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Early voting for May elections begins Monday

From the inbox:

EarlyVoting

Almost one million of Harris County’s registered voters will be eligible to vote in elections conducted during the May 9, 2015 Uniform Election, according to Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, the chief elections officer of the county. Early Voting begins Monday, April 27th.

“Fifty political entities whose boundaries are solely or in part in Harris County have scheduled an election” said Stanart. “These include 21 cities, 11 independent school districts, 17 utility, service or improvement districts and one college district.”

The County Clerk’s Office is conducting three of the May 9 elections: the Klein ISD Bond election along with the joint election for Humble ISD and the City of Humble. Voters residing in these three jurisdictions can find Early Voting, Election Day voting locations, and view a sample ballot at www.HarrisVotes.com.

Forty-seven political entities are conducting their own election. “Voters should know that during the May Election cycle, sovereign political jurisdictions within the County can order an election and can conduct an election without the involvement of the County Clerk’s Office,” said Stanart. The cities include, Missouri City, Deer Park, Friendswood, Galena Park, Hedwig Village, Hilshire Village, Hunters Creek Village, Jersey Village, Morgan’s Point, Pasadena, Pearland, Piney Point Village, Seabrook, Shoreacres, South Houston, Southside Place, Stafford, West University Place, Waller and Webster. The Independent School Districts (ISD) include Alief, Clear Creek, Deer Park, Goose Creek, La Porte, New Caney, Pasadena, Pearland and Spring Branch. The Municipal Utility Districts (MUD), Service Districts (SD), Improvement Districts (ID) and Emergency Service Districts (ESD) include Chelford City MUD, Faulkey-Gully MUD, Trail of the Lakes MUD, Westador MUD, HC MUD 122, HC MUD 200, HCMUD 217, HC MUD 248, HC MUD 536, DOWDELL PUD, Stafford Municipal SD, HMW Special UD, HC ESD 16, HC ESD 21, Waller-Harris ESD 200, HC ID 15 and HC ID 17. The only college district conducting an election is Lee College.

As a service to the voters of Harris County, the voter Election Day Poll search on www.HarrisVotes.com will display the May 9th elections for which a voter is eligible to vote, if the entity provided Harris County notice of their intent to hold an election on May 9, 2015. The entity website and contact phone numbers, as provided by the entities, are also displayed as a result of the voter search on www.HarrisVotes.com.

“To obtain Early Voting and Election Day information for entities holding elections not conducted by my office, voters are encouraged to use the search result’s web link or phone number to contact the entity directly,” concluded Stanart.

The city of Houston does not have May elections, and neither do HISD and HCC, so if you’re like me you have no action to take. That said, there are elections of interest in Pasadena and across the county line in Fort Bend, and of course there’s the big Mayoral race in San Antonio. Every election matters, and the more local the election the more direct the effects on your day to day life will be. So check www.HarrisVotes.com if you’re in Harris County, or your county’s elections webpage if not, and make sure you participate if there’s an election that affects you.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Profiling the high speed rail opponents

City Lab takes a look at the people who are resisting the proposed Texas Central Railway.

Turns out you don’t need to rely on public money to be hated as a U.S. high-speed rail project. That much is becoming clear from the battering being given to a big Texas bullet train plan that’s privately funded.

A quick recap: Texas Central Railway, a private firm, is pushing a very promising proposal to link Dallas and Houston with a Japanese-style high-speed train capable of doing the trip at 200 mph. By relying on investors rather than taxpayers, the plan seemed poised to avoid a lot of the fiscal (slash ideological) squabbles that have plagued its federally-funded counterparts in California, Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

But with the project advancing toward route selection and environmental review, an intense opposition has emerged. It’s taken the form of anti-HSR groups (e.g. No Texas Central and Texans Against High Speed Rail), local legislation designed to stop the project, packed and panicked community meetings, and pleas for Congressional representatives to block any applications made by Texas Central to the Surface Transportation Board.

So far the high-speed rail pushback seems to be falling into three broad categories.

Click over and see how they were categorized. Nothing really new here, but it’s a succinct summary and a good quick reference guide if you need it.

Speaking of the legislation that has advanced out of committee, the Trib notes that its author, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, hasn’t always been anti-rail.

Yet as recently as 2012, Kolkhorst was listed as a member of the legislative caucus of the Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corporation, a nonprofit that has advocated on behalf of cities and counties to encourage private sector development of high-speed rail in the state.

Kolkhorst’s chief of staff, Chris Steinbach, said there was no contradiction in her actions, as she is not uniformly opposed to high-speed rail.

“While she was involved with discussions about high-speed rail as a concept years ago, that is very different from endorsing the current specific route and methodology,” Steinbach said in an email. “In fact, her bill this session does not speak to the concept of rail, but rather the potential abuse of eminent domain.”

Kolkhorst was a state representative from 2001 to 2014, when she won a special election to take a seat in the Senate. The Dallas-based Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corporation identified Kolkhorst as a new member of its legislative caucus in 2007. Steinbach said the senator joined the corporation at the request of some of her constituents. She has not been a member of the organization’s legislative caucus as a senator.

“She lent her name as a goodwill gesture for constituents who supported the idea of researching rail projects,” Steinbach said. “While she is she known for her open-minded approach to problems, that trait should not be mistaken for any advocacy or endorsement of the current high-speed rail project being discussed in the 84th Legislature.”

The Texas High-Speed Rail and Transportation Corporation launched in 2002 with a focus on encouraging private sector development of the Texas T-Bone, a proposed high-speed rail system connecting San Antonio, Austin, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth, according to David Dean, the corporation’s public policy consultant. The corporation has more recently encouraged private sector high-speed rail development anywhere in the state but is not officially endorsing Texas Central’s project, Dean said.

“We’re glad they’re here,” Dean said. “We hope they’re very successful because we need that true high-speed intercity passenger rail.”

Whatever. Look, people can change their minds, and they can decide that this project is OK but that one is not. As I’ve said before, there are valid reasons for folks in the affected rural reasons to oppose this project. But if this does succeed – and to be clear, I remain in favor of it – then perhaps that also-long-discussed Texas T-Bone would be more likely to finally get built, and it might very well be the kind of boon to the rural communities that TCR will be for Houston and Dallas. A little big-picture thinking would be nice here, that’s all I’m saying.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

More on the Texas Compassionate Use Act

The Chron covers the legislation that has been introduced to loosen medical marijuana laws just a bit.

The twin bills, both authored by Republicans and supported by lawmakers across the aisle, await hearings in Senate and House subcommittees.

The bills are far more restrictive than those that legalized medical marijuana in 23 states, broad laws that in general green-light the marketing of “whole plant” products to a wide range of patients, such as those with cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV and other illnesses.

The Texas bills would allow for the implementation of “compassionate use” of CBD oil by 2018, a move that would effectively bypass FDA drug trials, which can take as long as a decade.

“These are families that have run out of options,” said Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, a nurse and lead author of the House bill. “Other states have legalized CBD oil with promising results. We want Texans with intractable epilepsy to have that option.”

The bills face opposition from conservative lawmakers, who fear a yes vote might cast them as champions of marijuana, and from the Texas Medical Association, which is opposing the lack of testing available on CBD oil.

Even some parents of children with intractable seizures are against it, arguing their kids need higher levels of THC to make their convulsions stop, a dose ratio the Texas law wouldn’t allow. A botanical derived from plants, CBD oil would have to be calibrated from different batches to conform to the strict, low-THC ratio the Texas law would mandate.

It’s that very ratio that has made Dean Bortell an opponent of the Texas Compassionate Use Act.

His daughter Alexis, now 9, began having seizures at age 7, convulsing wildly and foaming at the mouth. The various medications doctors gave her actually made her condition worse, he said.

Bortell moved his family from the Dallas area to Colorado, becoming “medical refugees.”

Bortell said his daughter’s epilepsy now is well-controlled on CBD oil – $150 for a 40-day supply – but one of her doses contains more THC than would be allowed under the proposed Texas law. To get the right ratio, he must add pure THC oil to the CBD oil.

“If I got caught with that in Texas, I’d go to prison,” he said. “I’ve talked to tons of parents here in Colorado, and for many of them, the ratios in the Texas bills wouldn’t help their children because they require more THC. For no other medication does the law dictate dosing levels.”

See here for the background; most of what is in this story is also in the one I blogged about there. Time is beginning to get short for any bills that have not yet been heard in committee, so unless these bills get scheduled to be heard in the next couple of weeks, they won’t be going anywhere. One bill that has already gotten a hearing is Rep. Joe Moody’s bill to change possession of less than one ounce of marijuana to a civil penalty, like a traffic ticket. That bill has picked up some Republican cosponsors, which may be a sign that it could go the distance, or at least go farther. I’d like to see more done, and I’d go a lot farther on medical marijuana than the Compassionate Use Act, but this just doesn’t look to be the session for it.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

B-Cycle’s future

There’s some trouble in San Antonio.

San Antonio B-Cycle could be on the verge of following rideshare and disappearing from the San Antonio landscape, multiple sources have told the Rivard Report, unless it can win the local government, corporate and philanthropic financial support that bikeshare enjoys in cities like Boston, Philadelphia, Denver, Houston, and Austin. The same sources said Cindi Snell, the unpaid executive director since B-Cycle’s started here, announced at a Tuesday B-Cycle board meeting that she has decided to step down later this year. Snell has recently told friends and colleagues in the cycling community that she is exhausted after four years of unsuccessful efforts to win any major sponsorships and operating on a bare bones budget and pro bono support services to survive.

Sources say the B-Cycle board will have to consider shutting down or scaling back operations even as it seeks a new executive director, which it lacks funds to pay. One option would be to turn down the $1.2 million TXDOT grant to avoid the increased operating costs associated with an expanded network, but that would signal an end to rideshare’s growth in San Antonio, disappoint many neighborhoods awaiting stations, and the board would still face an underfunded system that would have to operate after losing Snell, bikeshare’s strongest and most visible advocate in San Antonio.

The bulk of funds that have built the San Antonio B-Cycle system flowed through the City’s budget from federal stimulus programs, and like the pending TXDOT grant, were for bikes and stations. Snell, co-owner of the Bike World cycling stores, has worked full-time for free while B-Cycle’s seven employees are paid modest salaries or hourly wages. The City, County and regional government entities do not contribute any funding to support B-Cycle. The 80/20 Foundation and Baptist Health Foundation have each contributed $50,000 grants this year, but no national company or locally-based company has shown interest in sponsoring bikeshare in the city.

That story, which has been shared 126 times after being posted to the San Antonio B-Cycle Facebook page, has generated promises from city leaders that they would work to save the program, but as yet I’ve not seen any reports saying that a sponsor or other funding source has been found. San Antonio was the first city in Texas to get B-Cycle, and it’s been very successful, with more stations and bikes and checkouts than Houston’s B-Cycle. It would be a big loss for them if it can’t sustain that success. Next City has more.

Meanwhile, Houston has a sponsor for its existing B-Cycle stations and is looking for more grant money to allow for further expansion.

Houston so far has avoided pitfalls, said Will Rub, director of Houston B-Cycle, by stretching the seed money it received from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas in 2013 to expand the system.

“That and the fact that we have operated on a very lean basis,” Rub said. “We have been able to cover approximately 70 percent of our operating expenses through the income generated by the system, therefore we’ve been able to stretch the sponsorship dollars. We’ve even had a few months where the system income has exceeded our monthly operating expenses.”

More money would help Houston to expand the system. Right now it is focused on downtown and nearby areas such as the Museum District, Midtown and Montrose. Adding stations or offering service in additional neighborhoods, like the Heights or close to the University of Houston and Memorial Park, would require corporate partnerships or grant funding.

Rub said he has applied for funding from the Houston-Galveston Area Council, which doles out some federal money for transportation options such as biking. The proposal would be for $3.4 million from H-GAC, with the local B-Cycle matching 20 percent of that with money they collect from fares or raise via other sources.

“If we receive the award we will put a plan into action that will result in adding 71 more stations over the next two-plus years,” he said.

The plan would also add 600 bikes.

“That would establish a very well networked bike share program,” Rub said.

If the H-GAC proposal does not happen, Rub said, finding a title sponsor would be hugely important to maintaining and expanding the system.

“We, along with the entire bike share industry, feel that we can provide a great deal of value to a title sponsor,” Rub said. “But bike share is still a relatively new industry and doesn’t have the advertising industry metrics to justify the investment, from a sponsor’s perspective. That is the challenge faced by many of the programs around the country.”

I hope they can get that grant and execute that expansion plan. I also hope they will have the same kind of backing from the next Mayor as they have had from the current one. You know how I feel about this sort of thing.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Friday random ten: Parenthetically speaking, part 12

Twelve! Twelve lists of song names with parentheses in them! Ah ha ha!

1. Strangest Party (These Are The Times) – INXS
2. Sweet Dreams (Of You) – Patsy Cline
3. (Take A) Beetle To The Badlands – The Slip
4. Take Me (I’m Yours) – Bob deGrande
5. Tell Me (That Our Love’s Still Strong) – Southside Johnny and The Jukes
6. Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again) – Sly And The Family Stone
7. That Lucky Old Sun (Just Rolls Around Heaven All Day) – Ray Charles
8. There’s A Moon In The Sky (Called The Moon) – The B-52’s
9. The Things (That) I Used To Do – Stevie Ray Vaughan
10. This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds) – Peter Gabriel

I believe that SRV song is the first one we’ve seen where the parenthetical is in the middle of the song name. I feel like an argument about proper grammar must have been involved. Also, once you come up with “Excellent Birds” as a title, I don’t know why you’d want to add on to it. But if Peter Gabriel hadn’t, his song wouldn’t have made this list.

Posted in: Music.

TxDOT reveals its I-45 plan

Wow. Just, wow.

A massive reconstruction of Interstate 45 through most of Houston would topple one of downtown’s most frustrating barriers – the Pierce Elevated – and move the freeway east of the central business district.

That’s just one of the major changes Texas Department of Transportation officials included in the $6 billion-plus plan to be unveiled Thursday. It would make I-45 practically unrecognizable to those familiar with its current downtown-area configuration.

Two managed lanes in each direction will be added to the freeway between the Sam Houston Tollway and U.S. 59 south of the city’s central business district. Planners recommend moving I-45 to the east side of the city’s core, a change that an analysis suggests could increase downtown freeway speeds. Officials called it a once-in-a-lifetime change that would increase mobility and improve the city center.

“After having those freeways in the city for the better part of 70 years, it’s challenging and exciting to have the opportunity to come back and reshape how they fit,” said Bob Eury, executive director of the Houston Downtown Management District.

The first of three public meetings this month [was] scheduled for Thursday night, when residents and businesses will get their first detailed look at the plans. In 2013, when neighborhood leaders got a look at early versions, some feared the reconstruction would leave a big, concrete scar across their communities.

“I am really looking with dreaded anticipation for what they are going to propose,” said Jim Weston, president of the I-45 coalition, a group of residents tracking the freeway project. “There’s a lot of engineering and lots of questions about the design that really, I feel, TxDOT hasn’t answered.”

Remaking I-45 will take years, with numerous public meetings and more detailed analysis remaining. Officials said it is too early to pinpoint an exact cost, but transportation officials predict all of the work will cost “north of $6 billion,” said Quincy Allen, district engineer for TxDOT’s Houston office.

The final cost will be determined by when officials can start construction, likely in phases starting in downtown Houston after 2017. The central business district parts of the plan alone will cost about $3 billion.

Much of that cost comes from moving the freeway. Eventually, I-45 will move from the west side of downtown and follow the same route U.S. 59 does now east of the George R. Brown Convention Center, according to the plans. The two freeways will split where they now cross near Pierce Street.

Perhaps just as importantly, transportation officials are designing segments of the new or combined freeways as depressed roadways, meaning local street traffic flows above them, similar to U.S. 59 west of Spur 527. East of the convention center and between Cavalcade and Quitman streets, the space above the freeways could be developed as open green space or a park-like setting.

See here and here for the most recent updates. The public meeting documents are here. I’m still working my way through them. I’m happy that the roundabout idea appears to be kaput, but there’s a billion details to work out, and until we really understand what this is all about, it’s impossible to say if this is good, bad, or indifferent. I’m more hopeful now than I was before, but I need to read the docs and hear what the folks who have followed this more closely than I have are saying. And – and I really cannot say this often enough – we need to know what the Mayoral candidates think about this. Forget pensions and potholes, if this project goes forward more or less as detailed here, this will be the defining issue of the next Mayor’s tenure. What is your impression of this?

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Two anti-gay bills advance

Look out.

RedEquality

Gay rights advocates began sounding the alarm Wednesday after two anti-LGBT bills cleared House committees and another received a favorable hearing.

Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, said if LGBT groups and their corporate allies don’t work quickly to generate the type of backlash seen over a religious freedom bill in Indiana last month, it could soon be too late.

Miller made the statement on a day when separate House panels advanced bills that would bar county clerks from issuing same-sex marriage licenses and allow state-funded adoption agencies to turn away gay couples based on religious beliefs. The two bills, which breached a dam that had kept a record number of anti-LGBT measures at bay for the first 100 days of the session, now head to the Calendars Committee.

“My fear is that if the Indiana-style outrage doesn’t happen now, before these bills make it to the floor of the House, it will be too late, because the membership of the House will pass these bills, and then the Senate will fly them through, and Gov. [Greg] Abbott will have no choice but to sign them in his mind,” Miller said.

Miller and others said with the U.S. Supreme Court set to hear oral arguments on same-sex marriage Tuesday, moderate Republicans in the Legislature are feeling the heat from social conservatives.

“I feel like the Republican base is desperately afraid of the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage this summer,” Miller said. “I think there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on the leadership in the House to pass anti-LGBT legislation. I think some of Speaker [Joe] Straus’ lieutenants are more likely to cave in to that pressure than others.”

[…]

The House Committee on State Affairs voted 7-3 along party lines to advance House Bill 4105, which would prohibit state or local funds from being used to license or recognize same-sex marriages.

Among those voting in favor of the bill was Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), a moderate who chairs the committee and has come out in support of one pro-LGBT bill.

“For me, I believe in the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman, so that’s why I voted for it,” Cook said.

All due respect, and I do respect Rep. Cook for his support of the birth certificate bill, but he’s not a moderate. As I noted before, he received an F on the 2013 Equality Texas report card. His support of Rep. Anchia’s bill is great and appreciated, but it doesn’t change who he is.

The Texas Association of Business, the state’s powerful chamber of commerce, has come out against two proposed religious freedom amendments that critics say would enshrine a “license to discriminate” against LGBT people in the Texas Constitution. But the TAB has remained silent on the bills that cleared committee Wednesday.

“We have not taken a position and doubtful (with timing of the session) that we will be able to,” TAB President Chris Wallace said in an email. “We will continue to monitor the business-related implications.”

Late Wednesday, the House Committee on Juvenile Justice and Family Affairs voted 6-1 to advance House Bill 3864, by Rep. Scott Sanford (R-McKinney), which would allow state-funded child welfare providers to discriminate based on sincerely held religious beliefs.

Meanwhile, dozens of pastors gave hours of testimony in support of House Bill 3567, also by Sanford, which he said is designed to prevent clergy from being forced to perform same-sex marriages. Critics of HB 3567 say it’s so broadly written that it could allow any religiously affiliated organization—from hospitals to universities and homeless shelters—to discriminate against LGBT people.

None of this is good, so now would be an excellent time to call your State Rep and ask him or her to vote against these bills. It would also be nice if the TAB and its other corporate allies would remember that not only are these bills bad for business, they will inevitably lead to expensive litigation (that the state will lose) because they’re clearly unconstitutional. The cheaper and safer route is to keep them bottled up in the House.

It’s hard to overstate just how out of step with public opinion all of this is. I can only conclude that the GOP is more in thrall to its zealot wing than it is to the business lobby. Maybe this will finally help cause a bit of a schism. As far as those “Christians” that were there to lobby for these bills, they don’t represent all people of faith. Not by a longshot. And finally, if Indiana and Arkansas weren’t object lessons enough for Republicans, just keep an eye on Louisiana, where Bobby Jindal has decided that the best strategy is to double down. Imitating Arkansas is bad enough – do we have to do what Louisiana does, too? The Trib has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

A different push for health care expansion

This ought to spark some interesting conversations.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Two Democratic lawmakers called Wednesday for Texas leaders to explore a new type of Medicaid waiver that they say could provide health coverage to many of the state’s millions of uninsured.

The waiver, characterized by the legislators as the kind of block grant that Republicans favor, is not predicated on a Medicaid expansion and would allow Texas to avoid many provisions of the Affordable Care Act unpopular with the leadership in the Legislature – including the individual and employer mandates. The waiver, known as 1332, takes effect in 2017.

“Based on where we are now in this state, (the waiver) probably is the best chance or possibility of an agreement… toward coverage expansion,” Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said at a news briefing with Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso.

In a letter sent to colleagues earlier this week, Coleman added that the waiver must not reduce access to care, increase costs to the federal government, or make insurance more expensive than under the current law. The waiver effectively tells states that “if they know a better, more efficient way to provide health care, then have at it,” Coleman wrote.

[…]

Arlene Wohlgemuth, executive director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative Austin think tank, said she had spoken to Coleman Wednesday morning about developing a 1332 waiver aligned with the principles laid out by the foundation.

“Of course, we are interested in reform of the program that truly gives flexibility to the states to provide for better health outcomes in a way that is affordable for the taxpayer,” Wohlgemuth said. “Thus far, the federal government has been unwilling to give exception to the requirements in the Social Security Act (the law that embodies Medicare) that have hamstrung true reform. We are interested to see what Representative Coleman has in mind through a 1332 waiver.”

Vivian Ho, a health care economist at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, said there are so many unknowns about the waiver that it’s hard to know what to conclude.

“I can’t believe any waiver is the answer unless the state agrees to some sort of Medicaid expansion, and I don’t see how 1332 is going to help that,” said Ho. “It’s unclear how much money it would actually supply and whether it would provide access to tax credits for people below 100 percent of the federal poverty level.”

Ho added that block grants are a questionable idea unless the amount of money increases with population growth, given Texas’ continual migration and growing uninsured pool.

But Ken Janda, CEO of Community Health Choice, a nonprofit health care organization, called the suggestion “a very good idea” and said it “definitely seems worth talking about.” He said it answers a lot of concerns raised about Medicaid expansion and presents a possible solution to the health-care crisis that’s caused the closure of some private hospitals and threatens the existence of safety-net hospitals.

Rep. Coleman and Sen. Rodriguez filed bills this session to pursue this waiver and the reforms that it would allow. Here’s the letter they sent to fellow legislators outlining what this waiver would mean. Here’s the key bit:

However, there is a catch – the waiver must not reduce access to care, increase costs to the federal government, or make insurance more expensive than it is under the current law. The 1332 Waiver effectively tells states that if they know a better, more efficient way to provide healthcare, then have at it. Texas should take the federal government’s offer and consider ways to reform both Medicaid and private marketplace coverage in this state.

Basically, this is a put-up-or-shut-up challenge to Greg Abbott and the Republicans that have dug their heels in so fiercely against Medicaid expansion, the insurance exchanges, and every other aspect of the Affordable Care Act. You think you can do better? Prove it. My guess is that this will be roundly ignored, since Abbott and Rick Perry before him have shown zero interest in doing anything about the millions of uninsured Texans. Abbott appears to be perfectly willing to set fire to billions more dollars in his continued quest to not do anything about health care. But who knows, maybe someone will rise to the challenge. I agree that it’s at least worth exploring to see what might be possible.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Prosecutors respond to latest Team Perry filings

Back and forth, forth and back.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

This corndog has done nothing wrong

The special prosecutor in the case against Rick Perry is asking a judge to deny the former governor’s latest two efforts to quash the indictment against him.

Perry, meanwhile, is once again showcasing a high-profile group of legal scholars who think the case against him should be dismissed.

The two filings by special prosecutor Michael McCrum of San Antonio – and the filing on behalf of Perry by lawyers from Republican and Democratic backgrounds – are the latest moves in a long court dance that has taken place since Perry was indicted last August.

[…]

Perry has maintained that he properly used his veto authority and that the indictment is improper, politically motivated and injurious to free speech and gubernatorial authority.

His high-powered legal team led by Houston lawyer Anthony Buzbee has said that misusing a veto “cannot constitutionally be considered a criminal act” under the statute cited by McCrum, and that McCrum’s effort to fix problems identified in the indictment is “woefully deficient.” Perry’s team also has said the indictment doesn’t give Perry enough notice to defend himself.

McCrum and Austin attorney David M. Gonzalez, who is assisting him in the case, said in a Friday filing that Perry’s third motion to quash the indictment should be denied because the indictment tracks the law, and that Perry doesn’t lack clarity about why he is being prosecuted. They said the matters raised in Perry’s indictment “may be appropriately addressed when evidence has been presented.”

McCrum and Gonzalez said in responding to Perry’s supplemental motion to quash in trial court, “Texas’ highest court for criminal cases has held that the State does not have to lay out its case in the indictment.”

See here and here for the background. The first of the filings mentioned in the third paragraph was filed after the initial ruling by Judge Richardson, which denied his first motions to dismiss but which noted some issues with the indictments. The second filing came after special prosecutor Mike McCrum refiled the charges, in response to the questions Judge Richardson raised. Perry has also filed a motion with the Third Court of Appeals, which is a separate matter. There may be more filings to come – I presume McCrum will respond to the Third Court of Appeals motion if nothing else – and then we wait for rulings. Trail Blazers has more, including a copy of the latest paperwork.

On a side note, it’s interesting that this happened on the same day as the House passing the bill to move the Public Integrity Unit out of the Travis County DA’s office. The Perry indictments have been repeatedly cited as the fulcrum for getting that long-sought legislation through. A bit ironic, given that the action has been driven by a nonpartisan special prosecutor appointed by a Republican judge, but never mind that. At this point, I’d say that if Team Perry succeeds in getting the indictments tossed, that will be a lot of ammunition for the advocates of moving this function elsewhere. If it does go to trial, I don’t know that it changes any of the office-movers’ minds, but it may take some wind out of their sails. We’ll see who if anyone winds up feeling vindicated.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

A little trouble in paradise

It’s that time of the biennium, y’all.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s tea party advisory panel on Tuesday blasted Gov. Greg Abbott’s quality pre-K legislation as “socialistic” and “a threat to parental rights,” contributing friction to the already tense balancing act between the state’s top Republican leaders.

“We are experimenting at great cost to taxpayers with a program that removes our young children from homes and half-day religious preschools and mothers’ day out programs to a Godless environment with only evidence showing absolutely NO LONG-TERM BENEFITS beyond the 1st grade,” read the letter sent to the state Senate on Tuesday.

It was signed by all 20 members of the lieutenant governor’s “Grassroots Advisory Board,” a group of Tea Party leaders Patrick chose soon after taking office to meet regularly and discuss public policy, especially as it related to border security, education reform, and tax relief legislation.

“This interference by the State tramples up our parental rights,” the letter added. “The early removal of children from parents’ care is historically promoted in socialistic countries, not free societies which respect parental rights.”

[…]

While Patrick quickly distanced himself from the letter Tuesday, saying it was “unsolicited” and expressed “the individual viewpoints of Texas citizens,” House Bill 4 has not yet been approved by the chamber he oversees. It passed easily in the lower chamber earlier this month but has stalled in the Senate.

The letter – and any further delay in the Senate hearing Abbott’s pre-K bill – is sure to create friction between the state’s two most powerful elected officials, said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

“The language of the letter is certainly inflammatory in a way that is likely to exacerbate the expected tensions,” said Henson. “It’s hard not to look at this without concluding that we’re in for a pretty fractious end of session.”

Who knew that inviting a bunch of nihilistic prevaricators into your inner circle would be such an ill-advised move? No one could have seen that coming. As the Observer notes, there’s no love lost between the House (read: Joe Straus) and the Senate (Danno, of course) over the border surge bills, among other things. Some of this is just the way things are at this point in the session. It’s like going on a long road trip with your family – no matter how much you may love them, after enough time together without a break, tensions can get a little high. Some of it is ego and the kind of inside baseball that no one outside of the Capitol hothouse cares about. And some of it is genuine differences, not all of which will get resolved. How big a mess it becomes, and how much gets salvaged and smoothed over, remains to be seen.

In the meantime, I hope we hear a lot more of stuff like this.

Food fight!

The weekly kumbaya breakfast between the big three Texas lawmakers broke down today into a round-robin of recriminations that concluded with Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick declaring he was tired of Governor Greg Abbott and Speaker Joe Straus “picking on me.”

The blow-up, confirmed by multiple sources, represents the boiling point of long-simmering disputes. The House has been upset that Patrick declared his inauguration marked a “New Day” in Texas and that he pushed a conservative agenda quickly through the Senate with expectations that the House would just pass his legislation. But, instead, most of the Senate’s bills on tax cuts, licensed open carry of handguns and moving the Public Integrity Unit have languished in the House without even being referred to committee by Straus.

The House instead has passed its own version of the same legislation, putting the Senate in a take-it-or-leave-it position. To pass the Senate bills now, the House would have to have an entirely new debate on controversial measures it already has approved.

So the Senate, in what looked like retaliation on Tuesday, ignored a House-approved border security bill to vote on its own measure, putting the House into a take-it-or-leave-it position on border security – a measure that House Ways and Means Chair Dennis Bonnen had crafted to win support of border Democrats.

This may be Patrick’s New Day, but Straus’ Old Guard still runs the House.

[…]

Once in the breakfast, Patrick and Straus began arguing over the House not moving on Patrick’s agenda bills, while Straus was critical of the Senate action on the border security bill. At that point, Abbott interjected his displeasure with the letter attacking the pre-k bill that he supported.

With Abbott and Straus coming at him, Patrick declared that he was tired of them “picking on me.”

LEAVE DAN PATRICK ALOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONE!!!

(The Trib and Juanita have more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Statewide Uber/Lyft bill passes out of committee

It’s gotten better, but it’s still not good enough.

Uber

A bill to establish statewide rules for “transportation network companies” like Uber and Lyft has been tweaked to address some concerns that its background check requirements weren’t stringent enough.

That change – which would allow cities to require that drivers be fingerprinted as part of such a check – was enough for the bill win passage out of the House Transportation Committee with a 10-2 vote on Wednesday.

The revised bill still isn’t likely to win over cities like Dallas, which would still see their recently crafted vehicle-for-hire regulations essentially wiped out. And with just 40 days left in the session, the legislation still has a long road ahead to become law.

But the bill’s author, Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, said he was optimistic.

“We’ve eliminated the vast majority of concerns,” said Paddie, who added that Uber and Lyft remain on board with the legislation.

The legislation would create statewide rules for companies like Uber and Lyft on issues ranging from vehicle standards to insurance requirements to permitting. The Department of Motor Vehicles would administer the rules, which wouldn’t apply to cabs and limos.

[…]

A sticking point in the Legislature has been driver fingerprinting – which isn’t required in Dallas, but is in other cities. And Paddie’s latest amendment to his bill could perhaps allay the worries of some lawmakers and cities who wanted that flexibility.

See here and here for the background. The Chron explains why cities are still opposed to HB2440.

Lyft

The original bill would have pre-empted local ordinances in favor of statewide regulation, eliminating the ability of a city to regulate background checks for Uber drivers.

State Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, who authored the bill, said it will allow cities across the state to enforce local ordinances requiring fingerprint background checks for drivers, a major sticking point for local authorities.

He said that change will happen on the House floor because a reworked version introduced Wednesday had a “drafting problem” that muddled the language on local control of background checks.

“That will give the authority to the cities that if they chose to require more in that they want to require fingerprints, as Houston does, with this change they will be able to do that,” he said.

Paddie, R-Marshall, added: “We basically said ‘cities, we heard ya.”

Uber has vigorously fought against attempts to require its drivers to be subjected to fingerprint-based background checks. Paddie said Uber and Lfyt have agreed to changes giving cities the ability to write and enforce rules for background checks.

New language inserted into the bill also allows cities to require Uber and similar companies that link riders and drivers by smartphone to access a state criminal fingerprinting database, potentially key to help win support from skeptical lawmakers. Paddie, however, said he planned to replace that section of the bill with new language making clear that his bill does not pre-empt cities from requiring fingerprint-based checks.

The bill passed the transportation committee 10-2, with Democratic Reps. Yvonne Davis of Dallas and Celia Israel of Austin opposed.

Davis questioned if allowing cities to set their own ordinances for background checks would keep in place a “mish-mash” of local regulations that the bill originally sought to undo.

“There’s still potential for a mish-mash,” Paddie said, highlighting that standards for fees and insurance would still be regulated statewide.

The new language in the bill “does not prohibit a municipality from requiring by ordinance a transportation network company to access the electronic clearinghouse and subscription service under Section 411.0845, Government Code, for transportation network drivers.”

That assurance, however, doesn’t go nearly far enough and is “useless” in assuring drivers are properly screened, said Lara Cottingham, deputy assistant director in the city’s Regulatory Affairs Department.

Conducting background checks and accessing the clearinghouse are very different things. The clearinghouse is a database of fingerprints collected by various municipal and state agencies.

Honestly, this sounds a lot better, and I’m glad to hear Rep. Paddie talk about working with the cities on this, but the devil remains in the details, especially given that the bill is not yet a finished product. As we know, the experience in Houston has shown that anything less than full fingerprinting is insufficient. The “mish-mash” of not overriding stricter city ordinances on background checks is a feature, not a bug. If that stays in place, I think I’ll be all right with this. Let’s keep an eye on this as it progresses to the House floor, and do feel free to contact your State Rep and let him or her know how you feel about it. And of course – broken record alert – it would be nice to know how the Mayoral candidates feel about it, too. At least with Rep. Sylvester Turner, if it does go to a vote in the House we’ll have his opinion on the record. The rest of them will have to tell us on their own.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Meet your Paxton prosecutors

Technically, they’re district attorneys pro tem, for those of you keeping score at home.

Ken Paxton

Two Houston attorneys have been appointed to replace Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis in any potential prosecution of his friend and business partner Attorney General Ken Paxton. The Texas Rangers are looking into whether Paxton should be criminally prosecuted for violating state securities law.

Kent Schaffer and Brian Wice will serve as criminal district attorneys pro tem, according to an order signed Tuesday by Scott Becker, a judge in Collin County district court. The order leaves open the possibility of “further additional appointments.”

[…]

While neither Schaffer nor Wice have worked as prosecutors, both have extensive criminal defense backgrounds. Wice recently worked on the defense team of NFL Star Adrian Peterson with attorney Rusty Hardin and is the legal analyst for KPRC-TV in Houston. He is most known as the appellate attorney for former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

Shaffer has represented high-profile politicians and business leaders including R. Allen Stanford, former Congressman Craig Washington and handled legal affairs for athletes and celebrities including Farrah Fawcett.

See here for the background. It’s interesting to name two lawyers who have never worked as prosecutors for this, but they are certainly well qualified to handle the procedure. One might surmise that if they wind up going forward with charges against Paxton, their case will be pretty darned solid. I look forward to seeing what happens next.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Texas blog roundup for the week of April 20

The Texas Progressive Alliance honors the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing on the 20th anniversary of that dark day as it brings you this week’s roudup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Senate passes a voucher bill

Hopefully, this will die in the House.

Some low-income families unhappy with their public schools would get help paying private school tuition under a plan that won tentative approval in the Texas Senate Monday.

Senate Bill 4, which would use state tax credits to entice up to $100 million in business donations to fund a scholarship program, cleared the chamber 18 to 12 with two Republicans, Konni Burton of Colleyville and Robert Nichols of Jacksonville, breaking party lines to vote against the measure. One Democrat, Eddie Lucio of Brownsville, voted in favor.

Before it passed, Democrats raised concerns about the plan, arguing that it diverted money that should be going to public education into an unaccountable private school system. “They don’t have the same kinds of requirements that our public schools do,” said state Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso. “I can’t seem to get around that.”

While defending his proposal, state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, insisted that the legislation should not be considered a private school voucher program — a notion that has proven politically toxic in the Legislature.

“I don’t think we are taking money from the public schools. The student is leaving,” said Taylor, who chairs the Senate Education Committee. “This is private money — not state money — that is donated.”

Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, said he viewed the legislation as a way to “short circuit around the whole voucher concept.”

“It is money that a corporation will be giving to a scholarship program in lieu of paying tax,” he said.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, called on Taylor to add language banning private schools participating in the program from using Common Core, the national set of curriculum standards that Texas lawmakers prohibited in the state’s public education system in 2013.

“It just defies logic that you would apply a different standard to private schools using taxpayer subsidized money,” said Ellis, after his amendment was tabled at Taylor’s urging.

Senators Rodriguez, Menendez, and Ellis have hit the highlights here. This is a strong point, too.

Rev. Charles Johnson, director of Pastors for Texas Children, a public school advocacy group, said the push for vouchers is more a fight for money than improving educational opportunity for poor students.

“If this were about kids, we’d target those 70 or 80 struggling schools out of 8,500 public schools and we would give them the resources they need to succeed,” he said. “The Legislature consistently refuses to do that.”

Well yeah. That would cost money. Dan Patrick already thinks we spend too much money on public education. Even the credulous Erica Greider notes that under this bill, families with above-median incomes would be eligible for these “scholarships”, a name that’s more about branding than anything else. It’s a giveaway to people who don’t need it at the expense of people who do, and there’s no evidence from existing voucher programs elsewhere that it does anything to improve educational outcomes. Like I said, let’s hope it dies in the House, as it should.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Minjarez wins in HD124

At long last, that’s a wrap.

Ina Minjarez

Former Bexar County prosecutor Ina Minjarez cruised to victory late Tuesday in the runoff for José Menéndez’s old seat in Texas House District 124 the last vacancy this session in the Legislature.

With all precincts reporting, Minjarez led Delicia Herrera, a former member of the San Antonio City Council, by just under 10 percentage points, according to unofficial returns. Minjarez beat Herrera by another double-digit margin in the first round of the race last month, a four-way contest.

Turnout for the runoff was 2.77 percent, slightly higher than the rate for the March 31 vote. That was the lowest turnout the state had on record for a competitive special election for a legislative seat.

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for the numbers. Congratulations to Rep.-elect Ina Minjarez, the winner of the last special election of this legislative session. There could still be more later, if someone resigns after the session or something like that, but for now and for the first time since November, the Lege is at full strength. And hey, guess what? Early voting for the May elections, which in San Antonio includes the heavily contested Mayor’s race, begins on Monday. Enjoy the break while you can.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Lone Star Rail District update

Haven’t heard from these guys in awhile.

According to [Lone Star Rail District], the [proposed rail line] will provide essential relief from the I-35 highway congestion. The express trip from downtown Austin to downtown San Antonio would take 75 minutes.

Completing the project, however, crawls slowly forward as the approval for the train involves several different counties, including Austin, Bexar, Travis, Hays and Williamson.

In January of 2015, the LSRD hosted several informational events in both Austin and San Antonio with the intention to gain support for local and state funding of the project.

The rail system will cost taxpayers roughly $1.7 billion.

[…]

The Texas Department of Transportation has already given their consent for the project to move forward, and the LSRD has formally “kicked off the federal environmental process” according to an email sent in September of 2014 from a staff member of LSRD, Allison Schulze, to Alamo area officials and advocates of the project.

The LSRD intends to transform an existing Union Pacific rail line into the commuter line. Thus, in adhering to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the federal government will evaluate and improve the safety of the rail for transporting people.

LSRD, in an report with KVUE news, states if kept on schedule the project from now until finish will take about 5 years.

The last update I had on this was back in January of 2012. More recently, as that KVUE story from this January notes, the LSRD held a series of public information meetings, which is part of the environmental review process. Last December, the Austin City Council voted to support the funding to maintain and operate a regional passenger rail line, which is obviously a big step. That story indicates that this approval is contingent on a “legislative decision to tweak a state law” as well as an agreement from Union Pacific to share its tracks. No clue what the “legislative decision” is about – I presume it’s a bill that needs to be passed to allow for funds to be spent on a project like this. One hopes it will meet less resistance than the Texas Central Railway has met.

I should note that a travel time of 75 minutes is about what it took to drive from Austin to San Antonio 25 years ago, when much of that stretch of I-35 was farmland. I doubt one can drive it that quickly any time during the day now. Note that there would be multiple stops along the way, so we’re not talking express service. I presume this also means that several other city councils, in places like Schertz and New Braunfels and San Marcos and Buda, will have to take similar votes to approve funding for maintenance and operations. A five year timeline seems awfully optimistic given all the things that could go wrong, but I’m rooting for them to succeed.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Willis recuses himself from Paxton probe

Good call.

Ken Paxton

Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis has asked a judge to relieve him from further involvement in investigations of his friend, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Late Monday, Willis said that earlier in the day, he filed a motion with state District Judge Scott Becker to recuse himself from probes of whether Paxton, a friend and business partner, should face criminal charges for failing to obtain a Texas State Securities Board license. Becker, the administrative judge in Collin County, could name someone to act in Willis’ place as district attorney in the matter.

Earlier this month, Willis asked the Texas Rangers to investigate the Paxton matter and make a recommendation.

“Whenever the Rangers complete their investigation, there will be a district attorney on the case that will have no connection to me or my office,” Willis said in an interview late Monday.

See here, here, and here for the background. I’m glad that Greg Willis had the good sense to do this, and to do it without dragging it out and being coerced or shamed into it. It may well be that Paxton is ultimately cleared of all charges, but until then he needs to be treated the same as anyone else in that position would be. Getting a prosecutor who isn’t conflicted is a good start for that. The Trib has more.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

No, seriously, expand Medicaid or else

Bring. It. On.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

The federal government is officially holding state leaders’ feet to the fire, hoping to get Texas to expand its Medicaid program to provide health insurance to more low-income Texans.

Federal officials called the state’s health agency this week to say that Texas’ reluctance to expand Medicaid — a key tenet of President Obama’s signature health law — will play into whether his administration extends a waiver that helps the state’s hospitals cover uninsured patients.

The development follows news from Florida, where a similar tug-of-war is playing out between the federal government and a Republican-controlled statehouse that opposes Obamacare but hopes to renew billions of dollars in hospital funding. This week, federal officials sent a letter to Florida lawmakers that said Medicaid expansion “would reduce uncompensated care in the state,” making it “an important consideration in our approach regarding extending” the state’s hospital waiver.

Linda Edwards Gockel, a spokeswoman with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, confirmed Friday that federal health officials called the Texas agency Thursday afternoon to relay a similar message.

Officials from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services “said they recognize each state is different, but they intend to use the same three principles outlined in their letter to Florida as they evaluate uncompensated care funding pools in all states,” Edwards Gockel said in an email. “We don’t have more details than that at this point.”

Tom Banning, chief executive of the Texas Academy of Family Physicians and an advocate for Medicaid expansion, said in an email that the call “should be a wake up.” Annually, Texas hospitals receive billions of dollars combined by way of the federal “transformation waiver.” Losing that money “will have a crippling effect throughout Texas,” Banning added.

The Texas hospitals waiver runs through September 2016, but the 2015 legislative session is the last chance for state lawmakers to negotiate a renewal before then. The current session is slated to wrap up on June 1, barring a governor-called special session.

Estimates for the value of that waiver vary. The Texas Hospital Association, which supports some form of Medicaid coverage expansion under the Affordable Care Act, estimates the waiver’s five-year value at $29 billion.

See here for the background. As noted in the story, the feds are similarly putting the screws to Florida. There’s basically zero chance that anything will get passed this session – Sen. Rodney Ellis tried to get a Medicaid expansion amendment through during the budget debate and failed, while Greg Abbott is holding firm and whining about how mean the feds are being to him – so it’s just a matter of whether the feds follow through in 2016 and if enough pressure can be brought to change things in 2017. Anyone want to place a bet on that? The only semi-retired Burka has more.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

House approves bill to move Public Integrity Unit

Like it or not, looks like this is going to get done.

Rosemary Lehmberg

The Texas House gave initial approval Monday to a stripped-down bill that would remove public corruption cases from Travis County’s Public Integrity Unit.

Final House approval is expected Tuesday.

House Bill 1690, initially approved 94-51, was amended on the House floor to apply solely to corruption allegations against elected or appointed state officials, who would be investigated by the Texas Rangers and prosecuted, if the allegations are confirmed, in the official’s home county.

House members adopted an amendment dropping state employees from home-county prosecution, keeping the status quo that would keep those cases in the county where a crime occurred — typically Travis County, where most state employees work.

State Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, joined Democrats in arguing that home-county prosecution would create a special privilege, and a “home-court advantage,” for state officials that is not available to other Texans.

“I just want to plead with you that you not create, with this bill, a specially protected class,” Simpson said. “I urge you not to treat yourself better than the constituents who you serve.”

A Simpson amendment to allow corruption cases also to be prosecuted in the county where the crime occurred was defeated, 93-49.

The Senate has already passed a similar bill, moving Republicans much closer toward realizing a longtime goal — removing corruption cases from Travis County, a Democratic stronghold where, they believe, GOP officials cannot receive a fair hearing.

Like the Senate version, the bill by Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, would not move the majority of cases handled by Travis County’s Public Integrity Unit — including fraud against state programs, insurance fraud and tax fraud.

King estimated public corruption cases affected by his bill would affect only about 2 percent of the unit’s caseload.

See here for background on the Senate bill. I don’t think this is the worst idea ever – it’s better than simply handing this off to the Attorney General’s office, for example – but I agree with Rep. Simpson about how it treats legislators versus everyone else, and I agree with RG Ratcliffe that this does not take the politics out of the process, it just changes them. It may take awhile, but I’d bet that one of these days there will be a scandal over how a future investigation into an officeholder is handled, or not handled, by the Rangers and that officeholder’s home county DA. Anyone want to bet against that proposition? Note that this isn’t a partisan thing – since the Governor appoints the head of DPS, a future Democratic Governor could be just as liable to engage in shenanigans as any other kind of Governor.

And speaking of shady officeholders and their buddies back home:

Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, won approval of a provision potentially affecting [Attorney General Ken] Paxton. It would require a local prosecutor who currently or in the past has had “a financial or other business relationship” with the target of a probe to ask the judge to let him be recused “for good cause.” If the judge approved, the hometown prosecutor would be considered disqualified, Turner’s amendment says.

As he explained the amendment, Turner did not mention Paxton or Willis or their offices. Bill author Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, accepted the amendment, which passed on a voice vote.

[…]

The question of criminal prosecution of Paxton appeared to be going nowhere until grand jury members were given information about his licensure violations. One grand jury member expressed a desire to look at the matter. Willis asked the Texas Rangers to investigate and make a recommendation.

Turner, the amendment sponsor, said the original bill would let a local prosecutor seek to be recused “for good cause.” That’s insufficient, he said.

“Obviously, it’s not appropriate for the prosecutor to be involved in that case,” Turner said.

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, won approval for a related amendment. It would let an investigation’s target ask a judge to recuse a prosecutor with a conflict of interest.

That’s something, but we’ll see if those amendments stick. There’s two competing bills now, so it’s a matter of which one gets passed by the other chamber first, and if a conference committee is ultimately needed. The House bill is far from great, but it’s better than the Senate bill. The question is whose approach will win. The Chron and the Trib have more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

More on judicial bypass

Nonsequiteuse provides an update, and it’s not looking good.

Never again

Never again

Rep. King’s HB723, which was left pending in the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee last week, was weak sauce compared to Rep. Morrison’s HB3994, on the State Affairs Committee agenda for Wednesday, April 22nd.

Was King’s bill a bare bones practice run for Morrison’s more robust one, tossed out to see how the opposition would respond?

It was a poorly constructed bill filed relatively early in the session, assigned to a committee which does not normally handle abortion-related bills, likely because it tackled only part of the judicial bypass procedure. Testimony went quickly, relative to the marathon sessions legislators now know to expect in State Affairs. It was given a hearing on an inauspicious day for its champions, inasmuch as constituents predisposed to oppose it were already in town for Blue Ribbon Lobby Day and various gun bills, so were readily on hand to sign in opposed and/or testify. It had an unimpressive four joint authors, two of whom signed on before it was even assigned to a committee.

Morrison’s HB3994, in contrast, has 22 joint authors, most of whom signed on within the past six weeks, immediately after it was filed. Unlike King’s bill, it is listed as part of the Texas Alliance for Life legislative agenda. And if ever a bill could be called an omnibus bill, this is it.

HB3994 throws knock-out punches left and right.

The TL;DR is that this bill greatly complicates, unnecessarily lengthens, and greatly increases the cost of the bypass procedure while removing almost all judicial discretion and creating such a high burden of proof for the minor that it will be all but impossible to obtain a bypass.

See here for the background, and click over there for the details and the call to action. They may not listen, but we will be heard.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Lisa Falkenberg wins Pulitzer for commentary

Major congratulations.

Lisa Falkenberg

Houston Chronicle Columnist Lisa Falkenberg has won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, the Pulitzer board announced Monday.

It was the first Pulitzer Prize awarded to the Chronicle in its 114-year history. The Chronicle has had finalists on several occasions, including Falkenberg in the same category last year. Editorial cartoonist Nick Anderson won a Pulitzer for his work at the Louisville Courier-Journal in 2005.

Falkenberg, 36, a sixth-generation Texan, joined the Chronicle in 2005 as a reporter in the Austin bureau. In 2007 she moved to Houston as a Metro columnist.

Falkenberg was awarded the prize for a series of columns she wrote about Alfred Dewayne Brown, who was condemned for the killing of a Houston police officer, a crime he very likely did not commit.

From documents leaked to her by sources, or obtained through court records and Freedom of Information Act requests, Falkenberg revealed how a witness, Brown’s former girlfriend, who could have provided him with an alibi, was threatened and intimidated by a grand jury into lying on the stand. She provided the key testimony that put Brown on death row.

She pulled back the curtain on the secretive Texas grand jury system, allowing a glimpse into the workings of the panel that indicted Brown. That panel, Falkenberg revealed, was headed by a Houston police officer.

And as the story notes, her Monday column was in the same series. Good timing, that. If you click on a link like this one on the sidebar under the header “Her other Pulitzer-winning columns”, there’s now an update in it to include the link Read more award-winning work from Lisa Falkenberg. Also, as part of her prize, Falkenberg is now legally entitled to say “That’s Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Lisa Falkenberg to you, wiseguy” any time she feels like it.

OK, I may be kidding about that last bit. In all seriousness, this is a great honor and it is well deserved. Congratulations, Lisa!

Posted in: Other punditry.

More on the potential Hillary effect in Texas

From the Trib, from shortly before Hillary Clinton made her official announcement.

2. She could resuscitate Texas’ Democratic farm teams.

Beyond the presidency, Democrats are betting on gains in the U.S. House in 2016. They’ve got nowhere to go, they say, but up.

And the notion of a Clinton atop the ticket is a recruitment pitch Democrats are making to would-be congressional challengers across the country.

Democrats hope that in the long term, having Clintons back in the White House could nurse the party infrastructure in red states like Texas. The Clintons are known for their willingness to help loyalists, even at the lowest levels of public office. The hope? Their engagement will build Democratic state parties in hostile territory in order to better position the party for future rounds of redistricting.

“The possibility that we won’t regress is certainly attractive,” said Democratic consultant Jason Stanford.

3. Clinton’s a safe bet to boost Hispanic turnout.

Much of Clinton’s Texas appeal is among a particular demographic: Hispanics. In her 2008 Texas presidential primary against Obama, she outpaced him by a 2-to-1 margin among Hispanics, according to the Pew Research Center. Her narrow primary victory here was a highlight of a mostly disappointing presidential bid.

The Texan who might benefit most from a Clinton run is former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, a Democrat who was ousted last November by Republican U.S. Rep. Will Hurd and recently announced a rematch.

That seat, Texas’s 23rd District, is 61 percent Hispanic – and is considered a swing district. Beyond pure demographics, a Clinton win alone could benefit Gallego. In presidential election years, the winner of the 23rd District was a candidate from the same party as the presidential victor.

Another race with a small semblance of promise for Democrats is in the 27th Congressional District. Former Democratic state Rep. Solomon Ortiz Jr. is mulling a campaign against Republican U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, who’s facing legal troubles. That district is 44 percent Hispanic, but is a far more difficult climb for Democrats.

Clinton definitely performed strongly in Latino districts in the 2008 primary. Some of that effect carried over into November, though by 2012 President Obama was doing as well in Latino areas compared to other Democrats as he was overall. Obviously, any boost to Latino turnout in Texas would be beneficial and appreciated, but let’s see how she runs her campaign first. There’s also the possibility, not mentioned in this story, that she will do better among white voters than Obama has done. Hard to see how she can do any worse, but even shaving a few points off could make a big difference. I’d like to think there’s room for improvement there, but I plan to keep my expectations low until there’s polling data to suggest it might be happening.

Posted in: The making of the President.

The alternate approach to statewide regulations for Uber and Lyft

That’s one way to do it.

Uber

Another round of sparring between Texas cities and car service companies like Lyft and Uber played out on Tuesday before a panel of Texas lawmakers. The proposal that was debated — which would let cities regulate Lyft and Uber the same way they regulate traditional taxi companies — would have the opposite effect as a bill another House committee considered last week to strip cities of that authority.

The House Urban Affairs Committee heard public testimony on House Bill 3358 by state Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, which gives cities oversight of all commercial transportation services, expanding their control of taxicab and limousine services to include transportation network companies like Lyft and Uber.

“This bill is about fairness — period,” Lucio said. “If they’re going to provide the exact same service, whether it’s on a part-time basis or not, it should be done fairly.”

Lyft

Representatives for both companies criticized Lucio’s bill, saying a patchwork of unique city regulations would stifle their innovative business model.

April Mims, public policy manager for Lyft, said applying taxi regulations to transportation network companies was “forcing a square peg into a round hole.”

But traditional cab companies, whose business practices are highly regulated by cities, argue that Lyft and Uber should have to play by the same rules as everyone else.

Ed Kargbo, president of Yellow Cab Austin, said allowing Lyft and Uber drivers to operate without city background checks was like allowing doctors or lawyers to practice without a degree just because they work part time.

I believe we are all familiar with the arguments by now. I oppose this bill for the same reason I oppose the other bill – it should be up to cities to decide how to regulate vehicles for hire, as they have always done. As I said before, I think it would be appropriate for the state to set minimum standards for insurance and background checks and the like, but in the end it should still be up to cities to decide if and how to open their doors to these services.

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

Still no action on fixing birth certificates

It’s shameful that this doesn’t have the votes to get out of committee.

Prior to a hearing on a bill that would permit faith-based adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBT people, Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) delivered an impassioned speech on the House floor in support of a proposal to allow the adopted children of same-sex couples to have accurate birth certificates.

Anchia’s House Bill 537 was heard by the State Affairs Committee last month but remains stalled there due to a lack of support among members. On Wednesday, Anchia used a rare point of privilege, which he said was his first in six terms in the Legislature, to address the bill on the floor.

Anchia said the bill, which he’s carried four times, is always well-received in committee, and the author of the law the measure seeks to overturn, former state Rep. Will Hartnett (R-Dallas), has acknowledged it should be changed.

“Yet year after year these bills languish because of outside pressure from groups that lie to you and tell you the bill does something it doesn’t do,” Anchia said, referring to opposition to HB 537 from the anti-LGBT group Texas Values. “Regardless of how you feel about a kid’s parents, you’re always good to the kid. They didn’t pick their parents, but those are the parents they have, and you know, those are the parents they love, and they deserve accurate birth certificates. We can do better than this. Texas is better than this.”

Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) then requested that Anchia’s remarks be recorded in the House Journal.

Cook, who chairs State Affairs, made headlines when he smacked down a witness from Texas Values during a hearing on the bill.

“I just want everybody to know that I support what we’re trying to do here for these kids,” Cook said on the floor Wednesday.

See here for the background. Here are the members of the House State Affairs Committee. If your State Rep is on there, please consider giving him or her a call and asking for their support of HB537. Trail Blazers has more.

Meanwhile, in other adoption-related legislation.I say

Rep. Scott Sanford (R-McKinney) says he wants to make sure faith-based adoption agencies that receive state funding aren’t forced to close their doors if they refuse to place children with same-sex couples.

But opponents of Sanford’s House Bill 3864 say it could have unintended consequences, such as allowing foster homes to force gay youth to undergo conversion therapy or require Christian youth to attend Muslim schools.

On Wednesday, Sanford told a House committee that in some states where same-sex marriage is legal, organizations such as Catholic Charities have shut down rather than comply with laws barring discrimination against gay couples.

“Faith-based organizations have played a vital role in serving our nation’s orphan and needy children since America’s founding, and this legislation protects their operations,” Sanford said. “States without these protective measures have had organizations cease to operate, placing more demand on government.”

HB 3864, which Sanford is calling the “Hope for Orphans and Minors Expansion Act,” or HOME, would prohibit the state from taking “adverse action” against child welfare providers that receive taxpayer dollars and act based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.” It would also protect the rights of state-funded agencies to provide religious education to children and to deny them access to abortions or birth control.

During the hearing on Wednesday, opponents said Sanford’s bill would allow the religious convictions of providers to trump the best interests of children. They also said the rights of faith-based providers are already protected under the state’s 1999 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

I say if faith-based groups want to receive secular government-based funds then they can obey the secular government laws that come with them. If they can’t do that, then I’m fine with increasing the supply of government to pick up the slack from them when they refuse to get involved. Either way is fine by me. I recognize that’s not what this Legislature will want, I just wanted to be clear about it.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Fixing sidewalks

I like this.

Houston’s leaders often decry the condition of city sidewalks, whether missing, overgrown or buckled by tree roots. Then there’s the safety risks when pedestrians are forced to walk on the crumbling concrete or adjacent streets.

But the city is unwilling to assume responsibility for all sidewalks in Houston – or foot the accompanying billion-dollar bill. That’s why Mayor Annise Parker and City Council members instead are discussing making it easier for homeowners to keep their own sidewalks up to par.

The council [considered] hiring two sidewalk repair contractors with whom fixed prices have been negotiated, as well as changes to city rules that would waive the need to submit detailed plans up front and more than $100 in permitting and related fees homeowners today must pay when replacing sections of sidewalk.

Countless homeowners do not know city rules make them responsible for their own sidewalks, Parker said, but for those who know, the new program could help residents unsure of whom to call for a fix.

“This is designed to allow an easy process for a citizen to say, ‘I want to repair my sidewalk, I want a contractor I can trust, I want to know what the fair price is,’ ” Parker said. “They don’t have to hire our contractors, but we’ve vetted the contractors, we’ve established a price. Even if they don’t use ours, we think it will be helpful because they can go and say, ‘I can go to the city and this is what I’ll pay … can you beat that price?’ ”

The program would allow residents to fill out a form on the Department of Public Works and Engineering website, triggering a visit from a city employee who would decide if the repair was feasible, and, if so, give the homeowner a cost estimate. The homeowner could then pay the city, which would collect a 7 percent administrative fee and pass the rest of the money to one of the preselected contractors. City staff would inspect the company’s work afterward.

The ordinance was passed unanimously by Council on Wednesday. You did know that homeowners are responsible for fixing their own sidewalks, right? As the story notes, this is far from unique to Houston. Ideally, what this plan will do is make it easier, and perhaps a bit cheaper, for someone who wants to do that to get it done. How much effect that will have is unclear to me, but it’s a simple enough thing to do and it won’t cost the city anything. There’s plenty of sidewalk to fix in this town, so every little bit helps.

Posted in: Elsewhere in Houston.

Weekend link dump for April 19

Wait, The Rules is still a thing? We are doomed as a species. Also, what Amanda Marcotte says. The Rules was as sexist towards men as it was towards women.

Three reasons to be optimistic about the fight to save the climate.

Electric cars are getting more affordable all the time.

Let’s do the Time Warp again.

“Leading law firms are willing to represent tobacco companies accused of lying about their deadly products, factories that spew pollution, and corporations said to be complicit in torture and murder abroad. But standing up for traditional marriage has turned out to be too much for the elite bar. The arguments have been left to members of lower-profile firms.”

“AB 202 simply demands that any professional sports team – or their chosen contractor – treat the women on the field with the same dignity and respect that we treat the guy selling beer.”

“The reality, though, is that a tremendous share of people who rely on government programs designed for the poor in fact work — they just don’t make enough at it to cover their basic living expenses.”

Barry Bonds is rooting for A-Rod.

Remembering Elston Howard, the first African-American player for the New York Yankees.

RIP, Bill Arhos, founder of Austin City Limits.

“A Texas billionaire who moved his residence to Puerto Rico after its island government carved out a lucrative new tax haven for wealthy U.S. investors is a prime fundraiser for a network of super-PACs backing Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for president, according to sources close to Cruz’s campaign.”

RIP, Percy Sledge, R&B singer of “When A Man Loves A Woman”, among other hits.

Leave the Meitiv kids alone already.

Life on other planets is a problem for creationists.

What Batgirl has to teach us about equal pay.

Jacob Hale is a lot braver than I was at the age of 13.

Are we still talking about the finale to The Sopranos? Yes, we are still talking about the finale to The Sopranos.

I’d say “poor ALEC”, but they’re getting what they deserve.

Leave Yasiel Puig alone!

“So, yeah. The surprise closing of five stores Monday probably isn’t a mystery. And it probably ain’t about plumbing.”

Why raising the retirement age is terrible for the poor.

An oral history of the great movie Airplane!.

“In a four-minute video released this week, the thirteen-year-old daughter of one of two American astronauts stationed aboard the International Space Station in January managed to convey just how much she missed her dad.” Awwwwww.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Fifth Circuit hears request to lift immigration injunction order

Always best to temper one’s expectations with these guys.

JustSayNo

An argument from U. S. Department of Justice lawyers that the state of Texas doesn’t have standing to challenge the Obama administration’s controversial immigration policy met with resistance from a pair of federal appellate judges Friday.

A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans heard more than two hours of arguments as federal attorneys fought to win reversal of a Brownsville-based judge’s earlier order blocking the policy.

[…]

Judge Jerry E. Smith, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan, immediately interrupted Mizer, saying the difference in this case was that Texas claims that Obama’s order also grants special benefits, mainly work authorization, to the potential applicants. The Lone Star State will also suffer damage, said Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller, because it will have to educate and provide health care to the immigrants. It will also incur costs for having to issue some driver’s licenses.

Smith later asked Mizer to differentiate between the immigration lawsuit and a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in an environmental case in which several states successfully sued the federal government. That case was also mentioned in Hanen’s ruling halting Obama’s order.

“Explain why in your view that case on the standing issue has no applicability here,” Smith said.

Mizer said that case dealt with geographic borders and not benefits to individuals.

Judge Jennifer Elrod also questioned when, if ever, states would have standing to sue on immigration issues and presented Mizer with a list of hypothetical scenarios, including one that gave immigrants immediate voting rights.

Mizer said provisions of the Voting Rights Act would come into play separately but Elrod was mildly cynical.

“We finally found one that the state’s could challenge? If it gave voting rights?” she said.

One judge however, Obama appointee Stephen Higginson, cautioned that a ruling in favor of Texas and the 25 other states that joined the suit could open a floodgate of challenges to several government agencies.

“This is a dangerous rule for us to write,” Higginson said.

He was also skeptical of Texas’ claim that Obama was issuing “amnesty” through his order and that deferred action recipients were automatically allowed to legally work in the country.

“Does it say ‘grant’ or does it say ‘eligible to apply’” for work, he asked. “That’s a big difference.”

He also said that his interpretation of deferred action wasn’t legal status, which leads to permanent residency and possibly, eventual citizenship, but legal presence.

“Presence is ‘you’re not removable but you could be’” he said, referring to a provision of deferred action that allows the government to reopen a case and initiate deportation proceedings if it sees fit.

See here for the background. The Chron story described Judge Smith as “mostly reserved” rather than resistant, so make of that what you will. Again, this isn’t about the merits of Judge Hanen’s ruling but whether or not the injunction should stay in place while the appeals process plays out. I’m pretty sure whoever is on the losing end of the panel’s ruling will ask the full court to reconsider, then it will be off to SCOTUS, so we’re in for a long haul here.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Early voting totals for HD124 runoff

Ina Minjarez

Early voting for the HD124 runoff was last week, with Tuesday the 21st being Runoff Day. According to the Bexar County Elections website, 1165 early votes cast so far in the runoff for HD124. That’s a slight improvement over the March 31 election, in which 1002 early votes were cast, with 1981 votes total. That means at least 817 votes need to be cast on Tuesday for runoff turnout to top the “regular” election, which isn’t saying much but would still be better than the alternative.

It’s not too surprising that turnout for the runoff will at least be on par with the first round. The first election was called very quickly, and because it wasn’t known that this election and not one in a different district would be needed until the SD26 runoff had concluded, the candidates had to start from scratch with no pre-SD26 election head start. The turnaround time for this runoff was miniscule as well, but at least the candidates were already fully engaged and could hit the ground running. That had to make it a little easier to get people back to the polls for the third and now fourth time this year.

None of this is optimal from a participation perspective, but with the legislative session going on it was the best that could be done to get someone seated in this district. As neither chamber has exactly had its hair on fire to get stuff done, the good news is that whether Ina Minjarez or Delicia Herrera gets sworn in next week, she will have a chance to vote on a bunch of relevant issues. That will give her a chance to have some semblance of a record the voters can evaluate in 2016, when more of them will know it’s time to vote again.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Uber satisfies Mayor Parker’s demands

OK then.

Uber

Tensions eased Friday in a dispute between Mayor Annise Parker and Uber, which partners with local drivers to coordinate paid rides via smartphone, after the company outlined plans to help drivers obey Houston’s for-hire vehicle rules.

Responding to Parker’s demand, Uber’s Texas-based general manager, Chris Nakutis, outlined steps the company is taking to ensure that drivers obtain a city-required permit.

“We receive many driver partner applications each week and so our compliance efforts are ongoing,” Nakutis wrote in a letter to Parker. “We will continue to identify and deactivate driver partners who attempt to operate in Houston without a TNC (transportation network company) license. This process has evolved from multiple checks per week to daily verification that driver partners without city licenses are not attempting to pick up riders in Houston.”

Parker said in a statement she was satisfied by the company’s response, subject to city verification.

“We want to close the door on unpermitted drivers,” the statement said. “I am pleased to see that Uber appears to have taken affirmative steps to end their willful non-compliance.”

[…]

“More than 500 (transportation network company) licenses were issued over the last couple of weeks – many of them to driver partners whose Uber account access was previously revoked due to not having completed the city’s licensing process,” Nakutis wrote.

The incident has led to increased enforcement of the rules, he said.

“If we find that a driver partner has accepted ride requests in Houston without a license from the city, we immediately revoke his or her ability to access the Uber platform,” Nakutis wrote. “In recent weeks, we ramped up our efforts by conducting a manual audit of driver partners on the platform and allocating additional time and resources to enforcement. We also held a series of in-person information sessions for driver partners to reiterate the city’s licensing requirements as well as the consequences for non-compliance.”

See here for the background. Some things just have to be done the hard way, I guess. The point was to get them to respect the rules, and this seems to have done it. For now, at least. We’ll see how long it lasts. Hair Balls has more.

Posted in: Local politics.

AirBnB in Texas

The Rivard Report offers a useful overview of this growing service.

With success comes regulation and Airbnb, the wildly popular “sharing economy” website that allows users to rent out portions of their home to adventuresome travelers, has had more than its share of success. Recently valued at $13 billion, the company has more than 340 listings in San Antonio alone.

(Read more about local Airbnb operation in Part One of this series: The Rise of Airbnb in San Antonio.)

Airbnb’s success hasn’t escaped the notice of government officials, in Texas and elsewhere. Concerns about health, safety, and taxation have led some cities to begin efforts to regulate residential rentals.

Barcelona, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Malibu have conducted investigations into violations of zoning laws. Amsterdam now collects hotel tax on Airbnbs.

[…]

In 2014, Austin introduced an ordinance that requires short-term rental owners to obtain a license from the city. There is a $285 application fee, plus an annual renewal fee, and owners must submit proof of property insurance and payment of the city’s Hotel Occupancy Tax. They also must maintain a Certificate of Occupancy or proof of a certified inspection. The city intends to limit the number of homes that can be rented in a given building or neighborhood, and has placed a cap on licenses for properties not occupied by the owner.

The Airbnb website offers guidance on existing city regulations nationwide, including those in Austin.

Changes are coming to Texas beyond Austin. Cassandra Matej, executive director of the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that the Bureau is, of course, aware of Airbnb.

“We support anything that makes the San Antonio vacation experience safe and unforgettable,” she said, acknowledging that for some of the millions of visitors to the city each year, “that might mean researching alternative lodging, within legal boundaries.”

That final clause is a significant one. Legal boundaries may be changing in the near future. Scott Joslove, President and CEO of the Texas Hotel and Lodging Association, said his organization is not concerned with people who rent out rooms in their primary residence, but does oppose those who buy or rent properties specifically for the purpose of leasing them to overnight guests. Austin’s measures should serve as a model ordinance, he said, adding that the Association is working with other major cities to introduce registration, licensing, and occupancy tax to residential rentals.

In February, Councilmember Ron Nirenberg (D8) said “public safety” must be weighed against “letting the free market work,” but health and safety concerns seem little more than a front for the issue of taxation.

To date, Airbnb rentals have not been subject to San Antonio’s 6% Hotel Occupancy Tax. Proposed legislation could change that. House Bill 1792, authored by state Rep. Drew Springer (R-Muenster), seeks to legally define and regulate residential rentals. The bill expands the definition of “commercial lodging establishment,” which already includes hotels, motels, and inns, to encompass residential short-term rental units.

The proposed legislation would “characterize and treat a residential short-term rental unit in the same manner as a hotel for purposes of consumer protection, public health and human safety, taxation, licensing, and zoning.”

That means at least some Airbnb operators in Texas would have to adhere to same regulations as hotels, including requirements for the submission of water samples, regulation of appliances, and sanitation.

The bill’s wording is vague, and might exempt individuals who only rent our rooms of their primary residence, where the host is generally present for the duration of the stay. Individuals operating free-standing Airbnb venues, however, would not be exempt.

I blogged about AirBnB in Houston last August. According to the first story in this two-part series, there are about 900 AirBnB listings in Houston. Compared to the 75,000 or so hotel rooms in the Houston area, that’s pretty small. That said, I do expect the city to address this issue sooner or later – there’s too much hotel tax revenue at stake to leave it unaddressed. I’m actually surprised that AirBnB didn’t make like Uber and Lyft and lobby the Lege for a bill more favorable to them than Rep. Springer’s. (I’m assuming the characterization of his bill, and my understanding of it, are accurate.) I still think AirBnB is more likely to be a niche player in Houston, where business travel is what brings many of our visitors here, but you never know. Anyone out there have experience using AirBnB?

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

Saturday video break: Gloria

Settle in, kids, this is going to be a long one. We start with the original version of this classic, performed by Them, a “Northern Irih rock band featuring Van Morrison”, who are not to be confused with Them!, a 1954 sci-fi classic featuring giant ants. Anyway, here’s Gloria by Them:

I should interject at this point that Dave Barry considers “Gloria” to be the best song ever, and he once got to perform it with Bruce Springsteen, which I think would color anyone’s view of it. Be that as it may, if you know me at all, you already know that one of my favorite versions of this song is the disco-ified version of it by Santa Esmerelda:

I unabashedly and unironically love that. Moving into slightly different territory, here’s Patti Smith, backed in this rendition by Jools Holland and his band:

It’s like she tacks an entirely different song onto the beginning of the song we’re familiar with. Well, mostly the song we’re familiar with. If she’d called it something else, we’d just say she was quoting from “Gloria”.

Of course, not every “Gloria” is this song. Here’s U2’s “Gloria”, from their very early days:

Ah, that hair. It’s always about the hair, isn’t it? Speaking of people with great hair, and a voice to match, here is Laura Branigan and her massively popular “Gloria”, from 1982:

Rest in peace, Laura Branigan. That’s all the Glorias I’ve got. Hope you enjoyed them.

Posted in: Music.

City prevails in HERO repeal petition lawsuit

Hallelujah!

PetitionsInvalid

Opponents of Houston’s non-discrimination ordinance failed to gather enough valid signatures to force a repeal referendum, a state district judge ruled Friday, validating city officials’ decision to toss out the petition foes submitted last summer.

After separate rulings from both a jury and state District Judge Robert Schaffer, attorneys for both sides entered dueling counts of the valid signatures, adding and subtracting voters as Schaffer responded to motions. By early this week, the counts were closer together than ever before, fewer than 1,000 signatures apart.

Ultimately, Schaffer on Friday ruled the final count of valid signatures was 16,684, leaving opponents short of the threshold required in the city charter of 17,249 signatures, or 10 percent of the ballots cast in the last mayoral election.

“The jury’s verdict and the judge’s ruling are a powerful smack-down against the forces of discrimination and intolerance,” said Geoffrey Harrison, lead attorney for the city, in a statement. “And maybe, just maybe, they’ll reconsider their misguided ways.”

See here for the background. This means that the ordinance is now officially in effect, though I presume that when the plaintiffs appeal they will ask for an injunction. Which of course I hope they don’t get, partly because they don’t deserve it and partly because the best thing that can happen now is for people to realize that the sky will not fall and the world will not end with this ordinance in effect. It’s a lot easier to scare people when there aren’t inconveniently contradictory facts on the ground.

Judge Schaffer’s ruling is here. As the story notes, the plaintiffs filed last minute briefs arguing that some signatures weren’t illegible and that some people might have moved after signing the petition and thus should be counted. Here are the city’s replies on the legibility question and on the plaintiffs’ claimed count of valid signatures, which in the end was only 17,512, or less than 250 above the required threshold. HOUEquality, from whom I got all these documents, easily debunked the “some of our signers may have moved” claim.

So now it will be off to the appeals courts – I gave my view of how that might play out in the first link above – and unless they prevail at a higher level, the meter is running for the plaintiffs, who were ordered to pay the city’s court costs. The clock is also running, as unless the plaintiffs get a final judgment in their favor by roughly the end of August, it will be too late to get a referendum on the ballot. I will be delighted if we never have to vote on this damned thing, but it’s too early to say that will be the case. Mayor Parker’s press release on the verdict is here, and a statement from HouEquality is beneath the fold.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Legal matters.

Pennington withdraws from Mayor’s race

Sad news.

CM Oliver Pennington

CM Oliver Pennington

City Councilman Oliver Pennington announced he would end his candidacy for mayor on Friday, citing his wife’s health.

The term-limited councilman, who represents west Houston’s District G, said in a press release he would complete his third and final two-year term, which runs through the end of this year.

The 75-year-old retired attorney’s exit removes the candidate best positioned to secure conservative votes, said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones. That could have a significant impact on a crowded race in which any candidate with a reliable base has a shot at earning one of two spots in the December runoff election that will surely follow November’s initial vote.

The news is an obvious boon to Councilman Steve Costello and former Kemah mayor Bill King, Jones said, two centrist-to-conservative candidates who were set to spar with Pennington for the same supporters.

“There simply was not enough room for them to all three run and have a real chance of entering the runoff,” Jones said. “Pennington had at least a potential path to the second round. But it would have been a very uphill battle to actually win a runoff because the characteristics that made him one of the more viable Republican candidates also made him less viable against a Democratic foe in a runoff.”

In Pennington’s press release, he said, “For nearly 47 years, Beverly has been the love of my life, and I will be by her side as we walk through this situation.” Reached by phone Friday, he declined to elaborate on the medical diagnosis.

[…]

Pennington said he will not endorse any mayoral hopeful in what he sees as a wide-open race, but said his vote will go to the candidate who best shows leadership abilities and focuses on financial sustainability and the efficient delivery of city services.

The press release from the Pennington campaign is here. My best wishes to CM Pennington and his family going forward.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Tesla makes its pitch

It’s a start.

At a packed committee hearing Monday evening, advocates for Tesla Motors told a panel of Texas House members that it was time to bring state car sales laws into the 21st century and allow the company to sell its luxury electric vehicles in Texas.

“The future is here,” said state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, author of a bill that would allow Tesla to operate up to 12 stores in Texas. “The way in which we buy and sell goods is changing and we must adapt.”

The California-based company builds cars and sells them directly to consumers, bypassing car dealerships — a business model prohibited by Texas law. Tesla currently operates three “galleries” in Austin, Dallas and Houston, but employees there are barred from normal dealership activities like discussing prices or offering test-drives.

Rodriguez told the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee that innovative technology companies like Tesla cannot succeed under the current system. His legislation, House Bill 1653, is similar to deals the company has struck in other states like New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

[…]

Opponents pushed back against Rodriguez’s bill on Monday, arguing that it creates two separate systems for car sales — one for Tesla and one for everyone else.

“Everyone should play by the same rules,” said Bill Hammond, CEO of the Texas Association of Business.

“It’s a solution looking for a problem. Tesla’s problems are self-imposed,” said Carroll Smith, who represents Texas on the National Automobile Dealers Association board in Washington, D.C.

See here for the background. I’ve said before that I support allowing Tesla into Texas, and that it wasn’t them that was asking for special treatment, but according to RG Ratcliffe, that’s not exactly true.

First, understand that this is not a fight over whether a car or truck can be sold over the Internet. That already happens through dealerships across the state. Go online, look at the dealer’s inventory and make a purchase.

Second, know this bill is not really about bringing free markets to Texas retail sales of new autos by busting the monopoly of licensed franchise dealers. House Bill 1653 would exempt manufacturers such as Tesla from having to sell through a state licensed franchise dealership, but the manufacturer would be limited to having a dozen or fewer sales locations in the state. Limiting the number of manufacturer dealerships just gives Tesla a competitive advantage over the giant motor companies of Detroit while trying to be unthreatening to the majority of Texas dealerships. Such a carve-out for Tesla is not exactly about bringing consumer choice to Texas, even if Tesla In Texas tries to claim otherwise.

[…]

Whether the Legislature carves out an exception for Tesal or not, this debate is no more about free markets than was the Candy Bin Bill that I once covered.

Once upon a time, bulk sales of beans and grains and candy were found just in health food stores for hippies, not the upscale groceries of today. Only two companies delivered food to the consumer in bulk. One used gravity shoots that dropped product directly into the consumer’s paper bag. The other used bins and scoops for the consumer to measure out how much product they wanted.

The gravity dealer pushed legislation that banned bins and scoops as health code violations. Imagine, their lobbyists said, a plumber coming from auguring out a toilet drain and sticking his unwashed hands into the bin to scoop up food. Ugh! Gross!

The bin dealer countered by claiming the gravity shoots should be outlawed because they were anti-consumer – get too much product and you have to buy it anyway because there is no way to return the excess to the bin. Let the consumer have freedom of choice!

In the end, a compromise piece of legislation passed giving the health department the power to regulate bulk food sales, no matter how it is delivered. Think of the auto dealers as the gravity shoot dealers and Tesla as the bin and scoop. They both want to be regulated, just to their own advantage.

Read the whole thing, it’s a great overview. I don’t get the licensed franchise dealership model, just as I don’t get the three-tier distribution system for beer. It’s great for those who get to participate in it, but it’s hardly a “free market” and it doesn’t do anything for the customers. I say we should let Tesla sell its cars the way it wants to, but that doesn’t mean they should be the only ones. If Ford or Toyota or whoever wants to set up their own shops to sell their cars directly to the public, I don’t see the problem with that. Last I checked, other manufacturers in other industries can do this (do the words “Apple Store” ring a bell?) and the republic remains on its feet. I understand why TADA wants to maintain the status quo, and I understand why Tesla is seeking this limited entrance, but that doesn’t mean it’s the way things ought to be.

Posted in: That's our Lege.