- Associated Press - Monday, February 13, 2017

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Nearly 30 percent more Latinos in Texas voted in November than in the 2012 election, outpacing the increase in that time for non-Latino voters, according to a state report.

The rise signals to some observers that elections will become increasingly competitive in the Lone Star State.

The share of the electorate with a Spanish surname increased to 19.4 percent in 2016 from 17.2 percent, the figures released by the Texas Legislative Council show. State officials determined the numbers using a count based on a list of surnames and the findings don’t account for every Latino voter.

Latinos make up 38 percent of the Texas population but tend to vote at lower rates than other groups in Texas or Latinos in other states, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

Texas Democrats have long awaited a voter surge among Latinos that could break the Republican stranglehold on statewide elected offices. Democrats don’t hold a single one.



“I think it shows there’s a transition happening in Texas,” Matt Barreto, co-founder of the polling and research firm Latino Decisions, told the newspaper. “Latino voters in Texas are becoming more engaged.”

But Rice University political scientist Mark Jones was more measured, calling the increase “notable, but not dramatic,” and said it mirrored jumps in past presidential elections.

“The Texas electorate becomes more Latino and less Anglo with every passing electoral cycle,” Jones said. “But the increase is fueled primarily by natural demographic trends rather than by a dramatic spike in participation rates among Latinos.”

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UNION DUE DEBATE BEGINS

A bill barring voluntary payroll deductions of union dues from state employee paychecks is drawing questions as it begins a long, potentially contentious journey through the Texas Legislature.

Chairwoman Joan Huffman of the Senate State Affairs Committee introduced the proposal Monday, saying many other states already have similar rules, and that business groups support it.

Democrats noted that the bill wouldn’t affect private businesses, and called it unnecessary. Even some Republicans have questioned the proposal’s singling out unions but allowing paycheck deductions for some charities.

It will have to pass Huffman’s committee before hitting the full Senate. A similar bill cleared the Senate last session, but died in House committee.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have cheered Huffman’s proposal, but labor groups are vowing to fight it.

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HOUSE SPECIAL COMMITTEE LAUDED

Land Commissioner George P. Bush is applauding the creation of a special House committee on ports and infrastructure, saying it could further efforts to build a much-needed protective hurricane barrier along Texas’ Gulf Coast.

Last week, state House Speaker Joe Straus announced the creation of a Select Committee on Texas Ports, Innovation, and Infrastructure.

Bush said in a statement Monday that the coastal barrier is “our state’s most important infrastructure project.”

Though plans aren’t settled, any major push to better protect 350-plus miles of Texas coastline could potentially cost billions in state and federal funds.

Still, Bush noted that a major storm could “change the course of Texas’ economy and irreparably harm the lives of millions,” adding that “the time has come to get serious about investing in coastal protection.”

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PRIVATIZATION OF STATE PROGRAM PANNED

An independent review of the privatization of a state program that transports poor Texans to medical appointments has found that it has cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars while serving far fewer people.

The Legislative Budget Board found that after the Medical Transportation Program was privatized five years ago, the number of Medicaid recipients using it has dropped from 350,000 to 150,000.

The Houston Chronicle reports that the board also found the number of substantiated complaints has doubled and the per-ride cost to customers has nearly tripled.

Critics say privatization was designed to reduce fraud but has been marred by a sloppy procurement process.

Sen. Jane Nelson, who sponsored the legislation that ordered the privatization, says the report is flawed because it “assumes there was no fraudulent activity” taking place before privatization.

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ON DECK

The House reconvenes at 10 a.m. on Tuesday and the Senate heads back to work an hour later. Both continue to have light legislative floor agendas.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“I don’t understand why we are going to get involved in peoples’ paychecks,” Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, as the State Affairs Committee discussed the union dues bill.

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