Notes & Noticias – Putting Kids First

Dear Friends,

This Monday, the House debated HB 11, the water infrastructure bill. Ultimately the bill failed for procedural reasons.

I joined other Democrats in raising concerns about the use of the Rainy Day Fund to provide for water infrastructure when we have yet to restore all of the $5.4 billion cut from public education in 2011. Water and transportation are critical, but our children and public schools must remain our top priority.

Read more on HB 11 below, and in this week’s The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, get caught up on what else is happening around the Capitol right now.

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Putting Texas Kids First

Monday’s big debate in the House over HB 11, the water infrastructure funding bill, revolved around where to find the money to pay for it.

The bill would have spent $2 billion of our Economic Stabilization Fund, aka the “Rainy Day Fund,” for water. Any bill drawing on the Rainy Day Fund requires 100 votes, and there was disagreement on this aspect of the bill on both sides of the aisle.

HB 11 is a good bill and I support it. At issue for myself and many other members of the Democratic caucus was the use of the Rainy Day Fund for water without also opening it up to restore cuts in public education.

While everyone agrees that it is important to fund our state water plan, educating Texas children must also remain a top priority. We still have not restored the $5.4 billion in cuts to public education from the 2011 session.

If the Legislature is going to open up the Rainy Day Fund, we need a firm commitment from Republicans that the fund will also be used to restore cuts to public education.

Many members offered points of order to send the bill back to Committee. Ultimately, a point of order was called on a rules violation for HB 11, ending debate.

I’m committed to supporting much-needed water infrastructure, but I believe we can fund water and our public schools.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

It’s been a busy week at the Capitol. Below, here are just a few items that I’m keeping an eye on.

The Good: Homestead Preservation Districts

Homestead Preservation District laws are very important for Austin, which is suffering from an enormous affordable housing crisis right now.

In 2005, I passed HB 525 that authorized the creation of Homestead Preservation Districts to help cities preserve existing affordable housing opportunities for homeowners and enhance the viability of homeownership for low- and moderate-income residents in neighborhoods experiencing economic pressures.

This session, I’ve authored HB 3350, the Homestead Preservation District (HPD) bill, to expand the low-income neighborhoods in a city eligible for a HPD beyond neighborhoods adjoining a central business district. This bill would eliminate the requirement that a county must participate in the Homestead Preservation Reinvestment Zone in addition to the city. HB 3350 also extends the purpose of HPDs to cover the preservation of affordable rental housing opportunities and homeownership.

The Austin American-Statesman had a great story on my efforts yesterday, which I encourage you all to read.

The Bad: Bill to Defund ISDs Offering Benefits Moves Out of Committee

Thirty one of my Republican colleagues are pushing legislation that would cut health care funding to any independent school district that allows employees to add domestic partners to their health insurance, with the employee paying the full additional cost.

Our school districts don’t need more funding cuts. This policy does nothing to advance educational outcomes and only serves to use our public school employees’ private lives as a political wedge issue.

The Ugly: The People’s Lawyer Tries To Turn Back The Clock On Texans

This week, Attorney General Greg Abbott issued an opinion in response to a request by State Senator Dan Patrick to clarify if cities, counties, and ISDs are allowed to provide domestic partner benefits. Keep in mind that 65.7% of Texas voters support domestic partner benefits for government and public university employees.

Abbott’s office answered in the negative, thus posing a potential threat to members of same-sex couples in the City of Austin, Pflugerville ISD, El Paso, Fort Worth, the City of San Antonio, El Paso County, and Travis County, where local governments offer domestic partner benefits.

Shortly after Abbott’s opinion was released, Austin City Manager Marc Ott circulated an open memo affirming that Austin’s domestic partner benefits would continue, as Abbott’s opinion does not require the City of Austin to take any specific action. I applaud Ott for affirming this common-sense policy.

Despite his best efforts, the Attorney General can’t turn back the clock on civil rights. He’s swimming against the tide of history. I urge all municipalities and school districts to do what we do — ignore him.

Join Me For Lunch Friday?

The end of session is certainly hectic, but I’m excited to be speaking to the Austin Environmental Democrats at their monthly luncheon tomorrow.

Austin Environmental Democrats May Meeting
Friday, May 3, 12:00-1:00pm
El Mercado South, 1302 South 1st Street
RSVP on Facebook.

Thanks for reading another edition of Notes and Noticias!