Tag Archives: Texas Legislature

Why remove red-light cams and invite traffic woe?

While running an errand in Amarillo, I happened to zip past an intersection where the city has deployed its red-light cameras, the devices used to nab those who disobey the stop lights that command motorists to stop.

It then occurred to me: The city is considering removing the camera from this intersection, at Coulter and Elmhurst streets. And it begs the question: Why would the city take down an enforcement tool that it has declared has worked well, that has fulfilled its mission?

I don’t know what if anything the city has decided. The City Council announced it intends to install more of the devices at other troublesome intersections around the city. The council also might remove some of the cameras, citing areas where there no longer are problems with motorists running through red lights.

Hmm. Why do you suppose that has happened? Oh, might it be the presence of the cameras that have deterred vehicular misbehavior?

It makes me wonder, thus, why the city would want to take down devices that have done their jobs.

I will not accept the canard that keeps popping up from the soreheads around Amarillo who oppose the cameras. They contend the devices are intended to “make money” for the city.

What utter crap! The Texas Legislature imposed strict provisions when it allowed cities to deploy the cameras. One of them requires cities to earmark revenue earned specifically for traffic improvement. So, to suggest — or imply — that the revenue is collected to fatten the budgets of municipal departments or give the city some funds to throw around smacks of demagoguery.

As for the city’s intent to remove the cameras, I hereby encourage Amarillo’s powers that be to rethink that notion. If the device its doing its job at Coulter and Elmhurst, the city would be foolish to invite motorists to return to their red-light-running ways — and put other motorists and pedestrians in potentially dire peril.

Bob Bullock would be proud of this one

AUSTIN — Wherever he is, I am quite certain Bob Bullock — the late and legendary Texas lieutenant governor — is a happy man.

Why? Because a museum built and dedicated in his memory is a sight to behold. Its artifacts are educational in the extreme. Its ambience is welcoming, as are the docents scattered on all three of its floors willing to explain the whys and wherefores of Texas history.

I pledged to go to the Bullock Museum of Texas History upon visiting the Texas capital city. Today I did so.

Planning for an education on Texas history

It is so very interesting.

The museum opened in 2001, two years after Bullock’s death. He had lobbied hard to get a history museum built. He managed to persuade the powers that be to erect the museum not far from the University of Texas and the State Capitol where Bullock toiled for the last part of his lengthy public service career.

It is a marvelous tribute to someone I didn’t know well, but someone about whom I had learned a great deal upon arriving in Texas in the spring of 1984.

I learned that he was one tough son of a bi***. He was irascible, a bit of a grouch. He didn’t suffer fools at all — let alone lightly. He was a classic conservative Texas Democrat, which meant that he favored the working man and woman but didn’t take up the cudgel often for progressive social causes.

He also worked well with Republicans. Bullock and a fellow Democrat, former House Speaker Pete Laney, developed a constructive — and productive — working relationship with Republican Gov. George W. Bush. They worked as an effective team until 1999, when Bullock left office; he would die later that year of cancer.

The Bullock Museum tells the story of Texas in multiple parts. It tells visitors about the wreck of the LaBelle (the remains of which are pictured above), a French ship that sank in Matagorda Bay in 1684 after sailing to the New World from Europe, a mission it wasn’t even designed to complete.

It walks visitors through the fight to gain independence from Mexico, Texas’s nine-year existence as an independent nation and then its annexation into the United States in February 1845.

I won’t go through all that the museum contains.

I’ll just add this takeaway: As much as the state celebrated the sesquicentennial of its independence from Mexico, while giving relatively short shrift to the 150 years since its annexation into the United States, so does the Bullock Museum.

I say this not as a criticism, per sue, but merely as an observation.

I am thrilled to have finally seen this sampling of Texas’s rich history.

Are helmet laws a ‘nanny state’ rule? No!

Whenever I mention the subject of requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets, I often get a response that refers to the “nanny state.”

I brought the subject up a message the other day in which I wondered whether the Texas Legislature could reconsider its decision to rescind the requirement back in 1995.

I’m going to stand by my view that the Legislature ought to rethink that decision, which I said at the time was ill-considered — and which I still believe it to be today.

Let’s explore the “nanny state” canard.

If the state is seeking to impose intrusive rules on motorists, rules that violate a certain “choice” factor, then why does government impose speed limits? Why does the state make it illegal to drive with an open container of alcohol? And here’s my favorite: Why does the state require drivers — and passengers — to wear safety restraints in a moving vehicle?

You see, requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets is no more intrusive and invasive than any of those other rules.

Let’s understand that the state already mandates headgear for minors riding on motorcycles. Indeed, any parent who would operate a “crotch rocket” with one of his or her helmetless children on board should be arrested and thrown in the slammer … for a long time!

I once got into an argument with someone in the Golden Triangle who tried to talk me out of a column I wrote about helmet laws; and this was before the Legislature decided to rescind the statewide requirement.

This clown, whose name escapes me at the moment, actually argued that he shouldn’t have to wear a helmet because he wanted “to feel the wind blow through my hair.” I damn near flipped!

I have argued that motorcyclists who refuse to wear head protection cost us all a lot of money when they are debilitated by the injuries they suffer. Helmets can prevent such grievous injury.

And you may spare me the notion that the $10,000 insurance policy suffices as protection. Why? Because a patient can eat up that 10 grand policy the moment he or she checks into an acute-care hospital.

Am I pushing a “nanny state” agenda? Not in the least.

I merely am wishing for sanity to return to our Legislature. I’m realistic enough to understand that it likely won’t happen.

***

Here is an item I posted eight years ago, just to remind you that I am steadfast in my opposition to this notion of “individual liberty.”

We all pay for helmet-less riders

If only POTUS had served

Donald J. Trump’s decision to implement a ban on transgender Americans from serving in the military is wrong on at least two levels.

Yes, he has made some exceptions to the ban, allowing certain individuals to continue their service.

However, he is promulgating the bias against transgendered individuals, allowing a form of discrimination against them because they have decided to change their sexual identity. The discriminatory nature of the decision is offensive on its face, just as it was in Texas when the Legislature sought to enact the “Bathroom Bill” that would have required individuals to use public restrooms that aligned with the sex stated on their birth certificate; that bill didn’t see the light of day.

Here is another factor that rankles many critics of the president, such as yours truly.

This man seeks to deny Americans the privilege of serving their country in uniform, of going to battle for their nation and denying them the right to do the very thing that young Donald Trump sought to avoid doing back when he was of age during another time of war.

Trump obtained at least five medical deferments to keep him out of serving during the Vietnam War. He cited “bone spurs,” or some ailment that hasn’t been independently confirmed so many decades later.

The very idea that a commander in chief who avoided service in the military would deny others the right to serve their country — and to go to war on our behalf if they got the order — is even more offensive on its face.

Many millions of Americans answered the call during that earlier time. Say what you will about citizens’ rights that they employed during that time of tumult. I understand that young men of privilege are entitled to avoid military service if they have the chance.

However, that history does tend to stick in our craw.

Unconstitutional? Umm. Nope!

An Amarillo resident has joined an amen chorus being sung by those who suggest that red-light cameras, which the city has deployed to deter those who run through stop lights, is “unconstitutional.”

Why is that? Because it violates the Sixth Amendment that guarantees that those who are accused of wrongdoing have the right to confront their accuser.

John Faulkner wrote this, in part, to the Amarillo Globe-News in a letter to the editor: A red-light camera photograph is hearsay, and is therefore inadmissible under the Sixth Amendment. It is hearsay because you cannot cross examine the photograph or the camera. The Sixth Amendment gives defendants the right to confront their accuser. 

Sigh. Actually, it is not “hearsay.” This equipment provides physical evidence that someone has run through a red light when he or she is supposed to obey its “instruction” to stop and not proceed until the light turns green.

Furthermore, the city grants accused red-light runners the opportunity to appeal the fine levied against the alleged lawbreaker. Thus, a defendant is granted the right to face his or her accuser.

The constitutionality argument is funny, except that I ain’t laughing.

The Texas Legislature granted cities the authority to install these cameras. It attached some provisions on it, such as requiring cities to devote revenue collected strictly to traffic improvements. The attorney general’s office is full of bright legal minds who can determine the constitutionality of laws the Legislature enacts. City Hall also employs a legal team that ensures its ordinances pass constitutional muster.

So, let’s toss aside this silly argument.

The red-light cameras are doing what they are intended to do. They are deterring some motorists from misbehaving while they travel along our busy streets. Not all of them, for sure.

I remain a strong supporter of this technology. It works.

‘March’ could signal a turning point for Panhandle

A lot of Texas Panhandle students, teachers, parents and just plain folks — and that includes yours truly — are hoping for a big weekend.

They’re going to gather around noon Saturday at Ellwood Park in downtown Amarillo. They’ll troop a few blocks east and a bit north to the Potter County Courthouse, where some of them are going to speak to what I hope is a large crowd of marchers and supporters.

It will be part of a national movement called “March For Our Lives.” Students all over America are organizing this event in their respective communities. Amarillo has joined them. Caprock High School students are taking the lead in organizing the local event.

Why is this potentially a big day? It could signal a serious turn in community attitudes about gun violence.

The “March” has been spurred by the Valentine’s Day slaughter in Parkland, Fla., of 17 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and staff members. The gunman is a former student who got expelled for bad behavior. Police arrested him and the local district attorney has charged him with 17 counts of murder. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty — even if the shooter pleads guilty in an effort to avoid a death sentence.

The Texas Panhandle isn’t known as a hotbed of progressive political thought. The majority of residents here make different political decisions; they support candidates who adhere to a more conservative view.

The “March” on Saturday well might produce a counter-demonstration or two. The marchers are going to lift their voices to seek legislative remedies in the Texas Legislature and in Congress that they hope could restrict the purchase of firearms.

I think it’s important to note that, as one of the Caprock HS student organizers said, this march isn’t intended to be an “anti-gun” protest. I am not hearing any organizers calling for repealing or a serious watering down of the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment. I am sure that pro-gun rights activists certainly see any change in gun laws as an erosion of Second Amendment rights.

The “March” is sure to embolden young people here and across this vast nation with a sense that their voices are being heard on an issue in which they have a direct stake. Indeed, they see themselves and their school-age brethren as being thrust in harm’s way.

They need to be heard. Let’s hope the rest of us hear them when they march through downtown Amarillo and plead for an end to the national scourge of gun violence.

Will this young man enter the speaker’s race?

The Texas Tribune has listed five state legislators who either have announced plans to run for Texas House speaker or are interested in joining the fray.

I looked the list over and was expecting to see a name from Amarillo. He wasn’t among the five of them.

So, with that I’ll offer this on-the-record request for state Rep. Four Price, the Republican representative from House District 87: Go for it, young man! Join the field of legislators who want to be the next Man of the House!

Price will see this blog post. He already knows that I have great personal regard for him. I am acknowledging my bias, OK?

Rep. Price brings some political muscle to this contest, were he to run for speaker.

First of all, Texas Monthly rated him among the state’s “Ten Best Legislators” in 2017. TM’s editors like his commitment to mental health issues.

Second of all, Price beat back a challenge from a guy who had some serious financial backing from Empower Texans, the far-right-wing political action group that had targeted a number of incumbent legislators. Price rolled up 79 percent of the vote in the March 6 Republican Party primary race. The way I see it, a victory margin of that size has purchased Price a good bit of political capital that he can spend while campaigning for speaker.

Third of all, Price would give the Texas Panhandle an important — and loud — voice in the Legislature at a time when it is experiencing a diminishing level of clout in Austin. It’s part of the state’s shifting population trend, with Central and North Texas growing at a much more rapid rate than the vast reaches of West Texas.

Price told me some months ago that he was part of current Speaker Joe Straus’s legislative team in the House. He endorsed the leadership that Speaker Straus brought to the lower legislative chamber. It follows, then, that a Speaker Price would follow the lead established by Straus, who’s not running for re-election.

I say all this knowing that this decision rests exclusively with Four Price and his family. Were he to run for speaker and then be selected by his House colleagues, he would be elevated immediately from a part-time citizen-legislator to a full-time political leader — even though the job won’t pay him accordingly.

It’s a sacrifice to run for speaker and to subject oneself to the abuse that goes with the territory.

Still, I hope Four Price goes for it.

New state anti-texting law: no apparent deterrent

A friend posed a question on social media that needs an answer and a brief rant from yours truly. She asked whether anyone else “looks in their rear view mirror” when they are stopped to see if the person behind them is texting while driving a motor vehicle.

I answered “yes,” although I should have been a good bit more emphatic about it.

Texas legislators in 2017 finally approved a statewide ban on the use of hand held communications devices while driving motor vehicles. Amarillo already had an ordinance on the books, along with several other cities throughout the state.

To their credit, our local lawmakers backed the ban. It went to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk and he signed it, reversing the position taken by his immediate predecessor, Rick Perry, who vetoed a nearly identical bill in 2011; Gov. Perry offered one of the most idiotic reasons ever recorded for his veto, calling it a form of “government intrusion.”

So, then, are laws against speeding and drunk driving … if you follow Perry’s nonsensical “rationale.” Texting while driving is every bit as dangerous as swilling alcohol or speeding.

My rant follows this track. Since the enactment of the law, I do not sense a serious decline in the incidents of texting while driving. I see motorists constantly doing that very form of dual-tasking.

I curse them, often out loud and in a bellicose voice.

I haven’t traveled out of state in a while, so I cannot confirm this, but the last time my wife and I went beyond the state line I didn’t see any signage on the return trip advising motorists that texting while driving — or using hand held cell phones while driving — was against state law.

Not that such a warning necessarily will deter motorists from breaking the law, but … you get my drift.

There. Rant over.

I’ll now refer to a bumper sticker that once adorned a car we used to own — but which was destroyed in 2012 by a driver who rear-ended my wife while she well might have been texting while driving. The cops never revealed it to us.

Get off the phone and drive!

No-brainer: Don’t vote on husband’s salary

Angela Paxton is a solid favorite to be elected to the Texas Senate this fall, representing the suburban region north of Dallas.

She won the Republican Party primary earlier this month. Given the state’s heavy GOP leanings, that puts her on the inside lane en route to the Senate.

Her husband happens to be Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who’s likely to be re-elected in the fall general election.

Ahh, but here’s a potential quandary facing a Sen. Paxton: Does she vote on budget matters that set her husband’s salary as the state’s top legal official? There appears to be some gray area here, with ethics experts debating it.

To me it’s a no-brainer. No matter what the Texas Constitution allows, Paxton shouldn’t vote on her husband’s salary. Let her 30 Senate colleagues determine how much the attorney general should earn.

For the life of me I don’t understand why this is even under discussion. According to the Texas Tribune: “She’s going to have to think about what she does before she does it. If they’re doing [increases] for everyone, I don’t think that’s a conflict because everybody’s getting the same raise,” Hugh Brady, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said. “If it’s something special for the attorney general, I think she should step back and pause.”

I disagree with the professor. I don’t think a lawmaker casting a vote that materially affects his or her income passes the smell test, no matter if it’s a vote for all officials or if the vote affects an individual.

Paxton wouldn’t be the first lawmaker to face this issue. GOP State Rep. Tom Craddick’s daughter, Christi, serves on the three-member Texas Railroad Commission. Rep. Craddick has voted through three legislative sessions in favor of state budgets that include salaries for the RRC. I believe that, too, constitutes a conflict of interest, although it would not be as blatant if Angela Paxton were to vote to approve her husband’s salary, given that she and the AG share the same home.

I’ll fall back on a truism that should govern elected officials’ conduct: Just because it’s legal doesn’t always make it right.

Did you oppose it, governor?

How about this? A Texas legislator says Gov. Greg Abbott opposed that idiotic Bathroom Bill and didn’t want it to show up on his desk.

So says the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, Byron Cook, a Corsicana Republican. Cook’s panel managed to block the Bathroom Bill from clearing the House of Representatives during this past summer’s special legislative session.

You will recall that the Bathroom Bill would have restricted the use of public restrooms by transgender individuals; it would have required them to use restrooms in accordance to the gender assigned to them on their birth certificate. So, if you’re a man who was born a woman you would have had to use the women’s restroom … and vice versa.

Republican legislators determined the Bathroom Bill was “bad for business,” according to the Texas Tribune. That’s only part of the problem with this hideous piece of legislation. It was discriminatory on its face.

Yet the Texas Senate insisted that the state should enforce a public restroom use provision. Sheesh!

Most of me is glad the Legislature threw this bill — and please pardon the intended pun — into the proverbial crapper. A smaller part of me, though, wishes it had gotten to Abbott’s desk if only just to see if the governor opposed the bill enough to veto it.

I want to believe Chairman Cook is right, that Gov. Abbott disliked the Bathroom Bill. However, I still wonder …

Here’s an idea. Maybe the governor could set the record straight and tell us himself whether he would have signed it or canned.