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Yet another report about how much our voter ID law sucked

Keep ’em coming.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

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

I’ll bet they would.

Best mugshot ever

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Scandalized!.

We need better fire inspections

Not good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Local politics.

Friday random ten – Ain’t that a shame?

Lacking new ideas, I’m going to do lists based on the first word of a set of songs. I think you’ll get the theme.

1. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough – Extreme Party Animals
2. Ain’t Gone ‘n’ Give Up On Love – Stevie Ray Vaughan
3. Ain’t Gonna Rain – Austin Lounge Lizards
4. Ain’t Gonna Stop – Natural Child
5. Ain’t Got Rhythm – from “Phineas and Ferb”
6. Ain’t Got You – Bruce Springsteen
7. Ain’t It The Truth – The Honeycutters
8. Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked – Cage The Elephant
9. Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing – Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
10. Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love – Van Halen

I did this theme a few years ago, with one focus word for each letter of the alphabet. I have more songs now, so I expect there will be a lot more words that I can do this on. Brace yourselves.

Posted in: Music.

Texas Republicans still mostly like Trump

There are a few cracks in the surface, however.

Most voters in the country’s biggest red state are wary of President Donald Trump — but Republican voters remain strongly supportive of him, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

More than half of the voters said Trump does not have the temperament to serve as president, but that number reflects strong Democratic antipathy to the president. Only 5 percent of self-identified Democrats said he has the temperament for the office, while 68 percent of self-identified Republicans said he does have the proper temperament.

Other assessments of the president carry the same partisan seasoning: Only 4 percent of Democrats said Trump is honest and trustworthy, and just 9 percent said he is competent. Republicans in Texas are still satisfied, with 66 percent saying Trump is honest and trustworthy and 80 percent saying he’s competent.

Overall, 43 percent approve of the job Trump is doing in office, while 51 percent disapprove. Among Republicans, 80 percent approve. Among Democrats, 90 percent disapprove.

Texas voters’ views of Trump roughly track the findings of the February UT/TT Poll. “If anyone has had a rough launch, it’s Donald Trump,” said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “But Texas Republicans are holding steady. They continue to embrace him.”

See here for the UT/Trib February numbers. A brief comparison:


Category           Feb   June
=============================
Approve             46     43
Disapprove          44     51

Good Temperament    39     38
Bad Temperament     48     53

Is Honest           38     35
Is Not Honest       50     55

So there’s decline across the board, though by a modest amount. There’s a chart in the February Trib story that breaks approve/disapprove down by partisan ID (you can also dig through the February crosstabs), and we can see that Democratic disapproval went from 85% to 90%. That’s not enough to boost his overall “disapprove” number from 44 to 51, and since we only have the “approve” number for Republicans for June and no data on independents, I surmise a small shift for Republicans from “neutral” to “disapprove” as well as an erosion in approve/disapprove numbers for the indies. The same is likely true for the other indicators. It’s a small shift, which as I said before is what we’re likely to see until either Republican support softens or indies completely abandon him, but it’s still a shift in the negative direction. As before, we should keep an eye on this. See the Texas Lyceum poll results from April for more.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Signings and vetoes

Greg Abbott does his thing.

Gov. Greg Abbott has vetoed 50 bills that were passed during the regular legislative session, his office announced Thursday.

That’s several more than he vetoed following the last session and the most a governor has doled out since 2007.

Abbott offered a number of common explanations for his vetoes, calling the bills unnecessary, too costly or too burdensome. He vetoed at least five bills for the same reason: The House bill’s author asked for a veto because he prefers the Senate companion.

[…]

Another measure he vetoed Thursday was Senate Bill 790, which would have kept in operation an advisory group that makes recommendations to the state on its women’s health services.

Abbott said in his veto statement that SB 790 “does nothing more than extend the expiration date of a governmental committee that has already successfully completed its mission.”

“Rather than prolong government committees beyond their expiration date, the state should focus on programs that address more clearly identifiable needs, like my call for action to address the maternal mortality rate during the special session,” Abbott said.

Janet Realini, vice chair of the women’s health advisory committee, said wrapping up the group was premature.

“There’s 1.8 million women who need publicly subsidized services, family planning in particular, and right now we’re serving less than a quarter of those, so I think we have a long way to go,” she said.

You can see a full list of the vetoed bills at the story. A couple of bills relating to topics that will be on the special session agenda were among the casualties. SB790 was probably the bill whose rejection drew the strongest reaction; Sen. Borris Miles and Rep. Donna Howard vented their frustration, with Howard noting that “at no point during the past six months had the governor’s office expressed any concerns to me over the legislation”. We knew going in that Greg Abbott was a weak leader. Everything that isn’t on the veto list will be enacted (a few will become law without Abbott’s autograph), including the Sandra Bland Act and the driverless car bill. Click over and see if anything you liked got the ax.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

The special session could get a little testy

Sow a little discord, Joe. We approve.

Speaking to educators Wednesday, House Speaker Joe Straus took some jabs at the Senate for focusing on a bill to regulate public bathroom use instead of putting more than a billion dollars into public schools.

The lower chamber’s leading politician spoke about the upcoming special session to hundreds of school board members and superintendents in San Antonio on Wednesday evening at the Texas Association of School Boards’ annual summer leadership institute. He urged educators in the room to keep speaking out for the issues important to public schools — and to act.

“There have been a few of you who would make good members of the Texas Senate,” he said, a joke that got him a round of laughter and applause.

Straus’ appearance comes as Texas legislators prepare to return to the Capitol for a July-August special session, with a packed agenda of 20 pieces of legislation Gov. Greg Abbott wants to see passed. Several of those bills would directly affect public schools, including a bill to regulate public bathroom use for transgender Texans.

“I don’t know what all the issues are with bathrooms in our schools, but I’m pretty sure you can handle them, and I know that you have been handling them,” Straus said. He said the “bathroom bill” sends the wrong message about Texas, instead of “making decisions that attract jobs, that attract families.”

[…]

Straus said Wednesday that even if the House had compromised on private school choice, the Senate stripped about $1 billion in funding for public schools. “Even if we approved vouchers, they still cut out the vast majority of the funding we had proposed for public schools, so there was hardly anything left,” he said.

He said the school finance reform study was too little, too late. “The Texas House has been studying this for years. We already passed a bill that’s a very strong first step,” he said. “We can’t keep kicking the can down the road.”

You tell ’em, Joe. One wonders what might happen if we make it to the end of this session without any of the red meat stuff passing, possibly without getting out of committee. Would a weak leader like Greg Abbott keep calling them back? I have no idea. Don’t get me wrong, I have no reason to be optimistic about anything here. But if nothing else, a little pissing contest could make things interesting. I think we can hope for that much. The Statesman has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Texas’ teen pregnancy rate is the result of bad policy choices

From the Rivard Report:

In Texas each year, about 35,000 young women get pregnant before they turn 20. Traditionally, the two variables most commonly associated with high teen birth rates are education and poverty, but a new study, co-authored by Dr. Julie DeCesare, shows that there’s more at play.

“We controlled for poverty as a variable, and we found these 10 centers where their teen birth rates were much higher than would be predicted,” she said.

DeCesare, whose research appears in the June issue of the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, said several of those clusters were in Texas. The Dallas and San Antonio areas, for example, had teen pregnancy rates 50% and 40% above the national average.

Research shows teens everywhere are having sex. Gwen Daverth, CEO of the Texas Campaign To Prevent Teen Pregnancy, said the high numbers in Texas reflect policy, not promiscuity.

“What we see is there are not supports in place,” Daverth said. “We’re not connecting high-risk youth with contraception services. And we’re not supporting youth in making decisions to be abstinent. We’re just saying that is an approach we want to take as a state – whereas other states have put in more progressive policies.”

Daverth said California invested in comprehensive sex education and access to contraception. There, the teenage birth rate dropped by 74% from 1991 to 2015. The teen birth rate in Texas also fell, but only by 56%.

In South Carolina, young women on Medicaid who have babies are offered the opportunity to get a long-acting form of birth control right after they give birth. They’re also trying that approach in parts of North Carolina. And Colorado subsidizes the cost of long-acting birth control. There, both abortions and teen birth rates are dropping faster than the national average.

Texas makes it hard for teenagers to get reproductive health care, Daverth says.

In Texas, if a 17-year-old mom wants prescription birth control, in most cases she needs her parents’ permission. “Only [Texas] and Utah have a law that if you’re already a parent, you are the legal medical guardian of your baby, but you cannot make your own medical decisions without the now-grandma involved,” Daverth said.

That’s part of the reason, she notes, Texas has the highest rate of repeat teen pregnancies in the country.

Emphasis mine. That’s pretty much our state in a nutshell. The problem is that any effort to deal with this necessarily begins the acknowledgment of the realities of the situation – you know, like that teens have sex and that teens who have sex without access to contraception and good information about reproductive health are much more likely to become parents than teens who do have those things – and we’re no good at that. Shame and denial is so much easier, and we live with the results of that.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

Greg Abbott’s war on trees

This is just bizarre.

One of the 20 items Gov. Greg Abbott has asked lawmakers to consider during the upcoming special session, which will begin July 18, is outlawing local tree regulations. More than 50 cities and towns in Texas have ordinances aimed at protecting trees; many of the local rules require property owners to either pay a fee for removing trees or replant trees after they cut some down. Municipalities often design them to prevent the type of branch slashing Beatty said occurred on the property near her Dallas home.

But Abbott — joined by a number of Republican lawmakers and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank — are calling for the end of those local protections. They argue that the tree ordinances are an unconstitutional violation of private property rights, and Abbott, who grappled with Austin tree regulations as a homeowner, calls the rules a “socialistic” infringement on a landowner’s freedom.

“I feel like those who own their trees have the right to do with their trees what they want,” said state Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville.

[…]

Keith Mars, who enforces Austin’s tree regulations as the city arborist, said trees are an important reason why Austin is a growing destination known for its quality of life. He points to the environmental and economic benefits of trees.

“We know about the quality that this urban canopy provides for our citizens and why so many people are moving here from all over the country,” he said. “There will be a real economic impact to the vitality of Austin and other cities.”

To Robert Henneke, the general counsel at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, though, the tree regulations hamper economic growth in Texas cities.

“The compliance cost of these tree regulation ordinances is harmful because it drives up the cost of housing,” Henneke said. Henneke said the foundation worked with lawmakers who filed bills on the topic during the regular session.

Those efforts will run up against the Texas Municipal League, an organization that advocates for Texas cities and towns in the Legislature. Bennett Sandlin, the group’s executive director, said the organization plans to resist bills that nullify local tree regulations. He says municipalities have the constitutional power to protect trees.

“If you take that argument to the extreme — that you can do anything you want on your property in an urban area —then you wouldn’t have zoning,” Sandlin said. “You could have a strip club next to a home or you could have a liquor store next to a school.”

See here for the roots (sorry not sorry) of Abbott’s tree tirade. I find this just so petty and vindictive. I mean, maybe Austin’s tree removal ordinances and processes are byzantine and life-sucking – it happens, I have no idea. A normal person might view that as a city problem, since it was the city that put in these requirements, presumably for some justifiable reasons. One could complain to one’s Council member or the Mayor, one could form an organization devoted to reforming or repealing these rules, one could run for city office on a tree-regulation-reform platform – there are many options. To decide that all tree-related regulations in all cities are uniformly terrible and must be destroyed is some kind of special snowflaking right there. Also, some people refer to “driving up the cost of housing” as “enhancing property values”. Maybe talk to a realtor? I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know how Texas ever got to be such a wonderful place when so much of it is clearly a dystopian hellhole. Thank God we have Greg Abbott and his million-dollar donors to set us straight.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

There is always some risk

I get the concern, but the alternative was unacceptable and now is illegal. Get used to it.

More than 600 people charged with misdemeanors have been released since June 7 when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an emergency motion by the county to block [federal judge Lee Rosenthal’s] order, according to estimates provided to the county attorney’s office from criminal court officials.

[…]

“That’s my sort of common sense problem with this whole ruling,” said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. “I’ve stated publicly that someone shouldn’t be in jail because they can’t afford bail…there’s got to be a risk assessment here. I don’t think anyone wants somebody to to keep driving drunk time after time after time until they kill some family somewhere.”

Other court members expressed similar concerns about people being released on personal recognizance.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle and Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said Rosenthal’s ruling makes it easy for criminals to game the system by swearing they do not have enough money to pay bail – even if they do – just to get out of jail.

“This is a slap at every single Harris County Criminal court judge,” Radack said. “It’s a slap at their integrity, their intelligence, and it’s, basically, it really doesn’t matter how bad you are, as long as you’re charged with a misdemeanor. If you say you can’t afford bail, you’re getting out.”

A 193-page opinion accompanying Rosenthal’s order outlined research that showed personal bonds in other jursidictions were no less effective at getting people to show up for their trials, nor did they significantly lead to additional offenses by those released. In fact, Rosenthal wrote, research shows pretrial detention increases the likelihood that people will commit future crimes.

Her order states that judges still have other tools – such as breathalyzers or GPS monitoring – to address the risk of releasees committing new offenses.

It also notes that the county has “not compiled the data it has to compare failure-to-appear or new-criminal-activity rates by bond type among misdemeanor defendants during pretrial release.”

Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis has been the lone member of Commissioners Court who has agreed that the county’s bail system is unconstitutional. He repeatedly has advocated settling the case. He said Tuesday that under the current bail system, people who can afford to make bail can pay, get out, and re-offend, meaning that using high bail to detain individuals disproportionately affects the poor.

Commissioner Ellis has it exactly right. Maybe if the county would get its act together and compile some data then some other members of Commissioners would feel less need to fearmonger. The point is that all along, we let anyone go who could pay whatever bond was set, without worrying about whether or not they might re-offend. A system that takes into account risk rather than ability to pay will do more to reduce this kind of crime than anything else. Fortunately, that’s what the county will have to do now. That’s all there is to it.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

The Arizona experience

This is what Texas has to look forward to post-SB4.

Seven years in, Arizona’s experience hints at what Texas, with the nation’s largest Hispanic population after California, might expect. Supporters of Arizona’s legislation say it has worked, helping to reduce the number of immigrants illegally in the state by 40 percent between 2007 and 2012, according to the Pew Research Center, a think tank in Washington, D.C. More than 200,000 left. Since then, the population has stayed about the same.

“Enforcement does work and even the threat of enforcement makes a difference,” said the bill’s Republican sponsor, former state Sen. Russell Pearce, who became Arizona’s first legislator to be removed from office in a 2011 recall election shortly after the passage of what’s known as SB 1070. “As long as you got the bird feeder out, the birds are going to come and eat. You gotta take the bird feeder down.”

Many of Trump’s supporters see it the same way at a time when the issue has arguably never been more rancorous. But business leaders in Arizona warn that such a reduction came at a cost.

“No one stops to think that, when you eject people from an economy, you’re not going to feel it,” said Todd Landfried, executive director of Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform. “It’s a dramatic impact. People aren’t buying food, clothes, gas. They’re not going to baseball games or buying soccer uniforms, they’re not going out and socializing. Business owners have to cut back and lay people off. It’s a snowball effect.”

Some economists have found that the exodus reduced Arizona’s gross domestic product by roughly 2 percent a year. Proponents of the law say that loss was bolstered by savings in education, medical care and the costs of incarceration. A 2004 study by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington, D.C., group seeking to reduce immigration, argued those services cost the state more than $1 billion annually.

But Landfried called that a red herring, noting that all of Arizona’s residents, no matter their legal status, contribute to property taxes paying for education, whether they own homes or rent. Immigrants illegally in the state don’t qualify for any public benefits, although their American children do.

The overall impact to the state’s convention and tourism industry alone was $752 million in completed and potential cancellations and booking declines, Landfried testified to the U.S. Senate judiciary committee in 2012. That involved more than 4,200 lost jobs.

[…]

Some executives say that even the perception of the law as anti-Hispanic casts a shadow that they are still struggling to overcome. The city of Oakland, Calif., declined Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton’s invitation to a Governing Magazine summit this month, reportedly citing an ongoing travel ban due to the 2010 legislation. Stanton’s office, meanwhile, has been working to improve relations with the state’s largest trading partner of Mexico, recently opening a second office there.

“This was a complete disaster for our state from an image perspective and from an economic perspective,” said Lisa Urias, the president of a large advertising agency and a member of the boards of the Greater Phoenix Leadership Council and the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “There is still lingering damage that is there, and we are still a state that feels very raw about this issue.”

Of course, Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick have clearly shown via their support of a bathroom bill that they don’t really care about the state’s image and economy, since everyone with any credibility has told them that it would be bad for those things. The same is true for the so-called “sanctuary cities” law, with law enforcement added in for good measure. At this point, it’s hard to imagine anything that would change their minds. All that remains is to change who’s in power. Easier said than done, obviously, but it’s the only way.

Posted in: La Migra.

Texas blog roundup for the week of June 12

The Texas Progressive Alliance would like to see some thinkpieces analyzing the economic motives of Lord Buckethead voters as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Maybe we should be a little more concerned about election security?

Just a thought.

Russia’s cyberattack on the U.S. electoral system before Donald Trump’s election was far more widespread than has been publicly revealed, including incursions into voter databases and software systems in almost twice as many states as previously reported.

In Illinois, investigators found evidence that cyber intruders tried to delete or alter voter data. The hackers accessed software designed to be used by poll workers on Election Day, and in at least one state accessed a campaign finance database. Details of the wave of attacks, in the summer and fall of 2016, were provided by three people with direct knowledge of the U.S. investigation into the matter. In all, the Russian hackers hit systems in a total of 39 states, one of them said.

The scope and sophistication so concerned Obama administration officials that they took an unprecedented step — complaining directly to Moscow over a modern-day “red phone.” In October, two of the people said, the White House contacted the Kremlin on the back channel to offer detailed documents of what it said was Russia’s role in election meddling and to warn that the attacks risked setting off a broader conflict.

The new details, buttressed by a classified National Security Agency document recently disclosed by the Intercept, show the scope of alleged hacking that federal investigators are scrutinizing as they look into whether Trump campaign officials may have colluded in the efforts. But they also paint a worrisome picture for future elections: The newest portrayal of potentially deep vulnerabilities in the U.S.’s patchwork of voting technologies comes less than a week after former FBI Director James Comey warned Congress that Moscow isn’t done meddling.

“They’re coming after America,” Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating Russian interference in the election. “They will be back.”

[…]

One of the mysteries about the 2016 presidential election is why Russian intelligence, after gaining access to state and local systems, didn’t try to disrupt the vote. One possibility is that the American warning was effective. Another former senior U.S. official, who asked for anonymity to discuss the classified U.S. probe into pre-election hacking, said a more likely explanation is that several months of hacking failed to give the attackers the access they needed to master America’s disparate voting systems spread across more than 7,000 local jurisdictions.

Such operations need not change votes to be effective. In fact, the Obama administration believed that the Russians were possibly preparing to delete voter registration information or slow vote tallying in order to undermine confidence in the election. That effort went far beyond the carefully timed release of private communications by individuals and parties.

One former senior U.S. official expressed concern that the Russians now have three years to build on their knowledge of U.S. voting systems before the next presidential election, and there is every reason to believe they will use what they have learned in future attacks.

To put this another way, you don’t have to hack voting machines to wreak havoc on our elections. Simply undermining confidence in the process is enough. And unfortunately, Republicans like Mitch McConnell were not at all interested in any of this last year, so don’t hold out hope that they will want to take action about it for next time. There’s a lot of work to be done to fix this mess. Daily Kos and Chalie Pierce have more.

Posted in: National news.

Paxton gets his new judge

From the Be Careful What You Wish For department:

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has received a new judge in his securities fraud case.

Harris County District Judge Robert Johnson’s court has been randomly assigned to the case, according to Bill Murphy, a spokesman for the county district clerk.

Paxton’s lawyers had fought for months to get rid of the previous judge, George Gallagher, who had presided over the case since its early days in 2015. They were finally successful last week when the state’s highest criminal court declined to overturn an appeals court ruling backing their push for a new judge.

Last year, Johnson, a Democrat, narrowly unseated a Republican incumbent, Ryan Patrick, the son of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

See here for the background. That sound you heard was karma committing a hit-and-run on Ken Paxton’s dogma. I mean look, I’ve been saying all along that the “win” Paxton scored in getting Judge Gallagher was in name only, since (unless one truly believed Judge Gallagher had been issuing or would be expected to issue rulings unfair to Paxton) one judge should be more or less like any other. As such, getting Judge Johnson should not mean anything to the prosecution or the defense either, at least pending any rulings he makes that may be fodder for a future appeal. However tasty the irony of all this is, it wasn’t really a “win” for Paxton when Gallagher got booted and it’s not really a “loss” with Johnson being selected. It’s just another judge, who will proceed to do what judges do. The Chron has more.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

The DPS two-step

First, there was this.

Despite a two-year budget of $2.4 billion, the Texas Department of Public Safety, with little notice, has reduced office hours at 11 of the state’s busiest driver’s license offices and plans to lay off more than 100 full-time employees to deal with a $21 million funding crunch.

The statewide police agency’s primary function is to patrol state highways and issue driver’s licenses, but in recent years has spent hundreds of millions on security operations along the 1,200-mile border with Mexico.

The effects of the reduced driver’s license office hours were apparent on Monday morning, where nearly 200 customers formed a long, snaking line outside the large DPS facility at 12220 South Gessner. On June 5, the DPS abruptly scaled back operating hours from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the large centers. The offices are still open after 5 p.m. on Tuesdays.

[…]

DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said Monday the department is not allowed to use funds set aside for border security to offset shortfalls in other areas of operation, like the driver’s license division. The cuts were necessary after DPS was instructed by state legislators to reduce 2018-2019 funding for the division by 4 percent.

DPS management of the driver license operation has not only angered customers, it is being criticized by elected officials.

State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said DPS did not notify lawmakers of the reductions in driver’s license operations until after the Legislature adjourned late last month.

“We’re stuck now with a severe reduction in service hours and employees at multiple centers around the state, including two here in Houston in my district, that we know are already overcrowded,” Whitmire said.

“It’s pretty alarming – we leave after sine die (adjournment), and leave (DPS) a budget of $800 million for border security, which involves essentially two border counties, and we leave $11 billion in the rainy day fund, and we have to tell people they’re going to have to stand in longer lines to get a driver license.”

But Sen. Whitmire, just think of all those speeding tickets being handed out in South Texas as a result of our sacrifice. Would that not make it all worthwhile? Perhaps someone realized how bad this all looked, and also considered the voter ID implications, as people who lacked drivers licenses had to get approved state election IDs from DPS offices. If the state of Texas was hoping that its slightly modified voter ID law would be enough to counter a motion to pitch the whole discriminatory thing, then maybe DPS needed to reconsider. And indeed, they did.

The Texas Department of Public Safety has reversed a controversial cutback in staffing hours at 11 of the state’s largest driver’s license offices including those in Houston, Dallas, and El Paso, according to a veteran Houston lawmaker who protested the reductions.

St. Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said he spoke early Tuesday with the chief of staff for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, and at the end of the conversation he was told the schedule reductions were reversed.

Whitmire added that he received an e-mail from Col. Steven McCraw, the DPS director, who confirmed the office hour reductions which were instituted June 5 would be restored.

[…]

“I talked to the Governor’s chief of staff, who totally agreed it was unacceptable. At the end of the conversation, it was reversed,” Whitmire said. “And then I heard from McCraw that it had been reversed, and he looked forward to visiting me with any further changes.”

Funny how these thing work. It all worked out in the end, but only because someone noticed. Had that not been the case, this could have gone on indefinitely. Always pay attention to the details.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Fifth Circuit to hear AALDEF lawsuit appeal

This happens today.

Amid last-minute efforts to overhaul the state’s voter identification law in light of an ongoing legal fight, the Texas Legislature gaveled out without addressing another embattled election law that’s now moving forward in federal court.

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday will take up a legal challenge to an obscure provision in the Texas Election Code that requires interpreters helping someone cast a ballot to also be registered to vote in the same county in which they are providing help.

That state law has been on hold since last year after a federal district judge ruled it violated the federal Voting Rights Act under which any voter who needs assistance because of visual impairments, disabilities or literacy skills can be helped in casting a ballot by the person of their choice, as long as it’s not their employer or a union leader.

“There’s nothing that’s being imposed. The state just needs to get out of the way,” said Jerry Vattamala, director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund’s democracy program.

[…]

“I don’t see how we could in legislative action place a criteria that would limit it more than a constitutional standard,” said state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, who filed one of the measures during this year’s regular legislative session that would’ve only left in place the assistor provision. “I just don’t think the state is serious about the right to vote or access to the election box. We just seem to bend over backwards to place barriers instead of working to increase voter turnout.”

Her legislation to bring the state in line with federal law languished in the Senate State Affairs Committee after colleagues raised concerns that it would allow voters to obtain help at the polls from noncitizens, Garcia said. The voter registration requirement by default requires the interpreter to be a U.S. citizen and 18 years old.

But sometimes voters ask their minor children to help them cast their ballots, Democratic state Rep. Ramon Romero of Fort Worth told the House Elections Committee during an April hearing. His proposal was similar to Garcia’s and also did not advance out of committee.

Despite the intricacies between interpreters and assistors, the case could ultimately come down to a question of standing if the state has its way.

See here, here, and here for the background. There was a simple legislative fix to what really shouldn’t have been a problem in the first place – the state even admitted that the Williamson County election officials who created the fuss in the first place acted incorrectly – but nothing got done. The state is now claiming that the plaintiffs lack standing to pursue this litigation as the original voter has passed away, and I have a sinking feeling that if the Fifth Circuit doesn’t buy that argument, SCOTUS might. We’ll just have to see.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Bathroom bill or NFL draft?

Back to some familiar questions as the special session looms.

The Cowboys have made their pitch to host the NFL draft.

Whether that occurs depends, in large part, on what happens in Austin this summer.

NFL officials have no interest in drawing a line in the ideological sand heading into next month’s special session of the Texas Legislature. It’s better to work behind the scenes than publicly antagonize at this stage. But the conclusion lawmakers reach on what bathrooms people are allowed to use impacts the Cowboys’ opportunity to land the draft, multiple sources said.

Other factors and cities are in play for the event. But when the NFL does announce the location of the 2018 draft, the special session will be complete and where the state stands on transgender rights will be known.

“We expect to have a decision on the location of next year’s draft later this summer/early fall,” said Brian McCarthy, the NFL’s vice president of communications.

The timing of the NFL’s decision isn’t tied to the Texas legislative schedule, which begins its special session July 18. The league has awarded the draft in August, September and October the last three years. But the timetable works to the league’s advantage by letting the issue play out without inserting itself into what has become a contentious public debate.

Again.

[…]

The NFL issued a release about inclusiveness and how its policies prohibit discrimination in the days leading up to the [Super Bowl in Houston]. A few days after the game in early February, when asked specifically about the so-called bathroom bill, McCarthy issued this statement on behalf of the league:

“If a proposal that is discriminatory or inconsistent with our values were to become law there, that would certainly be a factor considered when thinking about awarding future events.”

The question was asked in relation to the state hosting another Super Bowl, and that is how McCarthy’s response was applied. The headline became how Texas was in danger of losing out on future Super Bowls if the bathroom bill became law.

But the statement read “future events.” It didn’t limit the league’s response to the Super Bowl.

The draft, like the Super Bowl, is an event to be awarded.

We all know the drill here. I will note two points of interest. One, as the story indicates, the NFL is doing its work behind the scenes here so as not to provoke another hissy fit from Greg Abbott. And two, it would be awfully ironic if the NFL winds up showing more spine on this issue than the NBA did. Of course, for them to show that spine would mean that a bathroom bill did pass, so let’s hope they don’t get the opportunity. You can do your part to help with that by calling your legislators and letting them know in no uncertain terms that even the watered-down bathroom bill is bad for Texas. If even the NFL gets that, the Lege has no excuse.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Birth control by mail

This is interesting, but doesn’t address a couple of key points.

About half the counties in Texas don’t have the number of public clinics required to meet the contraceptive needs of the population. So Nurx, an at-home birth control delivery app, decided to give women in the state the option to get birth control whenever they want and without ever needing to step into a clinic or even physically see a doctor.

Starting today, those in the Lone Star State will be able to tap the Nurx app and get contraceptives delivered straight to their door.

While Texas isn’t the only state with a giant “contraceptive desert,” or an area without at least 1 clinic to every 1,000 women in need of publicly funded contraception, it is certainly the biggest area of land in the United States not meeting these needs.

And with Trumpcare looming, and Trump’s recent “Religious Freedom” order, which allows businesses to deny birth control coverage based on religious reasons, many women could lose access to their publicly funded birth control pills and even more publicly funded clinics could go under, leaving a large and vulnerable population wide open to other, possibly dangerous methods of preventing birth.

As the story notes, there are other birth control delivery services on the market, but Nurx appears to be the only one operating in Texas. The legislative session is over, but I can easily imagine someone taking aim at this in a future session, though to be fair I thought there would be a reaction to the Mexican abortion option, too. Be that as it may, the real issue here isn’t lack of places to buy the pill, it’s the increasing restrictions on insurance coverage for it, which will become a crisis if Trumpcare passes in any form. It doesn’t matter what your delivery options are if you can’t afford to buy it in the first place. Still, it’s good that Nurx exists, and I hope it has some company in the market soon. I also hope it doesn’t have a large chunk of that market taken away from it by Congress.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

Precinct analysis: SBOE districts

There are 15 members on the State Board of Education, five Democrats and ten Republicans. Of those ten Republican-held seats, four of them were in districts that were interesting in 2016:


Dist   Incumbent  Clinton   Trump   Obama  Romney
=================================================
SBOE5     Mercer    47.0%   46.8%   42.9%   54.7%
SBOE6   Bahorich    46.3%   48.6%   38.8%   59.7%
SBOE10   Maynard    42.5%   51.6%   40.5%   57.0%
SBOE12    Miller    44.4%   50.1%   38.7%   59.7%
SBOE7   Bradley*    37.1%   59.2%   35.2%   63.6%

Dist   Incumbent    Burns Keasler Hampton  Keller
=================================================
SBOE5     Mercer    43.5%   51.3%   41.7%   53.7%
SBOE6   Bahorich    41.5%   54.8%   38.5%   58.7%
SBOE10   Maynard    39.8%   54.7%   40.1%   54.9%
SBOE12    Miller    39.1%   56.6%   37.7%   58.8%
SBOE7   Bradley*    35.9%   60.9%   36.6%   60.8%

I included David Bradley’s numbers here because his will be an open seat in 2018, but as you can see he really doesn’t belong. Add Ken Mercer’s SBOE5 to the list of districts that were carried by Hillary Clinton. I hadn’t realized it till I looked at the data. I had previously identified Mercer’s district as a viable target last year, and indeed it was a close race – he won by four points and failed to clear fifty percent. SBOE terms are four years so the next shot at Mercer isn’t until 2020, but he needs to be on the priority list then.

Districts 6 and 10 were also on the ballot last year and thus not up again till 2020. District 6, which is entirely within Harris County, shifted about seven points in a blue direction, and while I’d expect it to continue to shift as the county does, it’s still got a ways to go to get to parity. With SBOE districts being twice as big as Senate districts and generally being completely under the radar, getting crossovers is a challenge. District 10 didn’t really shift much, but it’s close enough to imagine something good happening in a strong year. District 12 is the only one on the ballot next year, and it’s the reddest of the four based on the downballot data. But if there’s a Trump effect next year, who knows what could happen. It certainly deserves a decent candidate. Keep it in mind as we go forward.

Posted in: Election 2016.

We could have another Heights alcohol vote

Sure, why not?

Heights voters last fall lifted a 105-year-old ban on the sale of beer and wine at grocery stores, but customers still must join a private club if they want to drink alcohol at area restaurants or bars. That means submitting a drivers license for entry into a club database.

The Houston Heights Restaurant Coalition petition would lift that requirement, leaving the historically dry portion of the Heights nearly wet. Liquor sales at grocery and convenience stores still would be banned.

“While we were doing (the petition) last year, a couple of restaurants came around and said, ‘Hey, we’re here too,'” said Bryan Poff, a project manager for Austin-based Texas Petition Strategies, which is managing the petition drive. “As soon as they saw how much support beer and wine got … that was all they needed.”

[…]

Morgan Weber, co-owner of Coltivare and Eight Row Flint, said allowing restaurants and bars to sell alcohol more freely would improve the customer experience and help streamline operations.

“It’s not ideal from our perspective, because instead of really being able to make a great first impression … the first thing out of our mouth when you order alcohol is that we need to see your drivers license,” Weber said. “It’s right out of the gate kind of negative.”

Weber also pointed to Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission rules that require restaurants and bars looking to sell alcohol in dry parts of the Heights to establish a separate non-profit or association to receive the proceeds of alcohol sales and pay for the private club’s operation.

See here for coverage of last year’s effort. I supported that effort (though I couldn’t vote for it, as I don’t live in that part of the Heights), as I generally support efforts to undo dry restrictions. This particular restriction is kind of silly – as noted in the story, restaurants can sell booze, they just have to collect your name and drivers license info for their “private club” to do it. I’m sure there will be opposition to this – I knew plenty of people who were against last year’s referendum, and I doubt they’ll be any happier with this one – though Bill Baldwin won’t be leading it. My early guess is that it will succeed if it gets to a vote, but we’ll see. Swamplot and Eater Houston have more.

Posted in: Elsewhere in Houston.

An SB4 threefer

We have our first SB4 casualty.

A 15,000-member association of attorneys and law professors said on Wednesday that it is relocating its 2018 convention out of Texas in response to the state legislature passing Senate bill 4, a sweeping and controversial immigration enforcement measure.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association was scheduled to hold its 3-day event in Grapevine next year, but said the bill’s “dangerous, destructive and counter productive proposals” go against the group’s mission. About 3,000 people were expected to attend the convention.

“One of the issues that drove the board’s decision was concern on behalf of quite a number of our members that they might not be willing to bring themselves or their families to Texas,” AILA president Bill Stock told reporters during a conference call. “Our members are US citizens and green card holders but many of them come from ethnic communities where they felt that they [would] being unfairly targeted.”

[…]

The AILA Grapevine conference was booked years ago. The organization could face financial penalties for relocating, Stock said, but the group chose to cancel the event anyway due to the new law.

I don’t think it should surprise anyone that an association of immigration attorneys would want to take its business elsewhere after SB4 passed. Will other groups do likewise? It’s hard to say, especially given the vastly greater attention given to SB6, which will be re-focused on the state during the special session. With all the lawsuits getting filed, and with SB4 not officially taking effect until September 1 barring an injunction, perhaps that will change.

In the meantime, SxSW has come under some pressure to think about relocating. For now, at least, they are standing firm.

[SXSW CEO Roland] Swenson’s position is reasonable—and it’s notable that he doesn’t make the argument that leaving Austin is unrealistic, which while true, would come off as a smidge hypocritical from an organization that’s floated such ideas themselves. As the 2017 regular session proved, and which Abbott’s comments at a reception in Belton about the smell of the air in “the People’s Republic of Austin” on Wednesday confirmed, bashing Austin is good for politics if you’re a Texas Republican. Leading SXSW to pull out of Austin might have a negative economic impact on the city to the tune of $320 million a year, but it’s a safe bet that any politician who voted for SB 4 would probably get cheers from their base for chasing it out of town.

All of which highlights the actual issue that SXSW—and any business whose values involve a fairly progressive worldview—face in operating in Texas in 2017. Austin leads the state in startups, venture capital, and patents. The sort of industries that are likely to form the basis of Texas’s modern economy are growing out of a city that the state’s leaders are quick to bash. At some point, Austin, SXSW, and all of the constituencies that those two entities represent are going to have to make some decisions about whether the animosity coming from the state to their interests is mutual—and if so, what to do about it.

See the Chron for more. It’s crazy to think that our Republican overlords, who like to tout every business relocation to Texas, would cheer for a $300 million economic loss, but this is the world we live in. Texas’ urban areas are big engines of growth, but their politics differ from those of the state leadership, which has been doing all it can to stick it to them.

All of that is bad for business, and business is wondering when it lost its influence.

Dennis Nixon is the CEO of the International Bank of Commerce, the ninth biggest bank in Texas, the kind of person the state’s Republicans used to listen to. These days, however, he’s feeling woefully neglected.

“I personally think it’s a disaster,” Nixon says, about the legislative session that just ended. “They basically disregarded the business community of Texas, just threw us under the bus.”

Nixon is particularly exasperated by the passage of Senate Bill 4, which directs local law enforcement agencies to cooperate with federal immigration officials in arresting and detaining undocumented immigrants. He says the immigrant workforce is essential to the state’s economic health, and that driving them out is self-sabotage.

He pointed to Arizona, where anti-immigration laws drove out workers, created labor shortages and hurt economic growth.

“This could have really serious consequences for Texas,” he says. “”My argument is, we have to have these people. They’re working already.”

It’s not just the immigration issue: Nixon is also fuming at the Texas legislature’s focus on social issues like abortion and transgender bathroom access, its failure to address high property taxes, and the Trump administration’s determination to build a wall on the border with Mexico. He says he’s brought these issues up with lawmakers, to no avail.

“I don’t get it,” Nixon says. “I’m just one guy in the night, screaming.”

[…]

“No amount of misinformation and fear-mongering about a law that keeps dangerous criminals off the street, and that a majority of Texans support, will stop business from thriving in Texas,” said Abbott spokesman John Wittman, of the sanctuary cities bill. He also expressed confidence that the bathroom bill wouldn’t hurt the state’s economy.

“The truth is that businesses look at what is best for their bottom line, and Texas is that place,” Wittman says.

Nixon disagrees, and worries that Texas’ open-for-business reputation isn’t indestructible.

“That’s a very slippery slope to get on, when the government disregards the business message, you’re really getting yourself into trouble,” Nixon says. “Especially if you’re a Republican state, you want to retain the business community as a political ally.”

Still, businesses are in a little bit of a box: Democrats aren’t exactly their cup of tea either, with their preference for higher taxes and tighter regulations.

“They’ve moved to the left, and gotten so crazy out of whack,” Nixon says. “And we’ve got the Republicans who’ve moved far to the right, they’ve gotten crazy out of whack. So we’ve got to get back to the middle here.”

Sorry, dude, but you’re going to have to make a choice. You could try to elect some less-fanatical Republicans via the primaries, but good luck with that. Alternately, you can accept that while Democrats can, will, and should oppose you on some important things, they at least won’t work to destroy the state’s economy and reputation through legislative means. Last we checked, businesses were doing pretty well in Democratic-run states like California, too. What do you have to lose here?

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Weekend link dump for June 11

“There may come a day when you will have to be The Advocate for someone you love. Do not do it under duress because that just creates more problems. Do not do it because you think it will somehow get you in the will because it may not. Do it because you love that person and they just plain need you to be The Advocate. And you must be satisfied with no reward other than that knowing you did the right thing and that you did it reasonably well.”

Two Cosby accusers grapple with the legacy of their stories.

“Having written about these issues for a very long time, here are a couple of truths I learned the hard way: Hollywood is way too quick to pat itself on the back for the smallest and most overdue steps forward when it comes to diversity, inclusion and representation — and the industry is far, far too quick to let the backsliding begin. And when that backsliding does begin (as it has many times in the past), many who mouth easy platitudes — instead of doing the real work of increasing the diversity of the industry — very easily and even reflexively turn a blind eye to the return to the status quo.”

“It cannot be the case that all actions are exempted from potential punishment if one can justify them on the basis of a “sincerely held religious belief.” Inevitably, we must pick and choose, with precious little genuine guidance from lawmakers or the Supreme Court.”

“Trump has no actual policy to change the trends outlined above. Making it easier for coal owners to pollute watercourses and steal the pensions of their retirees, and gutting research into clean energy, are mere acts of spite, as per Krugman. They make no difference to the trends.”

Sometimes, a man just has to mow his lawn, you know?

“Rule of thumb: If it’s hard you’ll have trouble finding people who want to do it. There’s no shortage of people who want to be programmers, designers, strategists, social media consultants, entrepreneurs, investors, etc… But try finding people to work the farm. Hard work is doing the work other people don’t want to do.”

“Advocates of better government should call for a simple reform: any company that receives most of its revenue from the federal government and wants to keep getting that money can no longer pay its CEO more than the government pays the president of the United States.”

“This last really bad week seems to have gotten us to a new point in which administration leaders are openly saying that the President doesn’t speak for himself or his administration. Either in people’s understanding of what Presidents are supposed to do or in the humiliations these descriptions likely amount to for Trump himself, this does not seem like a sustainable solution to the Trump problem.”

RIP, Jimmy Piersall, former MLB player and author of “Fear Strikes Out”, about his battle with mental illness.

RIP, Peter Sallis, the voice of Wallace in the “Wallace and Gromit” movies.

“It is bizarre to design your country’s energy policy — which, even if you disregard climate science, has important implications for public health and international diplomacy — around the goal of maximizing jobs in an industry that employs fewer people than Arby’s.”

“I have often run across men (and rarely, but not never, women) who have become so powerful in their lives that there is no one to tell them when they are cruel, wrong, foolish, absurd, repugnant. In the end there is no one else in their world, because when you are not willing to hear how others feel, what others need, when you do not care, you are not willing to acknowledge others’ existence. That’s how it’s lonely at the top. It is as if these petty tyrants live in a world without honest mirrors, without others, without gravity, and they are buffered from the consequences of their failures.”

If you still have VHS tapes, you better start converting them to digital format, because those tapes will not last forever.

“Top lawyers with at least four major law firms rebuffed White House overtures to represent President Trump in the Russia investigations, in part over concerns that the president would be unwilling to listen to their advice, according to five sources familiar with discussions about the matter.”

“If there is an opportunity, we need to triage Jeff Sessions out of power right now. Trump is the terminal disease that we cannot cure just at the moment. Sessions is gangrenous leg that needs to be sawed off before the infection spreads any further.”

“There is always something obscene about the abuse of power, even if it isn’t sexual.”

RIP, Glenne Headly, Emmy-nominated TV actress and star of films such as Dick Tracy and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

RIP, Adam West, once and always the best Batman.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

May runoff results

I know I’ve been all about the Pearland and Pasadena runoffs, but this is easily the big story from yesterday.

Ron Nirenberg

With little more than 75% of precincts reporting, Mayor Ivy Taylor conceded victory to Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8) just after 9 p.m. on Saturday, June 10.

Nirenberg received 54.43% of the vote to Taylor’s 45.57% so far. Exactly 5,266 votes separated the two in the early voting results. That margin has grown to more than 8,080.

“There are many issues obviously that differentiate my vision from Mayor Taylor’s – on transportation issues, on diversity issues, on public safety issues – and I think that the voters have made some clear choices about the direction that they want to take the city,” Nirenberg said. “This is a brand new Council so we want to get that everyone together and start working on a unified direction for the city.”

It’s been a fierce runoff over the past month with negative mailers and television ads coming from both sides. An incumbent upset is not unheard of, but relatively rare in San Antonio.

[…]

“In terms of specific issues, the things I’ve been talking about are getting modern transportation strategy put on paper so we can start developing it,” Nirenberg said. “Part of that will be voter approval of a mass transit system for San Antonio.”

You can see vote totals here. What Nirenberg says all sounds fine, but when I think of Ivy Taylor, I think of her vote against San Antonio’s non-discrimination ordinance, and more recently her vote against the SB4 lawsuit. Suffice it to say, I am pleased by this result. Congratulations, Mayor-elect Nirenberg.

Coming closer to home, results were mixed in Pasadena.

Pasadena City Council member Jeff Wagner beat businessman John “JR” Moon Saturday in the heated election in Pasadena to replace outgoing Mayor Johnny Isbell,

Wagner is closely aligned with Isbell, who has tightly controlled the city politics for decades but could not run again because of term limits.

“Voters in Pasadena don’t seem to be ready for change,” said University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus. “It’s hard to persuade voters about change in a local election.”

[…]

Besides the race for mayor, Daniel Vela lost to Felipe Villarreal who were both vying for an open city council seat representing District A.

“It was going to be a tight race, either way,” Villarreal said. “I’m glad I got the better part of it.”

Vote totals are here, at least until the canvass. Villarreal was trailing after early voting, then won on Runoff Day by a 2-1 margin, which put him over the top. He was a Project LIFT candidate, so winning that race takes a bit of the sting off of the Mayor’s race result, and keeps Council at the previous mix, meaning new Mayor Wagner has four allies and four skeptics serving with him. We’ll see what he does with the voting rights lawsuit appeal – he had said he’d put it before Council, but as things stand he won’t get a majority to favor continuing the appeal. At best, it’ll be a 4-4 tie, which puts the ball back into his court. And it should be noted that despite Prof. Rottinghaus’ pessimism, the anti-Isbell forces were ten votes in May away from having control of Council. It’s not quite progress yet, but it’s not a step back either.

Pearland, alas, was less positive.

Pearland Mayor Tom Reid was leading challenger Quentin Wiltz in early returns Saturday in an election runoff over who will lead the fast-growing south Houston suburb.

And in the race for a newly created City Council position, Woody Owens was leading Dalia Kasseb in early returns.

The runoff elections reflected a city grappling with change in a suburb that has grown significantly in recent decades, with new and diverse residents moving to master-planned communities built on the west side of town.

Vote totals are here, though as of nearly 10 PM all there was to see were the early vote numbers. Both Reid and Owens were over 60%, so unless something shocking happened yesterday, they won easily. Turnout was higher for this race than it was for May – indeed, more votes were cast before yesterday than for the May election – so it seems the forces of the status quo carried the day. Unfortunate, but there it is. Thanks to Quentin Wiltz and Dalia Kasseb for running honorable campaigns and providing a base to build on for next time.

Posted in: Election 2017.

We have the Paxton case

By “we”, I mean Harris County.

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s criminal case is officially moving to Harris County.

In an order signed Friday morning, Judge George Gallagher vacated several previous orders scheduling hearings in the case and directed the Collin County District Clerk’s Office to transfer the proceedings to the Harris County District Clerk.

Gallagher’s order effectively triggers the search for a new judge in the case, following up on a Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruling this week that removed him as the judge who would presided over the embattled attorney general’s securities fraud and registration case. Special prosecutors asked the court to keep Gallagher.

The ruling marked a win for the first-term Republican attorney general who has been fighting to remove the judge from his case since Gallagher opted to move the trial out of Paxton’s home of Collin County in April.

See here, here, and here for the background. I always want to put the “win” here in quotes, since I believe it’s a victory in name only, with no practical effect. But I suppose it makes Paxton feel better, so we mustn’t discount that.

The DMN adds some technical details.

A new judge will be assigned by random. Harris County assigns judges for criminal cases using the “Automated Random Assignment System,” a kind of massive bingo cage containing 220 balls that spits out assignments.

On Thursday, Harris County District Courts Administrator Clay Bowman told The Dallas Morning News that Administrative Judge Robert Schaffer would be shepherding the assignment.

“Our local administrative judge is the person who will be handling, sort of shepherding, the assignment of the case,” said Bowman, who added Olen Underwood, the regional presiding judge for Harris and 34 other counties in southeast Texas, would likely also be involved.

There are nearly two dozen criminal district judges in Harris County who could be assigned the case. Nearly half are Democrats. These judges, who are locally elected, have received thousands of dollars in donations from all three prosecutors and two of Paxton’s top attorneys in the past.

This story also calls the ouster of Judge Gallagher as a “win” – specifically, a “major victory” – for Paxton. I wonder if that narrative will change if he draws a Democratic judge. Not that it should matter, of course – it shouldn’t matter in any event who the judge is, since they’re supposed to be all impartial and judicial and all. But whatever. The updated Chron story, which refers to Paxton being handed a “major win”, says that the judicial bingo process should occur “sometime very early [this] week”, so we’ll keep an eye on that. Mazel tov to whoever gets this one dropped in their lap.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Yes, there will be constitutional amendments on the November ballot

They’re not very interesting, which in this environment is a blessing, but they will be there.

House Joint Resolution 21

What will be on the ballot: “The constitutional amendment authorizing the Legislature to provide for an exemption from ad valorem taxation of part of the market value of the residence homestead of a partially disabled veteran or the surviving spouse of a partially disabled veteran if the residence homestead was donated to the disabled veteran by a charitable organization for less than the market value of the residence homestead and harmonizing certain related provisions of the Texas Constitution.”

House Joint Resolution 37

What will be on the ballot: “The constitutional amendment relating to legislative authority to permit credit unions and other financial institutions to award prizes by lot to promote savings.”

House Joint Resolution 100

What will be on the ballot: “The constitutional amendment on professional sports teams’ charitable foundations conducting charitable raffles.”

Senate Joint Resolution 1

What will be on the ballot: “The constitutional amendment authorizing the Legislature to provide for an exemption from ad valorem taxation of all or part of the residence homestead of the surviving spouse of a first responder who is killed or fatally injured in the line of duty.”

Senate Joint Resolution 6

What will be on the ballot: “The constitutional amendment authorizing the Legislature to require a court to provide notice to the attorney general of a challenge to the constitutionality of a state statute and authorizing the Legislature to prescribe a waiting period before the court may enter a judgment holding the statute unconstitutional.”

Senate Joint Resolution 34

What will be on the ballot: “The constitutional amendment limiting the service of certain officeholders appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate after the expiration of the person’s term of office.”

Senate Joint Resolution 60

What will be on the ballot: “The constitutional amendment to establish a lower amount for expenses that can be charged to a borrower and removing certain financing expense limitations for a home equity loan, establishing certain authorized lenders to make a home equity loan, changing certain options for the refinancing for home equity loans, changing the threshold for an advance of a home equity line of credit, and allowing home equity loans on agricultural homesteads.”

You can click over to see the brief explanation of what these mean, but honestly none of it is that interesting. This is the reason why you didn’t hear about any of this during the session. Only a few narrow interests care about any of this, and it’s unlikely there will be much of a campaign for any of it. Don’t expect there to be much turnout in places that don’t have some other elections on their November ballots.

Posted in: Election 2017.

Our electors can continue to be faithless

So much for that.

The momentum seemed to be there.

After Donald Trump easily defeated Hillary Clinton in Texas, two of the state’s 38 Electoral College members cast ballots for someone other than the Republican nominee — a less-than-flattering moment for a state with a strong GOP tradition. In the days — even hours — after the Electoral College meeting in December, some of the state’s top Republicans rallied around proposals to “bind” presidential electors to the result of the statewide popular vote.

“This charade is over,” tweeted Gov. Greg Abbott shortly after the meeting ended. “A bill is filed to make these commitments binding. I look forward to signing it & ending this circus.”

Yet no such legislation made it to Abbott’s desk over the course of the legislative session that ended in May. Instead, lawmakers are now seeking to study the issue during the interim, an anticlimactic end to a session that began with major-league support for the cause.

“We were kind of stuck,” said Eric Opiela, the former general counsel for the Texas GOP — which ended up opposing the way one of several filed bills dealt with “faithless electors.”

The debate appeared to boil down to whether such electors should be fined after going rogue or be immediately disqualified if they submit a ballot for someone other than the winner of the statewide popular vote.

See here for the whole saga. The rest of the article tells the story of the bills that failed, which is what it is. The Electoral College is a dumb anachronism, but I say we should either honor the original intent and let the electors make their own choices, or get rid of it altogether and go with a popular vote. I don’t see us getting the latter any time soon, so at least we made it through this session without making what we do have worse.

Posted in: That's our Lege, The making of the President.

Saturday video break: Sara

Here’s Fleetwood Mac with one of their bigger post-Rumours hits:

There isn’t a Fleetwood Mac video channel as far as I could tell, so that was the best-looking video I could find. Other than the lips not always synching with the music, it’s not too bad. Now here’s Camper Van Beethoven’s take on this:

That may be the least-viewed video I’ve ever embedded. CvB did a song-by-song cover of the Tusk album – their 10-minute rendition of the title track is kind of amazing. Perhaps a bit of an acquired taste, but I like it anyway.

Posted in: Music.

Today is Runoff Day

While I have nothing to vote for tomorrow, there are hot races in Pasadena and Pearland.

Changes in Pearland’s demographics have mirrored those in Houston, amplifying the effects of what this election will show, University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said.

“This election will tell us a lot about where the future of Houston will go and, therefore, where the future of Texas will go,” he said.

In the mayor’s race, 91-year-old incumbent Tom Reid faces a challenge from Quentin Wiltz, a 36-year-old project manager whom the mayor once recommended for a city park board position. In the council race, businessman and former city council member Woody Owens, 69, is running against 30-year-old pharmacist Dalia Kasseb, the first openly Muslim candidate for public office in Brazoria County history. She has never before run for elective office in the city, but Wiltz encouraged her run.

Owens says his past experience on council and professionally will be a benefit. He maintained that Pearland grew from a solid foundation and that the diverse city still has a united, small-town atmosphere. The campaign of the mayor, who has supported Owens, did not provide comment.

“We’re all Pearlanders,” Owens said.

Wiltz and Kasseb, who have been campaigning together, insist they have much to offer. They knocked on thousands of doors, they said, discussing with residents their ideas on mobility (HOV lanes, park and ride, a rail line), a nearby landfill that has been the subject of residents’ complaints and overall quality of life. They derided anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim social media posts that surfaced.

“Pearland has changed,” Wiltz said. “The challenges have changed.”

This one got a bit nasty, which may have helped generate some turnout. In May, there were 7,660 total votes cast. Early voting turnout for the runoff was 9,740 votes. I have no idea who that might benefit, but it’s interesting. Polling places for Pearland can be found here. I’ll report the results tomorrow.

There’s a more stark contrast in Pearland, both partisan and generational, which is less present in Pasadena.

In addition to the mayor’s race, voters will decide the District A council seat, where Felipe Villarreal and Daniel Vela are vying to represent part of the city’s north side.

The mayor’s race, however, is taking center stage as it marks a change from Isbell, who has led the city, off and on, for decades and now is term-limited.

“I want to give every candidate the benefit of the doubt,” said Cody Ray Wheeler, a councilman who frequently has butted heads with Isbell. “Whoever the next mayor is, I want to work with them.”

Wheeler ran unopposed for his District E seat during the May 6 election.

The runoff comes amid conflicts over racial tensions and access to the ballot box. Nearly two-thirds of city residents are Hispanic, up from less than one-third in 1990.

[…]

Moon, a commercial real estate agent and banker who grew up in Pasadena, is positioning himself as the candidate of change, a break from Isbell’s legacy.

“People want change,” Moon said. “They don’t want a continuation of the same, and I believe my opponent is a continuation of the same.”

Moon’s priorities include developing a multi-year capital improvement plan to spread infrastructure projects across the city, including streets and sidewalks. He wants to implement zero-based-budgeting for city departments to make them justify their spending. And he touts his credentials as chief financial officer of Moody Bank, based in Galveston, to help make shrewder financial decisions for the city.

Wagner did not respond to repeated requests for comment by email or phone. After a Pasadena city council meeting Tuesday, Wagner said he would meet a Houston Chronicle reporter outside, before exiting into a private room and reportedly leaving City Hall.

In campaign literature, Wagner touts his experience as a former Houston police officer and as a city councilman. He is widely seen as the candidate most aligned with Isbell.

Wagner and Moon also differ in their stances on the controversial voting rights lawsuit, which the city is appealing. Moon said he would stop the appeal, while Wagner said he would survey city council before making a decision.

As of Monday, according to the Harris County Clerk’s Office, 4,389 people had cast ballots during early voting. About 8,300 votes were cast during the May balloting.

You can find your polling place for Pasadena here. Wiltz and Kasseb in Pearland, and Villarreal in Pasadena are all Project LIFT candidates. One way or the other, there’s going to be some spin on these results.

Posted in: Election 2017.

Houston will get involved in the SB4 fight later this month

Very good to hear.

Mayor Sylvester Turner plans to ask City Council to vote this month on joining lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Texas’ new “sanctuary cities” law, ending months of equivocation on the controversial immigration enforcement measure.

If City Council votes to sue, Houston would join San Antonio, Austin, Dallas and several other local governments already challenging the state or planning to do so.

“I will ask this month City Council to consider and vote to join the lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of SB4,” Turner tweeted Thursday morning, after the Houston Chronicle ran a front page story about his decision to remain on the sidelines of debate over the statute.

Here’s that front page story. You can see what a change of direction this is.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Turner has asked the city attorney’s office to review the law known as Senate Bill 4, which allows police to ask people their immigration status if detained even for a routine traffic stop, but otherwise continues to deflect questions about whether he plans to challenge it.

That has meant carefully sidestepping the term “sanctuary city,” while touting Houston as a diverse, “welcoming city” and assuring residents that Houston police will not violate their constitutional rights.

On Wednesday, the mayor attempted to redirect attention to Austin by urging Houstonians to take up their concerns at the Capitol, even though the law has been signed and the Legislature is not slated to revisit the issue during its July special session.

“The right forum to reconsider Senate Bill 4 before it goes into effect on Sept. 1 is Austin, Texas, and I’d encourage people to write to call to drive or go to Austin,” Turner said. “Go to Austin by the hundreds, by the thousands, and ask those who authored, voted for and signed Senate Bill 4 to repeal Senate Bill 4. Those of us around this table, we cannot repeal Senate Bill 4, as we did not author Senate Bill 4.”

So Houston may follow in the footsteps of San Antonio and Bexar County and Dallas, if Council goes along. According to the full Chron story, it looks like that will happen.

Houston could sue over SB4 without City Council approval, but Turner nonetheless promised a vote. City Council is in recess next week, meaning a vote would come June 21 at the earliest.

As of Thursday, the left-leaning City Council appeared to be breaking along party lines, with Democratic members largely favoring a lawsuit and Republican members generally opposed.

District I Councilman Robert Gallegos, who supports a lawsuit, said he worried the law could tear families apart if it causes more parents to be deported, calling it “an open door for racial profiling.”

District C Councilwoman Ellen Cohen also plans to vote to sue, citing concerns that the law could discourage victims from reporting crimes, echoing law enforcement leaders across the state, including Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo.

“We now have a percentage of the population that, out of fear for their own lives and deportation, won’t report, and it jeopardizes women’s lives and others,” Cohen said.

At-large Councilman Michael Kubosh said he opposes a lawsuit because of the potential cost.

“I don’t want to spend the money on a lawsuit that’s already been well-funded by other cities,” Kubosh said. “It won’t have an effect on the outcome of the case.”

He and others also worried that suing the state could put Houston at risk for losing federal funding.

Two council members, Mike Laster and Brenda Stardig, declined to say how they would vote, and at-large Councilman Jack Christie said he was likely to abstain.

“I’m not in favor of suing people to just show where we stand,” Christie said. “We show where we stand by example.”

There’s a sidebar on the story with a vote count for when this does come before Council (and while it could come as early as June 21, you can bet your bottom dollar someone will tag it for a week). Counting Mayor Turner, there are eight Yeses, five Nos, Christie’s abstention, and three who declined to comment or could not be reached. Of those three, I’d expect two Yeses – Mike Laster, who has since suggested on Twitter that he would likely vote in favor, and Jerry Davis – and one No, Brenda Stardig. You should probably reach out to your Council member and let them know how you feel about this. In the meantime, I agree with Campos, this would not have happened, at least at this time, had not there been pressure from the Texas Organizing Project and the DREAMers. Activism works, y’all. The Press has more.

Posted in: La Migra, Legal matters.

Texas needs more refs

Maybe you have what it takes to be one.

The Texas Association of Sports Officials has been around since the late 1970s. The organization has seen a decrease in its numbers in recent years. At the same time, more and more junior high and high schools have been built, creating more teams, more games and more problems.

“There just aren’t enough of us,” said Mike Atkinson, president of the TASO Houston chapter.

TASO is a nonprofit organization that trains and schedules officials in volleyball, football, basketball, soccer, baseball and softball.

The group needs its numbers to increase. Across the state, there are 155 chapters and approximately 14,000 members in the organization.

The problem? The organization isn’t adding members and many of the members aren’t getting any younger. The group has more members over 60 years old than it does under 30.

The retention rate in the Houston area is about 30 percent, Atkinson said.

So for every 100 new officials who sign up, only about 30 will stay on.

And for every high school built, the group needs just under 30 new officials to be able to cover the increase in sporting events.

Right now, the numbers aren’t adding up. There are plenty of reasons for it.

[…]

The Houston area chapter is known as one of the state’s best. The group proved it by being asked to officiate more than 150 playoff games last season – more than the Dallas/Fort Worth and Austin/San Antonio chapters.

Houston’s chapter would like to keep that going.

But it needs new officials.

The target this summer is 200, Atkinson said. The group could use more but could live with that. It would help with the increasing number of schools and the number of retiring officials.

The biggest benefit is obvious. Being an official lets you be a part of football in the state with the best football. Sorry, California and Florida.

Other benefits include exercise and extra money. The starting pay isn’t great. An official at a seventh-grade football game might make $50 plus a fee for mileage. But the top ones under the Friday night lights get a base of $65 plus a percentage of the gate.

And several move on to officiate college games after getting their start at the youth level.

If any of this sounds interesting to you, go here and fill out an application. You never know where it may lead you. I don’t know what TASO and its local affiliates have been doing to find more new officials, but I’d hope they see this as an opportunity to recruit and welcome more women into their ranks. Everyone needs to start somewhere, and TASO has an interest in broadening its base. It just makes sense.

Posted in: Other sports.

Friday random ten – Girls’ music of 2016, part 2

More of the music from 2016 that is in my library because of my daughters:

1. Stitches – Shawn Mendes
2. Side To Side – Ariana Grande
3. Same Old Love – Selena Gomez
4. Don’t Let Me Down – The Chainsmokers
5. 7 Years – Lukas Graham
6. Sugar – Maroon 5
7. Centuries – Fall Out Boy
8. Tom’s Diner – Suzanne Vega & DNA
9. Picture To Burn – Taylor Swift
10. Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen

If you are familiar with “Centuries”, then you know that it liberally quotes from the main theme of “Tom’s Diner”, which I pointed out to the girls the first time they played it for me. That enabled me to talk them into also buying the Suzanne Vega song. One of Olivia’s classmates got her into “Bohemian Rhapsody”, to my delight. I already had a ripped-from-vinyl version of it in my collection, but sprung for a better-quality version from the iTunes store. The rest I’m more “meh” about than last week’s list, but whatever. They like what they like, and for the most part it doesn’t annoy me. I’m fine with that.

Posted in: Music.

SCOTUS will not hear Harris County bail appeal

Let this please be the end of the line.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has denied Harris County’s request to stop the release of misdemeanor inmates who can’t afford to post cash bail.

The county had appealed late Tuesday to halt Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal’s directive that it begin releasing some inmates accused of misdemeanor crimes who cannot afford bail. That order had gone into effect Tuesday, and continued Wednesday, while Thomas considered the county’s application.

Thomas’s denial means some inmates will continue to be released on personal recognizance ahead of their trials if they cannot afford bail. The county still has the option to ask another justice or the full Supreme Court to reconsider Thomas’s denial. Often follow-up requests to other justices are referred to the full court, according to the public information office for the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, an appeals court is also considering the county’s appeal of Rosenthal’s full order.

See here for the background. The full Chron story has more details.

Chief U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal in Houston issued a 193-page ruling in April that the county’s bail system was unconstitutional and ordered the release of indigent misdemeanor defendants using personal bonds.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday morning rejected the county’s efforts to halt Rosenthal’s injunction while they challenged the full ruling in court. The county filed the same day for emergency consideration before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The latest legal blow left county officials weighing their options and refocusing efforts on challenging the larger order from Rosenthal, said First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard.

The county still has the option to ask another justice or the full Supreme Court to reconsider Thomas’ ruling. Follow-up requests to other justices often are referred to the full court, according to the high court’s public information office.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg – whose office has already begun supporting personal bonds for misdemeanors – praised the court’s decision.

“There is no longer any legal reason why the county cannot comply with Judge Lee Rosenthal’s order,” she said, in a written statement. “Holding people in jail solely because they are poor violates due process, and the courts at every level of our federal judiciary have clearly spoken.”

[…]

Precinct 3 County Commissioner Steve Radack said the county wants a chance to complete its reforms without federal intervention.

“I want the end result to be fairness, and that’s what we have been striving for,” Radack said. “I don’t think you can always get court-ordered fairness.”

The bail bond industry has also opposed the order, which will release thousands of potential clients without requiring them to post bond.

Veteran bondsman Carlos Manzano, of Americas Bail Bonds, said he and many of his colleagues believe the overuse of personal bonds will create a dangerous situation for the community.

“It’s kind of like just like giving everybody a slap on the hand,” he said. “It’s going to blow up in the county’s face. It’s just a ticking time bomb.”

[…]

Legal experts said the county has just about used up all its options in challenging Rosenthal’s order.

“There’s no question that Justice Thomas has concluded that there isn’t clear and obvious irreparable harm to the state if the stay isn’t granted,” said Lonny Hoffman, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center who specializes in federal procedure.

Sarah R. Guidry, executive director of the Earl Carl Institute for Legal and Social Policy at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University, said Thomas’ rejection of the county’s appeal will force local changes.

“This is going to put a fire under the county to figure out how to implement this,” she said. “It’s also going to have a huge impact on the bail bonds industry. They’re going to have to figure out a different way to make a living. They’re not going the get the bulk of their income off of poor people who are charged with low-level crimes.”

You know where I stand on this, so you know what I think of those BS fearmongering arguments from Steve Radack and the bail bond people. But hey, if I’m wrong then we’ll find out, because the county now has no choice but to comply. And when we find out that they’re the ones that are wrong and that nothing too bad happens, then what exactly will be the point of continuing to appeal? Settle now and save whatever dignity and lawyers’ fees we still can. It’s the only rational option. Lisa Falkenberg has more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Do we really have to have a pension bond vote?

So as we know, the Houston pension reform bill that passed contains a provision that requires a vote on the pension obligation bonds that Mayor Turner intends to float as a down payment. Pension obligation bonds have been floated in the past, by Mayor White, without a vote, but for whatever the reason some members of the Senate insisted on it, so here we are. Now it turns out that with interest rates likely to increase later in the year, waiting till after a vote in November to float the bonds will cost the city millions in extra payments. You would think the responsible thing to do would be to float them now while it’s less expensive, and so Mayor Turner has suggested that as a possibility.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner did not rule out Wednesday issuing the $1 billion in bonds that are central to his pension reform deal without a public referendum, a move that would sidestep a hotly debated requirement the Legislature added to ensure passage of the city-negotiated plan.

Turner said he and his staff are proceeding as though there will be a referendum, but the mayor said he may seek to issue the bonds without a vote if he can gain consensus among City Council members, state lawmakers and others that moving more quickly would benefit the city.

Specifically, he referenced the benefit of preempting an anticipated jump in interest rates. Waiting six to nine months to issue the bonds, the city finance department estimates, could cost taxpayers $135 million to $273 million more over the life of the debt.

“I find it highly unlikely that anything is going to take place other than the vote in November, and that’s how we’re proceeding,” Turner said. “If we can all agree on a certain course and it may be able to expedite things, then we’ll do that.

“I’m talking about agreement with everybody. We’ve come this far with everybody, both on the local levels as well as on the state level and my approach is to always move in collaboration with everyone. But if not, then we’ll proceed with the vote.”

[…]

Though much of the rhetoric surrounding the bill during legislative debates referenced that voters would have a chance to weigh in, the mayor’s team simply points to the text of the legislation as proof that they can proceed without a vote.

Current state law requires only that City Council enter into agreements with the pension funds that are to receive the bond proceeds – in this case, the police and municipal workers’ pension funds – in order to issue the bonds. The reform legislation adds the referendum requirement, but also states that the referendum provision applies only to those agreements signed on or after the effective date of the bill, which is July 1.

Turner plans to bring those agreements to council June 21, city officials said. Though adopting them would in no way obligate the city to issue the bonds without a vote, doing so would preserve that option.

Now you’d think the prospect of saving a couple hundred million bucks would appeal to pretty much everyone, but at the mere mention of this, several self-styled fiscal conservatives immediately contracted the vapors – seriously, CM Mike Knox walked out of the committee hearing upon being presented with this – so that would seem to scuttle the “if everyone is on the same page” possibility. And indeed, Mayor Turner has now walked back the idea and reassured everyone that we will indeed have a referendum, whatever the eventual cost may be. I get that not having a vote when everyone thought there was going to be a vote seems bait-and-switch-y, but 1) having a vote was not a requirement until people like Paul Bettencourt made it a requirement, and 2) interest rates are gonna go up, so it’s going to be more expensive to wait. But a deal’s a deal, so here we are. Hope everyone’s happy.

Posted in: Local politics.

Dallas gets in the fight against SB4

Good for them.

Mike Rawlings

Dallas is joining some other Texas cities, including Austin and San Antonio, in taking on the state’s so-called “sanctuary city” law.

Mayor Mike Rawlings made the announcement Wednesday afternoon, calling SB4 “unconstitutional” and a law that “greatly infringes on the city’s ability to protect” the public. According to Rawlings, the city attorney has “serious constitutional concerns” with the new measure, which goes into effect Sept. 1.

Rawlings said after Wednesday’s council meeting that he had already spoken with Austin Mayor Steve Adler and San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor about potential litigation.

“I told them both this was a serious issue,” Rawlings said.

A San Antonio federal district court announced Wednesday it would consolidate the lawsuits filed by all of the cities against the bill and designate the city of El Cenizo as the lead plaintiff. A hearing in that case is set for June 26.

[…]

The Dallas city code allows the city attorney to initiate litigation without the council’s approval. Rawlings made his announcement moments after the City Council met with City Attorney Larry Casto behind closed doors.

Rawlings said he wanted to make sure the council was aligned before Dallas joined the fray. He said Wednesday that a majority of the council agreed with Casto’s recommendation to take on the state.

“We are not a sanctuary city,” he said. “We live by the national laws, and now the question is who’s boss in all this. And this is an unfunded mandate. They’re telling us how our police officers should spend their time and not giving us any money to do that.”

Add yet another city to the list. Dallas may have joined in without it being clear whether they’d be on their own or as part of an existing lawsuit, but that matter appears to have been cleared up for them.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia Wednesday ordered that lawsuits challenging Senate Bill 4, which limits local law enforcement policies on immigration, by San Antonio, the border town of El Cenizo and El Paso County be joined in one large case.

Garcia denied a request by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to move those suits to Austin and combine them with a preemptive suit the state filed to have the law declared constitutional.

That also addresses the motion filed by Ken Paxton to combine all the lawsuits with the one he filed. It’s not clear to me why the San Antonio court responded to that and not the Austin court, but I assume the judges have their reasons. In any event, whether one lawsuit or many, the more the merrier. And as far as Houston goes, there may be some action later this month. The Trib has more.

Posted in: La Migra, Legal matters.