Dan Patrick promises to stand-up and do nothing on gun control

Texas’ top lawmakers have recently found themselves between a rock and a hard place — if the rock is “trying to stop indiscriminate mass murder” and the hard place is “appeasing a rabidly pro-gun electorate.” 

In an attempt to thread this smallest of needles, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he’s “willing to take an arrow” and defy the NRA by closing a single loophole in Texas’ famously lax gun laws. 

Patrick took the principled stand of requiring background checks for “stranger-to-stranger” gun sales. He described the measure as “common sense.”

Requiring background checks in “stranger-to-stranger” gun sales is something supported by everyone except the NRA and Texas Rifle Association. 

The two groups that Patrick is bravely defying have given him $11,000 since he was first elected to office. However, Patrick’s radical “common-sense gun legislation” has a massive loophole.

Background checks wouldn’t be required for sales, trades or gifts between friends. Patrick does acknowledge that the “friends with benefits” clause might be open to abuse. 

 Along with an almost exclusively symbolic proposal, Patrick has created a blue-ribbon commission to study the problem of mass violence and community safety. 

The Texas Senate’s newest committee won’t have the legal authority to indict, legislate or issue subpoenas. The six Republicans and three Democrats are being asked to “study a series of issues in response to the recent mass shootings.” 

Patrick tapped state Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) to head the committee and named state Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) vice-chair. 

Republican Sens. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills), Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) and Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) have also been named to the committee. 

Along with Zaffirini, Jose Rodriguez, from El Paso, and John Whitmire, from Houston, will fill out the Democratic side of the aisle. 

Learn firsthand, the personal, family, and community impact of mass shootings in Texas by hearing from victims of mass violence in Dallas, Santa Fe, Sutherland Springs, El Paso, and Midland/Odessa. Conduct hearings in Austin, El Paso, and the Midland/Odessa area to meet with victims and their families in those communities.

Examine ways to keep firearms out of the hands of individuals who would not pass a federal background check, while protecting the Second Amendment and Texans’ right to bear arms. Examine whether stranger-to-stranger gun sales in Texas should be subject to background checks.

Consider the role digital media, dark web networks, and overall cultural issues play in the promotion of mass violence and how these contribute to the radicalization of individuals and incitement of racism, white supremacy and domestic terrorism. Research the link between violent video games and recent mass shootings in Texas and examine the impact of the overall fraying culture on mass shootings, including increased violence, tolerance for violence, and extremist views in our society.

Assess how state and local law enforcement agencies, fusion centers, mental health providers, digital platforms and social media companies such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc., can better collaborate to detect, prevent, and respond to mass violence and terroristic activity. 

Examine what resources, staffing and protocols are necessary to enhance these partnerships and whether state funding is needed to assist local authorities in this endeavor.

Determine the effectiveness of current laws that are used for timely reporting of criminal history information, emergency protective orders, and other threat indicators to keep firearms out of the hands of individuals who would not pass a federal firearms background check. 

Review workforce and resource challenges impeding current laws and identify accountability measures needed for law enforcement, courts, firearm distributors, and private sellers who fail to follow reporting requirements under current law.

The committee will begin meeting later this month.

Patrick added that Sen. Huffman is “uniquely qualified to head the Senate Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety.” 

Huffman began her career as a prosecutor in Harris County where she served as Chief Felony Prosecutor, Special Crimes Gang Prosecutor, and Legal Counsel to the Organized Crime Narcotics Task Force. 

She served as lead prosecutor in over 100 jury trials, including murders and sexual assaults of adults and children. 

She was twice elected State District Judge of the 183rd Criminal District Court in Harris County.

Senator Huffman has a solid pro-Second Amendment record. As chair of the Senate’s State Affairs Committee, which handles Second Amendment issues, she has played a key role in passing priority gun legislation over the last several sessions. 

In 2019, she led the charge on Senate Bill 666 to allow law enforcement to prohibit individuals convicted of domestic violence from purchasing a firearm. It would have required all courts to report Class C Misdemeanor and domestic violence convictions to the Texas Department of Public Safety who submits that information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). 

Unfortunately, SB 666 did not ultimately make it to Gov. Abbott’s desk.

Senator Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, will assume the chairmanship of the Senate State Affairs Committee beginning October 1. 

Senator Huffman will continue in her role as chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee.

Senator Huffman will coordinate select committee hearings with the House Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety Chairman.

Whatever happened to that Dallas-Houston bullet train?

It’s been months since the Houston-Dallas bullet train was in the news, but that changed on Sept. 4 when a U.S. Department of Transportation grabbed the attention of Texas transit buffs.

The Federal Railroad Administration recently approved a “petition for rulemaking by Texas Central to issue a Rule of Particular Applicability (RPA)” for the proposed high-speed rail project from Dallas to Houston.

Mischa Wanek-Libman over at Mass Transit explained that “the RPA is a comprehensive set of custom rules that will be applicable specifically to Texas Central and used to govern the railroad’s system and operations between Houston and Dallas.” 

The new ruling will allow Texas Central and the FRA to move forward with the bullet train’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), which should be ready sometime next year. The FEIS is a key regulatory requirement for the train.  

Without the FEIS, construction can’t begin. However, development of the FEIS doesn’t guarantee that the train will be rolling down the track anytime soon. Even with the FEIS, Texas Central doesn’t expect to start construction until at least 2021

The proposed train may move at a speed of 200-plus miles per hour, but the proposal for the train moves at the speed of bureaucracy. After the train was announced in 2014, Texas Central and the FRA hosted 12 public scope meetings. 

The train’s possible routes were approved in the fall of 2015.  Texas Central and the FRA released the train’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement in Dec. 2017. 

Over the next four months, representatives from both Texas Central and the FRA held 11 public meetings to discuss the DEIS.

The DEIS has been in revision since March 2018, and that was the latest news about the project until the FRA announced its decision on the RPA on Sept. 4.  However, the pace of administration isn’t the only problem in the possible train’s possible path. 

Since the train was announced in 2014, the project has intrigued individuals on either end and irritated those in the middle. It’s easy to see why people in the big cities are excited about the idea of a fast train. 

It would take passengers from the Bayou City to the Metroplex in about 90-minutes, with a stop halfway between Huntsville and College Station. The train’s speed would make it comparable to a non-stop flight and would let Houstonians get to the State Fair of Texas in literally half the time it takes Amtrak’s Acela Express to get from New York to D.C.

The problem isn’t that the train is popular in H-Town and the Big D, the problem is that the train isn’t popular with the people who live in-between. Over the past five years, Texas Central has only been able to secure about one-third of the land needed for the train’s right of way. 

Additionally, Texas Central has also lost the support of some key politicians and government agencies. In March 2016, The Brazos Valley Council of Governments passed a resolution opposing the train. 

The Ellis County Commissioners’ Court passed a resolution opposing the train in Dec. 2015.  The main reason for the opposition is rural Texans’ fear of eminent domain.

 In a dorm room philosopher meets law student twist, to stop Texas Central from using eminent domain the company’s opponents have been asking what is Texas Central? 

The question is more than an existential rumination, in Texas there are very few types of private companies that have eminent domain authority — one of those is a railroad.

If the groups opposed to the train, like Texans Against High Speed Rail, can get Texas Central declared something other than a railroad then the company won’t be able to use eminent domain to acquire land. 

Over the last few years, Texas Central has fought multiple court battles to determine whether it is or isn’t a railroad. In February 2019, a Leon County judge ruled that the company isn’t a railroad because it hasn’t laid any track. 

Leon County is famously anti-high speed rail, with elected and appointed officials speaking out against the project and the Leon County Commissioners’ Court passing multiple resolutions intended to stop the train. 

However, a previous decision in Harris County determined that Texas Central is indeed a railroad. Texas Central’s ability to perform surveys has also been the subject of a lawsuit. 

In 2017, Grimes County won a summary judgment prohibiting Texas Central from performing any surveys that damage or alter any county roads. In Aug. 2019, an appeals court in Harris County overturned that ruling. 

The three judge panel found that the lower court had “abused its discretion” in overruling objections from Texas Central’s attorneys and that the county had failed to meet its burden of proof. 

The historical problems, and current issues, surrounding the train shows no signs of slowing or stopping. Fort Worth congresswoman Kay Granger celebrated the department of transportation’s ruling. Conversely, Arlington congressman Ron Wright is opposed to the train.