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Why would you even think to put a rape victim in jail?

I am outraged.

The 25-year-old rape victim, frightened and long-suffering from mental illness, agreed in December to testify against the Houston man who brutally assaulted her in 2013.

She hoped to put him behind bars for life.

But that decision landed her in the Harris County jail for more than a month over the Christmas holiday – terrified, helpless and hopeless, according to a federal lawsuit filed this week in Houston.

The woman, diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, had a mental breakdown on the witness stand and then was jailed by Harris County prosecutors who feared she wouldn’t come back to court.

“They didn’t care. They got what they wanted,” the woman’s mother said Wednesday about the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. “She was collateral damage and they didn’t care what happened to her.”

News about the case shocked Houston’s defense attorneys and advocates for rape victims.

“That is beyond ludicrous,” said Lavinia Masters, a sexual assault victims advocate. “I’m amazed that a judge would allow that. You’re further victimizing a victim.”

District Attorney Devon Anderson said the woman, who was homeless when she was raped, was going through a “life-threatening mental health crisis” and told prosecutors she was not going to return to testify.

“If nothing was done to prevent the victim from leaving Harris County in the middle of trial, a serial rapist would have gone free – and her life would have been at risk while homeless on the street,” Anderson said in a video statement. “This was an extraordinarily difficult and unusual situation. There were no apparent alternatives that would ensure both the victim’s safety and her appearance in trial.”

She defended the prosecutor named in the lawsuit, Nicholas Socias, and said any claim that her office does not support crime victims is “outrageous.”

[…]

Jailing a witness to ensure they testify is an unusual move in Harris County, especially when the witness is not also facing criminal charges. Over the past two decades, there have been a smattering of published accounts of rape victims being jailed across the country.

Officials with the Houston Area Women’s Center said respecting the dignity of survivors and providing full support are paramount.

“We have no direct knowledge of this particular case, but are concerned that sexual assault is already under-reported and that this may further deter survivors from coming forward,” said Rebecca White, the center’s chief executive officer.

I can’t even begin to imagine the thought process that led to the conclusion that jailing this poor women was a good idea. I mean, I know that the Harris County Jail is called the largest mental health facility in the country, but that doesn’t make it a hospital, and it doesn’t make it an acceptable place to try and treat someone who doesn’t belong in jail. This was just monumentally bad judgment, and Kim Ogg is right to call for an independent investigation of what happened. For shame.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Metro revives US90A commuter rail line

The possibility of it, anyway. No promises or commitments at this time.

HoustonMetro

Metropolitan Transit Authority board members on Thursday approved a resolution authorizing transit officials to “place” the project in the “Federal Transit Administration process” and look for ways to pay for it. When officials essentially placed the project on inactive status in September 2012 after spending $1 million on feasibility studies, it was estimated to cost about $400 million to build the rail line.

Board members stressed restarting the project was not tacit approval of it, or a promise for a single dollar toward building it.

“I just want to make sure we are clear,” Metro board member Cindy Siegel said. “This is to allow the possibility of federal funding, but isn’t a commitment.”

Since voters approved the project in 2003, plans for a train line along U.S. 90A from south Gessner Road to Metro’s Fannin South rail station south of Loop 610 have been the exception among Houston’s contentious rail plans. For example, unlike intense opposition to a proposed rail line on Richmond Avenue that has been a point of contention among lawmakers, the 90A project enjoys robust support from Houston officials, elected officials in smaller cities and the area’s congressional delegation.

Rep. Al Green, D-Houston, who represents the southwest Houston area where the rail line would run, has long called it one of his district’s top transportation priorities.

Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, who has been a constant opponent of the Richmond rail project, last year said the 90A line should be Metro’s first priority once it has sufficient money for rail projects. Culberson’s office on Thursday did not respond to a reporter’s request for comment.

[…]

In reviving the dormant rail project, Metro chairwoman Carrin Patman said it was important to gauge support for it and move forward. Technically, as the project remains approved by voters from the 2003 referendum, Metro officials can talk to federal transit officials anytime about its prospects.

“I don’t think it was absolutely necessary,” Patman said of the fresh resolution, “but I wanted to involve the board in the decision. I wanted to make sure everybody was on the same page.”

The vote, she said, was “a clear mandate for us to get back in the process.”

How to pay for the project, Patman said, will be worked out later. “There is no financial commitment to this point,” she said.

Patman says later in the story that a public/private partnership is possible. We’ll see how that goes. Another question is how much preliminary work would have to be re-done. Metro had been working towards getting a Draft Environmental Impact Statement as recently as 2012, but the project was put on hold in September of that year (the “Current Projects page” on Metro’s website that used to document it and that had announced its suspension no longer exists). There’s also the question of whether the line would have to end at the Harris/Fort Bend County line or if it could be extended (at greater cost) into Fort Bend County. Metro would need to seek legislative approval to expand into Fort Bend, which ought to be doable but is never a guarantee. All of this is to say we’re a ways off from anything happening. I’m glad to see this step being taken, but it’s very much the first step of a long journey, if indeed we embark on that journey.

One more thing: As you know, since Metro reached its detente with Rep. Culberson, I’ve asked about the status of his promises to help change federal laws to allow Metro to apply some funds it has already spent on other rail projects as matching funds for the proposed US90A line. I asked Carrin Patman about that at the meeting a group of us bloggers had with her some weeks ago. She said that Culberson did indeed work towards making that happen, but his efforts were ultimately unsuccessful. C’est la vie, I guess. Perhaps he can try again now, or try some other tactic to help Metro move forward on this. I hadn’t written anything about Metro rail projects since then, so I wanted to note here that he did keep his word on that. KUHF has more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

As goes Pasadena

If Texas Democrats ever figure out the secret of getting more Latinos engaged in the voting process, it’ll be in places like Pasadena where they find the key.

When Oscar Del Toro tries to persuade his fellow Pasadena Latinos to vote, he appeals to them on practical and emotional levels.

Practical: If you and your neighbors get the voting numbers up in your precinct, elected officials will start paying attention to your neighborhood even if your candidate doesn’t win.

Emotional: You’ll feel better about yourself if you participate in your community. Del Toro’s parents came to Pasadena from Monterrey, Mexico, and became U.S. citizens years before he did, but they never voted until he took them to the polls.

“You could see the pride in their faces,” he says of that day.

Del Toro, 53, who runs a cartridge toner and laser printer business out of his home, lost a bid for a seat on the Pasadena City Council last year. His adopted hometown, meanwhile, was becoming a national symbol of the struggle to protect and expand voting rights for minorities and to boost the historically low level of Latino participation in elections.

It seems that the “sleeping giant” – the perceived potential of more than 27 million eligible Latino voters nationwide to help swing Texas and other Republican-dominated states toward the Democrats – has yet to be roused.

Take the November 2013 decision by Pasadena voters to change the city council structure from eight single-member district positions to six district seats and two at-large, or citywide, posts. The charter change passed by 79 votes out of more than 6,000 cast.

[…]

The result was discouraging to Del Toro and to like-minded Pasadenans like Councilman Cody Ray Wheeler, who is Latino. Both men are featured in “The Giant Still Sleeps,” a new documentary by Austin-based filmmaker Miguel Alvarez. In the film, Wheeler suggests that the change in the council makeup could strengthen the sense among many Latinos that their vote won’t make a difference. Mayor Johnny Isbell had pushed for the charter changes just weeks after a U.S. Supreme Court decision ended advance federal approval of election-law changes in some states with a history of discrimination.

“It almost validated what I kept hearing – they moved the goal posts back again,” Wheeler says. “It doesn’t matter; they’re going to do what they want to anyway. As we get closer to making this city more equal, they’re going to push back hard on us. It’s very sad, but we have to come back even stronger.”

Wheeler and Del Toro vow to continue their struggle, even as other residents who filed a lawsuit challenging the charter change await their day in court. The documentary includes shots of Del Toro speaking to civic groups and interacting with Pasadena Latinos who tell him that they have never voted – because their jobs and family responsibilities don’t leave them with enough time, or due to cultural differences.

I met Mr. Del Toro at the June 25 County Executive Committee meeting, the one where we picked the two judicial nominees. Nice guy, I enjoyed talking to him. He’s got the right idea for how to get people involved, it’s just that this is a very labor-intensive method. It’s also what I thought Battleground Texas was going to be about when it first appeared on the scene. Regardless, the more of this going on, the better. Click that Trib link and see the Austin Chronicle for more on the documentary.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Friday random ten: Ladies’ night, part 5

Wow, we’re still in the B’s.

1. Mad About You – Belinda Carlisle
2. Call It Whatever – Bella Thorne
3. I Could Be Persuaded – Bering Strait (Natasha Borzilova and Lydia Salnikova)
4. Take My Breath Away – Berlin (Terri Nunn)
5. Go Now – Bessie Banks
6. Up The Junction – Beth Madden
7. Dawn Chorus – Beth Orton
8. Stuff Like That There – Bette Midler
9. Slap Bang – BETTY (Elizabeth Ziff, Alyson Palmer, Amy Ziff)
10. I’m Wishing – Betty Carter

Usually I can tell you where a given song came from, but every now and then I stump myself. I have no idea where that Bessie Banks song, which iTunes tells me I acquired in 2011, came from. Bering Strait was a country music group from Russia that briefly made a splash. Beth Madden was from a Coverville collection, Beth Orton from an Amazon sampler, BETTY from a two-disk “funny folk songs” live CD, and Betty Carter was on the “Stay Awake” Disney cover album. Speaking of Disney, I have numerous songs from artists in their stable thanks to the girls, and I will admit that Bella Thorne’s “Call It Whatever” is one of the catchier tunes they produced, one that I’d listen to voluntarily. The other three artists I figure you’ve heard of.

Posted in: Music.

HD146 nomination process to take place on August 6

Mark your calendars.

Borris Miles

Rep. Borris Miles

Last Saturday, State Rep. Borris Miles secured the Democratic nomination to replace Senator Rodney Ellis for Senate District 13. As a result, Rep. Miles will have to vacate his seat in House District 146. Precinct chairs will convene again to select a replacement nominee for House District 146.

The replacement process will take place at the House District 146 Executive Committee Meeting on Saturday, August 6, 2016 at 10 AM. The event is open to the public, however only precinct chairs that reside in the district are allowed to nominate.

House District 146 Executive Committee Meeting
Sunnyside Multi-Service Center (map)
August 6, 2016
10:00 AM-12 PM
9314 Cullen Blvd
Houston, TX 77051

Nominations will be accepted from and voted on by the precinct chairs in attendance at the August 6th meeting. The replacement candidate does not have to register or announce a candidacy; there is no legal filing process. However, any individuals interested in the vacancy are encouraged to contact the Harris County Democratic Party Headquarters to complete an Unofficial Declaration of Interest Form.

This form helps HCDP keep track of all interested candidates and brings some organization to the process. Candidates listed below have either given written notice or expressed interest in the HD 146 seat. There may be other individuals interested in running. Here are the potential candidates:

1. Erica Lee Carter

2. Larry Blackmon

3. Valencia L. Williams

4. Rashad L. Cave

5. Shawn Thierry

6. James Donatto

I should be able to make it to this. Here’s what I can tell you about the candidates:

Erica Lee Carter is the HCDE Trustee in Precinct 1, elected in 2012. Here’s the interview I did with her for that primary. If she wins the nomination and is subsequently elected in November, the HCDE Board would select a new member to fill her seat until her term would be up at the end of 2018. And yes, if you didn’t know, Carter is the daughter of US Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.

Larry Blackmon has been a candidate for City Council a few times, most recently in 2015 for At Large #4. I have not done any interviews with him, but there are a couple of links to Q&As he did elsewhere on my Election 2015 page.

– Valencia L. Williams – I got nothing.

Rashad Cave – Per his bio, Cave is a “Motivational Speaker, businessman, entrepreneur, and father”.

Shawn Thierry was the runnerup for the 507th Family District Court; her Q&A for that is here. She was supported by the Mostyns during her run for the 507th; we’ll see if that translates to this election.

James Donatto II is as noted before a board member of the Greater Houston Black Chamber, and his father is a committee chair on the Houston Southeast Management District.

There are not a lot of precinct chairs in HD146 – I believe the number I heard at the SD13 event was 27 – so to say the least this will be a tight process. If you have anything to add about any of these candidates, please leave a comment.

Posted in: Election 2016.

What next for voter ID?

Rick Hasen, writing in Slate:

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The trial court was ready to throw out the entire law, but the 5th Circuit said such a remedy went too far. The court held that when a trial court finds a law has a discriminatory effect under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, it has to keep as much of the law in place as it can while still fixing the illegal part. In this case, the appeals court told the trial court to keep the voter identification law in place but create an alternative means to vote for those who face a reasonable impediment in producing the right form of identification. For example, the trial court may order that a voter be able to vote after signing a form under penalty of perjury saying he faced a larger barrier to get an ID. The appeals court sent the case back to the trial court to figure out exactly how to soften the law.

This kind of remedy is a win for the plaintiffs, though it’s not as good as what the trial court proposed by throwing the entire law out. Other states, such as South Carolina, have softened their voter ID laws, but in practice this softening doesn’t always work well, in part because voters and poll workers aren’t aware voters can vote without the right ID if they have a reasonable impediment to getting one.

But that softening isn’t the biggest news to come out of the appeals court decision. To find it, you have to read all eight of the opinions together in light of the trial court’s finding that Texas not only violated the Voting Rights Act by passing a law with a racially discriminatory effect but that it also passed the law with a racially discriminatory intent. Upon finding a racially discriminatory intent, the trial court would be free to put Texas back under federal “preclearance” of its voting rules for up to 10 years, the kind of oversight the United States Supreme Court got rid of for a large number of states (including Texas) in the 2013 decision Shelby County v. Holder.

The appeals court divided badly in reviewing the trial court’s finding of racially discriminatory intent. Imagine that the trial court found bad intent from two baskets of evidence, Basket A and Basket B. Counting noses, a majority of 5th Circuit judges believed that the trial court’s analysis went too far in inferring discriminatory intent in considering what was in Basket A, such as statements by the law’s opponents in the state Legislature as to the intent of the legislators who passed the bills. But, again counting noses, a different majority of 5th Circuit judges believes that there is enough evidence in Basket B from which the trial court could indeed infer that Texas passed its law to discriminate against Texans who are Latino or black. It sent the case back for the trial court to reconsider the question looking just at Basket B, and a finding of racially discriminatory intent from the trial judge again seems likely.

The dissenters suggested that at worst the evidence showed an intention by the Republican-dominated state Legislature to discriminate against Democrats, not against blacks or Latinos. A majority of judges, noting an overlap among racial and partisan groups in Texas, didn’t buy it. In a place like Texas, it makes no sense to separate race and party. As the majority explained, “Intentions to achieve partisan gain and to racially discriminate are not mutually exclusive.” And as one of the judges who believed that evidence from both Baskets A and B proved Texas engaged in racial discrimination put it, if Republicans in the Texas Legislature, out of partisan motives, selected a course of action “at least in part because of, and not merely in spite of, its adverse effects on an identifiable group, that is enough” to show racial discrimination.

Zachary Roth notes that while this win wasn’t as big for the plaintiffs as it could have been, it was still pretty big.

Immediate consequences aside, Wednesday’s opinion was noteworthy for painting a picture of Texas’s Republican lawmakers as, at best, indifferent to the struggles of the state’s low-income and minority voters to get an ID. The ruling also offered firm rebuttals to many of the arguments made both by Texas in support of its law, known as SB 14, and by ID proponents more broadly. That it came from Judge Catharina Haynes, a staunch conservative — though one with a reputation for independence — writing for likely the most conservative federal appeals court in the nation, only bolstered its impact.

The appeals court affirmed Gonzales Ramos’s finding that the law’s drafters were aware that it would make it harder for minorities to vote, but they nonetheless rejected a slew of measures that would have softened its impact, largely refusing to explain why. The ruling also swiftly dispatched Texas’ claim that the plaintiffs hadn’t identified a single person who faces a substantial obstacle to voting thanks to the law, noting several people who the district court found were clearly disenfranchised by it. (News reports, including from MSNBC, have turned up many more.) And it slammed the state for devoting “little funding or attention to educating voters about the new voter ID requirements.”

Perhaps most forcefully, the opinion derisively rejected Texas’ claim that the law was needed to prevent voter fraud.

“Ballot integrity is undoubtedly a worthy goal,” Judge Haynes wrote. “But the evidence before the Legislature was that in-person voting, the only concern addressed by SB 14, yielded only two convictions for in-person voter impersonation fraud out of 20 million votes cast in the decade leading up to SB 14’s passage. The bill did nothing to combat mail-in ballot fraud, although record evidence shows that the potential and reality of fraud is much greater in the mail-in ballot context than with in-person voting.”

Haynes also noted that preventing non-citizens from voting was offered as another rationale for the bill “even though two forms of identification approved under SB 14 are available to noncitizens.”

“The provisions of SB 14,” Haynes wrote, “fail to correspond in any meaningful way to the legitimate interests the State claims to have been advancing through SB 14.”

Instead, the court suggested, the law had a different purpose. “The extraordinary measures accompanying the passage of SB 14 occurred in the wake of a ‘seismic demographic shift,'” Haynes wrote, “as minority populations rapidly increased in Texas, such that the district court found that the party currently in power is ‘facing a declining voter base and can gain partisan advantage’ through a strict voter ID law.”

The opinion also took on an argument used more broadly in support of ID laws: That they must not keep people from voting, since turnout rates have increased, compared to previous years, in elections where they’ve been used. As Haynes noted — and as voting rights advocates challenging voting restrictions have been at pains to point out from Texas to North Carolina to Wisconsin — turnout fluctuates for all sorts of reasons. “That does not mean the voters kept away were any less disenfranchised,” Haynes wrote.

Perhaps most far-reachingly, the opinion in several places starkly rejects Texas’ effort throughout the case essentially to narrow Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act so that it would bar only intentional and blatant acts of racial discrimination in voting. That’s a crusade that for decades has been pursued by numerous leading conservative legal minds, as they’ve looked to further weaken the landmark civil rights law.

Instead, the court affirmed, the law must recognize that racial discrimination usually comes in subtler forms. “To require direct evidence of intent would essentially give legislatures free reign [sic] to racially discriminate so long as they do not overtly state discrimination as their purpose and so long as they proffer a seemingly neutral reason for their actions,” Haynes wrote, “This approach would ignore the reality that neutral reasons can and do mask racial intent, a fact we have recognized in other contexts that allow for circumstantial evidence.”

Texas’s interpretation of the law, Haynes added “effectively nullifies the protections of the Voting Rights Act by giving states a free pass to enact needlessly burdensome laws with impermissible racially discriminatory impacts. The Voting Rights Act was enacted to prevent just such invidious, subtle forms of discrimination.”

Reading Section 2 in the way Texas recommends, Haynes wrote, would “cripple” the Voting Rights Act, and “unmoor” it “from its history and decades of well-established interpretations about its protections.”

Stop for a moment and savor the irony here. Texas Republicans passed the odious and now-dead HB2 not just to effectively outlaw abortion in the state, but also as part of a national strategy to render null Roe v. Wade. Indeed, one of the judges at the same Fifth Circuit basically dared SCOTUS to overturn Roe in her opinion. Instead, the ruling by SCOTUS not only upheld Roe v. Wade (more accurately, it upheld Planned Parenthood v. Casey), it basically cut off at the knees the very strategy that anti-abortion forces had been using with HB2 and elsewhere in the country. Large swaths of anti-abortion legislation fell or are falling as a result. Now here with voter ID, the legal strategy in its defense was to gut Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Not only did that fail with a giant thud, Texas may wind up back under preclearance because of how voter ID was adopted. In both cases, the railroading of the opposition to these bills and the utter indifference to any and all objective facts surrounding their effect came back to bite the state and the Republicans responsible for these laws squarely on the ass, and may do more damage to their cause than anything the Democrats (who fought like hell against both bills despite being completely outgunned) could have done. Bravo, ladies and gentlemen. Bravo, Rick Perry and Greg Abbott and David Dewhurst and Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton. You all may wind up making a positive contribution to this state’s future after all.

Anyway. We now know what the “softening” of voter ID may look like. Hasen again:

It is further ORDERED that any plan for interim relief must include terms regarding the following:

  • All persons who have SB 14 ID or who have the means to get it in time for the November 8, 2016 election must display that ID in order to vote;
  • No ID that is easily counterfeited may be used in any ameliorative provision;
  • There must be an impediment or indigency exception, which may include reinstatement of the ability to use the voter registration card for such voters;
  • The State must educate the public in a meaningful way about the SB 14 ID requirements and all exceptions to those requirements that are set out in the original law and in the interim plan adopted by this Court;
  • The State must educate and train workers at polling places to fully implement the resulting plan; and
  • The plan shall address only the discriminatory effect holding of the Fifth Circuit’s opinion and shall not include relief that would be available only in the event that this Court finds, upon reweighing the evidence, that SB 14 was enacted with a discriminatory purpose.

Emphasis mine, and you can see the order here. I don’t have any faith in the state’s motivation to “educate the public”, but perhaps the threat of sanctions may light a fire or two. We’ll see how it goes. More from Hasen is here, and Texas Standard, Reuters, the Trib, the Chron, and the Current have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

NBA pulls 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte

Bam!

The NBA issued the following statement Thursday regarding the 2017 NBA All-Star Game:

“The NBA has decided to relocate the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte with the hope of rescheduling for 2019.

“Since March, when North Carolina enacted HB2 and the issue of legal protections for the LGBT community in Charlotte became prominent, the NBA and the Charlotte Hornets have been working diligently to foster constructive dialogue and try to effect positive change. We have been guided in these discussions by the long-standing core values of our league. These include not only diversity, inclusion, fairness and respect for others but also the willingness to listen and consider opposing points of view.

“Our week-long schedule of All-Star events and activities is intended to be a global celebration of basketball, our league, and the values for which we stand, and to bring together all members of the NBA community — current and former players, league and team officials, business partners, and fans. While we recognize that the NBA cannot choose the law in every city, state, and country in which we do business, we do not believe we can successfully host our All-Star festivities in Charlotte in the climate created by HB2.

“We are particularly mindful of the impact of this decision on our fans in North Carolina, who are among the most passionate in our league. It is also important to stress that the City of Charlotte and the Hornets organization have sought to provide an inclusive environment and that the Hornets will continue to ensure that all patrons — including members of the LGBT community — feel welcome while attending games and events in their arena.

“We look forward to re-starting plans for our All-Star festivities in Charlotte for 2019 provided there is an appropriate resolution to this matter.

“The NBA will make an announcement on the new location of the 2017 NBA All-Star Game in the coming weeks.”

See here for the background. ESPN, which reports that the Mayor of Charlotte, the Charlotte Hornets, broadcasters ESPN and TNT, and numerous players all supported the decision, suggests there could be more like this to come:

Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford told ESPN on Thursday that as of now the league will keep its December football championship in Charlotte. He did say that the conference will revisit the discussion in October.

Other major sporting events in Charlotte next year include the PGA Championship in August 2017 and a Sprint Cup race in May 2017. State senator Joel Ford (D) of Mecklenburg County said he believes the NBA’s decision will have a trickle-down effect.

“I’m anticipating, from a lot of discussions I’ve had with executives and professionals, that the NBA was the tip of the spear,” he said. “If the NBA took the All-Star Game away, (it is) going to put pressure on other professional sports franchises.”

That would be big indeed. USA Today adds on:

Cyd Zeigler of Outsports told USA TODAY Sports, “The NBA set an example for other leagues to follow. This is a stark contrast to how the NFL has handled its issues, such as the Super Bowl in Houston or its owner meeting in Charlotte. The NFL prints money essentially, but doesn’t prioritize LGBT inclusion. The NBA, with its corporate culture and leadership, took a major stand against discrimination.”

North Carolina general assembly representative and executive director of Equality NC Chris Sgro fought to repeal the bill or change the law. He feared the NBA would relocate if the state did not make significant changes to the law.

“The alarm bells have been going off for three months now at the incredibly economic harm of HB 2 and the NBA has expressed its concern over the safety, security and comfort of all fans,” Sgro told USA TODAY Sports. “We understand that concern, and I just cannot believe that Gov. McCrory is so negligent as to let to the city of Charlotte and state of North Carolina to lose the NBA All-Star Game.”

[…]

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, “Enter the real world I would say to some states. I agree with the league and … everybody else who pulled out.”

Well, one of those states would be Texas. I wonder if having Coach Popovich testify in Austin next year against the likely onslaught of anti-LGBT bills would make a difference. If the NBA’s decision doesn’t do it, I don’t know what would. The Vertical, which broke the story, OutSports, and ThinkProgress have more.

Posted in: Other sports.

Another bad year for Kemp’s ridley turtles

This does not look good.

The nesting season for the endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is ending with zero nests found on either Galveston Island or the Bolivar Peninsula for the first time in at least a decade, although the number rose for the entire coast.

The decline in nesting on the Upper Texas Gulf Coast comes as a recent study shows that the nest numbers for Texas’ official sea turtle, whose primary nesting grounds are in Texas and Mexico, are at less than one-tenth of their historic levels.

Only five Kemp’s ridley nests were found on the upper Texas coast – four at Surfside and one at Quintana Beach – during the nesting season that runs from April until the middle of July, although there are always a few late nesters.

“We’ve had some extremely high tides and a lot of flooding this year, and many times the ocean was right up to the base of the dune,” which could have discouraged turtles from digging nests, said Christopher Marshall, lead turtle researcher at Texas A&M University at Galveston.

Nesting numbers were up for the entire Texas Gulf Coast and at the main nesting grounds in Tamaulipas, Mexico, near the Texas border. But scientists and conservationists remain concerned that the increases are far below those prior to the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

“We’ve got two years of increases, however it’s discouraging that we have not gotten back to the numbers we were at in 2009,” said Donna Shaver, chief of the division of sea turtle science and recovery at Padre Island National Seashore.

So far this season, 185 Kemp’s ridley nests have been found on the Texas Coast, said Shaver, who tallies every discovered nest and oversees a turtle egg incubation program on Padre Island. The real indicator of the health of the Kemp’s ridley is the number of nests at the main nesting grounds in Rancho Nuevo, Tamaulipas. The count this year is 17,000 nests, up from 14,000 last year but still far short of the record 22,000 in 2012. The record that year was barely higher than the 2009 number and far less than what scientists expected.

“It came up, but it didn’t come up anywhere close to what we hoped it would if it had grown at the same rate as in 2009 and it didn’t keep going,” said Thane Wibbles, a biologist at the University of Alabama. Wibbles said there should have been more than 30,000 nests in 2012.

“It’s still not back to its historical levels where we were seeing a 12 to 15 percent increase every year,” said Pat Burchfield, who heads the U.S. contingent of the Binational Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Recovery Project and is director of the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville.

[…]

Most scientists speculate that either the oil spill caused a temporary pause in Kemp’s ridley reproduction and that it will rebound, or that conditions in the Gulf have become inhospitable for the turtle’s historic population size, Wibbles said.

“It may be that the carrying capacity of the Gulf of Mexico may not be what it used to be,” Wibbles said. “I would say in five years if it hasn’t got on an exponential recovery trend then we have to look at the possibility that the Gulf of Mexico is not allowing them to come back.”

If the Gulf can’t support as many Kemp’s ridleys as it once did, he said, then the Gulf may be in trouble. Said Wibbles, “The ridley could be considered a metaphoric canary in the coal mine.”

See here for some background. I sure hope things start to look up, but it’s getting harder to feel optimistic. I don’t care how much that oil spill cost BP. It wasn’t enough.

Posted in: Technology, science, and math.

Fifth Circuit affirms voter ID ruling

Made it by the deadline.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas’ voter identification law violates the U.S. law prohibiting racial discrimination in elections, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed previous rulings that the 2011 voter ID law — which stipulates the types of photo identification election officials can and cannot accept at the polls — does not comply with the Voting Rights Act.

The full court’s ruling delivered the strongest blow yet to what is widely viewed as the nation’s strictest voter ID law. Under the law, most citizens (some, like people with disabilities, can be exempt) must show one of a handful of types of identification before their ballots can be counted: a state driver’s license or ID card, a concealed handgun license, a U.S. passport, a military ID card, or a U.S citizenship certificate with a photo.

[…]

The case centered on whether Texas discriminated against Hispanic and African-American voters when it passed the legislation: Senate Bill 14.

Paxton, Gov. Greg Abbott and other proponents argued that the law was needed to bolster security at the ballot box by preventing voter fraud, but opponents cite the paucity of proven in-person voter fraud in the state and argue the intent was to undercut the electoral strength of the state’s growing minority population — people less likely to have photo identification or the means to obtain an election certificate.

Experts have testified that more than 600,000 Texans lack such identification, though not all of them have necessarily tried to vote. Those citizens can obtain “election identification certificates” free of charge, but only if they are able to produce a copy of their birth certificate.

Texas argued that opponents of the law had “failed to identify a single individual who faces a substantial obstacle to voting because of SB 14.” In Wednesday’s ruling, the majority rejected that argument.

“For one thing, the district court found that multiple Plaintiffs were turned away when they attempted to vote, and some of those Plaintiffs were not offered provisional ballots to attempt to resolve the issue,” the ruling stated.

The majority also affirmed the lower court’s finding that Texas’ “lackluster educational efforts resulted in additional burdens on Texas voters.”

Seven of the court’s 15 judges backed the decision in full. Two other judges backed most of the decision. Dissenting judges wrote that the “en banc court is gravely fractured and without a consensus. There is no majority opinion, but only a plurality opinion that draws six separate dissenting opinions and a special concurrence.”

More specific to the Texas law, some of the dissenting judges wrote that “requiring a voter to verify her identity with a photo ID at the polling place is a reasonable requirement widely supported by Texans of all races and members of the public belonging to both political parties.”

Voting rights advocates were quick to praise the appeals court’s overall decision Wednesday.

“We have repeatedly proven – using hard facts – that the Texas voter ID law discriminates against minority voters,” Gerry Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center and an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement. “The 5th Circuit’s full panel of judges now agrees, joining every other federal court that has reviewed this law. We are extremely pleased with this outcome.”

See here and here for some background, and here for a copy of the ruling. I’ve seen several headlines declaring that the Fifth Circuit “struck down” the voter ID law. That’s not the case at all – in fact, they said it should be enforced for the people who have the mandated ID. Rick Hasen explains what they did order:

The bottom line is that the majority of the 5th Circuit has done what the panel opinion had originally held: there is a remand on the question whether Texas acted with a discriminatory purpose, but there is enough evidence of a discriminatory effect so as to render the Texas id law a Voting Rights Act violation.

BUT, and this is a big but, the remedy is NOT going to be to strike the Texas voter id law as a whole, but instead to fashion some kind of relief that give people who have a reasonable impediment to getting an id the chance to get one. This might be like the affidavit requirement just approved yesterday in the Wisconsin case, or something else (like an indigency exception affidavit). Further, given the timing of the election, the trial court has to craft some kind of interim relief and then can figure out a more comprehensive solution after the next election.

BUT, BUT there is a very strong dissent from the 5th Circuit’s most conservative members, and that might give Texas a reason to go to the Supreme Court to try to get this emergency interim relief stayed.

BUT, BUT BUT: the Supreme Court has now lost Justice Scalia, and at best Texas could hope for only 4 votes to reverse what the 5th Circuit has done. Indeed, I’m not sure that even Justice Kennedy/Chief Justice Roberts would be on board. If the court ties, the 5th circuit en banc decision stands. (There’s also the possibility of an argument that the interim relief ordered for this election comes too late under the Purcell Principle, but given that the 5th Circuit acted just within the soft July 20th deadline the Supreme Court set, I think the plaintfiffs will be safe in this regard).

FINALLY, these kinds of softening devices are not all they are cracked up to be, and there’s lots of evidence they are not used by lots of voters who need it. (I discuss this disjunction between theory and practice in Softening Voter ID Laws Through Litigation: Is it Enough?, Wisconsin Law Review Forward (forthcoming 2016) (draft available)). One of the 5th Circuit judges, Judge Higgonson, concurring, has a footnote reading: “I also disagree with the opposite criticism that this interbranch engagement ameliorates too little, though that argument is contributory. See Richard L. Hasen, Softening Voter ID Laws Through Litigation: Is it Enough?, WISC. L. REV. FORWARD (forthcoming 2016), http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2743946 (with apologies to Professor Hasen for my citation of his draft version).”

This is a win for the plaintiffs, no doubt, but not nearly as good as getting the law thrown out for everyone.

Ian Millhiser at Think Progress generally concurs with Hasen:

So the court, after considering a complicated array of factors presented by such cases, held that the law violates the Voting Rights Act. That’s the good news for voting rights. The bad news is two-fold.

First, a majority of the Fifth Circuit determined that “there are infirmities in the district court’s” conclusion that Texas acted with discriminatory intent, although it also returned the case to the lower court to reconsider whether such intent existed. That matters for several reasons, the most potentially significant of which is that Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act permits states that act with racially discriminatory intent to be subjected to continuing federal supervision of their voting laws. If the courts ultimately conclude that Texas acted with discriminatory intent, they could also decide to place Texas under the same kind of supervision that the Supreme Court eliminated in its 2013 decision striking down part of the Voting Rights Act.

Additionally, while the Fifth Circuit found Texas’ voter ID law wanting, it is unclear what the remedy will be for this violation of the law. “We acknowledge that the record establishes that the vast majority of eligible voters possess SB 14 ID, and we do not disturb SB 14’s effect on those voters” the court writes,” adding that “those who have SB 14 ID must show it to vote.” It instructs the lower court that the eventual “remedy must be tailored to rectify only the discriminatory effect on those voters who do not have SB 14 ID or are unable to reasonably obtain such identification.” (One possible solution is that the remedy could match the same one handed down by a Wisconsin federal judge in a similar case on Tuesday.)

So this is a victory for voting rights, but not a total one. Nevertheless, given the Fifth Circuit’s conservatism, it is a surprising decision. And no doubt a welcome one for voting rights supporters.

Here’s more on that Wisconsin decision. The district court may try to craft a solution, but as Andrea Greer notes, it’s not out of the question that Greg Abbott could call a special session to try to “fix” the law. Mostly, it’s a matter of timing. The law as it exists cannot be used – there must be a remedy for the people who don’t have ID. That needs to be in place probably in the next six to eight weeks, to ensure there’s enough time for local election admins to communicate to voters what they will need to be able to vote. Striking the whole thing down would have been better and less confusing, but this is what we’ve got. There’s also still a chance that the district court could find discriminatory intent again under the new standard the Fifth Circuit set, and I presume that one way or another, this will eventually go to SCOTUS. But for now, a decent if not resounding win. The Chron story is here, and Courthouse News, the Brennan Center, the Press, the Rivard Report, and PDiddie have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Feds leave oversight of Texas Central to the state

No change in status.

A proposed high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas will remain a mostly Texas matter following a federal decision which opponents cheered as a blow to the project, while backers said provided a definitive scope of the planning process.

The Surface Transportation Board on Monday determined it has no oversight of the 240-mile line planned by Texas Central Partners that has drawn opposition from rural residents while enjoying support in the two metropolitan areas because the project lies completely within Texas. Texas Central had argued its connectivity to Amtrak gave federal officials some oversight, but the board rejected that.

“Should Texas Central develop concrete plans that would make the Line part of the interstate rail network, such as an actual through ticketing arrangement with Amtrak or a shared station with an interstate passenger rail line, Texas Central could seek board authority at that time,” federal officials wrote in their decision.

[…]

Texans Against High-Speed Rail, formed to oppose the line’s development through rural areas, called the federal decision a major victory, along with a number of local elected leaders.

See here, here, and here for the background. A copy of the STB’s letter is embedded in the Chron story. I’m not sure how much difference this makes, because whatever the STB had decided to do, there will be a renewed effort among Texas Central’s opponents to put insurmountable obstacles in their way in the next legislative session. There’s a group of legislators – mostly rural, with some suburban, all east of I-35 – who oppose the proposed high speed rail line, and there’s a group of legislators – mostly urban, with some suburban, all in the Houston and Metroplex area – who support it. The former group is larger and more driven, but they are not close to a majority. The question is what happens if they manage to get a bill that would cripple the rail line out of committee. We don’t know how open the large number of uncommitted legislators are to either side’s arguments, and we also don’t know what Greg Abbott’s opinion is. If Texas Central can make it through the 2017 session without getting kneecapped, they will be able to start construction as they hope to later that year. I believe that once they do start building the line, it will become a lot harder to kill, though that won’t stop anyone from trying. This will be a big issue to watch in the spring. The Press has more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

In which we find another way to suck at textbooks

Oh, good Lord.

If the State Board of Education approves a proposed Mexican-American studies textbook this fall, Texas students could learn that the Aztecs waged war because of “bloodlust,” 19th-century Mexican industrial laborers often drank on the job and slavery was in swift decline just before the Civil War, scholars and activists said at a press conference Monday.

Activist groups and professors with the Responsible Ethnic Studies Textbook Coalition gathered Monday at the Texas Education Agency to list their concerns with the book, “Mexican American Heritage,” and call on the board to reject it.

“Excessive errors render the proposed textbook useless and even counterproductive,” said Emilio Zamora, a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin who reviewed the textbook at the request of board member Ruben Cortez, D-Brownsville.

The text was the only submission the board received after it issued a call in 2015 for textbooks to be used in Mexican-American studies classes at the high school level. Roughly 10 high schools in Texas currently offer Mexican-American studies; the content of the course varies from school to school, but is often interdisciplinary and includes history, literature and current events. Activists had hoped that a state-approved textbook would make it easier for teachers to start offering the class.

At the press conference, Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, noted that the publisher of “Mexican American Heritage,” Momentum Instruction, LLC, has never published a textbook before, and one of the text’s contributors is Cynthia Dunbar, a conservative former board member.

[…]

At the press conference, Zamora said he found an average of five to seven errors on each page he reviewed. He said the text focuses more on general American and world history than on the experiences of Mexican-Americans, characterizes Mexican-American social justice leaders as a threat to the United States and doesn’t cite professional scholarship in the interdisciplinary field of Mexican-American Studies.

Christopher Carmona, chairman of the Committee on Mexican American Studies in Pre-K-12 at Tejas Foco, the state branch of the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies, said the flawed textbook reflects a broader problem in Texas: the relative paucity of Mexican-American studies courses in public schools where over half of the student body is Hispanic. Currently, about 10 high schools have established such courses through the state’s elective course “Special Topics in Social Studies,” which allows schools to develop their own classes, including ethnic studies.

“The textbook is a symptom of the fact that we don’t have this in place,” said Carmona, who is also an instructor of English at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

The call for textbooks was issued as a compromise when the board debated ethnic studies in 2014. Cortez initially proposed establishing a full-fledged Mexican-American studies course. Instead, the board voted 11-3 to ask publishers to submit textbooks that teachers could use for courses in various ethnic studies classes.

First, let’s be clear that any endeavor involving Cynthia Dunbar is going to be a miasma of toxic wingnuttery. The existence of this textbook has been known for a couple of months, and the SBOE has yet to take up the matter of whether it will be adopted or tossed onto the trash pile where it belongs. (This is the SBOE we’re talking about, so you can probably guess what the likely outcome is.) I – haven’t followed this closely so I can’t tell you a whole lot more about this; go read that Observer link for the basics, and go here if you want to get involved. It sure would be nice if we could avoid embarrassing ourselves again, wouldn’t it? ThinkProgress, the Observer, and the Press have more.

Posted in: School days.

Texas blog roundup for the week of July 18

The Texas Progressive Alliance urges the people of Cleveland to stay strong as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Rick Perry still toadying for Trump

Dude must really need a job.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Corndogs are always in demand

Former Gov. Rick Perry says he is open to serving in the administration of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, his former rival in the race for the White House.

“They know that I will come and help if the role is something I’m passionate about, that I’m knowledgeable about,” Perry told reporters Monday morning after addressing Texas delegates here at the Republican National Convention.

Perry, an Air Force veteran, went on to acknowledge that he is “pretty limited” in the expertise he believes he could lend.

“The place that I’m passionate about is our veterans and our military, so somewhere in that area is where I would be” helpful, he said.

[…]

On Monday morning, Perry told reporters that he made clear to the Trump campaign that he was not vice presidential material.

“I told them, ‘Listen, I’m not your guy to be vice president because I don’t know the Washington inside legislative game,'” Perry said.

See here for some background. Just curious here, but did anyone other than Rick Perry ever mention Rick Perry as a potential VP candidate? One also wonders if Perry is aware of how Trump treats the people who align with him, and if he considers it a bug or a feature. (Not to mention if Perry is aware of what his own website says about Trump, which strikes me as the equivalent of posting one’s Spring Break pictures to Facebook while interviewing for an accounting job.) But look, I blame this on the failure of the wingnut gravy train to find a nice little sinecure for Rick Perry. Surely he deserves better than this after all his years of loyal service to the cause.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Alignments proposed for Oklahoma City-South Texas passenger rail

Check ’em out.

TexasOklahomaPassengerRailStudyRoutes

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) have released 10 service and route options for new and improved conventional and high-speed passenger rail service connecting Oklahoma City, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, and South Texas.  The options are evaluated in a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).

“This corridor is home to major financial, energy, and education centers that people rely on every day,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.  “Providing efficient, more reliable, and faster higher-speed passenger rail options to move between cities is crucial for the economy and the population to thrive.  I encourage those along the I-35 corridor to participate in the comment and public hearing opportunities so that they are able to learn more and share their input.”

During a 45-day public comment period, FRA and TxDOT will take comments on the 10 options and the seven recommended preferred options that the two agencies identified.  Four public hearings will also be held to give residents a chance to learn about the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study, understand how their communities may be affected, and provide comments.

Current passenger rail service along the Interstate 35 (I-35) corridor includes three intercity Amtrak services from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth (Heartland Flyer), Fort Worth to San Antonio (Texas Eagle), and Los Angeles to New Orleans through San Antonio (Sunset Limited).

The DEIS addresses the relationships of the major regional markets within the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Program corridor in three geographic sections, and preferred alternatives are recommended for each geographic section separately.  The three sections of study are:

  • Northern Section:  Edmond, Oklahoma, to Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas
  • Central Section:  Dallas and Fort Worth to San Antonio
  • Southern Section:  San Antonio to south Texas (Corpus Christi, Brownsville, Laredo, and the Rio Grande Valley)

More than 10 million people currently live along the 850-mile corridor, which is expected to grow by 39 percent in Texas and 25 percent in Oklahoma City by 2035.  As a state with some of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation, spread out over hundreds of miles, Texas is now in high demand for alternative modes of transportation.  Since the majority of the state’s population is centered in the eastern half of state, along I-35 stretching into Oklahoma City, the highways have experienced increased congestion.

“More passenger rail service will help relieve already congested roads along the I-35 corridor and help this region manage the significant population growth on the way,” said FRA Administrator Sarah E. Feinberg.  “I encourage everyone to provide feedback on the 10 options that FRA and the Texas DOT have presented to continue moving this effort forward.”

In fiscal year 2012, FRA awarded a $5.6 million grant to TxDOT to fund a study of new and improved passenger rail service to meet future intercity travel demand, improve rail facilities, reduce travel times, and improve connections with regional public transit services as an alternative to bus, plane, and private auto travel.  The Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study evaluates routes and types of service for passenger rail service between Oklahoma City, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and South Texas.

More information about the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study can be found here.  The Final EIS is projected to be released by early 2017.

There are three public hearings scheduled to discuss these alignments, on August 9, 10, and 11, in Laredo, Austin, and Arlington, respectively. Relevant documentation is here if you have a few hours to spare and an enjoyment of poring over PDFs, while TxDOT’s page on the project is here. Just looking at the map, which I have embedded above, doesn’t give a clear picture of where the tracks would be. Streetsblog says it wouldn’t actually stop in “urban Austin”, but the map seems to indicate it would go near or by the airport, so perhaps this is a question of terminology.

This project has been kicking around for awhile – Oklahoma got a federal stimulus grant in 2009 to study rail between Oklahoma City and Tulsa, which isn’t actually part of this proposal but may have been the genesis of what we now have – with TxDOT creating the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study page in late 2013; as you can see at that link, there’s a separate project to link this rail line, if it happens, to the Houston-Dallas high speed line, if that happens. An extension into Mexico has also been floated, though I have no idea if we’re even allowed to say that sort of thing out loud any more. As this is a TxDOT project, one presumes that there won’t be any questions about whether or not this qualifies as a real railroad for eminent domain purposes, which is not to say that there won’t be any resistance to the possibility. I’m never sure how seriously to take this, as TxDOT has never been all that interested in anything but roads and there are plenty of ways for the chuckleheads in Congress and the Lege to put up obstacles, but we are at the DEIS stage, and that’s progress. What do you think? See here for the impact statement, and KVUE has more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Abbott pushes for hate crime status for targeted killing of police officers

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Gov. Greg Abbott wants the targeted killing of a police officer to be deemed a hate crime in Texas and urged lawmakers to send him such a bill to sign during next year’s legislative session.

Abbott announced Monday his plan to lobby for adding his Police Protection Act to Texas law. Along with extending hate crime protections to law enforcement, the measure would also increase criminal penalties for any crimes in which the victim is a law enforcement officer and “create a culture of respect for law enforcement by organizing a campaign to educate young Texans on the value law enforcement officers bring to their communities,” according to a statement from Abbott’s office.

[…]

“At a time when law enforcement officers increasingly come under assault simply because of the job they hold, Texas must send a resolute message that the State will stand by the men and women who serve and protect our communities,” Abbott said Monday in a statement

Abbott’s proposal comes after U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced legislation on Wednesday that would make killing a police officer a federal crime.

I don’t have a position on these proposals yet; I’d like to see some analysis by policy experts first. What I do know is that the mostly conservative opposition to hate crime bills in the past has been on the grounds that they are redundant and thus unnecessary. The politics in this case are a lot different than they were in the past, and I fully expect to see people espousing very different views on this than they might have 20 years ago. To the extent that Greg Abbott’s views on such legislation of yore can be ascertained, it would be useful to ask him why and how his opinion on hate crime laws have changed, if indeed they have.

UPDATE: Lisa Falkenberg and Murray Newman have some fully-developed thoughts on the subject.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Potholing

The city’s pothole repair program seems to be going well.

Faster response by city crews to resident-reported potholes has saved thousands of drivers a bumpier ride around Houston the past six months, though officials warn there’s a long way to go before local streets are smooth driving.

Since Mayor Sylvester Turner announced on Jan. 4 that resident-reported potholes would be assessed within 24 hours and filled the next business day, more than 3,400 potholes in the city have been patched because of calls to 311 or online reports from residents. That’s at least 600 more filled potholes than all of 2015, based on city records, though some accountings of the number filled differ.

“The voters demanded pothole repair and I think that was a core area in the election and they got it,” said Mark Klein, president of Super Neighborhood 12, bounded by where Loop 610 and U.S. 290 converge and extending north to Pinemont-area neighborhoods.

[…]

The number of potholes filled by the city because of calls from residents, however, is a fraction of the number of potholes actually filled in Houston. By some measures, overall pothole repairs are down from a peak in mid-2015. According to the key performance indicators report prepared by Houston Public Works each month, from February to May the city filled fewer potholes this year than in 2015.

The figures used and verified by the city’s “Pothole Tracker” website, meanwhile, show the total number of potholes increasing. Eric Dargan, deputy public works director over the streets and drainage division, said the calculations are different because the internal performance measures all potholes, while the pothole tracker tracks work orders. Multiple potholes could be filled on a single work order, Dargan said.

Despite differing figures, Dargan said he’s confident Houston’s 16,000 lane miles of street are in better shape, while he cautions there is much more work to do to fill potholes.

“The formula is right, the question is how much funding we have for maintenance,” Dargan said, explaining street repairs vary from simple potholes to complete street rebuilds with sewer pipes, such as the recent work on Shepherd south of Buffalo Bayou. “I would love to get my assets on a 10-year cycle. We are nowhere close to that.”

Here’s the city’s pothole page, if you’re into that sort of thing. Fixing potholes is good, and increasing people’s faith that calling 311 will make something happen is better, but completing the Rebuild Houston project is critical, as it addresses the long-term issues that attention. In the meantime, though, go ahead and call 311 or use the app and report that pothole that’s been bugging you. You’ll feel better once you do.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Can we try this again with nine Justices, please?

Can’t hurt to ask.

The Obama administration on Monday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider the legality of the president’s controversial immigration enforcement plan, which stalled last month when the high court deadlocked on an appeal.

The program, known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, was announced in November 2014 and would have shielded about 4 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. It was scheduled to go into effect in February 2015 but was halted that month by U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen of Brownsville.

Hanen ruled that the administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs how federal regulations are made and how much input the public has. His decision was upheld by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Justice Department appealed to the Supreme Court, but without a full complement of judges after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia the high court deadlocked 4-4, effectively upholding the 5th Circuit’s ruling. In Monday’s filing, the administration asked the court to hear the case again when it has nine justices.

“This filing is consistent with historical practice and reflects the need for prompt and definitive resolution of this important case,” Department of Justice Spokeswoman Melanie Newman said in a statement.

The filing for rehearing by the Department of Justice concedes the Supreme Court rarely rehears ordinary cases. But it argues it’s not unheard of when the court is missing a justice.

“Ordinarily, it is exceedingly rare for this Court to grant rehearing,” the petition states. “But when this Court has conducted plenary review and then affirmed by vote of an equally divided court because of a vacancy rather than a disqualification, the Court has not infrequently granted rehearing before a full Bench.”

See here for the background. As I understand it, all of the cases for which SCOTUS split 4-4 are still basically undecided, since without a definitive SCOTUS ruling there’s no governing opinion, and there remains the chance of conflicting opinions from appeals courts. As such, they can and in most cases will continue on and find their way back to SCOTUS eventually. Here, the district court hasn’t even had a trial – the fight was over the judge’s injunction that put the DAPA and expanded DACA orders on hold pending the litigation – so it makes sense to ask to jump the line when the Court is back at full strength. Assuming it ever is, of course – these days one needs to be careful about what assumptions one operates under. I have no idea how this is going to work, but as I say it can’t hurt to ask. A copy of the petition is here, and SCOTUSBlog, which characterizes this as a “longshot”, has more.

Posted in: La Migra, Legal matters.

Castro ruled to have violated the Hatch Act

Oops.

Julian Castro

Julián Castro, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development and rumored Democratic vice presidential prospect, violated a law prohibiting federal employees from politicking on the job when he commented on the presidential election in an April interview with Katie Couric, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel said Monday.

Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio, praised Hillary Clinton as the “most experienced, thoughtful and prepared candidate for president that we have this year” and described Donald Trump as unfit for the office in an interview with Couric for Yahoo News on April 4.

The special counsel found that those remarks violated the federal Hatch Act because Castro had given the interview in his “official capacity” as HUD secretary, OSC’s Carolyn N. Lerner wrote to President Barack Obama in a letter referring the counsel’s findings “for appropriate action.”

The report, dated June 24, notes that Castro told Couric he was “taking off my HUD hat” before he made his comments on Clinton and Trump. Still, the OSC concluded that his “statements during the interview impermissibly mixed his personal political views with official agency business,” according to Lerner’s letter.

According to the report, Castro testified that he believed at the time of the interview that his comments were in line with the law and never intended to violate it. He has since “reconsidered this position” on the appropriateness of the remarks and said he is “confident no similar blurring of roles will occur in the future,” the report says.

So much for that, it would seem, and right after his Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me debut, too. This doesn’t strike me as the worst thing anyone has ever done, but he shouldn’t have done it, and it is clear that it’s a distraction Clinton can’t afford and will surely want to avoid. In a universe where “Benghazi” and “Emailgate” were treated as the nothingburgers they are, it might be different, but we are not in that universe. PDiddie thinks this paves the way for Sen. Tim Kaine, and he certainly has a lot of mainstream support. I’m a fan of Tom Perez myself, but last I checked no one was asking me. Sorry, Julian. Get better legal advice before talking to the media next time. The Current has more.

Posted in: The making of the President.

Astros hacker sentenced to 46 months

Away he goes.

Former St. Louis Cardinals executive Christopher Correa was sentenced Monday to 46 months in prison for illegal incursions into the Astros’ computer database, wrapping up a case of sports-related cybercrime that a federal judge and prosecutors summed up as plain, old-fashioned theft.

Correa, 35, will report within two to six weeks to begin his sentence imposed by U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes, who accepted the government’s recommended sentence in the wake of Correa’s guilty plea in January to five counts of illegal access to a protected computer.

Now the case moves into the hands of Major League Baseball, where commissioner Rob Manfred will decide if the Cardinals will face sanctions because of Correa’s actions in 2013 and 2014.

Manfred also may be asked to consider a heretofore undisclosed element: that Correa intruded into the Astros’ system 60 times on 35 days, far more the five reported cases to which he pleaded guilty, according to an Astros official.

[…]

U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson said he was pleased with length of the sentence. Correa could have been sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison on each count, although prosecutors agreed in return for his guilty plea that sentences would be served concurrently.

“This is a serious federal crime,” Magidson said. “It involves computer crime, cybercrime. We in the U.S. Attorney’s office look to all crimes that are being committed by computers to gain an unfair advantage. … This is a very serious offense, and obviously the court saw it as well.”

Astros general counsel Giles Kibbe, who also attended the hearing, described Monday as a “sad day for baseball” and emphasized that the Astros were the victims of Correa’s unauthorized access into a computer database that included scouting reports and other information.

Referring to Correa’s statements in January, he added, “I don’t know what Mr. Correa saw in our system or what he thinks he saw in our system, but what I can tell you is that the Astros were not using Cardinals’ proprietary information.”

Kibbe, for the first time, also acknowledged that Correa’s intrusions into the Astros computer system were more frequently than the instances set out in the information to which he pleaded guilty – 60 intrusions over 35 days, he said, from March 2013 through June 2014.

He also said the Astros would rely on Major League Baseball to complete its investigation of the Cardinals, with the possibility of sanctions against the team.

“We have full faith in his actions,” he said, referring to MLB commissioner Manfred.

See here for the background. Correa had previously claimed to have found Cardinal information on the Astros’ system while he was hacking around. There could be some effect from that if there’s anything to it when MLB wraps up its investigation and imposes any sanctions on the Cards. In the meantime, I’d say this will serve as a pretty strong deterrent to any other baseball front office folks who may have been tempted to take an unsanctioned peek at what their rivals are doing. No one can say they haven’t been warned at this point.

Posted in: Baseball.

The Latino health insurance enrollment gap in Texas

We have made great strides in reducing the uninsured rate in Texas thanks to the Affordable Care Act, but there’s still a lot of work to do.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

The percentage of Hispanics in Texas without health insurance has dropped by 30 percent since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) went into effect, but almost one-third of Hispanic Texans ages 18 to 64 remain uninsured.

That’s one of the conclusions of a new report released today by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and the Episcopal Health Foundation.

The report found the uninsured rate among Hispanics ages 18 to 64 in Texas dropped from 46 percent in September 2013 to 32 percent in March 2016. But even with those gains, researchers estimate approximately 2 million Hispanics remain uninsured across the state. However, nearly half of uninsured Texas Hispanics are currently eligible to get health insurance through ACA plans or other private health insurance, the report said.

“We estimate 920,000 Hispanics are eligible for coverage now, even without Medicaid expansion or any other widespread change in coverage,” said Elena Marks, EHF’s president and CEO and a nonresident health policy fellow at the Baker Institute. “This report clearly shows the need for outreach and enrollment efforts to continue to focus on Hispanic Texans who are uninsured but eligible for coverage.”

[…]

“After three open-enrollment periods of the ACA marketplace, the uninsured rate among Hispanics is still three times that of whites,” said Vivian Ho, the chair in health economics at Rice’s Baker Institute and director of the institute’s Center for Health and Biosciences, a professor of economics at Rice and a professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. “The disparity between the two groups remains striking. The Hispanic population is growing at a faster rate than the state average, which makes it increasingly important to the entire state that Hispanics gain affordable health insurance coverage.”

The report shows that although more Hispanic Texans remain uninsured, they enrolled in ACA health insurance plans at twice the rate of whites. Researchers found 21 percent of all insured Hispanics in Texas are covered by ACA plans, compared with only 11 percent of whites across the state.

“This shows that the ACA marketplace is an important source of affordable health insurance for Hispanics,” Ho said.

The report is only nine pages, so go take a look at it. I can tell you that the main reasons for the gap are the failure to expand Medicaid, and a still-significant number of people who have not yet enrolled in any plan. The authors recommend more outreach to the latter subgroup, but that’s easier – and a lot cheaper – said than done. There are numerous community and national organizations that have done a ton of hard work informing people about their health insurance and subsidy options, but they do so in an environment where the state government is actively hostile to them. There’s a reason why some states have lowered their uninsured rates a lot more than some others.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

What it will take to win the District Court of Appeals benches

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that one place on the local ballot where Democrats could potentially gain some real ground is with the district Courts of Appeals. There are no competitive Congressional or State Senate races, the one competitive State House race in HD144 would be Democratic-favored in any Presidential year, and the countywide races have a greater dependency on the candidates themselves than any other contest. Republicans have done well in those races even as Democrats were winning district court benches, with the GOP successfully defending the offices of District Attorney and Tax Assessor in 2008 and 2012. The stakes are higher this year with the GOP hoping to keep the Sheriff’s office as well. Those races will get a lot of attention, with the outcomes less likely to be determined by partisan turnout levels.

The judicial races are where the candidates are mostly at the mercy of the blue/red mix. The wild card in those contests are for the 1st and 14th District Courts of Appeals, which encompass more than just Harris County. Jim Sharp broke through in 2008 to become the first (and so far only) Democrat in recent years to claim a spot on these benches, but several other races that year were fairly close, as each of the Democratic candidates carried Harris County. Republicans had a much easier time holding those positions in 2012, but the overall trend as well as the dynamic of this year’s Presidential contest suggests Dems may have a good shot at these. Let’s take a look at the numbers from the last two Presidential years and see if we can take a guess at what would need to happen for that to be the case.


2008

Race         Harris D  Harris R     Diff  Others D  Others R      Diff     Total
================================================================================
14th CJ       568,713   539,696  +29,017   199,332   258,576   -59,244   -30,227
1st Pl3       585,249   526,393  +58,856   209,510   250,194   -40,684   +18,172
1st Pl5       565,338   543,216  +22,122   198,502   259,452   -60,950   -38,828
14th Pl4      561,284   544,873  +16,411   194,751   261,775   -67,024   -50,613
14th Pl6      569,641   536,050  +33,591   198,463   257,779   -59,316   -25,815
14th Pl7      571,737   533,566  +38,173   198,849   257,265   -58,416   -20,245


2012

Race         Harris D  Harris R     Diff  Others D  Others R      Diff     Total
================================================================================
1st Pl2       567,793   572,351   -4,558   194,826   297,572  -102,746  -107,304
1st Pl6       565,699   572,594   -6,895   193,294   298,479  -105,185  -112,080
1st Pl7       565,258   572,326   -7,068   191,908   299,769  -107,861  -114,929
1st Pl8       560,865   575,397  -14,532   191,293   300,076  -108,783  -123,315
1st Pl9       567,466   570,529   -3,063   192,017   299,588  -107,571  -110,634
14th Pl3      580,356   557,224  +23,132   197,511   294,162   -96,551   -73,519
14th Pl4      555,639   580,450  -24,811   188,891   302,216  -113,325  -138,136
14th Pl5      557,972   578,436  -20,464   190,155   300,711  -110,556  -131,020
14th Pl8      575,206   562,417  +13,211   196,161   295,426   -99,265   -86,476

There are a couple of things going on here. The level of Democratic turnout in each year is roughly equivalent. The average dipped from 570,327 in 2008 to 566,250 in 2012, but that’a less than one percent. The Dem totals dropped a bit more in the other counties, falling from an average of 199,901 to 192,895, with the difference being exaggerated a bit by Jim Sharp’s showing in 2008. The bottom line remains that while the average Democratic candidate in these races received about 10,000 fewer votes in 2012, those totals didn’t affect the competitiveness of these races.

What did that were the Republican turnouts, which rose considerably in Harris and in the other counties, though for slightly different reasons. Republican voters in Harris County were far more likely to skip downballot races in 2008 than they were in 2012. It was the same way in 2004, with about ten percent of their Presidential voters disappearing for races like these, while Democratic voters were far more persistent about filling out their ballots. That pattern changed in 2012, with Rs and Ds about equally likely to fill the whole thing in. Some of that is no doubt the effect of straight-ticket voting, but there were still over 400,000 voters in Harris county who didn’t vote straight ticket in 2012. Maybe it was increased partisanship, maybe it was people absorbing the local message to vote all the way down, but whatever the case, it had an effect. As for the other counties, the increases are basically the result of population growth in Fort Bend, Galveston, and Brazoria Counties. Put the two together and you can see the effect.

Obviously, that makes winning these races this year a challenge, but I believe it can be done. Republicans have little to no prospect for growth in Harris County, and having Donald Trump at the top of the ticket is more likely to be a drag than an asset. Democrats need to put up a decent margin in Harris County, and they ought to be able to, but that won’t be enough. There needs to be some help in Fort Bend, Galveston, and Brazoria for there to be a fighting chance. I don’t know what is going on in those counties to try to boost turnout, though I know Fort Bend Democrats have been pretty active in recent years. I may be the only person in the state obsessing about these races as attainable targets for this year – these are low-visibility contests that have no immediate impact – but they represent an opportunity that we don’t often get, and it’s not like there are a bunch of legitimately exciting legislative or Congressional elections to focus on. The point I’ve been trying to make is that this is a good year to be thinking about other parts of the political bench, which includes county offices and judicial races. Remember, these appellate court positions come with six-year terms, so anyone who wins this year could if they chose run for a statewide bench in 2018 or 2020. There’s no downside to any of this, but we have to be aware of it first.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Will we ever learn what caused Greg Abbott’s burns?

Not sure what to make of this.

Gov. Greg Abbott was released Friday from a San Antonio military hospital, but he has yet to give details of the accident that put him there with second- and third-degree burns.

Abbott’s office has said his lower legs and feet were severely burned when he came into contact with scalding hot water July 7 during a family trip to Wyoming. It also has released details of his treatment at the San Antonio Military Medical Center. But the governor’s office repeatedly has declined to say how that accident happened, prompting speculation and dividing political observers over whether Texas’ top official should give more information about such serious injuries.

“How incredibly foolish of the governor’s staff,” said political professor Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “One way or the other, the truth will come out. Why not head off silly speculation and tell it like it is from the start. Serious burns requiring skin grafts are major injuries, and people will wish him well. But hesitation to be forthcoming will encourage conspiracy theories in the age of social media.”

Others are fine with Abbott’s choice to withhold some details, including some consultants from the opposite side of the political aisle from the governor.

“I think public officials should be afforded as much privacy as reasonable,” said Democratic strategist Harold Cook. “It’s hard enough as it is to get quality people to run for office. The more intrusive the job description becomes, the more difficult it is.

“So if they have disclosed what the problem is, and what his treatment is and all that, then good enough for me,” said Cook. “And it ought to be good enough for all Texans.”

[…]

Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak suggested the details of the accident aren’t crucial.

“All that matters, I think, for most people is, is he able to continue doing his job, and is he able to recover? And I think the answer to both those questions is clearly yes,” said Mackowiak.

Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson called it “unusual for a high-ranking official to be hospitalized with no description of the cause.” He made note that Abbott has “spent a great deal of time talking about his life-altering injury” that occurred in 1984.

“He has talked about it in ways that describe it as shaping his personality and his character and his determination – that that injury is part of what made him who he is, with his determination and strength – and so now to be so quiet about the nature of this injury means they haven’t yet figured out the positive story,” Jillson said.

See here for the background. On the one hand, I agree with Cook and Mackowiak. We know that something non-life-threatening happened, we know that he’s being treated and is recovering, and we know that he ought to be fine after missing a few days at work. What else do we really need to know? On the other hand, I confess I find the secrecy a little puzzling. It’s overwhelmingly likely that the explanation of how Abbott got burned is one of those dumb could-happen-to-anyone things. It’s certainly possible that it could be personally embarrassing for someone involved – accidents often are – and as far as that goes, I can understand keeping the details under the lid, to spare whoever’s feelings. But people talk, and it seems equally likely that word will get out eventually. In the meantime, people will also speculate, and the possibilities they will conjure will surely be more lurid and less plausible than the mundane truth. Seems like a clear case for disclosure to me, but it’s not my call. We’ll see if Abbott changes his mind about this.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

We’re outsourcing inmates again

We never learn.

go_to_jail

Harris County, in the latest move to keep its swelling jail population in check, is pursuing an agreement with neighboring Fort Bend County to send inmates to the suburb’s jail.

A Harris County Sheriff’s Office spokesman called the measure precautionary. If it is approved by commissioners at their meeting Tuesday, it’s not certain that Harris County would immediately begin sending inmates to the Fort Bend County jail. But it’s likely that Harris County in the near future will begin the transfers, especially as its jail population spikes in the summer months.

“Harris County officials asked if we had bed space available and we do,” Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls said in a written statement Friday. “They came out and looked at our facility and were impressed with what they saw. We will be able to accommodate the increased number of inmates within our current budget.”

[…]

Earlier this year, Harris County began sending hundreds of inmates to jails in Jefferson and Bowie counties.

What is different about the Fort Bend County proposal is that it targets pretrial inmates, or those in jail ahead of their court proceedings, said Harris County Sheriff’s spokesman Ryan Sullivan.

The Bowie and Jefferson transfers focused on inmates who had been convicted and were awaiting transfer to a state prison.

The pretrial inmate population is the biggest driver of the county’s high jail population, Sullivan said.

It’s also been the subject of intense scrutiny in recent years.

See here for the background. Everything I said then remains true now. What we are doing is the definition of dumb. It is our choice to jail thousands of people each year who are no threat to anyone. It is our choice to do something different. We need people in place – Sheriff, DA, judges – who will make the better choices.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Main Street Line having on-time issues

Not good.

HoustonMetro

Poor on-time trends for Metro trains are costing riders time along the city’s most heavily-used transit route, and potentially leading some to consider other options for trips, a transit agency board member said Wednesday.

“I think we are losing ridership to this,” said Christof Spieler, during a Metropolitan Transit Authority committee meeting.

While no data indicates for certain that ridership is affected, Spieler said a handful of issues are hurting the reliability of trips on the Red Line, mostly as the line passes through downtown and Midtown. The primary cause is a problem with devices along the line which verify that the train is cleared to cross certain intersections.

Officials have been working for more than two years to find a fix to the axle counters, though its effect on the on-time performance of trains is worsening when coupled with traffic signal timing issues in downtown Houston. High heat and humidity also makes the problem worse, said Andy Skaowski, Metro’s chief operating officer.

The problem is longstanding, according to Metro’s monthly performance data. The last time Red Line trains finished a month with an on-time performance better than 95 percent – the benchmark Metro set for acceptable performance – was October 2013. In some months, fewer than 80 percent of trains arrived on time. Metro was unable to calculate on-time performance along the line for 10 months after a 5.3-mile extension of the line opened in December 2013.

[…]

Often, a single problem along the line can stall numerous trains, Skabowski said. The goal is to have trains arrive at each station every six minutes most of the day. If a train is stopped by a faulty axle counter, the delay cascades as trains behind it are held up so they do not bunch together.

That can make the delays even more mystifying to riders, Skabowski said.

“What you’re seeing in front of you is not your train, it is two trains in front of you,” he told Spieler.

The problem is being addressed, so one hopes the on-time performance will bounce back. For what it’s worth, I can only recall one time in recent months where I experienced one of those “why aren’t we moving?” delays. I don’t take the train that often, however, so that doesn’t mean much. Metro has gotten a lot done over the past few years, and it seems like their biggest problems lately have been caused by their suppliers and contractors. Those are still their problems to manage, and this one needs to be fixed as soon as possible.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Weekend link dump for July 17

You can now get your files back if they have been hijacked by ransomware.

You’re going to have to wait a little longer for the final episodes of Game of Thrones.

Gotta say, there’a a lot more to Emily Ratajkoski than I would have guessed. Good for her. Also, that link is somewhat NSFW.

George Takei does not agree with the decision to make Lt. Sulu gay in the next Star Trek movie. Simon Pegg respectfully disagrees.

RIP, Frankie B. Mandola, longtime Houston restauranteur and Italian food pioneer.

“It is a remarkable picture. A single woman stands in the roadway, feet firmly planted. She poses no obvious threat. She is there to protest the excessive force which Baton Rouge police allegedly deploy against the city’s black citizens. She stands in front of police headquarters, on Saturday. And she is being arrested by officers who look better prepared for a war than a peaceful protest.”

“The eagerness to arrest and aggressively disperse people protesting on highways seems inseparable from public officials’ identification with motorist entitlement — the presumption that drivers’ business must never be subordinated, and certainly not for a spontaneous public demonstration exercising First Amendment rights.” Also, too, this.

You might want to read this if you’re into Pokemon Go.

“But I want you to know something about Jacoby Ellsbury. I need you to know something about Jacoby Ellsbury. In what way does Jacoby Ellsbury most stand out from the crowd? Eight times already this season, Ellsbury has reached base on catcher’s interference. The guy in second place has done it twice. Ellsbury has already tied the all-time record for a season. It is the All-Star break.”

We need to do better by our English language learners in schools.

“This is an effort to answer a question I’ve been struggling with since at least 2008: Why is the Hillary Clinton described to me by her staff, her colleagues, and even her foes so different from the one I see on the campaign trail?”

Maybe the Philistines weren’t such, um, philistines.

“[Being an astronaut] was the most interesting job I ever had, but when I left, I left.”

What Charlie Pierce says.

“A would-be strong man, an authoritarian personality, isn’t just against disorder and violence. They need disorder and violence. That is their raison d’etre, it is the problem that they are purportedly there to solve.”

First responders usually shouldn’t mean “people with guns”.

The videotapes of the first season of Monty Python’s Flying Circus came perilously close to getting erased.

Meet Mike Pence, in case you have need to know more about him.

“Whatever the precise details, however, it’s classic Trump – poorly organized, impulse driven and on the fly, riddled with weird personal animosities and feuds.”

“This is the choice. Don’t bamboozle me with no-fly zones and tougher rules of engagement and better border security. That’s small beer. You either support Obama’s current operation, more or less, or else you want a huge and costly ground operation. There’s really no middle ground. So which is it?”

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Miles wins SD13 nomination

Borris Miles

Rep. Borris Miles

And so we gathered again to pick a nominee to fill an open slot on the ballot, though at least this time the “we” who did the actual picking did not include me. I went to observe, say Hi, gather intelligence, and just generally enjoy the process. if you didn’t know anything about that process and you assumed this was an open election, you would have expected Rep. Senfronia Thompson to do very well, as she had the most T-shirt-clad (and most vocal) supporters present. Nearly all of those people were in the spectators’ section, however – the distribution of people wearing yellow Thompson shirts and people wearing white Borris Miles shirts was much more even among the precinct chairs. Ronald Green and James Joseph were also in attendance, but neither had supporters of that easily identifiable visibility.

The process officially started at around 11 AM, an hour after the announced time, to allow straggling precinct chairs to arrive and participate. A total of 84 chairs, out of 96 total, were in attendance. A woman I did not recognize but was told was from Fort Bend was the temporary chair (appointed, I presume, by TDP Chair Gilbert Hinojosa, who was also present) who called the meeting to order and after an invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance, asked for nominations for a presiding chair to replace her. Nat West, past candidate for Commissioners Court, was nominated and approved unanimously. A secretary whose name I did not catch was also nominated and approved unanimously. Between this and the lack of any parliamentary maneuvers, we were well on your way towards a smoother and quicker resolution than last time.

Four candidates were nominated – Thompson, Miles, Green, and Joseph. Each was given three minutes to speak, which they had agreed upon beforehand, with straws drawn to determine speaking order. Thompson emphasized her experience, accomplishments, and relationships, while dismissing concerns about losing her seniority in the House (“that wasn’t an issue with Sen. Ellis leaving for Commissioners Court”) and age (“take that up with God, who has blessed me with good health”). Joseph, who had the toughest act to follow, rhymed his surname James with “change”. Three times. Miles played up his connections to the district, including the Fort Bend part of it, which he characterized as being neglected, as well as his more combative style. Green talked about his time in city office and more or less explicitly placed himself between Thompson’s “walk from one chamber to another” experience and Miles’ “sharp elbows”.

As with the other nomination processes, voting was done by standing division of the house, and it was quickly clear that Miles had the advantage. A cheer erupted from his batch of precinct chairs as they reached the majority point. In the end, Miles had 49 votes to Thompson’s 30 and Green’s 3; either one chair didn’t vote or the true count was 83 and not 84. As it became obvious what was happening, Thompson and Green walked across the room from their supporters’ areas to congratulate and embrace Miles; the final count was announced shortly thereafter.

Here’s the Trib story on the vote. As the sun rises in the east and the mercury rises in the summer, so began the next race, to fill MIles’ slot on the ballot for HD146. The candidates who had supporters and some form of campaign materials present included HDCE Trustee Erica Lee Carter, former judicial candidate Shawn Thierry, Greater Houston Black Chamber board member James Donatto II, whose father is a committee chair on the Houston Southeast Management District, and Rashad Cave, about whom I know nothing. There may be others, which ought to make for an interesting vote given that there are 27 total precinct chairs in HD146. That process may not take place for four weeks, on August 12, due to the DNC convention overlapping the August 5 weekend. I don’t have official word on that just yet, so don’t go marking your calendars till someone makes a formal announcement. In the meantime, congratulations to presumptive Sen. Borris Miles, and best of luck to everyone lining up in HD146.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story on the SD13 nomination process.

Posted in: Election 2016.

What will the NBA do with Charlotte?

We are still waiting to see if NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will follow through with a threat to move the NBA All-Star Game out of Charlotte after North Carolina passed its odious anti-LGBT law HB2.

RedEquality

Houston’s 2015 defeat of Proposition 1, an anti-discrimination ordinance known as the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), could jeopardize future efforts to land NBA All Star events if the league views the Houston laws as similar to the North Carolina law that has the league considering withdrawing the 2017 All Star week from Charlotte.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver, while enumerating again the league’s objection to holding its showcase event in Charlotte following the controversial passage of HB2, said Tuesday the NBA has specifically looked at laws in Houston and NBA cities while examining options in Charlotte.

“We’ve been looking closely at the laws in all the jurisdictions in which we play,” Silver said when asked if the league has specifically considered the laws in Houston.

[…]

Silver said in April that the NBA has been “crystal clear” that the league would not hold the All-Star events in Charlotte if the law remains unchanged. No decision about the 2017 game was made at Tuesday’s Board of Governors meeting.

“We were frankly hoping they would take some steps toward modifying the legislation and frankly are disappointed that they didn’t,” Silver said. “Coming out of the legislative session, we wanted the opportunity to talk directly to our teams. This is a very core issue for us and we’re trying to be extremely cautious and deliberate in how we go about making the decision. We’re not trying to keep everyone in suspense. We realize we need to make this decision very quickly.”

Yes, they do. There are logistical issues with relocating the All-Star Game, as there would have been with moving the 2017 Super Bowl out of Houston, which was a campaign issue during the HERO fight. I never believed the NFL would even consider moving the Super Bowl, as they stayed on the sidelines throughout the campaign and were highly likely to embarrass Bob McNair even if he hadn’t made and then rescinded a contribution to the anti-HERO forces.

The NBA on the other hand has publicly drawn a line in the sand, and now has to decide whether they really meant it or not, whatever the logistical challenges may be. My view as a parent is that if you threaten a consequence for bad behavior and then fail to enforce that consequence, the message you send is that you are tolerating said behavior. They could spin it however they wanted to if they choose to take no action – the logistics were too much to overcome, HB2 wasn’t in effect at the time they awarded the game to Charlotte, etc etc etc – but the message would be clearly understood by all. That includes the Texas Legislature, some of whose members are planning their own version of HB2 and who would have every reason to laugh off statements about future All-Star Games not just in Houston but also in San Antonio and Dallas if nothing happens to Charlotte.

I largely don’t care about the economics of this. One supports HERO and opposes HB2 because it’s the right thing to do, not because of any risk management decisions that some billionaires may be making. Polling data from the HERO campaign suggested that potential economic harm was something that affected people’s view, so it definitely needs to be factored in. If having the NBA All-Star Game yanked out of North Carolina gets people’s attention and makes it even marginally less likely that Texas adopts a similarly harsh and stupid law, it’s all to the good. Mostly, I feel that if the NBA is going to say they are going to do something, they ought to then go ahead and do it. We await your decision, Adam.

Posted in: Other sports.

Legislative hearing on emergency leave

Figure this will be on the legislative agenda next spring.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

At a Texas House hearing Tuesday looking into how some state agencies were able to keep some departing employees on the public payroll by granting them emergency leave, lawmakers expressed frustration that vague state rules may have allowed the practice.

“I want to know exactly … if there [were] any violations of the law or violations of the process, and I think that’s incumbent upon everybody on this committee to figure out if that transpired,” said Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio. “If the law wasn’t broken, then I want to know exactly how we can correct it.”

Lawmakers on the House Committee on General Investigating and Ethics were looking into whether heads of agencies have too much discretion when it comes to awarding emergency leave.

“There’s going to be absolute certain change to this statute, but let’s work together to get it right,” said Committee Chairman Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin, during the hearing.

Texas does not award severance pay to state employees, but recent news reports showed that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton paid both his first assistant attorney general and communications director for months after they left the agency by categorizing both as being on emergency leave. Other reports revealed a similar practice in the General Land Office where departing employees continued to receive compensation, though not through emergency leave.

Emergency leave is often used as a way of permitting state employees to take a leave of absence for a death in the family, but the law also allows agency heads to grant it for other unspecified situations.

In June, House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, asked the Legislature to examine the issue. He had previously called for limiting the practice in order to ensure “that agencies use taxpayer dollars appropriately.”

See here and here for the background. There’s a request for an investigation by the Rangers into the severances, but I don’t know where that stands. As a philosophical matter, I don’t particularly object to severance packages for state employees. There ought to be some limit on them, but I don’t think they need to be banned completely. The use of emergency leave as a form of severance package, done as a way of keeping people quiet as they’re being shown the door, is another matter, one that deserves a close look from the Lege. I don’t know what action they’ll take, but it will be something. The Chron has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

America’s deadliest prosecutors

Fascinating.

In anticipation of the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark death penalty decision, Gregg v. Georgia, today the Fair Punishment Project released a new report called America’s Top Five Deadliest Prosecutors: How Overzealous Personalities Drive the Death Penalty.

The report identified America’s five deadliest head prosecutors out of the thousands that have held that office across the country in the last 40 years. Three of the five prosecutors (Joe Freeman Britt of Robeson County, North Carolina; Donnie Myers of Lexington, South Carolina; and Bob Macy of Oklahoma County, Oklahoma) personally obtained more than 35 death sentences each, while the other two (Lynne Abraham of Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania and Johnny Holmes of Harris County, Texas) oversaw District Attorney offices that obtained more than 100 and 200 death sentences respectively during their tenures. Together, they have put the equivalent of 1 out of every 7 people currently on death row.

READ THE REPORT

The report notes that these “overzealous” personalities disproportionately drove up death sentencing rates in their counties and their states–leaving an outsized impact on death sentencing statistics nationwide.

“The legitimacy of the death penalty is seriously undermined when it is only being used in a small handful of places by an even smaller group of prosecutors who continually engage in misconduct,” said Robert J. Smith, a legal fellow at Harvard Law School and one of the report’s researchers.

“This report suggests that the ‘win-at-all-costs’ mentality adopted by a small group of prosecutors has led to shockingly high rates of prosecutorial misconduct and wrongful convictions,” notes Harvard Law Professor Ronald Sullivan.

Findings include:

  • Three of the top five deadliest prosecutors (Macy, Britt, and Myers) had misconduct found by courts in 33%, 37%, and 46% of their death penalty cases respectively. (Rates are not available for the other two prosecutors who oversaw, but did not personally try, all of the death penalty cases in their counties.)
  • Four of the five deadliest district attorneys prosecuted, or oversaw the prosecution of, eight individuals who were later exonerated and released from death row. This total represents approximately one out of every 20 death row exonerations that have occurred nationwide.
  • Together, these five prosecutors obtained at least 440 death sentences, which is equivalent to approximately 15% of the current U.S. death row population, or approximately one out of every seven people currently sentenced to death.
  • After four of the five deadliest prosecutors left office (the fifth prosecutor is still in office), death sentencing dramatically declined in these jurisdictions, indicating that it was these individual personalities, not an excessive attachment to the death penalty by local residents, that drove up the rates of death sentencing.

Despite the fact that we have witnessed historic declines in death sentencing in the 40 years since Gregg, a small handful of prosecutors continue to use the death penalty at a disproportionate rate, which contributes to a misperception that the death penalty is widely used when in fact it isn’t. In 2015, death sentences were handed down in just 1% of counties nationwide,” said Professor Emily Hughes of the University of Iowa College of Law.

Professor Daniel S. Medwed of Northeastern University School of Law noted, “When there are so few prosecutors still using the death penalty today and these prosecutors regularly engage in inappropriate behavior, it begs the question about whether the death penalty can be constitutional under these circumstances.”

“What’s striking is the extent to which death sentencing rates plummeted in these jurisdictions after these individual prosecutors left office. Harris County has had 12 times fewer death sentences in the years since Johnny Holmes and his former deputy Chuck Rosenthal departed. While other factors have also contributed to this decline, it is clear that a handful of individuals have had an outsized impact on the death sentencing in Texas and nationwide,” notes Professor Jordan Steiker of the University of Texas Law School. “Without the sentences sought and obtained by these outliers, we would have an even clearer picture of the death penalty’s marginal and declining significance within American criminal justice.”

The report also names five additional District Attorneys who have earned a reputation in their respective states for their zealous pursuit of death sentences, and provides a snapshot of three active prosecutors who, if they continue on their current trajectories, may soon join the ranks of the deadliest prosecutors in America.

Read the report, it’s well worth your time. I’ve never been philosophically opposed to the death penalty, but I’ve never been attached to it, either. If and when it gets outlawed some day, that will be fine by me. Link via Daily Kos.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Saturday video break: Little Bird

Here’s the fabulous Annie Lennox, from her hit solo album Diva:

The things you learn when surfing Wikipedia: This song was featured in an episode of The Sopranos, and also in the Demi Moore movie Striptease. I remember it from neither of those things. (Yes, I saw Striptease. In the theater, even. It was based on a Carl Hiassen novel. Don’t judge me.)

And for a completely different song, here’s The Honeycutters:

They were yet another Noisetrade find – I downloaded a sampler of their works based on the description in the teaser email. I generally don’t do that for single-artist albums offerings from groups I don’t know, but I’m glad I found these guys.

Posted in: Music.

Today’s the day for SD13

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Feels like we’ve been here before, doesn’t it? Today is the day for the Senate precinct convention in SD13, in which a nominee for that office to replace Sen. Rodney Ellis will be chosen. There are 96 precinct chairs in total across Harris and Fort Bend Counties, and we know the basic process by now. The main difference here is that as this district spans two counties, the TDP is the entity running the show. I doubt there will be as much parliamentary maneuvering as there was on June 25, mostly because there just hasn’t been enough time for the kind of organization to make that happen, but we’ll see.

A total of four candidates for SD13 have made themselves known, though I personally doubt more than three will receive a nomination. My guess is that this comes down to Rep. Borris Miles versus Rep. Senfronia Thompson, and I can make a case for either as the frontrunner. If it goes to a runoff and I’m right about these two being in the lead, then the big question is whether Ronald Green has given any guidance to his supporters about a second choice. At the convention for choosing the Commissioners Court nominee, all of Dwight Boykins’ supporters moved to Gene Locke’s side after Boykins conceded, at least as far as I could tell. This would have been a difference-maker if Ellis had not already secured a majority.

Once a new nominee for SD13 is chosen, the next question will be whether we need to do this one more time, in either HD141 or HD146. At this point, I have very little idea who may be circling around either seat in the event the opportunity arises, though I have heard some chatter that Boykins is looking at HD146. I will be interested to see who is there today, ready to hand out push cards or whatever. I’ll have a report from the convention tomorrow, which I am planning to attend, thankfully as a spectator and not a participant. PDiddie, who lives in HD146 and expects Rep. Miles to win, has more.

Posted in: Election 2016.

First baby affected by Zika born in Texas

Won’t be the last, unfortunately.

A baby boy born with microcephaly in Harris County is the first Zika-affected infant in Texas, the Texas Department of State Health Services announced Wednesday.

The baby’s mother contracted Zika in Colombia, and the baby was infected in the womb, according Umair Shah, executive director of Harris County Public Health. The baby was born a few weeks ago in Harris County outside of Houston, and tests confirmed that he had Zika on Monday, Shah said.

In the state health department news release, State Health Services Commissioner John Hellerstedt called the news “heartbreaking.”

“This underscores the damage Zika can have on unborn babies,” Hellerstedt said. “Our state’s work against Zika has never been more vital.”

[…]

Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor University, predicted that the baby born with microcephaly in Harris County represents the start of a wave of such births in Texas, as pregnant women who contracted the virus in Latin America deliver children with an elevated risk of birth defects.

If transmission of Zika begins on the Gulf Coast, Hotez said, there could be a second wave of Zika-affected births months from now.

“There’s a good chance that the transmission of Zika has already started in Texas,” Hotez said. “But without federal funds, it’s hard to have the resources to look for it, diagnose it, and do the mosquito control.”

Let’s be clear about why Congress hasn’t acted on Zika funding. A functional Congress would simply appropriate some money for the problem and be done with it. Our Republican-led Congress sees an opportunity to attack Planned Parenthood and promote the Confederate flag. And so here we are. Let’s hope that count of Zika-infected babies doesn’t go up too much while they’re on vacation.

Posted in: Technology, science, and math.

Guardianship

An eye-opening story in the Observer on a subject many of us probably never think about.

Guardianship is the state’s last-ditch tool to protect people from neglect or abuse, and although it saves lives, it can be a blunt instrument. More than 53,000 Texans, most of them elderly or intellectually disabled, are under a guardianship today. Some could never make their own decisions; others, in the eyes of a friend or family member, have been making decisions that are dangerously wrong. In either case, the remedy is the same: Their legal rights transfer to a person of the court’s choosing. Proponents credit guardianship for celebrity success stories such as Britney Spears, whose life and career regained stability after her father won the legal authority to step in. But guardianship is in the news much more often for its abuses.

Guardianships are increasingly common, a trend typically attributed to an aging populace and scattered families. In Texas, the number of guardianships grew 60 percent from 2011 to 2015. Nearly $3 billion in personal wealth is under control of guardians in Texas, according to one recent estimate from state researchers. But even those who oversee the system and write its laws are only recently coming around to a troubling fact: In much of Texas, there is nobody watching these cases.

Ten large Texas counties run their own guardianship systems, with legally trained probate judges, court-appointed investigators and visitors — employees or volunteers who check up on people under guardianship — to ensure that a guardianship is still necessary and isn’t being used as a tool for abuse or theft. Dallas County, where Rosamond had lived for most of her life, has such a system. But she was in Lubbock County when her son Phil went to court. Lubbock County reported having 1,425 guardianships in August 2015, ranking eighth in the state both in total guardianships and guardianships per capita. The county has no system to ensure that guardians file required annual reports on the person they’re looking after, nor staff to check for evidence of fraud.

For the last 17 years, the man charged with running the local guardianship system has been Tom Head, a Republican best known outside Lubbock for his one fateful appearance on local TV. Though he hasn’t seen fit to pay for court staff to protect his most vulnerable citizens, Head has not been averse to raising taxes in the past. In 2012, to cite one popular example, he proposed a tax hike to protect Lubbock from President Obama and the United Nations.

“He is going to try to hand over the sovereignty of the United States to the U.N.,” Head told a local Fox affiliate. “What’s going to happen when that happens? I’m thinking worst-case scenario: civil unrest, civil disobedience, civil war, maybe. And we’re not talking just a few riots here and demonstrations. We’re talking Lexington, Concord, take up arms and get rid of the guy.”

In recent years Lubbock has come to epitomize the dangers of guardianship when nobody’s watching. As Rosamond Bradley recovered and tried in vain to have her rights restored, courts in Lubbock and nearby counties placed more than 50 people who did need protection in the care of strangers who lived hundreds of miles away, visited rarely, and walked off with their money. Lubbock has particularly weak oversight. Last fall, state investigators began a survey that is revealing a lack of accountability and potential for abuse all over Texas. Several years ago, Lubbock conducted a similar self-audit, but after briefly reckoning with its shortcomings, the county’s guardianship system appears as ill-equipped as ever.

Read the whole thing, it’s worth your time. As is so often the case, the problem is one part lack of money and one part lack of attention. Lubbock County is a particular trouble spot thanks in part to its lousy County Judge, but the Legislature bears some responsibility as well for the overall lack of oversight on guardianships despite the efforts of Sen. Judith Zaffirini to improve things. This is another one of those places where our state’s oft-expressed concern about the sanctity of life falls well short. Anyway, read it and see what you think. And if you have a family member who may be in need of a guardian – which let’s face it could be you or me some day – give some thought as to how you would want to see that handled. That’s your best line of defense against abuses happening.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

Friday random ten: Ladies’ night, part 4

Girl groups!

1. White Rabbit – Austin Lounge Lizards & Karen Abrahams
2. Complicated – Avril Lavigne
3. June Bug – The B-52’s (Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson)
4. Venus – Bananarama (Sara Dallin, Siobhan Fahey, Keren Woodward)
5. Walk Like An Egyptian – The Bangles (Susanna Hoffs, Vicki Peterson, Debbi Peterson, Michael Steele)
6. Party In The USA – Barden Bellas (from “Pitch Perfect”)
7. Use Somebody – Bat For Lashes (Natasha Khan)
8. Human Thing – The Be Good Tanyas (Frazey Ford, Trish Klein, Sam Parton)
9. Can’t Stop Dancin’ – Becky G
10. Banjo Banjo – Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn

The B-52’s, Bananarama, and the Bangles? It’s getting all 80s up in here. The Be Good Tanyas were another Noisetrade find, while Olivia’s obsession with “Pitch Perfect” introduced me to the Bellas. She gets credit for Avril Lavigne and Becky G, too. The Lizards’ collaboration with Karen Abrahams, recorded live at a festival, was a one-off I came across on iTunes. I wish they had more, this one was excellent.

Posted in: Music.