The Arena

Free Speech In The Digital Town Square
Posted March 25, 2021 by Nathanael Ferguson

SB 12, if enacted into law, would address the free speech impairment created by giant social media companies engaging in viewpoint-based censorship.

Free speech is a vital part of American life and law, and with increasing regularity, has been infringed upon by Big Tech companies. These companies have vast and virtually monopolistic powers and impose substantial control over online public discourse in Texas and throughout the United States.

Ordinarily, we would be sympathetic to an argument that people who are dissatisfied, or who have been de-platformed by mainstream social media sites, start their own competing sites. However, as we have witnessed in recent months, the entrenched Big Tech sites have extensive power to prevent nascent competitors from flourishing or may simply take competitors offline entirely.

The state has a legitimate interest in ensuring that the internet, which is akin to a public utility, does not operate in service to one political ideology at the expense of others. The free exchange of competing ideas must be protected in the virtual town square, just as it is in the physical town square.

For these reasons we strongly support SB 12....

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Election Security Must Be Enacted This Session
Posted March 16, 2021 by Nathanael Ferguson

In our system of ordered liberty, the power to govern is derived from the consent of the governed. In order for government in a free society to remain stable, the consent of the governed must necessarily include the consent of the losing side. Such consent is only possible when the losing side has full confidence that elections are truly free and fair and that their loss at the ballot box, even in a closely contested election, was legitimate and not the result of fraud.

Without the public’s full confidence that elections are free and fair, and that only legal ballots cast by eligible voters are counted in official election results, outcomes in close elections will always be suspect and the legitimacy of the government will be questioned by the party out of power. This is dangerous to the health of a free society.

In the interest of openness, transparency, unity, and legitimacy, government at all levels must ensure that elections are not only actually free and fair, but also perceived to be so by the public at large. This, then, is the simple and compelling rational for Governor Abbott’s prioritization of election ...

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Process Matters, Even In Extraordinary Times
Posted March 15, 2021 by Nathanael Ferguson

Today, the Texas Senate took extraordinary action to suspend numerous rules to file, hear, and pass a bill on electricity repricing in the wake of last month’s historic winter storm. All of this happened within scarcely more than a few minutes time, days after the bill filing deadline had passed. There was neither public notice nor a public hearing as those terms would be reasonably understood by the average citizen.

Regardless of the merits of legislation under consideration, this is not how laws should be enacted. Even during extraordinary times (and perhaps especially during extraordinary times) legislators should adhere to an open and transparent process which allows adequate time for bills to be read, provides reasonable public notice, and requires open hearings with public testimony prior to consideration before the full chamber.

Legislators should not rush a bill through the process in haste and relative secrecy as was done today with SB 2142. This sets a dangerous precedent allowing for any declared emergency to serve as a pretext for passing laws without proper public oversight. Texans of all political persuasions should be deeply concerned when any bill is passed in ...

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Make Your Mark This Session: Join Our Team
Posted March 09, 2021 by Nathanael Ferguson

Texas Action has an immediate opening for a Policy Analyst to join our team for the remainder of the 87th Legislature.

Texas Action is the premier comprehensive bill analysis group serving the Texas legislature. In conjunction with our sister organization, Texas Civic Education Foundation, we offer analysis of every bill that gets scheduled for a vote in the Texas legislature and provide liberty-based vote recommendations. Our analysis and recommendations help Representatives and Senators keep up with the overwhelming pace of legislation and stay well informed on the bills they are required to vote on.

Our policy analysts read, analyze, and evaluate legislation to provide a written synopsis of what each bill would do if enacted and offer a vote recommendation that is linked to our Liberty Principles. Each day votes are scheduled, our analysis is provided to legislators and staff in the form of a Daily Floor Report.

As a principles-based organization, our analysis and vote recommendations are made without regard for party affiliation or the tenure or stature of the legislators involved. Every recommendation is based solely on whether the legislation in question supports or hinders our Liberty Principles: ...

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Bill Alert: HB 3 Creates Sweeping New Executive Authority
Posted March 04, 2021 by Nathanael Ferguson

HB 3, currently under consideration by the House of Representatives, is an item of serious concern for all Texans. In its current form, this bill grants sweeping new pandemic emergency authority to the governor and creates narrow and nearly meaningless liability protection for Texas businesses.

Sweeping Executive Power

One of the many lessons we have learned during the spread of COVID-19 is that governments at all levels can wield too much power over the lives of people simply by declaring an emergency. The legislature should be curtailing rather than broadening emergency powers vested in the office of the governor.

Specifically, HB 3 would allow the governor to make long-term emergency declarations that carry the force and effect of law. The governor’s emergency power would include the ability to commandeer private property, control movement in declared disaster areas (which could include the entire state), and declare martial law.

In short, this bill would allow a Texas governor to create a virtual police state based solely upon his or her pandemic disaster declaration with no meaningful legislative oversight.

While the bill stipulates that the legislature “by law ...

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It’s Time To Stop Arresting People For Offenses That Don’t Carry Jail Time
Posted February 26, 2021 by Matt Liles

In the shadow of nationwide protests over police reform last summer, Rep. Terry Meza introduced HB 274, which would eliminate most arrests for misdemeanors punishable by fine only. The ability of law enforcement to arrest individuals for offenses that are not punishable by jail time violates those individuals’ liberty, costs counties money, and causes needless confrontations between citizens and police officers over trivial offenses. By mostly ending this practice, HB 274 would solve those problems without crippling core functions of law enforcement.

Class C misdemeanors, which include gambling and most traffic violations, are the lowest category of criminal offense in Texas. While convictions carry only a fine of up to $500, state law still permits the arrest and booking of those charged with such offenses into county jails. Individuals should not spend time in jail for offenses that do not carry jail time if convicted. As such, HB 274 would prohibit arrests for most fine-only misdemeanors and require citations instead, excluding certain cases in which the offender poses a danger to the public. Eliminating the threat of arrest for fine-only misdemeanors also reduces the possibility of violent confrontations between citizens and ...

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Emergency Declarations Require Checks and Balances
Posted by Rebecca Willis

The global COVID-19 pandemic has brought a myriad of challenges that have permeated every vestibule of life, causing us to reevaluate things that were previously taken for granted: everything from navigating education for our kids, toilet paper shortages, or working-from-home. This pandemic has turned things upside-down. It has also caused many to question the legitimate extent of the governor’s power to declare emergencies or disasters and to impose mandates and modify regulations during those times.

Currently, there is no legislative oversight needed to make a declaration of disaster or emergency. According to the Texas Disaster Act, the governor has authority to issue executive orders, proclamations, and regulations and amend or rescind them as he sees fit. While this ability certainly has served a purpose in the past and will remain a critical function of the executive in the future, the lockdowns mandated in response to the pandemic have sent a clear signal that the power of the executive may need some checks and balances. We are, after all, a free people not meant to be ruled by decree.


HJR 421  by Rep. Toth proposes a ...

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Medicaid: To Expand Or Not To Expand
Posted February 10, 2021 by Phillip Sharp

In recent years, a proposed solution to “fix” healthcare has been to expand Medicaid. Would expanding Medicaid truly fix the problems associated with America’s healthcare industry? Would it truly expand access to healthcare services for uninsured or underinsured? Or should Texas just say no to expanding Medicaid?

Texas has taken a serious stance against Medicaid expansion since Gov. Rick Perry decided not to expand Medicaid with Obamacare/the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2012. Governor Perry took this stance to avoid what many see as a failed system that would take away healthcare choice. According to some, this has led Texas to, “the biggest coverage gap in the country, with an estimated 761,000 resident’s ineligible for Medicaid and also ineligible for premium subsidies to offset the cost of private coverage in the exchange.” For a state of 28.70 million, 761,000 residents represents just 2.65% of the population that resides in this coverage gap.

What are the financial consequences of this gap and how is Texas currently resolving the issue?

In Texas, “adults without minor children are ineligible for Medicaid regardless of how low their income is.” (Norris, ...

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Carrying The Torch On Criminal Justice Reform
Posted February 04, 2021 by Matt Liles

There has been a lot of speculation that due to COVID, the budget shortfall, and a variety of other factors this year may see a somewhat subdued legislative session with fewer bills than usual crossing the finish line. Be that as it may, there were a number of excellent bills in the criminal justice reform arena which came close to the finish line last session only to fall ever so short. We encourage legislators to pick up the torch and take those issues the distance this year. Following are a few specific suggestions.

During a press conference about criminal justice priorities on January 21, Governor Abbott emphasized his desire to enact bail reform through the Legislature this spring; he later named the issue one of his five emergency items for the 87th Legislature. Previously, lawmakers in the 2019 legislative session fell just short of passing such legislation despite multiple bills and involvement from the Governor’s office. Bail reform was not the only criminal justice issue shelved: liberty-minded reforms concerning automatic driver’s license suspension for drug convictions and the decriminalization of low-level marijuana possession were also left on the table two ...

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On The Budget: Cautious Optimism But Leave The Rainy Day Fund Alone
Posted February 03, 2021 by Melissa Ndip

The 87th Session of the Texas Legislature began this January with the usual hot topic of the budget. A heightened concern this year was how much the deficit (or budget shortfall) would be, since COVID-19 ravaged the economy last year and significantly reduced Texas’ tax revenue.

When the Texas Comptroller released the Biennial Revenue Estimate (BRE) in January, there was slight relief since the projected budget shortfall of $946 million was far less than the expectations as stated last year. The BRE also provides the fiscal outlook for the next biennium. What were the projections? “It depends” seems to be the simple answer. Mostly it depends on how soon people can return to work and normal shopping activities, as well as the final budget passed by Legislators in this Session. The appropriations legislators make, and the general revenue generated from heightened economic activity will be the main determinants of how well Texas is set for the future.

Senate Bill 1 (S.B.1) is the general budget bill that was filed January 21st. It will go through a series of committee hearings and markups to reflect changes deemed necessary. S.B.1 currently meets ...

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