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March 14th, 2014:

Friday random ten: My wild Irish Rose

In honor of Saint Patrick’s Day, some Irish music.

1. Irish Rover – Flying Fish Sailors
2. Star Of The County Down – Gordian Knot
3. Molly Malone – Ceili’s Muse
4. Into The Mystic – Van Morrison
5. The Rocky Road To Dublin – The Chieftains
6. Back To Tyrone – SixMileBridge
7. Finnegan’s Wake – The Mollys
8. Some Day My Prince Will Come – Sinead O’Connor
9. Irish Dream – Eddie From Ohio
10. The Irish Ballad – Tom Lehrer

Slainte, y’all.

The Dew is in it to win it

Let the attack ads begin!

The Sad Dewhurst picture never gets old

Despite mounting pressure to throw in the towel, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst skipped a Wednesday deadline to take his name off the May 27 primary runoff ballot, instead committing himself to an expensive come-from-behind battle against challenger Dan Patrick for the next 12 weeks.

The 11-year-incumbent trailed Patrick, a Houston senator and radio talk show host, by 13 points in last week’s GOP election in a four-way race that included Agriculture Commission Todd Staples and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson.

“He is in it to win it,” Dewhurst spokesman Travis Considine said. “He is going to do what he does best – crisscrossing the state, talking to voters. A lot of money will be spent on TV.”

[…]

Tuesday, Patterson also told the Tribune he believed Dewhurst could win if voters learn more about Patrick. “The key is to define Dan Patrick for what he is,” Patterson said. “I suspect they (voters) are going to get to know him better.”

By the lack of news indicating otherwise, it appears Dan Branch has remained in the runoff for Attorney General as well. As I suggested before, the key for Dewhurst is that Patrick is a giant wanker and there’s plenty of material to use against him. I’d hammer on the fact that being such a choad makes Patrick less likely to win in November than Dewhurst would be. (I’d also advise him to never, ever reference Rick Astley in his messaging, even ironically.) I freely admit that I’m as unbiased a source for this kind of analysis as Mark Jones and Matt Mackowiak, so by all means take what I saw with however much salt you feel is needed. As long as Dewhurst is relentlessly attacking Patrick on TV – his consultant said that will begin sooner rather than later – it’s all good by me. Campos has more.

AG opinion sought on bag bans

Whatever.

plastic-bag

As proponents continue to tout the benefits of banning plastic bags, the debate over whether Texas cities like Austin actually have the ability to enact such ordinances has made its way to the attorney general’s office.

In a letter seeking an opinion from Attorney General Greg Abbott, state Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, questioned whether the city bans are in compliance with the state’s health and safety laws.

“At least nine cities in Texas have enacted bans on plastic bags and adopted fees on replacement bags in recent years,” the letter stated. “This appears to be in contravention of state law.”

The letter, which was received last week by the attorney general’s office, asks the office to interpret a specific section of the Texas Health and Safety Code. The section states that a municipal district may not pass legislative restrictions or charge fees relating to the consumption of a “container or package” for waste management purposes.

“I can’t begin to tell you how many phone calls we received about the legality of the bans,” said Flynn, whose district does not have any communities that have imposed bag bans. Even though it doesn’t affect him directly, “there are a lot of people who are really inconvenienced by it,” he said.

One of the most vocal opponents of bag bans, the Texas Retailers Association, approached Flynn about writing the letter to the attorney general’s office.

“It sure looks to us that the plain meaning of the statute’s language is that the state meant to stop local governments from adopting ordinances that prohibit or restrict the use of these bags,” said Ronnie Volkening, the president and CEO of the retailers association. “If the state Legislature enacted that language, then the cities are in fact engaging in an activity that they should not.”

[…]

The push for an opinion from the attorney general’s office comes a year after the retailers group filed a lawsuit targeting Austin’s plastic bag ban last February. But the group dropped the lawsuit after Austin officials asked it to disclose information on the sales of plastic bags.

“They were asking for proprietary information that retailers will not disclose for sensitive reasons,” Volkening said, adding that it would be very expensive for the association to contest the request. “Rather than disclosing that information, we felt it was necessary to drop the suit.”

A copy of that now-dropped lawsuit is here. Rep. Flynn’s letter basically recapitulates its arguments. I assume that the cities that have adopted these bans have attorneys at their disposal who can interpret state law and advise their clients how likely they are to get their posteriors handed to them in court some day, so I presume there is a counterargument to be made here. If any lawyers would like to weigh in on that, I’d be delighted to hear it. Whether the timing of this request has anything to do with the developments in San Antonio or not I couldn’t say, but thanks to Rep. Flynn we can now say with confidence that it is possible to carry water in a plastic bag.

Lyft has some stumbles

Oops.

Lyft, known for its pink mustaches, has again been caught red-handed in Houston breaking a basic driving law.

A driver for the company, which pairs riders with drivers via smartphone app, picked up a Houston investigator Monday and was cited for operating an illegal taxi service because the passenger was charged for the ride. The vehicle used for the trip also had an expired Texas registration sticker, officials said Wednesday.

[…]

Two weeks ago, Lyft gave a passenger a ride to Katy, automatically triggering a charge to the rider’s credit card because the fare exceeded the $25 credit Lyft was giving all customers.

In both cases, the drivers were cited for operating without a taxi permit, providing a fee-based ride and operating an illegal taxi company. All three are misdemeanor charges. Separately, Lyft faces citations in both incidents for operating a taxi dispatch business without a permit.

The infractions that triggered the citations undermine the case that changing the city’s rules is in the best interest of Houston riders, Newport said.

See here for all the background. “Newport” is Chris Newport, chief of staff for the city’s regulatory affairs department. I have the press release this story quotes from; it’s reprinted beneath the fold. As I’ve said before, I fully expect that in the end the ordinances will be modified to allow Lyft and Uber and uberX into Houston. The story suggests the Council debate may happen by the end of the month, which is about when we were led to expect it to happen. But I don’t think Uber and Lyft have done themselves any favors – Lyft in particular – with their pre-ordinance update rollouts and their email badgering campaign. Sometimes a lighter touch is the better approach, you know?

UPDATE: I received two statements in my email from Lyft. The first deals with this story:

Safety is our top priority at Lyft, and is why we’ve gone above and beyond to set the industry standard for the most stringent safety requirements for drivers. We regret that this individual was approved to drive with an expired inspection sticker, as he met all the other safety requirements to join the Lyft platform, including current vehicle registration, passing Lyft’s 19-point vehicle inspection and no previous record of unsafe driving. In no way does this isolated error speak to the quality of Lyft’s background check, driving record check and other safety standards, all of which remain more strict than what’s currently required of taxis and limos in Houston.

The second is about insurance options:

Lyft Will Provide Protection Between Rides

Last month, Lyft introduced additional coverages including uninsured/underinsured motorist and collision coverages. We also worked closely with regulators, personal insurance carriers, and other industry leaders to found the Peer-to-Peer Ridesharing Insurance Coalition.

Historically, many personal insurance policies have had an exclusion while drivers are carrying passengers for compensation, because of greater liability created by having additional people in the car. In reviewing this exclusion language from the top insurance carriers, the vast majority of policies’ exclusions focus on the time period during which there is a passenger in the car.

Lyft’s liability policy was designed to cover the time when drivers have passengers in their cars, as well as the period when a driver is on the way to pick up a passenger. While we do expect personal carriers to cover the time period prior to carrying a passenger, in order to erase any uncertainty, Lyft will now provide additional protection. This new protection will provide backstop coverage to drivers when they are in match mode and are not providing rides. We will be rolling this out state-by-state in the days to come.

So there you have it.

(more…)

Rename this!

Whatever.

Just plain Astrodome, thanks

Reliant Park will soon be called NRG Park and Reliant Stadium NRG Stadium, after NRG Energy, the parent company of one of the largest electric retailers in the Houston area.

County sources say NRG, which acquired Reliant’s retail operations in 2009, is planning a rebranding effort that will involve swapping out every sign bearing the Reliant name.

A related item is expected to appear on the next meeting agenda of the board of the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp., the agency that runs the county-owned park.

The long version of the story is here. They can name it whatever they want, but that doesn’t obligate anyone else to call it what they name it. The Astrodome is still the Astrodome, not the Reliant Astrodome and certainly not the NRG Astrodome. The building that now houses Joel Osteen’s church will always be The Summit. The airport north of the city is plain old Intercontinental, the big building near the Galleria with the waterwall is the Transco Tower, and that lawn you need to get off is mine. I’m glad we had this opportunity to clear this up. Link via Swamplot, and Hair Balls has more.