Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

SCOTUS strikes down HB2

Hallelujah.

Right there with them

Right there with them

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday handed Texas abortion providers a major victory by overturning Texas’ 2013 abortion restrictions.

On a 5-3 vote, the high court overturned restrictions passed as part of House Bill 2 in 2013 that required all Texas facilities that perform abortions to meet hospital-like standards — which include minimum sizes for rooms and doorways, pipelines for anesthesia and other infrastructure. The court also struck down a separate provision, which had already gone into effect, that requires doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of an abortion clinic.

This means Texas’ 19 remaining clinics — of the more than 40 that were open before HB 2 passed — will continue to provide abortions. Had the court upheld the hospital-like standard requirement, Texas would have been left Texas with as few as 10 abortion clinics — all in major metropolitan areas.

In a majority opinion authored by Justice Stephen Breyer, the court indicated that the facility requirement on abortion clinics does not “benefit patients and is not necessary.” In knocking down the admitting privileges requirement, the court said “sufficient evidence” existed to prove that requirement “led to the closure of half of Texas’ clinics, or thereabouts.”

“We have found nothing in Texas’ record evidence that shows that, compared to prior law (which required a “working arrangement” with a doctor with admitting privileges), the new law advanced Texas’ legitimate interest in protecting women’s health,” Breyer wrote.

Here’s the opinion; there’s a brief but vital concurrence by Justice Ginsburg beginning on page 40. I’m just going to link to a bunch of stories about and reactions to this ruling, as I’m a bit too numb to offer anything of substance myself. The one thing I will say is that this in no way will diminish the appetite that the forced birth lobby has for finding new ways to imperil women’s health. There were going to be more bills restricting reproductive choice had HB2 been upheld, so you can bet your private parts there will be more such bills now that HB2 has been thrown out.

“I would expect an absolute onslaught of pro-life legislation in the next session,” said state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford. “I’ve never been this upset before, I mean just like truly upset,” he said of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

With a Republican governor at the helm of the state’s government and large Republican majorities in both chambers of the Legislature, new anti-abortion laws would very likely have enough popular support to pass when lawmakers meet again in 2017. The question now facing conservative Texas politicians is how to craft new abortion restrictions that would survive further legal challenges — and whether there is enough urgency for lawmakers to convene an immediate, emergency session to try to pass a new law.

A spokesman for Gov. Greg Abbott, who can order state lawmakers to meet in a special legislative session to consider new laws, did not respond to a reporter’s question about whether the governor would do so.

But in the hours immediately following the Supreme Court’s ruling, dozens of state lawmakers began hinting at a new front in the state’s long-running battle over abortion rights, though they offered few specifics about what further anti-abortion laws might look like.

And while this ruling keeps open the clinics that would have closed, it can’t undo the damage of the clinics that had already been forced to close, most of which will never reopen. I hate being Debbie Downer, but there is no end to this, not in Texas and not elsewhere. Celebrate the victory, then get back to work. For way more discussion on this, see any or all of the following:

SCOTUSBlog
ThinkProgress times three
Wonkblog twice
Vox
Rewire
Slate
Daily Kos
TPM
Washington Monthly
Mother Jones
Houston Chronicle
The Observer
The Trib
Texas Monthly
The Austin Chronicle
The Current
BOR

Posted in: Legal matters.

Republicans gear up for full blown gay panic in 2017

You have been warned.

RedEquality

Still angry about the Supreme Court’s mandate, some conservative lawmakers hope that it is someday overturned. In the meantime, they expect to propose a series of what they call religious liberty bills to blunt its impact. Those efforts worry liberal advocacy groups — Steve Rudner, with Equality Texas, called them “backlash” to the marriage decision — who argue such legislation is discriminatory.

Both sides agree that last year’s landmark ruling ignited a debate over social issues in Texas that will demand the attention of the next Legislature.

Nationwide, celebrations greeted the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage. But in Texas, whose longtime ban on same-sex marriage was overturned, some lawmakers made it clear that the debate was not over.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick quickly condemned the decision as federal overreach. Attorney General Ken Paxton declared “religious liberty” the next fight, charging that “the debate over the issue of marriage has increasingly devolved into personal and economic aggression against people of faith who have sought to live their lives consistent with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

[…]

A year later, opposition to same-sex marriage for religious reasons has become the focal point of demands that the Texas Legislature act in response.

“I do think that it is very important that we don’t lose sight of the fact that part of religious freedom is that citizens do have that inherent right to not have to do things that put them at odds with their religion,” said state Rep. Cecil Bell Jr., R-Magnolia.

State Sen. Charles Perry, a Lubbock Republican who described the ruling as an “assault on family values,” expects that charge to be a focus when lawmakers convene next year.

“I’m not going to be surprised at whatever level on both sides this is attacked,” Perry said.

While Perry has not seen specific legislation, he hopes the Legislature addresses the rights of businesses to choose whom to work with — such as same-sex couples — and suggested “that’ll be one of the more contentious debates.”

Some laws have already passed: Before the Supreme Court decision last year, the 84th Legislature passed the Pastor Protection Act, which allows clergy members to refuse to conduct same-sex marriages. Some lawmakers have suggested more responses along those lines, such as allowing religious adoption agencies to refuse to place children with same-sex couples or granting tax accommodations to religious organizations.

Bell said he would not be surprised to see proposals to limit the abilities of cities to extend anti-discrimination protections to gay and transgender people. Lawmakers also expect to debate transgender people’s bathroom access.

Perry argues that the federal government has forced Texas to address the issue. “It will unfortunately take up time during the session,” he said. “I hate that, but at the end of the day, it’s important. The underlying principle here is that we had a Supreme Court that overran.”

You know how I feel about this. This is what the Republican Party in Texas is about. I hope the business lobby that has enabled them for decades is happy about it, because they’re going to spend another session trying to stop them from doing anything that will hurt the state and likely wind up losing in court. The rest of us need to be in on that fight as well. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I do know what will happen if we let it, and it ain’t good.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

TAB says it wants better pre-K in Texas

I have three things to say about this.

pre-k

The Texas Association of Business wants the state to offer a full school day of taxpayer-funded pre-K and plans to push lawmakers in that direction next year, the group announced this week.

TAB board members voted unanimously in favor of expanding its policy platform to include full-day pre-K at its national affairs conference in Washington, D.C., in May, adding to its agenda of increasing the quality of pre-K programs.

“It will be a difficult issue, but it doesn’t lessen its importance,” said Bill Hammond, the group’s CEO. “The cost of remediation is enormous and can be a detriment to the other children who come to kindergarten prepared to do that level of work. Ensuring that every child, who is currently eligible for public Pre-K, is enrolled in a high quality, full-day program will help close that gap.”

[…]

While Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is a supporter of pre-K, his focus is on boosting the quality of programs rather than lengthening the school day. Democrats have urged lawmakers to expand the state’s program to a full day, but that issue has been a non-starter in the Republican-led Legislature.

“The problem we face is, there’s a lot of mediocre pre-K out there today,” Hammond said.

The strategy to selling hesitant lawmakers on extending the pre-K school day and approving the money to fund it requires proving to legislators that quality pre-K works, said Hammond whose association is philosophically aligned with Republicans on many other issues.

1. I want to preface things by applauding the TAB for taking this position. I give them a lot of well-earned grief for their often half-assed support of issues where they disagree with their Republican buddies, but at least they do disagree with them on some key topics. Kudos to them for that.

2. Of course, they make things a lot harder for themselves by also supporting so many Republican officeholders who oppose the things they say they support. I get the value of friendly incumbents, but it would be so much easier if their alleged allies weren’t so often their opponents.

3. We ($) all know ($$) what it’s going to take ($$$) to achieve their stated goals here ($$$$), right? Let’s start with the fact that pre-school teachers are ridiculously underpaid. You want better quality pre-K, you’re going to need to pay salaries that are far more competitive if you want to attract high-quality teachers. The median salary for pre-K teachers in Texas is just under $31K. The median salary for kindergarten teachers is just under $51K. Why would anyone choose to be the former if they could be the latter? When pre-K teachers make roughly the same salaries as their elementary-ed counterparts, I guarantee the quality issue will largely solve itself. So be prepared to pay up if this is what you say you want.

Posted in: School days.

Montgomery County officials indicted over road bond shenanigans

I know I’m a bad person, but this continues to amuse me greatly.

A grand jury has indicted Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal and two commissioners, charging them with violating Texas’ open meetings law last year while developing a bond package for new and improved roads.

Traffic-weary voters in the rapidly growing county approved the $280 million financing proposal, but the indictments left Doyal and Commissioners Jim Clark and Charlie Riley to face criminal charges for their actions in getting it on the ballot.

Grand jurors also charged Marc Davenport, an adviser who helped to broker a deal on the bond proposal. He is married to the county’s treasurer, Stephanne Davenport.

Chris Downey, the special prosecutor who presented the case to the grand jury over six months, said that the misdemeanor charges are punishable by a fine up to $500, as many as six months in jail or both.

Downey said that it’s too early to know whether the case will go to trial.

“Like any criminal matter, whether or not a matter goes to trial is going to be a function of further discovery and negotiation,” he said.

See here for the background. The charges are fairly small potatoes, and I’ll be very surprised if they result in any kind of guilty verdict. I just find it all hilarious. The next time anyone tries to tell you that the suburbs are so much better at running things than the big cities, point to this and remind them that we can generally get bond measures on the ballot without anyone getting indicted.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Next up: Judicial nominations

vote-button

With the nomination for Commissioners Court settled, all that’s left for me to do as Precinct Chair is participate in the process to select nominees for the two new courts, the 507th Family District Court and the County Criminal Court at Law #16. As a reminder, here are the new and revisited Q&A’s I published over the last two weeks for the candidates in these races:

507th Family District Court

Jim Evans
Julia Maldonado
Sandra Peake
Chip Wells
Germaine Tanner
Shawn Thierry

County Criminal Court at Law #16

David Singer
Darrell Jordan
Raul Rodriguez

Maldonado, Wells, Thierry, Singer, and Rodriguez were all there on Saturday as candidates. Peake was there as a precinct chair. I don’t know if she voted for a Commissioners Court candidate or not; she had previously sent out an email saying she would abstain from voting, due to her status as a candidate for the 507th. That message led to an email from another chair who called on her to resign from the race in the 507th on the grounds that she had violated the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct by having been listed as one of Rodney Ellis’ supporters prior to the Saturday meeting. Her name is still on that list, so she may have some questions to answer.

There apparently remains some bad blood between Peake and Maldonado stemming from the 2014 primary in which they both competed for the nomination for the 246th Family Court (Peake eventually won the primary by a 51-49 margin). Maldonado filed a complaint against Peake prior to the election alleging that she had an insufficient number of petition signatures. Greg Enos highlighted some of the testimony from the hearing, in which Maldonado ultimately failed to receive injunctive relief. An anonymous (of course) mailer last week brought all of this up, including the same testimony that Enos flagged. I have no idea if this was intended as a hit piece on Maldonado or on Peake because it was anonymous (duh!) and because I barely glanced at it, awash as I was with Precinct 1 mail at the time.

That and the argument about statistics and qualifications have been the main points of contention in this race. Maldonado, Tanner, and Thierry have been the most active in sending email to precinct chairs, with Maldonado and Tanner being the most vocal about qualifications. Chip Wells and Sandra Peake have been much more quiet, and Jim Evans has been basically invisible. I bring this up mostly to note that the lesson everyone should have learned from Saturday is that no one is actually a candidate for any of these positions unless they know for a fact that at least one precinct chair intends to nominate them for the position. My advice to all nine candidates – the 16th Criminal Court at Law race has been far more sedate – is to make sure you have a commitment from a precinct chair for that.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Astrodome parking plan coming

Better get ready.

Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

Harris County officials on Friday unveiled a $105 million plan to raise the floor of the Astrodome and build two new levels of parking beneath it, the strongest signal yet that the county plans to maintain and find another use for the one-time architectural marvel.

The proposal, which the county has been studying for months, would represent a critical step toward repurposing the stadium, which has sat vacant for decades as the community has debated its fate.

“This ensures that it’s protected for future years,” said Joe Stinebaker, a spokesman for County Judge Ed Emmett, who strongly backs transforming the 51-year-old structure, once dubbed the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”

The plan would allow some 240,000 square feet of ground-level space to be used for events or for an indoor park. County officials envision attracting retail, commercial or hospitality uses to the more than 550,000 square feet of space that surrounds the core.

County government offices could even be housed in the retrofitted stadium, said County Engineer John Blount.

“What we do next, it becomes an open tablet,” Stinebaker said.

Commissioners will be publicly presented with the proposal for the first time Tuesday and could vote on authorizing design and construction by as early as September, said county budget officer Bill Jackson.

[…]

Stinebaker said the commission is currently reviewing the parking proposal, which would raise the floor by two levels and convert those levels into parking with 700 spaces each. Any other changes would likely have to go before the historical commission.

See here and here for the background. We’ll know more on Tuesday, but the main piece that’s missing from all this is how it will be paid for. I feel confident saying there will be no bond referendum, for what I assume are obvious reasons, but beyond that we’ll just have to wait. The late El Franco Lee liked this plan, so one presumes it will receive support from current Commissioner Locke. There’s nothing about this that would prevent any of the multiple proposals for repurposing the Dome from happening along with this. Perhaps having this in place would make the whole thing more attractive to the long-hoped-for private investor. Who knows? I look forward to seeing what gets presented tomorrow.

Posted in: Elsewhere in Houston.

AG opposes parents in STAAR lawsuit

Interesting.

The Texas attorney general says parents suing to get the state to toss out student test scores lack standing and should have taken their complaints to the Texas Education Agency rather than a court.

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office filed the response in Travis County District Court Monday, denying “each and every allegation” from parents who allege in a lawsuit that the TEA ignored state law that requires standardized tests for elementary and middle schoolers be short enough for students to finish is a specific period of time.

The Texas Education Agency and the attorney general are asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit, saying the parents lack standing, failed to exhaust administrative remedies and failed to state a “legally cognizable claim.”

“I am shocked and saddened that the TEA refuses to recognize my right to have a judge listen to my complaint, especially when the agency broke the law and is irreversibly damaging our schools in the process,” said Jennifer Rumsey, a parent and teacher who is one of four plaintiffs.”They have already treated our children and our teachers with great disrespect, and the thought that I should continue to trust them to resolve my issues is insulting.”

See here for the background. The STAAR test had its share of problems this year. It feels to me like the state is trying to downplay and excuse these problems rather than face up to them. I’m rooting for the parents to win this one. The Press has more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

On recycling glass

Not sure about this.

Considered only in terms of the city’s short-term budget and Waste Management’s profits, perhaps the decision to stop recycling glass makes sense. But it wasn’t popular at the symposium, which was hosted by UH’s Center for Sustainability and Resilience and the Houston Advanced Research Center.

There, speakers suggested that decision ignores bigger long-term issues — economic development, the environment and emerging technologies — that Houston and other cities should consider.

When waste management practices are at their best, recycling isn’t just an add-on to garbage collection. It can be key to meeting economic and environmental goals. So when our collection service says that recycling glass costs too much, we need to view that cost in the larger context.

Consider this: In the Houston-Galveston region, recycling has created approximately 12,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs. That amounts to $1.5 billion in employee income.

And there’s certainly room to create even more of those jobs. Lee Reisinger, former director of engineering at Proctor & Gamble and founder of the consulting firm ReiTech, suggested Houston could create its own locally developed tissue paper by blending recycled products, such as newsprint, with virgin wood pulp.

So why aren’t we creating those jobs? It’s because the current recycling system diverts the easiest and most profitable materials into a weakened commodities market — without considering the bigger picture.

A better option has already been proposed. In 2013, with support of a $1 million grant from the Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge, the city proposed the One Bin for All system. Everything, even contaminated paper, could be put in a single bin that’s wheeled to the curb for pickup. New and emerging technologies would make it possible sort all the materials for reuse. The city would leave the sorting and sales to its recycling partner, whose profits would offset the cost of new technology.

Under financial and technical concerns, support for the proposal faltered last year. But it shouldn’t have.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but One Bin For All is, politically speaking, pining for the fjords these days. It’s not that “support faltered” for it, it’s that Mayor Turner declared he had no interest in it at this time, and possibly ever. Making a case for One Bin starts with making a case to Mayor Turner to rethink that position. Given the challenging economic environment for recycling as well as the still-unproven nature of the One Bin concept, that’s a tough case to make. It’s even harder if you don’t start by addressing the political reality of the situation.

Posted in: Elsewhere in Houston.

Weekend link dump for June 26

From a few years ago, Penn Jillette on the bizarre experience of The Celebrity Apprentice.

“Trump, by contrast, is constantly getting massive attention for being a deluded, ignorant, racist maniac. He combines an unprecedented facility to manipulate the modern media environment with gutter bigotry and a complete lack of policy knowledge. If elected, he would almost certainly displace Andrew Johnson as the worst president in American history.”

What Rep. Marc Veasey says.

RIP, Anton Yelchin, who played Chekhov in the new Star Trek movies.

Top 15 Elton John Songs That Would Be Somewhat Better-Suited for a Donald Trump Rally Than “Tiny Dancer”.

“Out of all Hollywood’s parenting stereotypes, the bumbling man who redeems himself by caring for children might be the most exhausting.”

“There are a lot of reasons why adopting a 50-state strategy is both the right thing and the smart thing for Clinton to do.”

“The United States is on track to spend $2.6 trillion less on health care between 2014 and 2019, compared to initial projections made right after the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).”

“Ability to serve as an effective president is genuinely by far the most important quality to seek out in a VP.”

“Analysis by MarketWatch suggests that around 20 percent of Trump’s campaign expenditure went directly to Trump-owned businesses or family members.”

How does a four-point shot for the NBA grab you?

“Lists of names like this are a fixture of the white evangelical subculture. This is what we have instead of ecclesiology or church polity. Some would say this is because evangelicals don’t have bishops or popes, but really it’s the opposite problem — we have more bishops and popes than we know what to do with.”

Need a lawyer? You can go to WalMart to find one now.

At least, until the robot lawyers take over.

Wonder Woman is your new POTUS, at least if you watch Supergirl.

RIP, Bill Ham, longtime manager of ZZ Top. The picture at the top of that story is awesome and worth the click.

“That is what this is actually about. The time for patience is long gone. We must find a way from no way. It is time to dramatize the need for action. There comes a time when you have to make a little noise. The time for silence is over.”

In re: Brexit: What Scalzi and Drum say.

So, #BeckyWithTheBadGrades, was it worth it? The real lesson here is to never, ever get involved with a two-bit hustler like Edward Blum.

Keep Laredo weird, y’all.

RIP, Ralph Stanley, singer, banjo player and guardian of unvarnished mountain music who performed “O Death” in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?.

“Eventually the kids are going to figure out how badly their elders are screwing them, and maybe then they’ll finally muster the energy to cast a ballot.”

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Ellis wins Precinct 1 nomination

In the end, it wasn’t close.

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

State Sen. Rodney Ellis on Saturday won the Democratic nomination for Precinct 1 Commissioner, effectively guaranteeing the veteran lawmaker the office.

Ellis will be sacrificing 26 years in the Texas senate to become the next commissioner, an often overlooked but powerful local office. He will take over from current Precinct 1 commissioner Gene Locke in January, who also ran for the office and was seen as Ellis’ top opponent.

Saturday’s nomination ends one of the most unusual campaigns in recent history. Longtime Commissioner El Franco Lee, who represented Precinct 1 for more than 30 years, died in January while still on the March 1 primary ballot, leaving the choice for who will run as the Democratic candidate to 125 precinct chairs.

There is no Republican opponent in November, all but guaranteeing victory to Ellis.

[…]

A week before the nomination meeting, Ellis claimed he had the support of more than half of the precinct chairs, effectively claiming victory. He also claimed the endorsement of Lee’s widow.

He will be the only Democrat on the court, which has four other Republican members.

The Precinct 1 commissioner represents 1.2 million people and controls a budget of more than $200 million.

The precinct convention that ultimately placed Ellis on the ballot was a wild affair, with a ton of people of varying interests in attendance. The precinct chairs that were to vote had to check in and be verified, at which time we got a name tag that we wore allowing us to sit down front, where we would ultimately vote. Ellis and Locke had the largest contingencies, with many Ellis supporters wearing navy blue Ellis T-shirts. (This led to an objection by one precinct chair, who cited election law about campaign materials not being too close to where elections are held. It was ruled out of order on the grounds that by law this was a precinct convention and a party function, not an election.)

There were a few motions made about who was and wasn’t eligible to participate, and a lot of noise about the process to elect a convention chair. Rules allow the chair, which at the beginning was HCDP Chair Lane Lewis, to select the method of voting from a set of possible choices. After a voice vote on the convention chair was indeterminate, a “division of the house” process, in which supporters of each candidate went to different locations to be counted, was done. Once that was settled and a secretary was elected, we eventually got around to the main event.

Four candidates were nominated for the position. In order of their nomination, they were Nat West, Dwight Boykins, Rodney Ellis, and Gene Locke. I was a little surprised that no one else’s name came up, but that’s how it went. Among other things, it meant that Ellis was the only nominated candidate to have filled out the HCDP questionnaire. Each candidate got two minutes to address the crowd; motions to give them five minutes, and to allow two other supporters to speak on their behalf were loudly voted down. Division of the house was used for this vote. Nat West, who as a precinct chair nominated himself, had two votes. Dwight Boykins appeared to have about ten or so; he then declared that he was withdrawing, and from what I could tell all of his supporters went over to Gene Locke. In the end, Ellis had 78 votes, Locke had 36 (BOR reported 46; I’m pretty sure that’s a mis-hearing of the announced total), and West had two. There was no need for a runoff.

I’m very glad this is over, but this is just part of what needs to be done. There’s still the county convention for the judicial candidates on Thursday; several of those candidates, for the two different benches, were in attendance yesterday. With the selection of Ellis for the County Commissioner spot, there is now a vacancy for SD13. Candidates for that position were in attendance as well.

Ellis now must withdraw from the November ballot in Senate District 13, which covers a swath of southwest Houston. He will be replaced on the ballot by whichever Democrat can win the support of a majority of the precinct chairs in the district. The replacement will run unopposed in November.

At least three state representatives from the area are said to be interested in Ellis’ seat in the Senate: Garnet Coleman, Borris Miles and Senfronia Thompson.

Miles and Thompson were there yesterday, with the former handing out yard signs and the latter passing out pamphlets. I will not be surprised if other names surface for this – as with this position, being nominated is akin to being elected, as there are no other candidates on the November ballot – but the lesson to take from today is that just because one says one is running does not mean one will eventually be nominated to be a candidate. Also, I am not in SD13, so this is officially Not My Problem. I’ll do my part in the CEC meeting on Thursday, then I’m done.

Congratulations to Rodney Ellis, who I believe will do a great job as County Commissioner. We need to talk about doing something about him being the “only Democrat” on that body. The 2018 election will be a key opportunity to change that calculus. I would also like to offer my sincere thanks to current Commissioner Gene Locke, who I believe has done a very good job in his time in office. Under other circumstances I would have supported Commissioner Locke, so I am sorry I was unable to this time. I wish Commissioner Locke all the best as he completes the good work he has started, and in whatever comes next. I would also like to thank Council Member Boykins for his candidacy. He came up short but he brought attention to important issues that deserve it. I wish him all the best on City Council. It was an honor to take part in this process, but in all sincerity I hope I never have that kind of power again. It’t not something I’m comfortable with. I’m glad there are people for whom it is a better fit who can and do take on that challenge with wisdom and humility.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Mayor proposes raising contribution limits

Not sure how I feel about this.

BagOfMoney

Incumbents and wealthy candidates would get more of an advantage under proposed changes to Houston’s campaign finance law, which would effectively double contribution limits per general election cycle and allow many candidates who pour money into their own campaigns to recoup more of that cash.

The modifications, reviewed Thursday by the City Council’s budget and fiscal affairs committee, are designed to clear up rules left ambiguous after the city’s fundraising blackout was ruled unconstitutional last year and voters extended terms to four years from two years.

The looser regulations would allow candidates to raise twice as much from individuals and political action committees ahead of the general election, by splitting the four-year term into two two-year contribution cycles. That means that rather than collecting a maximum of $5,000 from individuals and $10,000 from political action committees per election, office seekers would be able to raise that amount during the first two years of their term, and then do so again during the second two years. The cycle would reset again if a candidate were forced into a runoff.

Mayor Sylvester Turner framed the proposed changes as an effort to maintain continuity with the city’s old two-year election cycle, though some viewed them as a way for incumbents to boost their financial advantage.

With the changes, Turner said, “any person can’t give any more in four years than they would have been able to give under two two-year terms.”

The proposed new rules – which would go into effect July 1 if approved by the council next week – also would permit council and controller candidates to reimburse themselves tens of thousands of dollars more for personal loans.

[…]

Local fundraiser James Cardona criticized the changes as “incumbent protection”.

“It’s not a win for the city in elections,” Cardona said. “Now, you have incumbents getting double (maximum contributions) going into an election. … How’s the little guy going to fight that off?”

Texas Southern University political scientist Jay Aiyer agreed the new rules would favor incumbents.

“As a practical matter, you don’t declare for office four years in advance,” he said.

Turner countered that if a challenger wants to run, he or she can start raising money immediately.

“They may look and see what I’m doing, may decide, ‘We’re not going to wait. We want to just get started right now.’ They have that right,” Turner said. “We’re not holding anybody in abeyance or holding them back.”

On the one hand, it does seem reasonable to reflect the fact that we have four-year cycles now instead of two-year cycles in our fundraising rules. Anyone who is ambitious enough to launch a campaign early in the cycle can take advantage of this, which is consistent with the earlier court ruling that tossed out the blackout period. The total amount of money in questions is probably less than you think – while there are plenty of $5K max individual donors, there are only a handful of $10K PAC donations in a given cycle as far as I can tell from looking through all the finance reports as I do. Those who do well with the usual large-check-writing suspects will likely be able to add $50K to $100K to their overall totals. That isn’t nothing, but a decent chunk of that will wind up going to overhead expenses like campaign consultants, and what’s left will likely wind up as an extra couple of mailers. No one is going to take over the airwaves with that kind of money.

That said, this absolutely will benefit incumbents. Jay Aiyer is right, in practice no one starts campaigning that early, though I suppose that could change over time as everyone gets used to the four-year terms. Continuing to limit the donations to $5K for individuals and $10K for PACs per two years seems reasonable, but it does mean that anyone who isn’t already raising money early on will still be limited to the original amounts. If we want to level the field a bit more for later entrants, get rid of two-year periods for the limits and just allow individuals to give a total of $10K and PACs a total of $20K per candidate over each four-year cycle. I’m not sure what the every-two-years aspect of this is supposed to achieve. If we are going to change the limits, this is how I’d prefer to do it. Campos has more.

Posted in: Local politics.

HISD sued over school name changes

Not a surprise.

Nine members of the local community on Thursday sued Houston’s public school district, alleging the district violated numerous laws and their own regulations when recently changing the names of eight schools.

“We’ve been arguing as parents and taxpayers for months that the vote was illegal, politically driven, and taking these historic buildings was against the law,” said public relations consultant Wayne Dolcefino, who is a spokesman for the plaintiffs in the case.

The lawsuit asks the Harris County District Court to prohibit HISD’s board from spending millions of taxpayer dollars on renaming the eight schools. HISD voted to change the names of these schools in May because each school was named for a Confederate leader.

[…]

Dolcefino said the school board violated the Texas Open Meetings act and the Monument act, among other regulations. The plaintiffs on Tuesday issued a 24-hour demand to HISD, asking the board to rescind its vote to rename the schools. HISD didn’t respond, he said.

See here for the background. The Press fills in some details.

Their suit, filed in Harris County, seeks an injunction to block HISD from using public funds to rename the schools and also seeks to protect the schools as monuments, Wayne Dolcefino, the plaintiffs’ spokesman, said. The suit claims HISD violated open meetings laws when deliberating and voting on the changes. Schools affected include Robert E. Lee High School (to become Margaret Long Wisdom High School), Stonewall Jackson Middle School (to become Yolanda Black Navarro Middle School of Excellence) and John H. Reagan High School (to become Heights High School), among others. Sidney Lanier Middle School wouldn’t even need many changes: It would become Bob Lanier, named for the former Houston mayor.

Still, parents aren’t happy.

“It is a sad day when taxpayers and parents have to file a lawsuit to make the school district honor their duty as public servants,” Dolcefino said. “HISD will now waste more taxpayer money to defend their arrogance.”

HISD spokeswoman Lila Hollin said that the district estimates the changes will cost no more than $2 million — money that will be spent on things like new signage, band uniforms and sports jerseys.

But that’s $2 million too much in the eyes of some parents whose kids will have access to fewer resources thanks to large budget cuts the district just approved this month. Facing a $95 million shortfall, the board decided to cut its teacher bonus program and also squash remaining portions of its longstanding tutoring program, Apollo. Overall, the district will spend $179 less per student.

So even in the name of diversity, perhaps buying a lot of new signs and sports jerseys is bad timing, for now.

Perhaps, though one could certainly argue that this change was long overdue, and that if a previous Board had tackled the issue as it should have, we wouldn’t be having this fight now. I have no opinion on the merits of the suit, I’ll just say again that having a school named after you is a privilege and not a right. Whatever happens with this lawsuit, I feel confident that this controversy will fade over time.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Our bioscience future

Looking bright.

Biotechnology continues to grow in Texas, contributing to the state’s overall economy by adding jobs, making strides in research and innovation and last year attracting $1 billion in federal funding for research, a new report on business development from a biotechnology trade association found.

As the Texas economy struggles under the weight of an oil and gas industry downturn, the biosciences of medical research, treatment innovation and pharmaceutical development are seen as a bright light that stands to soon glow brighter.

The Texas bioscience industry reported 81,000 jobs in 2014 across 4,865 businesses, which translates to 1 percent growth since 2012, according to a report released [recently] by the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, the national trade association, which compiled the study along with Teconomy Partners to measure growth over previous years.

The findings were made public in San Francisco at the organization’s annual convention, which attracts 15,000 biotechnology and pharmaceutical professionals from around the world.

“Texas is one of the top-tier states in the size of its bioscience and biomedical research and innovation base,” the report concluded.

[…]

In that time the state has set its sights on becoming a true competitor with the more established institutions of research and pharmaceuticals on the East and West coasts. “The third coast” has become a popular rallying cry for those working to turn Texas in general and Houston in particular into a bio-science destination.

“Houston is becoming a major player not just from a research perspective but also in its clinical prowess,” said Melinda Richter, head of Johnson & Johnson Innovation JLABS.

JLABS opened a state-of-the-art, 34,000-square-foot business incubator not far from the Texas Medical Center’s main campus in March. The project offers laboratory space, equipment and guidance for biotechnology and life science startups in their march toward commercialization.

The luring of a JLABS facility was seen as a coup not only for the innovation expected to blossom there but also for bragging rights.

“That is huge,” Kowalski said of the opening of JLABS @ TMC. “They don’t just go anywhere.”

Nationally, biotechnology exploded in the early 2000s but slowed during the recession years. The report says the industry is now regaining lost ground.

In 2014, the industry employed 1.66 million people at more than 77,000 businesses across the country, the report found. Wages continue to be robust with a $95,000 average annual salary.

You can find a copy of the report here. This is all to the good, though we’re a ways away from being able to mitigate the effects of the energy industry slowdown. Imagine how much better things could be if our state leadership wasn’t so relentlessly hostile to science, too. Until that time, we’ll take the growth we can get.

Posted in: Technology, science, and math.

Saturday video break: Life Is Hard

I’m cheating a bit with the song titles this week, but I think you’ll forgive me. First, an 80s classic from Timbuk 3:

I’m not even sure where I got the three Timbuk 3 songs that I have that aren’t the one everyone knows, but I love playing a song by a “one hit wonder” and finding out that they had way more than one song in them. And Lord knows, I love me a video from the 80s. It’s not just the hair and the clothes, it’s the sensibility of it.

Why this week’s entry is a cheat: This song is called “Life Is Hard, But Life Is Hardest When You’re Dumb”, and it is of course by the Austin Lounge Lizards:

That’s a more recent performance, for those of you wondering when the Lizards added a couple of women to the lineup. Tom Pittman, the banjo player and lead singer on this tune, left the band a couple of years ago, and I can’t quite picture them without him. But life goes on, no matter how hard it is.

Posted in: Music.

Today’s the day for the Commissioners Court selection process

I’m sure we’re all ready for it to be over.

El Franco Lee

Just last week, state Sen. Rodney Ellis claimed he had enough support from Democratic Party chairs to become the next Harris County commissioner for Precinct 1. Not that he’s resting easy in a race as unusual as this one.

“I do wake up in the middle of the night, remembering somebody I was supposed to call and didn’t call,” the longtime legislator said.

On Saturday, Ellis will try to secure the majority of votes from among the 125 precinct chairs needed to win the post, which represents 1.2 million people, controls a budget of more than $200 million and helps to govern the third-largest county in the nation.

Ellis is vying for the post in the heavily Democratic precinct with Gene Locke, who was appointed to the office five months ago following the death of longtime Commissioner El Franco Lee. Locke disputes Ellis’ claim to a majority of the 125 precinct chairs who will be making the decision and says he feels good about his chances.

[…]

While many see the race as between Ellis and Locke, Houston City Councilman Dwight Boykins is also viewed as a contender.

Other candidates include photographer Georgia Provost, KPFT Radio chairman DeWayne Lark and educator Rickey Tezino, who have portrayed themselves as non-establishment candidates who could shake up the status quo.

For the most part, the candidates’ broad goals seem to align. Most if not all are committed to Lee’s priorities and goals, including boosting senior and youth programs and reforming the county’s criminal justice system.

[…]

With so few actual “voters,” turnout also will be key, said Texas Southern University political scientist Michael Adams. At least one precinct chair has already RSVP’d “no” to the gathering. Adams said he expects precinct chairs to be energized and to show up in large numbers.

“It is still about getting to 63 votes,” Adams said, referring to the number needed if all of the party chairs show up. “One-on-one campaigning is all that can really be done.”

The first order of business for the precinct chairs will be to select someone to lead Saturday’s gathering, according to Gerry Birnberg, a former chairman of Harris County Democrats.

That person will determine the process for voting. All four options are public, and they mainly differ on how the chairs signal who they are voting for.

If no candidate receives a majority in the first round of voting, the top two vote-getters will go to a runoff, Birnberg said.

“I don’t know what the outcome is,” Birnberg added, “but I don’t believe there is anybody that’s going to wake up at 10 o’clock in the morning to go downtown who doesn’t already know what they’re going to do when they get there.”

Technically, there’s at least one person who isn’t ready for it to be over, and that’s the precinct chair who sent out an email saysing we should “put a motion to the floor asking that we postpone the nomination for one month [so] that we as Precinct chairs can rally ourselves and get better clarity on the process”. I say the process is pretty clear and has been explained more than once, and if Rodney Ellis gets the nomination we need to get busy replacing him on the ballot, so it is safe to say I will not vote for this motion. I also think Gerry Birnberg is right – there ain’t a whole lot of undecided voters in this election. I will have a report tomorrow after all is (hopefully!) said and done.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Lawsuit filed in Austin over short-term rental ordinance

Geez.

The gig economy — specifically, the short-term rental industry that includes HomeAway, Airbnb, and VRBO — is under attack by the city of Austin, Texas, according to a lawsuit filed in state court June 20, which was sponsored by the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

The lawsuit asks the court to issue an injunction halting the enforcement of an Austin city ordinance, which became effective March and governs short-term rentals.

The seven plaintiffs named in the lawsuit are people who either have sought to stay in short-term rental properties or to ease their residential properties for less than 30-day periods.

Neither the short-term tenants nor their landlords engage in any activities that should cause them to lose their rights to privacy and to assemble freely, according to Robert Henneke, general counsel for the Center for the American Future at TPPF.

But the lawsuit alleges that Austin’s short-term rental ordinance violates precisely those rights of the tenants and landlords.

Specifically, the ordinance bars the gathering of more than 10 people inside the short-term rentals and more than six in the front or backyards of the homes. It also limits to sleeping or “any joint activities” in the homes after 10 p.m.

The ordinance also requires the landlords and tenants to permit law enforcement officers into their homes to “enter, examine, and survey, at all reasonable times, all buildings, dwelling units, guest rooms, and premises,” even if the officers don’t present a search warrant.

The ordinance represents part of a trend that allows for the “Californization” of the central Texas city or a region where more government regulation, rather than less, is the norm, said James Quintero, director of the Center for Local Governance at TPPF.

You can see a copy of the lawsuit here, via the Austin Business Journal, which also provides some info about the rental ban, which passed in February. I know nothing about this saga, but I do know that aside from a few stray criminal justice issues, the TPPF is wrong about pretty much everything, in particular matters relating to government regulation. Which doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t prevail in court, of course, just that one should never expect them to be on the side of the greater good. The state of Texas does not currently play a role in regulating short-term rentals. Given this action, I won’t be surprised to see some kind of statewide AirBnB bill pushed in the next legislative session, in the same way that a statewide Uber/Lyft bill is being touted; the TPPF name-checked Uber and Lyft in their statement, so you can see how that will play out. The Statesman has more if you have access to their premium content.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Colleges and bathrooms

Texas’ colleges and universities have not yet been affected by Dan Patrick’s potty obsession.

At the University of Houston, transgender students can enroll in voice feminization or masculinization clinics. At the University of Texas at Austin, students can write a simple letter to change how their gender is listed in school records. And many colleges in the state have maps on their websites showing the locations of dozens of on-campus gender-neutral bathrooms.

Across Texas and beyond, politicians have been arguing about who can use what bathroom, or how much legal protection transgender people need. But at most universities in Texas, the issue was decided before it became a national fight. Officials across the state have already adopted policies to make sure transgender students and staff are accommodated and comfortable.

Last month, the universities — like every education entity that receives federal funding — received a directive from the U.S. Department of Education saying transgender students should be allowed to use the restroom of the gender they identify with. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced that he would send his own letter to schools telling them to ignore those orders, and Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the federal government over the policy.

So far, however, the universities haven’t received much pressure. Patrick’s letter to Texas schools didn’t go to colleges or universities. And most universities say they see no need to re-evaluate their policies.

[…]

Josephine Tittsworth, a social worker who is transgender, began advocating for a non-discrimination policy at the University of Houston-Clear Lake shortly after she became a student in 2002. The effort involved lobbying the university president, its legal office and the student and faculty senates, she said.

“It took about three or four years before the university president agreed to sign on,” she said.

Soon, transgender students from other schools called seeking help changing their schools’ policies. Eventually, she helped create the Texas Transgender Nondiscrimination Summit, which organizes a conference every year to help strategize for policy changes.

The group came up with a plan for students advocating for change at their schools, Tittsworth said. Advocates shouldn’t focus on lobbying university boards of regents, whose members are appointed by Republican governors and may be resistant to addressing issues for transgender students, they decided. Instead, they should push for changes during routine reviews of university policies, which are often handled by more sympathetic committees made up of faculty and staff.

On its website, the Texas Transgender Nondiscrimination Summit lists 27 universities and community college systems that have adopted nondiscrimination policies. The number may actually be higher, Tittsworth said, since the group hasn’t reviewed the policies of every school.

You can see a list of colleges and universities and their inclusion policies here. I can’t imagine this will be off Dan Patrick’s radar for long, but one should note that some of these policies have been in place for years, and last I checked the Republic still stood. So you know, maybe we could hold off on the potty panic for a little while longer, at least until there’s even the tiniest bit of evidence to suggest that it may be warranted.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

STAAR screwups

From the Observer:

Texas’ standardized testing program wasn’t exactly popular before the 2015-2016 school year, but this year’s State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) has been an especially frustrating experience for Texas students, parents and school officials. New testing contractor Educational Testing Service, in the first year of a four-year, $280 million contract to administer the STAAR, has seemed overwhelmed by the task: It misdelivered tests, lost records of test answers, and took weeks longer than promised to deliver test scores. Meanwhile, new Education Commissioner Mike Morath and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) are under fire for how they’ve handled the STAAR so far, with critics saying they haven’t adequately recognized the magnitude of the problems schools faced — some of which, like missing student records and an unfinished website for teachers to access test data, were apparent even before the tests even arrived.

It can be tough to keep track of all that’s gone wrong, so here’s a blow-by-blow of the biggest problems schools faced with STAAR this year.

Click over and read the whole thing. I’d heard of some of these screwups, but not all of them. It’s impressive in its way. A lawsuit was filed last month to force the state to not use this year’s test results to rate students, something which TEA Commissioner Mike Morath is not willing to do so far. The Observer piece notes that Senate Education Chair Kel Seliger has said Texas shouldn’t pay ETS for its delivery of the STAAR test this year. Hard to argue with that, if you ask me. Anyway, it’s a mess and I’m sure we’ll be arguing about it next spring.

Posted in: School days.

Friday random ten: Ladies’ night, part 1

Hey, did you know there’s a woman running for President? It’s true! First time ever for a major political party in this country. In honor of that historic achievement, I’m going to spend a few weeks highlighting songs from my collection performed by women.

1. Waterloo – ABBA ( Anni-Frid “Frida” Lyngstad and Agnetha Fältskog)
2. Whenever You’re Near Me – Ace of Base (Malin “Linn” Berggren and Jenny Berggren)
3. Set Fire To The Rain – Adele
4. Save Me – Aimee Mann
5. Head Over Feet – Alanis Morrisette
6. Dry Grass & Shadows – Alela Diane
7. Titanium – Ali Brutofski
8. Baby, Now That I’ve Found You – Alison Krauss
9. The Coventry Carol – Alison Moyet
10. Games – Alison Wonderland

I suspect a fair number of the tunes and artists that get mentioned will be ones that my girls have asked me to get for them. The Adele and Ali Brutofski songs fall into that bucket. Others will come from the various collections and mixtapes that I’ve gotten from sources like Noisetrade, of which the Alison Wonderland number is an example. I buy those in part because they greatly increase my exposure to artists I’d never heard of before. This is going to be an interesting challenge because I have a lot of stuff like that, and some of it is going to require me to do some checking to see if it qualifies. Just in doing this post I’ve discovered that I missed one. Her group will be added to a future post. If you see someone showing up out of alphabetical order down the line, that’s probably the reason for it.

Posted in: Music.

Judicial Q&A revisited: Raul Rodriguez

As you know, in addition to selecting a Democratic nominee for County Commissioners Court in Precinct 1, precinct chairs everywhere in Harris County will get to select two judicial nominees, for newly-created courts. There are three people who have expressed an interest in the new County Criminal Court at Law #16. All three have submitted judicial Q&As to me for prior candidacies. I will be revisiting these for the test of this week.

Raul Rodriguez was a candidate for the 174th Criminal District Court in 2016. Here are the responses he sent to me for the March primary.

Raul Rodriguez

Raul Rodriguez

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Raul Rodriguez. I was born in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. I came to the United States when I was two. The first house that my family lived in was in Houston’s Second Ward. We later moved to Northside, where I grew up. I graduated from John H. Reagan High School in the Heights. Shortly after graduating from high school, I became a U.S. citizen – more than anything, because I wanted to be able to vote.

I went on to the University of Houston where I received a Bachelor Degree in Business Administration. After working for about six years in the corporate world, I decided to return to school to pursue a law degree. I graduated from South Texas College of Law in December 1991 and became licensed in January 1992.

In 2005, Mayor Bill White appointed me to serve as an Associate Judge for the City of Houston Municipal Courts. I still presently hold this position, and I continue to have the privilege of presiding over Class C misdemeanor cases in these courts.

Family is very important to me. My parents were small business owners in the Houston area until my father sold his business in 2015, over 40 years after he started his company. I have five brothers, three of whom served in the U.S. Armed Forces. My youngest brother is a Houston Police Officer. I am married to Patricia Limon de Rodriguez, who is actively involved in various causes and organizations in Houston / Harris County.

I am a judicial candidate for the 174th Criminal District Court in Harris County, Texas. The duties of the judge of this Court are to preside over all levels of felony cases.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This is a State Criminal District Court that handles all levels of felony cases. Felonies are more serious offenses than misdemeanors.

These crimes include arson, aggravated assaults, robbery, serious drug offenses and sexual assaults. Homicide cases such as manslaughter, murder and capital murder also fall under the jurisdiction of these courts.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Of the 22 Criminal District Courts in Harris County, there are only three Latino judges.

The reason that I am running is because two of these judges are retiring in 2016, Judge David Mendoza and Judge Ruben Guerrero, the current judge of the 174th Criminal District Court.

I would like to see Harris County keep its Latino representation in the criminal court system, and I believe I have the experience and judicial temperament necessary to transition into this next progression of my career: seeking election as a Criminal District Court Judge.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been practicing law as a criminal defense attorney since 1992. In those 24 years, I have tried over 200 cases including approximately 30-35 criminal jury trials. I have been doing court appointments as well as representing clients through my own practice, handling felony as well as misdemeanor cases at both the State District Court and County Criminal Courts at Law.

I am also a mediator, and I am often referred cases by the Family District Courts and Civil District Courts to assist in resolving disputes between litigants.

I had the honor of being appointed by Mayor Bill White as an Associate Judge for the City of Houston Municipal Courts in November 2005. By law, I am required to apply for reappointment every two years, and I take great pride that I still currently hold that position ten years later.

5. Why is this race important?

Every election / race is important, and this particular one is no different. However, out of the 22 Criminal District Courts in Harris County there are only three Latino judges. Two of the Latino judges are retiring and not seeking reelection in 2016. I am the only Democratic Latino candidate for a Criminal District Court in 2016. In a county whose population includes over 40 percent Latino citizens, having less than three Latino Criminal District Court judges is unacceptable.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

With 24 years as a criminal defense attorney and ten years as an Associate Judge with the City of Houston, I believe that I am the best qualified candidate for the 174th Criminal District Court.

In addition, I am the only Latino Democratic candidate for Criminal District Court for the 2016 primary.

Minorities make up nearly 70 percent of the population in Harris County. If I am unsuccessful in my bid to be judge of the 174th Criminal District Court, there will only be one Latino Criminal District Judge that represents the citizens of Harris County. This statistic is insupportable. The judges of these courts should reflect the population of Harris County.

While I would like every voter to pick me, I realize that it is not always going to be the case. I encourage people to go vote even if it is not for me or if they cannot vote for me because they live in another county.

With that said, I would like to remind every eligible voter to go vote because their vote matters. Early Voting is from February 16, 2016 through February 26, 2016. Election Day is March 1, 2016.

Posted in: Election 2016.

SCOTUS punts on immigration order

Ugh.

ealing a major blow to President Obama’s controversial executive immigration order, the U.S. Supreme Court announced Thursday it had failed to produce a majority opinion on the policy — meaning that the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals’ November 2015 decision rejecting the policy stands.

The program had been blocked in February 2015 by a Brownsville-based federal judge, Andrew Hanen, days before it was scheduled to begin.

In a one-sentence opinion, the Supreme Court declared, “The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court.”

[…]

Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, was announced in November 2014 and could have granted deportation relief to more than 4 million people living in the country illegally — including more than 1 million undocumented immigrants in Texas. The program would also have allowed the immigrants to apply for renewable work permits if they have lived in the country for more than five years, pass background checks and pay fines.

As of 2015, about 533,000 undocumented immigrants in Texas — roughly 40 percent of the state’s undocumented-immigrant population — had children legally in the country, according to the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute. About 1.17 million undocumented immigrants living in Texas have been in the country for at least five years, including about 222,000 who have lived here for more than 20 years.

See here for the last update; there’s a timeline of events on the Trib page. The SCOTUS “ruling” leaves in place Judge Hanen’s ruling, which was upheld by the Fifth Circuit, but it’s unclear how or if it applies anywhere else. It’s not hard to imagine another case originating in, say, California, and getting a different ruling from another appeals court, at which point one presumes SCOTUS will have to deal with this again. Maybe by then SCOTUS will have nine members, or maybe by then President Clinton will have signed an immigration reform bill that makes this all moot. I think we can all agree that SCOTUS’ actions did not resolve anything, and that this issue is now even more important this November. ThinkProgress, Daily Kos, Vox, Wonkblog, the Press, and the Current have more.

Posted in: La Migra, Legal matters.

Castro back on as VP possibility

I have three things to say about this.

Mayor Julian Castro

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro is on the shortlist of potential running mates for Hillary Clinton, and has been asked by her campaign to provide personal information, San Antonio Express-News sources have confirmed.

Citing Democratic sources, reports said that in addition to Castro, a pared-down list the Clinton campaign is considering includes Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and that others also may yet be in the running.

[…]

Campaign insiders at the Bipartisan Policy Center recommended this spring that because of the high stakes, presidential nominees devote at least two months vetting potential running mates, which includes digging into their finances, their family history and even their social media posts.

But Clinton, who has been a fixture in Democratic politics for more than two decades, apparently feels secure in a more compressed time frame. She’s not expected to announce her choice until — or just before — Democrats gather in Philadelphia on July 25 for their nominating convention.

Castro’s chances were widely thought to have dimmed with the rise of presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump, whose incendiary remarks about people of Mexican heritage had functioned to energize Latino voters.

Castro, who would be the first Latino on a major party ticket, may yet fall short given his lack of experience.

The Associated Press reported that supporters of Castro, 41, said he would bring other advantages, among them his relative youth alongside Clinton, 68, and some of the other potential running mates. In her challenge from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton struggled to attract young voters to her cause.

U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra of California and Labor Secretary Thomas Perez also have been mentioned on a list of Hispanic candidates who could be appealing to Clinton.

Warren, who turns 67 on June 22, is a favorite of many Sanders backers for her outspoken liberal views, particularly when it comes to regulating Wall Street. She and Clinton have not been close, but the two met recently in Washington after Clinton’s victory over Sanders became clear.

Kaine, 58, who’s known as a centrist in the party, had emerged as a favorite of some party insiders because he might appeal to independents and address another of Clinton’s weaknesses — her problem with Anglo male voters.

1. It was just a month ago that Castro himself was saying that he was not being vetted for the VP job. Things can change in a hurry, so perhaps one should not take any single story about the VP selection process with too much seriousness.

2. I agree with Brian Beutler that Hillary Clinton has the luxury of being able to pick any reasonable candidate as her VP, and I agree with Matt Yglesias that her first priority should be to pick someone whom she would like as her successor in 2024. Beyond that, I don’t really have an opinion on whom she should pick.

3. What effect might Castro have on Democratic prospects in Texas? I don’t know, but a lot of people think he would be good for Dems here. I tend to think so, too, but you know how we could try to answer that question? With some polling, of course. We finally have a poll now, but it doesn’t address that question. Perhaps another poll, assuming it happens before any VP announcements are made, could include some questions pairing Clinton with this VP hopeful or that one to see if any of them make a difference one way or another. My guess is that any such effect would be modest, but why guess? Give us a poll! Campos and the Current have more.

UPDATE: One national poll suggests Castro doesn’t move the needle much if at all in either direction. That’s not the same as seeing if he has an effect in Texas, but it is a data point.

Posted in: The making of the President.

City bike plan finalized

Here it comes.

Bicycling advocates – fresh off finalizing a plan for Houston’s bike future – face the challenge of getting formal city approval of their ideas as they incrementally piece together what could be a $500 million investment.

Changing attitudes, however, have proponents optimistic that most if not all of the 1,800 miles of bike lanes, trails and shared use paths will be built in the next decade.

“We are starting to get the right people in the room,” said Geoff Carleton, who consulted on the bike plan and spoke Monday before City Council’s transportation, technology and infrastructure committee. “Those conversations are taking place from Metro about transit accessibility, and the city when it designs a street is asking the right questions about the best way to use it. … those things are happening much more now.”

If fully built, the bike lanes and trails would provide an alternative to driving that’s not easily available to most Houstoninans for trips ranging from workday commutes to visiting a park on weekends. Moreso, supporters said, it will signal an important shift in the city’s commitment to keeping riders safe, lowering dependence on automobiles and reducing vehicle emissions.

“There is growing recognition that we need to rethink our mobility paradigm,” Houston Planning Department Director Patrick Walsh said.

[…]

Accomplishing all of the plan, however, will take a large investment over the next 20 years, estimated at more than $550 million based on the highest cost projects. Funding for the projects could come from the city’s street money, its share of Metropolitan Transit Authority’s 1 percent sales tax and state and federal dollars that can be spent on city infrastructure projects. Houston has trailed some of its peer cities in securing federal funds related to bicycle and pedestrian improvements.

Despite the price tag, the plan has support from a host of local groups, including Bike Houston and various neighborhood groups and Houston Parks Board. Compared to billions in highway spending – a plan to widen Interstate 45 alone is estimated to cost $7 billion – the investment in better bike lanes is minimal, when incorporated into other road improvements and trail enhancements.

See here and here for the background. You can see the final report and all other information on the plan here. It’s important to remember that a lot of funding for this will come from the Bayou Greenways project and existing CIPs, and from grants from H-GAC and the federal Department of Transportation. A significant portion of the plan involves simple and inexpensive changes like restriping streets and taking lanes from low-traffic streets like Austin and Caroline downtown, in similar fashion to what was done on Lamar Street. There’s much that can be done for very little, and by adding this capacity you are giving people more non-car options for short trips, which in turn makes it a little easier for those who have to drive and park. It also makes things safer for the folks who have to get around by bike. There’s a lot to like here, now we just need to get it approved and on its way. The Press and KUHF have more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Judicial Q&A revisited: Darrell Jordan

As you know, in addition to selecting a Democratic nominee for County Commissioners Court in Precinct 1, precinct chairs everywhere in Harris County will get to select two judicial nominees, for newly-created courts. There are three people who have expressed an interest in the new County Criminal Court at Law #16. All three have submitted judicial Q&As to me for prior candidacies. I will be revisiting these for the test of this week.

Darrell Jordan was a candidate for the 180th Criminal District Court in 2010. Here are the responses he sent to me for the March primary that year.

Darrell Jordan

1. Who are you, and what are you running for?

My name is Darrell Jordan and I am running for the 180th Criminal District Court. I am married to Dr. Rhonda Jordan and we have two children Ashley and Andrew.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court handles felony cases. Felony cases are the most serious criminal cases such as murder, aggravated robbery, and sexual assault. The sentences in these cases can range from a period of probation to life imprisonment or in some instances death.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this bench because I want to restore justice to the Harris County Criminal Justice System. I will work to promote courtroom efficiency by ensuring swift justice for victim and offender, saving Harris county tax payer dollars and creating safer communities as well.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

As a criminal defense attorney I practice exclusively in the area of criminal law. In the past year my caseload exceeded 100 cases. In addition to that I have proudly served for the past 8 years in the United States Army Reserves, currently serving in the rank of Captain in the JAG Corps. In this role, I serve as a recorder (prosecutor) on separation boards. In addition, I serve as legal advisor providing answers to questions of law to the board (jury). I have also served in the Texas House of Representatives as a policy analyst for Rep. Hubert Vo and as legal counsel for Sen. Rodney Ellis.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because there is nothing greater than freedom. I believe in due process and my duty to ensure that it is carried out. As a judge I view my position as the last stop to ensure that justice is done in each and every case for victim and offender.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

People should vote for me because I will ensure that justice will prevail in the courtroom. I know what needs to be done to ensure justice and strongly believe in my ability to get the job done correctly. I will support the Public Defender’s Office 100%. I will also implement a morning and afternoon docket in my courtroom. This will allow defendants to get their day in court as quickly as possible and it will also save the citizens of Harris County money by reducing the jail population.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Our first general election poll of Texas

From the inbox:

In a poll released today and conducted June 13-14, 2016, Texas voters are specifically rejecting Donald Trump’s lies and the corruption of State GOP elected officials.

While Trump leads Hillary Clinton by 7 points (36.8 % – 29.7% ±3.1%) a deeper dive shows an overall unwillingness amongst Republican voters to pull the lever for a straight ticket. Republicans also make up the lions share of undecided.

998 responses were collected by live telephone calls from a random sample of Texas voters, balanced to the likely 2016 General Election turnout on June 13 and 14, 2016. The poll has a margin of error of 3.1%.  The poll was conducted by Leland Beatty, an Austin-based market research consultant with extensive experience polling Texas voters.

Below are the most important findings from today’s poll:

In Texas, Clinton Poised to Top Obama 2008 Vote; Gaining on Trump

Hillary Clinton is on track to top President Obama’s 2008 44% finish in Texas.  Obama’s performance in 2008 had a powerful down-ballot effect, pushing Democrats close to a majority in the Texas House of Representatives.

Trump will have significant difficulty adding to his 7 point lead (3.1% margin of error). Undecided voters were significantly concerned about their place in the economy and about the honesty and character of the candidates.

Undecided voters are also very fond of former President George W Bush.  Bush, together with most of his family, has declared he will not support Trump.

Economy and Corruption of Elected Officials Top Texan’s concerns; Immigration Barely Registers

By a 3 to 1 margin, Texas voters believe state government corruption is a real problem.Two-thirds of Trump supporters believe that corruption in Texas state government is a real problem.  Among the rest of Texas voters, 81% believe that state government corruption is a real problem, and 51% believe corruption is widespread throughout Texas government.

Because of continuing legal action and law enforcement investigations against incumbent Republican office holders, corruption concerns are certain to create a significant drag on the Republican ballot.

A quarter of undecided voters are most concerned about the economy, and the improving economy is likely to aid Clinton’s appeal to voters.

Only 7% of undecided voters (2% of the total vote) identified immigration as their primary issue. Trump and other Statewide Republicans are well outside of the mainstream on their immigration positions.

Trump Lies and Hush Money Scandals Bringing Down GOP Vote

Trump’s seemingly pathological problem with the truth is undercutting his potential among undecided voters.  1 out of 4 self-identified Republicans are, so far, refusing to support Trump. 80% of those feel favorably toward former President George W. Bush, and 40% expressed concern about the honesty of the candidates.  If Democrats successfully connect Trump’s truth troubles with voter’s concerns about corrupt state elected officials, a Democratic resurgence is almost guaranteed.  

The fact that many Republican elected officials have used taxpayer dollars to pay hush money to avoid personal lawsuits has the potential to cover the entire Republican ticket in perceived corruption.

Republican Straight Ticket Voters at Low Tide; Voters Suspicious of Statewide Leaders

Over half (52%) of self-identified Republicans say they may vote for candidates not on the Republican ballot. 27% of self-identified Republicans say they may not even vote Republican at the top of the ticket, because of their doubts about Trump.

Because so many self-identified Republicans have deep doubts about their own candidates, Republican straight ticket voting could fall in Texas to its lowest level since Republicans became the majority party—and that same doubt could bring a sooner than expected end to Republican dominance in Texas.

Crosstabs are here. As you know, I’ve been waiting for one of these to come along. Now that I have this one, here are a few thoughts:

– This poll is of registered voters, not “likely” voters. That’s fine, and I’d argue wholly appropriate at this time, but it’s a distinction to keep in mind when comparing polls.

– For comparison purposes and to keep my presentation consistent, here’s a table of the topline result:


Candidate    Pct
================
Trump      36.8%
Clinton    29.7%
Johnson     2.6%
DK/Else    31.0%

I’ll get to the undecideds in a bit. It’s interesting to me that in a year where the Libertarian ticket is being touted as a viable Trump alternative, and some people are speculating that they could reach the 15% national polling average needed to be invited to the televised debates, Gary Johnson landed at 2.6% here. To be fair, that’s considerably higher than the 1.11% he got in 2012, which in turn was the first time a Libertarian candidate finished with more than one percent of the vote in Texas. All of which to say, fifteen percent is a long way away. There was a followup question for the Johnson supporters asking what motivated their selection. Of the 26 total people who named Johnson as their choice, 11 said theirs was a protest vote, 10 said they were inspired by Libertarian principles, and five said they were unsure or didn’t know. Make of that what you will.

– It’s always possible that most if not all of the 31% of respondents who said they were undecided will simply not vote, though I think that’s less likely in a higher turnout election like Presidential year elections. Be that as it may, I like to filter out the undecideds when there are a lot of them and then recalculate the totals. If you do that, you get the following:


Candidate    Pct
================
Trump      53.3%
Clinton    43.0%
Johnson     3.8%

That puts Clinton within a hair of a single digit deficit, and puts her less than a point behind Obama’s 2008 performance, which was 43.7%. Not a bad start, all things considered.

– That said, most of the Undecideds are people who usually vote Republican and who rated George W. Bush the better President over Bill Clinton by a 2-1 margin. Trump therefore has more room to improve. In fact, if you assign the undecideds who preferred Bush’s presidency to Trump and those who preferred Bill Clinton’s to Hillary, you get


Candidate    Pct
================
Trump      56.7%
Clinton    40.5%
Johnson     2.8%

Which looks a lot like the 2012 Romney/Obama numbers. Point being, it really matters how undecided those voters are.

– Speaking of 2012, the closest Obama was to Romney in any poll was a PPP poll from April that had him down 50-43. No other poll had him higher than 41, which is within a point of where he wound up, or closer than down 11. One poll as we know doesn’t tell us much. We’ll see what the trends look like, to see if breaking 45% and/or finishing within ten points is feasible.

– The crosstabs that we have do not include demographic information other than gender, which was oddly skewed towards women (60% of respondents were female). That means I can’t tell you how white/black/Latino voters went, nor can I tell you anything about how people voted by age range. That also means we can’t make guesses about how increases in turnout level, which would almost certainly make the electorate younger and less white, might affect the result.

– A third of self-identified Republicans thought corruption in state government was “widespread”, a third thought it was “a problem, but not widespread”, and the rest were split between “not a problem” and undecided. More than half of Democrats and more than half of voters who did not identify as either R or D thought corruption in state government was “widespread”, with only five percent of Dems and ten percent of neithers thinking it’s not a problem. File that away for 2018.

I think that about covers it for now. According to this Chron story, the poll was commissioned by “a group of Texas House Democrats”. Wish I had more information about it, but that’s what I’ve got. I can’t wait to see what the next result looks like.

Posted in: The making of the President.

Commissioners Court candidate questionnaire responses

El Franco Lee

Last week, the HCDP sent out a questionnaire to the candidates who had expressed an interest in the nomination for Commissioners Court in Precinct 1. You can see the responses that they got here. Only four candidates submitted answers: Sen. Rodney Ellis, Georgia Provost, Rickey Tezino, and someone named Vernell Jessie, about whom I know nothing. If you’re even a little surprised that Ellis’ answers were longer and more detailed than those of the other three combined, I’m not sure what to tell you.

There were a lot of in-depth questions in this document, and there was only a week or so to submit answers, so it’s not a big surprise that only some candidates did so. Commissioner Locke can reasonably point to his time on the Court and say “you can get your answers from what I’ve done in office”. I suppose CM Boykins could make a similar claim, though Council doesn’t really deal with a number of these issues. DeWayne Lark was the most interesting of the non-officeholding candidates at the May candidate forum, so I would have liked to see what he had to say here. Nat West did not attend that forum, so this may have been his one real chance to be heard by the precinct chairs. That’s the way it goes.

On a tangential note, I received an automated survey call on Monday about the Commissioners nomination process. It sounded like it was going out to Precinct 1 residents, with the intent of informing precinct chairs of the preferences of the voters they will be representing on Saturday, but there was no identifying information on the call, so I have no idea who it was that was collecting this information. Be that as it may, there were three questions in this survey (which now that I think about it didn’t ask about demographic information either). One was whether you considered policy or some other criterion that I’ve since forgotten as more important in selecting a candidate. Needless to say, I chose the “policy” option. Question 2 was about the late Commissioner Lee’s programs for seniors and whether the next Commissioner should continue and build on them. I’ll be honest, I really don’t know much about these programs, as I myself am not (yet) a senior, but I chose Yes anyway. Finally, we were asked which candidate we preferred, with the choices being Provost, Lark, Locke, Ellis, and Boykins. I’ll save my answer for another time, but I guess we can cross Tezino and West off the list of people who might have been paying for the survey.

I then got another automated call last night, from a gentleman who identified himself as “a senior living in Precinct 1”, calling to inform people about the June 25 meeting to select the nominee. He stated incorrectly that “Harris County Democratic Party rules” limited participation in this process to precinct chairs, then said that the way that anyone else could participate was to contact their precinct chair, and he spelled out the URL on harrisdemocrats.com to find one’s chair. (Greg, if this was your idea, you and me are gonna have to have some words.) Anyway, our mystery senior (I forgot his name within minutes of hanging up the phone; I should really try to take notes one of these days) then listed the same five candidates mentioned in Monday’s “poll”. I looked at my caller ID information and the two calls came from different numbers, for all that’s worth, but I’d bet a ten spot they both came from the same source. Did anyone else get one of these calls?

Posted in: Election 2016.

Texas blog roundup for the week of June 20

The Texas Progressive Alliance looks forward to a day when it never has to mourn the victims of another mass shooting again as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Judicial Q&A revisited: David Singer

As you know, in addition to selecting a Democratic nominee for County Commissioners Court in Precinct 1, precinct chairs everywhere in Harris County will get to select two judicial nominees, for newly-created courts. There are three people who have expressed an interest in the new County Criminal Court at Law #16. All three have submitted judicial Q&As to me for prior candidacies. I will be revisiting these for the test of this week.

David Singer was a candidate for the 177th Criminal District Court in 2016. Here are the responses he sent to me for the March primary.

David Singer

David Singer

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

David L. Singer. I am running for the 177th Criminal District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

All Felony Criminal Cases (from small drug cases to Capital Murder).

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I have been training for this job my entire adult life. (see #4) I didn’t want to run against a Democratic incumbent or a former Democratic Judicial candidate in a primary, so my choices this year were very limited. The current Judge, Ryan Patrick, only practiced law for 5 years before he was appointed and then elected for this bench. I felt my experience would be in sharp contrast to his, in a general election contest.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

Graduated from South Texas College of Law (1983) Assistant Editor of the Law Review and author of the Phillip Burleson Award for the best article in the field of criminal law (April, 1983).

Worked at the 1st Court of Appeals 2 ½ years, as an intern, and then a Briefing Attorney for Justice Murry Cohen.

Six years as an Assistant District Attorney at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office (1984 – 1990).

25 years in private practice as a Criminal Defense attorney. My practice has been more than 95 % criminal defense in State and Federal court in 15 Texas counties and several other States. Primarily State Criminal cases in Harris and surrounding counties.

I have handled well over four thousand criminal cases in Harris County alone and have tried approximately 150 – 200 jury trials including Capital Murder cases.

5. Why is this race important?

All Criminal Court races are important. The quality of justice in our county depends in large part on the quality of our judges. This particular race is important because there is a drastic difference in experience between myself and the current judge.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

My opponent in the primary (Robert Johnson) is also relatively inexperienced. He has only been licensed for 12 years, handles less than 50% criminal cases*, has never tried a Capital Case, and has never been in law enforcement.

*According to the Harris County District Clerks office, Mr. Johnson has handled 468 criminal cases in his career and over 600 civil (mostly family law) cases. In contrast, the same source has me handling over 3400 criminal cases, not counting my 6 years as a prosecutor, and only 75 civil cases over 25 years. The only non-criminal cases I handle currently are expunctions and forfeitures, both related to criminal cases.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Rep. Isaac asks FTC to step in on Austin rideshare regulations

Seriously?

Rep. Jason Isaac

State Rep. Jason Isaac has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Austin’s rules for ride-hailing companies, raising concerns that the city’s “burdensome regulations” are anti-competitive.

In the letter dated June 7, Isaac said he thought the city “erected a pernicious barrier to competition” through its rules, which have become a point of contention in the statewide discussion about which layer of government should ultimately regulate the industry.

“I think this turned into an immature battle that left some people really scared and things were done out of a vindictive nature,” Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, said in an interview Thursday. “I personally believe that this is anti-competitive in nature, but I want to ask the FTC if they think it’s anti-competitive.”

[…]

In his letter, Isaac suggested the Austin City Council knew adopting the fingerprinting ordinance would spur Uber and Lyft to leave the city and, in turn, would “return the marketplace” to taxi companies.

“Despite knowing the ramifications of their vote, the Council added burdensome regulations and put the city at risk,” Isaac wrote.

Jason Stanford, a spokesman for Adler, said the city wants to have ride-hailing services.

“Nothing we’ve done would prevent Uber and Lyft from operating now in Austin just as before, and they are welcome to come back at any time,” he said in a statement. “All such companies operating here would be entitled to receive the same kinds of support and encouragement.”

You can read Rep. Isaac’s letter to the FTC here. Putting aside the absurdity of a Tea Party legislator calling in the Federal Government to intervene in a local matter – does Rep. Isaac want someone to pin a “Primary me!” sign on his back? – there’s the small matter of ridesharing startups sprouting in Austin like bluebonnets in March since the Prop 1 vote and subsequent Uber/Lyft pullout. How terrible can these regulations be if new options keep appearing in Austin (here’s another one!) seemingly every week? I pity the poor FTC official who will have to reply to this silliness with a straight face.

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

The latest attempt to kill the Uptown BRT line

Whatever.

“See this right turn lane filled up?” asked consultant Wayne Dolcefino to about a dozen angry Uptown residents, standing along Post Oak Boulevard near the intersection with San Felipe Street on Monday morning. “That’s going away. The right lane at Westheimer? That’s going away too.”

A woman’s jaw dropped, as though what Docefino said was inconceivable.

But pretty soon, it will happen. One of the most congested roads in Houston will soon be ripped up by construction for two-and-a-half years — brought down to just two lanes, plus a left turn lane where necessary — as Uptown Houston makes ground on a public transit project that residents have been protesting for a year: the Post Oak Boulevard dedicated bus lanes project.

Uptown Houston, the neighborhood management district, claims the biggest problem facing the overcrowded Uptown area is the “lack of effective commuter transit service.” To solve that problem, the district has decided to rip out the center median and replace it with two elevated bus lanes — similar to how the rail works in the center of Main Street. The buses will come every six minutes, running from the Northwest Transit Center along 610 and Post Oak to a new Bellaire Uptown Transit Center at Westpark and U.S. 59. While Uptown Houston will pay for construction and development, Metro has agreed to team up and provide the transportation once the project is complete.

On Monday, though, Uptown residents held a press conference along Post Oak as part of a last-ditch effort to ask Mayor Sylvester Turner to halt the $192 million project. Among many things, residents claim this project is going to make traffic worse, will put stores along Post Oak out of business because drivers won’t want to bother with the headache, and that the project is “stained ethically” because of conflicts of interest within Uptown Houston.

[…]

John Breeding, president of Uptown Houston, denied every accusation Dolcefino and the residents made. He said that no one at Uptown Houston has made any money off these deals, and also said that “this project has been vetted more than any public project I’ve ever been associated with” in response to critics saying it hasn’t been transparent.

Complaints about the Uptown line are nothing new – they go back to 2010 at least. A lawsuit was filed last year claiming that the project was in conflict with the 2003 referendum because it wasn’t light rail (!); that lawsuit was dismissed a few months later, though there was no resolution in the dismissal. A criminal complaint was filed in April over the way land was acquired for the project; there’s been no word yet as to whether there’s anything to that or not. Campos has the text of a letter this “Save Uptown” group has sent out, which calls on Mayor Turner to stop the project and says another lawsuit is in the offing. It’s not clear to me that the Mayor could stop this if he wanted to – Council approved funding as part of the overall Uptown/Memorial TIRZ expansion, but funding for this comes from other, non-city sources as well. It’s also not clear to me why Mayor Turner would want to top this given his emphasis on rethinking transportation. My question for “Save Uptown” or any other foe of this project is this: What’s your alternative to the status quo? I mean, if you think the traffic situation in the Uptown/Galleria area is fine as things are and nothing needs to be done, then fine. Say it loud and proud. If you don’t think it’s fine, then please tell me 1) what you would do about it, 2) how you would pay for it, 3) how much disruption any of your planned upgrades would cause over the next two years, and 4) what you have been doing since, oh, 2010 or so, to bring about your vision. Maybe the Uptown BRT project isn’t the best possible idea, or maybe the cost is too high, but you can’t beat something with nothing. This plan has been in motion for a long time. What have you got that’s better than it? Swamplot and the HBJ have more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Here come the cannabis growers

For medicinal purposes only.

About 60 miles north of Dallas, amid green fields in the town of Gunter, population 1,486, Texas Cannabis CEO Patrick Moran has optioned to buy a former cotton gin, where he plans to grow the Cannabis sativa plant, known more commonly as marijuana.

The businessman and attorney is positioning himself at the forefront of what he estimates will be a $900 million a year industry in Texas – the recently legalized market for treating intractable epilepsy with a strain of marijuana that eases seizures without getting patients high.

Texas, as it turns out, may be one of the best states in the nation to grow pot. While the state has one of the most stringent medical usage laws in the country, it is setting up some of the cheapest licensing fees and one of the least restrictive markets for pot growers in the U.S.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed legislation last year allowing the state to license businesses to grow, process or dispense nonintoxicating marijuana or cannabis for medical use beginning next year. Moran wants to do all three with Texas Cannabis, cultivating marijuana from seed to sale.

Moran is waiting on the state to set up its registry, slated to go live by June 2017, to put in his application. He plans to use that former cotton gin, which has sat dormant for 40 years, to cultivate, extract and dispense cannabidiol oil, or CBD oil, from low-THC cannabis plants – just around the corner from the city hall in Gunter. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive component that gives users a high when they smoke traditional marijuana.

The new market is being called the green rush.

“There’s a whole other industry that is being birthed in this country, just like what happened with the dot-com boom,” Moran said. “I think it’s once in a lifetime.”

[…]

The Texas law established narrow parameters on the type of cannabis that can be dispensed, who can take the medication and which physicians can prescribe, said Frank Snyder, a Texas A&M law professor who teaches the state’s first course on marijuana law, policy and business. But it doesn’t limit the number of competitors who can grow, extract or dispense.

“The process for getting a license and beginning to cultivate is probably the most liberal law of any of the medical marijuana states that I’m familiar with right now, in terms of putting up the fewest barriers to entry,” Snyder said.

Applicants aren’t required to have vast cannabis industry experience. They simply have to show they have the technological ability to grow, extract or dispense the product by having experience in related fields, such as cultivation, analytical laboratory methods and handling confidential patient information.

They also must show they can obtain the locations, resources and personnel necessary for operations, maintain accountability of all materials and have the financial ability to keep going for two years.

Regulations issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety in January also set fairly low licensing fees.

A cannabis operation seeking to become licensed in Texas must pay a $6,000 application fee to the state. Businesses will have to renew those licenses and pay another $6,000 application fee every two years.

That compares favorably with fees charged by some other states. Massachusetts, for instance, requires a medical marijuana dispensary to pay a $50,000 registration fee every year. Hawaii charges only a $5,000 application fee but requires a dispensary applicant to have at least $1 million in reserves, plus an additional $100,000 on hand for each retail site. Florida requires an applicant seeking a cultivation license to secure a $5 million performance bond.

Colorado, widely regarded as having some of the nation’s most permissive marijuana laws, charges as much as $25,000 in upfront application and licensing fees, depending on the type and volume of pot sold, plus additional fees.

See here for the background. One can look at the inexpensive fees for the grow/extract/dispense licenses and see low barriers to entry for cannabis entrepreneurs, and one can see a missed opportunity for generating revenue, since many of the arguments for legalizing pot in Texas come down to revenue in one form or another. What the Lege actually legalized is pretty limited, and some advocates for medical marijuana opposed the bill that got passed on the grounds that it didn’t really do anything for a class of people who need it. As such, I’m not sure how big or lucrative this business is going to be just yet. That said, I’m sure this issue will continue to be discussed in the Legislature, so the possibility of expansion will be there as well. We’ll see what the financial figures for these businesses look like once they’re fully operational.

Posted in: Bidness.

Judicial Q&A revisited: Shawn Thierry

As you know, in addition to selecting a Democratic nominee for County Commissioners Court in Precinct 1, precinct chairs everywhere in Harris County will get to select two judicial nominees, for newly-created courts. There are six people who have expressed an interest in the new 507th Family District Court. Five of them have submitted judicial Q&As to me for prior candidacies; the sixth will send in responses separately. I had considered soliciting new Q&A responses from the candidates that I knew about, but ultimately decided that there was not likely to be much difference in the responses, so I’m going with reruns from those past candidacies.

Shawn Thierry was a candidate for the 157th Civil District Court in 2010. She submitted Q&A responses for that election, but at her request I am publishing new answers for this process.

Shawn Thierry

Shawn Thierry

1. What is your name?

My name is Shawn Nicole Thierry. I am a native Texan; I grew up in the Fondren Southwest Community of Houston, and am the proud mother of a three year old daughter, Klaire Bijou.

2. Why are you seeking the nomination for this bench?

I am running for Judge of the 507th Family District Court because it has become clear to me that a change is very much needed in the family courts. Family dynamics have changed tremendously over the past decade. Divorce is more common; however our judges now also need additional skill sets to properly resolve contemporary family issues. I have witnessed, and am still seeing, a serious lack of awareness in contemporary family dynamics from both the lawyers and the judges. For example, Texas judges are hearing cases of first impression due to same sex marriages and parenting agreements, home-school vs public education battles, blended family disputes, and much more. In fact, advancements in the area of assisted reproduction technology are rapidly evolving and often the science is ahead of the law. I want to to bring balance to the bench. I will do this in two ways. First, I will handle the traditional cases with a greater empathy and more attention to the final outcome so that the results will make sense under the law and also in practical, every day life. Secondly, I will approach the more innovative cases with a modern understanding for our modern families.

Another issue I will address and correct is inefficiency. There are unnecessary delays on the dockets that result in exorbitant costs and fees for the families seeking relief from the courts. I have a plan to streamline the lengthy pre-trial process by cutting down case re-sets. I would implement a new “30 Minute Time Out Zone” policy. Often times the lawyers have not had much time to prepare before coming to family court. Instead of automatically re-setting the matter, I would instruct the attorneys to sit down together (right then and there) to work through some of the less contentious issues instead of asking for more time to go back to their offices to draft lengthy letters or exchanging back and forth voicemails. During the “Time Out Zone”, I would hear other docket matters to keep the docket moving. Afterwards, the lawyers would inform the court of the progress they have made and we would proceed accordingly. This will allow families in my courtroom to get the best use of their lawyers’ time and professionalism and cut down on the number of times a parent or spouse would have to take time off of their job and miss work. My goal in this regard is to prevent repetitive court appearance and minimize expenses for families who are already in crisis. My overall mission is to create a completely new atmosphere in the courtroom where the lawyers, the clients, and the judge will truly work together to create smart solutions for real-life problems. It’s time to change the old “one size fits all” approach to family law because it is no longer effective or realistic.

3. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been an attorney for 20 years. During that time, I have successfully handled a large portfolio of civil cases involving victims of injuries, product liability, medical malpractice, complex business litigation, wills and estate planning, and also handled specialized cases involving municipal and family law. Over the years, my personal preference has been to recover my fees from the opposing side or the wrongdoer, but this is not always possible in family law. As such, I have been very selective and have chosen to take on special divorces or the more compelling suits affecting parent child relationship (SAPCR) or whereby a client needed a lawyer who could give their case specialized attention. I have also handled divorces involving financial disputes over community property versus separate property, suits for enforcement and access to a child, name changes and modifications, termination of parental right cases, cases involving the need for appointment of guardian ad litems, and amicus attorneys.

However, it was in 2015, that I had a life-changing experience. Specifically, I was sought out to take on a very controversial family law case which was covered by the media and it stands the chance to make case law history. The case is still active (filed in Fort Bend) and I am presently providing instruction to the judge on a complex divorce between a Texas couple. I have argued legal issues and facts including the domestic violence statutory exception to set aside a mediation settlement agreement, a termination of parental rights affidavit involving a sperm donor husband, a wife whom was unable to biologically conceive, a contractually secured egg donor, a separate surrogate married couple, an international adoption, and the legality of non-disclosure of a pregnancy and the existence of a gestational agreement in a SAPCR. I have argued for the legal rights of the intended parent and the “best interests” and constitutional rights of the child.

The legal issues surrounding my case were also taken up in the 2015 Texas legislative session. (See House Bill 1704). These are the kinds of frontier cases that I have taken on where others were either uncomfortable, or simply not enlightened enough to understand all the complexities involved. I am inspired me to do all that I can to improve the family court system. Due to my reputation as a prolific legal researcher of common and statutory family law, I have also been hired to shadow author family law motions, briefs and memorandum, and appeals for other attorneys over the years. I have expert knowledge with regard to almost every aspect of the Texas Family Code. Keep in mind, however, that the actual role of the judge is to interpret the law, listen to the evidence presented, and control how hearings and trials are conducted in their courtrooms. Most important of all, judges are to serve as impartial decision-makers in the pursuit of justice. The judge is the “trier of fact,” deciding whether the evidence is credible and whether witnesses are telling the truth. At the end of the day, a good judge should have the intelligence and aptitude to understand the law, combined with the natural instinct to understand people. These experiences and skills are my personal hallmark and make me uniquely qualified.

4. Why is this race important?

This race is important because we should no longer elect judges who merely wish to serve on the bench as a “rubber stamp”. On June 30th, over four hundred Harris County Precinct Chairs will have an opportunity to bring progress to an outdated family court system by electing a candidate who is offering a solid plan for change and improvement. Many of my opponents have attempted to turn this position for judge into a numbers game contest of who has the highest number of cases. However, if that is the standard, then why not just leave the current judges on the bench since they also have heard volumes of cases and some have board certifications? We should not allow that to be the litmus test. Democracy requires that we challenge the status quo by seeking new candidates, with fresh perspectives so that we are constantly striving for the pursuit of justice and equal access for all. Judges should not operate on “auto pilot” based only on prior experiences as a lawyer. The courthouse is a living, breathing, emotional place and the disputes and issues can change in an instant. When it comes to justice, the standard is quality, not quantity. I believe the newly created 507th Family District court is the perfect place for me to contribute my talents, my time and my vision to help ensure that families will have a better courtroom experience and better legal outcomes.

5. Why should the precinct chairs choose you to be the nominee for the 507th Family Court and not one of the other candidates?

I have a passion for justice, along with a compassion for people. I am also the only candidate who is speaking about fixing the inefficiencies in the system, and who has provided innovative ideas for improving the court after being elected. I believe that I am most diverse, well-rounded candidate who will provide a combination of valuable legal and unique life experiences to the bench. I acquired keen experience early in legal career handling large cases at two prestigious law firms, and have successfully handled complex cases while also helping clients in a smaller, more customized law firm setting. Even with experience, there are still no “cookie cutter” answers in family law. My promise is to bring an open-mind, while critically listening to the facts of every single case and then applying the law fairly. I would also ask the precinct chairs to consider that whomever the candidates are in our daily lives, is exactly who we will be when wearing the robe as judge, therefore the issue of judicial fitness is important. Character traits like integrity, patience, humility and respect for all people cannot be taught or bought. I am asking the precinct chairs to support me also due to my reputation for having a level-headed, polite temperament along with the integrity to do the right thing. I am not an unknown quantity, but am also not a perennial candidate. I believe this separates me from the pack as well. I am running for this specific bench at this specific time because I truly feel that this is my calling and my purpose. I am ready to lead and to serve the community with a new and improved approach to justice. If I become the democratic nominee, I will also continue to work hard to make the general election voters in Harris County proud. It would be my honor to become your new Judge of the 507th Family District Court. If the precinct chairs will give me that chance on June 30, 2016, I will not let them or their constituents down.

Posted in: Election 2016.

State still resisting refugees

Because of course we are.

The federal government wants Texas to accept more than 2,000 additional refugees this year. Texas’ response: No thank you.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission is putting the federal government on notice that the state will refuse to take in more refugees than it did last year and will accept only those who do not pose a security risk.

Texas on Friday submitted to the U.S. Department of State a 2017 state plan for refugee resettlement, rejecting the federal government’s proposal to increase the number of refugees moving to the Lone Star State by 25 percent.

“Texas continues to have concerns about the safety of its citizens and the integrity of the overseas security and background vetting process of the federal resettlement program,” Executive Commissioner Charles Smith wrote in a letter to the U.S. Department of State. “Americans face an undeniable terrorist threat that is imported through new manipulations of our national security protocols each day.”

According to Smith’s letter, the federal government is proposing to place 11,020 refugees in Texas during fiscal 2017, an increase of 25 percent over the projected fiscal 2016 figure. Smith wrote that the proposed funding is insufficient, as well, and concludes the state could accept a maximum of 8,605 refugees. It is unclear how many refugees have been placed this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

[…]

The state could land itself in court should it try to stop refugees from moving to Texas, said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, which represented the nonprofit International Rescue Committee in the case.

“In the course of this litigation, the Attorney General’s Office has acknowledged the state has no legal authority to block anyone from being settled in Texas. If the state attempts to do so, its actions would be illegal,” she said.

Refugees go through a strict vetting process in order to make their way into the U.S. and Syrians are subject to additional levels of review, according to Jennifer Sime, senior vice president of U.S. program for IRC, the resettlement agency front and center in the lawsuit.

“These are very vulnerable people who are fleeing violence and persecution and they’re coming here to live a safe and peaceful life,” she said. “We want to be able to support them in that process.”

See here for a reminder of the legalities. I’m just going to say this: I never, ever want to hear about how Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton are motivated or influenced by their Christian faith again. The “What Would Jesus Do?” question has an answer that is blindingly obvious to anyone with even a rudimentary acquaintance with the Bible, and it’s the exact opposite of what these guys would do and have done. Specifically on the question of Syrian refugees, the President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops “[urges] all Catholics in the United States and others of good will to express openness and welcome to these refugees, who are escaping desperate situations in order to survive. Regardless of their religious affiliation or national origin, these refugees are all human persons—made in the image of God, bearing inherent dignity, and deserving our respect and care and protection by law from persecution”. Greg Abbott, our Catholic Governor, does not come close to doing this. This is Christianity 101, and they all get a big fat zero. These guys cite their religious beliefs when it’s politically expedient for them to do so, and ignore them all other times. It’s hypocrisy at its most basic level, and they should all be called on it.

Posted in: La Migra.

Another lawsuit filed over Prop 1 ballot language in Austin

Sure, why not?

Uber

It’s Uber Zimmerman!

Litigious District 6 Councilman Don Zimmerman sued Mayor Steve Adler in his official capacity Thursday, challenging the outcome of the Proposition 1 election on the grounds the ballot language “misled voters and omitted main features” and did not conform to the required format, case caption information shows.

A copy of the lawsuit, apparently filed late Thursday, was not immediately available.

“I’m deeply concerned about how the process, about how that went down,” Zimmerman said, late Thursday. “What I noticed from the campaign is that both sides were confused by the ballot language — the people for it and the people against it.”

If you’re keeping score, this is the second lawsuit filed over ballot language; there are also lawsuits over the use of automated text messages sent during the campaign, and over claims that Uber and Lyft’s exit violated federal labor law. The full Statesman story adds some further details.

A statement from the city of Austin defended the ballot measure and its language, saying, “The City Council respected the citizen-initiated petition process and voted to call a May election. The council made every effort to ensure that the ballot language fairly represents the petition’s intent.”

“The city prevailed in the pre-election lawsuit filed on this same topic, and is prepared to defend the actions it took as part of this election process,” the city’s statement said.

Zimmerman and his lawyer, Jerad Najvar of Houston’s Najvar Law Firm, argue that “the City’s much-touted fingerprint background check regime” will be enforced too slowly and “lacks any enforcement teeth” even once it’s fully implemented.

[…]

Zimmerman and Najvar asked in the suit that their complaint be consolidated with any other challenge to the same election to conform with a requirement under state law. They specifically cited the May 10 suit brought by Austin lawyer Martin Harry, who also objected to the city’s ballot language.

I still think the ballot language argument is dumb. Honestly, was there anyone in Austin who didn’t understand that Uber and Lyft wanted you to vote Yes on Prop 1? The proposition itself could have been written in Esperanto for all that it mattered. But as always, you never know what will happen once this sort of thing gets inside a courtroom. Engadget has more.

Posted in: Legal matters, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.