Lege Lines: Eric Johnson Prevails Over Racist Confederate Plaque

No more Confederate nonsense, Empower Texans gets a pass, and the first-ever LGBTQ Caucus

Rep. Eric Johnson with the offending plaque (Courtesy of Eric Johnson)

Let's All Play Nice This Time: Bands, massive flags, and military flyovers marked Tuesday's inaugural ceremonies for re-elected Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Both sought to project an image of bipartisanship after a strong Democratic showing in the 2018 midterms, as they called for school finance reform, property tax "relief," and increased teacher pay. "We can do more to educate the next generation and keep them safe at school," said Abbott. "More to advance our universities to meet the changes sweeping the 21st century. More to rein in the property tax burden on our citizens." The speeches were followed by barbecue on the Capitol grounds and an evening Inaugural Ball with George Strait...

New Money for Schools and Teachers? The Texas House wants to inject about $7 billion of new money into K-12 public education, according to budget documents released Monday – a 17% increase on current funding and more than former Speaker Joe Straus recommended as he left office. In the east wing, Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flow­er Mound, filed a bill to allocate roughly $3.7 billion in state funding for a $5,000 salary bump for all of the state's 350,000 teachers over the next two years...

No More Confederate Nonsense: After just a five-minute meeting on Friday, Jan. 11, the State Preservation Board, which includes Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, found the courage to rid the Capitol of the "Children of the Confederacy Creed" plaque that falsely claimed the Civil War was "not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery." (Texas' own secession declaration of 1861 mentions slavery 21 times.) The effort was led by Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, who since 2017 has fought for the relic (installed in 1959 near what is now his office) to come down. The plaque vanished over the weekend; the SPB meets on Jan. 25 to discuss its final destination...

Texas Wants in on the Hemp Game: In its interim report released last week, the Texas House Com­mit­tee on Agriculture and Livestock urged lawmakers to make way for the legalization of industrial hemp as bipartisan consensus continues to emerge on the subject at the state and national levels. "While hemp has the potential to be a major boon to the Texas economy, the window for maximum market capture is narrowing as more than half of the states have already enacted hemp legislation, [and] at least 19 are actively cultivating," the report reads.

The committee suggests Texas adopt the federal farm bill's definition of "industrial" hemp, along with altering the definition of "marihuana" in state statute to specifically exclude hemp and hemp products; giving the Texas Department of Agriculture power to create a regulatory framework; creating a program to allow universities to grow hemp for research purposes; and establishing a domestic seed certification program. The state would commit to providing legal protections for hemp growers and processors. "This report provides lawmakers with a road map to developing a robust hemp program that is fully aligned with federal and state laws," said Shawn Hauser of the American Hemp Campaign...

Patrick Gives Empower a Pass: At a dark time for news media, under attack from the Cheeto-haired child in the White House, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has enabled hard-right, dark-money outfit Empower Texans to get a media pass for the Senate, after its application was rightfully rejected by the Texas House. For decades, press credentialing for the whole Lege has been handled in the House, but this year, journalists need a separate Senate pass to gain access to the floor and its senators while in session, which lobbyists don't get to do. (Hence the name!) Empower is clearly a lobbying group, keeping scorecards on legislators and spending millions on conservative campaigns, including $75,000 for Patrick last year, and the rules for both House and Senate clearly state that lobbyists and paid advocates can't get media credentials. In caucus, the GOP senators reportedly voted unanimously to deny Empow­er a media pass, but no official announcement has been made yet.

First-Ever LGBTQ Caucus: In a historic turn of events, veteran Reps. Mary González of El Paso and Celia Israel of Austin have joined with newcomers Jessica González of Dallas, Julie Johnson of Carroll­ton, and Erin Zwiener of Driftwood (all five are Democrats) to better represent the nearly one million LGBTQ folks who call Texas home. González has been elected chairwoman of the caucus, which intends to "elevate the voices" of Texas' queer community. Membership is open to all Reps. In a statement, Israel said, "Serv­ing alongside four openly LGBTQ women brings me great pride. We're excited for allies to join the caucus and help us advance equality in Texas."...

In Other Queer Lege News: Patrick seems to have put the bathroom bill battle to bed with a strange claim of victory, telling reporters there was no need for legislation this session even though the anti-trans toilet panic he eagerly incited in 2017 led nowhere (except to GOP losses in November). But it's not all good news, as the 86th's first religious refusal bill – Senate Bill 85 – has been filed by Republican Bob Hall of Edgewood, who aims to protect counselors, therapists, and psychiatrists who refuse care to LGBTQ citizens (or anyone else) if "providing the service would cause the license holder to violate a sincerely held religious belief."...

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86th Texas Legislature, Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, inauguration 2019, school finance, property tax, Children of the Confederacy, State Preservation Board, Confederate plaque, Eric Johnson, industrial hemp, Committee on Agriculture and Livestock, marihuana, American Hemp Campaign, Empower Texans, Shawn Hauser, press credentials, LGBTQ Caucus, Mary González, Celia Israel

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