Sunday, February 24, 2013

On Representation in the Texas Legislature: Substantive Representation

In a prior post, I noted the distinction among several types or kinds of representation. In that post, I considered the degree to which each political party represents the people of Texas in the Texas legislature. In this post, I want to give you an idea of how I plan to approach substantive representation. As noted in the previous post, substantive representation involves the degree to which the representatives are like the people they represent in terms of public policy. In this post, I will examine one issue, enacted by the 82nd Texas legislature.

As described by the House Research Organization, House Bill 15 requires each abortion provider to perform a sonogram on a woman seeking an abortion. The sonogram must be performed at least 24 hours before the abortion or two hours before the abortion if the woman lives at least 100 miles from the nearest abortion facility. The physician must provide verbal explanations of the images and the heart auscultation, which must be visible and audible to the woman. The woman may choose not to view the sonogram images or hear the heart auscultation. She may choose not to view the sonogram images or hear the heart auscultation. She may choose not to receive the verbal explanation of the images if she certifies that she is a victim of rape or incest or a minor receiving a judicial bypass for parental notification or if the fetus has an irreversible medical condition or abnormality. The Texas Medical Board must take appropriate disciplinary action against a physician, who violates these provisions, and must refuse to issue or renew a license.

The House considered HB 15 twice: the first time, on March 7, 2011, and the second time on May 5, 2011, during a special or called session. The bill originally died in the Senate because of a filibuster. The Senate passed the bill on May 3, 2011, during the special session.
In the House, the votes were similar on the two dates. In March, the House approved the bill on a 107 to 42 vote. One Hundred Republicans voted for the bill; only one Republican voted against the bill. Among Democrats, seven voted for the bill, and 41 voted against the bill. The speaker of the House did not vote, as is the custom. In May, the House approved the bill on a 94 to 41 vote. In the Senate vote in May, the bill passed 21 to 10. In that vote, 18 Republicans and 3 Democrats supported the bill, and 1 Republican and 9 Democrats opposed the bill.

What was public opinion in Texas on the issue of requiring sonograms during the same period? Again, there are two surveys, one in February 2011 and another in May 2011 that posed the same question about sonograms and listening to the heartbeat of the fetus. Here are the responses:

Question 22 in the February 2011 UT/Texas Tribune Poll of Registered Voters
Do you support or oppose passing a law requiring that doctors who perform abortions make available to pregnant women sonogram images of their fetuses, and have the women listen to the heartbeat of their fetus before they have an abortion?

Strongly Support
38 percent
Somewhat Support
16 percent
Somewhat Oppose
11 percent
Strongly Oppose
25 percent
Don’t Know
10 percent

A majority, 54 percent, support legislation requiring the sonogram and listening to the heartbeat, and 36 percent oppose legislation.

Question 23 in the May 2011 UT/Texas Tribune Poll
Do you support or oppose passing a law requiring that doctors who perform abortions
make available to pregnant women sonogram images of their fetuses, and have the women listen to the heartbeat of their fetus before they have an abortion?

Strongly Support
36 percent
Somewhat Support
14 percent
Somewhat Oppose
10 percent
Strongly Oppose
29 percent
Don’t Know
11 percent

By May, 2011, the support declined slightly so that a bare majority, 50 percent, supported the legislation, and 39 percent opposed the legislation.

Texas Lyceum Poll, May 24-31, 2011
The Texas legislature also passed into law a measure that requires doctors to conduct a sonogram prior to an abortion, and then show and discuss the picture with the woman. Do you support or oppose this measure?  

Likely Voters
62 percent
58 percent
37 percent
40 percent
Don’t Know
2 percent
2 percent

So, which party better represented the public’s opinion on the issue? The Republican members of the House were unified in support of the legislation. Of the 101 Republican members of the House who voted on the bill in March, 100 members supported the legislation (99 percent) and 1 member (1 percent) opposed the legislation. Of the 48 Democrats who voted on the legislation, 41 members (85 percent) opposed the legislation, and 7 members (15 percent) supported the legislation. An overwhelming majority of House Republicans did what the public preferred by voting for the legislation, and a substantial majority of House Democrats voted against the public’s preference in opposing the measure. In the Senate, 18 Republican senators (95 percent) supported the bill, and 1 Republican senator (5 percent) opposed the bill. Among the Senate’s Democrats, 3 senators (25 percent) supported the bill, and 9 senators (75 percent) opposed the bill. Thus, on this particular issue, Republicans better represented the majority opinion of the public by supporting the bill.

In future posts, I’ll consider other issues and each political party’s votes on the issue.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

On the State of the State: Perry's Misrepresentation of Texas Public Education

In his 2013 State of the State address, Governor Perry stated that education spending had increased during the last decade. He stated:

Over the past decade, the state's share of public education spending increased from $11 billion per year to $20 billion in '09. That's an 82% increase. Part of our push for accountability has included a sharper focus on the basics like math, science, English & social studies.

Those efforts are paying off in the lives of our young people. For example, Texas has been recognized as one of only four states closing the achievement gap in math. On the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress, Texas children scored significantly higher than their peers.

The quality of education in our state is getting better and better preparing hardworking Texans to apply their legendary work ethic and provide for their families.

Is Perry correct, and more importantly, does it accurately reflect the position of education in Texas’ budget priorities? I think that it does not. Although Perry’s figures about increase in the state’s share of spending for public education may be correct, calculating Texas’ commitment to public education is not accurately depicted using the dollars committed to public education. A much better measure is spending per pupil, which accounts for the increase in the number of children who attend public schools in Texas. What is depicted when the per pupil spending is calculated for the last decade?

            Source: CPPP, Undermining the Texas Economy: The 2012-13 Texas State Budget

According to Cal Jillson’s Lone Star Tarnished (p. 113): “In fact, over the past decade, state and local funding of public schools in Texas has actually declined slightly after accounting for population growth and inflation. Remarkably, in 2002 the state appropriation per student was $8,366 and in 2011 it was $8,176.”

On whether, in George W. Bush’s words: “Is our students learning?” They aren’t learning as well as students in other states.  In SAT scores, Texas trails the average score by 30 points. Whereas the national average was 1011 in 2011, Texans who took the exam averaged 981. Although Texas’ Anglos and African Americans score higher than the national averages for their ethnic categories, Texas’ Hispanics score lower. The lower average score for Texas’ students is explained by the comparative ethnic makeup of test-takers in Texas versus the nation.

There is little doubt that Texas’ future depends on an educated workforce. Otherwise, Texas will fall behind other states in its ability to attract and hold the types of businesses that pay good wages and provide benefits to its employees.

UPDATE: The Texas Tribune has a nice piece on this issue here.  The most important paragraph is:

All of the data the Texas Public Policy Foundation uses on state education spending come from the comptroller’s office, Golsan said. He said in his statement he was referring to “raw dollars” spent on public education over the past decade, which did not account for inflation.
Sullivan said he also based his statement on raw numbers, though his came from the Texas Education Agency. In 2001, he said there were 4 million students in the public education system with about $27 billion spent total, which means the state spent about $6,500 per pupil. Ten years later, the system had grown to almost 5 million students with a total of $55.7 billion spent, or about $11,300 per pupil.
Both of those numbers, not adjusted for inflation, reflect state, federal and local spending combined.

The trick is to compare without using comparable data. It is so disingenuous!