Archive for the ‘Texas Legislature’ Category

Colbert Takes on Texas State Rep

November 8, 2011

Here we go again. Will Texas ever go, say, an entire year without becoming fodder for the likes of Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert?

Another Texas lawmaker became the punchline last night on Colbert’s Comedy Central show. This time it was state Rep. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, and his use of an ethnic slur during a committee hearing last week.
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2011 Lege Wrap Up: No Mo’ Lowe

July 7, 2011

The frustration of Texas legislators with the State Board of Education‘s continuing efforts to drag public schools into the culture wars was so high that the confirmation of Gov. Rick Perry’s appointment of Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas, to another term as board chair this year never made it to the Senate floor. In fact, the Senate Nominations Committee didn’t even bother to hold a public hearing.

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Rationality 4, Leo Berman 0

June 30, 2011

When the Texas Legislature finally ended the session on Wednesday, a little bit of sanity won out and a Texas-size rebuke was handed to far-right lawmaker state Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler.

Berman, perhaps the Legislature’s top inciter of anti-Muslim hysteria, attempted during the regular and special legislative sessions to pass a measure banning Sharia law (which is already barred, along with other religious laws, by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution). He failed not once or twice, but four times. The law could not gain approval as a stand-alone bill, and each of the three times Rep. Berman succeeded in amending it on to other bills, reasonable heads prevailed and stripped it out of the legislation later.

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Putting Ideology Ahead of Common Sense

June 7, 2011

Religious-right pressure groups have been on the warpath throughout the regular and special sessions of the Texas Legislature this year. They have made cutting funds for women’s health programs and, especially, providers like Planned Parenthood a priority. Late last week, for example, the Texas Pastor Council sent out an email to activists calling for the Texas Legislature to approve “the complete defunding of Planned Parenthood from tax dollars.” Their goal, these groups claim, is to keep tax dollars out of the hands of abortion providers. But state Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, revealed that such claims are little more than a lie when he admitted that he and his allies on the right are engaged in “a war on birth control, abortion, everything — that’s what family planning is supposed to be about.”

In truth, the religious right is engaged in an all-out assault on common sense when it comes to women’s health and responsible disease and pregnancy prevention. And that assault is based on an ideologically driven and dangerously misguided desire to control the private decisions that individuals make about their own health and reproductive lives.

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TX Voucher Bill in Committee on Monday

June 3, 2011

On Monday the Government Efficiency and Reform Committee in the Texas House will consider HB 33, which would create a vastly expensive private school voucher scheme at a cost of billions of dollars to neighborhood public schools. The voucher lobby originally wanted to add the so-called “taxpayer savings” grant scheme to a budget bill during the regular legislative session in May. But the scheme’s supporters decided not to offer that amendment in the face of strong opposition from public school advocates.

It’s interesting that the new bill will be heard by the Government Efficiency and Reform Committee instead of the Public Education Committee. Clearly, the voucher lobby is more interested in slashing funds for public education — and diverting that money to private and religious schools — rather than in making neighborhood public schools stronger in Texas.

The Texas Freedom Network and our partners in the Coalition for Public Schools will be at the hearing on Monday. TFN Insider will keep you updated on what happens.

Real Respect for Religious Freedom

June 1, 2011

Too often we see public officials in Texas use faith as a political weapon against their opponents. Just as appalling is that so many of those officials seemingly dismiss the reality that their diverse constituencies include people from many different faith traditions. But some officials do show real respect for faith and the religious freedom and diversity of people across Texas. A good example of the latter came on Tuesday, when state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, offered an invocation at the beginning of the Texas Legislature’s special session. Rep. Howard is a former member of the Texas Freedom Network’s Board of Directors. We couldn’t be more proud of her.

Our friends at Texas Impact posted the video below.

TX Special Session: Public Education at Risk

May 31, 2011

*UPDATE: Moments after TFN posted this entry on Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, filed a massive private school voucher proposal, which goes by the Orwellian title of “taxpayer savings grants.” The bill number is HB 33 in the newly reordered nomenclature of the special legislative session, but it is not a new idea. It is the same voucher scheme that Miller and host of conservative groups tried to sneak into the budget in the closing days of the regular session.

The Texas Legislature began a special session this morning, the day after the regular session ended without the passage of several key pieces of legislation. That failed legislation included several bills involving public education. Gov. Rick Perry has asked the Legislature to focus on measures that will “allow school districts to operate more efficiently,” which means this special session could be critical to the future of public education in Texas. In addition to imposing billions of dollars in budget cuts on public schools, the far right could use the special session to advance a number of its long-standing goals – establishing a private school voucher scheme in Texas and expanding the State Board of Education’s authority over curriculum and textbooks. We saw attempts to do both during the regular legislative session.

It’s critical that supporters of public education stay engaged during this special session. You can help the Texas Freedom Network support strong public schools in three ways:

We will have a more detailed legislative wrap up on all of TFN’s issues in the coming days.

Budget ‘Mess’ Delays Texas House Action

May 18, 2011

The Texas House of Representatives has now delayed consideration of important fiscal legislation until Thursday morning — action that also delays consideration of possible amendments on private school vouchers and sex education. The reason for the delay, apparently, is deep disagreement between the House and Senate on budget matters and among Republicans over hundreds of pre-filed amendments — many controversial — to the must-pass fiscal legislation in the House. “It’s a mess,” one lobbyist told Austin American-Statesman reporter Jason Embry. We are monitoring events and will post updates as news becomes available.

The Experts Speak

April 18, 2011

Last week two Texas legislative committees on higher education took testimony on HB 3263 by state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, and SB 1348 by state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio.

The bills would created higher education review teams, made up of highly-qualified scholars from Texas universities who would review curriculum changes and advise the Texas State Board of Education on the curriculum’s accuracy and make certain it is in line with accepted scholarship. It’s the kind of sensible measure that would ensure qualified individuals get a seat at the table when the SBOE makes revisions to what students learn in the classroom and will read about in textbooks.

As you recall, part of the reason why even conservative groups have given SBOE-amended curriculum standards such low marks is because the board has the ability to declare just about anybody an “expert” (see Barton, David).

At the hearings last week, the committee heard from a long list of real experts, and surprise! Scholars from a wide range of disciplines are strongly in favor of this common-sense legislation. Below are letters sent to the legislative committees by professors from some of the state’s top universities, along with a little bit about the individuals who wrote them.

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Sharia Hysteria!

April 6, 2011

We warned you. Over the weekend we noted that Monday’s scheduled hearing in the state House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee on HB 911 by Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, and HB 3027 by Rep. Randy Weber, R-Pearland,  had the potential to turn into a “Muslim hate-a-palooza.”

Sometimes we hate being right.

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[Citation Needed]

April 3, 2011

Legislation and policy-making are usually complicated things that can’t be defined in simplistic, single-word descriptions. But it’s possible when discussing HB 911 by state Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, and HB 3027 by state Rep. Randy Weber, R-Pearland, both of which are up for hearing Monday before the Texas House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee.

Here are three single-word descriptions for this legislation: unnecessary, problematic and (potentially) unconstitutional.

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Bill Analysis: Ten Commandments in Schools

March 11, 2011

Because of the evolving body of case law and complicated constitutional issues surrounding the posting of the Ten Commandments in public spaces, TFN Insider asked one of the nation’s top First Amendment scholars, Steven Green, to take a look at state Rep. Dan Flynn’s problematic legislation promoting the Ten Commandments in Texas schools. Here is Dr. Green’s analysis of House Bill 79 in the Texas Legislature.

Analysis of Texas HB 79
By Dr. Steven K. Green, Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Religion, Law & Democracy at Willamette University. Dr. Green is the author of several books on the religious liberty provisions of the First Amendment, including most recently The Second Disestablishment: Church and State in Nineteenth Century America (Oxford, 2010).

As currently written, HB 79 would prevent any school district from prohibiting the posting of a copy of the Ten Commandments in a prominent location in any public school classroom.

The bill does not state who may post the Ten Commandments in a classroom, but the assumption is that it would be done by a public school employee, as public school classrooms are not public forums and are otherwise unavailable for the posting of items by private individuals. Even if the bill could be interpreted to allow a posting by a student or a non-school person with school permission, that factor would not affect the analysis discussed below. (more…)

What’s the Emergency?

January 25, 2011

Both the Texas House and Senate have now released initial budgets intended to cover a massive state fiscal deficit that experts have placed as high as $27 billion. Cuts outlined in those budgets could mean the loss of tens of thousands of jobs in education — one lawmaker describes the effect on public schools as “Armageddon.” The budgets also include drastic cuts in critical state services, such as health care, public safety and criminal justice. And that’s only part of the terrible fiscal bloodbath facing the state.

But Gov. Rick Perry has spent the last few weeks declaring as “emergencies” a long list of divisive issues that appeal to his base of hard-right supporters. Legislators will be able to take those issues up quickly because of the “emergency” declaration. And what are those supposed “emergencies”? Voter ID. Outlawing “sanctuary” cities. Passing a symbolic resolution calling for a federal balanced budget amendment. And forcing women seeking an abortion to have a sonogram first.

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Far Right Fails in GOP Speaker Vote

January 10, 2011

A large majority of Republicans in the Texas House have rejected demands by far-right groups by indicating that they will support the re-election of Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, as House speaker. The vote in the Republican House caucus represents a major defeat for far-right pressure groups like Texas Eagle Forum and Liberty Institute (the Texas affiliate of Focus on the Family) and extremists like David Barton and Peter Morrison, all of whom demanded that GOP House members replace Straus with a speaker who would be more obedient to their divisive legislative agenda.

The full House will vote for speaker on Tuesday, but the decision of the GOP House caucus appeared to ensure Straus’ re-election. Of course, Straus is a conservative, and given that the GOP holds a 101-49 edge in the House, conservative Republicans are expected to hold most committee chairmanships. Some are likely to be very conservative. So the legislative session will still be a tough battle. Help the Texas Freedom Network defend mainstream values like religious freedom and civil liberties at the Legislature by joining a Rapid Response Team today.

Race-Baiting E-mails

January 10, 2011

One of the state’s right-wing extremists who has been among the most vocal in demanding the replacement of Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, as speaker of the Texas House appears to have a stunningly ignorant understanding of civil rights history. In a new e-mail commentary about the speaker’s race on Friday, Peter Morrison insists that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a “racist” law:

“[T]he Voting Rights Act is a nearly 50 year old law that unconstitutionally discriminates against southern states. It’s a racist law that presumes black people can only be represented by black people, and that white voters in southern states are wicked racists who are always out to deny black people their right to vote.”

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