Rep. Reynolds gives updates from Legislature
State Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, has been busy in the regular session of the 85th Legislature.
The following are recent reports issued by his office.
Texas House amends budget
Thursday, April 6th was a big day that led into Friday morning at the Texas Capitol. According to the Texas Constitution, the budget is the only required bill that the legislature must pass. As such, the budget was under heavy consideration with over 400 amendments. Moreover, the budget is a huge reflection of the legislature’s moral compass. By voting on this budget, my colleagues and I were able to send a message to the citizens of Texas that we are proactively trying to protect their rights and address the social issues that hinder growth within our communities.
The House considered and debated many controversial amendments Thursday. Luckily, there were a number of amendments that were successfully passed comprising: CPS funding, anti-vouchers, restoration of Early Childhood Intervention program, disease prevention funding, mental health funding, human trafficking assistance program, health coverage, and funding for the study of campus sexual assaults.
Further, two of my proposed amendments were successfully added to Article 11 of the budget. The first amendment is to fund a health care study for teachers. Our retired teachers deserve state funding towards quality healthcare. It should be our duty to ensure that the men and women who took care to educate us and our young leaders are taken care of as well. The second amendment directs the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to facilitate a study that examines rules and requirements pertaining to inspections and maintenance programs that detect issues.
Voter ID law
On Monday, April 10, 2017, a federal district court held that Texas’ voter ID law was passed with a discriminatory impact, disproportionately affecting African Americans’ and Latinos’ political participation, in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. If Monday’s ruling is upheld, Texas could be pulled back into preclearance under the national Voting Rights Act.
In short, the voter ID law requires voters to present some form of official identification before they are permitted to register to vote, receive a voting ballot, or to actually vote. In Texas, the limited forms of official identification only include: 1. Texas driver license issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS); 2. Texas Election Identification Certificate issued by DPS; 3. Texas personal identification card issued by DPS; 4. Texas license to carry a handgun issued by DPS; 5. U.S. military identification card containing the person’s photograph; 6. U.S. citizenship certificate containing the person’s photograph; or 7. U.S. passport. However, it has been shown through disparate impact studies and by the courts that this limited list of allowable forms of ID has had a disproportionate effect on racial minorities.
Alarmingly, Monday’s ruling marks the fifth time that this law has been struck down by the courts. As such, the voter ID bill has had a lengthy history of being tied up in Federal Court since its passage. In 2011, the Republican-controlled legislature tactfully rushed the voter ID bill through the legislative process. The claimed intent of this bill was to prevent voter fraud and not to disenfranchise voters of color. However, the court noted “In the ten years preceding [the voter ID bill], only two cases of in-person voter impersonation fraud were prosecuted to a conviction– a period of time in which 20 million votes were cast.” Whatever the true intent was behind the voter ID law, it is clear that its lingering discriminatory effects are a cause for concern.
Texas’ voter ID law is the strictest in the nation leaving more than half a million eligible voters who do not have the requisite forms of ID from fully participating in the democratic process. What’s worse, this burden is unfairly distributed among racial minorities. According to data cited by the U.S. appellate court, in Texas “Blacks were 1.78 times more likely than White, and Latinos 2.42 times more likely, to lack” voter ID. This fact in and of itself makes the voter ID law illegal under the Voting Rights Act. Further, studies show that there is a polarized voting pattern across Texas. Blacks and Latinos tend to affiliate more with the Democratic party. Thus, the voter ID law creates an Anglo partisan advantage in elections.
Moreover, my Republican colleagues increased their support of the voter ID law by filing and backing a revised version of the law this session. However, the revisions in the proposed bills do not address all of the many issues revealed by the courts. A new outlook by my Republican counterparts of this discriminatory law is long overdue. It is my hope that this legislative session can be the start of this change.
Last session, I was pleased to file a house bill that proposed a solution to the voter ID law in Texas. With the recent progresses made toward exposing the true intention of the voter ID law, and especially Monday’s ruling, I am happy to have re-filed the bill this 85th legislative session. HB 2452 reinstates a constitutional and nondiscriminatory voter identification law for Texans of every race, ethnicity, political party, and socioeconomic class. No voter should be disenfranchised. I will continue to urge the passage of this bill to ensure that every eligible voter is allowed to exercise their right to vote.”
“The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 to ban racial discrimination in voting practices by the federal government, as well as by state and local governments. Since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in 2013, states and cities have enacted a tidal wave of voter discrimination laws intended to restrict the right to vote for people of color, people with disabilities, students and others.
Recent court victories turning back a few of these laws have proven that these efforts are widespread, require massive investments of time and money to litigate, and intentionally discriminate against voters of color. It took years of litigation to strike down intentionally discriminatory laws, meaning countless voters were denied the right to cast ballots in the 2014 mid-term election and in this year’s presidential primary – and there’s no way to get those votes back. In Texas, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit found the state’s voter ID law violates what remains of the VRA because it discriminates against Black and Latino voters. This was the fourth federal court to reach that conclusion.
Recently, I filed HCR 119, urging Congress to immediately restore and strengthen the Voting Rights Act. The Right to Vote is under siege, commented Reynolds. These discriminatory laws have increased barriers to voting; barriers that disproportionately impact people of color, students, low-income people, and language minorities. I ask my colleagues in the House to join me in supporting HCR 119, and urge Congress to restore and strengthen the Voting Rights Act, the most successful and important piece of civil rights legislation we have seen in the 20th century. As the past President of the Missouri City NAACP, I have been fighting for voting rights for many years and I will continue to fight to preserve our right to vote.”
Blue Ridge Landfill
“On Tuesday, the House Committee on Environmental Regulation continued to hear important business during its hearings. The committee dedicated much of its time to hearing testimony on providing the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) additional measures so that the agency can better enforce regulations against municipal solid waste facilities (landfills). This is an issue well known to many folks in and around my district, as Blue Ridge Landfill (BRL) continues to not be in compliance with TCEQ regulations, although a Proposed Order is pending.”
“Currently at issue is H.B.2958. This bill speaks to whether TCEQ should be required by law to impose a moratorium on permitting that is relevant to municipal landfills. The decision to send this bill to the entire House of Representatives membership for a vote is not one that can be made lightly. While there are citizens who are subjected to noxious odors depending on how the wind blows; city and county governments would be hard pressed to find additional resources, and make agreements with other landfills to handle all of our waste, thus adversely affecting everybody.”
“I am working hard with my colleagues on the committee in order to bring out all the facts and ensure that BRL and all landfills are responsible corporate citizens. Republic Services, Inc., which owns the BRL, assured me that they are currently working with TCEQ to come in compliance and are prepared to spend the necessary resources to eliminate any future odors from reoccurring. I will continue to work with TCEQ to hold the BRL accountable in resolving the violations causing the odors, and ensure they are complying with the regulations which protect public health and our environment.”