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What will Joaquin do?

Getting to be close to decision time.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

After U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro wrapped up speaking here Wednesday, completing the latest stop on his statewide tour ahead of a potential Senate run, one man in the crowd turned to another and voiced some ambivalence.

“I don’t know if he should do it,” the man said, alluding to what would be an uphill battle against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. “He’s got a good thing going.”

It’s the question hanging over the San Antonio Democrat as he nears an announcement on his plans for 2018: Is it worth giving up his seat in Congress, where he has had a steadily growing profile, for a long-shot challenge of Cruz, particularly when another Democrat, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, is already running?

“At the end of the day, it’s all about what’s in his gut,” said Julián Castro, Joaquin Castro’s twin brother and the former U.S. housing secretary. “Is this something where he can best serve the people of Texas and his constituents, and that’s not an easy decision because he’s done a lot of great work in Congress and he has significant committee assignments that allow him to serve his constituents and the American people well.”

[…]

O’Rourke, for his part, has plowed ahead full-steam with his campaign as Castro continues mulling a run. Since announcing his bid on March 31, O’Rourke has held campaign events in 12 cities across the state. He is scheduled to hit another seven cities through Monday. Castro has made public appearances in at least five Texas cities during the same period, including four outside of his congressional district.

Asked about Castro’s potential candidacy at events, O’Rourke has largely expressed deference, saying that the two have long shared their interest in the race with one another and that if Castro runs, they will compete in a way that “makes Texas proud.” O’Rourke said Friday he has no problem if Castro wants to take longer than his original timeline to make up his mind, saying he wants the San Antonio congressman “to do what’s right for him, for his family and what he thinks is best for the country.”

At the same time, however, O’Rourke has shown awareness that a strong start to his campaign could have an impact on the trajectory of the primary.

“If you don’t want anybody else to run and you want to make sure we’re concentrating all our resources, all of our focus, all of our dollars, on seizing a historic, once-in-a-30-year opportunity,” O’Rourke said this month during a campaign stop in San Marcos, “then get behind me.”

The encouragement is “less about anyone else than our effort,” O’Rourke said Friday.

Whoever runs on the Democratic side, national Republicans continue to express confidence that the seat will easily hold for the party in 2018. Democrats have mostly put Texas on the back burner, as the party remains concerned about 10 Senate incumbents who represent states Donald Trump carried last year.

Senate races are frequently so highly organized that they can often resemble the sophistication of a presidential campaign. It is difficult to quietly plan a Senate campaign — and the chatter around Castro in both House Democratic and Senate circles is remarkably quiet in Washington.

My guess continues to be that Castro will not run. If the Dems retake the House, he ought to be in a position to be far more influential there. It’s not clear that he would be anything other than a longshot to win, or that he would be any less of a longshot than O’Rourke. On the other hand, it may be a long time before conditions may be as favorable for a win as they appear to be today, and when they are that favorable again there will be others jockeying for position to take advantage of it. I don’t know what the “right” answer is for Rep. Castro, but whatever it is we ought to know it soon.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Two more redistricting updates

From KUT, will we have a new Congressional map for next year?

[Gerry Hebert, one of the plaintiff attorneys], says he’s hopeful there won’t be yet another election with the old maps.

“The timing of the court’s decision is absolutely giving us an opportunity to get a new congressional redistricting plan for the 2018 election,” he says.

There are still quite a few steps between that decision and new maps, though. First up: a court hearing at the end of the month. Michael Li with the Brennan Center for Justice, another member of the plaintiffs’ legal team, says it should answer some of the “what happens next” kind of questions.

“We need to know when the parties are supposed to file briefs, when they are supposed to propose maps. Is the Legislature going to be given a chance? Is it not?” he says. “All of that is going to have to be decided.”

Li says at some point, both sides might also have to settle whether the 2013 interim map the state is currently using should be thrown out. Li, like Hebert, argues the interim map is not totally different than the 2011 map that the court struck down.

[…]

There has already been one unforeseen twist in the case since the ruling.

The state recently filed a motion asking the trial court to give it permission to appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is unusual. Typically such cases are appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

So, Li, Hebert and others will have to make the case for why the decision on the 2011 map should not be overturned.

See here, here, and here for some background. As noted, the status conference next Thursday the 27th is where these issues will begin to get hashed out. The timeline proposed by the plaintiffs would have a final map in place by July 1. Lots of things can and surely will happen between now and then, but that’s the goal and we should have some clue how attainable it will be next week.

As we have discussed before, all of this activity so far is around the Congressional map. We now have a decision in the case involving the original State House map, but will we get a new map drawn in time for 2018 in that case as well?

The U.S. Supreme Court is likely to hear the Texas redistricting case in which a three-judge federal panel ruled against the state in a 2-1 decision.

“The state of Texas purposely and intentionally, with full knowledge of what they were doing, discriminated against Latinos and African-American voters,” said Luis Vera, the national general counsel of the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, who has argued the case over the last several years.

[…]

Vera said it’s expected if Governor Greg Abbott calls a special legislative session, Texas lawmakers will have the first crack at fixing the 2011 map. If not, the federal judges will step in, Vera said.

Vera said there also could be a state and federal compromise.

Vera said the lines must be redrawn by 2018. He said even then, a new map is required after the U.S. Census in 2020.

I’m glad to hear that the plaintiffs’ attorneys believe there will be a new map in place for 2018, but I’m sure the state will argue that the 2013 map fixed all the problems and will do everything in their power to delay any further action. SCOTUS already has a different gerrymandering case on its spring docket, which may or may not have any overlapping effect on this. As always, we should know a lot more after that status call on the 27th.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Senate approves special ed reform bill

Good.

The Texas Senate moved Wednesday to ban state officials from ever again imposing a cap on the percentage of students allowed to receive special education services.

The chamber voted unanimously in favor of Senate Bill 160, putting the legislation just one step away from the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott, who already has indicated his support of the measure.

That last step, a vote on the floor of the Texas House, is expected to take place soon.

The legislation was filed in response to “Denied,” a 2016 Houston Chronicle investigation that exposed the state’s decade-old cap and revealed that it had denied services like tutoring and therapy to tens of thousands of children with disabilities.

As a result of the arbitrary 2004 policy, which the Texas Education Agency enacted while facing a $1.1 billion state budget cut and without notifying lawmakers, federal officials or the public, Texas now provides special education services to the lowest percentage of any state in the country – by far.

Now, with the Senate passage of Senate Bill 160, the state might be able to erase that ugly distinction, according to the proposal’s sponsor, Senate Minority Leader Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso.

See here for previous blogging on the topic. The Senate hasn’t done much to commend this session, but this one they got right. Let’s get it passed in the House and signed into law.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Endorsement watch: Project LIFT

The Texas Democratic Party has endorsed a slew of progressive candidates enrolled in their Project LIFT (Local Investment in the Future of Texas) program. There were five rounds of endorsements, beginning on March 10:

Round 1
Round 2
Round 3
Round 4
Round 5

The endorsements cover races all over the state. I’m going to highlight candidates on these lists from races in the greater Houston area. The accompanying text comes from the endorsement pages.

Mike Floyd, Pearland ISD Position 2

As an 18 year old senior who has attended Pearland ISD schools for 13 years, he has deep knowledge of and personal experience with Pearland schools. With public education under attack, Mike knows we need strong progressive solutions on our school boards. Mike is running to bring real change and new leadership.

Quentin Wiltz, Pearland Mayor

Quentin works professionally as a certified project manager, and he truly embodies public service. He chairs the Brazoria County Alliance for Children and a key influencer for public policy for NACE International. He is past chair of Pearland Parks & Rec Board, and served as a director for the Pearland Chamber and the president of the Pearland Democrats. Proud husband to Monique, Quentin seeks to provide “Leadership for All” to the next generation of Pearland residents, including his sons Ethan and Evan.

J. Darnell Jones, Pearland City Council, Position 3

J. Darnell is a recently retired Naval Officer with 24 years of military service. He is a lawyer with a strong passion for civil and constitutional rights for all people. He graduated from the University of Memphis with a B.A. in Political Science and earned his J.D. at John Marshall Law School.

Steven Halvorson, Pasadena City Council District B

A former U.S. Army Engineer Officer, Steven served his country for 15 years, and has been a Scientific Research Director for 27 years. He is currently the Texas Organizing Project Treasurer, Harris County Democratic Precinct Chair 188, and Pasadena Area 5 Democratic Member.

Sammy Casados, Pasadena City Council District D

Sammy was raised in Pasadena’s Deepwater neighborhood and graduated from Deer Park High. He is a community-oriented family man who has passionately served the City of Pasadena. His priorities are improving the local economy, government transparency, and city services and infrastructure.

Felipe Villarreal, Pasadena City Council District A

Felipe is a Pasadena resident of more than 18 years, and is currently working as a code enforcement officer with City of Galena Park.

Oscar Del Toro, Pasadena City Council District G

Oscar and his family immigrated from Mexico in 2000, and became citizens in 2006. Oscar and his wife manage a local small business. He knows what it takes to fulfill the American dream and he wants everyone in Pasadena to have the same opportunity he had.

Chris Herron, Humble ISD Position 3

Chris is standing up for the belief that public funds should be used for public schools. He has the business acumen and community organization experience to help the district’s kids succeed.

Abby Whitmire, Humble ISD Position 4

Abby is proud to be a product of Texas public schools, from kindergarten through college. A mom who moved to Kingwood in 2014 for the schools, Abby’s work as a nonprofit fundraiser in New Orleans reinforced her commitment to public schools having seen the weaknesses of charter schools and vouchers.

Posted in: Election 2017.

Very early speculation about Congressional campaigns

The Trib rounded up all the scuttlebutt about who may be running for various Congressional districts next year. I’ve picked out a few to comment on.

CD07:

National Democrats are interested in Houston attorney Collin Cox and Alex Triantaphyllis, the director of Immigration and Economic Opportunity at Neighborhood Centers Inc., a Houston nonprofit, as possible recruits.

Conservative groups have also hinted at a possible primary challenge to Culberson. The Club for Growth just announced it was launching a TV ad in his district urging him to oppose a border adjustment tax.

There are four other candidates orbiting around CD07 that I know of; this is the first I’ve heard these two names. I’ve met Cox, who I know has been a contributor in numerous city races. I’ve not met Alex Triantaphyllis, but I assume he is related to Tasso Triantaphyllis, who was a Democratic candidate for district court judge in 2002. I don’t think there’s enough room in a Democratic primary for a traditionally Republican Congressional seat for six candidates, but who knows? And while Cox and Triantaphyllis may have caught the eye of the DCCC, this is one of those times where that probably doesn’t matter much, at least not for March. People are paying attention to this race now – there’s already a candidate forum for May 9 – and I daresay anyone who wants to make it to a runoff next year needs to be out there attending meetings and rallies and talking to people. Don’t sleep on this.

CD16:

El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar, a Democrat, is at the center of local and Washington speculation but is taking her time deciding on making a run official.

Other contenders are watching her movements, and they may soon get impatient. Other frequently mentioned names include state Rep. Cesar Blanco, who is well-regarded in Washington from his days as a staffer in the U.S. House to Democrat Pete Gallego. He is also mentioned as a potential Democratic recruit for the 23rd District.

This is the seat that Beto O’Rourke will be vacating. It makes sense for this Democratic seat to have a crowded primary, so assume there are plenty of other hopefuls looking at it. I’ve been impressed by Rep. Blanco, but it’s way early to speculate.

CD23:

The key here, in the Democratic worldview, is whether the 23rd District’s lines are redrawn amid ongoing redistricting litigation. Should new lines make this district easier for Democrats, look for a competitive primary.

Hurd’s rival from the past two cycles, Democratic former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, told the Tribune he would consider running for the seat again under new lines.

“If there’s a new map, then there’s a new race,” Gallego said. Other Democrats are likely to give the seat a serious look, including Blanco, the El Paso-based state representative.

But national Democrats are also looking into an up-and-comer in San Antonio: Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Hulings. A former Capitol Hill staffer on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Hulings is a member of the Castro twins’ Harvard Law School class.

Whether there are changes to this district or not, Rep. Hurd will be a tough opponent. He may get swamped by national conditions, but it will take some work to tie him to Trump. I’ve always liked Pete Gallego but after two straight losses it might be time for a different candidate.

CD27:

This is the general election race most reliant on external factors.

Former state Rep. Solomon Ortiz Jr. told the Tribune he is considering a Democratic run for this Corpus Christi-based seat — but on the condition that the district’s lines change amid ongoing redistricting litigation.

This one is only interesting if the state’s attempts to delay or deny a new map are successful. I wish it were different, but CD27 was slightly redder in 2016 than it was in 2012, so new lines are the only real hope.

CD32:

There is no shortage of Democrats considering a challenge to Sessions. Dallas school board member Miguel Solis, Children’s Medical Center senior vice president Regina Montoya, former NFL player Colin Allred and former Hillary Clinton staffer Ed Meier are frequently named as possible recruits.

Allred is officially in.

Civil rights attorney Colin Allred has launched a campaign to unseat Rep. Pete Sessions of Dallas.

But first the former NFL player will have to run in a potentially crowded Democratic primary for the 32nd Congressional District. A former Hillcrest High School standout, he hopes his connection to the North Dallas district attracts him to voters.

“I was born and raised in this district by a single mother who taught in Dallas public schools for 27 years,” Allred said. “This community — my mom, my teachers, and my coaches — gave me the opportunity to succeed, play in the NFL, become a civil rights attorney and work for President Obama. I want to make sure future generations have the same opportunities and to make sure those values are being represented in D.C.”

Allred, 34, told The Dallas Morning News that he was inspired to challenge Sessions by the “grassroots energy” displayed after the 2016 election of President Donald Trump.

Sounds pretty good to me, but as noted he will not have a clear field. One primary opponent he won’t have is Miguel Solis, who says in the story that he will not be a candidate. We’ll see who else gets in, but I am looking forward to hearing more from Colin Allred.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Petitions submitted to force another pension vote

Oh, good grief.

Voters soon could decide whether to close Houston’s traditional pension plans to new employees after political activists submitted a petition to City Hall to force a referendum this November.

The petition further complicates Mayor Sylvester Turner’s efforts to pass a pension reform bill, which already had hit a hurdle in the state Senate this week on precisely the same issue of whether new hires should be put into “defined contribution” plans similar to 401(k)s instead of one of the city’s three employee pension systems.

The petition, which began circulating at college campuses, grocery stores and elsewhere in February, calls for a public vote to require a shift to defined contribution plans for all city workers hired after the start of 2018.

Under traditional pension plans, the city promises employees specific payments based on their years of service and salaries and makes up for market losses by putting in more money. Defined contribution plans are those in which the city and employee set money aside in an account that rises and falls with the market.

Windi Grimes, a public pension critic and donor to the Megaphone political action committee that sponsored the petition drive, said the group submitted 35,000 signatures to the city secretary’s office Thursday. That easily would clear the 20,000 signatures required by law to trigger a charter referendum, provided City Secretary Anna Russell verifies the names.

Grimes, who also works with Texans for Local Control, a political group that wants Houston, not the Texas Legislature, to control city pensions, had described the petition effort as an “insurance policy” in case the Legislature does not move to defined contribution plans for new city employees.

[…]

Houston Republican Sen. Joan Huffman ended weeks of negotiations with city officials, union leaders and conservatives over whether and how to incorporate defined contributions plans by releasing a new draft of the pension bill Wednesday. It said the city and workers could agree to move to a defined contribution plan, but did not require that change.

In response, Sen. Paul Bettencourt, another Houston Republican, said he would propose an amendment to ensure the result of any city charter change to defined contribution plans would be binding. That wording is necessary, he and others said, because some lawyers say amending the city charter alone would be insufficient, since Houston’s pensions are controlled by state statute.

“I’m just trying to stay on a public policy position I’ve had for over a decade,” Bettencourt said, adding that he is not working with Megaphone or Texans for Local Control and that he already had filed a separate bill mirroring the language of his amendment.

The Houston reform bill had been expected to reach a Senate vote Thursday, but Bettencourt’s amendment created an impasse: some bill supporters, led by the chamber’s Democrats, were unwilling to let the item come to a vote, fearing they lacked the votes to torpedo Bettencourt’s proposal.

“If he brings it up, (Huffman) says she won’t accept it, but she’s going to need about five or six Republicans to go with us to block it,” said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston. “That’s a tough vote for them.”

Turner accused Bettencourt of seeking to kill the pension reform proposal for political gain.

“Quite frankly, what he wants is not a pension resolution. It seems like he’s asking for a re-vote of the mayoral race in 2015, and that’s unfortunate because he’s not putting Houston first,” Turner said. Bettencourt in 2015 supported mayoral runner-up Bill King, who has spent months publicly criticizing Turner’s pension reform plan and calling for a switch to defined contribution plans for new city workers.

I found this story so annoying that I had a hard time putting my thoughts together about it. So I’m just going to say these four things for now:

1. We have already had an election on this question, in 2015 when Sylvester Turner won the Mayor’s race. A lot of people, led by Mayor Turner, have put in a ton of work, including political work, to put forth a workable solution for the city’s pension issues. You can feel however you want about the Mayor’s proposal – the firefighters are certainly not very happy about it – but it represents a Houston solution to a Houston problem, which the voters have already had a say on. These efforts to undermine it are the opposite of that, and the people pushing it are doing so because they don’t like the solution Houston and Mayor Turner have crafted for its problem. They would rather see the whole effort fail, and that is what they are working for.

2. You have to admire the shamelessness in calling this group that has come out of nowhere and is in no way complementary to the Turner plan “Texans for Local Control”. Who wants to bet that it’s funded by a bunch of rich conservative activists who are mostly not from Houston and will go to court to keep their identities secret?

3. The story quotes HPOU President Ray Hunt as saying the petition collection effort is a “sham” and that they have evidence of people signing the petitions multiple times. You’d think that would be a big deal, but then you remember that the Supreme Court ruled in the mandamus that forced the HERO vote in 2015 that the city secretary could only check that a signature belonged to a registered voter. It’s OK if it’s forged – the city secretary is not empowered to check that – as long as the forgery in question belongs to a valid voter.

4. There sure could be a lot of referenda on the ballot this November.

Posted in: Local politics.

ADA voting rights lawsuit update

Interesting.

A federal judge in Houston put Harris County on notice Friday that the scope of accessibility violations at local polling places could be so vast that a special master may be needed to sort them out.

U.S. District Judge Alfred H. Bennett said he is considering an independent review of the county’s 765 polling locations to ensure they are accessible to disabled voters.

The revelation, which could have far-reaching consequences for the county’s voting system, came to light during a routine hearing Friday in a civil rights suit filed several months before the November general election.

“We’re talking about something that really needs an intensive review,” the judge told the teams of lawyers in the courtroom. “There’s no blanket order I can give. We’re going to have to look at almost each of these sites or on a site-by-site basis.”

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a federal lawsuit last year, accusing Harris County of violating the constitutional mandate that voting sites comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Among the violations cited in the lawsuit – in a county with more than 400,000 people with disabilities – are a lack of appropriate parking, ramps, sidewalks, entry ways, voting space and other mandatory accommodations.

The judge’s remarks drew praise from disability rights advocates.

“Bringing in a special master is monumental because you’re saying there is a problem and it needs to be watched,” said Toby Cole, a Houston attorney who has closely watched the case. “It would be a significant move to make sure that the rights of people with disabilities are protected, and voting is probably the most fundamental of those rights.”

[…]

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, who oversees local elections, said the lawsuit is frivolous, politically motivated and centered on insignificant technicalities at sites the county doesn’t own.

“When the DOJ brought this lawsuit they had zero people who were complaining,” he said. “To the best of my knowledge, we don’t know of anyone who had an issue.”

Among the locations the Justice Department cited was the multiservice center at West Gray, which Stanart said was supposedly in violation “because if you were a 6 ½-foot blind person who came in the back door, your head would brush a limb.”

In another case, Stanart said, a handicapped parking spot had stripes painted, but the handicap sign wasn’t in the right place.

“Do they think these voters are idiots?” he said.

Stanart said his office picks the best location to serve voters in each precinct and believes, overall, that the county is largely in compliance.

Lex Frieden, a professor of rehabilitation at Baylor College of Medicine who helped President George H.W. Bush with early drafts of the Americans with Disabilities Act, said he thinks the county should be proactive about fixing problems or amenable to making the changes the Justice Department has identified.

“I’m mystified about the defensiveness of the county,” said Frieden, who uses a wheelchair.

See here and here for the background. I have some sympathy for the county’s position. The original complaint indicates that most of the voting sites are compliant or can be made compliant with temporary fixes. There are only so many places that can be used for voting sites, and there may not be good alternatives in some places that would also satisfy requirements for minority voter access. On the other hand, the Americans with Disabilities Act is over 25 years old, and to say the least the county has a spotty record of civil rights compliance in other areas, like, say, bail practices. There’s only so much benefit of the doubt that they deserve, and given that a number of these problems could be fixed by basic infrastructure upgrades like sidewalks, there’s no reason why the county can’t take a proactive approach to resolving this. And yes, I know, these are city sidewalks and streets, but last I checked they were also in Harris County. Let’s get a comprehensive review of what the problems really are and how much it would cost to fix them, and figure it out from there.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Endorsement watch: Chron for Van Houte and recapture

Here are your Chronicle endorsements for the May election. First, for Mayor of Pasadena:

Pat Van Houte

Of the five candidates who met with the Chronicle editorial board – two declined – only Van Houte was willing to bluntly and accurately diagnose the challenges facing Harris County’s second-largest city. Legacies of favoritism, opacity and, yes, discrimination continue to hamper progress at Pasadena’s City Hall. A petrochemical boom is driving growth all across east Harris County, yet Pasadena remains constrained by a political leadership that, as Judge Lee H. Rosenthal wrote in her recent opinion, has denied equal opportunity to all of its citizens.

Plenty of Pasadena residents certainly won’t enjoy reading Rosenthal’s words. Every other mayoral candidate preferred to pick up the pom-poms and cheer on the city’s blue-skies future. But discrimination is like a cancer that can fester beneath the friendly surface of civil society, from a road plan that ignores Hispanic neighborhoods to a redistricting scheme intentionally designed to disenfranchise Hispanic voters. Structural discrimination won’t go away by ignoring it. Pasadena needs a mayor who is willing to confront these challenges. Chemotherapy is never pleasant.

Van Houte has a record of standing up for the hard fight during her eight years on City Council – and like so much of Pasadena politics, it all began with street construction.

Back in 2006, Van Houte was part of a successful campaign opposing a road expansion project through her neighborhood. That activism led her to represent the northeast District D at Pasadena City Hall. Van Houte, 60, eventually worked with other representatives to block an infrastructure bond that failed to properly address dilapidated northside neighborhoods. Mayor Isbell responded by shoving an unconstitutional redistricting scheme down Council’s throat and trying to silence his opponents. Nevertheless, Van Houte persisted. She was forced out of a City Council meeting and saw her seat redistricted away, but that didn’t stop Van Houte from winning her current at-large position.

Now she wants to replace the term-limited Isbell and run a city government that’s open to all of Pasadena instead of merely the well-connected. This means fairness in contracting, competitive bidding, soliciting community input and promoting transparency. Van Houte also said that she wants to reinstate a public transit circulator for senior citizens that the city had stopped funding.

My interview with Van Houte is here; I also interviewed Gloria Gallegos, who was not mentioned in the endorsement article. I’d love to know who the two no-shows were. I was chatting with someone about the Pasadena Mayoral race the other day and we observed that it was relatively low profile, which likely would be the case most years but maybe not so this year, given the court case and the sea change from the Isbell era and the large field of candidates. I think it just may be the case that with seven candidates, this race will surely go to a runoff, and that’s when the real excitement will happen.

Closer to home (for me, anyway), the Chron endorses a Yes vote on the recapture re-referendum.

In November, we urged HISD voters to cast ballots AGAINST purchasing attendance credits, and voters agreed.

Now, HISD voters are being asked to come back to the polls on May 6 to respond to the same question, and no doubt are wondering why.

The answer is dizzyingly complex, but the choice is simple. In November we urged you to hold your nose and vote AGAINST on Proposition 1. On May 6, we urge you to hold your nose and vote FOR. Early voting begins Monday and ends May 2.

As in November, May voters have to decide between two lousy choices – either authorize HISD to write a big check to the state government every year for the foreseeable future, or give away a huge chunk of Houston’s tax base forever.

[…]

If AGAINST voters prevail, the district will lose future tax collections on detached properties. This matters in particular because some of those tax revenues are used to pay back the district’s bond debt. As more and more commercial properties are detached, a larger percentage of the responsibility to fund public education would shift to homeowners and remaining business owners.

A FOR vote won’t fix school finance. But it makes the best of a bad situation.

The Chron endorsed a vote against recapture last year not once but twice. As you know, I agreed with them then, and I agree with them now. In my observation, most people and groups making endorsements on this issue are on the Yes side as well, whether they had been that way to begin with or not. That ought to help, but I think a lot of people are still confused by this whole issue, and if they are still confused and voted No last time, I’d have to think they’d vote No this time. If they do vote, of course, which maybe they won’t since we’re not used to voting in May. This is going to be a very weird election. Be that as it may, my re-interview with David Thompson on the matter is here. I hope it helps clear up any lingering questions you may have.

I don’t know if the Chron intends to do any further endorsements or not. They have not traditionally done so in May elections before, but as we know, This Time It’s Different. Plus, there are contested Mayors races in Katy and Pearland, where as in Pasadena that has not usually been the case. I’ll understand if this it, but I’ll still hold out some hope that it’s not.

Posted in: Election 2017.

Weekend link dump for April 23

Meet Jean Afterman, the highest-ranking woman in MLB’s front offices.

“So now, 133 years later, in a 7-1 game in the ninth, you have to watch some 27-year-old failed starter huff and puff for 23 seconds, catching his breath while deciding between his fastball and his fastball, all because Pud Galvin and his ilk cheated so effectively that the game gave up trying to stop them.”

“But this assumption has tended to hide an extremely relevant story in plain site: namely, Donald Trump had and continues to have extensive and deep ties and business dependence on organized crime figures in the US, Russia, Ukraine and a host of other countries. If we’d never heard about Russian intelligence hacking of the 2016 election or Carter Page or Paul Manafort or Sergei Kislyak this would seem like an extraordinarily big deal. And indeed it is an extraordinarily big deal.”

“To have countries with their own distinct corruption issues laughing at our current issues—it’s embarrassing.”

That United flight wasn’t actually overbooked, which makes what they did to Dr. Dao illegal.

RIP, Emma Morano, last known person to have been born in the 1800s.

“Jesus says four times in four different places: do not divorce. Does divorce bother evangelicals? No, absolutely not. Does adultery bother evangelicals? No, not really, because if so they wouldn’t have voted for Donald Trump. So what bothers them? Abortion and same-sex marriage. Beyond that, there’s no longer an agenda.”

“More workers in general merchandise stores have been laid off since October, about 89,000 Americans. That is more than all of the people employed in the United States coal industry, which [Trump] championed during the campaign as a prime example of the workers who have been left behind in the economic recovery.”

“A 20-year-old Syracuse University journalism student made history in 1967 by becoming the first woman to officially enter the Boston Marathon. Now, 50 years later, Kathrine Switzer will return to the Boston Marathon starting line wearing the same number an official tried to rip off her clothing in the 1967 race.”

“While the popularity of Shape Of You and made-up first names is simply beyond comprehension, there is an answer to why flying is the worst: the lawyers.”

Monty Python star Terry Jones is coping with a form of dementia called FTD.

“But then they went ahead and took the data anyway.”

“What’s going on? Well, Trump’s populists don’t know enough about how Washington works, and Trump’s populism isn’t real enough for him to care.”

Undocumented immigrants pay their share of taxes, too.

Captain Kirk, the Green Woman, and the Bible. It all makes sense, trust.

“[MST3K creator and original host Joel] Hodgson believes that fans sharing the show online was partly what made the Netflix revival even possible.”

“Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots tight end who was serving a life sentence for a murder conviction, was found dead early Wednesday of an apparent suicide inside his prison cell”.

“If Trump does not get us all killed, I expect his presidency will look surprisingly unimportant in retrospect.”

From the “anything you say can and will be used against you in a (civil) court of law” department.

RIP, Lyda Ann Thomas, former Mayor of Galveston who served during Hurricane Ike.

“But when you’re talking tough and getting into stand offs over nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and a major global city vulnerable to overwhelming artillery fire, you’ve got to have your shit together.”

“It isn’t just that Trump wasn’t sincere in his desire to make Washington more responsive to the public (though he wasn’t). It’s also that for a president to make a truly meaningful impact on the kinds of Washington habits and mores that people object to, he’d need extraordinary political skills. He’d have to be able to convince lawmakers to get beyond their individual interests to pass reforms that might threaten their livelihoods. He’d have to have a deep understanding of the workings of the executive branch so he could figure out why things work the way they do, what should and shouldn’t be changed, and how you’d go about it. We may never have had a president less possessed of that skill and knowledge than Trump.”

RIP, Bart Truxillo, longtime advocate for preserving Houston’s historic buildings.

The last orca whale to be born at Sea World made its debut this week.

“Wall Street is like the last kid on the block to figure out that Santa isn’t real.”

RIP, Erin Moran, best known as Joanie on Happy Days.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Early voting for May elections begins tomorrow

Tomorrow is the first day of the nine-day early voting period for the May 6 election. I’ve generally not paid a great deal of attention to these May elections, but it’s safe to say that This Time It’s Different, and not just because I myself have an election to vote in. The people who live in the following political jurisdictions in Harris County have a reason to vote as well: City of Humble, City of Pasadena, Houston Independent School District, Humble Independent School District, Northgate Crossing Municipal Utility District 2, Northwest Harris County Municipal Utility District 28, Oakmont Public Utility District, Harris County Water Control & Improvement District 91. You can see the locations and schedule for Harris County early voting here.

Note that there are other elections within Harris County that are not being conducted by the Harris County Clerk. This means that they have their own polling places and early voting schedules, which may or may not include Saturday the 29th and Sunday the 30th. Among them are:

Pasadena ISD – a list of their candidates with a link to their 30 day finance reports is here.

Katy ISD – see their list of candidates here.

San Jacinto College – locations and schedules are here, list of candidates is here.

City of Katy, which also has some charter amendments. Here’s some information about their candidates for Mayor and City Council Ward B. There was no election held in Katy in 2015 because no one filed to run against any of the incumbents, so they decided not to bother with it.

Other elections of local interest are in Fort Bend County and Brazoria County. For Fort Bend, note that the different locations have different hours, with some of them being open each day while some others are not. Check the links before heading out.

And of course there’s the HISD recapture re-vote. I am voting for recapture and recommend you do the same. The No vote last November accomplished what I hoped it would. Now is the time to move forward.

So there you have it. There are other elections around the state, the most interesting of which is surely the San Antonio Mayor’s race in which incumbent Ivy Taylor is seeking a second full term, but these are the local races of interest that I know of. Most of these elections get comically low turnout, so your vote counts for a lot if you actually go an cast it. We’ll see if it really is different this year or not.

Posted in: Election 2017.

Investigation requested into voucher astroturfing

From the Quorum Report:

Rep. Gina Hinojosa

Following a criminal complaint by a GOP former lawmaker, an Austin representative has asked the Travis County District Attorney’s Office to look a letter-writing campaign that has deeply troubled rural Republicans in the Texas House who are opposed to school vouchers.

In a letter obtained by Quorum Report this evening, Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, told prosecutors that she’s heard from many of her Republican colleagues who cannot believe the way in which many of their constituents’ names were used.

As QR readers who have followed this are aware, rural Republicans from East Texas to West Texas have received about 17,000 letters orchestrated by a group called Texans for Education Opportunity. The group claimed credit for the letter campaign but has said everything was done properly.

The problem, though, is that many of those letters utilized the names of people who are opposed to school vouchers in any form and, in fact, some of them have raised concerns about whether their identities were stolen for this campaign.

Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, has said he thinks lawmakers are being “defrauded” by these letters. One of the letters Seliger received, but the way, was sent in the name of someone who had died months before the letter was sent.

“I am writing to ask you and your office to immediately open an investigation into a massive letter writing campaign that appears to be fraudulent,” Rep. Hinojosa wrote to the Travis County DA Margaret Moore.

See here for some background, and here for a copy of the letter. Rep. Hinojosa is the second person to ask a DA to investigate this, following former Rep. Rick Hardacstle, who was one of the people claimed to be a voucher supporter by this phony campaign. I Am Not A Lawyer so I have no opinion as to whether the civil code or the criminal code would be the more appropriate remedy for this, but it’s definitely fraud of some form, and if my name had been on one of those faked letters I’d want someone in power to Do Something about it, too. We’ll see what happens.

UPDATE: Scott Braddock has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

The post-Uber Austin rideshare experience

Texas Monthly notes the issues that some people faced during SxSW hailing a ride, and considers the rideshare landscape in Austin post-Uber and Lyft.

But the thesis that Austin is experiencing a crisis around ride-hailing apps is an old one, and it’s incomplete. RideAustin, which as a non-profit makes all of its numbers public, gave its millionth ride in February. Drivers are happy with the rates they make on RideAustin (which gives them the full amount of the ride) and Fasten (which takes a flat fee out of each ride, rather than a percentage like Lyft does). Most of the year, the companies’ servers can handle the load, and it’s likely that they’ll each be improving their servers based on what happened at SXSW.

Still, despite the fact that the city seems much happier with the current state of its ride app regulations than the tech fellas who come in for SXSW, things might end up getting a lot friendlier for Lyft and Uber anyway. That’s because the disruptive innovators in the tech world have an ally in the Texas Legislature, which seems increasingly likely to pass statewide regulations that would prevent cities like Austin (and Houston, which has a similar ordinance—and which keeps Lyft, but not Uber, from choosing to operate in the city) from determining what the rules that drivers and the companies through which they find passengers will have to follow will be in each city.

There are three different bills in the Lege, all of which would create a statewide rule that would supersede local regulations, and the Senate began debating them last month. (Similar legislation was proposed in 2015, though it ended up dying without a vote.) This time, though, momentum is on the side of the companies that hope to see the legislation passed—the Texas Tribune reports that “at least one of the bills is widely expected to eventually move on to the full Senate for a vote,” which, in an environment that’s increasingly hostile to the idea of local control, has a strong chance of passing.

All of which is to say that the question of whether or not Austin’s leadership “ruined” ridesharing is ultimately the wrong thing to focus on. It’s true both that Austin tends to get around pretty well without Uber and Lyft, and that the two companies are pushing hard for legislation that would change the dynamic there dramatically. Perhaps the real question, then, is what happens to Fasten, RideAustin, and the rest if Uber and Lyft come back?

That’s a tougher question to answer, but it’s the one on which the future of ride-hailing in Austin hinges. For now, RideAustin and Fasten are doing a job that satisfies customers and drivers. But if Uber and Lyft decide to cut costs to consumers for six months, eating the expense of the service, they could easily make RideAustin and Fasten seem like overpriced relics of a bizarre moment in the city’s history. It may not prove sustainable (currently, Uber’s passengers pay for only 41 percent of each ride, and the company was projected to lose $3 billion in 2016), but it doesn’t have to be sustainable: it only has to chase away the competition.

I have mostly resigned myself to the fact that the Lege is going to pass a statewide rideshare law that will forcibly overrule the ordinances passed in cities like Austin and Houston regarding these services. The bills that are being considered have some good points to them, and there is certainly an argument to be made that a uniform statewide approach makes more sense and will serve customers better. But I think that latter part will only be true if there is robust competition among multiple rideshare companies, ant not just an Uber/Lyft duopoly with a legacy cab service for a declining share of riders. As such, I have two hopes for what happens after Uber and Lyft make their mandated returns to Austin. One is that they will find a market that isn’t as into them as before thanks to the presence of many other viable services, which forces them to innovate and compete not just for riders but also for drivers. And two, if Uber and Lyft take the approach of trying to kill off their competition instead by leveraging their billions in market capitalization to subsidize their service until they’re the only players left standing, that the Legislature recognizes this anti-free market in a way that some people say taxi regulations are, and take action to correct it. Let’s just say I have more hope for the former than for the latter.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Saturday video break: Pulling Mussels From A Shell

Squeeze, circa 1980:

Such an underrated band. I don’t think I heard any of their music on the radio back in the day – I’m not sure I’ve ever heard it on a “classic rock” station either, though I can’t swear to this. I discovered them the old-fashioned way, by raiding my roommate’s record and CD collection. Now here’s Chris Difford circa 2012:

I don’t know if it counts as a “cover song” when an artist reinterprets his own material, but I love it when it’s done well. Phil Collins’ “Behind The Lines” from Face Value, and Sting’s “Shadows In The Rain” from The Dream Of The Blue Turtles are my other top two in this category. Do you have any examples?

Posted in: Music.

House passes school finance reform bill

Well done.

Rep. Dan Huberty

State Rep. Dan Huberty succeeded at a difficult task Wednesday: getting the Texas House of Representatives to vote for legislation overhauling the funding system for public education, without a court mandate.

After a four-hour discussion of more than 30 proposed amendments, the House voted 134-16 to tentatively accept its top education leader’s plan to inject $1.6 billion into public schools, simplify the complex formulas for allocating that money, and target certain disadvantaged student groups for more funding. The bill must still be approved on a third and final reading in the House.

[…]

The tentative victory comes after senators approved a budget that cuts state funding for public schools by $1.8 billion in general revenue, and uses local property tax revenue to make up the difference.

Huberty’s bill would increase the base per-student funding the state gives to school districts, in part by increasing funding for students who are bilingual and dyslexic. The Legislative Budget Board estimates about 96 percent of districts and 98 percent of students would see more money under the bill.

“This is the first time in over 30 years that we have the opportunity to vote for school finance, to make a holistic change,” Huberty said before Wednesday’s vote.

Throughout the evening, Huberty successfully moved to table many of his colleagues’ proposed amendments to the bill, either because they would add to the bill’s price tag or because he deemed them irrelevant to his legislation.

“This is the school finance bill,” he reminded Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, who unsuccessfully tried to attach a provision to HB 21 that addressed the testing and accountability system.

The House budget allowance for this bill would provide more funding to more school districts for busing, but many legislators expressed concern that the money would be stretched thin because districts that didn’t provide bus service would still receive transportation money. None of the amendments to address transportation funding passed.

Rural legislators banded together to add a provision that would help hundreds of small districts with fewer than 1,600 students. The provision, proposed by Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, would remove an existing financial penalty for school districts smaller than 300 square miles, which was originally intended to encourage them to consolidate.

Darby proposed putting all districts with fewer than 1,600 students at similar levels of funding, which he said would increase funding for more than 400 districts.

“Almost half the school districts in Texas will benefit from these amendments,” he said.

Legislators voted 86-59 to approve Darby’s amendment, despite Huberty’s opposition.

See here for the background. The Darby amendment was about Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction, for which you can get some background here. Getting something through the House is a big accomplishment; as the story notes, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock declined to put a bill forward in 2015 on the grounds that it didn’t stand a chance. Priorities are shifting, and there seems to be a lot of support for finally addressing some of the serious shortcomings in the current system. Which, if it happens, would vindicate the Supreme Court’s decision to not force the issue but leave it up to the Legislature. Assuming that Dan Patrick and the Senate – and Greg Abbott – go along, of course, That’s far from a sure thing, as a brief perusal of the Senate’s budget proposal would show. But it’s a start, and it could happen. That’s more than what we’ve had in a long time. Kudos all around.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Complete Communities

Mayor Turner makes an announcement about a new program for revitalizing some core neighborhoods.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner plans to focus Houston’s community development efforts on five low-income neighborhoods as part of his Complete Communities initiative announced Monday.

The program comes without a price tag or implementation timeline, and the mayor has committed no additional money for housing and community development.

Instead, Turner said the city will redirect 60 percent of its local and federal housing dollars to the five pilot neighborhoods: Acres Homes, Gulfton, Second Ward, Northside Village and Third Ward.

That amounts to roughly $34 million annually, if federal funding remains steady, on top of $28 million in available local housing funds.

“We recognize that this effort will not transform neighborhoods immediately, nor will it be a panacea that eliminates challenges neighborhoods face,” Turner said. “But they will see an intense, concentrated effort by many partners to enhance their quality of life and improve their living conditions.”

The city intends to finalize development plans for each of the five neighborhoods in January, after several months of community engagement. Turner said programs could include additional heavy trash pickup, weed abatement, sidewalk construction or single family home repair – things the city already does in neighborhoods across Houston.

“These short-term projects will generate enthusiasm and serve as a catalyst for support from outside organizations and the local community,” the mayor said.

Asked how he would respond to other disadvantaged neighborhoods eager for investment, Turner said, “We see you and hear you, but when you look at what we will do in these respective pilot communities, I think communities will be willing to wait for the transformation that will take place.”

See here for the Mayor’s press release. Leah Binkovitz the The Urban Edge adds some more detail.

Turner cited a slew of private entities involved in the effort including the Greater Houston Builders Association, Commonwealth Funding, Wulfe & Co. and Midway Companies. He didn’t elaborate on the exact nature of those partnerships.

Though the city’s investment period was open-ended, the mayor said his administration will focus on short-term projects, like heavy trash sweeps, park and community center repairs, enhanced weed abatement and improved sidewalks and street lighting, as well as home repairs and public art to highlight the transformations underway.

Turner also promised longer-term gains like improved educational outcomes, access to quality grocery stores, better drainage and the creation and preservation of affordable housing.

“I’m not placing any limit on it,” said Turner. “We stay until we reach that benchmark.” Specific benchmarks for each neighborhoods have not yet been identified.

The city will finalize its plans for each neighborhood by January 2018, after a community engagement process, according to the city. “This not a one-size fits all approach,” the mayor said.

[…]

Monday’s announcement came after Turner faced criticism earlier this year for city decisions that effectively barred low-income housing from wealthy Houston neighborhoods, according to a federal investigation. Citing his decision to table the low-income housing tax credit project proposed at 2640 Fountain View in a census tract that was almost 90 percent white, the federal housing department said that decision and others were based, in part, on racially-motivated opposition from community groups. But instead of crafting a corrective plan, the city has vehemently denied the findings, and Turner has asked the agency to rescind it.

Simultaneously, Turner has moved forward on his Complete Communities initiative, arguing that low-income Houstonians should not have to move from largely low-income communities to reap the benefits often associated with wealthier neighborhoods, often labeled as “high opportunity” communities.

“I vowed that we cannot allow Houston to be two cities in one, a city of haves and have-nots,” Turner said.

There are still a lot of details to work out, and a number of similar neighborhoods that would presumably be next on the list after these five. The goal here is to upgrade the infrastructure in these neighborhoods, making them better for existing residents, who haven’t seen a lot of investment from the city, while also making them more attractive to the kind of businesses that thriving neighborhoods need, all while (hopefully) not causing appraisals to soar or the kind of developers who would raze everything in order to build luxury condos to swoop in. Easier said than done, but the goal is a good one. All parts of the city need maintenance and new investments, and there’s a lot of room for infill development to ensure the city remains a vibrant alternative to outward sprawl. I look forward to seeing how this goes.

Posted in: Local politics.

Progressives in East Texas

Yes, they exist, and they are coming out of the woodwork these days.

“It was remarkable,” says Lee Hancock, a Tyler resident of over 20 years who formerly covered East Texas for the Dallas Morning News. Hancock is now a lead organizer with Indivisible of Smith County, one of several new progressive grassroots groups in the region, including Indivisible chapters in Lufkin, Marshall, and Nagodoches. Her group organized the showdown with Gohmert and a mid-March rally at senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn’s offices against the Republican health care bill. Nearly 400 people follow the group’s public Facebook feed. “There’s so many options to be with people who share your values and concerns and feel like, hey, maybe I’m not the only one,” says Hancock.

The grassroots groups behind such events, some formed since the election, some much earlier, reflect a diversity of causes. There’s the local chapter of Our Revolution, “the next step of the Bernie Sanders movement,” which has a member in Nagodoches running for a county commissioner seat. The Snowflakes, a Longview-based coalition of young folks who lean socialist, galvanized after white supremacist posters popped up in Tyler. Voices of East Texas, a nonpartisan group, has organized informational panels on the local impacts of national policy proposals, including a repeal of Obamacare.

A month before the election, My African-American Mothers’ Alliance co-organized a voter registration drive at the Foundry aimed at black women. The event doubled as a screening of Beyonce’s Lemonade — they called it Slay the Vote. Pineywoods Voice, an LGBTQ advocacy group formed after the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting last summer, has organized against SB6, the anti-transgender “bathroom bill.”

And, of course, there’s the local Democratic Party, which recently held a summit on “turning East Texas blue” that invited leaders of the new groups in town to introduce themselves to the party faithful. A new subgroup, Democratic Women of East Texas, organized a bus to Austin for the Women’s March.

[…]

So what are newly emboldened progressive East Texans fighting for? The bucket list varies widely: the demise of Louie Gohmert’s political career, the stamping out of white supremacy, capturing local school boards and council seats, keeping undocumented loved ones out of detention centers, protecting transgender school kids, desegregating housing in Tyler, safeguarding East Texas mosques and synagogues, defending the Affordable Care Act, bringing back manufacturing jobs, and a dozen other items.

In a way, that progressive-palooza weekend in early March — the multitude of events to choose from, some at the same time and drawing notably different crowds by age and race — points to the biggest challenge: achieving the local unity it’ll take to move the needle on any one of these issues, even by a hair.

The goals are all laudable. I’d focus on the capturing local school boards and council seats myself, but this doesn’t have to be either/or. The important thing is to get everyone on the same page, register as many voters as possible, and remember that this is a process that will take time. Good luck, y’all.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Friday random ten: Ladies’ night, part 42

As easy as X – Y – (next week) Z

1. Keep On The Sunny Side – The Whites (Sharon White, Cheryl White)
2. Do You Hear What I Hear? – Whitney Houston
3. Born Blonde – Wild Moccasins (Zahira Gutierrez)
4. Thick As Thieves – Widowspeak (Pamela Garavano-Coolbaugh)
5. Bullets – Wild Child (Kelsey Wilson, Sadie Wolfe)
6. Daniel – Wilson Phillips (Carnie Wilson, Wendy Wilson, and Chynna Phillips)
7. They / Them / Theirs – Worriers (Lauren Denitzio, Rachel Rubino, Audrey Zee Whitesides)
8. The Once Over Twice – X (Exene Cervenka)
9. Off The Hook – Y Pants (Barbara Ess, Virginia Piersol, Gail Vachon)
10. Maps – Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Karen O)

The Wild Moccasins are your local connection this week. I mostly remember the band X for their cover of “Wild Thing”, which certainly works as a punk band tune, but I also remember them for the name Exene Cervenka, which is high on my list of Best Rock and Roll Names of All Time. She’d have been a fitting end to these lists, but there’s one more to go. You’ll have to wait and see who makes the cut.

Posted in: Music.

Legislative maps found to have discriminatory intent

Wow.

Texas lawmakers intentionally diluted the political clout of minority voters in drawing the state’s House districts, a panel of federal judges ruled Thursday.

In a long-awaited ruling, the San Antonio-based judges found that lawmakers in 2011 either violated the U.S. Constitution or the Voting Rights Act by intentionally diluting the strength of minority voters statewide and specifically in a litany of House districts across Texas. Those districts encompass areas including El Paso, Bexar, Nueces, Harris, Dallas and Bell counties.

“The impact of the plan was certainly to reduce minority voting opportunity statewide, resulting in even less proportional representation for minority voters,” U.S. District Judges Orlando Garcia and Xavier Rodriguez wrote in a majority opinion, adding that map-drawers’ discussions “demonstrated a hostility” toward creating minority-controlled districts despite their massive population growth.

In some instances, the judges ruled, map-drawers’ use of race to configure some districts to comply with the Voting Rights Act instead “turned the VRA on its head.”

“Instead of using race to provide equal electoral opportunity, they intentionally used it to undermine Latino voting opportunity,” they added.

[…]

Thursday’s ruling hit in the final stretch of the 2017 legislative session, scheduled to wrap up at the end of May. But because the court did not immediately order that a new map be drawn, it is unclear whether lawmakers will be forced to take action before they leave Austin.

You can see the majority decision here and the findings of fact here. I haven’t read through them yet, and the early coverage is a bit sparse, but this is what I do know. This ruling is on H283, the map passed by the Legislature in 2011. It was never implemented because it was not precleared – H309 was the map used for the 2012 election. It was drawn by the court, but it was based on H283 as SCOTUS ruled that the interim map should defer to the legislative intent and not be based on the previously existing (per-cleared) map. In 2013, the Lege passed H358, which cleaned up a couple of issues that had been in contention, and that map was used for the 2014 and 2016 elections. This Texas Redistricting post zooms in on the places where the map was found to have had problems, and what is different between the 2011 and 2013 versions.

As with the Congressional case, there was a separate suit filed regarding H358, the 2013 map. That has not yet been adjudicated, and as we know the state is seeking to appeal the ruling on the 2011 Congressional map to the Fifth Circuit. There is a status call scheduled for April 27, which is to say next Thursday, at which a whole bunch of issues will be discussed, including the plaintiffs’ proposed calendar to get a new Congressional map in place for the 2018 primaries. It is not clear at this time what if any action will be taken for the legislative map, but I see no reason why something couldn’t be in place by, say September, which would be in plenty of time for candidate filings. Needless to say, that’s getting way ahead of things, but the goal needs to be to have a resolution for the next election. Anything else would be a mockery at this point. We’ll see how it goes. Statements from MALC and Rep. Garnet Coleman are beneath the fold, and Texas Redistricting, Rick Hasen, and the Lone Star Project have more.

UPDATE: Today’s Chron story has more.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Legal matters.

Bathroom bill 2.0 gets its committee hearing

It’s the same old garbage in a new package.

Amid concerns about rolling back local protections for vulnerable Texans and dire economic fallout, a panel of House lawmakers considered a measure into the early hours of Thursday morning that some are hoping will serve as an alternative approach to regulating bathroom use for transgender Texans.

But if the large majority of testimony against the measure serves as any indication, the House proposal will likely continue to face fierce opposition from LGBT advocates and the Texas business community.

Setting aside a more restrictive Senate proposal, the House State Affairs Committee took up House Bill 2899 by Republican state Rep. Ron Simmons of Carrollton. As expected, Simmons revised his original bill in committee to narrow its scope to banning municipalities and school districts from enacting or enforcing trans-inclusive bathroom policies.

“This issue needs to be the same in Austin as it in Abilene. It needs to be the same in Houston as it is in Hutto,” Simmons told the committee. “What we’re saying is this needs to be handled at the state level.”

[…]

Unlike the upper chamber’s Senate Bill 6, Simmons’ proposal does not regulate bathroom use in government buildings, public schools and universities based on “biological sex.” And it doesn’t include a general prohibition on municipalities adopting or enforcing local bathroom regulations.

Instead, the language in Simmons’ proposal specifically focuses on discrimination protections. It reads: “Except in accordance with federal and state law, a political subdivision, including a public school district, may not enforce an order, ordinance, or other measure to protect a class of persons from discrimination to the extent that the order, ordinance, or other measure regulates access to multiple-occupancy restrooms, showers, or changing facilities.”

That would nullify parts of nondiscrimination ordinances in several Texas cities that have been in place for decades to protect certain classes of people from discrimination in public accommodations, including in the bathrooms inside businesses that serve the public.

But because Simmons’ proposal applies to classes of people that aren’t already protected in federal or state law, opponents said it could go further than just pulling back those protections for transgender residents and extend to protections enacted by some of the state’s biggest cities to cover residents based on age, sexual orientation and veteran status.

While Simmons denied that his legislation would have that effect, El Paso County Commissioner David Stout warned the committee that the bill could in fact undo protections for classes of people covered by expanded local policies.

“Currently, federal law does not provide for protection from discrimination on the basis of veteran status, familial status, marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity, and this bill puts all of those classes of people in danger but especially our constituents in the LGBTQ community,” Stout told the committee.

You know the drill by now, so go read the rest. I actually agree in a sense with Rep. Simmons that non-discrimination should be seen as a state issue, but only if by that one means that the state should have a robust non-discrimination law in place to ensure that people in Austin and Alice and Abilene and Arlington and Angleton and everywhere else is treated as a full and equal person. Until such time as the state is willing to do that, then the next best thing is for individual cities to do what they can to pick up the slack. That’s not what HB2899 is about, and as such it deserves no more respect or support than the properly reviled SB6. The bill was left pending in committee, and that’s where it should stay. The Statesman, the Texas Observer, and the Dallas Observer have more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

House passes statewide rideshare bill

Made it farther than it did last session.

Rep. Chris Paddie

After a lengthy debate among lawmakers over the best way to regulate services like Uber and Lyft, the Texas House backed a proposal that would override local regulations concerning ride-hailing companies.

House Bill 100, by state Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, would establish a statewide framework to regulate ride-hailing companies and undo local rules that the two companies have argued are overly burdensome for their business models. Cities enacting such rules say those regulations bring a needed layer of security.

As of mid-morning Wednesday, 79 members in the 150-member House — including Paddie — had signed on to the bill as authors or co-authors.

“HB 100 is not about a particular company or any particular city,” Paddie said Wednesday on the House floor. “Statewide regulations for transportation network companies have become the best practice across the country.”

His bill was tentatively approved by the lower chamber in a 110-37 vote after representatives tacked on several amendments, including one that seeks to define “sex.” The measure needs final approval from the House before it could be considered in the Senate.

At times, the debate over the bill appeared to veer into one of the most contentious topics this session at the Capitol: gender identity. In the Senate, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has prioritized a “bathroom bill” that would require transgender people to use the restroom in some places that matches their “biological sex.”

On Wednesday, state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, successfully amended the ride-hailing bill to define “sex” as the “physical condition of being male or female.” The amendment, which passed 90-52, drew some concern from Democrats, who questioned whether it was a way to exclude a certain group.

“I can assure you that it is not my intent,” Paddie said, adding that he accepted the amendment because he views it as “further defining something that’s already defined.”

HB 100 would require ride-hailing companies to have a permit from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation and pay an annual fee to operate throughout the state. It also calls for companies to perform local, state and national criminal background checks on drivers annually — which would override an Austin ordinance.

See here for the background. Two related Senate bills were heard in committee, with SB361 by Sen. Nichols getting passed out. I don’t know what to make of the “biological sex” amendment beyond the continued obsession of certain zealots. What’s more important is what do Uber and Lyft, who have been pushing hard for a statewide rideshare bill, think of it?


Well, Uber and Lyft? What do you say? Those of you who use Uber and Lyft, what do you want them to say about this? I would recommend you tell them. Maybe this will get stripped out going forward, but that almost certainly won’t happen without some pressure. Now is the time to bring it. And kudos to the members who pulled their support for this bill in response to the needless amendment.

The Chron adds some details.

The bill would give oversight of companies that connect willing drivers and interested riders via smart phone to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. The companies that operate the smart phone app and process payments between the riders and drivers would pay a $5,000 annual licensing fee, and certify that its drivers meet a number of requirements already common among the companies.

Uber and Lyft have aggressively sought state rules in Texas because of their opposition to city requirements, notably Austin and Houston. In Austin, both companies left the city after new rules that included fingerprint background checks went into effect nearly one year ago.

[…]

As with the contentious fights at the local level, discussion also focused on requiring the fingerprinting of drivers. The companies vigorously oppose fingerprint background checks, favoring their background checks based on Social Security numbers.

Numerous attempts to require fingerprint checks or allow cities to require them failed as amendments to Paddie’s bill.

“We should not take chances with any life,” said Rep. Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas, noting many professions in Texas are subject to the fingerprint background check.

Paddie deflected the requests for fingerprints and efforts to allow cities to require more strenuous permitting, noting fingerprints can’t predict future behavior.

“We have 150 teachers in this state under investigation for improper relationships with students,” Paddie said.

Seems like you could use that reasoning to justify a lot of things, but whatever. I feel like one way or the other, something is going to pass. As I’ve said, I’ve basically resigned myself to that, but I still don’t approve of the assault on local control. I hope this winds up being the outer edge of that assault, but I’m less than optimistic about that. The DMN has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

SBOE approves new evolution standard

Shockingly, it doesn’t suck.

The Texas State Board of Education tentatively voted to remove language in high school biology standards that would have required students to challenge evolutionary science.

Currently, the curriculum requires students to “evaluate” scientific explanations for the origins of DNA and the complexity of certain cells, which some have argued could open the door to teaching creationism. Wednesday’s vote, preceded by a lengthy and contentious debate, would change how science teachers approach such topics in the classroom.

The word “evaluate” could require another two weeks of lesson time for teachers who are already on tight schedules to cover material for the state’s standardized tests, said Ron Wetherington, a Southern Methodist University professor on the 10-member committee of teachers and scientists that the board appointed in July to help streamline science standards.

The committee wrote a letter last week requesting narrower language to replace the word “evaluate,” arguing it would save valuable instruction time without creating significant instructional problems.

On Wednesday, board member Keven Ellis proposed two amendments that reflected this feedback and eliminated the word “evaluate” from biology standards — replacing it with language requiring students to “examine scientific explanations for the origin of DNA” and “compare and contrast scientific explanations” for the complexity of certain cells.

The word “examine” reflected a compromise between those on both sides of the debate who tussled between using the words “identify” and “evaluate.”

Both amendments passed unanimously. A final vote on the issue will occur Friday.

Even Republican board member Barbara Cargill, who previously championed the effort to keep the controversial language in the curriculum, was on board.

It was a necessary change, according to Wetherington.

“‘Evaluate’ means you rank these scientific explanations in terms of how adequate they are, how complete they are, how many problems exist with them, what the evidence for each of the alternatives are. It takes a long time to do compared to just describing them,” he said.

Students would not have the sufficient knowledge to go so deep, Wetherington said, explaining that they would have to know higher-level chemistry.

He does not consider creationism a relevant concern since schools are “forbidden by law from even talking about it in the classroom.”

See here for the background, and these two Trib articles for the preliminaries to the vote, which will be finalized today. It’s a rare pleasure to be able to say that the SBOE had a meeting to discuss biology standards and they managed to do it without showing its rear end to the rest of the world. The Texas Freedom Network calls for Wednesday’s vote to receive final approval today, and if it’s cool with them then it’s cool with me. Kudos, y’all.

Posted in: School days.

Texas Lyceum poll on Trump and 2018

From the inbox, the promised Day Two results:

Statewide poll numbers released today by the Texas Lyceum, the state’s premier, non-partisan, nonprofit statewide leadership group, show U.S. Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Houston (Lyceum Class of 2004) isn’t guaranteed another term as Texas’ Senator according to early trial ballots pitting the incumbent against his two likely Democratic challengers: U.S. Congressmen Beto O’Rourke of El Paso and Joaquin Castro of San Antonio.

Senator Cruz is tied with Congressman O’Rourke, who entered the contest last month, at 30 percent each. However, 37 percent of registered Texas voters say they haven’t thought about the race yet. Congressman Castro fairs slightly better against the incumbent Senator, with 35 percent of Texas adults saying they support him over Ted Cruz at 31 percent.

“Ballot tests conducted this far in advance of an actual election are, at best, useful in gauging the potential weaknesses of incumbents seeking re-election,” said Daron Shaw. “But the substantial percentage of undecided respondents—coupled with the conservative, pro-Republican proclivities of the Texas electorate in recent years—suggest a cautious interpretation.”

Patrick vs. Collier

Meantime, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s Democratic challenger, Houston area accountant Mike Collier, comes within the margin of error if that 2018 race were held today. 27 percent chose the little-known Collier compared to 25 percent who chose Lieutenant Governor Patrick. But again “not thought about it” outpaces both candidates at 46 percent in that race – which is also 18 months away.

Right Track/ Wrong Track

Compared to last year, fewer Texans believe the country is on the wrong track at 52 percent compared to to 63 percent in 2016. However, party and race drive much of the results, with 84 percent of Democrats saying the country is on the wrong track, and 73 percent of Republicans expressing that things are moving in the right direction.

President Trump’s job approval numbers line up by party

More Texans disapprove than approve of the job Donald Trump is doing as President (54 percent to 42 percent), but the results vary significantly by party. 85 percent of Republicans give the President positive marks compared to 86 percent of Democrats who disapprove of his job performance. Same goes for young Texans – 73 percent of 18-29 year olds are not enthused with the President’s job performance along with 61 percent of Hispanics. Meantime, he is viewed positively by 60 percent of Whites.

The press release for Day Two, from which I am quoting above, is here, and the Day Two Executive Summary is here. My post on the Day One poll is here, and the Lyceum poll page for 2017 is here. As you might imagine, I have a few thoughts about this.

1. For comparison purposes, the UT/Trib poll from February had Trump’s approval ratings at 46/44, which is to say slightly more approval but considerably less disapproval than the Lyceum result, with both polls showing a strong split between Dems and Republicans. What explains the divergence of the results, given the similar partisan dynamic? Two likely reasons: First, the Trib poll is of registered voters, while the Lyceum surveys adults, of whom 11% are not registered. It’s probable that the broader the sample, the less Republican-leaning it is. We don’t know what the partisan mix is of the Lyceum poll so this is just a guess, but it is consistent with the numbers. Two, the Trib result showed that independents were basically evenly split on Trump, at least in February. The Lyceum poll doesn’t say how indies felt about Trump, but if it is the case that they were sufficiently against him, that would have tilted the numbers into negative territory. Again I’m just guessing, but either or both of these things being true could explain the difference.

2. I’m not sure what the “cautious interpretation” of the very early horse race numbers Daron Shaw has in mind is, but my cautious interpretation is that these numbers kind of stink for Ted Cruz and Dan Patrick. Not because of what the Democrats got, though I’ll speak to those figures in a minute, but because there was so little support expressed for Cruz and Patrick. A key feature of many super early polls is that a lot of people haven’t given the matter any thought, and of those who have many don’t yet have an opinion or don’t feel strongly enough about it to express an opinion. With challengers, there’s often a name recognition factor as well, so the generally low number that a newbie will get reflects little more than some raw partisan preference. But here we are talking about two incumbents who are the highest-profile politicians in the state. For Cruz to top out at 31 percent and Patrick at 25 percent, with both trailing lesser-known opponents, suggests that there’s not a whole lot of love for these guys. It’s hardly a time for panic, but I’d be at least a little bit concerned about such limp numbers if I were them.

3. By the same token, even a 35% support level for Joaquin Castro at this point in time, and even before he’s a candidate (if indeed he becomes one), is not too shabby. Remember, most people haven’t given this any thought or don’t have a strong opinion if they have one, yet Castro is already almost at the level of support that actual 2014 statewide Democrats received that year. That suggests at least the possibility of a higher than usual level of engagement and interest. For another point of comparison, the November 2013 UT/Trib poll for the Governor’s race had Greg Abbott leading Wendy Davis 40-35; this was not long after the summer of the Davis filibuster and the the HB2 special sessions, when enthusiasm for Davis was about as high as it ever was to get, as well as being seven months farther along in the calendar. It’s one result and I don’t want to over-interpret, but given all the other evidence we have about Democratic levels of engagement this year, it feels like we’re starting out in a different place. Beto O’Rourke’s thirty percent against Cruz is closer to what I’d consider the normal default level for Dems in a very early poll, but in this case the difference between himself and Catro may just be a reflection of a higher level of name recognition for Castro.

4. Again, it is important to remember this is a poll of adults, eleven percent of whom in this sample are not registered to vote. I don’t know how the numbers break down by registered/not registered, but the point here is that it is likely a significant number of the people in this poll will not participate in the 2018 election, and as such their opinions just don’t matter. That said, a huge piece of the puzzle for Democrats, especially next year, will be to get lower propensity voters to the polls, as we saw happen in the recent Congressional special elections in Kansas and Georgia. This one poll doesn’t tell us much, but future polls may paint a picture of how or if that is happening for Democrats, and for Republicans too – if they are less engaged, then they will have trouble.

5. Which brings me back to the Presidential approval numbers, as they are likely to be the best proxy we will have for voter enthusiasm going forward. As noted before, Democrats and Republicans have roughly similar levels of disapproval and approval of Donald Trump, which means that any change in the overall level of approval for Trump will come from either independents turning against him and/or Republicans abandoning him. This poll suggests the possibility of #1 happening, but as yet we have not seen evidence of #2. If we ever do, that’s going to be a big deal, and potentially a big problem for the Republicans. RG Ratcliffe, TPM, and the Trib have more.

Posted in: Election 2018, Show Business for Ugly People.

Attorney’s fees awarded to same sex marriage plaintiffs

Justice.

Texas is on the hook for more than $600,000 in fees associated with its unsuccessful fight to defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Affirming a lower court ruling on the fees, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals this week shot down Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s challenge to the award amount granted to two same-sex couples who had sued the state.

A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit ruled that the district court “acted well within its broad discretion” in awarding those legal fees.

The fees stem from a lawsuit filed years ago by Cleopatra DeLeon and her wife, Nicole Dimetman, and Mark Phariss and his husband, Victor Holmes, who challenged the constitutionality of the state’s now-defunct same-sex marriage ban.

The couples were successful at the district court level, where a San Antonio federal judge ruled the state’s ban was unconstitutional because it “violates plaintiffs’ equal protection and due process rights.”

Anticipating an appeal, that ruling was stayed and the the ban was left in place. The lawsuit eventually made its way to the 5th Circuit, where a three-judge panel in early 2015 signaled significant doubt about the constitutionality of Texas’ ban.

Note that the Fifth Circuit never actually lifted the stay that was put in place when the original district court ruling was made in favor of DeLeon-Dimetman and Phariss-Holmes. The plaintiffs asked for the stay to be lifted in February of 2015, but no ruling was made before the Obergefell decision was handed down by SCOTUS, and the state of Texas rendered any further action moot by asking the Fifth Circuit to affirm the lower court ruling thereafter. It’s been more than three years since the lower court ruling, and nearly two years since Obergefell. You can’t rush these things, obviously. As the DMN notes, the money will go to the law firm that represented the plaintiffs, and they have pledged to use those funds for further pro bono cases. So at least one good thing happened yesterday while we were all subjected to more bathroom bullshit from the Legislature.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Senate passes AirBnB bill

As you know, I don’t care for this.

A Senate bill that would limit local government control of short-term home rentals in Texas passed out of the upper chamber Tuesday in a 21-9 vote.

Under Senate Bill 451 by state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, Texas cities would be prevented from banning short-term rentals and their ability to write ordinances restricting the practice would be narrowed. Austin, San Antonio and Fort Worth are among the cities that have enacted such restrictions.

Critics of the bill said it would lower property values and allow Texans to rent houses to people who might host disruptive parties and increase traffic in their neighborhoods.

Proponents say SB 451 would protect homeowners from strict local laws that infringe on property rights while still allowing a limited amount of local regulation, such as prohibitions on short-term renters housing sex offenders or selling alcohol or illegal drugs to guests.

“The bottom line is you cannot ban short-term rentals,” Hancock said Tuesday.

Among local policies that would be limited in scope by Hancock’s bill: a Fort Worth regulation that requires property owners to obtain a bed-and-breakfast permit only available to homes built before 1993 and an ordinance in Austin that has capped the number of short-term rentals with no live-in owners.

During Tuesday’s debate, several legislators expressed concerns about the effects the measure would have on their communities. State Sen. José Menendez, D-San Antonio, even proposed a failed amendment to exempt his home district from the bill.

The lower chamber’s companion to Hancock’s legislation, House Bill 2551 by state Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, was heard in the House Urban Affairs Committee on Tuesday afternoon. Testimony was divided over whether short-term rentals would be better regulated at the local or state level.

See here for the background. The reservations I expressed then remain with me now. At the very least, if the Legislature is going to insist on taking away cities’ autonomy on this matter, they could include a provision to require collection and remittance of state hotel taxes, so individual cities don’t have to negotiate their own deal with AirBnB as Houston just did. A little consistency would be nice, though apparently too much to ask. The House bill was left pending in committee, so this is may be as far as this effort goes this time. If so, you can be sure it will be back in 2019.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Texas blog roundup for the week of April 17

The Texas Progressive Alliance has nothing to hide in its tax returns as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Another study of bathrooms and business

Short answer: Bathroom bills are bad.

Legislation viewed by many as discriminatory toward LGBT Texans — including proposals to regulate which bathrooms transgender individuals may use — could cost the state $3.3 billion in annual tourism dollars and more than 35,600 full-time jobs associated with leisure travel and conventions, according to a study by the Waco-based Perryman Group. The study was commissioned by Visit San Antonio and the San Antonio Area Tourism Council.

“In other words, what we have been saying all along is absolutely undeniable,” Casandra Matej, president & CEO of Visit San Antonio, said in a statement. “These numbers tell us there will be a significant — and longstanding — adverse impact on San Antonio and the state. We urge our legislators to consider these effects in making their decisions.”

[…]

While it’s “impossible to know with certainty the magnitude of the net effects of the proposed bathroom access policy on travel and tourism in Texas,” the report estimates that the initial impact on business activity could cost the San Antonio-New Braunfels area $411.8 million annually.

“If the Texas Legislature passes a law viewed as discriminatory against LGBT persons, it is likely that some meetings and events would be canceled and that some leisure travelers will also avoid the state,” the study says.

The findings — based on losses experienced in other states and data from a survey by a national travel association — will likely help boost opposition to the legislation from business and tourism groups. Those groups have already pointed to millions of dollars lost in North Carolina following the passage of that state’s original bathroom law, which was recently rewritten amid mounting public and economic backlash.

Tourism officials from the state’s five biggest cities oppose bathroom-related legislation and they have already warned lawmakers that they’ve heard from organizations that are reconsidering planned events in their cities — a move that could cost each of them several millions of dollars.

You can find a copy of the study here. The Rivard Report, which is based in San Antonio, adds some more details.

The local report takes into consideration the counter-flow of conventions and organizations that would prefer to host their event in a city or state that has a “bathroom bill,” Perryman said during a conference call with media Monday morning, which are nominal. “There is a perception that group is much larger than it is. Ninety-plus percent feel the other way [do not support such legislation] … it’s overwhelming.”

There are at least 11 groups that have or are considering backing out of events located in San Antonio already, said Matej, who estimates the impact of those cancellations alone would be around $40 million.

“In other words, what we have been saying all along is absolutely undeniable,” she said Monday during the event announcing the report in the lobby of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. “These numbers tell us there will be a significant and longstanding adverse impact on San Antonio and the state. We urge our legislators to consider these effects in making their decisions.”

[…]

“SB 6 is an idiotic piece of legislation,” said Hispanic Chamber President and CEO Ramiro Cavazos, adding that the laws would be unenforceable and create more problems for cities. “Now is not a time to be apathetic.”

San Antonio, South San Antonio and North San Antonio chamber representatives were also present during the press event on Monday.

City Council will be presenting a “united front” against both bills, said Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3). “Now we have the data and numbers that back up what we’ve been saying.”

Even without the economic impact, Viagran said she would oppose the legislation.

“No matter what, this bill – whatever carve outs or amendments they put to it – it’s still not an inclusive bill,” said Viagran, who chairs the Council’s Public Safety Committee. “It’s still discriminatory.”

Yeah, that’s pretty much it. If you don’t believe that at this point, I don’t know what else there is to say. If there’\s one small bit of good news in all this, it’s that the business lobby isn’t buying it, and remains opposed to this nonsense.

Texas Association of Business President Chris Wallace insists this bill is just as concerning as SB 6.

“This is not just about jobs, this is about discrimination,” he told the Current. “We are hearing from our members that business are steadfastly opposed to any discrimination law.”

Wallace said HB 2899 would “tie the hands” of business owners wanting to recruit top talent, because few people want to work for a place where discrimination is welcome.

“A lot of people, especially Millennials, do not want to work for a business or live in a city or a state that is not welcoming to all people,” Wallace said.

[…]

On Tuesday, a day before a House committee holds a hearing for the new House bill, a group of bipartisan business members representing Apple, IBM, Facebook, Google, Microsoft — and a handful of other national and local businesses — held a press conference at the capitol to oppose Rep. Simmons’ new iteration of a bathroom bill.

“I’m a conservative and a proud Texan. I am especially proud of our state’s reputation for being a warm and welcoming place to live,” said Sally Larrabee, who works for Process Control Outlet, a decades-old Texas tech company. “We don’t need to give our state a reputation for being a place that has laws that discriminate against people.”

Sarah Meredith, an employee of Austin tech startup Umbel, said businesswomen of her generation aren’t okay with being political pawns. “We need a robust economy. What we do not need is to be used as props to promote discrimination for political gain,” Meredith said.

“The people who are promoting discriminatory bills are backed by radical groups that have literally called for driving LGBT people out of the state of Texas.”

Indeed. And I hope all of the Republicans in that bipartisan group of business people remembers that next year when it’s time to vote, for their legislators, their Lt. Governor, and their Governor.

Gov. Greg Abbott is signaling support for House legislation that some hope will serve as an alternative to the Senate’s “bathroom bill.”

In a statement Tuesday, Abbott called the House alternative developed by state Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, a “thoughtful proposal.”

[…]

“I applaud the House and Senate for tackling an issue that is of growing concern to parents and communities across Texas who are now looking to the Legislature for solutions,” Abbott said in the statement. “Rep. Simmons is offering a thoughtful proposal to make sure our children maintain privacy in our school bathrooms and locker rooms.”

Don’t reward bad behavior next year, Texas Association of Business and others. You have one chance to get this right. Get it wrong, and everyone will know that your words mean nothing. RG Ratcliffe has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Texas Lyceum poll on immigration

Our state has more nuanced views than you might think.

The pollsters found that 62 percent of Texans said immigration helps the United States more than it hurts the country. That’s an increase from 2016, when 54 percent of the respondents said they viewed immigration was more beneficial than harmful.

The pollsters defined “sanctuary” entities as those in which “local police or city government employees learn that someone is in the country illegally, they do not automatically turn that person over to federal immigration enforcement officers.”

Forty-five percent of the respondents supported sanctuary policies while 49 percent opposed them. That came as 93 percent of all respondents said local police should be able to inquire into a person’s immigration status when arrested for a crime.

The results suggest most Texans would likely support “sanctuary” legislation currently moving through the Texas House, which would limits inquiries into immigration status from local law enforcement to people who have already been arrested.

Proposed legislation that passed the Senate earlier this year permits local police ask about immigration status if a person is either arrested or detained by law enforcement for other reasons.

The Lyceum poll found deeper divisions among Texans when asked if inquiries by law enforcement into immigration status should be allowed for people who aren’t arrested. Only 44 percent agree that police should check a person’s status during a traffic stop, while 41 percent agreed that immigration status should be checked when a person is reporting a crime. Only 39 percent said that status should be checked when the police believe that a person is a witness to a crime or could provide information.

[…]

Half of the respondents were asked if the state should stay the current course with President Trump in the White House, while the other half was asked about state expenditures with Republicans in charge of the U.S. Congress. Under both conditions, most of the respondents with an opinion on the issue – 45 percent of those questioned about Trump and 41 percent questioned about Congress – agreed the state should keep spending largely on the border.

“This indicates that, overall, Texans are expressing a greater expectation that the President will deliver on border security and/or immigration enforcement than Republicans in Congress, but there is no outcry to decrease the amount of money Texas spends securing its borders,” poll supervisors wrote in their summary.

When asked about President Trump’s plan to build a wall on the southern border, only about a third, or 35 percent, favored a barrier separating Texas from Mexico. Sixty-one percent opposed the project. The numbers are almost identical to the poll’s results from 2016 when 35 percent favored building the wall and 59 percent opposed such a project. This year, however the percentage of respondents who identified as Hispanic that supported construction of the wall rose from 18 percent in 2016 to 25 percent.

The survey also found that nearly two-thirds of respondents, or 63 percent, strongly supported a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants after a long waiting period if the applicants paid taxes and a penalty, passed a criminal background check and learned English. Twenty-seven of the respondents somewhat supported that idea while 4% somewhat opposed and 5% strongly opposed.

Here are the Day One press release – it’s “Day One” because the Lyceum has a second round of polling numbers coming out today – and Executive Summary. I want to quibble with the pollsters’ interpretation of the border spending question, for which the wording was “With [Donald Trump in the White House] / [Republicans in control of Congress], should the Texas Legislature continue funding border security operations in Texas at the same levels as before, increase funding for border security operations, or decrease funding for border security operations?” For one thing, it would be perfectly rational for someone who thinks Trump and Congress will shower the state in border money to want the state to spend less, and by the same token someone who thinks that Trump and Congress won’t come through might want the Lege to keep their spending up just in case. I agree that the result shows a greater preference for a continued high level of state spending, I just don’t see a connection to the federal level. There wasn’t a similar question asked in the 2016 or 2015 Lyceum polls, so there’s no basis for a direct comparison.

The bottom line here is that there’s at best modest support for “sanctuary cities”, with majority opposition to police asking about people’s immigration status in situations other than making a criminal arrest, there’s majority opposition to the Trump wall, majority support for in-state tuition for DREAMers, majority opposition to widespread deportations, and near-unanimous support for giving immigrants a pathway to citizenship. It’s not all good news for the progressive side of the debate, but it’s a lot closer to that than to the maximalist anti-immigration position. It’s up to all of us who support better immigration policies to advocate for them, because there’s more support out there for them than you might think. Tomorrow I’ll post about the second part of the Lyceum poll, which among other things will have your first glance at Senate 2018 numbers. The Chron has more.

Posted in: La Migra, The great state of Texas.

No new judge for Paxton

Denied!

Best mugshot ever

State District Judge George Gallagher will remain on the securities fraud case against Attorney General Ken Paxton, according to a spokeswoman for the judge.

It was originally believed Gallagher would have to rule on a request Paxton’s lawyers made this month for a new judge. But the spokeswoman, Melody McDonald Lanier, said Monday that he does not and will continue presiding over the case.

The request came shortly after Gallagher moved Paxton’s trial to Harris County. Prosecutors had successfully sought a venue change, arguing Paxton and his allies had tainted the jury pool in Collin County, where he lives.

Paxton’s lawyers believe Gallagher had been misled into changing the venue.

See here for the background. The reporting I have seen suggests this is something Paxton can appeal, but as this is basically unprecedented we’re all kind of muddling along and waiting to see what happens. So who knows? The DMN has more.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Scandalized!.

AirBnB tax collection deal

Seems reasonable.

[AirBnB] announced Wednesday it will begin collecting and remitting the 6 percent state hotel occupancy tax May 1. The decision followed more than a year of talks, said Laura Spanjian, Airbnb’s Texas public policy manager. Airbnb has similar tax-collection agreements with 25-plus states.

“These agreements are a meaningful revenue boost for communities, and we hope to reach similar agreements with cities around Texas soon,” Spanjian said by email.

Houston homeowners who rent out their properties are supposed to pay a total of 17 percent in occupancy taxes, 7 percent of which goes to Houston First, which oversees hotel tax collection for the city.

Yet of the 7,200 active hosts Airbnb says operate in the area, only 70 have registered with the city as taxpaying hosts, said Jonathan Newport, Houston First’s director of government affairs.

[…]

Under the new agreement, the state portion of the hotel-occupancy taxes will be guaranteed. Guests will be charged the correct amount on their bill for a stay of 29 nights or less, and Airbnb will then remit the collected taxes to the state.

“The sharing economy plays an important role in our state’s overall fiscal health,” Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar said in a statement. “We applaud Airbnb for agreeing to collect state hotel occupancy taxes, as all lodging facilities in Texas are required to do.”

See here, here, and here for some background. This is a positive step, as it gets some revenue that otherwise would have been lost for the city while giving AirBnB some regulatory certainty. People want to use AirBnB, and as seems to be the case with everything these days there’s a bill in the Legislature to override local restrictions on it, so this is another level on which it makes sense for the city to reach a deal with them. Hope it works as intended for everyone.

Posted in: Bidness.

Re-interview with David Thompson

Last year, I published an interview with attorney David Thompson, who has worked with HISD for a long time on legislative and financial matters, including on the endless litigation over school finance, to discuss the November referendum on recapture. He clarified a lot of items, such as the wording of the referendum, the things that could be done to affect how much HISD would be required to pay, and what a No vote would mean, and in the end he endorsed a vote against the referendum in the hope of spurring action. Since then, as we know, the Texas Education Agency has indeed taken action that reduces HISD’s recapture payments, and the HISD Board of Trustees has put the item up for a vote again on May 6, with early voting from April 24 through May 2. This seemed like an excellent opportunity to talk to Thompson again about what has changed and why a Yes vote this time around makes sense. Here’s our conversation:

As noted, early voting begins April 24 and runs through May 2. Here are your early voting locations and hours, not just for HISD but also for (deep breath) City of Humble, City of Pasadena, Humble Independent School District, Northgate Crossing Municipal Utility District 2, Northwest Harris County Municipal Utility District 28, Oakmont Public Utility District, and Harris County Water Control & Improvement District 91.

Posted in: Election 2017.

More on the House bathroom bill

Still a very bad idea.

After largely avoiding discussions so far on proposals to regulate bathrooms, the Texas House will wade into the debate this week with a measure some are hoping will serve as an alternative to the Senate’s “bathroom bill.”

Setting aside the Senate’s proposal, the House State Affairs Committee on Wednesday will take up House Bill 2899, which will be revised during the hearing to ban municipalities and school districts from enacting or enforcing local policies that regulate bathroom use.

That would invalidate local trans-inclusive bathroom policies, including anti-discrimination ordinances meant to allow transgender people access to public bathrooms based on gender identity and some school policies meant to accommodate transgender students.

“We believe that those issues should be handled at the state level and if there is an issue that exists in the state that people need to come to the Capitol, they need to convince 76 representatives, 16 senators and one governor of what the policy needs to be,” said state Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, who authored the bill. “Until then, it’s my opinion, we don’t need to change.”

Unlike Senate Bill 6 — a legislative priority for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick which passed out of the Texas Senate in March — Simmons’ proposal does not regulate bathroom use in governments buildings and public schools and universities based on “biological sex.” And it strays from SB 6’s blanket prohibition on “political subdivisions” adopting or enforcing local bathroom regulations.

Instead, the language of Simmons’ proposal specifically focuses on discrimination protections. It reads: “Except in accordance with federal and state law, a political subdivision, including a public school district, may not enforce an order, ordinance, or other measure to protect a class of persons from discrimination to the extent that the order, ordinance, or other measure regulates access to multiple-occupancy restrooms, showers, or changing facilities.”

That would nullify parts of nondiscrimination ordinances in several Texas cities that have been in place for decades to protect certain classes of people from discrimination in public accommodations, including in the bathrooms inside businesses that serve the public. But Simmons’ proposal could go further than just pulling back those protections for transgender residents.

While Texas has no statewide public accommodation law, federal law protects people from discrimination in public accommodations based on “race, color religion or national origin.”

Some of Texas biggest cities have expanded the public accommodation provision of local anti-discrimination laws to include protections based on age, sexual orientation and veteran status. But it appears Simmons’ proposal would outlaw those sort of protections as applied to bathroom use because they go beyond federal protections.

Simmons’ focus on discrimination protections also differs from North Carolina’s law, which was recently revised amid public and economic backlash.

The North Carolina law was rewritten to no longer explicitly regulate which bathroom transgender people can use and instead more simply prohibits state agencies, municipalities and schools boards from regulating multi-stall bathrooms — leaving bathroom regulations to the state.

That revisions remain unacceptable to LGBT advocates. And the Simmons proposal — which only bans local measures that protect certain groups from discrimination — is still a no-go for groups advocating for LGBT Texans. They suggested the Simmons’ measure is actually worse than the alternative that was recently signed off on in North Carolina because they believe it leaves open the door for local policies that target marginalized groups.

“I recognize there are members in the House that are looking for some sort of alternative to Senate Bill 6, but this proposed committee substitute is not acceptable in its current form,” said Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas. “This proposal literally codifies discrimination in Texas law by forbidding enforcement of policies that would protect people by preventing them from ever implementing protections in the future and by allowing discriminatory provisions to be written in.”

It remains unclear how far the Simmons proposal will go in the House and whether it’ll pick up support from Speaker Joe Straus who opposes the Senate’s proposal.

See here for the background. I repeat what I said before – this is a lousy “solution” to a non-problem. HB2899 is “better” than SB6 in the same way that the House “sanctuary cities” bill is “better” than the Senate version, which is to say it’s the difference between eating a turd sandwich on a fresh baked baguette and eating a turd sandwich on Wonder bread. We all know what the arguments are here, so let’s not waste our energy on that. The goal here is either to find something that will meet the grudging approval of the business lobby and the major sports leagues (which have already sold out in North Carolina), or to throw a bone to the Dan Patrick crowd by holding a committee hearing on something but not bringing it to the floor. I’d bet on the former before the latter, so call your House Committee on State Affairs member and let them know what you think of this. This will be heard tomorrow, so don’t wait.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

The new panhandling ordinance

This happened last week; I didn’t have a chance to really look at it before now.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Residents who impede the use of a Houston roadway, or block a sidewalk or building entrance could be charged with a misdemeanor under an ordinance passed Wednesday by City Council.

The ordinance aimed at curbing panhandling was paired with a ban on unauthorized encampments in public places – an effort to crack down on homeless camps that have drawn resident and council member ire in recent months. The encampment ban is set to take effect in 30 days.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said he thinks the new rules help to achieve a “delicate balance” between ensuring safety and helping the homeless.

“The whole notion is to strike a balance between addressing their needs and their concerns and putting them in a better position in their lives, and at the same time the neighborhood concerns in terms of people being in their doorway or blocking the sidewalk,” Turner said.

[…]

Tristia Bauman, a senior attorney for the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, warned of potential constitutional violations, also saying she thought the laws would be ineffective.

“This law as written is constitutionally concerning, and I think it’s very vulnerable to legal challenge,” she said of the encampment rules. “To create a punishment for people who are attempting to survive on the street when they have no alternative is a violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.”

Marc Eichenbaum, special assistant to the mayor for homeless initiatives, said the city has worked with groups like Star of Hope and the Salvation Army to ensure there are sufficient shelter beds for the city’s homeless.

“For individuals who want to go to a shelter, there is a place for them,” Eichenbaum said.

Bauman pointed to those with mental health issues or disabilities who may be unable to go to a shelter.

Turner’s plan to curb homelessness, announced last month, also includes proposals to house 500 chronically homeless people by early September and construct alternative, professionally staffed “low-level” shelters under highway overpasses or on private property.

These outdoor spaces are intended to help accommodate people who are unable or unwilling to go to an indoor shelter.

Here’s an earlier story about what Council had been considering; the proposed ordinance was tagged until last week. As someone who currently works downtown, I can attest that panhandlers are a nuisance, and can sometimes be scary. Houston has made a lot of progress in reducing the number of homeless residents, especially homeless veterans, and part of this program is intended to further that work. There are some details to be filled in, and there are concerns about the legality of this ordinance as well as its likely effectiveness. I’m not sure what to think at this point.

In the meantime, there’s also this.

Phillip Bryant carries tuna cans and water bottles in his car and often spontaneously delivers them to the poor he sees throughout the Houston streets.

However, Bryant, who describes himself as a devout Christian, contends the city’s charitable feeding ordinance prohibits this and also violates his religious rights.

He filed a lawsuit Wednesday night in Harris County court challenging the ordinance, which requires advocates to obtain permission from property owners – public or private – before feeding more than five people. Violation of the ordinance is considered a criminal misdemeanor and is punishable by up to $2,000, according to the lawsuit.

[…]

Although not mandatory, the city encourages those feeding the homeless to register as a food service organization and receive food safety training. The only required step is a person must seek permission from the property owner before feeding more than five people.

I’ll be honest, I’m a little unclear as to what the point of contention is here, but I guess we’ll see what the courts make of it.

Posted in: Local politics.

Hog apocalypse update

The poison plan for controlling feral hogs is set to be put on pause by the Legislature.

A bill poised to pass the Texas House would amend the Texas Agriculture Code to prohibit the Department of Agriculture from registering, approving for use or allowing use of any pesticide for feral hog control unless a study by a state agency or university recommends such action.

That legislation – HB 3451, by Rep. Lynn Stucky, R-Denton – was filed in the wake of the Texas Department of Agriculture’s emergency rules issued earlier this year (and since suspended by a state judge) that set regulations for use of the first pesticide approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency for use controlling feral hogs. Texas holds more than 2 million feral hogs, an invasive species causing significant environmental and economic damage in the state. While extermination of feral hogs is almost universally approved by Texans, the move allowing use of the pesticide proved controversial, drawing intense opposition from a wide range of individuals and organizations concerned about the potential negative effects on humans and non-target animals from warfarin, the pesticide’s active ingredient.

Stucky’s bill, which has more than 120 House members as co-sponsors, sailed through its committee hearing, initial procedural readings on the House floor and could see final passage by the House as soon as this week.

The bill can expect to be well received in the Texas Senate, where a companion bill – SB 1454 by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin – has almost a third of the Senate as co-sponsors.

See here and here for the background. That column was published on Wednesday. HB3451 was postponed, first till Thursday and then till Monday, at which time it was overwhelmingly approved by the full House.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s push to use a warfarin-based poison to kill feral hogs in the state has a long list of opponents that now includes more than two-thirds of the Legislature where Miller once served.

House lawmakers voted 128 to 13 to preliminarily approve legislation Monday that would require state agency or university research before the use of lethal pesticides on wild pigs. A companion bill in the Senate has 10 co-sponsors.

[…]

A coalition of hunters, animal rights advocates, conservationists and meat processors has mobilized against the use of the poison. The Texas State Rifle Association, Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation, the Texas Hog Hunters Association and the Texas Veterinary Medical Association are all among the groups that support the bill.

Lotta love for ol’ Sid there. SB1454 has not had a committee hearing yet. Sure seems likely this will pass, especially given that House vote, but it’s never over till it’s over in the Lege. There’s more about other outdoors-related bills in that column, so check it out if that’s your thing.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Interview with Gloria Gallegos

Gloria Gallegos

I have one more interview for Pasadena Mayor to bring you. Gloria Gallegos is the Associate Superintendent of Special Programs for the Pasadena Independent School District, having worked her career in education beginning as an elementary school teacher. A native of Mexico, Gallegos earned an associate’s degree at San Jacinto College followed by a bachelor’s and a master’s in education at UH-Clear Lake. She has served on a number of boards and committees for the City of Pasadena, including the Community Development Board, the Crime Control Board, and the Charter Review Commission. You can find a more in depth profile of her here, and since I’m not interviewing any of the other candidates, there’s a brief Chron story about them here. Here’s my interview with Gallegos:

Early voting for Pasadena’s municipal elections, which include City Council as well as Mayor, runs from April 24 through May 2, with Election Day being Saturday, May 6. You can find information about voting locations and hours, as well as Council maps, here. Note that the Pasadena municipal elections, the Pasadena ISD trustee elections, and the San Jacinto College trustee elections are separate; for information about Pasadena ISD, see here, and for San Jacinto see here. Yes, I know, that makes no sense, but it is what it is.

Posted in: Election 2017.