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June 17th, 2017:

Yet another report about how much our voter ID law sucked

Keep ’em coming.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Hundreds were delayed from voting and others nearly turned away entirely during the presidential election because of confusion over the status Texas voter ID laws, a new report from a voting rights advocacy group shows.

It’s just one of numerous problems Texas voters — particularly minority groups — faced during the 2016 election cycle, the report from the Texas Civil Rights Project detailed on Thursday.

“Unfortunately, throughout the state, voters faced numerous obstacles that complicated the process,” said Beth Stevens, voting rights director at the Texas Civil Rights Project which put out the report on Thursday. “Through our Election Protection Coalition, we heard directly from thousands of voters about the barriers they faced in our electoral system.”

The first of its kind Texas-based report on voter issues was limited in scope to just over 4,000 incidents that we logged. But Stevens said it’s safe to assume there are many more Texans who experienced similar obstacles in voting that simply did not know who to turn to.

“Common sense says that there is whole subset of voters that didn’t know who to call and just walked away,” she said.

Of the 4,000 incidents that were tracked by a coalition of voting advocacy groups during the presidential election most were issues related to polling place problems, voter registration status or voter ID requirements.

The Texas Civil Rights Project press release is here, and the full report is here. Confusion and discouragement were the point of the voter ID law. The only just and sensible way to address that is to throw the whole thing out.

Collin County would like us to pick up the Paxton prosecutor tab

I’ll bet they would.

Best mugshot ever

As Attorney General Ken Paxton’s legal troubles head into their third year, there’s another question aside from whether he’ll beat the rap — who will pay for it all?

Taxpayers in Collin County, where Paxton was indicted on three felony charges, have had to pick up the tab. This hasn’t gone over well in McKinney, a conservative stronghold where the Republican attorney general is not only a well-known resident but also the first statewide official elected from the area in almost 150 years.

After months of pressure and multiple lawsuits from Paxton loyalists to halt funding to the case, local officials recently voted to stop paying the prosecutors at all.

Then, late last week, after months of mulling the idea, county leaders finally took their grievances to court. One is even hoping the county can rid itself of the case and its price tag altogether by getting taxpayers in Houston, where Paxton will stand trial, to pick up the rest of the tab.

It’s been 18 months since the prosecutors were paid. With a brand-new judge presiding over the case and multiple related lawsuits pending, when, how much and who will pay them is more a mystery than ever before.

[…]

In a brief filed with the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas, the county commissioners argued the prosecutors’ pay was “outrageously high” and illegal. Their fees violate a state law, they said, that requires counties to adopt “reasonable fixed rates or minimum and maximum hourly rates” for compensating special prosecutors.

They want the court to throw out the prosecutors’ last paycheck — which topped $205,000 — and have voted to reject paying the bill until in the meantime. This last invoice, filed in January, covers all of 2016.

David Feldman, the prosecutors’ lawyer, said his clients’ decision to continue while not being paid “shows a commitment to serving the public good.” The three prosecutors — Nicole DeBorde, Kent Schaffer and Brian Wice — are criminal defense attorneys who charge many times this rate in their private practices.

“It’s honorable that they’re continuing to invest time in the prosecution because this is not something they went out and asked for.

[…]

Harris County Criminal District Court Judge Robert Johnson, a Democrat elected last year, was chosen this week to replace Gallagher. Johnson could choose to hike or slash the prosecutors’ paychecks as he sees fit.

On Wednesday, he declined to comment on the fight over the case’s cost. But depending on Collin County’s future decisions, he may be forced to weigh in.

County Judge Keith Self, one of the five Collin County commissioners, wants to discuss whether there’s a way to push the case’s costs onto Harris County. The commissioners haven’t discussed this proposal, he said, but he’s “hopeful” they’ll be open to the possibility.

Commissioner Duncan Webb said they should wait until the Dallas court makes a decision.

“I want to get the issue resolved, the quicker the better, and do what we’re legally supposed to do and pay what we’re legally supposed to pay,” Webb said. “I don’t know whether Harris County’s going to get involved with this or not. That’s way out there at this moment.

See here, here, and here for the background. I’m sure our Commissioners Court will be delighted to hear about this. Remember how I’ve said that it would probably make more sense for the state to pay for special prosecutors in cases like this, if only to avoid these shenanigans? I still think that’s the right idea. In the meantime, it may be awhile before the 5th Court gets involved again.

A Texas appellate court [last] Friday said without a live controversy, it doesn’t have jurisdiction in a fight to block payment for the special prosecutors appointed to handle the felony securities fraud case against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas dismissed real estate developer Jeff Blackard’s bid to enjoin the Collin County Commissioners Court from paying a trio of special prosecutors under a $300 hourly rate agreement, citing the county’s recent vote against paying an invoice from the prosecutors. Blackard had argued the county’s local court rules require appointed prosecutors to be paid under a limited flat fee schedule, and his quest to block hefty payments to the prosecutors raised what the appeals court referred to as unusual and challenging procedural issues.

Blackard had requested the appellate court abate his suit indefinitely, based on the possibility the county might in the future approve payment of a fee invoice at a time and in an amount that he contends is illegal, according to the opinion. But the court doesn’t have jurisdiction over contingent future events that may not occur, and the matter is not ripe for resolution, a panel of the court said.

“Because the Commissioners Court has rejected the invoice and has authorized counsel to challenge the district court’s order, no pending ‘illegal’ expenditure of public funds currently exists for Blackard to seek to enjoin,” the court said.

I don’t really know what any of this means. I’m just trying to keep track of it all.

We need better fire inspections

Not good.

The Houston Fire Department division responsible for ensuring building safety keeps inadequate records, does not examine buildings on a regular schedule and inflated its inspection numbers, all while exceeding its overtime budget, according to an audit released by the city controller’s office Thursday.

The audit for fiscal years 2015 and 2016 is the latest in a series of blistering critiques of the Life Safety Bureau and casts doubt on whether the city is complying with its fire code.

Just 526 of Houston’s more than 5,000 apartment buildings were inspected in the last two fiscal years, well below the bureau’s goal of 470 apartment inspections per month. There is also no evidence the city inspected Bush Intercontinental, Hobby or Ellington airports within the last two years.

Many of the 28 high-risk problems – from an incomplete inspection database to poor job training – were identified by the controller’s office more than a decade ago.

“It’s not a matter of if, it’s when, unfortunately, something happens,” City Controller Chris Brown said. “We need to make sure that we don’t let this one go another 12 years without any action.”

Fire Chief Samuel Peña, who was appointed last year, said he welcomed the audit and has pledged to make a series of changes.

“Nobody likes to be told their baby’s ugly, but right now there’s a lot of need,” Peña said.

There’s a copy of the audit in the story if you want to see it for yourself. I don’t think there’s anything that isn’t fixable, but saftey inspections are a big deal with potentially many lives at stake, so HFD needs to get this right. Chief Peña has his work cut out for him. The Press has more.