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Harris County mistakenly suspends voter registrations after GOP challenge

By Zach Despart, Staff Writer Aug. 21, 2018 Updated: Aug. 22, 201

Harris County mistakenly placed more than 1,700 voters on its suspension list in response to a local Republican official’s challenge of nearly 4,000 voter registrations, county Tax Assessor-Collector Ann Harris Bennett said Wednesday.

The situation quickly spun into a partisan spat with the Harris County Democrats accusing the GOP of targeting Democratic voters, and the Harris County Republican Party blasting Bennett, who also is the county’s voter registrar, for the suspensions and for confusing voters.

“Democrat Voter Registrar Ann Harris Bennett should not have jumped the gun by suspending those voters’ registrations,” Harris County Republican Party Chairman Paul Simpson said in a statement. “We urge Democrat Ann Harris Bennett to follow the law and quit violating voters’ rights.”

The suspensions came to light after Bennett’s office mailed letters to the voters whose registrations were challenged, asking them to confirm their addresses.

Assistant County Attorney Douglas Ray said counties are required to give voters 30 days to respond to those requests before placing them on a suspension list, but Bennett’s office took that action prematurely in some cases.

“They were following procedure they believed was the correct procedure, but after they consulted with us, they realized that the correct procedure was to wait 30 days,” Ray said.

Bennett blamed the mistake on a software glitch (of course it couldn't be that I dont know my job it had to be a software glitch). She said her office discovered the error after three or four days, and immediately fixed the 1,735 suspended registrations.

The suspension list is poorly named, Ray said, because voters whose registrations are placed on suspension remain eligible to cast ballots. Voters are purged from the rolls, he said, only if they are placed on the suspension list, fail to respond to letters from the county and fail to vote in two consecutive federal elections.

Alan Vera, chairman of the Harris County Republican Party’s Ballot Security Committee, said he filed the 4,000 challenges in July. Under Texas law, any voter may challenge the registration of another voter in the same county.

Vera said he aims to ensure Harris County voters cast ballots at the correct polling places. He said he and a group of volunteers combed through the rolls looking for voters who had listed locations of post offices or parcel stores, where they may have post office boxes, as their addresses.

Voters are supposed to register at the addresses where they live, so Vera said he is challenging those registrations as illegitimate.

“This was about making sure the voter registration records were correct, so people vote in the correct elections,” he said.

Vera in 2009 helped found True The Vote, a Houston-area tea party group that advocates for stricter voter registration and identification laws, and that supported President Donald Trump’s unproven claims that millions of illegal votes were cast in the 2016 election. Trump’s own voter fraud commission was unable to substantiate his claims, and since has disbanded.

Vera denied that his registration challenges were motivated by partisanship, but Harris County Democratic Party Chairwoman Lillie Schecter alleged in a Tuesday afternoon email to supporters that his effort targeted “nearly 4,000 Democratic voters.”

In a telephone conversation later, Schecter said she had no evidence to support her claim, and that her email should not be interpreted as a statement of fact.

“It is the assumption we’ve gone on, based on the fact it was sent over by Republicans,” Schecter said, adding that the party would cross-check the list of challenged registrations against heavily Democratic communities. Typical Democrat Response just throw a bunch of lies out hope no one catches you and when they do you say well it was the Republicans who did it so it must be Partisan.

Third Ward resident Lynn Lane said he and several neighbors received letters from Bennett’s office stating their voter registrations had been challenged. He said that when he checked his registration online, it was listed as suspended.

Lane said he has learned he still is eligible to vote, but said many residents may assume their voting rights have been revoked if their registrations are listed as suspended.

 

Governor Abbott Announces $5 Million In Texas Talent Connection Grants For Workforce Training Programs

Governor Greg Abbott today announced $5 million in Texas Talent Connection grants to 13 workforce training and job placement programs across the state. This second round of 2018 Texas Talent Connection competitive grant awards, administered by the Texas Workforce Investment Council in the Governor’s Economic Development and Tourism division, supports education and workforce training programs that lead to successful job placement, increased wages and improved job retention, as well as programs serving workforce populations with special needs.

“Texas leads the nation in private-sector job creation because of our highly skilled workforce,” said Governor Abbott. “When we asked Texas employers what the most important factor is for future job growth and business expansion, the top answer is continued access to a skilled and flexible workforce. With the $5 million in Texas Talent Connection grants announced today, we are connecting more Texans to in-demand skills training and connecting more employers to work-ready skilled Texans, so they can grow even more good-paying jobs in the Lone Star State.”

The $500,000 in first-round Texas Talent Connection grants were awarded in April to six local workforce boards from across the state and specifically supported middle-skill STEM internship programs.

The $5 million in second-round Texas Talent Connection grant awards announced today include:

$500,000 to the Concho Valley Workforce Development Board in Tom Green County for the 2018 Concho Valley Workforce Internship and Work Ready Community project, a community-based effort to certify workers in foundational workplace skills needed for high-demand, middle-skill STEM occupational jobs;

$500,000 to Kilgore College in Gregg County for the East Texas Workforce Partnership project, a collaboration with Workforce Solutions East Texas centers to provide skills-upgrade training for dislocated oil and gas workers though innovative, short-term, go-to-work training programs;

$500,000 to the Tarrant County Workforce Development Board for project BEST (Bringing Ex-Offenders Solutions Texas) designed to reintegrate ex-offenders back into the community and provide skills training leading to employment, with priority for placement in the program given to re-entering military veterans;

$499,990 to the University of Houston-Downtown in Harris County for the UHD STEM Training Center for Underrepresented Workforce Career Ready project, a partnership with Houston ISD, Harmony Charter Schools, Alief ISD schools and the Gulf Coast Workforce Board-Houston, providing STEM education and training;

$450,677 to Bay Area Houston Advanced Technology Consortium in Harris County for the Fiber Optics Training for Military Veterans project facilitating veteran’s transition into the civilian workforce through job readiness, training and placement;

$450,000 to CARE – The Academy at Morgan’s Wonderland in Bexar County for the SPIRIT Project – Job Readiness for Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, with the goal of developing the untapped labor force in the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities community to meet workforce needs;

$398,758 to Alvin Community College in Harris County for the Alvin Community College Success Initiative serving Brazoria County with integrated reading, writing and math curricula to model workplace applications for postsecondary youth and adults, along with mentoring, academic counseling and career coaching;             

$388,284 to North Central Texas College District in Denton for the Career Services Center project, a community connector linking students to valuable long- and short-term work, internships and co-ops;

$350,000 to Project ARRIBA in El Paso County for the Bridging the Gap project designed to improve the educational and employment outcomes of low-income, minority, veteran and unemployed or underemployed adults;                    

$325,000 to The Community Learning Center Inc. in Tarrant County for the Manufacturing and Aerospace Assembly Training project providing workforce transition and training for veterans and dislocated workers to addresses an increasing need for workers with advanced manufacturing knowledge and skills;

$258,755 to Workforce Solutions Borderplex in El Paso for the Reboot El Paso 2.0 project offering GED training, work-based training and entry-level positions to re-engage disenfranchised youth, ages 16-24, in the growing computer science and information technology sector;

$177,520 to Lamar State College Port Arthur in Jefferson County for the Continuing to Build Our Future project offering training in construction site safety, site planning reading, form building, concrete work and scaffolding leading to an Intermediate Certificate in Construction Site Carpentry, as well as three national industry-based certifications; and

$165,900 to The Arc of the Capital Area for the Supported Employment project helping adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Travis and Williamson counties connect to job opportunities, navigate common barriers to employment and participate in specialized on-the job training.

The Texas Workforce Investment Council assists the Governor and the Legislature with strategic planning for and evaluation of the Texas workforce system to promote the development of a well-educated, highly skilled workforce for Texas. The Council members represent workforce system partners and stakeholders, including business and industry, organized labor, education and community-based organizations, and state agencies, including the Texas Workforce Commission, Texas Education Agency and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. The $5.5 million in Texas Talent Connection grants awarded this year by Governor Abbott are Wagner-Peyser 7(b) grant funds allocated to the Governor’s Office by the U.S. Department of Labor to encourage innovation in workforce training and job placement services.

 

Governor Abbott Unveils Plan To Address School Safety In Texas

Governor Greg Abbott today joined state and local leaders to unveil his School and Firearm Safety Action Plan. The Governor’s plan contains 40 recommendations and includes proposals that call for increasing law enforcement presence at schools, strengthening existing campus security programs, enhancing firearm safety, providing mental health evaluations that identify students at risk of harming others, and much more. Today’s announcement, which the Governor unveiled in Dallas, TX and San Marcos, TX, follows a series of roundtable discussions held last week during which the Governor spoke to, and received input from, victims, parents, educators, lawmakers, law enforcement and policy experts to help generate solutions that improve safety and security at Texas schools.

“This plan is a starting point, not an ending place,” said Governor Abbott. “It provides strategies that can be used before the next school year begins to keep our students safe when they return to school. This plan will make our schools safer and our communities safer.”

In addition to the actions Governor Abbott is taking today, he will also ask Texas Senate and House leaders to issue an interim charge to consider the merits of adopting a “red flag” law allowing law enforcement, a family member, school employee, or a district attorney to file a petition seeking the removal of firearms from a potentially dangerous person, only after legal due process is provided.

The recommendations announced today identify nearly $110 million in total funding, including $70 million that is already or will soon be available to begin this important work. Additionally, the Governor has identified a specific need for $30 million that he will work with the Legislature to fund next session.

Here is the full list of the Governor's recommendations 

IMMEDIATE FUNDING ASSISTANCE TO SANTA FE

Governor’s Criminal Justice Division Grants:

Deploying Crisis Response Counselors To Meet Immediate Mental Health Needs.

Assisting Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) Efforts to Provide a Long-Term Behavioral Health Response.

Ensuring First Responders Have Mental Health Resources.

Providing Additional Counselors to ISDs in the Santa Fe Area.

Providing Highly-Trained Counselors to Santa Fe ISD for the Upcoming School Year.

Coordinating Long-Term Community Mental Health Efforts.

 U.S. Department Of Education Grant:

Office of the Governor has worked with the U.S. Department of Education to immediately deliver $1 million to Santa Fe ISD through the School Emergency Response to Violence (SERV) program.

MAKING SCHOOLS SAFER

Immediately Increase Law Enforcement Presence At Schools:

Schools should collaborate with local law enforcement to heighten police presence on school campuses.

Prioritize hiring retired peace officers – specifically police, sheriffs, and constables – and military veterans for school security.

Train More School Marshals And Improve The Program:

Increase the number of school marshals by funding training this summer.

Increase the number of school marshals that can be appointed per school.

Remove the firearm storage requirement for school marshals who are in direct contact with students.

Revamp marshal training requirements to focus more time on firearms training.

Require annual refresher courses to maintain school marshal skills.

Provide Active Shooter And Emergency Response Training:

Protect students and teachers by better preparing campus security to respond to active shooters.

The Texas School Safety Center will deliver a workshop-based course that allows for hands-on application of high-quality planning practices.

The Texas School Safety Center will partner with the I Love You Guys Foundation to provide training in the Standard Response Protocol and the Standard Reunification Method for school personnel.

Hardening Of Campus Facilities:

Improve the infrastructure and design of Texas schools to prevent security threats

Prioritize Increased Federal Funding Toward Immediate School Safety Improvements:

TEA will work with school districts to prioritize $62.1 million in new federal funding toward immediate school safety improvements, including school hardening, increased law enforcement patrols, implementation of mental health programs, and other recommendations discussed in this plan

Strengthen Existing Campus Security Programs:

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) should review school districts’ and charter schools’ school safety and security audits.

Specifically require certain members of the community to serve on an ISD or charter school’s safety and security committee.

The School Safety and Security Committee should be required to discuss with local law enforcement the expansion of patrol zones to include the school district.

The School Safety and Security Committee should hold meetings at least three times per year.

School Safety and Security Committees should periodically provide updates to the school board.

Schools should be required to notify parents if a significant threat to students’ safety occurs.

PREVENTING THREATS IN ADVANCE

Provide Mental Health Evaluations That Identify Students At Risk Of Harming Others And Provide Them The Help They Need:

To enhance school safety and ensure additional behavioral health services are available to students on-campus, expand access to Texas Tech Health Sciences Center’s Telemedicine Wellness Intervention Triage & Referral (TWITR) Project.

Increase Mental Health First Aid Training:

Increase Mental Health First Aid training during summer 2018

Provide Schools with Behavioral Threat Assessment Programs:

The Texas School Safety Center will partner with SIGMA Threat Management to deliver training on Behavioral Threat Assessment to school personnel.

Better Utilize And Expand On-Campus Counseling Resources:

Prioritize the importance of the mental and behavioral health needs of students by freeing up counselors to focus on those needs, encourage school district’s to add more counselors at the campus level, and appropriate funds to fill in gaps.

 Expand Campus Crime Stoppers Programs:

Expand Crime Stoppers operations and launch an awareness campaign for school employees and students to encourage the reporting of tips related to school crime.

Use Digital Technology to Prevent Attacks:

Increase the use and awareness of DPS’ “iWatch Texas” reporting system to enable and encourage parents, students, and teachers to easily report potential harm or criminal activity directed at school students, school employees, and schools.

Deploy More Fusion Centers To Monitor Social Media For Threats:

Increase the number of fusion centers in Texas to improve law enforcement’s ability to identify, process, and resolve potential threats that appear on social media.

Improve Mental Health Crisis Response Infrastructure:

To better respond to the needs of students and school faculty in the aftermath of a crisis, expand the Texas Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) Network to improve outcomes.

Increase The Safety Of Charter Schools:

Include charter schools in the same school safety requirements as Independent School Districts.

Allowing charter schools to access similar safety options as Independent School Districts.

Remove From The Classroom Students Who Threaten Teachers:

Protect school employees by implementing a zero-tolerance policy for students who commit assault.

To improve the learning environment by making campuses safer, expand the list of offenses for which a student may be expelled or placed in a disciplinary alternative educational program.

When a student is placed in a DAEP classroom, the school district should implement a cycle of restorative practices designed to address the underlying mental or behavioral health issues, including screenings from the TWITR project or similar programs.

ENHANCING FIREARMS SAFETY

Close Critical Information Gaps To Help Prevent Shootings Like That In Sutherland Springs:

Create a statewide case management system to provide magistrates immediate access to critical information and to speed the timely reporting of court records for federal background checks.

Study A Protective Order Law To Keep Guns Out Of The Hands Of Those Mentally Unfit To Bear Arms, But Only After Legal Due Process Is Allowed To Ensure Second Amendment Rights Are Not Violated:

Encourage the Texas Senate and House leaders to issue an interim charge to consider the merits of adopting a red flag law allowing law enforcement, a family member, school employee, or a district attorney to file a petition seeking the removal of firearms from a potentially dangerous person only after legal due process is provided.

Mandate A 48-Hour Reporting Period To Close Gaps In Federally Mandated Background Checks:

Adjudications affecting the right to legally purchase and possess firearms should be reported within 48 hours. This 48-hour requirement should also extend to protective orders and family violence convictions. Courts should ensure that all disqualifying felony convictions are entered as soon as possible.

Strengthening The Safe Firearm Storage Law:

To help ensure firearm safety, make modifications to the Texas gun storage law.

Promote Awareness Of Safe Storage Practices:

Promote voluntary use of gun locks.

Increase notification and awareness of the law.

Mandatory Reporting Of Lost Or Stolen Guns:

To aid law enforcement, require that gun owners report when their firearms are lost or stolen within 10 days.

 

Going further than prior proposals, Abbott unveils a plan to slow Texas property tax growth

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday unveiled a plan to limit annual local governments' property tax revenue growth to 2.5 percent. To increase revenue beyond that, governments would need approval from two-thirds of voters.

BY BRANDON FORMBY AND PATRICK SVITEK JAN. 16, 2018 10 AM 92
 
HOUSTON — Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday unveiled a plan to "rein in skyrocketing property taxes" in Texas, looking to lay down a marker in a debate that dominated the legislative sessions last year and promises to remain front and center through the 2018 primaries and his re-election campaign.

"Enough is enough," Abbott said at a news conference flanked by Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and several lawmakers. "Texans are fed up with property taxes being raised with impunity. They are tired of endless government spending while honest, hard-working people struggle just to keep up with paying their tax bills. We can no longer sit idly by while homeowners are reduced to tenants of their very own property with taxing authorities playing the role of landlord."

A key tenet of Abbott’s proposal is to prevent cities, counties and school districts from collecting more than 2.5 percent more in property tax revenue than they did in the previous year without voter approval. That’s a far lower cap than controversial thresholds that twice failed to make it through the Legislature last year. And his plan would require that two-thirds of voters — well beyond a simple majority — approve any increase above that 2.5 percent threshold.

But Abbott’s plan also offers local leaders something last year’s property tax overhauls didn’t. The state would no longer be able to saddle local governments with providing new services without providing state funding to cover the costs, he said. And when it comes to funding public education — which makes up the majority of local property tax bills — Texas lawmakers would likely be required to put up more state funds under Abbott’s proposal.

At the news conference, Abbott acknowledged that the Legislature might need to pass a school finance reform package as a precursor to his tax proposal, pointing to his successful push last year for the creation of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. The panel is expected to report its findings to the governor and the Legislature by the end of this year.

The governor’s plan would also subject school districts to the same revenue caps as cities and counties, which is almost certain to be controversial.

Another provision in the proposal would also require local governments to be more transparent about the debt they carry when asking voters to approve new bond packages. And it would also require a supermajority of voters to approve additional debt.

While the plan would slow increases in how much money local governments collectively take in, it wouldn’t necessarily lower individual property tax bills. The amount of money a landowner must pay each year is not just tied to the tax rates that local governments set. It is also determined by the appraised value of the land and any buildings on it. So a city could lower its tax rate and a homeowner could still pay more in property taxes than a previous year if the owner's assessed values have gone up.

The cap in Abbott’s plan wouldn’t be applied to either the tax rate or the increase in appraised value -- it would only pertain to the total amount of money a local government collects on existing land and buildings.

Current law allows voters to weigh in on increased property tax revenues that cities, counties and special purpose districts collect. But that only happens if revenues increase 8 percent or more — and voters collect enough signatures to force an election.

Revenue increases from new construction don't apply toward the election thresholds in current law or Abbott's proposal. 

It’s still unclear how much luck Abbott will have with lawmakers who return to Austin next year. Similar property tax overhauls failed amid an intra-Republican party war between the Senate and House last year, with members of each chamber blaming the other for the failures. But the lower chamber next year will have a new leader since House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio — often cast as the chief obstructor of Abbott and Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s agenda — is not seeking another term.

Asked Tuesday about his plan's chances in the 2019 legislative session — especially given the hurdles less ambitious proposals faced last year — Abbott expressed confidence that public sentiment will force lawmakers to act.

"Frankly, I think it will be easy to get it through both the House and Senate because taxpayers in the state of Texas are frustrated," Abbott told reporters. "Every member of the House is running for election right now. Every member of the House is hearing they need to do something to constrain property taxes in Texas, and so I know when everyone comes back to the Capitol, they understand they have to do something."

Patrick, meanwhile, cited the pending change in House leadership as a possible catalyst for a property tax bill. 

"It is my hope that leadership in House next session understands that we're not going to wait any longer for real property tax reform and relief and that we'll have a partner to get this done," Patrick said, later telling reporters he hopes a commitment to reducing property taxes is "one of the prerequisites before House members" vote on their next leader. 

The proposal is also expected to ignite anger from local leaders, who say state officials in recent years have overstepped their bounds and tried to control how cities, counties and school districts operate. In Texas, only local governments are allowed to collect property taxes. The state is largely funded by sales taxes. Texas is among seven states that don't have a state income tax.

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DISCLAIMER: Political advertising paid for by Kingwood Area Republican women PAC, Regina Thompson, Treasurer, P.O. Box 5906, Kingwood, TX 77325-5906. Political contributions are not tax deductible for Federal Income Tax.
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