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Saturday video break: Pulling Mussels From A Shell

Squeeze, circa 1980:

Such an underrated band. I don’t think I heard any of their music on the radio back in the day – I’m not sure I’ve ever heard it on a “classic rock” station either, though I can’t swear to this. I discovered them the old-fashioned way, by raiding my roommate’s record and CD collection. Now here’s Chris Difford circa 2012:

I don’t know if it counts as a “cover song” when an artist reinterprets his own material, but I love it when it’s done well. Phil Collins’ “Behind The Lines” from Face Value, and Sting’s “Shadows In The Rain” from The Dream Of The Blue Turtles are my other top two in this category. Do you have any examples?

Posted in: Music.

House passes school finance reform bill

Well done.

Rep. Dan Huberty

State Rep. Dan Huberty succeeded at a difficult task Wednesday: getting the Texas House of Representatives to vote for legislation overhauling the funding system for public education, without a court mandate.

After a four-hour discussion of more than 30 proposed amendments, the House voted 134-16 to tentatively accept its top education leader’s plan to inject $1.6 billion into public schools, simplify the complex formulas for allocating that money, and target certain disadvantaged student groups for more funding. The bill must still be approved on a third and final reading in the House.

[…]

The tentative victory comes after senators approved a budget that cuts state funding for public schools by $1.8 billion in general revenue, and uses local property tax revenue to make up the difference.

Huberty’s bill would increase the base per-student funding the state gives to school districts, in part by increasing funding for students who are bilingual and dyslexic. The Legislative Budget Board estimates about 96 percent of districts and 98 percent of students would see more money under the bill.

“This is the first time in over 30 years that we have the opportunity to vote for school finance, to make a holistic change,” Huberty said before Wednesday’s vote.

Throughout the evening, Huberty successfully moved to table many of his colleagues’ proposed amendments to the bill, either because they would add to the bill’s price tag or because he deemed them irrelevant to his legislation.

“This is the school finance bill,” he reminded Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, who unsuccessfully tried to attach a provision to HB 21 that addressed the testing and accountability system.

The House budget allowance for this bill would provide more funding to more school districts for busing, but many legislators expressed concern that the money would be stretched thin because districts that didn’t provide bus service would still receive transportation money. None of the amendments to address transportation funding passed.

Rural legislators banded together to add a provision that would help hundreds of small districts with fewer than 1,600 students. The provision, proposed by Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, would remove an existing financial penalty for school districts smaller than 300 square miles, which was originally intended to encourage them to consolidate.

Darby proposed putting all districts with fewer than 1,600 students at similar levels of funding, which he said would increase funding for more than 400 districts.

“Almost half the school districts in Texas will benefit from these amendments,” he said.

Legislators voted 86-59 to approve Darby’s amendment, despite Huberty’s opposition.

See here for the background. The Darby amendment was about Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction, for which you can get some background here. Getting something through the House is a big accomplishment; as the story notes, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock declined to put a bill forward in 2015 on the grounds that it didn’t stand a chance. Priorities are shifting, and there seems to be a lot of support for finally addressing some of the serious shortcomings in the current system. Which, if it happens, would vindicate the Supreme Court’s decision to not force the issue but leave it up to the Legislature. Assuming that Dan Patrick and the Senate – and Greg Abbott – go along, of course, That’s far from a sure thing, as a brief perusal of the Senate’s budget proposal would show. But it’s a start, and it could happen. That’s more than what we’ve had in a long time. Kudos all around.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Complete Communities

Mayor Turner makes an announcement about a new program for revitalizing some core neighborhoods.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner plans to focus Houston’s community development efforts on five low-income neighborhoods as part of his Complete Communities initiative announced Monday.

The program comes without a price tag or implementation timeline, and the mayor has committed no additional money for housing and community development.

Instead, Turner said the city will redirect 60 percent of its local and federal housing dollars to the five pilot neighborhoods: Acres Homes, Gulfton, Second Ward, Northside Village and Third Ward.

That amounts to roughly $34 million annually, if federal funding remains steady, on top of $28 million in available local housing funds.

“We recognize that this effort will not transform neighborhoods immediately, nor will it be a panacea that eliminates challenges neighborhoods face,” Turner said. “But they will see an intense, concentrated effort by many partners to enhance their quality of life and improve their living conditions.”

The city intends to finalize development plans for each of the five neighborhoods in January, after several months of community engagement. Turner said programs could include additional heavy trash pickup, weed abatement, sidewalk construction or single family home repair – things the city already does in neighborhoods across Houston.

“These short-term projects will generate enthusiasm and serve as a catalyst for support from outside organizations and the local community,” the mayor said.

Asked how he would respond to other disadvantaged neighborhoods eager for investment, Turner said, “We see you and hear you, but when you look at what we will do in these respective pilot communities, I think communities will be willing to wait for the transformation that will take place.”

See here for the Mayor’s press release. Leah Binkovitz the The Urban Edge adds some more detail.

Turner cited a slew of private entities involved in the effort including the Greater Houston Builders Association, Commonwealth Funding, Wulfe & Co. and Midway Companies. He didn’t elaborate on the exact nature of those partnerships.

Though the city’s investment period was open-ended, the mayor said his administration will focus on short-term projects, like heavy trash sweeps, park and community center repairs, enhanced weed abatement and improved sidewalks and street lighting, as well as home repairs and public art to highlight the transformations underway.

Turner also promised longer-term gains like improved educational outcomes, access to quality grocery stores, better drainage and the creation and preservation of affordable housing.

“I’m not placing any limit on it,” said Turner. “We stay until we reach that benchmark.” Specific benchmarks for each neighborhoods have not yet been identified.

The city will finalize its plans for each neighborhood by January 2018, after a community engagement process, according to the city. “This not a one-size fits all approach,” the mayor said.

[…]

Monday’s announcement came after Turner faced criticism earlier this year for city decisions that effectively barred low-income housing from wealthy Houston neighborhoods, according to a federal investigation. Citing his decision to table the low-income housing tax credit project proposed at 2640 Fountain View in a census tract that was almost 90 percent white, the federal housing department said that decision and others were based, in part, on racially-motivated opposition from community groups. But instead of crafting a corrective plan, the city has vehemently denied the findings, and Turner has asked the agency to rescind it.

Simultaneously, Turner has moved forward on his Complete Communities initiative, arguing that low-income Houstonians should not have to move from largely low-income communities to reap the benefits often associated with wealthier neighborhoods, often labeled as “high opportunity” communities.

“I vowed that we cannot allow Houston to be two cities in one, a city of haves and have-nots,” Turner said.

There are still a lot of details to work out, and a number of similar neighborhoods that would presumably be next on the list after these five. The goal here is to upgrade the infrastructure in these neighborhoods, making them better for existing residents, who haven’t seen a lot of investment from the city, while also making them more attractive to the kind of businesses that thriving neighborhoods need, all while (hopefully) not causing appraisals to soar or the kind of developers who would raze everything in order to build luxury condos to swoop in. Easier said than done, but the goal is a good one. All parts of the city need maintenance and new investments, and there’s a lot of room for infill development to ensure the city remains a vibrant alternative to outward sprawl. I look forward to seeing how this goes.

Posted in: Local politics.

Progressives in East Texas

Yes, they exist, and they are coming out of the woodwork these days.

“It was remarkable,” says Lee Hancock, a Tyler resident of over 20 years who formerly covered East Texas for the Dallas Morning News. Hancock is now a lead organizer with Indivisible of Smith County, one of several new progressive grassroots groups in the region, including Indivisible chapters in Lufkin, Marshall, and Nagodoches. Her group organized the showdown with Gohmert and a mid-March rally at senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn’s offices against the Republican health care bill. Nearly 400 people follow the group’s public Facebook feed. “There’s so many options to be with people who share your values and concerns and feel like, hey, maybe I’m not the only one,” says Hancock.

The grassroots groups behind such events, some formed since the election, some much earlier, reflect a diversity of causes. There’s the local chapter of Our Revolution, “the next step of the Bernie Sanders movement,” which has a member in Nagodoches running for a county commissioner seat. The Snowflakes, a Longview-based coalition of young folks who lean socialist, galvanized after white supremacist posters popped up in Tyler. Voices of East Texas, a nonpartisan group, has organized informational panels on the local impacts of national policy proposals, including a repeal of Obamacare.

A month before the election, My African-American Mothers’ Alliance co-organized a voter registration drive at the Foundry aimed at black women. The event doubled as a screening of Beyonce’s Lemonade — they called it Slay the Vote. Pineywoods Voice, an LGBTQ advocacy group formed after the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting last summer, has organized against SB6, the anti-transgender “bathroom bill.”

And, of course, there’s the local Democratic Party, which recently held a summit on “turning East Texas blue” that invited leaders of the new groups in town to introduce themselves to the party faithful. A new subgroup, Democratic Women of East Texas, organized a bus to Austin for the Women’s March.

[…]

So what are newly emboldened progressive East Texans fighting for? The bucket list varies widely: the demise of Louie Gohmert’s political career, the stamping out of white supremacy, capturing local school boards and council seats, keeping undocumented loved ones out of detention centers, protecting transgender school kids, desegregating housing in Tyler, safeguarding East Texas mosques and synagogues, defending the Affordable Care Act, bringing back manufacturing jobs, and a dozen other items.

In a way, that progressive-palooza weekend in early March — the multitude of events to choose from, some at the same time and drawing notably different crowds by age and race — points to the biggest challenge: achieving the local unity it’ll take to move the needle on any one of these issues, even by a hair.

The goals are all laudable. I’d focus on the capturing local school boards and council seats myself, but this doesn’t have to be either/or. The important thing is to get everyone on the same page, register as many voters as possible, and remember that this is a process that will take time. Good luck, y’all.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Friday random ten: Ladies’ night, part 42

As easy as X – Y – (next week) Z

1. Keep On The Sunny Side – The Whites (Sharon White, Cheryl White)
2. Do You Hear What I Hear? – Whitney Houston
3. Born Blonde – Wild Moccasins (Zahira Gutierrez)
4. Thick As Thieves – Widowspeak (Pamela Garavano-Coolbaugh)
5. Bullets – Wild Child (Kelsey Wilson, Sadie Wolfe)
6. Daniel – Wilson Phillips (Carnie Wilson, Wendy Wilson, and Chynna Phillips)
7. They / Them / Theirs – Worriers (Lauren Denitzio, Rachel Rubino, Audrey Zee Whitesides)
8. The Once Over Twice – X (Exene Cervenka)
9. Off The Hook – Y Pants (Barbara Ess, Virginia Piersol, Gail Vachon)
10. Maps – Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Karen O)

The Wild Moccasins are your local connection this week. I mostly remember the band X for their cover of “Wild Thing”, which certainly works as a punk band tune, but I also remember them for the name Exene Cervenka, which is high on my list of Best Rock and Roll Names of All Time. She’d have been a fitting end to these lists, but there’s one more to go. You’ll have to wait and see who makes the cut.

Posted in: Music.

Legislative maps found to have discriminatory intent

Wow.

Texas lawmakers intentionally diluted the political clout of minority voters in drawing the state’s House districts, a panel of federal judges ruled Thursday.

In a long-awaited ruling, the San Antonio-based judges found that lawmakers in 2011 either violated the U.S. Constitution or the Voting Rights Act by intentionally diluting the strength of minority voters statewide and specifically in a litany of House districts across Texas. Those districts encompass areas including El Paso, Bexar, Nueces, Harris, Dallas and Bell counties.

“The impact of the plan was certainly to reduce minority voting opportunity statewide, resulting in even less proportional representation for minority voters,” U.S. District Judges Orlando Garcia and Xavier Rodriguez wrote in a majority opinion, adding that map-drawers’ discussions “demonstrated a hostility” toward creating minority-controlled districts despite their massive population growth.

In some instances, the judges ruled, map-drawers’ use of race to configure some districts to comply with the Voting Rights Act instead “turned the VRA on its head.”

“Instead of using race to provide equal electoral opportunity, they intentionally used it to undermine Latino voting opportunity,” they added.

[…]

Thursday’s ruling hit in the final stretch of the 2017 legislative session, scheduled to wrap up at the end of May. But because the court did not immediately order that a new map be drawn, it is unclear whether lawmakers will be forced to take action before they leave Austin.

You can see the majority decision here and the findings of fact here. I haven’t read through them yet, and the early coverage is a bit sparse, but this is what I do know. This ruling is on H283, the map passed by the Legislature in 2011. It was never implemented because it was not precleared – H309 was the map used for the 2012 election. It was drawn by the court, but it was based on H283 as SCOTUS ruled that the interim map should defer to the legislative intent and not be based on the previously existing (per-cleared) map. In 2013, the Lege passed H358, which cleaned up a couple of issues that had been in contention, and that map was used for the 2014 and 2016 elections. This Texas Redistricting post zooms in on the places where the map was found to have had problems, and what is different between the 2011 and 2013 versions.

As with the Congressional case, there was a separate suit filed regarding H358, the 2013 map. That has not yet been adjudicated, and as we know the state is seeking to appeal the ruling on the 2011 Congressional map to the Fifth Circuit. There is a status call scheduled for April 27, which is to say next Thursday, at which a whole bunch of issues will be discussed, including the plaintiffs’ proposed calendar to get a new Congressional map in place for the 2018 primaries. It is not clear at this time what if any action will be taken for the legislative map, but I see no reason why something couldn’t be in place by, say September, which would be in plenty of time for candidate filings. Needless to say, that’s getting way ahead of things, but the goal needs to be to have a resolution for the next election. Anything else would be a mockery at this point. We’ll see how it goes. Statements from MALC and Rep. Garnet Coleman are beneath the fold, and Texas Redistricting, Rick Hasen, and the Lone Star Project have more.

UPDATE: Today’s Chron story has more.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Legal matters.

Bathroom bill 2.0 gets its committee hearing

It’s the same old garbage in a new package.

Amid concerns about rolling back local protections for vulnerable Texans and dire economic fallout, a panel of House lawmakers considered a measure into the early hours of Thursday morning that some are hoping will serve as an alternative approach to regulating bathroom use for transgender Texans.

But if the large majority of testimony against the measure serves as any indication, the House proposal will likely continue to face fierce opposition from LGBT advocates and the Texas business community.

Setting aside a more restrictive Senate proposal, the House State Affairs Committee took up House Bill 2899 by Republican state Rep. Ron Simmons of Carrollton. As expected, Simmons revised his original bill in committee to narrow its scope to banning municipalities and school districts from enacting or enforcing trans-inclusive bathroom policies.

“This issue needs to be the same in Austin as it in Abilene. It needs to be the same in Houston as it is in Hutto,” Simmons told the committee. “What we’re saying is this needs to be handled at the state level.”

[…]

Unlike the upper chamber’s Senate Bill 6, Simmons’ proposal does not regulate bathroom use in government buildings, public schools and universities based on “biological sex.” And it doesn’t include a general prohibition on municipalities adopting or enforcing local bathroom regulations.

Instead, the language in Simmons’ proposal specifically focuses on discrimination protections. It reads: “Except in accordance with federal and state law, a political subdivision, including a public school district, may not enforce an order, ordinance, or other measure to protect a class of persons from discrimination to the extent that the order, ordinance, or other measure regulates access to multiple-occupancy restrooms, showers, or changing facilities.”

That would nullify parts of nondiscrimination ordinances in several Texas cities that have been in place for decades to protect certain classes of people from discrimination in public accommodations, including in the bathrooms inside businesses that serve the public.

But because Simmons’ proposal applies to classes of people that aren’t already protected in federal or state law, opponents said it could go further than just pulling back those protections for transgender residents and extend to protections enacted by some of the state’s biggest cities to cover residents based on age, sexual orientation and veteran status.

While Simmons denied that his legislation would have that effect, El Paso County Commissioner David Stout warned the committee that the bill could in fact undo protections for classes of people covered by expanded local policies.

“Currently, federal law does not provide for protection from discrimination on the basis of veteran status, familial status, marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity, and this bill puts all of those classes of people in danger but especially our constituents in the LGBTQ community,” Stout told the committee.

You know the drill by now, so go read the rest. I actually agree in a sense with Rep. Simmons that non-discrimination should be seen as a state issue, but only if by that one means that the state should have a robust non-discrimination law in place to ensure that people in Austin and Alice and Abilene and Arlington and Angleton and everywhere else is treated as a full and equal person. Until such time as the state is willing to do that, then the next best thing is for individual cities to do what they can to pick up the slack. That’s not what HB2899 is about, and as such it deserves no more respect or support than the properly reviled SB6. The bill was left pending in committee, and that’s where it should stay. The Statesman, the Texas Observer, and the Dallas Observer have more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

House passes statewide rideshare bill

Made it farther than it did last session.

Rep. Chris Paddie

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

House Bill 100, by state Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, would establish a statewide framework to regulate ride-hailing companies and undo local rules that the two companies have argued are overly burdensome for their business models. Cities enacting such rules say those regulations bring a needed layer of security.

As of mid-morning Wednesday, 79 members in the 150-member House — including Paddie — had signed on to the bill as authors or co-authors.

“HB 100 is not about a particular company or any particular city,” Paddie said Wednesday on the House floor. “Statewide regulations for transportation network companies have become the best practice across the country.”

His bill was tentatively approved by the lower chamber in a 110-37 vote after representatives tacked on several amendments, including one that seeks to define “sex.” The measure needs final approval from the House before it could be considered in the Senate.

At times, the debate over the bill appeared to veer into one of the most contentious topics this session at the Capitol: gender identity. In the Senate, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has prioritized a “bathroom bill” that would require transgender people to use the restroom in some places that matches their “biological sex.”

On Wednesday, state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, successfully amended the ride-hailing bill to define “sex” as the “physical condition of being male or female.” The amendment, which passed 90-52, drew some concern from Democrats, who questioned whether it was a way to exclude a certain group.

“I can assure you that it is not my intent,” Paddie said, adding that he accepted the amendment because he views it as “further defining something that’s already defined.”

HB 100 would require ride-hailing companies to have a permit from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation and pay an annual fee to operate throughout the state. It also calls for companies to perform local, state and national criminal background checks on drivers annually — which would override an Austin ordinance.

See here for the background. Two related Senate bills were heard in committee, with SB361 by Sen. Nichols getting passed out. I don’t know what to make of the “biological sex” amendment beyond the continued obsession of certain zealots. What’s more important is what do Uber and Lyft, who have been pushing hard for a statewide rideshare bill, think of it?


Well, Uber and Lyft? What do you say? Those of you who use Uber and Lyft, what do you want them to say about this? I would recommend you tell them. Maybe this will get stripped out going forward, but that almost certainly won’t happen without some pressure. Now is the time to bring it. And kudos to the members who pulled their support for this bill in response to the needless amendment.

The Chron adds some details.

The bill would give oversight of companies that connect willing drivers and interested riders via smart phone to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. The companies that operate the smart phone app and process payments between the riders and drivers would pay a $5,000 annual licensing fee, and certify that its drivers meet a number of requirements already common among the companies.

Uber and Lyft have aggressively sought state rules in Texas because of their opposition to city requirements, notably Austin and Houston. In Austin, both companies left the city after new rules that included fingerprint background checks went into effect nearly one year ago.

[…]

As with the contentious fights at the local level, discussion also focused on requiring the fingerprinting of drivers. The companies vigorously oppose fingerprint background checks, favoring their background checks based on Social Security numbers.

Numerous attempts to require fingerprint checks or allow cities to require them failed as amendments to Paddie’s bill.

“We should not take chances with any life,” said Rep. Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas, noting many professions in Texas are subject to the fingerprint background check.

Paddie deflected the requests for fingerprints and efforts to allow cities to require more strenuous permitting, noting fingerprints can’t predict future behavior.

“We have 150 teachers in this state under investigation for improper relationships with students,” Paddie said.

Seems like you could use that reasoning to justify a lot of things, but whatever. I feel like one way or the other, something is going to pass. As I’ve said, I’ve basically resigned myself to that, but I still don’t approve of the assault on local control. I hope this winds up being the outer edge of that assault, but I’m less than optimistic about that. The DMN has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

SBOE approves new evolution standard

Shockingly, it doesn’t suck.

The Texas State Board of Education tentatively voted to remove language in high school biology standards that would have required students to challenge evolutionary science.

Currently, the curriculum requires students to “evaluate” scientific explanations for the origins of DNA and the complexity of certain cells, which some have argued could open the door to teaching creationism. Wednesday’s vote, preceded by a lengthy and contentious debate, would change how science teachers approach such topics in the classroom.

The word “evaluate” could require another two weeks of lesson time for teachers who are already on tight schedules to cover material for the state’s standardized tests, said Ron Wetherington, a Southern Methodist University professor on the 10-member committee of teachers and scientists that the board appointed in July to help streamline science standards.

The committee wrote a letter last week requesting narrower language to replace the word “evaluate,” arguing it would save valuable instruction time without creating significant instructional problems.

On Wednesday, board member Keven Ellis proposed two amendments that reflected this feedback and eliminated the word “evaluate” from biology standards — replacing it with language requiring students to “examine scientific explanations for the origin of DNA” and “compare and contrast scientific explanations” for the complexity of certain cells.

The word “examine” reflected a compromise between those on both sides of the debate who tussled between using the words “identify” and “evaluate.”

Both amendments passed unanimously. A final vote on the issue will occur Friday.

Even Republican board member Barbara Cargill, who previously championed the effort to keep the controversial language in the curriculum, was on board.

It was a necessary change, according to Wetherington.

“‘Evaluate’ means you rank these scientific explanations in terms of how adequate they are, how complete they are, how many problems exist with them, what the evidence for each of the alternatives are. It takes a long time to do compared to just describing them,” he said.

Students would not have the sufficient knowledge to go so deep, Wetherington said, explaining that they would have to know higher-level chemistry.

He does not consider creationism a relevant concern since schools are “forbidden by law from even talking about it in the classroom.”

See here for the background, and these two Trib articles for the preliminaries to the vote, which will be finalized today. It’s a rare pleasure to be able to say that the SBOE had a meeting to discuss biology standards and they managed to do it without showing its rear end to the rest of the world. The Texas Freedom Network calls for Wednesday’s vote to receive final approval today, and if it’s cool with them then it’s cool with me. Kudos, y’all.

Posted in: School days.

Texas Lyceum poll on Trump and 2018

From the inbox, the promised Day Two results:

Statewide poll numbers released today by the Texas Lyceum, the state’s premier, non-partisan, nonprofit statewide leadership group, show U.S. Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Houston (Lyceum Class of 2004) isn’t guaranteed another term as Texas’ Senator according to early trial ballots pitting the incumbent against his two likely Democratic challengers: U.S. Congressmen Beto O’Rourke of El Paso and Joaquin Castro of San Antonio.

Senator Cruz is tied with Congressman O’Rourke, who entered the contest last month, at 30 percent each. However, 37 percent of registered Texas voters say they haven’t thought about the race yet. Congressman Castro fairs slightly better against the incumbent Senator, with 35 percent of Texas adults saying they support him over Ted Cruz at 31 percent.

“Ballot tests conducted this far in advance of an actual election are, at best, useful in gauging the potential weaknesses of incumbents seeking re-election,” said Daron Shaw. “But the substantial percentage of undecided respondents—coupled with the conservative, pro-Republican proclivities of the Texas electorate in recent years—suggest a cautious interpretation.”

Patrick vs. Collier

Meantime, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s Democratic challenger, Houston area accountant Mike Collier, comes within the margin of error if that 2018 race were held today. 27 percent chose the little-known Collier compared to 25 percent who chose Lieutenant Governor Patrick. But again “not thought about it” outpaces both candidates at 46 percent in that race – which is also 18 months away.

Right Track/ Wrong Track

Compared to last year, fewer Texans believe the country is on the wrong track at 52 percent compared to to 63 percent in 2016. However, party and race drive much of the results, with 84 percent of Democrats saying the country is on the wrong track, and 73 percent of Republicans expressing that things are moving in the right direction.

President Trump’s job approval numbers line up by party

More Texans disapprove than approve of the job Donald Trump is doing as President (54 percent to 42 percent), but the results vary significantly by party. 85 percent of Republicans give the President positive marks compared to 86 percent of Democrats who disapprove of his job performance. Same goes for young Texans – 73 percent of 18-29 year olds are not enthused with the President’s job performance along with 61 percent of Hispanics. Meantime, he is viewed positively by 60 percent of Whites.

The press release for Day Two, from which I am quoting above, is here, and the Day Two Executive Summary is here. My post on the Day One poll is here, and the Lyceum poll page for 2017 is here. As you might imagine, I have a few thoughts about this.

1. For comparison purposes, the UT/Trib poll from February had Trump’s approval ratings at 46/44, which is to say slightly more approval but considerably less disapproval than the Lyceum result, with both polls showing a strong split between Dems and Republicans. What explains the divergence of the results, given the similar partisan dynamic? Two likely reasons: First, the Trib poll is of registered voters, while the Lyceum surveys adults, of whom 11% are not registered. It’s probable that the broader the sample, the less Republican-leaning it is. We don’t know what the partisan mix is of the Lyceum poll so this is just a guess, but it is consistent with the numbers. Two, the Trib result showed that independents were basically evenly split on Trump, at least in February. The Lyceum poll doesn’t say how indies felt about Trump, but if it is the case that they were sufficiently against him, that would have tilted the numbers into negative territory. Again I’m just guessing, but either or both of these things being true could explain the difference.

2. I’m not sure what the “cautious interpretation” of the very early horse race numbers Daron Shaw has in mind is, but my cautious interpretation is that these numbers kind of stink for Ted Cruz and Dan Patrick. Not because of what the Democrats got, though I’ll speak to those figures in a minute, but because there was so little support expressed for Cruz and Patrick. A key feature of many super early polls is that a lot of people haven’t given the matter any thought, and of those who have many don’t yet have an opinion or don’t feel strongly enough about it to express an opinion. With challengers, there’s often a name recognition factor as well, so the generally low number that a newbie will get reflects little more than some raw partisan preference. But here we are talking about two incumbents who are the highest-profile politicians in the state. For Cruz to top out at 31 percent and Patrick at 25 percent, with both trailing lesser-known opponents, suggests that there’s not a whole lot of love for these guys. It’s hardly a time for panic, but I’d be at least a little bit concerned about such limp numbers if I were them.

3. By the same token, even a 35% support level for Joaquin Castro at this point in time, and even before he’s a candidate (if indeed he becomes one), is not too shabby. Remember, most people haven’t given this any thought or don’t have a strong opinion if they have one, yet Castro is already almost at the level of support that actual 2014 statewide Democrats received that year. That suggests at least the possibility of a higher than usual level of engagement and interest. For another point of comparison, the November 2013 UT/Trib poll for the Governor’s race had Greg Abbott leading Wendy Davis 40-35; this was not long after the summer of the Davis filibuster and the the HB2 special sessions, when enthusiasm for Davis was about as high as it ever was to get, as well as being seven months farther along in the calendar. It’s one result and I don’t want to over-interpret, but given all the other evidence we have about Democratic levels of engagement this year, it feels like we’re starting out in a different place. Beto O’Rourke’s thirty percent against Cruz is closer to what I’d consider the normal default level for Dems in a very early poll, but in this case the difference between himself and Catro may just be a reflection of a higher level of name recognition for Castro.

4. Again, it is important to remember this is a poll of adults, eleven percent of whom in this sample are not registered to vote. I don’t know how the numbers break down by registered/not registered, but the point here is that it is likely a significant number of the people in this poll will not participate in the 2018 election, and as such their opinions just don’t matter. That said, a huge piece of the puzzle for Democrats, especially next year, will be to get lower propensity voters to the polls, as we saw happen in the recent Congressional special elections in Kansas and Georgia. This one poll doesn’t tell us much, but future polls may paint a picture of how or if that is happening for Democrats, and for Republicans too – if they are less engaged, then they will have trouble.

5. Which brings me back to the Presidential approval numbers, as they are likely to be the best proxy we will have for voter enthusiasm going forward. As noted before, Democrats and Republicans have roughly similar levels of disapproval and approval of Donald Trump, which means that any change in the overall level of approval for Trump will come from either independents turning against him and/or Republicans abandoning him. This poll suggests the possibility of #1 happening, but as yet we have not seen evidence of #2. If we ever do, that’s going to be a big deal, and potentially a big problem for the Republicans. RG Ratcliffe, TPM, and the Trib have more.

Posted in: Election 2018, Show Business for Ugly People.

Attorney’s fees awarded to same sex marriage plaintiffs

Justice.

Texas is on the hook for more than $600,000 in fees associated with its unsuccessful fight to defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Affirming a lower court ruling on the fees, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals this week shot down Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s challenge to the award amount granted to two same-sex couples who had sued the state.

A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit ruled that the district court “acted well within its broad discretion” in awarding those legal fees.

The fees stem from a lawsuit filed years ago by Cleopatra DeLeon and her wife, Nicole Dimetman, and Mark Phariss and his husband, Victor Holmes, who challenged the constitutionality of the state’s now-defunct same-sex marriage ban.

The couples were successful at the district court level, where a San Antonio federal judge ruled the state’s ban was unconstitutional because it “violates plaintiffs’ equal protection and due process rights.”

Anticipating an appeal, that ruling was stayed and the the ban was left in place. The lawsuit eventually made its way to the 5th Circuit, where a three-judge panel in early 2015 signaled significant doubt about the constitutionality of Texas’ ban.

Note that the Fifth Circuit never actually lifted the stay that was put in place when the original district court ruling was made in favor of DeLeon-Dimetman and Phariss-Holmes. The plaintiffs asked for the stay to be lifted in February of 2015, but no ruling was made before the Obergefell decision was handed down by SCOTUS, and the state of Texas rendered any further action moot by asking the Fifth Circuit to affirm the lower court ruling thereafter. It’s been more than three years since the lower court ruling, and nearly two years since Obergefell. You can’t rush these things, obviously. As the DMN notes, the money will go to the law firm that represented the plaintiffs, and they have pledged to use those funds for further pro bono cases. So at least one good thing happened yesterday while we were all subjected to more bathroom bullshit from the Legislature.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Senate passes AirBnB bill

As you know, I don’t care for this.

A Senate bill that would limit local government control of short-term home rentals in Texas passed out of the upper chamber Tuesday in a 21-9 vote.

Under Senate Bill 451 by state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, Texas cities would be prevented from banning short-term rentals and their ability to write ordinances restricting the practice would be narrowed. Austin, San Antonio and Fort Worth are among the cities that have enacted such restrictions.

Critics of the bill said it would lower property values and allow Texans to rent houses to people who might host disruptive parties and increase traffic in their neighborhoods.

Proponents say SB 451 would protect homeowners from strict local laws that infringe on property rights while still allowing a limited amount of local regulation, such as prohibitions on short-term renters housing sex offenders or selling alcohol or illegal drugs to guests.

“The bottom line is you cannot ban short-term rentals,” Hancock said Tuesday.

Among local policies that would be limited in scope by Hancock’s bill: a Fort Worth regulation that requires property owners to obtain a bed-and-breakfast permit only available to homes built before 1993 and an ordinance in Austin that has capped the number of short-term rentals with no live-in owners.

During Tuesday’s debate, several legislators expressed concerns about the effects the measure would have on their communities. State Sen. José Menendez, D-San Antonio, even proposed a failed amendment to exempt his home district from the bill.

The lower chamber’s companion to Hancock’s legislation, House Bill 2551 by state Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, was heard in the House Urban Affairs Committee on Tuesday afternoon. Testimony was divided over whether short-term rentals would be better regulated at the local or state level.

See here for the background. The reservations I expressed then remain with me now. At the very least, if the Legislature is going to insist on taking away cities’ autonomy on this matter, they could include a provision to require collection and remittance of state hotel taxes, so individual cities don’t have to negotiate their own deal with AirBnB as Houston just did. A little consistency would be nice, though apparently too much to ask. The House bill was left pending in committee, so this is may be as far as this effort goes this time. If so, you can be sure it will be back in 2019.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Texas blog roundup for the week of April 17

The Texas Progressive Alliance has nothing to hide in its tax returns as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Another study of bathrooms and business

Short answer: Bathroom bills are bad.

Legislation viewed by many as discriminatory toward LGBT Texans — including proposals to regulate which bathrooms transgender individuals may use — could cost the state $3.3 billion in annual tourism dollars and more than 35,600 full-time jobs associated with leisure travel and conventions, according to a study by the Waco-based Perryman Group. The study was commissioned by Visit San Antonio and the San Antonio Area Tourism Council.

“In other words, what we have been saying all along is absolutely undeniable,” Casandra Matej, president & CEO of Visit San Antonio, said in a statement. “These numbers tell us there will be a significant — and longstanding — adverse impact on San Antonio and the state. We urge our legislators to consider these effects in making their decisions.”

[…]

While it’s “impossible to know with certainty the magnitude of the net effects of the proposed bathroom access policy on travel and tourism in Texas,” the report estimates that the initial impact on business activity could cost the San Antonio-New Braunfels area $411.8 million annually.

“If the Texas Legislature passes a law viewed as discriminatory against LGBT persons, it is likely that some meetings and events would be canceled and that some leisure travelers will also avoid the state,” the study says.

The findings — based on losses experienced in other states and data from a survey by a national travel association — will likely help boost opposition to the legislation from business and tourism groups. Those groups have already pointed to millions of dollars lost in North Carolina following the passage of that state’s original bathroom law, which was recently rewritten amid mounting public and economic backlash.

Tourism officials from the state’s five biggest cities oppose bathroom-related legislation and they have already warned lawmakers that they’ve heard from organizations that are reconsidering planned events in their cities — a move that could cost each of them several millions of dollars.

You can find a copy of the study here. The Rivard Report, which is based in San Antonio, adds some more details.

The local report takes into consideration the counter-flow of conventions and organizations that would prefer to host their event in a city or state that has a “bathroom bill,” Perryman said during a conference call with media Monday morning, which are nominal. “There is a perception that group is much larger than it is. Ninety-plus percent feel the other way [do not support such legislation] … it’s overwhelming.”

There are at least 11 groups that have or are considering backing out of events located in San Antonio already, said Matej, who estimates the impact of those cancellations alone would be around $40 million.

“In other words, what we have been saying all along is absolutely undeniable,” she said Monday during the event announcing the report in the lobby of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. “These numbers tell us there will be a significant and longstanding adverse impact on San Antonio and the state. We urge our legislators to consider these effects in making their decisions.”

[…]

“SB 6 is an idiotic piece of legislation,” said Hispanic Chamber President and CEO Ramiro Cavazos, adding that the laws would be unenforceable and create more problems for cities. “Now is not a time to be apathetic.”

San Antonio, South San Antonio and North San Antonio chamber representatives were also present during the press event on Monday.

City Council will be presenting a “united front” against both bills, said Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3). “Now we have the data and numbers that back up what we’ve been saying.”

Even without the economic impact, Viagran said she would oppose the legislation.

“No matter what, this bill – whatever carve outs or amendments they put to it – it’s still not an inclusive bill,” said Viagran, who chairs the Council’s Public Safety Committee. “It’s still discriminatory.”

Yeah, that’s pretty much it. If you don’t believe that at this point, I don’t know what else there is to say. If there’\s one small bit of good news in all this, it’s that the business lobby isn’t buying it, and remains opposed to this nonsense.

Texas Association of Business President Chris Wallace insists this bill is just as concerning as SB 6.

“This is not just about jobs, this is about discrimination,” he told the Current. “We are hearing from our members that business are steadfastly opposed to any discrimination law.”

Wallace said HB 2899 would “tie the hands” of business owners wanting to recruit top talent, because few people want to work for a place where discrimination is welcome.

“A lot of people, especially Millennials, do not want to work for a business or live in a city or a state that is not welcoming to all people,” Wallace said.

[…]

On Tuesday, a day before a House committee holds a hearing for the new House bill, a group of bipartisan business members representing Apple, IBM, Facebook, Google, Microsoft — and a handful of other national and local businesses — held a press conference at the capitol to oppose Rep. Simmons’ new iteration of a bathroom bill.

“I’m a conservative and a proud Texan. I am especially proud of our state’s reputation for being a warm and welcoming place to live,” said Sally Larrabee, who works for Process Control Outlet, a decades-old Texas tech company. “We don’t need to give our state a reputation for being a place that has laws that discriminate against people.”

Sarah Meredith, an employee of Austin tech startup Umbel, said businesswomen of her generation aren’t okay with being political pawns. “We need a robust economy. What we do not need is to be used as props to promote discrimination for political gain,” Meredith said.

“The people who are promoting discriminatory bills are backed by radical groups that have literally called for driving LGBT people out of the state of Texas.”

Indeed. And I hope all of the Republicans in that bipartisan group of business people remembers that next year when it’s time to vote, for their legislators, their Lt. Governor, and their Governor.

Gov. Greg Abbott is signaling support for House legislation that some hope will serve as an alternative to the Senate’s “bathroom bill.”

In a statement Tuesday, Abbott called the House alternative developed by state Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, a “thoughtful proposal.”

[…]

“I applaud the House and Senate for tackling an issue that is of growing concern to parents and communities across Texas who are now looking to the Legislature for solutions,” Abbott said in the statement. “Rep. Simmons is offering a thoughtful proposal to make sure our children maintain privacy in our school bathrooms and locker rooms.”

Don’t reward bad behavior next year, Texas Association of Business and others. You have one chance to get this right. Get it wrong, and everyone will know that your words mean nothing. RG Ratcliffe has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Texas Lyceum poll on immigration

Our state has more nuanced views than you might think.

The pollsters found that 62 percent of Texans said immigration helps the United States more than it hurts the country. That’s an increase from 2016, when 54 percent of the respondents said they viewed immigration was more beneficial than harmful.

The pollsters defined “sanctuary” entities as those in which “local police or city government employees learn that someone is in the country illegally, they do not automatically turn that person over to federal immigration enforcement officers.”

Forty-five percent of the respondents supported sanctuary policies while 49 percent opposed them. That came as 93 percent of all respondents said local police should be able to inquire into a person’s immigration status when arrested for a crime.

The results suggest most Texans would likely support “sanctuary” legislation currently moving through the Texas House, which would limits inquiries into immigration status from local law enforcement to people who have already been arrested.

Proposed legislation that passed the Senate earlier this year permits local police ask about immigration status if a person is either arrested or detained by law enforcement for other reasons.

The Lyceum poll found deeper divisions among Texans when asked if inquiries by law enforcement into immigration status should be allowed for people who aren’t arrested. Only 44 percent agree that police should check a person’s status during a traffic stop, while 41 percent agreed that immigration status should be checked when a person is reporting a crime. Only 39 percent said that status should be checked when the police believe that a person is a witness to a crime or could provide information.

[…]

Half of the respondents were asked if the state should stay the current course with President Trump in the White House, while the other half was asked about state expenditures with Republicans in charge of the U.S. Congress. Under both conditions, most of the respondents with an opinion on the issue – 45 percent of those questioned about Trump and 41 percent questioned about Congress – agreed the state should keep spending largely on the border.

“This indicates that, overall, Texans are expressing a greater expectation that the President will deliver on border security and/or immigration enforcement than Republicans in Congress, but there is no outcry to decrease the amount of money Texas spends securing its borders,” poll supervisors wrote in their summary.

When asked about President Trump’s plan to build a wall on the southern border, only about a third, or 35 percent, favored a barrier separating Texas from Mexico. Sixty-one percent opposed the project. The numbers are almost identical to the poll’s results from 2016 when 35 percent favored building the wall and 59 percent opposed such a project. This year, however the percentage of respondents who identified as Hispanic that supported construction of the wall rose from 18 percent in 2016 to 25 percent.

The survey also found that nearly two-thirds of respondents, or 63 percent, strongly supported a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants after a long waiting period if the applicants paid taxes and a penalty, passed a criminal background check and learned English. Twenty-seven of the respondents somewhat supported that idea while 4% somewhat opposed and 5% strongly opposed.

Here are the Day One press release – it’s “Day One” because the Lyceum has a second round of polling numbers coming out today – and Executive Summary. I want to quibble with the pollsters’ interpretation of the border spending question, for which the wording was “With [Donald Trump in the White House] / [Republicans in control of Congress], should the Texas Legislature continue funding border security operations in Texas at the same levels as before, increase funding for border security operations, or decrease funding for border security operations?” For one thing, it would be perfectly rational for someone who thinks Trump and Congress will shower the state in border money to want the state to spend less, and by the same token someone who thinks that Trump and Congress won’t come through might want the Lege to keep their spending up just in case. I agree that the result shows a greater preference for a continued high level of state spending, I just don’t see a connection to the federal level. There wasn’t a similar question asked in the 2016 or 2015 Lyceum polls, so there’s no basis for a direct comparison.

The bottom line here is that there’s at best modest support for “sanctuary cities”, with majority opposition to police asking about people’s immigration status in situations other than making a criminal arrest, there’s majority opposition to the Trump wall, majority support for in-state tuition for DREAMers, majority opposition to widespread deportations, and near-unanimous support for giving immigrants a pathway to citizenship. It’s not all good news for the progressive side of the debate, but it’s a lot closer to that than to the maximalist anti-immigration position. It’s up to all of us who support better immigration policies to advocate for them, because there’s more support out there for them than you might think. Tomorrow I’ll post about the second part of the Lyceum poll, which among other things will have your first glance at Senate 2018 numbers. The Chron has more.

Posted in: La Migra, The great state of Texas.

No new judge for Paxton

Denied!

Best mugshot ever

State District Judge George Gallagher will remain on the securities fraud case against Attorney General Ken Paxton, according to a spokeswoman for the judge.

It was originally believed Gallagher would have to rule on a request Paxton’s lawyers made this month for a new judge. But the spokeswoman, Melody McDonald Lanier, said Monday that he does not and will continue presiding over the case.

The request came shortly after Gallagher moved Paxton’s trial to Harris County. Prosecutors had successfully sought a venue change, arguing Paxton and his allies had tainted the jury pool in Collin County, where he lives.

Paxton’s lawyers believe Gallagher had been misled into changing the venue.

See here for the background. The reporting I have seen suggests this is something Paxton can appeal, but as this is basically unprecedented we’re all kind of muddling along and waiting to see what happens. So who knows? The DMN has more.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Scandalized!.

AirBnB tax collection deal

Seems reasonable.

[AirBnB] announced Wednesday it will begin collecting and remitting the 6 percent state hotel occupancy tax May 1. The decision followed more than a year of talks, said Laura Spanjian, Airbnb’s Texas public policy manager. Airbnb has similar tax-collection agreements with 25-plus states.

“These agreements are a meaningful revenue boost for communities, and we hope to reach similar agreements with cities around Texas soon,” Spanjian said by email.

Houston homeowners who rent out their properties are supposed to pay a total of 17 percent in occupancy taxes, 7 percent of which goes to Houston First, which oversees hotel tax collection for the city.

Yet of the 7,200 active hosts Airbnb says operate in the area, only 70 have registered with the city as taxpaying hosts, said Jonathan Newport, Houston First’s director of government affairs.

[…]

Under the new agreement, the state portion of the hotel-occupancy taxes will be guaranteed. Guests will be charged the correct amount on their bill for a stay of 29 nights or less, and Airbnb will then remit the collected taxes to the state.

“The sharing economy plays an important role in our state’s overall fiscal health,” Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar said in a statement. “We applaud Airbnb for agreeing to collect state hotel occupancy taxes, as all lodging facilities in Texas are required to do.”

See here, here, and here for some background. This is a positive step, as it gets some revenue that otherwise would have been lost for the city while giving AirBnB some regulatory certainty. People want to use AirBnB, and as seems to be the case with everything these days there’s a bill in the Legislature to override local restrictions on it, so this is another level on which it makes sense for the city to reach a deal with them. Hope it works as intended for everyone.

Posted in: Bidness.

Re-interview with David Thompson

Last year, I published an interview with attorney David Thompson, who has worked with HISD for a long time on legislative and financial matters, including on the endless litigation over school finance, to discuss the November referendum on recapture. He clarified a lot of items, such as the wording of the referendum, the things that could be done to affect how much HISD would be required to pay, and what a No vote would mean, and in the end he endorsed a vote against the referendum in the hope of spurring action. Since then, as we know, the Texas Education Agency has indeed taken action that reduces HISD’s recapture payments, and the HISD Board of Trustees has put the item up for a vote again on May 6, with early voting from April 24 through May 2. This seemed like an excellent opportunity to talk to Thompson again about what has changed and why a Yes vote this time around makes sense. Here’s our conversation:

As noted, early voting begins April 24 and runs through May 2. Here are your early voting locations and hours, not just for HISD but also for (deep breath) City of Humble, City of Pasadena, Humble Independent School District, Northgate Crossing Municipal Utility District 2, Northwest Harris County Municipal Utility District 28, Oakmont Public Utility District, and Harris County Water Control & Improvement District 91.

Posted in: Election 2017.

More on the House bathroom bill

Still a very bad idea.

After largely avoiding discussions so far on proposals to regulate bathrooms, the Texas House will wade into the debate this week with a measure some are hoping will serve as an alternative to the Senate’s “bathroom bill.”

Setting aside the Senate’s proposal, the House State Affairs Committee on Wednesday will take up House Bill 2899, which will be revised during the hearing to ban municipalities and school districts from enacting or enforcing local policies that regulate bathroom use.

That would invalidate local trans-inclusive bathroom policies, including anti-discrimination ordinances meant to allow transgender people access to public bathrooms based on gender identity and some school policies meant to accommodate transgender students.

“We believe that those issues should be handled at the state level and if there is an issue that exists in the state that people need to come to the Capitol, they need to convince 76 representatives, 16 senators and one governor of what the policy needs to be,” said state Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, who authored the bill. “Until then, it’s my opinion, we don’t need to change.”

Unlike Senate Bill 6 — a legislative priority for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick which passed out of the Texas Senate in March — Simmons’ proposal does not regulate bathroom use in governments buildings and public schools and universities based on “biological sex.” And it strays from SB 6’s blanket prohibition on “political subdivisions” adopting or enforcing local bathroom regulations.

Instead, the language of Simmons’ proposal specifically focuses on discrimination protections. It reads: “Except in accordance with federal and state law, a political subdivision, including a public school district, may not enforce an order, ordinance, or other measure to protect a class of persons from discrimination to the extent that the order, ordinance, or other measure regulates access to multiple-occupancy restrooms, showers, or changing facilities.”

That would nullify parts of nondiscrimination ordinances in several Texas cities that have been in place for decades to protect certain classes of people from discrimination in public accommodations, including in the bathrooms inside businesses that serve the public. But Simmons’ proposal could go further than just pulling back those protections for transgender residents.

While Texas has no statewide public accommodation law, federal law protects people from discrimination in public accommodations based on “race, color religion or national origin.”

Some of Texas biggest cities have expanded the public accommodation provision of local anti-discrimination laws to include protections based on age, sexual orientation and veteran status. But it appears Simmons’ proposal would outlaw those sort of protections as applied to bathroom use because they go beyond federal protections.

Simmons’ focus on discrimination protections also differs from North Carolina’s law, which was recently revised amid public and economic backlash.

The North Carolina law was rewritten to no longer explicitly regulate which bathroom transgender people can use and instead more simply prohibits state agencies, municipalities and schools boards from regulating multi-stall bathrooms — leaving bathroom regulations to the state.

That revisions remain unacceptable to LGBT advocates. And the Simmons proposal — which only bans local measures that protect certain groups from discrimination — is still a no-go for groups advocating for LGBT Texans. They suggested the Simmons’ measure is actually worse than the alternative that was recently signed off on in North Carolina because they believe it leaves open the door for local policies that target marginalized groups.

“I recognize there are members in the House that are looking for some sort of alternative to Senate Bill 6, but this proposed committee substitute is not acceptable in its current form,” said Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas. “This proposal literally codifies discrimination in Texas law by forbidding enforcement of policies that would protect people by preventing them from ever implementing protections in the future and by allowing discriminatory provisions to be written in.”

It remains unclear how far the Simmons proposal will go in the House and whether it’ll pick up support from Speaker Joe Straus who opposes the Senate’s proposal.

See here for the background. I repeat what I said before – this is a lousy “solution” to a non-problem. HB2899 is “better” than SB6 in the same way that the House “sanctuary cities” bill is “better” than the Senate version, which is to say it’s the difference between eating a turd sandwich on a fresh baked baguette and eating a turd sandwich on Wonder bread. We all know what the arguments are here, so let’s not waste our energy on that. The goal here is either to find something that will meet the grudging approval of the business lobby and the major sports leagues (which have already sold out in North Carolina), or to throw a bone to the Dan Patrick crowd by holding a committee hearing on something but not bringing it to the floor. I’d bet on the former before the latter, so call your House Committee on State Affairs member and let them know what you think of this. This will be heard tomorrow, so don’t wait.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

The new panhandling ordinance

This happened last week; I didn’t have a chance to really look at it before now.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Residents who impede the use of a Houston roadway, or block a sidewalk or building entrance could be charged with a misdemeanor under an ordinance passed Wednesday by City Council.

The ordinance aimed at curbing panhandling was paired with a ban on unauthorized encampments in public places – an effort to crack down on homeless camps that have drawn resident and council member ire in recent months. The encampment ban is set to take effect in 30 days.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said he thinks the new rules help to achieve a “delicate balance” between ensuring safety and helping the homeless.

“The whole notion is to strike a balance between addressing their needs and their concerns and putting them in a better position in their lives, and at the same time the neighborhood concerns in terms of people being in their doorway or blocking the sidewalk,” Turner said.

[…]

Tristia Bauman, a senior attorney for the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, warned of potential constitutional violations, also saying she thought the laws would be ineffective.

“This law as written is constitutionally concerning, and I think it’s very vulnerable to legal challenge,” she said of the encampment rules. “To create a punishment for people who are attempting to survive on the street when they have no alternative is a violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.”

Marc Eichenbaum, special assistant to the mayor for homeless initiatives, said the city has worked with groups like Star of Hope and the Salvation Army to ensure there are sufficient shelter beds for the city’s homeless.

“For individuals who want to go to a shelter, there is a place for them,” Eichenbaum said.

Bauman pointed to those with mental health issues or disabilities who may be unable to go to a shelter.

Turner’s plan to curb homelessness, announced last month, also includes proposals to house 500 chronically homeless people by early September and construct alternative, professionally staffed “low-level” shelters under highway overpasses or on private property.

These outdoor spaces are intended to help accommodate people who are unable or unwilling to go to an indoor shelter.

Here’s an earlier story about what Council had been considering; the proposed ordinance was tagged until last week. As someone who currently works downtown, I can attest that panhandlers are a nuisance, and can sometimes be scary. Houston has made a lot of progress in reducing the number of homeless residents, especially homeless veterans, and part of this program is intended to further that work. There are some details to be filled in, and there are concerns about the legality of this ordinance as well as its likely effectiveness. I’m not sure what to think at this point.

In the meantime, there’s also this.

Phillip Bryant carries tuna cans and water bottles in his car and often spontaneously delivers them to the poor he sees throughout the Houston streets.

However, Bryant, who describes himself as a devout Christian, contends the city’s charitable feeding ordinance prohibits this and also violates his religious rights.

He filed a lawsuit Wednesday night in Harris County court challenging the ordinance, which requires advocates to obtain permission from property owners – public or private – before feeding more than five people. Violation of the ordinance is considered a criminal misdemeanor and is punishable by up to $2,000, according to the lawsuit.

[…]

Although not mandatory, the city encourages those feeding the homeless to register as a food service organization and receive food safety training. The only required step is a person must seek permission from the property owner before feeding more than five people.

I’ll be honest, I’m a little unclear as to what the point of contention is here, but I guess we’ll see what the courts make of it.

Posted in: Local politics.

Hog apocalypse update

The poison plan for controlling feral hogs is set to be put on pause by the Legislature.

A bill poised to pass the Texas House would amend the Texas Agriculture Code to prohibit the Department of Agriculture from registering, approving for use or allowing use of any pesticide for feral hog control unless a study by a state agency or university recommends such action.

That legislation – HB 3451, by Rep. Lynn Stucky, R-Denton – was filed in the wake of the Texas Department of Agriculture’s emergency rules issued earlier this year (and since suspended by a state judge) that set regulations for use of the first pesticide approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency for use controlling feral hogs. Texas holds more than 2 million feral hogs, an invasive species causing significant environmental and economic damage in the state. While extermination of feral hogs is almost universally approved by Texans, the move allowing use of the pesticide proved controversial, drawing intense opposition from a wide range of individuals and organizations concerned about the potential negative effects on humans and non-target animals from warfarin, the pesticide’s active ingredient.

Stucky’s bill, which has more than 120 House members as co-sponsors, sailed through its committee hearing, initial procedural readings on the House floor and could see final passage by the House as soon as this week.

The bill can expect to be well received in the Texas Senate, where a companion bill – SB 1454 by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin – has almost a third of the Senate as co-sponsors.

See here and here for the background. That column was published on Wednesday. HB3451 was postponed, first till Thursday and then till Monday, at which time it was overwhelmingly approved by the full House.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s push to use a warfarin-based poison to kill feral hogs in the state has a long list of opponents that now includes more than two-thirds of the Legislature where Miller once served.

House lawmakers voted 128 to 13 to preliminarily approve legislation Monday that would require state agency or university research before the use of lethal pesticides on wild pigs. A companion bill in the Senate has 10 co-sponsors.

[…]

A coalition of hunters, animal rights advocates, conservationists and meat processors has mobilized against the use of the poison. The Texas State Rifle Association, Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation, the Texas Hog Hunters Association and the Texas Veterinary Medical Association are all among the groups that support the bill.

Lotta love for ol’ Sid there. SB1454 has not had a committee hearing yet. Sure seems likely this will pass, especially given that House vote, but it’s never over till it’s over in the Lege. There’s more about other outdoors-related bills in that column, so check it out if that’s your thing.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Interview with Gloria Gallegos

Gloria Gallegos

I have one more interview for Pasadena Mayor to bring you. Gloria Gallegos is the Associate Superintendent of Special Programs for the Pasadena Independent School District, having worked her career in education beginning as an elementary school teacher. A native of Mexico, Gallegos earned an associate’s degree at San Jacinto College followed by a bachelor’s and a master’s in education at UH-Clear Lake. She has served on a number of boards and committees for the City of Pasadena, including the Community Development Board, the Crime Control Board, and the Charter Review Commission. You can find a more in depth profile of her here, and since I’m not interviewing any of the other candidates, there’s a brief Chron story about them here. Here’s my interview with Gallegos:

Early voting for Pasadena’s municipal elections, which include City Council as well as Mayor, runs from April 24 through May 2, with Election Day being Saturday, May 6. You can find information about voting locations and hours, as well as Council maps, here. Note that the Pasadena municipal elections, the Pasadena ISD trustee elections, and the San Jacinto College trustee elections are separate; for information about Pasadena ISD, see here, and for San Jacinto see here. Yes, I know, that makes no sense, but it is what it is.

Posted in: Election 2017.

The status of Section 3

Lyle Denniston looks at a key aspect of the voting rights-related lawsuits in Texas.

About four years after the Supreme Court took away the government’s strongest authority to protect minority voters’ rights, a backup power under the federal Voting Rights Act – weaker and harder to use – is now being threatened, just as federal courts have begun applying it.

At issue now, as it was when the Supreme Court decided the case of Shelby County v. Holder in June 2013, is a form of government supervision of voting rights that goes by the technical term, “pre-clearance.” When operating against a state or local government, that means that officials cannot put any new voting law or procedure – however minor – into effect without first getting approval in Washington, D.C.

Three cases now developing in federal courts based in Texas are testing whether the variation of “pre-clearance” will take the place of what the Supreme Court scuttled. And there are already serious challenges facing that prospect, in each of those cases.

[…]

District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal, became the first since the demise of Section 5 pre-clearance to impose Section 3 pre-clearance as a remedy for a discriminatory voting practice. That case involves a shift of the way voters in Pasadena, Texas, elect the members of the city council. Judge Rosenthal, after finding that the change discriminated intentionally against the city’s Hispanic voters, adopted a six-year period of pre-clearance for any future change in voting laws in that locality.

That case has now moved on up to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. And that is where one major threat to Section 3 remedies has arisen. It came in a legal brief filed by the state of Texas last month, supporting an appeal by the city of Pasadena as far as the city is challenging the remedy of Section 3 pre-clearance. That remedy, the state brief asserted, “must be sparingly and cautiously applied.”

The state’s filing argued that “misuse” of that mode of pre-clearance “threatens to re-impose the same unwarranted federal intrusion that Shelby County found could not be justified under the Constitution.” The brief contended that Judge Rosenthal had engaged in such a “misuse” of this provision by imposing it for only a single incident of discrimination – the one-time change in the method of electing the Pasadena city council.

The only circumstance in which a Section 3 pre-clearance remedy is valid, under either the specific language of Section 3, the reasoning of the Supreme Court in 2013, or the Constitution, the Texas brief contended, is when a judge can conclude that the discrimination was “pervasive, flagrant, widespread, and rampant.”

The Fifth Circuit Court has been centrally involved for years in Voting Rights Act cases, because the state of Texas (located in that Circuit) has so often been sued for discrimination in voting. If that court were to read the Section 3 pre-clearance provision in the limited way that the state seeks, that would be a major setback in this legal field.

The Pasadena ruling was in January, and it put Pasadena under preclearance through the 2021 elections. The practical effect of that is likely to be minimal in that Pasadena is unlikely to want or need to engage in redistricting any time soon (other things like voting locations and hours for elections conducted by the city of Pasadena are also in scope), but the precedent as the first use of Section 3 in the post-Shelby world is big. As Denniston notes, the voter ID case, in which a finding of intentional discrimination has already been made, and the legislative redistricting case where the matter of intent has not yet been resolved, could impose similar requirements on the state as well. If the intent finding in the voter ID case is upheld, that would affect redistricting even if no such ruling is made in that suit.

So, it’s not surprising that the state is arguing for a limited application of Section 3. There’s an awful lot at stake, and it all begins in Pasadena. I’ll be keeping an eye on this. Link via Rick Hasen.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Greg Abbott wants to kill off cities

That’s the only way to describe it.

As state lawmakers gather for their biennial session this spring, they’re weighing whether to rein in localities that ban plastic grocery bags, extend civil rights protections to LGBTQ residents, discourage cooperation with federal immigration authorities, impose driver screening requirements for ride-sharing companies and regulate the chopping down of trees.

Those types of clashes, particularly between liberal cities and conservative states, are increasingly common throughout the country, in part because Republicans have a historically high level of control over state governments.

But in Texas, Abbott now suggests that instead of spending time and money battling these issues individually, the state should issue a “ban across the board” on municipal regulations.

“One strategy would be for the state of Texas to take a ‘rifle shot after rifle shot after rifle shot’ approach to try to override all these local regulations,” Abbott explained to the conservative audience last month. “I think it would be far simpler, and frankly easier for those of you who have to run your lives and your businesses on a daily basis, if the state of Texas adopted an overriding policy to create certain standards that must be met.”

The governor has not laid out many more details on how that approach would work, and his press office referred back to his remarks.

But one possibility, says Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League, is that the state could strip all 352 home-rule cities, which are free to enact regulations as long as they don’t expressly conflict with state law, of their home-rule powers. They would then be treated as general-rule cities, which are usually small and can regulate only areas the state specifically gives them permission to oversee.

[…]

Sandlin, from the municipal league, has naturally been an outspoken opponent of Abbott’s attacks on municipalities. He says this hostility toward cities and local control didn’t exist at the Texas Capitol before Abbott became governor.

“It’s only been since 2015 that we’ve seen this new tactic, where local control is no longer a good thing, it’s actually an evil thing,” says Sandlin. “The new good thing is now liberty from local regulations.”

I see Abbott’s antipathy towards cities as being of a piece with his antipathy towards the federal government, or a least towards the federal government when a Democrat is President. Basically, he doesn’t tolerate disagreement, and doesn’t recognize the authority of elected officials who do stuff he doesn’t like. It’s not a matter of philosophy or principle, in that he’ll have no problem with any heavyhanded federal actions as long as it’s in the service of policy he supports. Like eminent domain for a border wall, for example. Greg Abbott is about power – his power – and if cities are standing in his way, he’ll seek to crush them. I don’t believe there’s anything more to it than that.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Weekend link dump for April 16

“Unlike the Golden Globes, where film and TV stars mingle on the red carpet but compete in parallel categories, MTV is all but erasing the barrier between the two.”

The number of pedestrians being killed by automobiles is way too high.

“The lesson that runs through all these moments is this: if you cling to what you once knew, you’ll be left behind. Keep learning.”

“[Researchers] found that a 2013 California law that granted driver’s licenses to immigrants in the country illegally reduced hit-and-run accidents by 7 to 10 percent in 2015, meaning roughly 4,000 fewer hit-and-runs. In that same year, 600,000 people got driver’s licenses under the law.”

“Is it any wonder, then, that the crack epidemic led to a “tough on crime” crackdown focused on harsher prison sentences and police tactics, while the current opioid crisis has led more to calls for legislation, including a measure Congress passed last year, that boosted spending on drug treatment to get people with substance use disorders help?”

“Nearly 50 percent of Americans tell Simmons they would be less likely to use a product or service endorsed by Trump. At the same time, 29 percent say they would actively boycott a product or service endorsed by the president. Only 18 percent of respondents say a Trump endorsement would make them more likely to use a product or service.”

RIP, Carolyn Kelly, artist and daughter of cartoonist Walt Kelly.

On punching Nazis, which is the sort of thing we find ourselves having to debate these days.

“Neither Social Security nor the Pentagon will go bankrupt unless Congress allows it, and Congress will never allow it. So why maintain the charade? Get rid of the regressive dedicated funding stream, fund Social Security from general revenues, and then adjust taxes and/or deficits as necessary to pay for it. This seems to work tolerably well for every other function of government, so why not Social Security?”

Happy Inception Day, Leon Kowalski.

“The assault of Trump on our constitutional foundations is, in fact, daily, insidious, effective, and cannot be bracketed off into the realm of the unthreatening, however keenly, desperately, we would all like to do that, for the sake of our own sanity and civic health—which depends, after all, exactly on not being compelled to pay attention to politics. A healthy polity lifts public life into a world of reasonable administration and procedural reliability, alongside which we can expand our inner lives and interests without having, as people in autocratic governments must, to think about the boss and the secret police and what is going on inside the palace at every minute.”

RIP, Spike Dykes, former Texas Tech football coach.

The annual White House Easter Egg Roll may be a spectacle this year for reasons unlike any other year.

“A 2013 proposal to allow cell phone calls during airplane flights will be thrown out by the Federal Communications Commission.”

RIP, John Geils, founder and lead guitarist of the J. Geils Band. My blood runs cold…

RIP, Dorothy Mengering, David Letterman’s mom and the best Winter Olympics correspondent ever.

“If you’re mad about this now, just wait until you find out that what United did was pretty much by the book.”

We’d make the same trade, too, Stephen.

“For folks keeping score on Trump’s policy flip-flops, it’s been a busy week. First, there was the Trump administration’s mixed messages on Syria and its rapid shifts on Russia. And yesterday? About-faces on China and the Ex-Im Bank and NATO and Janet Yellen, all in one day.”

“Chalking this up to some kind of new strategy probably gives Trump and his team too much credit. What we’re witnessing is governing chaos, driven by longstanding ignorance and confusion, led by a clumsy president with few core beliefs to help him navigate.”

RIP, Dan Rooney, chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Paxton wants a new judge

He may not get his wish.

Best mugshot ever

The judge presiding over Attorney General Ken Paxton’s criminal trial plans to remain on the case, regardless of Paxton’s request for a new judge, his spokesman said.

“He anticipates remaining the judge,” District Judge George Gallagher’s spokeswoman Melody McDonald Lanier told the Houston Chronicle Thursday.

Paxton’s criminal defense team requested a new judge after Gallagher moved Paxton’s criminal trial to Harris County from Paxton’s home of Collin County, a move the attorney general’s lawyers opposed. Special prosecutors argued the attorney general’s allies had worked to poison the jury pool there.

Lawyers representing the embattled Republican attorney general said in a motion Tuesday they would refuse to sign off on a procedural move to to keep Gallagher with the case at it moves to Harris County.

Asked for comment about Paxton’s motion to remove him as the case’s judge, Gallagher’s spokeswoman said “He can’t comment because he is the judge and he anticipates remaining the judge.”

[…]

“As far as I know, there is nothing in the Code of Criminal Procedure that addresses what is to happen if the defendant or defense counsel withholds the consent to which article 31.09 refers,” said George Dix, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, referring to the code Paxton cited in his motion. “No case, as far as I know, has addressed the meaning of this provision.”

See here and here for the background. As the DMN notes, what Paxton is asking for is basically unprecedented.

It’s quite possible no one else has ever asked for what Ken Paxton wants now.

This week, after Judge George Gallagher moved the attorney general’s upcoming criminal trials from Collin to Harris County, Paxton asked for a new judge. He cited a state law that’s meant to be procedural, a way for Gallagher to maintain the original case number and continue to use his own court reporter and clerk when the proceedings move to Houston.

But Paxton’s attorneys have interpreted the law to also require their client’s “written consent” for Gallagher to continue presiding over the case.

Paxton didn’t give his consent. He’s the first to refuse to do so and ask for a new judge in the process, experts said.

[…]

If Paxton’s motion is granted and upheld on appeal, it could set a precedent that will allow any criminal defendant or prosecutor to use the same tactic and get a new judge if a case is moved. But it’s unclear how likely that is to occur.

If Judge Gallagher denies the motion, the Chron story suggests any appeals would be heard by either the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas or the 1st or 14th Court of Appeals in Houston. I don’t think this is likely to affect the proposed trial calendar, but as noted we are in unprecedented territory here. Already the entertainment value of this proceeding is off the charts, and we’re still five months away from jury selection.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Scandalized!.

“Sanctuary cities” bill passes House committee

Something like this is going to pass, it’s just a matter of what form it takes.

A state House committee on Wednesday passed a “sanctuary cities” bill that is less harsh than the version passed by the Senate, but that still would require local sheriffs and jailers to comply with federal requests to hold on to individuals in this country illegally or face a misdemeanor criminal charge.

The Republican-dominated House State Affairs Committee voted 7-5 along party lines to send the bill to the full chamber for what is expected to be a heated debate and floor vote as early as next week.

At issue is whether local law enforcement should honor every federal immigration request by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold on individuals in the country illegally until federal officials give further instructions or take them into custody.

As noted by several of the bill’s opponents, the decision to honor ICE requests, known as detainers, is voluntary.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security acknowledged last month that ICE detainers are not legally binding and that local jurisdictions have various policies regarding whether to honor the agency’s requests.

The Senate version of the bill, which was passed in February, would bar local law enforcement agencies and university police departments from enacting policies prohibiting officers from asking about immigration status if they have been stopped with probable cause.

[…]

Introducing his changes to the Senate version, state Rep. Charlie Geren, the Republican from Fort Worth who wrote the House bill, said the criminal penalty is enough to deter sheriffs and constables from violating the law. He eliminated a provision in the Senate proposal that would have withheld state grant money from local jurisdictions that do not comply, a punishment Democrats have argued would hurt domestic violence programs, veterans courts and other local services.

“By implementing this, we’ll be able to remove these individuals from office for not complying with the provisions of the bill. Also, by targeting those solely responsible for not complying with detainer requests, there is no need for removal of state grant funds,” Geren said.

[…]

Denise Gilman, director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas’ School of Law, said the federal government cannot force a local sheriff’s department to comply with ICE detainers, so Texas lawmakers are trying to introduce stiff penalties to deter their actions as much as possible.

“Really, what I think is troubling in particular is that the whole debate at the Legislature seems to be one of suggesting that the problem is that certain jurisdictions are acting unlawfully that SB 4, cloaked in legality, would bring them into compliance,” Gilman said. “The opposite is the case. Under federal law, there is no obligation to comply.”

She also predicted lawsuits if the bill is signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott, who has named such legislation a priority.

“The question is whether it’s a good idea for the state to get in the middle of a question of federal immigration enforcement in a way that limits local jurisdictions to make their own decisions,” Gilman said. “If it passes, it’s extremely likely that there will be a lot of litigation around implementation and individual cases where people are profiled by law enforcement under the encouragement of SB 4, where people are held under detainer not supported by probable cause.”

See here and here for some background. There’s so much that’s wrong with this, from the assault on local control, to the erosion of trust in law enforcement and corresponding drop in crime reporting in immigrant communities, to the actual threat of deportation to people who haven’t committed any crime, to the questionable legality of the whole thing. But it’s going to happen because it’s a priority of Greg Abbott’s and Dan Patrick’s because they have to have someone to demonize and they care as much about cities as they do about immigrants. I wish I could be less cynical about this, but I can’t. The Trib and the Observer have more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Bill to fix voting interpreters considered

This needs to happen, and it really shouldn’t be a big deal.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

Almost three years after Mallika Das, a naturalized citizen who spoke Bengali, was unable to vote properly because she was not proficient in English, Texas lawmakers are considering a change to an obscure provision of Texas election law regarding language interpreters.

Members of the Senate State Affairs Committee on Monday took up Senate Bill 148 by Democratic state Sen. Sylvia Garcia of Houston, which would repeal a section of the state’s election code that requires interpreters to be registered voters in the same county they are providing help.

The measure will ensure that voters are able “to meaningfully and effectively exercise their vote,” Garcia told the committee. “This ensures that voters have the capacity to navigate polling stations, communicate with election officers and understand how to fill out required forms and answer questions directed at them by any election officer.”

Garcia’s proposal comes amid an ongoing legal battle over the state’s interpreter provision in a lawsuit brought by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund on behalf of Das, who has since died, and the Greater Houston chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans.

Because she had found it difficult to vote in the past, Das in 2014 brought her son, Saurabh, to help her cast her vote at a Williamson County polling place. But when her son told poll workers he was there to interpret the English ballot for his mother, they ran into the state’s interpreter requirements. Saurabh could not serve as an interpreter for his mother because he was registered to vote in neighboring Travis County.

[…]

One provision of the state election code allows for “assistors.” It says voters can receive help reading or marking a ballot and states that assistance “occurs while the person is in the presence of the voter’s ballot.”

Yet a separate provision allows voters to select an “interpreter” to help them communicate with an election officer and “accompany the voter to the voting station for the purpose of translating the ballot to the voter.” The interpreter, unlike an assistor, must be registered to vote in the same county.

In Das’ case, had her son simply told poll workers he was “assisting” his mother — and not that the assistance involved interpreting the ballot for her — he would have been able to go into the voting booth with her.

Garcia’s proposal would essentially consolidate all forms of assistance and remove any requirements related to voter registration.

While the measure has picked up support by the Texas Association of Election Administrators, representatives with the Harris County Clerk’s Office, including Ed Johnson, testified against Garcia’s proposal.

“In Harris County, we think the role of an interpreter is different to the role of an assistant,” Johnson said, adding that the issue was a currently a “moot point” because the law has been put on hold and court is “still working through that process.”

See here, here, and here for the background. The lawsuit in question is being appealed to the Fifth Circuit, but if Sen. Garcia’s bill were to pass, it would (I assume) moot the issue. I honestly don’t get the argument against this, but that doesn’t mean Stan Stanart isn’t going to do Stan Stanart things. Sen. Garcia’s bill was left pending in committee, and an identical bill by Rep. Ramon Romero was not withdrawn from the House Elections Committee schedule, so there has been no action taken yet. Contact your Senator on the State Affairs Committee if you want to see this bill get passed.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

A little skepticism about hyperloops

Streetsblog isn’t having the hyperloop hype.

There are no functional, real-world examples of a Hyperloop, Tesla founder Elon Musk’s long-distance transport concept that involves shooting people through vacuum-sealed tubes in pods that travel at up to 760 mph. Anyone who believes it’s a viable endeavor is basically taking it on faith.

“Hyperloop One” — the $130 million startup promoting the idea — has built a short 500-meter test track in the desert outside of Las Vegas but has yet to construct a pod to go with the tube, much less tested the technology on humans.

And yet a surprising number of government agencies are treating the Hyperloop as a serious proposition.

[…]

Hyperloop One even sells the technology as a solution to high housing prices, by enabling, for instance, “breadwinners to build a career in Boulder’s thriving tech hubs while commuting from Greeley, where median home prices are 60% lower.” It is a promise to enable sprawl so central cities can relax and avoid the difficult politics of creating more walkable development and inclusive housing policies.

Four years ago, mathematician and transit analyst Alon Levy wrote an epic takedown about the viability of Hyperloop technology. Levy evaluated Musk’s white paper [PDF] detailing how the Hyperloop would connect L.A. to San Francisco in about 30 minutes, and he found major problems. Musk’s cost estimates for engineering and land acquisition are inexplicably low — by a factor of 10 compared with current market norms, he said. (Whether people will be comfortable under to that type of propulsion is a whole other question. Levy says the Hyperloop would be a “barf ride.”)

America has the means to reduce traffic and connect people to where they want to go in less time — but solving these problems entails politically difficult choices to shift travel away from cars and highways. Any high-tech solution that promises a shortcut around these thorny problems is probably too good to be true. Like “personal rapid transit” or the Chinese “straddling bus” — the Hyperloop could end up taking credulous believers for a ride.

See here for previous hyperloop blogging. I consider myself skeptical of this idea, but it sounds so cool that I kind of hope I’m wrong. It would be nice to see some kind of working prototype get built, so we’d have some data about the cost and practicalities. It’s a lot easier to be a visionary if one’s visions remain conceptual. If you’ve got your head in the clouds about hyperloops, this story and the aforementioned epic (and long) takedown are worth a read.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Saturday video break: Pressure Drop

Here’s Toots and the Maytalls:

I have a live acoustic version of this from the KCBO in-studio series. Any way they do it sounds good. Now here are The Specials:

That’s from the soundtrack to the movie Grosse Point Blank, which came out in 1997 and which I’d say was the leading edge of the 80’s music revival. Now I feel like I need to get the second album as well. It’s interesting that the score for Grosse Point Blank was composed by Joe Strummer of The Clash but their cover of this song was not the one picked for the movie. I think it was the right choice, but it’s still interesting.

Posted in: Music.

Bathroom bill 2.0

Beware.

House lawmakers will debate a so-called “bathroom bill” next week that supporters hope will be less worrisome to business interests concerned the measure could hurt the Texas economy.

The decision to debate the House bill, and to set aside a more severe version passed last month in the Senate, marks the latest split the two chambers have endured during a particularly divided legislative session. The House bill will probably get the backing of the Dallas Cowboys, their lobbyist said, but the state’s largest business group is withholding its support at this time.

“It’s a bill that’s trying to strike a balance between all the interested parties,” Rep. Ron Simmons, the bill’s sponsor, told The Dallas Morning News on Thursday. “It’s our belief that discrimination issues related to privacy should be handled at the state level.”

[…]

House Bill 2899 will be debated in the State Affairs Committee on Wednesday. The amended bill would ban cities, school districts and any other “political subdivisions” from passing local laws that protect certain people from discrimination in an intimate space. This would render local nondiscrimination ordinances that protect the rights of transgender people to use bathrooms that match their gender identity unenforceable.

“Except in accordance with federal and state law,” the bill’s language reads, “a political subdivision, including school districts, may not enforce an order, ordinance, or other measure to protect a class of persons from discrimination to the extent that the order, ordinance, or other measure regulates access to multiple-occupancy restrooms, showers, or changing facilities.”

While the language isn’t an exact match, Simmons bill looks quite a bit like the revised bathroom law recently passed in North Carolina. Both ban local governments from regulating use and access of restrooms, changing rooms and locker rooms.

Unlike the North Carolina law, Simmons’ measure would not affect colleges campuses. It also would not restrict bathroom use based on biological sex, which the Senate Bill does. The House bill is co-sponsored by Republican Reps. Dustin Burrows of Lubbock, Cole Hefner of Mount Pleasant, Jodie Laubenberg of Parker, Valoree Swanson of Spring and Terry Wilson of Marble Falls.

[…]

The fact that Simmons’ legislation appears similar to North Carolina’s law could be an issue for business, said Texas Association of Business president Chris Wallace, who added that his organization doesn’t think the laws passed there “are right for Texas.”

“We remain focused on stopping discriminatory legislation and keeping Texas open for business and inviting for all,” Wallace said. The TAB is still looking at the House bill, but was “focused on defeating” the Senate version “and other discriminatory legislation,” he said.

Sorry, but any bill that includes overriding local non-discrimination ordinances is a non-starter for me. Forget the local control issues for a minute, this is once again a bad solution for a problem that doesn’t exist. NDOs have been on the books in multiple Texas cities for almost 20 years. Yet we are led to believe that now this is something the Legislature needs to fix? No. The House has had the right idea up until now. Moving forward with this bill would be a terrible mistake.

State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook made the decision to hold debate on Simmons’ bill. In the past, he’s echoed Straus’ concerns that the legislation seems to be a solution in search of a problem. Last month, he said there’s “no evidence” Texas needs a bathroom bill.

But on Thursday, Cook said the House bill was the “appropriate” approach “for the issue before us.”

“It’s important that we contemplate the right kind of balance that speaks to the privacy issue and also ensures that we don’t do something that has a chilling effect on business,” Cook said. “What I’m hopeful is that this legislation will end up being something that people can be for, which I think is important.”

Asked about the Texas Association of Business’ choice not to throw their support behind the bill at this time, Cook said, “I think what you’ll find is that the business community will be supportive of what Mr. Simmons has put forward.”

Sorry, but the only people who are going to be for this are the people who were for SB6. The right answer here is to do what was already being done about that bill, which is to say, nothing. The Chron and Think Progress have more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

State wants to appeal redistricting ruling

From Texas Redistricting:

The State of Texas filed a motion [Wednesday] afternoon with the three-judge panel in the Texas redistricting case, asking the panel to give the state permission to appeal the panel’s March 10 ruling on the state’s 2011 congressional plan (Plan C185) to the Fifth Circuit.

Texas told the court that it sought review of the panel’s decision that claims about the 2011 map had not been mooted by the state’s adoption of a new congressional map in 2013. Texas said that appeal to the Fifth Circuit, rather than the Supreme Court, was appropriate in this instance because the panel’s “Order is not final and does not grant or deny an injunction” and “is therefore ‘is one of the relatively rare situations in which a Court of Appeals is required to review the decision of a three-judge District Court.”

The motion said the redistricting plaintiffs opposed the request.

See here, here, and here for the background. And here’s the followup:

The three-judge panel in the Texas redistricting case has set oral argument for April 27 on the request of the State of Texas for leave to appeal the panel’s March 10 congressional plan ruling to the Fifth Circuit.

In that ruling, the court found that a number of districts in the state’s 2011 congressional plan were intentionally discriminatory and/or otherwise violated the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act. The state contends that disputes about the 2011 map were mooted by the Texas Legislature’s adoption of the court-drawn interim plan on a permanent basis in 2013. The plaintiffs sharply disagree, arguing that a number of districts in the two plans are identical and also that questions of discriminatory intent are relevant to whether Texas should be put back under preclearance review using the bail-in provisions of section 3 of the Voting Rights Act.

The court’s order setting oral argument directed that the plaintiffs respond to state’s request to appeal by Friday, April 21, and gave the state until Tuesday, April 25, to file a reply.

Basically, we’ll know more about where things are headed after the hearing on the 27th. And may I say, it’s such a pleasure to see Michael Li updating his blog again.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Hate groups are getting busy on college campuses

From the Anti-Defamation League, another reason to be worried, if you needed one.

White supremacists, emboldened by the 2016 elections and the current political climate, are currently engaged in an unprecedented outreach effort to attract and recruit students on American college campuses. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has cataloged 104 incidents of white supremacist fliering on college campuses since the school year began in September 2016, with surge of activity since January 2017, when 63 of the total incidents (61 percent) occurred.

Until recently, on-the-ground white supremacist actions have been relatively infrequent on college campuses. But this year has been different, according to ADL’s Center on Extremism. White supremacists are using a variety of tactics including anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and racist fliers, as well as on-campus appearances and speeches by racist activists.

“White supremacists have consciously made the decision to focus their recruitment efforts on students and have in some cases openly boasted of efforts to establish a physical presence on campus,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL’s CEO. “While there have been recruitment efforts in the past, never have we seen anti-Semites and white supremacists so focused on outreach to students on campus.”

White supremacist engagement tactics on campus range from the virtual, such as sending racist fliers to thousands of campus fax machines, to on the ground rallies and speaking engagements. More extremists are also making a point of visiting campuses to speak with students individually. This is part of a push to move their activism from online chatter to “real world” action.

See here for a fuller report. As noted by the Current, seventeen of these documented incidents have taken place on campuses of Texas universities, with Texas State being especially popular. I don’t have a prescription for this, but it’s everyone’s responsibility to be part of the resistance to it. Among other things, it would be very nice if our state leaders addressed the problem, spoke out against it, and maybe had just the tiniest glimmer of self-awareness for the role their support of Donald Trump has had in exacerbating this problem.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

Friday random ten: Ladies’ night, part 41

Down to the last three.

1. Where Do You Run To – Vivian Girls (Cassie Ramone, Katy Goodman, Ali Koehler)
2. Launderette – Vivien Goldman
3. Christmas Wrapping – The Waitresses (Patty Donahue)
4. Do You Know The Way To San Jose? – Dionne Warwick
5. It’s Raining Men – The Weather Girls (Martha Wash and Izora Armstead)
6. My Guy – Mary Wells
7. Its Been So Long – Wendi Slaton
8. Waterfall – Wendy & Lisa
9. I Can Swing A Hammer – The Wet Secrets (Kim Rackel, Emma Frazier)
10. Hungry – White Lung (Anne-Marie Vassiliou, Mish Way)

Yeah, two more mis-sorted names. Also three 80s groups. And now two more of these lists to go.

Posted in: Music.