Texas Senate

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

The Texas Senate on Friday approved a bill allowing the open carry of firearms by licensed owners.

Although the House approved its version of the legislation last month, the bill still needs to go to a final vote in the House before being sent to Gov. Greg Abbott for signing. Abbott said he would sign any version of an open carry bill that comes to his desk.

The bill was passed in the Senate after much argument over a controversial amendment that would prohibit police officers from asking for the concealed handgun license of those openly carrying firearms. The bill passed with the amendment included.

Supporters of the amendment said it will prevent police from profiling and harassing minorities.

"If somebody is going to be profiled for walking around the streets of Houston or Austin with a gun, someone who looks like me is more likely to get stopped," Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) said, according to ABC 13.  

“[This] is the most egregious mistake I have ever seen us [the Texas Legislature] make,” Rep. Eric Johnson (D-Dallas) posted on Facebook, in reference to the amendment.

Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) argued that the amendment would, in practice, equate to the unrestricted open carrying of firearms by anybody, regardless of whether that person has the proper license, which advocates call constitutional carry.

"This is nothing but a backhanded way to accomplish constitutional carry," Whitmire said. "We are really, really playing with a dangerous matter. It's not something that we can afford to be wrong about."

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick praised the Senate for passing the open carry bill.

"With time running out on this legislative session, the Senate has once again stood up for the Second Amendment to ensure law-abiding licensed Texans have the right to open carry," Patrick said.

House Speaker Joe Straus said the bill for open carry on college campuses will be put to a vote before the legislative session ends June 1.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

The Texas Senate gave a final vote in favor of campus carry, a bill that would allow concealed handguns to be carried in college and university buildings.

No debate preceded the passage of Senate Bill 11, primarily authored by Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury).

“Let me again say some very special thank yous to my colleagues in correspondence with this legislation,” Birdwell said. “Let me also say thank you to the colleges that were on the opposing side of this legislation for the rigor of the debate yesterday.”

UT System Chancellor William McRaven said in a statement he is still apprehensive about the effects of the bill on students, faculty and staff of UT System institutions. 

"I continue to hear from students, parents, staff and faculty about their uneasiness related to this legislation," McRaven said in the statement. "In light of this, it is my responsibility to continue to express our concerns as the Senate bill goes to the House and the House bill goes through the process."

University spokesperson Gary Susswein said in an email to the Texan that President William Power Jr.'s stance on campus carry has not changed.

"President Powers has consistently and strongly expressed his concerns about the safety of allowing guns on campus," Susswein said in the email.

Hospitals, preschools, grade schools, sporting events and residence halls would receive exemption from the policy if the bill becomes law. Additionally, private and independent institutions could ban campus carry on their campuses.

Similar legislation, House Bill 937, is pending a committee vote after an almost five-hour hearing earlier this week.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

The Texas Senate gave inital approval to its campus carry bill after it was brought to the floor Wednesday for its second reading.

Campus carry would allow licensed handgun owners over 21 years of age to carry their handguns on public college and university campuses, including inside campus buildings. SB 11 will likely receive a third and final reading Thursday.

“My concern is to expand the freedom of our most trustworthy citizens,” Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), primary author of the bill, said.

Senators proposed a total of 25 amendments to the bill, 22 of which were tabled in a series of party-line votes.

Birdwell accepted three amendments – one preventing open carry on college campuses, one creating misdemeanor charges for violating private campus’ concealed handgun policies and another extending a private institution’s campus carry policy to off-campus facilities used for school sponsored events.

Handguns would not be allowed in areas where Birdwell said they are currently prohibited under state law, such as sporting areas, dormitories, hospitals, preschools and grade schools.
 
Sens. Judith Zaffirni (D-Laredo), Royce West (D-Dallas) and José Rodriguez (D-El Paso) each proposed amendments asking that Birdwell make areas on campuses, such as bars, churches, medical clinics, laboratories, events with guest speakers and federally classified research sites, exempt from campus carry. 

Birdwell said he wanted consistency on and off campus about where guns are allowed and turned down each amendment. 
 
“My intent is to create identical circumstances both off campus and on campus,” Birdwell said.

Multiple senators, including Zaffirini, also suggested that individual public universities and colleges have the ability to opt in or out of implementing campus carry.

“Maybe an institution in West Texas might like it, while an intuition in a metropolitan area would not,” Zaffirini said.

West said he believes the student body should vote on whether to implement the policy.

“Why shouldn’t students at our public institutions have the opportunity to participate in making a decision as to if we’ll have [campus] carry,” West said.

Birdwell said that while he welcomes student input, student opinions are best expressed in general elections.

“I’m not going to have a state constitutional right subject to a student body vote,” Birdwell said.

UT students and officials, such as President William Powers Jr., UT System Chancellor William McRaven, Faculty Council and Student Government, have spoken out against campus carry.

“I think the general view is, there are situations that can be volatile, and when a gun is present and alcohol is involved, or whatever, I think in the aggregate that’s a dangerous situation,” Powers said in a previous interview. “I believe our law enforcement professionals agree with that.”

Any expenses incurred as a result of campus carry implementation will be funded by individual colleges and universities. Campus carry would cost the UT System $39 million, according to fiscal notes submitted to the Legislative Budget Board. UT-Austin did not estimate any costs associated with campus carry.

“I do not believe that universities will bear a large cost or even a modest costs associated with implementation of this,” Birdwell said. “Because it is based upon the discipline of our [Concealed Handgun License] holders that for the past 20 years have been exceedingly responsible and well disciplined.”

A House equivalent of SB 11 was left pending in committee meeting Tuesday.

Senate passes bill banning sale of e-cigarettes to minors

The Texas Senate passed a bill banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors by a 27–3 vote Tuesday.

E-cigarettes are battery or electronically-powered cigarettes that can be used to vaporize nicotine products for consumption.   

“What this bill does is it takes e-cigarettes and puts them in the same category as we do tobacco cigarettes,” Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen), primary author of the bill, said.

Hinojosa said there is an increasing number of adolescents using e-cigarettes.

“E-cigarettes are becoming very popular in our school districts, so we now have students are using e-cigarettes all over school grounds including in restaurants and in playgrounds,” Hinojosa said.

According to a 2014 study conducted by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, about 17 percent of 12th-grade students have used e-cigarettes. The 30-day study found that 14.2 percent of 12th-graders felt e-cigarettes were harmful to their health.

Hinojosa said he believes e-cigarette use by adolescents will lead to cigarette addiction as adults.

“I call them training devices,” Hinojosa said.

Hinojosa motioned to expedite the bill to its final reading.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

 

Update (2:59 p.m.): The House Homeland Security and Public Safety committee left bills regarding campus carry and open carry pending in committee Tuesday.

Guests attended a public hearing Tuesday to testify on HB 937 and HB 910, dealing with campus carry and open carry respectively. Following public testimonies, the committee made its ruling to keep the bills pending.

HB 937, if passed, would allow the concealed carry of handguns on college campuses by licensed holders. Private and independent universities could opt out of the policy. Certain areas on campuses, such as grade schools and pre-schools, hospitals, residences halls and sporting events would be exempt from campus carry.

“College and university campuses are not crime free zones….” Rep. Allen Fletcher (R-Cypress), primary author of the bill, said at the hearing. “The idea that this bill will result in any increase in violence is unfounded.”

HB 910 would allow licensed handgun carriers to openly carry their guns in a belt or shoulder holster.

“While this bill might not go far enough for some and too far for others, it’s a continued step in Texas recognizing citizen rights to self defense,”  Rep. Larry Phillips (R-Sherman), Homeland Security and Public Safety chair and primary author of the bill, said.

The Senate gave final approval to a companion version of HB 910, SB 17, Tuesday. The Senate equivalent of the campus carry bill was set to be heard on the Senate floor Tuesday as well, but the discussion was postponed to Wednesday.

Update (1:35 p.m.): The Texas Senate gave final approval to its open carry bill Tuesday.

The bill allows licensed handgun carriers to openly carry guns in a belt holster or shoulder holster. It also gives private business owners the option to refuse service to open carriers, if the business displays the proper signage.

“I’ve been here long enough to know that you don’t win all of your battles…I wish the loss yesterday would be over something…not quite as critical as open carry,” Senate Dean John Whitmire (D-Houston) said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in a statement this is the first time an open carry bill has made it past committee and onto the Senate floor.

“We’ve worked tirelessly on the issues that are most important to Texans,” Patrick said.  “I applaud the good work our senators have put forth on making sure our Second Amendment Rights are protected, never ignored and properly enforced.”

To become law, the bill must gain final approval in the house and receive Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature. If made law, open carry with a holster will be implemented on Jan. 1, 2016.

Companion bills in the House are set to be heard in committee Tuesday.

 

Original: The Texas Senate gave initial approval to a bill allowing the open carry of holstered handguns Monday.

SB 17, which Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls) authored, was approved by a 2011 vote.  The bill must also pass in the House and obtain Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature to become law. The bill is set to be heard by the Senate again on Tuesday and may receive final Senate approval.

Current state law allows for the concealed carry of handguns, but certain rifles and longneck firearms may be carried openly. 

If the bill were to become law, the state concealed handgun license would simply become a handgun license, removing the concealed carry requirement, Estes said at the hearing. Licensed carriers could display their handguns in public as long as they used a shoulder or belt holster.

Texans will be required to pass training, criminal background and mental health checks before they are able to obtain a handgun license. Businesses with appropriate signage would maintain the ability to refuse service to those carrying handguns.

During a four-hour debate, lawmakers considered nearly two dozen amendments to the bill. Three amenendments were accepted, including one that changes the implementation date to Jan. 1, 2016 and one to provide training on properly securing holstered handguns.

Another accepted amendment, which Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) proposed, prevents open carry at private, independent and public higher education institutions. 

Huffman said she supports Second Amendment rights but wants to prevent open carry on college campuses, regardless of whether the campus carry bill passes. The Senate will hear the campus carry bill Tuesday.

Concealed handgun license holders can already carry guns openly on public areas of campuses such as sidewalks.

“I believe [licensed gun carriers 21 year olds and above] will be able to be responsible on a college campus, but I am sensitive to the concerns of parents and others who would feel uncomfortable with the open display of a weapon on a college campus," Huffman said.

Concerns expressed by opponents of open carry included the accessibility of the handguns for theft or crime, if they were to be stolen from the carrier, as well as police opposition and its implementation in cities versus small towns.

Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) said he thinks the bill could have unsuspected consequences, including a risk to law enforcement officers. He said that when officers arrive on the scene and multiple people there are carrying guns openly, it could make it hard to identify the criminal.

“[Police officers] have literally told me that when they pull up they will not know what to do,” Whitmire said.

According to Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), the Texas Police Chief Association conducted a survey about police chief support for open carry. He said 207 chiefs of the 285 surveyed were against the open carry of handguns.

Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) said she thinks open carry will not be successful in large cities, such as Houston, where there are larger crowds and higher crime rates.

“When you’re in a big city it’s a different arena. … I just cannot imagine walking in anywhere where there is a gun openly carried,” Garcia said.

The House Homeland Security and Public Safety committee is set to hear bills, identical to their Senate counterparts, regarding campus carry and open carry Tuesday morning.

Gov. Greg Abbott reappointed Vice Chairman Steve Hicks. Abbott also appointed UT alumni Sara Martinez Tucker and David Beck as new regents, pending Senate approval.

Photo Credit: Joe Capraro | Daily Texan Staff

The Texas Senate confirmed Wednesday Gov. Greg Abbott’s three appointees to the UT System Board of Regents.

The Senate unanimously approved Sara Martinez Tucker, CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative. 

Current Regent Steve Hicks was confirmed by a vote of 28–2. Sens. Bob Hall (R-Canton) and Konni Burton (R-Colleyville) voted against Hicks.

Senators also approved David Beck, a partner at the Beck and Redden law firm in Houston, by a vote of 27–3. Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) voted with Hall and Burton against Beck’s nomination.

In order to take their places on the board, the nominees must be sworn in as regents, according to UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo. 

Last week, the Senate Nominations Committee approved the appointees and sent them before the Senate for a vote. The committee unanimously approved Martinez Tucker, while both Hicks and Beck were approved by 6–1 votes. In the committee, Burton voted against both Hicks and Beck.

In light of investigations into UT admissions and the UT School of Law’s forgivable loan program, Burton said Beck, the president of the UT Law School Foundation from 2002–2006, and Hicks have contributed to a lack of transparency. 

“[Hicks and Beck] have presided over a period of secrecy, privilege and sharp rises in tuition at the University of Texas,” Burton said in a statement. “The University of Texas is in need of a fresh start, with Regents concerned first and foremost with improving the strength of the University, getting tuition under control, and ensuring an admissions process that rewards the brightest students and not those with connections.”

The Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education issued a statement in support of the confirmation.

“These regents will help Chancellor McRaven advance the UT System past detrimental and unnecessary conflict and controversy, and toward a future focused on creating and sustaining excellence in higher education across the System’s academic and medical campuses,” the statement said.

Martinez Tucker and Beck are replacing current Regent Robert L. Stillwell and Vice Chairman William Eugene Powell on the board. Hicks’ term has been extended until 2021.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

The Texas Senate gained a new member Wednesday as Sen. José Menéndez took over Leticia Van de Putte‘s seat representing San Antonio.

Menéndez, a House member representing San Antonio since 2001, took his oath of office surrounded by members of the Senate, his family and constituents in the Senate chamber. In a speech following his oath, Menéndez touted public education for Texas children, especially immigrants, and cooperation between parties.

Menéndez won Van de Putte’s seat in a runoff election against state Rep. Trey Martinez Fisher (D-San Antonio) last month.  

As the son of immigrant parents, Menéndez said he has faced the issues of public education and immigration firsthand.

“For a young man that went to his first day of kindergarten not knowing how to speak English, many of the issues that we talk about — these laws and how we are going to do public education — these are issues I lived,” Menéndez said.

Potential laws and issues that impact children need to be prominent in policy discussion this session, Menéndez said.

“We need to take into consideration that every child in every classroom in this great state deserves the opportunity to serve with us, or to be a teacher, or to be a doctor, or whatever they want to be,” Menéndez said. “Their education should not be defined by their zip code.”

Menéndez said he has little interest in the party identifications of his fellow legislators.

“If someone wants to work, I’m there to work side by side whoever wants to get the job done,” Menéndez said.

This session, senators must make tough decisions for “the right reason” in order to implement effective policies for Texans, Menéndez said in his speech.

“Sometimes it’s easier for us to make votes that are politically correct [and] say things that are politically correct, and that’s why, sometimes, I think that people lose faith in what we do and don’t do,” Menéndez said.

At the oath of office ceremony, Sen. John Whitmire (D- Houston) said celebrations such as Menéndez’s swearing-in make the Senate’s process debates and struggles during the legislative session more rewarding.

“An event like today, where we are going to celebrate his public service and this historical occasion, makes all the door knocking very worthwhile,” Whitmire said.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

Despite student opposition, the State Affairs committee voted to recommend that the Texas Senate pass SB 11, a bill allowing students, faculty and staff to carry concealed handguns on campus, with a vote of 7–2 on Thursday. 

The committee hosted a Senate hearing to allow supporters and opponents of “campus carry” to express their opinions about the bill.

If passed by the Texas Legislature, the bill would allow licensed gun owners over the age of 21 to bring concealed handguns into University buildings and on University grounds. Hospitals, residence halls, sporting events, preschools and secondary schools would not permit campus carry.

Public relations junior Andrea Hiller said she is concerned for the safety of female students on campus if SB 11 were to pass because of the possibility of sexual assault.

“To allow guns on campus would heighten fear in the female student population, including myself,” Hiller said. “How can I continue to be a dedicated student when I’m too afraid to walk or be alone on campus? Let me remind you that similar to many of my peers, I am under 21 and would legally not be able to defend myself [with a gun].”

Government freshman Jordee Rodriguez said colleges are not conducive to campus carry because four out of every five college students drink, creating an unsafe environment for guns. 

“Considering the elevated risk for binge drinking by college students and the aggressive behavior that results from it, I am concerned that allowing armed weapons on campus would only facilitate attacks on students by individuals whose reasoning is hampered by intoxicating substances,” Rodriguez said.

UT System Chancellor William McRaven has previously stated he opposes campus carry, while Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp has said he supports it.

Waco sheriff Parnell McNamara, who was invited to speak at the hearing, said he is in favor of campus carry because he thinks it will create an added protection measure for victims of crime.

“The police can’t be everywhere at once,” McNamara said. “We simply can’t. The person, the victim — say you — are the first responders. Not the police. You’re the first one that knows what is happening to you.”

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said he is opposed to open carry because university campuses are an area with concentrated mental health problems, alcohol use and sexual assault. Acevedo said he thinks public universities should at least have the option to opt out of campus carry, like their private school counterparts.

“As a father whose son is at a public institution, I certainly would hope that my son and his fellow students and the people [who] work in the public institutions will be given the same courtesy that those who can afford it will have, and that’s the option to opt out,” Acevedo said.

Student Government President Kori Rady said he anticipates SG will soon vote on an SG resolution opposing the policy.“From my understanding, students feel safe on campus and in a classroom, and to change something that really isn’t broken doesn’t make sense to me,” Rady said.

At the hearing, Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), who originally authored the bill, said that if an open carry law were to pass, he would not support its enforcement on campus.

“It has not been in the past, nor is it now, my intent to allow the open carry of guns on campus,” Birdwell said.

Vice Chairman R. Steven Hicks at a Board of Regents meeting in November 2013.

Photo Credit: Joe Capraro | Daily Texan Staff

On his second full day in office Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott appointed two new members to the UT System Board of Regents and reappointed Vice Chairman Steve Hicks for another term.

Abbott’s two new appointees, Sara Martinez Tucker and David Beck, will replace current regents Robert L. Stillwell and Vice Chairman William Eugene Powell if approved by the Texas Senate. Stillwell’s and Powell’s terms are set to expire in February, while Hicks’ will be extended until 2021.

“I am appreciative and happy to help Governor Abbott as he seeks to improve higher education in Texas,” Hicks said in an email to the Texan. “I’m especially excited about UT Austin and assisting their aspirations to be the best public university in the world.”

Sara Martinez Tucker, CEO of the National Math + Science Initiative, served as undersecretary of the Department of Education during the Bush administration and as CEO of the California-based Hispanic Scholarship Fund. Beck is a senior partner at the Beck Redden law firm in Houston. They are both UT alumni — Beck graduated from the UT School of Law, and Martinez Tucker received an undergraduate degree in journalism as well as a Master of Business Administration from the University. Martinez Tucker said she and Beck were instructed not to comment on their appointments.

Seemingly across the board, key players in Texas’ higher education community lined up to praise Abbott’s appointments.

UT System Chancellor William McRaven, who took over from former Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa earlier this month, said he felt strongly supportive of Beck and Martinez Tucker and was excited Hicks was up for reappointment.

“I could not be more pleased with Gov. Abbott’s announcement,” McRaven said. “If confirmed by the Texas Senate, I am confident that these three individuals will serve the University of Texas System with fervor and dedication and contribute their immense talents to making all our institutions even better.”

Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo), a member of the Senate Committee on Higher Education, said she also felt enthusiastic about Abbott’s selection.

“These three strong, intelligent, dynamic Texas Exes love UT and undoubtedly will be leaders in the quest for excellence at all UT institutions, especially our flagship,” Zaffirini said in an email to the Texan. “Each brings expertise and experience that will be valuable assets in interacting with the legislature and in understanding that students are our top priority.”

Zaffirini said she is confident all three appointees will be confirmed by the Senate.

“Today is a fine day for Texas and, especially, for the Longhorn Nation,” Zaffirini said. 

Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), vice chair of the Senate Committee on Higher Education, said he would be pleased to see Hicks return to the Board of Regents. 

“Vice Chairman Steve Hicks has been an excellent leader on the board, and I look forward to continuing our close working relationship,” Watson said.

Watson said he thinks Beck and Martinez Tucker are well-qualified candidates.

“The two new additions … will also be great assets,” Watson said. “I’m impressed by Sara’s background and educational expertise. I’ve known David for 25 years and he’s smart, and thoughtful, and loves UT.”

Senate's new three-fifths rule will make it more dysfunctional

On Wednesday, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick took his new position on the dais as President of the Texas Senate. Just one day into his new term, Patrick set his sights on rule changes within the upper house of the State Legislature. Chief among them was a long-standing promise to reform the "two-thirds rule." By a 20-10 vote, nearly among party lines, the Senate scrapped a 68-year-old tradition that had been unanimously reaffirmed just two years ago.  

The rule, which was formulated back when every single member of the Senate was a Democrat, places a "blocker bill" ahead of all other legislation at the start of a session. Only by a supermajority may any other legislation surpass this blocker bill on the calendar. Under new rules adopted Wednesday, that threshold has been lowered from 21 votes (two-thirds) to 19 (three-fifths). This is conveniently one vote lower than the number of Republicans in the chamber. 

A year ago, I wrote a column about this rule and the bipartisan backing it had until recently among political types at the Capitol. State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, the dean of the Democratic caucus, noted at the time that geographical minorities — as well as political ones — could be adversely affected by the rule change.  

Even defenders of this rule from the recent past had apparent changes of heart before Wednesday. State Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, was reported by the Houston Chronicle last March to "oppose any change to the two-thirds rule because it has allowed lawmakers representing rural areas to protect their interests." 

But Eltife, like every fellow Republican (with the exception of state Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls), voted in favor of the new rules. In fact, Eltife sponsored the pertinent resolution and said, "Today's action will make the Texas Senate even better." 

The new reality in the Texas Senate is that it will become ever more dysfunctional, just like Congress in Washington. The Senate no longer must rely on any semblance of bipartisanship, a decision it will likely come to regret one day.   

Horwitz is an associate editor.