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May 4th, 2012:

Fifth Circuit lifts its stay of Planned Parenthood injunction

Whiplash alert!

Right there with them

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel on Monday granted a preliminary injunction sought by Planned Parenthood in the case, saying the state couldn’t bar the group until the lawsuit is decided.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott quickly sought a stay at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The stay was granted by Judge Jerry E. Smith on an emergency basis. Smith also asked Planned Parenthood to respond.

On Friday, a three-judge panel including Smith vacated the stay. meaning Yeakel’s injunction remains in force.

Among other points, the court’s Friday order said a filing by Planned Parenthood called into question the state’s declaration of an emergency need for a stay.

State officials have said they’d have to shut down the program if forced to include Planned Parenthood. But the appellate judges said Planned Parenthood cited an affidavit saying operations would cease when federal funding ran out, and there are indications such funding will continue until November.

As Juanita says, “Pong!” You can read the court’s order there or at Postcards, which notes that the judges said in their ruling that the brief submitted by Planned Parenthood, which showed that federal funding will continue until November, “undermines the State’s assertion of irreparable harm if the injunction is not stayed pending appeal”. The Trib quotes them as follows: “[We] cannot conclude, on the present state of the record, that the state has shown a great likelihood, approaching a near certainty, that the district court abused its discretion in entering the injunction.” So there you have it. The ruling is temporary and doesn’t guarantee anything in the end, but for now at least the status quo is restored. Statements from Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast and State Rep. Jessica Farrar are beneath the fold.

(more…)

Friday random ten: Workin’ in the asteroid mines

Didn’t I read something the other day about mining asteroids? Well, here are ten suggestions for that new venture’s corporate theme song.

1. Space Oddity – David Bowie
2. Space Truckin’ – Deep Purple
3. Outer Space – Ace Frehley
4. Hillbillies From Outer Space – The Vaughan Brothers
5. Pipes In Space – The Rogues
6. Spacemen Rockin’ In The House Next Door – Feo y Loco
7. Rocket Man – Kate Bush
8. Fly Me To The Moon – Trinity University Jazz Band
9. Moons Of Jupiter – Eddie From Ohio
10. Bagpipes On Mars – Enter The Haggis

Or they could always go for some celebrity endorsements. I hear these guys are available:

See you next time.

United’s study predicts doom and disaster if Hobby expands

Well, what did you expect it to say?

You are NOT free to move around the country

Expanding Hobby Airport to allow for international flights will cost the Houston area 3,700 jobs and $295 million in economic activity, according to a study released by United Airlines Thursday afternoon.

United’s conclusions contrast starkly with the projections of a study commissioned by the Houston Airport System that an international Hobby would create 10,000 jobs and inject $1.6 billion into the local economy annually.

[…]

The United study attempts to dissect the city study by challenging several assumptions, including what United considers unrealistically low fares on new routes. Much has been made of the city study’s finding that fares to Bogota would decrease from $739 to $133. Although it concedes the average fare would decrease, United finds that the city study overstates current fares and understates the projected fares.

Southwest and the city study assert that new low-fare routes would increase passengers at both airports.

“Competition is always good, but there is already plenty of competition at Bush where it can take advantage of the enormous economies of scale associated with a large hub,” said Barton Smith, one of the United study’s authors and professor emeritus of economics at the University of Houston. “Diminishing the volume of connecting flights through Bush could be very damaging. The HAS study finding that Southwest Airlines proposal would actually increase trips through Bush is just sheer nonsense.”

You can find United’s study here and a summary of its findings here. I guess United’s claim of 1300 lost jobs wasn’t sexy enough. This was posted late yesterday and I have not had the time to give it a read-through, but clearly United’s economists and whoever did the HAS study were operating under two completely different sets of assumptions. One or both of them must be wrong. I still think Darren Bush wimped out by not offering an actual opinion on this matter, but his advice to Council to “trust no one” sure seems apt. Let’s have one more study to break the tie!

The United study came out as the Greater Houston Partnership formally endorsed Hobby expansion.

“We want two vibrant airports and the benefits that go along with it: more jobs, more travelers and a competitive advantage for our city,” Greater Houston Partnership chairman Tony Chase said in a statement after a unanimous vote by one of the group’s 60 committees.

[…]

Partnership president Jeff Moseley said in the Wednesday statement that the organization “carefully deliberated on how increased competition changes the landscape within airport systems.”

More on that here and here. I’ll leave the wisecracks about who put these words in their mouth as an exercise for the reader. So, is anyone convinced by United’s study? Let me know in the comments.

TAB joins school finance litigation

But not as a force for good.

The Texas Association of Business announced today that it will join a school finance lawsuit against the state, demanding a study of Texas school system efficiency.

“The Constitution of Texas calls for the state to provide an efficient public school system, and in our view, clearly the school system is not efficient,” said Bill Hammond, the organization’s president. “Only two-thirds of ninth-graders graduate in four years, and, of those who graduate, only a quarter are what we call career- or college-ready.”

Hammond hopes the suit will encourage the Legislature or the appropriate agency to produce a study into how much it may cost to create a better school system — even if that may cost more than what is currently spent.

“I would not preclude [spending more on students],” Hammond said. “We need an honest broker to do the study on the true costs of educating a child. We’ll deal with the facts as they’re presented to us.”

TAB will be joining the fifth party to sign up for litigation against the state, a group made up of parents. Hammond noted that they are they only litigants in the lawsuit looking specifically into efficiency.

Hammond made the announcement alongside former Supreme Court Justice Craig Enoch and Chris Diamond, both attorneys in the case, and former House Education Committee Chairman Kent Grusendorf, who heads the organization bringing the lawsuit.

Calling that fifth group “made up of parents” is more than a bit disingenuous. The group in question is Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in Education, and you only have to spend a few minutes on their sparse website to recognize that they’re a front group for charter schools and voucher proponents. Having TAB on their side is further evidence that their involvement isn’t about educating kids but about protecting their own financial interests. As that earlier Trib story notes, they’re there to provide a way out that doesn’t require the Lege to adequately fund public education. It’s not clear yet what role they’ll be allowed to play in the suit; the other plaintiffs, whose interests are not aligned with TREE’s, have not taken any formal action in response to their entry. Just remember when you see vague media descriptions of these guys who they really are. Postcards and Trail Blazers have more.

Constables and eviction notices

This is just wrong.

With the help of their taxpayer-funded offices, five Harris County constables have been using a little-known eviction fee to add thousands of dollars a year to their base $120,000 annual salaries.

State law allows a constable to pocket fees – ranging from $10 to $20 – for serving a “notice to vacate,” the first step a landlord must take before filing an eviction proceeding in Justice of the Peace Court.

Former Constable Jack Abercia, who resigned in January under federal indictment, made up to $36,000 a year in fees for notices delivered by a county-paid deputy, according to the Harris County Attorney’s Office.

[…]

Landlords can deliver the eviction notice themselves, but several constables explained that landlords prefer hiring a third party to avoid a confrontation or a dispute about whether the notice was delivered.

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan began examining the practice last year after several constables sought legal guidance. Constables are advised they can use office staff and equipment to process the notices, since the use of those county resources is considered incidental, said Assistant County Attorney Douglas Ray.

State law and a 1997 Texas attorney general’s opinion prohibit constables from delivering the notices on county time, and they cannot wear a uniform, drive a county car, or display a badge while doing it.

[…]

Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said it makes “a little bit of sense” to allow the use of county resources to maintain eviction notices, since state law gives constables the authority to deliver them.

He noted other Texas statutes give constables the authority, while on county time and in uniform, to deliver other court papers related to evictions and legal matters, and fees collected are given to the county.

“It’s a bad law. There needs to be some legislation that makes it clear,” Radack said.

For once, I agree fully with Steve Radack. The Lege needs to clean this up. Abercia allegedly was not following that legal guidance from the County Attorney’s office, so regardless of what the law is we still need people to actually obey it, but let’s start by making the law better. I would suggest that if this is to be allowed at all that it be done as an official county function, by uniformed constables, with the fees being collected by the county and the records of such fees being publicly available. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing in a transparent and accountable fashion. If not, then it shouldn’t be done at all.

Salvaging the Dome

Here’s one way to keep demolition costs down.

Not actual size

Picture a urinal in the basement of the Reliant Astrodome — a block of dusty porcelain, used by Earl Campbell or Nolan Ryan, or any other Oilers or Astros great. How much would that be worth?

A St. Louis urologist forked over $2,174 to put a urinal from the old Busch Stadium in his waiting room. A $500 urinal from Tiger Stadium reportedly is icing down drinks in a garage somewhere in Detroit. And one of the fixtures from Miami’s Orange Bowl found new life as a tap: Pull the flush handle and beer flows. Remember, “fan” is short for fanatic.

Next month, Harris County officials plan to release a study comparing the cost of demolishing the Astrodome with renovating it in several forms. The last estimate two years ago — which county officials call a conservative guess — put the cost of razing it at $78 million, not counting the $29.9 million still owed on the building.

Demolition experts have said that number sounds high. A Houston Chronicle analysis of two dozen razed stadiums found the next-highest costs were $22 million for Yankee Stadium and $17 million for Shea Stadium, both in New York.

Demolition experts also say the price of detonating the Dome would depend greatly on the cash that could be recouped by recycling it — from selling memorabilia and fixtures to salvaging the steel and grinding concrete into gravel.

“All demolitions are affected by what the price of scrap is,” said Jim Redyke of Tulsa-based Dykon Explosive Demolition Corp. “If we’re in a market condition that scrap is extremely low, then the cost for demolition goes up. But if scrap prices are high, then the guy says, ‘Well I’m going to get X amount of dollars for scrap on that.’ ”

I just want to point out again that people spent a bunch of money on Enron crap. I feel confident saying there’s more nostalgia and sentiment for the Astros and Oilers than there were for Ken Lay’s legacy. It won’t cover the cost of tearing the place down, if that’s what we ultimately choose to do, but it’ll help.