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February 18th, 2013:

How should the San Antonio court proceed after SCOTUS rules on Section 5?

That’s what the San Antonio judges in the redistricting case asked the parties to help it figure out.

In its order, the court told parties what has been widely assumed – namely that the panel would “not issue any opinion, if at all, under after the Supreme Court resolves the Section 5 matters.”

However, the court also showed concern for the upcoming Texas election schedule, asking the parties for their opinions on how “the Court would need to proceed under” various alternative section 5 scenarios.

This included asking the parties for ”a realistic time estimate on how long it would take for the Court to complete its task while still leaving sufficient time for local election officials to implement any necessary changes prior to the 2014 election cycle, assuming no postponement of statutory deadlines.”

Among the lengthy list of questions asked by the court are:

  • What further steps would need to take place if section 5 is found to be unconstitutional?
  • If section 5 is upheld but the Texas redistricting case is pending on appeal, would the “Court would be required to issue interim maps for the 2014 elections?”
  • If so, what map would the court use as the benchmark in drawing new interim maps?
  • What would happen if the Supreme Court remanded the preclearance case to the D.C. panel for further proceedings?
  • Under what circumstances would section 2 issues and constitutional claims have to be decided?
  • What additional evidence would be needed to decide those claims? And to the extent could the court rely on findings in the preclearance decision of the D.C. court?

The court asked that the parties’ advisories be filed by March 15, 2013, with any optional responses to other parties’ advisories to be filed by March 25.  The order said the panel would decide whether to hold a status conference after reviewing the parties’ submissions.

A copy of the court’s order can be found here.

Pretty complex stuff. What happens elsewhere after SCOTUS rules, especially if SCOTUS knocks down Section 5, is mighty complicated as well. Rick Hasen pondered this a little while ago.

One possibility is that nothing happens after Section 5 falls and minority voters in covered jurisdictions lose their important bargaining chip. Then, expect to see more brazen partisan gerrymanders, cutbacks in early voting and imposition of tougher voting and registration rules in the formerly covered jurisdictions.

The fight over these rules will be mostly political, not legal. I do not expect many successful constitutional cases or cases under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act – a different provision which applies nationwide but is harder for plaintiffs to win.

Another possibility, and one which seems fairly likely, is that negative public reaction to the Supreme Court striking down a crown jewel of the civil rights movement creates a political opening for Congress to enact a new piece of voting rights legislation. The GOP may also be eager to support some kind of legislation to blunt the likely fallout from an adverse action from the Roberts Court.

The choice of post-Shelby County legislation threatens to split the civil rights and election reform community over whether any New Voting Rights Act will be race-based – focused on protecting minority voters in particular – or whether the law will be focused on election reform more broadly, though still in ways that could significantly help minority voters.

A race-based reform could try to impose something like Section 5 nationally, though without the requirement that jurisdictions get permission before changing their voting rules. For example, a New Voting Rights Act could give groups challenging a new voting practice anywhere in the country the opportunity to show that the law makes minority voters worse off. It is unclear, at this point, whether such a race-conscious law would survive Supreme Court review after the Shelby County case and the Fisher affirmative action case.

An election reform-based proposal, in contrast, could set national standards for lines at the polls, ensure access to voting, rein in gerrymandering, create a uniform federal ballot design or address other issues, such as modernizing voter registration. If legislation comes, a new national standard seems inevitable. Even if we need a special law for election disaster zones like Florida and Ohio, it is hard to see the political path for Congress to pick a new set of jurisdictions to be subject to special federal control.

Even non-race based reforms could raise potential constitutional problems. This term the Supreme Court is hearing another case, out of Arizona, which raises questions over how much power Congress has over states to set the rules being used in federal elections. In the Arizona case, the specific question is whether Arizona officials must accept a federal voter registration form that does not include citizenship information required by Arizona law.

Hasen reminds us of why we have Section 5 in the first place, so read the whole thing, then go read what Emily Bazelon and Nina Perales have to say about Section 5 as well. It seems abundantly clear to me that Section 5 is still needed, and that if there’s a need for remediation it should be to extend Section 5 to the whole country, not to take it away from the places that brought it on themselves and continue to demonstrate why they can’t be trusted. All I know at this point is that if you were nervous about the Obamacare ruling, you should be nervous about this. The Express News has more.

LBB calls for expanding Medicaid

From the Quorum Report:

LBB CALLS FOR FUNDING MEDICAID EXPANSION AS PART OF ITS ADDITIONAL BUDGET PRIORITIES

It’s constitutional – deal with it

The recommendation given to the Article II Senate Finance workgroup notes that $50.4 million in state funding would draw down $4 billion in federal match for the next budget cycle

The Legislative Budget Board has included funding to extend Medicaid coverage to low-income adults as part of its list of priorities for additional funding to SB 1, the Senate budget bill.

The state’s political leadership has balked so far at endorsing the program’s expansion, which is a central component of the federal Affordable Care Act. The LBB recommendation, though, stems directly from the size of the federal match and the resultant outsized return on investment for the state.

Or to put it another way, the LBB is acknowledging just how much cash would be left on the table should the state’s leadership ultimately decide against the expansion. Also, the added coverage is expected to drive down governmental health care costs at the local level as fewer people seek care in hospital emergency rooms. Uncompensated care at hospitals amounted to $3.1 billion in 2011, according to LBB figures.

The federal government would cover 100 percent of the cost of coverage for the 2014-15 state budget cycle. Meanwhile, the cost to the state would be $50.4 million to cover half of the administrative costs of the expansion. In turn, the federal aid over the next two fiscal years for the expansion is expected to be $4 billion, according to the LBB. In other words, the state in its next budget would bear 1.2 percent of the total cost of the expansion.

The state’s share could actually be less than that. The LBB earlier recommended allowing the local taxing authorities that bear the biggest burden of paying for uncompensated care provided by hospitals to cover the match.

Burka thinks that freshman Republicans will be happy to hear this, because it means they won’t have to “[tell] their hometown doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare providers to go fly a kite”. I don’t know where he derives that conclusion, as it seems completely out of character for them. Take a look at this Tribune overview of the new legislators and tell me if you see any inclination towards that finding any kind of solution for Texas’ shameful lack of health care access. It’s one statement after another about what they oppose – abortion, “big government”, regulations, and taxes – and the only mentions of health care at all are in the context of opposing Obamacare. I really don’t understand what he’s thinking. Be that as it may, the bottom line continues to be that by any rational evaluation, this is a no-brainer. The only reasons Rick Perry and his legislative cronies have to oppose Medicaid expansion are political zealotry and a deep indifference to the needs of millions of people. EoW has more.

Riddle wants to abolish the HCDE

From Big Jolly:

State Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-150) filed HB945 [last] week. If enacted, it would abolish the Harris County Department of Education, transferring control of the assets to the Harris County Commissioners Court, and giving the commissioners one year to liquidate them.

The brains behind this, if you can call them that, is former member Michael Wolfe, who was thankfully unelected last year after a thoroughly undistinguished term in office. I can see an argument for abolishing the HCDE as an elected office – it’s basically the same argument for abolishing the SBOE as an elected office, in that very few people understand its function and the districts are far too large for campaigning to have any effect on electoral outcomes – but where the functions of the SBOE could reasonably be assumed by the Legislature and the Texas Education Agency, there really isn’t anything in the county to do what the HCDE does. (If you need a reminder of what the HCDE does, see the Chron’s November endorsement editorial or this document about the HCDE and this effort to eradicate it; you could also listen to one of my interviews from last year.) A bill to create an appointed board might be worth debating, though no less politically motivated given the shift on the board to a Democratic majority, but this is irresponsible. It won’t save any money, and it will deprive schools, teachers, and districts of needed services. I expect this bill is an underdog to pass, but someone in the Harris County Democratic delegation needs to keep an eye on it.

Take the 2013 METRO Bike and Ride Survey

A public service announcement from H-GAC:

2013 METRO Bike and Ride Survey

The Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) and METRO invite you to participate in the METRO Bike & Ride Plan, a planning effort to improve connections between bicyclists and the transit network in the METRO service area. Take the survey!

Vision, Mission and Goals

Based on input from the Houston-Galveston Area Council, METRO and the project consultants, the following vision, mission and goals were developed for the project:

Vision

The METRO Bike and Ride Access and Implementation Plan will enhance METRO’s ability to provide first class transit service by linking the region’s expanding bicycle networks to transit infrastructure, while building upon its foundation as a trusted community partner to implement a prioritized set of projects that will provide attractive, safe, healthy, low-cost transportation choices for all users.

Objective

The METRO Bike and Ride Access and Implementation Plan will define a prioritized set of high-quality links between the bicycle and transit networks in the METRO service area to maximize the ability to make bicycle-transit linked trips for all users.

Goals

  • To enhance bicycle access to METRO facilities with a focus on the highest potential locations
  • To create inter-jurisdictional consensus on recommendations and partnerships that facilitate on-the-ground improvements with the associated project costs of each
  • To improve bicyclist accommodations at METRO facilities, especially Park and Ride lots, transit centers and rail stations
  • To identify recommendations for METRO to consider as it develops a comprehensive plan for bicyclists
  • To implement programs and standards that make the METRO system easy for bicyclists to understand and use

Project Description

H-GAC has partnered with METRO on the development of a Subregional Planning Initiative study that will facilitate METRO’s evolution as a multimodal transit agency to increase accessibility for bicyclists and pedestrians. The METRO Bike and Ride Access and Implementation Plan will identify strategic approaches tailored to each of METRO’s Park and Ride lots, transit centers and rail stations based on analysis and information that includes best practices from peer transit agencies, spatial requirements, security requirements and geographic requirements. Study goals include:

  • Enhance access for bicycle riders to METRO facilities
  • Identify specific short and long-range improvements, along with associated costs for each, that will maximize accessibility and accommodation for bicycles at each Park and Ride lot, transit center, and rail station
  • Provide recommendations for METRO and its member jurisdictions to consider as it develops a comprehensive plan for bicyclists throughout its service area

Again, the survey is here. I don’t know if there’s a deadline on this, but please take a moment if you can and help them out on this. Via Houston Tomorrow.