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Saturday video break: First Time Ever I Saw Your Face

You all know the Roberta Flack version:

If you’re old enough to remember that song, you’re probably old enough to remember a TV ad or two selling a compilation of mellow hit songs that included this. (You may also remember it from the Clint Eastwood movie “Play Misty For Me”.) Aim that ad at a somewhat older audience and that compilation might include the Mel Torme version of this song:

He sure could sing, couldn’t he? Johnny Cash was a contemporary of Mel Torme’s, but his version of this chestnut is much more modern.

Believe it or not, that song was written for Peggy Seeger in the 50s, and was covered a bunch of times before Roberta Flack had her big hit with it.

Posted in: Music.

Who would be Sheriff if Adrian Garcia runs for Mayor?

A Republican, for sure. Beyond that, we don’t know.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia

Sheriff Adrian Garcia

County officials are preparing for Garcia to resign as sheriff, which he is required to do under the Texas Constitution if he chooses to run for mayor of Houston, as he is expected to do. The County Attorney’s office last month circulated a memo to Harris County Commissioners Court detailing how the process for appointing a Garcia successor to serve to the end of 2016, the remainder of the sheriff’s term.

Meanwhile, two prominent Republicans – Rep. Allen Fletcher and Constable Ron Hickman – are closely watching Garcia’s moves and wooing the five-member court in hopes of securing a majority in a vote that could come quickly after he announces his mayoral plans. Four members of Commissioners Court are Republican and are expected to appoint a Republican to replace Garcia, a Democrat.

Many Democrats, who privately and publicly have chastised Garcia for mulling the abandonment of a top countywide position that Democrats worked hard to win in 2008 and 2012, worry that a Republican appointment could make it difficult for Democrats to reclaim the sheriff’s office. Garcia has not yet said whether he plans to run for mayor.

Once a county official publicly says he plans to run for another office, the resignation timeline is triggered, according to the county attorney’s memo. Garcia, however, would not actually step down until Commissioners Court appoints his replacement.

[…]

The five members of Commissioners Court declined to say this week which candidate they planned to support.

“Sheriff Garcia’s still the sheriff,” County Judge Ed Emmett said.

Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee emphasized that Garcia could decline to join the wide-open mayoral race: “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Nonetheless, Lee and the other members of Commissioners Court have sat down with Hickman and Fletcher in recent months to discuss the job.

It is likely that more names will emerge for the post once Garcia formally announces his intention to run for mayor. The court also could appoint an interim replacement who would pledge not to run for reelection in 2016 – possibly triggering a spirited 2016 Republican primary – but Commissioners Jack Cagle and Steve Radack this week said that a placeholder appointment would not be their first choice.

My first choice would be for them to not have to make a choice. You already know what I think Sheriff Garcia should do, but it’s not my decision. Conventional wisdom all along has been that he will run, though we won’t know for sure till he says so one way or the other. At this point the speculation is about when he’ll make his announcement, whatever it is. You’ve got to figure that if he is running, sooner is better than later for him. Anyone hearing any other Sheriff-wannabe names?

Posted in: Election 2016.

Transportation Commission approves funds for Uptown BRT

Finally.

Dedicated bus lanes along Loop 610 remain a part of planned transit service in the Uptown area after state officials kept $25 million allocated to an upcoming project.

After months of discussions about the project’s purpose and agreements between the Metropolitan Transit Authority and the Texas Department of Transportation, state transportation commissioners Thursday approved the state’s 10-year spending plan with the money for the bus lanes included.

John Breeding, president of the Uptown Management District, told officials he was pleased to move the process along.

“We particularly thank you for your leadership and your patience as the area got its act together on this project,” Breeding said.

Proponents of the project have noted Uptown is one of Houston’s most traffic-clogged areas, a problem that’s likely to worsen with recent development. More frequent, fast and predictable transit, supporters say, could give many workers an option that would take cars off the roads and out of Uptown parking garages.

State transportation officials passed the plan without comment. The plan is updated annually and covers the next decade of road expansion and maintenance as well as transit and alternative transportation projects, such as bicycle lanes.

[…]

“The way this project will be successful is to make it reliable and fast,” Metro board chairman Gilbert Garcia said.

Post Oak will continue to have three traffic lanes in each direction, with some turn lanes.

Some traffic lights will be sequenced to allow buses to avoid stopping but not those at major intersections such as Westheimer and San Felipe, where tweaking the timing could have disastrous effects on traffic flow.

See here for the previous update. There was far too much squabbling over this, and I’m still unhappy with the condition that there be no preparations included for possible future conversion to light rail, but at least this hurdle has been cleared. Metro Chair Garcia is right that the main goal here is to build something that people will want to use. If that happens, it will be a lot easier to take a next step if there is one.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Supreme Court hears Renew Houston appeal

Last stop of the litigation train for the plaintiffs that have sued to overturn the Renew Houston referendum, on the grounds that the voters were misinformed about what they were voting for.

Two lower courts have sided with the city, and the case has now landed in the state’s highest court, where attorneys for both sides made their arguments before the nine justices.

First was Andy Taylor for the plaintiffs.

“The problem here is you can’t tell when you go into the ballot box and say, I’m going to vote for this, that in fact you just opened up your pocket book and said, my property can be hit with this cost,” Taylor said.

On the ballot, the proposed charter amendment known as Proposition 1 made no mention of a fee, other than saying it’s a dedicated pay-as-you-go fund.

Robert Heath represented the City of Houston. He said newspaper postings and general media coverage on the proposition was sufficient to inform voters.

He acknowledged that probably not everyone paid attention.

“Just as when we assume or presume the people know the law, that people really don’t know all the law,” Heath said.

See here for the last update. I will make two points: One, the “ballot language was misleading” claim is the same losing argument that the litigants against the 2003 Metro referendum made about the Universities line and the so-called “Westpark corridor”. It was rejected then, and I see no reason why it would not be rejected now. Two, it’s pretty well established by now that many voters have no idea who they’re voting for in many elections. (Two words: Dave Wilson.) Why should referenda be held to a higher standard than that? We should know by summertime, when the Supreme Court is expected to make its ruling.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Modified quote of the day: Do it our way or else

From this DMN story about the fight over local control in the Legislature this session.

“[States’ rights] generally sounds good until you realize that some [states] are out of control,” said Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano.

That of course is not what Rep. Leach said, but it illustrates the issue as clearly as I can. Republicans, in Texas and elsewhere, don’t believe in “local control” or “states’ rights” or whatever phrase they’re using at the time to justify their actions. They believe that any laws they don’t like don’t apply to them, and they will act on that belief. Right now in Texas that means that the only valid form of government is state government. They didn’t have any problems with the federal government (besides the usual kind of turf wars one sees all the time) while George Bush was President, and they won’t have any problems with the federal government if the next President is a Republican. They didn’t have any problems with city governments until cities started getting all uppity about attacking problems they didn’t want to be solved. The only legitimate form of government is government they control and that does what they approve of. That’s what this all comes down to.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Friday random ten: Parenthetically speaking, part 4

So many parenthetical songs.

1. Don’t You (Forget About Me) – Simple Minds
2. Flashdance (What A Feeling) – Irene Cara
3. Fly Me To The Moon (In Other Words) – Frank Sinatra with Count Basie
4. The Fox (What Does The Fox Say?) – Ylvis
5. Further On (Up The Road) – Bruce Springsteen
6. Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) – from “Mamma Mia!”
7. Good For Nothing Saint (Mr. Christopher) – Cliff Eberhardt
8. Graceful & Charming (Sweet Forget Me Not) – Great Big Sea
9. Happy Xmas (War Is Over) – John Lennon and Yoko Ono
10. The Hawker (Eyesight To The Blind) – The Who

Another Christmas song, another song for which the parenthetical name is better known (Eyesight To The Blind), and two big hits from the 80s. What more could you want?

Posted in: Music.

Perry goes to appeals court with latest motion to dismiss

Leave no stone unturned, and no hour unbilled.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Corndogs are appealing

Rick Perry’s lawyers have asked a state appeals court to dismiss the indictment against the former governor, saying he lawfully used his power to veto funds to the Travis County district attorney’s office and his right to do so is protected by free speech.

“On its face, without the need for any evidence, the indictment must be dismissed because it runs afoul of these constitutional guarantees,” the defense team argued in a filing made late Wednesday with the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin.

The filing, the second part of a two-pronged approached to get the indictment dismissed, is an appeal of a Jan. 27 decision by Judge Bert Richardson that allowed the case to proceed.

[…]

Defense lawyers Tony Buzbee and David Botsford wrote on Monday that this new “woefully deficient” indictment should be dismissed because it fails to allege a crime was committed when Perry, as governor, vetoed state funds that were to go to the Travis County district attorney’s office nearly two years ago.

In their brief before the appeals court, Perry lawyers again zeroed in on the coercion charge and whether Perry’s veto threat was allowed under free speech protections guaranteed by the state and U.S. constitutions.

Defense lawyers offer that while some threats that imply physical harm are not protected by the U.S. Constitution, most threats enjoy “broad protection” under the First Amendment.

The defense team warned that if the case is not dismissed, it will have a “a chilling effect” on any governor who may want to veto items in the state’s budget, Perry’s appeal states.

“At stake is not just the freedom of one man,” Perry’s attorneys argued.

Yawn. See here and here for the background, and here for the filing. I do agree that this indictment is a threat to any future politician who would use his or her power to try to force another elected official to resign. We’ll see which court rules first.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Bill filed to kill high speed rail line

Given all that’s been going on lately, I suppose this was inevitable.

A lawmaker whose district sits near the proposed route for a planned bullet train connecting Houston and Dallas filed a bill Wednesday that could stop the project in its tracks.

House Bill 1889 from state Rep. Will Metcalf, R-Conroe, a persistent critic of the plan, would require the elected officials of every city and county along the route to approve the project. That seems improbable, given the opposition in some rural areas.

[…]

While officials in Houston and Dallas have championed the project, officials and residents in rural communities in between have questioned how it would benefit them.

“Numerous county officials have come out in opposition to the Texas Central Railway and their use of eminent domain,” Metcalf wrote Wednesday on Facebook. “This bill would help give more local control and would let individual counties decide what is best for them.”

Metcalf has been an outspoken critic of the project, which at one point had the potential to go through his district in Montgomery County. Earlier this month, Texas Central revealed its preferred route, which would completely bypass Montgomery County. Metcalf said in a statement at the time that the route did not dampen his desire to see the project stopped.

“We need more roads for citizens to travel to ease our existing roadways,” Metcalf said. “We do not need a high speed railway in Texas that will only benefit a few, while at the same time disturbing thousands of citizens within its path.”

See here and here for some background. I don’t suppose it’s occurred to Rep. Metcalf that at least some of the train’s passengers – and it can’t be that few if the investors in TCR are correct about their ability to sell enough tickets to make money on it – would be contributing to the traffic he wants to ease if they didn’t have that alternate option. Be that as it may, it’s more than a little rich to hear any Republican legislator wax poetic about the virtues of local control. There’s a long list of things that legislators like Rep. Metcalf don’t want cities and counties to have any control over, but apparently this isn’t one of them. Go figure. Looks like Robert Eckels will have his work cut out for him convincing his erstwhile allies to not kneecap his latest project. We’ll see how much luck he has with that. Hair Balls has more.

(On a side note, there’s another opposition group out there now, with a distinctly tea partyish cast to them. More work for you there, Judge Eckels.)

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Tesla tries again

They’ve brought more firepower to the fight this time, by which I mean “more lobbyists”, but we’ll see if they can break through.

Let the car haggling resume at the Texas Capitol.

A group of state lawmakers on Thursday filed legislation that would allow Tesla Motors to sell its luxury electric cars at as many as 12 stores in Texas, renewing the California-based company’s challenge to a state law protecting auto dealers.

Tesla’s business model is to sell directly to consumers, bypassing the middleman dealers as it does in many states. But a longstanding law bars that practice in Texas.

New legislation — House Bill 1653 and its companion, Senate Bill 639 — would allow manufacturers that have never sold their cars through independent dealerships in Texas to operate the limited number of stores. It’s modeled on deals Tesla has forged in other states, including New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

“Free market principles are the foundation of our strong Texas economy,” said state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, who filed the Senate bill. “SB 639 helps sustain a competitive marketplace and gives consumers more choices.”

State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin filed the House bill, along with with Reps. Charles “Doc” Anderson, R-Waco; Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker; Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound; and Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton.

Tesla currently showcases vehicles at “galleries” in Austin, Dallas and Houston, but because the galleries are not franchised dealerships, state law prohibits employees from discussing the price or any logistical aspect of acquiring the car.

Tesla calls the traditional dealership model unworkable, because it doesn’t mass-produce its cars — at least not yet. The company allows customers to order customized cars that it later delivers, and it can’t depend on independent dealers to champion its new technology, it says.

“Fundamentally, this company was founded to produce a new technology,” Diarmuid O’Connell, vice president of business development, said in an interview. “No one is as unconflicted as we are in our desire to promote electric vehicles.”

Some Texas dealers have approached Tesla about selling its cars, O’Connell said, and the company has “respectfully declined.”

Tesla and others have also questioned whether a traditional dealer could succeed in selling its cars, because dealerships make much of their money on maintenance — something the company’s highly touted models require little of.

O’Connell said the legislation would let Tesla employees educate Texans about its cars in person, allowing the company to grow its footprint here. He envisions adding stores in Corpus Christi, San Antonio, El Paso, Fort Worth and San Antonio, if given permission.

See here for previous Tesla blogging. The Trib also had an interesting story about the auto dealers’ attempt to get Tesla to work with them; some of that is recapitulated in the story above, but it’s worth reading on its own. Tesla insists that their model doesn’t work with dealerships, though I get a whiff of “the lady doth protest too much” in their argument. I’ve compared Tesla’s efforts to the microbreweries more than once, and one of the things that characterized that saga was that in the end they didn’t get everything they wanted. They scaled their wish list back to the point where they were able to minimize opposition from the big brewers and the distributors, and from there the task became doable. It would not surprise me if in the end Tesla needs to find some form of accommodation with the auto dealers.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Judge Dietz would like the Lege to please fix school finance already

So would the rest of us, Your Honor.

In his first major appearance since finding the Texas school finance system unconstitutional in 2014, state District Judge John Dietz said Sunday that a solution to the state’s unequal and ineffective public education system should come from the Legislature.

“We are dooming a generation of these children by providing an insufficient education, and we can do better,” Dietz told hundreds of teachers gathered in Austin. “It’s in our best interest to do better.”

In his decision last September, Dietz ruled in favor of more than 600 Texas school districts that brought the case. The districts, which serve three-fourths of the state’s estimated 5 million public school students, argued that the state is not meeting its constitutional obligation to adequately fund public education.

“Whether we like it or not, this lies with the legislature, not the courts,” Dietz said. “Even if I am wrong, what do they say about what they have in their own materials? The achievement gap is substantial, persistent, and it has been for ten to 15 years.”

Dietz’s comments were met with applause at a training hosted by the Association of Texas Professional Educators – the largest independent teachers’ organization in Texas, and the largest of it’s kind in the United States, with an estimated 100,000 members.

[…]

Then attorney general, now Gov. Greg Abbott attempted to remove Dietz from the case last year, questioning his impartiality based on a series of emails between the judge and school district lawyers. But at ATPE, lobbyists remain optimistic that Abbott will work with them to solve problems affecting public education.

“We think that this governor is a breath of fresh air in education, and he wants to work with public educators, unlike the previous governor,” [Brock Gregg, ATPE’s governmental relations director] added. “But it is yet to be seen if the money will follow the idea. Until substantial funding is directed towards education, we are working at the edges.”

I’m glad they’re optimistic – I guess anyone can look good compared to Rick Perry – but color me skeptical for now. Abbott did defend the 2011 cuts in court, then declined all calls to settle after Judge Dietz’s ruling, preferring instead to draw this out by appealing to the Supreme Court. And even if you do have faith in Abbott, Dan Patrick gets a say in this, too. He thought those 2011 cuts were a good idea. Given a choice between these guys coming up with a solution and waiting for the Supreme Court to impose one, I’ll take my chances on the latter.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Complaint filed against judge who allowed same sex marriage

Whatever.

RedEquality

The judge that allowed Texas’ first gay marriage to go forward is the target of a judicial conduct complaint, the latest volley in the state’s attempts to call the historic union into question.

“This judge deliberately violated statutory law and this is unacceptable,” Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arglington, said after confirming he had filed a complaint against state District Judge David Wahlberg with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

“This complaint and any action, which the legislature decides to take, is about ensuring that our judicial system respects the laws of our state and respects the separation of powers. Judge Wahlberg allowed his personal views to dictate his action and ignored state law to accomplish his desired outcome.”

[…]

Immediately after Judge Wahlberg issued the order, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir signed the couple’s marriage license and they were wed outside of the clerk’s offices by their rabbi. The next day, Attorney General Ken Paxton asked the state Supreme Court to declare the license null and void.

Reached for comment Wednesday, DeBeauvoir stood by the license’s legality and was not surprised by the complaint.

“I do believe the judge acted in good faith and in a fully legal way, and I believe the court order that I followed was a legal court order,” said DeBeauvoir.

Tinderholt’s complaint was filed Feb. 19. In it, he cites a Texas law that requires the attorney general to be notified when anyone “files a petition, motion, or other pleading challenging the constitutionality of a statute of this state.”

See here for the background. Tinderholt, who has his own issues, wasted no time filing that complaint, as Judge Wahlberg issued his ruling on the 19th. Seems like a stretch to me, but as always I Am Not A Lawyer. What do the real lawyers think about this?

Posted in: Legal matters.

Two Council challengers to incumbents

So far all of the action we’ve seen for city offices has been for the open seats being vacated by term-limited incumbents. Recently I became aware of two folks who plan to run for offices that will have incumbents on the ballot as well. First up is Jan Clark, who sent me an announcement about her candidacy for At Large #5. From her Facebook page:

Jan Clark

Jan Clark is pleased to announce her candidacy for Houston City Council At-Large Position 5. She is a proud almost-native Houstonian and unabashed Houston booster. Jan brings fourteen years of municipal law experience in addition to her more than forty years of residency in Houston.

Jan grew up in the Inwood Forest area of northwest Houston and attended public schools. Jan worked in the food and beverage industry to support herself and pay for much of her education. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Political Science from the University of Houston and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Houston Law Center. While at the Law Center, she received the Faculty’s Distinguished Service Award. In addition, she was awarded two Public Interest Fellowships.

Jan began her legal career in the City of Houston as a Municipal Prosecutor. She accepted greater challenges and responsibilities throughout her career in municipal law in a practice that encompassed aviation to zoning (in another city). Jan served as the advisor to the Mayor’s Office for Cultural Affairs for civic art, and worked with the Office of Business Opportunity on small and disadvantaged business and Hire Houston First programs. Jan was awarded the Edward A. Cazares Award for Excellence and Professionalism in Municipal Law while at the City of Houston.

After leaving the City in 2012, Jan established a successful real estate practice taking her to neighborhoods all around Houston. She has seen not only the greatness of Houston and its people but also the very real effects of the decisions made at City Hall.

“I believe knowledge and experience about city government are positive attributes needed on City Council. As a councilmember, I will focus on long-term solutions for our transportation, infrastructure and fiscal challenges. I believe we need stable, responsible structure and continuity regardless of the length of any particular mayoral administration. I pledge to use every available tool to open opportunities for more small businesses in order to grow our economy. Houston needs serious people committed to ensuring our city government works efficiently and effectively for all Houstonians.“

Campos confirms that CM Jack Christie is running for re-election here, and is busy raising money for it. I know of at least one other person who has at least thought about running in At Large #5. Jan Clark is the first person I’m aware of to make a public announcement. We’ll see if she’s the only one.

The other candidate I heard about was Matt Murphy. From his webpage:

Matt Murphy

My name is Matt Murphy, and I am running for Houston City Council District D.

My wife (Rachel) and I have lived in District D since we renovated and preserved one of the beautiful homes that compose the Riverside Terrace neighborhood nearly 8 years ago. In 2009, we were blessed by the birth of our only child (Shawn). Together, we have considered District D the only place we have called home as a family, and we plan to stay here forever.

District D is in the process of reinventing itself in the 21st century. This reinvention is transforming the ethnic composition of the neighborhoods. We are becoming a melting pot of races, ages, sexual orientations, and religious beliefs. Although this is a move in the right direction, this has also led to more and more tensions between neighbors because of differences. It will continue to do so without proper representation and leadership.

Through past experience and the study of expert research we can conclude that if you know your neighbors name, then you are obligated to look after them regardless if you agree on every social issue. As neighbors, we all have common ground, our community, and neighbors that know each other are catalyst for positive change that breaks down the barriers of tension and fear. With that philosophy in mind, I am also announcing the immediate launch of the “Know Your Neighbor” initiative in conjunction with my announcement to run for Houston City Council District D.

The “Know Your Neighbor” initiative will guarantee victory for our community because it brings neighbors together and will carry on far beyond any aspirations of a political candidate. With your support and assistance, District D can be the leader and blueprint for building community in the rest of the great city of Houston.

This initiative deserves a leader that has vision for our community, and I am the right candidate to help propel this vision into reality. You have my word and commitment that I will walk hand-in-hand with all of you as neighbors during this initiative. I dedicate my time during this campaign to listen to your concerns and earn your respect, so you can help write the platform that you, as neighbors, demand for any political candidate that represents your voice moving forward. Once elected, I will humbly accept the responsibility to be your positive voice that continues this initiative as your city council representative. I’m looking forward to getting to know all of you better through this journey.

CM Dwight Boykins is in his first term in District D. He upset more than a few people with his vote against the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, though that may not hurt him in that district. I’ll be interested to see how Murphy or any other challenger campaigns in D.

Posted in: Election 2015.

More on San Antonio’s vehicles for hire re-try

There are multiple issues to be resolved.

Lyft

Uber and Lyft representatives are cautiously optimistic about what will come out of the small group of City officials that continue to work on a rideshare ordinance that softens the regulatory blow to rideshare companies and their drivers. The revised ordinance is expected to be discussed in a closed, executive session after Wednesday’s B Session. It could come before the council for a vote as early as Thursday, Feb. 26.

Councilmember Roberto Treviño (D1) also sounds optimistic that a regulatory compromise can be reached before the ordinance approved by City Council in December goes into effect on March 1.

“The conversation has been very positive,” Treviño said. “The tone is one of collaboration.”

Rideshare companies object to the insurance terms imposed on them versus levels paid by taxi company owners. Yet there are other less publicized issues with the ordinance, ranging from the requirement that drivers have fire-extinguisher to submitting to a drug test – as taxi drivers do. Secondary issues could lead both companies to pull out of San Antonio.

[…]

Uber

“We are also deeply concerned about the entire driver on-boarding process that is created through this ordinance – the fingerprint, drug test, fire extinguisher, fees and ASE mechanic inspection requirements,” stated Lyft Public Policy Manager April Mims in an email. “Safety is Lyft’s top priority, but a taxi ordinance, which is what San Antonio passed, is not the way to regulate transportation network (rideshare) companies. Cities like Austin, Dallas, Cincinnati and Tulsa have demonstrated how to ensure public safety and welcome new transportation platforms.”

The approved ordinance requires transportation network companies (TNCs) like Lyft and Uber to have $1 million insurance policies per vehicle for passenger injury – an amount they were providing before the ordinance was passed. Traditional taxi companies like Yellow Cab only need $30,000 policies. The ordinance also requires TNCs to cover insurance even when drivers have not accepted a fare or picked up a driver, which TNCs cite as unnecessary.

See here for the background, here for Lyft’s specific points of contention, and here for a comparison chart of rules for different forms of vehicle for hire. Honestly, the place to start here is with the ordinances that other cities have adopted. It’s been clear since the ordinance passed and the two companies announced their intent to leave that the public wanted this fixed. It shouldn’t be that hard to do. In the meantime, as things get sorted out, there will be a slight delay in the implementation of the ordinance.

Rideshare companies and supporters will receive a five-day grace period beginning March 1, the date the ordinance was supposed to take effect, while Mayor Ivy Taylor, members of City Council, and staff finalize a revised ordinance that will ease the regulatory burden on transportation network companies.

“We’ve been having some meetings and talking about some of the requirements,” Mayor Taylor said. “We want to stay flexible, but still stay true to our original focus of public safety.”

[…]

Mayor Taylor released a statement Tuesday afternoon that outlines what she and the City’s working group sees as areas that the ordinance can be adjusted. At the top of that list is the “gap period” insurance requirement. The gap occurs when the mobile application is turned on by the driver, signaling availability to nearby customers seeking a ride, and when the driver actually accepts a fare-paying passenger. Under the ordinance, TNCs are required to maintain excess coverage of $200,000 even though they are passenger-free.

Click here to download Mayor Taylor’s statement.

“At this time, it is not feasible to implement the insurance standards specified in the existing ordinance because products that provide drivers with the required ‘gap’ coverage are not yet available in Texas,” Taylor stated. “I will ask my City Council colleagues to revisit the insurance requirements and delay the applicability of the gap coverage requirement until a conforming insurance product is available or the Texas Legislature takes action to set a statewide standard, whichever comes first.”

Among other things, this pushes back the date for any consideration of revising the ordinance until March 5. I suspect there will be some heavy conversations with the TNCs and with Council members between now and then. I’ll be very interested to see what comes out of all that.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Texas blog roundup for the week of February 23

The Texas Progressive Alliance congratulates Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant on the event of their wedding as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Judge Schaffer makes his ruling on the HERO repeal petitions

I was expecting this to happen Monday, but apparently Judge Robert Schaffer handed down his ruling about which HERO repeal petition signatures were valid and should be counted on Monday.

PetitionsInvalid

Judge Robert Schaffer ruled on which types of signatures can be counted on the petition seeking to overturn the controversial ordinance.

According to the city charter, people gathering signatures, also called circulators, have to sign each page of collected signatures to certify that people signed in their presence. If they fail to do so, all signatures on that page are invalid.

Maybe the most significant finding by the judge is that the pages of those circulators who printed their name within an oath but did not sign underneath, are deemed valid.

Lawyers for the city argued during the trial that those should not count.

That part of the ruling is what makes Andy Taylor, lawyer for the plaintiffs, optimistic.

“It doesn’t matter if you print your name or if you sign your name, as long as it’s your authentic handwriting and you intended to validate the petition when you signed it under oath, that’s good enough,” Taylor says.

But the judge will not count signatures submitted by 12 circulators who gathered a high volume of signatures.

See here and here for the background. Before I go any farther, can someone please explain to me why KUHF appears to be the only local news outlet covering this story? As far as I can tell, the last Chronicle story was on February 13, when the jury verdict was handed down. That was a big deal as it established the facts of the case, but it is Judge Schaffer’s ruling that determines which signatures actually get counted. You’d think that might be worth a blurb or a mention on the teevee, but other than KUHF the only outlet that I can see that had a story was the Christian-oriented World Magazine:

“What it looks like is we go over the top,” plaintiffs’ lawyer Andy Taylor told me in a phone interview Monday. “I’m prayerful that we have enough.”

During a Feb. 19 hearing called by Schaffer to outline the questions he would address in his ruling, defense attorney Geoffrey Harrison pressed Schaffer to adopt the most restrictive interpretation of the Houston City Charter in order to nullify the petition. Schaffer repeatedly rebuffed Harrison and said he would be guided by the jury decision but not bound by it.

“We never had any intention of accepting the jury’s ruling as is,” Schaffer told Harrison during the hearing. “I am going to accept petitions I believe were signed and subscribed. I have said all along that I will.”

While the jury accepted the defense’s restrictive argument mandating petition circulators “sign” and “subscribe” the document’s oath, Schaffer, citing appellate court rulings as his guide, gave a much broader interpretation of that requirement. A single, legible signature—print or cursive—at the bottom of the page sufficed to complete the circulator’s oath, he ruled.

The city’s attorneys argued the jury’s finding of forgery, even if only on one page, should discredit all of a circulator’s work, which could include multiple pages. But Schaffer ruled only the names shown as forgeries—most often “family units” where one family member signed for others—should be dismissed.

Taylor admitted Schaffer’s ruling on one or two other key issues could make the plaintiffs’ victory a narrow one. With both sides recounting the petition signatures—using the jury’s and judge’s rulings as the validation criteria—the process could produce disparate numbers and require clarification from Schaffer. Taylor expects to have a final number in about two weeks.

“Given the judge’s directions provided to the lawyers, I expect the court will apply the law to the verdict and issue a final judgment confirming that the petition failed,” Parker said Monday. “The plaintiffs are expected to appeal any outcome that is not in their favor. That will be unfortunate for the city because the majority of Houston wants this divisive fight to be over so that we are able to provide equal rights protections for all of our residents.”

A copy of Judge Schaffer’s ruling is here, which I found via the HOU Equality Facebook page; they too were expecting a Monday ruling. Taylor’s optimism and the story’s angle kind of elides a big deal for the plaintiffs, namely that all petition pages gathered by the 12 circulators whose pages were found to contain forgeries and whose affidavit oaths were not found to be “true and correct” will be tossed. I wish I had some idea what proportion of the signature pages were the responsibility of these 12, but I don’t. I suspect this will take a big chunk of otherwise verifiable signatures out of play, but who knows? Maybe these pages contained the bulk of the signatures that had been disqualified the first time anyway. We won’t know till everyone shows their hand in two weeks or so. Whatever numbers everyone comes up with, an appeal will follow. Texas Leftist, from whom I got the KUHF link, has more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

We can always pay for tax cuts later

Item One:

BagOfMoney

Texas House leaders said Monday they can cut taxes by more than the $4 billion initially proposed by their Senate counterparts, upping the ante for the high-profile issue despite other looming big-ticket state needs.

“We really believe that we ought to be able to do more than $4 billion in tax cuts here in the House,” Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, said. “We don’t have a number at this point. We just know that we can do better than that.”

Asked about exceeding $4 billion in tax cuts for homeowners and businesses combined, House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, said, “We’re on the same page.”

It is the closest House leaders have come to identifying a specific tax cut figure they are contemplating.

Straus, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick previously had declared tax relief a priority for this legislative session, with Abbott saying he will not sign a budget that does not include tax cuts for business.

[…]

Some were surprised by the House leaders’ pronouncement.

“Any kind of tax relief needs to be sustainable,” said Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio. “I don’t think anybody wants to pass a tax cut and then retreat in the subsequent (legislative) session.”

Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, said a higher priority should be placed on public education, still struggling after massive cuts in 2011 that have been only partly restored.

“I think we have got to look at our priorities and make sure that we can take care of tomorrow’s workforce,” she said.

Item two.

Flanked by a dozen Republican senators, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Tuesday announced a slate of legislation he said would provide lasting tax relief to businesses and homeowners in Texas.

“At the end of the day, the Texas economy stays strong if people have more money in their pocket, if businesses have more money to create jobs,” said Patrick, a Republican.

Patrick said three recently filed bills — Senate Bills 1, 7 and 8 — would deliver a combined $4.6 billion break from the state’s property and business taxes.

About $2.5 billion of that total would go toward increasing homestead exemptions from school property taxes. Currently set at $15,000, they would instead be 25 percent of the median home market value in the state. In 2016, when the median home market value is projected to be $134,500, that could mean as much as a $33,625 exemption.

Another $1.5 billion would stem from reducing the state’s franchise tax on businesses by 15 percent.

[…]

But there are signs that it may encounter opposition from within Patrick’s own party.

“We have got to deal with the major problems of this state before we commit to tax cuts,” state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, said in an interview after the announcement. “We have some big ticket items that we can actually resolve this session. I think those needs come first.”

Eltife said he wanted to see a long-range plan to fix the significant shortfalls in state-funded pensions and deferred maintenance on state facilities.

“I think it’s the cart before the horse. We need to go through the budget process and make sure we have those needs addressed in our budget before we commit to cutting $4 billion a year in revenue out of the state budget,” he said. “It might work down the road, but I want to see a plan of action for the needs of this state before I commit to cutting taxes.”

Silly Sen. Eltife, and Reps. Larson and Farrar. Tax cuts are the only real need we have. Weren’t you paying attention to the 2014 campaign?

Besides, we all know nothing like this could ever happen here.

Republican governors meeting in Washington last weekend said financial conditions in their states have deteriorated so much that they must raise taxes, even if it means crossing their own party.

In the face of a historical antipathy deepened by the tea party movement, chief executives in Alabama, Nevada and Michigan among other states are proposing increases this year to address shortfalls or to spend more on faltering schools and infrastructure. They advocate higher levies on businesses, tobacco, alcohol and gasoline, in some cases casting the increases as user fees.

The governors are at a crossroads. They are choosing between the path of Gov. Sam Brownback in Kansas, who has refused to change course even after tax cuts provoked furious opposition, and that of Alabama’s Robert Bentley, who has said the state’s perennially precarious budget has reached the breaking point.

“I don’t want to raise taxes, but I also know that we need to pay our debts,” Bentley said. “We don’t have any choice.”

Like I said, that could never happen here. Unless you’re talking about raising sales taxes to pay for property tax cuts, because that’s totally different. PDiddie and RG Ratcliffe have more.

Posted in: Budget ballyhoo.

We need to know how body cameras are going to be used

Having the body cameras is great, but it’s how we use them that really matters.

Harris County’s two largest police agencies are testing body cameras on officers but refuse to release their policies detailing when the cameras should be turned on and off to maximize accountability and minimize intrusiveness.

The Houston Police Department spent $108,000 to buy 100 VIEVU body cameras in May 2013 and began testing them later that year. The pager-sized cameras are worn on the front of an officer’s uniform.

In the months since, HPD has balked at releasing anything but anecdotal information about the results of its pilot project.

In September, the Houston Chronicle filed an open records request asking HPD for its report on the test, a copy of the policy that governed the camera test and copies of videos from the first month in cases that had a final disposition or figured in the outcome of a citizen’s complaint against an HPD officer.

Earlier this week, HPD released edited videos of six encounters its officers had with citizens, including traffic stops, a domestic dispute, a foot chase and a nighttime incident in which the officer drew his gun and yelled commands to arrest a suspect without incident.

However, HPD now claims it did not know what report the Chronicle was referring to. It has asked the Texas attorney general to allow it to withhold the results because comments made by officers evaluating the equipment could endanger the process of purchasing additional cameras.

HPD also has asked the attorney general to allow it to withhold the camera test policy.

[…]

Sheriff Adrian Garcia also has declined to release his agency’s test policy, claiming the same exemption.

“Right now, we are not sharing the pilot project policy because it’s not the final policy,” said Alan Bernstein, director of public affairs.

See here for some background. I get that HPD and the Sheriff’s office are still in testing mode and don’t want to feel like they’re committing to anything until they’re ready, but other agencies like the HISD police have released their test policies, and if they can do it others can as well. More to the point, the cameras are about transparency and building trust with the public. This would be a good place to start. Let’s get on with it.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

All backlogged rape kits have been tested

Great news.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Houston officials have completed the lab testing and review of a three-decade backlog of rape kits, yielding 850 matches in the national DNA database.

On Monday, Mayor Annise Parker, District Attorney Devon Anderson and police department and crime lab officials trumpeted the newly complete testing of the 6,600 kits as a major milestone. Now, however, those 850 hits fall to HPD and prosecutors to determine whether charges can be pressed.

So far, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office has prosecuted 29 suspects, disposing of seven cases. One was dismissed because the complainant did not want to go forward with the case, and the others resulted in sentences ranging from two years to 45 years, said Jane Waters, head of the District Attorney’s Office’s special victims bureau.

“I know this milestone is of special importance to the rape survivors and their families and friends because pit means their cases are receiving the attention they should have years ago,” Parker said. “If there is a chance of prosecution in a case that has languished or new cases that are uncovered, that prosecution will happen.”

Anderson also acknowledged for the first time that in some cases alleged assailants committed other crimes, including rape, while their DNA sat untested. She said she did not know off-hand how many suspects fit that description, but there may not have been enough DNA at the time to generate a profile in some cases. Waters added after the press conference that some may have involved victims who chose not to move forward with their cases at the time.

“Yes, it did happen unfortunately,” Anderson said. “We are eagerly looking forward to prosecuting those rapists, those repeat rapists.”

See here, here, and here for the background. The last of the kits was sent off to the lab in August of 2013, so at this point all the work has been done. One pleasant surprise to come out of this was that there were no exonerations. I would have bet a modest sum of money at the beginning of this story that at least one wrongly convicted person would be freed as a result of this. I’m glad that none of the men who will be put into prison because of these rape kits will be replacing someone who shouldn’t have been. KUHF and Hair Balls have more.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Justice Department files request for stay on immigration ruling

As expected.

JustSayNo

The U.S. government asked a federal judge Monday to lift his temporary hold on President Barack Obama’s action to shield millions of immigrants in the country illegally from deportation.

The Justice Department’s motion for a stay was filed with the court of U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville, Texas.

The federal government on Monday also filed a three-page notice with Hanen, telling him it is appealing his decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court in New Orleans.

[…]

Justice Department attorneys said a stay of Hanen’s ruling is necessary “to ensure that the Department of Homeland Security is able to most effectively protect national security, public safety, and the integrity of the border.” The 20-page motion argued that keeping the temporary hold “would also harm the interests of the public and of third parties who will be deprived of significant law enforcement and humanitarian benefits of prompt implementation” of the president’s immigration action.

Government lawyers also contended Hanen lacked the authority to issue the injunction, the national effect of which is “vastly” excessive.

The injunction issued by Hanen should only focus on Texas “so that we can move forward with these executive actions in other states,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday.

It is not unheard of for judges to delay rulings they have issued. Last year, a federal judge ruled Texas’ same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional but put that on hold to allow the state to appeal. But legal experts say it’s unlikely Hanen will put his ruling on hold, because his ruling said states would “suffer irreparable harm in this case” if Obama’s actions on immigration were to proceed while the lawsuit is argued.

“Based on (Hanen’s) language, it stands to reason that if you stay this order then those harms would start to accrue and that’s the whole point of him enjoining the order in the first place,” said Pratheepan Gulasekaram, a constitutional and immigration law professor at Santa Clara University School of Law in California.

See here and here for the background. Abbott did a lot of woofing about this over the weekend, and much as it pains me to agree with him, I don’t see Judge Hanen staying his ruling. What the Fifth Circuit and SCOTUS do is anyone’s guess. It’s mostly a question of how long it takes for this part of the process to play out. Daily Kos has more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Perry’s lawyers try, try again

The circle of life keeps on keeping on.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

This corndog has done nothing wrong

Lawyers for Rick Perry asked the court on Monday to again end the prosecution of the former governor, saying the indictment is faulty and the actions he took in issuing a veto are allowed by law.

[…]

On Monday, Perry’s team attacked amendments that McCrum had added to the indictments that accuse the former governor of coercion and misuse of public office. The court had found that the initial indictments lacked enough specificity about the facts of the crime.

The defense team attacked the added facts, saying the “were not found by the grand jury.” The lawyers also asserted that Perry’s actions fall under an exception for “coercion.”

The law allows the governor to go back and forth, debate and in effect horse trade with legislators over bills. His lawyers are trying to argue that because his alleged criminal action involved a veto of legislative funds, that he is protected by that exception.

The prosecution is arguing that the person he supposedly coerced is not a legislator and Perry was illegally using his power because what he was attempting to control was an office beyond his scope and not connected to the Legislature.

See here, here, and here for the background, and see here for a copy of Team Perry’s latest motion. I said in my last update that I thought the prosecution was having to get mighty intricate with its explanation for why Perry’s actions were criminal, and that I thought it didn’t bode well for them. It looks like the defense is stretching a bit, too, so maybe their case is stronger than I thought. I’m still concerned that the law in question is enough of a misfit to bring the whole shebang down, but it’s in Judge Richardson’s hands again. At least, I assume it is; there may be more filings to come, and perhaps another hearing. We’ll see. The Trib has more.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

The Texas Compassionate Use Act

Looks like this will be the main marijuana-related action in the Legislature this session.

Two Texas lawmakers have filed bills that would allow epilepsy patients to use medicinal oils that contain a therapeutic component found in marijuana.

But some medical marijuana advocates are reluctant to support the proposed Texas Compassionate Use Act, calling it “appeasement legislation” that would do little to help Texans with epilepsy — and nothing for those with other diseases that can be treated with medical marijuana, such as cancer. Among those advocates is the family of Alexis Bortell, a 9-year-old Dallas-area girl with epilepsy.

“If these bills passed as they are written now, we will be forced to relocate” to Colorado, said Dean Bortell, whose daughter Alexis has become the face of the medical marijuana issue in Texas. “We are hoping they modify the bills in committee and that we can support them. The last thing we want to do is testify against them. But in their current form, we would have no choice.”

The twin proposals — House Bill 892 from Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, and Senate Bill 339 from Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler — would legalize oils containing CBD, a non-euphoric component found in marijuana known to treat epilepsy and other chronic medical conditions. By 2018, the measure would allow the state to regulate and distribute these oils to epilepsy patients whose symptoms have not responded to federally approved medication. It would allow the oils to be ingested, but not smoked.

Texas is one of 16 states where marijuana is illegal for medical and recreational use. In recent years, 11 states have legalized CBD oil for certain medical conditions. Twenty-three other states and the District of Columbia have laws allowing broader medical marijuana use.

[…]

“I have been talking to a number of members that feel like this is a way to separate those that want to see the therapeutic benefits of the substance without the potential for abuse,” said Klick, who is a registered nurse. “As is, [these oils] have no street value and no psychoactive effect. If we bump that ratio up, I think we will lose support.”

Klick said there will also be a loss of political support if her bill is expanded to include other ailments, such as cancer, Crohn’s disease or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

[…]

Critics of the proposed Texas Compassionate Use Act don’t think it goes far enough. They have concerns about the requirements the bill would put in place for patients, who would have to try two epilepsy medications at maximum dosage before trying CBD oils. In addition, they object to the bill’s requirement that a patient may not try medical marijuana unless no other FDA-approved treatments are available. Finally, critics don’t like how long the implementation of the measure would take, with the first dispensaries scheduled to be licensed by 2018.

“If you look at some other states with CBD-only legislation, you will see that bad laws can be worse than no laws at all,” said Shaun McAlister, the executive director of the Dallas-Forth Worth branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “We need immediate access to whole-plant marijuana, not appeasement legislation.”

His colleague Tracy Ansley added: “We don’t consider these medical marijuana bills. These are medical hemp bills.”

I don’t know enough about the medical science to have a sufficiently informed opinion about the merits of these bills. My general sympathies are with decriminalization, so as far as that goes I’d prefer to see something broader. This statement I got from Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP) a couple of weeks ago when the bills were filed sounds about right to me:

RAMP has the utmost respect for Representative Klick’s and Senator Eltife’s advocacy for patients with epilepsy to have access to safe medical marijuana when no other treatment options provide relief. However, it is clear from experience in other states that CBD-only legislation has failed to generate the high-CBD strains that epileptic patients desperately need. The Texas Compassionate Use Act limits the market to such a degree that people will be unlikely to invest money and time into the extremely difficult practice of medical marijuana cultivation. Colorado, a state with whole plant access, has lead the nation in high-CBD marijuana strains while also helping patients who benefit from THC – such as those with cancer, muscular sclerosis, and PTSD. RAMP advocates a bill that allows the entire plant to be accessed as medicine for qualifying conditions including cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, Alzheimer’s, PTSD, and conditions causing seizures, severe pain, severe nausea, and muscle spasms.

If this is truly the best that can be done in the current environment, then I’d say it’s better than nothing and worth supporting, with the hope of building on it later. It would also put some of those predictions about when marijuana might be legalized in Texas into some perspective. We’ll see if this is all there is.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Sports betting

There may soon come a day when you can place a bet on your favorite team without having to travel, visit offshore Internet websites, or interact with people who don’t have necks.

[NBA Commissioner Adam] Silver, in a November op-ed submission to the New York Times, said he supports federal regulation creating “a safe and legal way to wager on professional sporting events. … Congress should adopt a federal framework that allows states to authorize betting on professional sports, subject to strict regulatory requirements and technological safeguards.”

[Rockets owner Les] Alexander prefers to let Silver take the lead on what he describes as “a league issue, not a team issue.” But as NBA owners and players travel to New York for All-Star Weekend, Alexander continues to believe it’s time to amend the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, the 1992 law that generally prohibits states other than Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon from authorizing sports betting.

“I think it’s long overdue,” Alexander said. “People are gambling now on sports teams and doing it through bookmakers, which is illegal. And they are going to do it anyway, so why not make it legal? It doesn’t hurt anybody. It’s not something that’s going to hurt people.”

[…]

According to the Nevada Gaming Control agency, bettors wagered $3.9 billion on sports in the state in 2014, with the state’s 187 sportsbooks winning $227.04 million. The American Gaming Association estimates $138.9 billion is wagered illegally on all sports annually in the United States, and it estimated recently that illegal bets placed on the Super Bowl would total $3.8 billion.

That doesn’t include millions wagered in what has become the legal and, in many cases, league-authorized industry of fantasy sports. The Fantasy Sports Trade Association estimates 41 million people spent $3.6 billion playing fantasy sports in 2014.

The fantasy sports trade group emphasizes on its website that fantasy sports are games of skill and are not gambling. Alexander, however, cited fantasy sports as an example of the move toward more liberal attitudes on sports gaming.

“There’s so much fantasy sports out there, which is a form of gambling, and that’s legal now,” he said. “It (legal gambling on games) is really not a step up. It’s a step in the same direction.”

While Silver advocates changes in federal law, the NBA joins the other major leagues in opposing unilateral moves by individual states toward legalized gambling on sports.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie last year signed a Sports Wagering Law that allows betting on games at New Jersey racetracks and casinos. The four major pro leagues and the NCAA filed a lawsuit in federal court, and a judge in Trenton, N.J., in November granted a temporary restraining order prohibiting tracks and casinos from taking bets on games. The state has appealed.

Accordingly, some analysts agree that even if the NFL and other leagues change their stance on gambling to match Silver’s approach, it could be as long as a decade, perhaps more, before the Texas Legislature will authorize sports gambling in Texas.

“Gaming is not a popular word here,” said Bill Miller, an Austin-based consultant and lobbyist who has worked with Alexander and the Rockets. “The prospects for gaming regulations this session are minimal. It’s not rosy at all.

“I don’t think it’s from moral outrage. I think it’s a matter of fear from new members that come from conservative (voter) bases.”

That’s true enough, but I think there’s more to it than that. If Commissioner Silver managed to get Congress to authorize any state to allow sports betting – and remember, the NFL and Major League Baseball are not on board with this – there would be two distinct groups in Texas working to get that business. One is the horse racing tracks, which have been trying to get the Lege to allow slot machines at their sites, and one is casino interests, who would push for casino gambling to be legalized. Those two groups compete against each other, so neither plan ever makes any advances. If they ever worked together towards a common goal, they might have better chances. That just hasn’t been the case, and so here we are. If I were a betting man, I’d bet the over on that “decade or more” line. I’d give marijuana legalization better odds of happening in that time frame.

Posted in: Jackpot!.

Plano ERO repeal petitions ruled invalid

Wow.

The City of Plano has determined that a recently circulated Equal Rights petition is invalid and will not move forward. Plano’s City Secretary was unable to certify the petition because it failed to meet State and local requirements for validation.

On Dec. 8, 2014, the Plano City Council approved an Equal Rights Ordinance, expanding the city’s policy to prohibit discrimination against the following classes: U.S. military/veteran status, genetic information, sexual orientation and gender identity. The petition called for the city to either repeal that ordinance or submit it to the citizens for a vote.

The petition contained false information regarding the Equal Rights Ordinance, claiming it regulates bathrooms. The ordinance does not regulate bathrooms. By making this false representation, the Equal Rights petition asked signees to repeal an ordinance that does not exist.

Texas Election Code requires petitions submitted in cities located in two counties to include a column for the signee’s county of voter registration. Since Plano is in two counties, that column was mandatory. However, none of the petition pages included it.

The Plano City Charter requires petitions to include a copy of the legislation sought to be repealed or changed. The Equal Rights petition did not include an attachment of the ordinance.

On Dec. 30, three weeks prior to the deadline for the Equal Rights petition to be turned in, the city of Plano sent an email to the groups organizing the petition drive, including Texas Values, the U.S. Pastor Council and Plano Citizens United, to clarify information. It outlined problematic issues with the petition, including those aforementioned. The email read, ‘The city is providing information in an attempt to facilitate accuracy in referendum petitions to avoid any potential disputes regarding validity of signatures.’ Links were provided to the city of Plano Charter, Texas Election Code and petition information on the Secretary of State website. The city made a good faith attempt to avoid dispute and facilitate accuracy.

Nonetheless, not a single page of submitted petitions was valid.

Like I said, wow. I have a mighty low opinion of the characters involved in this effort, but even I wouldn’t have expect this. The DMN fills in some details.

If the petitions had been validated, the Plano City Council was scheduled to decide Monday on whether to repeal the ordinance or put it on the May 9 ballot.

Instead, said [Plano City Manager Bruce] Glasscock, the ordinance stands and the council will be briefed on the reasons why the petitions were found to be invalid.

“There are no other options for them,” Glasscock said, referring to organizers of the petition drive.

A referendum petition must be presented within 30 days after an ordinance is approved, according to the Plano City Charter. The Equal Rights Ordinance was approved Dec. 8. The deadline to submit petitions expired Jan. 20.

However, opponents of Houston’s LGBT rights ordinance sued the city after officials said that a petition drive failed to garner enough valid signatures.

Plano officials express confidence in their ability to fight any legal challenge.

“Over half of the petitions had false statements on them,” said Glasscock, referring to what he called an “egregious” misrepresentation of how the ordinance would affect public restrooms.

The petitions stated: “Also under this policy, biological males who declare their ‘gender identity’ as female MAY BE ALLOWED to enter women’s restrooms!”

The ordinance specifically excludes public restrooms, showers, locker rooms and dressing rooms. It states that it is not illegal to “deny the opposite sex access to facilities inside a public accommodation segregated on the basis of sex for privacy.”

By making this false representation, the petition asked residents to repeal an ordinance that didn’t exist, city officials said.

See here, here, here, and here for the background. The bathroom exemption was the reason why groups like the Trans Pride Initiative did not support the ordinance. As the Dallas Voice observed, this was the same gang that did such a stellar job with the Houston repeal petitions, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. I am sure that litigation will follow, but for now, let’s celebrate. KERA, the Scoop Blog, and Unfair Park have more.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

The backlash has begun

Item one.

RedEquality

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday asked the state Supreme Court to void a marriage license issued to two Austin women who became the first same-sex couple to legally wed in the state.

Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant, who have been together for 30 years, said their vows on Thursday after state District Judge David Wahlberg ordered the Travis County clerk to issue them a marriage license. Later that day, the Texas Supreme Court put a temporary hold on Wahlberg’s order. Paxton is now asking the court to overturn the order and declare the couple’s marriage license void.

Despite Texas’ constitutional ban on marriages between same-sex couples, Wahlberg ordered the license be issued to Goodfriend and Bryant under special circumstances because Goodfriend was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year.

Although Wahlberg’s court order was specific to the Austin couple, Paxton asked the court on Friday to to overturn the order to “avoid the legal chaos” that could arise if county clerks “mistakenly rely” on the order and begin granting marriage licenses to other same-sex couples.

“If that occurred, the harm to the couples, state officials, and the general public would be difficult if not impossible to undo,” Paxton wrote in a petition filed with the Supreme Court.

See here for the background, and here for the AG’s petition. This move was to be expected. As long as the issue is still being litigated at the federal level, it’s hard to imagine the AG not taking action in response to Friday’s historic announcement. One can certainly amount the potential for chaos, though Travis County officials seem to have been pretty restrained overall, and I seriously doubt Paxton really cares about the “harm” that may befall any couples. I’d be interested in hearing the lawyers’ views on his petition, because the expert the Trib consulted had some doubts.

Alexandra Albright, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said she was unsure whether the attorney general has the standing to invalidate a marriage license.

“As far as bringing a lawsuit to invalidate, it sounds like a stretch,” Albright said. Because the U.S. Supreme Court is considering the issue, she added it’s unlikely the Texas high court will quickly rule on Paxton’s petition.

“I don’t think they see any reason to hurry up and try to issue an opinion before the U.S. Supreme Court decides,” Albright said.

Any comment on that. In the meantime, there’s Item Two.

State Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, filed legislation Friday afternoon that would make the Texas secretary of state’s office the sole distributor of marriage licenses. Couples looking to marry currently obtain marriage licenses from individual county clerk’s offices.

Perry said his bill is intended to keep county clerks from issuing marriage licenses “that do not conform to state law.”

[…]

“Yesterday, Travis County officials acted in direct conflict with the Texas Constitution,” Perry said in a statement. “[Senate Bill] 673 ensures rule of law is maintained and the Texas Constitution is protected.”

State Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, has filed a companion bill in the House.

Seems like more than a bit of an overreaction to something that will very likely be a moot point by the end of the year, wouldn’t you say? I have a hard time seeing this as anything but a prelude to some Roy Moore-style defiance of the coming SCOTUS ruling. I mean, as long as county clerks can give out marriage licenses, then it only takes one Dana deBeauvoir to open the floodgates for every gay couple in the state. On the other hand, if you centralize that power and make only one official – one official who serves at the pleasure of the Governor – accountable, well, you can see the potential for chaos that this can cause. Do you think these guys, from Abbott to Paxton to Charles Perry and Cecil Bell, realize that forty years from now they’re going to be their generation’s George Wallace and Bull Connor? I’m pretty sure they don’t.

And finally, Item Three:

From the “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up” Department, I think this may be my favorite* new crime proposed yet in 2015: Texas state Rep. Debbie Riddle has filed legislation making it a Class A misdemeanor for a transgendered person to use the restroom of their adopted gender, even after reassignment surgery, and a state jail felony for a building manager to allow them to do so.

Indeed, the bill goes beyond transgendered people to criminalize anyone entering the restroom of the opposite gender with three exceptions: if they enter for custodial purposes, to give medical attention, or accompanying a minor under eight years old. I can think of more than one instance in my life where I would have committed a Class A misdemeanor under this provision, how about you?

My wife suggested that many women may have violated this proposed law at nightclubs or public events because the lines to women’s restrooms are always quite long and the stalls in the men’s room are frequently empty.

Leave it to The Riddler to kick things up a notch. It turns out that this isn’t just her bright idea – really, she isn’t smart enough to think of something like this – but it’s part of a national campaign being pushed in state legislatures everywhere by the usual assortments of crooks and ne’er do wells. If that surprises you, you really haven’t been paying close enough attention.

Posted in: Legal matters, That's our Lege.

Uptown needs bikes

So says this op-ed.

Always susceptible to gridlock, especially at Christmastime, the traffic jams now happen year-round and last longer each day. Clearly, Uptown badly needs convenient, reliable alternatives to cars for the tens of thousands of workers and residents who live, work and shop in the area, the largest business district in the nation outside of a traditional downtown.

One such alternative is bicycling. Houston has made impressive progress in recent years to make bicycling safer and more convenient.

The Bayou Greenways Initiative, Safe Passing Law and Complete Streets policy are recent examples, and an updated Bikeway Master Plan, now underway, will identify additional on- and off-street facilities to fill in the gaps in Houston’s bikeway network.

Uptown, however, remains dangerous to navigate by bike, especially during rush hour. Surrounded on three sides by major freeways, there are few safe options to enter the area by bike. Once there, a cyclist must navigate streets designed solely to move cars as quickly as possible, with few accommodations for cyclists. Post Oak Boulevard, Uptown’s signature street, is an obvious example. While biking there can be a death-defying experience, even walking is a daunting and frightening prospect, with sidewalks located right next to speeding traffic.

The proposed Uptown dedicated bus lanes project (“Bus project along Post Oak appears ready to roll ahead” Page B3, Jan. 29) will provide one alternative to driving, especially for commuters in the suburbs who have access to park and ride routes that run to the existing Northwest and proposed Bellaire/Uptown transit centers. The project features a total rebuild of Post Oak Boulevard to add dedicated bus lanes in the middle, while preserving existing lanes for cars.

Unfortunately, the plan as currently proposed includes no bike lanes, and maintains wide, high-speed main traffic lanes. Thus, while it will provide an alternative to driving for suburban commuters, the current dedicated bus lane plan does nothing for Uptown workers who live close enough to bike to work, but who won’t risk their lives (and their families’ livelihoods) to do so. It also does little for local residents who might like to bike to local shops and restaurants or into adjoining neighborhoods and parks, including Memorial Park (now a part of the Uptown tax increment reinvestment zone.)

Adding dedicated bike lanes to the dedicated bus lane project would provide an additional alternative to those who want access to shops, workplaces and restaurants along Post Oak, as well as provide connectivity to adjoining neighborhoods, Memorial Park and the Greater Houston bikeway network.

Bike lanes would also enhance the pedestrian realm by providing a buffer between sidewalks and automobile traffic.

I agree completely. It doesn’t make sense to spend all that money redoing Post Oak Lane and not end up with a street that is more bike and pedestrian friendly. There are two ways to deal with excessive traffic in destinations like Uptown: Make it easier to get there without driving, primarily for commuters, and make it easier for those who are already there to get around within the area without driving. Downtown does both of those things. Uptown is working on the first one, with the BRT line and the HOV lane. It really needs to do the other, and the opportunity to do that begins with the BRT line construction on Post Oak. I want to be clear that this is the Uptown Management District’s responsibility. Metro will operate the BRT line once it is built, but the Management District is doing the design and construction. Please do it right the first time, y’all.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Plastic bag bans work

Someone tell Greg Abbott.

plastic-bag

Shortly before being sworn in as governor, Greg Abbott called for doing away with local bans on plastic bags, fracking and tree-cutting that he says amount to a “patchwork quilt of bans and rules and regulations that is eroding the Texas model.”

Austin has bans on plastic bags and one of the state’s most involved tree removal ordinances. Apart from the political question of whether local-control-minded Republican lawmakers have the stomach to overturn local ordinances, there lingers a more practical matter: Have such rules been effective?

The short answer: looks like they are.

The data on Austin’s bag ban is scant — Austin Resource Recovery has only now commissioned a study of the effect of the ban, but anecdotal evidence from groups that track trash around town suggest it has had an impact.

“In my own community, around Bartholomew Park (in Northeast Austin), we always had an enormous amount of plastic bags that would gather,” said Rodney Ahart, executive director of Keep Austin Beautiful, which educates consumers about reusing plastic bags but didn’t take an official position on the ban. “Now you don’t see the plastic bags anymore.”

No retailers have been penalized or fined, said Emlea Chanslor, a spokeswoman for Austin Resource Recovery.

Fewer than 1 percent of H-E-B’s customers buy $1 emergency plastic bags at the checkout, according to the grocery store chain’s spokeswoman Leslie Sweet, suggesting the ordinance has had the intended effect of getting customers to reuse their bags.

[…]

Darren Hodges, a City Council member in the West Texas town of Fort Stockton, which has adopted a plastic bag ban of its own, had this to say in recent American-Statesman opinion piece: “I don’t know when the new governor was last in Fort Stockton, but it is certainly not becoming like California.”

You’ll have to forgive Greg Abbott; he doesn’t get out much. I don’t know if much will come of his stated intent to crush local control – it wasn’t part of his State of the State address – but I continue to marvel at the fetishization of state government over any other form. I have to think there’s some potential to turn the kind of anti-federal rhetoric that Abbott at al love to use against them, as they do (or try to do) to cities what they claim Washington does to Texas. Maybe not that much, I don’t know. But I feel like the more people see stuff like this as successful, the more open they’ll be to an argument that trying to shut it down isn’t right. It’s a start.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

Weekend link dump for February 22

On public shaming and its lasting effects.

The war on yoga pants is proceeding apace.

“Baseball used to be the sport where all you needed was a stick and a ball. It used to be a way out for poor kids. Now it’s a sport that increasingly freezes out kids whose parents don’t have the income to finance the travel baseball circuit.”

Thanks, feminism!

RIP, Michele Ferrero, creator of Nutella.

“But Dr Lecter’s choice of sides weren’t based on his taste predilections, he was making a medical joke.”

How fast are the Nerf darts fired by a Nerf gun actually going? Nothing like having a high-speed video camera to figure it out. If this were an episode of Mythbusters, the next questions would be “But how fast can we MAKE it go?”, and “Just how lethal would that be?”

Why does the United States have such an antiquated system of measurement? You can blame two of history’s all-time greatest villains: British colonialism and Congress.”

It’s time for Presidential candidates to take a position on our forthcoming subservience to robot overlords.

A Black Mississippi Judge’s Breathtaking Speech To 3 White Murderers.

New federal regulations might actually stimulate the creation of startups.

Kristen Bell is the anti-Jenny McCarthy.

“Utah has now become the first state to officially allow its citizens to sue themselves.”

“The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — otherwise known as Obamacare — is putting such a small dent in the profits of U.S. companies that many refer to its impact as “not material” or “not significant,” according to a Bloomberg review of conference-call transcripts and interviews with major U.S. employers.”

“How do we know that’s what Satan looks like? We learned it from Vincent Price — and from a thousand other pop-culture and folk-culture figures preceding him.”

Flamethrowers > microwaves when it comes to snow removal.

Yeah, it really is cold up north right now.

Rudy Giuliani is a huge jerk.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Stay sought on immigration lawsuit decision

As expected.

JustSayNo

The Obama administration will ask a court on Monday to allow the president’s controversial immigration order to move forward after a Texas judge halted the program this week.

“The Department of Justice has made a decision to file a stay in this case,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Friday, according to a transcript of a news conference. “I would anticipate that they will file documents at the district court level on Monday at the latest.”

[…]

Earnest said the stay request is separate from an appeal of the ruling, which the administration still plans to file. If the stay is granted, the administration could begin accepting applications for the program, which it was slated to begin doing on Wednesday. But Earnest added that there is no certain timeline if the stay is issued.

“[The appeal] was something that we announced in the immediate aftermath of the decision,” he said. “And we will seek that appeal because we believe that when you evaluate the legal merits of the arguments, that there is a solid legal foundation for the President to take the steps that he announced late last year to reform our broken immigration system.”

See here for the background. I’m not a lawyer and I’m not going to make any predictions. I am going to hope that the stay is granted. We’ll see.

Posted in: Legal matters.

More on the HERO repeal petition jury verdict

KUHF has a good look at What It All Means.

PetitionsInvalid

“It’s tough to predict,” said Teddy Rave, an assistant professor at the University of Houston Law Center.

“It looks like the jury pretty much split the baby. They answered some questions in favor of the plaintiffs and some in favor of the city. And now it’ll be up to the judge to apply the answers that the jury gave to the signatures on the petition to try to figure out which ones are valid and how many of them are valid and whether that will get across the threshold.”

The jurors were asked to consider six different questions.

For example, in Question 1, they had to determine which of 98 different petition gatherers “signed and subscribed” their oath. Without a valid oath, all signatures that person gathered are invalid.

The jury said “no” for about two-thirds of them.

But [Andy] Taylor, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, argued that says nothing about what the judge will end up ruling on that question.

“As long as you substantially comply with the purpose of the law, then the vote counts,” Taylor said.

He said as long as someone signed or wrote their name anywhere on the page, their intent is clear.

[Geoffrey] Harrison, the city’s lawyer, disagreed.

“People who sign where they’re supposed to legibly identify their name but fail to sign to actually take the oath — that’s the fundamental problem,” Harrison said.

See here for the background. What you need to see is the copy of the jury charge embedded in the KUHF story link. It gives a good idea of just how shoddy the effort of the petition collectors was. For example:

– To the question “Which if any of the following Circulators signed and subscribed the Circulator’s oath in the Referendum Petition?”, where “subscribed” means “to sign one’s own name” at the bottom of the pages, the answer for 64 of the 98 circulators was No. Among them were former Council candidates Philip Bryant, Kathy Ballard-Blueford Daniels, and Kendall Baker; pastor Steve Riggle, and former Harris County GOP Chair Jared Woodfill.

– The plaintiffs made a big deal out of the fact that the jury answered No to the question of whether any pages submitted by 13 different circulators contained fraud. But to the question of whether or not they contained forgeries, the answer for 12 of the 13 was Yes, and to the question of whether or not any of them contained “non-accidental defects”, the answer for 6 of 16 was Yes.

– Finally to the question of whether or not the circulators’ affidavit oaths were true and correct, the answer for 12 of the 13 was No. Interestingly, the one circulator for whom the answer was Yes was also the one circulator whose pages were found to contain no forgeries.

The big question is how many petition pages get knocked out as a result of all these errors, incompetencies, and forgeries. There was a meeting between Judge Schaffer and the attorneys on Thursday the 19th to discuss this very topic.

In the hearing, Judge Robert Schaffer sought input from the lawyers on what to base his final ruling on.

Andy Taylor represents the plaintiffs — pastors and conservatives who oppose the ordinance.

He said the judge will ultimately decide how many valid signatures there are left.

“There are multiple rulings that he’s going to have to make,” Taylor said. “Some of those rulings have subcategories and subparts. It’s very, very complicated.”

The jury found several instances on the petition where signature gatherers didn’t sign their oath correctly. They also found cases where the same person signed for others, and other defects. But it’s not always clear-cut when a signature is invalid.

Geoffrey Harrison, who represents the city, thinks otherwise.

“If the judge does use the jury’s verdict as a framework for the judge’s decision, this case is over for the plaintiffs,” he said. “They lose and it’s not close.”

We’ll see about that. Judge Schaffer is expected to make his ruling on Monday. The more that get tossed, the fewer pages for the city to re-count valid signatures (“valid” meaning registered voters in the city of Houston), and obviously the better the chance that there won’t be enough of them. This is, as they say, a big effing deal.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Cities and counties push back on state meddling attempts

They’ve got their work cut out for them.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

The mayors of Texas’ largest cities on Monday pushed back against an initiative by state lawmakers to place new revenue caps on local communities as a way to answer conservatives’ demands to cut property taxes.

As the city CEOs who represent a third of Texas’ population threw their clout behind blocking the new caps, saying it would hurt their ability to provide basic services, they also said they will oppose attempts by the Legislature to limit local control by overturning ordinances on fracking, plastic bags and tree-trimming.

Gov. Greg Abbott last month complained that Texas was being “California-ized” by local governments passing bans on plastic bags, fracking and tree-cutting, saying, “We need to peel back some of these ridiculous, unnecessary requirements.”

Previous legislative efforts to restrict cities’ rule-making authority have met with resistance from those citing the need for local control. Several bills in the last session to overturn cities’ authority to ban bags failed to win approval amid opposition from cities and environmental groups.

At their news conference Monday, the mayors used the same reasoning to oppose tax cuts being contemplated by lawmakers.

Calling themselves the M-10, for the 10 largest cities they represent, the mayors said in a joint statement that new caps on property taxes would impair the ability of cities to properly manage their operations and would thwart the ability of cities to solve problems in their own ways.

“We are very clear that we need to focus on solving the problems of Texas in a fiscally responsible way,” said Houston Mayor Annise Parker, echoing the sentiments of other mayors who said local governments have limited property tax increases in many areas and are budgeting in a frugal way.

The city of Houston has not increased its property tax rate since 1994; in fact, the city has cut its tax rate since then, though its revenues have continued to grow because of higher property appraisals.

San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor said local governments should be allowed to determine their own budgets, not affected adversely by Austin.

“Our cities are the economic engine for the Texas miracle,” she said.

It’s not just the cities that are feeling the potential crush here. That’s good, because Texas’ cities are increasingly out of step politically with the state. I doubt the Lege would have much concern about sticking it to the cities, but if they’re hearing it from county officials as well, they might hesitate. I hope, anyway. And I’ll say again, the Mayoral candidates need to get on this, like now. This Legislature has the capability and the inclination to do a lot to affect their agendas, and not in a good way. What are they waiting for? Trail Blazers has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Nothing but not-so-good-times ahead

Maybe if everyone chants “This time is different than the 80s!” loudly enough it will have the talismanic effect we all hope it will.

For five years, a domestic oil boom has created a bounty of high-paying jobs and a general climate of prosperity here. But as the rest country starts to see signs of economic revitalization, many of Houston’s biggest companies are slowing down. Both phenomena are due at least in part to the precipitous slide in the price of crude.

Halliburton, Schlumberger, Weatherford and Baker Hughes have dominated headlines with news of their layoffs, but the vast array of nonenergy businesses that feasted on their good fortune also are coming to the realization that the boom may finally have run its course.

That was clear in a series of interviews last week, in which even the most sanguine business owners agreed things could change dramatically over the next several months.

A financial planner whose customers include oil and gas executives said he’s advising clients to start “hunkering down.” A prominent hotelier is warning managers to get ready for “some belt-tightening.” A high-end real estate broker predicted builders could soon be offering incentives – “closing costs, appliances, upgrades” – in a market that only recently had homebuyers writing plaintive letters to sellers and paying well over asking price to get their second- or third-choice house.

“Nobody should be afraid, but people should be concerned,” added Patrick Jankowski, senior vice president of research at the Greater Houston Partnership. “We will feel the impact, even outside of energy. We just haven’t felt it yet.”

By almost every metric, Houston’s economy flourished during the domestic energy renaissance. The biggest impact has been jobs: nearly 485,000 added to the region in the last five years, according to Jankowski. The impact of those workers, whose wages are about double the local average, extends far beyond the energy sector itself, as they buy homes, purchase cars and spend money around town.

Optimists look to the medical, shipping and logistics industries to offer a cushion. But it’s naive to believe that if Houston thrived during the energy boom, it won’t suffer as the sector struggles.

Bill Gilmer, director of the Institute for Regional Forecasting at University of Houston, noted that although Houston’s economy has diversified since the oil bust that rocked the region in the 1980s, about half the region’s economic activity is still affected by the oil industry.

“I don’t think we have seen any significant diversification,” he said.

If the price of crude oil settles at $50 a barrel, the city would narrowly avoid a recession. But at $40 it won’t, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, in an interview earlier this month.

Doesn’t that make you feel better? I don’t really have anything to add to this. For what it’s worth, I agree that this time around, it likely won’t be as bad as it was before. That’s not going to be much comfort to anyone who’s been or going to be laid off, or whose business will suffer, but it’s something. And if you’re one of those people who once sported a bumper sticker that said “Lord, please send us one more oil boom, we promise not to piss it away next time”, well, I hope you feel like you’ve lived up to that.

Posted in: Bidness.

Saturday video break: Fire and Rain

It’s a James Taylor classic:

But have you ever said to yourself “You know, I’d like to hear that song with a bluesier voice and a horn section backing it”? Well, then Blood, Sweat & Tears is here for you:

BS&T did a fair number of covers, the best known probably being the blues classic “God Bless The Child”, but they also did a number of contemporary tunes, like this one and “Sympathy For The Devil”. I consider them one of the underrated bands of their era.

Posted in: Music.

Sylvester Turner announces his entry into the Mayor’s race

What we’ve all known about for months is now official.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

State Rep. Sylvester Turner announced his candidacy for Houston mayor today, formally adding the name of an influential lawmaker with deep ties to the African-American community to the growing field of contenders.

For 25 years, Turner has risen through the ranks of the state House and twice before has looked to parlay that experience into the city’s top job. Turner, who for the past year has openly talked about his plan to run a third time, made his decision public Friday in a video to supporters.

“People in my generation inherited a great city, with folks who have big dreams, and they made big things happen,” Turner, a Harvard-educated lawyer who grew up in low-income Acres Homes, will say in the video. “I see a city still doing that.”

Turner likely will be the early front-runner, as much as there can be a leader at all in a field featuring a dozen potential candidates, nearly all of whom have elected experience.

But few have reached out to the city’s movers and shakers over the past 12 months like Turner. He first made his ambitions public last February and has won over many power players in the Democratic establishment, from Sen. John Whitmire to the lobbyists and donors who can steer endorsements, dollars and ultimately votes.

He also has steadily raised mayoral money through his legislative account for at least six months. That fundraising – occurring while other mayoral candidates were subject to a fundraising blackout period – allowed Turner to enter 2015 with $1 million in the bank.

That’s the subject of some legal wrangling, but until and unless a judge says otherwise, it’s so. And Turner will need it to be so, because unless he decides to resign from the Legislature, he’s barred from further fundraising until sine die at the end of May, assuming no special sessions get tacked on. We’ll see if Greg Abbott is less promiscuous with those than Rick Perry was. Be that as it may, Turner will have a campaign kickoff event on March 28. A statement from his campaign is beneath the fold.

One more thing:

Given the caliber and crowd of the field, most mayoral candidates likely will appeal to small slices of the electorate in order to earn the 40,000 votes that most campaigns expect they will need to earn a place in a December runoff.

For Turner, that path is heavily dependent on strong support from the African-American community he has represented for two decades and which typically casts about 30 percent of the vote in municipal elections.

Yet that path could be complicated by the entrance of Ben Hall, an African-American pastor who lost to Mayor Annise Parker in 2013, who also is running for the job again.

Not really sure where that 40,000 number comes from. It has to be a function of how many “viable” candidates there are – does Ben Hall count? is Adrian Garcia in? – as well as overall turnout – are we in 2003 territory, where over 300,000 people voted in the first round, or 2009 territory, where that number was 180,000? If you assume five “viable” candidates (Turner, Bell, Pennington, Costello, King) and 200,000 total votes, then 40,000 is a reasonable goal. It’s also a goal that may well change as time goes on. Let’s just say that whatever the goal is, I’d want to exceed it by as much as possible.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Election 2015.

One point two million Obamacare signups in Texas

Not too shabby.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

McCarter was one of nearly 1.2 million Texans who signed up or were re-enrolled in health coverage before open enrollment ended Sunday. The newly released numbers show Texas ranking behind only Florida in the number of people it signed up or re-enrolled in coverage among the 37 states that rely on the federal health insurance marketplace to sell insurance plans, federal officials said Wednesday. Florida signed up or re-enrolled about 1.6 million people.

“When was the last time this many people became insured?” asked Elena Marks, president and CEO of Houston’s Episcopal Health Foundation and a nonresident health policy fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute. “It is almost double the number who signed up last year.”

[…]

About 150,000 consumers who were waiting to buy marketplace coverage and those who had technical problems while completing their applications as open enrollment ended Sunday will have until Monday to finish enrolling. Burwell said she hasn’t decided whether to open a special enrollment period for consumers who realize they face a penalty for being uninsured as they file their 2014 federal income taxes.

Texas’ enrollment figure indicates about 500,000 residents might have bought marketplace insurance for the first time. Last year, nearly 734,000 Texans bought coverage during the marketplace’s inaugural open enrollment period.

According to the national insurance advocacy group Get Covered America, more than 317,000 Houston-area residents bought or were re-enrolled in 2015 marketplace insurance coverage.

“The fact that more than 180,000 Texans enrolled in the final nine days of the open enrollment period shows that people want and need an affordable and quality health care plan,” Mimi Garcia, Get Covered America’s Texas director, said in a written statement.

That’s over 11 million nationally, or 19 million if you count Medicaid expansion. Not too shabby for a program that the hacks at the TPPF claims is broken, or for a population that Rick Perry swears wasn’t interested in getting coverage. Imagine what these numbers could be if everyone cared about doing something about the uninsured problem.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.