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June 12th, 2014:

Vehicles for hire vote put off till end of July

Seriously?

The Houston City Council delayed a vote until July 30 on regulations for the vehicles-for-hire industry, keeping Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc.’s legal status in Houston in limbo.

Council member Mike Laster proposed an initial delay of 60 days, saying, “I believe this cake is not fully baked.”

The delay was then reduced to 45 days.

“I think council wants to be able to get to a point to say ‘yes’ to opening up the markets to a new element to these new app companies. They want to make sure that the long-standing current stakeholders, their business models, continue to provide for them an opportunity to do well within a competitive marketplace,” Laster told the Houston Business Journal. “The whole point is that the stakeholders that would have to be regulated underneath the ordinance have by and large said, ‘This not ready.’”

The vote is now scheduled for July 30, or until a consensus is met by all the stakeholders involved in negotiations. Several council members, including C.O. “Brad” Bradford, didn’t feel the delay was necessary and asked for the vote to take place sooner rather than later.

“It is time to vote,” Bradford said during the meeting. “What is it that we’re going to do with additional days?”

Mayor Parker agreed with CM Bradford on that, which should tell you something. I agree with them both. Perhaps this meant there weren’t enough votes for passage, but I kind of doubt that. I suspect it was just that enough Council members didn’t feel comfortable with their votes just yet. What that means going forward, I have no idea.

From KPRC:

Taxi companies are trying to put the brakes on the proposed new regulations.

They say Lyft and Uber drivers are uninsured, unsafe and don’t have equipment to pick up disabled passengers.

“We’re not against competition, we’ve never been against competition,” said Roman Martinez, President of the Greater Houston Transportation Company. “We want to make sure everybody is playing by the same rules. I think the public expects that. I think the public expects safety is taken into consideration and also consumer protection.”

Representatives from Uber and Lyft also attended Wednesday’s council meeting.

Uber sent Local 2 a statement which read in part, “Today’s City Council decision to delay the creation of a permanent regulatory home for ridesharing and allow for modernized transportation options in Houston, is disappointing. Houston residents deserve access to safe, reliable and affordable transit choices and the motion to delay stifles competition and limits choice.Since Uber’s launch in Houston, we’ve seen an overwhelming response from all users. We look forward to continuing to work with the city to ensure Uber is able serve the residents of Houston, and that all consumers can continue to benefit from expanded transportation options.”

My guess is that the taxi companies were behind the push for delay, which if I’m right probably ought to make Uber and Lyft a little nervous. On the bright side, this is gonna be a great summer for the City Hall lobbyist community.

One more thing:

While the city continues to weigh these proposed regulations, a federal judge has set a July 15 court date to hear the request for an injunction against the ride-sharing companies that was filed by cab companies

That lawsuit was filed in April. The request by the cab companies for a temporary restraining order against Uber and Lyft was denied. I’ll be surprised if an injunction is granted, but I’ve been surprised before.

Yes, Greg Abbott owns the RPT platform

Sorry, Greg. You can mumble all the vague platitudes you want, but this baby’s all yours.

You want to be the boss, you get to deal with boss problems

In the wake of the GOP’s approval of a platform that includes a hardline stance on immigration, Attorney General Greg Abbott finds himself at the top of the ticket for a party whose members are deeply divided over the subject and under fire from opponents who say the Republicans’ position is offensive to Hispanic Texans.

And it all comes during an election cycle in which Hispanic Texans are seen as an especially critical voting bloc that Abbott has worked to woo.

“It effectively puts him in an awkward position,” said Mark P. Jones, a political scientist at Rice University, because the attorney general does not want to risk alienating Hispanic voters or contradicting the official party stance.

Last week, the Republican party adopted a political platform that no longer endorses a provisional visa program for immigrants and calls for ending in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants and for prohibiting “sanctuary cities” that do not enforce immigration laws.

Abbott has largely been silent on the issue. Representatives for the Abbott campaign did not respond to requests for comment for this story, and they have not responded to previous inquiries about his position on the immigration plank of the platform.

The Chron has a similar story, though they did get a mealy-mouthed reply from the Abbott campaign.

Young conservatives. Gay Republicans. Hispanic GOPers. Take your pick – they are all fuming at the platform approved over the weekend by the Texas Republican Party.

With a return to a hard-line stance on immigration and a resounding endorsement of psychological therapy to cure gays of their homosexuality, Texas Republicans in a single stroke alienated a small but emerging faction of the party and handed Democrats a new set of talking points to wield against them in the midst of a heated election cycle.

It also has provoked fervent responses within the party.

Take state Rep. Jason Villalba, a Dallas Republican considered one of the leading Hispanic voices in the Texas House. He penned an open letter to delegates in Texas Monthly on Monday, saying they essentially “adopted a ‘deport them all’ strategy that compares human beings to foreign invaders.”

Jeff Davis, chairman of the Texas Log Cabin Republicans, a gay conservative group, said Tuesday the platform will “haunt the party for the next two years.”

And Mark Brown, chairman emeritus of the Texas Young Republican Federation, which touts itself as the premier organization for conservative politicos under 40, called the party’s platform “quite abominable.”

“It’s divisive,” Brown said, adding that the party’s rejection of a plank supportive of medical marijuana also will hurt its image with young voters. “It will make it so much harder for some of us who want to grow this party to keep recruiting new members.”

[…]

On Tuesday, Wendy Davis’ campaign attempted to tie Attorney General Greg Abbott, the GOP nominee for governor, to the Republican platorm.

Zak Petkanas, a Davis spokesman, said the GOP took “their cues directly” from Abbott to craft the planks, imploring the attorney general to make his support for the platform clear.

But [RPT Chair Steve] Munisteri noted that statewide elected officials never embrace every tenet in the platform.

“I’ve yet to see a candidate say ‘I support 100 percent of the platform, otherwise we’d have people endorsing nonpasteurized milk,” he said. “It’s not the Greg Abbott platform. He has his own platform.”

Avdiel Huerta, the attorney general’s spokesman, agreed Tuesday.

“Greg Abbott has unveiled his own platform that focuses on jobs, education, roads, water and securing the border,” he said in a statement.

Let me digress for a moment to deal with the likes of Rep. Villalba, Messrs. Davis and Brown. If you really, truly don’t like the platform and really, truly think that it’s hurtful to people you want to reach out to, and you really, truly think it will harm the party’s long-term prospects, but then you go ahead and vote straight-ticket R anyway, you’re part of the problem. I don’t expect any of these three to publicly support a Democrat or oppose a Republican, but in their heart of hearts I think they know who on their ballot is most closely aligned with this platform (hint: his name rhymes with Pan Datrick, though he’s hardly the only one), and it would not be a betrayal of their principles to skip the race or races involving those candidates in November. It’s a secret ballot, fellas. No one will know, I promise. Otherwise, you own this platform just as much as Greg Abbott and the rest of the statewide slate does.

As for Abbott, I’ll stipulate that party platforms have since the beginning of time contained bits of effluvia, wishcasting, personal grievances, and other things that would not be universally supported. Even for the more mainstream things, candidates have the right to be all mavericky and distance themselves from whatever they personally do not buy into. Democrats are no strangers to any of that. The big difference, especially this year, is that the non-universal parts of Democratic platforms have always been either things that would never come up for serious consideration (like, sadly, single-payer healthcare) or that are on the horizon of becoming totally mainstream (like marriage equality was a couple of years ago). The RPT platform, on the other hand, is chock full of things that can and likely will get real hearings in the Legislature and barring shenanigans or heroic levels of lobbying may well pass. They’re not historical curiosities or back-bench saber rattling, they’re real live legislative priorities, shared by people that will be working and voting on actual for-real bills.

That’s why Greg Abbott doesn’t get to wave his hands and say we’re all our own people here and I’m not bound by what a bunch of yahoos in flag-themed clothing came up with. What happened in Fort Worth is going to come to the floor in Austin next year. If Greg Abbott wants to be Governor, it’s totally fair to know, unequivocally, what parts of that platform he supports and what parts he doesn’t. If a bill banning sanctuary cities comes to his desk, does he sign it or does he veto it? If the answer is “it depends”, what does it depend on? What’s acceptable and what isn’t? If a bill that repeals the Texas DREAM Act of 2001 comes before him, does he sign it or veto it? How about a bill that authorizes “reparative therapy” for LGBT teenagers in some form? What does he do with that? This isn’t a hypothetical situation. We all know that someone is going to file these bills, and we all know that if Dan Patrick is elected, he will do everything in his power to pass them out of the Senate. What will Greg Abbott do? He should be asked that question every day until he puts on his big boy underpants and answers it.

One more thing, from this Texas Public Radio story:

Texas Association of Business CEO Bill Hammond said not having the support for a guest worker will leave huge gaps in the state economy and doesn’t only involve jobs in construction, agriculture or hospitality.

“In the Austin area alone, I’m told some 8,000 information technology jobs are left vacant because there’s not the workforce to fill those jobs,” Hammond said. “We could easily do that if we allowed more legal immigration through a guest worker program.”

Hammond said that the platform stance weakens the Texas economy and may have companies looking to relocate to Texas looking at other states that can support their needs.

“We’ve got many, many openings in Texas that could be filled by legal immigration by a guest worker program that would allow people to come and also go when the work was simply no there,” Hammond said.

Hammond said he agrees with Villalba that the removal of the party’s support for a guest worker program isn’t reflective of the entire Texas Republican Party, but is reflective of delegates at the party convention and some of those who are running in statewide elections in 2014.

Bill Hammond, I know you’re not stupid, and I know you’re not naive. We both know that the parts of the party platform that you find objectionable are also supported by large numbers of Republican legislators and legislators-elect. We know this because your organization has given or will give money to many of them. You and your toothless talk about immigration have been a big part of the problem for a long time because it has never been accompanied by any real action. Either work to defeat – or at the very least, publicly refuse to support – the politicians that are pushing the things you say you oppose, or shut up about it.

Digital textbooks are on their way

HISD is on the leading edge.

HISD is the first of Texas’ large districts – and among the first large districts in the nation – to radically rethink the way it buys new high school instructional materials, shifting from printed textbooks to digital materials accessible from school-issued laptops.

“Our rule is that, each time state dollars to buy instructional materials come in, we no longer procure physical textbooks,” says Dan Gohl, the Houston Independent School District’s chief academic officer. “We’ll do that every year until we reach a new balance between electronic and physical materials.”

[…]

For HISD, the switch is possible because the district is in the midst of a three-year project to equip every high school student with a laptop. This year, students at 11 high schools were issued laptops they could take home. In January 2015, students at 20 more high schools will be similarly equipped, and by 2016, every high school student in HISD will have one.

The new generation of textbooks, HISD officials emphasize, must be more than just scans of the print versions. “It’s not enough to say ‘digital,’ ” says Gohl. “A pdf isn’t enough.”

Last October, in a meeting with publishers that serve the Texas market, Gohl described the kind of digital textbooks that HISD intended to buy – starting with this year’s purchases for science courses. (Next year, the district plans to follow suit with social studies and math.)

“There should be embedded links and video,” Gohl says. “It has to be editable; teachers must be able to use just portions, without taking the whole thing. And it must share some degree of connectivity.”

Yeah, that’ll be different, all right. Benefits include lower costs, more flexibility, and of course better outcomes in the classroom. How much of these benefits HISD ultimately reaps remains to be seen, since we’re still on the first steps of this journey. There’s a lot to look forward to, that much is for sure. See here, here, here, and here for more on the laptop program that underlies this for HISD.

Texas blog roundup for the week of June 9

The Texas Progressive Alliance will never forget what happened on Normandy Beach 70 years ago as it brings you this week’s roundup.

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