Tag Archives: Texas Legislature

What happened to ‘local control is best’?

I am still steamed at the Texas Legislature for wrestling away from cities in the state the ability to enact ordinances aimed at protecting motorists and pedestrians who venture onto our public streets.

The 2019 Legislature decided it had earned enough griping from motorists bitching about a phony notion that they were unable to “face their accuser” and ordered cities to no longer deploy cameras at intersections to catch motorists running through red lights.

You know, of course, that red lights mean “stop.” Too many Texans choose to ignore that command, so they run through the intersections. They have in many cities produced spikes in “t-bone” crashes, resulting in serious injury and death.

An earlier Legislature decided to give cities that right. Many of them did. I lived in a city that deployed red-light cameras. Amarillo, though, was forced to take them down because of legislative edict. I now live in a city, Princeton, that doesn’t govern itself under a home-rule charter, so it must follow state law where it applies; absent a home-rule charter, Princeton couldn’t have activated red-light cameras even if it sought to do so.

My wife and I have just returned from a brief visit to Amarillo. Our visit there reminded me once again of the fight that ensued when the city council showed some serious courage in enacting the ordinance that resulted in red-light cameras. The city traffic engineer and police department had identified intersections where red-light runners had caused undue havoc, mayhem and misery. They deployed the cameras and, lo and behold, they found that the cameras deterred lawbreakers.

One of the chief complaints came from those who said the cameras denied motorists the right to face their accuser. Baloney!

The cameras snapped a picture of the license plate of the offending vehicle; the city then identified the owner of the vehicle and sent him or her a $75 infraction notice. It then fell on the owner of the vehicle to pay the fine, or get whoever was driving the vehicle to pay it or they could protest it to the municipal judge.

Well, that’s all history now. I recall fondly the statement made in public by then-City Councilwoman Ellen Green, who scolded red-light camera opponents by declaring in essence, that all they had to do to was “stop running red lights.”

Shameful.

Whatever happened to the noble principle that “local control is better” than big government?

Motorcyclists using common sense

I want to report a satisfactory finding I discovered this morning while running an errand into McKinney and then back to Princeton, Texas.

The other day I griped about Texas rescinding its mandatory motorcycle helmet law back in 1997. The Legislature decided, to its discredit, that requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets was intrusive, that Texans had some sort of constitutional right to injure or kill themselves in the event of a catastrophic traffic accident. Oh, never mind the cost of such debilitating injury on the overall health care system … which falls on the rest of us.

Well, while running my errand I decided to observe every motorcyclist I saw this morning and whether they were wearing helmets.

This is purely anecdotal, but I saw the following: 14 motorcyclists on the road; two of them had passengers on the rear seat. All of them were helmeted. 

I was reminded of a pair of quirky electoral decisions that occurred in Amarillo about a decade ago. Voters twice rejected citywide referenda mandating a ban on indoor smoking in public places. Unlike many cities in Texas, the city council declined to issue an ordinance requiring a ban, even though it is proven that breathing second-hand smoke is bad for our health. Today, though, it is nearly impossible to find a dining or drinking establishment that allows smoking, which tells me that business owners in Amarillo are doing the right thing … all by themselves.

So, too, it might be with motorcyclists, if my anecdotal finding is playing out in the rest of the state.

I still would favor a law requiring helmets on motorcyclists. However, absent a law, I want to give a shout out to those bikers who understand the foolishness of tempting fate by riding a crotch rocket through traffic without proper noggin protection.

Any chance Texas can restore sanity and reinstate helmet law?

I chatted the other day with a former colleague about someone else we both know, a woman whose son was grievously injured in a motorcycle wreck about a decade ago.

The young man was speeding along a street in Amarillo when he crashed his motorcycle. He wasn’t wearing a helmet. The young man suffered permanent brain damage.

The chat with my friend spurred a thought in my own brain: What was the Texas Legislature thinking in 1997 when it repealed the state’s mandatory helmet law for motorcyclists? I sniffed around a found an article that talked about how motorcycle wreck-related deaths have increased dramatically since the Legislature gave cyclists the option of endangering themselves.

Republicans took control of the Legislature and in 1997 took over as the majority party. The “limited government” crowd then saw fit to repeal a law that I always thought was a reasonable requirement for anyone who sat astride a “crotch rocket.” The motorcycle law is no more onerous that requiring every passenger in a car to buckle up for safety with a seat restraint.

Legislators saw the helmet law differently, I reckon. They made a mistake, in my humble view.

To be fair, children still must wear helmets if they’re riding a motorcycle with Mommy or Daddy.

What’s more, the state now requires motorcycle owners to have an accident insurance policy worth at least $10,000. That’s fine, I guess, except that one can go through 10 grand in about 10 minutes when you check into a hospital with a traumatic brain injury.

As we get through this coronavirus pandemic and the next Legislature convenes in January, I am somewhat hopeful that Democrats might retake control of at least the House of Representatives. Maybe a House chamber controlled by Democrats might seek to restore some sanity to our roads and highways by bringing back a helmet law. I know it still has to go through the Texas Senate and it still needs the signature of a Republican governor, Greg Abbott.

My hope does spring eternal.

Beginning to look past the pandemic

One of the ways I occupy my mind during this coronavirus pandemic is to consider what lies on the other side of this crisis.

Namely, I think about the issues I want to ponder once we are able to push the pandemic a bit toward the back of the shelf. Yeah, I know it sounds more than a little bit nerdy.

A few things come to mind.

  • The presidential election is probably Issue No. 1. I want to see a new president take office next January. It looks like my choice will be Joseph R. Biden Jr. He’s way ahead in the march toward the Democratic Party presidential nomination. He’ll get nominated somehow, even if it’s not in the standard way: going to a convention full of delegates, having them barter and bicker over campaign platform planks. Then I want to focus on ways to encourage Biden to defeat Donald John Trump.
  •  The 2021 Texas Legislature will convene in January. Democrats might be able to wrest control of the House of Reps from Republicans. Not so sure about the Texas Senate. Democrats need to flip just nine of the 150 House seats to become the new majority. Perhaps a new House majority can enact some smart laws that can survive a veto by GOP Gov. Greg Abbott.
  •  Climate change needs our undivided attention. I worry about what’s happening to our polar ice caps and the wildlife they nurture. Polar bears are in dire peril if they cannot hunt for seals on the Arctic ice. I want a robust debate on climate change, but I fear that won’t happen if Donald Trump gets re-elected.

I know there’s a wide range of issues to discuss once we “socially distance” the pandemic to a manageable problem. I don’t believe the virus is going to disappear until we find a vaccine and manufacture enough of it to inoculate every human being on Earth. I’ll say a prayer to the scientists who are working on that matter at this moment.

That would be the way I define “returning to normal.” I hope it’s not a pipe dream.

Speaker Bonnen comes clean … but he’s still a goner

Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen messed up royally when he agreed to meet with a far-right-wing political activist and then offered to toss 10 of his fellow legislative Republicans over the proverbial cliff.

He finally has fessed up to the mess he created. It’s just that it is way too late to do him any good. Bonnen took many hits from his Texas Legislature colleagues and then decided he wouldn’t seek re-election from his Angleton House district after serving just a single legislative term as the Man of the House.

Why speak out now? Who knows? At some level, though, I do care.

Bonnen conspired with Michael Quinn Sullivan, the head of that far-right outfit Empower Texans. He committed a terrible mistake by agreeing to meet with Sullivan in the first place. You see, Sullivan recorded the meeting secretly, then sprang the trap into which he had snared Bonnen in the summer of 2019. He revealed what Bonnen had done; Bonnen at first denied it; then Sullivan released the recording and, by golly, he was right.

Bonnen had given Sullivan the names of 10 legislators. He also offered to provide media credentials to Empower Texans, enabling the PAC direct access to House members on the House floor when the Legislature was in session. Very, very bad call, Mr. Speaker.

Bonnen spoke recently to the Dallas Morning News in which he apologized to his House colleagues and admitted to turning his career into so much road kill.

I am hoping for all I’m worth that the next speaker of the Texas House of Representatives will learn from Bonnen’s mess up … and trust Michael Quinn Sullivan only as far as he can toss him.

Do not seek to bring back straight-ticket voting!

I will get straight to the point with this blog post.

South Texas Democrats have rocks in their noggins if they intend to argue that the elimination of straight-ticket, partisan voting is unconstitutional and that it discriminates against minority voters.

Readers of High Plains Blogger know that I detest straight-ticket voting. The Texas Legislature finally — as in finally — saw the light in 2017 and eliminated the provision that allows voters to walk into the polling booth and punch straight “Democrat” or straight “Republican.” Wham! That’s it! Then you get to leave.

A lawsuit filed in Webb County by the Texas Democratic Party and Webb County Democrats seeks to bring the practice back. They didn’t like the long lines that slowed the voting process to a crawl in many urban areas. Many voters, namely African-Americans and Latinos, stood in line for as long as eight or nine hours waiting to vote.

How come? I guess because voters ahead of them were taking the time to examine the ballots carefully before casting their votes.

What is wrong with that? Nothing, I tell ya!

I have argued for years that if Texans want to vote straight ticket, then they should be allowed to do so only after they examine each ballot entry. I also have argued that straight-ticket voting has resulted in qualified office seekers and incumbents losing their election or re-election efforts simply because they belong to the “wrong” political party. In recent years it’s been Democrats who suffer the most. In earlier times, Republicans suffered the same fate.

Allowing straight-ticket voting in Texas, in my mind, contributes to the continued dumbing down of the electorate.

Texas Republicans who argued for a change in the law had it right when they argued that disallowing straight-ticket voting would produce a more enlightened voting public.

I happen to agree with that logic. The current system doesn’t require voters to study the issues and the candidates. It just gives them more incentive to do so. If they want to vote for every candidate of a single party, then they are still allowed to do so.

That is where the unconstitutionality argument breaks down for me.

Therefore, South Texas Democrats do have rocks in their heads.

Daylight Saving Time? No big deal … really!

Oh, how I have to chuckle at all the hand-wringing over what’s about to occur this weekend.

We’re going to bed Saturday night and will awaken the next morning with the sky staying dark an hour longer than it did the previous day. The good news, as I see it, is that the sun will stay in the sky an hour later than it did at the end of the day.

Yep, Daylight Saving Time will be upon us once again. We’ll have it until November.

Why the worry among many of us ? I guess some folks just don’t like changing their schedule. They dislike losing an hour of sleep, which they wouldn’t really lose if they simply went to sleep an hour earlier than normal. You know?

The 2019 Texas Legislature flirted with the idea of scrapping DST. Legislators prepared a bill that would have produced a statewide referendum asking us three questions. We could vote to (a) change to permanent Standard Time (b) change to permanent Daylight Saving Time or (c) keep the status quo, meaning we would change times twice a year.

I never — ever! — have had a problem with switching back and forth. It doesn’t bother me in the least. However, were I given the choice I would vote to switch to permanent Daylight Saving Time. I like having the sun in the sky a little longer at the end of the day.

I realize the sun still sets earlier in the winter months than it does in the summer, given Earth’s rotation and how it tilts away from the sun in the Northern Hemisphere during the winter. However, I also appreciate the reason for establishing DST in the first place, which was to preserve energy by allowing us to keep the lights off a little longer in the late afternoon and early evening.

The Legislature ended up choking on the referendum. It never managed to put the issue to a vote. As I recall, legislators ran out of time. So the issue died a quiet death.

The 2021 Legislature might bring it up again. Fine. Go for it, ladies and gents. I’ll still vote for permanent DST if I get the chance.

Meantime, I welcome the return of Daylight Saving Time, even if it means we have to switch back to Standard Time in a few months.

It’s not a big deal, folks. Honest!

Still steamed over red-light cameras’ demise

I must admit that I am still angry with the 2019 Texas Legislature, which in itself is no great flash. A lot of Texans are angry with legislators for a lot of reasons.

My main source of anger stems from legislators’ decision to pull the plug on red-light cameras that cities have deployed to help police enforce traffic laws. I mean, too many motorists are none too inclined to obey red lights at intersections which are intended to order motorists to stop and not proceed until the light turns green.

The result has been serious automobile crashes. Motorists occasionally stop and then race through the intersections before the light changes from red to green. Or, they just keep on racing on through.

Dallas city traffic officials reported this past week that the red-light cameras had helped reduce auto accidents. They also generated revenue for the city to use on traffic infrastructure improvements, which the Legislature required of cities when it enacted the red-light camera law in the first place.

Then came the pronouncement from Gov. Greg Abbott, who signaled his willingness to sign legislation banning cameras when it got to his desk. The Legislature delivered it to him and, by golly, he kept his word. Dammit, anyway!

At least the Legislature had the good taste to allow cities to keep the cameras deployed until their vendor contracts had expired. Indeed, my wife and I recently visited Amarillo, where we lived for 23 years before moving to the Metroplex, and noticed that the city still has it cameras working. They’ll be unplugged in due course.

As a social media acquaintance of mine noted in reaction to an earlier blog post on the subject, driving on public streets is a “privilege” and not a right guaranteed for motorists, who all they have to do to avoid getting cited by cities is just follow the law.

Don’t run through the red lights!

Cameras make streets safer, so let’s get rid of ’em!

What do you know about this?

Dallas city transportation officials are boasting about the effectiveness of the red-light cameras that the city used to deploy. They made the streets safer, but because the Legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott wanted to get rid of them, the city is being forced to unplug the cameras.

What a travesty!

The city isn’t alone. The 2019 Texas Legislature enacted a law that ordered cities to do away with the devices once their current vendor contracts expired. Dallas’ time has come. The city must pull the plug the cameras.

Get a load of this, though: The city says the cameras did their job in helping the police enforce traffic laws. It contributed to a reduction in T-bone wrecks at intersections.

I long have supported the idea of cities using the devices to help police enforce these laws. The cameras take pictures of vehicles that run through red lights. The city then sends citations to the owner of the offending vehicle. The owner then must pay a fine at municipal court or, if he or she feels the citation was issued incorrectly, he or she can appeal the citation.

Yes, cities also derive revenue from these cameras. Dallas stands to lose $2.5 million to $3 million annually, according to city officials. The Legislature, though, mandated that cities must use the revenue to enhance traffic programs. Dallas officials say their traffic infrastructure needs repair and the money generated by the cameras helped fund those repairs.

As the Dallas Morning News reported: The Texas Legislature “took another tool away from us,” said Michael Rogers, director of Dallas’ Department of Transportation, forcing city officials to rethink how to reduce crashes at problematic intersections.

I don’t live in Dallas. I do live close enough to the city to be somewhat concerned about the demise of these devices, given that I occasionally venture into the belly of the traffic beast on occasion.

I am sorry to hear the news that Dallas is bidding goodbye to a valuable law enforcement tool.

Is there an option for states to take the lead on climate change?

If Congress and the president aren’t going to take a serious interest in climate change, isn’t there a place for states such as Texas to take the lead on what I and others believe is an existential threat to the nation?

I get that Texas’s Legislature isn’t exactly a haven for environmental activism, given its strong Republican majority in both legislative chambers. However, the state does possess the world’s 11th or 12th largest economy; its carbon footprint continues to be bigger than it should be.

Yes, some of the Democratic candidates for president keep talking about the need to tackle climate change head-on. They profess concern for the dire peril that Earth faces if we don’t do all that we can as human beings to curb the human impact on the changing climate.

The current president, of course, remains ignorant about that danger posed by deforestation, carbon emissions and the warming of our atmosphere. Given that he has no interest in science or any other fields of study dedicated to this condition, I cannot possibly expect Donald Trump to take the necessary lead as the nation’s president.

Texas, though, faces an existential threat all by itself. Our state’s coastline is receding every year a little at a time. The tides are rising as well, largely because of melting ocean ice at both of our poles.

Texas and other states — especially those states with political leadership that takes this threat seriously — can do what they can individually or perhaps in conjunction with each other to wrestle with this burgeoning environmental crisis.

It would take a miracle, I suppose, but I am going to hope that Texas legislators can appreciate the impact they could have on national policy if they were to take the lead on dealing head-on with this national emergency.