Legislative

Legislative Report from November meeting by Audra Arr

REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS

On October 4th the Department of Health & Human Services announced more than $6 million for Title X Family Planning Research grants, Research-to-Practice Center grants, and Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Evaluation and Research grants. These grants are meant to allow researchers to figure out how to expand family planning services and reduce teenage pregnancies.

This is in addition to steps previously taken by the Biden Administration to attempt to ensure access to reproductive health care following the Dobbs ruling. Those steps include HHS reaffirming that the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act protects providers when offering life- or health-saving abortion services as stabilizing care for emergency medical conditions, launching a website at reproductiverights.gov, a public awareness website which includes a Know-Your-Rights patient fact sheet, and taking steps to clarify protections for birth control access and coverage under the ACA.

DACA

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on October 5th that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, is illegal, though it allowed those already enrolled to renew their status. This sends the court case back to Federal District Court in Houston, where judges must consider the Biden Administration’s continued efforts to fortify the program. Current DACA recipients, known as “Dreamers”, are currently eligible for renewable work permits that last two years. Since it’s inception in 2012, DACA has allowed over 800,000 young people to remain in the US, where they were brought illegally as children. A pattern has emerged in the various court rulings concerning the program that make it clear it is incumbent upon Congress to act to protect Dreamers from deportation and provide them a path to citizenship.

MARIJUANA

On October 6th President Biden issued a pardon for all current US citizens and lawful permanent residents who were convicted of Federal charges of simple marijuana possession. He also pardoned those convicted of simple possession in the District of Columbia. President Biden has asked that governors take similar action for state offenses of civil possession of marijuana, and has directed the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to “expeditiously” review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law. “Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit,” Biden said in a statement. “Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And while white and black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”

VENEZUELAN IMMIGRANTS

On October 12th the DHS announced a new humanitarian parole program for Venezuelans similar to one being used for Ukrainians. It allows Venezuelans to get on a legal pathway to the US, provided they have a US sponsor who can take care of them for at least two years, as well as pass a physical and security screening.

At the same time this legal pathway is being opened, the Biden Administration has started automatically expelling to Mexico any Venezuelans (under Title 42) who travel to the US illegally. Mexico has agreed to take some of them, under the condition that the US approves more work visas for other immigrants. Anyone caught entering the country illegally after October 12th is ineligible to apply for this program. Instead, the DHS has indicated that those who wish to utilize this program must apply for it BEFORE arriving, and that they must arrive via air at an interior port of entry, so as to alleviate congestion at the border.

According to a statement issued by the DHS on October 22nd, this program has already caused an 85% drop in illegal entries by those traveling from Venezuela.

Commentary is mixed on this program, including its reliance on Title 42. Critics have pointed out that there is no limit placed on the number of Ukrainian’s allowed to apply for entry, while Venezuelan’s are limited to just 24,000, a number which pales in comparison to the hundreds of thousands who have traveled here from the beleaguered nation. The use of Title 42 to expel the immigrants effectively shuts them out of the asylum-seeking process, a fact lamented by immigration advocate groups.

STUDENT LOAN FORGIVENESS

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has placed a temporary stay blocking President Biden’s student loan forgiveness program while it considers a motion from six Republican-led states to block the program. The six states fighting the debt relief program are Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, and South Carolina. The Biden Administration is encouraging people to continue to sign up for the program while they fight for it in the courts.

BANK FEES

On October 26th the Biden Administration announced plans to combat illegal fees charged by banks to consumers. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued guidance concerning the charging of overdraft fees on approved transactions that were later deemed overdraft due to a bank’s processing delays. Also included in the directive was to stop charging bounced check fees on good faith deposits made with bad checks. If you deposit a bad check, you’ll now only be charged a bounced check fee if you establish a pattern of depositing bad checks.

TEXAS

DNA Kits

Last year the Texas legislature passed a bill that requires the Texas Education Agency to give home fingerprint and DNA identification cards to each public school system in Texas. The law was passed prior to the Uvalde school shooting, after which many children could only be identified by their DNA. Though the stated intention was to provide law enforcement with identifiable information in case of a child abduction, it’s being interpreted as the state giving up on solving gun violence.

OPERATION LONE STAR

Greg Abbott is diverting more funds away from other programs to continue funding his pet project, Operation Lone Star. In the past Abbott has diverted funds away from The Department of Family and Protective Services, the state’s juvenile justice system and Texas Health and Human Services. This latest transfer is from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and consists of $339 million for the Texas Military Department to pay the Texas National Guard troops stationed at the border. $15 million is also being transferred to build a replacement for Robb Elementary in Uvalde, while another $400 million will go towards security measures in school districts statewide, though those funds are set to come from a surplus in the Texas Education Agency’s Foundation Schools Program.

Abbott has repeatedly transferred funds from other departments and replaced them with funds from the American Rescue Plan, passed by President Biden in March of 2021. In May several members of Congress from Texas wrote a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen asking her to investigate the governor’s use of ARPA funds. There is at least one case making it’s way through the courts concerning state use of ARPA funds.

LOCAL PROPOSITIONS

We have three propositions on the ballot to consider, Props A, B, and C. Between reporting by the Hill Country Community Journal and a pro-bonds PAC, I’ve gleaned the following:

Proposition A is for a $13.685 million bond for renovations to the Kerr County Courthouse. The funds are meant to renovate a county-owned building on Earl Garrett to be used as the tax office, to build a new West Kerr Annex on property previously purchased by the county in Ingram, and for a storage facility on existing property on Spur 100.

In 2019 the state legislature mandated that county courts-at-law must provide for a jury room twice the size of the one Kerr County currently has. In order to expand the room as required the existing tax office space would have to be annexed, thereby necessitating its move to, and the renovation, of 600 Earl Garrett Street, which will include drive-thru payment capability. The state of Texas has also developed a multi-county public defender program to pay for indigent defense services for legal defendants unable to pay for private defense attorneys. Kerr County is working with Gillespie, Kendall, Bandera, and Medina counties to form the public defenders office, which will be housed at 550 Earl Garrett Street, which also requires renovation.

The 95 year old courthouse lacks modern security technology and communications systems. More specifically, upgrades are needed for monitored security cameras, computerized access devices, and entry points.

Proposition A includes building a new, larger courthouse annex building adjacent to Ingram’s Tom Moore High School in West Kerr County. This would resolve existing deficiencies in parking, courtroom, and office space, provide space for sheriff’s deputies and make the annex ADA compliant. Right now the West Kerr County Courthouse Annex is using space rented from Ingram ISD, an arrangement not expected to last more than a few years.

Lastly, Prop A includes a request for funds to build a new climate-controlled storage facility that would meet state law’s required manual “hard copy” file retention laws for all 36 county departments. This structure would be built near the proposed new animal shelter off Spur 100.

Proposition B is for $8.065 million for improvements to the Hill Country Youth Exhibit Center indoor show arena. No upgrades or improvements have been made since the facility was built 38 years ago. It’s electrical system is not up to code and the roof needs replacing. The building also needs a fire-suppression system, ADA accessible restroom facilities and to resolve issues with lighting, ventilation, drainage, and insulation. There are also plans to build a 4-H teaching kitchen.

Proposition C is for $5.75 million for the construction of a new Animal Control Facility to be built on property already owned by the county. The existing facility would then be sold to help offset the cost of the new building. The new facility would include office space for employees, climate-controlled storage for feed and medical supplies, and would have exam rooms, training rooms, isolation areas for sick animals, laundry and shower facilities, as well as accessible parking and lobby areas for stray pet drop-off and adoption services.

If you go to kerrcountybond.org you can read more details about each Proposition, along with arguments in favor of the Propositions passing.

Noonabc.com makes arguments against the propositions that basically boil down to being against any further tax increases while claiming at least some of the necessary changes required can be done for less.

The Hill Country Community Journal estimates that, should these propositions pass, the cost to the average homestead owner would be $8.62 per month. Even the anti-prop A/B/C folks agree it shouldn’t cost more than $8.58 per month, per homeowner.