Image: Left to right, Page for the Day (and Future Governor of Texas) Gage Andreski and State Representative Steve Toth (Republican of Conroe), on the Floor of the Texas House of Representatives on May 10, 2019. Toth’s facial hair reflects his lack of time for anything but work in the waning days of the 86th Texas Legislature.
Austin and Conroe, May 19 – While some of the major priorities of the Republican Party for the 86th Texas Legislature have faced challenges, Montgomery County citizens serving in the Legislature and working with those elected servants have had some substantial successes during the past few days in Austin.
HB 1631: Red Light Camera Bill
On Thursday, the Texas Senate passed House Bill 1631 to abolish red-light cameras in Texas! Kelli Cook of Willis, an enormous number of her conservative activist colleagues, and State Representative Jonathan Stickland (Republican of Bedford) had been working on this proposal for several years. The legislation, which is on its way to the Governor’s desk, bans red-light cameras but allows cameras to remain in place for 20 years from May 7, 2019, if already under a contract between a municipality and a red-light camera provider. Red-light camera civil penalties, however, are entirely unenforceable under the legislation!!!
Here’s what happened on the Senator Floor late in the afternoon on May 16, 2019. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick recognized Senator Bob Hall (Republican of Rockwall) and said, ““Senator Hall, you are recognized—Jonathan Stickland can’t believe it—on third reading and final passage.
“I move final passage on House Bill 1631 to abolish red-light cameras in Texas,” Hall said.
The bill passed with bipartisan support, 23 ayes and 8 nays. Five democrats voted with 18 Republicans to pass the bill. One Republican, Senator Kel Seliger of Amarillo, has voted against conservative principles and in favor of protecting municipal bureaucrats throughout the Legislative Session. The following democrats voted in favor of the measure: Chuy Hinojosa of McAllen, Eddie Lucio, Jr., of Brownsville, Royce West of Dallas, John Whitmire of Houston, and Judith Zaffirini of Laredo.
SB 7: Harvey Relief
Texas Senator Brandon Creighton finally guided Senate Bill 7, the historic flood mitigation legislation, which will benefit Texas for many generations, through the Texas House on Thursday, May 16. The legislation passed the Texas House on a 143 to 1 vote. It establishes a framework for the distribution of federal disaster funds, particularly the funds available for Harvey relief.
Upon passage, Senator Creighton said, “Today, the Texas House passed historic flood mitigation legislation that will benefit the state for generations. Senate Bill 7 establishes the Texas Infrastructure Resiliency Fund (TIRF) and a framework for disaster recovery, which will finance flood mitigation projects across the state, and draw down billions of Texas tax dollars from the federal government. Hurricane Harvey was the worst storm in U.S. history and exposed serious weaknesses in our infrastructure, and this bill is a strong step forward to ensuring a more resilient Texas. I want to thank Chairman Phelan and Chairman Larson for their leadership on this issue, and their work to ensure that the Legislature pass the most effective, statewide plan for Texas.”
SB 891: 457th District Court of Montgomery County (as part of omnibus bill)
The Texas House on Friday approved Representative Steve Toth’s request to add a new district court in Montgomery County as part of an omnibus bill. SB 891 incorporates the provision for the new 457th Judicial District included in Toth’s HB 1437. Toth, a Republican from Conroe, had introduced HB 1437 in February.
“I sought the new judicial district at the behest of our Commissioners’ Court and County judges to address the growing number of caseloads in Montgomery County,” Toth said, “I am pleased to announce that the people of Montgomery County will soon have a new court providing quicker disposition of their cases.”
418th District Judge Tracy Gilbert, who oversees the 418th District Court in Montgomery County, said he was “grateful” for the legislators who advanced the measure. “Caseload data and the Texas Office of Court Administration recognize a need for several new courts in Montgomery County,” Gilbert said, “I am extremely grateful for our state representatives and senators who recognize the need for a new district court in Montgomery County and appreciate their efforts in making it come to fruition.”
The Chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Judges, 9th District Judge Phil Grant, pointed to the pace at which the County is growing to justify the need for a new court. “Montgomery County continues to be one of the fastest growing counties in the state. While our size in relation to other counties would support approximately three additional courts, this new district court will be a huge step towards maintaining efficient and effective judicial resources for the citizens of our county,” Grant said, “Many thanks to Representative Toth and Senator Creighton for their efforts in securing this much needed new court.”
SB 1640: Texas Open Meetings Act
After disgraced former County Judge Craig Doyal and his henchman Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, along with corrupt local political boss Marc Davenport, had the “walking quorum” prohibition of the Texas Open Meetings Act declared unconstitutional, Senator Kirk Watson (democrat of Austin), State Representative Steve Toth (Republican of Conroe), and many others made restoring and revising the statute a high priority. The revision strengthens the provision to prevent local government officials from seeking to circumvent the open meetings requirement by trying to meet in numbers less than a quorum for the purpose of drumming up votes as a quorum when a pretextual open meeting occurs.
Prior to the election of Mark Keough, the “People’s Judge,” as Montgomery County Judge, Doyal and Riley would regularly engage in secret meetings to plan how Commissioners Court meetings would occur. Keough has, of course, stopped that practice, since he ran on a platform of bringing ethics to the Montgomery County Commissioners Court and County government.
Last night, Senate Bill 1640 passed the Texas House on a third reading on a 146 to 0 vote. Representative Dade Phelan, Republican of Beaumont, successfully added a minor amendment to the bill. Therefore, the House version will back back to the Senate where the bill’s author, Senator Watson, will likely accept the amendment and permit final passage of the amended version of this important legislation.
SB 1978: Chick Fil-A
Some cities have begun to discriminate against companies, such as Chick Fil-A, which make charitable contributions to the Salvation Army and other Christian-based charities. The City of San Antonio disallowed Chick Fil-A to open a store in the local airport.
Senator Bryan Hughes, Republican of Mineola, is the primary author of this legislation to prohibit a governmental entity from taking any adverse action against any person based wholly or partly on the person’s membership in, affiliation with, or contribution, donation, or other support provided to a qualifying religious organization and to provide for relief if that prohibition is violated.
The bill passed the Texas Senate on a straight party line vote of 19 to 12 with Senator Seliger as the lone Republican voting against the bill on Thursday, May 16.
Thanks to the excellent work of State Representative Will Metcalf, Republican of Conroe, and other members of the House Calendars Committee, SB 1978 sailed through the House Calendars Committee, which sets the Floor calendar for the Texas House, and is on the House Major State Calendar for Monday, May 20.