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May 31st, 2017:

Are we headed for a special session?

Maybe. Who knows? We’ll find out soon enough.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday promised to make an announcement “later this week” on whether he will call a special session.

“I can tell you this, and that is when it gets to a special session, the time and the topics are solely up to the governor of the state of Texas, and we will be, if we have a special session, convening only on the topics that I choose at the time of my choosing,” Abbott told reporters after a bill-signing ceremony in Austin.

Monday is the last day of the regular session. Lawmakers still have not come to an agreement on property taxes and a “bathroom bill” that would regulate which restroom transgender Texans can use. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick had named those issues priorities in the homestretch, and Patrick has pushed for a special session on them.

Asked how much pressure he felt from Patrick to call a special session, Abbott replied, “none.”

On Sunday, the House and Senate descended into finger-pointing over inaction on critical legislation needed to keep some state agencies from shuttering. Patrick has threatened to hold hostage the measure, known as a sunset safety net bill, if he does not get his way on property taxes and the bathroom issue.

“My biggest disappointment, of course, is the sunset bill did not pass,” Abbott said Monday. “This is something that is incredibly easy to achieve that members could’ve very easily gotten together and agreed upon but simply was not done.”

See this previous Trib story for some more of the details. Abbott’s gonna do what Abbott’s gonna do, and what he does will depend on what he thinks is best for himself. He’ll let us know what that is when he’s good and ready.

Uber and Lyft come rolling back

To Austin:

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday signed into law a measure creating a statewide regulatory framework for ride-hailing companies, overriding local measures that prompted businesses such as Uber and Lyft to leave Austin and other cities.

Uber and Lyft said they resumed operations in Austin on Monday. Lyft also said it would relaunch in Houston on Wednesday (Uber is already operating in Houston.)

“What today really is is a celebration of freedom and free enterprise,” Abbott said during a signing ceremony. “This is freedom for every Texan — especially those who live in the Austin area — to be able to choose the provider of their choice as it concerns transportation.”

House Bill 100 undoes local rules that the two companies have argued are overly burdensome for their business models. It requires ride-hailing companies to have a permit from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation and pay an annual fee of $5,000 to operate throughout the state. It also calls for companies to perform local, state and national criminal background checks on drivers annually — but doesn’t require drivers to be fingerprinted.

“Today’s bill signing creates a ridesharing network in Texas that benefits consumers, expands transportation options, maximizes access to safe, affordable rides and creates expanded earning opportunities for Texans,” Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Harrison said. “Riders and drivers are the real winners today.”

And (for Lyft) to Houston:

Ride-hailing company Lyft will officially return to the Houston market.

San Francsico-based Lyft will return to Houston on May 31 at 2 p.m., according to Chelsea Harrison, Lyft’s senior policy communications manager. The move comes shortly after Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 100, a statewide comprehensive transportation bill, on May 29. Lyft has been ramping up its local marketing, recruiting drivers and offering discount codes to riders since the bill went to the governor’s desk for signing.

“Today’s bill signing creates a ridesharing network in Texas that benefits consumers, expands transportation options, maximizes access to safe, affordable rides and creates expanded earning opportunities for Texans. Riders and drivers are the real winners today,” Harrison said in an email.

[…]

HB 100’s rules are expected to go into effect in September.

Actually, that law went into effect immediately after Abbott’s signature, as it was passed with a two thirds majority in both chambers. The normal rule is that bills go into effect after 90 days, but with a supermajority they go into effect immediately.

You know how I feel about this. I think it was reasonable for the Lege to clear the way for TMCs to operate outside of cities, and I can see some value in a uniform approach to regulating them. I don’t care for the ongoing contempt for local control, and the gratuitous “definition of gender” amendment really sticks in my craw. In the end, I largely agree with this:

Following the passage of the bill in both chambers, however, Austin Mayor Steve Adler issued a statement saying he was “disappointed” the Legislature voted to nullify regulations the city had implemented.

“Our city should be proud of how we filled the gap created when Uber and Lyft left, and we now must hope that they return ready to compete in a way that reflects Austin’s values,” Adler wrote.”

There’s clearly a demand for what Uber and Lyft sell, but let’s not kid ourselves into believing that HB100 has just ushered in some free-market nirvana for ride-seekers. I mean, surely at some point in the future Uber will succeed in buying up Lyft, thus making it a functional monopoly in that market. How exciting will it be then to have the equivalent of a cable company for ridesharing? The brief period in Austin where a bunch of companies actually competed for drivers and riders is what a free market looks like. Too bad none of the rest of us will get to experience that.

5th Court rules Paxton judge overstepped

Yet another bizarre turn in this increasingly bizarre case.

Best mugshot ever

A state appeals court sided Tuesday with Attorney General Ken Paxton in his bid for a new judge in his securities fraud case, ruling the current judge lost jurisdiction when he changed venue to Harris County in April.

The court also directed the judge, George Gallagher, to vacate all subsequent orders, including one that set a September trial date.

The ruling by the Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals appears to add some uncertainty to the case, though it represents a breakthrough for Paxton’s lawyers. For weeks, they have been arguing Gallagher did not have the authority to follow the case out of Collin County.

The appeals court did not explicitly order Gallagher’s removal from the case but voiced agreement with Paxton’s lawyers that he is “without authority to continue to preside over” it. Paxton’s attorneys have repeatedly argued Gallagher cannot follow the case to Harris County because they have not provided written permission as required under the state’s Code of Criminal Procedure.

In issuing his opinion Tuesday, Justice Robert Fillmore also lifted a stay the appeals court had put on the trial court proceedings earlier this month.

See here for the background. The Chron adds some details.

The decision vacates all decisions made by Tarrant County Judge George Gallagher after his April 11 ruling to move the case across the state amid concern about Paxton’s political connections in the attorney general’s home county.

[…]

“Under the plain language of the statute, (Gallagher) is without authority to continue to preside over the cases and is also without authority to issue orders or directives maintaining the case files in Collin County. Consequently, all orders issued by (Gallagher) after he signed the April 11, 2017 transfer order are void,” read the ruling written by Justice Robert M. Fillmore.

Absent an appeal to the state’s court of criminal appeals, the ruling dictates that Gallagher is no longer responsible for the case. The ruling also calls for court documents to be moved to Harris County where another judge would be appointed.

The ruling also nixes a trial date for Sept. 12, when the state’s special prosecutors were expected to try Paxton on charges he failed to register as an insurance adviser. When the trial will be held would be up to a new judge, possibly delaying a resolution on the case as Paxton’s political adversaries determine whether the criminal charges will hurt him in the next election. The filing deadline to run for office is in December.

OK, so this is obviously a win for Paxton, since he’s been fighting like a cornered wolverine to get Judge Gallagher off the case. Mission almost certainly accomplished! That said, this feels like a win on paper that may not translate to much in practical terms. For one thing, the trial will still be in Harris County – Paxton had opposed the change of venue – and argued that all of Judge Gallagher’s rulings since January were invalid. As far as I know, the last ruling of any consequence by Judge Gallagher was the move to Harris County, which was on April 11. Other than having the administrative judge for the region appoint someone new to the bench, it’s not clear to me what else has changed.

And not to put too fine a point on it, as aggrieved as Paxton is by Judge Gallagher’s rulings, who’s to say any other jurist would have ruled differently? Unless you believe that Judge Gallagher had it in for Paxton, I don’t see why any other judge would be likely to make a difference in the outcome. So fine, bring on a new judge. And let Paxton go unchallenged in the primary because he hasn’t been adjudicated yet. If he winds up being convicted next May or so, that will be fine by me. The DMN has more.

Runoff endorsement watch: Moon for Mayor

The Chron picks their second choice for Mayor of Pasadena.

John “J.R.” Moon

The second-largest city in Harris County could use a good shake-up.

That’s why voters should elect John “J.R.” Moon Jr. for mayor in the city’s runoff election.

Moon, 58, would bring the outsider perspective that Pasadena needs. He has spent the past decade as a trustee for the top-rated San Jacinto College. In addition to his public service, Moon also has the business credentials to make for a fine mayor of a growing city – he is a certified CPA and former chief financial officer at Moody Bank. Moon currently works as a commercial real estate agent.

While scandal has dominated the headlines, Moon kept his focus on the core issues of education, economic growth and quality of life when he met with the editorial board. He specifically recommended updating the city’s infrastructure plans into a modern capital improvement system that’s the hallmark of transparent governance.

“It does not appear that we have had an effective plan over the last five years and you need to renew that plan on an annual basis,” Moon said.

[…]

Pasadena needs a mayor who can enter this office with eyes wide open if the city hopes to avoid further scandal.

Moon is Pasadena’s best choice to make these issues a thing of the past.

The Chron had previously endorsed Pat Van Houte, but she didn’t make the runoff. They remain steadfast in their desire to see as big a change from the Isbell era as possible. Early voting for the runoff is going on now through June 6 – you can see times and locations here. Felipe Villarreal is a Project LIFT candidate in the runoff for Pasadena City Council in District A, so if you live there please don’t forget about him, and don’t forget about Pearland if you live there. The runoff is June 10, so make a plan to make your voice heard.