On Tuesday, Jan. 10, the 85th session of the Texas Legislature began in Austin. Mark Clark and I were there for the formal opening. But the first few weeks are primarily a time for informal visits with the state representatives, senators and their respective staff members to lay out our goals and positions on issues that impact our members.
Our meetings with members of the Harris County delegation have built our confidence as we position HPOU to deal with any issues that may impact Houston police officers. As of this writing, we have no final bill on the pension changes, but anticipate no additional changes than what have already been explained by your elected HPOPS trustees. Nothing will go into effect on pensions until July 1 at the earliest.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced committees and chairs. There were no surprises. We were most pleased that the Republican lieutenant governor chose Sen. John Whitmire to chair the Criminal Justice Committee. Sen. Whitmire is the Dean of the Texas Senate and continues to be an ally to police officers and our families. He is the epitome of a public servant and we appreciate our relationship.
Lt. Gov. Patrick also has created a law enforcement advisory board to assist him throughout the session. I am honored to serve on that board. Please contact me by email (email@example.com) if you have any ideas that you believe will improve the safety or working conditions of our officers. Now is the time for good ideas and proposals.
As stated in past columns, we are continuing our participation with the Texas Law Enforcement Council, consisting of more than 30,000 members. We meet each week with members from each group and with district attorneys, sheriffs, police chiefs and leaders of other labor groups to discuss any bills that impact all of us. The key mission of our working group is to share information and do all we can to represent and protect the interests of Houston police officers and law enforcement officers throughout Texas.
We will maintain a presence in the Texas Capitol throughout the session and continue to send out updates via our HPOU eblasts. If you have not received any yet, you are not in our system. Contact the front desk to update your email address.
Badges vs. Pensions/Pay/Benefits
The HPOU took a completely neutral stance on the changing of HPD badges. It was not a major issue for me even though this badge has been worn by my family for more than 110 years of service.
I thought the issue was settled a few years back when the vote for the new badge was narrowly defeated by the current badge. Chief Art Acevedo arrived on the scene just prior to a promotional ceremony. He was surprised at how cheaply our current badge felt, while never criticizing the look. He wanted to beef up the badge and make it heavier and sturdier.
During his conversations, he was advised that we had a vote before, but the new badge lost. He decided to put the badges back up for a vote with the intention of beefing up our current badge if that design won. The voting began and more than 800 officers voted the first day. The final number of voters was 2,337.
The numbers were overwhelming in favor of the old design. The number of votes would have been even higher if retirees had been allowed to vote. I received a call asking if they could vote and they were advised that the city was only allowing active officers since they still wear the badge.
While I wasn’t surprised at the result based on the last election and the slew of negative comments, I was very surprised that more people appeared to care about the badge design than the person who was going to be placed on the board of our $4 billion pension system. There were three candidates vying for the trustee position. All active officers AND retirees were permitted to vote in that election. The total who voted, including active AND retirees, was 2,081.
A posted comment circulated about the low number of voters and it appeared to get folks’ attention. The runoff for the pension trustee election was then held and drew a record number of voters! (Congratulations to Mike Newsome on his reelection and a big thanks to Trey Coleman for his desire to serve.)
I also was surprised that more people voted for the badge than for the 2015 contract that affected the pay and benefits for all active officers. Our current contract was voted on in February 2015. A grand total of 2,159 people voted in that election.
Pensions and protecting officers’ rights are my number one concerns going into this legislative session. I hope the trend of more people paying attention and voting for important issues continues.
To summarize the badge vote with a paraphrase from a 1948 film: Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ new design for badges!