Tag Archives: Texas Legislature

Texting and driving? It’s illegal in Texas, man!

I want to present a portion of an editorial that appeared in today’s Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise, where I used to work before I gravitated in early 1995 way up yonder to the Texas Panhandle.

It comes from a regular Saturday feature called “Bouquets and Brickbats.” The Enterprise tossed a Brickbat thusly at: Southeast Texans who continue to text and drive even though that has been illegal since Sept. 1. Most local police and sheriff’s deputies have not been writing tickets for this offense because of Harvey duties and to give residents time to become familiar with the new law, but they say that will change soon. Statewide, Texas Department of Public Safety troopers issued four citations and 46 warnings for texting in the first 12 days. Texas Department of Transportation officials blame texting while driving for more than 3,000 vehicle crashes in Texas last year. The new law prohibits drivers from using their phones to “read, write, or send an electronic messages while operating a motor vehicle unless the vehicle is stopped.” Violations can lead to a fine up to $99 for a first offense, with costs rising for subsequent offense.

I want to call your attention to this pearl of wisdom because it could apply at this end of Texas as well. Motorists seem to be ignoring the state law that took effect at the beginning of September.

I cannot stress enough the importance of this statewide ban. It took some guts for the Legislature to approve it, given that a previous Texas governor, Rick Perry, vetoed a nearly identical bill in 2011. Gov. Greg Abbott saw the wisdom of signing this bill into law.

Are Texas Panhandle drivers any more obedient than our fellow Texans way downstate? Hardly. A day doesn’t go by without my being able to spot someone yapping on a handheld device while driving a motor vehicle. Just the other day I watched a young man doing that very thing while driving past Windsor Elementary School in Amarillo; I should note that Amarillo enacted an ordinance years ago banning such activity in school zones.

I want to make a request of the Texas Department of Public Safety, which does a good job stopping drug traffickers moving along Interstate 40.

How about turning your sights with equal intensity on the yahoos and morons who ignore state law by texting and gabbing on handheld cell phones while exceeding the posted speed limit on I-40?

Randall County GOP puts Speaker Straus on notice

So, just how Republican-red is Randall County, Texas?

It believes that the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, Joe Straus of San Antonio, isn’t conservative enough. It believes he has stalled legislation near and dear to the far right wing of the GOP. Why, he is just too bipartisan, too willing to work with those dreaded Democrats in the Texas House.

So, the Randall County Republican Party has joined some other county GOP operations in pulling its support of Straus should the Republican seek another term as speaker of the House.

Good bleeping grief!

Straus appears to have drawn the ire of the Randall County GOP because he heeds public opinion on certain controversial measures. Off the top of my noggin, the Bathroom Bill comes immediately to mind.

Texas senators approved the Bathroom Bill, which was pushed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and sent it to the House. Straus opposed the bill that requires transgender people to use public bathrooms in accordance to the sexual identity stated on their birth certificate. Straus saw the bill for what it was: an unenforceable act of discrimination against some Texans. He joined chiefs of police, business executives and medical professionals who also opposed the Bathroom Bill.

But because he didn’t push this monstrosity of a bill through the House — among other legislation — he no longer deserves to be speaker. The Randall County GOP’s resolution seeks to get state Reps. John Smithee and Four Price, both Amarillo Republicans, to vote against Straus if he seeks another speaker term.

It’s interesting to me that Price, whose district includes Potter County, declined to comment to the media about the Randall County resolution. Why do you suppose he did that? Oh, maybe it’s because he might applaud the job Straus has done while serving as the Man of the House.

I don’t want the Randall County Republican Party to have its way. The Texas House has managed to stall some overheated legislative remedies, the Bathroom Bill being one of them.

As for the bipartisanship that Straus has shown, I welcome that, too. It is in keeping with a longstanding Texas legislative tradition with governors, lieutenant governors and Texas House speakers routinely reaching across the aisle to get things done for the good of the entire state.

Still looking for cell phone ban sign at border

I was hoping to see something the other day next to the “Welcome to Texas” sign that greeted us on our way back from a long-weekend trip to Colorado.

It would be a “No cell phone use while driving” sign.

I didn’t see it when we re-entered Texas from New Mexico along Interstate 40. Dammit, anyway! Where is the warning to motorists coming here from elsewhere that they need to put their cell phones away while they’re driving on Texas highways?

The Texas Legislature this year approved a cell phone ban while driving bill. Gov. Greg Abbott signed it into law, which took effect Sept. 1.

Most states have laws that ban cell phone usage while driving; even more of them ban texting while driving. New Mexico has a “local jurisdiction” ban, by the way; Colorado bans cell phone use if the driver is operating on a learner’s permit. Colorado also bans texting while driving; New Mexico has no such statewide ban.

My point is that states that ban this act of sheer stupidity should be sure to let motorists know it when they enter those states.

I’m proud of our Legislature for agreeing to implement a statewide ban; I also am proud of Gov. Abbott for signing the bill into law, doing something his predecessor as governor, Rick Perry, declined to do in 2011, citing a ridiculous notion that such a bill was too “intrusive” on drivers’ private lives.

The state needs to take the next step and erect those signs at all its entry points that warn motorists: Keep your cell phones put away while you “Drive Friendly, the Texas Way.”

Seliger makes it official: He’s running again for the Senate

I am heartened to learn that Kel Seliger is going to run for re-election to the Texas Senate.

The Amarillo Republican has two GOP primary opponents, one of whom he defeated in 2014; the other Republican challenger comes from the heart of Seliger’s base.

Seliger will face former Midland Mayor Mike Canon and Amarillo businessman Victor Leal.

I watched the Seliger-Canon primary fight up close four years ago. It shouldn’t have been a contest. It turned out to be one. Canon, a lawyer by profession, is a TEA Party favorite. He speaks in platitudes and clichés. Seliger demonstrated clearly in the 2014 primary campaign a firm grasp of the details of legislating, of state law and of how government works.

Canon managed to split the vast District 31 Republican Party primary vote nearly in half, losing the primary by about 4 percentage points to Seliger.

Now we have Leal entering the race. I don’t yet know what kind of campaign Leal is going to run. He’s got some good name ID, given all the radio advertising he runs promoting his restaurant. Seliger will have to deal with that in some form or fashion.

Seliger’s platform will stress “local control.” He said in a statement that he believes that “Folks closest to a problem are usually the best at solving it.” Good deal, senator. Then perhaps he’ll persuade the 2019 Texas Legislature, presuming he wins re-election, to stop monkeying around with cities’ efforts to install red-light cameras as a deterrent to those who keep breaking the law by running through those stop lights.

I’ve already stipulated that I consider Seliger to be a friend. I also am impressed by how quickly he grasped the nuts and bolts of legislating after he was elected initially in 2004.

Seliger says he’ll run as a conservative legislator. According to some political interest groups, though, he’s not conservative enough. Empower Texas is one such group that likely will work to defeat Seliger. I believe this group is making a mistake.

Kel Seliger knows the pulse of Senate District 31 from the Permian Basin to the top of the Panhandle. He needs to return to the Senate.

Right there might be Sen. Seliger’s first political endorsement.

You’re welcome, senator.

A tiny sliver of good news from Harvey

It occurs to me that Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey has produced a tiny, minuscule sliver of good news for Texans.

The monstrous storm that drowned the Gulf Coast has diverted Texas legislators’ attention away from idiotic notions, such as mandating that people use public restrooms in accordance with the gender designated on their birth certificate.

Yes, the Legislature gathered in special session to consider 20 items put before it by Gov. Greg Abbott. One of them was that goofy Bathroom Bill. The Legislature adjourned its special session with the Bathroom Bill going nowhere. Then came Hurricane Harvey, which turned into Tropical Storm Harvey, which then tore the coast apart from the Coastal Bend to the Golden Triangle.

The storm’s wrath riveted Gov. Abbott’s attention away from nutty notions such as the Bathroom Bill and focused him tightly on his role as chief disaster relief coordinator — a job he has done skillfully; he has exhibited tremendous leadership during this time of crisis.

The Legislature, meanwhile, has gone home across the state. Some of them have returned to flood-ravaged communities along the coast. They all have more urgent matters to which they must attend.

A&M chancellor takes on a huge new rebuilding task

Hurricane Harvey’s devastation along the Texas Gulf Coast has delivered an important political metaphor.

It is that human misery crosses party lines. To that end — and this appointment likely isn’t being done to illustrate that point expressly — Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has tapped a leading Texas Democrat to lead the Gulf Coast rebuilding effort.

Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp, who’s got a most-demanding full-time job already, is going to lead that rebuilding.

Indeed, Chancellor Sharp has serious skin in this game. He served in the Texas Legislature — in the House and then the Senate — while living in Victoria, a community that was rocked by Harvey’s first landfall on the Texas coast. So, he feels the pain of the folks suffering the ongoing misery that Harvey left behind.

Sharp also is the latest Democrat elected to statewide office in Texas. He served as comptroller of public accounts from 1991 until 1999. I have no particular reason for mentioning that, other than to note that Sharp’s partisan affiliation is well-known; it speaks well, too, of Abbott’s willingness to reach across the political aisle to find someone to lead this massive effort.

I join the rest of the state in wishing the chancellor well and Godspeed as he takes on this huge task. He surely knows what awaits him as he takes charge of the governor’s new task force.

It’s big, John Sharp. Real big.

Oh, by the way, Texas cell phone ban takes effect

Texans have been fixated on news from the Gulf Coast of late.

Flooding. Heavy wind. Thousands of people displaced. Some tragic deaths. Injuries. Devastation from the deluge.

While we were praying for our friends and loved ones, and while some of us were looking toward Washington and the “Russia thing,” a big day arrived in Texas.

On Friday, the state’s ban on use of cell phones while driving motor vehicles took effect. Texas joined many other states in enacting a statewide ban. It’s not entirely clear if the ban supersedes local ordinances — such as in Amarillo — but the statewide ban does accomplish an important mission. It brings continuity to how the state expects motorists to behave while they are traveling on Texas streets, roads and highways.

I’m proud of our Panhandle legislative delegation. They were strongly in favor of the ban. Indeed, so was Republican state Rep. (and former Texas House Speaker) Tom Craddick, who authored cell phone ban bills in several legislative sessions.

Then-Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a cell phone ban bill in 2011, calling it an undue intrusion from the government into the behavior of citizens. What a crock!

Perry’s successor, Greg Abbott, signed the 2017 bill into law. Which makes a lot of Texans quite happy. Count me as one of them.

This law enables the state to post signage at highway entrances at all corners of the state. It puts motorists coming into the state on notice that they need to keep their cell phones quiet — or use their hands-free communication systems inside their vehicles.

To my way of thinking, that is far better than to asking motorists to risk breaking the law if they don’t know whether individual communities have bans on the books.

Texas legislators did well by approving this law. Gov. Abbott did well, too, by signing it into law.

I just wanted to remind you that the law took effect. Now, let’s turn back to worrying about the flooding victims and “the Russia thing.”

A Texas Senate race may start smoldering soon

Well, well, well …

Not only are there three men setting up a stout challenge for a Randall County court at law judge this coming spring, it turns out that a veteran West Texas state senator is going to be “primaried” as well in 2018.

The potential Senate contest poses an interesting political dynamic worth watching verrry closely.

Republican state Sen. Kel Seliger has represented Senate District 31 since 2004. He is a former Amarillo city commissioner and mayor who once ran — with his brother — a steel company in Amarillo. Seliger has risen to a significant leadership position in the Texas Senate, chairing the Senate Higher Education Committee for the past couple of legislative sessions.

He’s a solid legislator who picked up the unique language of legislation right away upon his first election to the Senate. He is nuanced, detail-oriented and smart. Yes, he’s also a friend of mine. So there, I’ve laid out my bias.

He’s got two challengers — presuming he chooses to seek re-election next year.

One of them is former Midland Mayor Mike Canon, who ran against Seliger in the GOP primary in 2014. Canon’s a nice enough fellow. He’s a lawyer by training. I had a chance to visit with Canon prior to a Panhandle PBS candidate forum in the spring of 2014; I was among the journalists who questioned Canon and Seliger.

My primary takeaway from that forum was pretty straightforward: Canon’s TEA Party affiliation became apparent as he answered our questions with talking points, platitudes and clichés. Seliger’s answers were far more detailed and he exhibited a keen understanding of the complexities of legislation.

Still, Canon’s Permian Basin base stood behind him when the primary votes were counted and he came within fewer than 5 percentage points of defeating Seliger, whose Panhandle base turned out even more strongly behind the incumbent.

Enter another challenger to Seliger. That would be Victor Leal, an Amarillo business owner and a fellow with fairly high name recognition throughout a decent portion of Senate District 31. Why is that? He once served as mayor of Muleshoe. Plus, he ran for Texas House District 87 in 2011 in an effort to succeed David Swinford, who bowed out of a re-election campaign.

But an issue emerged with Leal’s candidacy. His residency came into question. He had resided for several years in Randall County, which is not part of House District 87. He rented a small house in Potter County, but there remained some question about whether he actually was residing in the Potter County dwelling.

Leal lost the GOP primary that year to Amarillo lawyer Four Price, who’s still serving in the Texas House (and who himself has a GOP primary challenger). The residency issue won’t come up in this Senate race, as District 31 includes both Randall and Potter counties.

I’m curious about the possible impact Leal’s candidacy is going to have on this campaign mix. Leal figures to bite a bit into Seliger’s Panhandle base of support. The question, too, is whether he’ll also be able to siphon enough votes from the Permian Basin to make life uncomfortable for Canon.

Seliger’s reputation as a GOP moderate just might — in Canon’s mind and perhaps in Leal’s too — present an inviting target for primary challengers seeking to appeal to the hard-core conservative wing of the Republican Party.

We’ll now wait for word on Seliger’s intentions. I’m a tiny bit anxious to know what the senator plans to do.

Bathroom Bill is dead; may it remain dead

Ladies and gents, boys and girls … I am delighted to proclaim the return to sanity in at least governmental power center.

That would be in Austin, Texas, where the Legislature is concluding a special session called to deal with 20 issues mandated by Gov. Greg Abbott. One of them was the so-called Bathroom Bill.

The Bathroom Bill has been flushed away. It’s gone. The Legislature won’t send this idiotic notion to the governor’s desk.

While the nation is trying to gather its wits after the president’s stunning remarks Tuesday about “both sides” sharing blame for the tragedy that unfolded in Charlottesville, Texas lawmakers have performed a profoundly sane act by killing the Bathroom Bill.

The bill, which was part of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s wish list of items to be enacted, would have required folks to use bathrooms in accordance with the gender noted on their birth certificates. It is intended to prevent transgender individuals who identify with the “other gender” to use the bathroom commensurate with their sexual identity.

That would apply to those who’ve actually had their gender changed surgically. Yep, a man who was born a woman would have had to use the women’s restroom — and vice versa.

Discriminatory? Yeah. Just a tad.

Texas senators approved this bill and sent it to the House of Representatives. Speaker Joe Straus, though, opposed it, as did most House members. Straus said he wouldn’t be party to a bill that discriminated against transgendered individuals.

So, the bill has died a quiet death.

Lt. Gov. Patrick had support among social conservatives and clergy. Police chiefs opposed it, as did business leaders. According to the Texas Tribune: “Transgender women, men and children from across Texas descended on the Capitol to testify about how the proposal — which would ban local policies that ensured transgender individuals’ right to use public and school restrooms that match their gender identity — could endanger their lives. The business community rallied against the legislation too, giving House Speaker Joe Straus cover as he refused to negotiate with Patrick on bathroom restrictions.”

Read the rest of the Tribune story here.

It’s foolish to predict that the Bathroom Bill will remain dead. It might come back when the 2019 Legislature convenes. It might even be part of yet another special session if Gov. Abbott is inclined to call one.

I hope he doesn’t. The state has many compelling issues with which to wrestle. The nonsense associated with the use of public restrooms isn’t one of them.

Goodbye to the Bathroom Bill? Good riddance!

That so-called Bathroom Bill appears set to be flushed down the toilet.

It’s all right with me.

The Texas Legislature’s special session will adjourn in just a few days. The bill that the Senate approved and sent to the House of Representatives appears now to be languishing for the duration of the special session.

The bill is supposed to require individuals to use public restrooms in accordance to the gender noted on their birth certificate. It discriminates against the tiny portion of the population that considers itself “transgender.” These are folks with a sexual identity that differs from their gender at the time of birth. Some of them have taken steps to surgically change their gender identity.

That didn’t dissuade Texas senators from approving the bill, which is a favorite of the Senate’s presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. The speaker of the Texas House, Joe Straus, another Republican, thinks differently of the bill. So, the bill is unlikely to make it out of the House.

That’s all right with me.

The enforceability of the bill creates the biggest problem for me. That is, I am still baffled on how the state tells someone who’s changed their sexual identity that he or she cannot use the rest room that comports with who they are. How does the state enforce such a rule? Will there be search-and-frisk teams posted in public restrooms?

This is a classic case of the state looking for a problem to solve. Police chiefs report virtually zero cases of sexual assault caused by transgender individuals.

Which brings me to the basic question: What is the point of this intrusive legislation?