Assessing the Vetoes, Part 3
This post will conclude my assessment of the 49 bills Perry vetoed.
H.B. 3457 — Hochberg/Zaffirini. This has to be the most inscrutable veto message ever. The bill prohibited school buses from idling when parked on school property or at a school event. Maybe the idea was to save fuel. Maybe the idea was to protect the health of students. How can this be a bad bill? Here is Perry’s veto message:
I believe educators should be focusing on more pressing priorities, such as: teaching a standards-based curriculum; providing a classroom environment conducive to children with special needs; providing free lunch for students from low-income families; providing a safe learning environment; providing extra-curricular activities such as athletics, the arts and band; providing a bilingual education to more than 600,000 students who speak English as a second language; operating day and after-school programs, and; providing after-hour tutoring services. These are the core functions of our education system. If schools believe they should also regulate and enforce school bus idling policies, I think they should do so, not because it is mandated by the state, but because they have chosen to do so as a matter of policy decided on the local level.
Say what? Perry does not even attempt to discuss the merits of the bill. He seems to be saying that instead of passing this bill, the Legislature should have passed other, more important bills. Well, if that’s the standard, he should have vetoed everything except the Appropriations bill. As for the local-control argument, I agree that idling buses are an appropriate matter for local boards, but if local control is so important, why did Perry veto the bill that allowed community college boards to waive in-district tuition?
HB 3609 — Talton/Ellis. Kudos to the Statesman’s Gardner Selby for ferreting out the story of this bill. It started out as an effort by Robert Talton to help a longtime worker in the House of Representatives kitchen, Laura Medlock, 84. She had retired and then returned to work, a circumstance that made her ineligible for participating in the retirement system a second time and left her with a pension of less than $800 a month. Later, the Senate parliamentarian and the two House parliamentarians who were fired by Tom Craddick were added to the bill. Perry’s veto was on sound grounds–carving out benefits for selected employees is not good public policy–but you have to be pretty ruthless to veto this bill.
HB 3619 — Raymond/Zaffirini. The bill seeks to extend the time for cities to change their election dates. The Legislature passed a law in 1993 requiring local political subdivisions to set a fixed date for their elections, so voters would know each cycle when elections will be held. Subsequent bills have pushed back the deadline to 1997, 1999, 2004, and 2005. This bill would extend the time until December 31, 2008. While it is hard to disagree with the assertion in Perry’s veto message — “We have now reached the point where the cities and other local subdivisions need to stop moving their election dates. Voters need to know when a political subdivision holds its elections. If Texas is serious about increasing turnout, the state must stop changing the time and place of elections, and set them permanently so voters will know when they can vote” — there are unique circumstances in the case of Laredo that Perry should have taken into consideration. The city secretary in Laredo testified before the House Elections committee that Laredo had recently had an election to amend the city charter to change the time for council elections to the general election date in November, beginning with the 2008 election. This would allow the cost of the election to be split with the county and the community college and would increase turnout. Laredo had a valid reason for wanting the extension. Most governors would sign this bill without a second thought. It saves money; it raises turnout. Perry’s veto was a “gotcha” that served no public purpose. Maybe it was too much to resist taking a poke at Tony Sanchez’s home town.
HB 3647 — Kolkhorst/Lucio. The bill was the result of an exchange between Kolkhorst and AG Abbott during a budget hearing. Abbott said that more and more often, he found that what Texas could do in a particular circumstance was affected by international agreements. NAFTA is the most obvious example, but even World Court decisions could have an impact. When Abbott said he could do the study without any additional funding or employees, Kolkhorst proceeded to introduce the bill and pass it. Perry’s veto message says, “This bill is objectionable for several reasons …. If we believe federal law impacts Texas in an undesirable way, we should work with Congress and the president to remedy those concerns. There is no need for the OAG to spend state resources and time deciphering whether federal law preempts state law when it is the objective of the State of Texas to act in accordance with these laws.” As you can see, Perry says that the bill is objectionable for several reasons but states only one. The unstated reasons are, (1) Kolkhorst messed with my Trans-Texas Corridor. (2) Kolkhorst messed with my Trans-Texas Corridor. (3) Kolkhorst messed with my Trans-Texas Corridor.
HB 3934 — McClendon/Van de Putte. The bill created a study at Alamo Community College in San Antonio to determine how well their students are transitioning to four-year institutions–or, more accurately, why they aren’t doing it very well. A contingency rider in the Appropriations bill funded the study. Van de Putte’s office told me that the rider didn’t survive the appropriations process, so funding was unavailable. But they still wanted the bill to pass, because local business interests concerned about their future workforce were willing to help with the project, and a bill would give the study status that would help garner community support. Perry’s veto message said, “This is something that should already be occurring, within existing resources, because one of the preeminent missions of any two-year college is to prepare students for transfer to a four-year school.” It was a gratuitous veto. If the purpose is worthwhile–and Perry says “[t]his is something that should already be occurring,” then why veto the bill? And the answer is, Because they should already have been doing it. Huh? This makes no sense.
HB 4065 — Otto/Watson. The bill created a pilot program for job training and employment services in conjunction with the Texas Association of Goodwills. The Workforce Commission would reimburse TAG for the cost of new facilities that would provide job training and employment services. Perry’s veto message says, “This type of project is added special-interest funding that will benefit only Texas Association of Goodwills, which has no true state oversight, nor is it accountable to Texas taxpayers. I support workforce training and the funds that were added to the budget for that purpose; however, the state should not be in the business of constructing facilities for non-state entities. It is also important to note that the state currently has 28 local workforce boards located throughout the state that have facilities that provide job training.” Given all the true special interest legislation that the Legislature passes, Perry’s description of Goodwill as a special interest is unwarranted. It’s hard to see how this veto makes Texas a better place.
HB 4091, 4113, 4123 — respectively, Coleman/Ellis, Cohen/Ellis, and Miles/Ellis. All of these bills amended existing laws creating local management districts. Variously, they changed the boundaries of the districts, enlarged or reduced the number of board members, and named specific board members. These special-district bills go through the Legislature every session without getting much attention, and yet, they are useful tools in improving the quality of urban life. Houston is replete with them. The idea is to protect the viability of commercial districts by allowing business property owners in the district to tax themsevles to raise money for services–hiring off duty police officers to improve safety; removing graffiti; placing dumpsters in areas where dumping is frequent; planting trees, and so on. Business property owners must petition for the district to be created; a designated threshold number of property owners must sign the petition for the district to operate; hearings must be held, and notice must be given to all businesses in the district. Perry objected that the bills “usurped municipal oversight.” I don’t buy that. I think somebody didn’t want to be taxed and asked the governor to veto the bill. No big deal.
SB 182 — Wentworth/Hildebran. This was one of four criminal trespass bills vetoed by the governor. It prohibited entering recreational vehicle parks without permission. The governor’s veto message said that the bill was redundant, as current law was sufficient. This issue is discussed in more detail under the discussion of SB 1097.
SB 711 — Shapleigh/Solomons. The bill requires the electronic infrastructure established by the Department of Information Resources to include a consolidated business application portal through which a business may apply and submit payment for original or renewal permits online. I listened to the committee hearing on the bill and it lasted about one minute. Shapleigh told the committee that the idea had come from a businessman in his district. “The bill would reduce the number and time a citizen must provide the same information to multiple state agencies and multiple Web sites” in order to start a business. Perry’s veto message said, “Senate Bill No. 711 is unnecessary because the State of Texas has already accomplished the provisions set forth in the bill.” The El Paso Times did a story on vetoes of bills authored by local legislators, but this bill was not discussed.
SB 718 — Ogden/Gattis. The bill said that TxDot should select a route for the Trans Texas Corridor that lies on the Texas Trunk Highway System whenever possible. The Texas Trunk system, according to an online monograph, is “a planned rural four-lane divided highway network that includes and complements Texas’ rural interstate highways.” Perry objected, “This will likely compromise the environmental process required by the National Environmental Policy Act which requires the state to ‘rigorously explore and objectively evaluate all reasonable alternatives…so that reviewers may evaluate their comparative merits.’ This bill undermines the integrity of the environmental study process and could cause the Federal Highway Administration to conclude the state did not complete a valid alternatives analysis because the legislature dictated a preferred route by state statute.” I suspect that this is not a likely problem, because TxDOT would have the ability to make the final decision and would not choose a route that it could not justify from an environmental standpoint. I further suspect that this is not a likely problem, because TxDOT doesn’t listen to the Legislature anyway. Nevertheless, Ogden and Gattis ought to know that those who legislate about the Corridor do so at their own risk.
SB 960 — Shapleigh/Haggerty. The bill exempted dependents of military personnel from passing the exit-level TAKS test if the students transfer into the Texas public school system after they complete their sophomore year in high school. The bill was designed to help families at Fort Bliss in El Paso (and other military installations), many of whom came from abraod and studied curricula unrelated to the TAKS requirements. Instead of the TAKS, the commissioner of education would determine appropriate performance levels on other nationally recognized instruments in order to satisfy the graduation requirements and qualify for a Texas diploma. Perry’s veto message said, “The strength of our accountability system is derived from having a common standard for all students. Allowing exemptions from this standard decreases the value of a Texas diploma.” The El Paso Times reported:
State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, wasn’t happy that Perry vetoed his bill…. It would have allowed high school juniors and seniors who transfer to Texas schools because of the military to use SAT or ACT scores, instead of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills Test, to graduate.
Because of the Fort Bliss expansion, El Paso schools are expecting thousands of new students, many whose families were stationed in Europe where they did not get prepared for the TAKS. “We need to create a standard that they can use to graduate,” Shapleigh said.
This veto is an example of Rick Perry at his worst: rigid, uncaring, protecting his program rather than the public.
SB 1097 — Whitmire/Noriega. This was another criminal trespass bill, which met the same fate as the others. The bill created a defense to a charge of criminal trespass for agents of electric utility companies who enter residential property in the scope of their employment. Perry’s veto message reads, “Current statute covers the places identified in these bills, which renders this legislation redundant. If there are problems, the State of Texas should address criminal trespass issues in a comprehensive manner that makes the system consistent for enforcement and punishment.” This terse message exposes the problem with the way the governor’s office approaches vetoes. That this bill (and the other criminal trespass, for which the veto message is the same) exists strongly suggests that there are indeed problems, or otherwise it would not have been introduced. Shouldn’t it be incumbent on the governor’s office to determine whether a problem exists before Perry vetoes it? Instead, the attitude was revealed by spokesman Robert Black, who said that lawmakers concerned about a veto should call the governor.
SB 1053 — Zaffirini/Aycock. The bill directs the Coordinating Board to develop a methodology to assess quality and effectiveness of higher education academic advising services to students. Perry’s veto message says, “The bill is silent as to what is to be done with the assessment methodology once it is developed. The bill is an unfunded mandate and will distract the agency from higher priorities.” These are bogus reasons. Zaffirini had blocked Perry’s higher ed proposals and this was part of the payback. It’s too bad, because my experience with my own children is that the quality of advising is not very good.
SB 1735 — Shapiro/J. Jackson. This is a booze bill. In 1976 the city of Addison, north of Dallas, approved the sale of alcoholic beverages for on- and off-premises consumption. In 1982, the voters approved a charter amendment that limited the sale for off-premises consumption to a particular area of Addison. The bill makes clear that if an election takes place in a justice of the peace precinct, the will of the people as expressed in the charter amendment will continue to prohibit the sale for off-premises consumption outside the area where it is currently legal, regardless of the result of the election. Perry’s veto message says, “I am vetoing Senate Bill No. 1735 because a municipality’s wet/dry status should not affect the boundaries of a local option justice of the peace precinct election and vice versa, which this bill does.” This is another bill for the coin-flipping committee.