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August 24th, 2013:

Saturday video break: Hurt

Song #5 on the Popdose Top 100 Covers list is “Hurt”, originally by Nine Inch Nails and covered by Johnny Cash.

Such a powerful song, and you can really feel what Trent Reznor is singing. Now here’s the Man In Black:

Wow. Now that’s what they had in mind when the idea of music videos was first conceived. The imagery…”haunting” isn’t a strong enough word. Cash sings a cover of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” on the same album as “Hurt”, and I’ve said before that when he voices lines like “And pain is all around/Like a bridge over troubled water/I will lay me down” you really believe him, because you know he’s lived it. That goes double for this song. A truly amazing achievement, a defining achievement for the end of his career as the Popdose writer says.

The law and the Early To Rise petition process

Much has been made about the obscurity of the state law that allows for the petition process that the Early To Rise folks have followed to put an item on the ballot that would raise money for pre-K education in Harris County. The Chron takes a closer look at the statutes in question and the requests for clarification on them from the Attorney General.

When the campaign first launched earlier this summer, Emmett said he believed the law was not applicable because it no longer was on the books, saying the state “didn’t recodify these sections and you can’t find these anywhere in state statutes today.”

The state law stipulating the petition process – two sections of the Texas Education Code, specifically – was repealed in 1995 when the Legislature reorganized the education code, according to campaign and county lawyers.

The law, which dates to the 1920s, gave county education departments in the state authority to levy a so-called “equalization tax” to raise revenue for “the support of the public schools of the county.” Unlike school districts, whose governing bodies can raise taxes by a vote, the equalization tax can be authorized only by an election called via citizen petition.

Under the education code, a county education department operating under those repealed sections “may continue to operate under” them, meaning those sections stipulating the petition process still apply.

That fact is conceded in two separate requests for a legal opinion sent to the state attorney general this month on the applicability of the law, one from County Attorney Vince Ryan on behalf of [County Judge Ed] Emmett and another by state Sen. Dan Patrick.

However, Patrick wrote, whether the education department could operate under those repealed laws if its tax rate is increased still is in question.

Emmett’s objections recently have come down to whether the ballot language proposed on the petitions is consistent with the repealed sections.

The petition language says the revenue generated is “to be used solely and exclusively for early childhood education purposes,” which does not appear to fit the definition of an equalization tax “to be distributed equally among all school districts” in the county.

One of the leaders of the petition group, Jonathan Day, a former city of Houston attorney, said the law does not say exactly what the ballot language must be. He also pointed to other sections of the law that stipulate broad uses for equalization tax revenue, including “for the advancement of public free schools in such counties.”

The education department is “already spending money on early childhood,” Day noted.

I’m not even going to try to guess what AG Greg Abbott will write in his opinion. I do know that county education departments used to be common in Texas, but as of today there are only two left, in Harris and Dallas, and this is undoubtedly why those statutes were modified or repealed back in 1995. It’s just a muddle, and I will say again, it will ultimately be settled in court. The story also notes that Emmett will announce his decision about whether or not to put this on the ballot on Monday, which is the deadline for making such a decision in time for the election. I presume we will have AG Abbott’s opinion by then as well, but I’m just guessing.

None dare call it Obamacare

You’ve probably seen the Politico story by now.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Gov. Rick Perry wants to kill Obamacare dead, but Texas health officials are in talks with the Obama administration about accepting an estimated $100 million available through the health law to care for the elderly and disabled, POLITICO has learned.

Perry health aides are negotiating with the Obama administration on the terms of an optional Obamacare program that would allow Texas to claim stepped-up Medicaid funding for the care of people with disabilities.

The so-called Community First Choice program aims to enhance the quality of services available to the disabled and elderly in their homes or communities. Similar approaches have had bipartisan support around the country. About 12,000 Texans are expected to benefit in the first year of the program.

One line of thinking as to why the Texas governor, who has honed his national image in no small measure by denouncing Obamacare, would make such a seemingly inconsistent move goes like this: Treating disabled and elderly people is less politically charged than a sweeping national law forcing people to buy health insurance. Perry recently decided against seeking reelection next year but is mulling a second presidential bid in 2016.

[…]

The Texas Legislature approved the program earlier this year, and Perry signed it into law as part of a larger package of health reforms, as well as in the state budget. Now, his administration is working win approval from the Obama administration to fit the program into the state’s existing Medicaid framework.

“Efforts are under way to develop and submit an application to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for participation,” said a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services. The goal is to implement the initiative by Sept. 1, 2014.

Supporters of home care contacted by POLITICO worried that even a news story about the connection between the Community First Choice program and Obamacare would spook the Perry administration from participating.

“[I]t would be worse than a shame if Texas’s moving ahead with CFC or BIP policies — both are from the ACA — was hurt as the result of scrutiny from a press inquiry,” said one Texas-based advocate.

Added another local advocate, “I would hate for the CFC to become a political football.”

An official with a prominent national advocacy group noted that Texas isn’t the only resistant state to quietly accept some lower-profile components of the health law. Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Maine and others have already been approved for 2 percentage point increases in their Medicaid fund through a little-known provisions of the health law, the advocate said.

“I think some of those [provisions] are easier because they’re not as high profile and people don’t connect home and community services with Medicaid,” according to the advocate.

There’s been a lot of other reporting on this, plus some snarky commentary. However, I don’t think anyone put it better than Ezra Klein.

Remember Peggy Noonan’s “This is the reason many people don’t like ObamaCare”? The “this” in question was the Community First Choice program, which helps Medicaid cover at-home care for the disabled rather than shunting them into institutions.

The program is so irresistible that even Texas Gov. Rick Perry is asking if his state can be part of it. And you don’t get Obamacare haters more diehard than Perry. But for that exact reason, his office is saying the program, which is literally part of the Affordable Care Act’s statute and which would cease to exist if the entire law was repealed, “has nothing to do with Obamacare.”

To be generous to both sides, Noonan didn’t seem to understand the program she was criticizing, and she relied on other people’s reporting that turned out to be wrong, or at least confused. As for Perry, he can argue that Community First Choice program isn’t related to Obamacare’s core coverage expansion, which is really what people think of when they hear the word “Obamacare”.

But the result is the same: you’ve got Noonan saying that the Community First Choice program is the reason people hate Obamacare even though she seems to want something exactly like the CFC program to exist. You’ve got Perry asking the Obama administration for $100 million from a program created as part of Obamacare even as he swears the program isn’t Obamacare.

It’s almost as if there’s much in the law that Republicans would like if only they felt able to give the legislation a chance.

Yes, well, funny how these things work. As Paul Burka likes to say, we don’t have policy in this state, we have ideology. Rick Perry has to BS about this, he has no choice. It’s hilarious hearing him brag about how he’s been making Medicaid better and didn’t need any stinking Obamacare to do it. Given his pathetic record on health care in Texas, it’s a little like the Astros bragging about having quality middle relief pitching. Honestly, I don’t know why anyone would ever believe a word Rick Perry says. But given the state of things in our great state, what’s a few more lies and denials of reality by Rick Perry if that’s what it takes to make things a little better?

City reaches settlement with developer over Woodland Park damage

Good news.

Mayor Annise Parker, the City of Houston Legal Department and the Houston Parks and Recreation Department (HPARD) announced the City has recovered $300,000 to restore recent damage to Woodland Park by a private developer. Woodland Park, located at 212 Parkview, is a 19.67 acre park near White Oak Bayou in the Woodland Heights neighborhood in City Council District H. It has been a city park since 1914.

“The residents of Woodland Park were justified in their outrage over this tragic act. There is no way to be able to fully restore the vegetation and trees that grew there over so many years, however we were amenable to a settlement in this case,” said Mayor Annise Parker. “The City of Houston fought to ensure the developer would pay for the vegetation to be replanted, and hopefully it can begin to grow again without further incident. We believe this is fair and will compensate the city for the amount of work needed to restore the area.”

During the week of June 3-7, 2013, private developers constructing several townhomes on private property adjacent to the Park caused substantial damage to nearly one acre. The damage included removal of trees, vegetation, and harmful grading of soil. Although the developers promptly offered to pay the costs of restoring the Park to its original condition, there were major disagreements regarding how this should be accomplished, and what the costs would be.

The Houston Parks and Recreation Department moved promptly to determine the best approach to restore the Park. The City Legal Department partnered with HPARD to negotiate a fair settlement amount with the developers. Those joint efforts culminated with the $300,000 payment received last Friday.

“I’m pleased a compromise has been reached that creates a path towards the restoration of Woodland Park,” said Mayor Pro Tem Ed Gonzalez, District H. “The destruction that occurred in early June was devastating and I’m looking forward to joining community members in crafting a plan of action and ensuring that all terms of the settlement are followed. I’m confident that the members of the Parks and Recreation Department are the best folks to perform the work needed at Woodland Park. I’m also very grateful to the Friends of Woodland Park for their hard work over many years and stay committed to the goal of revitalizing this hidden gem of green space in our city.”

HPARD intends to work through the Houston Parks Board to restore the Park, as much as possible, to its original condition. The project will take an estimated 6 months to complete. HPARD will meet with the community representatives, Friends of Woodland Park and Council Member Gonzalez to discuss a plan of action.

See here for the background, here for the Chron story, and here for a copy of the settlement. As part of the agreement, the city will remove the red tags on the development so it can continue. All in all, seems like a reasonable outcome. I look forward to seeing the restoration work completed. Kudos to all for getting this done. Nonsequiteuse has more, including one small suggested modification to the settlement agreement, and Swamplot has more.

Mind your own business, Dan

AG candidate Dan Branch to San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro: Drop the equality ordinance.

RedEquality

State Rep. Dan Branch, a Dallas Republican campaigning for attorney general, sent a letter to Mayor Julián Castro on Monday asking that he withdraw the proposed city council ordinance that would ban discrimination of employees based on sexual orientation.

Branch argues that banning discrimination against gay people would in turn unfairly discriminate against people of faith.

“The proposed ordinance itself discriminates — against people of faith,” wrote Branch. “The proposed city ordinance would exclude citizens from being appointed to city office … if they believe — as millions of people of faith do — in the traditional institution of marriage.”

Branch takes issue with part of the ordinance that reads, “No appointed official or member of a board or commission shall engage in discrimination or demonstrate a bias, by word or deed, against any person” on the basis of sexual orientation.

Five other large cities in Texas have similar ordinances prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation including Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, El Paso and Houston. Branch did not mention his district’s ordinance in the letter.

Branch, 55, filed a court brief earlier this month supporting the state’s ban on gay marriage.

“Equating traditional marriage with discrimination is deeply offensive to millions of Texans and Americans of faith,” Branch said.

I don’t speak for Mayor Castro, of course. But if I did, my response would be as follows:

Dear Rep. Branch,

Drop dead.

Hugs,
Julian

I think that about covers it. Feel free to steal this, Mayor Castro. The Trib has a longer story about the proposed ordinance and the opposition some people have to it, but really, that’s all I have to say at this time.