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November 26th, 2012:

Precinct analysis: Metro

The first rule of precinct analysis, at least as I do it, is that you really can’t learn much by doing it on lopsided elections. The Metro referendum, which passed with 78% of the vote, is Exhibit A of this phenomenon. Here’s how the vote went in the State Rep districts for the Metro issue:

Dist Yes No =================== 126 34,957 8,158 127 31,750 9,040 128 20 16 129 19,439 5,282 130 41,183 9,568 131 25,236 6,641 132 35,052 7,901 133 50,285 12,438 134 56,041 17,463 135 32,347 6,943 137 15,754 3,743 138 30,159 7,607 139 29,604 9,391 140 13,908 3,685 141 19,494 5,368 142 10,900 3,128 143 6,965 2,159 144 1,684 531 145 14,668 4,689 146 31,446 8,524 147 32,900 11,061 148 25,130 9,061 149 27,060 5,999 150 39,138 9,333

HD128 is Baytown, and HD144 is mostly Pasadena, so that’s why those vote totals are as low as they are. If you prefer pictures to numbers, go look at Greg’s map, or at Max Beauregard‘s reports for a visual representation. No matter how you look at it, though, there’s not much to see. No hidden pockets of opposition, just across the board support.

As for what the election means, you can argue that the issue was complex and that people wouldn’t have voted for the referendum if they had really understood it. I agree there’s something to that, but I don’t believe it will get you anywhere to pursue that line of thinking. Instead, I offer two thoughts. One is that for all the grassroots energy that fed the anti-referendum movement, there was basically no opposition to the referendum among candidates or elected officials. I did get one press release a few days before the election about Rep. Sylvester Turner speaking at a pro-transit rally, but I never got anything after the event saying what had happened, and though I looked I never saw any press coverage of the event. Beyond that, as far as I could tell, there weren’t any other elected officials or candidates speaking out on this. Given that both supporters and opponents of the referendum were casting it as the end of light rail construction in Houston, this ought to be a wake-up call to transit advocates. Metro Board Chair Gilbert Garcia has said that he hopes to build broader support for Metro and its rail plans by boosting system ridership via the expanded bus service this referendum will bring, and other Board members are talking along similar lines. One good way to hold them to these promises down the line is to generate pressure from public officials, and the first step in that process is to engage them to get them on your side, and where needed support candidates for office who already support your position. It’s time to get back to basics and make rail transit and the reasons why it’s needed a regular part of the conversation. It can’t just be the same people talking about this – we need our elected officials out there talking up rail, and the more the better. This needs to be a top priority for transit advocates.

Two, David Crossley of Houston Tomorrow has on more than one occasion expressed the concern that the comparable rates of growth in Houston and Harris County will cause the Metro board to shift from one with a Houston-appointed majority to one with a non-Houston-appointed majority by 2018 or so. I would just simply note that there’s no reason why the Commissioners Court of today needs to be the same as the Commissioners Court of 2018, when it might get the chance to reshape the Metro board. Commissioner Jack Morman will have a tough fight for re-election in 2014. That same growth in the outlying areas of Harris County ought to make Commissioner Steve Radack at least somewhat more vulnerable in 2016. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a Commissioners Court that believed in something other than just building more roads as a solution to transportation problems? It could happen if enough people work to make it happen. Just something to think about.

A family planning end run?

This is interesting.

Texas lawmakers have spent the past two years attacking family planning services in the state, cutting funds for programs that provide women with birth control and wellness exams. Now family planning advocates are fighting back.

A coalition of providers plans to bypass Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Legislature and apply directly to the federal government for family planning funds. If the coalition wins the federal grant—called Title X (Title 10)—a slice of Texas’ family planning money would no longer go to the state health department—and would no longer be subject to the whims of the Legislature. Instead, the coalition, organized by Fran Hagerty of the Women’s Health and Family Planning Association of Texas, would distribute the money to family planning providers statewide, including perhaps Planned Parenthood, and restore services to tens of thousands of Texans.

Since 1982, the Department of State Health Services has received Title X grants in Texas, though any group can apply to the federal government for the money. The department then distributes the money, alongside cash from other federal and state grants, to providers delivering family planning and preventive care. The Title X grant is worth $14.5 million per year, part of the $111.5 million pot of money the state had to spend on family planning.


At $14.5 million per year, the Title X grant comprises only a small slice of Texas’ annual family planning budget. But it’s worth much more than its dollar value. That’s because Title X money comes with a confidentiality clause not always attached to other funding streams. This means that providers need only $1 from Title X to cast privacy protection over all their clients, especially teens who would otherwise need parental consent to access birth control.

Similarly, Title X recipients get a discount on pharmaceuticals. With this discount, clinics can buy drugs at half the wholesale cost. Again, just $1 of Title X casts this discounted rate over every drug purchased by the clinic. That often helps clinics prescribe the more effective, yet more expensive, types of birth control.

The protections afforded by Title X demonstrate how complex and delicate clinic funding arrangements are. Having it means that some providers, whose clinics teeter on the edge of financial viability, could continue operations. “When providers lost Title X funding, they lost much more than just the money,” Hagerty said. They also lost their patient confidentiality, discounted drugs and the more discretionary spending that Title X allows. Restoring those protections to providers is what Hagerty said gave her the impetus to take the project on.

There’s more, so go read it and when you’re done go back and read the earlier story about the devastating effect of the family planning cuts on Texas health providers. This isn’t a panacea, nor is it a guaranteed funding source going forward – among other things, as with any other government program it is subject to the whims of the prevailing political sentiments; I for one have a hard time believing this would have survived four years of Romney/Ryan budgeting intact – but if it can help the clinics that need it, it’s a good effort. We’ll see how it goes.

Student RFID

I have three things to say about this.

A Texas high school student is being suspended for refusing to wear a student ID card implanted with a radio-frequency identification chip.

Northside Independent School District in San Antonio began issuing the RFID-chip-laden student-body cards when the semester began in the fall. The ID badge has a bar code associated with a student’s Social Security number, and the RFID chip monitors pupils’ movements on campus, from when they arrive until when they leave.

Radio-frequency identification devices are a daily part of the electronic age — found in passports, and library and payment cards. Eventually they’re expected to replace bar-code labels on consumer goods. Now schools across the nation are slowly adopting them as well.

The suspended student, sophomore Andrea Hernandez, was notified by the Northside Independent School District in San Antonio that she won’t be able to continue attending John Jay High School unless she wears the badge around her neck, which she has been refusing to do. The district said the girl, who objects on privacy and religious grounds, beginning Monday would have to attend another high school in the district that does not yet employ the RFID tags.

The Rutherford Institute said it would go to court and try to nullify the district’s decision. The institute said that the district’s stated purpose for the program — to enhance their coffers — is “fundamentally disturbing.”

“There is something fundamentally disturbing about this school district’s insistence on steamrolling students into complying with programs that have nothing whatsoever to do with academic priorities and everything to do with fattening school coffers,” said John Whitehead, the institute’s president.

Like most state-financed schools, the district’s budget is tied to average daily attendance. If a student is not in his seat during morning roll call, the district doesn’t receive daily funding for that pupil because the school has no way of knowing for sure if the student is there.

But with the RFID tracking, students not at their desk but tracked on campus are counted as being in school that day, and the district receives its daily allotment for that student.

1. School districts have a strong incentive to ensure that their weighted average daily attendance (WADA) figures are as high as possible because that’s how their funding is determined. This is the system that the Legislature has set up. I’m not an expert in these matters so I can’t say whether this is the best way to dole out funds to schools and school districts or not, but it’s what we’ve got whether you like it or not, and especially in the current climate of budget cuts and funding levels being frozen since 2006, I hardly see how you can blame NISD for trying to ensure it’s getting all the resources it’s owed. I strongly object to the Rutherford Institute’s classification of this as NISD “enhancing its coffers”, as if there’s a CEO behind the scenes seeking to maximize his profits. The money NISD would lose out on for undercounting their attendance hurts their students; getting all the resources they are owed helps them. One can make the case that they’re simply fulfilling their fiduciary responsibility to local taxpayers, since funds they forfeit by not getting an accurate count of their WADA may need to be recouped by an increase in property taxes. If you don’t like the system, blame the Legislature for it, as only they can change it. NISD is just playing by the rules as they are written.

2. Attacking NISD’s policy on privacy grounds seems like a losing strategy to me, since it’s fairly well established that students have fewer rights than adults and that school administrators have a lot of leeway in dealing with students. If you find the idea of a school tracking the whereabouts of its students outrageous, all I can say is are you sure your boss isn’t keeping tabs on where you are right now? We’re sufficiently far down this rabbit hole that the only way we’ll be able to find our way back out is if someone has been tracking our movements. Like it or not, I don’t see how what NISD is doing is out of bounds. There’s a much bigger conversation that we need to have about all this, but the outcome of this case one way or the other isn’t going to have any effect on that.

3. Objecting to NISD’s policy on religious grounds, however, may be the golden ticket. I don’t know how that may play out in the courts, but I’ll bet that this issue rises to the point where some enterprising GOP member of the Legislature takes it up. I can already see the bill, and the press conference announcing the bill, from here. It’s just a matter of time.

So that’s where we stand now. A judge temporarily blocked Hernandez’s suspension on Wednesday pending further hearings this week, so stay tuned. For more on this story, see here or just google “Andrea Hernandez RFID”. For a typically thoughtful analysis from a religious perspective, read The Slacktivist.

Voter ID case will likely wait for SCOTUS, too

Texas Redistricting:

In a move not too surprising, the three-judge panel in the Texas voter ID case also has asked the parties to brief the question of whether the court should delay taking up questions about the constitutionality of section 5 of the Voting Rights Act given Supreme Court’s grant of cert. in Shelby County v. Holder.

The court gave the parties until November 29 to file position papers.  In the Texas case, Texas had been arguing that section 5 was unconstitutional at least as applied to the Texas statute if not in all cases and situations (the broader question being taken up by the Supreme Court and Texas’ alternative position).

The court’s show cause order can be found here.

In the mean time, DOJ and intervenors in the Texas voter ID case submitted their final briefs on the constitutionality question.  Links to the briefs can be found below:



See also the redistricting case. For this one, I think the argument to wait is much clearer.