Archived Point of Order Messages from Luis Figueroa

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The state of equity | March 19, 2019

We are about halfway through the Texas legislative session, and at CPPP we are focused on whether proposed policies lead to more equity for struggling Texans. Equity is the quality of being fair and impartial. CPPP seeks to measurably improve equity in and access to health care, food security, education, and financial security across Texas.

The coming weeks will include important debates about equity in public school finance. Legal precedent in school finance litigation defines equity as the ability to raise similar amounts of revenue at a similar rate of taxation. Really it just means every Texan gets a fair shot to reach their full potential. Where do we see opportunities for equity this session?

Equity in school finance: 
CPPP testified last week in favor of House Bill 3 by Chairman Dan Huberty because, among other things, it adds $6 billion of new money to schools and instruction. Some school administrators described the bill as a positive game changer for their districts, but it does come with an asterisk. The legislation allows school districts with high property values to raise additional funding, and it does little for English Language Learner funding, which would make the system less equitable. This inequity would grow over time, especially if the Legislature does not increase funding amounts in future years. We appreciate that the new version of HB 3, which passed out of the House Public Education Committee today, makes some important adjustments to enhance equity. We like the scope and overall funding increases in House Bill 3 and hope the Legislature will rein in some of the inequities as we move forward.

Equity in taxes: 
Texas has one of the most unfair tax structures in the nation, where we ask those with the least to pay the most to support the public services – schools, health care, public safety, roads, parks – that we all need to thrive. In Texas, the wealthiest residents pay an average of 4.3 percent of their income in state and local taxes, compared to 16.7 percent for residents with the lowest incomes. The state’s overreliance on sales and property taxes make it very difficult to provide the necessary revenue for our state. This session has mainly focused on property taxes, but it’s the sales tax that is inequitable to most Texans.

CPPP is concerned about bills like HB 705 by Chairman Rep. Geren and HJR 3 because they would exacerbate the state’s unfair tax structure. CPPP will also testify against corporate tax giveaways allowed under Chapters 312 and 313 of the Texas Tax Code. These giveaways are set to expire, but lawmakers could extend them for another 10 years. We should phase out these giveaways or at least make them more transparent.

Equity in health care: 
In health care coverage, Texas remains one of the few states that has not accepted federal Medicaid expansion funding. Our state has left at least $6 billion per year of federal funds on the table, funds from taxes already paid by Texans. House Bill 565 by Chairman Colemanwould create a much more equitable health care landscape. CPPP also supports Senate Bill 1264 by Chairman Hancock and House Bill 4444 by Chairman Rep. Martinez Fischer, bills that would protect consumers from surprise medical billing. It is more fair and equitable for health care providers and insurance companies to work on reaching agreeable prices between them rather than sticking it to patients.

We’re here to highlight equity concerns this session, and we have much more work to do. CPPP is the leading the way on these important discussions and appreciates your support.

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The state is set for school finance | March 12, 2019

Lawmakers filed 5,670 House bills and 2,869 Senate bills before last Friday’s deadline in the Texas Legislature. Let’s focus in on the session’s top priority, remodeling our public school finance system. There are now several comprehensive and significant proposals in the mix. Here are a few major ones:

  1. The Texas Public School Finance Commission’s proposal
    Current status = incorporated partially into HB 3 and SB 4
  2. The Texas House Democrats Proposal, “Texas Kids First
    Current status = a set of various bills awaiting hearings
  3. Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Nelson’s teacher pay bill (SB 3)
    Current status = passed the full Senate
  4. Senator Seliger’s teacher pay bill (SB 995)
    Current status = awaiting a Senate hearing
  5. Sen. Rodriguez’ and Rep. Gonzalez’ bills to provide comprehensive school finance reform under the current formula structure (SB 136/HB 89)
    Current status = both bills are awaiting hearings
  6. House Public Education Chairman Huberty’s school finance bill (HB 3)
    Current status = under consideration today in the House Public Education Committee
  7. Senate Education Committee Chairman Taylor’s school finance bill (SB 4)
    Current status = awaiting a hearing in the Senate Education Committee

Together with our partners and allies, CPPP advocacy has kept public education at the forefront of the legislative agenda. It’s incredible that last session lawmakers were still debating voucher schemes and smaller-scale plans for school finance. We’re proud to be part of the push to remodel our school finance system so all kids can access a high-quality public education that prepares them to reach their full potential.

CPPP will continue to provide the in-depth expertise to create the best plan possible. We can invest more in our students and teachers in an equitable and sustainable way this legislative session, all while reducing the reliance on local property taxes.

In this marathon, the steep hill is approaching | March 5, 2019

This Friday, we will be 60 days into the 140-day Legislative session. I’ve never run a marathon, but I imagine by mile 7 or 8, my legs would burn and I’d be wondering how this race could only be just beginning. Marathon runners push through, find their rhythm and think past the steep hill that is staring them down.

Today’s excitement included House Bill 3, a big new school finance proposal introduced by House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty. Here is our statement on this new school finance plan.

As advocates, we are getting deeper into the Legislative session and facing our own steep hills. CPPP is here as the legislative support crew, helping you navigate the policy race course with data, analysis and policy solutions.

Last week CPPP testified six times, including against HB 2, a property tax bill that would hamstring local communities. This week we are focused on HB 320, which would hurt Texas families who rely on TANF benefits. Additionally, we are testifying against HB 1000 and HB 648.

Friday is a significant mile marker in the Legislative session for a few reasons:

  1. Bill filing deadline: Friday is the last day lawmakers can file new bills (except under some special circumstances). As a policy organization, we are always exploring and evaluating different ideas for how to make this the best state for hard-working Texans and their families. It will be good to see all the policy proposals on the table after Friday. If you still have an idea and need to find a last-minute bill author, try to do it as early as you can this week because staff and members are loath to file bills at the last minute.
  2. Non-priority bills move to the floor: After Friday, all bills are now eligible for discussion on the House and Senate floors. Until now, only emergency and priority items made it that far. This change means that floor debates will start taking much longer, as lawmakers discuss substantive bills; committee hearings will therefore be delayed and run later.
  3. Committee pressure: Your legs really may burn as you race around the Capitol to try to get a committee hearing for the bills that are important to you. While there is still time to pass legislation after Friday, the clock officially starts moving on bills. Committees typically only meet once per week to hear new bills. Some committee chairs will move quickly, and others will be judicious in passing legislation. The later in the Legislative session it gets, the harder it becomes to pass bills.

It’s all about the people | February 26, 2019

The legislative session now shifts from public hearings on the budget in the House and Senate to public hearings in standing committees.

This week CPPP staff will testify to support bills that raise the minimum wage and reduce the burdens of student loan debt. We will also oppose legislation that needlessly makes it harder to obtain food assistance benefits (SNAP), and we will continue our fight against revenue caps that inhibit cities from investing in libraries, parks, police officers, firefighters, and paramedics. You will see our advocacy supporting earned paid sick leave, protections against surprise medical bills, and accessing federal dollars to provide health insurance for more Texans.

At the end of day, it’s not just about the numbers. It’s the potential to improve the lives of Texans that fires us up.

Will they play by the rules? | February 19, 2019

CPPP believes that bipartisan consultation produces the best legislation. When lawmakers from one party ram through bills and violate or circumvent traditional rules, this usually results in prolonged litigation, a breakdown of trust, and poorly crafted policy.

House Speaker Bonnen set a positive tone at the beginning of the legislative session, suggesting that both parties would have voices this session. However, Capitol insiders have reported that the Senate may not uphold one of its traditions (known as the “blocker bill”) in order to push through the short-sighted property tax scheme, Senate Bill 2.

What is the blocker bill?

  1. It’s a real bill, and this year it is numbered Senate Bill 409.
  2. The purpose of the blocker bill is purely procedural.
  3. This Senate practice prevents the tyranny of the majority and ensures those who are outnumbered still get a voice. To pass something through the Senate requires 19 votes (3/5 of the Senators) instead of 16 (half).
  4. Circumventing the blocker bill to pass Senate Bill 2 with just a simple majority would be an attack on local government and the traditions of the Senate.

Speaking of taxes, here’s DL’s latest on who pays (and who doesn’t pay)  in Texas.

Get your bill moving! | February 12, 2019

It certainly feels like this legislative session has gotten off to a fast start. Committees are set. The Governor has laid out his priorities, and budget hearings are in full swing.

Here are a few tips on how to move or stop bills that affect priority issues:

  1. Getting it filed. You can’t move a bill that’s not filed. But don’t wait until the bill filing deadline (March 8th) to get a lawmaker to file your prize bill. Now is the time for your new champion to file that bill.
  2. Help your champion out. Also, be sure to anticipate any opposition, and have the responses ready for your bill author.
  3. Committee staff. The committee director vets all the bills referred to their committee and gets all the intel before making a recommendation to the committee chair on whether to hear a bill. Get your best available information to the committee staff, and be a resource for them.
  4. Don’t forget there are two chambers. Your best chance to pass a bill is to get a lawmaker to file bills in both chambers, giving you two bites at the apple.
  5. Stopping bad bills. The same rules apply for stopping a bill you oppose, just in reverse.

Let’s hear it for democracy! | February 5, 2019 

CPPP added a new category of legislative priorities this session, entitled “A Strong, Well-informed Democracy.” It’s only February, and there are already two major threats to democracy and one huge opportunity.

First, The Secretary of State released unsubstantiated lists of non-citizens on the voter rolls.

However, the list turned out to include the names of many naturalized citizens and weak matches on names.

The second threat came when lawmakers filed Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 2 last week. CPPP’s Dick Lavine will deliver a testimony about SB 2 and HB2’s direct threat to the authority of local counties, cities, and school districts to meet the needs of their residents.

However, there is a positive opportunity for legislators to strengthen democracy through the state budget. Texas has more revenue to invest this legislative session than in years past, and CPPP believes we should use a small amount of that funding to promote a full count during the 2020 Census.

Committees – they get the job done |January 29, 2019

The Lt. Governor and House Speaker announced Senate and House Committee assignments last week. The Senate did not change many chairmanships or committee memberships except for a few major exceptions and the creation of the Property Tax Committee. CPPP will monitor the Property Tax Committee closely and work to ensure that local communities continue to have the resources and local discretion required to provide the services their constituents need.

With Committee assignments set, here are a few tips as advocates visit legislative offices:
  1. The early bird gets the worm. Members are usually only in Austin while in session, which means there’s very limited time for meetings. Schedule those meetings while you still can and before floor sessions begin getting longer.  
  2. Staff can get the job done. Because of time constraints, you will more likely be talking to staff members instead. However, staff can provide valuable insight into the member’s thinking and legislative process, so use the opportunity to your advantage.
  3. Make your case but be sure to listen. Be sure to ask how the member feels about the issue if they have taken previous positions, and what concerns they have.
  4. Do you make an ask? Be sure to ask if the member will support your issue, file your bill, or follow-up with an answer. Staff are trained to not speak for the member unless authorized, so follow-up with an email and offer to be a resource for when the time comes to make a vote.
  5. Stay relevant and timely. Try to time your visits to coincide with the issues before the member, but don’t wait for the day of the hearing or the floor vote when a recommendation to the member has already likely been made.

Make sure they hear you | January 22, 2019

Texas Legislative committee assignments are here, which means it’s time to start the hearings on possible legislation.

These hearings can be an important chance for concerned Texans to engage with issues that affect them.

Here are a few tips on delivering effective public testimony during the Legislative Session:

  1. Be prepared to stay late. A hearing with lots of public testimony could run well into the evening. You can watch the floor deliberations online and make your way back to the hearings when lawmakers adjourn from the floor session.
  1. Make the rounds. To be most effective, try to visit with the staff members who work for specific committees and the legislative staff assigned to those committees prior to the hearing, and let them know your concerns.
  1. Be professional.  Always give the author of any bill you oppose the courtesy of addressing your concerns with them directly prior to the hearing. The more advance notice you provide to members, the easier it is for the member and their staff to address any legitimate concerns.
  1. Be factual. Always have evidence to back your position and be truthful about your sources and data.
  1. Be strategic. Send the staff of members that support your position some questions and data ahead of the hearing so your point of view gets an audience early in the hearing when more members are present and attentive.

It’s time to have “the talk” again | January 15, 2019

It’s time to have a real conversation about decision making the Legislature and who gets a seat at the table.  

While it was inspiring to see progress as newly elected members arrived at the Capitol, our Legislature as a whole is still not reflective of the racial, ethnic or gender diversity of our state. According to the Texas Tribune, the Legislature is 36 percent people of color and 64 percent White. Texas as a whole is 58 percent people of color and 42 percent White. There are 42 women in the Legislature and 136 men, while the state population is 51 percent female.

As we honor the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this coming weekend, we need to do more to ensure that our most powerful institutions have equitable and inclusive representation. Due to discriminatory policies that created and maintained unequal access to opportunities, people of color are less likely to have access to health care, a quality education, and access to good jobs with fair working conditions. To advance policies that expand equity and opportunity for Texans of all backgrounds, we need a broader set of representatives at the table.

Off we go with so much at stake | January 9, 2019

The 2019 Texas Legislative session begins!
Here are a few things to look out for in the first weeks of session:

  1. Leadership Priorities. The first 20 House bills (House Bill 1 through House Bill 20) and the first 30 Senate bills (Senate Bill 1 through Senate Bill 30) are reserved for the priorities of the House Speaker and the Lieutenant Governor.
  2. Rules Matter. The House and Senate set their own rules for session this week. On an issue like school finance where regional differences matter in terms of funding, the rules of engagement can make a huge difference for fair funding for all students.
  3. Briefings are Not Brief. The early part of session is filled with press conferences and legislative briefings to educate members, staff, the media, and advocates. It can be difficult for issues you care about to cut through the noise, but CPPP is committed to using all forms of communication to let voters and lawmakers know about the policies that can make all Texans healthy, educated, and financially secure.

We recommend the following top 5 resources to help get you through the #txlege:

  1. Follow CPPP on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram
  2. Request a speaker or a briefing for legislators and their staff
  3. Request data help/assistance on a specific policy matter
  4. Read Point of Order each week to find ways to get involved/take action
  5. Read our blog

Luis Figueroa joined the Center in 2018 as the first Legislative and Policy Director. In this important new role, Luis oversees CPPP's comprehensive legislative strategy and leads our distinguished team of policy experts. He was previously General Counsel for Texas State Senator José Rodríguez and Executive Director of the Texas Senate Hispanic Caucus. Previously, he served as the Legislative Attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), where he worked from 2004 to 2013. A proud Texan from El Paso, Luis received the 2013 MALDEF Award for services performed on behalf of the Latino community in pursuit of social justice, the 2011 Champion of Equality and Justice Award from LULAC, and the 2009 Spirit of Change Award by State Rep. Joaquin Castro, among other honors. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Speech Communications with a concentration in American Politics and Law from Trinity University in San Antonio, and his Juris Doctorate from the University Of Texas School Of Law. He is licensed to practice law in the State of Texas.

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