Tag Archives: Greg Abbott

Still wondering: Why not mandatory helmet law?

As my wife and I have motored across Texas and into Louisiana for the past few days we have witnessed a number of motorcyclists behaving (in my view) dangerously on our public highways.

They whip across lanes, weaving at high speeds through traffic.

What’s more, most of them are bare-headed. They aren’t wearing helmets.

And . . . it makes me lament that Texas decided back in 1995 to toss aside its mandatory helmet law in favor of allowing motorcyclists to blast their way along our highways with exposed noggins.

I know this is a hopeless notion as long as Republicans control the Texas Legislature, but I am going to express my wish that legislators one day might find it within them to reintroduce the helmet law.

At this moment, only 19 of our 50 states require motorcyclists to wear helmets; 28 states — including Texas — require some motorcycle riders to wear the protective gear. Those riders are children. Only three states — Iowa, Illinois and New Hampshire — have zero helmet requirements for motorcyclists and their passengers.

I might be overly pessimistic about the Texas Legislature’s potential for doing the right thing. The GOP-controlled Legislature did enact a law in 2017 that bans handheld cellphone use while driving motor vehicles. I still am amazed that the Legislature did pass such a law in 2011, only to have then-Gov. Rick Perry veto it, calling the law an infringement on personal liberty. It took a new Legislature and a new governor, Greg Abbott, to create that new law.

I wish the Legislature could find it within itself to do the same thing with motorcycle helmets. In 1995, when lawmakers dropped the law, they required licensed motorcyclists to be insured for at least $10,000. To which I said at the time “big . . . fu***** . . . deal.” Someone who suffers a traumatic head injury can burn through 10 grand before he or she even enters the ER.

I do know that helmets save lives. They also spare motorcyclists from debilitating head injuries that over time put a terrible strain on our state’s medical and social services.

While working as a journalist in the Golden Triangle in the early 1990s, an acquaintance from Orange County told me he hated the helmet law because he couldn’t “feel the wind” in his hair. I laughed in his face.

I know I’m spitting into the wind on this notion. That’s all right. I’ll keep spitting whenever the spirit moves me.

Reps. Price, Smithee turn their backs on ‘local control’

I know these two men well and have developed a lot of professional respect for them, but Texas state Reps. Four Price and John Smithee of Amarillo have disappointed me.

The two Republican lawmakers have put their names on a bill that would allow the Legislature to disallow the deployment of red-light cameras. Cities that deem there is a need to use the equipment to stop motorists from breaking the law no longer would be allowed to use the cameras.

Amarillo — which Price and Smithee represent — is one of those Texas cities that has used the cameras to assist in the enforcement of traffic laws.

Gov. Greg Abbott has gone on record saying he wants the cameras pulled down. His statement suggests he will sign legislation that forbids cities from using the cameras.

Why does this bother me? Well, I support the city’s effort to crack down on red-light violations at signaled intersections. I say that as someone who has been caught running through an intersection, seeking to sneak through when the light had turned yellow; I wasn’t quick enough to avoid getting caught.

Moreover, Republicans have traditionally been the political party that espouses local control. They have been champions of cities operating under their charter, rather than allowing “big brother” state government to impose policies that determine issues that are best left to the cities’ discretion.

I guess that’s no longer the case.

Indeed, the Legislature’s decision just a few years ago to allow cities to use the cameras came after extensive discussion and debate. I believe the cameras have helped deter motorists from acting in a manner that endangers other motorists and pedestrians.

I wish Reps. Price and Smithee had held true to their view that local control is the preferred method of delivering good government.

Two-thirds rule likely to scuttle key Texas appointment

The Texas Senate operates on a rule that is designed ostensibly to promote bipartisanship.

It’s the two-thirds rule, which requires 21 of the Senate’s 31 members to approve legislation — and appointments.

However, all 12 of the Senate’s Democrats are going to oppose the nomination of David Whitley as the next Texas secretary of state. That leaves him with just 19 votes, all of which will come from Senate Republicans.

It seems that Whitley, who’s been acting as secretary of state, blew it when his office “flagged” several thousand voters who were thought to be illegal residents of Texas. It turns out that many of those flagged were quite legal. One of them happened to be a key member of a Senate Democrat’s staff.

Can we hear an “oops”?

Gov. Greg Abbott appointed Whitley to be the state’s top elections officer this past year, but the Legislature was not in session, meaning that the Senate hadn’t yet formally approved his nomination. With the Senate’s 12 Democratic members now on record as opposing his appointment, it appears that Abbott might have to look for someone else to run the state’s election system.

The Secretary of State’s Office committed a fairly embarrassing cluster flip with the flagging of those names. It sought to purge the system of what it said were illegal voters, only to determine that the list of flagged voters was significantly inaccurate.

Abbott said he still supports Whitley fully, which is what one would expect him to say.

I’ll offer this bit of advice: David Whitley needs to bow out; the governor needs to find another nominee. Then we can get back to the task of running our state elections instead of looking for bogeymen where they likely don’t exist.

Yes, the Texas Senate’s two-thirds rule works.

Why not fill high court seat with another West Texan?

I know what governors say when they make appointments to the Texas court system: They’re picking the “most qualified” jurist they can find.

Gov. Greg Abbott has a vacancy to fill on the Texas Supreme Court. It’s the seat vacated by former Justice Phil Johnson, who retired at the end of 2018. Justice Johnson came to the highest state civil appellate court from Amarillo, where he served as chief justice of the 7th Court of Appeals.

I am proud to declare that prior to Johnson’s appointment, I used the Amarillo Globe-News editorial page as a forum to call on then-Gov. Rick Perry to select someone from west of the Interstate 35/45 corridor. West Texas had plenty of qualified judges to serve on the state Supreme Court, so it made sense to select someone from, say, the Panhandle to sit on the state’s highest civil court. And, yes, I was aware that Phil Johnson had sought the job.

Texas doesn’t apportion seats on either the Supreme Court or the Court of Criminal Appeals to provide any form of geographic balance. I understand that all nine justices and judges on each court represents the entire state.

However . . .

Why not look a little more closely out west when looking for a replacement for Justice Johnson?

I am acquainted with Justice Johnson, who was elected and then re-elected to his seat on the Supreme Court. I don’t believe he would endorse the notion of apportioning these seats geographically. Although, I was given an interesting bit of intelligence from a former colleague of Johnson’s on the 7th Court of Appeals.

The late Don Reavis, who hailed from Perryton, once told me he was the 7th court’s token “rural” judge, meaning that he was selected because the appeals court was intended to have some representation among its members from the rural regions in the vast territory the court served. It wasn’t written anywhere, Reavis said, but it was just done that way out of a form of custom.

Is the Texas Supreme Court above such a custom when a vacancy occurs? I wouldn’t think so. Then again, it’s the governor’s call to make. Choose wisely, Gov. Abbott.

Amarillo boosting its red-light camera deployment

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is on record saying he believes the state ought to yank cities’ authority to deploy red-light cameras at dangerous intersections.

Amarillo has responded to that declaration by increasing the number of cameras it has posted around the city from nine to 12.

Take that, Gov. Abbott!

I remain a supporter of the technology that the city uses to assist in catching red-light runners in the act of breaking the law.

The city is going to add seven cameras at intersections, while removing four cameras from other intersections. Thus, the city is continuing to use the technology to assist the police department. Moreover, the city is upgrading red-light camera assemblies at five intersections.

So, what does that mean for the future of the technology? I suppose you can say it lies in the hands of the Texas Legislature. Amarillo has two House members representing the city: Republicans John Smithee and Four Price; it also has a state senator, Republican Kel Seliger, who managed to make some news in recent days because of his dispute with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

What do these three men believe about the red-light cameras? I haven’t asked them directly. Maybe I will, even though I no longer live in Amarillo.

I don’t see any such cameras on the job in Collin County, where my wife and I now live. I don’t see them in Fairview, or Allen, or McKinney or in Princeton — where we’ll be moving into our new home quite soon. I would not object to any city in Collin County deploying these devices. The way I figure it, if it deters red-light runners then they are doing their job.

As for Amarillo’s red-light cameras, consider this little tidbit: Texas Department of Transportation officials say that the three intersections where the cameras are being removed recorded just four collisions from July 2016 to the end of June 2017. They are heavily traveled thoroughfares, so I am going to presume that the cameras did their job.

Cities should be allowed to determine for themselves whether or where to deploy these devices. They don’t need Bigger Brother looking over them.

Search for voter fraud comes up . . . empty!

I guess it’s fair to ask: Did the search for fraudulent voters in Texas come up empty?

The Texas secretary of state’s office flagged the names of 95,000 individuals looking for evidence that they aren’t U.S. citizens and were ineligible to vote. Then the office decided that many thousands of those flagged actually are U.S. citizens.

Gov. Greg Abbott is downplaying the significance of what transpired. He said something about it being an ongoing process and that the list was never intended to be a “final” assessment.

Well, OK, governor. If that’s your story, I’m sure you’re going to stand by it.

It just looks to me as though the secretary of state was looking for a problem where none seems to exist. The SoS informed officials in five large Texas counties — including Collin County, where my wife and I reside — that they likely erred in flagging those names.

It looks to me as though we are finding out that the instances of fraudulent voting in Texas is the non-starter that many critics of the allegations about voter fraud have said all along.

There just isn’t the epidemic of voter fraud in Texas that many have suggested is occurring.

The Civil War plaque is coming down! Yes!

Texas Republicans must be smitten with a rash of reason and sanity.

The GOP-influenced State Preservation Board that oversees the Texas Capitol grounds has voted to remove a plaque that declares that the Confederacy did not launch a “rebellion” that started the Civil War and that the bloody conflict’s “underlying cause” was not to “sustain slavery.”

Of course it was to allow states to keep slaves and it most certainly was a “rebellion” ignited by the Confederate States of America.

The plaque was installed by the Children of the Confederate Creed. It had been the subject of a yearlong string of complaints from those who called it historically false.

Gov. Greg Abbott, who chairs the board, called for the plaque’s removal, as did House Speaker Dennis Bonnen. State Rep. Jeff Leach, a Plano Republican who was just appointed to the board by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, said, “If I had a sledgehammer in my office, I’d go up there right now and remove it. But I’m told that’s not necessary as it will be removed very soon.”

There you have it. Reason has prevailed.

The plaque needs to come down. Thank goodness it will.

Bathroom Bill is dead, but Lt. Gov. Patrick declares victory

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has found a curious way of declaring victory even when he clearly loses a key political battle.

Strange, but true.

Patrick said today he sees no need to resurrect the Bathroom Bill that died a much-needed death in the 2017 special legislative session. You remember this one, right? It would have discriminated against transgender individuals by requiring people to use public restrooms according to the gender assigned to them on their birth certificate.

In other words, if you were born a male but have changed your gender to female, you still have to use the men’s restroom; and vice versa.┬áIt’s a virtually unenforceable notion, but the Texas Senate approved it anyway. Thanks to the courage shown by then-House Speaker Joe Straus, the Bathroom Bill went nowhere in the special session.

But . . . Lt. Gov. Patrick has declared victory anyway!

“When you win the battle you don’t have to fight the battle again,” Patrick said in a press conference with Gov. Greg Abbott and the brand new Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen. Then, according to the Texas Tribune, he said that the school district “behavior that necessitated the action has stopped.”

So he declared victory!

Very good, Lt. Gov. Patrick. Except that you lost! Count me as a Texan who is glad that Patrick’s will didn’t become law in Texas.

The 2019 Legislature that just convened has many more important matters to ponder. They deal with taxes and human trafficking. How about water management? Or perhaps investing in alternative energy development? Then there’s public education and public higher education.

The Bathroom Bill need not return to the legislative agenda.

Not ever!

ACA ruling puts GOP in a bit of a pickle

Donald Trump, obviously, is happy that a Texas-based federal judge has declared the Affordable Care Act to be unconstitutional.

However, are his fellow Republicans thrilled with Judge Reed O’Connor’s wide-ranging ruling? Not . . . exactly.

Many GOP congressional candidates campaigned for election and re-election in this year’s midterm election promising to protect one of the ACA’s key provisions: to cover “pre-existing” medical conditions for those who have purchased insurance under the landmark legislation.

But the judge said the ACA violates the Constitution because of legislation that stripped out the individual mandate provision, which requires Americans to have insurance or else face civil penalties. You can’t do that, Judge O’Connor said.

U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, two Texas Republicans, have remained quiet about the ruling. So has Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. You’d think they would join the president in extolling the decision.

Here’s the deal, though: The ACA remains popular among Americans. National Public Radio reports that a Kaiser Family Foundation poll declares that 53 percent of Americans like the ACA. What’s more, the U.S. Supreme Court already upheld the legislation enacted in 2010 during President Obama’s first term and stands as the former president’s landmark domestic legislative triumph.

So, what are GOP politicians going to do? Will they buy into the judge’s ruling and then try to explain to voters why they campaigned in favor of key ACA provisions?

This matter surely is headed for an appeal that well could end up in front of the nation’s highest court eventually. A single judge’s ruling isn’t likely to pull the plug on the ACA; it will remain in effect until a higher court makes the definitive decision.

The nation’s Republican politicians, though, now find themselves squirming and wiggling for ways to justify what they said on the campaign trail while praising a judge’s decision to scrap the Affordable Care Act.

 

Climate change will bring more storms

A report came to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk that delivers a stern message without actually saying the words it needs to say.

The Gulf Coast is going to experience more severe storms with increasing frequency, the report states. Why? Earth’s climate is changing. However, the report doesn’t use the words “climate change” to explain what is patently obvious.

Gov. Abbott won’t accept climate change as a contributing factor, but the report does contain some stern and dire warnings.

According to the Austin American-Statesman: “The enormous toll on individuals, businesses and public infrastructure should provide a wake-up call underlining the urgent need to ‘future proof’ the Gulf Coast — and indeed all of Texas — against future disasters,” according to “Eye of the Storm,’ the report released Thursday by . . . Abbott’s Commission to Rebuild Texas.”

But as the American-Statesman notes, “future proof” has become Abbott’s favorite term as it relates to what the state is experiencing.

Earlier reports note that storms as savage and sweeping as Hurricane Harvey are going to pound the coast with increasing frequency and savagery. Again, our climate is changing. Sea levels along the coast are rising. The rising levels put our fragile coastal wetlands in peril. Other reports note the shrinking Arctic and Antarctic ice caps that could cause sea levels to increase by more than four feet by 2100.

Also, according to the American-Statesman: “The current scientific consensus points to increasing amounts of intense rainfall coupled with the likelihood of more intense hurricanes,” the report states.

The president of the United States says climate change is a “hoax.” I believe he is wrong to say such a thing knowing that he is making a false declaration.

As for the Texas governor, it is long past time for him to climb aboard the climate change wagon. The evidence is there, even if a thorough report doesn’t say it in so many words.