Same-sex marriage

Daily Digest | May 27

The final gavel of the 84th Legislature drops in just five days. Here’s what we’re watching out for at the State Capitol today:

Law enforcement agencies from across the state are meeting at the Capitol to protest gun control laws being pushed through the Legislature. House leaders passed a watered-down version of the “campus carry” bill (Senate Bill 11) just minutes before last night’s midnight deadline. The bill looked destined to fail with more than a hundred amendments still left to debate with just minutes left on the clock, but a last-minute deal led to lawmakers approving the legislation. But that included a key amendment pushed for by university leaders that would allow some campuses to determine where on school grounds that they would allow concealed guns. The controversial piece of legislation has seen staunch opposition from police as well as university leaders; UT System Chancellor William McRaven has spoken out on several occasions against the legislation, saying it will hurt recruiting and will make campuses less safe. Supporters say a person’s Second Amendment rights shouldn’t be infringed when they step onto a college campus.

Two other controversial bills did fall victim to the clock. Senate Bill 575 would have blocked women from using health insurance plans to get an abortion.  And Senate Bill 206, a Sunset review bill to streamline the Department of Family and Protective Services also died. That included the amendment that would have protected child welfare agencies from being sued if they don’t allow same-sex couples to adopt or foster children.

That led to an unusual scene in the House this morning. A Tea Party coalition led by Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R – TX House District 92) killed off several bills with wide support, but were mainly sponsored by Democrats. It happened during a session on the Local & Consent calendar, which is usually reserved for noncontroversial bills with only local impact that had near unanimous support in committees. There were about six bills knocked down, included a bill to monitor special needs classrooms in an effort to stop cases of abuse. Several lawmakers accused Rep. Stickland of retaliation, after he voiced criticism of the House’s failure to pass the aforementioned bills. Wednesday was the last day for the House to consider local and consent bills.

Finally, we now know when Governor Greg Abbott will put pen to paper on his priority pre-K bill. Today, he announced a signing ceremony for House Bill 4 tomorrow at an early childhood center in Austin. The plan offers about 130 million extra dollars, that can be divided among school districts that follow certain guidelines in their pre-K programs. Pre-K education was Governor Abbott’s first emergency item in his “State of the State” speech, but it found opposition later in the session from Tea Party groups, who called the program unnecessary. The plan was also criticized from Democrats and teachers groups who were pushing for a full-day pre-K program. In the end, schools could get up to $1,500 in state funding per eligible student under the plan.

For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” We’re joined by Rep. Jason Isaac (R – TX House District 45), who represents much of the area hit by the massive flooding in Central Texas this week. We’ll hear his assessment of what’s needed from both the state and federal government. All that, plus the Quorum Report’s Harvey Kronberg joins the show with his analysis. Tune in tonight at 7 and 11 on Time Warner Cable News.

Daily Digest | May 26

We’re now just six days from the end of the 84th Legislature. Here’s what we’re watching out for at the State Capitol today:

All eyes are on the House as it faces a major legislative deadline: Tuesday is the last day it can take up contested Senate bills. Democrats are expected to use stall tactics and parliamentary procedures in an attempt to block several controversial bills from coming to the floor. One of those is the so-called “campus carry” bill (Senate Bill 11), which would allow the concealed carry of handguns for licensed gun owners on public university campuses. Lawmakers had considered attaching that bill to the open carry bill to try to push it through the chamber, but they announced last week they would take up the bill on its own. The controversial piece of legislation has seen staunch opposition from police as well as university leaders; UT System Chancellor William McRaven has spoken out on several occasions against the legislation, saying it will hurt recruiting and will make campuses less safe. Supporters say a person’s second amendment rights shouldn’t be infringed when they step onto a college campus. A proposal to let campuses opt out of the legislation has failed to gain traction in the legislature.

Several other controversial pieces of legislation could come up for a vote. One bill (Senate Bill 575) would block women from using health insurance plans to get an abortion. They would be forced to get a supplemental abortion insurance plan in order to have the procedure covered. The bill’s author says using insurance forces people who don’t agree with abortion to help subsidize the cost through insurance payments. Reproductive rights advocates say it just puts more obstacles in the way for women in a state that already has some of the strictest abortion laws in the country. And finally, Senate Bill 206, a Sunset review bill to streamline the Department of Family and Protective Services could come up for a vote. Critics of the bill are trying to block an amendment that would protect child welfare agencies from being sued if they don’t allow same-sex couples to adopt or foster children. It would also allow welfare agencies to sue the state if a social worker tries to force them to do something against their religious beliefs. It’s another move in Texas aimed at life after a possible ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on gay marriage. Supporters say they want to protect religious freedom, while opponents argue Texas’ overburdened foster care system doesn’t need more obstacles to overcome, and argue the bill is so broad it would affect more than just same-sex couples.

Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court announced Tuesday it will hear a case challenging how Texas sets up its political districts. The case is centered around whether Texas should use total population or just the voting age population when drawing its districts. It’s a case with big implications in Texas, a state with a relatively high number of people under 18, and where many of those districts include a high number of non-voting undocumented immigrants. The state’s redistricting plan was signed into law just two years ago, but has seen several legal challenges from civil rights groups who claim they discriminate against minorities.

For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” Our guest tonight is Jim Henson with the Texas Politics Project, who will discuss recent polling about the importance of tax cuts to Texas voters. All session, lawmakers have said they are fighting for the will of the voters as tax cut negotiations dominated the session, but how many Texans actually name tax cuts as a priority? All that, plus political strategists Harold Cook and Ted Delisi will join us with their perspectives. Tune in tonight at 7 and 11 on Time Warner Cable News.

Daily Digest | May 21

The 84th Legislature ends eleven days from today. Here’s a look at what we’re watching today:

A controversial anti-union bill hit a major speed bump in a House committee this morning. Hundreds of union organizers showed up to speak against Senate Bill 1968, which would ban government employees from having union dues automatically deducted from their paychecks. Police, fire, and EMS employees are exempt from the bill as it is currently drafted. It’s part of a larger conservative effort to weaken unions; the authors of the bill say state money shouldn’t be funneled directly into politically-active organizations. Critics of the bill say making it more difficult to pay — or remember to pay — their dues will cut union funding dramatically. They say the bill would, in effect, minimize the voice at the Capitol for other state employees like teachers. Testimony on the bill was cut off after about two hours, with dozens of people still to speak. House State Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Byron Cook said the bill was too flawed to make it through the lower chamber. The bill was left pending, and it is unclear whether the committee will take a vote.

We could have a final budget sent to the two chambers by the end of the day. The budget-writing conference committee on House Bill 1, the general appropriations bill, began voting on parts of the budget yesterday. The final version will still have to get approval from both chambers and the governor. Once approved, we’ll know how the state plans to spend taxpayer money over the next two years, including major programs like education and border funding. That will also pave the way for the tax cut deal to finally get pushed out of the Legislature.

And the House could soon take a vote on a so-called religious objection bill that critics have called anti-gay. Senate Bill 2065 has been placed on the House calendar. It would protect churches, clergy and religious organizations from being sued for refusing to officiate same-sex marriages. Supporters say it’s protecting freedom of religion. Opponents say this protection is already in place, and have questioned whether same-sex couples would force someone to officiate their wedding. Governor Abbott has come out in favor of the measure.

For more on all of these stories, check out tonight’s episode of “Capital Tonight.” Our guest tonight is Dr. Terri Givens, associate professor in the Department of Government at UT. This week’s theme in our “New Texas” series: our changing culture, and that of course includes immigration. Based on current demographic trends, how different will Texas be in the near future? And what’s going on now in terms of policy decisions that may affect the state? All that, plus political strategists Harold Cook and Ted Delisi will join us with their perspectives. Tune in tonight at 7 and 11 on Time Warner Cable News.

 

 

Daily Digest | April 28

Our Daily Digest is a lunchtime look at the stories we have our eyes on at the Capitol and beyond. Here’s what we are watching today:

The nation’s highest court is hearing arguments on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans today, in a case with major implications here in Texas. They are hearing from attorneys on both sides about whether same-sex couples should be allowed to be married. The court’s ruling would set a nationwide precedent, including here in Texas, one of 13 states where same-sex marriages are still illegal. A court challenge against Texas’s ban is currently held up in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, but those judges are expected to wait for the Supreme Court to rule.

The full Texas House chamber gave initial approval to its $4.9 billion tax cut plan today, voting 141-0 in favor of the bill. House Bill 31 would cut the the state sales tax, and is expected to save the average family of four $172 per year. The current state sales tax rate in the state is 6.25%, not including any extra taxes established by counties. That would fall to 5.95% under Rep. Dennis Bonnen’s proposal. It’s a drastically different approach than the Senate plan, which focuses on property tax cuts, and has become a major line in the sand between the two chambers this session. They’re also expected to debate House Bill 32, which cuts the margins tax paid by businesses. The Senate plan also includes a so-called franchise tax cut, an item Governor Abbott demanded by veto threat at the beginning of the session. Opponents of the tax cut plans say the money is better spent on things like roads or education funding.

In other news, leadership from both chambers met for the first time today to try to come to a compromise on the budget. The conference committee on House Bill 1 met for about 30 minutes today with the Legislative Budget Board as they try to work out their differences. And a House committee heard testimony today on plans to legalize medicinal marijuana in Texas. The proposal would legalize marijuana for treatment of chronic illnesses like PTSD and epilepsy, and would set up a licensing system for growers and dispensaries.

Tonight on “Capital Tonight,” Chuck Smith with Equality Texas will evaluate what the attorneys and justices had to say in the Supreme Court today. Plus, political strategists Harold Cook and Ted Delisi will give their takes on the week’s headlines at the State Capitol. Tune in to Time Warner Cable News at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Capital Tonight: Texans react to judge’s same-sex marriage ruling

Federal Judge Orlando Garcia deemed the Texas ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional Wednesday. Marriage equality advocates praised the decision, while opponents say Texans have already weighed in on the issue. The case will likely be appealed to a higher court.

In Wednesday’s Capital Tonight, we heard reaction from same-sex marriage advocates and state leaders, plus we looked at how the state could play a role in the next round of national conventions.

TEXAS WRITER’S TAKE

Freelance writer Robert Draper has been drawing the nation’s attention to Texas with in-depth profiles on Wendy Davis and the state’s Democratic party. We spoke one-on-one with Draper about his view of the efforts to turn Texas blue.

BATTLEGROUND BIRTHDAY

Harvey Kronberg discussed the constitutionality of the new same-sex ruling and the progress of Battleground Texas on its one-year anniversary.

State officials respond to judge’s ruling on same-sex marriage

Gov. Rick Perry joined a wide range of state officials in responding to a federal judge’s ruling against the ban on same-sex marriage in Texas.

In a press release sent shortly after the ruling was announced, the governor had this to say:

“Texans spoke loud and clear by overwhelmingly voting to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman in our Constitution, and it is not the role of the federal government to overturn the will of our citizens. The 10th Amendment guarantees Texas voters the freedom to make these decisions, and this is yet another attempt to achieve via the courts what couldn’t be achieved at the ballot box. We will continue to fight for the rights of Texans to self-determine the laws of our state.”

A long list of Republican lawmakers echoed the governor’s sentiments, either through official statements or social media. All four candidates running for lieutenant governor decried the ruling as well, although Sen. Dan Patrick drew the most attention with an uncharacteristic typo, which was later deleted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte joined Rep. Garnet Coleman, Sen. Kirk Watson and other Democratic lawmakers in support of the decision. Van de Putte’s statement read:

“There’s a growing movement to apply the law equally to everyone without prejudice. And I welcome it, because that’s who we are at our best. Nothing about this interferes with communities of faith. Given today’s Texas decision, along with federal courts in Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia and other states, I hope this issue is resolved quickly by the Supreme Court so that the government no longer dictates our private lives.”

Sen. Van de Putte is also running for lieutenant governor, meaning the divide between Republicans and Democrats on the issue of same-sex marriage will likely be put into stark relief during the general election. However, Attorney General Greg Abbott seemed to try to bridge that divide Wednesday, at least in tone:

“This is an issue on which there are good, well-meaning people on both sides. And, as the lower court acknowledged today, it’s an issue that will ultimately be resolved by a higher court. Texas will begin that process by appealing today’s ruling to the Fifth Circuit. Because the judge has stayed his own decision, his ruling has no immediate practical effect. Instead, the ultimate decision about Texas law will be made by the Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court.”

As attorney general, Abbott will be tasked with defending the state’s ban when it goes before an appeals court later this year. Abbott expressed optimism that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals would honor previous rulings and overturn Wednesday’s decision.

Federal judge rules against Texas’ same-sex marriage ban

A federal judge in San Antonio has struck down Texas’ ban on gay marriage, declaring it unconstitutional but allowing it to remain in place pending an appeals court ruling.

District Judge Orlando Garcia granted an injunction against the ban Wednesday. The case stems from two same-sex couples — including one from Austin — who sued to overturn the state law.

Earlier this month, the couples argued they should be granted equal opportunity rights under the U.S. Constitution, despite the state’s law. Attorneys for the state have maintained that the voters overwhelmingly approved the amendment in 2005 that put the ban on the books.

Despite the judge’s ruling, same-sex couples won’t be able to get married right now. Garcia issued a stay, meaning the law stays on the books while the state appeals the decision.