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August, 2017:

Enforcement of SB4 halted

Excellent!

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia granted a preliminary injunction of Senate Bill 4, one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s key legislative priorities that seeks to outlaw “sanctuary” entities, the common term for governments that don’t enforce federal immigration laws.

The bill was scheduled to go into effect Sept. 1, but opponents of the legislation, including the cities of Houston, Austin, San Antonio and El Cenizo, as well as Maverick and El Paso counties and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, argued the bill violates several provisions of the Constitution. Garcia’s decision means the bill is on hold until that issue is decided; his court will now likely set another date to determine SB4’s constitutionality.

His decision is a temporary, but significant blow to Abbott and other Republican backers of the bill who said it would help keep Texans safe from undocumented immigrants that have been arrested on criminal charges but released from custody by sheriffs or other elected officials who refuse to hold the alleged criminals for possible deportation.

See here for the background. You know how I feel about this. The story broke late yesterday, so this was all that was available at the time. I’m sure there will be much more reporting soon.

UPDATE: From the Chron story:

“The best interest of the public will be served by preserving the status quo and enjoining, prior to Sept. 1, the implementation and enforcement of those portions of SB 4 that, on their face, are preempted by federal law and violate the United States Constitution,” Garcia wrote.

The decision, which can be appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, is a blow to one of the toughest immigration laws in the nation.

In order to obtain an injunction, the local governments and organizations challenging the law needed to prove they were harmed by it and likely to succeed in their claim that it is unconstitutional.

“We won over 90 percent of it,” said Luis Vera, a lawyer for the League of United Latin American Citizens, which represented the border city of El Cenizo in the lawsuit. “The state cannot mandate to the cities or police officers or sheriff’s offices how they run their police departments.”

[…]

The ruling found the plaintiffs made their case and were even helped during oral arguments by the state.

For instance, the judge noted the state “essentially concedes that the irreparable harm requirement is met.”

The judge quoted an argument made by one of the lawyers with the Texas Attorney General’s Office: “The state of Texas concedes, Your Honor, that if Senate Bill 4 is unconstitutional or a provision of it is severed by this court or this court finds it unconstitutional, if it is, and it would violate the constitutional rights of the public, then there is irreparable harm.”

The judge found that certain provisions of SB 4 conflict with, and are pre-empted by, federal law because enforcing SB 4 will interfere with the federal government’s authority to control immigration. The judge also found that enforcing SB 4 will result in First Amendment violations.

The judge also determined that vague prohibitions in SB 4 violate due process and “create a real danger of arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.”

In addition, he found that enforcement of the mandatory detainer provisions “will inevitably lead to Fourth Amendment violations.”

I am sure this will be appealed, and who knows what happens next. But for now, this is a big win.

Remember the Katy Prairie

From the four things we could have done differently to maybe mitigate some of the worst effects of Harvey:

Preserve and restore as much prairie land as possible

Much of northwest Houston used to be covered in prairie land, where tall grasses could absorb huge amounts of floodwater. But most of it has been paved over in the past two decades amid rapid development and a massive influx of people. Between 2000 and 2010, this part of Houston grew by nearly 70 percent to a population of 587,142 — equivalent to that of Milwaukee. Restoring or preserving prairie can’t prevent flooding altogether, but it can be a tremendous help in mitigating the damage.

Some local officials flat-out disagree with this conclusion; they believe you can erect public works projects to catch and manage runoff — essentially fighting water with concrete — and don’t need more green space.

But the vast majority of scientists believe the region needs to impose stricter regulations on those who want to develop prairie land.

Just a reminder, because I see some variation of this – some more egregious than others – in every story like this one: The vast majority of this development and growth is outside the city of Houston. It affects the city of Houston, but there’s literally nothing the city could have done about it because it’s outside the city’s borders and ETJ. In the case of this story, I would note that while “the region” may need to impose stricter regulations on development, there is no “regional” authority to do that.

Now, let’s be honest enough to admit that even if we had all the green space we had thirty years ago, there’s only so much to be done about nine trillion gallons of water being dumped on you. A storm this size was always going to be a catastrophe, it just might have been a slightly smaller one if we had been smarter and perhaps a bit luckier. We can’t undo what has been done, but we can be more specific about just what paved over these former wetlands.

Torrential rains that flooded hundreds of northwest Harris County homes last week reinforced long-standing worries that development on the Katy Prairie could make future floods more frequent or more severe.

Development encouraged by a planned segment of the Grand Parkway connecting Interstate 10 to U.S. 290 threatens to diminish the environmentally sensitive prairie’s capacity to absorb floodwaters, said Jim Blackburn, an attorney representing the Sierra Club in two related lawsuits.

“The Katy Prairie, for decades, has been our sponge,” Blackburn said, noting that the prairie also provides valuable wetlands and wildlife habitat.

Tension between development interests and environmental and neighborhood groups surfaced in the Sierra Club’s 2007 lawsuit challenging flood plain maps for the Cypress Creek watershed, which encompasses the area where last week’s floods were most severe. The organization has filed a separate lawsuit challenging the parkway.

The developers of the Bridgeland master-planned community intervened in the case last year, seeking to prevent an expansion of flood plain boundaries that would require the company to take expensive steps to offset increased runoff downstream.

An executive of Bridgeland GP, the company developing the 11,400-acre community, said in a Jan. 9, 2008, affidavit that the revisions sought by the Sierra Club would cost the company $28 million in flood mitigation measures that would “adversely affect” the development.

Despite the company’s efforts, the maps are being redrawn under U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal’s supervision. Rosenthal has stayed the lawsuit until October to allow time to complete the maps, but officials said they aren’t certain when the task will be finished.

Preliminary revised maps shown to the Houston Chronicle by Blackburn and the Harris County Flood Control District show a significant expansion of the flood plain in an undeveloped western segment of Bridgeland’s property and a reduction of the flood plain in other areas.

That story is from 2009. Here’s one from 2011:

Over the decades, this 1,000 square mile sanctuary has largely survived the encroachment of farmers and relentless development pressure from neighboring Houston, thanks in no small part to its dedicated supporters.

But the Katy Prairie has never faced a opponent like the Grand Parkway before. Piece by piece, the Houston area has been building a third — yes, third — bypass for the region. And much to the horror of local environmentalists, the next segment is planned to directly bisect this extraordinary habitat.

Development of this pristine land isn’t just collateral damage — it’s the point of the project. Project sponsors make no bones about it: The 15.2-mile Grand Parkway segment through Katy Prairie is a $462 million development project as much as it is a transportation project. Known as “Segment E,” it would be the third phase in a 180-mile “scenic bypass” for Houston. Each of the 11 segments is considered a separate and “independently justifiable project.”

Billy Burge of the Grand Parkway Association says right now there isn’t much need for Segment E, in terms of traffic. Burge and his colleagues don’t shy away from the fact that the project will generate more car trips and sprawl. In fact, they have what you might call a “build it and they will come” philosophy about road-building and traffic.

“There’s real demand in 15 to 17 years to have this,” said Burge, who chairs the association overseeing the project for the state and the region. “Once that link is completed, you’ll have a steady stream of traffic.”

To hear Burge and his colleagues at TexDOT and Harris County tell it, they are simply trying to get out ahead of what they see as inevitable: sprawl, on top of sprawl, on top of sprawl. But not in a bad way, they say.

“It will increase sprawl but that’s really the reason people come to Houston: to have a big house and a big yard,” said Burge. “You can call it sprawl, or you can call it quality of life.”

If you want to see what will likely replace the switchgrass and wildflowers of Katy, look to the Bridgeland development. This massive, 12,000-acre “new urbanism” development, where homes sell from $160,000 to north of $1 million, stalled in the real estate crisis. Since then, developers have stepped up pressure on local authorities to bring forward highway infrastructure needed to jump start sales.

Anything that we can do to protect and restore the Katy Prairie going forward, we must do. I hope that the scarring experience of Harvey will put enough political pressure on the people who can do something about this to take action. But one thing we can’t do is decide not to build the Grand Parkway. It’s too late for that.

A smattering of Harvey news

If you are among the lucky ones whose house or apartment remained dry and you want to help those in need, here’s a handy guide to where and how to volunteer. If you want to go to the George R. Brown to help at that shelter, they have a real need for people to work the night shifts. There are lots of smaller shelters, many outside Houston, that could really use your help.

Via Swamplot, here’s a crowdsourced map with more information. Find a need and do something about it.

If what you can give is money, the Greater Houston Community Foundation remains a fine option, though there are plenty of others worthy of support.

All HISD students will receive three free meals per day this year. The HISD Foundation, which exists to help students, is also accepting donations to help families recover from Harvey.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg has also set up a Harvey relief fund, which you can donate to here.

Port Aransas was truly devastated by Harvey.

Houston’s airports will reopen today. Metro buses will return to service on some core routes on Thursday.

The Astros will return to Minute Maid on Saturday.

Even monster trucks were pressed into rescue service during the height of Harvey.

Michael Skelley and Anne Whitlock have set an example for us all. In a slightly different universe, Skelley would be in Congress.

Former Houston mayor Bill White, who welcomed some 200,000 Hurricane Katrina evacuees, was himself displaced by Harvey. He, along with former Harris County Judge Robert Eckels and former Houston Mayor Annise Parker are now assisting Harris County officials with the shelter at NRG Stadium.

Whatever your status was and is during Harvey, undocumented immigrants have more to deal with and worry about.

Texas blog roundup for the week of August 28

The Texas Progressive Alliance suggests a donation to the United Way Houston Relief Fund to help everyone affected by Hurricane Harvey as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

This is why you don’t politicize disaster relief, Senator

It’s pretty simple, really. People come before politics.

Not Ted Cruz

Many New Yorkers and New Jerseyans serving in Congress have, for nearly five years now, kept a list of names handy to roll out at a moment’s notice. They call it “the Comeuppance Caucus.”

For some, the list is on a physical paper or bookmarked on a computer. For others, it’s merely tattooed into their brains. It consists of which colleagues voted against Hurricane Sandy funding back in 2013, and it’s chock full of Texas Republicans.

In fact, nearly every Texas Republican who was serving in Congress at the time voted against the $50.5 billion aid bill. And now their own constituents are facing the biggest natural disaster in state history.

“There is deep and lingering resentment by members of Congress who needed help in their districts when Sandy just ravaged their constituents,” said former U.S. Rep. Steve Israel, a Democrat who represented Long Island until he retired last January. “[U.S. Sen] Ted Cruz and others led the fight against that aid, and a lot of people said there would be a day of reckoning.”

[…]

U.S. Rep Peter King, a Long Island Republican, took the biggest shot at the delegation on Saturday, tweeting, “Ted Cruz & Texas cohorts voted vs NY/NJ aid after Sandy but I’ll vote 4 Harvey aid. NY wont abandon Texas. 1 bad turn doesnt deserve another.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice, concurred with her Long Island neighbor an hour later on Twitter.

[…]

Congress returns on Tuesday and will have a whole host of new problems to sort out, on top of a slew of budget deadlines barreling toward the two chambers. Is there a chance that the Sandy vote will come back to haunt Texas?

The bipartisan message blowing in from the Northeast: Congress will deliver the funds to Texas. While there is no interest in punishing fellow Americans, these members do want those in Congress from Texas to know just how personally they took those “no” vote when their own constituents were in trouble four and a half years ago.

“New Yorkers made the argument that when a storm strikes, it’s not striking one region, it’s striking the whole country, and I think my colleagues will be faithful to put their [voting] cards in and pushing the button,” said Israel.

“Until then, I think they’re enjoying making a point.”

Rep. Israel speaks for me. Cruz had, in his typical grandstanding way, railed against what he claimed was “wasteful” spending included in the Sandy relief bill. Which was bullshit, for the reasons articulated above. Any problems he had with the bill could have been dealt with after the immediate issue had been handled. It is to their lasting credit that the delegations from New York and New Jersey recognize this, and to the eternal shame of the Texas Republican caucus (of which, it must be noted, Rep. John Culberson was an honorable exception; he voted for the Sandy relief bill) that they didn’t. Cruz deserves every one of the rhetorical ass-kickings he’s getting. May he remember them all for the rest of his miserable life.

The Rangers and the Astros

Oh, come on.

The historic flooding in Houston caused by Tropical Storm Harvey will displace the Astros for at least three games and most likely the entire six-game homestand they had scheduled for this week.

For at least their three-game series against the Texas Rangers that begins Tuesday, the Astros will play as the home team at the domed Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., home to the Tampa Bay Rays, MLB announced Monday. Their three-game series against the New York Mets that starts Friday also likely will shift to Tropicana Field, though no final determination was made Monday.

[…]

Although it would seem more logical for the Astros-Rangers series to simply be played in Arlington, swapping home series presented logistical challenges that apparently couldn’t be overcome.

The Astros offered flipping this week’s home series for their scheduled visit to Arlington on Sept. 25-27, but the Rangers declined. The Rangers offered to put on a series at Globe Life Park as the visitors with the Astros getting all revenue, Texas general manager Jon Daniels told Dallas-area media. The Astros declined that alternative.

“We didn’t think that playing six games in Arlington was fair to the competitive balance of the wild-card race, not to mention that if we’re not able to play our games in Houston against the Mets that we would be having another trip,” [Astros president of business operations Reid Ryan] told the Chronicle. “So we felt like getting out of Texas and going to a neutral site was in the best interest of our players and in the best interests for the integrity of the schedule this year.”

The Astros will now be on a 19-game road trip, thanks to the loss of the six games at home this week. One reason the Rangers declined the swap was because that would have put them on the road for twelve straight games. Understandable from a baseball perspective, but not very charitable.

In terms of both baseball and business, it’s a perfectly logical decision for the Rangers. But in terms of compassion, it’s pretty crummy. The quick takeaway here isn’t and won’t be that the front office made a measured decision about the welfare of their own team. It’s that they decided to shut out a club forced from its city by natural disaster, putting clear baseball needs over what might be seen as more abstract humanitarian ones. The Astros—with no major damage to their ballpark, their players physically safe, and the financial means as an organization to navigate whatever’s to come—are hardly an equal stand-in for thousands of suffering people in their region who have lost everything. But they still serve as a symbol of Houston, and so turning them away can only make the Rangers look insensitive and selfish.

At one point today, [Rangers general manager Jon] Daniels said he was “almost cringing” when he discussed the Rangers’ baseball-related needs in comparison to those of the Astros. That reaction is reasonable—which should have been enough to make him think that those listening might react the same way, too.

Yeah, pretty much. The Rangers are still chasing a wild card spot – yes, even after trading Yu Darvish – and they have a big advantage over the Stros in Arlington, which I’m sure was a factor in their decision. They’re playing to win, and I can’t crime them for that. But still, this was cold. And people will remember. Sleep well, y’all. Campos, Jenny Dial Creech, and Dan Solomon have more.

(To be fair, the Rangers are making a nice donation to Harvey relief, so kudos to them for that. Kudos also to the Cowboys and Texans, Steve Francis, JJ Watt, Amy Adams Strunk, and especially Les Alexander. We’re really going to miss that guy.)

Latest abortion lawsuit heard in court

Here we go again, and again and again and again.

For the fifth time since 2013, lawyers for Texas will defend an abortion-related law or regulation Tuesday in the Austin federal courthouse, where they hope to reverse a string of legal defeats that included a precedent-setting decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The latest lawsuit seeks to block a law, passed by the Legislature in May and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott, that bans “dismemberment abortions,” a term not used in medical literature or by doctors but which targets a procedure known as dilation and evacuation, commonly called D&E abortions.

Abortion providers argue that the law bans the safest and most commonly used procedure for second-trimester procedures, placing an unconstitutional limit on access to abortion that would force women into unnecessary medical procedures at a higher risk and with additional pain and expense.

[…]

The limit on D&E abortions was included in Senate Bill 8, a sweeping measure passed during the Legislature’s regular session that also requires fetal tissue to be buried or cremated, prohibits the use of fetal tissue from abortions in medical research and creates state crimes for two practices already prohibited by federal law: selling fetal body parts and performing “partial-birth” abortions.

Those regulations also take effect Sept. 1, although a federal judge in January blocked Texas from enforcing a similar fetal-burial rule that state health officials had adopted last year. Paxton has appealed that ruling.

In addition, during the special session that ended two weeks ago, the Legislature banned general insurance plans from covering abortions and required stricter reporting for abortion-related medical complications.

See here for the background. I never got around to posting about the rape insurance law, which is awful in its own way but probably not something that can be beaten in court. This kind of law has been halted in several other states, so there’s a chance. With September 1 just two days away, we should get a ruling quickly. Fingers crossed.

SCOTUS puts a pause on the Congressional redistricting ruling

Hopefully, just a temporary one.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday put on hold a lower court ruling that invalidated two of Texas’ 36 congressional districts.

In an order signed by Justice Samuel Alito, the high court indicated it wanted to hear from the minority groups suing the state before the state’s appeal of that ruling moves forward. The high court ordered the state’s legal foes to file a response by Sept. 5 to the state’s efforts to keep congressional district boundaries intact for the 2018 elections.

[…]

Texas and the minority rights groups suing the state were scheduled to return to court in San Antonio on Sept. 5 to fight over a new map. On Monday, the San Antonio three-judge panel advised that the Supreme Court’s order did not prohibit the state and minority groups from “voluntarily exchanging” proposed fixes. A clerk indicated the court would confirm on Tuesday whether the hearing would move forward.

Separately, Texas is defending its state House map, which the same San Antonio panel partially invalidated last week because of intentional discrimination behind the crafting of several legislative districts.

The court had indicated that lawmakers should be prepared to also meet on Sept. 6 to consider changes to the state House map. But Paxton also plans to appeal that ruling, which said nine districts must be redrawn.

See here, here, and here for some background. Assuming those hearings do go forward, I’ll be very interested to see what the state brings to them. Their contention is that the 2013 maps were just fine, so it might undermine that position to propose an alternative, even if under the gun. The plaintiffs have already put forward a variety of maps, it’s more a matter of what they narrow it all down to for them. As for the SCOTUS order, Rick Hasen says not to read too much into it, so I will continue to worry about other thing instead. Stay tuned.

Please don’t complain about the lack of an evacuation

There are good reasons why there was not an evacuation order for the greater Houston area in advance of Harvey.

Ultimately, mayors and county judges are charged with making such decisions. Leaders in Houston and Harris County told residents to stay put ahead of the storm and have since defended those decisions — even as bayous spill into the streets in what might be the worst flood event the area has ever seen.

“To suggest that we should have evacuated 2 million people is an outrageous statement,” Harris County Judge Emmett told CNN on Sunday.

Emmett and others have offered a litany of reasons for hunkering down. That includes the reality that such a mass evacuation can turn into logistical nightmare with huge safety risks of its own.

“People disproportionately die in cars from floods, so evacuation is not as straightforward a call as seems,” Marshall Shepherd, a program director in atmospheric sciences at the University of Georgia, tweeted Sunday.

Shepherd pointed to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showing that drivers accounted for 66 percent of U.S. flood fatalities in 2014.

For a vivid example of what can go wrong in a large-scale evacuation, Texans can look twelve years back to Hurricane Rita, when more than 3 million people from south and southeast Texas set off on one of the largest evacuations in U.S. history.

The backdrop of that blistering summer in 2005: Just three weeks earlier, Hurricane Katrina had submerged New Orleans and killed 1,200 people when Rita barreled toward the coastline. Texans didn’t want to stick around to see how Rita would compare, so they bolted — or tried to.

Traffic jams stretched across hundreds of miles over two days, and many people ran out of gas. Dozens died from accidents and heat-related illnesses, all before Rita even made landfall.

Of the 139 deaths that the state linked to Hurricane Rita, 73 occurred before the storm hit Texas. Twenty-three people died in a bus fire. Ten others died from hyperthermia due to heat exposure. In the years since Rita, state and local officials say new laws and better planning would help the state’s next evacuation go more smoothly, but Houston mayor Sylvester Turner this weekend indicated Rita’s legacy factored into his decision.

“You cannot put, in the city of Houston, 2.3 million people on the road…That is dangerous,” he said in a press conference Sunday. “If you think the situation right now is bad — you give an order to evacuate, you create a nightmare.”

Emmett, the Harris County Judge, has pointed to additional factors in defense of calls to stay, drawing distinctions between danger from Harvey — primarily rainfall — and the hurricanes that struck before it.

“When we have hurricanes, we know who to evacuate, because you have a storm surge coming, and we have that down to a very fine art,” he told CNN Sunday. “In this case, we have a rain event. Unless you know where the rain is going to fall, we don’t know who to evacuate.”

I agree with everything Judge Emmett and Mayor Turner have said about this, and I say that as someone who did evacuate during Hurricane Rita. One thing that I haven’t seen mentioned in this conversation is that if Houston evacuates, it means that all of Galveston and Texas City and La Marque and Dickinson wind up being in line behind us. In a situation where storm surge is an issue, that’s really not a good thing. Bear in mind also, that as recently as Saturday afternoon, after landfall in Rockport, it was not clear exactly what path Harvey would take. It was entirely possible that Harvey would be a big-but-not-catastrophic rainmaker on Houston. How do you justify evacuating millions of people for that? Never mind where they would go.

There may come a time, God forbid, when Houston will truly need to evacuate for an apocalyptic hurricane aimed at us. If that happens, we’ll know it when we see it. In the meantime, as big and bad as Harvey has been, Judge Emmett and Mayor Turner made the right call. If you still need convincing, go read Kam Franklin. She says what I’m saying with far more poetry. (A version with less cussing is here, if you prefer.)

On when you should file a Harvey-related claim

It may or may not ultimately make a difference, but a new law that goes into effect on September 1 is about insurance claims and lawsuits.

For many Texans ravaged by the rain and winds Hurricane Harvey carried ashore this past weekend, filing an insurance claim for the damage their property sustained is probably the farthest thing from their minds right now. But waiting to submit a claim past Friday could cost them big.

A new law set to take effect Friday aims to crack down on frivolous insurance lawsuits. But House Bill 1774 also reduces the penalty interest rate insurance companies face for late payments if the policyholder files a lawsuit.

If insurance companies are late in paying claims as a result of a lawsuit, they must pay an additional penalty to policyholders. Under current state law, that penalty comes in the form of a fee that totals 18 percent of the claim. For claims filed after Friday, that rate will be determined by a market-based formula that is capped at 20 percent. Currently, the rate would be 10 percent.

While people filing claims by Friday would benefit from the higher penalty payouts in lawsuits, those same cases would be subject to provisions in the new law. Those provisions would decrease the chances insurance companies will have to pay the plaintiff’s attorneys fees in full and protect agents from being personally sued.

Jeff Raizner, a member of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, which opposed HB 1774, said the law is a mixed bag.

“I want to be completely fair, there were some bad actors,” said Raizner, a Houston trial lawyer who has worked on insurance cases for 25 years. He added that some of what the new law requires addresses that problem – like the strengthened rules on communications regarding claims issues and the structure for paying attorneys’ fees.

But he calls the penalty changes an overreach.

“Much of this new law is a money grab by the insurance industry,” Raizner said.

“The intent of the bill was to cut off this ‘cottage industry’ that was happening around hailstorms after Hurricane Ike; lawsuits that didn’t need to be filed,” said Lucy Nashed, a spokesman for Texans for Lawsuit Reform. TLR supported the bill and argues that because the bulk of Harvey insurance claims will be flood-related, nothing will change.

I’m not a lawyer, and I’ve thankfully never had to file an insurance claim related to storm or flood damage. This explanation on Facebook from someone who is a lawyer strongly suggests that HB 1774 won’t affect the vast majority of people:

First and foremost, HB 1774 does not change the insurance claims process. A person making a claim with her insurance company after September 1, 2017 will go through the same process as a person making a claim before September 1, 2017.

The new law applies to a lawsuit that is filed against an insurance company by a policyholder when the policyholder’s insurance claim is not timely paid or is underpaid, or when the insurance company acts in bad faith in dealing with the policyholder’s claim.

Lawsuits are the exception, not the rule. The vast majority of Texans will go through the regular insurance claims process without needing to file a lawsuit.

Even under HB 1774, Texans continue to have the strongest consumer protections in the nation against insurance companies. This includes the full recovery of amounts owed under an insurance policy, plus penalty interest, court costs, and attorney fees. Additionally, if the insurance company acts fraudulently or in bad faith, Texans may recover triple the amount of their actual damages, which is unchanged by the new statute.

The only advantage to filing a claim before Sept 1 is that IF the insurance is slow to pay or underplays, their penalty interest will be a floating rate between 10-20%, rather than a stagnant rate of 18%. Lawyers may worry about that change in rate, but you shouldn’t. It doesn’t impact your coverage.

The primary purpose of the new statute is to require written notice of a dispute before a lawsuit is filed (so that the insurance company can adequately address the claim before a lawsuit is even needed). If a lawsuit is filed, it would happen months or years after the initial claim was made with the insurance company. Nothing in the new law passed by the Legislature earlier this year requires that the initial insurance claim be made in writing or by a specific date.

For what it’s worth, the new law will not apply to most claims or lawsuits arising from Harvey, as I understand it, because most of the policyholders’ claims will be for damage caused by flooding. These claims will be made under the federal flood insurance program and governed by federal law. The new law will not apply to lawsuits pursued against the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA), which is subject to an entirely different statute governing post-disaster lawsuits. TWIA provides insurance for many people affected by Harvey directly on the coast.

I guess I would say that if you do have a claim to file, and you can do it by Thursday, go ahead and do it then. It probably won’t matter, but it probably won’t hurt. RG Ratcliffe and Mother Jones have more.

San Marcos files amicus brief against SB4

Good for them.

The city of San Marcos filed a legal brief Thursday supporting Austin, San Antonio and other cities that have filed suit against the state for its new law on immigration enforcement.

In the 16-page brief, city attorney Michael Cosentino argued that under Senate Bill 4, fear of immigration enforcement will lead people to avoid calling police, reporting crimes or coming forward as witnesses — in turn, making the city less safe.

[…]

City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to file the brief during a special meeting called a week after the council decided against joining the lawsuit as a party. Community groups and other residents had for months put pressure on the council to take a public stand.

“Hundreds of local residents have attended public meetings of the City Council and expressed their fears and concerns about the potential impact of SB 4,” Cosentino wrote in the amicus brief. “Despite the San Marcos Police Department’s ongoing efforts to calm the fears of the community, there are many who still believe that they, their family members, or friends will be stopped, questioned, detailed, or deported if SB 4 becomes law.”

The San Marcos Police Department’s current policy — to ask about immigration status only when someone has been arrested for involvement in a violent crime — will not be enforceable under SB 4, Cosentino wrote. The law will prevent departments from setting a policy limiting when immigration questions may be asked.

Cosentino suggested that the issue is especially of concern to residents of San Marcos, almost 40 percent of whom are Hispanic or Latino, according to U.S. Census data, as well as students of its school district and San Marcos-based Texas State University, both of which are majority Hispanic.

See here for the background. Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan also filed an amicus brief after Commissioners Court declined to get involved. San Marcos is the first city in a county that went for both Greg Abbott in 2014 and Donald Trump (barely) in 2016 to get involved. We’re less than a week out from the implementation date for SB4, and with the redistricting lawsuit off the docket for now for Judge Garcia, hopefully we can get a ruling soon.

Will we have maps in time for March primaries?

Maybe. It’s up to the courts.

State officials insisted Friday they expect to stop the court challenges on appeal, and reverse Texas’ losing streak on the voting-rights lawsuits, legal experts predicted Texas could end up back under federal supervisions of its elections rules if the appeals fail.

In short, the court fight is shaping up as a political game of chicken, with significant consequences no matter how it turns out.

“In both of the cases where there are new decisions, the courts have ruled that Texas has purposefully maintained ‘intentional discrimination’ in the way it drew its maps,” said Michael Li, an expert on Texas redistricting who is senior counsel with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

“That’s an important finding that could result in Texas being placed back under pre-clearance coverage. Based on that, there may be a good chance that could happen.”

[…]

On Friday, Paxton asked the Supreme Court to overturn the lower-court decision on Texas’ congressional maps. “We are confident that the Supreme Court will allow Texas to continue to use the maps used in the last three election cycles,” he said.

Even so, until that appeal is decided, “we don’t expect or anticipate any delay in the Texas election schedule,” said Marc Rylander, Paxton’s communications director.

Li and other legal experts are not so sure.

First, an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Thursday’s ruling by the three-judge panel will almost certainly not be decided until after the filing period in November and December for House seats is over.

And if appellate court rulings in other cases go against the state, the schedule could be upended by court orders to redraw political boundaries for candidates running in those elections. And any boundary changes to benefit blacks and Hispanics could mean gains for Democrats, who those groups traditionally vote for.

“There’s a good chance that, given the way these cases stand with the courts, that the primary election schedule could be affected,” Li said.

The state had previously announced its intention to appeal the Congressional map; you can see a copy of their brief here. I presume an appeal of the State House ruling will ensue. As far as next year’s primaries go, basically one of two things will happen. Either SCOTUS will step in and say that the current maps will remain in place until the appeals process has played out, or it won’t. In that case, new maps need to be drawn. The court will have hearings right after Labor Day to determine a schedule for hearings and whatnot in the event there is no halt from SCOTUS and Greg Abbott declines to call a special session and have the Lege draw compliant maps. Whether it’s the court (most likely) or the Lege, it needs to be done by roughly the end of October so election officials can provide maps and files to county party chairs and interested candidates in time for the normal November-December filing period. There are people who are going to make run/don’t run decisions based on what those maps look like. There’s a decent chance we wind up with later primaries next year – perhaps May, as we had in 2012 – but it’s not certain yet. We should be in a better position to know by the end of the first week of September.

Paxton prosecutors to petition CCA

Last chance to get paid.

Best mugshot ever

The state’s highest criminal court will get a chance to decide whether the special prosecutors appointed in the criminal cases against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton can be paid the $300-an-hour rate they were promised.

Kent A. Schaffer, one of the three special prosecutors in Texas v. Paxton, said the trio will file for a writ of mandamus with the Court of Criminal Appeals to vacate the Fifth Court of Appeals decision Monday to void the judge’s order authorizing an approximately $205,000 payment.

“It’s not over yet,” said Schaffer, a partner in Bires Schaffer & DeBorde in Houston.

[…]

Collin County paid the first order issued by Judge George Gallagher of Tarrant County to pay the special prosecutors $254,908 for pretrial work, but county commissioners balked at making the second payment ordered by Gallagher in January. Instead, the commissioners filed for a writ of mandamus to compel the trial court to vacate its order requiring payment.

According to the Fifth Court’s opinion in In Re Collin County, Texas, Commissioners, Rule 4.01B adopted by Collin County’s judges authorizes payments of pro tem attorneys to deviate from the schedule adopted by the judges. The three-judge panel of the Fifth Court, which heard the commissioners’ petition for a writ, noted in its opinion that Rule 4.01B appears to thwart the objective of Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 26.05, which requires district judges to adopt a schedule of reasonable fees for appointed attorneys.

See here for the background. After all this time, I confess I’m a little unclear on what happens if the special prosecutors lose. Does this mean they will then have been paid all they’re ever going to be paid, or does it mean their pay will be recalculated and readministered based on a much lower hourly rate? In either case, this is ridiculous and will indeed make it impossible to find qualified special prosecutors in future situations. You know my answer to this – the state should pick up the tab when a state official is involved. That ain’t happening any time soon, so let’s hope the CCA makes it all go away, at least for now.

More ways to help

I posted a couple of links with ways to help with Harvey relief below, but there are some more good suggestions in this Chron story as well.

The American Red Cross is encouraging people to donate money on its website or to text 90999 to donate $10. The organization is also asking for volunteers.

Red Cross is also seeking blood donations. Texas organization Carter BloodCare and South Texas Blood and Tissue Center are also seeking blood donations.

Crowdfunding site Global Giving is attempting to raise $2 million for funds that will “exclusively support local relief and recovery efforts from this storm.”

[…]

Pets affected by Hurricane Harvey are being taken in by animal shelters across Texas, including the SPCA of TexasAustin Pets Alive and the San Antonio Humane Society. The Houston Humane Society is also available, with limited staff.

Other organizations that are accepting donations for disaster relief include the Texas Diaper BankDiscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi and the Salvation Army.

And as of late Sunday night, there’s this:

After receiving an overwhelming number of inquiries from citizens and corporations who would like to help, Mayor Sylvester Turner has established the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund that will accept tax deductible flood relief donations. The fund is administered by the Greater Houston Community Foundation.

“We are getting calls from across the country and right here in our hometown, and the generosity of people who understand this disaster is truly amazing,” said Mayor Turner. “Together we can make a difference to those who will need extensive help to get back on their feet once this storm is over.”

Methods to Donate:

Online Credit Card Donations: Visit www.ghcf.org. Online credit card donations will be assessed a small fee, typically 3%, by the credit card companies. Donors have the option of increasing their credit card donations to cover this fee.

Checks/Money Orders: Mail to Greater Houston Community Foundation, 5120 Woodway Drive, Suite 6000, Houston, TX 77056.

Transfer Cash by Wire: Wire To: JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A.
Houston, TX
ABA # 021000021
For credit to: Greater Houston Community Foundation
A/C#: 849170287
For further credit to: Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund

For stocks, corporate bonds and other marketable securities, please contact:  donorservices@ghcf.org

Please do what you can to help. Thanks.

HISD cancels classes for a week

Another effect of Harvey.

Houston Independent School District schools and offices will be closed all week, from Monday, Aug. 28 through Friday, Sept. 1, due to widespread damage from Tropical Storm Harvey.

HISD officials have been closely monitoring the forecast and have determined that the storms and heavy rains that affected parts of the city make conditions too dangerous for school to begin any sooner. Many in our HISD family will be dealing with the task of cleaning up the damage Harvey left behind. As a result, all HISD schools and district administrative offices will be closed all week.

Schools and offices are expected to reopen at their regularly scheduled time on Tuesday, Sept. 5. (Monday, Sept. 4 is the Labor Day holiday.)

For additional updates, please visit www.HoustonISD.org, or call the HISD Inclement Weather Hotline at 713-556-9595. You can sign up for HISD text message alerts to receive updates on school weather conditions by texting YES to 68453. You also can follow the district on Twitter and Facebook: twitter.com/houstonisd and facebook.com/houstonisd.

Other school districts are taking similar action. As I told my daughters yesterday morning when this news was announced, expect to start summer vacation a week later as a result. Sorry, kids.

As for the overall effects of Harvey, well, Houston’s worst storm on record is a succinct summary. I was checking Facebook all day yesterday and kept seeing updates from friends who had evacuated their homes, were dealing with water in their homes, or were hoping that the water wouldn’t get any closer. I’m high and dry, but there’s basically no way into or out of my neighborhood right now. It’s an amazingly helpless feeling, accompanied by a strong sense of guilt for being one of the lucky ones. If you want to help, here’s one way:

Because of the devastating and widespread flooding already seen in the Greater Houston area from Hurricane Harvey, United Way of Greater Houston has established a Flood Relief Fund to help with the recovery needs of those most impacted. All monies raised by United Way’s Flood Relief Fund will be used to help with both immediate, basic needs and long-term recovery services such as case management and minor home repair.

“Our first priority will be safety, shelter and basic needs such as food and essentials for those affected,” said Anna M. Babin, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Houston. “Once the community is stabilized, then United Way will focus on long-term recovery efforts. Since this situation is still unfolding, we realize the needs will be great.”

As a leading community resource in times of disaster, United Way invests in first response efforts through its partnerships with organizations such as American Red Cross and Salvation Army. Babin explained that United Way of Greater Houston maintains a disaster reserve fund, which will be tapped for this storm effort, however because of the widespread devastation already seen, the needs of those impacted will far exceed existing resources.

Babin added that, following disastrous storm events like Hurricane Harvey, United Way serves as the convening organization to bring together non-profit and community partners as well as civic and government stakeholders from throughout the Greater Houston area to coordinate recovery efforts, both assessing the needs and providing support where it is needed most.

In addition, United Way operates 2-1-1 Texas / United Way HELPLINE which is the community’s key information source before, during and after a storm. United Way’s 2-1-1 is the one call for those impacted who don’t know where to call, providing the most updated information on shelters, basic needs assistance and,once the flood waters subside, long-term recovery support.

“We know that damage from a storm of Harvey’s magnitude can be a major setback for individuals and families, especially the most vulnerable,” said Babin. “We also know that Houston is a very generous and caring community, so we are urging those who can help to please do so by contributing to the flood relief fund.”

Go here to make a donation, or text UWFLOOD to 41444. If you want other ways to help, Texas Monthly compiled a handy list for you. Thanks, and stay safe.

Weekend link dump for August 27

“Three years ago, however, a small German town found a fourth option — you can involuntarily conscript Nazis into anti-Nazism.”

“It’s a dramatic story, this epoch-defining tale about automation and permanent unemployment. But it has one major catch: There isn’t actually much evidence that it’s happening.”

“With the start of the State Fair of Texas just a few short weeks away, the deep-fried finalists for this year’s Big Tex Choice Awards have officially been announced.” And they are glorious, but they might give you palpitations just from reading about them.

“This seems to be the only way these Christians can imagine learning what Jesus had to say or to teach about anything — by reverse-engineering the opposite of what they imagine the Antichrist will do.”

RIP, Jerry Lewis, Hollywood comedy legend. As usual, Mark Evanier has the most interesting things to say.

“It would take time, generational change and external events to make Germany what it is today—a vibrant democracy that is notably less permissive of racism, extremism and fascism than the United States. Tearing down the symbols of Nazi terror was a necessary first step—but it didn’t ensure overnight political or cultural transformation. It required a longer process of public reconciliation with history for Germans to acknowledge their shared responsibility for the legacy of Nazism.”

“A small but growing number of Liberty University graduates are preparing to return diplomas to their school. The graduates are protesting university President Jerry Falwell Jr.’s ongoing support for Trump.”

“This is where the argument against steroid users falls apart. How can we justify keeping out [of the Hall of Fame] players who used steroids in the era before drug testing when [former Red Sox owner Tom] Yawkey and Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis — the baseball commissioner from 1920 to 1944, who rigidly opposed integration — are there?”

The skunk in the outfield. I’ve watched baseball all my life and have never seen anything like that.

The International Space Station photobombed the solar eclipse.

Me: I don’t think Trump can get any worse.
Trump: *interrupts #BachelorinParadise to make speech*
Me: IMPEACH

Meet Katie Sowers, the second full-time female assistant coach in the NFL, and the first openly gay coach of either gender.

“But as of Election Day 2016 it was certainly possible to squint at Trump and see the outlines of an ideological shakeup — a figure who would attempt to represent the interests of the Republican Party’s electoral base of older-skewing, less-educated white people rather than hew strictly to the reanimated corpse of Reaganism like the vast majority of the party’s elected officials. But with Steve Bannon fired and Breitbart.com left to snipe from the sidelines as Trump embraces a South Asia strategy pushed by Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, and the uniformed military one must ask: What is the point?”

An oral history of Battle of the Network Stars. My God, the 70s were amazing.

Roy Edroso pours one out for the final print edition of the Village Voice.

A list of the worst storms in American history and the sins that had caused an angry God to send them to punish us.

“MTV has invited transgender members of the U.S. Armed Forces to the 2017 Video Music Awards and we would be honored if they could attend. Any patriot who is putting their own life at risk to fight for our freedom and stand for equality is a hero at MTV, and to young people everywhere.”

RIP, Tobe Hooper, director of Poltergeist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Texas appeals voter ID ruling

On to the next phase.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

As promised, Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed what he called an “outrageous” federal court decision tossing out the state’s new voter ID law.

In a 25-page filing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Friday, the Republican attorney general argued the state complied with the court’s call to fix to the state’s voter ID law, which the court found to be discriminatory. But the a U.S. district court judge out of Corpus Christi on Wednesday struck down the law anyway, issuing an injunction permanently barring implementation of the law.

Texas lawmakers passed Senate Bill 5 this year as a remedy after the state’s last voter ID law got tied up in the courts and caused last-minute procedures for people to vote in the 2018 election and a directive lawmakers fix the law this year.

“Texas complied with all the changes to the voter ID law requested by the 5th Circuit, which should reverse the district court’s misguided ruling,” Paxton said in a statement. “Voter ID guarantees to Texas voters the opportunity to cast an in-person ballot and protects the integrity of our elections.”

See here for the background, and here for the press release and filings from the AG’s office. Paxton is also asking the district court for a stay on the ruling pending appeal. I’m sure that won’t be granted, but it’s possible the Fifth Circuit could do that. In the meantime, there’s the question about putting Texas back under preclearance, which could be a game changer.

Kristen Clarke, the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of several groups challenging the law, wrote in an email that Wednesday’s ruling was especially powerful because Ramos did not even attempt to craft a remedial solution, such as a softened ID requirement. Recognizing the overwhelming taint of racial animus, Ramos simply struck the whole thing down. “Judge Ramos’ decision,” Clarke explained, “recognizes that a state cannot escape the consequences of its pernicious conduct without completely eliminating all vestiges of discrimination.” Put differently, Texas is effectively barred from imposing new voter ID rules for the foreseeable future.

[…]

Of course, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority could always intervene and prevent Texas from falling under preclearance by reversing Ramos. But such a decision would contradict the court’s own reasoning in Shelby County. Writing for the court, Chief Justice John Roberts explained that Congress’ preclearance formula was unconstitutional because it was obsolete, chiefly because it relied on old historical patterns rather than contemporary evidence. Ramos, in contrast, has now spent more than three years collecting and analyzing evidence that the Texas legislature purposely suppressed minorities’ right to vote. Her first 147-page opinion overflows with facts, statements, and data establishing that the Texas legislature intentionally discriminated against black and Latino voters—not only in the past, but also this decade, starting in 2011. Her follow-up opinions added further proof that the state is systematically suppressing minority votes.

If Roberts rejects Ramos’ judgment, he will have essentially acknowledged that Shelby County’s rationale was pure pretext. In his majority opinion he demanded evidence that racism is still alive in Southern statehouses; now he has it.

I wouldn’t put it past Justice Roberts to overrule Judge Ramos, but he will have to work for it. Remember, this is not the only possible cause for a return to preclearance. And also remember, preclearance doesn’t necessarily mean the Justice Department gets to be the arbiter of legality. The court could give that responsibility to the DC Circuit Court, which you may recall denied preclearance to both the voter ID law and the redistricting plans back in 2011. There’s a real chance the state has put itself in a box, one of its own making. Any restrictions that do get imposed will have been richly earned. The Observer has more.

Another national publication looks at CD07

Mother Jones, come on down.

Rep. John Culberson

In addition to [Laura] Moser, the top competitors for the March primary are first-time candidates with stories that fit the political moment in different ways. Lizzie Fletcher, a well-connected lawyer at a large downtown firm, got her start in politics as a teenager during the 1992 Republican National Convention, when she volunteered to stand outside abortion clinics blocking Operation Rescue types from chaining themselves to the entrance. Alex Triantaphyllis, who at 33 is the youngest of the bunch, co-founded a mentoring nonprofit for refugees in Houston after spending time at Goldman Sachs and Harvard Law School. Jason Westin, an oncologist and researcher at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center, told me he first thought about running a week after the election, after watching his daughter’s soccer game. She had taken a hard fall and Westin told her to “get back up and get back in the game”—but sitting on the couch later that day, scrolling through Facebook, he decided he was a hypocrite. He decided to enter the race with encouragement from 314 Action, a new political outfit that encourages candidates with scientific backgrounds to run for office. The primary is not until March, but in a sign of the enthusiasm in the district, Culberson’s would-be Democratic challengers have already held two candidate forums.

The 7th District starts just west of downtown Houston, in the upscale enclave of West University Place near Rice University, and stretches west and north through parts of the city and into the suburbs, in the shape of a wrench that has snapped at the handle. It had not given any indication of turning blue before last year. But a large number of voters cast ballots for both Hillary Clinton and Culberson. Moser and Fletcher see that as a sign that Republican women, in particular, are ready to jump ship for the right candidate. In the Texas Legislature, West University Place is represented by Republican Sarah Davis, whose district Clinton carried by 15 points, making it the bluest red seat in the state. Davis is an outlier in another way: She’s the lone pro-choice Republican in the state Legislature and was endorsed by Planned Parenthood Texas Votes in 2016. “To the outside world it looks like a huge swing,” Fletcher says of the November results, “but I think that a more moderate kind of centrist hue is in keeping with the district, so I’m not surprised that people voted for Hillary.”

But whether they’re Sarah Davis Democrats or Hillary Clinton Republicans at heart, those crossover voters still make up just a small percentage of the overall population. Houston is the most diverse metro area in the United States, and a majority of the district is non-white—a fact that’s not reflected in the Democratic candidate field. To win, Democrats will need to lock in their 2016 gains while also broadening their electorate substantially from what it usually is in a midterm election. That means making real inroads with black, Hispanic, and Asian American voters in the district, many of whom may be new to the area since the last round of redistricting. “[The] big thing in the district is getting Hispanic voters out, and nobody knows how to do that,” Moser acknowledges, summing up the problems of Texas Democrats. “If we knew how, we wouldn’t have Ted Cruz.”

[…]

At a recent candidate forum sponsored by a local Indivisible chapter, Westin, the oncologist, warned voters against repeating the mistakes of Georgia. “One of the take-home messages was that a giant pot of money is not alone enough to win,” he said. Westin’s message for Democrats was to go big or go home. While he believes the seven candidates are broadly on the same page in their economic vision and in their opposition to Trump, he urged the party to rally around something bold that it could offer the public if it took back power—in his case, single-payer health care. “We’re behind Luxembourg, we’re behind Malta, we’re behind Cypress and Brunei and Slovenia in terms of our quality of health care,” Westin says. “That is astounding.” Who better to make the case for Medicare-for-all, he believes, than someone in the trenches at one of the world’s most prestigious clinics?

Moser, who likewise backs single-payer, may be even more outspoken about the need to change course. She argues that the Obama years should be a teachable moment for progressives. They let centrists and moderates like former Sens. Joe Lieberman and Max Baucus call the shots for a once-in-a-generation congressional majority, she says, and all they got was a lousy tea party landslide. “I don’t know if we would still have been swept in 2010—probably, because that’s the way it goes—but at least we could have accomplished some stuff in the meantime that we could claim now more forcefully and more proudly,” she says. A missed opportunity from those years she’d like to revisit is a second stimulus bill to rebuild infrastructure in places like Houston, where floods get worse and worse because of a climate Culberson denies is changing.

In Moser’s view, Democrats lose swing districts not because they’re too liberal but because they’re afraid to show it. When DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján, a congressman from New Mexico, told The Hill in August that the party would support pro-life Democratic candidates next November on a case-by-case basis (continuing a long-standing policy backed by Nancy Pelosi), Moser penned another article for Vogue condemning the position. “As a first-time Congressional candidate, I’ve been warned not to criticize Ben Ray Luján,” she wrote, but she couldn’t help it. Red states like Texas were not a justification for moderation; they were evidence of its failure. “I have one idea of how to get more Democratic women to polling stations: Stand up for them.”

Fletcher and Triantaphyllis have been more cautious in constructing their platforms. They’d like to keep Obamacare and fix what ails it, but they have, for now, stopped short of the single-player proposal endorsed by most of the House Democratic caucus. “I don’t think anyone has a silver bullet at this point,” Triantaphyllis says. Both emphasize “market-based” or “market-centered” economic policies and the need to win Republican voters with proposals on issues that cut across partisan lines, such as transportation. Houston commutes are notorious, and Culberson, Fletcher notes, has repeatedly blocked funding for new transit options.

Still, the field reflects a general leftward shift in the party over the last decade. All the major candidates oppose the Muslim ban, proposals to defund Planned Parenthood, and Trump’s immigration crackdown. Even in America’s fossil-fuel mecca, every candidate has argued in favor of a renewed commitment to fighting climate change. It is notable that Democratic candidates believe victory lies in loudly opposing the Republican president while defending Barack Obama in a historically Republican part of Texas. But Moser still worries her rivals will fall for the same old trap.

“I just think in this district people say, ‘Oh, but it’s kind of a conservative district,’ [and try] to really be safe and moderate, and I find that the opposite is true,” Moser says. “We just don’t have people showing up to vote. We don’t even know how many Democrats we have in this district because they don’t vote.”

Pretty good article overall. I often get frustrated by stories like this written by reporters with no clue about local or Texas politics, but this one was well done. This one only mentions the four top fundraisers – it came out before Debra Kerner suspended her campaign, so it states there are seven total contenders – with Moser getting the bulk of the attention. It’s one of the first articles I’ve read to give some insight into what these four are saying on the trail. They’re similar enough on the issues that I suspect a lot of the decisions the primary voters make will come down to personality and other intangibles. Don’t ask me who I think is most likely to make it to the runoff, I have no idea.

As for the claims about what will get people out to vote next November, this is an off-year and it’s all about turnout. CD07 is a high turnout district relative to Harris County and the state as a whole, but it fluctuates just like everywhere else. Here’s what the turnout levels look like over the past cycles:


Year    CD07   Harris   Texas
=============================
2002  37.37%   35.01%  36.24%
2004  66.87%   58.03%  56.57%
2006  40.65%   31.59%  33.64%
2008  70.61%   62.81%  59.50%
2010  49.42%   41.67%  37.53%
2012  67.72%   61.99%  58.58%
2014  39.05%   33.65%  33.70%
2016  67.04%   61.33%  59.39%

These figures are from the County Clerk website and not the redistricting one, so the pre-2012 figures are for the old version of CD07. High in relative terms for the off years, but still plenty of room to attract Presidential-year voters. Note by the way that there are about 40,000 more registered voters in CD07 in 2016 compared to 2012; there were 20,000 more votes cast in 2016, but the larger number of voters meant that turnout as a percentage of RVs was down a touch. Job #1 here and everywhere else is to find the Presidential year Democrats and convince them to come out in 2018; job #2 is to keep registering new voters. The candidate who can best do those things is the one I hope makes it on the ballot.

Escobar officially enters race for CD16

There will be many interesting and highly competitive Democratic primaries for Congress next year, but this could be the biggest of them.

Veronica Escobar

El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar has officially started her run for Congress.

Escobar, a Democrat, submitted paperwork Friday to the Federal Election Commission to begin a campaign for Texas’ 16th Congressional District. U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, is giving up the seat to run for U.S. Senate in 2018.

Escobar is expected to make the campaign official Saturday, when she’s invited supporters to a “special announcement” in El Paso.

Escobar, who is close with O’Rourke, was almost instantly seen as a potential candidate to replace him when he announced in March he would challenge U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. She already has his backing in her bid for Congress.

In recent weeks, Escobar had also received support from a draft effort by a national group, the Latino Victory Project. If elected, Escobar would become the first Latina member of Congress from Texas.

Escobar announced that she wasn’t running for re-election as County Judge back in June, which basically convinced everyone she was in. Escobar’s main competition, at least so far, is El Paso ISD Trustee Dori Fenenbock, who has raised a bunch of money already. I doubt Escobar will have any trouble catching up, and she ought to be able to use money she previously raised for her county office. The race that matters here is the primary – CD16 is strongly blue, so the primary winner is pretty much guaranteed to win in November. When that primary will be, in March as usual or later thanks to the ongoing redistricting fight, remains to be seen. The other point of interest will be in who files to succeed Escobar – it would not be a surprise if one or more State Reps from El Paso takes a shot at it. Keep an eye on this one, for if nothing else it should add another female member of Congress from Texas, bringing our state up to the grand total of four, modulo the other potentially competitive races.

Saturday video break: Shame

Here are the Avett Brothers, at a music festival in Jackson Hole:

I’ve collected music from a lot of different sources over the years. Both of today’s songs come from different CD samplers, this one on Americana music and the next one from a collection of 70s AM radio hits. Here’s Evelyn Champagne King:

If there’s such a thing as musical opposites, I’d put those two in that category. I like them both, though obviously for different reasons. I suppose that’s one way of claiming to have broad musical tastes.

Harvey, category 4

Holy moly.

As of 7:45 PM Friday, Hurricane Harvey has been officially upgraded by the National Hurricane Center to a category four storm with 130 mph maximum sustained winds. Port Aransas just gusted to 105 mph as the eyewall approaches. Should Harvey make landfall at its current intensity, it will be the strongest storm (by wind) to hit Texas since 1961’s Hurricane Carla (which came ashore just north of where Harvey should) and the strongest in the U.S. (by wind) since Charley hit Southwest Florida in 2004.

Coastal Texas from near Corpus Christi north to Matagorda are being absolutely pummeled by wind and squalls and they will continue to deal with this in the hours ahead. Few words needed to describe the situation there, and our thoughts are with folks that live in that region.

So far not much has happened in Houston, but it’s coming, beginning today and lasting several days beyond that. Forecasts are for up to 25 inches of rain, so you can imagine what the flooding may be like. Stay off the roads, and stay safe. We will get through this.

Yes, cities need lobbyists

Every few years, this argument heats up.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

In the run-up to this year’s Texas legislative session, Mayor Sylvester Turner decided to switch Capitol lobbying firms.

In was Hillco Partners, considered by many the most powerful player in Austin lobbying. Out was a firm led by a political adviser to House Speaker Joe Straus.

What didn’t change was the monthly fee that the city pays when legislators are in session – $110,639. In return for that hefty fee, city officials expect representation for Houston taxpayers by lobbyists with expertise, clout and deep ties to legislators and high-ranking state officials.

Houston isn’t alone in paying big bucks to lobby state government. San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, and Fort Worth all also use outside lobbyists, commonly referred to as “hired guns,” to advance their legislative agendas and kill bills they oppose.

Taxpayers in those five cities collectively have paid about $5 million to lobbying firms since 2015, but information is sparse because the state does not maintain a database on lobbyist expenditures by local governments. Businesses and other special interests spend vastly larger amounts on influencing the executive and legislative branches, but the state keeps no data on that either.

Houston also spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year on governmental relations staffers who are not registered as lobbyists.

Just as a reminder, all this is happening while the state government is becoming increasingly hostile to cities and their interests, and we just had a special session where half the items on the agenda were about curbing cities’ powers. You want cities to spend less on lobbyists? Start by installing a state government that doesn’t treat cities as annoying obstacles or worse.

Two Paxtons are not better than one

Oh, good grief.

Always my Paxton avatar

Angela Paxton, the wife of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, is considering a run for state Senate, according to people familiar with her thinking.

Paxton has her sights set on Senate District 8, which is currently held by Van Taylor, R-Plano. He’s expected to give up the seat to run for Congress in 2018.

A Paxton candidacy would shake up the current race to replace Taylor. Phillip Huffines, the chairman of the Dallas County GOP, has emerged as a frontrunner after two Republican state representatives from Plano, Jeff Leach and Matt Shaheen, considered running but ultimately took a pass.

Taylor has now made his candidacy for CD03 official. To be fair, two Paxtons would be only marginally worse than two Huffineses, but at least there’s a chance we could knock off the first Huffines next year. I am not aware of a Democratic candidate for SD08 as yet – there may be one, it’s not easy to tell – and SD08 is not exactly a prime pickup opportunity, but come on. One way or the other, someone terrible is going to be on the other side of the ballot, and with any luck they’ll spend the next six months trashing each other. Just on general principles, we need to be in the game.

Friday random ten – Back to back, part two

Back for more…

1. Back In Your Arms – Bruce Springsteen
2. Back In Your Own Backyard – Hot Club of Cowtown
3. Back It Up – Caro Emerald
4. Back On The Chain Gang – The Pretenders
5. Back To Black – Amy Winehouse
6. Back To Chico – Clandestine
7. Back To Tyrone – SixMileBridge
8. Back When I Could Fly – Trout Fishing In America
9. Back Where You Started – Tina Turner
10. Back To Me – The Dutchess & The Duke

It’s been six years since Amy Winehouse died. I can’t begin to imagine the music she might have made. Yes, “The Dutchess” is spelled that way, and no, I don’t know why.

Court throws out State House map

Once more, with feeling.

Parts of the Texas House map must be redrawn ahead of the 2018 elections because lawmakers intentionally discriminated against minorities in crafting several legislative districts, federal judges ruled on Thursday.

A three-judge panel in San Antonio unanimously ruled that Texas must address violations that could affect the configuration of House districts in four counties, where lawmakers diluted the strength of voters of color. In some cases, the court found mapdrawers intentionally undercut minority voting power “to ensure Anglo control” of legislative districts.

These are the nine districts the court flagged:

  • Dallas County’s HD 103, represented by Democrat Rafael Anchia, HD 104, represented by Democrat Roberto Alonzo and HD 105, represented by Republican Rodney Anderson
  • Nueces County’s HD 32, represented by Republican Todd Hunter, and HD 34, represented by Democrat Abel Herrero
  • Bell County’s HD 54, represented by Republican Scott Cosper, and HD 55, represented by Republican Hugh Shine
  • Tarrant County’s HD 90, represented by Democrat Ramon Romero, and HD 93 represented by Matt Krause.

Adjusting those boundaries could have a ripple effect on other races.

[…]

In both the congressional and state House rulings, the court ordered Attorney General Ken Paxton to signal whether the Legislature would take up redistricting to fix violations in the maps.

But so far, state leaders have signaled they have no appetite to call lawmakers back to Austin over mapmaking. Instead, Texas is looking to the U.S. Supreme Court to keep its political boundaries intact.

“The judges held that maps they themselves adopted violate the law,” Paxton said in a Thursday statement. “Needless to say, we will appeal.”

Meanwhile, the state and the parties that sued over the congressional districts are scheduled to return to court on Sept. 5 to begin redrawing the congressional map. In its Thursday ruling, the court indicated they should be prepared to also meet on Sept. 6 to consider changes to the state House map.

“Today’s ruling once again found that Texas racially gerrymandered its voting districts and used Latino voters as pawns in doing so,” said Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who is representing plaintiffs in the case. “With the 2018 election cycle fast approaching, it’s time for Texas to stop discriminating against Latino voters and agree to a remedy that will provide equal opportunity to all.”

It was just over a week ago that the same court invalidated the Congressional map, also calling it intentionally discriminatory. Add in the voter ID ruling and you’ve got three such judgments in a span of eight days; you can also toss in the ruling on interpreters for a four-game losing streak for the state. Don’t forget the Pasadena case, too – it’s not the state, but it is another intentional-discrimination opinion. Maybe this will all add up to enough to convince Chief Justice Roberts to change his mind about the state of voting rights and the need to protect communities of color.

Or not. I wouldn’t hold my breath. Be that as it may, this ruling could have an effect on the effort by wingnuts to oust House Speaker Joe Straus. RG Ratcliffe explains.

The court found that in Nueces County, the district maps discriminated in the placement of minority voters in a way that favored the re-election of Representative Todd Hunter, a key Straus Republican ally and chairman of the House committee that sets bills for debate on the daily calendar. To make his district safe, the court said Hispanic voters were packed into the district of Representative Abel Herrero, a Democrat. Redrawing the districts won’t automatically guarantee Hunter’s defeat, but it will make it more difficult for him to win re-election.

The court also ruled that the Legislature intentionally split a minority community in Killeen to guarantee the election of two white Republicans in Districts 54 and 55, Scott Cosper of Killeen and Hugh Shine of Temple. Both have backed Straus in the past. Putting the minority community in Killeen back together probably endangers Cosper’s re-election, and may put a Democrat in that rural district. Either way, this likely is a wash in the politics of electing the next speaker.

In Dallas and Tarrant counties, the court ruling likely would help Straus win re-election. In declaring that five districts in those two counties discriminated against minorities, the most likely losers in any redrawing of the district maps will be Republican Representatives Rodney Anderson of Irving and Matt Krause of Fort Worth. Anderson was among nineteen House members who voted against Straus in one election for speaker, and Krause is a member of the Freedom Caucus, which has been trying to force a speaker vote in the caucus instead of on the House floor, where Democrats also have a say.

Anderson barely squeaked by in 2016, in a district that was ever so slightly bluer than HD107, which flipped to the Dems. He was going to be a target no matter what. The ripple effect in Dallas could be very interesting. And of course, anything that puts jerks like Krause in jeopardy is a good thing. We’ll know if and when SCOTUS intervenes if a second special session will be forthcoming. A statement from MALC is here, and Michael Li, the Chron, the DMN, Rick Hasen, the HuffPost, and the Lone Star Project have more.

The ReBuild Houston footnote to the November ballot

The following paragraph is buried deep in the full story about what will and will not be on the November ballot in Houston.

Voters also will not face a reconsideration of the 2010 vote that established ReBuild Houston, the program that funds streets and drainage repairs without debt by drawing on a monthly fee. Courts have ruled that the city used unclear ballot language in that election, but a last-minute flurry of filings by the plaintiffs in that case did not convince a court to order the city to hold another vote this fall.

There’s been a frustrating lack of news around ReBuild Houston and the ongoing litigation surrounding. The Supreme Court stuck its nose in back in June of 2015, and the district court judge voided the 2010 referendum in October of 2015. The last update I have is from this February, in which plaintiffs were trying to force a re-vote this year. I’ve heard scuttlebutt that suggested there would indeed be a re-vote in November, but I guess that was premature. The city’s position is that while the charter referendum was thrown out, City Council subsequently voted to approve the ReBuild program, including the fees that were levied, so all that was affected was the fact that the funds were to be dedicated to drainage and road construction. I have no inside information, but it seems to me there’s a pretty big question to be settled about just what it is we’d be re-voting on. Maybe that will happen next May, maybe it will happen next November, maybe it will happen sometime after the planned 30-year lifespan of the ReBuild project. Who knows? Not this November, that much we do know.

HISD cancels classes on Monday

Hello, Harvey.

Not that Harvey

All HISD campuses and administrative offices will be closed on Monday, Aug. 28 and all campus and district activities canceled due to the threat of inclement weather.

Classes are scheduled to resume on Tuesday, Aug. 29. However, the district will continue to monitor developing weather conditions and will determine whether classes can safely resume on Tuesday. The district will make that decision by noon on Sunday, Aug. 27.

All HISD campus-based activities and district events – including professional development and recruiting sessions – taking place after 2 p.m. are canceled for Friday, Aug. 25. In addition, the Houston ISD Athletic Department is canceling all athletic activities for Friday, Aug. 25 and Saturday, Aug. 26. This cancellation includes, practices, scrimmages and any scheduled games.

As a precaution, all non-essential employees at school campuses and central office will be dismissed by 2 p.m. Friday. Essential employees, including facility and transportation staff, will be released at a time determined by their department. HISD officials are monitoring the weather, and should it be necessary, the dismissal time will be updated to an earlier hour.

For additional updates, please monitor HoustonISD.org or call the HISD Inclement Weather Hotline at 713-556-9595. We also encourage HISD staff and parents to sign up for text alerts to receive the most up-to-date information on school closures or delays by texting YES to 68453. Please ensure your number is updated with your school. You can also follow the district on Twitter and Facebook: Twitter.com/HoustonISD and Facebook.com/HoustonISD.

I presume by now that you’ve figured out what your emergency supply needs are and where you can get information about Hurricane Harvey, so I’ll spare myself the work of posting a bunch of links. That said, Space City Weather is a great resource, and you should check it regularly. This thing has gotten pretty damn big, and it could be quite damaging to Corpus Christi and points nearby. Stay safe, and for crying out loud if you must be on the roads be careful and don’t drive into any high water. Don’t make the news for a bad reason, OK?

Voter ID law thrown out

Fantastic.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A federal judge has tossed out a new law softening Texas’ strict voter identification requirements.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos on Wednesday ruled that Senate Bill 5, signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in June, doesn’t absolve Texas lawmakers from responsibility for discriminating against Latino and black voters when they crafted one of the nation’s strictest voter ID laws in 2011. The judge also ruled that the state failed to prove that the new law would accommodate such voters going forward.

[…]

Minority groups suing the state had asked Ramos to scrap SB 5, saying it still dripped with discrimination — largely because lawmakers did not expand the list of acceptable IDs.

Ramos agreed in her ruling Wednesday.

“SB 5 does not meaningfully expand the types of photo IDs that can qualify, even though the Court was clearly critical of Texas having the most restrictive list in the country,” she wrote. “Not one of the discriminatory features of [the old law] is fully ameliorated by the terms of SB 5.”

SB 5’s process for voters without proper ID, Ramos wrote, “trades one obstacle to voting with another—replacing the lack of qualified photo ID with an overreaching affidavit threatening severe penalties for perjury.”

The ruling also said Texas couldn’t be trusted to educate voters about changes to its ID law, following its widely criticized efforts ahead of elections in 2016 that were marked by confusion at the polls. She noted that Texas has claimed to spend $4 million on voter education before the 2018 elections, “but this stipulation is not part of SB 5 or any other statute.”

See here for the most recent update, and here for a copy of Judge Ramos’ order. Rick Hasen explains what this means.

To simplify things just a bit, when the district court first looked at this case, it determined that Texas’s voter ID law had a racially discriminatory effect, violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, as well as a racially discriminatory purpose, violating the VRA and the 14th and 15th Amendment of the Constitution. When the case reached the Fifth Circuit on appeal, a sharply divided court sitting en banc (all of the 5th Circuit judges) agreed that the law violated Section 2 given its racially discriminatory effect. But the judges also held that the trial court had to reconsider the question of racially discriminatory purpose, because the court considered some evidence it should not have in evaluating purpose. The Supreme Court did not take a further appeal, with Chief Justice Roberts issuing a separate statement saying that the case was not really final enough to merit Supreme Court review.

For two reasons, it matters whether the courts find discriminatory purpose in addition to discriminatory effect. When there is just a discriminatory effect, the remedy is much narrower. In this case, the interim remedy was to tinker with the voter id law, such as allowing voters to file an affidavit explaining why they lack the necessary ID signed under penalty of perjury. With a finding of purpose, however, the entire law could (and today was) thrown out. Second, a finding of intentional discrimination can be the basis, under section 3c of the Voting Rights Act, to put Texas back under the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act for up to 10 years, at the court’s discretion. The court has scheduled further briefing on the section 3c issue for the end of the month.

Today the court reaffirmed the discriminatory purpose finding, and held that the tweaks Texas made to its voter id law in a recent session did not solve the problem of discriminatory purpose. In some ways Texas made things worse. The affidavit requirement, for example, could intimidate voters given that many sections open up voters to prosecutions for felony perjury. The Court also noted that the new law did not include any money for voter education, which the court found crucial to a fairly applied voter id law.

As Hasen notes, the state will surely appeal, and unlike the redistricting case that will go to the Fifth Circuit, probably to an en banc panel. The key question there will be whether they put Judge Ramos’ ruling on hold and allow the SB5 version of voter ID to remain in effect during the appeals process or not. Ultimately, this ruling as well as any determination that Texas needs to be put back under preclearance, will go to SCOTUS. We’re still a ways off from that, but do remember that discriminatory intent was also found in the redistricting case, so there are two possible causes for a return to preclearance. I’ll say again, the state is on quite the losing streak with voting rights litigation. Being put back under preclearance would be richly deserved. Oh, and both parties will be back in court on the 31st to set a schedule for briefings and hearings on the preclearance question. I can hardly wait. A statement from MALC is here, and the Statesman, the Associated Press, Mother Jones, the DMN, Daily Kos, the Current, ThinkProgress, Vice News, and the Lone Star Project have more.

Federal court bars enforcement if city’s ban on homeless encampments

Score one for the law’s opponents.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

A federal court on Tuesday temporarily blocked Houston from enforcing its fledgling ban on public encampments, dealing a blow to city efforts to manage escalating tensions between homeless people and the neighborhoods their camps abut.

The city’s three-month-old law – passed under intense pressure from residents and council members – bars the unauthorized use of temporary structures for “human habitation” and empowers police officers to arrest violators if they refuse medical treatment or social services.

Enforcing that prohibition may, U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt wrote, violate the homeless plaintiffs’ Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

“The plaintiffs have demonstrated that they are subject to a credible threat of being arrested, booked, prosecuted and jailed for violating the City of Houston’s ban on sheltering in public,” Hoyt said. “The evidence is conclusive that they are involuntarily in public, harmlessly attempting to shelter themselves – an act they cannot realistically forgo, and that is integral to their status as unsheltered homeless individuals.”

[…]

The city ordinance “was not designed to punish homeless people. Rather, it was passed to stop the accumulation of property in these encampments,” Marc Eichenbaum, special assistant to the mayor for homeless initiatives, said in an affidavit filed last week.

Hoyt’s order, however, focuses on the law rather than the city’s approach to enforcing it.

“The fact that the governmental entity has not fully enforced the alleged unconstitutional conduct does not bar a suit for injunctive relief where the alleged unconstitutional conduct is imminent or is in process,” he wrote.

See here and here for the background, and here for a copy of the restraining order. It should be noted that in the complaint filed by the plaintiffs, they also asked for an injunction prohibiting “Enforcement of Houston City Code Section 28-46 (Aggressive panhandling) and Section 40-27(b) (Impeding the use of a roadway)”, but that request was not granted. The city had been lightly enforcing the enjoined provision, which suggests there had been concerns about it from the beginning. I get where the Mayor and Council are coming from, but they need to take this as a sign that they chose an unwise path. I do not want to wake up one day and read that the city is shelling out $500 an hour to some fancypants law firm to defend this thing in court. Find a way to fix this in a way that everyone can live with and move on.

Debra Kerner suspends her campaign in CD07

From the inbox:

Debra Kerner

Dear friends:

Today I am announcing that I am suspending my campaign for Congress.

Over the last eight months, I have gotten to know more people in the district. It was my favorite part of the campaign. My profession demands that I be a good listener, and that is just what I was doing. I am convinced that the problems we face – here and in the rest of the country – can be solved.

Unfortunately for me, I spent too much time talking to voters and not enough time talking to donors!

Raising hundreds of thousands of dollars at this point in the race was never part of my plan, and neither was having a field of so many great Democrats. It is a race I did not expect in January 2017 when I decided to make a run for TX-7.

It is up to the voters of TX-7 to find a candidate that is authentic, represents the community that we all love and is able to raise the funds to replicate the win that Hillary Clinton got in this district in 2016. As the SDEC Senate District 17 Committeewoman, I will support the Democratic nominee.

But let us be clear, the only way we win TX-7 is with the support of moderate women.

Some women in this district voted for Clinton and Culberson and those voters should be our target. With a midterm election, there will be a lower turnout, which creates hurdles for everyone. At the end of the day, this seat is winnable if someone employs the correct strategy.

To everyone who supported me, thank you for your trust, time and contributions. It was your confidence that gave me the energy to take on this race. And it is because I feel you deserve a Democrat in Congress in this district that I must exit. For the time being, I will continue my important work in healthcare and education and will continue to help elevate issues that concerned me during the campaign.

Best,

Debby

Kerner was the first new candidate to announce her entry into the race. I touted her to David Nir of Daily Kos Elections, back when everyone was just figuring out that CD07 was an opportunity district, based on the fact that she had won a countywide election in 2008 for HCDE Trustee and the fact that she was generally well known and liked among Dem activists. I’m sad to see her drop out, but I understand and I’m not terribly surprised – she definitely lagged in fundraising, as well as in media attention. The remaining field is strong, and there is every reason to believe that a formidable contender will emerge from the primary. I hope Kerner will consider running for office again when the time is right. Best of luck to you, Debby.

Texas blog roundup for the week of August 21

The Texas Progressive Alliance supports the efforts to get rid of Confederate monuments as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

Pastoral malignancy

Know your enemy.

A day before the Texas Legislature ended its special session this week, a session that included a high-profile fight over a “bathroom bill” that appeared almost certainly dead, David Welch had a message for Gov. Greg Abbott: call lawmakers back to Austin. Again.

For years, Welch, executive director of the Texas Pastor Council, has worked to pass a bill that would ban local policies that ensured transgender individuals’ right to use restrooms in public schools and government buildings that match their gender identity. The summer special session, which was quickly coming to a close, had been Welch and other social conservatives’ second chance, an overtime round after the bill — denounced by critics as discriminatory and unnecessary — failed during the regular session that ended in May.

But with the Texas House unlikely to vote on a bathroom bill, Welch gathered with some of the most conservative Republicans in that chamber to make a final plea. The bill, they argued without any evidence, would prevent men from entering bathrooms to sexually assault or harass women.

“If this does not pass during this special session, we are asking for, urgently on behalf of all these pastors across the state of Texas, that we do hold a second special session until the job is done,” Welch said at the press event, hosted by Texas Values, a socially conservative group.

Though the group of lawmakers, religious leaders and activists were still coming to terms with their failure to get a bill to Abbott’s desk, for Welch’s Pastor Council, the years-long fight over bathroom restrictions has nonetheless been a galvanizing campaign.

The group, which Welch founded in 2003, has grown from a local organization to a burgeoning statewide apparatus with eyes on someday becoming a nationwide force, one able to mobilize conservative Christians around the country into future political battles. If Abbott doesn’t call lawmakers back for another special session to pass a bathroom bill, the group is likely to shift its attention to the 2018 elections.

“Our role in this process shouldn’t be restricted just because people attend church,” Welch told The Texas Tribune. “Active voting, informed voting, is a legitimate ministry of the church.”

[…]

With primary season approaching, members of the Pastor Council are preparing to take their campaign to the ballot box and unseat Republicans who did not do enough to challenge Straus’ opposition to a “bathroom bill.” Steve Riggle, a pastor to a congregation of more than 20,000 at Grace Community Church in Houston and a member of the Pastor Council, said he and others are talking about “how in the world do we have 90-some Republicans [in the 150-member Texas House] who won’t stand behind what they say they believe.”

“They’re more afraid of Straus than they are of us,” he said. “It’s about time they’re more afraid of us.”

First, let me commend the Trib for noting that the push for the bathroom bill was based on a lie, and for reporting that Welch and his squadron of ideologues are far from a representative voice in the Christian community. Both of these points are often overlooked in reporting about so-called “Christian” conservatives, so kudos to the Trib for getting it right. I would just add that what people like Dave Welch and Steve Riggle believe, and want the Lege and the Congress to legalize, is that they have a right to discriminate against anyone they want, as long as they can claim “religious” reasons for it.

As such, I really hope that Chris Wallace and the rest of the business community absorbs what these bad hombres are saying. I want them to understand that the power dynamic in the Republican Party has greatly shifted, in a way that threatens to leave them on the sidelines. It used to be that the Republican legislative caucus was owned and operated by business interests, with the religious zealots providing votes and logistical support. The zealots are now in charge, or at least they are trying to be. Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton and increasingly Greg Abbott are on their side, and now they want to take out Joe Straus and enforce complete control. Either the business lobby fights back by supporting a mix of non-wacko Republicans in primaries and Democrats in winnable November races, or this is what the agenda for 2019 will look like. I hope you’re paying attention, because there may not be a second chance to get this right. The DMN has more.

We could get a special session on redistricting

At least, that’s what State Sen. Dawn Buckingham thinks.

Sen. Dawn Buckingham

State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, expects the Legislature to be called back for another special session — this time to tackle the state’s congressional map.

Monday evening at the Central Texas Tea Party’s monthly meeting, Buckingham discussed federal judges invalidating two Texas congressional districts and the recently concluded special legislative session.

[…]

Whether Gov. Greg Abbott calls another special session hinges on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, Buckingham said.

If the nation’s highest court upholds the lower ruling then the Legislature will be back to address the map, the senator added. And it’s a very sensitive issue, too, she said.

“When you touch one, it touches the line next to it and it touches the line next to it,” Buckingham said. “You’re touching a lot of lines when you’re doing that.”

On top of the congressional districts, Buckingham thinks state House districts will get swept into a possible redrawing. Legal challenges to the state House map were not addressed by the federal judges, the Tribune reported.

“I’m guessing we’re heading back for that,” the first-term senator said, adding it’s up to Abbott to call a special session and what lawmakers will legislate. “He’s in charge of specials. He can call them when he wants them.”

See here and here for the background. The three-judge panel has denied the state’s motion to stay its ruling pending appeal, so if SCOTUS declines to intervene at this time then we are getting new maps, whether Lege-drawn or court-drawn. I don’t know how much of what Buckingham says is based on speculation, but this scenario makes sense, especially if the State House map is thrown out as well. All eyes on SCOTUS, y’all. Via Bud Kennedy on Facebook.

5th Court of Appeals screws Paxton prosecutors

Ugh.

Best mugshot ever

The prosecutors pursuing charges against Attorney General Ken Paxton haven’t been paid in more than a year and a half — and they will continue to wait on a payday.

On Monday, the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas voided a $205,000 invoice dating back to January 2016, saying state laws and local rules did not allow the three special prosecutors to be paid the $300-an-hour rate they were promised.

[…]

[David Feldman, attorney for the special prosecutors,] argued state law and local rules gave Collin County district judges, who decide how much to pay special prosecutors, discretion to stray from fee rules in unusual circumstances. He called it “honorable” that his clients continued to prosecute the case when they hadn’t been paid in 19 months.

But the Dallas court on Monday sided with the commissioners, saying Texas law requires counties to “set both minimum and maximum hourly rates” in these cases. By adopting local rules that allowed them to exceed their own maximum fees, the court said “the judges exceeded their authority.

“The statute does not prevent the judges from taking into consideration the possibility of ‘unusual circumstances’ in setting the range of reasonable fees allowed,” Justice Molly Francis wrote for the court. “But the legislature intended each county to have an agreed framework that sets out the specific range of reasonable fees that could be paid.”

See here and here for some background. I will say again, this basically amounts to a get-out-of-jail-free card for state officials who are accused of crimes in their home counties. The state should be responsible for the cost of such prosecutions, wherever they occur, and they should cover the going pay rate for attorneys who are qualified to handle a high-profile case. It’s the only way to avoid these shenanigans.