Sara Leon & Associates, LLC

Analysis: Keep calm and vote on

September 2908:40 AM

Confused about voting? Voting clerks in parts of Texas are confused, too. All the political chatter about problems with the U.S. Postal Service and voting by mail has some election officials telling their voters to cast absentee ballots by bringing them to the main office instead of dropping them in the mail. They’re also telling voters to bring approved voter identification if they vote that way — just as if they were voting in person — and not to bring anyone else’s ballot, sealed or not. view article arw

No House members have declared their candidacy for speaker. Many say they have their sights set on November first as Democrats aim to flip the lower chamber.  State Rep. Senfronia Thompson fielded a question last week that’s been on the minds of many members of the Texas House: If her party wins control of the lower chamber in November, will she be a candidate for speaker?  “Well, if I can get James Frank’s support, I probably will be,” the Houston Democrat said with a chuckle during a Texas Tribune Festival panel, referring to her Republican colleague also on the screen.  Frank responded with a laugh of his own: “I’m pretty sure if Democrats take over in November … that she’ll be a candidate.” view article arw

AUSTIN (Nexstar) – When Texas lawmakers return to the State Capitol for the upcoming legislative session in January, there will be many competing priorities – and education advocates hope equity in learning isn’t lost in the shuffle.  As part of a nationwide project called “Pandemic PASS or FAIL,” Texas lawmakers are now taking a closer look at solutions our team has discovered groups implementing across the state to combat learning challenges for students disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.  We spoke with Rep. Gina Hinojosa, a Democrat from Austin, where she previously served as school board president. Her ties to education still run deep, as she currently represents a district that includes the state’s largest college – the University of Texas at Austin. view article arw

Bryan ISD is entering its second six weeks of school starting Monday and that means there are some changes happening around the district. When Emily Mayerhoff and her family were deciding how her children would return to learning at Bryan ISD before school started this fall, it was a group discussion. view article arw

HARLINGEN — With less than 50 days to the presidential election, groups are encouraging everyone to register to vote as soon as possible.  A small group in Harlingen has created a Facebook page called Voter Action Texas, which aims to educate and promote voter registration without any party affiliations.  The group started voter registration drives Saturday and will continue to set up stations where residents can visit and register.  From Sept. 22 to 23 the group will be setting up from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and then from 5 to 7 p.m. at Valley Baptist Medical Center. On Sept. 26, they will be at the Harlingen Public Library from 10 a.m. to noon and then 1 to 4 p.m. view article arw

AUSTIN (KXAN) — KXAN Today Anchor Tom Miller sat down with the Texas Tribune’s Alana Rocha Thursday to talk about Governor Greg Abbott’s latest approach to Texas cities ‘defunding the police’ and a controversial school policy up for vote in November.  On Thursday, Gov. Abbott signed a pledge to support law enforcement and also proposed legislation that would strip cities of ‘annexation powers’ for defunding police. view article arw

WASHINGTON — The slimmed-down GOP stimulus bill that the Senate is expected to vote on this week includes a school voucher bill that U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has long pushed with the help of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.  Cruz reportedly had vowed to sink any stimulus package in the Senate that didn't include his $5 billion federal school choice tax credit proposal meant to encourage donations to scholarship funds for private schools. But similar school choice measures have been opposed even by some of Cruz's Republican colleagues and could sour the package for them, though Cruz said Wednesday he was confident the relief package would have full GOP support. view article arw

President Donald Trump on Wednesday named U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, as a potential nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Trump included Cruz among 20 possible picks for the high court if Trump wins a second term in November and a seat later becomes open. The 20 new names come in addition to a group of prospective justices that Trump named during the 2016 campaign — and has since drawn from to fill two vacancies on the court. view article arw

This week, Senator Robert Nichols, R–Jacksonville, met with local superintendents from Cherokee County to discuss education issues in preparation for the 87th Legislature which convenes in January.  “The Legislature faces many challenges this session, and we cannot make good decisions unless we are listening closely to those we represent,” Nichols said Wednesday. “Education is and always will be one of the most important issues we face as a state.”  Before each legislative session, Nichols meets with each of the school district superintendents in Senate District 3 to listen to their priorities and discuss issues facing the local education community. view article arw

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who chairs President Donald Trump's reelection campaign in Texas, said the lack of Texas speakers showed Republicans were not worried about the state.  After a Democratic National Convention that raised questions about its limited roles for Texans, the state's Republicans kept a light footprint at their national gathering this week — and seemed just fine with it.  While Democrats emphatically argue that the state is in play this November — and polls back them up — Republicans are trying to avoid fueling the narrative and often push back on it. And with a dearth of Texas politicians in the Republican National Convention lineup and Hurricane Laura overshadowing its final two days, the political spotlight on the state turned out to be even dimmer than expected.    (28) view article arw

Back in May, Texas' "Big Three" – Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen – instructed state agencies to submit plans cutting their budgets by 5 percent.  It was necessary, they said, as the coronavirus pandemic painted an increasingly grim financial picture for the state. The plans were due by mid-June.  But since then, advocates and many lawmakers have not received status updates about the proposed cuts, which budget documents show total $380 million in fiscal year 2020 and $670 million the year after.  With fiscal year 2020 coming to a close on Monday, several state agencies have quietly moved forward with the reductions – a move advocates say will undercut essential programs at a time they're most needed. view article arw

AUSTIN, TX – In a letter addressed to Commissioner Mike Morath of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and Texas First Assistant State Auditor Lisa Collier, State Representative Terry Canales calls for a comprehensive and multi-agency audit of the IDEA Public Schools (IDEA) after recent disclosures of lavish expenditures for its executives. These disclosures included leasing of a private jet solely for the use of top IDEA officials and their families, chauffeured limousines, advertisements during the Super Bowl and World Series, travel expenses of over $14 million, and many more similar expenditures. read more arw

Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said he will meet with Dallas County health officials on Wednesday ahead of Sept. 8 start of school  When Dallas ISD delayed the start of school, the superintendent said the extra three weeks would give the state’s second-largest district more time to make the best, science-supported, decision on how to proceed.  It’s a decision that some teachers on Tuesday said should not include students returning to campus on Sept. 8. view article arw

Gov. Greg Abbott announced a legislative proposal to discourage Texas cities from defunding the police at a Fort Worth press conference on Tuesday.  At the afternoon press conference at the Bob Bolen Public Safety Complex, Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker Dennis Bonnen proposed legislation that would freeze a city’s property tax revenue if that city defunded its police department. view article arw

Clear plexiglass shields have been installed in some places in the Texas Capitol, like the big room where the House Appropriations Committee writes budgets. Lawmakers who write the state’s budget will have the same protection from their colleagues and staffers that up to now has been used mostly to shield buffet salads and deli meats. ---Sneeze screens.    (06) view article arw

“The Texas Constitution requires a separation of powers, and that separation leaves policy-making decisions with the Texas Legislature,” argues a lawsuit from five of the Legislature’s most conservative members.  Five of the Texas Legislature’s most conservative members are suing Gov. Greg Abbott and state health officials, claiming Texas leaders overstepped their bounds when they awarded a major contract for tracking Texas’ coronavirus outbreak to a little-known technology firm.  For months, lawmakers have criticized the $295 million deal with Frisco-based MTX Group, arguing it was inked too quickly, without an opportunity for the Legislature to properly vet it. Critics say the company, which beat out several better known competitors, doesn’t have the experience to handle the monumental task of tracking down those who have come into contact with people carrying the novel coronavirus — a process experts say is essential for mitigating the spread of the disease.  In a lawsuit filed Monday, Republican state Reps. Mike Lang, Kyle Biedermann, Bill Zedler, Steve Toth and state Sen. Bob Hall asked a Travis County judge to void the controversial contract, arguing that both the selection process and length of the contract were improper.   (19) view article arw

NEDERLAND — The Nederland ISD and the Board of Trustees announced lone finalist for the position of Superintendent of Schools on Monday with the Board of Trustees unanimously voting to name Dr. Stuart Kieschnick the Superintendent of Schools.  Kieschnick currently serves as the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction for the Nederland Independent School District that encompasses over 600 employees and 5,200 students.   (04) view article arw

Empower Texans, the deep-pocketed conservative advocacy group, is well-known for its heavy hand in steering the Texas GOP further to the right and for its shadowy setup that hides its funding sources from the public.  But a court case seeking to force the group’s leader to register as a lobbyist could reveal more about the inner workings of the organization — and others like it in Texas — than ever known before, after the Texas Supreme Court last month ruled that it must divulge communications and financial records to the state ethics commission.  Empower Texans CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan, through his dark money group — made up of a web of political action committees and of nonprofits that aren’t required to report donors — has made $9.5 million in political contributions since 2007, state records show.  view article arw

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Education Commissioner Mike Morath threw a wrench in school reopening plans Tuesday, issuing new guidance that left many education leaders and community members confused about when campuses can restart in-person classes.  Here, we explain what Tuesday’s guidance means, which laws and orders remain in place, and why somebody — such as Gov. Greg Abbott, local health authorities, school districts or parents — needs to take the first steps toward a definitive resolution. view article arw

Representatives James White and Joe Deshotel both plan to be part of the virtual town hall meeting to give Texans a chance to listen and ask questions  As the clock ticks down on the start of another school year, state representatives James White and Joe Deshotel are continuing to advocate for the needs of their constituents. In White's case, that would be internet access and clear guidance from the state. "We're dealing with a virus that's mutating, that's changing by the minute right so there might be some opportunities where we might have to make some changes," White said.  view article arw

When Christy Hotard Rosenfeld’s two boys, Corbin, 4, and Anders, 6, stayed with a babysitter the family shared with several others during the early days of the pandemic, the caregiver was never without a mask on his face.  “I think that helped normalize things for them,” said Hotard Rosenfeld, a leadership development trainer with H-E-B. “They saw him wearing a mask so they never really questioned why they had to wear one, too.” view article arw

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — State Representative James White is asking Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to weigh in on part of the Texas Administration Code.  In a letter, Rep. White asked for clarification of a section of TAC 97.62, which reads:  A child or student, who has not received the required immunizations for reasons of conscience, including religious beliefs, may be excluded from school in times of emergency or epidemic declared by the commissioner of the department.

The coronavirus pandemic and low oil prices are driving down projected general revenue in the state's current budget by more than $11 billion. Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar delivered bleak but unsurprising news Monday: Because of the economic fallout triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, the amount of general revenue available for the state’s current two-year budget is projected to be roughly $11.5 billion less than originally estimated. That puts the state on track to end the biennium, which runs through August 2021, with a deficit of nearly $4.6 billion, Hegar said.   (21) view article arw

President Donald Trump's choice to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, was in a too-close-to-call runoff Wednesday morning against a candidate endorsed by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. The Trump-backed Tony Gonzales was ahead of Cruz's pick, Raul Reyes, by just seven votes out of 24,685 with all polling locations reporting, according to unofficial results. Gonzales declared victory Wednesday morning, but Reyes did not concede and said the race is "far from over." view article arw

Voter turnout under 6% may not seem like an achievement for democracy, but it made Texas Democrats optimistic Wednesday as they look to break Republicans' statewide dominance this fall.A total of 955,735 people — 5.8% of registered voters — cast ballots in Tuesday’s Democratic runoffs. That is more than double the amount of votes cast in the 2018 Democratic runoffs, when a race for governor was at the top of the ticket instead of a race for a U.S. Senate seat.  Party leaders said it was the highest raw number of votes cast in any Democratic primary runoff in Texas history.  view article arw

With Tuesday's midsummer primary runoffs complete, the ballots are set for the November general election — the third major event in a year already reshaped by pandemic and recession.  Tuesday’s primary runoff elections in Texas, held during an appalling rise in coronavirus cases and a relative low spot in the presidency of Donald Trump, didn’t look like much, in historic terms.  The races on the ballot were and are important to the participants and to the relative handful of voters who took part. And they set up some interesting and consequential competitions for the November general election, where a seat in the U.S. Senate, a half-dozen seats in the state’s congressional delegation and partisan control of the Texas House are tests of Republican and Democratic strength.   (15) view article arw

The state House Public Education Committee on Tuesday considered more than 30 bills aimed at making Texas public schools safer, including measures that would put more armed personnel on campuses and give districts money for sweeping security changes. The Legislature has made improving school safety a priority this session after 10 people, mostly students, were shot and killed at Santa Fe High School 10 months ago. The shooting spurred roundtable discussions and studies among policymakers, lawmakers and Gov. Greg Abbott in the immediate aftermath. “Out of that loss, we have an opportunity to devote ourselves and commit ourselves to seeing that their loss was not in vain and that future students, future teachers, future families in this state will, if at all possible, not have to experience what these individuals experienced,” said Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, during Tuesday’s hearing. view article arw

Property tax reform has been a top priority for Texas lawmakers from the start of the 86th legislative session. The early filing of identical, wide-reaching bills in the House and Senate in January—Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 2—sparked debate on the topic and earned pushback from many local entities that could be affected by the proposals. The twin bills propose to lower the cap for local entities’ annual tax revenue growth from 8 percent to 2.5 percent and to improve efficiency and transparency in the tax system. The proposals were fast-tracked for debate in both chambers after Gov. Greg Abbott declared property tax an emergency item in February, and dozens of related bills have been filed in their wake. view article arw

Hillary Clinton and Helen Keller are back on the lesson plan after a vote by the Texas State Board of Education. The committee voted 12-2, with one abstention, on Tuesday to continue teaching students about Clinton in high school history classes, according to State Board of Education Director Debbie Ratcliffe. The board also voted to keep Keller on the curriculum. The vote reverses a September preliminary decision to cut the women, along with 1964 Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater and several other historical figures, from the required curriculum. The board said then that the change was intended to streamline the curriculum for its 5.4 million students at the recommendation of volunteer work groups. view article arw

School finance was the big-ticket item this legislative session, said Emett Alvarez, Victoria Democrats Club president. "Education should be important to everyone," Alvarez said. "We are all taxpayers and are affected by it one way or the other." The Victoria County Democratic Party will host its club meeting Tuesday at VeraCruz Restaurant, 3110 N. Navarro St. Guest speakers will be Dwight Harris, former president of the Victoria chapter of the Texas American Federation of Teachers, and Ray Thomas, who is running for chief justice of the 13th Court of Appeals. view article arw

Will there ever come a day when our state leaders and lawmakers want to make Texas as good a place for children as it is for business? The 85th legislative session didn't seem often inclined in that direction, particularly in matters related to educating the state's schoolchildren. A massive funding failure for prekindergarten students. The state Senate's defeatist response to a solid House attempt at school finance reform. Out-of-proportion talk about vouchers for those attending private schools. But let's not overlook a couple of bright spots. Thanks to skillful work by three North Texas lawmakers, the state's youngest learners should eventually get the gift of better-prepared teachers. view article arw

Back in March, James Dickey, then the chairman of the Travis County Republican Party, showed up at the state Capitol to testify in support of House Bill 1911 — a proposal known as constitutional carry, or the ability to carry firearms without a license. It was a top legislative priority for the state GOP, and Dickey brought a message tailored for the Republicans on the House panel considering it: Don't forget the platform. "The plank which said we should have constitutional carry scored a 95 percent approval rate, outscoring over 80 percent of the other planks in the option," Dickey said, referring to the party platform — a 26-page document outlining the party's positions that is approved by delegates to its biennial conventions. Constitutional carry, Dickey added, "is something very clearly wanted by the most active members of the Republican Party in Texas." view article arw

Contention over where transgender people use the restroom has clouded much of the 2017 legislative session and has expanded to cover other issues such as property tax policy and school finance as lawmakers push to complete their work by Monday. After Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick served notice that the scaled-back version of the so-called bathroom bill recently approved by the Texas House was a non-starter in the Senate, the upper chamber in the predawn hours Wednesday made an end-run effort to save the stronger measure that fell victim to legislative deadlines. But by the time the sun rose over the Capitol, it was clear that the House would kill the measure again. view article arw

An effort to overhaul the state’s beleaguered school finance system has been declared dead after the Texas Senate Education Committee’s chairman said Wednesday that he would not appoint conferees to negotiate with the House. “That deal is dead,” Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, said. Taylor’s remarks come after his counterpart in the House, Dan Huberty, R-Houston, gave a passionate speech in which he said he would not accept the Senate’s changes to House Bill 21 and would seek a conference committee with the Senate. view article arw

The Texas House has voted to allow concealed carry permit holders to have guns in their locked cars parked outside schools. Tentative approval came late Tuesday night as an amendment to an otherwise unrelated bill on school boards. Final House approval should come Wednesday. The state Senate already approved a full, bipartisan bill seeking to do virtually the same thing. A similar, full bill had died in the House without reaching a floor vote but now lives on as an amendment. view article arw