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January 2017 campaign finance reports: Houston officeholders

Normally, at this time I would be scanning through Houston candidate campaign finance reports, to see where incumbents stand at the start of the season. Of course, barring near-term court action there is no season for Houston municipal officeholders this year, and unlike past years they have been able to raise money during what had once been a blackout period. It’s still worth it to check in and see what everyone has, so let’s do that.


Name        Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
=================================================
Turner     681,972   177,867        0   1,312,028

Stardig *   39,361    24,088        0      79,980
Davis *      8,500    27,439        0     154,707
Cohen *      8,350    21,563        0      77,451
Boykins     26,400    23,820        0         186
Martin       4,250    17,469        0      95,896
Le          13,100    13,519   42,823       2,023
Travis           0    12,984   76,000      23,606
Cisneros     7,500    15,295      273       4,959
Gallegos    20,834    14,742        0      33,077
Laster *     3,000     6,292        0     145,071
Green *     10,000    52,652        0     107,248

Knox         6,275    20,061        0      16,737
Robinson    44,750    15,277        0      52,408
Kubosh      10,925    12,907  276,000      20,824
Edwards     42,401    18,379        0     110,660
Christie *   1,367    22,653        0      18,563

Brown       30,520    52,814        0      41,245


Parker           0    36,503        0     136,368
King             0        50  650,000           0

Asterisks indicate term-limited incumbents. I included Annise Parker and Bill King mostly out of curiosity. Parker can’t run for anything in Houston, but if she does eventually run for something else she can transfer what she has in this account to whatever other one she may need.

Clearly, Mayor Turner has been busy. Big hauls by incumbent Mayors are hardly unusual, it’s just that Turner had the benefit of more time to make that haul. A few Council members plus Controller Chris Brown were busy, though there was nothing that was truly eye-popping. I didn’t look at the individual forms beyond the totals page, so I can’t say what everyone spent their money on, but if I had to guess I’d say recurring fees for things like consultants and websites, plus the usual meals, travel, donations, and what have you. Loan amounts always fascinate me – you have to wonder if any of them will be paid back. Probably not.

It’s not too surprising that the term-limited members are among those with the largest cash on hand totals. They have had the longest to build it up, after all. I have to assume some of them – in particular, Jerry Davis, Mike Laster, and Larry Green – have a run for something else in their future. For what will be mostly a matter of opportunity. Of those who can run again in 2019, I’ll be very interested to see how their fortunes change between now and the next two Januaries. One way or another, 2019 ought to be a busy year.

Posted in: Local politics.

Here come the anti-Texas Central bills

From the inbox:

[Tuesday], a group of key state lawmakers filed a slate of legislation to push back against Texas Central Railway’s controversial proposal to construct a high-speed rail line between Dallas and Houston. Senators Birdwell (R-Granbury), Creighton (R-Conroe), Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), Perry (R-Lubbock), and Schwertner (R-Georgetown) joined with Representatives Ashby (R-Lufkin), Bell (R-Magnolia), Cook (R-Corsicana), Schubert (R-Caldwell), and Wray (R-Waxahachie) to file a total of 18 bills addressing a number of concerns ranging from protecting landowners threatened by eminent domain abuse to ensuring the state isn’t later forced to bail out the private project with taxpayer dollars.

[…]

The following bills were filed this morning:

SB 973 by Creighton/HB 2168 by Bell (Railroad Determination Before Surveys) – prohibits a private high-speed rail entity from entering private property to conduct a survey unless the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) first determines that the surveying entity is, in fact, a railroad.

SB 974 by Creighton/HB 2181 by Cook (Option Contract Protection) – voids any high-speed rail option contracts held by a high-speed rail entity upon a bankruptcy initiated by or against the entity.

SB 975 by Birdwell/HB 2169 by Schubert (Security Requirements) – provides a framework of minimum security requirements to be followed during the construction and operation of a private high-speed rail line. Requires the high-speed rail authority to coordinate security efforts with state and local law enforcement, as well as disaster response agencies.

SB 977 by Schwertner/HB 2172 by Ashby (No Taxpayer Bailout) – prohibits the legislature from appropriating new funds, or allowing state agencies to utilize existing funds, to pay any costs related to the construction, maintenance, or operation of a private high-speed rail in Texas.

SB 978 by Schwertner/HB 2104 Bell (Property Restoration Bond) – requires a private high-speed rail entity to file a bond with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) sufficient to restore property used for the rail service to the property’s original conditions if the service ceases operation.

SB 979 by Schwertner/HB 2179 by Cook (Right of Repurchase for Non-HSR Use) – prohibits an entity that operates or plans to operate a high-speed rail from using property acquired for purposes other than high-speed rail. If the high-speed rail authority doesn’t use the property for that specific purpose, the original landowner must be given the opportunity to repurchase the land.

SB 980 by Schwertner/HB 2167 by Schubert (Put Texas First) – prohibits any state money from being used for any purpose related to a privately owned high-speed rail, unless the state acquires and maintains a lien in order to secure the repayment of state funds. Requires that the state’s lien be superior to all other liens, effectively making Texas a priority creditor.

SB 981 by Kolkhorst/HB 2162 by Wray (Interoperability) – requires an entity constructing a high-speed rail line in Texas to demonstrate compatibility with more than one type of train technology.

SB 982 by Perry/HB 2173 by Ashby (High-Speed Rail Feasibility Study) – upon request of a legislator, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) must generate a feasibility study of a proposed high-speed rail project. The study must indicate whether the project is for a public use, whether it will be financially viable, and what impact of the project will have on local communities.

The full press release is here, and a Chron story about it is here. I was expecting some bills to be filed for the purpose of throwing sand in TCR’s gears, but this was more than I expected. Still, the basic dynamics of this fight have not changed as far as I can tell. The legislators leading it are primarily rural – even the ones who are based in suburban areas represent a lot of rural turf as well – and there are only so many of them. I’ve yet to see any legislator from a big urban area sign on to this. Which is not to say that at least some of them won’t go along with their rural colleagues, especially the urban Republicans, but that’s the ground on which this battle will be fought and won. If these legislators can convince enough of their urban colleagues to join them, then TCR is in a world of hurt. If not – if TCR can hold on to the urbanites – then it can survive the session and maybe get to a point where actual construction begins. Getting one or more of Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, Joe Straus, and Ken Paxton to pick a side would help that faction greatly as well. Keep an eye on these bills as the committee hearings get off the ground. The DMN has more.

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

There’s more than SB6 to watch out for

Keep an eye out for other anti-LGBT bills, because any of them might pass even if SB6 goes down.

With the media seemingly preoccupied by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s bathroom bill, three Republican state senators have quietly introduced a sweeping anti-LGBT “religious freedom” measure.

Senate Bill 651, filed last week, would bar state agencies that are responsible for regulating more than 65 licensed occupations from taking action against those who choose not to comply with professional standards due to religious objections.

Eunice Hyon Min Rho, advocacy and policy counsel for the ACLU, said SB 651 would open the door to rampant discrimination against LGBT people, women seeking reproductive health care and others. Rho said the bill could lead to doctors with religious objections refusing to perform medical procedures, teachers not reporting child abuse if they support corporal punishment, or a fundamentalist Mormon police officer declining to arrest a polygamist for taking underage brides.

“This is incredibly broadly written,” said Rho, who monitors religious freedom legislation across the country. “It’s just really alarming. There are no limitations to this bill.”

Rho said only one state, Arizona, has passed a similar law, but unlike SB 651 it includes exceptions related to health care and law enforcement. She also warned that anti-LGBT state lawmakers may be trying to use the bathroom bill as a distraction.

“I think because some of the bills are receiving more attention than others, it’s a way for them to sneak some stuff through with a little bit less fanfare,” Rho said. “This is a tactic we’ve seen in countless states.”

[…]

As of Thursday, nine anti-LGBT bills had been filed in the 2017 session, according to Equality Texas, compared to at 23 in 2015. But there were indications that additional anti-LGBT “religious freedom” proposals are coming before the March 10 filing deadline.

Take a look at that Equality Texas list, and if you’ve gotten yourself into the habit of calling your legislators, add the bad bills there to your recitations. There’s nothing subtle about any of this, but with SB6 taking up all the oxygen, there’s cover for those bills. They would allow discrimination of the Woolworth’s lunch counter kind, and they cannot be allowed to pass.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Trump and the anti-vaxxers

In case you needed another reason to dislike Donald Trump.

President Trump’s embrace of discredited theories linking vaccines to autism has energized the anti-vaccine movement. Once fringe, the movement is becoming more popular, raising doubts about basic childhood health care among politically and geographically diverse groups.

Public health experts warn that this growing movement is threatening one of the most successful medical innovations of modern times. Globally, vaccines prevent the deaths of about 2.5 million children every year, but deadly diseases such as measles and whooping cough still circulate in populations where enough people are unvaccinated.

Here in San Antonio, 80 miles southwest of the state capital, Texans for Vaccine Choice convened a happy hour to encourage attendees to get more involved politically. The event was among dozens of outreach events the group has hosted across the state. The relatively new group has boosted its profile, aided by a savvy social-media strategy, and now leads a contentious fight over vaccines that is gearing up in the current legislative session.

The battle comes at a time when increasing numbers of Texas parents are choosing not to immunize their children because of “personal beliefs.” Measles was eliminated in the United States more than 15 years ago, but the highly contagious disease has made a return in recent years, including in Texas, in part because of parents refusing to vaccinate their children. A 2013 outbreak in Texas infected 21 people, many of them unvaccinated children.

The modern anti-vaccine movement is based on a fraud. A study published almost 20 years ago purported to show a link between childhood vaccines and autism. The data was later found to be falsified, and the study was retracted.

[…]

Peter Hotez, director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, predicts that 2017 could be the year the anti-vaccination movement gains ascendancy in the United States. Texas could lead the way, he said, because some public schools are dangerously close to the threshold at which measles outbreaks can be expected. A third of students at some private schools are unvaccinated.

“We’re losing the battle,” Hotez said.

Although the anti-vaccine movement has been strong in other states, including California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado, experts say the effort in Texas is among the most organized and politically active.

“It’s a great example of an issue that has a targeted, small minority but an intense minority who are willing to mobilize and engage in direct action,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

We’ve discussed this plenty of times before, and as you know I agree with Mark Jones. There’s no reasoning with these people. There’s only organizing, and making it so that being anti-vaccination – and let’s be clear, that’s what allowing broad parental-choice exemptions for vaccinating children is – is a disqualifier for public office. Either we vote these enablers out, or we suffer the consequences.

Posted in: Technology, science, and math, That's our Lege.

Cutting ICE

Another campaign promise gets fulfilled.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez has ended a controversial partnership with federal immigration authorities that trained a team of county deputies to determine the immigration status of jailed suspects and hold those selected for deportation.

Gonzalez, a Democrat who took office in January, said he will reassign 10 deputies trained under a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement program known as 287(g) that cost at least $675,000 in salaries and deploy them to other law enforcement duties.

The withdrawal of sheriff’s deputies still will allow ICE officials to come to the jail and screen jail inmates to determine their immigration status, and the county will hold them for deportation if requested, Gonzalez said.

The sheriff said overcrowding in the county jail complex, where staff shortages have hiked overtime costs to $1 million every two weeks, has forced him to deploy his ICE-trained deputies elsewhere. He said his decision was not political “but an issue of resources,” explaining the deputies may be assigned to help improve clearance rates of major crimes or bolster the patrol division.

“After thoughtful consideration, I’ve decided to opt out of the voluntary 287(g) program,” said Gonzalez, who sent ICE officials notification of his decision Tuesday. “We’ll still be cooperating with local, state and federal authorities as we always have, we just won’t have our manpower resources inside the jail doing that.”

In addition to the annual cost-savings, he said, “We’ll be able to release that personnel to offset some of our overtime costs inside the jail and local public safety priorities we have.”

[…]

The exit from the ICE program could put Harris County in the crosshairs of Gov. Greg Abbott and local GOP senators, who are working to pass a “sanctuary city” law that would withhold funding from law agencies that do not cooperate with federal requests to hold inmates. The term sanctuary city has been used to criticize the refusal by certain cities and counties to cooperate with the enforcement of federal immigration law.

Gonzalez, however, said Harris County will hold anyone at ICE’s request no matter what criminal charge the inmate may be facing. The jail will hold the inmate until ICE agents can take custody and move them to a federal detention facility, which Gonzalez said in the past has been done quickly.

“It’s my understanding that I need to comply with the law,” Gonzalez said. “If ICE makes a determination there is someone they have identified and they make a request (for detention), then I plan to honor that request.”

I’d have preferred to go a little farther along the Sally Hernandez path, but Sheriff Gonzalez will not have the backing of Commissioners Court the way Sheriff Hernandez does, so it’s hard to argue with the path he has chosen. The Texas Organizing Project and the ACLU of Texas both applauded the Sheriff’s announcement, with neither of them bringing up my nitpicky point, so I’d say that he hit his target here, and as the TOP statement points out, reminded us that local elections matter, too. Stace and Campos have more.

UPDATE: More from the Press.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, La Migra.

Voter ID 2.0

Well, this is interesting.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Top Texas Republicans unveiled legislation Tuesday that would overhaul the state’s voter identification rules, an effort to comply with court rulings that have found that the current law discriminates against minority groups.

Filed by Sen. Joan Huffman, Senate Bill 5 would add options for Texans who say they cannot “reasonably” obtain one of seven forms of ID currently required at the polls. It would also create harsh criminal penalties for those who falsely claim they need to choose from the expanded list of options.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has granted the bill “priority” status, carving it a faster route through the Legislature. Nineteen other senators have signed onto the bill, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton — who is still defending the current ID law in court — applauded the legislation Tuesday.

In a statement, Paxton said the proposal would both ensure the “the integrity of the voting process” and comply with court rulings that have found fault with the current law, considered the nation’s strictest.

Chad Dunn, a Houston-based attorney for groups suing the state over that law, called the legislation “a step in the right direction.”

“The state is acknowledging the federal court’s conclusion that the (current) law is discriminatory,” he said Tuesday.

I’ll reserve judgment for now, but this seems like a sign that the Republicans are not terribly optimistic about their chances with the ongoing lawsuit, with the question in district court about discriminatory intent. Actually, we don’t have to suppose, because we have this.

The U.S. Justice Department joined Texas’ attorney general Wednesday in asking a federal court to delay a hearing on the state’s voter ID law, the latest signal that the federal government might drop its opposition to the law now that Donald Trump is president.

In the joint filing, the Justice Department and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked to delay next Tuesday’s hearing until summer because the Texas Legislature is considering changes to the existing law, which a federal court has found to be discriminatory. Barack Obama’s Justice Department had joined the lawsuit contesting it.

[…]

In the filing, the Justice Department and Texas asked for the hearing to be pushed back until after June 18, the last day Gov. Greg Abbott has to sign or veto legislation.

“If new Texas state voter identification legislation is enacted into law, it will significantly affect the remainder of this litigation,” Texas and the Justice Department argue.

Just hours after Trump was sworn in as president, the Justice Department asked for a January hearing to be delayed to February, saying they needed more time to brief new leadership. Lawyers in the case say it’s still too early to know for sure if Trump’s Justice Department change positions in the case.

In August, Ramos denied a request from Texas to delay hearings in the case until after the legislative session wraps up in June.

“The question to be determined at the hearing is whether there was intent to discriminate during the legislative session in 2011,” said Houston attorney Chad Dunn, who is part of a legal team representing Democrats and minority rights groups challenging the law. “Whatever happens with this bill doesn’t address that question.”

See here and here for the background. I will just point out that the GOP could have passed SB5 back in 2011 and saved themselves a lot of trouble. It would still be a bad idea and a non-solution in search of a non-existent problem, but it would have been harder to beat in court. But here we are, and in this environment that counts for progress. A statement from Rep. Eddie Rodriguez is beneath the fold, and the Star-Telegram has more.

Continue reading →

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Global investors against SB6

From the inbox:

Led by New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer and Trillium Asset Management, a group of some of the largest investors in the world, with a combined $11 trillion of assets under management, today spoke out against Texas Senate Bill 6 (or SB6), a “Bathroom Bill,” as well as similar discriminatory legislation. In the wake of hundreds of millions of dollars in lost economic activity in North Carolina after HB2 – a similar bill – was signed into law in that state, major investors are standing up against this discriminatory legislation.

The 40 signatories include some of the biggest investors in the world, such as BlackRock, State Street Global Advisors, T. Rowe Price, and AllianceBernstein, as well as New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, California Controller Betty Yee, Connecticut Treasurer Denise L. Nappier, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Oregon Treasurer Tobias Read, Rhode Island Treasurer Seth Magaziner, and Vermont Treasurer Elizabeth Pearce.

The investors’ letter urges Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and House Speaker Joe Straus to oppose the legislation, which would discriminate against transgender individuals in Texas. This not only makes it more difficult for companies to attract and retain the best talent, but could have real effects on the Texas economy by undermining businesses operating there and delivering extraordinary reputational harm to the Texas business environment. The state could lose hundreds of millions – if not billions – of dollars in economic activity. Tourism dollars, sporting and other entertainment events, and corporate expansions – all are vital to Texas’s economy and could be at risk. As just one indication of the potential impact, organizations including the National Football League and the NCAA have already warned that the siting of future events in Texas would be jeopardized.

The investors’ letter also highlight opposition to SB6 from more than 1,200 companies doing business in Texas, including major firms like American Airlines, Dow Chemical, Southwest Airlines, Texas Instruments, and Waste Management.

“This bill is the 2.0 version of North Carolina’s HB2, and we saw how that bill impacted North Carolina. Not only is SB6 wrong for Texas residents, it also undermines anyone who is invested in companies in that state. SB6 would take Texas in the wrong direction,” New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer said. “This group of investors represents a truly extraordinary level of assets, and the market is unquestionably speaking out about the economic consequences of such bills. We hope that message will be heard. I couldn’t be prouder to lead this massive effort to protect not just the interests of New York’s retired firefighters, police officers, and teachers, but also fundamental human rights.”

“The evidence is overwhelming that inclusive corporate and public policy that embraces diversity and equality are essential to strong businesses and financial success. Trillium Asset Management, and the trillions of dollars of assets that support this letter, unequivocally and emphatically urge Texas legislators to maintain a healthy and vibrant climate for business in the State of Texas,” said Trillium Asset Management, CEO Matthew Patsky, CFA. “Senate Bill 6 must be defeated and not allowed to negatively impact the economy of Texas, the second largest in the United States.”

SB6, introduced in early January 2017, is similar to North Carolina’s HB2’s bathroom restrictions, and requires individuals to use the public restroom that aligns with the gender on their birth certificate, discriminating against transgender individuals. The bill also eliminates municipal bathroom access non-discrimination laws, effectively legalizing discrimination against the LGBT community in both public and private accommodations. SB6 allows the Texas Attorney General to impose fines of up to $10,500 a day for violation of bathroom access regulations.

North Carolina has faced significant financial harm since enacting a similar bill, HB2, in March 2016. In the months since the bill was enacted, sporting events, concerts, TV shows, and conventions were canceled and business expansions were halted. By some estimates, the cost to the state reached over $600 million.

To read the investor letter, and see a full list of signatories, click here.

Here’s a Chron story about this letter.

[Trillium CEO Matthew] Patsky told the Chronicle, “We didn’t have this level of support for divestment from South Africa during apartheid.”

[…]

Stringer and others said the state lost more than $600 million in economic activity after passing HB2, with the NBA and NCAA pulling championship games. Given that Texas’ economy is the second largest in the country, Stringer said there is fear that negative economic impact in the state as a result of passing the bathroom bill here could be felt across the nation.

“I’m worried that pension fund investments could suffer,” he said.

Patsky said Trillium Asset Management, which has business ties to Texas, has previously coordinated efforts to get investors to speak out against the North Carolina law. He said it didn’t take much to convince them to speak out against the Texas proposal.

T. Rowe Price and others echoed the concern over an economic backlash.

“Our decision to participate was taken out of concern for the likely adverse economic impact of the proposed legislation and its inconsistency with our commitment to fostering diverse and inclusive communities,” a T. Rowe Price spokeswoman said in a statement.

A representative of BlackRock said the company has previously signed a letter to North Carolina lawmakers in opposition of their law as well as signed an amicus brief in defense of marriage equality when the Supreme Court was reviewing it.

Patsky said passage of the bill also could deter venture investors looking for startup activity in the state or companies that might look to expand here. He also projected municipal bonds could be hurt as investment falls.

He also questioned the rationale behind the bill and said he recalled seeing misleading campaign ads during an effort in Houston a year and a half ago to overturn the city’s equal rights ordinance that guaranteed protections for transgendered people seeking to use the bathroom where they feel most comfortable.

No comment on this from Abbott or Patrick. I guess telling these folks to “stay out of politics and stick to business and finance” would sound weird even to them. It’s certainly possible that as with that TAB study that Stringer and Patsky et al are overstating the possible effects of SB6, but even if they are there’s no question that the effect we will have will be negative. A lot of investing comes down to perception in how things are and belief about where they are going, and the passage of SB6 would negatively change both of those things about Texas, for no real purpose. That is what this debate has always been about.

Posted in: Bidness, That's our Lege.

Texas blog roundup for the week of February 20

The Texas Progressive Alliance will light a scented candle outside Ikea in solidarity with the confused people of Sweden as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Trump approval

The Trib does its poll thing.

In his second month in office, President Donald Trump is getting overwhelmingly good grades on his job performance from the state’s Republicans, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Trump is popular enough to cast positive light on Russian President Vladimir Putin, a world figure who turns out to be markedly more unpopular with Texas Democrats than with Texas Republicans.

Overall, 46 percent of Texans approve of the job Trump been doing and 44 percent disapprove. But Republicans are crazy about him: 81 percent approve of Trump’s work so far, and only 10 percent disapprove. Moreover, 60 percent of Republicans said they “strongly” approve; another 21 percent approve “somewhat” of the president.

“He looks good,” said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the poll. “Republicans as a group were tentative in their embrace of Donald Trump during the election campaign. They are hugging him now. His favorability rating among Texas Republicans increased 21 points between October and February.”

Likewise, 81 percent of Texas Republicans have a favorable opinion of Trump, while 12 percent have an unfavorable impression of the president.

As you might expect, Texas Democrats fiercely disagree in what amounts to an almost equal but opposite reaction to the Republicans: 83 percent of Texas Democrats disapprove of the job Trump has done as president, 76 percent of them “strongly.” And 85 percent of Democrats said they have an unfavorable opinion of the new chief executive.

“If you’re a Republican, even if you don’t like the guy, well, there’s the Supreme Court and the repudiation of a bunch of smug ideologues [on the left]; this isn’t the worst thing in the world,” said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a professor at UT-Austin. “The reaction of the left — the resistance — probably reinforces that.”

Independents were split almost evenly on both questions in the poll, with 39 percent approving and 36 disapproving of the job Trump is doing; 42 percent saying they have a favorable impression of the president, while 45 percent have an unfavorable one.

Overall, 45 percent of Texans have a favorable impression of Trump and 46 percent have an unfavorable one.

For comparison purposes, here’s a poll from four years ago that included approval numbers for President Obama. While the data isn’t broken down by party affiliation, one can reasonably infer that Republicans were as negative about Obama as Democrats are about Trump, while Democrats were not as intensely positive. Obama was beginning his fifth year as President, so the comparison isn’t exact, but it’s a snapshot in time to consider as we go forward. On the presumably safe assumption that Trump will not do any better among Dems in the future, he needs to maintain his big edge among Republicans or improve among indies (*), lest he risk sliding under water. If we believe, as I do, that this will have an effect on the 2018 elections, this very much bears watching.

(*) – Trump’s national numbers among independents aren’t very good, either. I’m going to guess there’s a correlation here, so keep an eye on that as well.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Deportation nation

Appalling.

The Trump administration on Tuesday moved one step closer to implementing the president’s plans to aggressively rid the country of undocumented immigrants and expand local police-based enforcement of border security operations.

In a fact sheet outlining the efforts, the Department of Homeland Security said that though their top priority is finding and removing undocumented immigrants with criminal histories, millions more may also be subject to immediate removal.

“With extremely limited exceptions, DHS will not exempt classes or categories of removal aliens from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to enforcement proceedings, up to and including removal from the United States,” the fact sheet explains. “The guidance makes clear, however, that ICE should prioritize several categories of removable aliens who have committed crimes, beginning with those convicted of a criminal offense.”

The memo did not include instructions to halt the 2012 executive action called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which has allowed about 750,000 undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children to live and work in the country legally.

The guidelines also state that the Department of Homeland Security has authority to expedite the removal of undocumented immigrants who have been in the country illegally for at least two years, a departure from the Obama administration’s approach of concentrating mainly on newly arriving immigrants.

“To date, expedited removal has been exercised only for aliens encountered within 100 air miles of the border and 14 days of entry, and aliens who arrived in the United States by sea other than at a port of entry,” the agency states.

The action also seeks to expand a police-based immigration enforcement program known as 287(g), which allows local and state officers to perform immigration duties if they undergo the requisite training. The program fell out of favor under the Obama administration after Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced in 2012 that it wouldn’t renew contracts that were in place at the time.

“Empowering state and local law enforcement agencies to assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law is critical to an effective enforcement strategy, and CBP and ICE will work with interested and eligible jurisdictions,” the memo reads.

This is going to be a humanitarian catastrophe. It’s going to be devastating for a lot of industries – agriculture, construction, hospitality – all of which will be a drag on Texas’ economy. It will do further damage to our already dented international reputation. And it won’t do a damn thing to make us safer. I wonder what Jeff Sessions will do when churches start offering sanctuary to people who are being targeted. Oh, and it will be a big unfunded mandate on cities and counties, in the same way that the “sanctuary cities” bill in the State Senate will be, if local cops are being required to enforce immigration law. This is going to be very, very ugly. Political Animal, Daily Kos, the Current, and ThinkProgress have more.

Posted in: La Migra, National news.

On those “improper” votes

Let’s be clear about this.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas election officials have acknowledged that hundreds of people were allowed to bypass the state’s toughest-in-the-nation voter ID law and improperly cast ballots in the November presidential election by signing a sworn statement instead of showing a photo ID.

The chief election officers in two of the state’s largest counties are now considering whether to refer cases to local prosecutors for potential perjury charges or violations of election law. Officials in many other areas say they will simply let the mistakes go, citing widespread confusion among poll workers and voters.

[…]

An Associated Press analysis of roughly 13,500 affidavits submitted in Texas’ largest counties found at least 500 instances in which voters were allowed to get around the law by signing an affidavit and never showing a photo ID, despite indicating that they possessed one.

Others used the sworn declarations to lodge protest statements against the law.

One affidavit from Hidalgo County, along the Texas-Mexico border, read: “Did not want to ‘pander’ to government requirement.” In Tarrant County, an election judge noted on an affidavit: “Had photo ID but refused to show it.”

“If we see that somebody blatantly says ‘I have ID’ and refused to show it, we’re going to turn that over to the D.A.,” said Stephen Vickers, chief deputy elections administrator for Tarrant County, which includes Fort Worth. “If they tried to use the affidavit to get around the system, yeah, I see that as a violation.”

[…]

In Fort Bend County, a suburb of Houston, more than 15 percent of voters who submitted 313 affidavits said they possessed a photo ID, but they were not required to show it.

Under a court order issued last year, election officials were not allowed to question a voter’s reason for signing an affidavit.

The cases do not amount to voter fraud because people still had to be registered to vote to qualify for an affidavit, said John Oldham, Fort Bend County’s elections chief.

Poll workers were trained to “err on the side of letting people use the affidavit instead of denying them the chance to vote,” Oldham said.

“We don’t consider it something that we want to go out and prosecute people over,” Oldham said. “But I wish we didn’t have this affidavit process. It makes the whole photo ID law entirely meaningless.”

First of all, these were all votes cast by registered voters. The only impropriety, if there is one, lies in how the court order that “softened” Texas’ voter ID law is interpreted. The affidavit process was to allow registered voters who didn’t have one of the accepted forms of ID to cast their ballot if they produced another form of ID and signed a statement swearing 1) that they were who they said they were, and 2) that they didn’t have an accepted form of ID. Some election officials, like Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart took that to mean that the affiant did not own one of those forms of ID, like a drivers license. Others, including attorneys representing plaintiffs in the ongoing litigation, thought that was too strict. What if someone’s license had been lost or stolen, and they didn’t have the opportunity to get a replacement? What if someone arrived at the polling location only to realize they had left their license at home? Maybe the voters in those situations would be permitted to vote – I certainly think the first group ought to be – but until the question comes before a judge, we’re all just guessing. And remember, we’re talking about a few hundred voters who may not have followed a set of rules that were interpreted in a variety of ways versus sixteen thousand people who got to vote in the first place. Perspective, y’all.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Texas cannot bar Planned Parenthood from Medicaid

Good.

Right there with them

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks ruled Tuesday afternoon that Texas clinics affiliated with Planned Parenthood can continue to care for patients under the state’s Medicaid program, a phew-worthy victory for reproductive rights advocates and a loss for the state’s GOP leaders.

In a 42-page ruling, Sparks wrote that the state’s arguments in the case were “the building blocks of a best-selling novel rather than a case concerning the interplay of federal and state authority through the Medicaid program.”

“After reviewing the evidence currently in the record, the Court finds the Inspector General, and thus [the Texas Health and Human Services Commission], likely acted to disenroll qualified health care providers from Medicaid without cause,” the ruling read. “Such action would deprive Medicaid patients of their statutory right to obtain health care from their chosen qualified provider.”

[…]

In court, Planned Parenthood attorneys argued that not allowing the reproductive health provider to stay in the Medicaid program, which is largely funded by the federal government, would severely curb access to care for poor Texas men and women seeking preventive and sexual health services. The attorneys also argued that the state did not have the capacity to deliver these services in the same way Planned Parenthood does and reiterated that state and federal law already prohibit taxpayer dollars from being spent on abortion services.

State attorneys, meanwhile, leaned heavily on the web video throughout court proceedings, pointing out various clips as part of their evidence. While the video appeared to back up their claims, Planned Parenthood attorneys forced several of the state’s witnesses to concede that no employees were seen committing illegal acts in the undercover video.

Throughout the ruling, the phrase “no evidence” appears multiple times. Sparks said Texas Health and Human Services Commission Inspector General Stuart W. Bowen Jr. “did not have prima facie of evidence, or even a scintilla of evidence” for the termination. He cited that the Center for Medical Progress video, the evidence against Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast and dragging in other Planned Parenthood affiliates were “three overarching bases for termination.”

Sparks said that “for those not blessed with eight free hours to watch” the video, it mostly contained a Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast employee and Center for Medical Progress representatives talking in “unclear and ambiguous dialogue” that was open to interpretation. He said the Texas Health and Human Services Commission did not provide evidence that they had authenticated the video before going forward with termination efforts.

While state attorneys tried to show that the reproductive health organization had “a willingness” to profit from procuring fetal tissue, Sparks said he did not find evidence of that.

“The Court is unconvinced mere willingness, without any evidence of attempt, is enough to deprive a Medicaid beneficiary of the right to her otherwise qualified provider,” the ruling read.

See here for the previous update. Shockingly, the fraudulent anti-PP videos made by the lying liars at the Center for Medical Progress turned out to have no evidentiary value for the state. Who’d a thunk it, am I right? I presume the state will appeal from here, and if the Trump scandal machine ever lets up enough to allow legislation to be passed by Congress, a federal bill could be passed to change the law that PP relied on here to get this action overturned. It’s a little premature to celebrate, is what I’m saying. Still, this is a big deal, and it’s always nice to see Ken Paxton lose in court. The Chron, the AusChron, and Trail Blazers have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Latino turnout was up in 2016

That’s what the numbers say.

Nearly 30 percent more Texas Latinos went to the polls in 2016 than in 2012, reducing the participation gap with other Texas voters and signaling to some observers that elections will become increasingly competitive in the Lone Star State.

Non-Latino voters increased by a more modest 9.2 percent between presidential elections, according to newly released numbers from the Texas Legislative Council.

The percentage of registered Latinos who went to the polls also increased from 2012, from 47.2 percent to 49.8 percent. But that turnout rate remained well below that of non-Latino voters, which was 62.9 percent in 2016. That represented a decrease from 2012 when turnout was 65.4 percent among non-Latino voters.

As a result, the share of the electorate with a Spanish surname increased from 17.2 percent in 2012 to 19.4 percent in 2016. Latinos make up 38 percent of the Texas population, but historically vote at lower rates than Latinos in other states and other groups in Texas.

[…]

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones called the increase “notable, but not dramatic,” and said it mirrored jumps in past presidential elections.

“The Texas electorate becomes more Latino and less Anglo with every passing electoral cycle,” Jones said. “But the increase is fueled primarily by natural demographic trends rather than by a dramatic spike in participation rates among Latinos.”

State officials obtained the numbers using a count based on a list of Spanish surnames; the numbers don’t account for every Latino voter.

[…]

According to an analysis of early voting figures in 20 large counties, Derek Ryan, a political consultant and former research director of the Texas Republican Party, found that new voters are driving the increase in Latino participation: 18.7 percent of ballots cast by voters with Spanish surnames came from those with no electoral history in Texas; for non-Latinos, only 12.8 percent came from new voters.

Voter registration among Latinos also increased 20 percent over 2012 compared with 14 percent for non-Latinos. Lydia Camarillo, vice president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, said the registration and turnout numbers for 2016 elections are higher than her group anticipated, but she said Texas remains a state that puts high barriers to voter registration.

I don’t think any of this is surprising, but I don’t want to make too big a deal of it, for the reasons articulated in the second section I highlighted. What are the trend lines here? How does the turnout rate compare to the voting age population and the share of the VAP that is registered? Latino voters are everywhere, but the bulk of them are in two distinct places, along the border and in big urban areas, primarily Harris, Bexar, and El Paso counties. How have these rates changed over time in those places, and everywhere else? There’s a lot more information I’d like to have before I drew any conclusions about what this particular piece of data may mean.

One thing I do agree with is that a big driver in the increase in Latino participation is the increase in voter registration. That’s what drove the increase in overall turnout in Harris County. No question that needs to be a Democratic priority going forward, as a lot of those new registrations are going to come from people who have just turned 18, new citizens, and people whose registrations had lapsed because they had moved. You want to understand why the Legislature is not interested in making it easier to register, there’s your answer right there.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Metro preps regional transit plan

This could be on our November ballot as well.

A pending long-term regional transit plan, and likely voter referendum as early as November, will determine where Metro goes. More importantly, they will show what level of support people in the Houston region have for more buses, longer train routes and commuter service to increasingly urbanizing suburban communities.

What’s clear, transit officials acknowledged on Feb. 15 during their first in-depth discussion of the transit plan’s focus, is many solutions to traffic congestion will sit on transit agency shelves for years to come.

“We know we will never have enough resources to build everything,” Metro board member Christof Spieler said. “How do we choose which projects are most worthwhile?”

Board members during the discussion said a host of factors will influence transit project priorities, though the critical litmus test will be whether a project can reliably and quickly serve a large number of riders and solve a congestion challenge. Officials predict as the region grows freeways will clog even more with cars and trucks for more hours of the day. Expansion of many freeways is limited, so using the lanes more effectively or drawing people off the freeway will be critical.

“We’re all going to be more transit-dependent because we can’t spend two hours getting to work,” Metro board member Cindy Siegel said.

Transit agency staff has started compiling a list of unfinished projects, including those left over from the contentious 2003 referendum and financial commitments from an extension of Metro’s 1 percent sales tax voters approved in 2012.

Along with public input and ongoing discussions, Metro could have a draft of a regional transit plan – incorporating not only service in Metro’s area, but beyond its own boundaries – by April under an accelerated timetable.

[…]

There are options for starting major transit projects within the next five years, but they require transit officials to either come up with alternative sources of money or ask voters to approve more spending, which could mean more borrowing and new taxes or fees to pay off the debt.

Officials are exploring both options. Last year, officials approved soliciting interest from private firms for development of a train line from the Texas Medical Center to Missouri City. The line, estimated to cost at least $400 million, has political support from many Houston area federal, state and local officials. Questions related to the proposal pushed the deadline for companies to express interest in partnerships with Metro from Feb. 7 to March 20.

Metro leaders, after new board members were installed by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner last year, also have said a voter referendum for more spending is likely. Transit board chairwoman Carrin Patman said the regional transit plan could lead to a vote as early as November, though the plan itself will inform what could end up in front of voters.

“It’s possible,” she said of an election in nine months. “We’ll have to see what kind of response we get to the plan and what is the best course.”

A referendum, officials said, could be approval for a single project that transit supporters consider high-priority or politically palatable. A entire suite of projects also could be put in front of voters.

See here for some background. The plan doesn’t exist yet, so it’s more than a little premature to speculate. The howling chaos in Washington doesn’t help, either. I’d prefer a bigger package to vote on than a smaller one, but a bigger one carries a lot more risk, as the opposition will be more intense. Still, we did pass the 2003 referendum against a pretty fierce and well-funded No effort, and I’d guess the Metro service area is more amenable to transit in general and rail in particular now than it was then. But even people who do support those things may vote against a referendum if they don’t think it gives them something they want. And even if Metro wants to put something up for a vote, there’s an argument to be made to wait till 2018 and do as much public engagement as possible beforehand. There’s a lot of ways this can go, so we’ll just have to see what they present when they have something to show us.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Keep those calls and letters coming

Dan Patrick needs to hear from you.

As Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick relentlessly pushes a bill that would restrict the public restrooms transgender people can use, opposition to the measure is pouring in to his office.

Patrick’s office received more than 10,000 calls, emails or letters opposing the bill and just over 200 cheering it on within the two weeks after it was filed, according to a tally provided to the San Antonio Express-News in response to a Texas Public Information Act request.

A spokesman attributed the lopsided communications to an “orchestrated phone and email campaign organized by the left wing.”

Patrick did not release copies of correspondence from the Texas residents, citing a part of the public information law that allows the lieutenant governor and lawmakers to keep communications confidential in the interest of privacy.

The level of opposition and support was evident in more than 800 emails, letters and messages to Gov. Greg Abbott and nearly 200 to House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, stretching back through last summer and obtained under the open records law.

The communications to Abbott, who has been fairly non-committal on the need for a new law, were about evenly divided on the issue of transgender bathroom restrictions. Those to Straus, who has voiced concern over the potential economic effect of a bathroom bill, were heavily against such restrictions.

Several who contacted officials to oppose restrictions said they are Republicans, as are the three leaders and a majority of lawmakers. Many residents said there are more important issues for the state to worry about.

“I was voting Republican before you could spell it. This is stupid. Do I wear my birth certificate and drivers license on my shirt before I make a bathroom call or do I just drop my pants before I go in so that someone can check the plumbing,” asked a Sinton rancher in an email to Abbott’s office. “I don’t vote for stupidity. Don’t expect another vote from me if you support this.”

[…]

People also are less likely to write to an official with whom they agree on an issue, Rice University political scientist Mark P. Jones said.

Jones said it is telling that there is no evidence of a similar campaign on the pro-SB 6 side that would have pumped up communications to Straus.

“One thing it could demonstrate is that the opposition to the bill is far more intense than the support for the bill,” Jones said.

Well good, because we could use some intensity. Patrick’s office is of course claiming that this is an “orchestrated campaign” against them, because that is what one says when the calls and emails are overwhelmingly against you. When everyone agrees with you, then The People Are Making Their Voices Heard, and when they don’t it’s a bunch of paid astroturf outside agitators. It’s not a surprise that Patrick has received far and away the most feedback on the bathroom bill, since he is by far its biggest proponent. None of it will change his mind, of course, but it’s still good for him to get an earful. As foe his claim that a poll shows a large majority of people oppose having men in women’s bathrooms, well of course people don’t approve of that. It has nothing to do with his bill, but that won’t stop him. As a wise man once said, good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance. But if that’s all you’ve got, then that’s all you’ve got.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

The 2017 lineup for Pasadena

Here are the candidates for office in Pasadena for this May:

I wish I could give that to you in a more reader-friendly format, but online news sources for this are scant. This Patch.com story is the only post-filing deadline news I’ve seen, and it bizarrely identifies my blogging colleague Gary Denton as a candidate for Mayor. (Denton is working with Council Member Pat Van Houte on her Mayoral campaign.) This Chron story from the end of January gives a bit of background on some of the Mayoral candidates, but others have since filed. I’ll be keeping my eyes open on this and will post more if and when I find something worth posting.

In the meantime, according to Gary, the three unopposed Council candidates are all Democrats, as are Felipe Villareal in A, Steve Halvorson in B, and Oscar Del Toro in G. I don’t have particulars about other candidates as yet. I plan to keep a closer watch on these local May races than I usually do, and I welcome feedback if you know about any campaigns or candidates I should be watching.

Posted in: Election 2017.

Interview with Bill Kelly

You may have heard that the city of Houston has some legislative business to take care of this session. Most notably, the city wants to get a bill passed to implement its pension reform plans, which may or may not have been complicated by the news that a vote could be required for the city to float pension obligation bonds. The person who is on point for this, to work with legislators to lobby for city issues and get the legislation it wants passed while stopping the legislation it doesn’t want passed is Bill Kelly, the Director of Government Relations under Mayor Sylvester Turner. I spoke to Kelly about his work in Austin, on topics ranging from pensions and “sanctuary cities” to speed limits and pipe bombs – yes, pipe bombs – and what the city’s goals are for each. We referenced a few links in our conversation, which include:

The Kinder Institute study on pension funds.
The City of Houston Legislative Priorities and the City of Houston Legislative Principles for the 85th Legislature.

With all that said, here’s what Bill and I talked about:

I’ve got a few more of these interviews about issues in the Legislature to do. I hope you find them useful.

Posted in: Local politics, That's our Lege.

Uptown lawsuit filed

I suppose we should have expected something like this.

The city’s Uptown Development Authority and the economic development zone that feeds it were created in violation of the Texas Constitution, two critics allege in a lawsuit that seeks to void all resulting actions and block Uptown from collecting or spending another dime.

The Galleria-area agency’s controversial, $200 million effort to widen Post Oak Boulevard and add dedicated bus lanes down the middle is a key focus of the lawsuit. It was filed Wednesday on behalf of restaurateur Russell Masraff and condominium resident Jim Scarborough, who was also was a plaintiff in another, since-dismissed lawsuit seeking to block the bus plan.

The suit argues that Uptown officials repeatedly violated the Texas Open Meetings Act in pricing and purchasing land to widen Post Oak – including tracts in which some Uptown board members had a financial interest – and that the agency’s subsequent decisions should be voided or reversed, to the extent possible.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Joe Larsen, said he views the filing as having broader significance beyond the bus plan.

“We’re asking the court to order Uptown to make no further payments because all the money involved has been collected through an unconstitutional tax regime,” Larsen said. “The bottom line is the Constitution requires equal taxation.”

He added that the only reason tax increment reinvestment zones, or TIRZs, “are not unconstitutional is that there’s a different provision in the Constitution that allows them.”

“In order to meet that other provision in the Constitution that allows TIRZs to be constitutional, they have to be in an area that’s ‘blighted, undeveloped or underdeveloped,’ Larsen asserted. “That’s it.”

This is not the first lawsuit related to this project; that one was subsequently dismissed, though without a comment on its merits. In this case, the plaintiffs asked the judge for an injunction blocking the Uptown Development Authority from spending money or issuing bonds while the litigation was in progress, but that request was denied. I feel like it’s also in the Constitution that we cannot have a non-freeway expansion transportation project in this town without at least one lawsuit. I’m not qualified to assess the legal argument being made here, so instead let me bring you a video of “Uptown Funk”, since that song has been lodged in my brain since this story first broke.

With all due respect to “Uptown Girl”, I say this song should be played at the beginning of all court hearings in this case. Who’s with me on this? Swamplot has more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

The “border adjustment tax” is a sales tax increase by another name

That’s a feature, not a bug.

Retailers across Texas and the country are warning that a proposed border adjustment tax would increase the cost of imports and, by extension, the price of food, clothing and other consumer goods. Texas companies, including Stage Stores of Houston and Neiman Marcus of Dallas, have joined more than 150 other U.S. firms in a coalition fighting a possible border tax, part of a broader tax overhaul championed by Rep. Kevin Brady, The Woodlands Republican who chairs the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin.

The plan essentially proposes a 20 percent tax on imports, which the National Retail Federation, a trade group, expects would raise the price of consumer products by 15 percent. Randi Sonenshein, senior vice president of strategy and finance for Stage Stores, which has more than 800 locations in 38 states, said her company worries that the higher prices related to the tax would particularly hurt customers who shop at stores located in small and mid-size towns, where it primarily operates.

“The plan will have a disproportionately negative impact on retailers,” she said. “It’s a tough thing to contemplate.”

Border adjustment is one component of a tax plan that aims to shift the U.S. tax code toward favoring production of goods over their consumption. Under the plan, companies would lose deductions for the costs of importing goods; at the same time, sales revenues from goods they export would be exempt from corporate income taxes.

[…]

Companies with significant sales in foreign countries, including aerospace manufacturer Boeing, the industrial conglomerate General Electric, chemical maker Dow Chemical and pharmaceutical maker Pfizer, support the plan. But critics of border taxes say U.S. consumers will ultimately pay more, with the costs borne disproportionately by low- and middle income households.

If a border tax was enacted, apparel, autos, furniture and electronics equipment – much of which is imported – would see some of the largest price increases, at least initially, according to a recent analysis by the Wall Street investment bank Goldman Sachs. The National Retail Federation expects the cost of clothing, for example, would rise at least $350 a year for an average consumer.

Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, as well as trade groups such as the U.S. Fashion Industry Association and the Association of Global Automakers, have joined the coalition against the plan, called Americans for Affordable Products.

The Texas Retailers Association, which represents companies of all sizes in every retail sector except convenience stores, has followed suit. George Kelemen, the association’s president and CEO, said every retail business in the state would be affected by the proposal in some way. In addition to clothing and other manufactured goods, food grown outside the United States, including everyday groceries, such as avocados, bananas and coffee would become pricier, he said.

“We are opposed to this,” he said. “It’s a cost passed on to the consumer.”

The real point of this is that once this is implemented, you – and by “you” I mean “Republicans” – can cut taxes elsewhere, which is always the goal. In that sense, it’s like the Craddick-era proposals to hike the state sales tax in return for a property tax cut. Dan Patrick would do that today if he thought he had the votes for it. I’m sure you can guess who would pay more and who would pay less in such a scenario. The bottom line is those tax cuts for the rich aren’t going to pay for themselves, but this might.

Posted in: Bidness.

The NBA is keeping an eye on SB6, too

I’d be shocked if they weren’t.

While lauding the work of New Orleans to take on the NBA All-Star game after the league pulled its events from Charlotte because of House Bill 2, which limited anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay and transgender people in the state, NBA commissioner Adam Silver did not sound eager to take those steps again.

Silver said the NBA will closely monitor similar legislation pending in Texas and other states when considering bids to host future All-Star weekends and its many related events.

The Rockets have prepared bids to host either the 2020 or 2021 All-Star weekend, a person with knowledge of the process said on the condition of anonymity because the effort had not been announced publicly.

“In terms of laws in other jurisdictions, it’s something we continue to monitor very closely,” Silver said. “You know, I’m not ready to draw bright lines. Clearly, though, the laws of the state, ordinances, and cities are a factor we look at in deciding where to play our All-Star Games.”

[…]

“We’d have to look at the specific legislation and understand its impact,” Silver said. “I mean, I’m not ready to stand here today and say that that is the bright line test for whether or not we will play All-Star Games in Texas. It’s something we’re, of course, going to monitor very closely.

What we’ve stated is that our values, our league-wide values in terms of equality and inclusion are paramount to this league and all the members of the NBA family, and I think those jurisdictions that are considering legislation similar to HB2 are on notice that that is an important factor for us. Those values are an important factor for us in deciding where we take a special event like an All-Star Game.”

Greg Abbott is gonna be so mad about this, you guys. And from the league Commissioner, not some “low level adviser”, too. The NBA has already moved an All Star Game out of North Carolina, so they have a track record of action. Sure, the NBA All Star Game isn’t as big a deal as the Super Bowl, but there are three NBA cities in Texas, and there have been three All Star Games played in Texas since 2006, with Houston aiming for another one soon. Why would we want to mess that up?

Also, too, there’s this:

In addition to the NBA and NFL, the Big 12 has said it’s keeping an eye on the bill’s progress. The NCAA has deferred comment even as it threatens to move several championship games from North Carolina over the state’s bathroom law. San Antonio is set to host the Men’s Final Four in 2018. Dallas is hosting the women’s championship this spring, but the bill won’t be passed before the event.

The NCAA we know about, but recall that the Atlantic Coast Conference also moved several conference championship games elsewhere. Texas is home to schools in the Big XII – which will be having a football championship game again; wouldn’t it be a kick in the pants if they decide to have it in, say, Oklahoma City instead of Dallas? – the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, the Southland Conference, and more. Lots of conferences, lots of sports, lots of tournaments and championship games potentially not being held in Texas. And for what?

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Weekend link dump for February 19

Robocop was way ahead of its time, and it’s eerie how accurate a reflection of society it now is.

Foreign students tend to pay full tuition at American universities, which helps subsidize things for everyone else. So having fewer of them thanks to Trumpian immigration restrictions will make college more expensive for everyone else.

If you work for a Christian organization but oppose Dear Leader Trump, you are probably coming under pressure at your job.

Sorry, but nobody wants your parents’ stuff.

RIP, Al Jarreau, versatile jazz/pop/blues singer.

“Here’s the ironic part: All of the nonsense behind the misogynistic fear of a female president has been coming to fruition in Donald Trump’s first weeks in office. Worried that a woman in the White House would have careening mood swings often spurred by catty arguments? Look no further than Trump’s Twitter feed.”

“According to the AMA, today there are about 280,000 international medical graduates in the U.S. That’s about 1 in 4 doctors practicing here. Some are U.S. citizens who’ve gone abroad for medical school, but most aren’t.”

Why do we allow children as young as 12 to get married in the US?

“In other words, Trump — who made Hillary Clinton’s email security the centerpiece of his presidential campaign — discussed sensitive national security matters in front of waiters and diners who were later able to describe the scene ‘in detail’ to reporters.”

Maybe there should be more tie games in baseball.

“It goes without saying that anyone who has ever served as the head of our Defense Intelligence Agency should not be going to Moscow to fete Vladimir Putin and lead a standing ovation in his honor.”

“Nudity was never the problem because nudity isn’t a problem. Today we’re taking our identity back and reclaiming who we are.”

You, too, can be a space archaeologist.

The etymology of “shitgibbon”, the Internet’s new favorite cuss word.

“This is what made Baptists subversive — what made them a threat and a danger to the sectarian states of Europe a few centuries ago. It’s why so many Baptists — and Anabaptists, like the Quakers — hightailed it to the New World.”

The clear lesson here is don’t use your spouse’s cellphone to get an Uber so you can visit your lover.

“This fits squarely into the definition of an emolument. Trump is getting something of value from a foreign gov’t. He couldn’t get it when he wasn’t president but he can get it now.”

“When leaks are this damaging and this tied to the fundamental operations of government, it’s not about the leaks or the motives. It’s about what we’re learning and what we need to know.”

The true history of “fake news”, which includes the origin story of the word “pasquinade”.

RIP, Robert Michel, longest-serving minority leader in the U.S. House.

“Four weeks into its first term, the Obama Administration had already passed the biggest economic stimulus since the Great Depression and a sweeping fair-pay act. It had also announced a troop surge in Afghanistan. By comparison, Trump has achieved virtually nothing, except scaring the bejesus out of the world.”

RIP, Norma McCorvey, a/k/a “Jane Roe” of the Roe v Wade decision. (“Wade”, by the way, was longtime Dallas County DA Henry Wade.)

Posted in: Blog stuff.

The legal case against the “sanctuary cities” bill

Ken Paxton says that the so-called “sanctuary cities” bill meets legal muster, and the state won’t get sued to smithereens if it passes. Not all lawyers agree with that.

Best mugshot ever

The office of the Texas Attorney General can no better predict when the Dallas Cowboys will win the Super Bowl than it can how an appeals court will rule on an immigration case that could have statewide repercussions.

That assessment from Faye M. Kolly, a senior immigration attorney with De Mott, McChesney, Curtright, & Armendáriz LLP, comes in response to a letter Attorney General Ken Paxton sent to lawmakers earlier this month reassuring them that Senate Bill 4, which seeks to ban “sanctuary” counties and campuses in Texas, would withstand an inevitable court challenge.

The bill by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, seeks to punish local entities if their law enforcement agencies fail to honor requests, known as detainers, from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to hand over immigrants in custody for possible deportation. It would also punish entities that enact policies preventing local law enforcement from asking about immigration status.

Paxton’s reassurances — an unusual communication from the attorney general’s office — came last week after a 16-hour-long hearing featuring testimony from various immigration attorneys, Kolly among them, warning that the bill would lead to costly lawsuits that Texas was likely to lose.

“Our review of the law concludes CSSB 4 is constitutional, there are viable methods for covered entities to avoid liability regarding invalid detainers, and the remainder of the legal concerns are unfounded,” Paxton wrote.

Paxton’s letter to senators prompted the partners of Kolly’s firm to respond in kind, hoping their experience in this legal area would persuade undecided lawmakers that the bill both Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have declared a priority of the session is not worth the effort.

Senators were unfazed and passed the measure last week on a party-line, 20-11 vote, sending it to the lower chamber for consideration.

Kolly said the attorneys will now try and convince House members to reject the bill, again pressing the argument that doing so would allow the state to avoid costly legal challenges and the possible erosion of Texans’ Fourth Amendment rights.

“[Paxton’s assertions] are completely speculative, and case law is contrary to that speculation,” Kolly said.

See here for the background. The story details the legal arguments that Kolly pus forth, which I am not qualified to evaluate. Given her seeming disdain for Paxton’s opinion, perhaps the Senate would have been wise to engage an attorney who isn’t an obvious homer. Assuming they wanted facts and not merely what they wanted to hear, of course. None of this matters until it gets to a courtroom, but at least we know it’s not as clear and easy as Ken Paxton would like you to think.

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

AG’s office sanctioned in voter registration lawsuit

They were warned.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A federal judge has ordered sanctions against the state of Texas for blowing past deadlines and ignoring a court order to hand over thousands of pages of documents in a lawsuit challenging its voter registration practices.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office’s “months-long delay” in producing the documents “has been disruptive, time consuming, cost consuming” and has burdened plaintiffs in the lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia of San Antonio wrote in an order signed Thursday. Garcia ordered the state to pay some of the plaintiffs’ legal fees, including those tied to the sanctions request.

The Texas Civil Rights Project last March sued on behalf of four Texans who allege the Department of Public Safety denied them the opportunity to cast a ballot — and violated federal law — by failing to update their voter registration records online.

The group, hoping for quick action during the 2018 election cycle, argued in a motion for sanctions last month that foot-dragging from Paxton’s office was hampering its case. State lawyers turned over less than 2 percent of the 55,000 requested pages by Jan. 17 — a court-ordered deadline set after Texas asked for several extensions.

Texas argued that the Secretary of State’s office was busy dealing with the 2016 general election and that its legal team — with only one attorney assigned to the case — lacked the manpower to respond to the information request.

Garcia rejected those and other arguments. He wrote that Texas had never asked for a deadline extension because of the election, and he suggested that Paxton’s office had plenty of resources.

“It is critical that these issues be resolved well before the 2018 election,” Beth Stevens, voting rights director with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said in a statement Friday. “Today’s order is a strong sign the Court also recognizes the important issues at stake.”

See here, here, and here for the background. At this point, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the state is deliberately dragging its feet to prevent a ruling from being in place for the 2018 elections. If these sanctions aren’t enough to compel some action from Ken Paxton, then I think the next step needs to be to grant summary judgment for the plaintiffs. I mean, if the state doesn’t want to contest the allegations, maybe it’s because it can’t. A statement from the Texas Civil Rights Project is here, and the Statesman has more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

How the Legislature is raising your property taxes

RG Ratcliffe explains it all to you:

Just how much money does the increased appraisal on property in your school district and elsewhere save the state budget writers? The projection is $1.5 billion for the next two-year budget. And where does this money go? In its initial budget, the Senate plans to use the savings on other state expenditures. The Straus starting-point budget includes giving the money to the public schools, but only if a school finance reform passes. But even if the $1.5 billion is put back into the school system, the state’s share of funding the public schools will decline to 39 percent by 2019 without a major boost in state spending.

That figure does not include the $3.8 billion that the state will recapture from property-wealthy school districts over the next two years to redistribute to low-wealth school districts. (That amount is about equal to what the state collected in oil-and-gas severance taxes in the current two-year state budget, or to the taxes collected on alcohol and tobacco combined, or about twice the tax motorists paid to fill the tanks of their cars and trucks.)

In the meantime, a program that was meant to keep school districts from losing money because of 2006 property tax cuts is set to expire. A decade ago, state legislators wanted to make certain that no school district had its budget cut because of state-mandated tax cuts, so they set up a program called Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction. Originally, they intended the program to phase out as property values rose. But faced with a budget crunch in 2011, the Legislature put an expiration date on the program: September 1, 2017. When the program expires, it will leave 175 school districts faced with having to raise taxes or cut budgets to make up for $225 million in lost state funding. For the 55,000-student Frisco school district near Dallas, that means a $30 million budget cut, while the 100-student Webb Consolidated on the border will lose $4.3 million in state funding – 66 percent of its total operating budget. Losing the state tax-relief funding is a hardship for the districts; for the state’s budget writers, it’s just another $225 million they won’t have to finance.

“Even though the state is working to say, ‘We want to provide property tax relief,’ they benefit from higher tax rates and higher tax efforts made by the locals,” Christy Rome, executive director of the Texas School Coalition, told me.

[…]

Plano ISD last year sent Governor Greg Abbott a letter explaining, how as a property-wealthy district, rising values did not increase funding for local schools even though local property owners were paying higher taxes. In the 2015-16 school year, the PISD collected $470 million from local taxpayers, sent $52.6 million to the state for redistribution, and kept $417.6 million to pay for local education. If the district did not change its tax rate, rising values would push tax collections up by almost $40 million, but the state would now take an additional $43.6 million in recapture and leave the district with $5 million less to pay for schools.

The district could cut the tax rate so that total tax collections stayed the same, but the formulas would still take an additional $25.6 million because of rising property values and leave Plano with $392 million to run its schools—a $25.6 million cut from the previous year.

The other idea was to give taxpayers some relief by adopting a $10,000 local option homestead exemption while leaving the tax rate unchanged. But even this proved problematic for PISD: the district would raise another $30.2 million in total property tax collections and boost the transfer of funds to the state by $43.6 million, all while leaving the district with $13.4 million less to pay for schools.

No matter how it was calculated, Plano taxpayers paid more, the state reaped cash that lawmakers could use to reduce how much they had to spend on public education, and the schoolchildren of Plano were left with less money to pay for their education.

Read the whole thing. And as RG says, when you hear Greg Abbott say that he wants to cut the business franchise tax even more, understand that he’s really saying he wants to put a bigger share of the burden of paying for schools on you.

Posted in: Budget ballyhoo.

As goes Tarrant

The Trib ponders the one big urban county that is not like the others.

Among the state’s five biggest counties, Tarrant is the only one that hasn’t backed a Democratic presidential candidate in the past decade. The 2016 presidential election heightened Tarrant’s status as an outlier. Even as the rest of the state’s big-city territories moved deeper into the Democratic column, Tarrant steadfastly emerged as America’s most conservative large urban county.

President-elect Donald Trump, who takes office this week, won the county by an 8.6-point margin. It was the narrowest win for a GOP presidential nominee in decades in Tarrant. But among the country’s 20 largest counties, Tarrant was only one of two that swung Trump’s way in November — and it had the wider margin.

Across Tarrant County, Democratic pockets are fewer and less powerful than their Republican counterparts. All four of the state senate districts that fall in Tarrant County are represented by Republicans. The GOP also holds eight of the county’s 11 state House seats. Four of the five county commissioner court seats are held by Republicans.

Residents, elected officials and experts here point to a nuanced union of demographic, cultural and political forces to explain why.

“There’s just all kinds of interesting numbers out there that make Tarrant County a lot different,” said U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth, the only Democrat holding one of the county’s five congressional seats.

Tarrant’s minority population, which tends to lean Democratic, hasn’t caught up to the state’s other big urban counties. At the same time, many Tarrant voters have a storied history of preferring practical governance to partisanship, according to officials and political observers. They say that helps support the moderate faction of the GOP, especially in Fort Worth, the nation’s 16th-largest city.

Then there’s the county’s development pattern. A lot of Tarrant remains rural. And, unlike Harris, Dallas and Travis counties, many of Tarrant’s affluent suburbs and conservative bedroom communities lie within its borders, not outside them. That’s helped give rise to the NE Tarrant Tea Party, a passionate and organized group that simultaneously supports far-right local candidates and serves as a powerful base for statewide Republicans.

[…]

Part of what has helped Tarrant become the state’s lone Republican urban county is that its minority populations, which largely and traditionally tend to lean Democratic, haven’t caught up to the state’s other big urban counties.

White residents’ share of the Tarrant population is falling, but it hasn’t declined as quickly as it has in Harris, Dallas, Travis and Bexar, said state demographer Lloyd Potter. The county’s Hispanic population is growing quickly, but it still lags behind the other big counties in terms of raw numbers, Potter added.

But that’s likely to change.

While Tarrant remains more white than Texas as a whole, it’s experienced a more significant drop in its share of white residents in the past 10 years compared to the state. In 2015, the county’s white population dropped to 48.5 percent — down from 56.4 percent in 2005.

Whites’ falling numbers in the county aren’t limited to its urban core in Fort Worth. In fact, the white population experienced a bigger drop in its share of the population in the suburbs from 2005 to 2015.

Here’s a fun fact, which I believe I have mentioned before: Tarrant County is a really good predictor of the overall Presidential race result in Texas. Witness the past four elections:

2004

Statewide – Bush 61.09%, Kerry 38.22%
Tarrant – Bush 62.39%, Kerry 37.01%

2008

Statewide – McCain 55.45%, Obama 43.68%
Tarrant – McCain 55.43%, Obama 43.43%

2012

Statewide – Romney 57.17%, Obama 41.38%
Tarrant – Romney 57.12%, Obama 41.43%

2016

Statewide – Trump 52.23%, Clinton 43.24%
Tarrant – Trump 51.74%, Clinton 43.14%

Almost spooky, isn’t it? One perfectly rational answer to the question “when will Texas turn blue?” is “when Tarrant County also turns blue”.

Anyway. The article is correct that Tarrant differs from the other big urban counties in that it’s actually a lot less urban than they are. Much of Tarrant is suburban, even rural, and that’s just not the case in Harris, Dallas, Bexar, and Travis. Tarrant’s demographics are changing, as the story notes, but I have no idea if there’s anything to suggest its demographics are changing any faster than the state’s are. The statewide judicial races and the one contested district court race were all in the 13-16 point range, which is consistent with the statewide results. I wish I could say I saw something to suggest change was coming faster, but at least in the numbers, I can’t. Maybe someone who is more familiar with the county can chime in.

Having said all this, one big opportunity in 2018 is in Tarrant, and that’s SD10, the Senate seat formerly held by Wendy Davis. Even in the dumpster fire of 2014, freshman Sen. Konni Burton only won by nine points, with 52.83% of the vote. If 2018 is a less hostile year, this is a winnable race, and as I’ve said before, any competitive Senate race is a big deal. Whatever we can do to hasten change in Tarrant County, 2018 would be a good time to do it.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Saturday video break: Only You Know And I Know

Here’s the versatile Dave Mason doing an acoustic version of one of his better known songs:

Mason was an original member of Traffic and went on to have a long solo career, often collaborating with other artists. He’s one of those guys you don’t realize you know that much about. Now here’s a guy you do realize you know a lot about, Phil Collins:

Boy, No Jacket Required was a very different album than Face Value and Hello, I Must Be Going, wasn’t it? I remember being kind of disappointed by it back in the day, because I really loved the first two albums and didn’t care for the more pop-infused direction Collins went. Looking back on it now, I like it more than I did then, but a part of me still wishes he’d continued exploring the turf he covered previously. I guess you have to go where the muse takes you.

Posted in: Music.

We may be voting on pension obligation bonds

Oh, boy.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

A state lawmaker carrying Houston’s pension reform bill says her version of the proposal will require a public referendum on a $1 billion cash infusion central to the negotiations, an idea Mayor Sylvester Turner called a “poison pill” that could derail the reforms and force “massive” layoffs.

The requirement that voters have a say on the $1 billion in pension obligation bonds is the brainchild of Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston. Fellow Houston Republican Sen. Joan Huffman, who is carrying the reforms in the higher chamber, said she understands the mayor’s frustration but said her bill – which still is being drafted – will not pass without the provision.

“It is a billion-dollar bond, and though it’s not new debt – it’s debt that the city owes to both the police pension fund and to the municipal pension fund – I can understand how the voters would want to have a voice in the issuance of the bonds,” Huffman said. “To get it out of the Senate, it’s a necessary addition to the bill.”

Turner’s reform plan, despite ongoing wariness from the firefighters’ pension fund, emerged from a year of negotiations in Houston with broad support from civic think-tanks, business leaders and pension experts, as well as a 16-1 endorsement from City Council.

[…]

“That is a poison pill, and you are saying you want this deal killed – and it will kill this deal,” Turner said at Wednesday’s council meeting. “If that’s the course that the Legislature chooses to take, then the Legislature must also say to people in this city – to businesses and property owners – ‘We are assuming responsibility because the state can do it better.'”

Turner also sought to spell out the consequences if the reforms fail: still-rising pension debts, an additional $134 million added to an already sizable deficit in the coming budget, and “massive layoffs” touching every city department.

Boy, between this and the Astrodome and the revenue cap and maybe another Metro referendum, not to mention the May recapture re-vote, this may wind up being a far busier election year than it would have with just the usual slate of city races on the ballot. I’ll be honest, I had thought from the beginning there would have to be a vote on the pension obligation bonds, but it turns out that’s not the case thanks to a law passed in 2003. The rationale is that this is not new debt, since the city in this case already owes the money. Be that as it may, I don’t necessarily object to voting on them, though I have to wonder once again why Houston is being singled out like this. What’s the rationale for having a vote, other than “it’s a lot of money”, which as a reminder the city already owes? Paul Bettencourt says “anytime you consider $1 billion of anything, the public should vote on it first”, but if that’s the threshold then why is there a bill to vote on $100 million of Astrodome spending? The thing about having a vote is there’s a winner and there’s a loser. If there is a vote on pension obligation bonds, who’s rooting for Yes to win, and who’s rooting for No? It would be nice to be clear about that before we go on.

Posted in: Local politics, That's our Lege.

Twice the trials, twice the fun

The Paxton special prosecutors want to separate the charges into two trials.

Best mugshot ever

Special prosecutors said Thursday they would like to try Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton first on charges he failed to register as an investment advisor, pushing a lengthy trial on his securities fraud charges until a later date.

Kent Schaffer, one of the special prosecutors assigned to the case, said a trial on the registration charges can be completed within days and is a simpler case, whereas the fraud case could last weeks.

Schaffer said the fraud charges likely would be tried week or months after the registration case is finished.

News of the state’s intention riled Paxton’s defense team which had been under the impression the two securities fraud charges and the registration charge would be tried together.

The decision of whether to hold one trial or two is up to Tarrant County state District Judge George Gallagher. The judge also is expected to rule later on the prosecutors’ request for a change of venue.

The judge told both sides his intention was to at least try to pick a jury in Collin County, where the case is filed. The trial had been scheduled to begin May 1.

See here for the background on relocating the proceedings. The Trib has the details of that part of the hearing on Thursday.

The prosecutors called three witnesses to help make their case, including a Dallas TV reporter who recently conducted an interview with former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., in which Santorum described the case as a political vendetta against Paxton. The reporter, J.D. Miles, said Paxton ally Jeff Blackard helped arrange the interview, but “I’m not part of a conspiracy, and I wouldn’t know if there is one.”

The prosecution’s second witness was Wayne Dolcefino, a former TV news star who now runs a consulting firm. He testified that he gave the website Watchdog.org leaked records from the Texas Rangers regarding the Paxton case.

Dolcefino has ties to Cogdell, Paxton’s attorney, whom he said has paid him several thousand dollars for a “research project.” Dolcefino insisted his work for Paxton’s lawyers did not involve the media and said he acted on his own when he leaked the records. He said he did it out of dissatisfaction with coverage of the Paxton case thus far and a desire to shine more light on a situation where taxpayer dollars are at stake.

“I did what I did, and I didn’t get paid for it,” Dolcefino said on the stand on Thursday, referring to giving the documents to Watchdog.org.

The third witness, Tom Dailey, is a business manager for Cumulus Media in Dallas, which handled a radio ad buy last year that was done under Watchdog.org’s name. The ads cast doubt on the case against Paxton and promoted Watchdog.org’s work.

The prosecutors asked Dailey to explain how the ads ran during popular times of day and reached Collin County listeners. Cogdell argued the ads will be almost five months old by the time jury selection begins and got Dailey to testify that he was unaware of a connection between the ad buy and Paxton himself.

Good to know that WayneDo still has some game, even if not on the air and even if not in Houston. I don’t have an opinion on the change of venue request. It is certainly the case that Republicans are standing by Paxton, and that surely must exert some pressure, but I don’t know how much difference it would make to move the trial to a similarly Republican county like, say, Williamson. Surely there are twelve people in Collin who have not been paying any attention to all this. As for having two trials instead of one, I understand where the prosecutors are coming from, but – and I can’t believe I’m going to say this – that seems kind of unfair to Paxton. I think he’s a giant pile of sleaze, but if he were any other high-profile defendant, I’d say he deserves to get this over with sooner rather than later, one way or the other. That’s the judge’s call, and we’ll see what he says.

Also the judge’s call, though not if Collin County Commissioners Court has any say in it, is the issue of how much the special prosecutors get paid.

Collin County officials think investigating and prosecuting elected officials like Attorney General Ken Paxton can be too costly, a complaint that could take them into the courtroom or even the state Legislature this year.

On Monday, the Commissioners Court voted to hire lawyers who’ll look into whether the county can challenge the constitutionality of the Texas Fair Defense Act, a state law that sets rules for paying court-appointed attorneys like public defenders and special prosecutors who investigate and pursue charges against officials accused of wrongdoing.

The law lets a group of local judges set these rates, which County Judge Keith Self said could violate the separation of powers that should exist between him and his colleagues on the commissioners court and the legal powers of the judiciary.

“We’re concerned about the unfettered and open access to the county checkbook by judges,” said Self, adding that the goal is to ensure “the commissioners court has has got to have some sort of control over the public purse” when it comes to the costs of high-profile prosecutions like Paxton’s.

The timing is important, too, Self said, because lawmakers meeting in Austin could rewrite the Fair Defense Act this year if the county decides to challenge the law.

The changes won’t have any effect on Paxton’s prosecution — his criminal trial is scheduled for May — but were sought in direct response to the six-figure cost of the attorney general’s fraud case.

“The Paxton case, which we can’t consider right now, has revealed the issues with the local rules and the state law,” Self said Wednesday. “So we believe that now is the time to do it because the Legislature is in session. And if we’re going to get the change in state law down, and some attention on the fact that we believe there’s a separation of powers issue here, we need to get it done.”

See here for some background. I do have some sympathy for the Commissioners, as this is not a mess of their making, and I agree the Lege is the place to go for a remedy. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the rate at which special prosecutors are paid, I just think the simplest solution is to have the state pay for them. Especially for trials like this, local issues should not be allowed to become concerns. Let the state pony up and be done with it. Courthouse News has more.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

FBI and IRS raid Sen. Carlos Uresti’s office

That’s never a good thing.

Sen. Carlos Uresti

FBI and IRS agents raided the San Antonio law offices of state Sen. Carlos Uresti on Thursday morning — confiscating documents and other items.

A law enforcement source told the the San Antonio Express-News, which first reported the raid Thursday, that it was connected to Uresti’s involvement with a now-bankrupt fracking sand company that he held a financial stake in.

“Law enforcement agents with IRS and FBI are lawfully present conducting a law enforcement operation,” FBI spokeswoman Michelle Lee told the Texas Tribune. “No further details have been released at this time.”

Lee confirmed that no arrests had been made.

Uresti, a San Antonio Democrat and personal injury attorney, has been entwined in a complicated saga involving FourWinds Logistics, which sold sand used in hydraulic fracturing, a process that extracts oil and gas from shale rock.

A lengthy investigation published by the Express-News in August first detailed Uresti’s involvement in the company and fraud allegations it faces.

[…]

FourWinds’ purported intent was to buy sand and sell it at a markup to oil and gas companies, but some investors have accused the company’s leadership of misrepresenting its financial health and spending their money on frivolous, personal expenses. It now faces millions of dollars in claims from investors and other companies.

Denise Cantu, whom Uresti represented in a wrongful-death case, said she lost most of the $900,000 she invested in the now-bankrupt company in 2014 at the suggestion of Uresti, according to the Express-News. She has said she was not initially aware that Uresti would get a piece of her investment, though Uresti has suggested otherwise.

With allegations of serious financial mismanagement detailed in bankruptcy court, the FBI last year opened an investigation into FourWinds, the Express-News reported. In August, Uresti told the paper that he was a “witness” in that investigation but not its target.

On Nov. 4, four days before Election Day, Eric Nelson, the former marketing director for FourWinds, was indicted for his role in an alleged scheme to defraud investors. He later pleaded guilty to one felony charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Federal attorneys accused Nelson of altering company bank statements to “grossly” inflate its account balance. At least two more former FourWinds employees have been indicted since the election: Shannon Smith, who held a 48 percent stake in the company, and Laura Jacobs, who worked as its comptroller. They face similar charges to Nelson’s.

FourWinds had paid Uresti to attract investors before it filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in August 2015 — beset by allegations of fraud and misused funds.

It could be that this action by the FBI and IRS was to collect evidence for the case against FourWinds and its executives. If that’s all it is, and Uresti himself is not implicated in anything criminal, then this will be as bad as it gets for him, and the news will fade in time. If not, well, he’ll probably wind up having something in common with Ken Paxton. I hope for his sake it doesn’t come to that, but we’ll see. A statement from Sen. Uresti can be found here, and the Current has more.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Popovich for Governor

This site was set up by a Facebook friend of mine. Right now, all that’s there is a form to fill out to exhort Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to run for Governor, plus links to buy Pop-for-Governor T-shirts. I doubt it will be more than that, but I’d pay good money to see a sideline reporter ask him about it during a game telecast. I also doubt that Popovich’s name came up during the recent Democratic confab in Austin, but hey, you never know. We are early enough in the cycle to do a little wishcasting, so enjoy it while you can.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Friday random ten: Ladies’ night, part 33

My library votes 3-2 in favor of not having an “H” in “Sara(h)”.

1. Rare Find – Sara Melson
2. Sweetness Follows – Sara Quin featuring Kaki King
3. The Pins – Sara Radle
4. Fallen – Sarah McLachlan
5. Around Midnight – Sarah Vaughan
6. The Heart Wants What It Wants – Selena Gomez
7. My Snow Angel – Shannon LaBrie
8. Poison My Cup – Shannon McArdle
9. 100 Days, 100 Nights – Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings
10. Serpents – Sharon Van Etten

RIP, Sharon Jones, one of the way-too-many people we lost last year. At least she got to be on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me before she left us.

Posted in: Music.

Again, there is no such thing as an acceptable bathroom bill

The current strategy for Dan Patrick in trying to round up support for, or at least blunt opposition to, his bathroom bill is to claim that it will contain exceptions for sports venues, so no one needs to worry about boycotts or other bad things. Unfortunately for Dan, no one is buying it, and the actual lived experience of North Carolina remains the prime piece of evidence why.

But in the shadow of the millions of dollars in lost tourism-related revenue in North Carolina, opponents of the Texas bill warn that perception trumps specifics when it comes to business and that the exemption may not prevent Texas from feeling the economic repercussions that riddled the Tar Heel State.

“We have discussed that with our meeting planners and sports organizers — they don’t care about the nuances,” said Visit Dallas CEO Phillip Jones, whose group is among a coalition of Texas tourism bureaus and commerce chambers organizing in opposition to SB 6. “Perception is reality, and if there’s a perception that there’s a discrimination taking place in Texas that’s sanctioned by the state as a result of this bill, they will bypass Texas.”

SB 6 would restrict bathroom and locker room use in public schools and government buildings to be based on “biological sex,” and it would override portions of local anti-discrimination ordinances meant to provide transgender Texans protections from discrimination in public bathrooms and other facilities.

But while the bill would require government entities to set bathroom policies for other public buildings, such entities that oversee publicly owned venues would have no say in the bathroom policies in place while sports leagues like the NCAA hold championship games at a stadium or during a performer’s concert at an arena.

[…]

Officials in North Carolina used a similar argument to defend their bathroom law, but it still cost the state millions in cancellations: The NBA moved an All-Star Game from Charlotte, costing the city $100 million in profits. The city estimated it lost another $30 million when the Atlantic Coast Conference pulled its football championship. Businesses scrapped expansions in the state, and performers canceled concerts. And the NCAA relocated seven championship games from North Carolina during the 2016-17 academic year.

In light of those cancellations, business and tourism officials in Texas say they are bracing for similar fallout, arguing that the stadium and convention center exemption probably won’t be enough to keep business from leaving the state.

“The really consistent message we get back is: Don’t count on it saving you,” Jessica Shortall, managing director of Texas Competes, said of feedback her group has received about the exemption from tourism officials in other states where similar legislation has been passed. Her nonprofit was recently set up to promote Texas businesses as LGBT friendly.

Associations holding conventions in Texas are already “expressing concern” over the legislation, tourism officials say. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has reached out to Patrick regarding the legislation, Patrick’s staff confirmed. And the Texas Association of Business, which represents hundreds of businesses and regularly sides with conservatives, is also opposed to the legislation, in part over concerns about it affecting the state’s ability to obtain business investments and recruit top talent to the state.

See here for some background. Jerry Jones is just another low level NFL adviser, so we don’t need to worry about what he has to say. Whatever you think about the NFL’s recent words, the fact remains that the NBA and the NCAA have shown with their actions and not just their words what they think of North Carolina’s bathroom bill, and if that state’s Republican-controlled legislature fails to repeal that law by the end of the month, they risk another demonstration of said opinion. There’s not enough lipstick in the entire Mary Kay collection for this porker. The only sensible thing to do is to leave SB6 in a back room somewhere, never to be seen again.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Ogg launches her pot prosecution reform program

We’ve been waiting for this.

Kim Ogg

The Harris County district attorney’s plan to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana drew reactions swift and strong Thursday from both sides of the debate.

District Attorney Kim Ogg made the announced Thursday backed by a bevy of local officials, including Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis.

“The sky will not fall,” Acevedo said as he voiced his support. “There are already critics out there. We’ve been down this path before with my old department. Rather than see an uptick in crime, in the city of Austin we reduced violent crime between 2007 and 2014 by 40 percent.”

Bellaire Police Chief Byron Holloway, however, said the program seems similar to a program former District Attorney Devon Anderson put into place.

“At first blush, I’m not seeing a difference,” he said. “This is basically giving deferred adjudication up front.”

Yes, that’s my impression as well. This earlier story gives the details.

The policy, set to begin March 1, means that misdemeanor offenders with less than four ounces of marijuana will not be arrested, ticketed or required to appear in court if they agree to take a four-hour drug education class, officials said.

Ogg said the county has spent $25 million a year for the past 10 years locking up people for having less than 4 ounces of marijuana. She said those resources would be better spent arresting serious criminals such as burglars, robbers and rapists.

“We have spent in excess of $250 million, over a quarter-billion dollars, prosecuting a crime that has produced no tangible evidence of improved public safety,” she said. “We have disqualified, unnecessarily, thousands of people from greater job, housing and educational opportunities by giving them a criminal record for what is, in effect, a minor law violation.”

Officials have said it could divert an estimated 12,000 people a year out of the criminal justice system and would save officers hours of processing time now spent on low-level cases. More than 107,000 cases of misdemeanor marijuana cases have been handled in the past 10 years, officials said.

Since there is no arrest, there is no arrest record. Since there is no court date, there are no court documents connected to the encounter. The plan calls for officers to seize the marijuana and drop it off at a police station at the end of their shift, along with a record of the encounter in case the suspect does not take the class.

“You do not get charged with anything,” Assistant District Attorney David Mitcham, who heads the DA’s trial bureau, said Wednesday. “You have a pathway where you can avoid going to court.”

[…]

At the sheriff’s office, the new policy will save up to 12 hours of processing time per month for as many as 1,000 suspects, a move that will ease the workload on administrators and jailers who transfer and process inmates, officials said.

“We’re really encouraged by these swift actions by the district attorney,” said sheriff’s spokesman Ryan Sullivan. “And we are looking forward to working with Harris County’s criminal justice leadership identifying common-sense solutions to our broken criminal justice system.”

Sullivan said the move would likely not affect the jail population significantly, since most misdemeanor marijuana offenders move quickly in and out of jail. On Wednesday, just 12 people were jailed on misdemeanor marijuana offenses and unable to make bail, he said.

Elected district attorneys are given wide latitude in their discretion about how to enforce laws in their jurisdictions. Diversion programs, such as drug courts, have been widely used across Texas, and Austin has launched a “cite and release” program in which low-level drug offenders are given tickets and required to appear in court.

Under the new local program, police would identify a suspect to make sure they do not have warrants or other legal issues, then would offer them the option of taking the drug education class. If the suspect takes the class, the drugs are destroyed and the agreement is filed away.

A suspect would be able to take the class over and over again regardless of past criminal history, officials said.

The new program will keep police on the streets longer each day and reduce costs for lab testing of the drugs, Mitcham said.

If the suspect does not take the class, the contraband will be tested, and prosecutors will file charges and issue an arrest warrant. Offenders could then face up to one year in jail if convicted of the Class A misdemeanor.

The model to think about here is traffic tickets – speeding, running a stop sign, that sort of thing. You get a ticket instead of getting arrested (generally speaking, of course), and you have various options for disposing of the ticket without it appearing on your record. As with speeding tickets but unlike the program put in place by former DA Devon Anderson, you can get a do-over if you get cited again. Given all the strains on the jail lately, keeping some number of mostly harmless potheads out of jail, while keeping cops on the street instead of hauling said potheads downtown for booking, sure seems like a win to me.

As for Montgomery County DA Brett Ligon, whose press release is here, last I checked Montgomery County was not part of Harris County. State law allows for police departments to write citations for low-level drug busts instead of making arrests, and prosecutors have a lot of discretion in how they handle criminal charges. He’s as free to do his thing as Kim Ogg is to do hers, as long as the voters approve. Well, as long as the Lege approves as well, which given that Dan Patrick is having the vapors over this, could change. As we are seeing with many things, the Dan Patricks are out of step with the mainstream. It may take awhile, but that will catch up to them eventually. The Press and Grits for Breakfast have more.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Paxton files brief in favor of Muslim ban

Because of course he does.

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an amicus brief Wednesday expressing his support of President Donald Trump’s travel ban, effectively becoming the first state attorney general to back the controversial executive order.

Under the executive order, travelers from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Libya are barred from entering the United States for the next 90 days. Last month, the ban immediately created chaotic scenes in major airports across the country, where refugees in transit were detained.

“The law makes it very clear that the president has discretion to protect the safety of the American people and our nation’s institutions with respect to who can come into this country,” Paxton said in a news release. “The safety of the American people and the security of our country are President Trump’s major responsibilities under the law.”

A copy of the brief is here. I don’t even know what there is to say at this point, so let me instead highlight this Chron story from a few days ago, for reasons that will be clear in a moment:

The doctor had waited as long as he could.

For days he had been checking news updates between appointments at Texas Children’s Hospital. Waiting to see if the courts or Congress would permanently strike down President Donald Trump’s restrictions on travel to the U.S. from seven Middle Eastern countries. Waiting to see if the administration would put out clear guidelines for those planning to go abroad. Hoping.

Now, Dr. Alireza Shamshirsaz felt he had run out of time, and he needed to break it to them.

He dialed in via Skype early this week, and there they were, staring back at him from Iran: The expectant parents whose babies almost certainly would die because he wouldn’t be coming to operate on them.

Technically, there was nothing stopping his team from making the trip, he told them. But with uncertainty surrounding the president’s travel restrictions — now tied up in federal courts — he and the other doctors weren’t certain they would be able to return to Houston at the end of their 10-day visit, so they canceled their flights.

“It was a disaster,” Shamshirsaz said, recalling separate video chats with two sets of parents who had been expecting him to perform life-saving surgeries next week on their unborn babies – complicated operations no doctors in Iran can do. “They were sobbing, completely and totally devastated. Now there is no hope for them.”

So, thanks to that now-injuncted travel ban that Ken Paxton supports, three unborn babies may now be dead. You’d think that might tug at the conscience of someone who claims to be staunchly pro-life, but apparently not. I guess some babies just don’t count as much as some others. And while it doesn’t have anything directly to do with this litigation, the fact that ICE is now rounding up domestic violence victims for deportation is on Paxton and his fellow Trump enablers as well. The Press and the Dallas Observer have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.