Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

August 15th, 2014:

Friday random ten – The L I will

Almost halfway through the alphabet now.

1. Self Control – Laura Branigan
2. Irene – Leadbelly
3. Rock And Roll Is Dead – Lenny Kravitz
4. Lady Blue – Leon Russell
5. I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm – Les Brown & His Band Of Renown
6. Penitentiary Blues – Lightnin’ Hopkins
7. Mr. Blue Sky – Lily Allen
8. Short Side Of Nothing – Los Lobos
9. White Winos – Loudon Wainwright III
10. You Rascal You – Louis Armstrong

I’ve had a coworker for some years now named Les Brown. Every time I see or hear his name, I silently add “and his band of renown”. Is my brain the only one that works like that or do other people do that sort of thing, too?

Latest HB2 trial wraps up

And so we await a ruling, followed by whatever the Fifth Circuit will pull out of its posterior.

Stefanie Toti, representing the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the requirements imposed by the ambulatory surgical center rules single out abortion providers, as three-fourths of other ASCs in the state are exempt from the costly building code requirements – effectively amounting to a multi-million dollar tax on abortion providers.

The state provided no medical evidence to show the law is necessary or promotes the health and safety of women, said Toti. As few as seven abortion clinics would survive the law, creating a “substantial obstacle” for women who do not live in one of the five metro areas (Austin, Houston, Forth Worth, Dallas and San Antonio) where remaining providers exist. These women would need to travel 150 to up to 500 miles for abortion care.

“Would we allow that to stand for someone receiving an appendectomy or a sprained ankle? I have a problem believing it’s okay to send someone 150 miles away for care when they could get it closer,” commented Judge Lee Yeakel, perhaps offering a glimpse of his upcoming ruling. “I don’t think we would let this stand for any other minor medical procedure.”

In her concluding remarks, Toti said the state is trying to do indirectly what it cannot do directly since Roe v. Wade– eliminate abortion service from huge regions of the state.

State Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell relied heavily on the previous ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which had found in favor of HB 2. While the definition of undue burden to women is not necessarily clear, the impact of the law would not “come close” to even a minimal standard of burden, said Mitchell, as 83% of Texas women will live within 150 miles of an abortion clinics. Plaintiffs failed to show that any patient would not be able to obtain abortion services as result of HB 2, said Mitchell.

The state also sought to defend as common practice anti-abortion advocate Vincent Rue’s paid consultant work for the Attorney General – including extensive editing and drafting of defendant testimony. But Judge Yeakel slammed the AG’s office, saying the “state effectively tried to hide Rue’s involvement,” and he described the evidence as “very disturbing” in the eyes of the court.

See here and here for some background. The AusChron’s daily coverage has been great, as has RH Reality Check‘s – go click those links and proceed to their full slate of stories. The Trib homes in on the Big Question that will need to be addressed.

“Is Texas to be treated exactly like Rhode Island?” Yeakel said, adding that proving whether the regulation imposed an undue burden is the “crux” of this case. Yeakel’s decision, expected to be made before the ASC requirement goes into effect, is likely to be immediately appealed by the losing party. Yeakel acknowledged during Wednesday’s hearing that the case could eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

When the ASC requirement goes into effect, only six existing abortion facilities in Texas that meet the ASC standards — all of them in major cities — will remain open to provide abortions, with an additional Planned Parenthood facility scheduled to open in Dallas before September.

But the requirement would leave women living west or south of San Antonio anywhere from 150 to 500 miles away from a Texas abortion facility.

Yeakel interrupted the attorneys several times during their closing arguments, asking whether the law presented “equal protection problems” for women who live in remote areas of large states like Texas. He also questioned whether the standard of an undue burden in abortion cases, which could make it permissible to force a woman to travel an entire day to obtain an abortion, would be applied differently to other medical procedures.

“I have a problem believing that it is reasonable to require someone to travel 150 miles to obtain a procedure they could get” nearby, Yeakel said. “Would we stand for that if you had a sprained ankle or needed an appendectomy? I don’t believe we would stand for this for any other medical procedure.”

Yeakel’s questions provided some insight into what his ruling in the case could determine. But he could be limited by a decision made by a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in March that ruled that traveling 150 miles to a facility was not an “undue burden.”

“I’m bound by the 5th Circuit, but I may disagree with them,” Yeakel said.

In other words, What Will The Fifth Circuit Do? They have not acted on the request for an en banc hearing of their ruling on the first HB2 appeal, which leads to the speculation that they’re waiting for this case so they can address it all at once. Their recent ruling in the Mississippi case, which has since been appealed, offers a slim amount of hope, but as the Fifth Circuit is where hope and progress go to die, I wouldn’t get too giddy. The Statesman and Mother Jones have more.

We have a Lite Guv debate agreement

Mark your calendars for September 29.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Both campaigns confirmed the date via email Thursday after the two sides had agreed to a Texas Tribune-hosted debate but couldn’t reach a consensus on a day. The Tribune originally proposed Sept. 24 and Sept. 27 as possible dates.

Van de Putte, a San Antonio Democrat, accepted a debate invitation earlier this week and specified that she’d do it on Sept. 24.

Patrick’s camp shot back Wednesday that the 24th isn’t doable because it marks the start of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah. Patrick agreed to debate on Sept. 27.

That left the debate date in limbo until the two sides said Thursday they ended up agreeing on Sept. 29.

So there you have it. Sen. Van de Putte sent out a press release yesterday saying she still wants to have more than one debate, which I think ought to be the case as well. I hope Patrick will give some consideration to having more than one, since he participated in about a million of them for the primary and runoff. Take your show to a larger audience, Danno. The Current and Texas Leftist have more.

Abbott does one last solid for Perry

He lets him keep his little secrets.

A code of silence sounds pretty good right now

After critics raised a stink about the tax dollars being spent to provide security for Gov. Rick Perry while he was gearing up to run for president, lawmakers passed a bill in 2011 designed to let Texans know — eventually — what they were getting for their money.

Now, thanks to a new ruling from the office of Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Texas Department of Public Safety will not have to provide itemized travel records for the security detail after all. The DPS is still releasing the overall spending, with figures broken down into into five broad categories. But the ruling means that the public won’t know precisely what their tax dollars paid for when it comes to the governor’s security detail.

Relying on DPS assertions that releasing the old information represents an ongoing security threat, Abbott’s office blocked inspection of the travel records even though they were submitted years after the expenses were incurred. That includes the ones from Perry’s last presidential run, which ended in a spectacular nosedive a few months after it began.

Transparency advocates who had pushed for disclosure of the records, which once were available for public inspection, say Abbott’s ruling is another blow to open government in Texas. As attorney general, Abbott, the Republican gubernatorial nominee, decides what information government agencies have to provide under state transparency laws.

“It flies in the face of what the Legislature intended,” said Michael Schneider, vice president for legislative and regulatory affairs at the Texas Association of Broadcasters, which has fought to lift the long-standing veil of secrecy over the records. “It’s just plain wrong.”

Abbott’s decision cites a loophole in the open records law that allows DPS to block release if it believes disclosure would present a “substantial threat of physical harm” to the governor or his family. Abbott’s office said there was no choice but to apply that provision and withhold the records.

[…]

Issued on July 31, Abbott’s ruling came in response to a public information request from The Texas Tribune — not for itemized records of the new expenditures for Perry’s latest travels, but for old ones.

The request was aimed at getting DPS travel vouchers that would show what the money was being spent on, including items such as hotels and restaurants or other incidentals, from late 2011 through 2012.

Spending on security for the well-traveled governor has been a source of regular controversy. In 2004, before the records were deemed to be secret, Perry traveled to the Bahamas, and the Austin American-Statesman obtained vouchers that revealed taxpayers had paid for the security guards’ rental of scuba gear and a golf cart.

In 2009, KEYE-TV reported that taxpayers shelled out $70,000 for a single trip the governor and first lady Anita Perry took to Jerusalem, including “$17,000 for rooms at the swanky King David Hotel.”

By the time Perry went on the road in pursuit of the GOP presidential nomination in 2011, the DPS quit providing the voucher information and instead gave out raw totals for the security spending. The agency said giving out more detail could compromise the governor’s safety. At the height of his run, the state was spending as much as $400,000 a month to provide security for Perry, figures provided afterward revealed.

Three newspapers sued to get the travel vouchers in 2007, and in 2011 the courts ultimately ruled that the state could withhold them.

Amid the controversy, the Texas Legislature stepped in with what proponents described as a careful balance between government transparency and the security concerns raised by the DPS and the governor’s office.

The bill authored by then-state Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, called for the the itemized records to remain confidential for a period of 18 months. After that, they “become subject to disclosure,” the 2011 law says.

This is a load of crap on so many levels. The “security” issue only became an angle when what was being revealed was embarrassing to Perry. It boggles the mind to think that details of travel in 2011 could cause a legitimate problem for a government official in 2014. The hypocrisy of Rick Perry, after years of bragging about cutting spending and zero-based budgeting telling us all to go suck an egg when we want to know just exactly what he did last summer is stunning, even for him. I accept that travel is part of his job description, and that in that capacity it is proper for the taxpayers to cover the cost of his security. But it’s not a blank check, and it’s certainly not justification for veiling the transactions. We have a right to know, and I guarantee you that if Wendy Davis gets elected this November she is not going to get anywhere near this level of deference from the people that are now defending Rick Perry.

And as for Greg Abbott, this totally says it all:

In an email, Abbott spokesman Jerry Strickland said the ruling is “dictated by the Supreme Court’s interpretation” of the exemption related to possible threats against the governor. That exemption remains part of the law Duncan passed.

“This ruling does not change existing law,” he said.

Strickland also said Abbott was not in the loop on the decision. With over 22,000 such rulings issued yearly, he said Abbott “does not and physically could not” review them all, but he appoints a staff that does the job.

“Consistent with that approach, General Abbott was not aware of this ruling,” Strickland said in a prepared statement.

He doesn’t even have the guts to own this. Remember when Abbott was campaigning as a champion of government transparency? Yeah, so much for that.

A second chance to get a piece of the Dome

There’s going to be another Astrodome memorabilia sale in the near future.

This one is not for sale

The Harris County Sports and Convention Corp. is considering selling more seats out of the Astrodome after raking in $1.5 million late last year during two online auctions and a walk-up “yard sale” at NRG Center where thousands of nostalgic fans waited hours in line to buy seats, swatches of Astroturf and a slew of other memorabilia salvaged from the world’s first domed sports stadium.

Net proceeds from the sales in November and December totaled nearly $650,000, meaning they cost almost as much to put on as they brought in. County officials, however, said the haul far exceeded their expectations.

“We were just hoping for it to be able to pay for itself, but it did much more,” said Kevin Hoffman, deputy executive director of the sports corporation, the county agency that runs NRG Park, the South Loop sports complex where the dome is located.

[…]

Hoffman said the sports corporation now is considering having at least one more sale of Dome seats, but is not sure it will be allowed by the state historical commission, which last month postponed its vote on whether to make the 49-year-old stadium a protected landmark while the county continues searching for a private company or coalition to redevelop it.

Under state law, the owner of a building under consideration for so-called “state antiquities landmark” status cannot make significant alterations to the structure during the application process, or after designation, without permission from the commission.

Since the seats have already been removed and are sitting in storage I’m not sure what the problem with selling them might be, but I suppose we have to let the process work. The first memorabilia sale was a big success despite some major logistical issues. This story says there were 7,000 pairs of seats sold in the first event, which presumably includes the online auction, though the stories at the time indicated it was 2,400 pairs. I’m not sure what accounts for the discrepancy – perhaps it’s just that they’ve continued to sell more seats online – but in any event there are another 4,000 pairs left. Funds from that sale went to cleanup efforts after partial demolition of walkway towers and ticket booths, and funds from this next one would be used for maintenance and upkeep. I’ll keep my eye out for further updates on this.