The Austin Chronicle

Lege Lines: Do It for the Kids

House Dems lay out school finance plan

By Michael King and Mary Tuma, March 1, 2019, News

And It's a Big One: The Texas House Democratic Caucus laid out an ambitious proposal to increase state public school spending by $14.5 billion – while also cutting school district property taxes by $1.7 billion. That's in contrast to the GOP budget writers' offers of $7.1 billion (House) and $4.3 billion (Senate). The annoyance of House Republicans at the Democrats' gambit signals how far we are from the end of this session's jockeying to deliver the political goods that a lot of Texans voted for last November. The big items in the Dems' "Texas Kids First Plan" include full-day pre-K, a 50%-ish increase in per-student funding through "basic allotment," and targeted spending for disadvantaged and special-ed students and campus mental health, adding up to $8.75 billion. On top of that, the Dems' $5.53 billion compensation package goes beyond the GOP's offer of a $5,000 raise (Senate Bill 3) and to-be-determined merit pay for "classroom teachers" to also cover support staff, fund a larger share of health care costs, and stabilize the struggling Teacher Retirement System of Texas. The plan tops this all off by doubling the state homestead exemption, anticipating that if the state increased its share of public education investment, there would be reduced pressure by local governments to raise property taxes. House Speaker Dennis Bon­nen, R-Angleton, who really wants to own this issue, released a statement complaining about "partisan" solutions...

And Then There Were None: All 12 Senate Democrats have vowed to oppose Texas Secretary of State David Whitley's confirmation, following the debacle he unleashed upon the state with deeply flawed voter data. Whitley, a former aide to Gov. Greg Abbott, got the promotion in December but still needs Senate approval by a two-thirds vote, which means two Dems have to join the GOP majority. So Whitley's likely doomed, and his confirmation vote in committee has been punted down the road indefinitely. "The damage has been done," said Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso. "Many Texans mistakenly believe evidence of voter fraud has been found. Many now fear to vote, even though they are eligible." After realizing the errors made by his office, Whitley should have "immediately" corrected the record, said Rodríguez, chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus. Beth Stevens with the Texas Civil Rights Project said election officials "will be held accountable" for any attempt to suppress the right to vote. "We need a Secretary of State who is committed to protecting our democracy, not one who vilifies and intimidates new citizens and puts politics above his duty to fairly administer elections." Three lawsuits have been filed; while he considers his ruling in one of those cases, U.S. District Judge Fred Biery of San Antonio on Feb. 27 ordered that all Texas counties be instructed to stop asking voters to prove their citizenship...

Rallying for SB 4 Repeal: More than 100 immigrant advocates rallied at the Cap­itol Monday, Feb. 25, to outline their legislative agenda, which includes a full repeal of Senate Bill 4, last session's bill targeting so-called sanctuary cities. At the Fuerza TX rally, Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, elicited cheers from the crowd for his SB 672, which would prevent police from racial profiling or enforcing federal immigration law. "SB 4 is a poorly veiled act of discrimination against people of color that erodes the trust between law enforcement and the community," said Menéndez in English and Span­ish. "You are putting a target on the backs of immigrant communities." Calling SB 4 an "ugly, discriminatory law," Rep. Rafael M. Anchia, D-Dallas, filed a similar bill (House Bill 2266) last Friday, Feb. 22. He said we're already seeing the negative impact of SB 4, with immigrant families living in the shadows and women too scared to report domestic violence lest they be deported. "We are not making this stuff up; it's coming from our police chiefs and sheriffs who recognize the harm this is doing to safety and security in our communities," said Anchia. The rally ended with young protesters bashing a colorful "No SB 4" piñata filled not with candy but notes on how the law has affected their lives...

Appointed for Life? The recent dislocations at the State Office of Administrative Hearings have called attention to the persistence of "holdover" appointments; Chief Judge Lesli Ginn's two-year term expired May 1, 2018, but absent action from Gov. Abbott, she has stayed on for nearly another year. Following tensions within and outside the agency, she resigned on Jan. 18, but continues to serve (as she put it) "until such time as my successor is in place." The situation continues to rankle Baylor Law School professor Ron Beal, the reigning authority on Texas administrative law, who insists Ginn holds her position illegally and thus puts any decisions made by SOAH under her tenure at risk. Beal said that Abbott allowing Ginn and other appointees to serve indefinitely and without Senate confirmation is "truly amazing and clearly dead wrong." In 2016, Ross Ramsey at The Texas Tribune identified 336 holdover appointees in jobs large and small, some of whose terms had expired more than five years prior. Thus far, neither Abbott nor the Senate Com­mittee on Nom­in­ations has taken remedial action against what Beal sees as an implicit concentration of power in the governor's hands.

Posted here is the summary of the Texas House Democratic Caucus "Texas Kids First Plan" for public school finance and policy changes, to spread over several bills (some yet to be filed).

Posted here is an analysis by Baylor Law professor Ron Beal of the now commonplace practice of "holdover" appointments for officials appointed by the governor. According to Beal, allowing appointed officials to serve beyond their official terms without Senate review or a new appointment (also subject to Senate review) is unconstitutional. Thus far, neither Gov. Greg Abbott nor the Senate Committee on Nominations has chosen to respond to Beal's complaints.

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