Naked City

Beyond City Limits

As the House was gaveled to order Tuesday morning, a familiar face was missing from her customary place in the last row. Rep. Irma Rangel, D-Kingsville, had passed away early that morning from cancer, and on her desk stood a bouquet of two dozen yellow roses. As her longtime colleague Paul Moreno, D-El Paso, took his place at the next desk, numerous reps stopped by to offer condolences and Moreno occasionally dried his eyes. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, chair of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, offered a formal eulogy as the session opened, calling Rangel's passing "truly the end of an era." Rangel, 71, was the first Mexican-American woman to be elected to the Texas House (in 1976) and to chair a House committee, and the only woman to ever chair the MALC. "Few people have touched more lives in a more poignant way than Irma. She was always a passionate advocate for the poor, the needy, and the underserved," said Gallego. Moreno spoke of his close friendship with Rangel as characteristic of the "comradeship" of the House and joked that he and Irma will no longer be able to vote for one another on the floor. "Irma, you're not here no more, so I'm not going to vote for you no more," said Moreno. "But you're going to vote for me up there." Rep. Vilma Luna, D-Corpus Christi, offered HR 518 in Rangel's honor, calling her an "indomitable champion of social justice." It passed by acclamation. -- M.K.

The Lesbian Gay Rights Lobby of Texas brought together several hundred activists and families to rally at the Capitol on Sunday against bills that would prohibit gays and lesbians from fostering or adopting children. But at a House committee hearing on Monday, the same advocates found themselves outnumbered by right wingers bused in to support another threat: HB 38, the Texas Defense of Marriage Act, which would reinforce existing laws prohibiting same-sex marriages. Members of the Texas Eagle Forum and the Texas Coalition for Traditional Marriage made up the bulk of the pro-HB 38 speakers, who denounced homosexuality as an "abomination" and called on the committee to protect "traditional marriage" from the presumed threat of state-recognized same-sex unions. The LGRL responded with recorded phone messages across town urging folks to attend the hearing, although bill opponents were not called to the rostrum until nearly 11pm. The State Affairs committee met until about 2am Tuesday morning, but delayed indefinitely a vote on the bill. Time is all opponents had hoped for, given predictions that the bill would pass out of committee on an 8-1 vote. -- A.S.

The school voucher race got more crowded last week as House Public Education Chair Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, filed HB 2465 to create a "pilot program" to allow low-income students in 11 major urban districts (including Austin ISD) to get what Grusendorf is now calling "freedom scholarships" -- money from public school funds to pay tuition at private schools. One of Grusendorf's co-sponsors, Ron Wilson, D-Houston, who earlier filed his own voucher bill, said, "Many, many private schools are in place today which offer outstanding curricula, dedicated teachers, and forward-thinking administrations. There should be a way for our children whose parents cannot afford to pay tuition to access them. We must set our children free." Carolyn Boyle, coordinator of the Coalition for Public Schools, called the bill "risky and totally irresponsible," especially as the Legislature struggles mightily to balance the state budget. Grusendorf brought in big artillery to flog his bill -- no less than free-market economics guru Milton Friedman -- as testimony continued late Tuesday night and into the next day. -- M.K.

"Don't undo what is working unless you have a better plan," Superintendent Daniel King of the Hidalgo ISD told the House Public Education committee last week. "The problem is not Robin Hood. The problem is inadequate state funding." Apparently the committee wasn't listening, since by a 7-2 vote it passed Chair Kent Grusendorf's HB 5, which would abolish the current public school finance system and replace it in 2005 with ... something else. Grusendorf had sweetened the package -- in theory -- by adding $300 per student in new funding over the biennium, $1.2 billion in all. That victory lasted exactly two days, as the House Appropriations Committee voted to roll Grusendorf's "new money" into $2.8 billion in proposed education cuts to help balance the state budget. Grusendorf insists he'll find the money elsewhere, but his Vice-Chair Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, (who voted against HB 5) said, "It appears those playing this accounting shell game lost track of the pea." -- M.K.

State Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Cretaceous Era, raised the roof at Granite Mountain last week with her comments as a member of the Border Affairs Committee. After closely inquiring about the cost of education and health care to "illegal immigrants" along the border, Riddle declaimed, "Where did this idea come from that everybody deserves free education, free medical care, free whatever? It comes from Moscow, from Russia. It comes straight out of the pit of hell. And it's cleverly disguised as having a tender heart, [but] it's ripping the heart out of this country." Outraged Latino lawmakers informed the Houston freshman that education and health care are mandated by the Texas Constitution and supported by sales taxes paid by every Texan, permanent or temporary, legal or not. "Our constitutional mandate comes not from the pit of hell. It comes from our state's forefathers," reads a letter to Riddle from the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus. -- M.C.M.

Gov. Rick Perry announced last week that Texas has been awarded $29.5 million from the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security for terrorism response. The grant is an 82% increase over the $16.2 million Texas got in 2002; it includes $20.7 million for equipment, $5.2 million for disaster simulation exercises, $1.6 million for basic training, and $2 million for planning. Perry said the equipment purchases would include hazmat suits, decontamination systems, and radio systems. -- L.N.

In D.C., five Democratic members of Congress, including Austin's Lloyd Doggett, threw down the gauntlet to Majority Leader Tom DeLay on March 13, challenging him to appoint five Republicans to engage them in a debate on the Iraq war. "The only debate this year on war with Iraq should not take place in the Turkish parliament," Doggett said. DeLay refused. Doggett was joined by Washington's Jay Inslee, New York's Charles Rangel, Massachusetts' Barney Frank, and California's Hilda Solis. -- L.N.

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