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Category Archives: Legislation

efforts to get legislation passed or defeated to protect the interests of ordinary citizens

Let’s say your city council decides to…

Do you think Mark Twain writing about the Texas Legislature?
Do you think Mark Twain was talking about the Texas Legislature?

Let’s say your city council unwisely decides to subsidize a shopping mall and you try to overturn it by petition.  The mall developer can sue to stop your petition drive under House Bill 2595, now pending in the legislature, because it hurts the mall developers private property rights if you strip away the subsidies!

In fact, House Bill 2595 kills all petition drives if someone’s private property gain is affected. This foolish bill cuts both ways. It stops citizens from enacting their own legislation if their city government is unresponsive – as long as the city can trot out someone who claims “waaaah, I’m hurt!”

The problem is that every damned thing has that potential. This is just bad policy yet it was just unanimously passed the House Urban Affairs Committee. The bill is now in the House Calendars Committee and could go to the floor of the Texas House at any moment.

ACTION REQUEST: Click here and please call Calendars Committee NOW.

  • Tell them that you oppose HB 2595. If you live in Austin, please make sure to call Rep. Eddie Rodriguez. Let Eddie know that Austin City Attorney, John Steiner, spoke against this bill.
  • Then click on each member’s name and you’ll be taken to their website where you can see their district. See if you know folks who live in those districts. Reach them and ask them to call in their opposition to HB 2595.

We can also use your hard earned dollars to run a campaign
to stop this attack on citizens petition rights.
See the donate button on the right? ===>

MORE GORY DETAILS, IF YOU REALLY WANT TO KNOW:  The only reason we can figure that HB 2595 was introduced is that it is — purely — a retribution bill by the oil and gas lobby. They are out to do great harm to the over 100 year legacy of citizens petition rights because they’re still upset about the Denton “frack ban” passed by Denton voters –who are, by the way, largely Republicans. Even despite the passage of HB 40 last week that may well undo Denton’s frack ban.

HB 2595 is a tricky little bill that says that no city can accept, certify or otherwise approve of any petition that, “would restrict the right of any person to use or access the person’s private property for economic gain.”

City of Austin Attorney, John Steiner (with whom we’ve been on opposite sides for years), to his credit, pointed out that because HB 2595 requires the city to stop petitions before a public vote, virtually guarantees that the city will be sued by someone — either the proponents or the opponents. Historically, and properly so, it is the courts that have dealt with these disputes if and when they happen after passage.

Two more examples of why HB 2595 is really bad for ALL citizens:

Example 1:

Your city council decides to use $100 million in tax dollars to support a sports stadium. Once you’ve spent enumerable hours and money getting your signatures, and then submit it to your city clerk’s office, your city council can keep it off the ballot if they believe that the property owner’s “right” to use his or her property for “economic gain” would be impeded. And, if they don’t keep it off the ballot, the property owner who feels harmed could sue the city!

Example 2: (the cake-taker)

Let’s say you want to reform eminent domain in your city to stop private entities (like a privatitized toll road vendor) from taking your property for their own economic gain. It’s a coin toss as to whose property rights trumps in this situation, eh?

Don’t let them get away with taking away our rights, as citizens, to petition and reign in our city government.

We never would have passed 10-1 without it!

Make your calls today

Anti-Petition Bill Left Pending

Today’s hearing on Senate Bill 690, Senator Jeff Wentworth’s “Anti-Petition Bill”, was an interesting display of the Real Estate Council of Austin’s unbelievable temerity in stepping out in front of the train that’s been long overdue–that’s the citizen participation train.  This is not a time to be trying to circumvent or stifle voter participation.  This is what SB 690 is really about, though RECA’s new President, Craig Douglas, said today that RECA was all for the process of citizen initiatives.  They were just so very concerned that there were “too many” citizen charter amendments coming up for a vote in Austin, this was “costing the City” too much money, and besides, they argued, these pesky petitions don’t really have much support anyway.

The only problem is that since 1997, there’s only been five citizens charter amendments on the ballot in Austin, and only two initiatives since 1992 (Save Our Springs and the recent anti-smoking ordinance).  Since 1997 petitioning access at local stores has been severely curtailed.  The recent Prop 2 charter amendment (Stop Domain Subsidies) had widespread support, came in at 48% and even after it failed it led to some changes at City Hall (though much more is certainly needed).

Senator Wentworth was seemingly caught off guard when Brian Rodgers blew through RECA’s claim that charter amendments are costing the city money.  Amendments are placed on the ballot only during regular elections and if there’s no city election happening, the City simply shares the cost with the County — so there’s no additional costs to the taxpayers!

Did RECA write the bill and the bill analysis for Wentworth?  This was real tacky.

You democracy junkies might get some entertainment watching the actual testimony here (go to Intergovernmental Relations Committee, Part II, 56 minutes 12 seconds in to the tape).  You’ll see Republican Roger Borgelt, Green parttime lobbyist Bill Stout, and a gal who came in from Bryan, Texas, to beg Wentworth not to make this more difficult for citizen activists there and in 345 other Home Rule cities.

Special thanks to attorney Michael Miller who spent a full day of volunteering to research the legislative history of charter amendment petitioning.  It was great to know that the legislature UNANIMOUSLY passed the 5%/20,000 signature cap requirement in 1973 because the 10% requirement was too difficult.

My personal favorite was the testimony of Mike Ford of InitiativeforTexas.org, who urged for a reality check on RECA who was simply trying to make sure they have access to hundreds of millions of dollars in special interest subsidies!  At 77, Mike not only looks great, he is great — a great defender of the people’s constitutional right to petition government for redress of grievances.

We will keep you informed as to what happens with SB 690, since it is now in the “pending” file.  Is it dead?  We have no idea.  But we know some in the Senate are listening to us, but not yet Senator Wentworth.  You might give him a call at 512-463-0125.

SB 690, the Anti-Petition Bill, Hearing Tomorrow!

Hearing before the Intergovernmental Relations Committee, chaired by Senator Royce West

Wednesday, March 18, 9:30 a.m., Rm. E 1.028 

          State Senator Jeff Wentworth, who represents most of South Austin, Hays County and NW San Antonio, is pushing his anti-petition bill, Senate Bill 690 which will affect 346 cities in Texas.  SB 690 would more than double petition signatures required of citizens in Austin, and more than quintuple them in Houston, to place a municipal charter amendment on the ballot.  Currently the law requires 5% of qualified voters up to 20,000, to call for an election to amend the city charter.  SB 690 would eliminate the 20,000 signature cap and raise the percentage to 10% of registered voters.  The reason for this?  The Real Estate Council of Austin was upset that Austin voters almost passed Proposition 2 last November.  Proposition 2 would have banned retail subsidies, including the $65 million voluntary giveaway to the developer of the Domain luxury shopping mall, Simon Properties, the country’s largest mall developer.  

          Brian Rodgers of ChangeAustin.org and formerly the Austin Proposition 2 campaign, said, “The measure barely failed at 48%, but that hasn’t stopped RECA and Wentworth from trying to rig the rules for all 346 Home Rule Texas cities, falsely claiming that the current signature requirements, ‘results in costly elections on issues that are questionable and carry little public support.'”   

          Come to the hearing tomorrow, Wednesday, 9:30 a.m., held by the Intergovernmental Relations Committee, in the underground extension of the Capitol, E 1.028.  

          Go here to read SB 690.

          For more information call Linda Curtis at 512-657-2089.

Press Advisory for Immediate Release

TO:   CITY COUNCIL & MAYORAL CANDIDATES

OPPOSE:  Senate Bill 690 – The RECA Anti-Petition/Anti-Democracy Bill

WHERE:   MAYORAL DEBATE THIS SATURDAY, 4 TO 6 PM @ OPAL DIVINE’S, S. Congress

AUSTIN, Texas – March 12, 2009 – ChangeAustin.org founder, Brian Rodgers, is calling on all City Council and Mayoral candidates to work together to oppose Senate Bill 690, Senator Jeff Wentworth’s “anti-petition” bill at their candidate debate this Saturday, 4 to 6 pm at Opal Divine’s on South Congress.

Rodgers said SB 690, if passed, would more than double petition signatures for citizen initiated charter amendments and would thereby, stifle public participation when the public is more excited than ever about engaging in the political process.  SB 690 is the ‘really sore winner’ response from the Real Estate Council of Austin (RECA) who is pushing this bad bill as retribution for the fact that Austin voters almost passed the Prop 2, aka the Stop Domain Subsidies amendment last November.  RECA’s selfish drive to shut down Austin’s activist community arrogantly harms the petition rights of the citizens of 345 other Texas cities, if passed.

Linda Curtis, one of the founders of ChangeAustin.org and an expert on petition access issues in Texas said, “Petition access has become an increasing problem throughout the state due to anti-petition practices by malls, grocery chains and even college campuses. Raising the petition requirements will severely inhibit public participation in a process that 346 Texas cities have enjoyed for many decades.”

ChangeAustin.org opposes SB 690 because the group knows first-hand how difficult it can be to gather the current number of required signatures. In 2007-2008, it functioned as “Stop Domain Subsidies” to push for an Austin city charter amendment to ban subsidies to retail developments, including the $65 million slated for a luxury shopping mall known as The Domain.
 
Currently, Texas law requires petitioners calling for a charter amendment of a home-rule municipality to gather signatures from 5% of “qualified voters” with a 20,000-signature cap whichever number is the smaller in order to get on the ballot.
SB 690 would require such a petition to gather signatures from 10% of “registered voters” with no numerical cap on signatures. This would effectively more double required signatures in Austin and more than quadruple the signatures in Houston.
  
SB 960 can be found at:

About ChangeAustin.org

ChangeAustin.org is a mix of local activists (Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Greens, small “I” independents) and owners of local home grown businesses such as Michael Parker, owner of Opal Divine’s and Tim League, co-owner of The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.  The group is dedicated to bringing voters and local businesses lacking representation in our local government back to City Hall.  More information can be found on the ChangeAustin.org blog at http://www.ChangeAustin.org, or by calling 383-8484.

 

 

ChangeAustin.org

CONTACT: Linda Curtis

2153 S. Lamar #205 • Austin, TX 78704

512-383-8484 • 512-657-2089

 

Sen. Wentworth Attacks Petitioner’s Rights-Defeat SB 690

Anti-petition bill — set for a hearing THIS WEDNESDAY 9:30 am — to more than double petition signatures for citizen’s charter amendments.  (Details below.)

State Senator Jeff Wentworth is sponsoring SB 690 (details below) at the request of the Austin Chamber of Commerce.

Call Senator Wentworth’s office (512) 463-0125. Ask Sen. Wentworth to pull SB 690 down.  

Then join us this Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. at the Capital — in the underground extension, Room E 1.028 for a hearing on SB 690.

Are you coming to our Mayoral Forum this coming Saturday, March 14, 4- 6pm, at Opal Divine’s, 3601 S. Congress (Penn Field)?  

This will be one of the few places where you get to see Council Members Leffingwell and McCracken together with former Comptroller and Austin Mayor, Carole Strayhorn, in the same place at the same time.  

Caution:  Wanna vote on our endorsements? Make sure to sign up here to be a member for $20 by this coming Friday at midnite!  (If you can’t spring the $20, please call us — there are other ways, like indenturing your labor to us for a few hours).

Linda Curtis & Brian Rodgers
ChangeAustin.org 
(formerly your Stop Domain Subsidies friends)
2153 S. Lamar #205
Austin, TX 78704
512-383-8484 or 657-2089

PS  Please forward this on to five friends and invite them to join our email network — it’s free of course!

MORE ON SB 690
Here’s the actual bill language.

A quick political history.  The Austin Chamber of Commerce has been pushing this bill, we believe as their response to Prop 2, even though Prop 2 failed!  It was just a little too close (48%) for the Chamber’s comfort.  In 2007 Senator Kirk Watson carried this bill (minus an amendment in this year’s bill that exempts police and fire).  The requirements currently for citizen’s charter amendment petitioning is 5% of registered voters, with a 20,000 signature cap.  Wentworth’s SB 690 would raise the signatures to 10% and remove the 20,000 cap.  The law already requires 10% for citizen’s municipal initiatives, referenda and recall petitions.  (Remember, Texans only have I&R&R at the city level).  The reason you don’t see more referenda and initiatives is because petitioning requirements make them near impossible and WAY too expensive.  If anything, they should lower those requirements.  Bottom line — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  How many citizen’s charter amendments have we seen in the last 10 years in Austin?  Four.  How many have passed?  None!  But that hasn’t stopped the Chamber from trying to snuff out any opposition to their developer scams on Austin taxpayers.  Defeat SB 690!  If you’re a member of the Chamber — let ’em have an earful, cancel your membership and tell them you’re sending your dues for ChangeAustin.org, who will keep fighting for voters and local business.