Wed April 22, 2015 5:04 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

open carry texas

Senior House members who don’t like Representative Jonathan Stickland have taunted him this session. One senior Republican all but called Stickland a liar during a debate on a border security measure. During another debate, another senior Republican dragged a cookie on a string near Stickland, supposedly to lure the Bedford Republican away from the back microphone. But apparently he ate their lunch instead.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Bud Kennedy is reporting that Stickland may have pulled one over on the House and turned a licensed open carry of handguns bill into a just plain open carry bill, because police would no longer have the power to ask someone to show their handgun permit without cause: 

Instead of open carry, Texas just went wide open.

Anybody openly packing a handgun is no longer a police concern, at least not under an amendment passed 133-10 Monday by the Texas House.

See somebody with a gun?

Don’t bother dialing 911.

That’s right. Under House Bill 910, police are barred from asking anyone “whether a person possesses a handgun license.”

According to Kennedy, Stickland was the mastermind behind an amendment carried by Harold Dutton, a Democrat, and Matt Rinaldi, a Republican. The amendment is supposed to keep police from harassing law abiding handgun owners who are legally carrying them openly. But it effectively halts police from asking to see the license unless a person is acting suspiciously.

Stickland has been a proponent of what is called constitutional carry— anyone who can legally own a handgun can carry it openly. The legislation moving through the House and Senate allows open carry for only those persons who have had a criminal background check, been trained and received a license to carry from the Texas Department of Public Safety.

“We unintentionally just got unlicensed open carry,” Stickland told Kennedy. (Corrected: Bud tells me it was not a quote from Stickland. The full sentence from his story: “That was after a leader of the Dallas-based Come and Take It Texas open-carry group wrote on social media: ‘We unintentionally just got unlicensed open carry.’”)

Tue April 21, 2015 10:30 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

The Republican presidential candidates are collecting billionaires like squirrels hoarding nuts for winter. And this cache of cash may keep at least several campaigns politically viable until the Texas GOP presidential primary next March.

The money primary usually is the great winnower of presidential hopefuls. Candidates who come out of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina underfunded simply do not have the money for the stretch run and frequently drop out before Texans vote in March. The advent of super Pacs in 2012 started changing that, with candidates spending a combined $10 million on television ads ahead of the Iowa caucus alone. Rick Perry spent $2.86 million on Iowa television advertising

With the prospect that winning the nomination in 2016 could cost as much as $100 million apiece, the race is on for candidates to win over the billionaires—or as Molly Ivins would have called them, the oligarchs. White House hopefuls like Ted Cruz and Rick Perry are turning to people whose disposable income runs into the millions of dollars.

The billionaire buzz caught fire today with reports that the Koch brothers, Charles and David, were leaning to throwing their financial might behind Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. After listening to Walker speak at an exclusive New York gathering Monday, David Koch declared that Walker could defeat Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton in a general election, and Koch called Walker a “tremendous candidate.”  In a statement later Monday, Koch denied that he was endorsing any candidate for president. The Kochs have said they plan to spend $889 million during the 2016 election cycle to promote candidates and their small-government philosophy. If they jump into the GOP nominating process, they could be a game-changer for the candidate they back. Though their fortune comes from Kansas-based Koch Industries, the brothers own refineries, pipelines and chemical technology operations in Texas, as well as Georgia-Pacific and the Matador Cattle Company, which covers 130,000 acres in the Caprock area.  

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Mon April 20, 2015 7:41 pm By Erica Grieder

school vouchers texas

I have conflicting intuitions about education reform. Like most people who support free enterprise, I agree that competition is healthy and tends to improve overall outcomes. In the context of public education, however, we can’t be cavalier about the fact that competitions involve winners and losers. Some struggling schools may improve under competitive pressure, and those that fail may be replaced by more effective operations, but even if the process ultimately yields a better set of schools, the kids enrolled in the schools that finally fail will have been profoundly disadvantaged by the experience. And I don’t buy the argument that reform advocates are secretly hoping to get rid of “government schools” altogether; I think most reform advocates are in fact trying to improve public education, not end it. But having listened to a lot of testimony over the years, I’m aware that plenty of Texas parents would prioritize their own preferences over policies more likely to maximize the common good.

Plus, as a general matter, legislation should be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Even if the intentions are honorable, and the underlying principles widely shared, the bill itself may be awkwardly structured. The vouchers proposal that passed on first reading in the Senate this afternoon, for example, is conceptually sound enough but includes one provision which would, I think, effectively defeat the purpose.

The measure, authored by Larry Taylor, parallels one Dan Patrick fought for in 2013, when he was the chair of the Senate Education Committee. Basically, it proposes a tax credit for businesses that agree to allocate the corresponding amount of money to a statewide voucher fund instead. In the first year, up to $100 million in tax credits could be authorized, meaning that some 15,000 students could participate. The amount of tax credits allowed would grow each subsequent year, as would the number of students who could potentially participate in the program. The size of the scholarships would be capped at a proportion of the average statewide per capita spending on public schools—let’s call it about $6,000 a year at first, compared to about $8,000 for a public school student, for simplicity’s sake—meaning the state would save some money on each scholarship student.

The aforementioned bum provision relates to the eligibility criteria for students. To apply, a student must be in foster care, in institutional care, or have a household income not greater than 250 percent of the income guidelines necessary to qualify for the national free or reduced-price lunch program. At first glance, that sounds admirably egalitarian; it sounds as if these scholarships will go to genuinely disadvantaged students, many of whom are indeed trapped in failing schools. The problem is in the third provision. Per federal guidelines, a family of four with a household income of $44,000 qualifies for reduced lunch. The way this is written, a family of four would therefore be eligible for vouchers if their household income is up to $110,000 a year. But $110,000 is about double the state median income; kids from those households probably already have access to good public schools. And yet realistically those are the kids most likely to be the beneficiaries of such scholarships, if the bill becomes law as written. That’s fine if that’s the goal, but if the goal is to help poor black kids in inner-city Houston and poor Hispanic kids in the Rio Grande Valley, that’s not going to be accomplished by subsidizing yuppies in Plano. It would be better to ratchet down the criteria, so the only students eligible are the ones actually eligible for free or reduced lunch, as about half of all students in Texas public schools are.

With that minor revision, the bill would be a great way for Texas to experiment with a voucher program. Since the state has some five million children enrolled in public schools, the number of students affected would not amount to an accidental overnight overhaul of our extant approach to public education. At the same time, 15,000 students would benefit in a meaningful way. They would also make for a fairly good sample set, and if there is a measurable effect in their educational outcomes, reform advocates would be well positioned to advocate for an expansion of such programs. The tax credits themselves would not create a revenue hole, because the foregone revenue would be accompanied by a commensurate cut in spending requirements. All in all, worth a try.

One other thought, on reflection: the proposal was controversial in 2013, and although it passed the Senate easily enough today, on a mostly party-line vote, it will inevitably elicit more opposition in the House. It’s worth mentioning, then, that the bill may sound more sinister than it actually is. If so, it’s probably because Republicans keep describing it with euphemisms. The funding for the program, in their telling, would not be public money, because it would be generated by a tax credit, and therefore would never be collected by the state in the first place. Similarly, since the vouchers would not be funded by tax revenue, Taylor wants us to call them scholarships.

Both arguments are dubious. “Vouchers” may be controversial, but “scholarships” implies that the program seeks to differentiate between students on the basis of merit or financial need, and the Senate proposal is predicated on the opposite goal: Patrick has argued for years that all children deserve access to a good education; the whole purpose of vouchers is to empower parents, in practice, to differentiate between schools. And obviously a program funded by tax credits is a program funded by the state. Over the long term, I don’t see how it helps Republicans to argue over that point. The argument itself makes it sound like they’re trying to confuse people with gimmicks in an effort to score short-term political points. I realize that scoring such points may be the only thing that matters to many elected officials these days but it’s a little tiresome and dispiriting, especially when the overarching goal is an honorable one.

Or maybe I should put it this way. Patrick and the Senate can take credit for having done something today, but they have to choose their bragging rights. They can take credit for passing a bill that is projected to save the state $135 million in 2020 by cutting public school enrollment. Or they can take credit for giving some 20,000 students across the state of Texas a real and meaningful opportunity that may well change their lives. Either would count as an accomplishment. But the voucher is only good for one.


Mon April 20, 2015 10:15 am By Paul Burka

The state is headed for fiscal catastrophe if it persists in refusing to expand Medicaid and stands to lose some $4 billion in federal funds if a lucrative Medicaid waiver expires. This is the legacy of Governor Perry and all of the Obama haters in state government. It is also a test for Governor Greg Abbott: whether he will allow ideology to stand in the way of recouping billions of dollars in federal funds that the state should have coming to it. It is one thing to be ideological. It’s quite another to be out of touch with reality.

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Mon April 20, 2015 8:06 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

Texas Department of Public Safety border violenceThe drug cartel violence on Friday in the Mexican border town of Reynosa will give ammunition to those in Texas pushing for an increase in state spending of up to $800 million for border security. But the violence also may be a sign that Mexico is making some progress in its war on the cartels.

For anyone who may have missed it, gunfire broke out in Reynosa on Friday as Mexican authorities arrested a Gulf Cartel leader. Cartel members attempted to halt his transfer to Mexico City by blockading Reynosa with burning school buses. Although there were gun battles, the international bridges leading to Reynosa remained open and travel was not prohibited. Part of what is happening in Mexico is a splintering of the major drug cartels as authorities concentrate on capturing organized crime chiefs.

Many of the recent clashes within the Gulf Cartel have come from infighting between different cells that control key cities along the Rio Grande.

Cartel forces in Reynosa are known as the Metros and have fought members based in Matamoros, known as the Ciclones, in ongoing turf battles over the past few months. Further west, Los Zetas have traditionally controlled territory west of Miguel Alemán, across the river from Roma, toward the northwest past Nuevo Laredo.

At about the same time as the Reynosa violence, Mexican authorities also arrested the head of the Juárez Cartel. This head of the snake approach has been effective to a point, but like the mythical Hydra, cut off one head and more appear. 

While violence has fallen in several areas of Mexico, particularly Ciudad Juárez, other areas remain in the grip of these battling criminal gangs, including much of the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, where Reynosa is.

New gangs have emerged in the past couple of years and rapidly gained strength. One of the most dangerous is the Jalisco Cartel-New Generation, which officials say ambushed a Jalisco state police convoy on April 6 and killed 15 agents.

But gang violence has been so diminished in Juárez across from El Paso that city officials have launched a public relations campaign to attract renewed tourism. In 2010, Juárez was called the most dangerous city in the world because of its 3,000 murders, but the number was down to 424 in 2014. The mayor says he wants to “vindicate the city’s image abroad.” However, the number of murders still is more than double what it was in 2007, and one critic said the new program “is like washing a face when the rest of the body is still dirty, sick of corruption, impunity, poverty and inequality.” 

So here is the rub for Texas lawmakers: The cartels no doubt have a presence in Texas with the smuggling of drugs and humans, but the extreme violence remains on the Mexican side of the border. The real question, which so far the Texas Department of Public Safety has not adequately answered, is this: what exactly is Texas getting for the money it’s spending on border security?

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)