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March 24th, 2019:

Weekend link dump for March 24

“Flipping the bird is protected by First Amendment, federal appeals court says in cop-stop case”.

“This seems to be one of those stories involving both intentional grifters and others who were merely incompetent, unintentional, self-deceiving grifters carried away by quixotic dreams.”

If baseball allowed ties, how different would things be?

Why phone numbers stink as proof of your identity.

The roots of today’s white nationalism can be traced back a hundred years to an American whose writing influenced the Nazis in Germany.

“Partisanship shapes American politics, and, indeed, many parts of everyday life. Americans are increasingly negative about the possibility of their children marrying someone who affiliates with the opposite party. Many see the other party as a threat to the nation’s very well-being. In the 2016 election, about ninety percent of party identifiers pulled the lever for their party’s presidential nominee. Yet, despite these fierce party attachments, institutional parties play a weak and unclear role in American political life.”

“Grooming doesn’t just happen with the child, it happens with entire families and communities, and in a celebrity’s case, the entire community.”

RIP, Dick Dale, king of the surf guitar.

Devin Nunes’ Cow is my new hero.

The Spider-Man newspaper comic is slinging off into the sunset.

“The attacks that make headlines and those that do not are all rooted in the same hateful ideology. None of the attackers embraced unique or isolated ideas; they didn’t need to. The white supremacist ideology already contains all of the components needed to propel a radicalized individual to violence. And we have hard data showing the threat is regularly materializing. So why is there so much controversy over whether right-wing racially motivated violent extremism is a growing threat?”

I for one would be all in on a 20th anniversary Angel reunion.

Say what you want about MySpace, its loss of millions of songs that had been uploaded to it in its heyday is a damn tragedy.

Who knew asteroids could do that?

“Social Media Giants Have Been Promising to Stop Livestreamed Violence For Years. They Still Can’t.”

Liar, liar, pants on fire.

“What is less remarkable than the fact that such polemics about child sacrifice should continue to exist (how could they not, since they’re at least as old and as ingrained in Western culture as the Bible?) is that, in a truly gobsmacking way, they are entirely gratuitous compared with the actual, unvarnished truth.”

Abolishing the Electoral College Was a Republican Idea“.

Neil deGrasse Tyson was cleared of charges of sexual misconduct by the National Geographic network, but we have no idea how or why.

“Blake Bortles Is No Longer on the Jaguars – A Nation of Jasons Weeps”.

“It should never, ever be forgotten what a resentful, self-absorbed, petty, and insecure husk of a man is occupying the Oval Office, and it never, ever will be forgotten. As he demonstrated again on Wednesday, Donald Trump won’t allow it.”

“The National Cathedral now joins Tic Tacs and Skittles in the realm of bizarre entities that have had to publicly distance themselves from Trump and his family.”

RIP, Sydney Aiello, survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting.

We still could have done better on turnout

That’s always how it is, isn’t it?

Despite holding the most expensive and closely-watched U.S. Senate election in the nation last year, Texas still ranked among the ten worst states for voter turnout in 2018, according to a new report on voting trends.

About 46 percent of eligible Texas voters cast a ballot in the November election, up from 29 percent four years earlier, according to “America Goes to the Polls 2018,” a report from Nonprofit VOTE and the US Elections Project. While the number of voters jumped, the turnout places Texas 41st in the country for voter turnout — up from 50th in the 2014 election.

The national report blames Texas’ poor ranking on a deadline that cuts off voter registration four weeks before Election Day. Most states in the bottom 15 for voter turnout require people to register to vote at least a month before the election. Most states with the highest turnout allow for same-day voter registration, according to the report.

“The November midterm election shattered records for voter turnout,” says Brian Miller, Executive Director at Nonprofit VOTE, “but beneath the record-setting turnout is a vast gap in turnout between states that speaks volumes about the impact state policies play in voter turnout.”

The League of Women Voters of Texas argues it’s time that the state “joins the modern age” and allows for same-day voter registration, according to an email Tuesday from the group representing more than 8,000 voters who encourage participation in government.

Here’s the executive summary if you don’t want to read the full report. The authors do look at other factors, including voting by mail, automatic registration, and competitive elections, so while same day registration is correlated with higher turnout, it’s not the only thing. I’d suggest that voter ID laws and other barriers to voting need to be taken into account as well. Be that as it may, there is a bill in the House to enable same day registration, and perhaps surprisingly it has two Republican authors and seven more Republican co-authors. It also doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in Piedras Negras of getting past Dan Patrick and Greg Abbott. But the idea is there, and it’s bipartisan. We’ll get there eventually. The Dallas Observer has more.

Who should be managing the Permanent School Fund?

It’s a good question, and I’m not sure what the best answer to it is.

Lawmakers are proposing a wide range of fixes for the state’s public school endowment, which has lost out on billions in growth during the past decade while paying out less to schoolchildren.

One bipartisan bill backed by high-powered legislators would restore the State Board of Education’s control over nearly all of the investments for the $44 billion Texas Permanent School Fund, reverting to the way it was before a 2001 law change.

Another would allow the School Land Board, which now controls about $10 billion of the endowment, to double the amount it can send annually directly to schools — up to $600 million. Yet another would take most of the money away from the feuding boards and create a new nine-member governing body appointed by the governor to decide how the endowment invests and distributes its dollars.

[…]

A key point in the debate is which governing body should have the authority to retain and invest the state’s oil and gas royalty revenue from leases on state land. Until 2001, the land board collected the money and sent it passively along to the education board to invest. But a law passed that year allowed the land board to retain the money and invest it.

A series of law changes and constitutional amendments since has changed the way money is sent to schools. The education board was tasked with setting a distribution rate based on a complex formula that, in part, depends on how much money it receives from the land board. Lawmakers also authorized the land board to send up to $300 million per year directly to schools, instead of to the education board, but it has no requirement to do so.

The changes created a serious governance issue, said Sen. Kirk Watson, an Austin Democrat who has introduced a bill that would return the royalty revenue to the education board to invest. That bill has the backing of five Republican Senate committee chairs. Republican Rep. Ken King has filed identical legislation in the House.

It also is supported by the education board’s chairwoman, Donna Bahorich, who said it aims to “permanently and efficiently fix the decision-making structure that affects the performance, distributions and expenses. Consolidation of the two pieces of the Permanent School Fund into one decision-making structure would be for the benefit of putting more money to work for the school children.”

See here and here for some background, and here for the Chron’s “Broken Trust” series, which uncovered a lot of these problems. The Land Board has had the worse performance, but the SBOE’s management isn’t perfect, and it was just ten years ago that there were proposals to take PSF management away from the SBOE. At some level, I don’t care who manages the PSF. What I do care about is ensuring accountability and maximizing returns. What are the best practices – what do other institutions that manage similar endowments do, for example – and what are the gaps that need to be addressed? That’s what I want us to focus on.

An overview on bail reform

From Mother Jones, a look at how bail reform is progressing in Harris County. I’m going to focus on the part about the second bail-related lawsuit, which covers felony arrests.

A federal judge in Harris County is currently considering a case that would transform the way bail is set for people charged with felonies, a population that comprises the vast majority of people in jail awaiting trial.

The lawsuit, filed in January by civil rights groups against the county and its sheriff, argues that detaining felony defendants simply because they can’t afford bail discriminates against the poor and often forces them to take guilty pleas just to get out faster. The suit asks the court to stop the practice of jailing people who aren’t a threat to public safety prior to trial only because they can’t pay. According to the suit, in 2017, up to 85 percent of those arrested for felonies were booked into jail because they couldn’t make bail.

[…]

The settlement [in the misdemeanor case lawsuit] was a watershed moment. “I don’t think we can understate the cultural significance,” says Alec Karakatsanis, who was a lawyer with Equal Justice Under Law when the case was settled and is now an attorney with Civil Rights Corps. Although other counties and states have similarly reformed their bail systems—California abolished cash bail last year, and Washington, DC, largely did away with the practice decades ago—Harris County’s size makes the victory particularly significant.

And while the settlement details were being ironed out, the same lawyers from the misdemeanor case filed the felony suit.

“Once we were having very constructive, productive discussions with the new misdemeanor judges about a final settlement, we realized it was time now to move on to the next piece of the problem,” said Neal Manne, an attorney representing the plaintiffs in both lawsuits.

The felony case, a class action, was filed on behalf of three men who had been charged with nonviolent felony offenses, including driving under the influence and drug possession. The men were assigned bail amounts between $15,000 and $30,000. None of them could pay, and two of them remain detained since being brought into custody in mid-January. (The other made bail after about two weeks in jail.) Like the misdemeanor case, lawyers for the plaintiffs are arguing that such a bail system discriminates against poor inmates who are otherwise low risk.

But if the misdemeanor case was a big deal, the case currently in front of the court will be a game-changer. As of March 2016, misdemeanor defendants comprise only about 8 percent of the county jail’s pretrial population—felony defendants, meanwhile, account for the rest. In fact, 77 percent of the entire county jail population, or approximately 6,000 people, at any given time are felony defendants awaiting trial, most of them for nonviolent offenses. And like people charged with misdemeanors, most of the defendants in jail for felony charges are stuck there because they can’t afford a bond. Although there are no national figures available on how many people are in jail because they can’t pay, data from the Prison Policy Initiative says that every day, 465,000 people are held in jail pretrial, and the organization estimates that hundreds of thousands of these people are there because they can’t afford bail.

If the district court sides with Karakatsanis and his clients, Harris County would be one of the largest in the country to severely limit the use of cash bail. The parties will be negotiating a settlement over the next several weeks, and Manne said he’s optimistic those talks will result in a similar outcome as the misdemeanor suit.

See here and here for some background. The story does not note that there are bills filed in the Legislature that would implement much of the reforms from the Harris County lawsuit statewide. Harris County was a watershed here not just because it’s the biggest county, with the biggest jail population, but also because for the most part, the other big counties have not taken similar action yet. The precedent this lawsuit set will certainly affect any future and current lawsuits in other counties, whether or not the proposed bills pass. There of course remains some resistance to the whole thing, but that is by this point a diminishing position. I look forward to seeing how the negotiations over the felony bail lawsuit turn out.