Tue February 24, 2015 4:56 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

The new property tax cut plan from Dan Patrick and Jane Nelson will provide a tax break windfall for homeowners in rural and South Texas and mild tax relief for those with rapidly rising home values. But it also will shift the tax burden to renters and large taxpayers such as refineries while setting a potential pratfall for future legislators.

It is pretty easy to say any tax relief is better than no tax relief. And there unquestionably are enough breaks in the $4.6 billion package of property and business tax cuts for the lieutenant governor to engage in some chest thumping. “It has been long overdue,” Patrick said.

Senator Nelson’s portion of the package includes $2.5 billion in what she likes to call “tax relief” for the 2016-17 biennium. Why tax relief instead of a tax cut? We’ll come to that later.

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Tue February 24, 2015 2:52 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

State Senator Leticia Van de Putte uttered one of the most famous phrases of the 2013 fight over abortion restrictions at the Legislature when she said, “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?” But she had no trouble being heard Tuesday, bidding the Senate farewell to run for mayor of San Antonio. 

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Sun February 22, 2015 10:42 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

Boxing great Muhammad Ali once predicted he could avoid being hit in a fight by floating like a butterfly, and Greg Abbott displayed that same skill today while talking to CBS newsman Bob Schieffer about the Republican presidential nominating process and illegal immigration.

The Texas governor showed a skillful dodge when the Texas-born host of Face the Nation asked him about the prospects that Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz and Rick Perry will seek the Republican presidential nomination. Will they all run, Schieffer asked.

“I would not be surprised if they all run,” Abbott replied. “If I can expand on that, the Texas connection, Carly Fiorina was born in Austin, Texas, as you were. We also have Rand Paul, who is a Texas native. So the odds favor the next president, at least the Republican nominee, is going to have a Texas connection.”

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Thu February 19, 2015 12:43 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

 

Although apparently limited to Travis County, a court ruling today resulted in Texas’s first same-sex marriage since it was banned by the state Constitution after a statewide vote in 2005. The marriage of Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant, who have been together for more than thirty years, initially side-stepped efforts by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to prevent it. But by mid-afternoon, the Texas Supreme Court had put both the lower court and the marriage on hold.

“The Court’s action upholds our state constitution and stays these rulings by activist judges in Travis County,” Paxton said in a statement following the Supreme Court’s orders. “The same-sex marriage license issued by the Travis County Clerk is void, just as any license issued in violation of state law would be. I will continue to defend the will of the people of Texas, who have defined marriage as between one man and one woman, against any judicial activism or overreach.”

The drama started to unfold Tuesday when probate Judge Guy Herman ruled the state’s ban on same-sex marriages is unconstitutional. Sonemaly Phrasaveth wanted to have her marriage to Stella Powell legally recognized. Powell had died of colon cancer last year. Paxton appealed the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court on Wednesday.  In a statement, he said:

“Texas law is clear on the definition of marriage, and I will fight to protect this sacred institution and uphold the will of Texans, who voted overwhelmingly in favor of a constitutional amendment defining the union as between one man and one woman. The probate judge’s misguided ruling does not change Texas law or allow the issuance of a marriage license to anyone other than one man and one woman.”

But then Thursday morning state District Judge David Wahlberg issued an order to Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir to issue a marriage license to Goodfriend and Bryant, who immediately were married by Rabbi Kerry Baker. For a full report on the marriage, please read the Austin American-Statesman story. 

The issue at present is limited to Travis County. A federal judge last year declared the state ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional but put his ruling on hold pending appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on such bans nationwide this year. There remain questions about whether the marriage will remain legal if the state Supreme Court overturns Herman’s ruling, but for the moment, the state’s only same-sex marriage was legal.  

Supporters of same-sex marriage celebrated the milestone on social media on Thursday. But opponents weren’t giving up. Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, has introduced House Bill 623 to prohibit payments to county clerks who issue same-sex marriage licenses. Bell admits no state money goes to the clerks, but he said it would empower county commissioner courts to block payments for marriage licenses at the local level. Bell said if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds state bans on gay marriage, then today’s wedding in Austin will be meaningless because Texas still will not recognize same-sex marriages. “Then that piece of paper will be just that, a piece of paper. They will have a piece of paper and nothing more.”

UPDATE: Paxton has asked the Texas Supreme Court to block the court order and declare the marriage invalid.

“The Texas Constitution clearly defines marriage as between one man and one woman, as Texas voters approved by an overwhelming majority. The law of Texas has not changed, and will not change due to the whims of any individual judge or county clerk operating on their own capacity anywhere in Texas. Activist judges don’t change Texas law and we will continue to aggressively defend the laws of our state and will ensure that any licenses issued contrary to law are invalid.”

Without stating an opinion, the Texas Supreme Court issued two stays to halt any further action on the Travis County court cases, put the legal status of the marriage on hold until further court proceedings and to keep any other county clerks from issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

Earlier in the day, Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick issued statements supporting Paxton. Abbott’s statement said, “Article 1, Section 32 of the Texas Constitution defines marriage as consisting ‘only of the union of one man and one woman’ and was approved by more than three-quarters of Texas voters. I am committed to ensuring that the Texas Constitution is upheld and that the rule of law is maintained in the State of Texas.” Patrick said, “I fully support the Attorney General’s emergency appeals and efforts to fully enforce the laws of Texas. I hope the Texas Supreme Court will respond in a timely fashion in addressing General Paxton’s appeals.”

(AP Photo | Eric Gay)

Thu February 19, 2015 10:05 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

As I stood in the Capitol rotunda this week waiting to speak to one of the sheriffs in town for Sheriffs’ Day, a nicely dressed woman in her late thirties asked me for directions to registration. Registration? As a lobbyist? “Yes, she replied. I want to lobby for marijuana.” My confusion was then resolved: she was a citizen at the Capitol to petition her Legislature to make marijuana legal in Texas, a prospect not likely to happen, as noted in today’s The Dallas Morning News

Nearly 300 marijuana enthusiasts made their way to the Texas Capitol on Wednesday to persuade tough-on-crime Republicans to loosen their stance on the drug.

They were sober and dressed to impress. And though lawmakers may give their proposal some consideration, their hopes are likely to go up in smoke.

Fully legalized recreational marijuana as in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington is not likely to happen. But there is a slim change bills will move forward for medical marijuana, not the kind that is smoked but in an extract where the key ingredient, Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, is available for a variety of conditions, from controlling epileptic seizers to easing the suffering of chemotherapy. The poster child for the medical marijuana movement is Alexis Bortell, who has epilepsy, as reported on by The Fort Worth Star-Telegram and WFAA television.

Alexis Bortell’s story has attracted attention across Texas.

“Medical cannabis will help me,” the 9-year-old told WFAA.com. “It’s illegal in Texas, and we’re trying to change that.”

Two Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Stephanie Klick of Fort Worth, recently introduced legislation to legalize medical marijuana — not the kind you smoke, but rather cannabis oil. But it won’t be legal anytime soon.

In the meantime, Alexis’ family has decided to move to Colorado, where it is legal.

 

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