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 »
House Bill 928 would criminalize any police officer enforcing a new federal gun law in the state of Texas, and it immediately struck tensions between Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, and Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston. 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 »
State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, and Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, each filed legislation on Thursday that would require personal financial statements submitted to the Texas Ethics Commission to be made available online. Continue Reading »
(Austin, TX)Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) today released the following statement on Governor Rick Perry’s State of the State speech: Continue Reading »
(Austin, TX)—Today, State Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) filed a health care bill package aimed at implementing key elements of the Affordable Care Act in Texas. Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured in the nation with one in four Texans lacking insurance.
“It is time that we put partisan politics aside and do what is right for Texas. This legislation will bring tens of billions of dollars to the state, expand Medicaid to approximately 1.5 million additional Texans, set up a state health insurance exchange that works for Texas and guarantees that the Commissioner of Insurance has the tools necessary to ensure rates are fair and affordable. The expansion of Medicaid costs less in four years than what Texas hospitals spend on the uninsured population in one year. The needs of these individuals will not disappear if we fail to expand Medicaid, but we will lose out on a nine to one match that other states will utilize and we will continue to pass the cost down to local hospitals and ultimately to taxpayers,” said Senator Ellis.
Senate Joint Resolution 8 allows voters to decide on the expansion of Medicaid as allowed under the Affordable Care Act.
Senate Bill 84 creates a state based Health Insurance Exchange and codifies key federal insurance provisions already in effect.
Senate Bill 85 provides the Insurance Commissioner with the authority to approve and deny health insurance rate increases.
The Supreme Court said Friday it will review a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that has been the federal government’s most forceful tool in protecting minority rights at the polls. The decision ensures that race and civil rights will be the hallmark of the current Supreme Court term.
The challenge to Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act was launched two years ago, and the court added it to its docket just days after an energized minority electorate played a critical role in the reelection of President Obama, the nation’s first African American president.
The justices said they would decide whether Congress exceeded its authority in 2006 when it reauthorized a requirement that states and localities with a history of discrimination, most of them in the South, receive federal approval before making any changes to their voting laws.
Three years ago, the court expressed concern about subjecting some states to stricter standards than others using a formula developed decades ago. But the justices sidestepped the constitutional question and found a narrow way to decide that case.
Friday’s decision to accept the challenge from Shelby County, Ala., is the court’s second major case this term involving race. Last month, the justices heard a challenge to the University of Texas’s admissions policy that could redefine or eliminate the use of affirmative action in high-
This month, the court will decide whether to take up another civil rights issue: same-sex marriage. Two appeals courts have declared unconstitutional the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal recognition of same-sex marriages performed in states where it is legal. The court must also decide whether to intervene in a decision by federal courts to overturn California’s Proposition 8, which amended the state constitution to define marriage as only between a man and a woman.
The Section 5 requirements were passed during the darkest days of the civil rights struggle, paving the way for expanded voting rights for African Americans and greatly increasing the number of minority officeholders.
But critics say that the method for selecting the places subject to the special supervision — which include nine states and parts of seven others — is outdated. They say Congress should have spent more time investigating whether those classifications still made sense.
“The America that elected and reelected Barack Obama . . . is far different than when the Voting Rights Act was first enacted in 1965,” said Edward Blum of the Project on Fair Representation, which brought the challenge. “Congress unwisely reauthorized a bill that is stuck in a Jim Crow-era time warp.”
But the law’s defenders said it has proved its worth just in this election. Courts put on hold redistricting changes in Texas and voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina that they said would dilute minority rights. Courts also forced changes in Florida’s new early-voting procedures.
“In the midst of the recent assault on voter access, the Voting Rights Act is playing a pivotal role beating back discriminatory voting measures,” said Debo P. Adegbile, acting president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit voted last spring to uphold the 2006 reauthorization, which passed with lopsided votes in both houses of Congress and was signed with fanfare by President George W. Bush.
U.S. Circuit Judge David S. Tatel wrote that the judicial branch had no reason to second-guess Congress’s decision to reauthorize the law.
“Congress drew reasonable conclusions from the extensive evidence it gathered,” Tatel wrote. “In this context, we owe much deference to the considered judgment of the people’s elected representatives.”
Conservative legal activists and Republican attorneys general from some of the covered states — Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia — launched challenges to the law after the Supreme Court in 2009 raised questions about its continued constitutionality.
“Things have changed in the South,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in that opinion, which put aside for the time being the constitutional question. “Voter turnout and registration rates now approach parity. Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare. And minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels.”
Tatel concluded that the 2006 extension met two requirements identified by the Supreme Court: that the burdens imposed by the act were justified by “current needs,” and that the discrimination “evil” that Section 5 was meant to eliminate is still concentrated in the jurisdictions singled out for “pre-clearance” by federal authorities.
The Obama administration aggressively used Section 5 during this year’s election season to challenge restrictions on voting passed by Republican-led legislatures. The states said the changes were meant to combat voter impersonation fraud or make Election Day easier on election officials.
The case is Shelby County v. Holder .
The court also agreed to decide Friday a case from Maryland that pits individual privacy rights against the state’s ability to conduct criminal investigations.
The issue is whether police may take DNA samples from those arrested in connection with, but not convicted of, violent crimes. Police took a sample from Alonzo King Jr. in 2009 when he was arrested on assault charges, under a law that authorized gathering DNA from those arrested on charges of violence or burglary.
The sample linked King to an unsolved 2003 rape case.
The Maryland Court of Appeals threw out the rape conviction, saying the collection violated King’s constitutional rights and was more intrusive than simply taking fingerprints.
Chief Justice Roberts had stayed the Maryland court’s opinion while the court decided whether to review the case, and the collection of DNA samples has continued. Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler said the DNA database identifies the perpetrators of “some of our state’s most gruesome unsolved cases.”
Stephen B. Mercer of the Maryland Office of the Public Defender said he is confident that the court will eventually agree that “that persons who are presumed to be innocent should not be subject to warrantless seizure and indefinite retention of their intensely personal genetic information.”
Aaron C. Davis contributed to this report.
SAN MARCOS — In spite of record early voting turnout in counties statewide, fewer voters cast a ballot this year than in 2008.
About 7.9 million voters, or 58 percent of the Texans registered to vote, cast a ballot this year. In 2008, about 8 million people voted, 60 percent of those eligible.
In Travis County, the percentage of registered voters casting a ballot dropped from 66 percent four years ago to about 61 percent this election. The number of voters also dropped, from 402,832 in 2008 to 389,687 in 2012, according to unofficial election results.
Hays and Williamson counties experienced similar declines, with the percentage of eligible Hays voters participating sliding from 66 percent in 2008 to 57 percent in 2012, and from 71 to 65 percent in Williamson County.
Some elections officials suggested that less enthusiasm for the presidential race this year dampened voter turnout.
“Regardless of whether someone likes Obama, in 2008 his candidacy excited many people in this country to a fever pitch,” Rick Barron, Williamson County’s elections administrator, said.
Travis County’s Elections Director Michael Winn said the county’s “love affair” with the president has gone stale since 2008, but he called any election with 60 percent or more voter turnout a success.
Rosemary Edwards, chairwoman of the Travis County Republican Party, said she is disappointed that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney lost the election but that she doesn’t think the 5 percent drop in voter turnout is significant.
“It was lighter than 2008, but there was not the voter enthusiasm that had been created by Democrats in 2008,” she said.
In 2004, when President George W. Bush sought reelection against Sen. John Kerry, about 57 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in Texas.
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.