18th 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 bad policies announced in the special session call including attacks on local control, women’s health, and transgendered individuals. We have been going in-depth on these topics, which you can read more about below.

Click here to read our coverage on revenue caps and local control.
Click here to read our coverage on the Maternal Mortality Task Force.
Click here to read our coverage on women’s health care.
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Public Education

Teacher pay increase of $1,000

Gov. Abbott “believes that too many of our best teachers are underpaid, and if Texas is to retain and attract the best and the brightest, we must increase their pay,” as per his spokesman.

As reported by the Dallas Morning News, the plan to give teachers raises would increase the average teacher pay for districts and public charter schools by $1,000 from their 2016-17 levels over the next three school years. That proposal also aims to have an average teacher pay of at least $51,000 for schools and would require those below to continue to boost salaries to work toward that threshold.

Abbott maintains that the pay increases “can be achieved by re-prioritizing how schools and districts spend their money” but the lack of specifics is worrisome.

There are 350,000 teachers in Texas and some groups fear that a raise will come at the expense of larger class sizes or teacher layoffs.
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School choice for special needs students

While the term “school choice” sounds good on paper, vouchers will not help students with special needs. Even with vouchers, many low-income families will not be able to afford private school tuition. Instead of sending children to private school, we need to fund our public schools adequately to ensure students are getting the best education they can. Access to quality education should not be attainable to only select Texans.

According to the Texas Tribune, the bill addressing school vouchers during the regular session would have “proposed an education savings account program to allow parents to draw money from state-funded debit cards for private school tuition and other expenses and create a tax credit scholarship program, which would have given tax credits to certain businesses if they made donations toward students’ private school tuition.”

The Texas Federation of Teachers said in January, “Education savings accounts are just vouchers by a different name, and they divert much-needed funding from public schools to private schools with little or no financial or academic accountability. They also open the door for taxpayer money to fund religious schools, and they further segregate our schoolchildren between those that can afford the extra money needed for private school and those that can’t.”

Moreover, cutting funds to help disabled children while offering them “vouchers” is counterproductive. Private schools are not subject to federal protection rules that protect special needs students.


Texas’ Voter ID Law

In 2011, Texas passed one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country, later ruled discriminatory. During the regular session of the 85th Legislature, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 5 allowing voters without a photo ID to vote with alternate forms of ID and signing an affidavit swearing a “reasonable impediment” kept them from obtaining what was otherwise required.

While the Obama administration stood with voters arguing that Texas’ unnecessary voter photo ID law was discriminatory, the Trump administration Department of Justice does not. On Thursday, they stated SB 5 “eradicates any discriminatory effect or intent” in the old law, fully absolving the state. Earlier this year, lawyers for U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions abandoned the Justice Department’s longstanding position that Texas lawmakers purposefully discriminated in 2011, but did not change its position that the law had a “discriminatory effect.”

SB 5 neither absolves lawmakers from intentionally discriminating against minority voters by passing the 2011 law, nor would it properly accommodate those voters going forward.

Last year, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Texas’ voter ID law disproportionately targeted minority voters who were less likely to have one of seven forms of identifications it required they show at the polls. In April, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ruled Texas discriminated on purpose and her ruling raised the possibility she could invoke a section of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) to place Texas under federal oversight of its election laws — a process called preclearance.

The Texas Legislature enacted SB 5 aimed to avoid a VRA violation and passed the legislation in the final days of the regular session.

Read coverage from the Texas Tribune here.

I will continue to work hard to ensure all Texans maintain their right to vote. I will keep you updated on this important issue.


Federal Health Care Update

A vote on the U.S. GOP-led plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act was delayed yet again last week, but on Monday U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sent revised bills to the Congressional Budget Office, which means he’s preparing for a vote as early as next week when senators go back to Washington.

The Congressional Budget Office reported that under the U.S. GOP plan, known as the as the Better Care Reconciliation Act, 22 million Americans would lose insurance by 2026. It would make deep, permanent Medicaid cuts, strip consumer protections for pre-existing conditions and essential benefits like maternity care, cut billions of dollars from health care to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy, and will increase premiums and deductibles for many Americans, particularly those over age 40.

Under the Senate bill, by 2022, over a million Texans will lose coverage, including 440,000 Texans with employer-sponsored insurance, and 768,000 Texans with individual market insurance. Moreover, researchers at George Washington University reported the Senate health care bill could lead to a loss of 1.45 million U.S. jobs by 2026 and trigger an economic downturn in virtually every state.

Please call your U.S. Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and ask them to vote NO on the GOP health care plan.

Sen. Cornyn:
(202) 224-2934 in Washington D.C.
(713) 572-3337 in Houston
Fax: (202) 224-5220
Click here to email Senator Cornyn.

Sen. Cruz:
(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.


Sandra Bland Remembrance in Austin

WHAT: A march, led by Counter Balance ATX, to honor and remember Sandra Bland.

WHEN: Thursday, July 13 at 7pm

WHERE: The march will start at Victory Grill (1104 E. 11th St.) and end at the Capitol.

Click here to view the Facebook event.

#SayHerName

It’s hot out there! Our song of the week is “The Heat Is On” by Glenn Frey.

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