Author Archives: Emma Platoff

Trump nominating Ryan Patrick, son of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, to be U.S. attorney

Former Houston prosecutor and district judge Ryan Patrick is Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's son.

President Donald Trump is nominating former state District Judge Ryan Patrick, son of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, to be the next U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Texas, the White House announced Wednesday.

If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Patrick will become the top federal prosecutor in one of the busiest districts in the country. The Southern District, which includes Houston, Galveston and Corpus Christi, represents 43 counties, 8.3 million people and 44,000 square miles of the Lone Star State.

Patrick graduated from Baylor University and South Texas College of Law in Houston before working for six years as an assistant district attorney in Harris County. In 2012, Texas Gov. Rick Perry appointed Patrick to the 177th state district court in Harris County. But Patrick returned to private practice after losing that seat in November to Democrat Robert Johnson.

Patrick would replace Abe Martinez, a career civil servant who has served as acting U.S. attorney since March, when President Donald Trump asked for the resignation of dozens of U.S. attorneys across the country, including Kenneth Magidson, an Obama appointee who had filled the role since 2011.

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State Rep. Victoria Neave pleads no contest to June DWI charge

Mugshot of state Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, arrested for DWI in Dallas late Tuesday, June 6.

State Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, said Friday she had pleaded no contest to a June charge of driving while intoxicated.

Neave was arrested June 6 in Dallas after she struck a tree in the Lakewood neighborhood, police said. Court documents say her blood-alcohol level was almost twice the legal limit.

Neave tweeted Friday that she will pay a fine, be put on probation for 12 months, have her license suspended, submit to random alcohol testing, take a DWI education class and attend a victim impact panel.

“Earlier this year, I disappointed my family, my constituents, my supporters, and myself,” the tweet read. “I said then the responsibility was mine and that I would accept the consequences … I accept full responsibility and will continue to work to demonstrate that I have learned from my past.”

The 36-year-old lawmaker represents parts of Dallas, Mesquite and Garland, and she serves on the House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence as well as the House Committee on County Affairs.

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Now you can carry any knife (almost) anywhere in Texas

Cliff Hill, knife collector and world champion knife thrower, shows his collection at the International Knife Throwers Hall of Fame in Austin on July 13, 2017.

There is no such thing as an “illegal knife” in Texas.

Dirks and daggers, stilettos and poniards, even machetes and swords can now legally be carried just about anywhere — even “down Congress Avenue,” said state Rep. John Frullo, R-Lubbock, the author of House Bill 1935, the law that made it so beginning Sept. 1.

HB 1935 effectively eliminates prohibitions on where certain knives can be carried by getting rid of the category of “illegal knives,” a designation critics called ambiguous. Under the new law, a smaller subset of newly dubbed “location restricted” knives will be prohibited in places like college buildings and bars.

Previously, knives with blades longer than five-and-a-half inches, as well as Bowie knives and a few other types, could not be legally carried outside the home. The new statute expands knife owners’ freedoms, advocates said, and also eliminates a great deal of confusion. Bowie knives, for example, were designated “illegal” under the previous law, but they were not legally defined.

Oversights like these made it difficult for knife owners to know whether they were in compliance with the law, “making criminals of people who had no intention of doing anything wrong,” Frullo said.

Todd Rathner, director of legislative affairs for the national organization Knife Rights, said the law’s significance stretches beyond practical concerns.

“Texans carry all kinds of knives for all kinds of purposes, whether it’s working on a ranch or opening envelopes in an office. So they want to be able to know that whatever knife they stick in their pocket or hang on their belt, that it’s legal,” Rathner said. “There’s also principle involved: In the United States of America, we have the Second Amendment right to bear arms — it doesn’t say ‘guns,’ it says ‘arms.’”

Cliff Hill, the owner of an Austin knife shop, said he appreciates the expanded protections HB 1935 offers knife enthusiasts.

An amendment restricting knives in certain locations — beyond college campuses, certain knives are also prohibited from jails as well as from certain bars and hospitals — was added to the law in the wake of a deadly stabbing this May on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. Police said junior biology major Kendrex White used a “large, Bowie-style hunting knife” to kill one fellow student, Harrison Brown, and wound three others. HB 1935 passed the House a week after the tragedy.

The measure faced very little opposition in either chamber.

“The safety concern here was too great for me to vote favorably on this legislation without more debate,” said state Rep. Ina Minjarez, D-San Antonio, one of only a handful of legislators who voted against the bill.

But Frullo said that the law does not increase danger, arguing that knife threats are most likely to come from individuals who weren’t following the laws anyway.

“Definitely, knives can be used as a weapon, but also they have a lot of other practical purposes,” Frullo said. “The fact of whether or not we have a law is not going to change whether somebody is doing something bad.”

Rathner said he aims to push in future sessions for legislation that would eliminate the location restrictions entirely.

Cliff Hill, a competitive knife thrower and the owner of an Austin knife-sharpening store, said changing this law doesn’t mean “that you’re going to see people walking around with swords hanging off their belt.” Instead, he said, it makes it easier for enthusiasts like him to pursue their hobbies without breaking the law.

For example, when Hill takes his collection of blades to a knife-throwing competition or to teach a knife-throwing class, he’s been “driving illegal.”

“I think it’s good in that sense,” he said. “If I’m on my way to teach a class, how am I not going to have throwing knives with me, you know?”

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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Texas Democrats lay out their own special session priorities

State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington, attempts to add an amendment to SJR 2 advocating for Texas to join a Convention of States on May 4, 2017. Turner's try at an amendment,  to force the resignation of federal officials caught cooperating with the Soviets,  failed to pass. 

House and Senate Democrats on Monday unveiled their priorities for the upcoming special legislative session, including some measures that fall in line with the agenda Gov. Greg Abbott laid out in his call and some that depart entirely from it.

In a joint press conference, Democratic leaders in both chambers vowed to champion the issues “that matter to all Texans,” and to fight for legislation that will protect “our kids, our economy, our health and our communities.” Priorities for the Democrats include school finance reform and reducing maternal mortality — both of which are on Abbott’s list in some capacity. Several other issues, including criminal justice reform and equal pay, are not — and are unlikely to make it to the floor for a vote.

Though they trotted out an ambitious list of legislative priorities, Democrats will likely spend much of the next month playing defense against measures like the so-called “bathroom bill,” a special session priority for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick that Democrats have called discriminatory. There were even rumblings earlier this summer that Democrats might skip town in an attempt to derail the special session.

State. Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said he hopes the governor will consider formally adding some Democratic priorities to the special session agenda, criticizing many of the current agenda items as “dangerous,” “divisive” or “non-issues.”

“If we’re going to have this costly special session, we ought to use it to get some real work done for the people of Texas,” Turner said, adding that “there’s nothing to prevent” legislation outside Abbott’s special session call from being filed, heard in hearings, debated on the floor and even passed.

State. Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, the chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus, criticized Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick‘s focus on measures that did not pass the regular session, including the controversial “bathroom bill.” Rodriguez also said that Senate Republicans do not have enough votes to suspend certain chamber rules, a move that allows legislation to pass through the Republican-dominated chamber more quickly.

“We’re going to be spending taxpayer dollars for 30 days. Let’s spend our time on measures that actually matter to people, that move peoples’ lives forward,” Rodriguez said.

Democrats and Republicans agree on the need to address school funding and teacher pay — though lawmakers on opposing sides of the aisle disagree on how best to go about doing it. Patrick last week laid out a proposal to fund teacher bonuses using money from the Texas lottery, and House Speaker Joe Straus has supported a bill that would’ve injected $1.5 billion into public schools — a measure that could reappear in the special session. Democrats on Monday advocated for increasing the state’s share of the education budget, and also for funding teacher pay increases through the Rainy Day Fund.

“Everyone knows the school finance system is broken,” said state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, who filed House Joint Resolution 18, a constitutional amendment that would require the state to supply at least 50 percent of the public education system budget — as opposed to 38 percent in the current year. 

And state Rep. Shawn Thierry, D-Houston, said the legislation she filed to address high rates of maternal mortality in Texas should be somewhere “we can all find common ground.”

“We have to do something to save our mothers,” Thierry said.

Still, some Democratic priorities described Monday are unlikely to enjoy bipartisan support — or even see much debate, as presiding officers in both chambers are unlikely to refer such bills to committee, and any measures not on the governor’s formal call could be easily shot down by administrative points of order. These measures included bills to close the gender wage gap, increase the state’s minimum wage, expand voting by mail and increase the age of criminal responsibility. One measure, state Rep. Ramon Romero‘s House Bill 53, targets the so-called “show me your papers” bill signed into law this past legislative session.

Both houses will gavel in at 10 a.m. Tuesday morning.

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Austinite and former intern for House Speaker Straus killed in Greece

Bakari Henderson, a 22-year-old Austin native, was killed in Greece on July 7.

A 22-year-old Austin resident and former intern at the Texas Capitol was killed Friday in a bar fight in Greece. Eight people have been arrested in the attack.

Bakari Henderson, a recent graduate of the University of Arizona who was an intern in House Speaker Joe Straus‘ office, was vacationing on the Greek island of Zakynthos when he was approached by another customer in a bar. The confrontation quickly turned into a fistfight, and the two were asked to go outside the bar, where the fighting continued, according to the Washington Post.

Henderson was beaten even after he was unconscious, according to a Greek news agency. He died at a nearby hospital.

Seven Serbian nationals and one Greek were arrested in connection with the attack, the Post reported.

Henderson’s family told news outlets he was in Greece to work on a photo shoot for a new clothing line he planned to launch.

“Bakari loved spending time with family and friends, traveling, and meeting new people. He was a big thinker and enjoyed coming up with new business ventures,” his family said in a statement Friday. “Bakari was an inspiration to all he met. He loved life and lived it to the fullest.”

Henderson, who studied finance and entrepreneurship in college, spent the summer after his freshman year interning at the Capitol, for both Straus and the Texas Senate.

The State Department confirmed the death and said in a statement that officials are “providing consular assistance,” as well as “sincerest condolences,” to Henderson’s family.

Several Arizona politicians expressed their grief at the attack. Arizona Senator Jeff Flake said on Twitter that he is working with the State Department to ensure that Henderson’s friends get home safely. 

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Why one of the largest counties in Texas is going back to paper ballots

Frank Phillips spent last Wednesday staring down 600 boxes of election materials — voted ballots, blank ballots, precinct records — sitting in a warehouse run by Denton County. After sitting in storage for the legally required periods — up to nearly two years in some cases — the roughly 24,000 pounds of paper were finally ready to be shredded.

Yet despite the hassle — and the significant cost — Phillips, Denton County’s elections administrator, is looking forward to this fall, when he will implement the county’s newest voting plan: a complete return to the paper ballot.

The unusual move sets Denton, the ninth-largest county in Texas and one of the fastest-growing, apart from the state’s other biggest counties, which all use some form of electronic voting, according to data collected by the Secretary of State’s office. Both Bexar and Harris Counties, for example, have had all electronic voting systems in place for 15 years.

Denton has been using a hybrid voting system that employs both electronic and paper ballots for about a decade. But county officials recently approved spending just shy of $9 million to buy new voting equipment from Austin-based Hart InterCivic that will return to an entirely paper-based system in time for this year’s November elections. Even disabled voters, who will cast their votes on touch-screen machines, will have their ballots printed out and tallied through a print scanner.

The move comes months after a disastrous election day for Denton County in November, with machines inadvertently set to “test mode” instead of “election mode,” long lines, problems with scanning paper ballots, and, ultimately, incorrect tabulations. Phillips — who was working in nearby Tarrant County at the time — said it was the personnel, not the machines, that caused chaos last fall. But voters in town, as well as leaders with the local Democratic and Republican parties, called for a return to paper ballots in the months following election day.

“The question always comes: ‘How do I know that when I cast my ballot it’s recorded electronically?’” Phillips said. “We know it’s recorded correctly because of our testing methods, but that question has persisted ever since we started using electronic voting. With the political climate these days, it’s even more heightened right now.” 

And these aren’t just any paper ballots, Phillips emphasized. The new Hart system Denton purchased allows election administrators to print ballots on demand, eliminating the waste and cost of over-printing paper ballots in advance of an election and then having to expend resources storing those unused ballots afterward to comply with state or federal regulations. It also prevents the problem of under-printing paper ballots — an issue that emerged last year when Titus County saw a higher-than-expected turnout for the presidential primary, and officials were forced to create and hand-count ballots on election day. 

Denton County’s switch back to paper ballots is unusual in both the state and the country, though it’s difficult to identify any real trend, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s office. In recent years, an increasing number of counties have explored new voting technologies while purchasing equipment to replace outdated machines purchased years ago with federal funds allocated through the 2002 Help America Vote Act.

Other counties have moved in the opposite direction, from hybrid voting systems to full digital ones. In Bexar County, for example, Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen said voters “absolutely love” the all-electronic system that has been in place since 2002. In counties like Bexar, paper balloting is only used for mail-in ballots.

Still, paper isn’t entirely dead, even in Texas’s biggest counties. Bruce Sherbet, the elections administrator for Collin County — which currently uses all-electronic ballots — said as his office looks ahead to purchasing new voting equipment in the next year or two, it is “keeping all options open” and could return to a hybrid system

“There are some people that prefer a paper ballot, there’s no question about that,” Sherbet said.

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Trump has left 17 legal vacancies in Texas

In the last three weeks alone, President Donald Trump has nominated dozens of people to positions across the federal government, sending appointees everywhere from circuit courts to ambassadors’ residences, from Alabama to Singapore.

But none of those nods sent new leadership in the direction of Texas, where all four U.S. attorney seats, 11 district judgeships and two slots on the historically conservative U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals sit open. 

While Trump’s appointments process has been slow going overall — as of June 20, 2009, President Barack Obama had appointed about twice as many people as Trump had by the same date this year — the current White House is not entirely to blame. All but one of these 17 vacancies opened under Obama. And when it comes to appointing U.S. attorneys, at least, Trump’s first nomination on June 12 was not unusually slow: Obama nominated his first U.S. attorney on May 15, 2009; it took President George W. Bush until Aug. 1, 2001.

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Still, the absences are particularly noticeable in Texas, which contains the most U.S. attorney districts of any state. The Southern District of Texas is the busiest in the country, prosecuting more cases than any other, and the Western District shares a 660-mile border with Mexico. Of the 51 federally designated “judicial emergencies” across the country, nine are in Texas. One chair has been vacant since 2011.

For a self-described “law-and-order” president, these vacancies should be urgent, legal experts said.

“Texas is a big state with a lot of serious law enforcement problems, where many of the issues that the Trump administration purports to care about get played out,” said David Sklansky, who co-directs Stanford University’s Criminal Justice Center. “So you would think that if the administration was seriously interested in really addressing these problems as opposed to just talking about them and using them politically, they would want presidentially appointed U.S. attorneys in place as quickly as possible.”

U.S. attorneys are political appointees selected by the president and then confirmed by the U.S. Senate, and they play a critical role as the nation’s top federal prosecutors. When political appointees resign at the start of a new presidential term, as has become customary, their seats are temporarily filled by senior, nonpartisan civil servants who handle daily operations but tend to wield less power for implementing long-term strategic visions. Three acting U.S. attorneys in Texas — John Parker, Richard Durbin and Brit Featherston — all said their offices continue to aggressively prosecute cases but acknowledged that a political appointee would carry more clout.

In a state like Texas, where many of the new president’s stated priorities — border security, immigration, drug trafficking — are particularly pressing, these roles seem urgent to the new administration. U.S. attorneys do not have the power to disobey Department of Justice directives, but there is enormous prosecutorial discretion in the position, experts and U.S. attorneys themselves agreed.

The most common explanation for delays in political appointments is partisan obstruction — experts, for example, attribute the dearth of Texas appointments during Obama’s tenure to friction between the former president and the state’s two U.S. senators. But given the new political alignment between Trump and Republican senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, the lag is harder to explain.

Legal experts speculated that the delay could be due to disagreements between the two senators or attributed it to the Trump administration’s lack of a “deep bench” of potential appointees. Both Cruz and Cornyn have legal backgrounds and serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Hugh Brady, director of the University of Texas School of Law’s Legislative Lawyering Clinic, pointed out that the Trump Administration might be less worried about the temporary U.S. attorneys in Texas than those in, say, Massachusetts. And because of Texas’s overall rightward bent, it is less likely to be the “scene of constitutional litigation” that opponents file against the president, Brady said — perhaps making a stacked judiciary in Texas less important than a White House-appointed bench in a more liberal state.

The White House, the Department of Justice and spokespeople for Cornyn and Cruz all declined to comment on a timeline for any potential nominations. But Cornyn told a reporter last week that names for the 5th Circuit nominees could come “literally any day now.” 

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In Texas, a bipartisan commission called the Federal Judicial Evaluation Committee takes a first pass at applicants interested in such spots and then makes recommendations to the senators. That group interviewed scores of candidates, and completed its work in April, members said.

But David Prichard, a San Antonio lawyer and the chairman of that committee, said he is not surprised that Trump has not yet made nominations.

“We have to realize that [some of these] are lifetime appointments, and they carry a lot of power, so getting it right is pretty important,” he said.

Trump announced eight nominations for U.S. attorney slots on June 12, naming only one — Justin Herdman of Ohio — who required approval from a Democratic senator through the informal “blue-slip” process. Trump has also announced a slew of nominees for judicial positions.

Those judicial vacancies are arguably the most pressing because there are no interim judges to step in. Understaffing of the federal bench has long plagued Texas, and it’s an urgent issue, experts said.

The openings can mean petitioners have to wait, and, as the old adage goes, “justice delayed is justice denied,” said Raul Gonzalez, a former Texas Supreme Court Justice and the vice chairman of the Federal Judicial Evaluation Committee.

“I wish there was a way to speed it up,” Gonzalez said. “I really don’t know what the bottleneck is. We do our work, and then we’re done with it and then we just wait and see.”

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here

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Why a Colorado case over “religious refusals” could matter to Texas

When the U.S. Supreme Court rules next year on a religious refusal case that started in 2012 at a bakery in Lakewood, Colorado, its decision could have reverberations in Texas.

The court announced Monday that it will take up Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, agreeing to weigh in on whether a baker can legally refuse to make a wedding cake for a gay couple because of his religious objections to their union.

At the heart of the case is the question of religious refusal, an issue that also dominated the Texas Legislature’s most recent session — most notably with House Bill 3859, a new law that allows welfare providers citing “sincerely held religious beliefs” to deny adoptions and other services to LGBT people.

It’s not yet clear how the high court’s decision could impact LGBT rights in Texas, especially because the legal basis for religious refusal is entirely different in the two states. The Masterpiece Cakeshop case is rooted in a law in Colorado that prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, ancestry or religion, but Texas is one of five states that does not have such a law on the books.

Still, the Supreme Court’s decision to take up the case after declining to hear a similar religious refusal case in New Mexico three years ago suggests to legal experts that it may be time for a national reckoning on the issue of religious refusals — major news for a state that this session raised, by some counts, 17 bills that would have allowed for discrimination on the grounds of religious freedom.

Lawrence Sager, a constitutional theorist and the former dean of the University of Texas School of Law, said that while the court’s decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop will not have direct legal bearing on Texas’ HB 3859, it could have important implications for the future of religious refusals in the state.

If the Colorado baker wins at the high court, his victory would create “enormous momentum” behind religious refusal legislation, Sager said. If Phillips loses his appeal, the decision would not make all religious refusal laws unconstitutional, but it “would take some of the wind out of the sails of that effort,” Sager said.

In either case, one of the most divisive issues of the Texas Legislature’s 85th session will have been catapulted to national prominence.

“The issue is a brewing one … It’s been going on everywhere,” Sager said. “This is a kind of issue that at some point was going to be hard for the court not to address.”

For at least some LGBT advocates, the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case has caused concern. Lambda Legal Senior Counsel Jennifer Pizer, who authored the organization’s friend-of-the-court brief in the original Colorado case and also worked against Texas’ HB 3859, said that in recent years, the Supreme Court has refused to hear appeals of several state cases which ruled in favor of anti-discrimination statutes over religious refusal laws.

The court’s taking up the issue now suggests at least the possibility that it would alter federal constitutional standards. And changing those federal standards could cut “big religious holes” in local protections for LGBT people, Pizer said.

“We think that the state courts have been getting it right,” Pizer said. “It’s alarming that the Supreme Court would decide to take this. The implications are potentially staggering.”

Another case to watch is Mississippi’s House Bill 1523, a religious refusal law that permits businesses and government employees to deny services to LGBT individuals, which the Human Rights Campaign has dubbed “the worst anti-LGBTQ state law” in the country. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals last week lifted an injunction blocking the law, which allows the adoption religious refusal alongside several others, from taking effect. But experts said the law will almost certainly be challenged again once it is implemented, and that litigation will likely set a more direct precedent for any challenge to Texas’s HB 3859.

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Abbott proposal would nullify city rules on distracted driving

Last month, Texas became the 47th state to pass a statewide texting-while-driving ban. Now, with a special legislative session approaching, Gov. Greg Abbott is pushing for legislation that could roll back stricter mobile phone laws already in place in more than three dozen Texas cities.

Complaining of a “patchwork quilt of regulations that dictate driving practices in Texas,” Abbott called last week for a measure that would pre-empt local ordinances that go beyond the statewide texting ban.

The ban, signed into law last week and set to take effect Sept. 1, pre-empts only local regulations relating to a driver’s ability to “read, write, or send an electronic message.” The broader pre-emption Abbott favors would block local governments from “any regulation of mobile devices in vehicles,” effectively nullifying tougher cellphone regulations in about 40 Texas cities — including Austin, San Antonio and El Paso — where drivers are required to use hands-free devices for phone calls.

State Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, who authored the texting-while-driving measure, said he would oppose such pre-emption both because it could weaken mobile usage laws and because he believes the issue should be left to local governments.

“When it comes to driver use of cellular devices, I think the cities and the locals ought to have the right to do what they want to do,” Craddick said.

Police departments in several cities that currently regulate all handheld cellphone use emphasized that hands-free ordinances play an important role in public safety.

“Holding your phone in your hand is still some kind of distraction,” Corpus Christi Senior Officer Travis Pace said. 

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, the law’s Senate sponsor, said she will file a proposal during the special session that would create a statewide hands-free law — a measure that would accomplish the governor’s goal of uniform statewide legislation while strengthening restrictions on mobile phone usage behind the wheel across the state. She filed a similar measure, Senate Bill 67, during the regular session, but it never got a hearing.

“With the governor’s leadership and support, perhaps we can pass a better bill that sets a statewide standard,” Zaffirini said.

More than a dozen states already ban handheld cellphone use.

Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, proposed an amendment to the texting-while-driving measure that would have established the broad pre-emption that Abbott favors. The amendment failed, but Rinaldi said he is considering a similar proposal next month. 

“The pre-emption ensures that we have one uniform law and that everybody knows what it is,” Rinaldi said. He added that the more stringent regulations currently in place in some cities do not necessarily ensure greater public safety. 

Craddick said it is difficult to predict how a pre-emption proposal might fare in the special session, but he recalled that many legislators seemed “adamant” during the regular session about letting cities regulate the issue.

Abbott’s call for the mobile phone pre-emption is one on a slate of local control issues he has put on the agenda for next month’s special session. The governor has also taken aim at issues such as spending, trees on private land and construction project rules and permitting.

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Texas Gov. Abbott signs statewide ban on texting while driving

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with comment from the bill’s author, Rep. Tom Craddick.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday signed into law a bill that creates a statewide ban on texting while driving.

The measure, authored by state Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, goes into effect Sept. 1. This is the fourth session in a row Craddick has tried to pass such a ban.

“By enacting this public safety legislation, the governor is saving lives by deterring this dangerous and deadly behavior,” Craddick said in a statement. “For a long time, Texas has needed this law to prevent the loss of life in unnecessary and preventable crashes and we finally have it.”

Former Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a similar proposal in 2011, calling it a “governmental effort to micromanage the behavior of adults.” Abbott hesitated for several days before signing the bill, prompting speculation that he was undecided on the ban. 

The governor announced that he had signed the bill at a press conference Tuesday, when he also announced a series of priorities for a special legislative session to start July 18. Among those priorities is further work on the ban, which Abbott said “did not fully achieve my goals.”

“I was not satisfied with the law as it was written,” Abbott said Tuesday. “Now that Texas does have a statewide ban on texting and driving, I am calling for legislation that fully pre-empts cities and counties from any regulation of mobile devices in vehicles. We don’t need a patchwork quilt of regulations that dictate driving practices in Texas.”

The law includes a provision to pre-empt local ordinances that govern a driver’s ability to “read, write, or send an electronic message.” But Abbott said Tuesday he hopes for broader legislation that fully pre-empts local governments from passing “any regulation of mobile devices in vehicles.” A broader pre-emption measure would impact dozens of cities — including Austin, San Antonio and El Paso — that currently operate under stricter mobile regulations.

Andy Duehren contributed to this story.

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