Committees mull bills to rein in feds and abortions

By Richard Lee
Texas Senate News

TEXAS senate committees last week took up bills including some seeking to regulate abortion practices and some that would answer governor Greg Abbott’s emergency call for a constitutional convention of the states.
The convention-related bills are the last to be taken up by the senate that address four issues tagged as emergencies by Abbott in his State Of The State address.
Abbott said in his January speech that the federal government has overstepped its bounds and called on the state legislature to pass an official petition to call a convention under article V of the US constitution for the purposes of amending the nation’s ruling document.
On Thursday, the senate’s state affairs committee took up two measures that would do that.
Senate joint resolution 2, by Granbury senator Brian Birdwell, would tell Washington that Texas wants to amend the nation’s founding document to rein in the powers of the federal government, including term limits for federal elective offices, requiring a national balanced budget and strengthening state sovereignty.
In announcing his bill, Birdwell said he believes that’s the only way to restore the original intent of the
US constitution.
He said: “For years we’ve watched as the executive, judicial and frankly the legislative branches have usurped more and more power from the states. It is my firm belief that the only way we will save this republic and federalism as a whole is to go about the process of the states taking control of the federal government that they created.”
There has never been an Article V convention and it would require 34 of the 50 states to pass formal resolutions calling for one. If convened, each state would send a delegation to represent its interests at the convention.
Senate bill 21, also by Birdwell, would govern the selection and authority of the convention delegates. They would have to be active legislators and the state legislature would retain the authority to recall and replace any who go outside the bounds of the topics under consideration.
Both measures have passed the senate’s state affairs committee and are due to go before the full senate for consideration.
On Wednesday, the senate’s health and human services committee looked at three bills that seek to restrict some practices relating to abortion procedures. The first, SB 8 by committee chair and Georgetown senator Charles Schwertner, would strictly regulate the donation of fetal tissue from aborted pregnancies.
His proposal comes in the wake of a 2015 undercover video that he said allegedly showed employees of a Houston-area Planned Parenthood branch discussing the sale of fetal tissue and altering procedures to allow for the recovery of fetal organs.
He said: “This bill is meant to address the sincere concerns of literally tens of thousands of Texans, including myself, regarding the donation and potential sale and profit of human fetal tissue derived from elective abortion”.
The bill would prohibit the sale or donation of fetal tissue from elective abortions and would create penalties for doing so. If passed, abortion facilities would only be allowed to donate tissue from medically-necessary abortions or miscarriages and only to approved facilities.
The bill also seeks to ban partial-birth abortions, which are already illegal under federal law, in Texas. Schwertner explained the anomaly, saying that, because the federal ban only applies in matters involving interstate transfer, a state law is needed to make the ban complete.
The health and human services committee also heard a bill by Dallas senator Don Huffines that seeks to regulate the disposition of fetal tissue and require a proper burial or cremation for fetal remains following abortion or miscarriage.
A third abortion-related bill, by Lubbock senator Charles Perry, seeks a requirement that any second-trimester abortions using a dilation and extraction procedure must first terminate the life of the fetus if its dismemberment is involved in the procedure.
All three bills remained pending before the committee at the end of the week.

Henry, Hocking and Doyle talk up county and cities

By Trishna Buch

THE COUNTY is the only one on the Gulf Coast to be given the Moody credit-ratings agency’s highest rating, county judge Mark Henry said this week.
Addressing an audience at Texas City’s Doyle convention center during his annual State Of The Cities address on Thursday, Henry said Galveston is one of 10 counties in Texas to earn Moody’s coveted AAA rating.
He said the upgrade “signifies to industry and businesses that we are a stable form of government”.
Earlier, the county had issued a written statement in which he said: “The upgrade to AAA reflects the county’s large and diverse tax base that benefits from ongoing commercial and residential development, healthy financial position supported by conservative budgetary management, and average debt and pension burdens”.
The county’s $64.6 million limited tax refunding bonds were assigned the rating by Moody Investors Service, as a result of which it can claim good fiscal policies and strong recovery since Hurricane Ike in 2008.
Moody’s report said the county’s tax base has grown to high levels since Ike. It had recovered fully within two years of the storm and, in the past five years, has grown at an annual average rate of 3.7 per cent.
Henry also told the audience that Gulf Coast community protection and recovery district has earned a gold medal for engineering excellence in a study of the effect of storm surge and how to lessen the severity of damages caused by a major storm.
The State Of The Cities event also included addresses by the mayors of La Marque and Texas City.
Matt Doyle of Texas City discussed improvements being introduced to his town and told attendees its planned Lago Mar subdivision is well on the way to kicking off.
“They have already platted 500 lots and you can see many homes almost at completion”, he said.
He also discussed the city’s livable centers study and his hope that the city would gain more walking and biking trails as a result of it, declaring: “We need to walk more”.
He said that, according to Houston-Galveston Area Council, the study “should enhance the area as a destination which is walkable, transit-served, characterized by diverse housing and employment choices, thriving businesses, vibrant street life, and civic amenities”.
La Marque mayor Bobby Hocking told the room that new homes, new businesses and new people are making his city.
“La Marque is in a state of preservation and renovation and we are purposed to be all that we are destined to be”, he said.
Among other points, he said that, in 2016, the city saw the approval of six new police positions and has achieved a 60 per cent increase in sales-tax revenues over the past five years, the repair of 90 per cent of its known water leaks, the construction of 124 homes and $34,564,909 in total new home values.
“Highly favored, I believe, is where La Marque stands today”, he said.
“So, if anyone ever tells you that there is no room for you in the inn, or no room in the boardroom, or no room on their roster, or no room in their workplace, know this – favor can make room for you.
“I believe that the doors of favor have opened for our great city.”

Taylor writes bill to give parents power over their kids’ education

By Richard Lee
Texas Senate News

PARENTS could receive part of the money spent on Texas’ public education to send their children to a different school under a school choice plan unveiled by the county’s district 11 senator Larry Taylor and lieutenant governor Dan Patrick on Monday.
The plan was introduced in Taylor-authored senate bill 3, which aims to create school choice through two methods.
If it becomes law, the first would allow parents to receive a portion of the money intended to educate their child at a traditional public school, which averages about $9,000 per year. That money would be placed in a trust account and could be used only for educational costs such as private-school tuition or online courses.
The amount received would be based on need, ranging from 60 per cent of the cost for educating a student at a public school in a year for families earning more than twice the poverty-line income level to 75 per cent for poor families and 90 per cent for families with disabled children.
Senate education committee chair Taylor, below left, said the state would split the cost with school districts in the first year.
He added that the lack of school-choice programs in Texas is holding the state back, saying:  “Thirty other states have school-choice programs across this nation. We are behind the curve.”
He added that, for Texas to remain economically sound “we need to pass school-choice legislation to give our students the opportunity to receive a great education tailored to their specific needs”.
The second method would allow the creation of tax-credit scholarship accounts in which people or businesses can donate money to the education of eligible children in exchange for a tax write-off.
The amount would be capped at $100 million per year to start and would be open to students whose families are below the 200 per cent federal poverty line threshold or who are in foster care or the children of armed-service members.
Patrick, below, said the plan seeks to give all students in Texas the right to seek a high-quality education, saying: “Every parent has a right to send their child to the school that they think is best for them”.
He said: “We already have school choice in Texas. If you are rich enough, you send your child to private school. But, if you’re not wealthy enough to do that, then you don’t have any options.”
The bill must be approved by the education committee before it can head to the full senate for consideration. 
Also on Monday, senators the finance committee said they were disappointed to learn that there has been scant progress in keeping track of some of the state’s most vulnerable children.
At an interim hearing in October, the committee members had been shocked to learn that the whereabouts of more than 500 children at risk of great bodily harm or even death was unknown to the state’s child protective services system.
Following that meeting, the state acted to increase funds to hire investigators and caseworkers to help locate and protect the children. The funds were conditional on performance measures in which 90 per cent of priority-one children must be seen face-to-face by a CPS caseworker within 24 hours by May 1, with that threshold rising to 95 percent by August 1.
But on Monday family and protective services department executive director Hank Whitman, before the committe for his agency’s appropriation requests, dismayed its members by telling them 400 to 450 of the priority-one children are still unaccounted for.
Whitman said that, even with the help of law-enforcement agencies, it’s very difficult to locate the children.
That didn’t sit well with committee chair Jane Nelson, who told him: “We gave you everything you said you need to do that. That is our highest priority. We need to find these kids.”
She added: “We’re going to continue to prioritize these kids but hear me – we’ve given you what you said you need…
“Your agency gets a total of $3.8 billion. If I had my way, we’d put all $3.8 billion into finding these kids and protecting them. If we don’t do that, what else
is important?”

Faircloth and Creighton to watch the state’s economy for Austin

By Trishna Buch

TWO OF the county’s state politicians have been charged with helping to lead Texas’ political efforts to boost the economy.
Wayne Faircloth, who holds the district 23 seat in Austin’s house of representatives, has been handed the chair of the Texas house manufacturing caucus, while Brandon Creighton, who represents the senate’s district four, has been named vice-chairman of that chamber’s committee on business and commerce.
Both said they were looking forward to their new roles after their appointments last week.
Faircloth, left, said: “As Texans and Americans, we are constantly exploring new technologies to push Texas to the forefront of innovation.
“We believe it is vital, not only to maintain our standard of living and quality of life, but to also lead the nation by example.”
Creighton, below, whose appointment came courtesy lieutenant governor Dan Patrick, was also made a member of the senate committees of agriculture, water and rural affairs, criminal justice, state affairs and transportation.
His business-and-commerce committee position entails attention to the state’s business, insurance and regulatory industries.
After learning of his appointments, the senator, whose district includes Bolivar peninsula, said: “Serving on these committees will allow senate district four a priority seat at the table in addressing some of the most pressing issues we currently face in Texas”.
The representatives’ caucus is a forum in which house members discuss policies critical to the state economy. It provides public education on policy issues relevant to manufacturing and keeps an eye on the state’s attractiveness to new businesses.
According to the center for manufacturing research, factories employed 7.3 per cent of the Texas workforce in 2015, accounted for 14.5 per cent of the state’s total economic output and contributed $251 billion in manufactured goods to Texas’ exports that year, a figure that led the nation.
More than 866,000 Texans were employed in manufacturing and Faircloth said he believes the state government can continue to improve Texas’ manufacturing base.

We conclude Lora-Marie Bernard’s exclusive coverage of the presidential weekend in Washington as she meets the county’s excited GOP ranks who filed into the nation’s capital for the inauguration and talks to the county’s US representative

DOZENS of Galveston County residents converged on the US capitol in Washington on Friday morning to watch Donald Trump become the 45th president of the United States.
For many, it was their first time to attend a presidential inauguration or even to visit the nation’s capital. For others, it was a routine trip or at least one they’d experienced before.
Former La Marque mayor Geraldine Sam arrived at US congressman Randy Weber’s office to pick up her inauguration and presidential-ball tickets on Thursday afternoon.
She has attended every inauguration since Bill Clinton became president. The routine was so comfortable for her that she spent more time talking about her projects back home in the county than the impending Trump administration.
“I don’t even know who I’m going to take to the ball yet”, she said.
Texas City justice of the peace Alison Cox was more excited to see the sites and enjoy the experience with her husband Lonnie, Galveston’s 56th district court judge, and their friends.
As a young woman, she had been among the musicians who played at Ronald Reagan’s inauguration.
“I was working”, she said about her time in Washington with Houston Pops, an orchestra she was not even sure still existed.
“I didn’t really have a chance to see anything. It was very interesting watching the Secret Service work. They checked everything.”
This time, she called herself a bona fide tourist. She was among a group that created a jam-packed schedule of museum trips, ghost tours and dinners at famous restaurants.
“I’m really enjoying myself this time”, she said.
Galvestonian Rusty Carnes said he had attended one of the Bush inaugurations although he was not exactly sure which one. Regardless, he said, the Trump ceremonies were the best for one reason – the weather.
He said: “It is usually so cold, wet and windy. It’s just miserable. This time, the weather is great. It is so much milder than I ever expected. It’s great.”

Blown away by three little words

MAKING THE rounds on the internet during the presidential inauguration was a photo of a Galveston resident trying in vain to take a selfie with about-to-be-president Donald Trump.
Rusty Carnes, an unapologetic Trump supporter, was having dinner on the Wednesday before the inauguration with a group of hometown friends in the Trump International hotel.
Nestled in a secluded restaurant in a gallery loft above the hotel lobby, he was with about 20 other Galveston islanders. Close by sat Rudy Giuliani, dining with other Republican-party powerhouses.
“As it was, Trump decided to stop by his hotel,” Carnes said as he recalled an extraordinary week in his life. “Everybody had gone wild and all that.”
His daughter-in-law, Courtney, was making her way to the restaurant when she reached an escalator in the lobby, he remembered. He could see her from the restaurant as she turned and was met by the president-elect.
“She met him at the bottom of the stairs and was able to shake his hand,” he said.
Trump ascended the escalator and Carnes said he rushed to take a selfie video with all his friends and family rushing to capture the moment too.
The funeral-home owner said he was the only one bold enough to speak directly to the incoming president.
“I said, ‘Mr Trump, I’m Rusty Carnes and I want to personally thank you for what you are doing for America’,”, he recalled.
At that moment, Trump slapped his new acquaintance’s shoulder.
“He said, ‘Thank you, Rusty’, which blew me away because it meant he had listened to me”, the islander said.
“For him to repeat my name, you know, I couldn’t remember anybody’s name. But he repeated my name to me and I thought, ‘He actually listened to what I said’.  It was pretty awesome.”
The interaction brought memories of an old friend rushing back to Carnes. Lewis Oliver had a strong shoulder slap like Trump and had an uncanny way of acknowledging and relating to people.
Trump’s slap on his shoulder felt like an Oliver gesture and Carnes said it made him wonder if his deceased friend had guided the evening
for him.
“That was kind of spooky and it’s just a strange nuance that I’m sharing”, he said.
Later that night, another video that showed Carnes trying to film his Trump selfie went viral on social media. A photo that he took of the back of Trump’s head also made the rounds.
Judge Lonnie Cox, who was among the dining party, found his own social-media profiles receiving a lot of traffic after he was tagged in some of the incident’s photos.
It was a night of happenstance, Cox said about
the incident.
“People were cheering and everybody just mobbed the scene”, he said.
In the days that followed, Carnes moved from Trump fan to a media favorite. His prolific social-media posts oftentimes proclaimed the love Trump had for America. When a friend passed on his cell-phone number to Headline News and CNN, he gave lengthy interviews to each.
His remarks reflected a staunch conservatism. When asked about the protests, he said the protesters were self-serving and had done nothing to change the country.
He told the interviewers: “The only persons who benefit is them. Everyone else is just mad at them.”
After returning to the county, Carnes said he expects the president to deliver on his promises and that he thinks the rhetoric that marked Trump’s election campaign will subside, saying: “He delivered the wake-up calls. He doesn’t say much but what he does say I think he will do.”

Weber: The Dems broke health care – we will fix it

THE DAY before Donald Trump’s inauguration as America’s new president, the county’s Texas 14th-district US congressman was excited about the weather.
Across the street from his office in Washington’s Longworth building, Republican Randy Weber could see the ceremony decorations hanging from the US capitol underneath clear skies and a bright glow of sunlight.
“This is my hope”, the member of the US house of representatives said. “We just got through a contentious election and we are tired of the politics.”
Weber, left, had a crowd of family members with him during the inauguration weekend and was also planning to move into a Washington condominium. The second-home purchase was on his mind as his office staff flurried to give constituents tickets to the ceremony and one of the three coveted inaugural balls.
“Dodd-Frank has put a stifle on this economy”, he said as he reflected on his personal experience with the banking-reform legislation. “Buying this condo has shown me that”.
Weber had been a staunch critic of outgoing president Barack Obama. During previous legislative sessions, the congressman’s public statements had been inflammatory about every Democratic-party bill or presidential executive order. The federal house of representatives is more conservative than the senate and Weber’s rhetoric had often echoed throughout the chamber.
Going into 2017 with Trump, Weber was welcoming the opportunity to replace the Affordable Health Care act, known as Obamacare. He downplayed the Democrats who are stumping that
no plan is in place for a timely replacement.
“I know that makes for good politics”, he said, adding that the Republicans are essentially considering at least two plans that were on the table before the act came along.
“My dissatisfaction with Obamacare is that it is job stifling”, he said.
“This not a long-term good healthcare plan”.
He said his vision for a national healthcare program is to replace Obamacare with a patient-centered market-based program.
“I know that all the Democrats are saying that, if we break it, we own it”, he said. “I’d like to argue, you broke it; now we are going to fix it”.
That was all the congressman wanted to say about Trump’s promise to repeal Obamacare and his support for the cause.
It was Thursday afternoon, his granddaughter was with him and other family members were around. A new president was about to take office and the congressman wanted to celebrate with them.