Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

House will not negotiate on “bathroom bill” amendment

Well, this is it.

Refusing to go any further to regulate bathroom use for transgender Texans, House Speaker Joe Straus said on Friday that the House will not appoint members to negotiate with the Senate on its proposed compromise on a “bathroom bill.”

“For many of us — and especially for me — this was a compromise,” Straus said. “As far as I’m concerned, it was enough. We will go no further. This is the right thing to do in order to protect our economy from billions of dollars in losses and more importantly to protect the safety of some very vulnerable young Texans.”

[…]

“If the Senate wants to pass a ‘bathroom bill,’ it can concur with the bill we passed earlier week,” Straus told reporters during a Friday news conference. “The House has compromised enough on this issue.”

Calling it “absurd” that “‘bathroom bills’ have taken on greater urgency than fixing our school finance system,” Straus said the House is “availing itself” of the same actions the Senate took on school finance legislation by refusing to appoint members to conference committee on legislation originally intended to inject $1.5 billion into the state’s funding for the majority of public schools and to simplify some of the state’s complex, outdated school funding formulas.

See here for the background. Dan Patrick is of course screaming for a special session to force the issue, and he may get it. Or he may not. It’s up to Greg Abbott. Abbott’s a weak leader who could use a little guidance, so call his office at 512-463-2000 and tell the nice person who answers that you want no special session for a bathroom bill. Be polite, but do call. The DMN and the Observer have more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

This session’s unconstitutional abortion bill passes

Here we go again.

Right there with them

Texas senators voted Friday to send a bill banning the most common second-trimester abortion procedure and changing how health care facilities handle fetal remains to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

Under Senate Bill 8, which passed 22-9, health care facilities including hospitals and abortion clinics would be required to bury or cremate any fetal remains — whether from abortion, miscarriage or stillbirth. The bill would also ban facilities from donating aborted fetal tissue to medical researchers, and aims to outlaw “partial-birth abortions,” which are already illegal under federal law.

Most controversially, the bill now bans dilation and evacuation abortions — a common second-trimester procedure where doctors use surgical instruments to grasp and remove pieces of fetal tissue — unless the fetus is deceased. Medical professionals deem the current method the safest way to perform the procedure on a pregnant woman, and reproductive rights groups have said this change would subject women to an unnecessary medical procedure.

[…]

Amanda Allen, senior state legislative counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a news release that Texas legislators are continuing “their crusade against a woman’s right to safe and legal abortion.”

“Texas women deserve access to the health care that is best for them and their personal circumstances — not abortion restrictions pushed by extreme anti-abortion organizations,” Allen said. “The Center for Reproductive Rights vows to battle any unconstitutional measures in the courts until the rights of Texas women are respected and protected.”

The group sued late last year over a Texas Department of State Health Services proposal requiring health providers to bury or cremate fetal remains. Center lawyers won a temporary restraining order and in January a federal judge ruled Texas could not proceed with the rule, citing its vagueness and potential to harm patients.

See here for the background. I don’t know what to say that I haven’t said already, but if I’m going to repeat myself anyway, I’ll say this again: Nothing will change until the people we elect change. We have a chance to do something about this next year. It’s up to us.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

No Metro vote this year

One less to worry about.

Agency officials expect to begin public meetings to gather input on where expanded bus and rail lines might go in late June.

But the critical public response – the money to fund preferred projects via a voter referendum – likely is 18 months away, Metropolitan Transit Authority officials said.

“The community input process is going to take a lot of time,” said Carrin Patman, chairwoman of the Metro board, calling the chances of asking voters to approve a bond issue this year “unrealistic.”

“My guess is it would not be before November 2018,” Patman said.

The timeline is less rosy than predicted when the regional transit plan was rolled out in February, when Patman and others said a vote this November remained a possibility.

The regional transit plan, meanwhile, could be approved by the Metro board next summer, after a series of meetings with riders and those who rarely interact with transit.

[…]

Metro officials held 13 meetings with agency employees to solicit ideas from bus and rail operators about what improvements are most needed. That feedback, CEO Tom Lambert said, confirmed what many officials already have said about the need to improve bus stops and shelters and make minor adjustments to routes to improve service.

Also key to the plan as officials prep for meetings in late June is soliciting comment from people in places where bus service is nonexistent, board members said.

“Historically, the meetings have been held in places where Metro is already operating service,” said vice-chairman Jim Robinson.

Attracting suburban interest for transit, and properly prioritizing it with other needs, is an important part of the plan, officials said.

See here, here, and here for some background. In an ideal world, I’d have preferred to see this ready to go this November, as there are a lot of needs to plan for and the sooner we begin the better. But I’d also rather get this right than rush it, and there’s certainly a case for not putting this on a ballot that will be dominated by the revenue cap referendum. Which is not to say that 2018 will be better – there will be far more races on the ballot, if nothing else – but it is a reasonable choice. Let’s get the best plan we can, with a compelling vision for the future, and begin selling it with an eye for next year. KUHF has more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Paxton’s pastor sues Servergy case witnesses

My head is spinning.

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s pastor has sued the lead witnesses against him in his upcoming criminal trials.

Last week, Prestonwood Baptist Church Executive Pastor Mike Buster filed a lawsuit against Rep. Byron Cook and Florida businessman Joel Hochberg, the two men named on Paxton’s fraud indictments. Paxton attends Prestonwood’s main campus in Plano.

Buster alleges that Cook and Hochberg bilked him out of about a half-million dollars, described as “a substantial percentage of his personal net worth.” Cook was manager of an energy asset management company that Buster says recommended he purchase mineral rights from Cook and Hochberg “at exorbitant markups and after very short holding times.”

The asset management company did not disclose that its own managers would benefit from the sale, Buster adds, omissions he said in part caused him “to lose virtually his entire investment.” Paxton, who was also manager of the company, is not mentioned in the suit.

[…]

Buster’s lawsuit is very similar to, and builds off, similar allegations lobbed against Cook and Hochberg earlier this year. That lawsuit was filed by Charles Loper III, who’s in charge of Paxton’s newly formed blind trust.

I haven’t read the lawsuit and don’t have any opinion on it. I don’t appear to have noted the Loper lawsuit, so I’ll pass on that as well. Does any of this have anything to do with the case against Paxton? I have no idea, but would anyone be surprised if this was an attempt to damage the main witnesses against him? I wouldn’t. Whatever it is, it’s a little weird and it’s worth noting for future reference, just in case.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Friday random ten: NPR Music

One other big source of new music for me last year was NPR Music’s The Austin 100 (2016), which was a free download of over 100 songs. Here’s a selection of them

1. Ugly Cherries – PWR BTTM
2. Every Which-A-Way – The Quebe Sisters
3. Drinkee – Sofi Tukker
4. Somebody To Anybody – Margaret Glaspy
5. Oh Inhuman Spectacle – Methyle Ethel
6. Black Lipstick – Chicano Batman
7. Primitives – Bayonne
8. Before A Million Universes – Big Ups
9. Lost Time – Tacocat
10. There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely – Possessed By Paul James

Out of the whole group, the only artists I’ve heard of before now are the first two on this list, one for bad reasons and one for good. I picked the other eight for this list because I liked their names. How many do you know?

Posted in: Music.

No special session for redistricting

Buried in my Wednesday post about the SCOTUS ruling that declared North Carolina’s Congressional map to be an illegal gerrymander was a note that the court in the Texas redistricting case asked the state to consider a special session to redraw Texas’ map, taking that ruling into account. The DMN had a story about that:

In striking down North Carolina’s congressional district map, the Supreme Court sent Texas a firm warning Monday about how the state’s case may fare if it reaches that stage.

Hours after the ruling, the federal district court in San Antonio currently overseeing the Texas case issued an order to the relevant parties asking them to submit briefs detailing how the North Carolina ruling will affect their claims, with a deadline of June 6.

Judge Xavier Rodriguez, on behalf of the panel, also directed Texas to consider whether it would like to “voluntarily undertake redistricting in a special session” of the legislature in light of the North Carolina ruling, giving the state until Friday to decide.

Rep. Rafael Anchia, the chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, which is a plaintiff in the case, said he interpreted the district court’s new order as a message to the state.

“The way I read it is that the court is warning the state of Texas to fix these intentionally discriminatory maps or it will in a way the state might not like,” said Anchia, D-Dallas.

[…]

Michael Li, a redistricting expert and senior counsel at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, said the North Carolina ruling will be an “important decision” for the other districting efforts winding through the legal system, including those in Texas.

“It makes clear that this isn’t about any sort of talismanic test or anything like that, but that you actually have to delve into the facts and circumstances about how maps are drawn,” Li said. “So even a district that looks pretty and has nice lines, and everything like that, can still be problematic. And it’s really up to the trial court to delve into that.”

Democrats in Texas celebrated the ruling as a promising indication of how their arguments will fare moving forward.

“I am happy that North Carolina voters secured another victory against the national Republican crusade to undermine the voting power of African Americans and Hispanics in local, state, and federal elections,” said Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, who has been on the front lines of another legal case against Texas’ voter ID law.

The request from the district court in San Antonio for new filings in the wake of the North Carolina decision confirmed the potential impact of the ruling. Matt Angle, the director of the Lone Star Project, a liberal advocacy group, said the court “is all but screaming in the ears of Texas Republican leaders to pull back from their culture of racial discrimination” by redrawing the map.

“Don’t count on Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick or other Texas Republican leaders to listen or care,” Angle said in a written statement. “Texas Republicans have adopted discrimination and vote suppression as essential tools to hold power.”

Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, sent two letters earlier this year to Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale, asking her to hold a hearing on the matter as chairwoman of the House Redistricting Committee. But the committee has not met at all this session.

The court had given the state till today to decide whether or not to take its own shot at drawing a legal map first. Yesterday, they gave their answer.

In response to a question from the court, the State of Texas said in a filing today that it has no plans to hold a special session to redraw state house and congressional maps.

The state said that its position remained that the state house and congressional adopted in 2013 to replace earlier maps were free of discriminatory purpose, did not use race as a predominant factor, or violate the Voting Rights Act – saying that it acted in good faith when it adopted court-drawn interim plans on a permanent basis.

The state also said that “any further attempt to reconfigure the State’s electoral districts will only result in new legal challenges.”

All righty then. That filing may disappoint the Texas Republican Congressional delegation, however.

Several congressional Republicans told the Tribune they want Abbott to call a special session to redraw the Congressional lines. They believe such a maneuver would put their allies in the state legislature in the driver’s seat, circumventing Republicans’ worst fear: that a panel of federal judges will draw a less favorable map of its own.

“I can’t speak for my whole delegation but I’ve already reached out to some of my friends back in the legislature…I said, ‘Give me a holler,'” said U.S. Rep. Randy Weber R-Friendswood, on his hopes for a special session.

“My thought is, if the legislature doesn’t [redraw the map], then the court is going to drop the map, which I think is way outside their constitutional purview,” he added.

[…]

To be sure, the Congressional delegation would like to keep the current lines. But its calls for a special session are rooted in fears that the map will not hold up in court.

And even those fears are not uniform within the delegation itself.

“One attorney will tell you one thing, another attorney will tell you something different,” said U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan. “There’s more confusion than consensus.”

I’m pretty sure there will be a new map, though it may be that the changes are fairly minimal, and it’s also possible that the state can force a delay until 2020. I don’t know that I’d bet my own money on those outcomes, however. Note that Greg Abbott may well call a special session for other reasons, just not for this because the state thinks it’s totally going to win. I have a feeling this subject will come up again during the scheduled hearing on July 10. Stay tuned.

Posted in: Legal matters.

No changes to HISD magnet programs

Not this year, anyway.

Houston ISD Superintendent Richard Carranza this week withdrew a plan to deeply cut funding for the district’s magnet programs over the next three years, shelving a proposal that had angered parents and some school board members who consider the specialized academic programs to be jewels in an oft-troubled school system.

The proposed cuts, outlined in a presentation to the HISD board last week, would have eliminated all extra funding per student to many of the district’s 121 magnet programs by the 2019-2020 school year while cutting funding to many of the other programs by hundreds of dollars per student. Only funding for secondary-language and early-college programs were spared.

But after the plan triggered a backlash from magnet school supporters, Carranza and district officials pulled back the proposal and said they instead planned to conduct a review of the district’s magnet funding and programs.

HISD spokeswoman Lila Hollin said in a written statement on Wednesday that the district had no plans to cut funding or make changes to magnet schools for the coming 2017-2018 school year.

“HISD magnet programs are reviewed annually. Discussions about the equitable funding of schools – both magnet and neighborhood campuses – are part of that review process,” Hollin wrote.

She added that a comprehensive review of the magnet program would likely be completed by January.

[…]

Magnet schools and programs have been a touchy subject in Houston ISD as their prevalence and prominence has grown. While some are more diverse both in terms of race and economic status than many other district schools, critics have argued that they accept a much larger percentage of white and Asian students than those groups account for district-wide.

Only 8 percent of HISD’s students are white, according to TEA data, yet they make up about 36 percent of students at Carnegie Vanguard High. At DeBakey High, about 50 percent of the students are Asian, even though only about 4.7 percent of students district-wide belong to that ethnic group.

But the district’s demographics don’t match those of the city overall, largely because more-affluent white families have generally opted to send their children to private schools or to other districts. About 15 percent of those 18 and under in the city of Houston are white, according to Census data.

Houston ISD Trustee Anna Eastman said she’s glad the proposed cuts to magnet schools and programs appear to be off the table for next year, but she worries that any future cuts along the lines of the recent proposal would be “incredibly drastic.” She said cutting extra funding to the magnet programs is not the way to bring more diversity to those campuses.

“I think our goal should always be to create schools that draw the diversity of Houston into them and spread it across and throughout the district,” Eastman said. “I don’t think the problems in our other schools is the fault of kids in our magnet programs.”

I haven’t been paying close attention to this, but nothing that happened here surprises me. As the story notes, there have been reviews of the magnet program going on for some time, and they usually don’t get very far because the stakeholders really don’t like the proposals. The last section I quoted above captures the conflict succinctly – this program and its schools are very successful and desirable, but there’s limited space and the schools’ demographics don’t come close to mirroring the district as a whole, and they draw students away from their neighborhood schools, which can suffer as a result. It would be best to have more magnet-style programs in more schools all around the district, but that’s a hard thing to do when resources are scarce. I don’t see anything about this dynamic changing much in the near future.

Posted in: School days.

Time for the 5th Court to decide on Paxton prosecutor pay

Do your job, y’all.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s months-long effort to remove the judge in his securities fraud case is coming to a head in a Dallas appeals court.

Prosecutors say the 5th Court of Appeals has no jurisdiction to get rid of the judge, George Gallagher, because he has moved the case out of its reach — to Harris County. But Paxton’s lawyers say there is no evidence the case has been sent there yet, making the 5th Court of Appeals the appropriate place to push for Gallagher’s removal.

The 5th Court of Appeals paused the case earlier this month to give all sides an opportunity to hash out the dispute. A number of responses stemming from that decision were due Tuesday.

The prosecutors, in their latest response, called it “deja vu all over again” to see Paxton ask the 5th Court of Appeals to intervene in the case. His lawyers were unsuccessful last year in trying to get the court to dismiss the charges.

The prosecutors held firm Tuesday in their central argument against Paxton’s attempt to get the 5th Court of Appeals involved, saying his “claims are ultimately undone by the same facts that purport to fortify them; the transfer of venue to Harris County makes the Harris County appellate courts the proper place” to ask for Gallagher’s removal. Harris County is served by the 1st Court of Appeals.

Paxton’s lawyers countered that the prosecutors “entire argument is premised on the flawed assumption” that Gallagher remains the presiding judge in the case. They reiterated that they have not consented to letting Gallagher follow the case to Harris County, arguing it thus remains in Collin County — and under the jurisdiction of the 5th Court of Appeals.

See here, here, and here for the background. One thing we can all agree on is that there are no new arguments being made. The court just needs to decide whose argument it buys. Time to get this done and move on.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Weird taproom bill gets final passage

Bummer.

A bill that would force Texas breweries, once they’ve grown beyond a state-limited size, to sell and buy back their own beer before offering it in their own taprooms has now passed both houses of the state Legislature.

“To say that today’s outcome was incredibly disheartening would be to put it mildly,” the Texas Craft Brewers Guild said in a statement following a 19-to-10 vote in the Senate.

The House approved the measure May 6.

House Bill 3287 has been blasted as “anti-competitive,” “anti-beer” and a potential job killer by an unlikely coalition that includes Anheuser-Busch InBev and the state’s 200-plus craft brewers, which often find themselves at odds with the global giant. The Texas Association of Manufacturers and the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation also opposed the measure.

The bill was supported by the state’s two distributor groups.

See here for the background. This all basically happened under the radar, when there was no organized grassroots efforts on behalf of the microbreweries. I suppose that says something about the power of the distributors’ lobbyists, but it’s also a reminder that what was won can be lost, and defense is at least as important a offense.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Houston pension reform bill passes

It’s done.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

The Texas House on Wednesday approved the controversial Senate version of a bill that aims to overhaul Houston’s failing pension funds — over the passionate objections of current and former firefighters.

Senate Bill 2190, which passed in a 103-43 vote, now heads to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk. But the months of rancor between firefighters and Houston officials promise to linger long after the legislative session ends Monday.

[…]

The Houston bill passed Wednesday without two amendments the House had previously added in an apparent attempt to appease firefighters. One amendment would have prevented the bill from impacting current firefighter retirees. The other could have allowed the firefighter pension system to bear a smaller burden in paying down unfunded liabilities shoring up billions in shortfalls in three city employee retirement funds.

That drew the anger of firefighter pension members, dozens of whom sat in the House gallery Wednesday. Some shouted down to representatives as they walked out after the vote. One woman could be heard yelling, “Shameful!”

After the vote, Houston firefighter pension board chairman David Keller said he was disappointed in the vote. During the session, pension officials had suggested such legislation could be unconstitutional because it determines the financial boundaries the fund should stay within. Keller said the Constitution says that power is left solely to the pension board.

Keller said it was too soon to determine if the pension board will file a lawsuit.

“We will explore every option available to us,” he said.

But state Rep. Dan Flynn, who carried the bill in the House, said that killing the bill because firefighters remained unhappy would have exasperated the dire financial situation the city and the retirement funds are experiencing. The bill addresses pensions for firefighters, police and municipal employees.

“If we don’t pass it, there won’t be any pensions,” the Canton Republican told The Texas Tribune earlier this year.

Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, authored the amendment that could have helped the firefighter pension fund bear less of the burden shoring up the city’s shortfalls. The amendment would have given pension officials more time to provide data showing that financial forecasts estimate the fund will be in better shape than Houston officials estimated.

But on Wednesday, he urged his colleagues to vote for the bill without the amendment.

“We’ve done everything we can to work hard in good faith,” Huberty said.

Keller, the pension chairman, said the pension board offered to provide the data under licensing agreements that included confidentiality provisions. He said the city never responded.

When asked if firefighters would campaign against any Houston-area state officials who backed the bill, Keller said “it’s hard to say.”

“But I know the firefighters are having a lot of emotions right now: loss, anger,” he said. “And they’ve been shown to be politically active.”

See here for the background. The firefighters are gonna do what the firefighters are gonna do. I get they’re unhappy and to an extent I don’t blame them, but this is where we are, and it took a lot of effort to get here. At this point, the main thing I’ll be looking for is who will be campaigning against the pension obligation bonds. It’s one thing to say we need to vote on those things (even if we hadn’t voted on them before), it’s another to say we should vote against them. Until then, kudos to all for getting this done, and congratulations to Mayor Turner for doing what once seemed to be impossible. The Mayor’s press release is here, and the Chron has more.

UPDATE: Here’s the longer Chron story.

Posted in: Local politics, That's our Lege.

School finance bill is dead

It started with this.

State Rep. Dan Huberty said Wednesday that he would not accept the Senate’s changes to his school finance bill, launching a last-ditch effort to hammer out a compromise with less than a week left in the session.

After a passionate speech railing on the Senate for gutting his bill, Huberty, a Houston Republican who is chairman of the House Public Education Committee, announced he has decided to request a conference committee with the Senate on House Bill 21.

The bill was originally intended to inject $1.5 billion into the state’s funding for the majority of public schools and to simplify some of the complex, outdated formulas for allocating money to school districts across the state. The Senate took that bill, reduced the funding to $530 million, and added what many public education advocates have called a “poison pill”: a “private school choice” program that would subsidize private school tuition and homeschooling for kids with disabilities.

“Members, some of your schools will be forced to close in the next year based on the committee substitute of House Bill 21,” as passed by the Senate, Huberty said, before moving to go to conference. “I refuse to give up. I’ll continue trying. Let’s at least attempt to rescue this bill.”

The House voted 134-15 to request a conference committee with the Senate on the bill.

See here and here for the background. The House’s request for a conference committee was denied by the Senate.

An effort to overhaul the state’s beleaguered school finance system has been declared dead after the Texas Senate Education Committee’s chairman said Wednesday that he would not appoint conferees to negotiate with the House.

“That deal is dead,” Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, said.

Taylor’s remarks come after his counterpart in the House, Dan Huberty, R-Houston, gave a passionate speech in which he said he would not accept the Senate’s changes to House Bill 21 and would seek a conference committee with the Senate.

HB 21 was originally intended to inject $1.5 billion into the state’s funding for the majority of public schools and to simplify some of the complex, outdated formulas for allocating money to school districts across the state. The Senate took that bill, reduced the funding to $530 million, and added what many public education advocates have called a “poison pill”: a “private school choice” program that would subsidize private school tuition and homeschooling for kids with disabilities.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick pronounced the bill dead in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

“Although Texas House leaders have been obstinate and closed-minded on this issue throughout this session, I was hopeful when we put this package together last week that we had found an opening that would break the logjam. I simply did not believe they would vote against both disabled children and a substantial funding increase for public schools,” he said in the statement. “I was wrong. House Bill 21 is now dead.”

House Speaker Joe Straus said in a statement Wednesday that the Senate has not prioritized school finance reform this session.

“We appointed members of a conference committee today because the House was willing to continue to work on public school finance immediately. Unfortunately, the Senate walked away and left the problems facing our schools to keep getting worse,” he said.

HB 21 was the first time in years that the Legislature has taken up major school finance reform without a court mandate.

HB21 was also the vehicle for addressing the recapture issue that is costing HISD (among other districts) millions and which is being litigated on the grounds that the TEA didn’t make its changes to the formula properly. You can kiss that good-bye as well. It’s somehow fitting that the Lege could not come to an agreement on school finance, as this proves the lie of the Supreme Court ruling that insisted they could do this on their own without the Supremes forcing them to. Not as long as we have Dan Patrick presiding over this Senate they won’t. The Chron has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

House passes Voter ID 2.0

Some minor changes, but the same basic idea.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The Texas House on Tuesday tentatively approved legislation to overhaul the state’s embattled voter identification law, moving it one step closer to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

Senate Bill 5 would in several ways relax what some had called the nation’s most stringent ID requirements for voters — a response to court findings that the current law discriminated against black and Latino voters.

The 95-54 vote followed a six-hour debate that saw fierce pushback from Democrats, who argued the legislation wouldn’t go far enough to expand ballot access and contains provisions that might discourage some Texans from going to the polls. Democrats proposed a host of changes through amendments, a few of which surprisingly wriggled through.

Tuesday’s vote was part of flurry of last-minute efforts to salvage a bill that languished in the House for nearly two months, worrying Republican leaders who believed inaction would torpedo the state’s position — and bring down federal election oversight — in ongoing litigation over the current ID law.

[…]

Before it reaches Abbott, the bill must return to the Senate, which must weigh seven House amendments or request a conference committee to squabble over each chamber’s legislation. One amendment would allow voters to present IDs that had been expired for four years, rather than two years, as the Senate bill would. Another would require the secretary of state to study ways to boost the state’s perennially low voter turnout, and a third amendment would require the secretary of state’s office to reveal details — currently withheld — about its spending on voter education efforts.

Democrats said the amended SB 5 would not pass legal muster, arguing lawmakers should instead scrap all vestiges of the 2011 law.

“We’re in for a long, hot summer of having to defend this in court,” said Rep. Alfonso Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass. “And guess what? We’re going to lose again.”

See here for the background. I agree with Rep. Nevarez. Changing how voter ID is enforced now has no bearing on the intent of the law when it was passed. That can’t be fixed by amending the law. I grant, the state will have a better defense with SB5 on the books, but I’m skeptical and Judge Ramos ought to be as well. The Chron has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Texas blog roundup for the week of May 22

The Texas Progressive Alliance is old enough to remember when even Republicans considered giving classified information to the Russians a bad thing as it brings you this week’s roudup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

The SCOTUS ruling on North Carolina’s gerrymandering could affect Texas

This is potentially a very big deal.

In striking down North Carolina’s congressional district map, the Supreme Court sent Texas a firm warning Monday about how the state’s case may fare if it reaches that stage.

The 5-3 North Carolina ruling affirmed a previous district court decision, which found that Republican state legislators there had “packed” black voters into two Democratic-held districts to dilute the impact of minority votes in other congressional seats.

Written by Justice Elena Kagan, the ruling is the latest in a series of rejections from the Supreme Court in recent years toward redistricting efforts that include racial considerations. The court demanded the review of Virginia state legislature districts in March and also ruled against Alabama’s state legislature districts in 2015.

[…]

Michael Li, a redistricting expert and senior counsel at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, said the North Carolina ruling will be an “important decision” for the other districting efforts winding through the legal system, including those in Texas.

“It makes clear that this isn’t about any sort of talismanic test or anything like that, but that you actually have to delve into the facts and circumstances about how maps are drawn,” Li said. “So even a district that looks pretty and has nice lines, and everything like that, can still be problematic. And it’s really up to the trial court to delve into that.”

Democrats in Texas celebrated the ruling as a promising indication of how their arguments will fare moving forward.

“I am happy that North Carolina voters secured another victory against the national Republican crusade to undermine the voting power of African Americans and Hispanics in local, state, and federal elections,” said Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, who has been on the front lines of another legal case against Texas’ voter ID law.

Though the North Carolina decision may be a setback for Texas’ chances, it will not necessarily be determinative of the outcome. As Kagan reiterated, the specific details of the districts matter greatly. And newly confirmed Justice Neil Gorsuch will be able to hear the Texas case, whereas the North Carolina arguments occurred before he took his seat on the court.

While Li said he was reticent to predict Paxton’s decision-making, he expects the North Carolina case will factor into how he handles Texas’ efforts moving forward.

“It should be a warning to states about how the court is going to look at these cases, but that doesn’t mean that Texas won’t appeal,” Li said. “It is fact-specific, and there’s a lot politically riding on these decisions, and sometimes taking your chance at the Supreme Court can be important.”

See these two Rick Hasen posts for all the technical details. This Trib story boils it down a bit and explains the relevance to Texas:

For years, courts have wrangled with a tough question: How to untangle the roles of race and partisanship in redistricting, the once-per-decade exercise of redrawing political maps to accommodate changing populations. It’s a crucial exercise because partisan gerrymandering is broadly viewed as constitutional, while race-based map-drawing is not.

But the legal calculus is complicated by the fact that black and Latino voters tend to favor Democrats, for instance.

Monday’s Supreme Court ruling said plaintiffs could successfully challenge the use of race in redistricting, even if lawmakers claim they were motivated by politics.

“The sorting of voters on the grounds of their race remains suspect even if race is meant to function as a proxy for other [including political] characteristics,” said a footnote in Justice Elena Kagan’s majority decision.

[…]

Though Texas’ court dispute isn’t precisely the same as North Carolina’s, they both feature a similar line of defense — that partisanship, not race, motivated map drawers.

In one 2013 brief, for instance, then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott wrote “plaintiffs must prove that the Texas Legislature’s redistricting decisions were motivated by unconstitutional racial animus rather than a desire to maximize the Republican Party’s electoral prospects.”

But race and partisanship are intertwined in Texas, and opponents of the maps successfully argued — in some districts, at least — that the Republican-dominated Legislature advanced the party’s interests by looking to race.

Monday’s Supreme Court decision only adds heft to that idea, lawyers challenging the state say, making it more difficult for Texas and other states to argue politics can shield racial considerations.

“It undermines entirely their protestation that this is about politics: Yes, we’re picking apart Latino voting boxes and African-American voting boxes – we’re not doing it to them, we’re doing it to the Democratic Party,” said Jose Garza, an attorney for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, a lead plaintiff in the case. “That’s just not going to hold up.”

Gerry Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center and an attorney for other plaintiffs in the case, said the Supreme Court “expressly rejected” part of Texas’ redistricting defense.

Texas’ defense now is that the 2013 map wipes away the problems with the 2011 map. The main problem with that is that some of the illegal districts are identical in the two maps, so one presumes something would need to be done about that. Thus, the court has asked the state if it might like to take a crack at drawing a new, legal map, maybe in a shudder special session. I rather doubt the state will take them up on this offer, on the grounds that the state surely figures it will win, but they have until the 26th to decide. Daily Kos and Slate have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

How bad is the “Patrick Lite” bathroom bill?

For one view, there’s this, from Texas Competes:

A review of press coverage shows that the Texas “bathroom bill” debate generated $216 million in publicity for the state of Texas in the period from January 10, 2016 through May 22, 2017.

During the 85th Texas legislative session, 25,774 local, state, and national articles were written about the efforts to pass bathroom and changing room restrictions on transgender adults and children. More than 20,000 of these articles were published outside of Texas.

The media tracking service Meltwater was used to generate the data; its language-detecting algorithm deemed 73% of the coverage, or $155.5 million, “neutral;” 25%, or $56.4 million, “negative;” and 2%, or $4 million, “positive.” A review of coverage categorized as “positive” by the software revealed that these stories largely described efforts by performing artists, businesses, sports organizations and others to protest “bathroom bills.” Overall, the sentiment calculated across all news coverage was deeply negative, as seen in the chart below. (The February 2017 spike in sentiment was largely related to a “positive” story covering the NBA’s decision to move its All-Star Game from Charlotte to the LGBT-inclusive city of New Orleans.)

The topic of bathroom restrictions for transgender Texans has been shepherded into the spotlight by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and vocal anti-LGBT backers like Empower Texans, Conservative Republicans of Texas, and Texas Values.

Texas business leaders and small business owners have consistently cited the war for talent as a major concern related to the state’s anti-LGBT reputation. “HR executives and business leaders voice concern to us when stories about discrimination dominate the news about Texas,” said Jessica Shortall, Managing Director of Texas Competes, a coalition of nearly 1,300 Texas employers and chambers of commerce making the economic case for an LGBT-friendly Texas. “We cannot maintain the pipeline of talent needed to fuel this state’s economy in the face of national coverage that tells young workers that Texas is in the business of discrimination.”

In a February UT/TT 2017 poll, a majority of Texans said that it’s “not important” for the legislature to pass a bathroom law. In March, the Public Religion Research Institute released a poll showing that 53% of Americans oppose laws requiring transgender people to use bathrooms that correspond to their sex at birth. In a recent USA TODAY poll, Americans aged 18 to 35 – a group representing the current and future talent pool for many Texas employers – oppose bathroom laws by nearly a two-to-one ratio.

You know how they say there’s no such thing as bad publicity? This will be a test of that. And I’m sure North Carolina’s glad we’re getting all the attention for being transphobic and unwelcoming now. It’s taking some of the heat off of them.

As bad as the perception is, the reality may be somewhat less harsh, though that remains to be seen.

“I think it’s going to depend on how people interpret the amendment,” said Dax Gonzalez, assistant director of governmental relations for the Texas Association of School Boards, which represents the state’s school districts and provides guidance to them on policies related to transgender students.

Under Paddie’s interpretation, the amendment would nix existing trans-inclusive policies at some school districts that allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice at school. (Some Texas school districts allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity through formal policies or on a case-by-case basis.)

But the school board association, which endorsed the measure on Sunday night, argues school districts could probably maintain such policies, possibly with a few tweaks, because of the measure’s “flexibility.”

“I think what it boils down to is that this amendment is pretty flexible and open to interpretation,” Gonzalez added.

[…]

After the Sunday vote, Straus suggested the Paddie amendment would not require schools to make significant modifications to how they “handle sensitive issues.”

School groups agree because providing single-stall facilities for students seeking bathroom-related accommodations is something school districts “would do anyway,” so the amendment doesn’t make a “significant change” on that front, said Jennifer Canaday, governmental relations director for the Association of Texas Professional Educators.

When it comes to the amendment’s possible effects on efforts to accommodate transgender students beyond single-occupancy bathrooms, Canaday echoed the school board association in saying there was “enough ambiguity” in the amendment to allow for different interpretations by school districts.

But she indicated that the school group — which deemed bathroom-related legislation “a solution in search of a problem” — was still sifting through any possible repercussions for trans-inclusive policies in place across the state.

“Obviously there’s some confusion,” she said. “It may take some time [to figure out] how school districts interpret this.”

I strongly suspect that more forward-thinking districts like HISD will continue to accommodate trans students as best they can, while districts with jerks for Superintendents like Pearland ISD will take a hard line. It will inevitably be up to the courts to sort it out.

One major danger zone in all this is privacy concerns.

The measure poses an excruciating dilemma for Texas schools that have quietly agreed at parents’ requests to keep secret the birth genders of some students.

To comply with state law, teachers might have to send transgender students to the bathroom of their birth gender or to a single-occupancy bathroom, shocking their peers.

The legislation “really boxes in school systems,” said Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, a spokeswoman for the national transgender rights organization Trans Equality.

[…]

Currently, each school and school district determines how to handle students whose birth genders are secret — a small portion of Texas’ thousands of transgender minors. A survey conducted by the Williams Institute at UCLA indicated that 13,800 Texas teens identify as transgender, but the number of children under age 13 is not known.

Even if this law isn’t quite as bad as it could be, given its limited reach, it’s still potentially catastrophic for thousands of children. Not everyone is out, and not everyone wants to be, but what is a school to do with a trans kid who doesn’t want his or her classmates to know about that? Trans kids are already at an elevated risk for suicide. When something bad happens, don’t say we weren’t warned. The DMN, Burkablog, and Deadspin, both of which note the lack of any response so far from the NCAA, have more.

UPDATE: The Senate will reject the “Patrick Lite” amendment in SB2078. Nothing good can come of this.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

MALDEF gets injunction in recapture lawsuit

From their website:

Please attribute the following statement on a Texas court ruling ordering state education officials to cease bypassing existing school funding rules to Marisa Bono, Southwest regional counsel of MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund):

“MALDEF is pleased that the District Court saw through efforts by the Texas Education Agency to circumvent school funding rules. The court was abundantly clear in its finding that efforts to relieve wealthier school districts of their responsibilities to poorer districts under ‘recapture’ amounted to ‘an inadequate, improper, and invalid attempt at a rule amendment.’ As MALDEF argued, and the court found, state education officials failed to comply with the mandatory requirement that any changes in funding rules must include a fiscal impact statement – TEA’s own witness confirmed that this rule change will cost public schools $88 million a year. We call on the Texas legislature to take immediate and binding steps to bar the TEA from doing this again.”

Read the injunction order here.

Read the jurisdiction order here.

See here for the background. I started writing this before there was any reporting on it, just a bit of chatter on Facebook that led me to Google and the MALDEF statement. Now here is the Chron story.

Just weeks after voters approved a $77.5 million payment to the state in so-called “recapture” fees, the Houston school district could be stuck with another $60 million in fees after a judge’s ruling that the state improperly slashed wealthy districts’ bills.

The ruling, by state District Judge Darlene Byrne in Travis County, temporarily halts an agreement by the Texas Education Agency that allowed the Houston Independent School District and other property-rich districts to reduce the amount of “equalization” payments required to fund public education.

The ruling throws HISD’s recapture bill back into question and could affect more than a dozen other property wealthy districts across the state, though no official list has been released.

“We understand the financial situation even wealthy school districts are in, which is why we’re pushing for school finance reform in the Legislature,” said Marisa Bono, southwest regional council for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a civil rights organization that filed the suit.

“But the solution is not to give wealthy districts a tax break on the backs of property poor districts.”

[…]

The deal was cut in February, when TEA said it would give districts such as HISD credit for half of their local homestead exemptions, along with adjustments for student enrollment and property values, to cut the districts’ recapture bills.

The changes were outlined in a Feb. 1 memo penned by TEA Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez that were later incorporated into TEA’s recapture manual.

TEA officials at the time concluded the would result in “no fiscal implications to state or local government, including local school districts.”

But attorneys for the property-poor districts argued the state would lose $88 million in funding, causing significant financial loss to local governments.

In a ruling released late Friday, Byrne concluded that the reprieve granted by TEA was “inadequate, improper and invalid,” and that the TEA manual did not contain an accurate financial note describing the fiscal impact of the changes.

She granted a temporary injunction to halt the recapture calculations until the case can go to trial Aug. 11.

Unless the state works out another way to grant HISD and the other districts a reprieve, the district could be forced to pay $137 million. The adjustments for enrollment and property values were allowed to stand, said Bono, the MALDEF lawyer.

So there you have it. It’s very frustrating, especially with the Senate undermining efforts to address the problem. I don’t know what happens next, but I hope HISD and the TEA can work something out that will be accepted by the judge and the plaintiffs.

Posted in: Legal matters.

El Paso files “sanctuary cities” lawsuit

Two and counting, as El Paso gets in on the anti-SB4 action.

The lawsuit, filed by El Paso County, its Sheriff Richard Wiles and the Texas Organizing Project Education Fund, a client of the Texas Civil Rights Project, charges that the law, if enacted, would violate several provisions of the U.S. Constitution, including the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of the equal protection of laws; the 14th Amendment’s due process clause; and the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The plaintiffs also allege the bill would violate the U.S. Supremacy Clause, which states that federal law — including statutes dealing with immigration enforcement — is “wholly dedicated to the federal government and may not be usurped by the states.”

“All law enforcement agencies and jurisdictions that opt to stay out of immigration enforcement face stringent civil liability,” the lawsuit charges. “And, persons in Texas, particularly Mexican-Americans, those of Hispanic descent, and immigrants and their families, will be caught in the crossfire.”

The lawsuit, filed in San Antonio, which is part of the Western District of Texas’ federal judicial district, comes after the City of El Cenizo and Maverick County filed suit against the state earlier this month. The city of Austin also voted last week to file a suit to stop the controversial measure, which Abbott and other Republicans have argued is needed to ensure Texans are safe from non-deported criminal immigrants who aren’t turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

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

“El Paso also has adopted policies, which may violate SB 4’s unconstitutional mandates,” the complaint reads. “Specifically, the El Paso County Attorney’s office has adopted a policy that prohibits its investigators from making inquiries into the citizenship or residency status for the purpose of determining whether an individual has violated civil immigration law or for the purpose of enforcing those laws.”

See here for more on the El Cenizo/Maverick County lawsuit. More cities are expected to follow suit, though on different grounds than El Paso and its unique situation. It would be nice to know when Houston will join in; one hopes there are plans to address this after the session is over and pension reform is in the can. Meanwhile, Greg Abbott is out there telling lies about SB4 and its effects. Gotta do what you gotta do when the facts are against you, after all. The Press and the Current have more.

Posted in: La Migra, Legal matters.

Amendment focused on school bathrooms passes the House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

Posted in: That's our Lege.

House and Senate concur on pension bill

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

Mayor Sylvester Turner

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Senate wrecks school finance bill

It’s what they do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Collin County punts prosecutor pay question back to appeals court

Incoming!

Best mugshot ever

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Budget deal reached

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In other business from Saturday:

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

Rep. Al Green gets death threats

sad, but hardly surprising.

Rep. Al Green

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

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

I have problems with this.

Darrell Jordan

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

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

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

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

He vowed to continue his challenge of the system.

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Legal matters.

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

As well she should.

Kim Ogg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Weekend link dump for May 21

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

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

“How Unprecedented Is James Comey’s Firing?”

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

How to understand James Comey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RIP, Chris Cornell, frontman for Soundgarden and Audioslave.

Alex Jones backs down like the weenie he is.

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Texting while driving ban passes the Senate

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

Rep. Tom Craddick

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

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

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

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

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

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

The amendment ultimately failed with a 12-19 vote.

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

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

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

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

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Sandra Bland Act passes

Good.

Sandra Bland

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

Continue reading →

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Special prosecutors named in Temple case

We’ll see how they proceed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Warning labels, schmarning labels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miller responded: “We can adjust that too.”

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

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

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

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

It’s HB2 all over again

Here we go again.

Right there with them

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

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

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

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

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

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

They predicted even more litigation.

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

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

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

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Bill King wants you to lower his property taxes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Local politics.

Appeals court chooses not to decide in Paxton prosecutor pay case

This is oddly fitting.

Best mugshot ever

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Culberson’s stock purchase

Interesting.

Rep. John Culberson

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.