(Austin, TX) // Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) sent a letter (click here for PDF or see below) to Insurance Commissioner Julia Rathgeber calling on her to oppose the recent homeowners insurance rate increases announced by the three largest insurers in the state. Continue Reading »
Usury is the practice of lending money at an exorbitantly high rate, so high that any reasonable person would find the rate to be unconscionable, even immoral. Every state in the union has laws to protect its residents from usury. The Texas Constitution limits loans to an annual percentage rate of 10 percent, unless the Legislature specifically sets a different rate. Accordingly, commercial loans are capped at an annual percentage rate of 18 percent, motor vehicle financing loans at 27 percent, and even pawn loans are capped at a shocking 240 percent. Continue Reading »
Deadline for low-income Texans to qualify for help on energy bills looming
(Austin, Texas) – Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) today joined Representative Sylvester Turner (D-Houston) and advocates urging low-income Texans to sign up for LITE-UP Texas energy bill assistance before the August 10, 2013 deadline.
The LITE-UP Texas program is designed to help qualified low-income individuals who live in areas where they can choose their own electricity provider to reduce their monthly cost of electric service. During this year’s regular session, the 83rd Texas Legislature made profound changes to this program, increasing the discount from 16.5 percent to 82 percent. The 82 percent discount will be effective for this September and also for May, June, July and August of 2014.
“Time is running out for low-income and elderly Texans to get the help they need to keep the power on in late summer,” said Ellis. “We are here to spread the word to make sure that Texans know there is help on the way.”
In 1999 the legislature created the System Benefit Fund to help low-income Texans pay summer energy bills when Texas deregulated electric utility companies. The Fund’s goal was to assist the least fortunate Texans in braving the summer heat, and as temperatures across the state soar to increasingly high levels, that mission is more critical than ever. Unfortunately, this session, the legislature ended the surcharge on customers’ electricity bills but took steps to provide a discount on customers’ September electricity bills for 2013 and May through August bills for 2014. According to the Public Utility Commission, about 500,000 Texans received aid from the System Benefit Fund to help pay their summer bills.
Since the creation of the System Benefit Fund, the legislature has often neglected to use the full balance to help Texans pay their summer electric bills, instead redirecting the balance to shore up budget shortfalls. For instance, in 2011 $650 million was left in the Fund instead of distributed to senior and needy Texans.
“I opposed the reverse Robin Hood plan to take from the poor,” said Ellis. “The System Benefit Fund was created for the explicit purpose of helping low-income Texans pay rising energy bills after electric deregulation. That’s where the money should be going and where Texans want it to go. Unfortunately, our side did not prevail, but at least there is the silver lining that Texans will receive a bigger discount this summer and in 2014, so Texans need to take advantage of it while they can.”
While Austin is trying to save the planet by banning plastic bags, every night thousands of glass bottles are thrown away. A lot of those are beer bottles that could be recycled, but in Austin there’s no requirement to do so. However, that could soon change. Continue Reading »
(Austin, Texas) – Following a series of consumer-friendly amendments and a pledge by leaders to maintain those protections, Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) today voted in favor of legislation to enact regulation of predatory lenders in Texas. Continue Reading »
(Austin, Texas) – Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) today voted against legislation that would gut the System Benefit Fund and give away funds meant to help low-income and vulnerable Texans pay for rising energy bills. Continue Reading »
A bill to enhance pedestrian and bicycle offerings and make them a greater part of transportation planning in some cities made its return Thursday to the Texas Senate. Continue Reading »
Houstonians can look forward to a transformed city with new and improved parks, school buildings, fire stations, libraries and job training sites as voters approved a historic $2.7 billion package of bonds Tuesday.
The money will fund construction projects in the city, the Houston Independent School District and Houston Community College.
Despite early predictions of sticker shock, the bond measures drew strong support from voters. The upgrades for HISD and HCC come with property tax increases, expected to start in 2014.
“All of these bond issues sought money to build Houston’s infrastructure,” HCC trustee Richard Schechter said. “By passing these bonds, Houstonians have sent a message that Houston is going to be a competitor in the global economy.”
Voters approved HISD’s $1.9 billion measure – the largest bond for a Texas school district in at least a quarter of a century – by an overwhelming majority, according to incomplete results.
“We’ll be the only urban school district in the country that all our high schools will be rebuilt from top to bottom since 2000,” HISD Superintendent Terry Grier said. “For the kids, it’s going to change their lives.”
Call for patience
The bond issue will rebuild, renovate and upgrade 38 schools, with nearly every high school getting a makeover.
With so many projects, students, parents and teachers will have to be patient.
Grier predicts construction will be finished on the first school in two years, with all the projects completed in six or seven years.
HISD expects to phase in a tax rate increase of nearly 5 cents by 2017. The first increase, of 1 cent, would start in 2014. The owner of a $200,000 home will pay about $70 more a year in taxes.
Grier said he started election night feeling slightly nervous, but after early vote results showed HISD’s bond issue drawing 66 percent support, he relaxed and his staff gathered at district headquarters applauded.
The city’s five bond measures total $425 million and don’t require a tax increase. The money will enhance parks, expand fire stations, renovate libraries and improve other city facilities.
Sign of optimism
Mayor Annise Parker anticipated victory while watching results with city supporters.
“Houstonians have clearly made a statement that they are optimistic about the future, and they believe in investing back into ourselves, whether that is the city, the school district or the community college,” Parker said.
Polling in the months before Election Day had shown voters generally supported all the bond measures, defying conventional wisdom that a crowded ballot would make voters wary.
Make room for nurses
HCC’s $425 million bond issue, which also passed by a wide margin despite requiring a 2-cent tax increase, will help expand the college to accommodate growing student demand. Roughly one-third of the money will go toward an expansion of Coleman College for Health Sciences, where nine out of 10 nursing applicants are turned away due largely to a lack of space.
Like HISD, the college system will take several years to finish all the projects.
Chronicle reporters Nancy Sarnoff and James Pinkerton contributed to this report.
Parks boosters are asking for voter support of a greener Houston: More miles of off-road hike-and-bike trails than any city in the nation, the conversion of 2,000 acres of weed-choked bayou banks into narrow parks, and connector paths that would, in Mayor Annise Parker’s words, “string the beads” of parks that most people currently need a car to get to. Continue Reading »