Keep up with the Observer’s sharp reporting on the Legislature and throughout Texas with this weekly newsletter. [newsletter]
Lieutenant Governor and Chief of Bathroom Police Dan Patrick isn’t ready to go home. For the former shock jock, who lives for the public’s attention, leaving the pink dome more or less means leaving the spotlight.
On Wednesday, Patrick called a Capitol press conference to give Speaker Joe Straus and the House an ultimatum: Pass the “bathroom bill” and a property tax reform that limits local governments’ ability to govern, or start a cycle of special sessions until it’s done.
If the measures are blocked, Patrick said he will ask the governor to keep calling special sessions, which can cost taxpayers more than $1 million each, “again and again and again.”
“Nobody is going to get everything they want,” responded Straus, who opposes the “bathroom bill.” House Democratic Caucus Chair Chris Turner equated Patrick’s stunt with a “Donald Trump-style temper tantrum.”
The House has until May 23, a major legislative deadline, to tentatively pass Senate bills. However, its members have been largely focused on other issues, such as privatizing the state’s failing child welfare system. A CPS caseworker compared the proposal to privatizing prisons in an exclusive interview with the Observer.
“I just feel like they’re shifting the blame,” the Houston caseworker said regarding Senate Bill 11, which tentatively passed the House on Thursday. “This isn’t going to benefit anyone.”
The House also passed a long-overdue “reform” package for the Railroad Commission, which regulates — or stays out of the way — of the oil and gas industry in Texas.
But environmental advocates say the bill, now on its way to Governor Greg Abbott, “basically does nothing.” The failure of the Legislature to pass timely or meaningful reforms is proof of the energy industry’s powerful sway with lawmakers, critics say. In fact, 11 cents of every dollar lawmakers raise is from the oil and gas industry.
Both the House and Senate are in the process of saving legislation to end “lunch shaming,” an all-too-common practice in Texas schools in which poor students are publicly denied meals because they can’t afford them. One in four kids in Texas live in poverty.
A bill to address the issue was killed by the ultraconservative Freedom Caucus last week, but a bipartisan effort to save the measure is promising for child advocates.
Another proposal with bipartisan support would end the controversial Driver Responsibility Program (DRP), which Senator Boris Miles says “entrenches poor people and people of color in debt and in prison.”
The program levies additional civil fines on top of criminal penalties for repeat traffic violators, contributing to a cycle of debt that can result in jail time for minor offenses.
Both the lunch-shaming measure and bill to end the DRP, as well as Patrick’s priority bills, must win approval before next week’s deadlines to reach Abbott’s desk.
Abbott was the target of activists after he participated in for a Univision interview broadcast on Facebook Live. In the video, Abbott attempted to calm fears prompted by the so-called sanctuary cities ban. But immigrant advocates who had met at the Capitol for a pre-planned protest said it was “nothing but lies.”
Outside the Legislature, state health officials are in the process of asking the Trump administration whether they can receive federal money for a low-income women’s health care program that bans Planned Parenthood.
The Obama administration had refused to send federal funds if Texas excluded the provider, but the state hopes a friendly ear in Washington will change that. Women’s health advocates worry that, if granted, the move could greenlight other states to defund Planned Parenthood.
African Americans are less likely than whites to abuse opiates, but doctors profile black patients as addicts or potential addicts and fail to prescribe the appropriate drugs. That’s one of many alarming facts about health care disparities in No Apparent Distress, Rachel Pearson’s new med-school memoir.