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No response necessary

Unless it’s “We will respect and fully comply with the court’s ruling”.

RedEquality

The U.S. Supreme Court could decide as early as this week whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. For supporters of same-sex marriage, it’s an emotional waiting game.

“People are literally on pins and needles,” said Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas. Smith feels the Supreme Court is on the brink of ruling same-sex couples everywhere have the right to marry. “Such a ruling would certainly be received by joy by thousands of people in Texas who have waited — some for all their lives — to marry the person that they love.”

[…]

The Texas Constitution bans same-sex marriage, and many lawmakers have vowed to fight any ruling to the contrary by the nation’s high court.

The state’s legal response will fall to new Texas attorney general Ken Paxton. Reached by KVUE following a speech to a conservative think tank Monday in Austin, Paxton said it’s too early to say what his response may be.

“It’s very difficult for us to say what’s going to happen given the fact that we don’t know what the result is and we don’t know how that opinion is going to be written,” Paxton said.

When asked whether he intends to fight the ruling, Paxton reiterated that such a decision would depend upon the ruling. “Obviously we have a constitution that protects the definition of marriage, and we’ll do everything we can.”

“If the Supreme Court issues a ruling saying that the freedom to marry is the law of the land, I would expect and hope that marriages begin to happen that day,” Smith said.

I’ve already hypothesized what the state’s likely response will be. It’s really just a question of how long it takes before the hammer comes down, and how obnoxious the resisters are. Stupid pastor tricks are a bit harder to predict, and while there is some legitimate concern that they could cause a bit of real trouble, my best guess is that once everyone else realizes that no one is forcing them in any way to participate in a same-sex wedding, this will all be seen as the circus sideshow that it is. Basically, expect some extreme craziness for the short term, then a return to more-or-less normality, with a shift in focus and tactics still to come.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Texas blog roundup for the week of June 22

The thoughts and prayers of the Texas Progressive Alliance are with the families and friends of the victims of the horrible shooting in Charleston as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

The next steps for equality advocates

Marriage equality will be a huge step, but there are many more steps to be taken.

RedEquality

The newly launched Texas Wins campaign—a multiyear, multimillion-dollar effort—aims to increase the number of LGBT Texans protected by local nondiscrimination ordinances.

“We want to take the momentum for LGBT equality coming out of the session, build on it, and one way to do so is through these local ordinances, to where in a session down the road we look at a statewide bill,” Texas Wins spokesman Kevin Nix said. “We’ve really turned a page here in the state, and the playing field is sort of wide open now to make some real progress. … I think sometimes politicians can overplay their hands, and they probably did.”

Nix said one of the campaign’s biggest challenges will be educating people that anti-LGBT discrimination is perfectly legal in Texas outside cities that have banned it—Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston, Plano and San Antonio—which account for less than a third of the state’s population.

“So many people don’t even realize it’s legal to fire or evict gay and transgender people,” he said. “A lot of folks think it’s protected in law, and it’s not. That problem would persist no matter what the marriage decision is from the Supreme Court.”

[…]

One of the keys to passing nondiscrimination ordinances will be convincing elected officials they provide a competitive advantage for cities economically. Texas Competes, a sister organization of Texas Wins, has gathered signatures from more than 200 employers, including 16 from the Fortune 500, in support of LGBT inclusion. Texas Wins is funded by a combination of individual and institutional donors—including the ACLU of Texas, Equality Texas, the Texas Freedom Network and the Human Rights Campaign—while Texas Competes is funded solely by Equality Texas.

Jessica Shortall, managing director of Texas Competes, said Texas was the first state in which the business community proactively spoke out en masse against anti-LGBT legislation before it reached the governor’s desk—protecting the state’s brand rather than having to repair it.

However, Shortall said she fears a loss of momentum in coming months due to a collective sigh of relief after the session, combined with a likely win on same-sex marriage at the high court.

“There could be kind of a drop the mic, spike the football thing,” Shortall said. “As we see in movement after movement, when you get a really big win, sometimes the wind goes out of the sails.”

Shortall is also looking ahead to the 2017 session, when she expects more anti-LGBT, religious freedom legislation similar to a bill that passed in Indiana in March.

Bringing non-discrimination ordinances to places that don’t currently have them, litigating when needed, and beating back the latest version of anti-equality measures and tactics – there will still be plenty to do. And even a sweeping ruling in favor of marriage equality from SCOTUS isn’t going to make that debate go away. Equality opponents may begin to reject the idea of civil marriage, and may push to give special status to religious marriage in response. Republican candidates, from the Presidential level on down, are likely at least in the short term to come under extra pressure to do something stupid in defiance of SCOTUS. And as anti-gay animus finally begins to fade a little into the background, at least in polite society, anti-transgender animus appears to be on the rise. We can’t let the wind go out of the sails. If we’re not moving forward, we’re moving backward.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

The latest Pete Rose revelations

He bet on Reds games while he was still a player, despite his loud assertions to the contrary.

For 26 years, Pete Rose has kept to one story: He never bet on baseball while he was a player.

Yes, he admitted in 2004, after almost 15 years of denials, he had placed bets on baseball, but he insisted it was only as a manager.

But new documents obtained by Outside the Lines indicate Rose bet extensively on baseball — and on the Cincinnati Reds — as he racked up the last hits of a record-smashing career in 1986. The documents go beyond the evidence presented in the 1989 Dowd report that led to Rose’s banishment and provide the first written record that Rose bet while he was still on the field.

“This does it. This closes the door,” said John Dowd, the former federal prosecutor who led MLB’s investigation.

The documents are copies of pages from a notebook seized from the home of former Rose associate Michael Bertolini during a raid by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in October 1989, nearly two months after Rose was declared permanently ineligible by Major League Baseball. Their authenticity has been verified by two people who took part in the raid, which was part of a mail fraud investigation and unrelated to gambling. For 26 years, the notebook has remained under court-ordered seal and is currently stored in the National Archives’ New York office, where officials have declined requests to release it publicly.

[…]

Dowd, who reviewed the documents at Outside the Lines’ request, said his investigators had tried but failed to obtain Bertolini’s records, believing they would be the final piece in their case that Rose was betting with mob-connected bookmakers in New York. Dowd and his team had sworn testimony from bookie Ron Peters that Rose bet on the Reds from 1984 through 1986, but not written documentation. Dowd also had testimony and a recorded phone conversation between Bertolini and another Rose associate, Paul Janszen, that established that Bertolini had placed bets for Rose. But Dowd never had the kind of documents that could cement that part of his case, especially in the eyes of fans who wanted to see Rose returned to Major League Baseball.

“We knew that [Bertolini] recorded the bets, and that he bet himself, but we never had his records. We tried to get them. He refused to give them to us,” Dowd said. “This is the final piece of the puzzle on a New York betting operation with organized crime. And, of course, [Rose] betting while he was a player.”

See here for the documents in question, and be sure to read the whole story. The main moral here is that one should never believe a word Pete Rose says.

I recommend you read Craig Calcaterra’s Q&A about what this all means. Remember that Rose has asked Commissioner Rob Manfred to review his case and reconsider the lifetime ban against him. I’ll qute from the last bit of Calcaterra’s discussion:

Q: Does this affect his Hall of Fame case? Should it?

A: He has no Hall of Fame case now, because people who are banned are not allowed to be on the ballot. If and when he is reinstated, he will be subject to the same sort of scrutiny any player is when considered for the Hall. Part of that scrutiny is the so-called character clause. As it was, some voters were probably going to hold Rose’s gambling history against him and make his Hall case, if he ever gets one, tougher than it should be. With new evidence that Rose’s lying didn’t end years ago when he finally copped to betting on baseball, it may turn a few more minds against him.

Personally speaking, I think the character clause is dumb and I’d put Rose in the Hall immediately. There are a lot of liars and cheats in there. None of them is the all-time hits leader.

Q: Got anything else, smart guy?

A: Just one observation: Pete Rose politics are dumb. There is no reason why people who think he should be back in the game or in the Hall of Fame have to believe he’s a great guy or that he’s a truth-teller. Those are not mutually-exclusive categories. Yet for years, including the past ten minutes, I have heard people believe that it is. That if you think Rose is a liar, you MUST be against him for all purposes, or that if you think Rose should be reinstated and enshrined in Cooperstown that you MUST believe everyone is out to get him and that he’s a choir boy.

That’s silly, of course. Rose is a liar. That’s pretty clear. He got a punishment he richly deserved and, because of the nature of that punishment (i.e. it’s permanent) — Major League Baseball is doing him a gigantic favor by even reviewing his case again. If they told him to pound sand, there wouldn’t be a great argument for him or any of his partisans to lodge in his favor. But you can also, like I do, think that Rose is a liar who should be in the Hall of Fame. And one that, at this point in his life, could be reinstated without much harm happening. It would make a lot of people happy to boot.

This new news — or this new corroboration of old news and the bad P.R. that attends it — could be bad for that reinstatement case. There’s no getting around that unless and until MLB says it doesn’t care.

As you know, I’ve long been in the anti-Rose camp, mostly because 1) baseball’s rules about gambling are simple and clear; 2) Rose agreed to the punishment he now serves; and 3) he’s been lying about it for a quarter of a century. I mean, if he’d ever shown any sign that he at least understood what he did was wrong and why, I’d have been less of a hardass about it. Be that as it may, I can see where Calcaterra is coming from, and I’d be willing to go along with it on two conditions. One, that any consideration for Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame happens posthumously, and two, that every self-appointed moralist with Hall of Fame voting privileges agrees to get over the whole ridiculous PED thing already. Put in everyone whose as-is numbers say they deserve it, and tell the unvarnished truth about them on their plaques. Then we can move on to less controversial things, like the DH and improving the pace of the game. Who’s with me on this?

Posted in: Baseball.

Bell wants Meyerland flooding investigated

It’s a story about flooding and the Mayor’s race, but not the story about flooding and the Mayor’s race you might have been expecting.

Chris Bell

Chris Bell

Mayoral candidate Chris Bell on Sunday called for an independent investigation into why so many Meyerland homes flooded during the heavy Memorial Day weekend rains.

Surrounded by about two dozen residents at a press conference by Brays Bayou, Bell said it was important to figure out why infrastructure projects in the area didn’t prevent major flooding and why others were not completed on schedule. Bell challenged the assertion, backed by experts, that flooding was inevitable considering some areas were hit with more than 10 inches overnight.

“The least we are owed is an explanation of what happened,” said Bell, a former congressman and city councilman who lives in Meyerland.

Bell called for an outside investigation, saying that a report by the Harris County Flood Control District would be “biased” because the agency helped design projects in the area as part of the city’s drainage and streets program, ReBuild Houston. A spokesperson for the agency could not be reached Sunday.

Bell is not the first of the seven mayoral candidates to criticize the city’s ReBuild Houston initiative, the pay-as-you-go program that voters approved in 2010, in the wake of the Memorial Day flooding. Many of the candidates vying to replace term-limited Mayor Annise Parker have seized on the flooding to criticize the city’s infrastructure or talk about speeding up flood mitigation efforts.

Well, except that Bell never mentions ReBuild Houston in this story, and that the next three paragraphs have to do with Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 and the effect it had on Brays Bayou and the massive project that the Harris County Flood Control District undertook to mitigate those effects, which some people including Bell are now saying have taken too long and not done enough. None of this, you may note, has anything to do with ReBuild Houston. I’m sure Bell has been critical of ReBuild Houston, but as far as I can tell what he has not done – along with Adrian Garcia and Marty McVey – is publicly express an opinion on the Supreme Court ruling or the subsequent new litigation or the call for a revote. Any or all of those things would have been nice to know, but none of them are a part of this story. I don’t know if Chron reporter Tina Nazerian didn’t think to ask about any of these things or just didn’t report the answers she got when she did. Either way, we got nothing. For a bit of writing that does have something to do with ReBuild Houston, see PDiddie.

Posted in: Election 2015.

On judicial elections and campaign finance

Ross Ramsey raises an interesting point.

BagOfMoney

It might seem silly to elect people who promise they won’t represent you, their political party or their donors, but that’s what we expect judges to do. They’re supposed to apply the law, and if they do any of those other things, they’re probably out of line.

Florida elects judges but bars them from raising their own campaign money. Lots of Texas judges — and Texas lawyers —would love to see similar restraints here.

“If you are an incumbent judge and you call a lawyer and ask for money, what is that lawyer going to say? No?” asks Wallace Jefferson, a former chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court who now practices law in Austin. “That incumbent judge is going to raise more money. But no one should feel pressured to contribute.”

Better, he says, to take the judges out of the fundraising business and leave the transactional part of politics to campaign committees and others.

It could happen: The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Florida’s law [in April] after challengers said it violated their First Amendment rights. That court was also concerned with whether asking for money sullied the impartiality of the elected judges. The court decided that was a serious enough public interest to justify the fundraising restriction.

“Simply put, the public may lack confidence in a judge’s ability to administer justice without fear or favor if he comes to office by asking for favors,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion.

[…]

This legislative session, state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, filed a bill that would start public financing of campaigns for appellate judges in Texas. It was sent to the House Elections Committee on March 9 and never heard from again.

Sen. and former state District Judge Joan Huffman, R-Houston, has a bill that would eliminate straight-ticket voting in judicial races — the idea is to free judges from the slings and arrows of party politics. That one is stalled, as is its identical twin in the House, filed by Rep. Kenneth Sheets, R-Dallas.

Jefferson and Tom Phillips, who preceded him as the Texas high court’s chief justice, wrote an amicus brief in the federal case, along with a couple of former chiefs of Alabama’s Supreme Court. “As former Chief Justices who have observed countless elections in our own States, and run as candidates for judicial office, we are well-acquainted with the genuine dangers — and sometimes actual abuse — present when judicial candidates personally solicit campaign contributions from parties and lawyers,” they wrote.

Now that the Florida law has been upheld, Jefferson thinks “it would be a step in the right direction” for Texas to take judges out of the campaign fundraising business.

“To me, money is not in the center except to the extent that the public believes, if a judge is accepting money from a lawyer or litigant, that they’ll be more likely to favor that lawyer or litigant,” Jefferson says. “I don’t believe that is generally true, but the public believes it. And I understand that belief. It undermines the ideal of impartial justice.”

I have been critical of Wallace Jefferson in the past for promoting the non=solution of making judicial elections non-partisan while ignoring the real problem of how judicial races are financed, so let me compliment him here for his advocacy for doing something about that problem. Pigs will fly before the Lege passes a bill allowing any kind of public financing of elections, but it’s still worth pursuing (kudos to Rep. Anchia for filing a bill this session to do that). If Jefferson, Tom Phillips, and Nathan Hecht can all support this, a bill like Rep. Anchia’s could get bipartisan support. The money people will fight it to the death, but that’s a fight we should all be willing to engage. Let’s get a nice long list of coauthors for this bill next time.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

It always was about animus towards gays

TPM reviews the history of anti-gay marriage laws and constitutional amendments now that they’re on the verge of being thrown out. Opponents of marriage equality have been claiming that these laws were not enacted with any animus intended towards same-sex couples, but the arguments made at the time these laws were being debated clearly says otherwise.

RedEquality

The leading opponents of same-sex marriage have been attempting to re-write recent American history, where decades of sneering public attacks on gays and lesbians, condemnations of their “lifestyle,” and blaming them for a decline of America’s moral virtue are quietly forgotten.

Their argument, made in front of the Supreme Court, no less, is that gay marriage bans are not motivated by prejudice toward gays and lesbians, but by a more noble if newfound purpose. In the days to come, the justices will reveal whether they subscribe to this new version of history in a decision that could decide whether gay couples have the right to marry nationwide.

Sweeping cultural change coupled with past decisions by the Supreme Court have limited the options the states who continue to ban same-sex marriage have to defend those prohibitions. If gay couples are kept from marrying because of state-sanctioned “animus” — an intent to deny certain people their rights — there is little escaping a constitutional violation. As a result, the defenders of gay marriage bans had to come up with a new argument to justify the bans.

“[T]he State’s whole point is that we’re not drawing distinctions based on the identity, the orientation, or the choices of anyone,” John J. Bursch, the solicitor general of Michigan, said during the oral arguments in the case, Obergefell v. Hodges. “The State has drawn lines, the way the government has always done, to solve a specific problem. It’s not meant to exclude.”

The “problem” that bans on same-sex marriage were solving, in Bursh’s view, was keeping biological parents attached to their children. How allowing gay couples to marry threatened that attachment puzzled even some of the justices — Justice Elena Kagan called the reasoning “inexplicable.” But even more bewildering, to longtime observers of the issue, is how divorced such logic was from the original motivation for the bans.

“The states’ arguments don’t pass the straight face test, no pun intended,” Judith Schaeffer, vice president of Constitutional Accountability Center, a D.C.-based legal organization, said in an interview with TPM. “These are ridiculous arguments that are being made to cover up the fact that these discriminatory laws are motivated by a desire to keep gay people out of this important legal relationship.”

To say same-sex marriage bans were never meant to “exclude” anyone is to ignore years of anti-gay sentiments — vitriolic posters and inflammatory commentary — not to mention the comments made by elected officials when defending their opposition to same-sex marriage and enacting gay marriage bans.

Texas passed its constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage ten years ago, two years and one legislative session after passing a state Defense of Marriage Act. That meant that same-sex marriage was already illegal in the state of Texas, but the Lege wanted to make it even more illegal, and virtually impossible to overturn legislatively since a one-third minority in either chamber would be able to block it going forward. First it needed to be ratified via referendum, though, and that’s where some of the more colorful arguments in favor of the amendment took place. Looking through my archives from 2005, I spent most of my time following the folks who were working against this awful amendment, but I did link to a pair of op-eds in the Chronicle on the subject. The op-ed in favor of passing the anti-gay marriage amendment is worth your time to read. I have a hard time imagining anything like it, with its condescending and frankly insulting attitude towards same gay people in general and same sex couples in particular, would be deemed acceptable for print in a mainstream publication. I’m not going to quote any of it here because I want to encourage you to click the link and see it for yourself. We’ve come a long way in a short time, but we shouldn’t forget where we once were, and we surely shouldn’t let the people who continue to stand in our way rewrite history.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Abbott vetos Huffman loophole bill

Good.

Sen. Joan Huffman

Gov. Greg Abbott has vetoed legislation that would have allowed married elected officials to hide their personal financial business from the prying eyes of Texas voters, according to the author of the legislation.

The so-called spousal loophole provision had been tacked as amendments to two bills that were otherwise aimed at increasing disclosure and eliminating conflicts of interest. State Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, said she never should have accepted the 11th-hour spousal loophole amendment from state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston.

As Abbott’s decision neared and Davis was asked for input, she wound up adding her voice to those calling for a veto.

“I haven’t seen a veto statement, but I have been advised by the governor’s office that both [bills] have been vetoed due to concerns about the so-called ‘spousal loophole’ added by the Senate in the last days of session,” Davis said. “I’m disappointed this Senate amendment put the governor in the position of having to veto two ethics bills that were originally written to make government more transparent and accountable.”

Davis said she would re-double efforts to pass “clean” ethics legislation in the next session of the Legislature.

[…]

The death of the two bills, HB 3511 and HB 3736, represented the final blow to Abbott’s calls for sweeping ethics reform in the notoriously loose Texas Legislature. After a series of far-reaching reform proposals went down in flames at the end of the session, those bills contained several compromise measures that Abbott wanted.

During his State of the State speech in February, Abbott urged lawmakers to “dedicate this session to ethics reform.”

Collectively, Davis’ two bills would have tightened requirements on personal financial disclosures, curbed conflicts of interest on state government boards and commissions, and required state elected officials to disclose government contracts and bond counsel work.

But the bills were marred by the inclusion of Huffman’s spousal loophole amendment. Huffman now faces a sworn ethics complaint, from a Democrat, related to her own spouse’s financial activity. Carol Wheeler, a member of the State Democratic Executive Committee, has alleged that the senator filed “false” information by failing to list more than 35 businesses in which her husband has a stake.

See here and here for the background. I never had much faith in Abbott’s embrace of ethics reform anyway, but even if the Davis bills had passed in their pre-Huffman form, Abbott’s continued embrace of dark money makes it all largely moot anyway. There’s no fixing the system as long as a handful of avaricious billionaires and their well-paid henchmen and henchwomen run amok over it.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Meet your Constitutional amendments

A pretty uninspiring bunch, if you ask me.

vote-button

Now that the dust has settled on the 84th Texas Legislature, voters are getting the first official look at which constitutional amendments they will be voting on come November.

Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos on Wednesday took the last step to place seven propositions on this fall’s general election ballot, all of which were approved by two-thirds of all state lawmakers during the just-ended session. Per state law, they are chosen randomly in a drawing to assign the order in which each proposition will appear on the Nov. 3 ballot.

All told, they run the gamut of state issues, from the serious to the mundane, and they create a narrative of the session that is not at all inconsistent with what really happened under the Pink Dome.

Here are the amendments, in the order they will appear on your ballot.

Proposition 1 (SJR 1)

“The constitutional amendment increasing the amount of the residence homestead exemption from ad valorem taxation for public school purposes from $15,000 to $25,000, providing for a reduction of the limitation on the total amount of ad valorem taxes that may be imposed for those purposes on the homestead of an elderly or disabled person to reflect the increased exemption amount, authorizing the legislature to prohibit a political subdivision that has adopted an optional residence homestead exemption from ad valorem taxation from reducing the amount of or repealing the exemption, and prohibiting the enactment of a law that imposes a transfer tax on a transaction that conveys fee simple title to real property.”

Proposition 2 (HJR 75)

“The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for an exemption from ad valorem taxation of all or part of the market value of the residence homestead of the surviving spouse of a 100 percent or totally disabled veteran who died before the law authorizing a residence homestead exemption for such a veteran took effect.”

Proposition 3 (SJR 52)

“The constitutional amendment repealing the requirement that state officers elected by voters statewide reside in the state capital.”

Proposition 4 (HJR 73)

“The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to permit professional sports team charitable foundations to conduct charitable raffles.”

Proposition 5 (SJR 17)

“The constitutional amendment to authorize counties with a population of 7,500 or less to perform private road construction and maintenance.”

Proposition 6 (SJR 22)

“The constitutional amendment recognizing the right of the people to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife subject to laws that promote wildlife conservation.”

Proposition 7 (SJR 5)

“The constitutional amendment dedicating certain sales and use tax revenue and motor vehicle sales, use, and rental tax revenue to the state highway fund to provide funding for nontolled roads and the reduction of certain transportation-related debt.”

I will be voting No on #s 3 and 7 and probably on 1, Yes on #2, and I have no idea yet on the others. What about you?

Posted in: Election 2015.

Houston’s transit deserts

From the Kinder Institute’s Urban Edge blog:

HoustonMetro

A new study suggests that despite METRO’s launch of several highly-touted and publicized improvements, the agency is still struggling to address the needs of some communities that depend heavily on transit.

With operations beginning on METRO’s two new light rail lines and the reimagined bus system set to begin service in August 2015, the Houston region’s transit system is undergoing drastic changes.

There is no denying the merits of these new elements. On the whole, the new rail lines and the streamlined bus system will benefit many riders. The agency said that its bus system changes will double the number of potential riders who live within a half-mile of a frequent bus route to 1 million people. Meanwhile, the new light rails are providing faster, consistent service to two areas of town with high transit demand.

But, according to researchers at the University of Texas at Austin who have mapped what the changes mean for Houstonians’ access to transit, the results of the new systems offer more of a mixed bag.

Junfeng Jiao, an assistant professor of community and regional planning at UT-Austin, and Aaron Nichols, a graduate student in the same department, have studied and mapped the “transit deserts” of major Texas cities.

Their concept is adapted from the more widely-known idea of food deserts, or areas where residents lack access to fresh, nutritious food. By tracking transit deserts,

Jiao and Nichols can highlight the parts of cities that have greater demand for transit than supply.

The researchers released their findings for Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio in January.

To find out where the gaps in transit service exist, Jiao and Nichols collected two types of information about every census block group in a city: the transit demand and transit supply.

Transit demand is based on the percentage of people in an area that depend on public transit. Researchers arrived at that figure by subtracting the number of cars at a household from the number of eligible drivers living there and extrapolating it across the wider area. From that, the researchers determined the percentage of transit dependent people per acre.

They calculated transit supply by determining the number of transit stops and routes within each block group, as well as the frequency of transit service. They also considered the length of sidewalks, bike routes and low-speed roads as well as the density of intersections. The numbers were aggregated into a transit-supply per acre measurement.

Transit demand was then subtracted from transit supply. If the number is negative, the area is considered a transit desert.

The researchers acknowledge that the approach isn’t perfect. The number of cars per household is certainly not the sole factor that determines use of transit. For example, a household of five in which all members are over the age of 16 is unlikely to own five cars. By the study’s mechanisms, such a household would be considered transit dependent. In reality, though, this car-to-person gap does not automatically make a household transit dependent. Indeed a household might get along fine with three or even two family vehicles.

Despite this shortcoming, as a basic measure, the transit gap analysis offers a baseline for isolating transit-needy areas, evaluating existing service and helping planners and policymakers direct future transit investment to places that desperately need it.

The study is here. It was done using the existing bus map, not the new one that is coming in August, and only counts on rail line for Houston. The Urban Edge blog notes that the authors did produce an updated map for the (still being tweaked) reimagined bus lines, though for some reason they still didn’t account for the Harrisburg and Southeast rail lines. I’m not sure where they got that map, but it’s included in the blog post, and it does clearly show the effect of the new bus lines in that there’s far less oversupply of transit in the downtown area.

One key factor of this study is that it wasn’t just about where transit stops are. From their “Conclusions and Limitations” section at the end:

This main difference between this study and previous studies is that more emphasis was placed on access to public transportation, and not just the actual transit service. Factors that are typically associated with walkable landscapes, such as small block lengths and low speed roads were taken into consideration for transit supply. Essentially every transit trip is going to begin and end with walking. If someone is not willing, or unable to walk to or from a transit stop, then a transit trip will not likely be made. This is why the physical characteristics of the built environment that might contribute to or discourage walkability are vitally important when considering access to or from a transit stop at the beginning or end of a transit trip.

Total sidewalk length for each Texas city studied was one of the data points they used. That figure is apparently unknown for Houston, which may add some uncertainty to the results for our fair city. Better and more ubiquitous sidewalks – a point made by some at the latest system reimagining public meetings – would make transit more available, with an accompanying boost to ridership.

A few other thoughts…

– The maps for Houston are literally for Houston – there are big blank spaces where Bellaire and West U would be. I find that odd, since they (and many other small cities withing Houston’s borders) are also served by Metro. I doubt there are any transit-deficient areas within them, but still. It would have been nice to see a more filled-in map.

– Another improvement I’d like to see would be more detail in the data itself, so that one can tell which factor or factors led a particular area to be transit-deficient. Was it a lower rate of auto ownership for over-16 household residents, a lack of sidewalks, distance from the nearest bus stop, something else? Just looking at these maps, I have no idea what policy prescription if any might improve matters.

– Comparing the present and future gap maps for Houston, you can see how system reimagining will benefit outlying areas in the west, southeast, and northeast. The bulk of the areas with the largest deficiencies are in the southwest in both maps, though it’s a little better with the new bus routes. Again, it would be nice to know more about the specifics. I will note that one place named on the list of five most deficient areas is Gulfton, which would be on the western end of the Universities Line, if we ever do build it. Another reason to hope that the Culberson peace accord bears fruit.

– If these researchers would like to be more ambitious, I suggest expanding the study to something more like the Houston metro area. You don’t need to go full ten-county HGAC region, but including Montgomery, Fort Bend, Brazoria, and Galveston Counties in addition to all of Harris would give a much more complete picture of how people in greater Houston can get around. I would recommend including household income as a factor, as the authors have suggested they might in the future, as otherwise there would likely be a large transit gap in and around the Woodlands, when in reality you have a bunch of people who only ever drive. Doing this might also help pinpoint holes in connectivity between disparate transit systems and how many people are affected by them. May as well get a regional planning benefit out of this, right?

Anyway, those are my thoughts. What are yours? Link via Gray Matters.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

ReBuild Houston and the Mayor’s race

It’s all about the conservative voters, because no one cares what anyone else thinks.

When the most conservative candidate in the Houston mayor’s race dropped out two months ago, the battle to win over right-leaning voters became a two-man show: former Kemah Mayor Bill King versus City Councilman Stephen Costello.

Both candidates bill themselves as moderate fiscal conservatives chiefly concerned about the city’s finances – pensions in particular – and, by all accounts, neither is an ideal choice for the far right.

Nonetheless, support among local Republicans has begun to coalesce around King, who has taken a hard line against ReBuild Houston, the city’s controversial streets and drainage program.

Now, with Houston recovering from severe flooding and the state Supreme Court ruling against the city in a lawsuit over ReBuild, program mastermind Costello only looks to be in trouble.

“The timing of this couldn’t be worse for Costello,” said Rice University political scientist Bob Stein, adding that King now has a window to break through.

ReBuild Houston is designed to allow the city to pay down existing debt while financing drainage and road improvements primarily through monthly drainage fees collected from property owners.

Earlier this month, hours after the Texas Supreme Court ruled the language of the 2010 charter amendment did not adequately describe the drainage fee to fund ReBuild, King released a statement attacking the program and Costello.

Last week, he called for ReBuild to be put back on the ballot this November.

Meanwhile, candidates to King’s left barely have touched on ReBuild.

Yes, it would be nice to hear what Adrian Garcia, Chris Bell, and Marty McVey have to say about this. It’s been more than a week, guys. What kind of race are you running here? I don’t even know what to think.

As for this story, it’s an expanded version of the one I blogged about Saturday, in which King called for a revote on the Renew Houston proposition, with more quotes from his and Costello’s campaigns and various Republican types. I won’t repeat myself, so I’ll just take a moment to marvel at how issuing debt is now considered the preferred “conservative” choice over pay-as-you-go. Given the way debt has ballooned at the state level and the fact that this particular PAYGO plan involved creating a new revenue stream instead of cutting something or pretending to cut something, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m going to wait to hear what a court says about the status of the current litigation before I get too deep into all this. I hope to hear what the rest of the Mayoral field has to say before then.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Off to SCOTUS for HB2

If they want to hear it.

Abortion is back before the U.S.A Supreme Court, and the justices could signal by the end of June whether they are likely to take up the biggest case on the contentious subject in nearly a quarter-century.

If the court steps in, the hearing and the eventual ruling would come amid the 2016 presidential campaign.

The court is considering an emergency appeal from abortion providers in Texas, who want the justices to block two provisions of a state law that already has forced the closure of roughly half the licensed abortion clinics in the state. Ten of the remaining 19 clinics will have to shut their doors by July 1, without an order from the Supreme Court.

[…]

The case could be attractive to the justices because it might allow them to give more definition to the key phrase from their last big abortion ruling, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in 1992. States generally can regulate abortion unless doing so places “an undue burden” on a woman’s right to get an abortion.

“Courts have been fumbling for years about what does it mean to be undue under Casey,” said Priscilla Smith, a Yale Law School professor and defender of abortion rights.

Some abortion opponents also see the case as a strong candidate for Supreme Court review. “The likelihood of this case getting to the Supreme Court is very high and I think that’s a good thing,” said Mike Norton, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian-oriented public interest law firm.

The justices blocked the two provisions once before, in November 2014 while the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was weighing whether those parts of the law violate a woman’s right to an abortion. The appeals court upheld the provisions on June 9 and has since refused to put its ruling on hold while the clinics ready their appeal to the Supreme Court.

In 2013, four justices — enough to hear an appeal — said the high court probably would want to weigh in. In an earlier phase of the same case, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that the court probably would take up the controversial provisions.

Since then, a different set of judges from the same appeals court has prevented Mississippi from enforcing its own admitting privileges requirement because doing so would close the last abortion clinic in the state. In that case, the court said that Mississippi could not force women to cross state lines to get an abortion.

See here for the background. It’s either SCOTUS, with all the risk that entails, or the status quo. Not much of a choice, but here we are. We’ll know soon enough what they choose to do.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Abbott signs bill to remove Public Integrity Unit from Travis County DA office

As expected.

Ignoring calls for a veto, Gov. Greg Abbott signed controversial legislation this week that will allow elected and appointed state officials and state employees to bypass Austin prosecutors when they are accused of public corruption.

Abbott, a Republican, signed the bill Thursday without making a statement or staging a public signing ceremony. His press office did not respond to requests for comment left via email and over the phone.

The unique carve-out for politicians and state employees drew fire throughout the recently concluded session of the Texas Legislature. John Courage, state chairman of the nonpartisan watchdog group Common Cause, said he believes the bill is unconstitutional and could be challenged in court by various watchdog groups.

“They’ve set up a separate legal process for the legislators,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense. A normal person would be tried in the location where they committed the offense and not the legislators. It’s just an unfair, unbalanced system.”

That’s the first I’ve heard of a potential lawsuit. I get the rationale – Texas lawmakers have created a separate system of justice for themselves, which is arguably unconstitutional. I wish the Trib had quoted a law professor to get an opinion on that. There are other issues with having the DPS in charge of these investigations, and empowering local prosecutors may not be a better deal for legislators than what they have now. I continue to believe that this is a scandal waiting to happen. We’ll see how long that takes.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Pointless pastor protest

Where to even begin?

Some prominent Houston church leaders put their names on a full-page open letter to the U.S. Supreme Court in major U.S. newspapers, promising to defy the court should it decide same-sex marriage is a civil right.

Pastor Gregg Matte of Houston’s First Baptist Church, Pastor Dave Welch of the U.S. Pastor Council and Pastor Steve Riggle of Grace Church were among more than 80 signatories on the letter orchestrated by former Pearland pastor Rick Scarborough. The letter was published last week in the New York Times, the Washington Post and USA Today.

“We’re not going to quietly allow this to happen,” said Scarborough, 65, now president of Vision America in Nacogdoches, Texas. “We’re going to stand up on our biblical roots as well as our constitutional roots and if it comes to a choice between obeying God and the state we will chose God.”

He also said doesn’t hate gay individuals and wants to “reach out with loving redemption.”

[…]

In the open letter, one sentence appears in bold-faced font: “We will not honor any decision by the Supreme Court which will force us to violate a clear biblical understanding of marriage as solely the union of one man and one woman.”

Scarborough said that means churches and religiously-affiliated schools and hospitals will decline to participate in any part of a same-sex marriage. Predicting legal trouble, Scarborough pointed to a recent case of a 70-year-old florist in Washington state who faced a lawsuit after declining to provide flowers for the wedding of a long-time gay customer.

“We’ll go to jail before we participate [in same-sex marriage],” Scarborough said.

Do I really have to explain this? Is there anyone with at least a sixth grade education who isn’t being willfully ignorant who doesn’t understand that this is about states having to recognize civil marriages, and that religions and pastors will be as free to marry or not marry whoever they want to no matter what SCOTUS decides? I mean seriously, what self-respecting same-sex couple would get within a hundred miles of any of these jokers when searching for a celebrant for their vows? Assuming they wanted a religious service, of course. The whole point is that they don’t need a pastor for any of this, just a county clerk and a judge or JP. Honestly, short of chaining themselves to a courtroom door, I have no idea what these fools think they might be going to jail for. Their sense of heroic victimhood is truly impressive, I’ll give them that much. I plan to join with most of the rest of the country after the SCOTUS decision and ignore them and their silly antics as much as I reasonably can.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Weekend link dump for June 21

“On another occasion, Mr. [redacted] told Ms. [redacted] not to dream of [redacted]’s Chief Financial Officer wearing a singlet wrestling his prom date while naked midgets are cheering for him on the sidelines using Siamese furry cats as pom poms!”

“A 30-year-old computer that has run day and night for decades is what controls the heat and air conditioning at 19 Grand Rapids Public Schools.”

“Let’s take a second to marvel at how bizarre racism really is: If one your great-great-grandparents happened to be dark-skinned, you couldn’t sit where you wanted on a bus in Alabama. That’s not science, man, it’s just stupid.”

Product placement makes the world go ’round.

Oh, just a photo of a raccoon riding on the back of an alligator, somewhere in the swamps of Florida. Though I’m sure it’s a metaphor for something.

If you’ve ever wanted to see John Cleese and Eric Idle together on stage doing John Cleese and Eric Idle things, this may be your chance.

Three words: Cowboy sandal boots. Oh, hell no.

Remember when Bobby Jindal was supposed to be the smart one? LOL.

“Yeah, or that’s just what the lampreys want you to think. THINK ABOUT IT.”

“Humblebragging – bragging masked by a complaint – is a distinct and, given the rise of social media, increasingly ubiquitous form of self-promotion. We show that although people often choose to humblebrag when motivated to make a good impression, it is an ineffective self-promotional strategy.”

Some good news for you Laurel and Hardy fans out there.

“President Obama has quietly recruited top tech talent from the likes of Google and Facebook. Their mission: to reboot how government works.”

The presidential election carries hugely important stakes, not just in policy realms where the president wields significant influence on her own, like foreign policy and judicial appointments, but also on domestic policy. It’s just that the stakes have nothing to do with Clinton’s proposals. What’s at stake is the Paul Ryan budget.”

RIP, Blaze Starr, iconic burlesque performer.

“Trump’s greatest genius is offering the same political analysis we hear on sober Sunday talk shows, delivered in the language of a vulgar oaf.”

Dear Republican Presidential candidates: You would be wise to stop using music that you don’t have permission by the artist to use.

One possible reason why famous fancy pundits lie so much.

RIP, John David Crow, 1957 Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M.

“We have, quite likely, found at 110 Calhoun Street in Charleston, South Carolina, the place where Columbine, Aurora, and Newtown cross with Baltimore, Ferguson, and Sanford. We periodically mourn the deaths of a group of Americans who die at the hands of another armed American. We periodically witness racial injustices that inspire anger in the streets. And sometimes we witness both. This is, quite simply, how we now live.”

“We will be told, in the aftermath of this act of terrorism, that it was the work of a lone individual — an aberration resulting from the aberrant behavior of a single disturbed man. But that claim is not credible. It requires us to ignore what we have seen and known for generations. It requires us to pretend that we are too ignorant to recognize the clear pattern, to pretend to forget that we have seen this same violent terror carrying this same violent message before, endlessly repeated. And it asks us to pretend that we do not know that we will see it again and again.”

“Visitors to Charleston have long been treated to South Carolina’s attempt to clean its history and depict its secession as something other than a war to guarantee the enslavement of the majority of its residents. This notion is belied by any serious interrogation of the Civil War and the primary documents of its instigators. Yet the Confederate battle flag—the flag of Dylann Roof—still flies on the Capitol grounds in Columbia.”

These pictures say it all.

“Since 9/11, right-wing terrorists have killed more than five times as many people as Islamist ones. Yet a short study warning to keep a watchful attitude towards the former is met with enraged hostility. It reveals both the small actual danger of Islamist terrorism, and the utterly ridiculous and hypocritical way in which anti-terrorism resources are allocated.”

“We’ve successfully created a world so topsy-turvy that seeking medical help for depression or anxiety is apparently stronger evidence of violent tendencies than going out and purchasing a weapon whose only purpose is committing acts of violence. We’ve got a narrative going where doing the former is something we’re OK with stigmatizing but not the latter. God bless America.”

Love is always stronger than hate. So if we just love the way my mom would, then the hate won’t be anywhere close to where the love is.”

Posted in: Blog stuff.

The Fifth Circuit still sucks

They also blow.

A federal appeals court on Friday rejected a request from Texas abortion providers to temporarily put on hold a ruling that could leave Texas with nine abortion facilities.

Abortion providers had asked the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to delay its own ruling upholding most provisions of House Bill 2 — including requiring nearly all of Texas’ abortion facilities that perform the procedure to meet hospital-like standards — while they take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Attorneys with the Center for Reproductive Rights, which brought the lawsuit, said they will now turn to the U.S. Supreme Court and ask it to delay the law’s implementation while they pursue their appeal.

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the center, said it was “imperative” that the Supreme Court intervene in the case.

“No woman should be forced to cross state lines or travel hundreds of miles for essential health care,” Northup said. “And millions of Texas women cannot simply wait for months as this legal battle continues, with severely restricted options for safe and legal abortion services in the state.”

[…]

Immediately after the three-judge panel upheld the strict abortion restrictions, abortions providers vowed to take the lawsuit to the Supreme Court. The next day, the abortion providers’ lawyers asked the appellate court to keep their ruling from going into effect on July 1 while they appealed to the high court.

The abortion providers argued that the Supreme Court is likely to take up the case and there is a “significant possibility” the high court could reverse the appellate court’s ruling.

In their petition, they pointed to the Supreme Court’s previous intervention in the abortion lawsuit. It temporarily put on hold the ASC provision in October after the appeals court ruled it could go into effect as the lawsuit made its way through the appeals process.

See here and here for the background. As noted, SCOTUS allowed the injunction to remain in place pending the outcome of the appeals process last time, so I don’t see why they wouldn’t this time unless they just don’t plan to hear this appeal. Given the recent appellate split on abortion cases, it seems they’re going to have to wade in sooner or later. Not that this is a prospect I relish, mind you, but it is what it is. And the Fifth Circuit still sucks.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Your input for the Bike Plan requested

I’ve written before about the Bike Plan the city is currently working on, to improve all facets of bike travel in Houston. This effort, now in Phase 2 of 6, depends heavily on input from the public, and the time to give that input is now. Phase 2 is about defining the goals of the plan, and towards that end the following input is being sought:

On-line Survey: Help us define the issues important to you. The survey takes about 15-20 minutes, but will affect bike planning in Houston for years to come.

Interactive Maps: Identify where gaps within the existing network. Discuss where you want to bike? Help us locate key trail connection locations, and more!

Blog Forum: Review daily posts and provide feedback, or post your own questions and start a discussion!

Public Meetings: To kick off the Houston Bike Plan, five public meetings were scheduled during the last week of May, and all four weeks of June! To learn more about the two remaining meetings on Tuesday, June 23rd and Tuesday, June 30th check out our website to learn more.

o Baker-Ripley Neighborhood Center
Tuesday, June 23rd 6pm – 8pm
6500 Rookin, Houston, TX 77074 (MAP)
RSVP on the Facebook Event Page.

o HCC Memorial City Performing Arts Center / Theater II, Room 411
Tuesday, June 30th 6pm – 8pm
1060 W. Sam Houston Pkwy N., Houston, TX 77043 (MAP)
RSVP on the Facebook Event Page.

Meeting in a Box: This is your instruction guide to have your own community meeting on the Houston Bike Plan. Click on the interactive links provided to download materials to assist you in conducting your own community meeting and gathering feedback for the Bike Plan. Pick and choose from the activities below or do them all. Thanks for being a part of the Houston Bike Plan!

– Project Website: www.HoustonBikePlan.org

– Email: bikeways@houstontx.gov

See here for more. Just scanning through that forum linked above, let me say that I wholeheartedly endorse this idea. I don’t even consider biking any farther south than Washington Avenue because there’s no good way to get there. Make your voice heard, and make sure you ask candidates for city office that you encounter what they think about this. Thanks very much.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Sid Miller confirms that he’s a joke

Sadly, the joke’s on us.

Sid Miller

Across the U.S., officials waking up to the nation’s obesity epidemic have been moving to cut down on unhealthy food in schools.

Not in Texas.

Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller announced Thursday that schools around Texas, one of the states struggling most with childhood obesity, soon will regain the right to sell fried food and some soda to students. The move, which Miller had hinted at in recent weeks, will take effect July 1, reversing a decade of state policy.

The Republican painted the change as a shift toward freedom, stressing it would not guarantee that unhealthy food would reappear in schools, but would “return local control to school districts, where families and community leaders are in the best position to make decisions about what works for the children they serve.”

The news was buried at the bottom of a press announcement focused on a separate plan aimed at combating childhood obesity. That plan will increase health education and facilitate connections between farmers and school officials, Miller said.

As they say, you can’t make this stuff up. Personally, I think Miller should lead by example here and pledge to eat deep fat fried foods three meals a day, washed down with a gallon or two of Mountain Dew. That’ll show people what we mean when we talk about “freedom” here in Texas, and by “we” I mean “Sid Miller”. There’s probably a reality show in that idea, if he plays his cards right. Who’s with me on this? The Lunch Tray has more.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

More hyperloops

Gonna be the future soon.

Not content with simply sending men to Mars and conquering the automotive industry, billionaire Elon Musk has plans for a tubular transportation system that would dominate the globe.

The Hyperloop has been considered closer to science fiction since the idea’s introduction, but a new plan from the UCLA Architecture and Urban Design Suprastudio shows how the system could actually come together.

According to the UCLA presentation, “Hyperloop is a unique transportation technology based on centuries-old pneumatic tube principles, promising to provide ultra-clean, ultra safe, affordable, intra-urban travel at super-high speed.”

And while much of the report is centered on Southern California, particularly a Los Angeles to Las Vegas route, Texas’ megaregions feature heavily in the eventual Hyperloop plans.

Texas contains two of these “dense and interconnected centers of populations and economic activity.”

[…]

The report, which can be read in full here, put the Hyperloop system in its historical place and takes into consideration the current successes and failures of air and rail travel.

See here for the background. I don’t have anything to add here. I don’t expect this to amount to anything, though it would be cool if it did. Most likely I think people fifty and sixty years from now are going to look at this stuff and react to it the same way we do to “flying car” newsreels from the 1950s. The Trib has more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Saturday video break: The Great Gig In The Sky

That Pink Floyd song from Dark Side of the Moon whose name you can never remember:

That wasn’t the first video I watched for this. I looked at this one first, by The Australia Pink Floyd Show. It was so faithful to the original it nearly fooled me:

Wow. As I recall from the one time I did the “watch The Wizard of Oz while playing Dark Side of the Moon” thing, this song mostly overlaps with the tornado sequence. That seems fitting. Now here’s Yes keyboardist and guitarist Rick Wakeman and Steve Howe covering it:

I did find an actual video for that, but there’s something funky about it and it made me dizzy, so caveat viewer. Know of any other good versions of this?

Posted in: Music.

ReVote Houston?

Mayoral candidate Bill King calls for a do-over on Renew/ReBuild Houston.

Bill King

Bill King

Houston mayoral candidate Bill King wants to put ReBuild Houston, the city’s controversial streetand drainage program, back up for a vote.

[…]

King, the most vocal opponent of ReBuild Houston in the race, has seized the moment to attack ReBuild.

“I only see one way out of this quagmire,” the former mayor of Kemah said in a statement Thursday. “We need to have another election on the ReBuild Houston program in November. But this time with clear and transparent ballot language.”

Should ReBuild make it back on the ballot this year, King said he would continue to oppose the program, proposing instead to finance city infrastructure projects with bonds.

See here and here for the background. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to call for a revote, but I’d like to hear something from the trial court first.

King’s full statement is here, and I now have a statement as well from Steve Costello, which is here. Not surprisingly, the two don’t agree on the path forward.

For me, as I have said before, whatever else you may say about ReBuild Houston, it has provided for a supplemental revenue source for infrastructure projects, while also helping to retire existing debt. I support having that supplemental revenue source for this purpose, and would support it again if it does come to a revote. I understand King’s point about bond payments being cheaper than construction cost increases, but that doesn’t do anything to increase the revenue available to pay for it all. Also, debt service comes out of general revenue, meaning that when there are limitations on the budget due to increases in other expenditures and/or the revenue cap, it puts an extra squeeze on everything else. I’m not at all opposed to bond financing, but it’s hardly a panacea. Bond issues do sometimes get voted down and they can generate plenty of their own controversy and opposition.

Basically, King is saying we should go back to financing street and drainage projects as we did before the 2010 Renew Houston referendum. Which is fine as far as it goes, but I believe it is entirely inconsistent with any promise to improve or hasten such projects. I mean, either you’re for increasing funding over what we used to have or you’re not. As I’ve said many times now, if not this, then what? One could promise to kill off TIRZes as a way of adding resources for infrastructure (good luck with that), or cut funds from other projects and programs (please specify, and remember that public safety is 2/3 of general revenue), or perhaps adopt the leadership strategies of America’s most innovative supervillains, among other potential options. As with pretty much every other issue in this race so far, I look forward to hearing more details.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Texas Supreme Court rules against AG in Austin gay divorce case

One small step, even if it was on a technicality.

Divorce

As Texas waits on the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on same-sex marriage, the state’s highest civil court ruled Friday that the Texas attorney general tried too late to stop the divorce of a Texas couple married in Massachusetts.

Five members of the Texas Supreme Court affirmed a 2011 opinion from the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals that said the attorney general’s office did not have standing to appeal the divorce between Texas residents Angelique Naylor and Sabina Daly.

“We agree with the court of appeals that the state lacks standing to appeal the trial court’s decree,” wrote Justice Jeff Brown for the majority. He was joined by Chief Justice Nathan Hecht and Justices Paul Green, Phil Johnson and Jeff Boyd.

Daly and Naylor married in Massachusetts in 2004. A few years later, Naylor filed for divorce and Texas District Judge Scott Jenkins of Travis County approved it.

In the opinion delivered Friday, Brown emphasized that the court’s decision was confined to whether or not the attorney general’s office’s attempt to intervene was timely.

“This Court has consistently recognized the State’s right to defend Texas law from constitutional challenge,” Brown wrote. “However, as the court of appeals explained, the State did not timely intervene in this dispute and therefore is not a party of record.”

[…]

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who formerly served as the state’s attorney general, called the court’s decision “disappointing and legally incorrect.” Abbott, also a former Texas Supreme Court justice, said the court “mistakenly relied on a technicality” in its ruling and failed to address the state’s constitutional definition of marriage.

“The state and all political subdivisions in Texas remain prohibited by the Texas Constitution from giving effect to a same-sex marriage or any document recognizing one — including the divorce decree in this case,” Abbott said in a statement.

See here, here, here, here, and here for the background. A copy of the decision is here, and the two different dissents are here and here. There was a similar case in Dallas where the appeals court overturned the lower court decision allowing the divorce to proceed. As the Statesman notes, that case eventually became moot when one of the people involved died. More recently, there was a case in Bexar County in which the judge told then-AG Abbott to butt out. I don’t know where that one stands at this time. All of this may well be moot in a couple of week’s time, assuming the US Supreme Court doesn’t throw us all a curve. In the meantime, it’s always a pleasure to see Greg Abbott strike out. Trail Blazers and RG Ratcliffe have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

“Roguish behavior”

The Saint Louis Cardinals admit they hacked the Astros’ proprietary database.

Thursday’s tacit admission by St. Louis Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. that someone in his organization was involved in hacking the Astros continued a saga that holds the potential for more tawdriness once the FBI has completed its investigation and all the details are released.

The Chronicle on Thursday learned that the Cardinals had unauthorized access to Astros information as early as 2012, a year earlier than was previously known. DeWitt, meanwhile, acknowledged for the first time that his organization played a role in accessing proprietary information belonging to the Astros, blaming “roguish behavior.”

Meeting with reporters in St. Louis on Thursday along with Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, DeWitt said his organization’s own investigation was still ongoing. He did not specify which employees were responsible, but he told club workers “we’ve all been tainted.”

“Those responsible will be held accountable,” DeWitt said, “and we will continue what we feel is a great franchise.”

The extent of the Cardinals’ reach inside the Astros’ organization isn’t fully known. But it was not limited to one or two occasions, a person familiar with the details of the investigation said. The source asked for anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case. The Chronicle has previously confirmed two breaches into the Astros’ system – one in 2013 and one in March 2014. The FBI began its investigation after the 2014 breach.

[…]

DeWitt expressed confusion over the intrusions, which he said were limited to a handful of people. The Chronicle learned this week the list of suspects was down to four or five.

“We’re committed to getting this resolved, we hope sooner rather than later,” DeWitt said. “We’re a little bit at the government’s pace. We’re not in a position of pushing them, as you might imagine.”

DeWitt said he was shocked to learn of the scandal.

“I still don’t know the reason for it,” he said of the hacking. “I can’t come up with a reason for it. It goes against everything we stand for. We don’t know who did what here.”

See here for the background. The story suggests that the Astros could have a claim for compensation for their data loss. Let’s see how the FBI investigation goes first, and what if any action Commissioner Rob Manfred takes. I suspect we’re a long way from any resolution just yet.

In the meantime, I love the use of the word “roguish” to describe the actions by whoever did this. It reminds me of a song.

I hereby declare that the official theme song of this scandal, for its use of the word “roguish”. Hair Balls has more.

Posted in: Baseball.

Maybe Ratliff won’t step down from the SBOE after all

Just when he thought he was out, they (might) pull him back in.

Thomas Ratliff

Gov. Greg Abbott appointed a social conservative and former staffer for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to chair the Texas State Board of Education on Thursday.

Donna Bahorich will lead the 15-member board, whose duties include setting curriculum standards and approving the textbooks used by the state’s more than five million schoolchildren.

Bahorich, who represents part of Harris County, has served on the board since January 2013. She sat on the Committee on School Initiatives, which oversees issues related to charter schools, the Board for Educator Certification rules and the appointment of school board members for districts located on military bases. She is also a member of the board’s Ad Hoc Committee on the Long-Range Plan for Public Education.

As chairwoman, Bahorich will set the agenda for the state education board’s meetings, which occur five to six times a year.

Bahorich, who usually votes with the board’s social conservative bloc, has close ties to Patrick. She was his campaign manager during his first run for the state senate seat in 2006. After that, she served on Patrick’s staff in varying roles including district director, campaign treasurer and communications director.

Board member Thomas Ratliff, a governmental relations consultant and lobbyist from Mount Pleasant, said he was disappointed to hear of Bahorich’s appointment. Ratliff said he believes she does not have enough experience with public schools to qualify her for the job.

“She’s a nice lady and a hard worker and I think her heart’s in the right place,” Ratliff said. “I just think it ought to be a fundamental requirement on the state board for someone to have had kids in public school.”

Ratliff said he’s now rethinking his decision to leave the board when his current term expires in 2017.

“That’s no longer a guarantee that my days on the board are done,” he said. “I may have more work to do.”

See here for the background on Ratliff. Whether he decides to run for re-election to the SBOE or takes a crack at Kevin Eltife’s Senate seat, either would be fine by me. I hope this is for real and not just a tease.

As for Bahorich, she’s hardly the person I’d want chairing the SBOE, but the bar for “could be worse” with this group is pretty damn low. Not being a McLeroy-esque catastrophe counts as a job well done. That’s not too much to ask for, is it?

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Friday random ten: Gone too soon, part 5

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

1. Super Freak – Big Daddy (orig. Rick James, 1948-2004)
2. Just A Little Lovin’ – Dusty Springfield (1939-1999)
3. Suite of Old American Dances – Trinity University Wind Symphony (Dr. Eugene Carinci, 1952-2011)
4. Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing – Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell (Marvin Gaye, 1939-1984)
5. I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry – Cowboy Junkies (orig. Hank Williams, 1923-1953)
6. Listen Like Thieves – INXS (Michael Hutchence, 1960-1997)
7. Over the Rainbow – Julie Murphy (orig. Judy Garland, 1922-1969)
8. Tuesday’s Gone – Lynyrd Skynryd (Ronnie Van Zandt, 1948-1977; Steve Gaines, 1949-1977)
9. Dedicated To The One I Love – The Mamas & The Papas (Cass Elliot, 1941-1974)
10. Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley – Robert Palmer (1949-2003)

Today I’m just going to observe a moment of silence and spend some time thinking about all the good people we have lost before their time. Please join me if you will.

Posted in: Music.

More complaints against Paxton

From the Lone Star Project, spotted on the Quorum Report with the original press release forwarded to my inbox:

Ken Paxton

Lone Star Project research has compiled significant information regarding the involvement of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a series of questionable property transactions in Collin County. Some of the information gathered by the Lone Star Project has already been made public in press reports, while other information has not yet been reported on at all.

In reviewing the information gathered by Lone Star Project research, I realized that the actions of Attorney General Paxton may have gone beyond activities that warrant only political criticism. In fact, the information points to the potential use of insider information and actions by Ken Paxton and his associates that could rise to the level of criminal activity.

In light of this, the Lone Star Project submitted a detailed complaint to the U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Texas, which has jurisdiction over Collin County, last month. We also submitted the complaint to the Grand Jury in Collin County which is currently conducting a criminal inquiry into Ken Paxton’s violations of Texas securities laws.

Given that the ongoing investigation into Ken Paxton’s violations of state securities law, we believe his close involvement in questionable land transactions in Collin County also warrant the review of law enforcement officials.

Background:
Last year, the Dallas Morning News reported on a land deal involving Ken Paxton and his business partners involving the purchase of property in the City of McKinney for $700,000. The property was quickly flipped for a selling price of $1 million. The News report details the creation of an appraisal district and zoning change which raised the value of the property before the subsequent sale of the land by Paxton’s company. While Paxton denied knowing about the new zoning designation, associates within Paxton’s business lobbied local officials to obtain the change.

The letters sent by the Lone Star Project to the U.S. Attorney and the Collin County Grand Jury includes additional facts on the land transactions and raise new questions regarding Ken Paxton’s involvement. The information focuses on four specific areas:

  • Even following the 2014 Dallas Morning News story, key questions remain unanswered about the extent to which Paxton and his associates used insider knowledge and political connections to profit from the development of the McKinney Property.
  • A land swap with the City of McKinney in which a narrow strip of property owned by Paxton’s company was traded for a separate property on a nearby street corner – the trade that appears to be of significant benefit of Paxton. The same day of the trade, Paxton’s company flipped the newly acquired property to a private entity for an undisclosed amount.
  • In addition to profiting from the resale of the property acquired by the trade, it appears that a title company connected to Paxton provided the title insurance for the two transactions.
  • Paxton and his associates continue to hold property in Collin County that may also result in a significant profit when it is eventually sold.

Documents Attached:
Letter to the Collin County Grand Jury
Letter to the US Attorney
Background Document

I did blog about that DMN story from last May, but I only noted Paxton’s refusal to release his tax returns during the campaign, since caring about such things was apparently so 2010. Perhaps this is why he was so secretive about it. I can’t find any news coverage of this, so draw your own conclusions about how big a deal it is.

The news release touches on the ongoing investigation in Collin County, whose deadline date is as yet uncertain. Yesterday we got an update on where this stands.

Special prosecutors assigned to investigate Ken Paxton’s alleged violations of state securities laws said this week that they plan to take their case to a Collin County grand jury next month.

The confirmation comes just weeks after a judge expanded the probe to include possible fraud allegations involving the first-term attorney general.

“We are going to the grand jury,” special prosecutor Kent Schaffer told the Chronicle on Wednesday. The process will begin in July when the new grand jury is chosen, and Schaffer said he expects it to take more than the typical three-month period juries sit in Texas.

That puts any possible resolution of the inquiry into at least the October/November time frame. At least we know it’s moving along, which is more than we could have said earlier this year. Trail Blazers has more.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Lawsuit filed over Uptown line

All things considered, I suppose this was inevitable.

A homeowner’s association is suing Metro over its involvement in plans to run bus lanes along Post Oak Boulevard, saying the project puts the agency at odds with a 2003 referendum that included adding a rail line along the corridor.

The lawsuit was filed Monday just minutes after Mayor Annise Parker and the Uptown management district cheered the start of the $192 million project, lauding it as an example of Houston’s transit future. The plan calls for adding two dedicated bus lanes – one in each direction – along the center of Post Oak. Special lanes also would be added along Loop 610 between a future Bellaire Transit Center and the Northwest Transit Center near Interstate 10.

“It’s about taking our signature retail boulevard and making it something that’s not a traffic-choked freeway,” Parker said.

“The time is now,” Metro Chairman Gilbert Garcia said.

A block away, opponents called the project illegal, saying Metro has no authority to participate when voters in 2003 approved light rail for the Post Oak corridor. As part of the lawsuit, Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, has requested an opinion from the Texas Attorney General’s office as to the legality of Metro’s involvement. Nichols chairs the senate’s transportation committee.

“We’re asking all these government agencies, ‘don’t be arrogant,’ ” attorney Andy Taylor said. “Hold tight and make sure that what you’re doing is in the public interest.”

See here for some background. Rule #1 of politics around here: If Andy Taylor is on your side, you’re on the wrong side. (*) And much more often than not, the side that’s gonna lose.

Metro submitted a similar inquiry to then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott last year at the request of the Texas Department of Transportation. The state agency was wary of offering funds for the elevated lanes along Loop 610 if it meant jumping into a lengthy, bitter debate surrounding light rail in the area. So at TxDOT’s request, Metro sought to clarify whether an agreement with the state agency, which specified the bus project “will not support a rail component,” put Metro in conflict with its 2003 referendum. To be clear, Metro would be operating the buses, not funding the construction of the actual lanes. The project pulls heavily on Uptown tax increment reinvestment zone funds and some U.S. Department of Transportation grant money.

The agency told the Attorney General’s office it no longer needed an opinion when TxDOT said its concerns had been eased and the agreement was not necessary. That was in part because federal lawmakers approved a fiscal 2015 spending plan, including language inserted by Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, that forbid any federal money from going to rail projects along Post Oak north of Richmond, and Richmond west of Shepherd.

[…]

In the lawsuit, Taylor said that voters have consented only to light rail along the corridor and that any work specific to bus rapid transit should wait until the Texas Attorney General’s office issues a response to Nichols’ request. Taylor is representing the Cosmopolitan Condominium Association, which sits along Post Oak, and Jim Scarborough, a vocal opponent of the project and property owner in the area.

Scarborough has led opponents, largely business owners, who say the bus plan will disrupt the flow of traffic on Post Oak and discourage drivers from wanting to traverse the bustling corridor. At town hall meetings and news conferences, they’ve also said that the plan is a real estate deal disguised as a transit project that benefits some Uptown board members whose companies are in the right of way. Some of those companies will receive payments for their land from the TIRZ in order to widen Post Oak.

Taylor dismissed any notion that the lawsuit amounted to a last-ditch effort to thwart the project rather than a substantive suit.

“Metro should immediately announce its abandonment of the project, admit that it violates Metro’s contract with the voters, and, should it desire to pursue light rail, then, in accordance with its recent agreement with Congressman John Culberson, go back to the electorate with a new referendum on whether light rail should be approved on Post Oak Boulevard,” Taylor said in the lawsuit.

A “last-ditch effort to thwart the project rather than a substantive suit” is pretty much how I’d describe it. There’s nobody involved with that lawsuit that actually wants a light rail line to be built, they just want to force Metro into a no-win position. I am hopeful that a judge will give this litigation the lack of respect it deserves.

(*) Case in point. Those were dark, dark days.

Posted in: Legal matters, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Abbott signs pollution enhancement bill

Still sucks to be us, Harris County.

San Jacinto River waste pits

Gov. Greg Abbott has signed legislation that could make it tougher for local governments to sue big-time polluters – an effort that largely targets Harris County prosecutors.

House Bill 1794, set to become law on Sept. 1, will set a five-year statute of limitations and cap payouts at about $2 million when counties sue companies that have fouled their water or air. It’s another win for a wide range of business groups in a rough legislative session for environmental advocates.

Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, and Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, pushed the bill through both the House and Senate, drawing little debate.

Proponents say that curbing the civil penalties assessed on top of those state regulators issue would bolster economic certainty for companies and allow them to focus resources on cleaning up their messes.

“If someone is remediating the violations they have, I don’t believe they should be assessed these additional penalties,” Geren said in an interview last month. “I don’t believe it’s a setback for environmentalists at all because we didn’t take away any authority from the [Texas Commission on Environmental Quality].”

Environmentalists beg to differ. With other critics, they say state environmental regulators don’t do enough to hold polluters accountable, and that limiting local suits would encourage more pollution that jeopardizes public health.

“It is a terrible bill, and it is designed to protect polluters,” Terry O’Rourke, special counsel with the Harris County attorney’s office, told The Texas Tribune last month. “That’s all it is: It is a polluter protection bill.”

See here and here for the background. You know how I feel about this, and I can’t say it any better than Terry O’Rourke just did. So here’s a little blast from the past to bring it on home:

The more things change, y’all…

Posted in: That's our Lege.

How will campuses handle campus carry?

Good question.

When it comes to guns on campus, University of Texas System Chancellor William McRaven is in a bit of an awkward position.

A month ago, the former Navy admiral was one of the most vocal opponents of legislation allowing people to carry guns into university buildings. Now, the campus carry bill has become law, and McRaven must help determine exactly where guns will be allowed at the nine universities he oversees.

But he can’t simply ban guns altogether. Instead, he’ll walk a fine line between his views on safety and his job upholding the spirit of a law passed by a Legislature with strong views on gun rights. And he’ll try to do it with passionate advocates on both sides closely watching.

Similar scenarios will play out at schools across the state. Now that Gov. Greg Abbott has signed Senate Bill 11 into law, each four-year state school has 14 months to come up with its own policy on where concealed handguns may be carried by students or others with a state license. The new law provides few specifics on where those guns can or cannot be banned, leaving the process open to passionate debate.

“We are going to figure out how to make sure we do everything we can to protect the faculty and the students and the visitors and not impact academic freedom in any way,” McRaven said in an interview soon after SB 11 passed. “We are going to do everything we can to make sure we’re meeting the full intent of this bill.”

[…]

For the most part, the schools have offered few hints about how they will interpret the law. A few university presidents have sent out campus-wide emails saying they will consult students, faculty and staff before any decisions are made. Most discussions won’t start until fall, when more people are on campus.

“We are already aware that this is going to be one of the biggest issues that we are going to have next year,” said Adam Alattry, student body president at the University of North Texas for the 2015-16 year.

Alattry was opposed to campus carry, joining 12 other student body presidents in writing a letter to Abbott asking him not to sign the bill. But he acknowledged that some groups on his campus strongly favor campus carry. Reaching a compromise acceptable to everyone will be difficult, he said.

Chuck Hemptsead, executive director of the Texas Association of College Teachers, agreed. He said that an “overwhelming majority” of his members are opposed to allowing guns in classrooms.

“I think it will be an emotional thing,” he said.

Imposing too many restrictions would risk pushback from pro-gun groups and lawmakers, and legislators might be tempted to repeal the campuses’ autonomy in 2017 if that happens. And gun rights activists say they’ll be closely watching to make sure the schools don’t go too far.

“We know that is a possibility and we are prepared to take the necessary measures to protect students, faculty and staff,” said Michael Newbern, communications director for Students for Concealed Carry.

See here and here for some background. My guess is that private schools, with the possible exception of some smaller religious schools, will maintain their current no-guns-on-campus rules, as they are allowed to do under this law. Public schools like UT will have to walk a very fine line, with a lot of people watching them closely and a lot of very strong feelings involved. The law is fairly vague on how they can restrict guns, which gives them some leeway but will also invite a lot of scrutiny and criticism if they are perceived as going “too far”. Which, for some people, is any restrictions at all. There is no way to make everyone happy – hell, there’s probably no way to make most people anything less than disgruntled – and anything less than an “all guns all the time anywhere” policy will ensure that at least the fanatics will be back to push for complete victory in 2017. I don’t envy Chancellor McRaven or anyone else their task.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

New litigation against ReBuild Houston

To be expected at this point.

A class action lawsuit has been filed against the city, seeking to reimburse residents who pay the drainage fee that helps fund ReBuild Houston, the multibillion-dollar streets and drainage improvement program that voters narrowly approved in 2010.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of a Texas Supreme Court ruling issued Friday that found that the ReBuild ballot measure failed to disclose the cost of the drainage fee to the public. The case has been sent back to trial court, where plaintiffs expect a swift victory and legal experts said it’s likely a judge will honor the Supreme Court ruling.

Andy Taylor, attorney for the plaintiffs in that case, is also behind Wednesday’s class action suit. The named plaintiff, or class representative, is resident Elizabeth Perez, one of the plaintiffs in the original ReBuild suit.

In order for the class action suit to move forward, a judge must agree that there is a group of similarly disadvantaged people, constituting a “class.” Taylor is attempting to include all residents who receive a water bill to which the drainage fee is tacked on every month. His argument hinges on the idea that property owners were “under duress” when they paid the drainage fee because they could have their water shut off if they failed to do so.

See here for the background. Is there a form I can fill out to attest that I’d sooner have an arm gnawed off by wombats than consent to be legally represented by Andy Taylor? Because while I have no doubt that there are many homeowners who would like to get a refund on their drainage fees, there are plenty – like me and the commenter on this Chronicle story – who are happy to have paid a few extra bucks each month to help fund infrastructure improvements, however imperfectly they were done. If Andy Taylor tries to claim that all homeowners were coerced into paying the fee, then he deserves to lose, because he sure as hell doesn’t speak for me.

A later version of the story suggests Taylor’s actions are indeed odd.

In order for the class-action suit to move forward, a judge must agree that there is a group of similarly disadvantaged people, constituting a “class.” Taylor is attempting to include all residents who receive a water bill, to which the drainage fee is tacked on every month. His argument hinges on the idea that property owners were “under duress” when they paid drainage fees because they could have their water shut off if they failed to do so.

City Attorney Donna Edmundson called the class action lawsuit “very premature” because the trial court case over the legality of the ReBuild ballot measure hasn’t been resolved. Without establishing that the fee is illegal, Taylor’s class action suit would be moot.

“This presupposes we’ve lost,” Edmundson said. “We haven’t lost on remand yet. We still get our day in court. The charter amendment has not been struck.”

Stanford law professor Deborah Hensler said Taylor’s case is ambitious because he is not only seeking to halt the fee, but also to reimburse residents going back five years. The sheer logistics involved in repaying residents and the financial hardship to the city could factor into a judge’s decision even if the legal case is sound, Hensler said.

“Most judges are sensitive to the size of the damages,” Hensler said.

Well, no one has ever said Andy Taylor doesn’t reach for the stars. He seldom gets there, but he does reach. We’ll see what a judge makes of it.

On a related note, I went and checked the Facebook pages and Twitter feeds of each of the five candidates for Mayor who had not made a statement about the Supreme Court ruling as of my previous post. Here’s Sylvester Turner’s statement, posted on June 15 at 11:44 AM. The other four – Chris Bell, Adrian Garcia, Marty McVey, and most puzzling to me Steve Costello still had nothing to say on the subject as of last night. I will ask again: What are you waiting for?

Posted in: Legal matters.

I got those reverse commuting blues

The Woodlands is growing as en employment center, which means it is also seeing a lot more traffic in what used to be the reverse commute direction.

There is no longer a simple drive to this onetime bedroom community, which has turned into an economic powerhouse and upended the flow of traffic in the process. These days, it can be nasty in both directions during rush hour, with just as many people driving to The Woodlands for work as residents leaving for jobs in the nation’s fourth-largest city.

The movement is unique in the eight-county Houston region, where commuters mostly have followed the same paths from the suburbs into the city for decades. The rapidly growing ranks of reverse commuters have created new challenges for those responsible for keeping the area out of gridlock.

“I-45 North is congested in both directions every morning and afternoon,” said Thomas Gray, chief transportation planner for the Houston-Galveston Area Council. “It’s because there are so many jobs in The Woodlands now, and people can’t or don’t want to move for them.”

[…]

Houston Transtar data shows the 21-mile stretch from the northern edge of The Woodlands to Beltway 8 takes about 34 minutes on average at 6 p.m. – up from 21 minutes just four years ago.

That’s in part because of road construction south of The Woodlands. But it’s also because there are more vehicles using I-45 than it was designed to handle.

For example, the stretch between Rayford Road and Woodlands Parkway is carrying 253,000 cars a day, which is 18 percent over capacity, officials said. The Texas Department of Transportation expects some 390,000 vehicles a day to be passing through that stretch by 2030.

Some people also worry about increased traffic within The Woodlands, with several high-rises sprouting in the town’s center, giving it a look that’s similar to Houston’s Galleria, a place where traffic routinely backs up throughout the day.

“There’s just so much volume that congestion starts early,” said Gavin Dillinghman, a scientist who commutes some 40 miles from west Houston to the Houston Advanced Research Center in The Woodlands. “You’re not beating anyone by leaving at 6 a.m. anymore. We just leave earlier and earlier, and it’s worse and worse every day.”

One problem is a lack of options for those with the reverse commute, which has existed for decades in major metropolitan areas like Los Angeles and Washington that are ringed by mini-cities.

For Houstonians with jobs in The Woodlands, though, there are no buses going their way, no park-and-ride lots and no high occupancy vehicle, or HOV,lanes for relief. The only alternative is the Hardy Toll Road, which can cut down on drive times but does nothing to reduce the number of cars making the daily trip to and from the suburb.

That could change. The Woodlands is considering introducing bus service for reverse commuters. The township already provides express bus service for residents working downtown and at the Medical Center and Greenway Plaza.

“We’re looking at it very closely,” said Chris LaRue, transit program manager for The Woodlands. “The questions are, what’s going to make it viable and how soon should we do it?”

Three things:

1. Most of this is happening north of Beltway 8, where I-45 is six lanes wide – this is the portion of the freeway that has been improved by TxDOT already. There’s also three lanes’ worth of the Hardy Toll Road that can get you to the Woodlands. It’s not a lack of road capacity that’s a problem here, is what I’m saying. When TxDOT does whatever it’s going to do to I-45 between the Beltway and downtown, it will only get worse, just as I-10 inside the Loop got congested after it was widened out west.

2. It’s good to hear that the Woodlands is considering bus service from Houston into their township. There’s clearly a need for it. I would hope that they work with Metro on this, mostly to ensure there aren’t any egregious gaps where there should be overlaps. Ideally, they will work to integrate the two to extend the reach of their own service, and possibly save themselves some money on facilities. I’m thinking they should aim to have at least a few stations for their service at Metro transit centers, and provide a subsidy for for their riders to take a Metro bus or rail line to get there.

3. Ultimately, the only real solution here is going to be to get fewer cars to use the road. As we should surely have learned by now, adding highway capacity doesn’t solve highway traffic problems, and does a lot to exacerbate traffic problems on surface streets. More transit, more carpooling, more people living close enough to work to be able to walk or bike – all these things need to be in the mix. The idea that Something Must Be Done to enable you as a single-occupancy-vehicle-driver to get to work faster needs to be put to rest, because at some point that just ain’t gonna be possible any more. The sooner we all accept that, the better off we’ll all be.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Keffer to retire

The original Straus gang shrinks again.

Rep. Jim Keffer

State Rep. Jim Keffer, an Eastland Republican who was one of the earliest supporters of House Speaker Joe Straus, has decided not to seek reelection next year, according to a statement he prepared for the Hood County News that was widely posted on social media Tuesday evening.

Sources familiar with his plans confirmed the news; Keffer could not immediately be reached for comment.

First elected in 1996, Keffer is finishing his tenth term in the Texas House. He chairs the Natural Resources Committee and previously led the committees on Energy Resources, Ways & Means, Property Tax Relief and Economic Development.

His departure leaves only three members of the original Polo Road Gang — the eleven Republicans who met privately at state Rep. Byron Cook’s house on Polo Road in Austin before the 2009 legislative session to decide who they would unite behind in the race for speaker of the House. The 2008 elections left the House split almost evenly between Republicans and Democrats, destabilizing then-Speaker Tom Craddick’s coalition and setting the stage for a change in leadership. The eleven Republicans chose Straus, picked up some other Republicans and a majority of Democrats, and elected him that January.

Now, only Straus, Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, and Cook remain in office.

Keffer’s HD60 is ridiculously red (Romney 83.0% in 2012), so it’s all a matter of who survives the primary next year. Keffer is as conservative as anyone, but as a Straus backer and someone who’s more interested in governing than in burning crap down, he’s been a wingnut target for awhile and his seat will be high on their list. So, you know, same as it ever was. I wish Rep. Keffer the best in the next phase of his life, and I will hope that his successor isn’t a typical zombie robot idiot. It is what it is. PDiddie and Greg have more.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Texas blog roundup for the week of June 15

The Texas Progressive Alliance is binged out on the Women’s World Cup as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Lots of people will lose insurance if SCOTUS takes it away from them

Just a reminder.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

With a U.S. Supreme Court decision looming this month on a point of law that could dismantle the Affordable Care Act, a series of new reports offer a grim glimpse at the toll on Texas should the court decide against the Obama administration.

An estimated 1 million in Texas could lose their health insurance if the high court strikes down a provision in the Affordable Care Act that allows people to get tax subsidies that make their premiums more affordable through the federal insurance exchange, according to a study commissioned by the Texas Association of Community Health Centers and the Texas Academy of Family Physicians.

Those people could soon rejoin the millions in Texas who are already without health care coverage. Texas leads the nation in the number of uninsured with a rate of about 17 percent. Before the implementation of the health care law, the rate was 24.6 percent.

The pain is especially acute in Texas, the report says, because state leaders chose not to expand Medicaid, which left another 1.5 million people who were eligible without coverage.

“This is unconscionable. … What do you tell the million people in Texas who about to lose their coverage? That they didn’t deserve it in the first place?” said Ken Jandra, president and CEO of Community Health Choice, a HMO with 300,000 members is Houston.

[…]

In Texas, 85 percent of those insured through the federal marketplace receive an average tax credit of $247 a month. Without the subsidy, premiums could climb 305 percent, according to a study released last week by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The most recent figure I saw for Texas was 1.2 million enrollments on the exchange; eighty-five percent of that – the share of folks who have subsidized coverage – yields the one million at risk number. The number of uninsured Texans dropped by eight percentage points this year versus what it was pre-Obamacare. We’re still at twice the national rate because our shortsighted and pound-foolish Republican leadership stubbornly refuses to expand Medicaid, but it’s still big progress. Which can be taken away by the whim of five Supreme Court justices, if they decide to do that. Anyone who thinks either Congress or those same state Republicans will do anything to fix this in that event probably thinks swimming in the bayou during a heavy rain is a good idea. For now at least, all we can do is hope for the best. Kevin Drum, Daily Kos, Better Texas Blog, and KUHF has more.

Posted in: Legal matters.