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Weekend link dump for June 25

“The AHCA would raise employment and economic activity at first, but lower them in the long run. It initially raises the federal deficit when taxes are repealed, leading to 864,000 more jobs in 2018. In later years, reductions in support for health insurance cause negative economic effects. By 2026, 924,000 jobs would be lost, gross state products would be $93 billion lower, and business output would be $148 billion less. About three-quarters of jobs lost (725,000) would be in the health care sector. States which expanded Medicaid would experience faster and deeper economic losses.”

“From that angle, Apple’s new HQ is a retrograde, literally inward-looking building with contempt for the city where it lives and cities in general. People rightly credit Apple for defining the look and feel of the future; its computers and phones seem like science fiction. But by building a mega-headquarters straight out of the middle of the last century, Apple has exacerbated the already serious problems endemic to 21st-century suburbs like Cupertino—transportation, housing, and economics. Apple Park is an anachronism wrapped in glass, tucked into a neighborhood.”

“Oh well, you know what they say — you can’t log off Amazon without spending $13.7 billion. So true!”

Calvin’s dad explains it all to you.

“Google bets AI and human oversight will curb online extremism”.

“The Trump Administration has no strategy to address the on-going HIV/AIDS epidemic, seeks zero input from experts to formulate HIV policy, and—most concerning—pushes legislation that will harm people living with HIV and halt or reverse important gains made in the fight against this disease.”

The rise and fall of Gopher, the first system for organizing and finding information on the Internet.

“The lesson: just because you say you’re there only to observe doesn’t mean you have the power to confine yourself to an observer’s role.”

“Political data gathered on more than 198 million US citizens was exposed this month after a marketing firm contracted by the Republican National Committee stored internal documents on a publicly accessible Amazon server.” Um, oops?

NASA wants to probe Uranus in search of gas“. Of course it does.

For once, I agree with Big John Cornyn: “The people have a right to know what is happening behind closed doors with secret HC negotiations”.

RIP, Dallas Hill, one of Houston’s first major fashion models.

RIP, Tony DiCicco, former head coach of the USWNT that won the 1996 Olympics and 1999 World Cup.

Good face, high ass: How a pro baseball scout would evaluate you.

“Three quarters of white evangelicals approve of a ban on refugees. The American Christians who insist that they are uniquely and especially “biblical” are the same American Christians least likely to accept and internalize the relentless biblical command to welcome the stranger and to assist those fleeing danger.”

“Lawyers who have been trained to answer to the Constitution first and their wealthy clients far later don’t want to be in the position of having to tell the world’s largest preschooler that sometimes no bendy straw for the juice box really means no bendy straw for the juice box.”

There will probably be another season of Fargo, just not in the immediate future.

The Republican campaign to repeal Obamacare was always based on false promise (okay, a lie): that it was possible for all Americans to have better, cheaper medical care without raising taxes or reducing the incomes of doctors and the profits of hospitals and drug companies.”

“I think there’s only one thing you need to know about how to avoid sexual assault: Don’t sexually assault anybody.”

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Next round of bathroom bills getting prepped

Meet the new bills, same as the old bills.

Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, is expected to introduce two bills in the upcoming special session of the Texas Legislature that would regulate which public bathrooms transgender Texans, including schoolchildren, can use.

The first bill, which will closely resemble his bill that failed during the regular session, will be a broad attempt to prohibit cities, counties and public school districts from enforcing non-discrimination ordinances involving multi-occupancy restrooms or locker rooms.

It is expected to allow exceptions for people already protected under state and federal anti-discrimination laws, which do not include sexual orientation or gender identity.

Simmons’ bill would effectively invalidate local nondiscrimination ordinances that allow transgender people to use public bathrooms that match their gender identity, as well as school district policies that make accommodations for transgender students.

That proposal, House Bill 2899, had 79 co-sponsors, all Republicans, before lawmakers left Austin in late May. A bill needs to win a simple majority, or 76 votes, on the House floor to pass.

A second proposal Simmons plans to introduce would apply only to public school districts.

Despite Speaker Joe Straus’ disinterest, I have a hard time imagining a scenario where most of Abbott’s special session wingnut agenda, including a bathroom bill, doesn’t pass. There’s no place to hide, and with the session tucked in between July 4 and Labor Day, there are no holiday weekends to eat up time. Abbott has decided to get involved, which ought to give his items a push. I suppose anything can happen, and for sure we should engage and resist to the max, but I strongly suspect the real opportunity to deliver a message will be next year.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Getting underway in Dallas

Candidate recruitment season is on.

Dorotha Ocker

For Texas Democrats, the road out of the political wilderness winds through Dallas County.

It’s here, in the Republican strongholds of the north, west and east, that Democrats hope to unseat up to seven GOP lawmakers.

Their operatives were in Dallas this week to interview potential House candidates, raise money and plot strategy to flip the turf made fertile by Hillary Clinton, who walloped Donald Trump in Dallas County. Clinton won seven Texas House districts in Dallas County that are represented by Republicans.

“The 2016 elections showed us that voters reject the tone and rhetoric of Donald Trump and the Texas Republicans who support him,” said Cesar Blanco, co-chairman of the Texas House Democratic Campaign Committee. “Dallas County is ground zero in our fight to win seats now held by Republicans.”

Along with Blanco’s visit, Texas Democrats on Wednesday held a fundraiser at a private home in Dallas, hoping to convince donors that 2018 could be a successful election cycle.

Along with Dallas County, Democrats are targeting Republicans in House Districts 134 and 138 in Harris County and House District 136 in Williamson County.

[…]

Republicans hold a 95-55 advantage in the Texas House, and Democrats concede that they can’t retake control of the chamber in one election cycle.

In 2008, when Democrats gained four seats in Dallas County, they came within two seats from retaking the House for the first time since 2001.

But they were clobbered in the 2010 midterms. And the subsequent redistricting process resulted in Republicans solidifying what were once swing districts, including several seats in Dallas County.

As with the previous decade, population trends in urban areas have created opportunities for Democrats to break through.

In 2016, Democrat Victoria Neave beat incumbent Republican Kenneth Sheets in District 107, which includes eastern Dallas County.

More encouraging for Democrats, Clinton, their presidential nominee, won in seven Republican House Districts, including the GOP-dominated turf that includes Preston Hollow and the Park Cities.

Blanco said the House Democratic Campaign Committee is hoping to build on Clinton’s success.

On Wednesday, he met with several potential Democratic candidates for House, including Dorotha Ocker, who last year came within one percentage point of beating incumbent Republican Matt Rinaldi in House District 115 in far northwest Dallas County.

The rematch between Ocker and Rinaldi will now be one of the most watched races in Texas.

I’ve discussed Dallas County before, and it is indeed a target-rich environment for 2018. Some of those targets, like Matt Rinaldi in HD115 and Cindy Burkett (author of this session’s unconstitutional anti-abortion bill) in HD113, are more vulnerable than others. I presume the list in the story is a partial one, as there are several other districts that deserve strong challenges – right here in Harris County, that includes HDs 135 and 132, along with HD26 in Fort Bend. For now, the important thing is identifying potential candidates and getting them off to a good start. No time like the present for that.

Posted in: Election 2018.

More on Heights alcohol vote 2.0

From the Heights Examiner (now a section of the Wednesday Chron), the reasons why restauranteurs want in on the action.

But the possible reversal of the century-old prohibition on restaurants would mean more than just no longer having to sign a slip of a paper before being served, said Morgan Weber who owns Revival Market on Heights Boulevard, Coltivare on White Oak Drive and Eight Row Flint on Yale Street.

“When we opened Coltivare we always knew this was just going to be one of the hassles and hoops we have to jump through,” said Weber. “What we didn’t know was what a legitimate pain it would be and how much it eats into your bottom line – reality sets in and that’s a different story.”

Weber said the private club model – that exists as a nonprofit, meaning they must have a board of directors for the entity – requires his restaurants maintain a separate bank account for alcohol sales and that the money from those sales cannot be withdrawn without a meeting of the board and a vote. Due to intricacies of the rules, alcohol sales from Coltivare sat in the bank for one full year before Weber and his team were able to withdraw the funds. Further, he can’t have his alcohol inventory delivered to his business. He has to send an employee to go pick it up. And he has to pay more for that inventory than other restaurants and bars in Houston who can sell alcohol under standard Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission rules. He said he pays barely above retail for liquor, beer and wine.

Just based on buying alcohol at that rate, Weber estimates he’s losing 7 to 8 percent from his bottom line. That doesn’t take into account added labor for separate bookkeeping and trips to pick up inventory.

It’s not as easy as just charging more for cocktails, either, he said. Because patrons have an upper-limit to what they’ll pay for a martini, he can’t charge $14 at Eight Row Flint when Anvil in Montrose is charging $10.

See here for the background. I’m not in any way involved in the restaurant business, so I have no idea if Weber is reporting accurately or if he is exaggerating in some way, but if he’s telling it like it is then I can certainly understand his (and presumably others’) motivation. I have friends who live in the dry zone and I know some of them are not happy about this. I get that, but I can’t bring myself to endorse any of Texas’ antiquated and byzantine booze laws. I feel the same way about this as I do about the shamelessly rent-seeking beer distributors. These laws are anti-consumer, and they should be consigned to the scrap heap.

Posted in: Elsewhere in Houston.

The Round Rock Bigfoot footprint

You know, it’s been too long since we had a good Bigfoot story to talk about.

Steve Austin knows the truth

[Last] Saturday, the Round Rock Parks and Recreation Department released photos of foot prints found on various trails and parks in the Austin suburb. Officials have called it an “unexplained phenomena” and are urging anyone who knows about the origins of the footprints to contact them.

Compared to a park ranger’s foot, the mysterious foot print seems quite large. Some have speculated that it may be Bigfoot, the mythical creature that some have said they’ve seen in Texas.

But at least one local Bigfoot hunter was not impressed.

“I’m leaning towards not real at least on the top one,” Russell Miller told Chron.com after checking out the pics posted online. “Too narrow at the instep.”

Any further analysis of the images was difficult without a better view, the Baytown Bigfoot hunter added.

“Would love to see more pics and something for scale.”

Boy, wouldn’t we all? You can see the Facebook post with the pictures here, and I will leave the rest to your judgment. Just know that people can be tricky about this sort of thing. The Statesman has more.

Posted in: Skepticism, The great state of Texas.

Saturday video break: Saturday Night

Hey, it’s Saturday! And here’s a song all about Saturday Night! It’s perfect!

That was the Bay City Rollers, and the entire 1970s boiled down into a three-minute video. And for a slightly different view of the 70’s, here are the Eagles:

Well, you can answer the question of whatever happened to Saturday night yourself, at your convenience later today. Have fun!

Posted in: Music.

What about Fort Worth?

Now that Houston has voted to join the litigation against SB4, there remains one big city on the sidelines.

Holding signs that said, “No hate in my Texas” and “Diversity not division,” protesters on Tuesday urged city leaders to join a lawsuit seeking to have Texas’ so-called sanctuary cities law declared unconstitutional.

Members of the newly formed United Fort Worth want the Fort Worth City Council to join legal challenges to Senate Bill 4 — a measure that when it takes effect Sept. 1 will allow police to question people’s immigration status during traffic stops.

The grassroots group, formed three weeks ago by four young adults, held a press conference Tuesday at City Hall to highlight how they believe SB 4 will impact immigrants and other sectors of the Fort Worth community.

United Fort Worth includes advocacy groups such as Faith in Fort Worth, Indivisible FWTX, the North Texas Dream Team, Casa del Inmigrante and others to give voices to those who have not been heard, said Daniel Garcia Rodriguez, 22, one of United Fort Worth’s founders.

The city is approaching one million residents but has not focused on the social issues that confront it, Rodriguez contended.

“We have a lot of new people here,” Rodriguez said. “Hopefully, this coalition will help us share ideas with the city and together we can find a way to implement positive change.”

That includes persuading the city to join a lawsuit originally filed by the South Texas city of El Cenizo. San Antonio, Dallas and Austin are also challenging the constitutionality of SB 4.

“There are several large cities and small cities that have joined the lawsuit,” said Anita Quinones, an activist with Indivisible FWTX. “In the meantime, Fort Worth has been pretty quiet. There is opposition to Senate Bill 4 … in the community.”

Austin, El Paso, San Antonio, and Dallas were there more or less from the beginning. Houston took a little longer – there’s no question that everything else was on pause until pension reform was completed – but it was always going to get there. Fort Worth, which has a Republican Mayor and some progressive policies, including one of the longest-standing non-discrimination ordinances in the state, is more of a cipher. No elected officials from the city were quoted in the story, which may mean the author didn’t focus on them or maybe that no one in Fort Worth city government is talking about this yet. The activists have the right idea in getting organized and making this a priority for them. The first step is to get the attention of Mayor Betsy Price and the Fort Worth City Council, and to get them to engage on the issue. I wish them all the best.

Posted in: La Migra, Legal matters.

Doctors against bathroom bills

Good.

[Last] week, the American Medical Association (AMA), the country’s largest medical organization, took several actions to solidify their defense of transgender people. This included a resolution opposing any policy or legislation — like “bathroom bills” put forth in North Carolina and Texas — that prohibits transgender people from living according to their gender identity throughout society.

During its annual meeting in Chicago [last] week, the AMA House of Delegates approved a resolution favoring “Access to Basic Human Services for Transgender Individuals.” As drafted, the resolution notes that laws that restrict which facilities transgender people can use “place undue harm on the physical and social well-being and safety of transgender individuals.” It also highlights the way that transgender minors “are at particular risk of social, mental, and physical detriment by being forced to disregard their gender identity or to publicly identify as transgender due to these policies.”

Thus, the AMA officially opposes “policies preventing transgender individuals from accessing basic human services and public facilities in line with one’s gender identity, including, but not limited to, the use of restrooms.” The resolution also calls for the creation of additional policies that “promote social equality and safe access to basic human services and public facilities for transgender individuals according to one’s gender identity.”

I’m glad to see it. This is exactly what a responsible, caring establishment organization ought to do. I would be remiss if I did not note that this is not enough. The politicians who are pushing these bills aren’t doing so because they are misinformed or misguided. They’re doing it because they see political advantage in pushing them, and because they do not care at all for the people they hurt by doing so. The proper response to politicians of this type is to vote them out of office. Which brings me to the awkward fact that the Texas Medical Association endorsed Dan Patrick in 2014. Now, the TMA is not the AMA – I googled around and searched their respective websites, and I can’t honestly say if there’s any official relationship between the two organizations. But they do broadly share the same mission, and I have no doubt that many members of the TMA are also members of the AMA, and vice versa. It may not be the AMA’s place to tell the TMA what to do, but if the AMA wants to achieve its goals as stated above, it’s going to need organizations like the TMA to be aligned with them on it, and to take the lead in the states where it is relevant. Words are good, but action is necessary.

Posted in: National news.

No partisan gerrymandering claims (yet) in Texas

From Texas Redistricting:

The three-judge panel in the Texas redistricting case has issued an order striking the expert report offered by the Texas Democratic Party in connection with its partisan gerrymandering claim. However, the court said that it would allow the TDP to make an offer of proof under Federal Rule of Evidence 103 so that the report could be part of the record on appeal.

The panel said that it was striking the report because it had previously dismissed the TDP’s partisan gerrymandering claim regarding both the 2011 and 2013 maps.

The long and the short is that the court won’t be reviving the partisan gerrymandering claim and any remedy for the TDP will have to come from the Supreme Court when the case is eventually appealed (after the court decides the other issues in the case).

See here for more on the partisan redistricting case, which came out of Wisconsin. The Texas plaintiffs still have their discriminatory intent rulings, which offer a fair bit of potential for change, as does the recent SCOTUS ruling on racial gerrymandering. It’s possible the Wisconsin case could affect the next round of redistricting in 2021, but I wouldn’t count on anything before then. In the meantime, this case is moving along, and with any luck we’ll have us some new maps in place for next year.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Friday random ten – All in, part 1

I have a lot of songs that begin with the word “All”, so settle in and get comfortable.

1. All About Soul – Billy Joel
2. All Along The Watchtower – U2
3. All Around My Hat – The Mollys
4. All Around The World Or The Myth Of Fingerprints – Paul Simon
5. All At Once – Bonnie Raitt
6. All Because Of You Days – Echo and the Bunnymen
7. All But Blind – Larry Nozero
8. All Day All Night – And The Kids
9. All Day Music – War
10. All For The Best – from “Godspell”

Yes, that’s a U2 version of the Jimi Hendrix classic. Bono et al are distinctive enough to pull it off in a way that doesn’t necessarily invite unflattering comparisons. I’ve professed my love of the movie version of Godspell – it’s so gloriously and joyfully 1970s that I don’t know how anyone could not love it. Have I mentioned that Victor Garber, who has been in everything though he’s probably best known for being Jack Bristow in Alias, played the Jesus role in the movie? I have no idea if this classic movie is available on a streaming service, but if you come across it you should totally watch it. Anyway, I have a few more “All”-based lists, so be ready.

Posted in: Music.

Feds join the state in defense of SB4

I suppose this was to be expected.

About a month ago, the city of El Cenizo filed a lawsuit against the state, calling the bill unconstitutional. On Monday, the Trump administration got involved.

The defendants in the lawsuit are the state of Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The fight started May 8, the day after Abbott signed SB 4 into law. The city of El Cenizo filed a motion for preliminary injunction against the state, attempting to stop SB 4 from taking effect in September.

“This is a violation of civil rights and human rights. It’s a reckless, dangerous and discriminatory bill that should not only be halted but declared unconstitutional,” El Cenizo Mayor Raul Reyes said.

“This is a battleground,” said attorney Luis Vera, with the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC.

Vera represents El Cenizo. On Monday, his job got a lot more difficult.

“I received an email from the Department of Justice. President Donald Trump has ordered the Department of Justice to enter the case against El Cenizo and to file a brief and a statement of interest in support of the state of Texas, asking the federal courts to deny our motion for preliminary injunction,” Vera said.

I’m sure we’ll be hearing the outraged cries about the evil federal government messing in our precious local affairs any minute now. Until then, the Statesman fills in a few details.

The U.S. Department of Justice contacted Austin’s legal department on Monday indicating its intent to file a “statement of interest” and asked to be involved in the court hearings next week on SB 4, according to a city spokesman.

City officials learned of the Trump administration’s interest just as they were preparing to file a motion Monday asking a court to temporarily block the law, which is set to take effect Sept. 1. The city’s filing contains more than a dozen statements, including those from three Austin City Council members, Mayor Steve Adler, interim Police Chief Brian Manley and South by Southwest co-founder Roland Swenson.

The statements are intended to be used as evidence that SB 4 would create hardship and economic harm for the state if the law is implemented.

“Ultimately, my sincere belief — that I have expressed in multiple public statements to my constituents — is that implementation of SB 4 will make Austin less safe,” Adler said in a sworn declaration to the San Antonio federal court that will hold its first hearing June 26 on a legal challenge to SB 4 filed by San Antonio and Austin.

[…]

Meanwhile, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced Monday that his office had joined nine other states in filing briefs in support of President Donald Trump’s executive order that would cut some Department of Justice grants to cities that prohibit local law enforcement from communicating with immigration agents. Austin and Travis County are in compliance with those laws.

Back in April, a federal judge in San Francisco blocked Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order from taking effect while a court fight over that measure plays out. Austin and Travis County are among dozens of cities and counties challenging that order in court.

Paxton’s brief is a separate matter from the SB 4 lawsuits but reflects the growing number of fronts in the fight over “sanctuary cities,” regarded as local jurisdictions that decline in some way to assist federal immigration enforcement.

I think it’s safe to say that all eyes will be on San Antonio on Monday. Hopefully, the city of Houston will have gotten involved by then.

Posted in: La Migra, Legal matters.

One Republican judge doesn’t want that high-priced attorney for the bail lawsuit appeal

Credit where credit is due.

One of 15 Harris County judges challenging a federal order altering how bail works for indigent defendants has dropped out of the group that hired a pricey D.C. law firm to appeal the lawsuit.

Court at Law Judge Mike Fields, a Republican who has been on the bench since 1998, opted out of the appeal prepared by Cooper & Kirk, whose top lawyer, Charles “Chuck” Cooper, bills $550-per-hour, and who was just retained as private counsel for Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Fields said in an interview Wednesday he still supports the appeal, but going forward he prefers to use the Harris County Attorney’s Office as his legal representative. He doesn’t want the county to spend more money on his behalf. He said he couldn’t imagine how much higher the bills will go.

“I hate to even speculate,” he said. “I know the average Harris County taxpayer makes $20 an hour — $550 an hour is a huge jump from there.”

[…]

The suit already cost Harris County about $3.5 million, and Fields, 52, said he cannot justify spending more money for the appeal, especially after the district, circuit and U.S. Supreme Court all denied the county’s request for stay of Rosenthal’s order. He said he supports the idea of a settlement, and several of his colleagues do as well.

I’m glad that the continuation of this lawsuit and the extreme price tag of this particular attorney has made Judge Fields uncomfortable. It should make him uncomfortable, and one wonders why it hasn’t made his Republican colleagues equally uncomfortable. Those colleagues of his who say they join him in supporting a settlement, they should come forward and make themselves known. At this point, it seems clear that the only way to end this lawsuit without dragging it out till the bitter end and handing a very large amount of taxpayer dollars to a fancy appellate attorney is for these judges to say “enough is enough”. Judge Fields is the first of sixteen Republican misdemeanor court judges to express that view. One down, fifteen to go.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Even the SBOE opposes vouchers and the bathroom bill

A rare bout of sanity.

The Texas State Board of Education is known for its conservative ideals, but a majority of its Republican members said Tuesday they oppose GOP Gov. Greg Abbott’s demand that lawmakers pass a school voucher program and a bathroom law in next month’s special session.

Most of the education issues Abbott wants lawmakers to consider during their 30-day special session should be left to local school districts rather than dictated by the state, six Republican members of the board told the Houston Chronicle Tuesday. The six board members all said vouchers were a bad idea. Two members said they supported the Legislature taking up the issues and two others were unavailable for comment.

“Overwhelmingly, each and every member of the board looks at public education in a light that says, ‘We’re doing everything we can to promote, protect and serve the interests to some extent of public education,'” said Marty Rowley, a Republican member from Amarillo who said he opposes school vouchers and contends school leaders can manage student bathrooms. “Everyone’s perception of what school vouchers do is it doesn’t serve public education in the best manner.”

[…]

The governor also wants the Legislature to pass a bill regulating which bathrooms transgender students should use in schools — another issue considered by Patrick as a top priority.

Board members said few, if any, of their constituents or school leaders have expressed concern over how to handle bathrooms, and said schools should continue to have the flexibility to made accommodations on their own.

“There are ways for districts to deal with that,” said David Bradley, a Republican from Beaumont who votes with the board’s conservative faction. Studies have found fewer than 1 percent of Texans are transgender, and “the 1 percent does not drive policy making for the other 99 percent,” he said.

I mean, if even David Bradley thinks the bathroom bill is a waste of time, what more do you need to know? I literally can’t think of anything to add to this.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Houston officially gets in the SB4 litigation business

Well done.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston City Council voted Wednesday to sue the state over its new “sanctuary cities” law, joining Texas’ three other largest cities in challenging the controversial measure.

Council voted 10-6 to join San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, El Paso County and several other local governments and nonprofits in a consolidated case challenging the state. Councilman Jack Christie abstained.

A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for Monday.

“This is not an issue of our choosing,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said. “But when it ends up on your plate, you have to address it.”

Turner, who had shied away from the sanctuary cities issue for months, decided two weeks ago to put a lawsuit to a vote.

He was joined by council members Jerry Davis, Ellen Cohen, Dwight Boykins, Karla Cisneros, Robert Gallegos, Mike Laster, Larry Green, David Robinson and Amanda Edwards in voting for litigation.

Council members Brenda Stardig, Dave Martin, Steve Le, Greg Travis, Mike Knox and Michael Kubosh voted against a lawsuit.

See here and here for the background. No surprises in the Council vote, not that I expected any. One can make the case that a Council vote wasn’t strictly necessary – the Mayor has the authority to direct the City Attorney to get involved – but on procedural and political grounds I think this was the right call. Give everyone the chance to do the right thing, and demonstrate that majority support for this action existed. It’s possible Houston could have gotten involved sooner without this formality, but in a world where we were trying to get a pension reform bill through the Legislature, I think Mayor Turner (or anyone in his place) was going to wait until that was in the bag first. For sure, he’s loosed his tongue now that he’s gotten what he needed from Austin and is now playing defense.

The bottom line is that Houston did the right thing, and did it in time for the Monday court hearing. Better to be right slow than wrong fast, as long as it’s not too slow. The Trib has more.

Posted in: La Migra, Legal matters, Local politics.

Help Metro figure out its Regional Transit Plan

Here’s your chance to get involved and shape the direction of transit in the greater Houston area going forward.

What is your vision for transit service in the Greater Houston region?

METRO needs your help in creating a bold vision for the region’s transit network. METRO’s Board of Directors, led by Chair Carrin Patman, is developing a new plan for transit services in the Houston region. We intend to focus on providing more transportation choices to more people, and it is critical that we get your input.

The Regional Transit Plan will build on the foundation laid by METRO Solutions, the long-range transit plan approved by voters in 2003. METRO Solutions laid out a vision for the future transit system that included light rail, an expanded local bus system, new commuter bus facilities and much more. Since that time, METRO has been working to deliver that plan.

Our transit system must help people get to where they need to go today, as well as in the future. Through this process, we will look for ways to better serve the needs of our current customers, as well as develop strategies to attract new customers to the transit system. The regional transit plan will be designed to serve area residents through 2040.

The METRO Board of Directors established the following goals and guiding principles in developing the Regional Transit Plan.

Goals

  • Improve Mobility
  • Enhance Connectivity
  • Support Vibrant Communities
  • Ensure a Return on Investment

Guiding Principles

  • Safety
  • Stewardship
  • Accessibility
  • Equity

With these thoughts in mind, we invite you to join us in developing a plan for a transit system that best serves our area’s residents, businesses and visitors.

We’re Listening

  • What kind of transit system would best serve your needs?
  • How do feel about the goals of the 2040 Regional Transit Plan?
  • If you do not use transit today, what would entice you to use it tomorrow?
  • What are three important things METRO should keep in mind as it develops the Plan?

See here, here, and here for the background, and click the link at the top for the Regional Transit Plan presentation and the link to give your feedback. Metro will be holding a series of community meetings through July and August, beginning on June 27, to solicit feedback. I and several other bloggers had the opportunity to get a preview of this earlier in the week – see Glissette Santana’s writeup in the Urban Edge blog for some of the details – and I can tell you that Metro has been thinking about and planning for a lot of possibilities. The starting point is the 2003 referendum and the unfinished business it leaves behind, and it includes rail, BRT, bus system improvements, coordination with other regional transit agencies, partnerships with rideshare services, pilot programs for automated vehicles, and more. Community input is needed both to highlight underserved areas of need and to build the political capital that will enable passage of the next referendum in 2018. Check it out, attend some meetings, and let Metro know what is important to you and for them.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

We have a candidate in CD02

Todd Litton

Meet Todd Litton, the first declared Democratic candidate of which I am aware for CD02, which is entirely within Harris County and which is held by Rep. Ted Poe, who has been there since 2004. I don’t know much about Litton – you can see his biographical information, he’s clearly spent a lot of time with various committees, boards, and organizations. What I do know is that CD02, like several other urban/suburban Congressional districts held by Republicans, moved in a Democratic direction in 2016. It was still a nine-point win for Trump, though after having been a 27-point win for Mitt Romney in 2012. As with a lot of these districts, it’s going to be a matter of boosting Dem turnout, and hoping for a lackluster showing on their side.

Litton’s campaign Facebook page is here. I don’t see any campaign events yet, but I’m sure there will be something soon. I am aware of at least one other person who is supposed to be interested in CD02, but as yet Litton is the only one to take action. Now we need someone to come forward in CD22, where Pete Olson is making his claim to be the worst member of the delegation, and you know how fierce the competition is for that.

On a related note, June appears to be a busy month for judicial campaigns to get off the ground as well, at least here in Harris County. I’ve seen four such announcements so far, three from friends and the other from a “people you may know” person I clicked on. All four are women, and three of them have not been on a ballot before. I don’t know if 2018 is the non-Presidential year that Democrats break through in Harris County, but if you’re a Democratic attorney who wants to wear a robe, it is almost certainly your best chance. After the sweep of 2016, your only options in 2020 will be to primary someone, to hope for a retirement, to move to another county, or to run for an appellate or statewide bench. Maybe 2018 will be the year and maybe it won’t, but the path to a bench is the clearest it will be until 2022.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Texas blog roundup for the week of June 19

The Texas Progressive Alliance has a full load of scurrilous innuendo for you in this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

When might the Supreme Court speak on the Houston term limits lawsuit?

So as you know there is an ongoing lawsuit over the language used in the 2015 referendum that altered the city’s term limits ordinance. It was filed shortly after the election, with the city winning the first round in district court. Appeals are ongoing, with the most recent ruling coming this past January on a procedural matter. In addition to all this, the plaintiff in the original suit filed a writ of mandamus with the Supreme Court on June 2 that asks them to direct the district court judge to vacate his previous order allowing the 2015 result to stand and to require city elections this November. I’m on the plaintiff’s attorney’s email list (for my sins, no doubt) and as he sent out a missive last week urging his followers to contact the Supreme Court and ask them to rule on the writ in time for an election to occur, I figured I ought to bring this up.

So as we are now halfway through June, I have to think that time is rapidly running out for a non-farcical election to be conducted this November. Normally at this time, multiple candidates for a variety of offices, especially the open ones, will have been at work for months. There are always people who pop up to run in July and August, including a few at the filing deadline, but by this point you usually have a pretty good idea of who is out there. Funds have been raised, materials have been printed, websites and social media presences have been built, volunteers have been recruited, etc etc etc. Campaigns require resources, and one of those resources is time. We’re basically four months out from the start of early voting. To get a campaign up and running from scratch, especially for an At Large position, that’s not a whole lot of time. It could be done, but it would greatly favor those who already have some of the other resources, namely money and some amount of name recognition. In other words, incumbents and people who can write a check to get their campaign going quickly.

For what it’s worth, the Supreme Court issued a ruling requiring a vote on HERO on July 24, 2015, which was in response to a writ of mandamus. That was about a referendum and thus didn’t directly involve any candidates, though I’d argue that it had a negative effect on the pro-HERO side, since the antis had been gearing up for a campaign for some time by then. Let’s call that the outer bounds of when a writ mandating city elections for this year may happen, though really I’d say that’s too late. Bear in mind that Council members Brenda Stardig, Jerry Davis, Ellen Cohen, Mike Laster, Larry Green, and Jack Christie are all in their last terms one way or the other, so if those terms wind up ending this year instead of 2019, a whole gaggle of hopefuls are going to have to get up to speed immediately. There’s no question that the Supreme Court has no qualms about meddling in the affairs of the city of Houston, but that doesn’t mean it feels compelled to do so. We ought to know soon enough.

Posted in: Election 2017, Legal matters.

Getting ready for the first SB4 hearing

All eyes are going to be on this next week.

On Monday, June 26, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia will hear the City of San Antonio’s request for a preliminary injunction to block Senate Bill 4, the “sanctuary cities” law, from taking effect on Sept. 1.

The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) is representing the City in the lawsuit, along with the following nonprofit organizations: The Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education, the Workers Defense Project, and La Unión Del Pueblo Entero. The hearing, which is open to the public, will take place at 9:30 a.m. at the Federal Courthouse at 655 E. César E. Chavez Blvd.

“Judge Garcia consolidated three separate lawsuits into one,” MALDEF Vice President of Litigation Nina Perales told the Rivard Report Friday. “The City of Austin is now a part of our case, [along with] El Paso County, Texas Organizing Project, the City of El Cenizo in Webb County, and Maverick County,”

[…]

On Friday, the State of Texas dropped MALDEF from a pre-emptive lawsuit asking a federal court to declare the “sanctuary cities” law constitutional.

“We wrote them a letter and said that if they didn’t drop us we were going to ask the judge to fine Texas for bringing a frivolous lawsuit against MALDEF,” Perales said. “We’re the lawyers – you don’t sue somebody else’s lawyers. MALDEF has five cases against the State of Texas right now, so it’s not just about SB 4. They were draining our resources in other cases, including school finance and redistricting.”

The pre-emptive lawsuit was filed by Attorney General Ken Paxton on May 8 before any legal action was taken against Senate Bill 4. It still includes the following defendants: Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, all of Austin’s City Council members, Austin Mayor Steve Adler, and Austin Interim City Manager Elaine Hart. El Paso County, El Cenizo, Texas Organizing Project, and LULAC have since been added to the list.

“Today, after MALDEF made very clear its intention to pursue all available remedies against the state of Texas for filing a completely frivolous lawsuit against a civil rights law firm, the state relented and filed a voluntary dismissal of all of its claims against MALDEF,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel, in a statement. “This now permits MALDEF to devote its energies to the appropriate forum for resolving the many constitutional questions surrounding SB 4 – federal court in San Antonio.

“Today’s dismissal represents only a partial cure of Governor Abbott’s and Attorney General Paxton’s apparent problem with premature litigation. A more complete cure involves dismissing the entire preemptive lawsuit they filed in Austin, which is illegitimate against the remaining defendants, just as it was against MALDEF.”

See here, here, and here for some background. I’m sure there will be national coverage of this, which will remind everyone that we’re not just about bathroom bills here in Texas. Houston City Council may have voted to join the fight by this time, though I’d expect it to get tagged for a week. Mark this one on your calendar, next Monday is going to be a big deal. The Observer, which notes that there will be a hearing in Austin on the 29th for “all pending matters” pertaining to his pre-emptive lawsuit, has more.

Posted in: La Migra, Legal matters.

Ten best and worst 2017

This is always the most anticipated part of a legislative session.

Around the Texas Capitol this year, it wasn’t unusual to hear the 85th Legislature described as the worst anyone could remember. While we wouldn’t go that far, this session had more than its fair share of dispiriting moments. Quite a few of those came courtesy of the bathroom bill and the misleading public-safety rhetoric its supporters used to justify restrictions on where transgender Texans could relieve themselves. The bill died in the House, but the issue hasn’t gone away. Lawmakers also took a simple bill to ensure that Texas cities comply with federal immigration requests and amended it to allow police to inquire about immigration status when they merely detain someone. Democrats argued that the “show me your papers” provision could lead to racial profiling of Latinos, and police chiefs said it would result in an increase in crime. On the other hand, the Legislature did provide a major funding increase—$509 million—to the Child Protective Services department, which desperately needed it.

But otherwise, not much got done. This Legislature passed the fewest bills in years, and while some might argue that’s a good thing, the biggest issue facing Texas—the crumbling school-finance system—went unaddressed. Instead of action, we got grandstanding over school vouchers, property taxes, and, as ever, abortion.

Most bills fell victim to a standoff between the House and Senate. The differences between the chambers have never seemed greater, mostly because the two men leading those chambers represent opposing sides of a divided Republican party. Speaker Joe Straus led a moderate, business-friendly coalition in the House; Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick steered the more right-wing Senate.

In February, we declared Patrick the state’s most influential politician, and much of what happened this session reinforced that view. It’s true that his three prized proposals—on bathrooms, property taxes, and vouchers—all failed to pass. But there’s no denying that Patrick controlled the narrative of the session. He bullied the Senate to bend to his will and deftly used the bully pulpit to dominate news coverage and pressure the House. In the end, his killing of certain must-pass bills forced a special session.

For his part, Straus played skillful defense against Patrick’s agenda, but he too failed to pass his top legislative priority, school-finance reform. He also lost control of his chamber during the sanctuary cities debate, which resulted in the “show me your papers” amendment.

Meanwhile, Greg Abbott was largely a nonpresence at the Capitol. You’d have to go back decades to find a governor who engaged less with lawmakers. Abbott waffled repeatedly on the bathroom bill. He did little to aid the sanctuary cities measure he wanted but then took credit for it during a Facebook Live bill signing at which none of the lawmakers who actually passed it were present. A question often heard around the Capitol: Why did Greg Abbott want to be governor?

In the end, this session featured too much noise and too little done to improve the lives of Texans. All of which made compiling our biennial list of the best and worst legislators especially challenging. How do you judge a session in which so little was accomplished? Well, we talked to journalists, lobbyists, and many of the lawmakers themselves. We weren’t interested in ideology but rather who tried to solve problems and who created them. Politics is not just about conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats. It’s about working cooperatively to make Texas a better place. That has been the standard for the Best and Worst list since its inception in 1973 and remains so four decades later.

You can see the lists for yourself. Suffice it to say that I agree with some of the choices and disagree – strongly – with some others. I get that the intent of these lists is to be policy-agnostic, focusing instead on process and results, but I have a hard time with rewarding legislators (one in particular) who are successful in pursuing what even the authors freely state is bad policy. That just seems, I don’t know, a bit nihilistic to me. But these are the lists, and you can make of them what you will. As always, Harold Cook provides the template for legislators to respond to their inclusion in either place.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Public testimony on SB4

It was heated, as you might expect.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Scores of residents urged City Council on Tuesday to challenge the state’s “sanctuary cities” ban, speaking during more than five hours of public testimony on the eve of council’s vote on whether to join litigation.

Council chambers overflowed with residents waiting to testify on Senate Bill 4, which allows police to ask people their immigration status if detained.

Mayor Sylvester Turner has asked council to vote Wednesday on joining lawsuits already filed by several Texas cities and advocacy groups.

Democratic state lawmakers kicked off what became at times a heated discussion about the law, which goes into effect Sept. 1.

“This bill is sanctioned hate, and for us to sanction that regime of hate – I think it’s unconscionable,” state Rep. Armando Walle told City Council. “I do not want to have to carry my passport just to show somebody, any law enforcement agency, that I’m a U.S. citizen, just based on the color of my skin.”

Walle was among 14 Houston-area Democratic lawmakers who wrote council members last week urging them to support litigation, something a Chronicle survey earlier this month suggests they are likely to do.

Those who spoke in favor of a lawsuit Tuesday argued SB4 is an unconstitutional, unnecessary and immoral law that would harm public safety, adding that Houston ought to demonstrate leadership on the issue.

“Houston has always prided itself in being a welcoming city, known for our diversity and our rich culture, and our immigrant population is a critical part of our vibrant identity,” said Jane Meyer, a nun with the Dominican Sisters of Houston.

Those against suing spoke to the need to enforce federal immigration law, said Houston should not spend money on joining a legal fight already underway and worried the city could lose state and federal funding by following through with a lawsuit.

See here and here for the background. To briefly address the “we shouldn’t get involved” arguments: Enforcing federal immigration law is the responsibility of the federal government; for HPD to take on that task would significantly affect their ability to fulfill the responsibilities they already have. The lawyering in this case will be done by MALDEF and the ACLU, and if the plaintiffs prevail the state will be on the hook for attorneys’ fees. The best way to ensure the city doesn’t lose funds is to ensure that laws like SB4 get blocked. And, you know, it’s the right thing to do.

I doubt any of the testimony changed anyone’s mind, and on that assumption I expect this vote to pass, though I still expect it won’t happen till next Wednesday. We’ll see if there are any surprises.

Posted in: La Migra, Legal matters, Local politics.

SCOTUS takes on Wisconsin partisan gerrymandering case

Monday’s big news.

Partisan gerrymandering exists because the Supreme Court allows it to exist. Although such gerrymanders are a form a viewpoint discrimination, which violates the First Amendment, Republican appointees to the Supreme Court have been reluctant to even let federal courts consider partisan gerrymandering cases — much less strike down actual gerrymanders.

That could all change, however, as the Supreme Court just announced it will hear Gill v. Whitford, a case that presents the most promising challenge to a partisan gerrymander in more than a decade. In Whitford, a divided three-judge panel held, in an opinion by Reagan-appointed Judge Kenneth Ripple, that Wisconsin’s state assembly maps violate the Constitution.

Notably, the plaintiffs’ arguments in Whitford are tailor-made to address a concern Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court’s ostensible “swing” vote, raised in a 2004 opinion. In Vieth v. Jubelirer, the Court’s other conservatives joined an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia, which would have slammed the door on partisan gerrymandering suits entirely. Kennedy, however, left the narrowest of cracks open in his separate concurrence.

[…]

Though Kennedy worried about “the failings of the many proposed standards for measuring the burden a gerrymander imposes on representational rights” — that is, the fact that it is difficult to come up with an objective test courts can use to determine which maps are gerrymanders — he also concluded that “if workable standards do emerge to measure these burdens . . . courts should be prepared to order relief.”

Whitford accepts this challenge by proposing a mathematical formula that judges can use to identify partisan gerrymanders. Gerrymanders work by forcing one party to “waste” votes. Voters are either “cracked,” pushed into districts where their party has no chance of winning; or “packed,” crammed into districts where their party has such an overwhelming majority that additional votes for their candidate are superfluous.

A gerrymander, scholars Nicholas Stephanopoulos and Eric McGhee, who devised the formula at the heart of Whitford, explain “is simply a district plan that results in one party wasting many more votes than its adversary.”

Stephanopoulos and McGhee’s formula counts the number of wasted Democratic votes that results in an election held under a particular map, and compares it to the number of wasted Republican votes. Maps that create a large disparity may then potentially be struck down as gerrymanders if the plaintiffs can also show that they were drawn with partisan intent.

I note this primarily because it’s always of interest when SCOTUS takes up a redistricting case, but also because as the Trib notes, there could be an effect on Texas as well.

But the cases are very different: The Wisconsin case revolves around whether partisanship played too large a role into redistricting, while the Texas case focuses on race. In fact, part of Texas’ argument claims redistricting was indeed based on partisanship — something courts have allowed in the past. “A rule against partisan gerrymandering will have a major impact for communities of color, where partisanship unfortunately has often been used as an excuse for actions that hurt minorities,” [Michael Li, redistricting and voting counsel at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice] said in a statement.

What’s next? It’s unclear if the Wisconsin case, which the U.S Supreme Court is set to consider in its term that begins in November, could affect the pending case in Texas, because of the different timelines and arguments being made. And the justices must also decide whether they even have the jurisdiction to rule in the Wisconsin case, a question they left open in accepting the case. But the high court could ultimately establish a new limit on the role politics plays into redistricting. If that were to occur, it would almost certainly affect map drawing in Texas going forward and give opponents of the current Texas’ maps a new avenue to challenge them.

The Michael Li statement is here. It seems likely to me that we will have a new Congressional map in Texas for 2018 based on the existing litigation, but there could be further action in the future after SCOTUS rules in the Wisconsin case. I should note that while Wisconsin is one of several particularly egregious states in terms of legislative gerrymandering – we’re talking states that are basically 50-50 at the Presidential level (or considerably bluer, as is the case in Virginia) but where Republicans have a two-thirds majority or close to it in their state House and Senate – Texas isn’t that ridiculous. Going by recent statewide results, you could argue Dems “deserve” somewhere between 58 and 65 House seats, and 12 or 13 in the Senate. That’s not out of the question for them next year if the 2018 winds blow favorably. We’ll see where this goes, and as always all eyes will be on Anthony Kennedy, our true lord and master. Daily Kos, the DMN, the WaPo, Texas Redistricting, and Rick Hasen have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Collier makes it official

Mike Collier announces his entry into the race for Lt. Governor.

Mike Collier

Democrat Mike Collier officially announced his bid for the position in Round Rock Saturday afternoon.

A large crowd of supporters came to the Sharon Prete Main Street Plaza to hear his plan to take on Dan Patrick in 2018. He told the crowd they need a lieutenant governor that will bring Texas together, not apart.

He criticized Patrick on his priorities this legislative session, like the so-called bathroom bill. He says if he wins the race, he’ll focus on fixing Texas’ economy and school funding.

“We’re very different in terms of public education,” Collier said. “I’m pro-public education. I’m pro-teacher and retired teacher and he’s not. We have very different points of view in terms of tax policy. I attribute high property taxes to republican fiscal policies. I’ll show that on the campaign trail.

“When you look at what he stands for you’ll see that he’s trying to do good for everyone not just for certain interest groups,” supporter Sharon Covey said.

Collier announced his intent in March, so this was to be expected. This race will be a big challenge, for reasons you don’t need me to explain. If Democratic enthusiasm is sufficiently high, and Collier can convince the business community that he’s on their side in a way Dan Patrick is not, then he’ll have a shot. The very early Texas Lyceum poll suggests there’s at least a bit of dislike for Patrick, so we’ll see. The finance reports will give us the first clues if any of this may be happening. The Statesman has more.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Council may vote on joining SB4 litigation tomorrow

It will happen, though perhaps not tomorrow.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston City Council is poised to vote [this] Wednesday on whether to join litigation challenging the constitutionality of Texas’ new “sanctuary cities” law, days before the case’s preliminary hearing in San Antonio.

The city attorney’s office has recommended Houston sue over the law known as Senate Bill 4, saying it authorizes unconstitutional searches, seizures and detentions, violates officials’ First Amendment rights, unlawfully limits local authority and is unconstitutionally vague.

“The office of the city attorney recommends joining the litigation to address the constitutional and civil rights of city elected and appointed officials and Houston residents, as well as to protect the authority of the city to effectively manage and direct the limited public safety resources of the city and protect the public,” the city attorney’s office wrote in a request for council action.

[…]

A Chronicle survey of City Council members last week suggests the city likely will join the legal fight over SB4, which goes into effect Sept. 1.

See here for the background. I say “may vote” only because I expect someone, probably several someones, to tag it for a week. If you’re looking for something to do about this, call your district Council member and the five At Large members and tell them that you want them to support this action. Council members have been hearing from their State Reps, and it would help if they heard from their constituents, too.

Posted in: La Migra, Legal matters, Local politics.

Two (so far) for SD10

Here’s what we learn in this Star-Telegram story about incumbent Sen. Konni Burton’s intent to run for re-election.

Sen. Konni Burton

At least two Democrats already have announced their intention to seek Burton’s seat.

Allison Campolo, a research scientist and teaching assistant at Oklahoma State University who lives in Euless, announced her campaign on Facebook, saying “this is going to be a long and hard and expensive fight but every sacrifice will be worth it if we can put another progressive in the State Legislature to fight for Texans.”

Beverly Powell, a Fort Worth woman who serves on the Burleson school board and is Burleson Mayor Ken Shetter’s mother, also intends to run. Powell criticized Burton’s ardent partisanship that she said sometimes runs counter to the needs of her district.

“It’s time for new leadership that cares more about families here in Tarrant County than about narrow ideology or endless division and I will work to provide it.”

Fort Worth attorney Jeff Whitfield is considering a bid for the office as well.

Here’s Allison Campolo’s webpage and campaign Facebook page. She has a campaign kickoff event coming up on July 1. Google didn’t have any other useful information for me about her, but I see that she and several other Democratic female candidates in the D/FW area joined together for a campaign event, which seems like a great idea.

Beverly Powell’s candidacy also drew a local newspaper mention. Her website is here and her Facebook page is here. You can also see her official bio on the Burleson ISD School Board page.

This ought to be an interesting primary, between two candidates that at least on the surface offer a bit of contrast, as Campolo is a newcomer with a science background, and Powell is more of an establishment figure as well as a current officeholder. I wonder if Annie’s List will have a favorite or if they’ll wait till after the primary to publicly back the nominee. Hillary Clinton didn’t quite carry SD10, but overall it is the most competitive Senate district on the ballot next year. Even in the disaster of 2014, Burton only beat Libby Willis by 52.8% to 44.7%, with Greg Abbott beating Wendy Davis in her former district 52.9% to 45.6% and Dan Patrick topping Leticia Van de Putte 52.7% to 44.2%. It wouldn’t take much of a shift in turnout for SD10 to be at best a tossup. I look forward to seeing who emerges in this district.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Paxton seeks to overturn all local bag ban laws

It’s up to the Supreme Court to decide whether he gets it or not.

Attorney General Ken Paxton on Thursday filed paperwork urging the Texas Supreme Court to eliminate plastic bag bans across Texas, including Austin’s.

Paxton is seeking for the court to affirm an earlier decision that overturned a bag ban in Laredo. However, he also wants to court to expand the ruling to eliminate all bag bans across the state.

“Texas must be empowered to enforce its statewide solution of waste disposal,” the brief said. “To give full meaning to the Legislature’s directive about the management of waste, the Court should clarify that municipalities cannot pass waste management duties onto consumers by banning packaging or containers.”

[…]

Paxton said the Texas Health and Safety Code prohibits cities from creating bag bans that restrict the sale or use of a waste container.

“Municipalities do not get to violate Texas law merely because they don’t like it,” Paxton said in a news release. “We’re asking the Texas Supreme Court to uphold the law so that the ruling can be used to invalidate similar ordinances across Texas.”

See here and here for background on the Laredo case. The bag law was upheld by the district court and then overturned by the 4th Court of Appeals. A statewide restriction on municipal bag laws was on the Abbott anti-local-control agenda for this legislative session, but did not succeed. If Paxton and the plaintiffs against Laredo win, that won’t matter.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Telemedicine set to expand in Texas

Coming to a video screen near you, thanks to a bill signed in May by Greg Abbott.

“This is a huge step forward, a real positive for Texas,” said Dr. Nancy Dickey, executive director of the Rural and Community Health Institute at Texas A&M University. She recently co-authored a report about the health crisis facing rural Texans amid hospital closings and other barriers to access.

Texas was one of the last holdouts in the rapidly evolving world of virtual medicine by requiring an in-person visit between doctor and patient in most cases before allowing diagnosis.

That requirement was at the heart of a bitter, six-year legal battle between the Texas Medical Board, which cited concerns of insufficient patient care, and Teladoc, a national leader in telemedicine.

Teladoc, headquartered in Lewisville, has more than 20 million customers nationwide, including 3 million in Texas. Previously in Texas the company used phones and high-resolution photos for diagnoses, as did other telemedicine companies in the state.

Teladoc has spent about $13 million in legal fees alone in the fight. The new state law presumably renders the fight moot.

The Texas Medical Board, made up of 19 regulators, declined to comment directly on the new law.

“The litigation, although abated, is still pending,” a spokesman said in an emailed statement.

“The need in Texas carried the day,” said Jason Gorevic, CEO of Teladoc. “This paves the way to expand.”

Or at least catch up with the rest of the country.

Texas currently dwells near the bottom of the nation in per-capita access to a physician, ranking usually between 46th and 48th, Dickey said.

In fact, 158 of Texas’ 254 counties do not have a single surgeon. In 185 counties, representing more than 3 million people, there is not a single psychiatrist. Eighty counties have five or less physicians.

While the traditional picture of telemedicine is one of linking a doctor to a patient in some isolated dot on the map, Dickey said it is equally useful for those in small towns who might be 30- to 45-minute drive from a specialist in a larger city.

Those patients, often older and poorer, may not have the time or energy to make a drive on rural roads, said Dickey.

“It is a way to take very specialized medical skills out to towns of 10,000 to 20,000 people,” she said.

See here and here for more on the lawsuit, and here for more on the bill that was signed that basically removed the barriers to telemedicine in Texas. I had been wondering about the status of the litigation since the compromise bill was announced. A little Googling yielded some more specific information than what is in this story.

Teladoc, which is based in Dallas, began operating in the state in 2005. But around 2010 the Texas Medical Board began restricting the practice of telemedicine, especially telemedicine by video, through a prescribing rule revision that required physicians to establish their patient relationship with an in-person visit.

This is where there are two different versions of the story. Teladoc and MDLive, which have operated continuously in Texas with their phone-only services, maintain that medical board rules have always permitted phone calls, even when they restricted the use of video telemedicine. The Medical Board, conversely, has maintained that this is essentially a loophole created by a drafting error and that the intent of the rule is clear: to forbid all telemedicine without an establishing in-person visit.

When Teladoc continued to use telemedicine by phone, the Texas Medical Board sent them a public letter telling asking them to stop, then issued an emergency rule clearing up any ambiguity between phone and video visits. Teladoc sued over the rule, saying that the interpretation of the law in the letter constituted a rule in and of itelf and that the making of that rule didn’t follow the proper procedures for rulemaking.

To make a long story short, that lawsuit beget a much bigger lawsuit in April 2015, one which might have gone all the way up to the Supreme Court. Teladoc sued the medical board under antitrust laws, saying that as a group of practicing physicians with a financial interest in the restriction of telemedicine, the medical board couldn’t pass rules designed to muscle out its competition.

“Unfortunately we had to go to bat for our clients’ right to avail themselves of our services,” Gorevic said. “But it was worth the effort, and we see that as our responsibility as a leader in the space. We never ceased operating in the state and in fact we were reluctant to go to court, but ultimately the reason we went to court was to protect our right to continue to operate and the right of our clients to operate our services. … We stepped up and took a stand and we didn’t see any of our competitors doing the same thing.”

That lawsuit dragged on for two years with a number of twists and turns and cost Teladoc $7 million in a single quarter, according to a public earnings call. Indications were looking positive for the company (the FTC, the federal government’s primary antitrust actor, even filed a friend-of-the-court brief on Teladoc’s behalf), but ultimately the two sides realized they would rather reach a compromise than take the case any further up the ladder. Last fall they requested a stay in the case and a settlement seemed likely to follow.

Gorevic confirmed to MobiHealthNews that if Abbott signs the bill, it will essentially end the long legal battle.

“We expect that the legislation, if signed by the governor, will end the lawsuit,” he said. “It will obviate the need for the lawsuit.”

That story was published May 26, and an update to it at the top confirms the bill’s signing. I didn’t find anything more recent than this in Google News, so I presume the details of the settlement are still being worked out. As I said before, telemedicine isn’t a panacea – it will be of limited use to people who still don’t have insurance, for example – but it’s a good option to have. We’ll see how much it takes root in the state.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

Weekend link dump for June 18

Yet another thing Donald Trump has ruined for us.

If Kansas was an experiment to see if “conservative” policies would work, it was a massive failure. I mean, a really massive failure. Maybe we should pay attention to that.

What Scalzi says about Coke Zero, though I will drink Diet Coke if that’s what is available.

“Because the most common theme in the Trump administration’s approach to infrastructure is pure obfuscation about how it will be paid for. If you’re not willing to say forthrightly how you’re going to pay for infrastructure investments, you really cannot be serious about it.”

“So this may be a good time to remember that in a key sense, Trump happened because a well-established, real-life mechanism that was in the best position to prevent a Trump presidency failed. That institution was the Republican Party.”

For shame, Megyn Kelly. For shame.

I support the COVFEFE Act, and you should too.

The two things I most want to know about the Battle of the Network Stars reboot: Will there be a dunk tank, and will it still culminate with a tug of war?

“This raises a question. In 20 years, will a new crop of old people simply tune into Fox News and replace them? Or will the Fox News Trump voter (for lack of a better term) simply go extinct?”

“It may be that Trump believes Flynn is the keystone of the Russia scandal, and if he goes down then the scandal will accelerate until it reaches the Oval Office. It may have something to do with some piece of information or relationship we know nothing about. But what’s obvious is that Trump is trying very hard to keep Flynn out of harm’s way, or to keep him happy. If we can figure out why, we may understand this whole scandal a great deal better.”

“Jeff Sessions personally asked Congress to let him prosecute medical marijuana providers”.

RIP, Anita Pallenberg, actor, model, and muse to the Rolling Stones.

“Hodgkinson is just one of many mass shooters who have documented histories of violence toward women, but who end up being able to access weapons anyway because this red flag goes unnoticed.”

“If Mueller is taking a serious prosecutor’s lens to Trump’s financial world and the financial worlds of Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, Mike Flynn and numerous others, there’s going to be a world of hurt for a lot of people.”

All that reality show sex doesn’t just happen, you know.

The Southern Baptist Convention has a hard time passing a resolution that condemns white supremacy.

“A stunning 50% of the CEOs, business execs, government officials and academics surveyed at the annual Yale CEO Summit give Trump an “F” for his first 130 days in office.”

The story of tough times at Baseball Prospectus makes me sad.

RIP, Helmut Kohl, German chancellor who reunified the country in 1990.

RIP, Stephen Furst, best known as “Flounder” on Animal House.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

An interesting shift in approval ratings for state leaders

More UT/Trib poll data:

The figurative wrestling match between the state’s top three officials jiggled their approval ratings, but not by much, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Gov. Greg Abbott remains the highest rated of the state’s high officials, with 45 percent of voters saying they approve his job performance and 38 saying they disapprove. That’s slightly higher than the 33 percent who disapproved in February’s UT/TT Poll, but he continues to get more positive than negative reviews.

The same can’t be said for his legislative colleagues. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus have more negative than positive reviews, though the margins are small. Patrick got good reviews from 34 percent of voters and bad ones from 36 percent; Straus had 25 percent good reviews and 29 percent negative ones. The speaker, as is ordinarily the case, remains the least well-known of the three, with 46 percent of voters either giving him neutral or no ratings.

Republican voters clearly have a favorite in Abbott, with 83 percent approving his job performance. Patrick gets good marks from 68 percent of those voters. Among Tea Party Republicans, Abbott gets approving nods from 90 percent; Patrick from 78 percent.

The most popular U.S. senator from Texas is Ted Cruz, with 38 percent of Texas voters saying they approve of the job he’s doing, while 28 percent approve of John Cornyn’s work in the Senate. But Cruz is also the leader in negative reviews, getting those from 44 percent of voters. Cornyn got negative marks from 41 percent. That said, the margins are important, and Cornyn had a wider gap — 13 percentage points — between his bad notices and his favorable ones.

They also polled Beto O’Rourke’s favorability numbers, but 55% of respondents didn’t know him, so that’s not very useful. The poll summary is here and it conveniently includes the numbers from previous efforts, so as I did on Friday I’m going to do a little comparing between February and now:


Incumbent     StrongApp  SomeApp  Neutral  SomeDis  StrongDis  DontKnow
=======================================================================
Abbott June          27       18       12        9         29         4
Abbott Feb           27       18       17        9         24         5

Patrick June         15       19       18        8         28        11
Patrick Feb          16       16       24        8         23        14

Cornyn June           9       19       18       14         27        12
Cornyn Feb           11       19       22       12         22        14

Cruz June            21       17       12        9         35         6
Cruz Feb             20       18       14       10         29         9

I’m skipping Joe Straus because he’s not elected statewide like the others are. The Strongly Approve and Somewhat Approve numbers are basically identical for all. The one place where you see a change is in the Strongly Disapprove numbers, where everyone got a five or six point increase, with a corresponding decrease in the “neither approve nor disapprove” numbers; in Ted Cruz’s case, in that category plus the “don’t know” option. My guess is that the people who went from “meh” to “I can’t stand that guy” are mostly Democrats, and that the change represents a higher level of interest and engagement by them. I don’t know how much that might mean, and it’s possible this is more a function of the legislature being in session than anything else, meaning that it could vanish by October. Who knows? That will be worth keeping an eye on. I just thought it was worth noting.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

El Paso County Judge considering a run for Congress

She’s not running for re-election, so that seems the most likely next step.

Veronica Escobar

El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar won’t seek re-election, she said Monday, adding she is exploring a run for Congress.

“I am looking closely at the congressional seat for the 16th district. It’s not a secret. Congressman (Beto) O’Rourke has raised the bar in a way that is very inspiring. I’m so excited about his run for Senate and I think he can win,” she said.

However, she stopped short of confirming a run for Congress.

“I am certain that I am not going to run for re-election. I do think it’s important to provide the community with enough time so that interested leaders can examine whether they want to do it or not,” she told the El Paso Times on Monday.

She added, “It’s a big race. The countywide race is not easy. And the primary is in March. Folks who may be considering it will need to talk to their family because running for public office is a huge decision.”

The primary for the next county election is in March, with the midterm election in November 2018.

Escobar, 47, was first elected county judge in 2010, and her current term expires Dec. 31, 2018. She previously served as county commissioner for Precinct 2.

[…]

Under Escobar’s leadership, county commissioners implemented a number of reforms within the administration, including in the controversial purchasing office and later creating the county’s first chief administrator position that mirrors a city manager. The county recently created an economic development department.

In a controversial move, Escobar in August 2016 voted in favor of giving county commissioners a nearly $26,600 a year pay raise, bringing their annual salaries to more than $89,000. She voted against giving herself a raise, although commissioners voted to increase her salary by more than $14,400. She now makes $102,000 a year.

Escobar most recently led the county in suing the state over Senate Bill 4, the so-called “show me your papers” law that is set to go into effect Sept. 1. The federal civil lawsuit filed last month seeks to block its implementation, calling the law unconstitutional.

While someone with Escobar’s profile would surely be a formidable candidate, this is a strong Democratic seat, so she will have some company in the primary.

El Paso Independent School District Board of Trustees President Dori Fenenbock is making her intentions clear. “If I can fight for El Pasoans,” she said. “I am happy to do it.”

Although neither have officially announced their candidacy, both say there needs to be a change on the Hill. ” We are feeling very frustrated and disgusted with our national government,” Fenenbock said. Escobar added, “This is a very, very important seat especially (with) what is happening in D.C. right now and all the decisions that will have a direct impact on the border and El Paso.”

Although the election is months away, both potential candidates are thinking about possible competition. “It’s hard to say who will be in the race this early,” Fenenback said. “But I am really focused on the work in Washington.”

I don’t know anything about El Paso politics, so I have no judgment on how good a Commissioner or County Judge Escobar was or how good a school board member Fenenbock is. I do know that if Escobar is elected to succeed Rep. O’Rourke she would be the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas, which would automatically give her a higher profile than the average Congressional newbie. Her departure from her current position may also encourage a current member of the El Paso legislative delegation to run for that job, so there could be a ripple effect to her decision. If you know more about either Judge Escobar or Ms. Fenenbock, please fill us in. In the meantime, we’ll keep an eye on this.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Former Stockman aide returns to US

The gang’s all here.

Best newspaper graphic ever

Federal agents quietly arrested Jason Posey, a former congressional aide who’d been wanted for two months on charges that he helped ex-U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman carry out a criminal conspiracy to bilk millionaire donors, violate elections laws, and illegally divert hundreds of thousands in campaign cash.

Posey and Stockman were both indicted March 28 on 28 federal charges including mail and wire fraud, conspiracy, making false statements to the Federal Elections Commission, excessive campaign contributions and money laundering.

Stockman was arrested at the airport on his way out of the country by federal agents. But it appears government agents spent weeks negotiating with Posey – who’d been living abroad in the Middle East for more than two years.

Posey voluntarily returned to Houston to turn himself in on May 23, according to Philip Hilder, a Houston lawyer appointed to represent Posey.

“He voluntarily came back to the United States to face the allegations levied against him,” said Hilder, who is known for his work representing whistle-blowers and other witnesses and defendants in high-profile white-collar crime cases, including Enron.

In his recent federal court appearance, Posey pleaded not guilty to all 28 charges, according to federal court records. Stockman also pleaded not guilty.

[…]

Another former Stockman aide, Thomas Dodd, pleaded guilty in March to two related conspiracy charges and has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

But in indictments, prosecutors describe Posey as Stockman’s primary accomplice . State and county business filings show that Posey set up some of the companies that federal prosecutors say were used to divert campaign contributions through suburban Houston post office boxes and an array of bank accounts.

See here for the background. As noted in that earlier post, Posey has been a close associate of Stockman’s for a long time. I can’t wait for this trial to get underway.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Scandalized!.

Yet another report about how much our voter ID law sucked

Keep ’em coming.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Hundreds were delayed from voting and others nearly turned away entirely during the presidential election because of confusion over the status Texas voter ID laws, a new report from a voting rights advocacy group shows.

It’s just one of numerous problems Texas voters — particularly minority groups — faced during the 2016 election cycle, the report from the Texas Civil Rights Project detailed on Thursday.

“Unfortunately, throughout the state, voters faced numerous obstacles that complicated the process,” said Beth Stevens, voting rights director at the Texas Civil Rights Project which put out the report on Thursday. “Through our Election Protection Coalition, we heard directly from thousands of voters about the barriers they faced in our electoral system.”

The first of its kind Texas-based report on voter issues was limited in scope to just over 4,000 incidents that we logged. But Stevens said it’s safe to assume there are many more Texans who experienced similar obstacles in voting that simply did not know who to turn to.

“Common sense says that there is whole subset of voters that didn’t know who to call and just walked away,” she said.

Of the 4,000 incidents that were tracked by a coalition of voting advocacy groups during the presidential election most were issues related to polling place problems, voter registration status or voter ID requirements.

The Texas Civil Rights Project press release is here, and the full report is here. Confusion and discouragement were the point of the voter ID law. The only just and sensible way to address that is to throw the whole thing out.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Collin County would like us to pick up the Paxton prosecutor tab

I’ll bet they would.

Best mugshot ever

As Attorney General Ken Paxton’s legal troubles head into their third year, there’s another question aside from whether he’ll beat the rap — who will pay for it all?

Taxpayers in Collin County, where Paxton was indicted on three felony charges, have had to pick up the tab. This hasn’t gone over well in McKinney, a conservative stronghold where the Republican attorney general is not only a well-known resident but also the first statewide official elected from the area in almost 150 years.

After months of pressure and multiple lawsuits from Paxton loyalists to halt funding to the case, local officials recently voted to stop paying the prosecutors at all.

Then, late last week, after months of mulling the idea, county leaders finally took their grievances to court. One is even hoping the county can rid itself of the case and its price tag altogether by getting taxpayers in Houston, where Paxton will stand trial, to pick up the rest of the tab.

It’s been 18 months since the prosecutors were paid. With a brand-new judge presiding over the case and multiple related lawsuits pending, when, how much and who will pay them is more a mystery than ever before.

[…]

In a brief filed with the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas, the county commissioners argued the prosecutors’ pay was “outrageously high” and illegal. Their fees violate a state law, they said, that requires counties to adopt “reasonable fixed rates or minimum and maximum hourly rates” for compensating special prosecutors.

They want the court to throw out the prosecutors’ last paycheck — which topped $205,000 — and have voted to reject paying the bill until in the meantime. This last invoice, filed in January, covers all of 2016.

David Feldman, the prosecutors’ lawyer, said his clients’ decision to continue while not being paid “shows a commitment to serving the public good.” The three prosecutors — Nicole DeBorde, Kent Schaffer and Brian Wice — are criminal defense attorneys who charge many times this rate in their private practices.

“It’s honorable that they’re continuing to invest time in the prosecution because this is not something they went out and asked for.

[…]

Harris County Criminal District Court Judge Robert Johnson, a Democrat elected last year, was chosen this week to replace Gallagher. Johnson could choose to hike or slash the prosecutors’ paychecks as he sees fit.

On Wednesday, he declined to comment on the fight over the case’s cost. But depending on Collin County’s future decisions, he may be forced to weigh in.

County Judge Keith Self, one of the five Collin County commissioners, wants to discuss whether there’s a way to push the case’s costs onto Harris County. The commissioners haven’t discussed this proposal, he said, but he’s “hopeful” they’ll be open to the possibility.

Commissioner Duncan Webb said they should wait until the Dallas court makes a decision.

“I want to get the issue resolved, the quicker the better, and do what we’re legally supposed to do and pay what we’re legally supposed to pay,” Webb said. “I don’t know whether Harris County’s going to get involved with this or not. That’s way out there at this moment.

See here, here, and here for the background. I’m sure our Commissioners Court will be delighted to hear about this. Remember how I’ve said that it would probably make more sense for the state to pay for special prosecutors in cases like this, if only to avoid these shenanigans? I still think that’s the right idea. In the meantime, it may be awhile before the 5th Court gets involved again.

A Texas appellate court [last] Friday said without a live controversy, it doesn’t have jurisdiction in a fight to block payment for the special prosecutors appointed to handle the felony securities fraud case against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas dismissed real estate developer Jeff Blackard’s bid to enjoin the Collin County Commissioners Court from paying a trio of special prosecutors under a $300 hourly rate agreement, citing the county’s recent vote against paying an invoice from the prosecutors. Blackard had argued the county’s local court rules require appointed prosecutors to be paid under a limited flat fee schedule, and his quest to block hefty payments to the prosecutors raised what the appeals court referred to as unusual and challenging procedural issues.

Blackard had requested the appellate court abate his suit indefinitely, based on the possibility the county might in the future approve payment of a fee invoice at a time and in an amount that he contends is illegal, according to the opinion. But the court doesn’t have jurisdiction over contingent future events that may not occur, and the matter is not ripe for resolution, a panel of the court said.

“Because the Commissioners Court has rejected the invoice and has authorized counsel to challenge the district court’s order, no pending ‘illegal’ expenditure of public funds currently exists for Blackard to seek to enjoin,” the court said.

I don’t really know what any of this means. I’m just trying to keep track of it all.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

We need better fire inspections

Not good.

The Houston Fire Department division responsible for ensuring building safety keeps inadequate records, does not examine buildings on a regular schedule and inflated its inspection numbers, all while exceeding its overtime budget, according to an audit released by the city controller’s office Thursday.

The audit for fiscal years 2015 and 2016 is the latest in a series of blistering critiques of the Life Safety Bureau and casts doubt on whether the city is complying with its fire code.

Just 526 of Houston’s more than 5,000 apartment buildings were inspected in the last two fiscal years, well below the bureau’s goal of 470 apartment inspections per month. There is also no evidence the city inspected Bush Intercontinental, Hobby or Ellington airports within the last two years.

Many of the 28 high-risk problems – from an incomplete inspection database to poor job training – were identified by the controller’s office more than a decade ago.

“It’s not a matter of if, it’s when, unfortunately, something happens,” City Controller Chris Brown said. “We need to make sure that we don’t let this one go another 12 years without any action.”

Fire Chief Samuel Peña, who was appointed last year, said he welcomed the audit and has pledged to make a series of changes.

“Nobody likes to be told their baby’s ugly, but right now there’s a lot of need,” Peña said.

There’s a copy of the audit in the story if you want to see it for yourself. I don’t think there’s anything that isn’t fixable, but saftey inspections are a big deal with potentially many lives at stake, so HFD needs to get this right. Chief Peña has his work cut out for him. The Press has more.

Posted in: Local politics.