Shark Finning Bill Passes House

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Photo by Nicholas Wang/Flickr
Will the bill make it this time?
The Texas House of Representatives passed a House bill that would ban the sale, trade, purchase and transportation of shark fins in the state, and the bill now will go to the Senate.

The practice of finning -- catching a shark, cutting off its fin, and releasing it back into the water, where it sinks and dies -- is already banned federally, but State Rep. Eddie Lucio III entered the bill to help cut out the existing loopholes.

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Rebs Fight to Keep Confederate Heroes Day in Texas

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Troubled that Texas not only has a state-recognized holiday called Confederate Heroes Day, but also that said holiday just so happens to bump up against Martin Luther King Jr. Day every year (this year, the celebrations even fell on the very same day), 13-year-old Jacob Hale of Austin took his concerns to the Legislature. The ultimate result was HB 1242, authored by state Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin), which, if passed, would recast the holiday as Civil War Remembrance Day and move it to May.

On Tuesday, Hale went before a House committee and, wearing his suit, tie and American flag lapel pin, testified in favor of the bill he inspired, saying the current holiday ignores Union members and sympathizers who died in Texas along with those enslaved in the state. Hale urged lawmakers to create a new holiday that would be "more inclusive and a more accurate symbol of our state's diverse history."

And then, one by one, a line of mostly white, mostly elderly Confederacy buffs urged lawmakers to kill the teenager's bill.

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Uber Tells Texas Lawmakers Its Background Checks Are Totally Fine

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The criminal charges against Duncan Eric Burton loomed over discussions at the capitol yesterday about how best to regulate rideshare services like Uber and Lyft in the state of Texas.

Burton, who was arrested last Thursday, has admitted taking a blackout drunk passenger to his apartment, where he then orally, vaginally and anally raped the woman, according to a Houston police officer's affidavit filed in a Harris County court.

We've since learned that Uber's third party background check somehow didn't catch that Burton had released from federal prison in 2012 and was on probation after serving 14 years behind bars on a felony drug charge, something that should have disqualified him from driving for the company. It appears Burton was among the untold number of Uber drivers who still pick up passengers but haven't registered with the City of Houston to undergo a fingerprint-based background check that city officials insist is more rigorous than Uber's system and would have flagged Burton's criminal history.

Yesterday the House Transportation Committee took up House Bill 2440, which would effectively nullify rideshare ordinances like the one in Houston and instead set up a statewide registry through the department of motor vehicles, giving Uber total control to screen its own drivers. Which means Uber was in the incredibly awkward position of getting up in front of lawmakers and arguing that the company's process for screening drivers, which just failed in spectacular fashion, works just fine.

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Oyster "Land Grab" Bill Gets Committee Hearing (and Goes Nowhere)

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Photo by Daniel Salazar
Everybody agrees that there's issues with the Texas oyster industry, but that's all everybody agreed on during the Culture, Recreation and Tourism Committee hearing of a proposed substitute for HB 3335 on Tuesday.

For a half-second yesterday, it looked like some version of House Bill 3335, filed by state Rep. Joe Deshotel, a Beaumont Democrat, might actually make it out of the House Culture, Recreation and Tourism Committee.

Supporters of the bill showed up to sing its praises, while opponents were there to rail against it. None of them seemed to pay much attention to the warnings from state Rep. Ryan Guillen, a Democrat from Rio Grande City and the committee chairman, that what he was proposing was different from HB 3335. The original iteration of HB 3335 is a point of contention in the oyster community. Those for the bill say it's merely language that will help private industry protect and cultivate the Texas oyster industry. Those against it say the measure is nothing but an attempt by a single group to control the bulk of Texas oyster reefs.


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Big Business May Help Defeat Anti-LGBT Bills This Session

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torbakhopper via flickr

Pocketbook issues -- and the chance to bring the Final Four or the Super Bowl to Houston -- may actually drive a stake in the heart of anti-gay legislation this session.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, has identified 20 bills this session, including two constitutional amendments, that propose denying services to gays and lesbians or the U.S. Supreme Court's right to approve same-sex marriage. In states around the country, similar bills have been filed and either vetoed or changed once moneyed interests threatened to pull major events and business opportunities.

In a state like Texas, where lawmakers have crowned business growth as king, that's a heavy blow. And it means Equality Texas is not just standing with the American Civil Liberties Union and the left-leaning Texas Freedom Network. It also has added the Texas Association of Business, for the first time, to the list of allies.


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Bill Would Let School Officials Give Students Mental Health Evaluations

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Photo from the Texas Legislature
This guy has some interesting ideas about how school officials should handle mental health.
State Rep. Jason Villalba, a Dallas Republican, has filed some, shall we say, rather intriguing bills during the 84th biennial Texas Legislature -- like the one that would make it a crime for bloggers and citizens to film law enforcement, and the one that would force parents to vaccinate their children, regardless of religious and philosophical stances -- but House Bill 985, might be his personal best, at least for this legislative session.

Villalba came up with the legislation, referred to as "Alanna's Law" in the bill, after a 2013 incident in Saginaw, a suburb of Dallas, where 17-year-old Tyler Holder allegedly raped and murdered 6-year-old Alanna Gallagher after repeatedly telling other students he fantasized about killing. Under current law, officials couldn't arrest Holder since he hadn't actually committed a crime, so that's the gruesome and understandable motivation for Villalba's bill. However, like Villalba's other attempts at legislating this session, the result ends up reading like something George Orwell would write a dystopian novel about.

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HCC Trustee Wants to Make Transgender Discrimination Part of City Charter

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In the court battle that's effectively stalled the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, we're still waiting for a judge to determine whether anti-LGBT activists gathered enough signatures to send the issue to a ballot referendum.

But Dave Wilson, a Houston Community College trustee who runs something called "Houstonians For Family Values", isn't holding his breath. Instead, he's been shopping a petition to make discrimination against transgender people acceptable under the city charter, and Wilson claims he's got enough signatures to trigger a public vote on the matter.

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Texas Stories That We Wish Were April Fools' Jokes

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...if only this were an April Fools' joke...
You've probably already had your fair share of fake news and bogus announcements today.

The problem is, some of these little lighthearted hoaxes don't seem that far removed from reality. A Republican-authored bill in the Lege requiring "Hymen Inspections"? Totally false (yet somewhat believable). New Land Commissioner George P. Bush's war on comic sans? Probably a joke. Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller declaring "cupcake amnesty"? Believe it or not, that one was real.

In that spirit, here are some totally real news stories (or people) we really wish were April Fools' jokes:

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Will a Bill to Regulate Texas Payday Lenders Finally Pass?

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Such a noble enterprise.
There are few legal enterprises in this country as despicable as the payday-loan and rent-to-own businesses. They share the same parasitic business model -- one that achieves maximum profit potential the more desperate and/or unsophisticated a consumer is.

That's partly why Houston and other cities throughout Texas have regulated these businesses, and why Woodville Republican state Rep. James White has introduced a bill to implement some of those regulations statewide. Thing is, this would affect the bottom line of his fellow lawmaker, Rep. Gary Elkins of Houston, whose bottom-feeding Power Finance Texas chain somehow manages to skirt usury laws while charging APR rates between 739 and 792 percent.

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Islamic Advocacy Group Asks Ted Cruz to Skip Conference Featuring an Anti-Muslim Leader

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It's only been a few days since Sen. Ted Cruz formally admitted he's running for the GOP nomination for president for 2016, but an Islamic advocacy group is already weighing in and urging Cruz to skip a conference they claim has ties to white supremacists and anti-Muslims.


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