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June 1st, 2017:

No Astrodome vote this fall

This is a bit of a surprise.

All this and antiquities landmark status too

[Sen. John] Whitmire filed a bill that would force the county to get voter approval before spending any money on the Dome.

“It’s a dream and you shouldn’t spend taxpayer dollars on a dream,” Whitmire said.

Whitmire’s bill sailed through the Senate, but hit a brick wall in the House.

After passing the Senate, the bill was sent to the House County Affairs committee.

State Representative Garnet Coleman is the chair of that committee.

“The Astrodome is a symbol of our ‘can-do’ spirit,” Coleman said. “I want it left as a symbol of what my city is and has been.”

The bill never made it out of Coleman’s committee, so it died. Coleman wouldn’t say whether he agreed or disagreed with the Commissioner’s plans.

“I don’t have to agree or disagree because I don’t want it torn down,” Coleman said.

See here, here, and here for the background. I confess I’m surprised, I had expected this bill to zip through based on its easy adoption in the Senate, but like the AirBnB bill, one must never assume that a bill will make it to the finish line. I didn’t care for the Whitmire bill, so this outcome is fine by me.

With the demise this bill, what could have been a very busy November has been scaled back quite a bit. With no Astrodome vote and no Metro vote (this year), what we are left with are the pension obligation bonds and the revenue cap; it remains to be seen if there will be a vote on forcing city employees onto a defined-contribution retirement plan, as the petitions have not yet been verified and the instigator behind the drive says she’s not interested in it any more. Things can still change, and there will be some number of low-profile constitutional amendments on the ballot, but all in all expect there to be fewer campaigns this November than there could have been. Link via Swamplot.

UPDATE: In case you’re wondering what this means from the county’s perspective.

The end of the session on Monday means the county can move forward with a revitalization project that officials say could be the key to the stadium’s long-term preservation, as well as resume a broader study of the maintenance of the NRG park that was set aside as lawmakers considered Whitmire’s bill.

“I don’t see any potential road blocks,” said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, on the revitalization project.

Emmett said 2020 would be a rough, early estimate of when the project could be completed.

Architects and engineers are working on the first phase of the project. That first phase began in September, and was seen as one of the most concrete steps toward securing the Dome’s future. It has been vacant for years, and hosted its last Astros game in 2000.

Commissioners Court will have to give another green light for the actual construction to begin.

County Engineer John Blount said the architects and engineers are examining the stadium as part of the design process, verifying that the county’s blueprints match how the stadium actually looks. Blount said, for example, that modifications to the stadium’s drainage system made in the 1960s after it was built were not reflected in its original blueprints.

“We might find things that take some time to go investigate,” Blount said.

[…]

“There’s no reason why the House couldn’t have taken a vote on this,” said Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, who supported Whitmire’s bill.

Bettencourt said the 2013 referendum and general fund money being used by the county to fund the project – estimated to be about one-third of the total cost – necessitates a referendum.

“As long as that’s in there, in my mind they’re going to have to bring this to a vote,” he said.

I take Bettencourt’s words to mean that the fight is not over yet. Don’t be surprised if someone sues to stop things once the county begins spending money on this, and don’t be surprised if another bill like SB884 is introduced in 2019.

When might Houston file a lawsuit over SB4?

Unclear at this time.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Responding to calls for Houston to take a tougher stance on immigration legislation, Mayor Sylvester Turner said Tuesday he still is reviewing a controversial state law passed this month that allows police to ask people their immigration status if detained.

The advocacy group FIEL Houston urged Turner earlier in the day to sue the state over Senate Bill 4, which also allows for the jailing of sheriffs and police chiefs who refuse federal requests to hold undocumented immigrants held for other alleged crimes.

The mayor frequently says Houston is a “welcoming city,” but has declined to weigh in for or against the law, which critics view as discriminatory.

“The time for good words or for pretty words (is) over. We need action and we need action immediately,” Cesar Espinosa, executive director of FIEL Houston, said in front of City Hall. “If there was a mass exodus of people or a mass deportation of people, this would affect Houston not only in the service industry but also in many other industries … as well as in society in general.”

Other lawsuits are underway, and San Antonio has now followed suit. I think there’s a case to be made for waiting till the pension reform bill is officially signed, which should be within the next two weeks, but not after that. Stace has more.

UPDATE: The pension bill has been signed. I see no reason not to address the SB4 issue now.

More big employers against a bathroom bill

I don’t know what it will take to get this message to sink in, but it won’t be for lack of trying.

The CEOs of 14 top companies, including Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon, have sent a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott urging him not to pass discriminatory legislation.

“As large employers in the state, we are gravely concerned that any such legislation would deeply tarnish Texas’ reputation as open and friendly to businesses and families,” the CEOs wrote Abbott in a letter dated May 27. “Our ability to attract, recruit and retain top talent, encourage new business relocations, expansions and investment, and maintain our economic competitiveness would all be negatively affected.

In addition to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Apple CEO Tim Cook, the letter was signed by Amazon CEO Jeff Wilke, IBM Chairman Ginni Rometty, Microsoft Corp. President Brad Smith and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. The leaders of Dell Technologies, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Cisco, Silicon Labs, Celanese Corp., GSD&M, Salesforce and Gearbox Software also signed the letter.

“We strongly urge you and the Texas Legislature not to further pursue legislation of this kind,” they added.

The letter, which has not been made public but was released to The Dallas Morning News, was sent just days before state lawmakers were scheduled to gavel out the 2017 regular legislative session. The year’s most controversial and divisive issue has been a Senate proposal to block transgender Texans from using restrooms that match their gender identities.

That story ran on Sunday, so the letter is public now – you can find an image of it on Michael Dell’s Facebook page. There was a time when a Republican Governor of Texas would have taken this kind of feedback very seriously, but the Republican Party of Texas is no longer interested in what businesses have to say. What happens from here is entirely up to Abbott, but what happens after he makes his choice is up to the rest of us, including these businesses. If we want leaders in our state who value inclusion over discrimination and the reputation of the state over crass political interests, we’ll need to support and vote for such leaders. ThinkProgress has more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of May 29

The Texas Progressive Alliance doesn’t need a back channel to bring you this week’s roundup.

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