Transparency in Government / New Session, New Speaker / Healthcare Enrollment Runs Through Dec. 15

Transparency in Government

President Trump and his White House took the unprecedented step this week by revoking CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta’s credentials for political reasons. In a sloppy attempt to claim otherwise, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted out a doctored video claiming that Acosta forcefully pushed a White House employee’s hand away from the microphone that he was holding.

I stand with the free press and agree that the move by the Trump White House to revoke Acosta’s credentials was clearly politically motivated and likely a violation of the first amendment.

Thankfully, this morning, federal Judge Timothy Kelly in Washington ruled in favor of CNN and ordered the White House to restore correspondent Jim Acosta’s press credentials. Click here to read NPR’s coverage of this morning’s ruling.

Transparency in government is very important to me and I have championed legislation to increase transparency on numerous occasions. Moreover, as Chair of the County Affairs Committee, I make sure that the legally required recordings of our hearings are easily accessible to the public by sending them out with time stamps and lists of speakers in a timely fashion.

In 2016, I was awarded the Texas Press Association Champion of Transparency Award for my commitment to transparency and public accountability.

Transparency and “Use of Force” Reports

In 2017, I authored House Bill (HB) 4091 regarding “use of force” reports and the Texas Public Information Act (TPIA). Getting law enforcement agencies to release “use of force” reports under the TPIA has long been very difficult for journalists, who are readily met with claims of exemptions under both the personnel and investigation exemptions to the TPIA.

Use of force reports have been held to be administrative and not subject to the TPIA personnel exemption, yet the Attorney General continues to rule that departments can withhold the reports.

The bill was referred to the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee but unfortunately did not go any further. I will re-file this bill in the upcoming 2019 session.

Police departments around the state use various exceptions under the Texas Public Information Act to try to keep information secret, especially when someone has died in police custody. Representative Joe Moody (D-El Paso) filed HB 147 to address one loophole in the TPIA on deaths in police custody, but I believe others should be closed, too. When someone dies in police custody, that information needs to be accessible to the public and, at the very least, the person’s family.

Transparency and University Campus Police

In 2015, Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston) and I passedSB 308I wrote the companion bill, HB 2060to designate private university campus police departments as government entities, subject to the Texas Open Records Act. Before the law went into effect, state law allowed a private university to create and operate campus police departments that are licensed by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement and by law have all the authority and powers vested in Texas peace officers.  Events documented private university campus police declining to produce records of arrest and documents related to those arrests that a public police department would under the Texas Open Records Act as a government entity.

In declining to produce the records requested by media, public individuals and even legislative offices, these campus police departments were previously able to cite that they were not government entities and were not subject to the Texas Open Records Act, even though they are licensed by the State of Texas and vested with peace officer powers on and off their private university property.

SB 308 corrects this oversight, designating private university campus police departments as government entities subject to the Texas Open Records Act. SB 308 requires them to be subject to request for information as any other public governmental police agency.

Transparency and the Sandra Bland Act

The Sandra Bland Act that I authored and passed (SB 1849) creates a serious incident report that every county jail in Texas will fill out every month beginning January 1, 2018. The serious incident report requires each jail to report to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) the number of suicides, attempted suicides, deaths, serious bodily injury, assaults, escapes, sexual assaults, and uses of force resulting in serious bodily injury every month. The data included in the serious incident report is also available to the public. The TCJS and the public will be able to use this data to better identify jails that may have problems instead of relying on their once every two-year inspection.

In addition to new jail data, the Sandra Bland Act includes provisions to increase the amount of data and information from traffic stops in Texas. The Act does this by requiring new information to be reported following a traffic stop and making it easier to make a complaint or compliment about an officer. 

The Sandra Bland Act will make it easier to make a complaint or compliment about an officer by including information how to do so on every ticket or warning. By making this information easily accessible, it should increase the amount of feedback law enforcement agencies get about their officers. This will allow agencies to see which officers are doing a good job, which can ensure that they promote and retain good officers.

Additionally, law enforcement agencies will now have to report when an officer uses force during a traffic stop. The Act also requires that the location of every traffic stop that results in a warning or ticket be collected. Furthermore, the Act requires each officer to list the reason for the traffic stop.

The new data being reported in accordance with the Sandra Bland Act will supplement the data already being collected of the driver’s race, whether a search was conducted, and if the officer knew the driver’s race before pulling them over. The new and old data will work together to give policymakers and the public a better understanding of the disparities that are happening in Texas’ criminal justice system.

The Sandra Bland Act removes the exemptions for some agencies not to report both the old and new data, and increases the penalties for law enforcement agencies that do not report their data. The Act also requires all law enforcement agencies in Texas to review both their old and new data to see if improvements can be made. This self-review will hopefully lead to individual agencies correcting bad behavior before legislative or punitive action is needed.

With all this additional data law enforcement departments and the public can better understand what is really happening within our criminal justice system.


                New Session, New Speaker

When the 86th Legislature convenes on January 8, 2019, the House’s first order of business will be electing a new speaker of the House. As you can read here on the Texas House website, the speaker serves as presiding officer of the House, maintaining order during floor debate and recognizing legislators who wish to speak and ruling on procedural matters. Click here to read how the process of electing a House speaker works.

I support Representative Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) for Speaker. As I said in Wednesday’s Austin American-Statesman article, “I served with Dennis for 20-something years, so I know him. I know what to expect with him…He has always been honorable and believes that people should be able to represent their districts, and that’s the first criterion. I also believe that he can stand up to (Lt. Gov.) Dan Patrick, because he has when needed, and that’s something that’s very important for the House, to chart a course that’s independent of the Senate and the governor.”

Below, you can read an opinion piece by Erica Grieder for the Houston Chronicle on why Representative Bonnen will make a great Speaker. Click here to go to the article.

Dennis Bonnen is an excellent choice to succeed Texas House Speaker Joe Straus
Opinion // Erica Grieder // Nov. 16, 2018


State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, defends against amendments to his property tax relief bill on the floor of the Texas House during a special legislative session at the State Capitol on Aug. 12, 2017. Photo: Tom Reel, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

Dennis Bonnen, a Republican state representative from Angleton, is deeply committed to the well-being of the Texas House—and its independence.

He also has a high tolerance for disagreement and no sympathy for fools.

In other words, Bonnen is an excellent choice to succeed longtime Speaker Joe Straus, who is retiring at the end of this year.

And his colleagues think so, too. That’s good news for Texas.

The 150 members of the Texas House won’t officially elect a speaker until the state Legislature convenes for its regular session in January. But on Monday, Bonnen announced that 109 of his colleagues had pledged their support, including most of the chamber’s Republicans and 28 of the Democrats.

“The speaker’s race is over,” he said, at a press conference.

No one has challenged that claim. The other representatives who had filed as candidates for speaker dropped out of the race and threw Bonnen their support. Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statement congratulating him, as did Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate.

And Straus’s most vociferous critics scrambled to cast Bonnen, one of Straus’ key lieutenants, as the candidate of their choice, too. That was amusing and telling.

Since Straus announced his decision to retire, Republicans have argued that his successor should be chosen by the members of the GOP caucus, who continue to hold power in the Texas House even though Democrats picked up a dozen seats in the midterm election.

In fact, the Texas Republican Party asked GOP candidates for speaker to sign a pledge to that effect.

Bonnen did no such thing.

In fact, he went out of his way to make it clear that he had sought the support of his Democratic colleagues in his bid for the speakership, even though in the end he didn’t need it.

The speaker is elected by a simple majority, meaning 76 votes are sufficient to win; 81 of the 109 members on the list Bonnen unveiled Monday are Republicans.

That detail helps explain why hard-liners were quick to herald Bonnen’s announcement, and why many Democrats and centrists were discomfited by it.

A number of Republicans had filed as speaker candidates this year. Some of them were hoping to build a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats, as Straus did.

It would appear that Bonnen, who is a conservative, took the opposite approach. He won the support of his fellow Republicans, including most of the members of the House Freedom Caucus. Bonnen then drove a wedge in the Democrats, many of whom had been hoping to play a more decisive role in the speaker’s race by sticking together in support of a moderate Republican candidate.

I have a different read on the situation, though, based on my experiences covering the Texas Legislature in 2015.

The state had a new governor and lieutenant governor that year for the first time in a decade. Both Abbott and Patrick had campaigned as conservatives, and Patrick, as lieutenant governor, tweaked the rules of the Texas Senate in order to further dilute the power of the chamber’s Democratic minority.

As a result, I spent most of my time in the Texas House. And during the course of the session, I was impressed by Bonnen’s independence as well as his intelligence. Democrats who worked with Bonnen on major legislation that year or served along side him on key committees may similarly have been impressed by how deftly he navigated the new political dynamic.

So I wasn’t surprised to see a number of the Texas House’s most experienced Democrats among the representatives who pledged to support Bonnen. It really was a strange session in 2015. The state’s right-wing activists were emboldened by Abbott and Patrick’s deference to the party’s base. And anyone could see that those activists had no influence on Bonnen, the Ways & Means chairman.

Bonnen is a conservative; there’s no question about that. But, as noted, he has no sympathy for fools. He also has no need to worry about being unseated in the primary or general election. The 25th district, which runs from Brazoria County to the coast, is deeply red. But Bonnen has represented it since 1996 and voters are clearly fond of him.

In fact, Bonnen won the Republican nomination by more than 50 percentage points this year, despite a challenge from the right. Challenger Damon Rambo was backed by the activist group EmpowerTexans, which has now heralded Bonnen’s success in the race to succeed Straus.

Democrats who were hoping for a more moderate Republican should be reassured by that, rather than discomfited. Bonnen will be the speaker of the Texas House, unless he slips on a banana peel. He won’t be its king.

And it’s possible that Bonnen will seek to lead the chamber in a more conservative direction, but clearly, that’s up to him.


ONLY ONE MONTH LEFT
Open Enrollment for 2019 Healthcare Coverage: Now through December 15th

How to Sign Up:

  • Now through December 15th, you can log in to HealthCare.gov and fill out an application enrolling in a 2019 Marketplace health plan
  • Enroll by December 15, 2018andcoverage starts January 1, 2019

Helpful Links:

Need Help? Call 1-800-318-2596

What To Watch This Week:

Our video of the week is from the Associated Press. You can watch below, or click here.

“An independent analyst consulted by The Associated Press found evidence the video of CNN reporter Jim Acosta shared by the White House was manipulated to exaggerate his contact with an intern. CBSN’s Anne-Marie Green explains.”

VIDEO: White House’s video of Jim Acosta was doctored, analyst says

 


Cartoon of the Week

Source: Osmani Simanca  | Copyright 2018 Cagle Cartoons


Song of the Week

Our song of the week is “I Can’t See Nobody” by Nina Simone.

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