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June 2nd, 2017:

Friday random ten – Girls’ music of 2016, part 1

The girls got their share of music last year as well, enough to span two lists. Here’s the first half:

1. Confident – Demi Lovato
2. Ex’s & Oh’s – Elle King
3. Mockingbird – Eminem
4. Hello – Adele
5. Brave Honest Beautiful – Fifth Harmony
6. Chandelier – Sia
7. Dance Like Nobody’s Watching – Laura Marano
8. Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae – Silento
9. Wildside – Sabrina Carpenter & Sofia Carson
10. Grease (Is The Word) – Jessie J

I’ll be honest, I like a lot of these songs. “Ex’s & Oh’s” is a great tune, though one that (I hope) kind of goes over their heads. Thanks to the girls’ insistence on watching “America’s Got Talent”, I am now familiar with the Puddles Pity Party version of “Chandelier”, which I assure you is a sentence I never expected to type. We all enjoyed the live showing of “Grease” last year, including the opening number. And of course what kind of monster doesn’t like Adele? I’ll have more next week.

Firefighters sue over pension reform law

I suppose this was inevitable.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston’s firefighters pension fund has sued Mayor Sylvester Turner and numerous city officials over the pension reform plan Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Wednesday, putting up another potential hurdle in Houston’s efforts to solve a 16-year fiscal crisis.

The Houston Firefighters Relief and Retirement Fund argues in the lawsuit filed Tuesday in state district court that the reform plan undercuts the board’s legal authority to “select legal counsel and an actuary and adopt sound actuarial assumptions,” in violation of the Texas Constitution.

The pension board also is asking the court to permanently block the city from acting as though the reforms will become law July 1.

If successful, the lawsuit could throw a wrench into the city’s plan to pay down its $8.2 billion pension debt over 30 years by issuing $1 billion in pension obligation bonds, cutting retiree benefits by $2.8 billion and capping future costs, even if the market dips.

“Our board is already being asked to knowingly violate its duty to the Texas Constitution through provisions contained in SB 2190,” pension board Chairman David Keller said in a statement. “We will not collude in an act we believe to be illegal.”

Turner was confident the pension board, which lobbied unsuccessfully against the reform plan in Austin, also would fail to block the reforms in court. Turner added that he finds it interesting the pension board did not sue the state.

State lawmakers, who control the fire pension, had to approve Houston’s pension reform plan.

“I think at some point in time you’ve just got to stop digging a hole,” Turner said. “I think they need to do what’s in the best interest of the people they claim to represent, firefighters both active and retired. But it’s their call. We feel very comfortable about the legislation.”

The injunction the fire pension board seeks presumably would extend not only to the reform package, the cornerstone of Turner’s policy agenda thus far,but also to the city budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, which City Council passed Wednesday.


Charles “Rocky” Rhodes, a constitutional law professor at South Texas College of Law Houston, said it is difficult to say whether the fire pension’s challenge will be successful.

“This case is bringing issues of first impression regarding what benefits are guaranteed to pensioners by the Texas Constitution,” he said. “There are just some very novel issues that are involved that make it hard to predict what the final outcome will be.”

The suit was filed before Abbott signed the bill, not that that really matters. As we know, I Am Not A Lawyer, so I can’t give an educated opinion about the merits of this lawsuit. I can say that with some lawsuits, I feel like I have a fairly clear understanding of what the suit is about. With this one, I guess the HFRRF is saying that the pension reform law is in conflict with other state laws and/or some provisions in the Constitution? It must be something like that, because otherwise I don’t see how the HFRRF board’s authority can override state law. The fact that I don’t really get this doesn’t mean the firefighters won’t prevail – the Lege is hardly immune from writing bad or sloppy laws. More to the point is whether or not they can get an injunction, which would put the city in a bad position while the suit is being litigated. Here, I think the city has a pretty damn convincing argument that the harm to the city and its employees and the taxpayers would greatly outweigh the harm to the HFRRF, but this is what they pay the actual lawyers for. I figure we’ll have an answer to that sometime before the July 1 implementation date.

AirBnB bill fails to pass

One minor surprise from this now-ended legislative session.

A conference committee Saturday voted to strip an amendment that would have blocked cities from regulating short-term rentals like Airbnb, all but killing the measure with less than two days left in the legislative session.

The move comes during a legislative session in which lawmakers have otherwise been willing to overrule local ordinances — including regulations for ride-hailing services.

Senate Bill 451 by state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, aimed to prevent Texas cities from banning short-term rentals and rein in their ability to write ordinances restricting the practice. Austin and Fort Worth are among the cities that have enacted such restrictions.

The Senate passed Hancock’s bill, but both SB 451 and a similar House bill languished in the House without receiving committee votes.

Hancock later tried to revive his bill by adding it as an amendment to House Bill 2445, a measure to regulate the use of the hotel occupancy taxes collected in each municipality. But the conference committee stripped it back out, and with the legislative session ending Monday, only extraordinary measures could revive it.

See here for the background. The Trib published that on Sunday, when there was still a theoretical chance the bill could be passed in some form, but it was not to be. I figured this bill would sail through in more or less the same fashion as the rideshare bill, but apparently not. Well, it took two sessions for a rideshare bill to pass, so maybe next time. I’m fine with it not passing, but I’ll be surprised if one never passes.

State appeals injunction of “fetal remains” rule

Here we go.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked a federal appeals court Tuesday to overturn an Austin judge’s ruling that blocked the state from enforcing a rule requiring fetal tissue to be buried or cremated.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks ruled in January that the regulation was vaguely worded, placing abortion clinics at risk of arbitrary enforcement from hostile state agencies, and appeared to be a pretext for restricting abortion access because it provided no health benefits and replaced tissue-disposal regulations that caused no health problems.

Paxton defended the rule, saying it required abortion clinics, hospitals and health centers to treat fetal remains — whether from an abortion or miscarriage — with dignity, replacing regulations that allowed fetal tissue to be incinerated and sent to a sanitary landfill.

Similar restrictions were included in legislation approved last week by the Texas House and Senate. Abortion rights advocates have indicated that they intend to challenge that regulation in court as well.

In briefs filed Tuesday with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Paxton argued that the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that states can adopt regulations expressing “profound respect for the life of the unborn” as long as the rules do not create a substantial burden women seeking an abortion.

See here for the background. As the story notes, the same rule was included as a piece of the unconstitutional anti-abortion bill passed late in the session. You can be sure there will be litigation related to that as well. As far as this goes, the Fifth Circuit is trash, but the SCOTUS ruling on HB2 may have cooled their jets a bit. We’ll see what they do.