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Hegar officially resigns his Senate seat

As expected.

Glenn Hegar

State Sen. Glenn Hegar, the Katy Republican who will become state comptroller in January, notified Gov. Rick Perry on Friday that he will resign his Senate Seat as of Dec. 5, paving the way for the governor to call a special election.

Hegar won 58.4 percent of the vote on Election Day to succeed Comptroller Susan Combs. He was widely expected to resign from his seat early to allow for a special election to take place sooner, allowing his replacement to join the Legislature during next year’s legislative session. If not for his move to comptroller, Hegar’s Senate term would have lasted until 2016.

“I am extremely honored, humbled, and grateful to the citizens of Texas who have elected me as their next comptroller, and I look forward to serving the taxpayers of this great state,” Hegar wrote. “I extend my deep and profound gratitude to the constituents of Senate District 18 for allowing me to be their voice in the Texas Senate for the last 8 years.”

The possibility of a special election to replace Hegar has been the subject of speculation for more than a year, when it became clear Hegar planned to run for comptroller. That strategizing among those interested in replacing him intensified in March, when he won the Republican primary and became the immediate front-runner in the general election.

See here for the background. To no one’s surprise, Rick Perry has already called a special election to fill Hegar’s seat for December 6, since it just won’t do to leave a Republican seat open any longer than necessary. Did Perry also schedule a special election to replace Mike Villarreal in HD123? Don’t be silly. He’ll get to that when he’s good and ready.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Even Rick Perry appointees back Medicaid expansion

It’s just the right thing to do.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

A board of medical professionals appointed by Gov. Rick Perry said Wednesday that the state should provide health coverage to low-income Texans under the Affordable Care Act — a move the Republican-led Legislature has opposed.

The 15-member Texas Institute of Health Care Quality and Efficiency recommended that the state’s health commissioner be authorized to negotiate a Texas-specific agreement with the federal government to expand health coverage to the poor, “using available federal funds.”

“We’re trying to look at actions whereby more Texans can be covered,” said board chair Steve Berkowitz, the president and founder 0f SMB Health Consulting. “We’re trying to take the politics out of it.”

[...]

Members of the Institute of Health Care Quality and Efficiency — which was established by lawmakers in the 2011 legislative session to identify evidence-based approaches to improving health care and cutting costs — said Wednesday that Texas’ rate of uninsured was “unacceptable,” and that state leaders should look for an alternative way to expand health coverage. The board’s recommendations are not binding and any such decision is up to the Legislature.

“We should be maximizing available federal funds through the Medicaid program to improve health care for all Texans,” said Joel Allison, a board member who is chief executive of the Baylor Scott & White Health System.

I don’t remember anything about the legislation that created the Institute of Health Care Quality and Efficiency and I don’t have anything in my archives about them, but seeing this was a pleasant surprise. If only the 2015 Legislature will listen to them.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Paper ballots make a comeback

From the Everything Old Is New Again department:

States have abandoned electronic voting machines in droves, ensuring that most voters will be casting their ballots by hand on Election Day.

With many electronic voting machines more than a decade old, and states lacking the funding to repair or replace them, officials have opted to return to the pencil-and-paper voting that the new technology was supposed to replace.

Nearly 70 percent of voters will be casting ballots by hand on Tuesday, according to Pamela Smith, president of election watchdog Verified Voting.
“Paper, even though it sounds kind of old school, it actually has properties that serve the elections really well,” Smith said.

It’s an outcome few would have predicted after the 2000 election, when the battle over “hanging chads” in the Florida recount spurred a massive, $3 billion federal investment in electronic voting machines.

States at the time ditched punch cards and levers in favor of touch screens and ballot-scanners, with the perennial battleground state of Ohio spending $115 million alone on upgrades.

Smith said the mid-2000s might go down as the “heyday” of electronic voting.

Since then, states have failed to maintain the machines, partly due to budget shortfalls.

“There is simply no money to replace them,” said Michael Shamos, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University who has examined computerized voting systems in six states.

The lack of spending on the machines is a major problem because the electronic equipment wears out quickly. Smith recalled sitting in a meeting with Missouri election officials in 2012, where they complained 25 percent of their equipment had malfunctioned in preelection testing.

“You’re dealing with voting machines that are more than a decade old,” Smith said.

Roughly half of the states that significantly adopted electronic voting following the cash influx have started to move toward paper.

[...]

Shamos said he expects the move back to paper ballots to continue, unless there’s a high-profile crisis similar to the 2000 election.

Still, he predicted the drumbeat for Internet and mobile voting will grow.

“Eventually [a generation is] going to have the thought that it’s idiotic for me not to be able to vote using my cell phone,” Shamos said.

Then all bets are off.

No doubt. I can think of plenty of reasons for this, beyond the lack of money for new machines. There are the well-known security issues and accompanying mistrust of electronic voting machines, mostly coming from my side of the aisle. Some local officials are working on that, but the money issue is likely to be a formidable hurdle. Beyond that, there is the success that some states have had with voting by mail, plus the success we saw here in Texas in pushing absentee ballots. They’re convenient, they allow one to take one’s time, and they don’t require a photo ID. I have to wonder what the politics of expanding access to mail ballots would look like in the Lege this year, especially if a Democrat filed a bill to enable it. Might be worth watching.

Mail ballots aren’t perfect – people who move frequently or who aren’t particularly fastidious about keeping track of their incoming mail may find them inconvenient – and it’s hard to see this as a step forward, even if it might help boost turnout. I think Professor Shamos is exactly right about how future generations will view a return to paper ballots. But until the killer voting app gets developed, this may be our best bet. Link via Ed Kilgore.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Friday random ten: Catch some Zs

Who knew I had ten artists in my collection with Z names?

1. Mellowmas 2010 – Zach Curd
2. Goodbye Girld – Zapruder Point
3. Dream Machine – Zen Archer
4. Too Much – Zendaya
5. Dragonfly – Ziggy Marley
6. If It’s Love – zOE’S iMAGINARY fRIED
7. Seekir – Zola Jesus
8. She’s Not There – The Zombies
9. A Summer Thing – Zoot Sims
10. Tush – ZZ Top

If you don’t know who Zendaya is, you probably don’t have school-age kids. One more list next week in this theme, then it’s time to figure out a new theme.

Posted in: Music.

Uber to be available at Houston airports now

This was part of the original vehicle for hire ordinance overhaul, to be implemented later. “Later” has now arrived.

Uber

Uber and other app-based ride service companies won coveted access to Houston’s airports Wednesday when the City Council quietly passed new regulations, a move likely to increase competition in a market that has long been a stronghold for traditional taxi drivers.

[...]

Mayor Annise Parker attributed the relative quiet to the fact that the months-long debate about ride share companies offered closure on most issues, and the airport regulations came as no surprise.

“We did the heavy lifting when we passed the overall TNC (transportation networking company) regulations,” Parker said.

“If you just walk into an airport and you walk out the front we expect you to get into a taxi,” Parker said. “But if you have an existing relationship with a TNC, whether it’s Uber or Lyft or some other TNC, and you’ve programmed a ride, we want you to be able to get off the plane and get your app and have that vehicle dispatched appropriately. We think we have come up with a good solution.”

That solution is similar to rules established in San Francisco and Nashville, the only other U.S. cities to formally regulate companies like Uber at their airports. Chicago has rules that allow only UberTaxi, a service that connects riders to professional taxi drivers, at its two major airports.

Houston’s rules require the app-based companies to get airport-specific permits and pay the same fees for rides originating from airports that individual taxi drivers pay – $2.75 at Bush Intercontinental and $1.25 at Hobby per departing ride. Before drivers are allowed to register and operate at the airport, the companies would need to be permitted by the city.

There are some other technical aspects to this, but as noted it all passed without a fuss. We tend to either park at the airport or arrange our own rides, so I doubt my family and I would use this much. I did take a cab home from IAH a litte while ago returning from a business trip, so I would be curious to know how the fares would compare. Are you likely to use Uber to or from the airport? Leave a comment and let us know. Hair Balls has more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Art Murillo

Congratulations to Art Murillo, the first person of color elected to the Lone Star College Board of Trustees. Need I mention that it took a lawsuit for this to happen?

Art Murillo

Murillo, who is Latino, at one time might have seemed a long shot to win a seat on the Lone Star College board of trustees. But he was running in a newly drawn majority-Latino district, the result of a lawsuit that challenged the LSC’s “at-large” system of representation. On Tuesday, Murillo was elected the only Latino member of the nine-member board.

[...]

Lone Star College officials created the new district after a lawsuit alleged that the old election system – where all voters in the community college district could vote for each candidate – disenfranchised minorities because whites across the district would reject minority candidates.

The district currently has about 83,000 students enrolled in college credit courses.

Starting this year, that system is gone, and the college system isn’t alone in tackling the voting rights issue.

“As to the suburban areas, because of the white flight that this country experienced for half a century, those districts have been exceedingly Anglo for so long that at-large districts didn’t really commit a great deal of harm on minority citizens,” said Chad Dunn, who represented the group that sued Lone Star last year and specializes in litigation involving such systems.

“What is uniquely going on now, and about the last decade as the city center has redeveloped, the suburbs are becoming much more mixed-race,” Dunn said.

Latinos make up about 32 percent of people living in the Lone Star College district, which spans north Harris and Montgomery counties, according to the most recent census figures. African-Americans make up 15 percent.

Advocates argue that the new single-member districts that have a majority of minority voters will ensure they have a voice in college affairs.

“There’s not a lot of Hispanic leadership at all,” Murillo told another resident as they discussed Hispanic participation in local elections.

Two points to note here. One is that no matter what the Supreme Court may think there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that minority communities have something resembling a proportionate amount of representation in government. Single member districts, for city councils and school boards and the like, are often the best, or at least the fastest, way to make this happen. It’s not a panacea, and some problems could be alleviated by higher rates of voter participation, but you can run into a chicken-and-egg problem there. It’s hard to convince someone to run for an office they don’t see a way to win. The plaintiffs in the LSC single-member litigation couldn’t do a proper comparison of how white and non-white candidates did in these elections in the past because there weren’t any non-white candidates running.

The other point is that those of us that would like to see more diverse representation in elected offices need to pay more attention to local races like this one. Your future legislators and Congressfolk and whatnot often get their start in places like the Lone Star College Board of Trustees; Harris County Clerk Chris Daniel is one example. The potential to change outcomes by increasing voter participation is great as well. Frankly, if Battleground Texas wants to regain some ground, and some credibility, between now and 2016 I’d strongly advise them to look around at the various municipal and school board elections that will happen in 2015, identify some targets and some candidates, and work to get them elected. Doing so would help keep the kind of voters they want to target engaged, it would help put some future candidates for other offices in place to start doing good and building a record, and it give them a chance to apply whatever lessons they learned from this election while maybe claiming a victory or three to build on for 2016. Honestly, the conservative movement figured this out thirty or forty year ago. Isn’t it time we catch up a bit?

Posted in: Election 2014.

Lawsuit filed over Pasadena Council districts

Good.

Pasadena City Council

For 41 years, Alberto Patiño has lived in Pasadena and seen a lot of changes there.

Now Hispanics like him make up more than 60 percent of residents and about 40 percent of eligible voters.

Patiño wants that reflected on city council.

“I feel that we should have more representation on City Council that we don’t have and I don’t think it’s fair.”

Patiño is one of five plaintiffs in a new federal lawsuit against Pasadena and its voting districts.

The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund is representing the plaintiffs.

Attorney Nina Perales says Pasadena changed its voting districts just as Hispanics were about to elect a majority of the city council members.

She says those changes are unconstitutional and discriminate against Hispanics.

“But it is also part of the fall-out from the Supreme Court decision last year in 2013, lifting federal supervision of voting and elections from Texas and its sub-jurisdictions,” Perales says.

[...]

The lawsuit claims that change dilutes the electoral power of all Hispanics in Pasadena. They’re asking the federal court to restore the previous voting system.

See here for the last update and links to previous updates. I don’t know what the plaintiffs’ odds of success are, but I do know this is another example of why Texas needs to be put back under preclearance. Unless there is a mechanism in place to halt this kind of crap before it can do any harm, it will happen over and over. The past history and current actions of the powers that be in Texas make that clear.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Bringing the high speed rail line downtown

Building that high speed rail line from Dallas to Houston is one thing. Bringing it to a centrally-located terminal is another.

Plans for a high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas are moving relatively quickly beyond a recent initial round of public meetings. Questions about the route are dominating discussions.

Though still years away – a 2021 launch is predicted under the best of circumstances — backers of the privately funded train are making the rounds to drum up support. Thursday, they met with the Houston City Council’s transportation and infrastructure committee.

Based on preliminary maps, one of the two likely routes for the train within the Sam Houston Tollway has residents on edge. The option follows property near an electrical transmission line, then parallels U.S. 290 before hugging the Union Pacific Railroad line along Washington Avenue.

What has residents, and by extension their council members, worried is what the elevated tracks — one for each direction of travel — would do to nearby properties. Residents are concerned about whether buildings will be bulldozed to make way for the train.

“I do not see how that is accommodated in the existing right of way,” said Tom Dornbusch, president of the Super Neighborhood 22 Council.

Dornbusch and others have grave concerns about what the train would do to the Washington Avenue corridor, which has seen rapid residential and commercial growth over the past decade.

Northwest of Washington Avenue, council member Brenda Stardig said, the high-speed line could have far-reaching effects on the rural landscape along U.S. 290.

Former Harris County Judge Robert Eckels, president of Texas Central High-Speed Railway, said backers are conscious of the worries. Previous high-speed rail plans have been doomed by opposition, something Eckels said the current team is trying to avoid.

Eckels stopped short of making any assurances, saying the company would have to balance many factors in finding the best route. He acknowledged that any route within Loop 610 would prove complicated and costly.

See here and here for the background. No question that downtown is the right place for the Houston terminal, but getting the train those last few miles into downtown is no easy task. We’ve discussed this in the context of commuter rail, and the issues here are the same but bigger since the trains in question would (presumably still) be moving a lot faster. That existing track along Washington Avenue crosses major thoroughfares such as Shepherd and Heights at grade, which would have to remediated given the obvious safety risk. I don’t know what the best answer is, but I’m fairly certain that there is no answer that doesn’t upset someone.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Ben Hall 2.0

Oh, hell no.

Ben Hall

Ben Hall

Ben Hall, the lawyer who lost to Mayor Annise Parker in 2013, will run for mayor again in 2015, he told the Chronicle on Wednesday.

Hall will announce his candidacy in a radio advertisement that will begin airing this week, a year before the November 2015 election. While candidates are not allowed to collect money from donors until Feb. 1 for city races, they can spend it, and Hall has self-funded his new campaign’s initial advertising.

“Hello, this is Ben Hall and yes, I’m running for the mayor of the City of Houston again,” the 60-second radio spot begins. “I’m asking for your prayers, your support and your vote,” it concludes.

Hall, who took the first step in running by designating a campaign treasurer, joins a field that is expected to draw around a dozen candidates.

[...]

Hall, who also considered running in 2011, said it was important to announce his candidacy well in advance to “change the subjects we are discussing.”

“People need to have hope that this city is about more than simply subpoenaing sermons and those kind of petty issues,” said Hall, referring to Parker’s now-withdrawn subpoenas of five area pastors as part of the city’s defense of a lawsuit over its equal rights ordinance. “I’m going to make a pretty good application for the vote of the people.”

I’m so sure. It would be difficult to be a worse candidate than he was in 2013, but by God he’s gonna try.

UPDATE: Texpatriate has more.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Expand Medicaid or else

Turns out the federal government has more leverage over Texas than you might think.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

If Texas wants to keep receiving billions of federal dollars to help hospitals care for uninsured patients, state lawmakers may have to look again at expanding Medicaid coverage for impoverished adults, some political observers say.

That’s because in 2016, Texas will have to ask the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to renew a five-year waiver to pump $29 billion into state health care coffers.

Since landing its first such waiver in 2011, Texas leaders have defiantly refused to expand Medicaid as envisioned under the Affordable Care Act, leaving more than 1 million impoverished Texans with no health insurance.

With the waiver renewal nigh, observers said, there’s some expectation that the federal agency will hold the waiver approval hostage in exchange for Medicaid expansion.

“CMS is going to hold that over Texas’ head to say, ‘You want this money? You do the expansion,’” said Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors. “It’s one of the points of leverage that CMS now has.”

Texas received the 2011 Medicaid waiver in part to reimburse hospitals for care provided to patients who couldn’t pay. Two years later, state leaders under Gov. Rick Perry declined to expand Medicaid, criticizing the program as inefficient.

That left a “coverage gap” of more than 1 million Texans too poor to receive federal subsidies for private health insurance but too rich to qualify for coverage under Texas’ current, restrictive Medicaid requirements.

Now, policy analysts on the left and right say, the feds are likely to be less sympathetic to Texas’ request for another waiver to help pay for uncompensated care.

A similar tug-of-war is playing out in Florida, said Joan Alker, executive director at the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University. In May, the federal government renewed Florida’s waiver to reimburse hospitals for just one year, rather than the standard three, “which was very unusual,” Alker said.

[...]

State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, one of the lawmakers who advocated for the “Texas solution,” said the Legislature would revisit coverage expansion during the session.

“It still behooves us as a Legislature to figure out, what’s the policy going to be around these people?” he said. “I’ll be the first to say that finding a solution for these million and a half people is important.”

And the transformational waiver from 2011 is already a source of some conflict with the federal government. CMS is currently withholding $75 million in waiver money that Texas used to reimburse private hospitals while federal officials review whether any rules were broken.

Tiffany Hogue, policy director for the Texas Organizing Project, which has worked to get Texans to sign up for health coverage on the exchange, said Medicaid expansion would be a top priority for her group during the legislative session.

“It’s absolutely going to be a battle cry for us,” she said. “The sheer number of uninsured — that’s daunting.”

Still, Alker said she was skeptical that Texas would expand Medicaid anytime soon.

“I remind myself when the Children’s Health Insurance Program was passed in 1997, Texas was the last state in the country to pick up the program,” she said. “That may be instructive moving forward.”

It’s always a safe bet to assume that the Legislature will fail to do the right thing when given the chance. I for one will be rooting for the feds to apply the screws as hard as they can in pursuit of a Medicaid expansion deal that would do untold amounts of good for more than a million people, not to mention be a nice bit of stimulus for the Texas economy. Making Ted Cruz’s head explode would be the cherry on top. Against that, when the Republicans from Greg Abbott on down (with the honorable exceptions of Zerwas et al) dig their heels in, perhaps this will finally be the impetus to get the Texas Medical Association to quit trying to placate the bullies and start working to actually further their own and their patients’ best interests.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Reynolds’ convictions overturned

My head is spinning.

Rep. Ron Reynolds

State Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, will be back in a Montgomery County courtroom a week before the 2015 legislative session gets underway. The legislator, who just won his third term in office, is facing a new trial related to allegations of “ambulance chasing.”

On Monday, a judge declared a mistrial in the latest case against Reynolds, who was found guilty Friday of six misdemeanor counts of solicitation of professional employment.

Steve Jackson, one of Reynolds’ defense attorneys, said state district Judge Lisa Michalk granted a request for the mistrial because of a “juror experiencing what she said was outside influence that affected her saying ‘guilty.’”

Reynolds, a Houston-area personal injury attorney, was facing 10 felony counts of barratry. He is accused of illegally offering legal services to accident victims within 30 days of their incidents.

Reynolds has denied any wrongdoing, saying that the case against him has been a miscarriage of justice and that the charges were “selective prosecution by a very conservative delegation” in Montgomery County. “The only thing they wanted was me to do was resign my seat,” Reynolds said Monday in an interview.

Kelly Blackburn, the assistant Montgomery County district attorney trying Reynolds’ case, confirmed the mistrial and said that a new trial had been set for Jan. 5. He said the judge declared a mistrial based on a juror stating that the verdict was influenced by fellow jurors talking about “outside information” during deliberations. “All other 11 jurors denied this and stated that they reached their verdict based on the evidence that was submitted during the trial,” Blackburn said.

He said that his team is working to determine if it can legally retry Reynolds on felony barratry charges.

See here for the background. The Chron fills in some details.

Michalk declared a mistrial after the jury’s only African-American member, identified only as juror No. 2, told a bailiff that before the verdict was reached, another juror told her about plea deals accepted by five other Houston-area attorneys arrested in the same sting operation.

Juror No. 2 told Michalk that this information had influenced her decision, but she was unable to identify the juror who told her about the pleas.

Some of the 11 remaining jurors said they, too, had heard the remark about the plea deals, but not until after the verdict was rendered and before testimony was heard in the punishment phase. Reynolds faced a maximum penalty of a year in prison and a $4,000 fine for his misdemeanor convictions.

[...]

Prosecutors contend the mistrial may open Reynolds to a possible felony conviction on the barratry charge again.

“We will all be researching it,” said Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Phil Grant.

Kelly Blackburn, the lead prosecutor, called the mistrial an “unfortunate incident,” stressing that it had “nothing to do with the actual facts in the case.”

Geoff Corn, a law professor at the South Texas College of Law, said it was unusual to declare a mistrial after a verdict was reached.

Since a jury found Reynolds guilty of the misdemeanor, the jury had found that he was not guilty of felony barratry, Corn said.

“The prosecution had their chance,” he said, but didn’t meet the burden of proof required to convict.

“It’s going to be an interesting battle,” he said. “One of the things that most lawyers will tell you about double jeopardy is it’s so convoluted, you never know for sure.”

Years of watching Law & Order has not adequately prepared me for this. I wonder if there’s any precedent for the double jeopardy question. In any event, even if Rep. Reynolds avoids a redo on the felony charges, he’s still got more trouble than just the misdemeanors.

The State Bar of Texas’ civil case against Reynolds, alleging professional misconduct in connection to the barratry scheme, is set for trial to start on Dec. 15. A ruling against him could lead to his disbarment.

My suggestion to Rep. Reynolds stands. Good luck, but get your house in order.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Texas blog roundup for the week of November 10

The Texas Progressive Alliance believes that it’s not whether you stumble that matters but whether you get up and keep going as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

More on the initial bill filings

From the Trib, a sampling:

As of Monday afternoon, a bill repealing the Texas Dream Act, which allows undocumented immigrant students to pay in-state college tuition rates, had yet to emerge. Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick promised while campaigning that he would work to repeal the act. The bill could part of legislation that is reserved for priorities set by the lieutenant governor.

All bills can be seen on the Texas Legislature site. Here’s a list of other noteworthy legislation filed Monday: 

Guns

State Reps. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, and James White, R-Woodville, filed legislation, House Bill 106 and House Bill 164, respectively, that would allow Texans to openly carry handheld guns. 

House Bill 176, filed by Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt, R-Lexington, would create the “Second Amendment Preservation Act,” which would say a federal law “that infringes on a law-abiding citizen’s right to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution or Section 23, Article I, Texas Constitution, is invalid and not enforceable in this state.” 

Transportation

Senate Joint Resolution 12 and Senate Bill 139, filed by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, would eliminate diversions from the state highway fund to the Department of Public Safety to ensure those funds are only used on road construction. Currently, part of the state highway fund is paying for state highway police. 

Health

Senate Bill 66, filed by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, would require schools to stock EpiPens, and that employees are trained in how to use the medical devices that combat serious allergic reactions.

Senate Bill 96 and Senate Bill 97, also filed by Hinojosa, would introduce regulations of vapor products, or  e-cigarettes, in Texas. SB 96 prohibits the use of vapor products on school property, while SB 97 would apply many of the regulations on cigarettes to vapor products.

House Bill 113, filed by Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Cypress, would make it illegal to perform an abortion based on the sex of the child.

House Bill 116, filed by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, would expand Medicaid eligibility in the state. 

Education

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, filed several higher education related bills. Senate Bill 24 would increase the orientation training for university system regents, while Senate Bill 42 would prevent the governor from appointing a student regent if that person did not submit an application to the university or its student government. Senate Bill 23, also filed by Zaffirini, would make pre-kindergarten available to all 4-year-olds in Texas and make half-day pre-K available to 3-year olds who meet certain at-risk measures.

Senate Bill 150, filed by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, would fund 64 construction and renovation projects at higher education institutions across the state. It would cost $2.86 billion.

House Bill 138, filed by Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, would stop independent school districts from banning schools from posting the Ten Commandments in classrooms. 

Voting

House Bill 76, filed by Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, would allow citizens to register to vote online. 

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, filed three bills in an attempt to increase civic engagement in Texas. Senate Bill 141 would create a voter education program in Texas high schools, Senate Bill 142 would allow deputy registrars to receive their training online, and Senate Bill 143 would notify voters who were rejected while registering of what mistakes they made on their registration forms. 

House Bill 111, filed by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, would create same-day voter registration. 

Energy and Environment

Senate Bill 109, filed by Sen.-elect Van Taylor, R-Plano, establishes new deadlines for processing water rights permits in Texas. In a statement on Monday, Taylor said the bill was aimed at bureaucracy that is preventing parts of North Texas from accessing water.

House Bill 224, filed by Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, would change the name of the Railroad Commission of Texas to the “Texas Energy Resources Commission.” Similar legislation has failed in the past.

Other

House Bill 55, filed by Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, would allow money from the Texas Enterprise Fund to go to veterans hospitals in the state. The Texas Enterprise Fund became embroiled in controversy this past election season, when it was revealed that several recipients of the fund never formally submitted applications.

House Bill 92, filed by Rep. James White, R-Woodville, would change the legal definition of an “illegal knife.” 

House Bill 150, filed by Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, would nix daylight savings time in Texas.

House Bill 161, filed by Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, would allow counties to house prisoners in tents.  

There’s plenty more, some good, some bad, some bat$#!+ crazy, some blatantly unconstitutional, many with no hope of ever getting a committee hearing. As always, I’ll do what I can to keep track of ‘em as we go. The Chron, Stace, Grits, Juanita, Newsdesk, and the Observer have more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

What will The Dew do now?

“Go away” would be my first choice.

So very sad

David Dewhurst is not ready to leave Texas politics.

The outgoing lieutenant governor said Monday he is planning to start a “large public policy venture” and may consider a run for political office in the future.

He offered few details on either front, deferring questions about the policy venture until a formal announcement planned for next month and declining to answer specific questions about his future, but he seemed eager to keep as many options on the table as possible.

Among those he would not rule out: a run for Houston mayor next year.

“I ain’t riding off into the sunset, ever,” said Dewhurst, who keeps a home in Houston, adding, “I’m a real believer in the Lord’s will, and He’s got something else He wants me to do, and so I’m pursuing what I think is good for me and good for the state.”

The comments came in an hour-long interview with the Houston Chronicle that seemed aimed at establishing the 69-year-old’s legacy as lieutenant governor and providing a soft launch for an ambitious future. Dewhurst’s staff arranged the interview and another with KXAN, a television station here.

Your homework is to write down, in however many words it takes, what you think Dewhurst’s legacy as Lite Gov was. I personally think of him as the guy who was most effective when someone else was doing his job, but maybe that’s just me. Let’s just say that my expectations for his “large public policy venture” are small, and that his odds of being elected Mayor are slightly better than mine, mostly because I am definitely not running. If Dewhurst really wants to have a meaningful and productive retirement, my advice would be to volunteer at the Houston Food Bank. Campos and Texpatriate have more.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Searching for a successor to Victor Trevino

Commissioners Court is on it.

Victor Trevino

Harris County commissioners are preparing to accept the resignation of convicted Constable Victor Trevino and to start looking for his replacement.

Trevino, who pleaded guilty last week to a felony charge as a jury was hearing evidence in his public corruption trial, resigned his office. Once commissioners accept his resignation Tuesday, they must select a replacement to serve out the remainder of Trevino’s four-year term.

[...]

“It’s important to find someone who is qualified, and has a history of living and working in the precinct and is community-minded,” said state Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, adding she has told commissioners she favors a Hispanic who is a Democrat.

[...]

“This is the preliminary step to get someone appointed to that position,” said David Ellison, a spokesman for Commissioner El Franco Lee, who moved to place the Trevino-related matters on Tuesday’s agenda. “The commissioner was concerned it didn’t stay vacant for too long and wanted to get someone in there to take over the reins.”

Most of Trevino’s precinct is located within the boundaries of Commissioner Jack Mormon’s district; about one-quarter is in Lee’s. Mormon’s staff confirmed the screening process is underway with 12 to 15 applicants under review.

David Walden, Mormon’s chief of staff, said all candidates are under consideration regardless of race or ethnicity, but added, “It’s obviously a Hispanic district, with an overwhelming majority, so you want someone there who has community support.”

I went back to the 2012 precinct data that I have for Harris County, and it showed that Constable Precinct 6 voted 79.4% for President Obama. Commissioners Court can play games if they want, but I can pretty much guarantee the next elected Constable will be a Democrat. Commissioners Court officially accepted Trevino’s resignation, yesterday, and I’m glad to see that Commissioner Morman said it would be “almost an automatic disqualifier” for someone to express longer-term interest in the job. That’s as I would have it – let the voters make the choice without being influenced by external factors. We’ll know who the Court picks next week.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Legislation to overturn same sex marriage ban filed

Someone’s gotta do it, and you know it won’t be Republicans.

RedEquality

Kriselda Hinojosa recalls how she unintentionally came out to her father in sixth grade.

“He actually saw me kissing my girlfriend at the time,” Hinojosa said. “So he caught me, but he didn’t get upset. He never yelled at me or anything. He was always very open-minded. I’ve never heard him talk bad about the LGBT community.”

Over the years, the now-32-year-old Hinojosa said, her father’s acceptance has evolved into righteous indignation over the fact that his only daughter doesn’t have equal rights. Two years ago, Hinojosa “eloped” to Las Vegas with her girlfriend for a same-sex commitment ceremony. When she returned to Texas, it hit home for her dad that their certificate means nothing in the eyes of the state.

In 2013, Hinojosa’s father, state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen), authored a bill to legalize civil unions in Texas. And on Father’s Day this year, he penned a heartfelt pro-equality letter to his daughter that was published in newspapers statewide.

On Monday, Sen. Hinojosa took his support a step further, introducing a bill to repeal Texas’ constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage on the first day of pre-filing for the 2015 legislative session. Hinojosa’s bill, SB 98, is one of several that were set to be filed Monday that—if all were to pass—would have the combined effect of legalizing same-sex marriage in Texas pending a public vote.

“He says he’s proud of me, but I’m more proud of him,” Kriselda Hinojosa said. “He’s taking a risk, also, because he could actually lose supporters, but it doesn’t seem to phase him. He’s doing what he thinks is right.”

Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) filed a companion to Hinojosa’s bill, HJR 34, aimed at repealing the marriage amendment, which was approved by 76 percent of voters in 2005. To pass, the amendment repeal bills would need a two-thirds majority in both chambers, as well as a simple majority at the ballot box.<

Meanwhile, state Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) and Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) were set to file legislation Monday that would undo Texas’ statutory bans on same-sex marriage, which passed in 2003. Anchia’s bill is HB 130, and Rodriguez’s measure was piggy-backed on Hinojosa’s SB 98. The statutory changes would have no impact until the constitutional amendment is repealed.

We’ve been down this road before. What I said then largely applies now, and I don’t expect any different outcome. An x-factor in this is the Fifth Circuit, whose actions on the appeal of DeLeon v. Perry could possibly inspire some backlash. If there’s one achievable thing I’d like to see happen on this, it’s for there to be a fully unified Democratic response to these bills. I’d like to see the few remaining holdouts in our caucuses finally get right on this issue.

Actually, there’s a bigger reason why we’ll need to stand together on this.

Texas tea party Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, introduced a measure Monday that could effectively allow businesses to turn away gay customers — or fire LGBT employees — under the guise of religious freedom.

On the first day of pre-filing for the legislative session that begins in January, Campbell introduced Senate Joint Resolution 10. The resolution, which proposes a constitutional amendment “relating to a person’s freedom of religion,” reads as follows:

Government may not burden an individual’s or religious organization’s freedom of religion or right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief unless the government proves that the burden is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest. For purposes of this subsection, the term “burden” includes indirect burdens such as withholding benefits, assessing penalties, and denying access to facilities or programs.

Campbell introduced a nearly identical measure two years ago, but it died in committee. The 2013 measure was supported by the anti-LGBT group Texas Values and opposed by Equality Texas.

Texas already has a statute, the Religous Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), that provides strong protections for religious freedom. However, critics say Campbell’s proposal would go much further than the Texas RFRA.

For example, while the RFRA says government “may not substantially burden” an individual’s religious freedom, SJR10 states only that government “may not burden” an individual’s religious freedom. Removing the word “substantially” would significantly alter the scope of the law, as outlined in testimony from former state Rep. Scott Hochberg in 2013. Also, unlike the RFRA, Campbell’s proposal doesn’t include exceptions for enforcement of civil rights laws.

In other words, this would overturn the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, and a whole lot besides. Because “local control” goes out the window when the locals do something the hegemons don’t like. Be that as it may, no Democrat should consider voting for this. Let the Rs own every piece of the same sex marriage ban as well as this abomination when SCOTUS finally takes up the question, whichever way they go. The people are ready for the unjust marriage ban to be repealed. Let’s give them what they want. LGBTQ Insider has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Replacing Hegar

Election season isn’t over yet.

Glenn Hegar

At least three Republican candidates – who hit the campaign trail for the then-hypothetical opening months ago – will duke it out to represent a rural 21-county Senate district that stretches from Fort Bend County to the outer edges of the Corpus Christi, San Antonio and Austin metropolitan areas.

Sen. Glenn Hegar, who has represented the heavily Republican district since 2007, won his race for comptroller on Tuesday. His resignation, which some sources say could come as early as Friday, will trigger a special election for the two years remaining on his term. If he resigns after Thursday, the vacancy would come within 60 days of a legislative session, forcing an expedited election timeline to give Hegar’s successor a chance to be seated near the beginning of the session, even if a runoff is needed.

Because of the quick turnaround, potential candidates started campaigning months ago to position themselves for a vacancy that did not technically exist until ballots were counted Tuesday night, causing some confusion among voters.

“Most of them were struggling with why there’s a race if myself or my opponents were not on the ballot,” said Lois Kolkhorst, a Brenham state representative who spent Thursday raising money in the district. “People were calling me with: ‘Why are you having a fundraiser after the election?’ ”

Kolkhorst and two Fort Bend businessmen, Gary Gates and Charles Gregory, are competing to succeed Hegar in a race that will likely carry a high price tag. Gates has lent his campaign $1 million to begin airing ads in July and candidates may have to invest heavily to turn out fatigued voters in a special election that takes place not only after Election Day but over the holidays. Turnout could be less than 10 percent.

That’s two special elections that will be needed, since Rep. Mike Villarreal resigned from HD123 to run for Mayor of San Antonio. He was hoping for a quick turnaround, perhaps an election in December, to get his successor in before too much happens in the Lege. Maybe he should have waited a week to resign, I don’t know. I wouldn’t put anything past Rick Perry to prioritize the needs of a Republican district and the Republican Party over Democrats, but I’d hope he’d at least take pity on the Secretary of State’s staff and schedule both special elections at the same time. We’ll see. Oh, and if Lois Kolkhorst winds up winning Hegar’s seat, there will then need to be another special election to replace her. The fun never ends. Texas Politics has more.

Posted in: Election 2014.

If there are dominoes to fall…

…these two would like to be among them.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Election season may not be over just yet in San Antonio, where a game of legislative musical chairs could begin if state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte launches a bid for mayor.

A day after Van de Putte seemed to leave the door open for a mayoral bid, state Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer and José Menéndez both said Monday they’ll consider running for Van de Putte’s Texas Senate seat if she steps down.

“I definitely am seriously considering that possibility,” Menéndez told The Texas Tribune, emphasizing that Van de Putte’s departure was still a hypothetical. “Obviously if she chose to go into a different situation, someone has to step up.”

Menéndez, first elected to the Texas House in 2000, said he shares Van de Putte’s interest in helping veterans, noting that he chairs the House Defense and Veterans’ Affairs Committee, which “mirrors” Van de Putte’s leadership of the Senate’s veterans affairs committee.

Martinez Fischer, also elected in 2000, hinted in a Twitter post Sunday night that a Senate run was on his radar. He confirmed that interest in a statement early Monday.

“If Senator Van de Putte chooses to continue her service to our community by entering the race for San Antonio Mayor, I will give serious consideration to asking the voters of Senate District 26 to allow me to be their voice in the Senate,” Martinez Fischer said.

See here for the background. Note that LVdP hasn’t said that she’s running for Mayor; she hasn’t even really said she’s considering it. She’s just said that some people have asked her about it, which is nice. I still think she’ll be back in the Senate in January, but one never knows. As for her wannabe successors, I’d favor Martinez-Fischer for the simple reason that I know him and his record better, and I know he’d be a good fit for the job. Nothing against Menendez, but TMF has earned my admiration. If it does come to this, he’d be my first choice.

Posted in: Election 2015.

The rent is too damn high

The Houston area isn’t such a cheap place to live any more.

BagOfMoney

A job boom bringing highly paid energy workers to Houston and a pronounced decline in the percentage of people buying houses have combined to drive up the cost of living all across the region. Rents here rose nearly 9 percent in the last year, triple the traditional growth rate, driven by occupancy rates that average more than 90 percent and the construction of pricier apartments in such outlying areas as Tomball and Fort Bend County.

Rents for lower-end apartments inside the Loop and in places like Alief are increasing at the fastest rate.

[...]

Analysts say that as the middle and working classes are pushed farther out, their pocketbooks take a second hit from higher transportation costs to get to their jobs. At the same time, developers are working to build a stock of high-end luxury apartments close in to attract the oil and gas workers moving to Houston.

Many of these newcomers turn to real estate agent Matt Vargas, who says his clients often receive housing allowances of $3,000 a month. Some companies give their workers as much $8,000 a month, reducing the incentive to scrimp.

“You would be amazed at what some of these newer properties have to offer, and even more amazed at the pricetag,” Vargas said. “No one in their right mind will spend that much unless they have a housing allowance.”

Developers building the high-end luxury options in Midtown, near Memorial Park and the Galleria are likely targeting these type of renters, he said.

Bruce McClenny, president of Houston-based Apartment Data Services, said a steady or average rate of rent increases in a market should be roughly 3 percent. Locally, that average hit 3.8 percent in 2011 and began to spike rapidly, from 5.5 percent in 2012 to 6.2 percent last year and now to 8.8 percent.

The apartments being built around the region are mostly high-end, driving up rents in those areas, McClenny said. But even Class C apartments, those roughly 30 to 40 years old and offering fewer amenities, have gotten about 8 percent more expensive as occupancy levels have grown to 94 percent.

“As the market prices itself higher, people have been readjusting what they can afford,” McClenny said. “We may just have to adjust the rental reality.”

You have to figure there will be a “correction” in the market at some point, and when there is it won’t be pretty. You also have to figure this is going to start to have an effect on the area’s job growth. Normally, the Houston area is exactly the kind of place where housing prices stay reasonable because there’s still plenty of open space for new construction and you can build highrises as easily as you can single family homes. It’s just that now all the apartment and condo complexes that are being built are top of the market luxury places. No one is building affordable places any more. I don’t think this is a stable situation, but I don’t see what can be done about it. At some point, one way or another, something is going to have to change.

Stephen and Jessica Seagraves say the rent hikes drove them out of state.

The couple – he’s a Sugar Land native and she’s from the Austin area – lived in Houston for six years. During that time, their rent increased time and again. The monthly bill for their most recent place, a two-bedroom apartment in the Heights, was set to soar to $2,100 per month, up from $1,400 two years earlier. It was double what they’d been paying for a two-bedroom house in the same area in 2008.

In July, they moved to Portland, Ore., and into a spacious downtown apartment that leases for $1,600 a month.

Could someone make sure Rick Perry and Ted Cruz see that? Thanks.

Posted in: Elsewhere in Houston.

And the recriminations begin

I’m going to do my best to stay out of this. Everyone quoted is someone I know and like, and if there’s one part of the political process I truly don’t care for, it’s the family fight. So I’m just going to offer a few observations and move on.

- The absentee ballot program was a success, and it definitely was an improvement over previous elections, but let’s keep some perspective. The difference in the total number of Democratic absentee votes between 2014 and 2010 is about 11,000 straight ticket votes, and about 17,000 total votes. That’s without taking into account whether these were new voters or the same old reliables that would have voted in person had they not received a mail ballot. I mentioned several times during early voting that some number of new mail voters were surely people changing behavior. It would be nice to know how many of these votes were by the usual crowd and how many represented a genuine new vote in this election. That data exists, and it’s what we should be talking about. There’s value to expanding the mail program even if it’s little more than a convenience for regular voters, but if that is the case then let’s treat it as such and not as a strategic advantage.

- It was great to see so many new voters registered, in Texas and especially in Harris County, but those elevated registration numbers did not lead to an accompanying boost in turnout, especially in Harris County. How many of those new registrants actually voted? Again, that data exists, and we need to know it. If they turned out at about the same rate as other voters, or if they didn’t, should inform how we approach this going forward.

- I have a draft canvass now, and I am working my way through it. One thing to note is that no Democrat carried HD144. Rep. Mary Ann Perez came closest, and ran two or more points ahead of the rest of the ticket. The good news, if you want to look at it that way, is that overall HD144 was slightly less Republican this year than it was in 2010. Dems can and should reclaim this seat in 2016. They need to start engaging voters now to do so, and they should plan to continue engaging voters after that to try to hold this seat in 2018. Maybe the redistricting litigation will change the calculus here going forward, but that shouldn’t change the basic lesson that we need to learn here.

- By the same token, Democrats carried HD149 up and down the ballot. Rep. Hubert Vo was the pace-setter, but even in a year like this it was a blue district. In HD134, Dan Patrick was apparently a little too scary for the voters there, as Leticia Van de Putte was the only Democrat to win it. Make of that what you will.

I’ll have more going forward, but this will do for now.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Villarreal to launch his mayoral candidacy

We’re going to be talking a lot about Houston’s mayoral race next year, but six months before we elect a new Mayor San Antonio will elect one as well. The current frontrunner – and only declared candidate so far – is State Rep. Mike Villarreal, who will formally launch his campaign today.

Mike Villarreal

[Villarreal is] expected to resign his state office in the near future to focus on the mayoral campaign. A Twitter message to followers from @mikevillarreal [recently] announced that campaign signs would be ready to go on Monday, which will move his candidacy from the behind-the-scenes meetings stage out into the open.

Three months after announcing his run for mayor, Villarreal is still running alone. That is likely to change after the Nov. 4 general elections, so Villarreal is sending a message now to would-be challengers: He’s used his head start to build a $250,000 war chest, assemble a strong campaign team, launch a Mike for Mayor website, and secure key endorsements.

Nearly one-fifth of that money has come in the last 30 days, according to campaign consultant and public relations agency owner Trish Deberry.

“I’m proud of the fact that my campaign continues to gain momentum, and a great cross-section of San Antonio’s business as well as neighborhood leaders are making the early decision to support me in the Mayor’s race,” said Villarreal. “I’m not taking anything for granted and working hard every day.”

As we know, the ability of a non-city politician to transfer funds to a city campaign is currently being litigated. Clearly, the rules in San Antonio are a bit different. One presumes that subject will come up in court.

District 1 City Councilmember Diego Bernal is widely regarded as the strongest candidate to succeed Villarreal if he decides to resign from City Council and seek election to the Texas Legislature.

Villarreal has now officially resigned his House seat. One hopes Rick Perry will pay enough attention to his main job to schedule a special election ASAP. I’m a fan of CM Bernal, and I’d be happy to see him get elected to succeed Villarreal.

Who will oppose Villarreal in the mayoral race remains to be seen. The most closely-watched person on the short list is Mayor Ivy Taylor, who is serving out the 10-month unexpired term of former Mayor and now Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro.

Some people have also speculated that Sen. Leticia Van de Putte might run for Mayor on the theory that she won’t want to serve in a Senate presided over by Dan Patrick. I’m dubious, though she is at least considering the question, so I suppose anything is possible. Taylor had said during the selection process that she wasn’t interested in running in 2015, but you know how these things can go. She has other options available to her as well. My guess is that she doesn’t run, either. Someone will challenge Villarreal, but barring anything strange I think he’s a strong favorite to win in May. Randy Bear, who has several other possible contenders, and Texpatriate have more.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Lyft to leave November 20

So long.

Lyft

Lyft plans to suspend its Houston operations on Nov. 20, according to a letter sent to Houston Lyft users.

The San Francisco-based ride-sharing service is upset over the new regulations approved by the Houston City Council in August. Those regulations include requiring drivers to have background checks and required medical exams, and installing fire extinguishers in Lyft cars, according to the letter.

“You have spoken up and shown your support at last week’s City Council hearing, along with thousands of other Houston residents,” the letter said. “In spite of this, city officials have moved forward with the most onerous ridesharing requirements to date that essentially treat Lyft like a taxi.”

It goes on to say that the the regulations make it difficult for part-time drivers of the Lyft system, which make up a large portion of the network, to operate and still make money.

See here for the background. Permits for rideshare/TNCs started being issued on Tuesday. For their part, Uber is going gangbusters.

Uber

As of Thursday evening, the city had issued 63 provisional permits to drivers, authorizing them to carry riders legally for the first time. The provisional permits are good for 30 days, giving drivers and the companies that connect them with riders time to comply with the new rules.

Drivers are working through a checklist that includes a municipal court check for outstanding warrants, background check and various requirements for the vehicles.

More than 200 requests for warrant checks have been received in the past week at municipal court, said Lara Cottingham, deputy assistant director of the city’s regulatory affairs department.

“I wasn’t crazy about paying $20 for a warrant check when I already had a background check, but I got it done,” Rice said.

Rice said it cost him about $160 to comply with the drug screenings, paperwork and vehicle inspections. The company isn’t covering the cost because the drivers technically are independent contractors.

City officials, to smooth things along, are using the Kashmere Multi-Service Center in northeast Houston as a one-stop shop for permits. Inspectors can verify vehicles in the parking lot while others check the paperwork necessary under the city’s rules, approved in August. Even the private company that provides the fingerprint-based checks required by the city – the state’s official background company – brought staff to Kashmere to handle requests, Cottingham said.

I wonder if another company like Sidecar will come in to pick up the slack from Lyft. I still don’t understand why they found the city’s ordinance so much more cumbersome than Uber did, but whatever. Hair Balls has more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Weekend link dump for November 9

What the President’s chip & PIN executive order is all about.

“Americans did what they so often do after disasters. They sent hundreds of millions of dollars to the Red Cross, confident their money would ease the suffering left behind by Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac. They believed the charity was up to the job. They were wrong.”

I would totally read “Unicorns: Assassins for Hire” if someone would write it.

What Arthur Chu says about GamerGate.

Our future robot overlords are being programmed by my cousin, James Kuffner.

God bless you, Lauren Hill.

If this doesn’t warm your heart at least a little, you might want to check to make sure you actually have one.

Jonathan Coulton finds that Twitter can be a harsh mistress.

RIP, Brittany Maynard.

Dinesh D’Souza’s hoop dreams are apparently all in his head.

Rejecting Medicaid expansion: Not just a really bad idea, a really costly one, too.

“Narrative” trumps crazy.

“The main impact of the midterm election in the modern era has been to weaken the president, the only government official (other than the powerless vice president) elected by the entire nation.”

A new species of frog was discovered in my hometown of Staten Island. Very cool.

RIP, Tom Magliozzi. Radio will never be the same again.

If it looks like a dynasty and wins like a dynasty, it’s probably a dynasty.

#ElectionDayPickupLines. Wanna do a little canvassing with me?

“The difference between what the rich and poor eat in America begins long before a baby can walk, or even crawl.”

Why locking your phone with a passcode is better than using a fingerprint lock.

“What the Republicans managed to do was to teach the Tea Party to wear shoes, mind its language, and use the proper knife while amputating the social safety net. They did nothing except send the Tea Party to finishing school.”

“The lesson Cupp undoubtedly learned from Will is that journalistic ethics are for suckers and losers.”

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Lawsuit filed over Houston campaign blackout rules

From the inbox:

Trebor Gordon

Trebor Gordon

Late Tuesday afternoon, Houston City Council candidate Trebor Gordon filed a First Amendment lawsuit challenging a discriminatory Houston ordinance that prevents city candidates from fundraising until February.

Gordon is a conservative candidate for Houston City Council at large. “Houston is a great city because of the entrepreneurial culture of its citizens, among other things,” Gordon said. “But our current leadership has been chipping away at that spirit, overregulating and fleecing the taxpayers with a runaway budget. I’m running to restore responsible leadership and let Houstonians run their own lives.”

“I’m also compelled to address the deeply offensive posture Mayor Parker has taken towards people of faith in this city, harassing pastors with abusive subpoenas,” Gordon continued. “I have to address these issues now, because they are happening now. I can’t wait until February to start my campaign.”

Gordon will be on the ballot in the city’s next general election in November 2015. Currently, section 18-35(a) of the Houston code of ordinances states that candidates may only solicit or receive contributions beginning in February of the election year and ending on March 4 of the year after the election. This provision prohibits fundraising for a full ten months of every two-year cycle, and candidates have only nine months to raise funds before Election Day.

Gordon is represented by political law attorney Jerad Najvar. “There is no blackout period banning bad decisions by city officials for a part of every election cycle,” Najvar said, “and the government has no authority to tell Gordon—or any other candidate—to wait until February to start campaigning. City officials have access to free media all day long, and my client certainly has the right to fund his campaign and speak to the public. This waiting period serves only to insulate the city from organized opposition.”

Najvar continued: “The blackout period is facially unconstitutional. But it gets even worse, because people who currently hold non-city office are raising money right now, and everybody knows it will be transferred to their city campaign in February. This whole system is an absurd charade encouraging candidates to act like they’re running for something they’re not. While these shadow campaigns are proceeding aggressively, nonincumbents like Gordon have to sit on their hands. The First Amendment does not permit such nonsense.”

The case is Gordon v. City of Houston, No. 14-CV-3146, currently pending in federal court in the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division. Gordon has asked for an immediate injunction, and is awaiting a hearing date from the court.

Gordon’s complaint is available here; the legal memorandum is here.

Gordon was a candidate for At Large #2 last year; he finished fourth out of four with 6.20% of the vote. His July finance report showed about $1000 raised. I doubt this lawsuit will matter much for his 2015 candidacy, but I think he raises a valid point. I’m not exactly sure what the city fundraising blackout period accomplishes. It makes sense to have one for the Legislature while it’s in session, but Council is technically in session year-round, during the blackout period and outside of it. It doesn’t prevent a sitting officeholder from being solicited while an ordinance that affects the donor in question.

According to the Chronicle, Gordon’s lawsuit is the second one to have been filed over this matter.

Gordon’s suit comes a month after Chris Bell, a likely mayoral candidate, filed his own suit asking a state court to disallow Sylvester Turner, considered a frontrunner in the race for mayor, and other competitors from conducting this type of end-around.

Turner has raised money throughout the fall and hauled in more than $400,000 at a recent fundraiser for his state representative campaign despite the fact that he does not have an opponent. Bell is asking for an injunction to be issued prior to Feb. 1.

The city attorney, David Feldman, has signed off on Turner’s plan, despite Bell’s and some campaign finance experts’ view that the Turner plan violates at least the spirit of the ordinance.

I know that Bell’s law partner sent a letter to Feldman questioning his decision about this, but if a lawsuit followed I couldn’t find any news stories about it, either in the Chronicle or via Google. A search of the District Clerk’s records found this action from October 17, so I guess Team Bell did indeed follow up on that letter. One way or another it looks like the preseason to the 2015 elections will be at least as interesting as the main event. Texpatriate has more.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story on Bell’s lawsuit filing, which Teddy Schliefer emailed to me. My search did not find this for whatever the reason.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Fifth Circuit to hear HB2 appeal in January

Gird your loins.

A federal appeals court has scheduled oral arguments about the constitutionality of Texas’ tough new abortion law for the first week of January, setting up a rapid timeline that may accelerate the case’s expected trip to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell and lawyers representing abortion providers are planning to appear in front of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans during the week of Jan. 5, the state disclosed in a legal brief filed Monday.

That is the same week the court is scheduled to consider bans on gay marriage in Texas and Louisiana, making it a big week for laws of the Lone Star State. The appeals court could rule at any time after the arguments.

[...]

The high court’s order last month gave hope to abortion providers, especially because the 5th Circuit has proven unfriendly to their arguments. The New Orleans-based court has twice reversed lower court orders that found the law unconstitutional because of how greatly it reduced abortion access.

In Monday’s filing, the state urged the appeals court to once again uphold the law because clinics would remain in all major metropolitan areas and within a 250-mile drive for the vast majority of Texans.

The state also argued that the Supreme Court’s order did not serve as an indication that the high court believes the law is unconstitutional.

See here, here, here, and here for the background. This is the appeal on the merits of the HB2 law; the earlier action had been on whether or not to allow HB2 to be enforced while the state appealed the lower court ruling that enjoined it. I think we all know how the Fifth Circuit will rule, but the ritual must be observed. As the story says, they will have a busy January.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Rep. Reynolds convicted of six misdemeanors

He actually got off easy since he was facing felony charges.

Rep. Ron Reynolds

A Montgomery County jury Friday found state Rep. Ron Reynolds guilty of six counts of misdemeanor solicitation of professional employment – a lesser charge than the felony barratry charge he faced.

Reynolds stood and stared straight ahead as state District Judge Lisa Michalk read the verdict. The case is now in the punishment phase, and will continue Monday morning, almost a week after the Missouri City Democrat was re-elected to a third House term.

Prosecutor Kelly Blackburn declined to comment, stating that the case is still ongoing.

Reynolds declined comment after his conviction, referring questions to his attorney, Vivian King.

“I am not happy with it because I still believe there was no intent. It should have been a ‘not guilty’ verdict,” King said.

Her client last fall was arrested in a sting operation along with seven other Houston-area attorneys. All were accused of participating in an “ambulance chasing for profit” scheme that revolved around a four-time felon, Robert Ramirez Valdez of Conroe.

Attorneys for Reynolds said Friday’s jury conviction of six counts of misdemeanor solicitation of professional employment would not bar him from continuing to serve on the state Legislature.

See here and here for the background. I like Rep. Reynolds personally, and he’s been good on the issues, but this is unacceptable. It’s not the first time he’s faced charges of this nature; the first time the case was dropped due to some problems with the lead investigator. As my high school band director used to say, once is a mistake and twice is a habit. This is a bad habit for any lawyer to have, let alone an elected representative. My advice to Rep. Reynolds would be to announce that this is his last term in office, then spend the extra time he will have after the spring getting his ethical affairs in order.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Saturday video break: Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

British Invasion time with Eric Burden and The Animals:

I’m guessing a lot of people are familiar with the Elvis Costello version. Here’s a somewhat stripped down live recording of it:

The version with which I am most familiar is the one I heard first, by Santa Esmerelda:

The 70s, man. It’s like a whole nother country. I’ve embedded a version of that before, as well as the epic ten-and-a-half-minute version. How could I resist doing it again?

Posted in: Music.

Perry’s first day in court

Hopefully not his last, but that’s up to the judge at this time.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

This corndog is a victim of politics

Gov. Rick Perry appeared in court Thursday to watch his attorneys, armed with plenty of theater, try to convince a judge that the prosecutor pursuing abuse-of-power charges against him was improperly sworn in.

“Why do we raise what some people say are technicalities?” asked Perry defense attorney Tony Buzbee, his voice booming as he guided Visiting Judge Bert Richardson through an elaborate PowerPoint that featured an enlarged copy of the Texas Constitution. “Because [San Antonio lawyer Mike] McCrum is attempting to prosecute a sitting governor.”

In his first court appearance since he was indicted Aug. 15 on two felony counts, Perry sat at the defense table quietly, occasionally whispering with his attorneys or rocking in his chair. Buzbee and co-counsel David Botsford made their case that McCrum, who is an appointed special prosecutor in the case, took his oath of office before signing an anti-bribery document required of such prosecutors.

That sequence was out of order under the rules dictated by the 1876 Texas Constitution, Buzbee said.

As a result of this timing error, Buzbee argued, it’s “game over.” McCrum has no authority to prosecute the governor, he said, and therefore the indictment he secured is invalid.

“It’s there and it’s in black and white,” Buzbee said. “You must first sign your oath saying, ‘I have not taken any gifts.’ It’s a very important sequence.”

[...]

McCrum, a criminal defense attorney from San Antonio who was once tapped to fill the U.S. attorney job there, countered on Thursday that there was nothing improper about the oath-taking. He was sworn in, he said, telling reporters after the hearing: “I’m not shying away from the facts. My position is that it just doesn’t negate my authority.”

Buzbee described challenges he and Botsford faced getting their hands on the paperwork detailing McCrum’s appointment — and the repeated times they said they asked the Travis County district clerk’s office for it.

McCrum countered that they were in the courthouse, just in a file in a courtroom.

“All of these documents were available for public inspection,” McCrum said. “There’s no question I took an oath.”

See here, here, and here for the background. The Chron notes one of the oddball aspects of this case:

Richardson, a Republican who was elected to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Tuesday, is in the odd position of having sworn in McCrum, and now deciding on issues related to his oath. He asked the lawyers on both sides whether they wanted a different judge to hear the motion, but they declined.

Richardson initially predicted Thursday’s hearing could be as short as 15 minutes. Instead it lasted close to two hours. Toward the end, Perry’s lawyers asked whether they could file more documents with the court on one of the issues before it.

“If you want a quick ruling, I could make one,” the judge told Buzbee. “If you want to bury me in paperwork, then I have to wait to get it to read it. My intent would be to read anything that either side wants me to look at.”

We’ll see if the urge to delay is greater than the urge to get a ruling, which according to the stories is expected next week. Place your bets on the outcome in the comments. Trail Blazers has more.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Where Texans got their Obamacare information

The Baker Institute tells us.

While most Texans used healthcare.gov earlier this year to get information or to enroll in a health insurance plan under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), larger percentages of Texans found talking to the call center or a navigator was the most helpful. Those are just some of the lessons learned in a report released today by the Episcopal Health Foundation and Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

The report found 62 percent of Texans used the healthcare.gov website to learn about ACA Marketplace health plans during the first open-enrollment period, which concluded earlier this year. However, perhaps because of the early problems with the government website, many Texans turned to the toll-free call center or used navigators to sign up for a plan. More than 90 percent of Texans who used navigators said the personalized assistance was helpful, compared to 70 percent who said the website was helpful.

“It’s important to understand what Texans found most effective and where improvements are needed,” said Elena Marks, CEO of the Episcopal Health Foundation and a nonresident fellow in health policy at the Baker Institute. “With the second enrollment period just weeks away, it’s important for each enrollment method to be at peak performance to help the hundreds of thousands of Texans who are eligible for subsidized health insurance plans, but remain uninsured.”

Marks said the Texas survey results that found personalized service most helpful are supported by national results showing people assisted by enrollment professionals were more likely to enroll in coverage.

No matter which enrollment method they tried, many Texans found it difficult to determine whether they were eligible for a subsidy under the ACA, the report showed. Without that information, consumers can’t make informed decisions on whether to purchase a plan. The difference in the price of a subsidized plan versus a nonsubsidized plan can be hundreds of dollars each month.

“This is an important step because the cost of a plan depends on the amount of subsidy available,” said Vivian Ho, the chair in health economics at Rice’s Baker Institute, a professor of economics at Rice and a professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. “We know from previous research that many who were eligible for a subsidy didn’t purchase a plan. If clearer eligibility and financial assistance information had been available, more people might have enrolled in coverage.”

The majority of Texans who used the website said the top way to improve the process would be to have better information available to determine eligibility for financial assistance. For those who used the call center, their top suggestion was shorter wait times. Texans who visited with navigators believed having more navigators available to help would most improve the enrollment process.

The report is the ninth in a series on the implementation of the ACA in Texas co-authored by Marks and Ho.

Here’s the Chron story for this. The study can be found here, and links to previous reports are at the link above. I don’t have anything to add to this, I just like that someone is asking and trying to answer these questions.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

Getting more people to use B-Cycle

Houston’s B-Cycle program has been a big success overall, but not in all locations.

Despite the growth, however, few of the nearly 70,000 checkouts between January and mid-October are coming from three B-Cycle stations specifically placed to expand the system into Third Ward and Northside neighborhoods. According to B-Cycle data, 1,151 of the 68,419 checkouts occurred at the Leonel Castillo Community Center north of the central business district, Project Row Houses in the Third Ward and John Clayton Homes east of U.S. 59 near Navigation.

For comparison, the station near Hermann Park Lake logged 7,288 checkouts from Jan. 1 to Oct. 13.

B-Cycle operates by allowing people to check out bikes from 28 different spots around Houston with a daily, weekly or annual membership. The bike can be checked out for 60 minutes before incurring rental charges of $2 per half-hour, and checked back into any B-Cycle kiosk. Within the membership period a person can check out a bike as many times as they wish.

The bikes are popular with downtown riders traveling to areas around the various stations, and with local visitors. Officials also hoped the bikes would catch on in nearby neighborhoods where car ownership might be lower, and exercise options less available.

Connecting with locals has been a challenge. Will Rub, director of Houston’s B-Cycle program, acknowledged in July that use in the area neighborhoods has been less than expected. Some residents do not have the credit card needed to get a membership, and might not be aware of the options for using the bike.

[...]

To encourage use in Houston, Rub said he is working on a program with the Houston Housing Authority, which manages John Clayton Homes, to provide annual passes to the community center. The community center will check the passes in and out so residents have access to the bikes.

That seems like a good idea. I wonder how much outreach has been done overall. It’s been my opinion that B-Cycle needs to be seen in part as an extension of the Metro transit network, so I’d like to see more kiosks near well-used transit stops. The Castillo Center is a few blocks away from the Quitman light rail station, but you’d have to know it was there and you’d have to be going in that direction for it to make sense to use. Just a thought. Anyway, I hope they figure it out.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Friday random ten: Y not?

Sure, why not?

1. Maps – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
2. Oh Yeah – Yello
3. Yours Is No Disgrace – Yes
4. The Fox (What Does The Fox Say?) – Ylvis
5. I Wonder – Yma Sumac
6. How ‘Bout You? – Yonder Mountain String Band
7. Nightswimming – You Say Party! We Say Die!
8. July – Youth Lagoon
9. Rachmaninov: Vocalise, Op. 34/14 – Yo-Yo Ma & Bobby McFerrin
10. If I Can’t Have You – Yvonne Elliman

You Say Party! We Say Die! is also up there on the All Band Name list. I should probably compile that list some day, in my copious spare time. One more letter to go, then a special bonus list.

Posted in: Music.

The Battleground effect in legislative races

So here’s a crazy idea. Rather than judge Battleground Texas by our own beliefs about how things should have gone, what say we take a look at the actual numbers of a few races and see what they tell us? In particular, let’s look at the numbers in the Blue Star Project races, which were legislative elections in which BGTX engaged directly. There was SD10 and eight State House races; I’m going to throw in CD23 as well even though BGTX did not specifically get involved there. I’m going to compare the performance of the Democratic candidates with those of Bill White, since everyone is obsessing about the White numbers even though about 15% of his vote total came from Republicans, and with Lt. Gov. candidate Linda Chavez-Thompson, since I believe her totals are a more accurate reflection of what the base Democratic turnout was in 2010. Here’s what I’ve got:

Dist Candidate Votes Pct White Pct LCT Pct Needed ================================================================== CD23 Gallego 55,436 47.7 55,762 45.6 47,950 40.2 57,902 SD10 Willis 80,806 44.7 76,920 44.6 66,783 38.8 95,485 023 Criss 14,716 45.4 19,224 50.1 15,866 41.8 17,703 043 Gonzalez 10,847 38.6 14,049 45.8 12,635 41.7 17,274 105 Motley 10,469 42.7 11,766 43.8 9,793 36.7 13,588 107 Donovan 13,803 45.0 14,878 46.3 11,936 37.5 16,880 108 Bailey 16,170 39.3 17,401 42.0 12,859 31.3 24,954 113 Whitley 12,044 40.6 13,483 44.8 11,575 38.7 17,639 117 Cortez 11,519 47.3 10,247 48.0 8,829 42.2 12,832 144 Perez 5,854 49.3 8,411 52.7 7,273 46.0 6,010

It’s a mixed bag. The best performances came from Libby Willis in SD10 and Phillip Cortez (one of two incumbents on BGTX’s list) in HD117. Both exceeded White’s totals and far surpassed Chavez-Thompson’s. This is partly a reflection of what happened in Tarrant and Bexar Counties, respectively. In Tarrant, not only did Wendy Davis beat Bill White’s numbers in her backyard, so too did Leticia Van de Putte and Sam Houston, with Mike Collier just behind. White and Van de Putte were the only ones to carry Bexar for the Dems, with VdP being the high scorer, but Davis came close to White’s number and downballot Dems improved by about 20,000 votes. Willis and Cortez both beat the spread, but not by enough.

Gallego, who again was not directly assisted by BGTX, and the four Dallas County candidates all fell short of White but exceeded, in some cases by a lot, Chavez-Thompson. As I said above, I think topping LCT’s totals represents an improvement in base turnout from 2010, and again that’s consistent with what we saw in Dallas overall, as White was the standard-bearer while the top four Dems all surpassed Chavez-Thompson. Gallego did about as well in Bexar as Ciro Rodriguez did in 2010, and there’s no one place where he did worse, though he could have used more turnout in Maverick County.

The other three results are just bad. Turncoat Dem Lozano carried Jim Wells and Kleberg counties even as all the statewide Dems won in Jim Wells and most of them carried Kleberg despite generally losing it in 2010. Davis didn’t win Kleberg, and she scored lower in Jim Wells than several other Dems. That may have been a contributing factor, but on the whole it was fairly marginal. Still, that needs to be understood more fully, and someone needs to come up with a strategy to keep Dems from crossing over for Lozano if we want to make that seat competitive again.

Criss had a tough assignment, as HD23 has been trending away as places like Friendswood have made Galveston County and that district more Republican. Unlike the other two Dem-held State Rep seats that were lost, HD23 isn’t going to flip to “lean Dem” in 2016. Turnout by both parties was down in HD23 from 2010, and it’s probably the case that White was a boost there four years ago. Better turnout could have gotten her closer, but Susan Criss was always going to have to persuade some Rs to support her to win. I will be very interested to see what the Legislative Council report on this one looks like when it comes out.

The loss by Mary Ann Perez was the worst of the bunch, partly because it looked like she was up in early voting and partly because Harris was alone among the five largest counties in not improving Dem turnout. You can ding BGTX or whoever you like as much as you want for the latter, but the candidate herself has to take some responsibility, too. Winning this seat back needs to be a priority in 2016, and making sure it stays won needs to be a bigger priority after that.

So like I said, a mixed bag. The 2010 numbers were pretty brutal overall in these districts, and where there were improvements it was encouraging, and offers hope for 2016. Where there wasn’t improvement was disappointing, and needs to be examined thoroughly to understand what happened. I’d give the project a final grade of C – there’s some promise going forward and some lessons to be learned, but while improvements are nice, results are necessary.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Sixth Circuit stands up for inequality

It was bound to happen eventually.

RedEquality

Remember the big no-decision decision the Supreme Court issued on same-sex marriage just a month ago? The justices were asked — in five separate cases no less — to weigh in on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marriage. The Supreme Court demurred on the question, which was a significant move in and of itself.

By declining to review any of the cases before it, the justices effectively blessed lower-court rulings that had struck down state gay marriage bans in five states. Circuit courts had been unanimous on the subject. So what more was there to say? Barack Obama even told Jeffrey Toobin recently that he thought this was the best Supreme Court decision of his tenure: a silent statement on the importance of letting cultural change spread across the country, one state at a time.

Well, so much for the power of silence. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit just reversed rulings striking down gay-marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. This means that four circuit courts have now struck down gay marriage bans, while one has upheld them. We no longer have unanimity. The Supreme Court, eventually, will have to step in.

The 6th Circuit decision is here. A lot of people had been waiting to see what the Fifth Circuit would do, if they would be the court that provided the circuit split that forced SCOTUS to act, but they took too long. They will still get a chance to have their say, of course, and perhaps now that they wouldn’t have to be the trailblazer for upholding this particular injustice they’ll feel more free to let their colors show. One hopes that in the end neither this ruling nor the one the Fifth Circuit is expected to make will matter. Daily Kos and Freedom to Marry have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Who needs managed lanes?

Not TxDOT, and not on 290.

State transportation officials have changed plans for widening U.S. 290, increasing capacity for people driving alone but reducing opportunities for alternatives to solo driving.

After initially planning four or five general use lanes in each direction and three reversible managed (toll and carpool) lanes in the center, Texas Department of Transportation officials are now planning for a single managed lane. This lane, however, will extend to Mason Road, much farther than it does now, said Karen Othon, spokeswoman for the U.S. 290 widening project.

Reducing the space for carpool and toll lanes gives officials room to add one or two more general use lanes in some spots, making five or six free lanes available.

[...]

Eventually, Othon said, a tollway is planned along Hempstead Highway, providing carpool and transit access. A 50-foot corridor along this tollway is expected to one day carry high-capacity transit such as commuter rail.

The Hempstead corridor projects, however, remain well beyond state and local officials’ current funding plans.

Othon said additional general use lanes on U.S. 290 would help relieve the immense demand drivers place today on the freeway. About 240,000 vehicles use the freeway daily, based on TxDOT counts.

A reduction in managed lanes, however, means options other than driving alone become less attractive. Interstate 10 west of downtown Houston has managed lanes in both directions, providing a bigger benefit for those who use transit or share a ride.

“The point is to add capacity,” said Christof Spieler, a member of the Metropolitan Transit Authority board.

Metro officials urged TxDOT to build two-way managed lanes to improve transit options. Buses across Houston use the managed lane system – Metro maintains many of the lanes – because they typically enable buses to make quicker trips between suburban park-and-ride locations and major job centers. If buses are stuck in the same traffic solo drivers are, they lose their advantage, transit officials said.

I have no idea what drove that decision, and I have to say it’s a little disconcerting for it to happen without any public input. The obvious problem with this approach is that it’s very self-limiting. You can only have so many single-occupancy vehicles on the road at any one time. Increase the number of people per vehicle, increase the number of riders on buses headed to and from park-and-ride lots, and you can move a lot more people on the same number of lanes. Why would you not want to do that? Has TxDOT not noticed how crowded the massively-widened Katy Freeway has been getting lately? To say that the Hempstead Highway option is “well beyond state and local officials’ current funding plans” is putting it mildly. Look how long it’s taken to get this part of the 290 construction project going. Nothing about this makes sense, but that’s TxDOT for you. The Highwayman has more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.