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Amendment focused on school bathrooms passes the House

I had some hope that we could make it through this session without something like this happening, but clearly we could not.

Amid threats of a special legislative session over the “bathroom bill,” the Texas House on Sunday took a last-minute vote to approve a proposal that would keep transgender students from using school bathrooms that match their gender identity.

The House voted 91-50 to amend Senate Bill 2078 — which focuses on school districts’ “multihazard emergency operations plans” — to add bathroom restrictions that some Republicans had pushed for since the beginning of the legislative session.

Throughout the tense floor debate, Republicans insisted the legislation was not meant to target transgender students, while Democrats likened the proposal to Jim Crow-era policies that segregated bathroom use based on race. Under the proposal, a transgender student who “does not wish” to use a facility based on “biological sex” would instead use single-stall restrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities at their school.

“White. Colored. I was living through that era … bathrooms divided us then, and it divides us now,” Democratic state Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston, a black woman, told her colleagues. “America has long recognized that separate but equal is not equal at all.”

Saying the amendment would provide “definitive guidance” to school districts, Republican state Rep. Chris Paddie of Marshall argued that his amendment language did not discriminate “against anyone.”

“This is does not provide an accommodation for a protected class of students. This provides an accommodation for all students,” Paddie said.

But the adopted amendment could override existing trans-inclusive policies at some school districts that allow transgender children to use the bathroom of their choice.

[…]

Gov. Greg Abbott, who was largely silent on the issue throughout the legislative session, recently endorsed the bathroom legislation as a priority. His office had insisted that he believed the legislation could be passed during the regular legislative session.

But Straus on Sunday said the governor made clear “he would demand action on this in a special session, and the House decided to dispose of the issue in this way.”

After Sunday’s vote, Straus suggested in a statement that the amendment would not drastically alter the way in which schools have handled “sensitive issues,” and would help the state “avoid the severely negative impact of Senate Bill 6.”

“Members of the House wanted to act on this issue and my philosophy as Speaker has never been to force my will on the body,” Straus said of the vote despite his opposition to bathroom-related legislation.

[…]

Despite the whittled-down version that was ultimately voted on, Democrats refused to characterize the legislation in any other way but a “bathroom bill.”

“Let’s be honest and clear here: This amendment is the bathroom bill, and the bathroom bill is an attack on transgender people,” said state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso. “Some people don’t want to admit that. Maybe that’s because they’re ashamed, but make no mistake about it — this is shameful.”

Let this be a lesson, kids – hostage-taking is often a successful strategy. I get why Straus and company thought passing what RG Ratcliffe called “Patrick Lite” might be an effective way to mollify the angry wraith Dan Patrick, but discrimination is still discrimination, and Patrick wasn’t mollified by the House’s inadequate sacrifice anyway, because nothing less than everything he wants is ever enough for him. Let this be a lesson to you, Texas Association of Business and others – Dan Patrick and his cronies are your opponents, and he will never go away on this. If there isn’t a special session or a further attempt at appeasement, he will continue his jihad in 2019. Unless, of course, he’s not there presiding over the Senate. You can maybe help make that happen if you want to. What do you have to lose? The Chron, the Observer, the Press, and Equality Texas have more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

House and Senate concur on pension bill

One more vote in each chamber, then it’s on to get a signature.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

The Legislature is expected to take its final votes on Houston’s pension reform legislation within days after a group of House and Senate lawmakers Sunday night hashed out the differences between their chambers’ versions and produced a final bill.

Stripped from the proposal that emerged Sunday evening were three amendments backed by firefighters and opposed by City Hall, said state Sen. Joan Huffman, a Houston Republican who carried the measure in the upper chamber and who was among the 10 lawmakers tasked with reconciling the bills. The excised amendments had been added earlier this month when the House followed the Senate in approving its version the reform package.

“It’s a great bill that’s good for the taxpayers, for retirees and for the employees,” Huffman said late Sunday. “I think it is a good solution.”

The development puts Mayor Sylvester Turner on the doorstep of a landmark achievement that he has made the central focus of his first year and a half in office and that aims to end a 16-year crisis that has increasingly imperiled the city’s finances.

“There is only one step left for the Legislature to take,” the mayor said late Sunday. “Houston needs their support for our police officers, municipal employees, firefighters and Houston taxpayers. We cannot afford to fail. I believe the Legislature won’t let us down.”

See here and here for the background. Basically, it sounds like the original Senate version of the bill was restored. The firefighters aren’t happy with the loss of the House amendments, all of which benefited them, but that’s the way it goes. There are no guarantees in this world, but this looks pretty set for passage.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Senate wrecks school finance bill

It’s what they do.

The Texas Senate has scrapped much of a proposal to revise how the state funds education in place of a plan to create a school voucher program for children with disabilities.

The bill passed the Senate 21-10 at 12:50 a.m. Monday, marking the second time in two months the chamber has approved legislation that would allow parents to use public school dollars to subsidize their child’s tuition at a private school.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Sen. Larry Taylor, a Friendswood Republican and Education Committee chairman sponsoring the bill. “This would empower some of those parents to have some leverage.”

The new language, added on the Senate floor late Sunday night, now includes money for charter school facilities, autism grant funding and programming for special education students transitioning out of school. The changes also reduce the amount of new money into education from about $1.9 billion to about $500 million during a tight budget cycle amid lower-than-expected state revenue.

The changes come to House bill 21, the lower chamber’s flagship proposal to begin a multi-year process of rehabbing the state’s school funding formula after the Texas Supreme Court called the system constitutional but in need of improvement. The House measure deleted outdated pieces of the formula, reduced recapture and added weights to allocate more money per student with dyslexia or learning English as a second language.

The Senate hijacked the bill shortly after it arrived in the upper chamber, adding to the bill a school voucher program, which the House has opposed, throwing the fate of the school finance fix into jeopardy.

Basically, HB21 as we once knew it is dead. The AFL-CIO changed its position on it from Support to Oppose a few days ago as these changes were first being made. At this point, the House should stick to its guns on vouchers and reject the amended bill. The Trib has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Collin County punts prosecutor pay question back to appeals court

Incoming!

Best mugshot ever

The Collin County Commissioners Court has voted to not pay the prosecutors pursuing criminal charges against Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The 5th Court of Appeals last week directed the commissioners to vote on the prosecutors’ latest bill before it can rule on a lawsuit challenging the fees’ legality. On Monday, the commissioners voted against paying the latest invoice, which tops $205,000 for a year’s work.

“We’re faced with a black-and-white choice: You either pay it, or you challenge it,” said County Judge Keith Self, who sits on the five-member commissioners court. “But don’t expect what we do today to stop the criminal trial.”

Self was addressing the dozen people who attended the Monday meeting and asked the commissioners to reject the latest bill. Most called the criminal case against Paxton a “witch hunt” and pleaded with the commissioners to do something about it. One woman said she was praying for them; another man called the case “frivolous;” still another attendee likened the whole thing to something out of the Soviet Union before adding, “They had genocide.”

The commissioners voted 4-0 (one member was absent) to not pay the prosecutors, who submitted their last invoice in January. They also asked the county’s attorney to prepare for their own court challenge over the fees issue, something the commissioners last year said was an option.

See here and here for the background. Who knew Collin County was so full of drama enthusiasts? My bleeding heart is getting a real workout over here, y’all. Seriously, though, it’s time for the court to put an end to this nonsense and tell Collin County to suck it up and pay the prosecutors. To do otherwise is to ensure that no one will ever want to serve as a special prosecutor in a high-profile case like this ever again. If you think that’s justice, then you really need to re-read your old Soviet history books.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Budget deal reached

The one bill that must get passed is on its way.

After months of private squabbling and public threats of a legislative overtime session, the Texas House and Senate finally compromised to unveil a joint budget late Saturday.

Lawmakers, scrounging for cash in a tight-fisted legislative session, agreed to dip into the state’s savings account and to make use of an accounting trick using funds set aside last session for highway projects.

“We have reached a consensus on what I believe is a responsible, compassionate and smart budget for the people of Texas,” said state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound and the upper chamber’s top budget writer, at a committee hearing that lasted late into Saturday night.

“This has been a laborious process, I have to say,” said state Rep. John Zerwas, a Republican from Richmond and Nelson’s counterpart on the House Appropriations Committee. He called the budget “fiscally conservative” during “a time when it’s a little bit more lean.”

Budget documents indicated around $1 billion would come from the state’s Rainy Day Fund, a $10 billion savings account available to shore up the budget in difficult years. That money would pay for priorities such as repairs to the state’s aging mental health hospitals and bulletproof vests for police officers.

Nearly $2 billion more would come from an accounting trick related to transportation funding approved in 2015. The proposed budget would delay a payment to the state highway fund in order to free up that funding for other needs in the current two-year budget. The House had previously been critical of the possibility.

Though lawmakers were creative in tapping alternative money sources to avoid steep cuts this budget cycle, some high-dollar expenditures, notably Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for the poor and disabled, were not fully funded. That means lawmakers will almost certainly need to address those underfunded parts of the budget in 2019 — their next legislative session — in the form of a supplemental budget.

The House had originally intended to use $1.4 billion from the Rainy Day Fund, then considered upping it to $2.4 billion, while the Senate aimed for $2.5 billion in pay-delay gimmickry. Nice to see everyone can give a little to get a little, I guess. No budget is ever going to be good under our current political circumstances, but this one could have been worse, and that’s about all you can hope for.

In other business from Saturday:

On property taxes, the lower chamber unanimously approved an amendment that contained key language from Senate Bill 2 — which, among other things, requires local governments to give constituents more information about proposed property tax increases — and attached it to Senate Bill 669.

The House sponsor of the bill, state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, had been trying to move the legislation for weeks, and it wasn’t scheduled to come to the House floor until early next week.

The Senate bill is an item Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has deemed must-pass legislation — he threatened on Wednesday to ask Gov. Greg Abbott to call lawmakers back for a special session if that and other measures didn’t pass. Whether Bonnen’s amendment is enough for Patrick and the more conservative Senate is still unclear: Bonnen’s amendment lacked a key provision that would require voter approval for some tax rate increases, something Patrick stated repeatedly he wanted included.

[…]

An amendment by state Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, would extend the lives of several state agencies that were scheduled to “sunset” – or expire. A separate measure that dealt with that specific issue didn’t survive last week’s deadline for the House to pass bills on second reading.

But Price added his language to Senate Bill 80, a measure that seeks to streamline reporting requirements for state agencies. The Senate must now concur with the changes to SB 80 in order for Price’s amendment to survive.

“The goal of the amendment originally as contemplated would not have had to extend these agencies, but for the fact they were caught up in that last night on the calendar,” he said. “It goes hand in hand [so] yes, it had the effect of extending the agencies to 2021.”

SB2 was one item on Dan Patrick’s hostage list, while the sunset bill was his leverage for it. Late last night there was a limited bathroom amendment attached to a Senate bill (I’ll have more on this tomorrow), and SB2 isn’t as Patrick wanted it, so we can’t say as yet whether his tantrum has been mollified. I’m sure he will let us know soon enough.

Posted in: Budget ballyhoo, That's our Lege.

Rep. Al Green gets death threats

sad, but hardly surprising.

Rep. Al Green

During a town hall meeting Saturday, Congressman Al Green played recordings of threatening voicemail messages left for him after he demanded the impeachment of President Donald Trump on the House floor earlier this week.

“You’ll be hanging from a tree,” one caller said.

The calls use graphic racial slurs, some calling Green the n-word. “You ain’t going to impeach nobody. Try it and we will lynch all of you,” the caller said.

[…]

“It does not deter us,” Green said of the threats. “We are not going to be intimidated. We are not going to allow this to cause us to deviate from what we believe to be the right thing to do and that is to proceed with the impeachment of President Trump.”

See here for the background. There are embedded recordings of the voice mails at the story, if you have the stomach for them. People like this suck, and I wish they’d stay under their rocks, but this is the world we live in. I’m sure Rep. Green is unimpressed, but I hope he has some extra protection for at least the next couple of weeks. The Trib has more.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Judge Jordan deserves to have his position in the bail lawsuit represented

I have problems with this.

Darrell Jordan

The only Harris County judge to fight the county’s defense of its controversial bail system has been notified he will not get his own lawyer to appeal the high-profile federal lawsuit that has divided county leaders.

Judge Darrell Jordan – one of 16 criminal court at law judges sued over the county’s cash bail system – is fighting to keep a county-funded attorney who will carry his push to end the lawsuit to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard, however, sent an email Thursday telling Jordan that the appeal for him and other judges will be handled as a group, even though Jordan disagrees with the other judges.

“By taking me out of the fight – by me not having an appellate lawyer – then I can’t attack the unconstitutional grounds that they’re coming from,” he said. “My lawyer should be coming in, and we should be going over what the other judges have filed … We should be telling the truth from my viewpoint.”

He vowed to continue his challenge of the system.

“This fight is too important to just sit back and give up,” he said in an email to the Chronicle.

Soard said Friday he could not discuss conversations between Jordan and the county attorney’s office because of attorney-client privilege, but he said an attorney from his office is reviewing the matter.

In the email exchange with Jordan, however, Soard said the legal fight has centered on the county, diminishing the legal arguments needed on behalf of individual judges, the sheriff or six hearing officers also named in the case.

“Our office is of the opinion that additional filings on your behalf in this case are not appropriate or necessary at this time,” he said in the email, a copy of which was provided by Jordan to the Chronicle. “We have been unable to identify any claim or defense that you may assert that is separate from that of the County or the other County Criminal Court at Law Judges acting as a legislative body.”

[…]

Typically, the county provides legal representation when leaders are sued in their official capacity. Rosenthal’s injunction targets the judges in their “legislative capacity,” however, since the judges work together to set bail practices, according to Soard’s email.

No judge named in the case has a personal attorney in the appellate process, said Melissa Spinks, the county’s managing attorney for litigation.

Jordan said Friday, however, that he has been excluded from meetings where the 15 other judges discussed the case. He blamed County Attorney Vince Ryan for cutting off his legal representation.

“Vince Ryan has found a way to silence my voice,” he said in an email. “I have no other lawyers to call for advice.”

Soard said he was unaware of Jordan’s allegation that he had been excluded from meetings, but said his office would look into it.

I don’t know what to think about the role the County Attorney has played in all this. The charitable explanation is that as the attorney representing the misdemeanor court judges, Vince Ryan believes he must carry out the wishes of his client, and that he cannot decide for them. That breaks down when one of those clients, Judge Jordan, wants something different than what his colleagues want, which argues for letting him have his own counsel. Of course, that can’t happen without the approval of Commissioners Court. So to some extent Ryan is boxed in, but it’s not clear how much he’s been constrained, and even if he is it’s not clear he can’t find a way to express his concerns over this lawsuit, if indeed he has them. In the end, we’re left to decide for ourselves whether Ryan is acting appropriately, or if any other County Attorney might have acted differently. I can’t fault anyone who thinks the answers to those questions are No and Yes, respectively.

This case is an excellent distillation of the reasons why I so strongly oppose any effort to make judicial elections non-partisan. Let’s be clear, every Republican judge involved in this lawsuit opposes efforts to change the bail system, while the one Democratic judge, who is only there because the creation of a new court caused his bench to be on the ballot during the Democratic tidal wave year of 2016, not only wants the system to be overhauled but has changed the way he operates his court to comply with Judge Rosenthal’s ruling. The division on this issue is entirely partisan, and that is something that the voters ought to know. I personally don’t care if any of these Republican judges are objectively “good” or not, I believe they are completely wrong on this very important issue, and I believe it is appropriate and valid for anyone who shares my belief to vote against all of them for it. The decision to defend and perpetuate this unjust system of bail, and the decision to continue the fight after Judge Rosenthal’s forceful and sweeping ruling, is a political one and it deserves a political response. The people should be fully informed about their judicial candidates, and at least in this election, the party label is a crucial piece of that information. Anyone who would advocate otherwise needs to account for that.

I should add, by the way, that even in the absence of this lawsuit or a willingness to finally settle it, the party label still matters. I can believe, based in large part on the precinct date that we’ve been over multiple times, that at least some of these Republican judges did not vote for Donald Trump last year. Good for them. But there’s no evidence in the data from previous years to suggest that they did anything but vote for Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton and Ted Cruz. I for one believe it is also valid and appropriate to vote against people who voted for Patrick and Paxton and Cruz. I understand that some babies may get defenestrated along with the bathwater in doing so. I’m willing to accept that. Some day, when Republicans are nominating better people than Patrick and Paxton and Cruz, I’ll reconsider. Until then, I say partisan considerations in selecting judges have a lot more value than some people are willing to give them.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Ogg joins with other DAs in criticizing new Justice Department sentencing guidelines

As well she should.

Kim Ogg

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg on Friday joined 30 other sitting and former district attorneys in a letter protesting U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent push for harsher sentences in America’s federal courts.

“This is a return to a failed policy of a generation ago,” Ogg, a Democrat, said of the directive. “It did not make the public safer then and it will not make the public safer now.”

A week ago, Sessions ordered that federal prosecutors should bring the toughest charges possible against most suspects, a move seen as a reversal of Obama-era policies that will send more people to prison and for much longer terms.

Prosecutors across the country, including Ogg, criticized a return to failed drug-war policies that would likely unfairly affect minorities and fill prisons with nonviolent offenders.

The open letter was orchestrated by Fair and Just Prosecution, a group that works with prosecutors around the nation.

Miriam Krinsky, executive director for the group, said in a news release that the letter reflects a trend among a “new wave of prosecutors nationwide who are rejecting excessively punitive policies in favor of data-driven and sensible approaches to improve public safety.”

You can see a copy of the letter here. I can’t find a website or Facebook page for “Fair and Just Prosecution”, so this is about all I know. Though the Sessions directive doesn’t affect local prosecutors, the Justice Department does set a tone, and it’s a bad one in this case. Pushing back is the right thing to do, and I’m glad once again to have voted for a DA who is willing to do that.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Weekend link dump for May 21

Meet Zuul crurivastator, the first dinosaur to be named after a “Ghostbusters” character.

Why don’t women’s basketball fans follow their favorite players from college to the pros?

“How Unprecedented Is James Comey’s Firing?”

“The possibility that a lawyer’s small compromise of principle may put him on a steep slippery slope to a much larger personal compromise is present in every presidential administration. But the danger must be heightened in an administration led by a norm-defiant President who disrespects legal institutions and is disloyal to senior subordinates.”

How to understand James Comey.

Congrats to Beth Mowins for becoming the first woman in 30 years to do play-by-play for an NFL broadcast. And kudos to ESPN for being a leader in cracking this glass ceiling.

“None of these new shows will be ‘spinning off’ from GOT in the traditional sense. We are not talking Joey or AfterMASH or even Frazier or Lou Grant, where characters from one show continue on to another. So all of you who were hoping for the further adventures of Hot Pie are doomed to disappointment.”

“Reprioritizing idleness — and deprioritizing work — isn’t some retrograde, Luddite vision of the future. It could be critical to human flourishing as we approach the limits of human productivity. Rather than make-work programs or trying to slow automation, a better way to handle the declining economic value of work might be to stop recoiling in horror from idleness and start distributing its benefits more widely.”

“President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said that Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.” But her emails!

“It’s kind of ridiculous how they are preparing to deal with Trump. It’s like they’re preparing to deal with a child — someone with a short attention span and mood who has no knowledge of NATO, no interest in in-depth policy issues, nothing. They’re freaking out.” Who knew this could be so complicated?

“Donald Trump is not incapable of keeping secrets when it serves him to do so. He has guarded years of his tax returns more closely than any president in the modern era. But when the security of the United States, the lives of Western intelligence assets, the trust of U.S. allies, and the fight against ISIS are at stake, he appears to be less adept.”

“People have been saying for months that establishment Republicans had decided that they’d let Trump do almost literally anything as long as he agreed to sign a big tax cut and help repeal Obamacare. And now McConnell, faced with the ultimate consequence of this moral desertion, is happy to say it out loud.”

“Instead, Trump is president, and last week he was yukking it up with the Russian foreign minister, spilling a little classified information and endangering America’s international intelligence cooperation throughout the region, if not the entire world.”

“The Russian visit should have been a full blown scandal in its own right, but it had too much competition.”

“There has to be trust for this sort of arrangement. I cannot speak for Israel’s entire security apparatus, but I would not trust a partner who shared intelligence without coordinating it with us first.”

“In private, three administration officials conceded that they could not publicly articulate their most compelling — and honest — defense of the president: that Mr. Trump, a hasty and indifferent reader of printed briefing materials, simply did not possess the interest or knowledge of the granular details of intelligence gathering to leak specific sources and methods of intelligence gathering that would do harm to United States allies.”

RIP, Chris Cornell, frontman for Soundgarden and Audioslave.

Alex Jones backs down like the weenie he is.

“Perhaps the most fraught part of the trip is a speech Trump is scheduled to give in Riyadh, in which he will address the world’s Muslims with a discussion of Islam. What could possibly go wrong?”

“According to Reuters, National Security Council officials have resorted to repeating Trump’s name throughout his briefing materials in an effort to make sure he reads them.”

“The only way this seems plausible to me is if Pence were somehow so clean, so far from the center of the action, that the Trump crew knew not to tell Pence these things. That clearly seems to be the story Pence’s aides are trying to tell – possibly to insulate him from Trump’s ubiquitous corruption and lying and allow a smooth transition to a Pence presidency. But again, it doesn’t add up.”

“Still, how could Pence claim in March that he’d just learned about Flynn’s questionable lobbying when it was widely reported in the months after the election, and Representative Elijah Cummings even wrote Pence a letter on November 18 bringing the matter to his attention?”

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Texting while driving ban passes the Senate

We’ll see if this one gets signed into law.

Rep. Tom Craddick

Legislation that would create a statewide texting-while-driving ban overcame a last-ditch attempt in the Senate on Friday to gut the bill. The bill’s author, state Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, said he will concur with the changes the Senate made. The measure will then head to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

State Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, filed an amendment that would’ve outlined an offense as both having been committed in the presence of an officer and having required evidence the driver was not paying attention. The current version of the bill requires either threshold rather than both.

In laying out his amendment, Taylor said that given the list of exceptions to the law that would permit drivers to use their phone — such as operating a navigational tool, reading what the driver believes to be an emergency message, and playing music — requiring more evidence is warranted.

Taylor held up his cell phone and asked his fellow members, “What am I doing? I’m actually looking at [navigational app] Waze, looking for the quickest way out of here,” he joked. “Now I’m searching the greatest hits of the 60’s. These are all things that are legal. So I have issue with that.”

Several Republican and Democratic members rose to say his change would make the law unenforceable.

“It won’t stop all behavior, but I believe when something is against the law, people will hesitate,” said state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston. “And if this law saves one life, then we’ve accomplished what we set out to accomplish.”

The amendment ultimately failed with a 12-19 vote.

After amendments, state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, the bill’s Senate sponsor, took the floor.

“I have waited 10 years to make this motion: I move final passage of HB 62,” the Laredo Democrat said.

Without any further discussion, House Bill 62 passed the Senate on a 23-8 vote.

See here for the background. For what it’s worth, Sen. Huffman’s argument about the Taylor amendment – I can’t quite tell if she’s arguing for it or against it, not that it really matters – is my view of texting-while-driving bans as a whole. The act of making it illegal will almost certainly cause a significant number of people who are now texting and otherwise fooling around on their phones while driving – and in my observation there’s a lot of those people out there – to stop doing it, just because it is illegal. That to me makes it worthwhile. I strongly suspect that recent massive fatal crash that occurred while one driver was busy texting helped move a few votes. As the story notes, a Craddick texting ban bill was vetoed in 2011 by Rick Perry. Craddick says that Greg Abbott’s office has assured him this one will be signed. We’ll know within the next three weeks or so. The Chron has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Sandra Bland Act passes

Good.

Sandra Bland

The Texas House initially approved the Sandra Bland Act on Friday with a unanimous vote. The body now has to vote on the mental health bill one more time before it reaches Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk. (Update, May 20: The House voted 137-0 to give the bill final approval)

Senate Bill 1849 would mandate that county jails divert people with mental health and substance abuse issues toward treatment, make it easier for defendants with a mental illness or intellectual disability to receive a personal bond and require that independent law enforcement agencies investigate jail deaths.

[…]

Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire struck several provisions from the original bill amid criticism from police groups that it would hamper law enforcement’s work, including adding extra steps to legally secure a consent search. Bland’s family expressed disappointment in the Senate version of the bill, calling it a missed opportunity because it removed language relevant to Bland’s stop.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Garnet Coleman of Houston, and other lawmakers have said they understand the disappointment, but there will be other opportunities to address in legislation interactions with police.

See here for the background. Sandra Bland’s family was not happy with the Senate changes to the bill, but it’s almost always better to pass something that can be built on later rather than pass nothing and hope to try again from scratch. It may take several sessions before anything else gets done, and nothing will happen without a big push, but this was progress and I’m glad it succeeded. A statement from Rep. Coleman is beneath the fold.

Continue reading →

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Special prosecutors named in Temple case

We’ll see how they proceed.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office has been tapped to prosecute the murder case against former Alief Coach David Temple in the 1999 death of his pregnant wife.

State District Judge Kelli Johnson appointed Lisa Tanner and Bill Turner, two lawyers with the AG’s office, as special prosecutors almost two weeks after Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg withdrew from the case because of potential conflicts of interest with her office.

Both Temple’s attorney and a spokesman for the victim’s family praised the choice.

“We’re thrilled beyond thrilled to have these prosecutors appointed,” said victims’ advocate Andy Kahan. “We couldn’t have asked for a better choice.”

He said he hopes they put Temple back in prison for the slaying of Belinda Lucas Temple, who was 8 months pregnant with the couple’s second child when she was killed in their home.

“We’re confident that at the end of the day, they’ll see things the way we’ve seen things since 1999,” he said.

Temple’s defense attorney, Stanley Schneider, likewise praised the choice.

“Lisa Tanner has been trying cases around the state for probably 30 years,” said attorney Stanley Schneider. “She always shows up prepared.”

Tanner and Turner will first have to decide if they are going to retry Temple, who maintains his innocence.

See here for the background. The decision about whether to proceed at all or not is the first big choice Tanner and Turner will have to make. At some point one side or the other isn’t going to be happy with them anymore, but at least for now no one is complaining about not getting a fair shake.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Warning labels, schmarning labels

Sid Miller, ladies and gentlemen, addressing the concerns of rancher Bruce Hunnicutt about the use of poison to try to control the feral hog population.

Hunnicutt, 58, operates a hog hunting business on 30,000 acres — he owns 600 and leases another 24,000 — in Northeast Texas. He regularly sends the meat of the pigs they kill home with his clients.

When he couldn’t find answers online, he called the agriculture department to get more information. To his surprise, he got a return call from Commissioner Sid Miller, who assured Hunnicutt the poison would be safe to humans and other wildlife, and directed him to his Facebook page for more information on the poison that’s marketed under the name Kaput.

When Hunnicutt found the product’s label, he was so alarmed he called his state representative.

“That label didn’t look anything like what the man [Miller] told me on the phone —I thought, ‘My god, that can’t be right — people can’t eat this,’ ” he said. “How in the world can you put something in the human food chain that can kill somebody, to kill an animal that people eat?”

When he traveled to Austin to meet with Rep. Gary VanDeaver, he got the chance to address Miller in person.

In the March 3 meeting set up by VanDeaver’s office, which was recorded with Miller’s permission, the commissioner responded to some of Hunnicutt’s safety concerns by saying that his agency could change the poison’s federally approved label to eliminate an important warning — as well as a requirement to bury the carcasses of poisoned hogs, which Miller said simply wasn’t “doable.”

In the recording, which Hunnicutt provided to The Texas Tribune, Hunnicutt says: “That product label right there says ‘all animals’ … every one of them has to be recovered and put 18 inches under the ground. How you going to do that? … How you going to find all of them, Mr. Miller?”

“I guess we should take that off the label, it’s not doable,” Miller says. “We’ll take it off.”

Hunnicutt then referred to the label’s warnings about the dangers of the poison to other wildlife and domesticated animals.

“Animals that feed on those carcasses are going to die. It can kill them,” he told Miller. “Whether you say it or not, the label says it will.”

Miller responded: “We can adjust that too.”

The meeting lasted about 30 minutes, growing increasingly tense, before Miller finally stood up and walked out.

“It’s like he wasn’t listening to me, he had his mind made up, he had his little dog and pony show he’s been putting on this whole time,” Hunnicutt said.

See here for the background. I mean, who even reads warning labels, am I right? They can say whatever you want them to, no one will be the wiser. I have no idea how ol’ Sid didn’t get picked to be Trump’s ag secretary. They’re two unregulated peas in a pod. The Press has more.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

It’s HB2 all over again

Here we go again.

Right there with them

GOP House lawmakers took a sweeping approach to anti-abortion legislation on Friday, preliminarily passing a measure that would ban the most common form of a second-trimester procedure and change how health care providers dispose of fetal remains.

Under the broad strokes of Senate Bill 8, abortion providers would have to bury or cremate fetal remains following an elective abortion and they would be banned from donating aborted fetal tissue to medical researchers. The bill also bans “partial-birth abortions,” which are already illegal under federal law.

An amendment added to the bill during House debate would also ban providers from performing “dilation and evacuation” abortions — a common second-trimester procedure where doctors use surgical instruments to grasp and remove pieces of fetal tissue — unless the fetus is already deceased. Abortion opponents call the procedure “dismemberment abortions.”

House lawmakers passed the bill 96-47; the chamber must take a final vote on the measure before it returns to the Senate.

Opponents call “dilation and evacuation” abortions the safest way to perform the procedure on a pregnant woman, and say requiring the fetus to be deceased would subject women to an unnecessary medical procedure.

They have also said burying or cremating fetal remains — and taking away a woman’s right to donate fetal tissue to medical research — are additional ways to burden and stigmatize women who choose to have a legal procedure.

They predicted even more litigation.

“Why don’t we just stop passing unconstitutional laws for a change?” asked state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

But Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale, the bill’s House sponsor, said the measure would “make sure tissue from aborted babies are not turned into a commodity.” And even though partial-birth abortions are already illegal, she said her measure helps align state and federal statute.

See here and here for some background. As the story notes, there is already an injunction in place against the “fetal remains” rule as it was enacted by HHSC, so the future lawsuit against SB8 is basically ready to go now. Of course as we know, even passing laws that will be killed by the courts exacts a price on reproductive choice and counts as a big win for the bad guys. The only way we’re going to change that is by changing the Legislature, and that needs to start right away. Note that Rep. Burkett is up top of that list, by the way. Quite a few of the “Freedom Caucus” members are in districts that aren’t really all that red. Channel that anger you’re feeling, there’s a lot of good that can be done. The Observer has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Bill King wants you to lower his property taxes

That’s not what he says in this op-ed, but it is the effect of what he’s arguing for, even if he’s not honest enough to come out and say it.

Let’s start with the basic point that despite King’s disingenuous attempt to rebrand it, what the city has is indeed a revenue cap and not a property tax cap. The mechanism that causes the cap to kick in is a combination of inflation and population growth, and if the city’s total revenue from one year to the next exceeds that combination, the cap gets enforced, which has so far always meant a reduction in the property tax rate. My point is that it doesn’t have to be an increase in property tax collections that triggers the cap. If sales tax collections were sufficiently robust, it could tip the revenue increase past the limit. If population growth plus inflation, which together have at best a small influence on the city’s expenses, are sufficiently small then even a modest increase in revenue could cause the cap to come into play. The factors that define the cap have basically nothing to do with the things that drive the city’s finances.

What the revenue cap does above all is prioritize property tax cuts over anything else the city might choose to do. If in a flush year the city wanted to pay down some bond debt or make an extra payment into the pension funds, well, too bad. The cap says the city has to cut the property tax rate, which doesn’t just affect the flush year in question. The reduced rate remains in place, thus hampering the city further in bad times like we just experienced. It also takes the option of increasing the tax rate off the table, which is one reason why Mayor Parker raised fees so much. These are the policy decisions that get made when policy options are artificially limited by bad laws. The effect of the cap is especially pernicious when the city is recovering from down years, as it is now, because even the process of revenues getting back to previous levels after falling due to a bad economy can trigger it. Every candidate for office in Houston I have ever interviewed has talked about spurring economic growth to improve the city’s bottom line. The revenue cap puts a limit on how much that growth can be leveraged. Why would anyone think that’s good policy?

And let’s be clear about who the main beneficiaries are when these forced property tax cuts are enacted: Wealthy property owners like Bill King. Renters get nothing, while owners of lower-priced houses get nominal reductions. It’s only once you get up int seven figures and more that the cuts start to add up. To be sure, it’s still not that much, mere pocket change to the beneficiaries, but the point is that the lion’s share of those benefits go to those who have the most to begin with.

Which brings me back to my main point. If Bill King thinks this dumb law is really good public policy, even if ratings services that he likes to cite when he argues about how to fix the city’s finances think it’s a dumb law, then fine, he’s allowed to argue for it. But just as people have been asking how much Donald Trump would benefit from the tax “reform” plans that are being floated by his administration and its Congressional enablers, we should ask how much he himself has benefited in recent years from the coerced property tax rate cuts that he wants us to go along with. The least he can do is tell us how much this policy that he advocates will add to his own bottom line.

UPDATE: King insists in the comments and via email that “other revenue sources” like sales taxes don’t trigger the charter amendment. Fine, whatever. This does not change my point that the revenue cap is a stupid idea, nor that people who have benefited from it, like Bill King, should be honest about that when they advocate for its continued existence.

Posted in: Local politics.

Appeals court chooses not to decide in Paxton prosecutor pay case

This is oddly fitting.

Best mugshot ever

The 5th Court of Appeals on Wednesday said they won’t make a decision on whether the three prosecutors’ fees are legal until the county votes to pay their last bill, which topped $205,000. The prosecutors’ pay has been on hold since January.

The court has told the Collin County Commissioners Court to vote on the fees within the next thirty days, after which the court will rule on the fees’ legality. County Judge Keith Self, who sits on the commissioners court, called the decision “judicial overreach,” and said it’s time to go to trial in the Paxton case so the county can “stop the bleeding.”

“We’ve entered the theater of the absurd,” he told The Dallas Morning News on Friday. “Let’s pay the bill. Let’s get this case to trial. If an injustice has been done, let the trial sort it out.”

The commissioners will vote Monday on the prosecution’s latest bill, Self said. He could not guess how the vote would turn out, but if the commissioners turn down the payment, it could hamper the court’s ability to decide the case pending before them.

See here for the background. As the noted philosopher Geddy Lee once said, “if you choose not to decide you still have made a choice”. In this case, the 5th Court of Appeals has chosen to decide at a later date, with the hope that they won’t actually need to decide. I’d say we’re not only in the theater of the absurd, we’ve been there long enough to see another feature. I can’t wait to see what Collin County Commissioners Court does on Monday.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Culberson’s stock purchase

Interesting.

Rep. John Culberson

In a heated confirmation hearing for then-Georgia U.S. Rep. Tom Price for Secretary of Health and Human Services, Democrats raised pointed questions about the congressman’s trading in stocks of companies regulated by the House committees he serves on.

One in particular, Innate Immunotherapeutics, a small Australian biotech firm, generated particular attention because it had sold nearly $1 million in discounted shares to two House members: Price and New York Republican Chris Collins, who turned out to be the firm’s biggest investor.

Amid the controversy in January, Price said everything he did was “ethical, aboveboard, legal and transparent,” though he agreed to divest himself of that and other stocks that could raise ethics questions.

Collins also denied any wrongdoing, though he is now reportedly being investigated by the Office of Congressional Ethics for his role in touting the stock to investors from the halls of Congress.

But the public heat did not dissuade two Texas congressmen from quietly buying into the Australian company Jan. 26, two days after the Price hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, records show. John Culberson of Houston and Mike Conaway of Midland, are among at least seven Republican House members who have invested in the company. The two Texans bought in at what was then close to a 52-week peak in the stock price on the Australian Securities Exchange. The transactions were first reported by Politico.

[…]

Culberson’s stock buy, which he valued at between $1,000 and $15,000, was particularly unusual, because by the congressman’s own account, he is not an active stock trader.

Beside his stake in Innate Immunotherapeutics, his most recent financial reports to Congress list holdings in Apple stock and some past investments in “military collectibles.”

In a statement, Culberson offered this motive for the stock purchase in the fairly obscure foreign company that works to develop treatments for multiple sclerosis: “One of my father’s best friends died of MS, and we have a family friend with multiple sclerosis, so I’m always on the lookout for breakthroughs on treating MS. This one looks promising. I rarely buy or sell stock.”

He declined interview requests this week and staffers offered no details about the exact amount and timing of his stock purchase, which coincided with that of Conaway. Nor have they explained why Culberson waited until April 6 to report the stock buy, well beyond the 30-day window required to inform the House clerk’s office.

Through a spokeswoman, however, Culberson dismissed Democrats’ accusations that he might have used non-public information.

“Representative Culberson originally learned of the company through press reports,” his spokeswoman, Emily Taylor, said Thursday. “He continued his own research on their promising MS treatment, which is an issue important to him, and that led to the purchase.”

I don’t know how big a deal this is. The circumstances are fishy and Culberson’s explanation is weak, but unless Tom Price gets into a heap of trouble for his actions, I don’t see much happening to Culberson. That said, having stuff like this turn into blaring headlines seems to me to portend a rough campaign season. If nothing else, having all these candidates and a national focus on CD07 guarantees that every little thing will be news, and that’s not something Culberson has had to deal with lately. Better get used to it.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Friday random ten: Fluxblog 1981

Fluxblog 80’s set #2:

1. Stand And Deliver – Adam and the Ants
2. Rise Above – Black Flag
3. What A Day That Was – David Byrne
4. (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thing – Heaven 17
5. Computer Love – Kraftwerk
6. Fire On The Bayou – The Neville Brothers
7. Harden My Heart – Quarterflash
8. Arc Of A Diver – Steve Winwood
9. Silent Scream – TSOL
10. Out Come The Freaks – Was (Not Was)

There are I believe 120 songs per yearly “album” in this collection. I’m just picking every 12th song (more or less) for these lists. I know I’ve heard “Harden My Heart” and “Arc Of A Diver” on regular FM rock radio back in the day – not in 1981, but later in the 80s and 90s, when good old album-oriented rock was still something you could find on the dial. More recently, “What A Day That Was” and “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thing” have been played on the Sirius FirstWave 80s alternative station. I’m sure the others have been played somewhere, but not within my hearing. Which of these songs have you heard on the radio, if you’re old enough to be the kind of person that ever listened to the radio?

Posted in: Music.

Senate passes ban on straight-ticket voting

It’s happening.

The Texas Senate gave initial approval Wednesday to legislation that would eliminate straight-ticket voting in all elections.

By a vote of 20-10, senators passed House Bill 25 over objections from Democrats who warned of unintended consequences — including a disproportionate impact on minority voters.

“Frankly, I don’t see any purpose for this legislation other than trying to dilute the vote of Democrats and, more specifically, minorities,” said state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas.

The bill’s supporters say it would force voters to make more informed decisions in individual elections. “What we’re doing is showing every race matters,” the Senate sponsor, Republican state Sen. Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills, said Wednesday.

The legislation’s backers also argue it would bring Texas in line with at least 40 other states that do not allow straight-ticket voting, the option for voters to automatically cast their ballot for every candidate from a single party. Straight-ticket ballots made up nearly 64 percent of total votes cast in the state’s 10 largest counties in 2016.

The preliminary approval of HB 25 on Wednesday came after Hancock amended it to postpone its effective date from September 2017 to September 2020. That will allow candidates more time to prepare for the change, Hancock said.

You know how I feel about this. I’ve got no more arguments to make. There’s been talk of a lawsuit, and I won’t be surprised if one gets filed. The Republicans could improve their position by addressing the issue of the longer lines that will result from the removal of this option – more money to counties to buy more voting machines for early and precinct voting locations would help a lot. I don’t they’re any more likely to do this than they were to mitigate the 2011 voter ID bill, but they have that option and they’ll have the 2019 legislative session in which to exercise it. We’ll see what they do. The Press has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Appeals court hears Paxton prosecutors pay arguments

Meanwhile, back in Dallas, the 5th Court of Appeals had a hearing on the never-ending lawsuit by a Collin County crony to cut off payments to the Ken Paxton special prosecutors.

Best mugshot ever

On its face, the lawsuit filed by Jeffory Blackard, who has donated to Paxton’s campaign, appears to be an attempt to undermine the prosecution of the attorney general, who faces three counts of felony securities fraud in McKinney.

But Blackard’s attorney, Edward Greim, argued that the case is about a taxpayer fighting government excess. In January, the appeals court ordered Collin County to stop paying the three lawyers prosecuting Paxton’s criminal fraud case until the justices could hear the case. Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis recused himself from trying the case because he and Paxton are friends. Special prosecutors were hired in his place.

[…]

The heart of the suit comes down to whether a taxpayer can block payments to special prosecutors on the grounds that the fees are illegal and not simply unreasonable.

“Is there a difference between unwise and illegal decisions?” asked Justice David J. Schenck.

The attorney for the special prosecutors, David Feldman, said such lawsuits take the decisions away from the elected officials — in this case, county commissioners. And he said this lawsuit could open the door for more taxpayer lawsuits nitpicking every penny spent.

“Why have a representative form of government? We should just try everything through the judiciary,” Feldman said.

See here and here for some background. The case was rescheduled from May to September at the request of the prosecutors so this matter can be resolved. As you know, I think the plaintiff’s argument is ridiculous, but I also think the state needs to pick up the tab here. The latter isn’t going to happen, so Collin County needs to suck it up. We’ll see what the judges think.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

State seeks Medicaid money it gave up over Planned Parenthood ban

Ugh.

Right there with them

Four years after Texas gave up millions of dollars in federal Medicaid funds so it could ban Planned Parenthood from participating in a family planning program for low-income women, the state is asking the Trump administration for the money back.

The request presents an important early test for the administration of President Trump, who recently appointed an anti-abortion official to oversee federal family planning programs. Under President Obama, federal health officials would not allow Medicaid funds to flow to the Texas program after it excluded Planned Parenthood, because federal law requires states to give Medicaid beneficiaries their choice of “any willing provider.”

If the administration agrees to restore the funding for Texas, it could effectively give states the greenlight to ban Planned Parenthood from Medicaid family planning programs with no financial consequences.

“They’re asking the federal government to do a 180 on its Medicaid program rules,” said Elizabeth Nash, a policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute, a research center that supports abortion rights. “And depending how this shakes out, you could see a number of other states follow suit.”

[…]

In its draft waiver application, the state said it hoped that by turning Healthy Texas Women back into a Medicaid waiver program, it would improve access and participation. The application noted that Texas had the nation’s highest birthrate, with more than 400,000 births in 2015, more than half of which were paid for by Medicaid. It also noted than more than one-third of pregnancies in the state were reported as unintended, and that Texas had one of the highest teen birthrates in the country.

On Monday, at a public hearing on the plan in Austin, several women and representatives of health advocacy groups expressed concern about the request.

“A strong Healthy Texas Women program should include Planned Parenthood,” said Blanca Murillo, 25, who said she relied on Planned Parenthood for contraception that helped treat her polycystic ovary syndrome when she was a student at the University of Texas. “I’m asking the state to choose the health of Texas women — which it has a duty to protect — over scoring political points.”

Stacey Pogue, senior policy analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a liberal research group, pointed to the so-called freedom of choice provision in Medicaid and said she was concerned that “submitting the waiver as is would invite litigation.”

A spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or C.M.S., which oversees Medicaid waiver programs, declined to comment.

Carrie Williams, a spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said, “We’re been encouraged to present new and innovative ideas to C.M.S. for discussion for possible funding. This is a new administration, and we’re looking at what funding opportunities may exist for us.”

Texas is also seeking to cut off all Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood; a federal judge blocked the effort earlier this year, but the state is appealing the decision.

It’s for stuff like this that Republicans have remained loyal to Trump regardless of the disaster he creates everywhere. They want their shiny ideological objects, and it doesn’t get much shinier than shivving Planned Parenthood. Who cares if some of the money winds up going to frauds? It’s not like they actually cared about women’s health in the first place. So yes, I expect this request to be granted in short order, and then replicated in other states. The only way to undo that is going to be to undo who is in charge of the government. The Associated Press, the Trib, and the Current have more.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

More “sanctuary cities” plaintiffs gearing up

Local governments are not going down without a fight.

On Tuesday, which organizers said was the beginning of a “summer of resistance,” Austin City Council member Delia Garza said the city will move this week to take formal action to stop SB 4 in the courtroom.

“I am proud to announce today, with much gratitude for my colleagues, this Thursday we are poised to approve a resolution that directs our city legal team to take any legal action necessary to challenge this awful law,” she said at Tuesday’s rally, which was organized by the Austin City Council, Texas Organizing Project and United We Dream.

[…]

“I have to preserve the work of these brave leaders in Austin,” said Phillip Kingston, a member of the Dallas City Council. “We will be discussing intervening in the case, coming to the aid of Austin because we have a large city attorney’s office we have lots of legal resources.”

Later, El Paso County Commissioner David Stout said the Commissioner’s Court there voted 4-to-1 to move forward with a federal lawsuit in the Western District of Texas.

“We feel that it’s discriminatory and unconstitutional but also we have a settlement agreement … from back in 2006 that basically states we’re not able to have our law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration law,” he said. “So [SB4]will in effect put us in non compliance.”

Stout was referring to a 2006 legal settlement that El Paso County agreed to after a local resident sued, accusing sheriffs’ deputies of conducting unlawful immigration checks at roadside checkpoints. The parties reached an agreement: The sheriff’s office had to “memorialize in writing its policies that prohibits Sheriff’s Department Deputies from enforcing civil immigration law.”

Paxton has since said that El Paso County would be in compliance but local leaders disagree. The El Paso Times reported that County Judge Veronica Escobar said the county would allocate about $150,000 for litigation costs.

There are multiple lawsuits already in the courts or in the works, plus the one filed by the state to try to head this off. The main question I have at this point is whether there will be a bunch of individual lawsuits filed by various entities – cities, counties, and school districts may all want in on the action – or one monster lawsuit with a gazillion plaintiffs. Either way, there will be no shortage of work for a lot of attorneys. One other point is that while several cities – Austin, Dallas, El Paso, San Antonio – are gearing up to fight, as yet I have seen no indication that Houston will join in. I have seen some griping about this on Facebook, but so far it’s limited to that. CM Robert Gallegos was at the event in this story, but if anyone has asked Mayor Turner what his intentions are or if a Council member has announced an intention to push the issue, I have not yet seen it. The Statesman, the Observer, the Current, and the Press have more.

Posted in: La Migra, Legal matters.

Patrick takes some hostages

This is what passes for leadership in our state.

With deadlines looming, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Wednesday threatened to push for a special session of the Legislature to pass a bill to regulate bathroom use for transgender Texans and legislation to set new thresholds for when cities and counties must get voter approval for their tax rates.

Patrick deemed Senate Bill 2, a property tax bill from state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, and either Senate Bill 6, the “bathroom bill” from state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, or similar language amended to another bill, as must-pass measures to avoid a special session. Both bills have passed the Senate and are currently in the House.

The last day of the legislative session is May 29.

“If we must go to a special session, I will respectfully ask the governor to add both of these bills — plus other legislation he has voiced support for — in that special session call,” Patrick said during a press conference at the Capitol. “If the bills don’t pass in the special and they’re blocked again, I will ask the governor to call us back again and again and again.”

Only the governor can call a special session, but Patrick’s key source of leverage is a measure known as the “sunset safety net bill,” which lawmakers have to pass each session to keep a long list of state agencies from shutting down. All state agencies must undergo periodic “sunset” reviews by the Legislature or be forced to shut down if reforms aren’t passed.

The conservative House Freedom Caucus managed to delay consideration of bills in the House long enough to keep it from passing its version of the “safety net” bill last week, leaving the Senate version as a critical measure.

Patrick on Wednesday said the Senate had less than 48 hours to pass its version of the legislation and avoid the need for a special session.

But he added that he “must see action in the House to pass several key” pieces of legislation before moving on the Senate’s sunset legislation.

Patrick’s threat came a day after a letter from House Speaker Joe Straus to the lieutenant governor was leaked to press. Straus wrote that the Legislature could avoid a special session if it finished its work on the budget and passed the sunset safety net bill.

There’s more, so go read the rest. There’s always a certain amount of brinksmanship at the end of a legislative session as deadlines loom, but I’d take Patrick at his word. The talk we’re used to hearing at this point in a session has been by people who want to get things done and go home. Patrick has leverage and he has no qualms about using it.

All this looks bad, and it almost certainly is bad. There’s still a number of ways this can play out, but one thing is certain: The only language Dan Patrick will understand is losing elections. The business lobby has invested a ton of resources into preventing a bathroom bill from passing. Patrick has made it perfectly clear that he could not care less about what the business lobby wants. So I ask again, if Patrick gets his way as he often does, will the business lobby roll over and accept getting their asses handed to them, or will they fight back next year? Will they loudly and forcefully back opponents to Patrick and his minions in the Legislature (both chambers), or will they reveal themselves to be the political equivalent of an arthritic Chihuaha? We’ll find out, one way or another. The Chron and the Observer have more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Senate passes statewide rideshare bill

It’s a done deal.

After a debate among lawmakers over the best way to regulate services like Uber and Lyft, the Texas Senate on Wednesday backed a proposal that would override local regulations concerning ride-hailing companies.

House Bill 100 would establish a statewide framework to regulate ride-hailing companies and undo local rules that the two companies have argued are overly burdensome for their business models.

“Regulating them at the city level will always be challenging,” the bill’s Senate author, state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, said. “Transportation, by nature, is a regional concern.”

His bill passed in the upper chamber in a 20-10 vote on its third and final reading. The measure now heads to the governor’s desk.

Though the vote on the bill was originally announced as 20-10, senate records later showed it actually passed 21-9, meaning more than two-thirds of the Senate supported the measure. That distinction matters because of a provision in the bill that allows it to go into effect immediately after the governor signs it instead of on Sept. 1 if it receives support of two-thirds of the members in both chambers. As the measure passed the House in a 100-35 vote, it means ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft could potentially return to cities like Austin as early as this summer.

You know the story on this one. The offensive “definition of sex” amendment is still in there, which I have to hope winds up not meaning much in the grand scheme of things. And I agree with mayor Turner that this is “another example of the legislature circumventing local control”, but all things considered it’s less of that than it could have been. I know I’m rationalizing, but such is how it is these days. Expect to see the pink Lyft mustache in town again, as they have been recruiting drivers in anticipation of this. Maybe some other services will come to town as well. Whatever you think of this soon-to-be-law, there will be one fewer obstacle to entry.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, That's our Lege.

Rep. Al Green calls for impeachment

He will have company.

Rep. Al Green

Amid multiple Trump-related scandals rocking the Capitol, U.S. Rep. Al Green, D-Houston, called for the impeachment of President Donald Trump from the House chamber on Wednesday morning.

“I rise today, Mr. Speaker, to call for the impeachment of the president of the United States of America for obstruction of justice,” he said. “I do not do this for political purposes…I do this because I believe in the great ideals this country stands for: liberty and justice for all.

“Our democracy is at risk…This offense has occurred before our very eyes,” he said, describing Trump’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey, who led an investigation of Trump associates’ ties to Russian intelligence.

“We cannot allow this to go unchecked. The president is not above the law,” he added. “It is time for the American people to weigh in.”

As the story notes, Rep. Green had made similar statements the day before in an interview. I trust you can find all the background and news links you want on this – it’s nigh impossible to escape from at this point. I don’t know what the endpoint of this journey is, nor do I know how long it will take to get there. But I’m pretty sure Rep. Green will have plenty of company along the way.

Posted in: National news.

Texas blog roundup for the week of May 15

The Texas Progressive Alliance doesn’t take loyalty pledges as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Cornyn withdraws from consideration to succeed Comey

It was fun while it lasted.

Big John Cornyn

John Cornyn withdrew from consideration to be the next FBI director on Tuesday, saying the “best way I can serve is continuing to fight for a conservative agenda in the U.S. Senate.”

“Now more than ever the country needs a well-credentialed, independent FBI director,” he said in a statement. “I’ve informed the administration that I’m committed to helping them find such an individual.”

Cornyn was in serious contention to replace ousted FBI director James Comey, setting off a scramble and speculation around the state over who might succeed him in the U.S. Senate.

See here and here for the background. I can’t say this comes as a surprise. In a different time it might have made sense, but given everything that’s going on now, the only winning move is not to play. It would have been nice to have had more time to indulge in wild speculation about who might get appointed and who might run for that seat, but all good things must come to an end. RG Ratcliffe has more.

Posted in: Election 2017.

Appeals court to determine if Paxton gets a new judge

Hold everything.

Best mugshot ever

A state appeals court has intervened in the securities fraud case against Attorney General Ken Paxton, putting it on hold as his lawyers try to get a new judge.

Hours after Paxton’s team requested that the Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals get involved, the court on Tuesday issued a stay of all proceedings in the case until further notice. The court gave all sides until May 23 to respond to Paxton’s effort to ditch the judge, George Gallagher.

The order by the 5th Court of Appeals means there will no longer be a hearing Thursday in Houston on a prior attempt by Paxton to install a new judge.

[…]

In their filing with the 5th Court of Appeals on Tuesday morning, Paxton’s lawyers argued that once Gallagher changed the venue, “he was statutorily prohibited from entering further orders or continuing to preside over the case without the statutorily required written consent of” Paxton and his team.

In a subsequent letter to the appeals court, prosecutor Brian Wice argued the court did not have the jurisdiction to consider Paxton’s request to remove Gallagher. The court has also set a May 23 deadline for Paxton’s lawyers to respond to Wice’s letter.

This is another instance where the news moved faster than I did. Originally, Judge Gallagher scheduled a hearing for Thursday to take up the question of whether he needed to hand the case off to another judge. Then Paxton filed his emergency motion with the 5th Court of Appeals, and then they stepped in. Beneath the fold is all of the blogging I had done on this, which is now mostly of historical value. All I can say at this point is that after all the work Paxton’s team has done to remove Gallagher, it would be hilarious if they get their wish but then don’t get any more favorable handling from whoever succeeds Gallagher. Read on, and the DMN has more.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Try to wrap your mind around what I-45 will look like post-construction

Swamplot is here to help.

HAVING TROUBLE SIFTING through some of the massive freeway jumbles in the latest plans for that major I-45 reroute between Downtown and the Beltway? This new video (making the rounds this month as TxDOT hosts a set of public meetings to chat about the project) may or may not help you out. The 10-minute animation shows off what the project plans look like in multicolored, car-spangled 3D action, dragging viewers slowly along the entire project route from Spur 521up to Beltway 8.

The project plans pull 45 over to the east side of Downtown, to line up alongside US 59 and dive underground behind the George R. Brown convention center. Various flavors of new express lanes, managed lanes, managed express lanes, and connectors weave into and out of a massive new 45-59-10 junction as shown above, all labeled by color.

[…]

There’s lot more to parse in the designs — including TxDOT’s estimate that the whole thing will “displace approximately 168 single-family residences, 1,067 multi-family residences, 331 businesses, 4 places of worship, and 2 schools.

There’s a ton of documents and downloadable videos, some of which are embedded at the linked post, at the I-45 project website. About the only thing I’m grateful about my upcoming office move out west is that I won’t have to deal with this horror on a daily basis. Personally, I have a hard time believing that any gains in improved traffic flow will outweigh the costs of executing this massive boondoggle, but maybe that’s just me. Additional views of this colossus from Swamplot are here, and the Chron has more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Sen. Carlos Uresti indicted on federal fraud charges

Very bad.

Sen. Carlos Uresti

State Sen. Carlos Uresti, accused of misleading a former client who invested in a company in which Uresti has a financial stake, was indicted by a federal grand jury on 11 charges over his involvement in the alleged investment Ponzi scheme — in addition to a separate indictment alleging bribery.

In the first indictment, the federal grand jury charged Uresti, a San Antonio Democrat, with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. The indictment also charges Uresti with five substantive counts of wire fraud; two counts of securities fraud; one count of engaging in monetary transactions with property derived from specified unlawful activity; and one count of being an unregistered securities broker.

A separate indictment centered on a contract to provide medical services to a correctional facility in West Texas. That indictment alleges that a colleague of Uresti’s, Vernon C. Farthing III, paid Uresti $10,000 per month as a marketing consultant and that half of the money was given to a Reeves County official to win over his vote to award the contract to Farthing’s company — the culmination of a 10-year scheme involving bribery and money laundering.

[…]

A lengthy investigation published by the Express-News in August first detailed Uresti’s involvement in the company and fraud allegations it faces.

Three months later, Uresti coasted to re-election, winning his San Antonio seat with 56 percent of the vote against Republican and Libertarian challengers. Uresti is among the Legislature’s most powerful Democrats. He is vice chair of the Health and Human Services committee and sits on three other high-profile committees: Finance, Education and Veteran Affairs & Border Security.

In February, the FBI and IRS raided Uresti’s law office. In a statement at the time, the senator said he was cooperating with federal agents as they were “reviewing our documents as part of their broad investigation of the FourWinds matter.”

FourWinds’ purported intent was to buy sand and sell it at a markup to oil and gas companies, but some investors have accused the company’s leadership of misrepresenting its financial health and spending their money on frivolous, personal expenses. It now faces millions of dollars in claims from investors and other companies.

Denise Cantu, whom Uresti represented in a wrongful-death case, said she lost most of the $900,000 she invested in the now-bankrupt company in 2014 at the suggestion of Uresti, according to the Express-News. She has said she was not initially aware that Uresti would get a piece of her investment, though Uresti has suggested otherwise.

With allegations of serious financial mismanagement detailed in bankruptcy court, the FBI last year opened an investigation into FourWinds, the Express-News reported. In August, Uresti told the paper that he was a “witness” in that investigation but not its target.

See here for some background, and read the rest fore more. As with Ken Paxton, I will not call for Sen. Uresti to resign at this time, as they are both still innocent in the eyes of the law. Unlike Paxton, Uresti is not on the ballot again until 2020, so he (in theory, at least) has the time to dispose of this before he has to face the voters again. That’s assuming he gets acquitted or the charges get dropped. As with other legislators who face legal troubles, I’d encourage Sen. Uresti to prioritize getting his personal affairs in order by stepping down from his office, after the session is over. Whether he does or he doesn’t, there are several State Reps in Bexar County who I think would do a fine job in that office. I wish him luck, but I also wish he’ll listen to what I’m saying. The Current has more.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

The state’s voter ID failure is much bigger than you think

You really have to read this.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The confusion started in the first hour of the first day of early voting in San Antonio last October.

Signs in polling places about the state’s controversial voter ID law contained outdated rules. Poll workers gave voters incorrect information. Lines were long — full of people who were full of uncertainty.

The presidential election of 2016 was off to a sputtering start in Texas, where years of angry claims about illegal voting had led to a toughening of identification requirements for those going to the polls.

On that day last October, Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, was met with a line out the door when she arrived at her San Antonio polling place.

“A poll worker stood in front of me where I was and said, ‘You are at the one-and-a-half-hour mark,'” Perales said. “And she insisted your ID needed to be out when you got to the front of the line.”

But that, in fact, wasn’t the law. A compromise a federal court had settled on months before allowed those without photo IDs to fill out an affidavit and show alternate ID.

“So, we filed suit against the county,” Perales said.

Days later, Bexar County, home to San Antonio, agreed to try and remedy its mistakes — poll workers would be retrained, signs would be corrected and voicemail instructions for voters would be updated.

But a ProPublica review of the 2016 vote in Texas shows that Bexar County’s problems were hardly isolated — and, in many cases, were beyond fixing.

Indeed, the state’s efforts to enact and enforce the strictest voter ID law in the nation were so plagued by delays, revisions, court interventions and inadequate education that the casting of ballots was inevitably troubled. Among the problems that surfaced:

  • The promised statewide effort to inform Texans about voter identification requirements failed terribly. ProPublica contacted hundreds of community organizations and local county party officials to see if they’d received a voting instruction manual the state said it had sent but could not find one who had used it. The largest voter education groups — League of Women Voters Texas, the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, MALDEF and several disability rights groups — said they didn’t get copies at all.
  • The fiscal note attached to the 2011 bill indicated voter education would cost the state $2 million. That’s one-fifth what a similar bill in Missouri — a state with 21 million fewer people than Texas — allocated. While the Texas secretary of state’s office spent the majority of its voter education budget in 2016 to educate voters about the law, the money appears to have been wasted on an ineffective campaign.
  • The Texas Department of Public Safety, a law enforcement agency tasked with issuing free IDs for voting purposes, initially required those who applied for the ID to be fingerprinted, a decision many say scared off potential voters. DPS also didn’t have Spanish translators in all of its offices and didn’t initially provide applications or information about the free IDs in any language other than English.
  • Remarkably, the very aim of the legislation — to thwart people from voting illegally — was not fully addressed by the law, which allowed three versions of identification obtainable by non-citizens.

Jacquelyn Callanen, the election administrator for Bexar County, said she is still furious about the state’s performance in handling last November’s vote.

“I’ve been doing this for 22 years,” she said. “This was the most complicated and emotionally charged election I have ever seen.”

There’s a ton more, and you need to read the whole thing. It will piss you off, and it should. We know that the state’s so-called voter ID education effort last year was a boondoggle and a failure, but you can’t fully appreciate how big a failure it was without this. Among other things, the story recounts the history of voter ID legislation in Texas, how the Elections department at the Secretary of State’s office became politicized and denuded of competence, and more. As noted by the Brennan Center, there will be a status call on June 7 to sort out the issues in determining a remedy in the wake of the ruling last month that the voter ID law was passed with discriminatory intent. I say any such remedy needs to begin with a complete scrapping of the existing law and an eight-figure campaign to do real voter (and elections administrator) education, done by multiple firms that don’t make BS claims about “proprietary” information. Then maybe, just maybe, we can claim to have set things right. Read the story and see what I mean.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Lawsuit filed against Houston panhandling ordinance

From the inbox:

The ACLU of Texas announced today that it had filed a lawsuit on behalf of three homeless Houstonian plaintiffs adversely affected by the City of Houston’s camping and panhandling ordinances. Taken together, these ordinances illegally deprive homeless Houstonians of shelter, infringe on their right to free speech and ultimately constitute a criminalization of homelessness itself.

“In recent years, Houston has admirably managed to reduce homelessness by half by pursuing sensible and compassionate solutions to this nationwide crisis,” said Trisha Trigilio, staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas. “But these latest ordinances abandon that humane approach. The City says they’re meant to get people into shelters with ‘tough love,’ but the truth is the shelters are full and Houston’s homeless have nowhere else to go.”

“Laws that criminalize homelessness are ineffective, waste limited public resources and violate basic human and constitutional rights,” said Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. “The Law Center shares the ACLU’s concerns that Houston’s new ordinances governing outdoor camping and panhandling violate homeless persons’ constitutional rights.”

“The main thing these laws take from us is our dignity,” said Plaintiff Tammy Kohr. “We’re not bad people; we’re just trying to survive.” Plaintiff Eugene Stroman added, “This law shows little respect or sympathy for the impoverished people of Houston. Living in shelters just isn’t an option for us, but if you can’t find your own place to live, you’re treated like a criminal.”

The lawsuit requests an injunction prohibiting the tent ban, the panhandling ban and the seizure of homeless Houstonians’ private property.

See here for some background. The ordinance went into effect on Friday, which is no doubt why the lawsuit was filed on Monday morning. The Chron story adds some more details.

Mayor Sylvester Turner defended the ordinances in response to questions from the Chronicle at a Monday afternoon news conference, saying the rules aimed to balance constitutional rights and “the legitimate public health safety and welfare of all citizens in the public space.”

“Based on my reading of the lawsuit filed by the ACLU, they would have us do nothing,” the mayor added. “We have chosen to work with those living on the streets on a one by one basis to assess and address their individual needs and provide compassionate and meaningful solutions. Make no mistake, this is a public safety issue and we cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend that it does not exist. The question is what is the best way or ways to transition people from living on the street.”

The mayor has said the panhandling ordinance doesn’t put an undue burden on free speech, as the ACLU lawsuit contends.

[HPD Captain William Staney, who oversees the mental health division] said Friday that Houston police would slowly ramp up enforcement. He said no one was arrested, cited or even formally warned on Friday. However, police eventually would take away people’s property if they keep more belongings than would fit in a 3-foot cube, as the ordinance requires.

The police department circulated a memo Friday emphasizing that arrest is a last resort and that officers must first offer access to medical help, addiction treatment and temporary shelter before taking action under the new rules.

While the ACLU lawsuit and some homeless people contend that shelters don’t have room, the mayor’s special assistant for homeless initiatives differed on Monday.

“We’ve worked with these shelters to make sure that even if a bed is not available that there’s still room for them to get them out from the elements inside where there’s additional services,” said the assistant, Marc Eichenbaum.

I agree that the city has done a lot of work to reduce homelessness in Houston, all to its credit, and I think there’s a lot of merit to the push to redirect charity towards support services and away from giving a dollar to people on the streets. Mayor Turner believes this ordinance is compliant with previous court rulings. Obviously, that remains to be seen, and the fact that advocates for the homeless think this ordinance will do more harm than good cannot be overlooked. I would really rather see this get mediated instead of litigated. Surely there are things the city can do to the ordinance to settle this. The Press has more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

More “sanctuary cities” litigation in the works

Coming soon.

Civil rights groups vigorously opposed to Texas’s new anti-“sanctuary cities” law – which would allow the jailing of sheriffs and police chiefs if they refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities – expect to file within the next two weeks long-awaited lawsuits seeking to block the measure, they said.

They are prepared to ask a federal judge to temporarily halt the law’s enforcement until the court can undertake a broader review of its constitutionality, while Republican state leaders who passed the law remain confident they will prevail.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a constant thorn in Republicans’ sides from earlier legal battles, is expected to play a key role in the litigation over Senate Bill 4, which will allow police officers to question people about their immigration status if they are detained during routine interactions. Gov. Greg Abbott, who believes the law is legally sound, signed the bill May 7.

Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF’s president and lead attorney, focused on a provision of the law that commits the state to use taxpayer money to defend every local entity that could be sued for incorrectly honoring a federal detainer request. In such a case, Saenz said, a police department could mistakenly hold the wrong person because they have a similar or identical name than the person’s listed on the detainer request, which would be a clear violation of constitutional rights.

One lawsuit has already been filed against the law, while another was filed by the AG in an effort to get the law declared constitutional. As this story notes, while there have been lawsuits in other states relating to laws like SB4, Texas’ large Latino population and no doubt the recent rulings that the Legislature had passed discriminatory laws could well factor into how these play out. Expect something to be filed in the next couple of weeks.

Posted in: La Migra, Legal matters.

Cornyn’s colleagues cool to him as FBI Director

Boy, with friends like these

Big John Cornyn

There is a growing obstacle standing in the way of Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, becoming the next director of the FBI — his own Republican colleagues.

Led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, a chorus of GOP senators has signaled that they would prefer President Trump to nominate somebody other than the second-ranking ­Republican senator, despite his status as a well-liked and influential figure on Capitol Hill.

Their message: It’s nothing personal. But if Trump were to nominate Cornyn, who has shown interest in the job, it would trigger a raft of consequences that could be detrimental to McConnell and the broader GOP agenda.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, offered a response that was common among Republican senators Monday, praising Cornyn’s qualifications before adding: “I’d hate to lose him.”

“My own selfish thing would be to say, ‘Oh, he’s a terrible person — don’t do it,’ ” Tillis quipped.

Senate Republicans are hoping Trump takes their concerns into consideration as he zeros in on his choice. The president said Monday that his search was “moving rapidly.” McConnell predicted that Trump would make an appointment “in a week or so.”

[…]

Among other concerns, some fear that nominating a top political leader would roil a confirmation process in which Democrats are already emboldened to cry foul over former director James B. Comey’s abrupt firing. Since Trump’s inauguration, Cornyn has been a loyal defender of the president — including on the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees, which have been looking at the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

“I told him I thought he’d be a good FBI director under normal circumstances,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said in an interview. “But I think the politics of this is just — he gets it. He’d be an outstanding FBI director. But I just, quite frankly, think that last week made it tough.”

Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, said there is a need now for “someone who can lead us in the direction we need to go, and that doesn’t eliminate partisan folks, but there’s no question that the country seems to be — to find more confidence and credibility in someone who’s probably not involved in partisan politics.”

See here and here for the background. Can’t imagine why the Republicans might be a wee bit concerned about the politics of this, but I’m sure they’ll figure out what their story is. In a sense, it doesn’t matter who Trump picks. Left to his own devices, he will either pick a toady or someone who will be forced to tarnish his own reputation in the service of his new lord and master. (And yes, it will be a dude. Donald Trump does not put the ladies into positions of real power.) In addition, whoever Trump picks will and should cause Senate Democrats to shut the place down until he pledges to continue the Russia investigation that Comey started, with the increase in resources that Comey had asked for just before getting canned. Basically, there’s no acceptable candidates that Trump himself might be willing to appoint. (No, Merrick Garland doesn’t count – the only reason he’s being mentioned is one part troll job, and one part to get a vacancy on the DC Court of Appeals. No thanks.)

So anyway, I get where the Republicans are coming from on this, and that’s before factoring into the equation the possibility, no matter how slim, that a Democrat could win the seat in a special election. There’s no upside here. If I were advising someone with a role in this, I’d say just elevate the top deputy director, who is now serving as the acting director, and be done with it. Which Trump won’t do because the guy won’t swear personal loyalty to the toddler king, but that’s their problem. Have fun with it, fellas.

Posted in: National news.