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February 14th, 2017:

The people who would have been denied the opportunity to vote in 2016

There were a lot of them.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

At least 16,400 Texans who voted in the November election wouldn’t have been able to cast ballots if the state’s voter identification law had been in full effect, state voting records show.

[…]

Through a public records request to the Texas secretary of state’s office, the American-Statesman obtained copies of the more than 16,400 Reasonable Impediment Declarations signed by Texans in the November election. More than 2,300 of the forms, legal affidavits punishable with a perjury charge if found to be false, were signed by Travis County voters.

The voters who signed the affidavits were concentrated in urban areas, with six counties alone — Harris, Travis, Dallas, Collin, Tarrant and Hidalgo — accounting for more than half of them.

Those voters arrived to the polls without one of the seven forms of ID, but were able to vote after signing the form and providing a voter registration certificate, birth certificate, utility bill, bank statement, government check or any other government document that included the registered voter’s name and address.

To sign the forms, all of those voters would’ve had to have been registered to vote and to produce documentation proving who they were.

[…]

Former Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos, an appointee of Gov. Greg Abbott who stepped down after overseeing the November election, said the potential of 16,400 voters being turned away was less worrisome in light of the fact that about 9 million Texans voted.

“When you put it in perspective, to me it’s not a large number,” said Cascos, a Republican.

Asked if that meant those voters would have been disenfranchised, Cascos said, “I would agree. That is a way to look at it.”

And, he observed, the number of potentially disenfranchised voters “might not be important for a presidential race or a statewide race, but it very well might matter for local votes, where there can be really small margins.”

“At the end of the day, we want to make sure every qualified Texan who can vote should be allowed to vote,” he said, “(16,000) people wanted to vote and got to vote, so that’s great.”

Cascos is right – sixteen thousand out of nine million isn’t that much. He’s also right that every single one of them would have been disenfranchised had they been turned away, and for no valid purpose. That sixteen thousand just represents the people who tried to vote. We don’t know how many others didn’t bother to show up because they didn’t know that they could have voted – it’s not like the state’s “outreach” was terribly effective. And those sixteen thousand voters who would have been disenfranchised, plus those however many who actually were in this one election, are way way way more than the total number who have ever been credibly accused of any form of vote fraud. As long as we’re putting things in perspective, let’s keep that in mind as well.

Harris County really needs to settle that bail practices lawsuit

Enough already.

Two Houston-based lawmakers called on Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan Friday to dismiss an attorney hired to represent county judges in a federal civil rights lawsuit, after that attorney claimed in a hearing that many people jailed in Harris County were there by choice – not because they could not afford to post bond.

Among other statements, the attorney, James G. Munisteri, told a federal judge Wednesday that as few as “zero” defendants are jailed pretrial who can’t afford to pay and some choose to stay locked up in one of the nation’s largest jails because it’s cold outside.

The ongoing civil rights lawsuit challenges Harris County judges and other officials for granting very few no-cost pretrial bonds to misdemeanor offenders – as few as 8 percent in May when the suit was filed, according to county statistics. The lawsuit claims that judges routinely violate the civil rights of the poor by failing to consider the inability to pay before jailing thousands of people annually before trial for minor crimes like marijuana possession and trespassing.

The county argued in a hearing this week that the lawsuit should be tabled because officials have made improvements and that 23 percent of those accused of misdemeanors were released on no-cost bond as of October 2016.

But Chief U.S. District Court Judge Lee H. Rosenthal declined to put the case on hold Wednesday, saying there was not enough evidence to support the county’s claims.

[…]

State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, and Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis, a former state senator, both of whom support bail bond reform, challenged Munisteri’s remarks as “indefensible.” Both argued that “tax dollars should not be used to fund this reprehensible representation.”

Robert Soard, First Assistant County Attorney, said that officials planned to review the matter.

“The quote should be placed in the context of presentations being made by both attorneys for plaintiffs and defendants during a hearing that lasted over one hour. We are awaiting a copy of the actual transcript to determine the actual context and an appropriate response,” he said via email.

See here for the last update, and here for previous blogging. The Press was the first on this story late last week. I’m not a lawyer, but I know a ludicrous argument when I see one, and when a competent attorney makes a ludicrous argument, I figure it’s because said attorney is saddled with a loser of a case. Which is why, as I have been saying all along, Harris County needs to settle this and be done with it. We should take our medicine and quit paying attorneys like Mr. Munisteri to make dumb arguments on our behalf in service of a policy that neither our Sheriff nor our District Attorney wants defended. More from the Press is here.

Houston’s tourism business

People like to spend money here. In particular, people from Mexico like to spend money here.

Mexicans are the largest group of international tourists who visit Houston – and recently, their numbers have grown. In 2015, Houston received 2.5 million international tourists, 1.8 million of whom came from Mexico.

In 2016, the convention and visitors bureau launched a campaign, “Hola Houston,” to promote the city as a cultural and culinary destination.

“We aimed to increase the number of Mexican tourists to 2 million by 2018,” said Jorge Franz, the bureau’s vice president for tourism, “but we are already well beyond that mark for the year 2016.”

Mexican tourists also spend the most money of all Houston’s visitors. In 2015, on an average two-night trip, each spent an average of $1,253.

Franz said that Mexican tourists love shopping in the Galleria and at the area’s suburban outlet stores.

Many also visit the less- crowded luxury boutiques and designer shops of the upscale River Oaks District shopping complex. Mexican shoppers “typically go after the luxury brands,” says Jennifer Rivera, marketing manager for the River Oaks District. “They are big shoppers of Dolce & Gabbana, big shoppers of Hermés, and huge shoppers of Canali and Dior.”

According to the story, some twenty thousand Mexican nationals were in Houston for the Super Bowl. The story doesn’t give a cumulative annual number for the revenue the city and the greater region derive from all this, but between hotel taxes, rental car taxes, sales taxes, and just a whole lot of stuff being bought, I think we can assume it’s a decent chunk of change. Now ask yourself, what would the effect be if all this activity were to be dramatically scaled back, due to some combination of further restrictions on immigration and the well-heeled travelers of Mexico deciding they just don’t need this crap, as some of them featured in the story say is the case for them? It would not be good. If that happens, you can thank Dear Leader Trump and the people like Dan Patrick (are you paying attention, Texas Association of Business?) who enable him.

A telemedicine breakthrough

This is good to see.

Sen. Charles Schwertner

A years-long fight over the use of telemedicine in Texas appears to have been resolved, with medical and industry groups agreeing to compromise legislation that, if it passes, could benefit patients, especially those in rural areas.

Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Charles Schwertner, a Georgetown Republican and orthopedic surgeon, confirmed the deal on Wednesday and said he will sponsor the legislation to resolve the longstanding feud over rules to allow doctors to see patients electronically.

“I think we will have a bill very soon,” he said, noting there could be “considerable benefits” to patients if the legislation is approved by lawmakers — as well as possible benefits to taxpayers if the electronic doctor visits can help curb spiraling costs for some state-funded healthcare programs.

Ironically, despite the heated controversy over telemedicine for most Texans, the concept of electronic visits was adopted successfully two decades ago in the Texas prison system in a program that is now credited for saving hundreds of millions of dollars.

While the announced agreement clears the way for Schwertner’s bill to move forward in the Legislature to passage, opposition could still materialize that could delay — or perhaps derail — it. Last session, well over a dozen bills were filed to allow telemedicine in Texas, but none became law, officials said.

[…]

While providing few details on the settlement, Schwertner said Wednesday he believes the issues of disagreement have been addressed. Others familiar with the talks agreed.

They said doctors wanted to ensure proper patient care was maintained and that they would receive payment for services provided remotely. Health insurance providers who had supported use of new technologies to improve care and cut costs wanted to ensure proper payments would be permitted. And companies that offer telemedicine services wanted to ensure they could operate without onerous restrictions.

“This is significant, and will be a winner for everyone,” said Nora Belcher, executive director of the Texas e-Healthcare Alliance, a telemedicine trade group. “This is going to get us a fair and open market for telemedicine in Texas.”

Telemedicine isn’t a panacea, but it’s a worthwhile tool to have in the bag, and it should be regulated in a reasonable fashion that allows access while still prioritizing level of care and patient safety. I appreciate the work that Sen. Schwertner has done here to bring the stakeholders together and work something out. I was curious about one thing, because as we know there is an ongoing lawsuit by a telemedicine company called Teladoc against the state of Texas over its current regulations. The story did not mention this litigation, so I sent a query to Sen. Schwertner’s office to ask if one intent of his bill was to resolve that lawsuit. The response I received was “It is our hope that by passing an agreed-to bill between the various stakeholders, this legislation will eliminate much of the legal ambiguity currently surrounding telemedicine and create a clear, fair, and consistent regulatory environment that will allow for the provision of telemedical services while ensuring the safety of Texas patients.” My interpretation of this is that they hope the bill will allow for that dispute to be resolved, but they can’t make it happen on their own. Anyway, this will be worth watching both during the session and (if the bill passes) afterwards.