Tag Archives: Texas Legislature

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.

Not very ‘pro-life’ of this legislator

I am trouble grasping the logic of this proposal by a Texas legislator.

State Rep. Tony Tinderholt, a Republican, wants to criminalize abortion. He wants to charge every woman who terminates a pregnancy with homicide, or murder. He wants, therefore, to subject that woman to the death penalty, which Texas allows for those convicted of murder.

He is a “pro-life” legislator? I don’t get how that computes.

Enter a more reasonable GOP lawmaker, Rep. Jeff Leach of Plano (pictured), who says he won’t allow Tinderholt’s bill to the House of Representatives floor for a full vote among the state’s 150 state representatives.

Leach chairs the Texas House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence. Since announcing his plan to stop House Bill 896, Leach has received threats at his office. The Collin County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the source of those threats.

Yes, this issue is highly sensitive. It pushes hot buttons on folks they possibly didn’t know existed on their person.

As for Tinderholt’s idea of criminalizing a legal medical procedure — which the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled — it doesn’t sound very “pro-life” to kill someone who makes the most difficult decision she ever would make.

This debate over women’s right to choose whether to give birth needs to stay on a more sane track than the one proposed by Rep. Tinderholt.

Thank goodness there exist some sense of reason among Texas Republicans.

Just not caring about Daylight/Standard time

I guess I should care about this. Except that I don’t. Really, I don’t.

Some members of the Texas Legislature want the state to stop switching back and forth each year between Daylight Saving Time and Standard Time. They say the “spring forward” and “fall back” routine causes too much sleep deprivation at the front end, when we push our clocks forward an hour. We’re going to do it again Saturday night; we’ll awaken Sunday morning with one less hour of shut-eye to get our day started.

And, of course, many of us will bitch about it!

I just don’t see the significance of it all. I continue to recognize the motive behind enacting Daylight Saving Time in the first place. It was intended to help conserve energy by allowing us to not turn on our lights and, thus, burn electrical energy when we don’t need to do it.

As for the sleep deprivation, I learned long ago that however tired we might be on the first day of switching to Daylight time, we get over it quickly. We adjust. We human beings are adaptable creatures.

If we’re going to end the back-and-forth, though, I propose we stay on permanent Daylight Saving Time. I like having the sun in the sky a little longer at the end of the day.

Now . . . I am going to get back to the things that really matter, at least they do to me.

‘Right of privacy’ argument doesn’t work

I have made this point before, but it’s worth making again. A fellow who comments occasionally on this blog took note of how those who gripe about red-light cameras cite a phony infringement on their “right of privacy.”

He notes correctly that when motorists travel on public streets and are required to follow the law they surrender their “right of privacy.”

At issue is the future of red light cameras in cities across Texas. The Legislature is considering whether to pull back its authorization for cities to deploy the cameras to help deter motorists from running through red lights.

There is no such thing as a “right of privacy” when motorists put other motorists and pedestrians in peril when they break the law.

The cameras do have their critics. They say the timing of the light sequence from yellow to red can be unfair to motorists trying to sneak through under yellow.

Right of privacy, though, doesn’t cut it. I am reminded of the time then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a bill that banned cell phone use while driving. He cited the legislation as an invasion of motorists’ right of privacy.

Gov. Perry’s thinking at the time was idiotic. The gripes now about red light cameras and the privacy issue are equally idiotic.

Red-light cameras about to go dark?

If the Texas Legislature forces cities to take down their red-light cameras — devices that aid local police departments in enforcing traffic laws — I fear we’re going to see an uptick in wrecks caused by reckless driving.

Sad times might lie ahead.

The Legislature is pondering whether to rescind the authority it granted cities a few years ago to deploy these devices at dangerous intersections. Local law enforcement and traffic officials were able to determine the most dangerous intersections in their cities; they deployed the cameras to take pictures of license plates on motor vehicles that ran through red lights. Cities then send citations to the registered owners of the vehicles, who then are told to pay fines.

I believe the cameras have deterred over time the rash of red-light violations in cities throughout the state.

Some folks keep bitching about them, though. I guess they’ve caught the attention of legislators and the governor, Greg Abbott, who’s now on board with the movement to take down the cameras.

That would be a shame.

Amarillo was one of the Texas cities to make use of the technology. Yes, it brought out the gripers. They complained to the city that they didn’t like being “busted” by machines; they considered the cameras to be unfair.

I laughed when I heard such nonsense. I also like harkening back to a retort offered a few years ago by a member of the City Council.

Then-Amarillo City Councilwoman Ellen Green said it succinctly and cogently. “If you don’t want to pay the fine,” she said during a council meeting, “then don’t run the red lights.”

Cities always can use the technological help the cameras provide. I hope the Legislature rethinks its move toward taking them down.

My hope doesn’t quite match my fear of what the Legislature is going to do.

Off to the races with public radio station KETR-FM

Well, we have a launch of a new project involving, um . . .  me.

KETR-FM has posted my first essay for its website. You can read it here.

I chose to comment on the Texas teacher pay increase that’s now under consideration in the Texas Legislature. The Senate is poised to approve a $5,000 annual raise for public school teachers; senators will send it to the House. If the House approves it, the issue goes to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk for his expected signature.

I am thrilled to be part of this new endeavor. My association now is with Texas A&M University/Commerce and its radio station, which is affiliated with National Public Radio.

It’s a whole new gig for me. I want to give thanks to KETR news director Mark Haslett for giving me a chance to offer some perspective through the radio station.

I feel as though I’ve been given a fresh chance to pursue an aspect of a craft that gave me many years of enjoyment.

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.

Sen. Paxton exhibits a form of tone deafness

Texas state Sen. Angela Paxton — who was just elected in 2018 — is new in her job as a legislator. The McKinney Republican, though, should have thought better than to propose a bill for consideration that involves her husband, the state attorney general.

Why is that? Attorney General Ken Paxton is awaiting trial on a securities fraud allegation. Sen. Paxton, though, has proposed Senate Bill 860, which broadens the AG’s regulatory power over those who market financial services. You see, AG Paxton is accused of failing to report his own involvement as a securities adviser to potential clients.

Therefore, I intend to accuse Sen. Paxton of being tone deaf.

She is one of 19 Republicans serving in the Texas Senate. I would doubt seriously any of the dozen Democrats who serve with her would buy into what she wants to do, so we’ll look briefly at her GOP colleagues.

It seems odd that the spouse of a statewide elected official who is set to stand trial for securities fraud would propose legislation that affects the official who’s about to become a defendant in a court trial.

They talk about whether legislation passes the “smell test.” This one doesn’t, at least not my olfactory glands.

Couldn’t the rookie Texas senator find a GOP colleague among the 18 of them who serve with her to carry this legislation forward?

AG might get new power

Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t necessarily endorse SB 860. It expands the power of the attorney general and seems to remove a level of transparency that should be required when it involves securities and financial regulation.

It’s just that Sen. Paxton carrying a bill that has a direct impact her husband, who’s facing potential prison time if he’s convicted of securities fraud, is a stinker.

Ethics watchdogs seem to believe it stinks, too. I’m on their side.

Still steamed over Sen. Seliger getting stiffed

I should be moving on, looking forward . . . but I cannot stop gnashing my teeth over the way Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick treated a man I respect and for whom I also have a fair amount of personal affection.

I refer to state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo, who belongs to the same Republican Party as Patrick, except they’re both Republicans in name only.

Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate, decided to remove Seliger from a key committee chairmanship, Higher Education. He also took him off the Education Committee, and put him in charge of the newly formed Senate Agriculture Committee. Then he yanked him out of the Ag Committee chairmanship after Seliger made an impolite remark about a key Patrick aide.

Why did Patrick seek to punish West Texas — which Seliger has represented since 2004? I keep rolling around some theories. I’ve come up with one that I think makes sense.

Seliger has too many Senate friends who happen to be Democrats. Patrick doesn’t enjoy that kind of bipartisan camaraderie.

I remember not long after Seliger was first elected to the Senate in 2004 when he began talking about the friendships he had forged with Democrats. He would mention Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, a South Texas Democrat, as a colleague with whom he would work on legislation.

A Dallas Morning News article published a few weeks ago noted that Democratic senators think highly of Seliger. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, is considered one of Seliger’s best friends in the Senate. Another Democratic senator, Royce West of Dallas, also spoke highly of Seliger in the Dallas Morning News feature.

Does the lieutenant governor — a fiery TEA Party conservative — get that kind of love from across the aisle? I have the strong feeling he does not.

I don’t know if Lt. Gov. Patrick is prone to petty jealousy. However, I cannot rule it out, as I don’t know the man; I only know of him and know of the highly partisan legislation he likes to push through the Senate.

Sen. Seliger isn’t wired that way. He calls himself a proud conservative. He pushes for local control and doesn’t like the state meddling in matters that are best decided by local governing bodies.

Seliger also is a champion of public education; Patrick favors vouchers funded by tax money to send students to private schools.

Sen. Seliger also stood as a bulwark in favor of the Texas Tech University school of veterinary medicine planned for Amarillo. I am not at all sure what Patrick feels about that, but his removal of Seliger from the Higher Ed Committee chair has the potential of putting the vet school in some jeopardy.

I hope for the best for West Texas. I also hope Seliger rises to the occasion and is able to have his voice heard despite being stripped of political power.

Indeed, Sen. Seliger might need to reach across the aisle now more than ever.

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.