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June 15th, 2017:

Greg Abbott’s war on trees

This is just bizarre.

One of the 20 items Gov. Greg Abbott has asked lawmakers to consider during the upcoming special session, which will begin July 18, is outlawing local tree regulations. More than 50 cities and towns in Texas have ordinances aimed at protecting trees; many of the local rules require property owners to either pay a fee for removing trees or replant trees after they cut some down. Municipalities often design them to prevent the type of branch slashing Beatty said occurred on the property near her Dallas home.

But Abbott — joined by a number of Republican lawmakers and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank — are calling for the end of those local protections. They argue that the tree ordinances are an unconstitutional violation of private property rights, and Abbott, who grappled with Austin tree regulations as a homeowner, calls the rules a “socialistic” infringement on a landowner’s freedom.

“I feel like those who own their trees have the right to do with their trees what they want,” said state Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville.

[…]

Keith Mars, who enforces Austin’s tree regulations as the city arborist, said trees are an important reason why Austin is a growing destination known for its quality of life. He points to the environmental and economic benefits of trees.

“We know about the quality that this urban canopy provides for our citizens and why so many people are moving here from all over the country,” he said. “There will be a real economic impact to the vitality of Austin and other cities.”

To Robert Henneke, the general counsel at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, though, the tree regulations hamper economic growth in Texas cities.

“The compliance cost of these tree regulation ordinances is harmful because it drives up the cost of housing,” Henneke said. Henneke said the foundation worked with lawmakers who filed bills on the topic during the regular session.

Those efforts will run up against the Texas Municipal League, an organization that advocates for Texas cities and towns in the Legislature. Bennett Sandlin, the group’s executive director, said the organization plans to resist bills that nullify local tree regulations. He says municipalities have the constitutional power to protect trees.

“If you take that argument to the extreme — that you can do anything you want on your property in an urban area —then you wouldn’t have zoning,” Sandlin said. “You could have a strip club next to a home or you could have a liquor store next to a school.”

See here for the roots (sorry not sorry) of Abbott’s tree tirade. I find this just so petty and vindictive. I mean, maybe Austin’s tree removal ordinances and processes are byzantine and life-sucking – it happens, I have no idea. A normal person might view that as a city problem, since it was the city that put in these requirements, presumably for some justifiable reasons. One could complain to one’s Council member or the Mayor, one could form an organization devoted to reforming or repealing these rules, one could run for city office on a tree-regulation-reform platform – there are many options. To decide that all tree-related regulations in all cities are uniformly terrible and must be destroyed is some kind of special snowflaking right there. Also, some people refer to “driving up the cost of housing” as “enhancing property values”. Maybe talk to a realtor? I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know how Texas ever got to be such a wonderful place when so much of it is clearly a dystopian hellhole. Thank God we have Greg Abbott and his million-dollar donors to set us straight.

There is always some risk

I get the concern, but the alternative was unacceptable and now is illegal. Get used to it.

More than 600 people charged with misdemeanors have been released since June 7 when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an emergency motion by the county to block [federal judge Lee Rosenthal’s] order, according to estimates provided to the county attorney’s office from criminal court officials.

[…]

“That’s my sort of common sense problem with this whole ruling,” said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. “I’ve stated publicly that someone shouldn’t be in jail because they can’t afford bail…there’s got to be a risk assessment here. I don’t think anyone wants somebody to to keep driving drunk time after time after time until they kill some family somewhere.”

Other court members expressed similar concerns about people being released on personal recognizance.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle and Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said Rosenthal’s ruling makes it easy for criminals to game the system by swearing they do not have enough money to pay bail – even if they do – just to get out of jail.

“This is a slap at every single Harris County Criminal court judge,” Radack said. “It’s a slap at their integrity, their intelligence, and it’s, basically, it really doesn’t matter how bad you are, as long as you’re charged with a misdemeanor. If you say you can’t afford bail, you’re getting out.”

A 193-page opinion accompanying Rosenthal’s order outlined research that showed personal bonds in other jursidictions were no less effective at getting people to show up for their trials, nor did they significantly lead to additional offenses by those released. In fact, Rosenthal wrote, research shows pretrial detention increases the likelihood that people will commit future crimes.

Her order states that judges still have other tools – such as breathalyzers or GPS monitoring – to address the risk of releasees committing new offenses.

It also notes that the county has “not compiled the data it has to compare failure-to-appear or new-criminal-activity rates by bond type among misdemeanor defendants during pretrial release.”

Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis has been the lone member of Commissioners Court who has agreed that the county’s bail system is unconstitutional. He repeatedly has advocated settling the case. He said Tuesday that under the current bail system, people who can afford to make bail can pay, get out, and re-offend, meaning that using high bail to detain individuals disproportionately affects the poor.

Commissioner Ellis has it exactly right. Maybe if the county would get its act together and compile some data then some other members of Commissioners would feel less need to fearmonger. The point is that all along, we let anyone go who could pay whatever bond was set, without worrying about whether or not they might re-offend. A system that takes into account risk rather than ability to pay will do more to reduce this kind of crime than anything else. Fortunately, that’s what the county will have to do now. That’s all there is to it.

The Arizona experience

This is what Texas has to look forward to post-SB4.

Seven years in, Arizona’s experience hints at what Texas, with the nation’s largest Hispanic population after California, might expect. Supporters of Arizona’s legislation say it has worked, helping to reduce the number of immigrants illegally in the state by 40 percent between 2007 and 2012, according to the Pew Research Center, a think tank in Washington, D.C. More than 200,000 left. Since then, the population has stayed about the same.

“Enforcement does work and even the threat of enforcement makes a difference,” said the bill’s Republican sponsor, former state Sen. Russell Pearce, who became Arizona’s first legislator to be removed from office in a 2011 recall election shortly after the passage of what’s known as SB 1070. “As long as you got the bird feeder out, the birds are going to come and eat. You gotta take the bird feeder down.”

Many of Trump’s supporters see it the same way at a time when the issue has arguably never been more rancorous. But business leaders in Arizona warn that such a reduction came at a cost.

“No one stops to think that, when you eject people from an economy, you’re not going to feel it,” said Todd Landfried, executive director of Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform. “It’s a dramatic impact. People aren’t buying food, clothes, gas. They’re not going to baseball games or buying soccer uniforms, they’re not going out and socializing. Business owners have to cut back and lay people off. It’s a snowball effect.”

Some economists have found that the exodus reduced Arizona’s gross domestic product by roughly 2 percent a year. Proponents of the law say that loss was bolstered by savings in education, medical care and the costs of incarceration. A 2004 study by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington, D.C., group seeking to reduce immigration, argued those services cost the state more than $1 billion annually.

But Landfried called that a red herring, noting that all of Arizona’s residents, no matter their legal status, contribute to property taxes paying for education, whether they own homes or rent. Immigrants illegally in the state don’t qualify for any public benefits, although their American children do.

The overall impact to the state’s convention and tourism industry alone was $752 million in completed and potential cancellations and booking declines, Landfried testified to the U.S. Senate judiciary committee in 2012. That involved more than 4,200 lost jobs.

[…]

Some executives say that even the perception of the law as anti-Hispanic casts a shadow that they are still struggling to overcome. The city of Oakland, Calif., declined Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton’s invitation to a Governing Magazine summit this month, reportedly citing an ongoing travel ban due to the 2010 legislation. Stanton’s office, meanwhile, has been working to improve relations with the state’s largest trading partner of Mexico, recently opening a second office there.

“This was a complete disaster for our state from an image perspective and from an economic perspective,” said Lisa Urias, the president of a large advertising agency and a member of the boards of the Greater Phoenix Leadership Council and the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “There is still lingering damage that is there, and we are still a state that feels very raw about this issue.”

Of course, Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick have clearly shown via their support of a bathroom bill that they don’t really care about the state’s image and economy, since everyone with any credibility has told them that it would be bad for those things. The same is true for the so-called “sanctuary cities” law, with law enforcement added in for good measure. At this point, it’s hard to imagine anything that would change their minds. All that remains is to change who’s in power. Easier said than done, obviously, but it’s the only way.

Texas blog roundup for the week of June 12

The Texas Progressive Alliance would like to see some thinkpieces analyzing the economic motives of Lord Buckethead voters as it brings you this week’s roundup.

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