Texas Lawmakers Move To Save Red Light Cameras Newly filed legislation would protect Texas red light cameras in defiance of the campaign promises of Governor Greg Abbott.
Texas lawmakers are taking steps to keep newly re-elected Governor Greg Abbott (R) from fulfilling a major campaign promise. Abbott, formerly the state’s attorney general, made outlawing red light cameras a priority — even going so far as to specify that the contracts used by local jurisdictions must be legislatively preempted (view pledge). Two of the state legislature’s leaders last week prefiled legislation that would protect the ability of local jurisdictions to continue using red light cameras for as long as they wish.
State Representative Ed Thompson (R-Pearland) and Senator Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) came up with their own approaches to legislation that uses the language of “banning” cameras while at the same time giving cities plenty of time to lock in long-term contracts with private photo ticketing companies. Byron Schirmbeck, the Texas coordinator for Campaign for Liberty, pointed out that this is not the first time that lawmakers like Hall have moved to increase the use of cameras while styling the effort as a prohibition on camera use.
“Once again we see the same tricks and games coming from Austin,” Schirmbeck told TheNewspaper. “Representative Thompson and Senator Hall’s bills give the photo radar industry everything they want and saddles Texans with red light cameras for decades and an increase in photo enforcement. Texans won’t stand for another attempt to pull the wool over our eyes.”
Although House Bill 262, introduced by Thompson, does say that a local authority may not use red light cameras, it would only prevent new installation in cities that do not have them as of June 2019. Any city that would like to continue using existing red light cameras would be allowed to do so under Thompson’s grandfather clause.
“If before the effective date of this act a local authority enacted an ordinance under those provisions to implement an automated traffic control system and entered into a contract for the administration and enforcement of the [red light camera] system, the local authority may continue to operate the system under that ordinance and under the terms of that contract until the expiration date specified in the contract as the contract existed on the effective date of this act,” Thompson’s bill states.
Most of the localities using red light cameras signed twenty-year or thirty-year contracts in 2009 in response to a previous legislative attempt to ban cameras. Those that do not have a long-term deal, or those with easy termination clauses, would still have until June 1, 2019, to revise existing deals with private photo ticketing contractors. Senator Hall’s bill likewise sounds very tough.
“A governmental entity may not use information from traffic surveillance technology for any purpose, including the issuance of a civil or criminal charge or citation for an offense or violation based on a recorded image or reading produced by traffic surveillance technology,” Senate Bill 77 states.
Hall’s bill contains an identical grandfather clause allowing an unlimited continuation of existing red light camera programs, while adding a permanent exception allowing new cities to sign up to use school bus cameras.
“[The ban] does not apply to the use of information from traffic surveillance technology that captures images of vehicles that pass a school bus if… the person who is cited for the offense is authorized to contest the citation in court,” Senate Bill 77 states.
Prefiling is particularly important in Texas as the legislature is only in session for 140 days every two years, leaving lawmakers with little time to debate new ideas. The 2019 session begins January 8.
A copy of the prefiled legislation is available in a 130k PDF file at the source link below.
The Bipartisan Platform: Why haven’t we accomplished the things we all agree should be done?
SD11 Senate District Chair Scott Bowen finds common ground between the Republican Party of Texas platform and the Texas Democratic Party platform.
As a delegate to the Republican Party of Texas convention, I was honored to testify before platform committees, vote on amendments, and be part of the process of developing the party’s stance on important issues for the coming biennium. Reading the Democratic equivalent confirms that the other party has a much different vision for society and government. However, I was surprised to find several areas of common ground between the two.
The 182 men and women elected to the next legislative session, and the 38 sent to represent this state in the U.S. Congress, will all approach their posts with their own priorities as well as those of their respective parties. I hope, though, that they can set aside some time to come together and quickly accomplish the things both parties agree would be beneficial to the state of Texas. In this article, I’ll detail several issues where both party platforms completely agree. Remember that it’s possible for two groups of people to see the world in very different ways, and yet approach the same conclusion—that often speaks to the urgency of action to solve that problem. It’s a lot to ask for both parties to set aside their differences and avoid using these issues to gain advantage over each other, but if we can do it, you’re about to see just how much can be accomplished, especially for the most vulnerable Texans among us.
No Jail for Non-Jailable Offenses
Democrats make it clear in several of their criminal justice planks that they want to keep people out of jail for low-level crimes, or crimes that would only be punishable by fines. The Republican platform explicitly calls upon the Texas Legislature “to end the practice of jailing individuals for offenses for which jail is not an allowable consequence under the law.”
Ending Debtor’s Prison
The Democratic platform calls for “ending the practice of sending poor people to jail or prison for inability to pay fines and court costs.” The Republican platform goes a step further, asking the Legislature to end incarceration of individuals who cannot pay “tickets, fines, and fees for class C misdemeanors, including traffic violations.”
Age of Criminal Responsibility
Both parties explicitly call for the age of criminal prosecution or responsibility to be raised from 17 to 18.
Consent During Traffic Stops
The Republican platform calls upon the Legislature to “require officers to get written or recorded consent (i.e. body cams) to conduct a search and inform motorists that they can decline to give such consent.” The Democratic platform uses almost the same words, asking to require officers to “get written or recorded consent prior to conducting a search during traffic stops and require them to inform people of their right to decline such consent.”
Ending Civil Asset Forfeiture
The Democratic platform calls for “ensuring civil asset forfeiture only upon a criminal conviction.” The Republican platform calls for the abolition of civil asset forfeiture using the same language, and requests that the Party make this one of its legislative priorities for the 2019 legislative session.
Eliminating 3-Tier Alcohol Distribution
The Democratic platform contains strong free-market language defending the rights of craft brewers: “Democrats support modernizing the TABC’s 3 tier system because Texas’s craft breweries create jobs, encourage tourism, grow the economy, revitalize communities and add incremental tax revenues. Democrats support legislation allowing craft breweries to enjoy the same rights as their competitors in every state that allow them to sell and market their products directly from their breweries to consumers for take-home consumption, and ensure fairness in distribution across the state.” Cheers to that. For their part, Republicans “urge the Texas Legislature to adopt legislation eliminating the mandatory three-tier system of alcohol production, distribution, and retail. Texans should have the freedom to purchase alcohol directly from manufacturers, just as any other retail product.”
Reducing/Ending “Robin Hood”
The Democratic platform calls for the state to “equitably reduce reliance on ‘Robin Hood’ recapture.” The Republican platform goes a step further, stating that Republicans “oppose the ‘Robin Hood’ system of public school finance and believe the Texas Legislature, not the courts, should determine the amount of money spent on public education and the distribution thereof.” While both parties likely come at this issue from different angles and have very different visions for what school finance in Texas should look like at the state level, it is clear that neither party is happy with the status quo produced by the “Robin Hood” program and support its reduction or elimination.
The Republican platform calls upon the Legislature to provide “appropriate funding for the improvement of mental health services for children and adolescents,” especially emphasizing training for people who touch the life of a child in the foster care system and trauma-informed care. The Democratic platform offers several suggestions for this, asking for the number of treatment facilities to be increased and for community-based mental health services for children and adults.
Republicans call upon the Legislature to “improve the 2015 Compassionate Use Act to allow doctors to determine the appropriate use of cannabis to certified patients.” Democrats call for “the immediate legalization of medical cannabis use.”
Rape Prevention and Prosecution
The Republican Platform calls for the passage of “Abby’s Law,” which requires prosecution of rapists within 90 days, prioritizes victims’ safety and justice, requires the state to “establish a standard protocol to be followed in regards to claims of sexual assault,” and requires that “the funding of rape kit processing where the assailant is unknown will be continuous with mandatory annual reporting to ensure that the money is being allocated for this intent.” While the Democratic platform is not as specific, it supports “strong enforcement of Texas laws to hold offenders accountable and increase the likelihood that victims will come forward to report these crimes” and calls for training programs for all professionals involved in the reporting of sexual crimes.
The Republican platform calls for a “zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment,” but does not specify a group for this to apply to. The Democratic platform addresses sexual harassment in several planks, and specifically calls for a policy to be adopted in the Texas House and Texas Senate that could include significant penalties such as censure or expulsion.
Eliminating Chapter 313 Property Tax Abatements
The Democratic platform calls for “eliminating tax loopholes and unproductive special breaks, such as Chapter 313 agreements, to simplify the tax system and provide revenue for essential services.” Republicans “support repealing Tax Code Chapter 313 school property tax abatements.”
Eliminating the Driver Responsibility Program
The Democratic Platform calls for “stabilizing trauma center funding by repealing the Driver Responsibility Program fees, which many Texans cannot afford and never pay, and replacing the funding [by] other budgetary means,” while the Republican platform focuses on the Texans affected: “we call upon the Texas Legislature to abolish the Driver Responsibility Program and to immediately restore the driver licenses of the citizens whose licenses were suspended by the DRP and to cancel their debt.”
Elimination of Special Funds
Both parties call for the elimination of certain special funds, but they target different ones. The Democrats object to the Texas Enterprise Fund, referring to it as a “corporate slush fund that rewards businesses owned by political cronies and contributors, despite their failure to meet hiring targets and other program requirements.” The Republican platform calls for the Legislature to abolish the Events Trust Fund program and the Moving Image Industry Incentive Program, which also meet that description. Perhaps as a compromise, we can end all three.
Public Information Act/Trade Secrets
The platforms have suspiciously identical language about this: they both, in these exact words, “support legislation that would close contractor and trade secret loopholes in the Texas Public Information Act, while providing due process protections for private companies wishing to keep trade secrets private.”
Home and Community-Based Services
Both platforms call for the Legislature to support HCBS. The Democrats call for HCBS funding to “follow the person” in cases of long-term care. Republicans see this as a pro-life measure, presumably directed at mothers who may be considering abortion for children who would be born with special needs, and ask to “enact language to apply additional protections and to address any loopholes that fail to protect or provide appropriate home and community-based alternatives for children and adults with disabilities, in addition to providing families with information about life-affirming social and medical services available to them in Texas as alternatives to abortion and costly institutional care.”
While the Democratic platform generally advocates for less stringent enforcement of laws against illegal immigration, it does include this plank: Democrats “support strict enforcement and appropriate punishment against those who exploit undocumented workers rather than targeting the workers themselves.” Republicans agree with this approach, asking for Texas to eliminate the employment magnet by “requiring all employers to screen new hires through the free E-Verify system to prevent the hiring of illegal aliens and of anyone not legally authorized to work in the U.S.” Nothing in the Republican platform calls for the targeting of workers who are illegal immigrants—responsibility for these enforcement actions would come down entirely upon employers, as it should.
Legalization of Hemp
The Democratic Platform supports “the legalization of hemp for agricultural purposes.” The Republican Platform recognizes “industrial hemp as a valuable agricultural commodity,” and urges the Legislature to “pass legislation allowing cultivation, manufacture, and sale of industrial hemp and hemp products.”
Opposition to Eminent Domain by Private Entities
The Democratic platform states that “the protection of private property is a cornerstone of freedom and liberty and is central to the Texas Constitution,” and includes strong and detailed language opposing eminent domain by private corporations, allowing condemnation “only where necessary, and only for needed projects such as transportation and utilities that serve a clear public interest.” It also supports an amendment to the Texas Constitution that would eliminate the ability for private entities to “exercise the powers of eminent domain in condemnation of private property” and ensure “all entities seeking eminent domain authority should be required, before any eminent domain is exercised, to prove that they are deserving of condemnation authority and prove that their project serves the public good.” The Republican platform calls for eminent domain to “exclude the seizure of private property for private economic development or increased tax revenue.”
Both parties call for Congress to remove cannabis as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. Democrats want it removed entirely (and in the interim, to cease enforcement of federal laws regarding cannabis in states that allow it), and Republicans want to move it to Schedule 2.
The Democratic platform opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and opposes “free trade” proposals which “hurt American jobs and workers, the environment, and the American consumer.” Democrats “support fair trade deals to bring back and protect Texas and American jobs.” While Republicans “support free trade as a necessary component of American capitalism and of the United States’ influence in the world,” Republicans oppose the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Republicans also demand “the immediate withdrawal” from NAFTA and CAFTA.
For as long as I’ve been a Republican precinct chair, my fellow activists have loudly opposed “pay-for-play” slates. Big Jolly Times readers are already familiar with the concept: candidate slates are mailed to subsets of Republican primary voters, and they purport to identify the most qualified or conservative candidates on the ballot. In exchange for these endorsements, candidates are pressured to donate money to support the mailer or purchase advertising inside it. Candidates who refuse to participate find themselves penalized on Election Day.
Anti-slate sentiment has reached a fever pitch in the wake of the May 22 runoff election for CD2 between Dan Crenshaw and Kevin Roberts. Roberts was supported by the three best-known slates: Terry Lowry’s Link Letter, Steve Hotze’s Conservative Republicans of Texas, and Gary Polland’s Texas Conservative Review. The Link Letter dove straight into the gutter to attack Crenshaw and support Roberts, baselessly accusing Crenshaw of bashing Christians and President Trump and of wanting to impose new taxes. This backfired badly: prominent Crenshaw supporters like radio host Michael Berry drew unprecedented attention to this issue using their own independent platforms, and Crenshaw won the runoff with 70% of the vote.
History leads me to part company with the many who wish to see the slates ended completely. When founded, these slates filled an important gap by supporting social conservatives at a time when social liberalism was much more widespread within the Republican Party than it is today. Pro-life and pro-family platform planks, now nearly ubiquitous, were controversial when first introduced—but the organizations behind the slates correctly sensed that the Republican Party could reap enormous electoral benefits by appealing to the majority of Americans who held socially conservative views. Older voters still reward the slates for the trust they built with the electorate during the 1990s—before the Internet came along, they were the only local alternative to the liberal media for conservatives trying to research downballot candidates.
Until recently, most efforts to combat the pay-for-play slates have met with failure. Competitor slates have been introduced, but they have a long way to go to build enough rapport with voters to truly wrest support for their candidates away from the old guard. Warnings on social media and practical efforts such as “Trash the Slates” receptacles at voting locations are not widespread in their reach. The best approach, in my opinion, is to lean into the problem: so long as we have one of the longest ballots in the country, accept that slates will play a role in the way many people vote. The Harris County Republican Party should take an active role in encouraging ethical slate behavior, while maintaining its own neutrality when it comes to the candidates and issues endorsed.
I advocate a three-pronged approach:
Candidates will be offered the opportunity to forswear any payments in exchange for endorsements, and those candidates who sign such a pledge will be listed as having done so on the website and will be encouraged to mention it in their campaigns.
Organizations will be allowed to certify with HCRP that they have not accepted any such contributions, and in exchange will be offered an easily-recognizable symbol or statement to include on their mailers indicating as much.
Voters will be informed about the existence of pay-for-play slates through HCRP’s outreach efforts, and they will be encouraged to ignore any mail that does not include a statement indicating that no endorsements on the mailer were granted in exchange for payment.
I do not suggest this lightly, and I understand if such a program were improperly implemented, it could lead to violations of neutrality. But provided that those complications could be overcome, it is past time for the Harris County Republican Party to ensure its primaries are conducted fairly and ethically. If you agree, let me know via email.
Senate District 11 Chairman
Harris County Republican Party