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Tag Archives: State Senator José Rodríguez

State Senator Rodriguez: Texas Senate Ignored Rules To Push Agenda Through

The Lieutenant Governor sent out a press statement Wednesday bragging about the speed at which the Texas Senate passed a series of bills for his conservative agenda. About the only thing he got right was that a lot of bills passed, quickly.

From the content of most of the bills themselves to the process by which they were passed, the more appropriate terms are “reactionary,” “reckless,” or, “ramming legislation down people’s throats by any means necessary.”

This past week, the Texas Senate, which once prided itself on being known as a great deliberative body, ignored long-standing rules, disregarded the minority opinion, and threw itself into passing divisive primary election fodder, sacrificing good public policy and the democratic process.

We are there to represent all Texans, not just a segment of primary voters of one political party or the other. History shows that when we can not find compromise, then that usually means the proposal is likely bad for Texas.

The Senate rules exist to foster dialogue, compromise, and consensus. No more.

The bills that passed Tuesday and Wednesday include the anti-LGBTQ, anti-business “bathroom bill,” and proposals to harass doctors who perform abortions and their patients, divert public school funding to private schools through a voucher scheme, and curtail the ability of cities and counties to set local priorities – although some small cities and counties were exempted to secure needed rural Republican members’ votes.

The single biggest change illustrating this was a rules change. Previously, it took a two-thirds vote of the Senate to bring a bill to the floor. That forced consensus and compromise that protected the rights of Senators in the minority, typically those from rural areas, and it worked for generations of Texans. In 2015, the two-thirds rule was changed to three-fifths, and with 20 of 31 votes, the Republican majority can pass legislation without any input from the minority.

On the first day of the Special Session, the Senate dispensed with another rule meant to ensure adequate time to prepare for bills scheduled to be heard – Senate Rule 11.19, the “tag” rule. This rule affords any member of the Senate a right to request at least 48 hours written notice of the time and place set for a public hearing on a specific bill.

Instead of following our Senate rules, which provide order and transparency of our proceedings, the Senate voted 20-11, on party lines, to retroactively suspend the rule after I placed a tag on the sunset bill. The tag rule has been suspended a handful of times in the past, but always before a Senator placed a tag on a bill. However, no one in the Senate can remember or knows of an instance when the tag rule was suspended retroactively. It happened again, around 1 a.m. on Thursday, when the Senate retroactively overruled 11 tags that I placed on bills that were set to be heard on Friday morning.

The point of those tags was to give Senators and the public time to study the bills before committee hearings. Notably, the text of several bills wasn’t even available to the public when these committee hearings were scheduled. In legislation, every word and every line matter, especially when some bills, such as the tax rollback bill, can be 100 pages. Holding hearings where public input is limited and then voting within a few days of their introduction undermines major policy decisions.

In fact, the problem with this was evident during the committee hearings that took place. Testimony was limited to people who signed up one hour before or three hours after the hearings began. Because of the condensed period between bill referral and the hearings, both Senators and the public were confused at times about what was actually in the bills being discussed. In some cases, Senators actually admitted the bills were poorly drafted but they were rushing to get them out. Even when the bills were debated on the floor, nearly all of the amendments proposed were summarily rejected.

For example, S.B. 3, made it to the Senate floor with language that prohibited a political subdivision from passing bathroom rules designed “to protect a class of persons from discrimination.” That had to be changed on the Senate floor, because it’s so obviously discriminatory. While I appreciate the light it shines on the true motive behind this legislation, that sloppiness is a byproduct of the rush to pass bills without the deliberation and study that every bill deserves. Frankly, I expect more drafting issues to be uncovered as the bills are further reviewed in the House.

To add insult to injury, the Senate, again along party lines, overruled a point of order called by Sen. Watson that S.B. 3 violated a Constitutional rule that the legislature may only consider subjects on the call during a special session. The Governor’s proclamation did not include any mention of “athletic activities,” which were included in S.B. 3. Amazingly, the reason given for overruling the point of order was that the word “facilities” could be read to include “athletic activities.” This is nonsense!

What the Senate did in the first nine days is not “conservative.”

The conservative thing would be to respect long-standing Senate rules and the Texas Constitution. The conservative thing would be to pass the bills we had to, the Sunset bills, and leave further lawmaking until next session. If we are going to stay and spend considerable taxpayer dollars, the conservative thing to do would be to address issues that truly affect the lives of Texans, like funding public schools.

Texans have made their voices heard, even with the limited opportunity allowed by Senate leadership. The public must continue to do so as the action shifts over to the Texas House, where the voices of all Texans that the Senate refused to listen to must be heard.

***Author – Texas State Senator José Rodríguez

Senator José Rodríguez currently serves as the Chairman of the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus. Rodríguez represents Texas Senate District 29, which includes the counties of El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Jeff Davis, and Presidio. He represents both urban and rural constituencies, and more than 350 miles of the Texas-Mexico border.

Senator José Rodríguez Statement on Tagging 11 Bills Early Thursday

Austin – State Sen. José Rodríguez early Thursday “tagged” 11 bills. The tag is a right any member of the Senate has to request application of Senate Rule 11.19, which states that a Senator “shall receive at least 48 hours advance written notice of the time and place set for a public hearing on a specific bill.”

Instead of following tradition and our Senate rules, which provide order and transparency of our proceedings, the Senate voted 20-11 to retroactively suspend the rules after a tag had been placed.

Nobody in the Senate can remember this ever happening before Tuesday, when Sen. Rodríguez’s tag on the Sunset bill was retroactively overruled. Senator Rodriguez’s statement is as follows:

This evening, several of my Senate colleagues and I tagged 11 bills referred to committee shortly after midnight. We did this in order to give the public adequate notice of the hearings.

As it did yesterday when I tagged a bill, the Senate did something nobody here can remember it ever doing, which is vote to suspend the tag rule AFTER Senators already had placed the tags.

In so doing, the Senate disregarded its own processes and precedent in order to push through purely partisan bills without allowing time for democratic debate, denying a fair application of its rules to each of the Senators who had tagged bills.

In the case of more than one bill referred to committee, including SB 2 (vouchers) and SB 3 (“bathrooms”), at the time of referral, shortly after midnight, the text was still not accessible to the public via the state’s website.

By pushing these bills through without adequate notice to the public, the Senate is also disregarding the democratic process. We know a lot of Texans want to participate because so many people showed up to testify or register a position when similar bills came up during the Regular Session.  With respect only to the Senate committee hearings:

  • Bathroom bill (85R SB 6): 1,718 people
  • Property tax rollback rate (85R SB 2): 524 people
  • Vouchers (85R SB 3): 290 people
  • Union dues (85R SB 13): 167 people

These hearings are the public’s only opportunity to speak out for or against a bill on the legislative record.  They are also Senators’ only opportunity to question witnesses as part of the public record. Even though some of these issues have been discussed before, these are new bills that members of the public (and the members) have not had enough time to review.

Many of the bills have changed significantly compared to the bills that were filed last session (including the SB 3, bathroom bill, and SB 1, the property tax rollback bill).

Many of these bills were filed very recently, giving the public and members very little time to review them.

  • SB 1 (property tax rollback rate): a 99-page bill filed Tuesday
  • SB 2 (vouchers): not filed until right before this midnight session, but text not available online at the time of referral to committee
  • SB 3and SB 91 (bathroom bills): filed around 5:30 pm on Wednesday, but text not available online at the time of referral
  • SB 4 (tax dollars for abortion providers): filed on Monday
  • SB 10 (abortion complications reporting): filed on Tuesday

Five other bills (SBs 73, 77, 80, 85, and 87) were filed either Tuesday or late Wednesday. This means that, for some of these bills, including the bathroom bills, we are basically giving the public one day in the middle of a work week to find out about the bill and hearing, review the bill, make arrangements to travel to Austin, and prepare to testify.

This body has always protected the rights of the minority, and respected the rights of the public to comment in public hearings. This is why we have the rules we do. Disregarding them with a raw exercise of power in order to push through bills with significant opposition has not been the Texas Senate way until now. I will resist this in every way that I can.

State Senator Rodriguez: Governor’s Veto of Scrap Tire Bill Endangers Health, Safety of Texans

Austin – On Thursday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed state Sen. José Rodríguez’s S.B. 570, which would have helped communities deal with the problem of scrap tires being illegally dumped, an issue that is particularly troubling for local health authorities trying to prevent the spread of the Zika virus.

“What the governor has done is put the health and safety of Texans at risk by removing a tool that would have reduced illegally dumped tires, which are breeding grounds for mosquitoes that carry Zika and other dangerous illnesses,” Rodríguez said.

The governor vetoed this bill on the basis that Texans would have to regularly consult the Texas Register and the actions of local government to know if they are in violation of the laws related to tire disposal. In fact, under the current status quo, Texans must look to the Texas Register to find existing administrative rules put in place by TCEQ.  In contrast, the bill would have put the framework into state statute, clearly delineating requirements for proper disposal of scrap tires.

“It also would have given local governments the same civil and criminal enforcement tools that currently exist for other environmental

State Senator Jose Rodriguez | Photo courtesy Sen. Rodriguez office
State Senator Jose Rodriguez | Photo courtesy Sen. Rodriguez office

violations in state law,” Rodríguez said. “That’s why the tire industry – from manufacturers to retailers to processors – supported the bill, which they helped develop as part of a broad coalition that included health officials and local governments.”

More than 36 million tires are discarded each year in Texas, roughly one and a half tires for every person residing in the state. Several million of these tires are illegally dumped each year, creating fire, pollution, and public health and safety risks, such as increases in vector-borne illnesses like Zika, West Nile, and dengue fever.

For all these reasons, stakeholders wrote letters to Gov. Abbott in favor of the bill.

“S.B. 570 aims to address illegal tire dumping while updating and modernizing antiquated laws as was requested by industry participants,” wrote Liberty Tire Recycling and other tire industry stakeholders. “S.B. 570 is not only negotiated and agreed to legislation but was requested by industry participants who seek to stem this illegal activity.”

In another letter to Gov. Abbott, Goodyear Tire and Rubber wrote that S.B. 570 “is not over regulation. At best, it is the minimum regulation required.”

The Texas Public Health Coalition, which includes over 30 health-related organizations including the Texas Medical Association, Texas Pediatric Society, and Texas Hospital Association, wrote that S.B. 570 “provides an important opportunity to take proactive steps against dangerous diseases.”

Finding ways to deal with the issue has been a long-time top priority for cities, counties, and public health authorities. S.B. 570 was the first significant statewide legislation since the last attempts to deal with the issue, in the 1990s, and was supported by a wide range of industry, health, local government, environmental, and other stakeholders. The list of participants and supports totaled almost 40, split roughly equally among the different categories of stakeholder.

“The goal of S.B. 570 was to guarantee bad actors were stopped without overregulating the many model industry participants across the state,” Rodríguez said. “Given the participation and agreement of the many stakeholders and the absence of any opposition, I’m not sure how the governor came to his conclusion.”

The stakeholder group included:

Texas Tire & Automotive Association, Liberty Tire, Texas Automotive Recyclers Association, LKQ, Inc., Recycling Council of Texas, Goodyear Tire & Rubber, Rubber Manufacturers Association, State of Texas Alliance for Recycling, Texas Border Coalition, Environmental Defense Fund, Environment Texas, Public Citizen, Sierra Club, City of Brownsville, City of Corpus Christi, City of El Paso, City of Houston, City of Fort Worth, City of Irving, City of Laredo, City of San Antonio, Texas Municipal League, El Paso County, Harris County, Tarrant County, Travis County, Texas Association of Counties, Texas Conference of Urban Counties, County Judges & Commissioners Association of Texas, San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, Bandera County River Authority & Groundwater District, Delta Lake Irrigation District, San Antonio River Authority, Water Environment Association of Texas, Texas Association of Clean Water Agencies, Texans for Clean Water, Texas Heritage Protection, Texas Medical Association, Texas Public Health Coalition

Senator Rodríguez’s Statement on Call for Special Session

Austin – Senator José Rodríguez, Chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, released the following statement regarding today’s call by the Governor for a Special Session:

I agree with Gov. Abbott’s previous statements: We had ample time to take care of issues during the Regular Session. Instead, the commitment to important Texas priorities such as fixing the broken school finance system and ensuring affordable access to health care fell to the wayside as we frittered time debating bathrooms.

It’s a sad irony that elements of the so-called small government party have now pushed the governor to call an expensive special session at great cost to Texas taxpayers simply to bolster their political position in the next round of elections.

A special session is a waste of Texas taxpayer dollars that should have been avoided. However, in the Regular Session’s last days, the Senate refused to take action to authorize the agency that allows doctors to operate in Texas. That must be fixed, and we could do that quickly and at a minimum of expense, within days. 

Otherwise, there is no requirement the Legislature reconvene until 2019. The Legislature has accomplished its most important work, passing a budget, and wasting Texas taxpayer dollars  for an unscheduled Special Session to politicize the serious work of governance is a disservice to the public. They expect us to do our work and come home to serve in our communities, not spend their money so we can spend the summer arguing about bathrooms. 

State Senator Rodríguez’s statement on the Senate Budget

Austin – State Sen. José Rodríguez released the following statement on S.B. 1, the Senate’s version of the state budget, which passed the Senate unanimously Tuesday:

Passing a budget is our basic responsibility, one that none of us take lightly. It is for this reason that I vote now in favor of it, although I do have some serious concerns. This is a start, and that’s what I’m voting for, so that we may move the process forward and make it better. 

Three cycles after the draconian cuts of the 82nd Legislature, we have made incremental progress. However, we have the ability to do much more. 

This session, as last session and the session before, we have the means to make up lost ground. 

 Unfortunately, it seems that the majority of this body prioritizes tax cuts over education and other essential government functions.

That is why I voted against SB 17, and against SB 2, just to give two examples of bills that will 1) limit the funds available for future school funding, and 2) limit local government’s ability to set priorities and respond to emergencies – especially so for rural counties, as we heard repeatedly. I plan to vote against SB 9, which would set a new, even more stringent limit on spending. Given how tight we’ve been, I’m not sure what policy purpose is served by tying the hands of future legislatures.

The state’s “Rainy Day Fund” continues to grow.  We now have more than $10 billion and are estimated to have almost $12 billion by the end of the 2018-19 biennium.  We should be using the Rainy Day Fund to ensure that we’re adequately funding our schools and health and human services.  

The basic allotment provides for per-student funding of $5,140 in the 2018-19 biennium. This is the same amount as the last biennium, so we’re falling behind. 

We also are cutting our higher education institutions – $332 million from universities, state colleges, and technical schools.  

Further, the federal budget proposal from the White House has major cuts in financial aid and research. So Texas higher education may take a double hit. 

In both cases, quality educational development is economic development, a proven way for nations – and states – to prosper. 

We are not spending enough on health care, and it’s unclear how we will pay for the Medicaid shortfall left by last session’s underfunding of almost $2.6 billion. 

For DPS “border security,” the agency is allocated almost $500 million under the Secure Texas heading. Adding up other funds, we’re looking at another $800 million for the biennium. 

Members should remember, and the public should be aware, that what happened during the “border security” vote in 2015 was that we took DPS out of the Highway Fund, and placed it in General Revenue. 

The majority voted to do that despite a lack of data then, and now. There are as many drugs, gangs and guns in Texas communities as there were before this started, because it never was a border issue.  If that had been the choice, without the rhetoric of “border security,” I don’t think members would have been as willing to set DPS against education, which is what we now face. 

I will continue advocating for education funding, for health care, for higher education, and for other special programs that make a difference in Texans’ lives, from the relatively small amount of $5 million for Relocation Services Contractors who play such an important role for people with disabilities to funding for the Adult Career Education grant program that is so important to my community to fully funding the critical Texas-New Mexico water lawsuit, as we did last session. 

With all that, this budget has some good things. CPS is funded at $430 million, which includes $300 mil for $1,000 raises for 828 additional caseworkers. That is not enough, according to experts and the agency itself, but it’s a huge step forward. It’s not a huge line item, but $25 million for school broadband access, which will help draw down hundreds of millions in federal funds, is a great investment. This budget provides $244 million for mental health care, which includes $64 to eliminate wait lists for community mental health services. 

All of these items are critical needs, but not all critical needs are addressed by SB 1.

I am voting for this budget with the understanding that it is a start. We have the resources to build upon this start.

State Awards $2m Grant to City for Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination Plant

Thursday, the Governor’s Texas Military Preparedness Commission awarded a $2 million grant to the City of El Paso for the Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination Plant.

The grant will partially fund the City of El Paso’s partnership with Enviro Water Minerals Company to convert waste generated from the desalination process into drinkable water.

El Paso State Senator José Rodríguez said, “Adequate, reliable sources of water are critical for ensuring Fort Bliss remains one of the largest physical military installations in the country. The Army’s investments of infrastructure, and troops and support personnel from around the nation, are vital to El Paso’s continued economic prosperity.”

Sen. Rodriguez added,  “I’m grateful that the State values El Paso’s special relationship with Fort Bliss. This grant award increases the value of the City of El Paso and federal government’s initial investments to create the pioneering Kay Bailey Hutchison Plant, the world’s largest inland desalination plant.”

The grant was awarded via the state’s Defense Economic Adjustment Assistance Grant (DEAAG) program, an infrastructure grant program designed to assist military cities that may be impacted by a change in federal defense contracts.

As a result of substantial advocacy from military communities, including El Paso, the legislature appropriated $30 million for DEAAG grants in the most recent legislative session, which ended in June 2015.

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