Insanity

Today is the last day the Texas House can give preliminary approval to new legislation. After today, we’ll be approving or rejecting bills that have been negotiated between the House and Senate.

It will make for a long day, as we debate until the midnight deadline.

What issues, you ask, will we be considering? Good question.

Measures to increase resources for our public schools? No.

Maybe proposals to decrease the number of Texans – the most in the nation – who go without health insurance? Not a chance.

How about a bill to tap the breaks on the predatory payday lending industry? You probably knew the answer to that one already.

No, we won’t be doing any of that. With Republicans having a near-super majority, here’s what qualifies for top priorities on the most crucial day of the Legislative Session:

  • A mean-spirited measure that would prevent same-sex couples from being able to serve as foster parents or adopt children.
  • The campus carry bill, which would allow guns on college and university campuses. (If you want to know more about this particularly ill-advised idea, see my correspondence with UT System Chancellor William McRaven).
  • And in the latest Republican attack on women’s reproductive rights, we’ll debate legislation that prohibits health insurance policies from covering abortion procedures.

And keep in mind the House has already passed a ridiculous open-carry gun bill, as well as legislation that makes a mockery of the judicial bypass system for teens who have difficult and often dangerous family situations at home. It’s sheer insanity.

The 52 Democrats in the House are going to work as hard as we can to derail these partisan, narrow-minded proposals. We may be dramatically out-numbered, but we’ll do everything possible to give voice to the majority of Texans who understand that the Tea Party agenda does not represent the true priorities of our state.

Wish us luck. We’re going to need it.

The Ultimate Sacrifice

Today we reflect upon the meaning of Memorial Day and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom.

We will never be able to repay the tremendous debt our nation owes to those who gave their lives, nor can we repay their loved ones who are left behind. However, in their memory and to show our gratitude, we must find ways that we can make a difference in the lives of others and in shaping the future for our state and our nation.

As the Texas Legislature works through this solemn holiday, I am mindful that as elected representatives, we are only able to openly debate issues because of the Americans who gave what President Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion.” It is because of their courage and valor that our nation remains the greatest in the world.

Turner’s Ban on “Double Dipping” By Elected Officials Passes House 144-1

Politicians should not be allowed to collect salary, pension simultaneously

AUSTIN – Today, State Representative Chris Turner (HD 101- Grand Prairie) passed HB 408, which would bar elected officials from collecting a salary and state pension at the same time, if their retirement payments are a result of their service as an elected official. Turner first proposed this legislation in 2013.

“This legislation simply says that if politicians want to start collecting a state-funded pension as a result of their time in office, they need to really retire and no longer collect a salary. Our state leaders frequently tout Texas as a national example for fiscal responsibility. This measure is about fiscal responsibility — it’s just plain common sense that an elected official should not be getting paid twice for doing one job,” said Turner.

“Banning double dipping is an important step to strengthening the public’s trust and faith in both elected officials and the laws under which we serve,” said Turner. “I want to thank the members of the House for overwhelmingly approving this legislation with a vote of 144-1.”

The measure will prevent state elected officials from being eligible to receive state annuity payments as a result of their service as an elected official by preventing their time as an elected official from triggering retirement eligibility until they have left office.

This issue came to light when it was reported that during his final term in office, Governor Rick Perry was collecting a state pension, in addition to his salary as governor. This was discovered after Perry filed a personal financial disclosure statement with the Federal Elections Commission as a requirement of his 2012 presidential candidacy. Because this type of information is not required to be submitted as a part of Texas’ personal financial statements, it is unclear if other state officials also collect both a pension and salary.

The modifications proposed are not retroactive, nor would they impact state retirees who become eligible for retirement benefits as a result of service in a non-elected capacity and then later run for and are elected to office.

Win some …

…and lose some.

I’m in my third term in the House of Representatives and I’ve been privileged to pass a number of bills through the Legislature and into law…the Veterans Cash lottery scratch-off game which has raised millions for Texas veterans…new consumer protections for apartment tenants…a measure to crack down on child pornographers…those are just a few of the measures I’ve been fortunate to work on and convince my colleagues to support.

And then this week, something new (for me) happened. I presented a bill to the House that my staff and I have been working on for more than two years — a measure to require bars to carry liquor liability insurance. This has always seemed like a fairly straight-forward, common-sense idea to me. In fact, when I would tell people about the bill, the reply I would most often receive was, “that’s not already the law?”. So I thought this was something that would have a decent chance of passing.

Was I wrong about that — not only did it not pass, the vote wasn’t even close.

Now, I’ve got a lot of good proposals moving through the process and this has already been a productive session for District 101. But it really is too bad that this bill did not pass — because it would have helped a lot of innocent Texans who will be victims of drunk drivers.

It’s about families like the Khaders, who lived in Arlington in 2009 when a seven-time convicted drunk driver crashed into them, injuring their two-year old son Abdallah so severely that he lived the rest of his young life in a permanent vegetative state until he died from his injuries earlier this year.

It’s about families like the Wards, who came to testify for my bill recently — explaining how Garry could no longer work due to the injuries he sustained in a 2010 accident caused by a drunk driver. They’re trying to get by, raising a 5-year old daughter on Angela’s school teacher salary.

It’s about families like the Fords, who in 2012 lost their 20-year old daughter, a student at TCC, when a drunk driver barreled down US 287 going the wrong way. He had been over-served at Cowboys, a bar in District 101.

In each of these tragic cases, the bars in which the drunk driver had last been drinking shared two unfortunate characteristics — first, they grossly over-served an obviously intoxicated person, a violation of state law, and two, they had no liquor liability insurance. No amount of money will ever change the fact that these innocent families had their lives shattered. And for that matter, the modest insurance limits required in my bill — $500,000 for a single occurrence — would have only made a small dent in the Khaders’ health care expenses for little Abdallah, expenses which exceeded $20 million.

I didn’t think passing the bill would be easy, but since this type of insurance is widely available and several states already have this requirement in place, I felt pretty confident it would pass. In fact, the bill was voted unanimously of committee, not just once, but twice — this year and two years ago.

But of course these days, nothing at the Capitol is ever a slam dunk. We’ve seen that over and over again (and you’ve read about it in my previous emails).

As with many things in life, no matter how good an idea, no matter whether or not it’s simply the right thing to do, sometimes you come up short. That’s what happened on Monday.

This isn’t the end of the fight. And we will find a way to make these terrible tragedies result in some meaningful changes that will help serve future generations of Texans.

This just wasn’t the right year or the right time, but I’m determined to keep up this fight until we win.

Are tax cuts the first priority?

Yesterday, House Republicans announced a plan to pass more than $4.8 billion in tax breaks. Using a combination of a sales tax reduction and a business tax cut, this plan would go even deeper than what the Senate proposed a few weeks ago (in case you missed my earlier email on this topic, click here).

According to the early math, the House plan would mean about $172 more each year for the average family of four. This would come from reducing the state sales tax — which would go from 6.25% to 5.95%. This is something that’s never been done before, and something I could be willing to support, because it would benefit all Texans.

With that said, I still strongly believe that before we reduce revenue through cuts, we must ensure our state’s priorities are addressed. As it stands now, there’s more than adequate money to do both. As I mentioned in last week’s rundown of the budget, at the end of the 2017, we will have $11 billion in the Rainy Day Fund, plus we still have up to another $8 billion right now in general revenue that is unbudgeted.

Immediately following yesterday’s announcement by the Republicans, I joined two of my colleagues, State Representatives Trey Martinez Fischer and Sylvester Turner, at a press conference and I shared these thoughts:

There’s been a lot of talk among Republican leaders about which tax cuts Texans will ‘feel’ the most and which will be best to stimulate our economy — business tax cuts, property tax cuts or sales tax cuts.

We look forward to that debate, but here’s what we do know Texans will ‘feel’ — parents will feel the positive impact of full-day Pre-K, if we do the right thing and fund it. The one out of four Texans who are uninsured will feel the impact of affordable health insurance, if the Legislature does the right thing. And college students would certainly feel the impact if we fully fund college financial aid.

All of those things would make a real impact in the lives of millions of Texans and do more to grow our economy over the long-term.

Interestingly, this announcement about the Republican tax cut plan came a day after a measure was presented in the House Ways & Means Committee, which would give a tax break to wealthy Texans who want to buy a yacht (and no, I am not kidding). During the same hearing, we heard a push for a tax exemption for remodeling personal aircraft and proposals that would create a sales tax holiday for hunters purchasing guns and ammunition.

Those three proposals alone would mean over $17 million in lost revenue for the state ($10.3 for the yachts, $3.5 million for the planes, and $3.6 million for the guns). These are just a few examples of many such proposals, and the lost revenue would be in addition to the $4.87 billion in tax cuts mentioned above.

Before we start giving out tax breaks to wealthy yacht owners and people with private planes, or before we try to “out tax cut” the Senate, I still believe we must first address our state’s real priorities and needs — education, transportation and health care.

The Budget

After a floor debate clocking in at over 17 hours, yesterday morning the Texas House overwhelmingly passed our version of the state’s two-year budget.

As with every state budget, it wasn’t perfect, but it was definitely a step in the right direction in addressing critical needs, including adding more funding for public education.

In fact, the House version of the budget increases funding for public schools by $2.2 billion, with another $800 million to be added if an important school finance measure is passed. It’s important to note that with this new addition, the amount the House approved for public education is nearly $3 billion more than that proposed by the Senate.

In addition to these added funds, my colleague, Representative Yvonne Davis, successfully inserted language which will help ensure that if Pre-K legislation passes, it will have the needed funding, estimated at nearly $830 million per year — an important investment in the future of our state.

The budget also allocates $1.4 billion more for Child Protective Services to address the agency’s high turnover rates and the need for more caseworkers. It injects $340 million more to be used for mental health services, and increases Medicaid reimbursement rates for physicians, with the goal of increasing the number of available providers.

Even with these additions, there was still money left on the table, including $11 billion in the Rainy Day Fund and up to another $8 billion in general revenue left to be spent. These are funds that could have been allocated to address some critical needs, including reducing waitlists for vital long-term health services, home care, and facility to community transition services. Currently, those lists include over 10,000 Texans, many of whom have been waiting for years for services. This is something that must be addressed.

During the long debate, I was active in fighting for the issues that matter to House District 101, including asking several questions about our community colleges and pushing for increased funding to address the rising enrollment at institutions like Tarrant County College. Since last session’s implementation of a new finance system for community colleges, only a dozen institutions have received additional funding based on improvement in student outcomes, despite the fact that 48 of 50 community colleges showed improved performance.

I also filed several amendments aimed to increase access to preventative healthcare for women, focused largely on reducing funding for so-called Crisis Pregnancy Centers, which are unlicensed and unregulated, and moving those funds to programs with proven track records of providing actual medical care to women in need.

Although I didn’t end up presenting them on the floor, filing these measures proved to be a helpful tactic, which ultimately resulted in several Republican House members pulling down their anti-women’s health amendments.

On the issue of healthcare, I fought an effort to move $1.5 million away from the state’s HIV/STD Prevention Program to add more funding to abstinence-only education. This move makes no sense, as Texas already receives more federal funding for abstinence-only education than other state in the country, and the evidence shows it is not working. Our state has the third highest rate of HIV infections in the nation and has the 11th highest rate of reported STDs, yet, in the end, the Republican majority chose to take away vital funding from the program created to address HIV and STD prevention.

And, I worked to defeat an effort to cut off transportation for funding for commuter and light rail projects.

Over the next several weeks, House and Senate negotiators will try to work out differences and agree to a budget.

Chris

Predatory Lenders

In some parts of House District 101, there’s a payday or auto-title lender on every street corner. In fact, over a ten-year period, the number of these types of businesses has doubled in and around our area. Although the number has grown considerably, the level of oversight and regulation by the state remains limited and inadequate.

As a result, many communities throughout Texas have passed local ordinances to fight back against predatory lenders and to protect their citizens from high interest rates and fees or from losing their vehicle, which is often their only means of transportation. As a result, cities like Dallas, which has been a leader on cracking down on predatory lenders, have seen a decrease in the number of these businesses in their communities.

lenderpI have filed several bills this session to rein in various aspects of the predatory lending industry, including one that I presented in committee yesterday afternoon, which would prevent predatory lenders from making unsolicited telemarketing calls to offer loans.

In support of my bill, several Texans testified about their experience with these predatory loans. One man, Daniel Ramos from Jarrell, Texas, shared his very personal story. One afternoon, Mr. Ramos received word that his wife, who is a Type 1 diabetic, had been rushed to the hospital. After paying nearly $1,000 in hospital bills, the Ramos family was having a hard time paying other bills. One night, hours before a bill needed to be paid, Daniel took out a $450 payday loan. A month and a half later he was able to pay off the loan — and when he did, he owed nearly $200 in interest and fees. That didn’t stop his phone from ringing with offers of new loans. Months later, even though he doesn’t owe them a dime and has asked to be taken off their call list, the calls kept coming.

If you have a story or an experience with predatory loans, let us know.

Chris

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P.S. If you want to get more involved in finding solutions on this issue, give us a call at 817-459-2800 and join the Texas 101 Payday Lending Task Force.

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On Monday, I presented my first bill of the 84th Legislative Session. HB 408 will end the practice of “double dipping” by elected officials who are using their time as an elected official to be eligible to receive a state pension while still in office. Texas is the only state that allows this and many other states bar it. I’ll keep you posted on what happens next with this bill and the others that I have moving through the system.

If you’d like to see what else I have filed, click here.

State Representative Chris Turner

King V. Burwell

Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of King v. Burwell. At issue is whether or not people who chose health insurance plans through the federal Health Insurance Marketplace, and not through a state-based health insurance exchange, are eligible for tax credits, which are used to defray the cost of premiums.

chouse3515Representative Turner with THA CEO/President Ted Shaw and Texans in danger of losing their tax creditsIf the Court decides in the Plaintiffs’ favor, it could be devastating for over a million Texans.

In order to provide a safety net and make sure Texans don’t lose their tax credits, I filed two pieces of legislation, HB 817 and HB 818, both of which would create a state-based health insurance exchange.

Yesterday, I hosted a press conference to discuss these measures. Texas Hospital Association President/CEO Ted Shaw joined me and helped remind those in attendance that the impact of this case spreads well beyond those who will lose coverage.

Shaw said, “Texas already leads the nation with 25 percent of our population lacking health insurance. Our hospitals are providing health care to these individuals, at a cost of more than $5.5 billion annually. An end to tax subsidies and private health insurance coverage for nearly one million Texans will further weaken the already strained health care safety net and increase the unreimbursed care costs shifted on to employers and property taxpayers.”

For the full press release from our press conference, click here.

In support of providing a safety net for Texans, The Dallas Morning News wrote an excellent editorial in support of the legislation I filed. I have included the full text below. I urge you to please pass it on.

Chris

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Editorial: Plan needed to protect newly insured Texans if subsidies disappear

Regardless of your politics, the possibility that fellow Texans and millions more Americans nationwide who bought insurance under the Affordable Care Act could return to the ranks of the uninsured is a serious matter.

Yet this is what is at stake when the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments Wednesday in King vs. Burwell. More than 1 million Texans who now have health insurance through federally run exchanges may not be allowed to keep their coverage.

Imagine the devastating effect if the cost of your health care premiums tripled, which could happen if the federal subsidies many count on suddenly disappear. Most people eligible for subsidies have modest incomes; many would be unable to afford any coverage without financial help, adding to the ranks of the uninsured.
Texas already leads the nation in the number of uninsured residents; the state doesn’t need to toss more people into health care limbo.

However, if the Supreme Court hands down a problematic Burwell ruling, Texas lawmakers can ease the shock. State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, recently introduced HB 817 as a safety net. If the court says Texans can’t receive subsidies through federally run exchanges, the bill would automatically trigger the creation of a state-run health care exchange that would allow Texans to continue to receive federal subsidies and keep their existing coverage.

The legal issue before the court is whether people who live in states like Texas that did not establish a state-run health care exchange are eligible to receive federal tax subsidies. Last spring, two federal appeals courts reached opposite conclusions. One court said the subsidies applied to Americans in all states; the other said they applied only to consumers in states that operated their own health care exchanges.

This newspaper understands some of the opposition to the Affordable Care Act — and, in fact, questioned the program’s cost as the bill originally moved through Congress. However, it is now law. Millions have based their insurance decisions on the program; a ruling would affect people of all political stripes in every House and Senate district. The well-being of those who enrolled should be protected.

Turner’s bill addresses only part of Texas’ broader health care challenge under the Affordable Care Act. Texas lawmakers also need to reform Medicaid eligibility so the state can draw extra federal dollars to cover the large percentage of uninsured low-income residents — as a number of Texas business groups have urged. Unfortunately, in a letter to President Barack Obama, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and state Senate Republicans on Monday reiterated their opposition to expanding Medicaid while demanding that the federal government allow Texas to make sweeping changes in the Medicaid program. This appears to be a nonstarter.

Texas must begin to solve its myriad health care challenges. Turner’s bill is a pragmatic way to keep a looming problem from becoming a nightmare. It deserves bipartisan support.

Widespread effect

Americans who could lose federal health care subsidies in 2016 if the U.S. Supreme Court sides with the plaintiffs in King vs. Burwell:

  • 13.4 million nationwide in 37 states
  • 2.5 million in Florida
  • 1.7 million in Texas

SOURCE: Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of Congressional Budget Office estimates of Marketplace enrollment

About Texans, not Obama

“Regardless of what you think about the Affordable Care Act, regardless of what you think about President Obama, hopefully we can agree that it would not be good for Texans to have a million-plus Texans see a tax increase or lose their health insurance as a result of this.”

State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, on a bill to create a Texas health care exchange in the event the U.S. Supreme Court rules against the Affordable Care Act

Medically Accurate Sex Ed

On Thursday, I will join hundreds of Texans on the south steps of the Capitol to speak at a rally supporting access to women’s healthcare. As I prepare my remarks, I can’t help but think about the 2013 special sessions and standing on those same steps looking out at a sea of women, men and children donning orange shirts in support of healthcare access.

I’ll never forget seeing and hearing the thousands of people in their Capitol opposing a draconian measure that has now resulted in clinic closures across our state and reduced access to cancer screenings and birth control.

In a state with the highest rate of repeat teen births and the fourth-highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation, access to medical resources like contraception is essential. Equally essential is access to quality medically accurate, evidence-based sex education.

Studies have shown that evidence-based, medically accurate and age-appropriate sex education delays sexual activity, increases the likelihood of using protection and increases the likelihood that youth will start a conversation with parents about sexual health.

I have filed a bill that would require sex education focus not just on abstinence education, but also include information about sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy prevention and other issues related to sexual health.

Watch my Facebook and Twitter feeds on Thursday for updates from the rally and my speech and ways you can help support my bill.

Chris

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Last week’s Texas 101 Day at the Capitol was a huge success. The group had a great time being recognized in the House of Representatives; hearing from legislative leaders, including Senator Rodney Ellis and Representatives Joe Moody, Nicole Collier and Ramon Romero; and taking tours of the Capitol and the State Library and Archives.

If you missed this year’s trip, don’t worry, we’ll do it all over again next legislative session in 2017! And, you and your family are welcome to visit my Capitol office any time — my staff and I will do everything we can to make your visit enjoyable and memorable!

State Representative Chris Turner

The State of the State

This morning, Governor Greg Abbott delivered his first “State of the State” address to a joint session of the House and Senate. If you’ve never witnessed this address, it’s very similar to the “State of the Union,” but focused on the issues impacting Texas, while giving direction to the Legislature.

After touting our state’s successes, Governor Abbott focused on five emergency items, issues he wants the Legislature to address sooner than later. The issues include, education, transportation, border security, and ethics.

He didn’t go into many details, but I agree that education is a top priority and hope that Governor Abbott and the legislature really are serious about making real investments in pre-k, public education and higher education.

There was quite a bit of discussion about spending more, with an equal amount about cutting taxes and shifting funds. I have questions about how both will be achieved — spending money to improve the future of our state, while at the same time reducing revenue.

I was also disappointed that healthcare only received a passing mention. Governor Abbott focused some attention on the critical need to increase funding for the Women’s Health Program and PTSD treatment, but ignored the millions of Texans who need affordable health insurance. If we don’t find a solution soon, one in four Texans will remain without coverage and we’ll continue to be the state with the highest rate of uninsured in the nation.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll keep you posted on these issues. Please send me your thoughts on today’s speech and the issues that matter to you. You may email chris.turner@house.state.tx.us or call 512-463-0574.

Chris

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Last night, a federal judge out on hold the President’s executive action on immigration. This is an issue that impacts many in our community and I hope that the federal government is successful in fighting this decision. In the meantime, if you have any questions about this decision, please email emily.amps@house.state.tx.us.

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On Sunday, I joined The Dallas Morning News’ Gromer Jeffers and NBC 5’s Kristi Nelson on Lone Star Politics to talk about border security and proposed immigration legislation. You’ll see me 7 minutes 15 seconds into the video.

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Tomorrow’s a big day. The bus will leave at 6:00am sharp to head to Austin for Texas 101 Day at the Capitol. If you aren’t able to make it, join us virtually via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We’ll be posting pictures throughout the day!

If you are attending, but still need details, please call Tammy at 817-459-2800 today

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