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April 2nd, 2012:

Interview with Nick Lampson

Nick Lampson

I still have one more State House primary to cover, that being the one in HD144, but the way things worked out I wound up doing interviews with local Congressional candidates first, so I’m going to run those this week. First up is the familiar name of former Rep. Nick Lampson, back in the saddle again for a run at the new CD14, which looks a lot like the old CD09 that he represented before Tom DeLay mucked things up back in 2003. You know what he brings to the table – experience, a passion for the space industry, excellent constituent service, and on and on. It’s always a pleasure to talk to him – the previous opportunity I had was in 2008 – and you can listen to it here:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle, plus other related information, on my 2012 Harris County Primary Elections page. You can also follow this blog by liking its Facebook page.

Voter ID lawsuit action this week

Tomorrow, the DC Court will hear “oral argument on the State of Texas’ request to block the depositions of 12 Republican legislators who were involved with the voter ID bill, including State Sen. Dan Patrick and state representatives Debbie Riddle and Leo Berman as well as Speaker Joe Straus”.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The only voter ID anyone should need

The motion also sought to bar discovery of written communications between members of the Legislature, communications between legislators and their staffs, and communications between legislators and their constituents, regarding the bill.

The motion said that efforts by the Justice Department and intervenors to obtain the documents and depositions were barred by a “long recognized” legislative privilege and “represent[ed] an unwarranted federal intrusion into the operations of the Texas Legislature” that “threaten[ed] to push section 5’s already-questionable incursions on state prerogatives past the constitutional breaking point.”

The state said that recognizing legislature privilege in cases like this would “not interfere with the judicial preclearance process because it does not prevent litigants from establishing that a state law was enacted with a racially discriminatory purpose.” Instead, the state argued that a “racially discriminatory purpose can be determined from publicly available documents, the relevant history surrounding the enactment, and common sense.”

You can see the motion here. Burka was not impressed.

Abbott increasingly acts like a politician instead of a lawyer. His move this week to ask a Washington, D.C. court to allow the legislators involved in the battle over the Voter ID to avoid giving deposition testimony is really putting a thumb on the scales of justice. This is a lawsuit. Why shouldn’t DOJ, as one of the parties, have the right to depose witnesses? What are the federal rules of civil procedure for, if not this? Abbott would scream bloody murder if the shoe were on the other foot and he was attempting to depose witnesses.

According to the Statesman, The U.S. Department of Justice, which is facing off against Abbott’s office in a case in which the Attorney General seeks to have Texas’ voter ID law go into effect for the upcoming elections, has asked to depose or question under oath the Senate author of the voter ID bill, Troy Fraser; the House sponsor, Patricia Harless; and other lawmakers. What is Abbott’s justification for keeping key legislators from being deposed? State’s rights, of course: “an unwarranted intrusion into the operations of the Texas Legislature.” Let me see if I understand this. Requiring legislators to give testimony about the passage of a bill is an unwarranted intrusion into the operations of the Legislature. What does the Legislature do other than pass legislation? What else is “the operations of the Legislature?”

A couple of Burka’s commenters made the points that such internal communications cause Abbott and the state a fair amount of heartburn during the redistricting preclearance trial, and that some of the legislators Abbott is trying to protect, including SB14 sponsor Sen. Troy Fraser, weren’t exactly articulate and knowledgeable about the legislation they were pushing at the time it was being debated. The Justice Department filed its response on Thursday.

The department argues however, that: “Discovery seeking to determine whether the state can meet its burden that the change was not motivated by discriminatory purpose is an appropriate inquiry. Therefore, the discovery at issue here is relevant. Texas bears the burden of establishing that SB 14 has neither a discriminatory effect nor a discriminatory purpose.”

It adds that there has never been any state legislative “privilege identified in the federal rules of evidence and the D.C. Circuit has never recognized one.”

Indeed, the DOJ quoted Judge Rosemary Collyer from the redistricting preclearance trial on that point in its response. The numerous intervenors in the case also filed a response. The state has till today to respond to the response, then there will be the status conference tomorrow. The trial itself is scheduled for July 9, but the constitutional issues the state wants to bring up won’t be addressed until and unless preclearance is denied, so it’s unlikely they can be heard in time for a final ruling this year. A busy and eventful year just keeps getting more so.

School finance litigation gets underway

We ought to get a decision in the school finance lawsuits by the end of the year.

This case has become the largest of its kind in Texas’ decades-long history of school finance litigation. The school districts that have signed on serve about 70 percent of the 5 million students who attend Texas public schools.

“There are many long, complex cases, but in terms of the impact, I think these cases are unique,” said lawyer David Thompson, who represents the largest group of students.

As expected, [Judge John] Dietz agreed to consolidate into one the four school finance lawsuits that were filed late last year. A separate group of charter school supporters that petitioned to intervene in the case is also part of the litigation.

Dietz said he is aiming for the six-week trial to begin in early October, though a start date was not set at Wednesday’s hearing.

That schedule would give Dietz time to rule before the Legislature returns to Austin in January, even though lawmakers are not expected to act until after an appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.

I could be flip and say that this is the biggest school finance lawsuit since the last one, but this really is a big deal. The Lege only ever does the right thing when forced to do so, and this is one of those rare opportunities to make it. I sure hope we do. Texas Politics has more.

North Forest gets a reprieve

For a year.

The long-troubled North Forest school district will remain intact for at least another year as Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott granted it a rare reprieve Friday from having to close in July.

Scott said he would give the northeast Houston district a year to improve. He said he had seen some academic progress but still had serious concerns about its financial stability.

North Forest officials, backed by several state lawmakers and a member of Congress, had appealed Scott’s earlier order to close the district. At the time, Scott said he was worried about the “long-term education of the students.”

“We do think that the district has made some improvements under this current superintendent, and there’s some legal issues that prompted this decision,” Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for Scott, said late Friday when the decision was announced.

Ratcliffe said the state faced a time crunch to get federal approval for the closure before this school year ended. The U.S. Department of Justice has to sign off to ensure voters’ rights would not be violated.

In addition, the Texas Education Agency, which Scott oversees, had not conducted the state-mandated investigation of the impact on the Houston Independent School District, which would have assumed control of North Forest and its roughly 7,500 students.

Hair Balls has a copy of the TEA’s ruling. I don’t have any strong feelings about this one way or another. The kids’ education is what matters most; everything else is subservient to that. NFISD proponents cite the work of new Superintendent Edna Forte and asked that she be given time to show that the improvements she has brought about are real. I sincerely hope she’s up to the task, but it must be noted that NFISD has a history of hiring and firing superintendents, so let’s just say the jury is still out. I hope this time around the story has a happy ending.