Issues: Government

Ellis Praises Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson

(Austin, Texas) – Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) today released the following statement on the announced retirement of Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson: Continue Reading »

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Ellis Joins Rep. Turner, Advocates in Support of LITE-UP Texas Enrollment

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.”

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Austinites required to recycle, but not bars

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 »

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Bill To Prohibit Enforcement Of Federal Gun Laws Dies In Senate

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 »

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Ellis Votes for Improved Payday Lending Plan

(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 »

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Ellis Opposes Reverse Robin Hood on System Benefit Fund

(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 »

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Bills Renew Push for Posting Financial Disclosures

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 »

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Statement of Senator Ellis on State of the State

(Austin, TX)Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) today released the following statement on Governor Rick Perry’s State of the State speech: Continue Reading »

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Senator Ellis Files Health Care Package for 2013 Legislative Session

(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.

 

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Supreme Court to review key section of Voting Rights Act

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-
er-education admissions.

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.

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