Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Hillary Clinton’s Texas staffer

Here he is.

Hillary Clinton is dispatching a full-time organizer to Texas, part of a 50-state strategy to build support for her presidential bid.

Manfred Mecoy, the Texas grassroots organizer, is a Fort Worth native and University of Texas at Austin graduate. He has worked as a Democratic organizer in North Carolina last year, and in Ohio in 2010 and 2012.

He’ll be based in the Dallas area, and will travel statewide, a Clinton campaign aide said.

The “Ramp Up Grassroots Organizing Program” includes one paid campaign staffer in every state, with more in the four states with the earliest contests in 2016 – Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

They’ll recruit and train volunteers, at least through the end of May.

Obvious question #1: What role, if any, does Battleground Texas play in this? We know there’s a connection between BGTX and Ready for Hillary, but where does Manfred Mecoy fit in? How does it all work together? As of Friday afternoon when that item hit the web, I had not received a press release from either organization. Maybe someone will say something on Monday, I don’t know.

Obvious question #2: What’s the goal here? Having an organization in place just in case it’s needed in a contested primary? Continuing to carry on the original mission of BGTX, which despite the 2014 debacle was about boosting turnout in Presidential elections? Checking off the “implement a 50-state strategy” box on their to do list? Leading us to believe we’ll be putting in effort to organize in Texas but really looking for people who will make GOTV calls to Florida and Ohio next year? It would be nice to know.

Posted in: The making of the President.

Perry meets his appellate judges

He knows one of them very well.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Corndogs are great icebreakers

Rick Perry may be somewhat familiar with one of the judges picked to hear an appeal in the criminal case against him.

That’s because Justice Bob Pemberton has worked for the former governor, representing him in court as his deputy general counsel. After that job, Perry appointed him to the Third Court of Appeals, which is now considering a request from Perry’s lawyers to dismiss the abuse-of-power charges against him.

Pemberton also clerked for Tom Phillips, the retired chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court who is now on Perry’s defense team. Pemberton’s website features a photo of him being sworn in by Phillips — “his friend, supporter, and former boss.”

In addition to once working for Perry, being appointed by Perry and having clerked for one of Perry’s current lawyers, Pemberton has been a political supporter of the former governor. Pemberton chipped in $1,000 for Perry’s 2002 re-election campaign, according to state records.

The justice’s connections to Perry are unusual, even in a state under yearly scrutiny for a judicial system critics say is too tainted by politics. Judicial elections in Texas are partisan, and the Third Court of Appeals is controlled by Republicans.

Judges are bound to have some connection to Perry, the longest-serving governor in Texas history, but Pemberton’s relation is beyond the pale, according to some good-government experts.

“That court has always acted in a partisan manner, but in this case, Justice Pemberton should definitely recuse himself,” said Craig McDonald, head of Texans for Public Justice, a liberal-leaning watchdog group responsible for the complaint that led to Perry’s indictment. “There should definitely be a recusal.”

According to the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, a judge must recuse himself or herself in any proceed in which “the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”

Yeah, I think that might reasonably be the case here. I don’t know if this is specifically what Team Perry was hoping for when they filed their latest appeal to this court, but I’m sure it wasn’t a disappointment to them. What happens from here I couldn’t say, but if one wants to take an optimistic view of things, one could say that if Perry’s motion is denied by these judges, it will be very hard to continue claiming he’s a victim of politics. Yeah, I know, that’s pretty thin, but it is what it is. One way or another, some number of judges friendly to Rick Perry were going to get involved. That’s the state we live in. PDiddie has more.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Senate passes anti-red light camera bill

Is this finally the end?

Gone

Gone

Red-light cameras in Dallas and other Texas cities would be gradually turned off under legislation approved Wednesday by the Senate.

The measure by Sen. Bob Hall, a Republican whose district includes part of Dallas County, along with Rockwall and Kaufman counties, would initially prohibit the future use of the cameras at intersections. Existing camera programs would have to be shut down as contracts between cities and camera vendors expire.

Senators passed the bill on a 23-7 vote and sent it to the House, where it has a good chance of passing.

“This is a concept that sounded good on paper but failed miserably in real world application,” Hall said, citing strong opposition from the public to cities’ use of red-light cameras.

[…]

Hall argued that red-light cameras originally were “sold to the public as a tool to improve public safety with a carefully worded and cleverly designed sales pitch by corporations who expected to make great profits.”

But the red-light camera programs “trample on constitutional rights” while doing little to make roads safer, he said.

The bill in question is SB714. I don’t have any desire to re-litigate any of this, but for what it’s worth I don’t think the constitution has anything to say on this subject. I also see this as yet another attack on local control, which I’m not crazy about. All that said, if it passes the House, it passes the House. I think if it gets to a vote in the House it will pass, but given how crazy things have been so far, there’s no guarantee of that. I do find it interesting that this bill was passed with all but one Republican Senator voting for it, given that in the 2010 referendum in Houston, Republicans strongly supported red light cameras. Just a reminder that partisan preferences can and do change sometimes.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Endorsement watch: Express News goes for LVdP for Mayor

Early voting has begun in San Antonio, and the Express News has made its choice for Mayor.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Will San Antonio be blessed enough to elect three exceptionally strong mayors in a row? That’s a tall order.

But if any of this year’s crop of 14 mayoral contenders has the potential to wield maximum clout at City Hall, it is former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte. The 60-year-old former lawmaker has the best combination of political skill and understanding of policy among the contenders. And we recommend that voters elect her as the city’s next mayor.

Only four of the 14 candidates have a plausible case for election — Van de Putte, former state Rep. Mike Villarreal, appointed Mayor Ivy Taylor and former County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson.

Van de Putte’s more than 25 years of legislative service and her track record of working well with colleagues are the strongest credentials in the 2015 mayoral field.

After emerging as a surprise victor in a 1990 contest for the Democratic nomination to a Texas House seat, Van de Putte proceeded to put together a solid legislative career marked by her determination to help the state’s needy and ensure that military veterans are treated well in Texas. She also led the charge to pass legislation to fight human trafficking and played a vital role in expanding health care for needy children.

And Van de Putte was a steady voice for better public education, as well as an influential force on behalf of San Antonio’s institutions of higher education. Van de Putte worked well with her colleagues in Austin, including Republicans.

[…]

Villarreal has shown that he is a serious student of municipal issues, but his track record of clashing with colleagues in the Bexar County delegation raises doubts about his ability to consistently muster majority support on City Council and be an effective leader.

While being an appointed mayor imposes limitations, Taylor has not grown in stature or demonstrated that she has the ability to take charge during her several months as mayor.

Adkisson’s quirky approach to the campaign and city issues is entertaining but does not inspire confidence in his leadership.

Van de Putte is the candidate best suited to dealing with the routine grind of hammering out policy agreements and being the city’s ambassador to political and business leaders on a national and international level. The city is most likely to maintain political stability and continue successfully nurturing its economic development efforts with Van de Putte at the helm.

I don’t have a dog in this fight. From my perspective, either Van de Putte or Villarreal would be fine by me. Current Mayor Ivy Taylor’s vote against San Antonio’s updated Equal Rights Ordinance, followed by her pandering to a church crowd about it, disqualifies her in my mind. I know little about former County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, and to the extent that I have paid attention to this race, I’ve not seen anything interesting or notable from him. The place where I might break a tie would be in future statewide potential. LVdP has already run statewide and didn’t do anything wrong, it just wasn’t a good year. Still, she’d be 68 at the end of four Mayoral terms, so you have to wonder if this would be her swan song. As for Villarreal, he is 45 and has had statewide ambitions for awhile, so serving as Mayor would be a good jumping off point for him in the future. That’s an edge for him, but as I said either of them would be fine by me. For a dissenting view on that, see Randy Bear, who strongly backs Villarreal. If you’re in San Antonio, who is your first choice for Mayor?

Posted in: Election 2015.

Weekend link dump for April 26

The war on acronym overuse continues apace.

“Universal Television, which developed the project and is producing it, always had been high on Emerald City, initially trying to shop it elsewhere and then taking a new stab at the premise, described as a modern and dark reimagining of the classic tale of Oz in the vein of Game Of Thrones, drawing upon stories from Baum’s original 14 books.” I will totally watch that, and I bet Olivia will watch it with me.

I’ve been on the receiving end of a few of these outbound interactive voice response robocalls. It’s easy enough to tell you’re talking to a computer, but it is a little freaky the first time or two. Someone needs to figure out a smarter way to do inbound call whitelisting, because I don’t think any other method of screening out crap calls like these will work as a general matter.

The case against one-way streets.

Who knew that owning a machine that presses vinyl records would be such a lucrative proposition these days?

I can’t help but feel that the Hugo Awards nominations saga has some lessons in it for those of us who would like to see greater participation in American elections. I’m not sure what those lessons are yet, though.

RIP, FM radio, at least in Norway and likely on the horizon elsewhere. Yeah, I feel really old right now.

Food service workers have more than twice the poverty rate of the overall workforce, and thus more often seek out public benefits.”

Public opinion on abortion is way more complicated than you might think.

RIP, Betty Willis, designer of the iconic “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign.

Now that‘s an epic rant. Somewhere, Lee Elia is smiling. At least none of his guys were lollygagging, so that’s something.

What click farms are all about.

How does a TV series based on the movie Galaxy Quest grab you?

The opposite of binge-watching, and why a week between episodes can be a good thing.

What the neighbors of those free range kids think about them.

RIP, Mary Keefe Doyle, model for Norman Rockwell’s iconic “Rosie the Riveter” painting.

“Scientific consensus isn’t always right, but it’s our best guide to understanding the world. Can reporters please stop pretending that scientists, like politicians, are evenly divided on guns? We’re not.”

Not sure how I feel about a “more adult” version of The Muppet Show. Give me corny jokes and wacky hijinx, that’s what I want from my Muppets.

“The quest for a good battery that can store home-generated power is kind of like the holy grail for a renewable energy future. This one product might change everything.”

Happy 25th birthday to the Hubble Space Telescope.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Jailhouse woes for the Sheriff

Been a bad couple of weeks for Sheriff Garcia.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia

Sheriff Adrian Garcia

A year and a half after a mentally ill inmate was found festering in squalor in a Harris County jail cell – apparently for weeks – Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia on Friday fired six jailers and suspended 29 others, the largest disciplinary action within the department in recent memory.

The county’s top lawman also said his second-in-command, Chief Deputy Fred Brown, would be resigning at the end of April, and a major in charge of inmate housing had been removed from her command and demoted.

The action comes three weeks after a grand jury indicted two detention officer sergeants in the case involving Terry Goodwin, the mentally ill inmate found in his cell in the fall of 2013 surrounded by bug-infested food containers, a feces-clogged toilet and ropes from his shredded jail uniform hanging from the ceiling.

“Disciplining employees is never pleasurable,” Garcia said, flanked by several subordinates at a news conference at the sheriff’s headquarters at 1200 Baker St. “But the reality is, when employees fail to take action when action is necessary, and when it results in conditions no inmate should be subjected to, this discipline is called for.”

Longtime sheriff’s office observers took note of the severity and the breadth of the punishment.

“I’ve never seen this much punishment handed down over a single incident. It’s unprecedented,” said Robert “Bob” Goerlitz, president of the Harris County Deputies Organization, and a 24-year veteran of the sheriff’s office. In 2012, Garcia fired half a dozen jailers – both deputies and civilian detention officers – after allegations the year before of sexual misconduct between jail staff and other employees, as well as between jailers and inmates.

[…]

Garcia dodged a question about whether the scandal had impacted or delayed the expected announcement he’d be running for mayor.

He sought to mitigate criticism by pointing to the scale of the challenge of the job his jailers deal with and noting the steps the jail had made to prevent similar incidents. Garcia said the jail processes about 120,000 bookings a year, with a daily population of about 8,600 inmates, more than a quarter of whom receive medication for mental illnesses.

“In spite of the challenges we face in an operation of this size, my staff does a great job,” he said.

There was also a story about a no-bid contract in the news this week. The conventional wisdom, at least among those who talk about this sort of thing, is that these stories have delayed his expected Mayoral announcement, since of course he’d like to have this stuff in the rear view mirror before launching a campaign. That’s not the only possible explanation – one theory holds that he’s waiting to announce because the longer he delays the lower the expectations will be for his July fundraising totals. You can make up your own mind about this.

The question is what effect this may have on his chances in the Mayoral race, since everything comes down to the Mayoral race these days. PDiddie, who is not a supporter of the Sheriff’s, and Campos, who’s on Bill King’s team, both think this is detrimental to him. I wouldn’t argue any of this helps, but I seriously doubt it means much now. Most people – for better or worse – just don’t pay that much attention to this stuff, and those that are paying attention are either already aligned with a particular candidate or who are political junkies like me who may not be sure who they are voting for but who have a pretty good idea who they’re not voting for. I don’t think any of this has changed anyone’s vote, is what I’m saying.

To be sure, this will be ammunition to be used against the Sheriff later on, assuming he does in fact still run. In a campaign with seven viable candidates, where “viable” means “should have enough resources to mount at least an adequate voter outreach campaign”, the most important thing these guys have to do is introduce themselves to the voters. Attacking another candidate in communications to the voters is at best a secondary consideration, especially given that the main beneficiaries of such attacks in multi-candidate races are the ones who stay out of them. Recent problems with the jail are certainly an issue and the other candidates can and will take advantage of it where they can, but I don’t think it becomes a main feature of the race until a runoff, if the Sheriff makes it that far. Even in a runoff, negative campaigning his its risks. When you consider the buzz Adrian Garcia will get for his potential to be Houston’s first Latino Mayor, direct attacks against him may help to galvanize the kind of voters he’ll need to win in a runoff. We just don’t know yet how this will play out, and in my view anyone who says otherwise is overstating things.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Election 2015.

Judicial bypass is already a huge obstacle

Jane’s Due Process highlights just how hard it is for a pregnant teenager to get a judicial bypass for the purpose of obtaining an abortion under existing law.

Never again

Never again

The Survey.
Jane’s Due Process (JDP) is a 501(c)(3) organization that formed shortly after Texas’ parental involvement law went into effect in 2000. Our mission is to ensure free legal representation for every pregnant minor in Texas whether she chooses to obtain an abortion or become a parent. Among a laundry list of services, we guide minors through the judicial bypass process, guaranteeing non-biased and judgment-free legal representation. Every few years, JDP surveys the district clerks offices around Texas to ensure that clerks are in fact providing callers seeking judicial bypass with correct and comprehensive information.

This report is based on a district clerk call-around completed in February-March 2015. The caller posed as a pregnant minor seeking information about how to obtain a judicial bypass in her residing county. We chose to survey all counties in Texas with populations above 50,000 (62) and spot-check the smaller counties (19). In total, we surveyed 81 counties. The caller asked the following questions:

1. How do I apply for a judicial bypass?
2. Where do I go to file my application for a judicial bypass?
3. Whom do I ask to help me fill out my application?
4. Will anyone else find out that I am applying for a judicial bypass?
5. How do I get a lawyer?

The Results.
Our results were overwhelmingly disappointing and highly concerning. A mere 26% of counties provided the caller with factually correct information. Even more frightening, 37% of counties denied entirely their office’s involvement with judicial bypass filings, and a vast 81% of counties had no immediate knowledge of the existence of judicial bypass. A stunning 43% of counties provided the caller with blatant misinformation. Several district clerks went a step further and provided the caller with personal, religious advice, referencing “God’s plan” for the minor. One clerk announced she was an “advocate for Crisis Pregnancy Centers” and wanted to meet with the minor in person after work. Other clerks simply told the caller to “pick up the phone and call a lawyer” with one abruptly hanging up the phone.

While our results depend largely on the clerk who happened to answer the phone under Texas law, clerk’s offices should help any and all minors who seek to file a bypass application. While one clerk may be more knowledgeable than another, the clerk who answers the phone should be able to connect a minor to help immediately. This survey’s methodology replicates precisely what could happen in a real-life situation if a pregnant minor were to simply call her district clerk’s office seeking information. In cases where a clerk does not have any information, he or she should at least be able to transfer the caller immediately to someone who can provide the caller with the correct information, rather than providing the caller with misinformation or no information at all.

We cannot stress enough our concern regarding these findings. The judicial bypass provision is in place as a safety net for pregnant teens who cannot involve a parent or legal guardian in their pregnancy, often times for fear of abuse or abandonment. Judicial bypass absolutely must be accessible to this highly vulnerable population. District clerk’s offices must be trained properly to provide complete and accurate information so that every Texas minor has access to this constitutionally protected provision. Indeed, when the State is not upholding this legal requirement in practice, it creates very serious constitutional problem that may place minors in danger.

I don’t think it’s too much to ask for elected officials to know and follow the law, do you? Of course, they may not have to worry about it in the near future if pending legislation makes it through the process and gets signed into law. I’m old enough to remember when the parental consent law that created the judicial bypass process was first enacted. Opponents at the time argued that all it would do was put up obstacles and create danger for a vulnerable population. Apparently, it wasn’t enough of an obstacle for some people. Nonsequiteuse has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Ted Cruz still really dislikes gay people

Though he’s happy to take their money if they’re foolish enough to offer it to him.

Not Ted Cruz

Not Ted Cruz

Nobody tell the adoring fans at U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential announcement at Liberty University that he was palling around liberal New York City with well-known gay activists.

On Wednesday, Cruz attended a small New York City event hosted by two “prominent gay hoteliers” who used to be an item, The New York Times reported. According to one of the men, Ian Reisner, the Texas senator said he would love his daughters no less if one came out as a lesbian. That’s good and well and something most parents would understand, but something else happened that night.

A couple of attendees at the event told The Times that Cruz said the states should independently decide whether same-sex couples should be able to wed, his long-time position. When the paper of record followed up, a Cruz aide said the senator is still opposed to same-sex marriage.

[…]

Cruz, an Ivy League-educated lawyer, has long said this issue should be left up to the states, which is a non-starter among the proponents of so-called marriage equality. Just last October, he called for a constitutional amendment prohibiting the federal government from overriding state marriage laws, a sign that even Cruz, a consummate politician, knows which way the wind blows. At the time, he assailed the U.S. Supreme Court for “abdicating its duty to uphold the Constitution” after a ruling that he said “permitted lower courts to strike down so many state marriage laws.”

The problem for Cruz and every GOP presidential candidate who opposes a federally-recognized right to marriage, regardless of someone’s sex, is that the question is mostly answered. Even the most cautious court observers cannot argue with the proposition that legal trends point toward full-fledged marriage equality across the country by this summer.

If that’s the case, then, Cruz and his allies really have no reason to shun wealthy gay donors who disagree with him on this specific issue but find his standing on other topics – the Times article specifically mentioned his fervent support of Israel – more agreeable.

You wold think that those wealthy gay donors would have plenty of reasons to shun Cruz, however.

Sen. Ted Cruz really wants to make sure you know he opposes same-sex marriage.

After Cruz attended a Manhattan reception hosted for him by two gay hoteliers–Ian Reisner and Mati Weiderpass–the senator introduced bills to protect state same-sex marriage bans, according to Bloomberg News.

One bill would amend the Constitution to definitively allow same-sex marriage bans. The other would halt federal court action on the issue until the amendment is enacted. Several district courts have stricken down same-sex marriage bans, and the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on April 28.

Cruz is a staunch opponent of same-sex marriage and believes states should be allowed to ban it. Though the New York reception focused on national security and foreign policy, Cruz–when asked–said he’d still love his daughters if they were gay.

He just wants to treat them like second-class citizens, that’s all. Very simply, what this all boils down to is that Cruz, like most of his fellow Republican Presidential candidates, wants to have it both ways, and hopes everyone is too stupid or distracted by other issues to notice.

Ted Cruz has now responded to the brouhaha over his Manhattan fundraiser hosted by two prominent gay hoteliers. He argues that there’s no contradiction between his opposition to gay marriage and saying that he would love his daughter if one of his two daughters was gay. In truth, there really is not a necessary contradiction. That’s a totally valid point. But that hardly exhausts the issue or the balancing act (to use a generous formulation) that national Republicans are trying to pull off. They have to balance between a base that remains committed to opposing not only gay marriage but what we might call the normalization of gay life under the law, and a general public that has really moved on from this issue and is beginning to see legal inequality as on the par with de jure racial discrimination. As I said yesterday, we’re seeing the rise of a gay rights policy mullet – same old same old when talking to the base, but a very different way of talking about attitudes toward LGBT Americans when talking to the general public – and specifically, super-rich campaign donors.

Back to this point of whether there’s a contradiction. I don’t think there’s necessarily a contradiction. But there is quite a tension, to put it mildly. What’s the tonality? It’s one thing to oppose gay marriage as a legal matter. Quite another to rail against gay ‘activists’ forcing their ‘lifestyle’ on ordinary Americans, like Cruz and his fellow base Republican candidates do.

We’ve already seen how many national Republicans remain opposed to gay marriage but seem, when making the argument, to want to focus on how they believe homosexuality is not a choice, have gay friends and really can’t wait to go to a gay wedding, even though they don’t think there should be any. When Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson tried to find a middle ground on his state’s ‘religious liberty’ bill, he said basically, I’m so meh on this, even my son thinks I’m behind the times.

[…]

In Maggie Haberman’s follow up on Cruz’s Manhattan fundraiser, she notes that Cruz told the guests at the event that he thinks gay marriage should be left to the states. That’s not totally inconsistent with his rhetoric on the campaign trail, since most of his proposed policies focus on protecting anti-gay marriage states from federal interference. But does Cruz really think the federal government should be agnostic on this issue? Does he think married gay couples should get federal benefits like Social Security and so forth as married couples? I doubt very much that’s an argument he’s willing to get behind on the campaign trail.

This is going to be a constant issue going forward through the 2016 campaign – even the candidate who is trying to stand out with his anti-marriage equality cred tries to hem and haw when he’s raising money in New York. In New York, marriage equality is a minor, principled policy disagreement amidst warm feelings about respect and compassion for all Americans; on the campaign trail it’s the beating heart of the rearguard fight in defense of traditional America. You can muscle those two visions into alignment if you really press hard. But they still can’t fit together.

Clearly, the answer to that first question in the penultimate paragraph is no, he does not think the federal government should be agnostic. Quite the opposite, in fact. I think we all know the answer to the second question, too. These questions may indeed be “minor, principled policy disagreements” for people like those two idiot hoteliers (who are now deservedly coming under fire for their tone-deaf actions) who live in places like New York where same sex marriage is legal. (At least until Ted Cruz gets elected President, anyway.) But for many thousands of people in places like Texas where the old laws still apply, it’s real life with real legal and financial consequences. Where’s the compassion for them?

Posted in: The making of the President.

SCOTUS rejects North Carolina redistricting

Of interest.

On Monday, the Supreme Court vacated a ruling from North Carolina’s highest court that had upheld Republican-drawn maps of the state’s congressional and legislative districts. While we don’t yet know what the final outcome will be, the court’s decision could have a real impact on one of the most aggressively partisan gerrymanders in the nation.

Democrats had argued that the new lines were unconstitutional because they’d improperly taken voters’ race into account; while this line of attack did not receive a receptive audience in state court, the SCOTUS decreed that in light of a recent decision of theirs in a similar case out of Alabama, the North Carolina Supreme Court had to reconsider its decision.

So what did that Alabama decision say? In that case, plaintiffs claimed that Republicans—who had their hands on the cartographer’s pencil there as well—had packed black voters into too few districts, “bleaching” surrounding districts and thus diminishing Democratic voting strength in those areas (because African-Americans almost always vote heavily for Democrats). There as here, a lower court sided with the defendants, but the Supreme Court disagreed and sent that case back down for a re-hearing last month. We’re still awaiting the results, and may yet for a while.

Opponents of North Carolina’s maps raised very similar arguments—take a look at the skinny, snake-like 12th District, which crams in a black majority running along a hundred-mile stretch of I-85 from Greensboro to Charlotte. They now find themselves in the same place as their peers in Alabama: waiting to see how a lower court decides the second time around. However, as legal scholar Rick Hasen explained when the Alabama decision was handed down, the Supreme Court’s ruling may only offer plaintiffs a “small” and “temporary” victory.

The reasons why this victory could be small and temporary are that this will go back to the state trial court, which will then give the NC legislature directions for drawing a new map. It may be that some fairly small fixes are all that’s needed, and of course one should never underestimate the motivation to draw maximal maps. Still, that’s two redistricting maps struck down by SCOTUS in recent months, which is certainly suggestive for the Texas redistricting litigation. The issues are somewhat different here, and we haven’t even gotten an appellate ruling yet, so we’re a long way off from hearing from SCOTUS. Keep it filed away for future reference anyway. The Hill has more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Saturday video break: Girls Just Want To Have Fun

In a world where music videos had plot lines, there was Cyndi Lauper’s 80s classic:

Lauper went on to do several remakes and remixes of this song, which stands up pretty well 30 years later.

While this is absolutely Lauper’s song, it was written by Robert Hazard five years before Lauper recorded it. She changed the lyrics to make it a song of female empowerment. Here’s a stripped-down version of it by Greg Laswell:

Some songs work better when slowed down, but I don’t think this is one of them. It is different, though. And if you want something different, there’s always Big Daddy:

More songs should be mashed up with “Duke of Earl” if you ask me.

Posted in: Music.

Early voting for May elections begins Monday

From the inbox:

EarlyVoting

Almost one million of Harris County’s registered voters will be eligible to vote in elections conducted during the May 9, 2015 Uniform Election, according to Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, the chief elections officer of the county. Early Voting begins Monday, April 27th.

“Fifty political entities whose boundaries are solely or in part in Harris County have scheduled an election” said Stanart. “These include 21 cities, 11 independent school districts, 17 utility, service or improvement districts and one college district.”

The County Clerk’s Office is conducting three of the May 9 elections: the Klein ISD Bond election along with the joint election for Humble ISD and the City of Humble. Voters residing in these three jurisdictions can find Early Voting, Election Day voting locations, and view a sample ballot at www.HarrisVotes.com.

Forty-seven political entities are conducting their own election. “Voters should know that during the May Election cycle, sovereign political jurisdictions within the County can order an election and can conduct an election without the involvement of the County Clerk’s Office,” said Stanart. The cities include, Missouri City, Deer Park, Friendswood, Galena Park, Hedwig Village, Hilshire Village, Hunters Creek Village, Jersey Village, Morgan’s Point, Pasadena, Pearland, Piney Point Village, Seabrook, Shoreacres, South Houston, Southside Place, Stafford, West University Place, Waller and Webster. The Independent School Districts (ISD) include Alief, Clear Creek, Deer Park, Goose Creek, La Porte, New Caney, Pasadena, Pearland and Spring Branch. The Municipal Utility Districts (MUD), Service Districts (SD), Improvement Districts (ID) and Emergency Service Districts (ESD) include Chelford City MUD, Faulkey-Gully MUD, Trail of the Lakes MUD, Westador MUD, HC MUD 122, HC MUD 200, HCMUD 217, HC MUD 248, HC MUD 536, DOWDELL PUD, Stafford Municipal SD, HMW Special UD, HC ESD 16, HC ESD 21, Waller-Harris ESD 200, HC ID 15 and HC ID 17. The only college district conducting an election is Lee College.

As a service to the voters of Harris County, the voter Election Day Poll search on www.HarrisVotes.com will display the May 9th elections for which a voter is eligible to vote, if the entity provided Harris County notice of their intent to hold an election on May 9, 2015. The entity website and contact phone numbers, as provided by the entities, are also displayed as a result of the voter search on www.HarrisVotes.com.

“To obtain Early Voting and Election Day information for entities holding elections not conducted by my office, voters are encouraged to use the search result’s web link or phone number to contact the entity directly,” concluded Stanart.

The city of Houston does not have May elections, and neither do HISD and HCC, so if you’re like me you have no action to take. That said, there are elections of interest in Pasadena and across the county line in Fort Bend, and of course there’s the big Mayoral race in San Antonio. Every election matters, and the more local the election the more direct the effects on your day to day life will be. So check www.HarrisVotes.com if you’re in Harris County, or your county’s elections webpage if not, and make sure you participate if there’s an election that affects you.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Profiling the high speed rail opponents

City Lab takes a look at the people who are resisting the proposed Texas Central Railway.

Turns out you don’t need to rely on public money to be hated as a U.S. high-speed rail project. That much is becoming clear from the battering being given to a big Texas bullet train plan that’s privately funded.

A quick recap: Texas Central Railway, a private firm, is pushing a very promising proposal to link Dallas and Houston with a Japanese-style high-speed train capable of doing the trip at 200 mph. By relying on investors rather than taxpayers, the plan seemed poised to avoid a lot of the fiscal (slash ideological) squabbles that have plagued its federally-funded counterparts in California, Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

But with the project advancing toward route selection and environmental review, an intense opposition has emerged. It’s taken the form of anti-HSR groups (e.g. No Texas Central and Texans Against High Speed Rail), local legislation designed to stop the project, packed and panicked community meetings, and pleas for Congressional representatives to block any applications made by Texas Central to the Surface Transportation Board.

So far the high-speed rail pushback seems to be falling into three broad categories.

Click over and see how they were categorized. Nothing really new here, but it’s a succinct summary and a good quick reference guide if you need it.

Speaking of the legislation that has advanced out of committee, the Trib notes that its author, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, hasn’t always been anti-rail.

Yet as recently as 2012, Kolkhorst was listed as a member of the legislative caucus of the Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corporation, a nonprofit that has advocated on behalf of cities and counties to encourage private sector development of high-speed rail in the state.

Kolkhorst’s chief of staff, Chris Steinbach, said there was no contradiction in her actions, as she is not uniformly opposed to high-speed rail.

“While she was involved with discussions about high-speed rail as a concept years ago, that is very different from endorsing the current specific route and methodology,” Steinbach said in an email. “In fact, her bill this session does not speak to the concept of rail, but rather the potential abuse of eminent domain.”

Kolkhorst was a state representative from 2001 to 2014, when she won a special election to take a seat in the Senate. The Dallas-based Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corporation identified Kolkhorst as a new member of its legislative caucus in 2007. Steinbach said the senator joined the corporation at the request of some of her constituents. She has not been a member of the organization’s legislative caucus as a senator.

“She lent her name as a goodwill gesture for constituents who supported the idea of researching rail projects,” Steinbach said. “While she is she known for her open-minded approach to problems, that trait should not be mistaken for any advocacy or endorsement of the current high-speed rail project being discussed in the 84th Legislature.”

The Texas High-Speed Rail and Transportation Corporation launched in 2002 with a focus on encouraging private sector development of the Texas T-Bone, a proposed high-speed rail system connecting San Antonio, Austin, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth, according to David Dean, the corporation’s public policy consultant. The corporation has more recently encouraged private sector high-speed rail development anywhere in the state but is not officially endorsing Texas Central’s project, Dean said.

“We’re glad they’re here,” Dean said. “We hope they’re very successful because we need that true high-speed intercity passenger rail.”

Whatever. Look, people can change their minds, and they can decide that this project is OK but that one is not. As I’ve said before, there are valid reasons for folks in the affected rural reasons to oppose this project. But if this does succeed – and to be clear, I remain in favor of it – then perhaps that also-long-discussed Texas T-Bone would be more likely to finally get built, and it might very well be the kind of boon to the rural communities that TCR will be for Houston and Dallas. A little big-picture thinking would be nice here, that’s all I’m saying.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

More on the Texas Compassionate Use Act

The Chron covers the legislation that has been introduced to loosen medical marijuana laws just a bit.

The twin bills, both authored by Republicans and supported by lawmakers across the aisle, await hearings in Senate and House subcommittees.

The bills are far more restrictive than those that legalized medical marijuana in 23 states, broad laws that in general green-light the marketing of “whole plant” products to a wide range of patients, such as those with cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV and other illnesses.

The Texas bills would allow for the implementation of “compassionate use” of CBD oil by 2018, a move that would effectively bypass FDA drug trials, which can take as long as a decade.

“These are families that have run out of options,” said Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, a nurse and lead author of the House bill. “Other states have legalized CBD oil with promising results. We want Texans with intractable epilepsy to have that option.”

The bills face opposition from conservative lawmakers, who fear a yes vote might cast them as champions of marijuana, and from the Texas Medical Association, which is opposing the lack of testing available on CBD oil.

Even some parents of children with intractable seizures are against it, arguing their kids need higher levels of THC to make their convulsions stop, a dose ratio the Texas law wouldn’t allow. A botanical derived from plants, CBD oil would have to be calibrated from different batches to conform to the strict, low-THC ratio the Texas law would mandate.

It’s that very ratio that has made Dean Bortell an opponent of the Texas Compassionate Use Act.

His daughter Alexis, now 9, began having seizures at age 7, convulsing wildly and foaming at the mouth. The various medications doctors gave her actually made her condition worse, he said.

Bortell moved his family from the Dallas area to Colorado, becoming “medical refugees.”

Bortell said his daughter’s epilepsy now is well-controlled on CBD oil – $150 for a 40-day supply – but one of her doses contains more THC than would be allowed under the proposed Texas law. To get the right ratio, he must add pure THC oil to the CBD oil.

“If I got caught with that in Texas, I’d go to prison,” he said. “I’ve talked to tons of parents here in Colorado, and for many of them, the ratios in the Texas bills wouldn’t help their children because they require more THC. For no other medication does the law dictate dosing levels.”

See here for the background; most of what is in this story is also in the one I blogged about there. Time is beginning to get short for any bills that have not yet been heard in committee, so unless these bills get scheduled to be heard in the next couple of weeks, they won’t be going anywhere. One bill that has already gotten a hearing is Rep. Joe Moody’s bill to change possession of less than one ounce of marijuana to a civil penalty, like a traffic ticket. That bill has picked up some Republican cosponsors, which may be a sign that it could go the distance, or at least go farther. I’d like to see more done, and I’d go a lot farther on medical marijuana than the Compassionate Use Act, but this just doesn’t look to be the session for it.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

B-Cycle’s future

There’s some trouble in San Antonio.

San Antonio B-Cycle could be on the verge of following rideshare and disappearing from the San Antonio landscape, multiple sources have told the Rivard Report, unless it can win the local government, corporate and philanthropic financial support that bikeshare enjoys in cities like Boston, Philadelphia, Denver, Houston, and Austin. The same sources said Cindi Snell, the unpaid executive director since B-Cycle’s started here, announced at a Tuesday B-Cycle board meeting that she has decided to step down later this year. Snell has recently told friends and colleagues in the cycling community that she is exhausted after four years of unsuccessful efforts to win any major sponsorships and operating on a bare bones budget and pro bono support services to survive.

Sources say the B-Cycle board will have to consider shutting down or scaling back operations even as it seeks a new executive director, which it lacks funds to pay. One option would be to turn down the $1.2 million TXDOT grant to avoid the increased operating costs associated with an expanded network, but that would signal an end to rideshare’s growth in San Antonio, disappoint many neighborhoods awaiting stations, and the board would still face an underfunded system that would have to operate after losing Snell, bikeshare’s strongest and most visible advocate in San Antonio.

The bulk of funds that have built the San Antonio B-Cycle system flowed through the City’s budget from federal stimulus programs, and like the pending TXDOT grant, were for bikes and stations. Snell, co-owner of the Bike World cycling stores, has worked full-time for free while B-Cycle’s seven employees are paid modest salaries or hourly wages. The City, County and regional government entities do not contribute any funding to support B-Cycle. The 80/20 Foundation and Baptist Health Foundation have each contributed $50,000 grants this year, but no national company or locally-based company has shown interest in sponsoring bikeshare in the city.

That story, which has been shared 126 times after being posted to the San Antonio B-Cycle Facebook page, has generated promises from city leaders that they would work to save the program, but as yet I’ve not seen any reports saying that a sponsor or other funding source has been found. San Antonio was the first city in Texas to get B-Cycle, and it’s been very successful, with more stations and bikes and checkouts than Houston’s B-Cycle. It would be a big loss for them if it can’t sustain that success. Next City has more.

Meanwhile, Houston has a sponsor for its existing B-Cycle stations and is looking for more grant money to allow for further expansion.

Houston so far has avoided pitfalls, said Will Rub, director of Houston B-Cycle, by stretching the seed money it received from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas in 2013 to expand the system.

“That and the fact that we have operated on a very lean basis,” Rub said. “We have been able to cover approximately 70 percent of our operating expenses through the income generated by the system, therefore we’ve been able to stretch the sponsorship dollars. We’ve even had a few months where the system income has exceeded our monthly operating expenses.”

More money would help Houston to expand the system. Right now it is focused on downtown and nearby areas such as the Museum District, Midtown and Montrose. Adding stations or offering service in additional neighborhoods, like the Heights or close to the University of Houston and Memorial Park, would require corporate partnerships or grant funding.

Rub said he has applied for funding from the Houston-Galveston Area Council, which doles out some federal money for transportation options such as biking. The proposal would be for $3.4 million from H-GAC, with the local B-Cycle matching 20 percent of that with money they collect from fares or raise via other sources.

“If we receive the award we will put a plan into action that will result in adding 71 more stations over the next two-plus years,” he said.

The plan would also add 600 bikes.

“That would establish a very well networked bike share program,” Rub said.

If the H-GAC proposal does not happen, Rub said, finding a title sponsor would be hugely important to maintaining and expanding the system.

“We, along with the entire bike share industry, feel that we can provide a great deal of value to a title sponsor,” Rub said. “But bike share is still a relatively new industry and doesn’t have the advertising industry metrics to justify the investment, from a sponsor’s perspective. That is the challenge faced by many of the programs around the country.”

I hope they can get that grant and execute that expansion plan. I also hope they will have the same kind of backing from the next Mayor as they have had from the current one. You know how I feel about this sort of thing.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Friday random ten: Parenthetically speaking, part 12

Twelve! Twelve lists of song names with parentheses in them! Ah ha ha!

1. Strangest Party (These Are The Times) – INXS
2. Sweet Dreams (Of You) – Patsy Cline
3. (Take A) Beetle To The Badlands – The Slip
4. Take Me (I’m Yours) – Bob deGrande
5. Tell Me (That Our Love’s Still Strong) – Southside Johnny and The Jukes
6. Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again) – Sly And The Family Stone
7. That Lucky Old Sun (Just Rolls Around Heaven All Day) – Ray Charles
8. There’s A Moon In The Sky (Called The Moon) – The B-52’s
9. The Things (That) I Used To Do – Stevie Ray Vaughan
10. This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds) – Peter Gabriel

I believe that SRV song is the first one we’ve seen where the parenthetical is in the middle of the song name. I feel like an argument about proper grammar must have been involved. Also, once you come up with “Excellent Birds” as a title, I don’t know why you’d want to add on to it. But if Peter Gabriel hadn’t, his song wouldn’t have made this list.

Posted in: Music.

TxDOT reveals its I-45 plan

Wow. Just, wow.

A massive reconstruction of Interstate 45 through most of Houston would topple one of downtown’s most frustrating barriers – the Pierce Elevated – and move the freeway east of the central business district.

That’s just one of the major changes Texas Department of Transportation officials included in the $6 billion-plus plan to be unveiled Thursday. It would make I-45 practically unrecognizable to those familiar with its current downtown-area configuration.

Two managed lanes in each direction will be added to the freeway between the Sam Houston Tollway and U.S. 59 south of the city’s central business district. Planners recommend moving I-45 to the east side of the city’s core, a change that an analysis suggests could increase downtown freeway speeds. Officials called it a once-in-a-lifetime change that would increase mobility and improve the city center.

“After having those freeways in the city for the better part of 70 years, it’s challenging and exciting to have the opportunity to come back and reshape how they fit,” said Bob Eury, executive director of the Houston Downtown Management District.

The first of three public meetings this month [was] scheduled for Thursday night, when residents and businesses will get their first detailed look at the plans. In 2013, when neighborhood leaders got a look at early versions, some feared the reconstruction would leave a big, concrete scar across their communities.

“I am really looking with dreaded anticipation for what they are going to propose,” said Jim Weston, president of the I-45 coalition, a group of residents tracking the freeway project. “There’s a lot of engineering and lots of questions about the design that really, I feel, TxDOT hasn’t answered.”

Remaking I-45 will take years, with numerous public meetings and more detailed analysis remaining. Officials said it is too early to pinpoint an exact cost, but transportation officials predict all of the work will cost “north of $6 billion,” said Quincy Allen, district engineer for TxDOT’s Houston office.

The final cost will be determined by when officials can start construction, likely in phases starting in downtown Houston after 2017. The central business district parts of the plan alone will cost about $3 billion.

Much of that cost comes from moving the freeway. Eventually, I-45 will move from the west side of downtown and follow the same route U.S. 59 does now east of the George R. Brown Convention Center, according to the plans. The two freeways will split where they now cross near Pierce Street.

Perhaps just as importantly, transportation officials are designing segments of the new or combined freeways as depressed roadways, meaning local street traffic flows above them, similar to U.S. 59 west of Spur 527. East of the convention center and between Cavalcade and Quitman streets, the space above the freeways could be developed as open green space or a park-like setting.

See here and here for the most recent updates. The public meeting documents are here. I’m still working my way through them. I’m happy that the roundabout idea appears to be kaput, but there’s a billion details to work out, and until we really understand what this is all about, it’s impossible to say if this is good, bad, or indifferent. I’m more hopeful now than I was before, but I need to read the docs and hear what the folks who have followed this more closely than I have are saying. And – and I really cannot say this often enough – we need to know what the Mayoral candidates think about this. Forget pensions and potholes, if this project goes forward more or less as detailed here, this will be the defining issue of the next Mayor’s tenure. What is your impression of this?

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Two anti-gay bills advance

Look out.

RedEquality

Gay rights advocates began sounding the alarm Wednesday after two anti-LGBT bills cleared House committees and another received a favorable hearing.

Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, said if LGBT groups and their corporate allies don’t work quickly to generate the type of backlash seen over a religious freedom bill in Indiana last month, it could soon be too late.

Miller made the statement on a day when separate House panels advanced bills that would bar county clerks from issuing same-sex marriage licenses and allow state-funded adoption agencies to turn away gay couples based on religious beliefs. The two bills, which breached a dam that had kept a record number of anti-LGBT measures at bay for the first 100 days of the session, now head to the Calendars Committee.

“My fear is that if the Indiana-style outrage doesn’t happen now, before these bills make it to the floor of the House, it will be too late, because the membership of the House will pass these bills, and then the Senate will fly them through, and Gov. [Greg] Abbott will have no choice but to sign them in his mind,” Miller said.

Miller and others said with the U.S. Supreme Court set to hear oral arguments on same-sex marriage Tuesday, moderate Republicans in the Legislature are feeling the heat from social conservatives.

“I feel like the Republican base is desperately afraid of the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage this summer,” Miller said. “I think there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on the leadership in the House to pass anti-LGBT legislation. I think some of Speaker [Joe] Straus’ lieutenants are more likely to cave in to that pressure than others.”

[…]

The House Committee on State Affairs voted 7-3 along party lines to advance House Bill 4105, which would prohibit state or local funds from being used to license or recognize same-sex marriages.

Among those voting in favor of the bill was Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), a moderate who chairs the committee and has come out in support of one pro-LGBT bill.

“For me, I believe in the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman, so that’s why I voted for it,” Cook said.

All due respect, and I do respect Rep. Cook for his support of the birth certificate bill, but he’s not a moderate. As I noted before, he received an F on the 2013 Equality Texas report card. His support of Rep. Anchia’s bill is great and appreciated, but it doesn’t change who he is.

The Texas Association of Business, the state’s powerful chamber of commerce, has come out against two proposed religious freedom amendments that critics say would enshrine a “license to discriminate” against LGBT people in the Texas Constitution. But the TAB has remained silent on the bills that cleared committee Wednesday.

“We have not taken a position and doubtful (with timing of the session) that we will be able to,” TAB President Chris Wallace said in an email. “We will continue to monitor the business-related implications.”

Late Wednesday, the House Committee on Juvenile Justice and Family Affairs voted 6-1 to advance House Bill 3864, by Rep. Scott Sanford (R-McKinney), which would allow state-funded child welfare providers to discriminate based on sincerely held religious beliefs.

Meanwhile, dozens of pastors gave hours of testimony in support of House Bill 3567, also by Sanford, which he said is designed to prevent clergy from being forced to perform same-sex marriages. Critics of HB 3567 say it’s so broadly written that it could allow any religiously affiliated organization—from hospitals to universities and homeless shelters—to discriminate against LGBT people.

None of this is good, so now would be an excellent time to call your State Rep and ask him or her to vote against these bills. It would also be nice if the TAB and its other corporate allies would remember that not only are these bills bad for business, they will inevitably lead to expensive litigation (that the state will lose) because they’re clearly unconstitutional. The cheaper and safer route is to keep them bottled up in the House.

It’s hard to overstate just how out of step with public opinion all of this is. I can only conclude that the GOP is more in thrall to its zealot wing than it is to the business lobby. Maybe this will finally help cause a bit of a schism. As far as those “Christians” that were there to lobby for these bills, they don’t represent all people of faith. Not by a longshot. And finally, if Indiana and Arkansas weren’t object lessons enough for Republicans, just keep an eye on Louisiana, where Bobby Jindal has decided that the best strategy is to double down. Imitating Arkansas is bad enough – do we have to do what Louisiana does, too? The Trib has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

A different push for health care expansion

This ought to spark some interesting conversations.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Two Democratic lawmakers called Wednesday for Texas leaders to explore a new type of Medicaid waiver that they say could provide health coverage to many of the state’s millions of uninsured.

The waiver, characterized by the legislators as the kind of block grant that Republicans favor, is not predicated on a Medicaid expansion and would allow Texas to avoid many provisions of the Affordable Care Act unpopular with the leadership in the Legislature – including the individual and employer mandates. The waiver, known as 1332, takes effect in 2017.

“Based on where we are now in this state, (the waiver) probably is the best chance or possibility of an agreement… toward coverage expansion,” Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said at a news briefing with Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso.

In a letter sent to colleagues earlier this week, Coleman added that the waiver must not reduce access to care, increase costs to the federal government, or make insurance more expensive than under the current law. The waiver effectively tells states that “if they know a better, more efficient way to provide health care, then have at it,” Coleman wrote.

[…]

Arlene Wohlgemuth, executive director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative Austin think tank, said she had spoken to Coleman Wednesday morning about developing a 1332 waiver aligned with the principles laid out by the foundation.

“Of course, we are interested in reform of the program that truly gives flexibility to the states to provide for better health outcomes in a way that is affordable for the taxpayer,” Wohlgemuth said. “Thus far, the federal government has been unwilling to give exception to the requirements in the Social Security Act (the law that embodies Medicare) that have hamstrung true reform. We are interested to see what Representative Coleman has in mind through a 1332 waiver.”

Vivian Ho, a health care economist at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, said there are so many unknowns about the waiver that it’s hard to know what to conclude.

“I can’t believe any waiver is the answer unless the state agrees to some sort of Medicaid expansion, and I don’t see how 1332 is going to help that,” said Ho. “It’s unclear how much money it would actually supply and whether it would provide access to tax credits for people below 100 percent of the federal poverty level.”

Ho added that block grants are a questionable idea unless the amount of money increases with population growth, given Texas’ continual migration and growing uninsured pool.

But Ken Janda, CEO of Community Health Choice, a nonprofit health care organization, called the suggestion “a very good idea” and said it “definitely seems worth talking about.” He said it answers a lot of concerns raised about Medicaid expansion and presents a possible solution to the health-care crisis that’s caused the closure of some private hospitals and threatens the existence of safety-net hospitals.

Rep. Coleman and Sen. Rodriguez filed bills this session to pursue this waiver and the reforms that it would allow. Here’s the letter they sent to fellow legislators outlining what this waiver would mean. Here’s the key bit:

However, there is a catch – the waiver must not reduce access to care, increase costs to the federal government, or make insurance more expensive than it is under the current law. The 1332 Waiver effectively tells states that if they know a better, more efficient way to provide healthcare, then have at it. Texas should take the federal government’s offer and consider ways to reform both Medicaid and private marketplace coverage in this state.

Basically, this is a put-up-or-shut-up challenge to Greg Abbott and the Republicans that have dug their heels in so fiercely against Medicaid expansion, the insurance exchanges, and every other aspect of the Affordable Care Act. You think you can do better? Prove it. My guess is that this will be roundly ignored, since Abbott and Rick Perry before him have shown zero interest in doing anything about the millions of uninsured Texans. Abbott appears to be perfectly willing to set fire to billions more dollars in his continued quest to not do anything about health care. But who knows, maybe someone will rise to the challenge. I agree that it’s at least worth exploring to see what might be possible.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Prosecutors respond to latest Team Perry filings

Back and forth, forth and back.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

This corndog has done nothing wrong

The special prosecutor in the case against Rick Perry is asking a judge to deny the former governor’s latest two efforts to quash the indictment against him.

Perry, meanwhile, is once again showcasing a high-profile group of legal scholars who think the case against him should be dismissed.

The two filings by special prosecutor Michael McCrum of San Antonio – and the filing on behalf of Perry by lawyers from Republican and Democratic backgrounds – are the latest moves in a long court dance that has taken place since Perry was indicted last August.

[…]

Perry has maintained that he properly used his veto authority and that the indictment is improper, politically motivated and injurious to free speech and gubernatorial authority.

His high-powered legal team led by Houston lawyer Anthony Buzbee has said that misusing a veto “cannot constitutionally be considered a criminal act” under the statute cited by McCrum, and that McCrum’s effort to fix problems identified in the indictment is “woefully deficient.” Perry’s team also has said the indictment doesn’t give Perry enough notice to defend himself.

McCrum and Austin attorney David M. Gonzalez, who is assisting him in the case, said in a Friday filing that Perry’s third motion to quash the indictment should be denied because the indictment tracks the law, and that Perry doesn’t lack clarity about why he is being prosecuted. They said the matters raised in Perry’s indictment “may be appropriately addressed when evidence has been presented.”

McCrum and Gonzalez said in responding to Perry’s supplemental motion to quash in trial court, “Texas’ highest court for criminal cases has held that the State does not have to lay out its case in the indictment.”

See here and here for the background. The first of the filings mentioned in the third paragraph was filed after the initial ruling by Judge Richardson, which denied his first motions to dismiss but which noted some issues with the indictments. The second filing came after special prosecutor Mike McCrum refiled the charges, in response to the questions Judge Richardson raised. Perry has also filed a motion with the Third Court of Appeals, which is a separate matter. There may be more filings to come – I presume McCrum will respond to the Third Court of Appeals motion if nothing else – and then we wait for rulings. Trail Blazers has more, including a copy of the latest paperwork.

On a side note, it’s interesting that this happened on the same day as the House passing the bill to move the Public Integrity Unit out of the Travis County DA’s office. The Perry indictments have been repeatedly cited as the fulcrum for getting that long-sought legislation through. A bit ironic, given that the action has been driven by a nonpartisan special prosecutor appointed by a Republican judge, but never mind that. At this point, I’d say that if Team Perry succeeds in getting the indictments tossed, that will be a lot of ammunition for the advocates of moving this function elsewhere. If it does go to trial, I don’t know that it changes any of the office-movers’ minds, but it may take some wind out of their sails. We’ll see who if anyone winds up feeling vindicated.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

A little trouble in paradise

It’s that time of the biennium, y’all.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s tea party advisory panel on Tuesday blasted Gov. Greg Abbott’s quality pre-K legislation as “socialistic” and “a threat to parental rights,” contributing friction to the already tense balancing act between the state’s top Republican leaders.

“We are experimenting at great cost to taxpayers with a program that removes our young children from homes and half-day religious preschools and mothers’ day out programs to a Godless environment with only evidence showing absolutely NO LONG-TERM BENEFITS beyond the 1st grade,” read the letter sent to the state Senate on Tuesday.

It was signed by all 20 members of the lieutenant governor’s “Grassroots Advisory Board,” a group of Tea Party leaders Patrick chose soon after taking office to meet regularly and discuss public policy, especially as it related to border security, education reform, and tax relief legislation.

“This interference by the State tramples up our parental rights,” the letter added. “The early removal of children from parents’ care is historically promoted in socialistic countries, not free societies which respect parental rights.”

[…]

While Patrick quickly distanced himself from the letter Tuesday, saying it was “unsolicited” and expressed “the individual viewpoints of Texas citizens,” House Bill 4 has not yet been approved by the chamber he oversees. It passed easily in the lower chamber earlier this month but has stalled in the Senate.

The letter – and any further delay in the Senate hearing Abbott’s pre-K bill – is sure to create friction between the state’s two most powerful elected officials, said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

“The language of the letter is certainly inflammatory in a way that is likely to exacerbate the expected tensions,” said Henson. “It’s hard not to look at this without concluding that we’re in for a pretty fractious end of session.”

Who knew that inviting a bunch of nihilistic prevaricators into your inner circle would be such an ill-advised move? No one could have seen that coming. As the Observer notes, there’s no love lost between the House (read: Joe Straus) and the Senate (Danno, of course) over the border surge bills, among other things. Some of this is just the way things are at this point in the session. It’s like going on a long road trip with your family – no matter how much you may love them, after enough time together without a break, tensions can get a little high. Some of it is ego and the kind of inside baseball that no one outside of the Capitol hothouse cares about. And some of it is genuine differences, not all of which will get resolved. How big a mess it becomes, and how much gets salvaged and smoothed over, remains to be seen.

In the meantime, I hope we hear a lot more of stuff like this.

Food fight!

The weekly kumbaya breakfast between the big three Texas lawmakers broke down today into a round-robin of recriminations that concluded with Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick declaring he was tired of Governor Greg Abbott and Speaker Joe Straus “picking on me.”

The blow-up, confirmed by multiple sources, represents the boiling point of long-simmering disputes. The House has been upset that Patrick declared his inauguration marked a “New Day” in Texas and that he pushed a conservative agenda quickly through the Senate with expectations that the House would just pass his legislation. But, instead, most of the Senate’s bills on tax cuts, licensed open carry of handguns and moving the Public Integrity Unit have languished in the House without even being referred to committee by Straus.

The House instead has passed its own version of the same legislation, putting the Senate in a take-it-or-leave-it position. To pass the Senate bills now, the House would have to have an entirely new debate on controversial measures it already has approved.

So the Senate, in what looked like retaliation on Tuesday, ignored a House-approved border security bill to vote on its own measure, putting the House into a take-it-or-leave-it position on border security – a measure that House Ways and Means Chair Dennis Bonnen had crafted to win support of border Democrats.

This may be Patrick’s New Day, but Straus’ Old Guard still runs the House.

[…]

Once in the breakfast, Patrick and Straus began arguing over the House not moving on Patrick’s agenda bills, while Straus was critical of the Senate action on the border security bill. At that point, Abbott interjected his displeasure with the letter attacking the pre-k bill that he supported.

With Abbott and Straus coming at him, Patrick declared that he was tired of them “picking on me.”

LEAVE DAN PATRICK ALOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONE!!!

(The Trib and Juanita have more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Statewide Uber/Lyft bill passes out of committee

It’s gotten better, but it’s still not good enough.

Uber

A bill to establish statewide rules for “transportation network companies” like Uber and Lyft has been tweaked to address some concerns that its background check requirements weren’t stringent enough.

That change – which would allow cities to require that drivers be fingerprinted as part of such a check – was enough for the bill win passage out of the House Transportation Committee with a 10-2 vote on Wednesday.

The revised bill still isn’t likely to win over cities like Dallas, which would still see their recently crafted vehicle-for-hire regulations essentially wiped out. And with just 40 days left in the session, the legislation still has a long road ahead to become law.

But the bill’s author, Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, said he was optimistic.

“We’ve eliminated the vast majority of concerns,” said Paddie, who added that Uber and Lyft remain on board with the legislation.

The legislation would create statewide rules for companies like Uber and Lyft on issues ranging from vehicle standards to insurance requirements to permitting. The Department of Motor Vehicles would administer the rules, which wouldn’t apply to cabs and limos.

[…]

A sticking point in the Legislature has been driver fingerprinting – which isn’t required in Dallas, but is in other cities. And Paddie’s latest amendment to his bill could perhaps allay the worries of some lawmakers and cities who wanted that flexibility.

See here and here for the background. The Chron explains why cities are still opposed to HB2440.

Lyft

The original bill would have pre-empted local ordinances in favor of statewide regulation, eliminating the ability of a city to regulate background checks for Uber drivers.

State Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, who authored the bill, said it will allow cities across the state to enforce local ordinances requiring fingerprint background checks for drivers, a major sticking point for local authorities.

He said that change will happen on the House floor because a reworked version introduced Wednesday had a “drafting problem” that muddled the language on local control of background checks.

“That will give the authority to the cities that if they chose to require more in that they want to require fingerprints, as Houston does, with this change they will be able to do that,” he said.

Paddie, R-Marshall, added: “We basically said ‘cities, we heard ya.”

Uber has vigorously fought against attempts to require its drivers to be subjected to fingerprint-based background checks. Paddie said Uber and Lfyt have agreed to changes giving cities the ability to write and enforce rules for background checks.

New language inserted into the bill also allows cities to require Uber and similar companies that link riders and drivers by smartphone to access a state criminal fingerprinting database, potentially key to help win support from skeptical lawmakers. Paddie, however, said he planned to replace that section of the bill with new language making clear that his bill does not pre-empt cities from requiring fingerprint-based checks.

The bill passed the transportation committee 10-2, with Democratic Reps. Yvonne Davis of Dallas and Celia Israel of Austin opposed.

Davis questioned if allowing cities to set their own ordinances for background checks would keep in place a “mish-mash” of local regulations that the bill originally sought to undo.

“There’s still potential for a mish-mash,” Paddie said, highlighting that standards for fees and insurance would still be regulated statewide.

The new language in the bill “does not prohibit a municipality from requiring by ordinance a transportation network company to access the electronic clearinghouse and subscription service under Section 411.0845, Government Code, for transportation network drivers.”

That assurance, however, doesn’t go nearly far enough and is “useless” in assuring drivers are properly screened, said Lara Cottingham, deputy assistant director in the city’s Regulatory Affairs Department.

Conducting background checks and accessing the clearinghouse are very different things. The clearinghouse is a database of fingerprints collected by various municipal and state agencies.

Honestly, this sounds a lot better, and I’m glad to hear Rep. Paddie talk about working with the cities on this, but the devil remains in the details, especially given that the bill is not yet a finished product. As we know, the experience in Houston has shown that anything less than full fingerprinting is insufficient. The “mish-mash” of not overriding stricter city ordinances on background checks is a feature, not a bug. If that stays in place, I think I’ll be all right with this. Let’s keep an eye on this as it progresses to the House floor, and do feel free to contact your State Rep and let him or her know how you feel about it. And of course – broken record alert – it would be nice to know how the Mayoral candidates feel about it, too. At least with Rep. Sylvester Turner, if it does go to a vote in the House we’ll have his opinion on the record. The rest of them will have to tell us on their own.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Meet your Paxton prosecutors

Technically, they’re district attorneys pro tem, for those of you keeping score at home.

Ken Paxton

Two Houston attorneys have been appointed to replace Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis in any potential prosecution of his friend and business partner Attorney General Ken Paxton. The Texas Rangers are looking into whether Paxton should be criminally prosecuted for violating state securities law.

Kent Schaffer and Brian Wice will serve as criminal district attorneys pro tem, according to an order signed Tuesday by Scott Becker, a judge in Collin County district court. The order leaves open the possibility of “further additional appointments.”

[…]

While neither Schaffer nor Wice have worked as prosecutors, both have extensive criminal defense backgrounds. Wice recently worked on the defense team of NFL Star Adrian Peterson with attorney Rusty Hardin and is the legal analyst for KPRC-TV in Houston. He is most known as the appellate attorney for former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

Shaffer has represented high-profile politicians and business leaders including R. Allen Stanford, former Congressman Craig Washington and handled legal affairs for athletes and celebrities including Farrah Fawcett.

See here for the background. It’s interesting to name two lawyers who have never worked as prosecutors for this, but they are certainly well qualified to handle the procedure. One might surmise that if they wind up going forward with charges against Paxton, their case will be pretty darned solid. I look forward to seeing what happens next.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Texas blog roundup for the week of April 20

The Texas Progressive Alliance honors the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing on the 20th anniversary of that dark day as it brings you this week’s roudup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Senate passes a voucher bill

Hopefully, this will die in the House.

Some low-income families unhappy with their public schools would get help paying private school tuition under a plan that won tentative approval in the Texas Senate Monday.

Senate Bill 4, which would use state tax credits to entice up to $100 million in business donations to fund a scholarship program, cleared the chamber 18 to 12 with two Republicans, Konni Burton of Colleyville and Robert Nichols of Jacksonville, breaking party lines to vote against the measure. One Democrat, Eddie Lucio of Brownsville, voted in favor.

Before it passed, Democrats raised concerns about the plan, arguing that it diverted money that should be going to public education into an unaccountable private school system. “They don’t have the same kinds of requirements that our public schools do,” said state Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso. “I can’t seem to get around that.”

While defending his proposal, state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, insisted that the legislation should not be considered a private school voucher program — a notion that has proven politically toxic in the Legislature.

“I don’t think we are taking money from the public schools. The student is leaving,” said Taylor, who chairs the Senate Education Committee. “This is private money — not state money — that is donated.”

Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, said he viewed the legislation as a way to “short circuit around the whole voucher concept.”

“It is money that a corporation will be giving to a scholarship program in lieu of paying tax,” he said.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, called on Taylor to add language banning private schools participating in the program from using Common Core, the national set of curriculum standards that Texas lawmakers prohibited in the state’s public education system in 2013.

“It just defies logic that you would apply a different standard to private schools using taxpayer subsidized money,” said Ellis, after his amendment was tabled at Taylor’s urging.

Senators Rodriguez, Menendez, and Ellis have hit the highlights here. This is a strong point, too.

Rev. Charles Johnson, director of Pastors for Texas Children, a public school advocacy group, said the push for vouchers is more a fight for money than improving educational opportunity for poor students.

“If this were about kids, we’d target those 70 or 80 struggling schools out of 8,500 public schools and we would give them the resources they need to succeed,” he said. “The Legislature consistently refuses to do that.”

Well yeah. That would cost money. Dan Patrick already thinks we spend too much money on public education. Even the credulous Erica Greider notes that under this bill, families with above-median incomes would be eligible for these “scholarships”, a name that’s more about branding than anything else. It’s a giveaway to people who don’t need it at the expense of people who do, and there’s no evidence from existing voucher programs elsewhere that it does anything to improve educational outcomes. Like I said, let’s hope it dies in the House, as it should.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Minjarez wins in HD124

At long last, that’s a wrap.

Ina Minjarez

Former Bexar County prosecutor Ina Minjarez cruised to victory late Tuesday in the runoff for José Menéndez’s old seat in Texas House District 124 the last vacancy this session in the Legislature.

With all precincts reporting, Minjarez led Delicia Herrera, a former member of the San Antonio City Council, by just under 10 percentage points, according to unofficial returns. Minjarez beat Herrera by another double-digit margin in the first round of the race last month, a four-way contest.

Turnout for the runoff was 2.77 percent, slightly higher than the rate for the March 31 vote. That was the lowest turnout the state had on record for a competitive special election for a legislative seat.

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for the numbers. Congratulations to Rep.-elect Ina Minjarez, the winner of the last special election of this legislative session. There could still be more later, if someone resigns after the session or something like that, but for now and for the first time since November, the Lege is at full strength. And hey, guess what? Early voting for the May elections, which in San Antonio includes the heavily contested Mayor’s race, begins on Monday. Enjoy the break while you can.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Lone Star Rail District update

Haven’t heard from these guys in awhile.

According to [Lone Star Rail District], the [proposed rail line] will provide essential relief from the I-35 highway congestion. The express trip from downtown Austin to downtown San Antonio would take 75 minutes.

Completing the project, however, crawls slowly forward as the approval for the train involves several different counties, including Austin, Bexar, Travis, Hays and Williamson.

In January of 2015, the LSRD hosted several informational events in both Austin and San Antonio with the intention to gain support for local and state funding of the project.

The rail system will cost taxpayers roughly $1.7 billion.

[…]

The Texas Department of Transportation has already given their consent for the project to move forward, and the LSRD has formally “kicked off the federal environmental process” according to an email sent in September of 2014 from a staff member of LSRD, Allison Schulze, to Alamo area officials and advocates of the project.

The LSRD intends to transform an existing Union Pacific rail line into the commuter line. Thus, in adhering to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the federal government will evaluate and improve the safety of the rail for transporting people.

LSRD, in an report with KVUE news, states if kept on schedule the project from now until finish will take about 5 years.

The last update I had on this was back in January of 2012. More recently, as that KVUE story from this January notes, the LSRD held a series of public information meetings, which is part of the environmental review process. Last December, the Austin City Council voted to support the funding to maintain and operate a regional passenger rail line, which is obviously a big step. That story indicates that this approval is contingent on a “legislative decision to tweak a state law” as well as an agreement from Union Pacific to share its tracks. No clue what the “legislative decision” is about – I presume it’s a bill that needs to be passed to allow for funds to be spent on a project like this. One hopes it will meet less resistance than the Texas Central Railway has met.

I should note that a travel time of 75 minutes is about what it took to drive from Austin to San Antonio 25 years ago, when much of that stretch of I-35 was farmland. I doubt one can drive it that quickly any time during the day now. Note that there would be multiple stops along the way, so we’re not talking express service. I presume this also means that several other city councils, in places like Schertz and New Braunfels and San Marcos and Buda, will have to take similar votes to approve funding for maintenance and operations. A five year timeline seems awfully optimistic given all the things that could go wrong, but I’m rooting for them to succeed.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Willis recuses himself from Paxton probe

Good call.

Ken Paxton

Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis has asked a judge to relieve him from further involvement in investigations of his friend, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Late Monday, Willis said that earlier in the day, he filed a motion with state District Judge Scott Becker to recuse himself from probes of whether Paxton, a friend and business partner, should face criminal charges for failing to obtain a Texas State Securities Board license. Becker, the administrative judge in Collin County, could name someone to act in Willis’ place as district attorney in the matter.

Earlier this month, Willis asked the Texas Rangers to investigate the Paxton matter and make a recommendation.

“Whenever the Rangers complete their investigation, there will be a district attorney on the case that will have no connection to me or my office,” Willis said in an interview late Monday.

See here, here, and here for the background. I’m glad that Greg Willis had the good sense to do this, and to do it without dragging it out and being coerced or shamed into it. It may well be that Paxton is ultimately cleared of all charges, but until then he needs to be treated the same as anyone else in that position would be. Getting a prosecutor who isn’t conflicted is a good start for that. The Trib has more.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

No, seriously, expand Medicaid or else

Bring. It. On.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

The federal government is officially holding state leaders’ feet to the fire, hoping to get Texas to expand its Medicaid program to provide health insurance to more low-income Texans.

Federal officials called the state’s health agency this week to say that Texas’ reluctance to expand Medicaid — a key tenet of President Obama’s signature health law — will play into whether his administration extends a waiver that helps the state’s hospitals cover uninsured patients.

The development follows news from Florida, where a similar tug-of-war is playing out between the federal government and a Republican-controlled statehouse that opposes Obamacare but hopes to renew billions of dollars in hospital funding. This week, federal officials sent a letter to Florida lawmakers that said Medicaid expansion “would reduce uncompensated care in the state,” making it “an important consideration in our approach regarding extending” the state’s hospital waiver.

Linda Edwards Gockel, a spokeswoman with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, confirmed Friday that federal health officials called the Texas agency Thursday afternoon to relay a similar message.

Officials from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services “said they recognize each state is different, but they intend to use the same three principles outlined in their letter to Florida as they evaluate uncompensated care funding pools in all states,” Edwards Gockel said in an email. “We don’t have more details than that at this point.”

Tom Banning, chief executive of the Texas Academy of Family Physicians and an advocate for Medicaid expansion, said in an email that the call “should be a wake up.” Annually, Texas hospitals receive billions of dollars combined by way of the federal “transformation waiver.” Losing that money “will have a crippling effect throughout Texas,” Banning added.

The Texas hospitals waiver runs through September 2016, but the 2015 legislative session is the last chance for state lawmakers to negotiate a renewal before then. The current session is slated to wrap up on June 1, barring a governor-called special session.

Estimates for the value of that waiver vary. The Texas Hospital Association, which supports some form of Medicaid coverage expansion under the Affordable Care Act, estimates the waiver’s five-year value at $29 billion.

See here for the background. As noted in the story, the feds are similarly putting the screws to Florida. There’s basically zero chance that anything will get passed this session – Sen. Rodney Ellis tried to get a Medicaid expansion amendment through during the budget debate and failed, while Greg Abbott is holding firm and whining about how mean the feds are being to him – so it’s just a matter of whether the feds follow through in 2016 and if enough pressure can be brought to change things in 2017. Anyone want to place a bet on that? The only semi-retired Burka has more.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

House approves bill to move Public Integrity Unit

Like it or not, looks like this is going to get done.

Rosemary Lehmberg

The Texas House gave initial approval Monday to a stripped-down bill that would remove public corruption cases from Travis County’s Public Integrity Unit.

Final House approval is expected Tuesday.

House Bill 1690, initially approved 94-51, was amended on the House floor to apply solely to corruption allegations against elected or appointed state officials, who would be investigated by the Texas Rangers and prosecuted, if the allegations are confirmed, in the official’s home county.

House members adopted an amendment dropping state employees from home-county prosecution, keeping the status quo that would keep those cases in the county where a crime occurred — typically Travis County, where most state employees work.

State Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, joined Democrats in arguing that home-county prosecution would create a special privilege, and a “home-court advantage,” for state officials that is not available to other Texans.

“I just want to plead with you that you not create, with this bill, a specially protected class,” Simpson said. “I urge you not to treat yourself better than the constituents who you serve.”

A Simpson amendment to allow corruption cases also to be prosecuted in the county where the crime occurred was defeated, 93-49.

The Senate has already passed a similar bill, moving Republicans much closer toward realizing a longtime goal — removing corruption cases from Travis County, a Democratic stronghold where, they believe, GOP officials cannot receive a fair hearing.

Like the Senate version, the bill by Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, would not move the majority of cases handled by Travis County’s Public Integrity Unit — including fraud against state programs, insurance fraud and tax fraud.

King estimated public corruption cases affected by his bill would affect only about 2 percent of the unit’s caseload.

See here for background on the Senate bill. I don’t think this is the worst idea ever – it’s better than simply handing this off to the Attorney General’s office, for example – but I agree with Rep. Simpson about how it treats legislators versus everyone else, and I agree with RG Ratcliffe that this does not take the politics out of the process, it just changes them. It may take awhile, but I’d bet that one of these days there will be a scandal over how a future investigation into an officeholder is handled, or not handled, by the Rangers and that officeholder’s home county DA. Anyone want to bet against that proposition? Note that this isn’t a partisan thing – since the Governor appoints the head of DPS, a future Democratic Governor could be just as liable to engage in shenanigans as any other kind of Governor.

And speaking of shady officeholders and their buddies back home:

Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, won approval of a provision potentially affecting [Attorney General Ken] Paxton. It would require a local prosecutor who currently or in the past has had “a financial or other business relationship” with the target of a probe to ask the judge to let him be recused “for good cause.” If the judge approved, the hometown prosecutor would be considered disqualified, Turner’s amendment says.

As he explained the amendment, Turner did not mention Paxton or Willis or their offices. Bill author Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, accepted the amendment, which passed on a voice vote.

[…]

The question of criminal prosecution of Paxton appeared to be going nowhere until grand jury members were given information about his licensure violations. One grand jury member expressed a desire to look at the matter. Willis asked the Texas Rangers to investigate and make a recommendation.

Turner, the amendment sponsor, said the original bill would let a local prosecutor seek to be recused “for good cause.” That’s insufficient, he said.

“Obviously, it’s not appropriate for the prosecutor to be involved in that case,” Turner said.

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, won approval for a related amendment. It would let an investigation’s target ask a judge to recuse a prosecutor with a conflict of interest.

That’s something, but we’ll see if those amendments stick. There’s two competing bills now, so it’s a matter of which one gets passed by the other chamber first, and if a conference committee is ultimately needed. The House bill is far from great, but it’s better than the Senate bill. The question is whose approach will win. The Chron and the Trib have more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

More on judicial bypass

Nonsequiteuse provides an update, and it’s not looking good.

Never again

Never again

Rep. King’s HB723, which was left pending in the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee last week, was weak sauce compared to Rep. Morrison’s HB3994, on the State Affairs Committee agenda for Wednesday, April 22nd.

Was King’s bill a bare bones practice run for Morrison’s more robust one, tossed out to see how the opposition would respond?

It was a poorly constructed bill filed relatively early in the session, assigned to a committee which does not normally handle abortion-related bills, likely because it tackled only part of the judicial bypass procedure. Testimony went quickly, relative to the marathon sessions legislators now know to expect in State Affairs. It was given a hearing on an inauspicious day for its champions, inasmuch as constituents predisposed to oppose it were already in town for Blue Ribbon Lobby Day and various gun bills, so were readily on hand to sign in opposed and/or testify. It had an unimpressive four joint authors, two of whom signed on before it was even assigned to a committee.

Morrison’s HB3994, in contrast, has 22 joint authors, most of whom signed on within the past six weeks, immediately after it was filed. Unlike King’s bill, it is listed as part of the Texas Alliance for Life legislative agenda. And if ever a bill could be called an omnibus bill, this is it.

HB3994 throws knock-out punches left and right.

The TL;DR is that this bill greatly complicates, unnecessarily lengthens, and greatly increases the cost of the bypass procedure while removing almost all judicial discretion and creating such a high burden of proof for the minor that it will be all but impossible to obtain a bypass.

See here for the background, and click over there for the details and the call to action. They may not listen, but we will be heard.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Lisa Falkenberg wins Pulitzer for commentary

Major congratulations.

Lisa Falkenberg

Houston Chronicle Columnist Lisa Falkenberg has won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, the Pulitzer board announced Monday.

It was the first Pulitzer Prize awarded to the Chronicle in its 114-year history. The Chronicle has had finalists on several occasions, including Falkenberg in the same category last year. Editorial cartoonist Nick Anderson won a Pulitzer for his work at the Louisville Courier-Journal in 2005.

Falkenberg, 36, a sixth-generation Texan, joined the Chronicle in 2005 as a reporter in the Austin bureau. In 2007 she moved to Houston as a Metro columnist.

Falkenberg was awarded the prize for a series of columns she wrote about Alfred Dewayne Brown, who was condemned for the killing of a Houston police officer, a crime he very likely did not commit.

From documents leaked to her by sources, or obtained through court records and Freedom of Information Act requests, Falkenberg revealed how a witness, Brown’s former girlfriend, who could have provided him with an alibi, was threatened and intimidated by a grand jury into lying on the stand. She provided the key testimony that put Brown on death row.

She pulled back the curtain on the secretive Texas grand jury system, allowing a glimpse into the workings of the panel that indicted Brown. That panel, Falkenberg revealed, was headed by a Houston police officer.

And as the story notes, her Monday column was in the same series. Good timing, that. If you click on a link like this one on the sidebar under the header “Her other Pulitzer-winning columns”, there’s now an update in it to include the link Read more award-winning work from Lisa Falkenberg. Also, as part of her prize, Falkenberg is now legally entitled to say “That’s Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Lisa Falkenberg to you, wiseguy” any time she feels like it.

OK, I may be kidding about that last bit. In all seriousness, this is a great honor and it is well deserved. Congratulations, Lisa!

Posted in: Other punditry.

More on the potential Hillary effect in Texas

From the Trib, from shortly before Hillary Clinton made her official announcement.

2. She could resuscitate Texas’ Democratic farm teams.

Beyond the presidency, Democrats are betting on gains in the U.S. House in 2016. They’ve got nowhere to go, they say, but up.

And the notion of a Clinton atop the ticket is a recruitment pitch Democrats are making to would-be congressional challengers across the country.

Democrats hope that in the long term, having Clintons back in the White House could nurse the party infrastructure in red states like Texas. The Clintons are known for their willingness to help loyalists, even at the lowest levels of public office. The hope? Their engagement will build Democratic state parties in hostile territory in order to better position the party for future rounds of redistricting.

“The possibility that we won’t regress is certainly attractive,” said Democratic consultant Jason Stanford.

3. Clinton’s a safe bet to boost Hispanic turnout.

Much of Clinton’s Texas appeal is among a particular demographic: Hispanics. In her 2008 Texas presidential primary against Obama, she outpaced him by a 2-to-1 margin among Hispanics, according to the Pew Research Center. Her narrow primary victory here was a highlight of a mostly disappointing presidential bid.

The Texan who might benefit most from a Clinton run is former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, a Democrat who was ousted last November by Republican U.S. Rep. Will Hurd and recently announced a rematch.

That seat, Texas’s 23rd District, is 61 percent Hispanic – and is considered a swing district. Beyond pure demographics, a Clinton win alone could benefit Gallego. In presidential election years, the winner of the 23rd District was a candidate from the same party as the presidential victor.

Another race with a small semblance of promise for Democrats is in the 27th Congressional District. Former Democratic state Rep. Solomon Ortiz Jr. is mulling a campaign against Republican U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, who’s facing legal troubles. That district is 44 percent Hispanic, but is a far more difficult climb for Democrats.

Clinton definitely performed strongly in Latino districts in the 2008 primary. Some of that effect carried over into November, though by 2012 President Obama was doing as well in Latino areas compared to other Democrats as he was overall. Obviously, any boost to Latino turnout in Texas would be beneficial and appreciated, but let’s see how she runs her campaign first. There’s also the possibility, not mentioned in this story, that she will do better among white voters than Obama has done. Hard to see how she can do any worse, but even shaving a few points off could make a big difference. I’d like to think there’s room for improvement there, but I plan to keep my expectations low until there’s polling data to suggest it might be happening.

Posted in: The making of the President.

The alternate approach to statewide regulations for Uber and Lyft

That’s one way to do it.

Uber

Another round of sparring between Texas cities and car service companies like Lyft and Uber played out on Tuesday before a panel of Texas lawmakers. The proposal that was debated — which would let cities regulate Lyft and Uber the same way they regulate traditional taxi companies — would have the opposite effect as a bill another House committee considered last week to strip cities of that authority.

The House Urban Affairs Committee heard public testimony on House Bill 3358 by state Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, which gives cities oversight of all commercial transportation services, expanding their control of taxicab and limousine services to include transportation network companies like Lyft and Uber.

“This bill is about fairness — period,” Lucio said. “If they’re going to provide the exact same service, whether it’s on a part-time basis or not, it should be done fairly.”

Lyft

Representatives for both companies criticized Lucio’s bill, saying a patchwork of unique city regulations would stifle their innovative business model.

April Mims, public policy manager for Lyft, said applying taxi regulations to transportation network companies was “forcing a square peg into a round hole.”

But traditional cab companies, whose business practices are highly regulated by cities, argue that Lyft and Uber should have to play by the same rules as everyone else.

Ed Kargbo, president of Yellow Cab Austin, said allowing Lyft and Uber drivers to operate without city background checks was like allowing doctors or lawyers to practice without a degree just because they work part time.

I believe we are all familiar with the arguments by now. I oppose this bill for the same reason I oppose the other bill – it should be up to cities to decide how to regulate vehicles for hire, as they have always done. As I said before, I think it would be appropriate for the state to set minimum standards for insurance and background checks and the like, but in the end it should still be up to cities to decide if and how to open their doors to these services.

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

Still no action on fixing birth certificates

It’s shameful that this doesn’t have the votes to get out of committee.

Prior to a hearing on a bill that would permit faith-based adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBT people, Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) delivered an impassioned speech on the House floor in support of a proposal to allow the adopted children of same-sex couples to have accurate birth certificates.

Anchia’s House Bill 537 was heard by the State Affairs Committee last month but remains stalled there due to a lack of support among members. On Wednesday, Anchia used a rare point of privilege, which he said was his first in six terms in the Legislature, to address the bill on the floor.

Anchia said the bill, which he’s carried four times, is always well-received in committee, and the author of the law the measure seeks to overturn, former state Rep. Will Hartnett (R-Dallas), has acknowledged it should be changed.

“Yet year after year these bills languish because of outside pressure from groups that lie to you and tell you the bill does something it doesn’t do,” Anchia said, referring to opposition to HB 537 from the anti-LGBT group Texas Values. “Regardless of how you feel about a kid’s parents, you’re always good to the kid. They didn’t pick their parents, but those are the parents they have, and you know, those are the parents they love, and they deserve accurate birth certificates. We can do better than this. Texas is better than this.”

Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) then requested that Anchia’s remarks be recorded in the House Journal.

Cook, who chairs State Affairs, made headlines when he smacked down a witness from Texas Values during a hearing on the bill.

“I just want everybody to know that I support what we’re trying to do here for these kids,” Cook said on the floor Wednesday.

See here for the background. Here are the members of the House State Affairs Committee. If your State Rep is on there, please consider giving him or her a call and asking for their support of HB537. Trail Blazers has more.

Meanwhile, in other adoption-related legislation.I say

Rep. Scott Sanford (R-McKinney) says he wants to make sure faith-based adoption agencies that receive state funding aren’t forced to close their doors if they refuse to place children with same-sex couples.

But opponents of Sanford’s House Bill 3864 say it could have unintended consequences, such as allowing foster homes to force gay youth to undergo conversion therapy or require Christian youth to attend Muslim schools.

On Wednesday, Sanford told a House committee that in some states where same-sex marriage is legal, organizations such as Catholic Charities have shut down rather than comply with laws barring discrimination against gay couples.

“Faith-based organizations have played a vital role in serving our nation’s orphan and needy children since America’s founding, and this legislation protects their operations,” Sanford said. “States without these protective measures have had organizations cease to operate, placing more demand on government.”

HB 3864, which Sanford is calling the “Hope for Orphans and Minors Expansion Act,” or HOME, would prohibit the state from taking “adverse action” against child welfare providers that receive taxpayer dollars and act based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.” It would also protect the rights of state-funded agencies to provide religious education to children and to deny them access to abortions or birth control.

During the hearing on Wednesday, opponents said Sanford’s bill would allow the religious convictions of providers to trump the best interests of children. They also said the rights of faith-based providers are already protected under the state’s 1999 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

I say if faith-based groups want to receive secular government-based funds then they can obey the secular government laws that come with them. If they can’t do that, then I’m fine with increasing the supply of government to pick up the slack from them when they refuse to get involved. Either way is fine by me. I recognize that’s not what this Legislature will want, I just wanted to be clear about it.

Posted in: That's our Lege.