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A telemedicine breakthrough

This is good to see.

Sen. Charles Schwertner

A years-long fight over the use of telemedicine in Texas appears to have been resolved, with medical and industry groups agreeing to compromise legislation that, if it passes, could benefit patients, especially those in rural areas.

Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Charles Schwertner, a Georgetown Republican and orthopedic surgeon, confirmed the deal on Wednesday and said he will sponsor the legislation to resolve the longstanding feud over rules to allow doctors to see patients electronically.

“I think we will have a bill very soon,” he said, noting there could be “considerable benefits” to patients if the legislation is approved by lawmakers — as well as possible benefits to taxpayers if the electronic doctor visits can help curb spiraling costs for some state-funded healthcare programs.

Ironically, despite the heated controversy over telemedicine for most Texans, the concept of electronic visits was adopted successfully two decades ago in the Texas prison system in a program that is now credited for saving hundreds of millions of dollars.

While the announced agreement clears the way for Schwertner’s bill to move forward in the Legislature to passage, opposition could still materialize that could delay — or perhaps derail — it. Last session, well over a dozen bills were filed to allow telemedicine in Texas, but none became law, officials said.

[…]

While providing few details on the settlement, Schwertner said Wednesday he believes the issues of disagreement have been addressed. Others familiar with the talks agreed.

They said doctors wanted to ensure proper patient care was maintained and that they would receive payment for services provided remotely. Health insurance providers who had supported use of new technologies to improve care and cut costs wanted to ensure proper payments would be permitted. And companies that offer telemedicine services wanted to ensure they could operate without onerous restrictions.

“This is significant, and will be a winner for everyone,” said Nora Belcher, executive director of the Texas e-Healthcare Alliance, a telemedicine trade group. “This is going to get us a fair and open market for telemedicine in Texas.”

Telemedicine isn’t a panacea, but it’s a worthwhile tool to have in the bag, and it should be regulated in a reasonable fashion that allows access while still prioritizing level of care and patient safety. I appreciate the work that Sen. Schwertner has done here to bring the stakeholders together and work something out. I was curious about one thing, because as we know there is an ongoing lawsuit by a telemedicine company called Teladoc against the state of Texas over its current regulations. The story did not mention this litigation, so I sent a query to Sen. Schwertner’s office to ask if one intent of his bill was to resolve that lawsuit. The response I received was “It is our hope that by passing an agreed-to bill between the various stakeholders, this legislation will eliminate much of the legal ambiguity currently surrounding telemedicine and create a clear, fair, and consistent regulatory environment that will allow for the provision of telemedical services while ensuring the safety of Texas patients.” My interpretation of this is that they hope the bill will allow for that dispute to be resolved, but they can’t make it happen on their own. Anyway, this will be worth watching both during the session and (if the bill passes) afterwards.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Texas Dems look to 2018

I have a few things to say about this.

Just because

A tight-knit group of Texas Democratic leaders traveled to the state capital [in late January] to begin preliminary conversations about the 2018 midterm races.

According to over a dozen interviews with Texas Democratic insiders and national Democrats with ties to the state, the meeting included some of the party’s most well-known figures from Texas including former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, his twin brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, Texas Democratic Party Finance Chairman Mike Collier, former state Sen. Wendy Davis, state Democratic Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, former Houston Mayor Annise Parker and state Reps. Rafael Anchia of Dallas and Chris Turner of Grand Prairie.

Their main agenda: mapping out a strategy for the 2018 midterm elections.

The expectations in the room were not soaring but were cautiously hopeful. That optimism was mostly rooted around one person: President Donald Trump.

“I think 2018 will be the most favorable environment Texas Democrats have had in a midterm election in well over a decade,” said Turner, who declined to comment on the meeting. “I think when you look at the actions of the Trump administration just three weeks in, you’re seeing a president with historically low approval ratings in what should be a honeymoon period, and no indication that’s going to change given his divisive actions.”

Trump’s presidency brings together a confluence of several factors that Democrats hope will get candidates over the line: a stronger-than-past Texas Democratic performance last November in urban centers, the traditional backlash against a sitting president in the midterms and an increasingly expected added drag that Trump will create for Republicans.

The Democratic calculation is that in this unpredictable and angry climate, a full 2018 slate could produce a surprising win or two statewide or down-ballot.

[…]

Sources say no decisions were made on whom should run in which slot, nor was that widely discussed. Instead, the emphasis was on ensuring that state leaders would work together to present the strongest slate possible.

And also unlike past cycles, the Democratic planning this term centers on the political climate, rather than on a singularly compelling personality running for governor.

That the meeting happened at the outset of the state’s legislative session was also no coincidence. Democrats sense an opportunity to win over some of the business community, particularly as the “bathroom bill” touted by Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick continues to percolate at the state Capitol and as immigration, and particularly Trump’s proposals for a border wall and Mexican tariffs, roil national politics.

Parker did emphasize to the Tribune that the conversations about 2018 are happening throughout the state.

“It’s never going to be about what a small group of people said or do in a room,” she said. “It’s about what the people of Texas tell us what they need. Many of us have committed to going out and having those conversations.”

[…]

Since the Jan. 27 meeting, Julian Castro, the most-speculated Democratic contender to take on Gov. Greg Abbott, has made clear he is unlikely to run statewide in 2018. He all but closed the door on that possibility in an early morning tweet Thursday.

Instead, the most frequently floated gubernatorial candidate is Collier, a 2014 state comptroller candidate. Collier is relatively unknown statewide but impressed several Democrats in that previous run. He has also been suggested as a possible contender to run for lieutenant governor.

It’s the U.S. Senate race that is quickly becoming the center of the Democratic world, in part because of the incumbent, Cruz, and because of the two Democratic up-and-comers mulling runs: O’Rourke and Joaquin Castro.

Both men are in the same 2012 congressional class and are considered friendly with each other.

Democrats in the state and in Congress are closely watching how the two men maneuver around a possible primary race against each other, but the betting money is that O’Rourke is more likely to follow through with a run.

My thoughts:

– Optimism tempered with reality is the way to go. Dems basically have nothing to lose – HD107 was the only Dem-won seat that was remotely close – and plenty of targets that at least appear to be closer after last year. To be sure, there was reason for optimism going into 2014 as well, and we know how that turned out. The difference is who’s in the White House.

– The “tempered by reality” part is the recognition that all the seats we are trying to win were drawn to elect Republicans, and to put it mildly there’s no track record of good Democratic turnout in off years. You have to believe, as I do, that the national political climate is a big factor in how these elections play out, and that 2018 will be different than 2014 and 2010. Different doesn’t have to mean better, but all things considered it’s the more likely possibility.

– Dan Patrick has got to be a better statewide target than Greg Abbott. Abbott has good favorability numbers, and he’s not out there leading the charge for SB6. Mike Collier is the kind of credible-to-business candidate Dems could present as a viable alternative to Patrick to the business lobby. There are many reasons why those guys may stick with the devil they know even as he works against their interests, but at least there’s a chance they could be persuaded. There’s no chance they would abandon Abbott. If I were advising Mike Collier, I’d tell him to put Lite Guv first on my list. Sure, it would be nice to have a candidate with legislative experience running for that spot, but 1) the main thing you need to know as the guy who presides over the Senate is parliamentary procedure, and 2) have you even seen the guy Dan Patrick backed for President? Don’t come at me with this “experience matters” stuff.

– As long as we’re being optimistic, let’s assume Ken Paxton gets convicted between now and next November, and he does not get primaried out. It shouldn’t be that hard to find a decent candidate willing to take that bet. Just make sure that he or she has the resources needed to win the Dem primary in the event a Grady Yarbrough/Lloyd Oliver type decides to get in. The one thing we absolutely cannot do is accidentally nominate a joke to oppose Paxton.

– Having good candidates with sufficient resources to wage active campaigns in the legislative races will have a positive effect on turnout just as having a strong slate at the top of the ticket. This is not an either-or, it’s a both-and.

– Along those lines, the next best way to check Dan Patrick’s power is to reduce the number of Republicans in the Senate. Dallas County Democrats need to find a strong candidate to run against Don Huffines. Dallas County needs to be strong in 2018.

– The story talks about Democratic performance in the urban centers, and that’s important, but the suburbs matter as well. Opportunities exist in Fort Bend, Brazoria, Collin, Denton, and Williamson, and there are also a lot of votes in these places. Part of the strategy needs to be geared towards turning the tide in the suburbs. If nothing else, winning a seat in one of these places really changes the narrative, and serves as a concrete marker of progress.

– At some point, Democrats need to figure out how to translate the message that they have won on in big urban centers to smaller but still sizeable urban centers where they have not done as well. I’m talking about Lubbock, Amarillo, Corpus Christi, places like that. Burgeoning urban centers in suburban and exurban places, like Sugar Land, Pearland, Katy, New Braunfels, Plano, etc etc etc need to be on that list as well. Some of these places already have a Democratic presence on their City Councils and school boards. All of them could use more attention from the kind of people who gathered in Austin to talk about 2018. Who do we have in these places to even present the Democratic message? If such people exist among the local elected officials, support them and help raise their profile. If they don’t, bring in the shining faces we hope to be offering for larger roles and have them deliver it, then find opportunities to grow some local success stories there. I mean, this is what the Republicans were doing in the 70s and 80s. It’s always been a good strategy.

Basically, this was a good start. It’s the right way to think about 2018. Now let’s keep it going.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Trump Justice Department to drop appeals in transgender bathroom directive case

From ThinkProgress:

The Trump administration has elected not to contest a Texas federal judge’s injunction barring the federal government from implementing Obama administration guidelines that protect transgender kids in schools.

Oral arguments for the Obama Justice Department’s appeal of the judge’s decision were scheduled for Tuesday. The DOJ cancelled them in a legal brief submitted Friday.

“Defendants-appellants hereby withdraw their pending November 23, 2016 motion for partial stay pending appeal,” the brief says. “The parties jointly move to remove from the Court’s calendar the February 14, 2017 oral argument currently scheduled for that motion. The parties are currently considering how best to proceed.”

That brief was filed the day after Jeff Sessions was sworn in as Attorney General.

As ThinkProgress reported last August, the Obama administration’s guidance “stated that Title IX’s nondiscrimination protections on the basis of ‘sex’ protect transgender students in accordance with their gender identity, such that they must be allowed to use the bathrooms and play on sports teams that match their gender.” But the brief filed Friday signals that the Trump administration no longer wants to implement that guidance.

See here, here, and here for the background. I suppose some other group could try to enter the proceedings at this point in place of the feds, but there’s nothing to stop Dear Leader from rescinding this executive order, which would moot the whole thing. We’re clearly not going to move forward in the next few years, so we’re going to have to fight to not move back.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Super Bowl or bathroom bill?

Choose one or the other.

Texas’ next trip to the Super Bowl may hit a roadblock in Austin, where conservative lawmakers are pushing a bill to ban transgender people from the public bathrooms they feel most comfortable using.

“If a proposal that is discriminatory or inconsistent with our values were to become law (in Texas), that would certainly be a factor considered when thinking about awarding future events,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email response to a Chronicle question about the bill.

It was the league’s first statement on the matter since the legislation was introduced in January.

“The NFL embraces inclusiveness,” McCarthy added. “We want all fans to feel welcomed at our events, and NFL policies prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard.”

[…]

The NCAA did not directly address the situation in Texas when pressed, but a spokesman noted the precedent it set in North Carolina.

The NBA, likewise, said it considers “a wide range of factors” in determining where to host events like the All-Star Game. “Foremost among them is ensuring an environment where those who participate and attend are treated fairly and equally,” spokesman Mike Bass said in an email.

[…]

The NFL arguably represents the biggest threat. Houston’s NRG Stadium had barely emptied from last Sunday’s Super Bowl LI fans before civic boosters started talking about the next time the city would host the big game.

Former league official Frank Supovitz was quick to remind that the NFL in 1991 rescinded its offer to let the Phoenix area host a Super Bowl after Arizona legislators failed to recognize the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a national holiday.

The state policy was changed in 1992, and the 1996 Super Bowl was played in Arizona.

The NCAA has already moved championship events out of North Carolina, while sounding a very loud warning about future events. The NBA moved the All Star Game from Charlotte to New Orleans. You can make what you want of the NFL’s statements, but they sure look pretty clear to me. Meanwhile, Dan Patrick is over there swearing that nothing bad will happen if SB6 passes. Who ya gonna believe?

Also, too.

A coalition of faith leaders, including several reverends and a rabbi, offered a similar message Thursday at a press conference at First United Methodist Church near the Capitol, aiming to equate the “bathroom bill” and additional anti-LGBT measures filed this session to discriminatory acts that run contrary to their religions’ values.

“Today, there is a systematic effort underway to make LGBTQ people second-class citizens in this state,” said Taylor Fuerst, a pastor at First United Methodist Church. “When such an injustice is done in the name of religion … faith leaders and people of faith cannot be silent. Our faith, our god calls us to stand up and speak out, and that’s why we’re here today.”

Fuerst also drew a parallel to the HERO debate and the current one over SB 6.

“They found what worked in Houston was to galvanize a certain branch of the faith community behind defeating [HERO] by using fear,” Fuerst said. “Those who are working for the passage of SB 6 and similar legislation found that approach worked and said, ‘Hey, we can use that.'”

The religious community had already entered the picture earlier this week, when Episcopal Church leaders suggested they could pull their triennial General Convention from Austin next year. In a letter Monday to House Speaker Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican who has expressed deep reservations about SB 6, the leaders wrote they are “firmly opposed to this legislation and condemn its discriminatory intent.”

So that’s the NCAA, the NBA, the NFL, the American Society of Association Executives (see the Chron story), the American College Personnel Association, the Episcopal Church, and who knows who else. (Actually, Texas Competes is tracking this sort of thing – see their spreadsheet for the details.) Anyone lining up to say they won’t come to Texas unless we do pass SB6? I didn’t think so. The Trib has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Paddie files another rideshare bill

From the inbox:

Rep. Chris Paddie

Texas State Rep. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall) has filed legislation proposing a statewide regulatory framework for transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Uber and Lyft. House Bill 100 will help bring economic opportunity and access to safe, reliable transportation to more Texans.

“It is time to end the inconsistencies of regulations across the state that stand in the way of transportation innovation and adopt a uniform, common sense law focused on safety and access to new technology,” said Rep. Paddie, who is also the former Mayor of Marshall. “In order to encourage growth and innovation, businesses need consistency and certainty. Statewide rules are necessary so riders and drivers can travel from places like Center, TX, to Carthage using ridesharing technology without hitting regulatory barriers.”

About H.B. 100:

Regulatory Certainty: There are more than 1,000 cities in our state and TNC drivers cross invisible lines of jurisdiction with riders on a daily basis. With trips occurring all over Texas and between cities, it’s clear statewide rules are necessary. 36 other states have passed statewide bills regulating TNC’s.

Public Safety: Requires TNCs to conduct a local, state and nationwide criminal background check, including checking the national sex offender database. Requires that applicants convicted of certain offenses are prohibited from being TNC drivers. TNCs also play a role in helping to reduce alcohol-impaired driving in communities where they operate.

Economic Opportunity: TNCs contribute significantly to the local economies where they operate and are on the forefront of innovation improving rural & urban mobility. People from all walks of life choose to drive because it provides a flexible opportunity to earn based on their own schedules and priorities.

Rep. Paddie was the author of a rideshare bill that got the most traction in 2015. His bill joins three others in the Senate and would seem to have a decent chance of passing or being very similar to a bill that passes. Along those lines, I emailed Rep. Paddie’s office after receiving this press release to ask if 1) HB100 was basically the same as HB2440, his bill from last session, and 2) how much it was like the three Senate bills. I was told that it was in fact basically the same as HB2440, with the exception of the insurance provisions that did pass last time, and HB100 was most like the Nichols and Schwertner bills in the Senate, though all of the bills have differences. So add this to your list of bills to watch, and we’ll see which ones make it to the finish line.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Weekend link dump for February 12

Meanwhile, in America

Heavens to Murgatroid!

That time Bob Uecker used a tuba to shag fly balls before a World Series game.

“Lesson: your friendly librarian is better at technology than you, so don’t pull crap like that. I will find you and you will pay.”

You’re going to need the latest version of Chrom if you want to keep using Gmail.

Oh, nothing, just a lost continent under the ocean.

“We do not have a Department of State – we do not have a foreign policy – because we love foreigners. We do it because we love Americans.”

“But hang in there, because I think this is actually rather relevant to the current moment in history. We’re talking about Ezra, and that means we’re talking about tribalism, Herrenvolk religion, mass-deportation, and theocratic fascism.”

Kellyanne Conway is a lying liar who lies a lot. If you are in any way associated with the media – and that includes all of you who consume news in whatever fashion – you should assume she is lying every time she opens her mouth, until proven otherwise.

Resistance works. Keep it up.

One gets the sense that Drew Magary does not care for the Patriots.

Minor league baseball players deserve to be paid a living wage.

“Barack Obama gave away more than $1 million while he was President of the United States, more than half of which went to charities supporting children, according to a Forbes analysis of his tax returns from 2009 to 2015.”

Pop culture Valentine’s Day cards. In case you need them.

“For the last decade, the solar industry has enjoyed exponential job growth. Last year, more than 51,000 people in the United States were hired to design, manufacture, sell and install solar panels, according to a new report from The Solar Foundation. That means the solar industry created jobs 17 times faster than the economy as a whole.”

“Nothing unites, it seems, like the sense of vulnerability that comes from a blistering defeat.”

RIP, “Professor” Irwin Corey, oddball comedian and the Foremost Authority on everything.

RIP, Richard Hatch, actor in the original “Battlestar Galactica” and the Syfy remake.

Meet UAE women’s national hockey team member Fatima Al Ali, who has some serious skills.

Nobody loves and admires Vladimir Putin like the American religious right.

SEE YOU IN COURT.

“This argument between branches isn’t new; it served as the point of debate for many cases that President Obama fought against the ACLU and other plaintiffs during his two terms. But Trump gives these disagreements a new dimension. His carelessness with the facts, his bullying, and his hectoring has now been used against him. His words and actions are responsible for the overreach and for the set of facts that caused the judges to assert their power.”

“What if the president’s determinations are no better informed than your Fox News-watching uncle’s rants?”

Everything on television is about Trump now.

RIP, Mike Ilitch, owner of the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings, and the founder of Little Caesar’s Pizza.

RIP, Raymond Smullyan, iconic mathematician, logician and puzzle-maker.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

ReBuild re-vote?

It could come to that, but it’s not clear to me that it has to.

The funding scheme for ReBuild Houston, the city’s street and drainage repair initiative, remains in limbo after a state appeals court agreed Thursday that the 2010 charter referendum creating the program is void.

The Texas 14th Court of Appeals ruling affirms an October 2015 trial court decision ordering the city to call a new election on creating a dedicated pay-as-you-go fund for street and drainage projects.

The case does not appear to affect the city’s ability to continue charging a drainage fee, however, since City Council authorized collection of the monthly fee in a separate ordinance in April 2011.

Instead, voiding the 2010 charter election, essentially, removes the restrictions placed on how the city uses the drainage money it takes in, such as the ban on using those dollars to issue new road bonds or other debt. The court rulings have not led the city to alter how it uses the fee.

Andy Taylor, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said he believes Thursday’s ruling could lead to another vote on what he and many conservatives call the “rain tax” as early as November.

“The request to amend the city charter and seeking voter approval to impose a rain tax,” he said, “is going back on the ballot.”

Houston is considering whether to ask the appellate court to reconsider, or appeal to the Texas Supreme Court, among other options, mayoral spokeswoman Janice Evans said in a statement.

See here and here for the background, and here for Mayor Turner’s statement. I say there will not be another vote this November, for the simple reason that there’s nothing to compel Mayor Turner to put another referendum on the ballot, and the city can continue with the legal proceedings for now. I’d also agree with Prof. Richard Murray, quoted in this KUHF story on the ruling, in that if there were another vote, a reworded Renew Houston proposition would almost certainly win again, because who at this point is going to vote against money for drainage and flood mitigation? (Also, as Prof. Murray noted, black voters were modestly against Renew Houston in 2010. I strongly suspect they’d be much more in favor of a similar proposal put forward by Mayor Turner.) But as the story notes, City Council voted to implement Renew Houston in 2011, and this lawsuit has nothing to do with that. There’s nothing to stop Mayor Turner from having Council affirm the program, or to just state that the matter was decided by Council and we’re all just arguing over semantics at this point. Honestly, what we’re really fighting about at this point is whether Andy Taylor gets to decide the wording on all our city referenda or not. That’s a fight I’m happy to keep having, but let’s be clear on what the stakes are. Campos has more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

We don’t need another vote on the Astrodome

Not for this we don’t, anyway.

All this and antiquities landmark status too

Less than five months ago, the future of the Astrodome seemed to be more secure than it has been in the decades since it hosted its last Astros game, with Harris County commissioners moving forward on a massive renovation project they said would usher in festivals, conferences and commercial development to the aging stadium.

Now, that future again might be getting hazier. Veteran state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said Friday he plans to introduce legislation next week that would require the county to hold a referendum on its $105 million project to raise the floor of the stadium and create 1,400 parking spaces, a move many thought would be its saving grace.

Citing concerns about how the county is spending taxpayer dollars, Whitmire’s move is the latest in a series of skirmishes over the stadium, the world’s first multi-purpose domed stadium for sporting events. It comes more than three years after voters rejected a $217 million proposal to turn the Dome into a street-level convention hall and exhibit space, which many believed doomed it to demolition.

“I’m trying to allow the public to have a vote, the taxpayers to have a vote, before we spend over $100 million on the Dome with no stated purpose,” Whitmire said.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who has long championed repurposing the Dome and was one of the chief advocates of the $105 million plan, said Friday that Whitmire’s proposal “risks derailing” that solution, which he called a “fiscally prudent decision.”

“The Dome is a vexing issue,” he said. “But to me, it’s an asset.”

Emmett said he had not heard about Whitmire’s plans to file the bill before Friday.

“It’s a little unusual for a legislator to file a piece of legislation that affects a specific piece of property that’s totally paid for,” Emmett said. “I have never heard of that before. It’s also unusual to have legislation filed directly that tells a county how tooperate without talking to the county.”

[…]

The exact language of Whitmire’s bill, which he said he is calling the Harris County Taxpayer Protection Act, will not be finalized until it is filed next week. He said it would be worded to target projects like the Astrodome that had been targeted by referenda in the past. He said it had “broad bipartisan support.”

Gov. Dan Patrick could not be reached for comment. But state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Patrick confidante and Houston Republican, said he supports Whitmire’s proposal.

“It’s a good idea,” Bettencourt said. “We had a referendum. The vote was no. Everyone was promised they would not use property tax money in that project. And now that’s effectively what they’re proposing to do.”

Whitmire also said: “I just think it’s a very hazardous way and irresponsible way to deal with taxpayer monies.”

He said he took issue with different components of the funding, saying that some of the funds used for the $105 million project could also be used for other facilities, like NRG Stadium.

See here and here for some background. I do not support this bill, whatever winds up being in it. We require a vote when a government entity like Harris County wants the authority to borrow money via bonds, which was the case with that $217 million proposition from 2013. We do not require a vote on individual budget items, any more than we require a vote on (say) the county’s budget as a whole. We elect people to write those budgets, and if we don’t like the way they do it we can vote them out. Requiring a vote for how a county government spends county money is a gross incursion on local control, which is something we’re already had way too much of. I will not support this.

Now to be sure, part of the problem here is that the stakes of that 2013 referendum were never made clear. “The people rejected this specific plan that was put forward to rehab the Dome” and “The people rejected the idea of rehabbing the Dome and want it demolished instead” are both valid interpretations of that vote. Commissioners Court and Judge Emmett did not communicate to the public what their intentions were if that referendum was voted down as it was, and as a result we have been in a state of confusion since. Many ideas continue to be put forth for the Dome, which has since gained Historical Antiquity status, making demolition that much harder to do if that’s what we wanted to do. There’s no clear consensus. That may be the best argument for requiring a vote, but it’s still a violation of local control, and any such election would occur in either a low-turnout context (as in this November) or one where it was overshadowed by other campaigns, as would be the case next year. I say let Commissioners Court move forward with what they are doing, and if you don’t like it take a lesson from your friends and neighbors who are busy raising their voices on many other issues and tell the Court what you think. Isn’t that the way this is supposed to work? Swamplot has more.

Posted in: Local politics.

Supreme Court hears TDP-KSP appeal

Here‘s a little blast from the past.

A meandering legal dispute between Texas Democrats and a Houston tea party group has landed before the Texas Supreme Court in a case that could overturn longtime election laws that require certain political committees to disclose donors and ban direct political contributions from corporations.

Arguing before the court Tuesday, the Democrats’ lawyer, Chad Dunn, warned that overturning the laws would open “the floodgates to the secret funding of elections.”

“If this court wants to open the political process to Uber and Lyft and Exxon and Pinterest and other corporations to use corporate profits to determine who ought to prevail in (campaigns), it should tread carefully,” Dunn said.

[…]

The case began when the Texas Democratic Party filed a 2010 lawsuit accusing King Street Patriots of making illegal contributions to the Republican Party and GOP candidates by training poll watchers who were provided to the party to monitor the 2010 general election in Harris County.

The lawsuit also accused the tea party-aligned group of failing to register as a political committee and failing to disclose its donors as required.

King Street Patriots countersued, arguing that several state election laws were unconstitutional, and both sides agreed to have the courts decide if the laws were enforceable before determining if the organization violated any of them.

A Travis County district judge and the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals have upheld the challenged election laws, leading to the Supreme Court’s review.

King Street Patriots argues that state donor-disclosure laws place onerous burdens on small organizations by requiring them to register with the state, keep records and file extensive, ongoing reports — leaving many to avoid participating in politics as “simply not worth it.”

See here and here for some background. I think the KSP’s First Amendment argument in favor of secret political donations is a load of hooey, but in a Citizens United world, I wouldn’t be too sure it isn’t a winner. I will just note for the record that there is a connection between the KSP and Gregg Phillips, the longtime grifter and procurer of that baloney “millions of illegal voters” claim, because of course there is. There’s never a bottom with these people. The story says that we should expect a ruling by June, so stay tuned.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Saturday video break: One Day

Here’s one of my favorite underrated bands from the 80s, Fishbone:

I guess I’d describe Fishbone as being a ska band, but I feel like they have more blues and funk in them than a typical ska band. Be that as it may, here’s a different One Day by Susanna Hoffs, who is performing solo here but came from another underrated 80s band, The Bangles.

Hoffs has carved out a pretty good solo career, but you should also check out the work she has done with Matthew Sweet, covering bucketloads of popular and deep-cut songs from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Lots of good stuff in there. I don’t know if they have plans to take on the 90s, but I hope they will.

Posted in: Music.

Recapture re-vote will happen

Mark your calendars for May 6.

On Thursday, the board voted 5-3, with one abstention, to put another referendum on recapture on the May 6 ballot. Placing a second referendum on the May ballot will cost the district $800,000, according to an HISD spokesman

Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones, who campaigned in favor of not paying recapture with the first referendum, said HISD called the state’s bluff, and, in turn, the state called HISD’s bluff, but the state has the upper hand.

“The TEA offered this; the TEA is the same agency that has the power to take this district over. If they take over, do you think they’ll send people who care about equity or our kids? Their whole agenda is not about our kids,” said Skillern-Jones, who voted in favor of the second referendum.

But Trustee Jolanda Jones, who spearheaded the effort to reject paying recapture, said the whole reason for the first referendum was to get the Texas Legislature to move on overhauling school finance.

She said if the district pays recapture this year, the recapture fees will keep going up each year, essentially robbing the district of more and more money.

“The only reason they’re paying attention is not because we have a great lobbying team, it’s because we voted no,” Jones said.

About 10 speakers at Thursday’s meeting lambasted the idea of the board reversing its stance on paying the recapture money. Ken Davis, principal of Yates High School, said the TEA’s lessening HISD’s recapture bill is not a favor.

“That’s not a gift -they’re still taking money from our schools,” Davis said. “Push back on that. You are all standing at a time where you set a standard for what the rest of the state does. Stand up and take a step forward.”

See here and here for the background. According to the HISD News Blog, Wanda Adams, Rhonda Skillern-Jones, Anna Eastman, Mike Lunceford, and Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca voted for the approval of election, while Diana Dávila, Jolanda Jones, and Manuel Rodriguez voted No, with Anne Sung abstaining. I know Eastman was a Yes vote on recapture back in November; she is the only Trustee that I’m certain favored it at that time. I appreciate what Jolanda Jones is saying here, but I lean more towards what Rhonda Skillern-Jones is saying. I think this reduced bill for recapture, which came about after the TEA reinterpreted existing law to give HISD and other districts a break for allowing a larger homestead exemption, is the best we’re going to get without the Legislature getting involved, and I would not bet on that happening. This isn’t the outcome we really wanted, but it’s a lot better than where we began. I think we should declare victory, take the half-a-loaf being offered to us, and make an extra push for a genuine legislative fix in 2019. KUHF and Swamplot have more.

Posted in: Election 2017.

How SB6 will hurt people

Nell Gaither counts the ways.

SB 6 identifies a target without naming it and erases policy intended to offer at least some protection for vulnerable populations, building a legal excuse for harming those people and for coercing them not to fight back. Once the law is in place, the “responsible adults” will turn their backs and let others carry out the actual violence.

For several years now, our schools have been expanding policy that protects trans children. This is much-needed, because about 77 percent of trans and gender-nonconforming students experience harassment or other violence due to their gender. About one-third of that violence comes from teachers and staff; 36 percent report being disciplined for fighting back against their assailant. Because violence against trans and gender-diverse kids is so pervasive, schools have increasingly allowed students to use gender-affirming restrooms and changing areas because not doing so identifies them as trans and makes them a target for violence. SB 6 would eradicate these protections for the estimated 13,800 transgender youth ages 13 to 17 in Texas.

Employment protections have followed the same trajectory. About 80 percent of trans Americans face discrimination or violence, or take steps to avoid violence, at work. Denying access to appropriately gendered spaces is a sure way to place a target on them for violence. Wouldn’t we rather support positive engagement with employees than set up barriers? Encouraging violence could drive trans Texans out of the workforce and into underground economies and emergency access to social services.

General social ostracization also increases negative social and health outcomes. One measure of this is the lifetime attempted suicide rate: 40 percent for trans people compared to 4.6 percent for the general population.

And finally, SB 6 will negatively impact trans people in how it criminalizes assault. Marginalized groups tend to be disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system, and the trans community is no exception. As one trans survivor of a sexual assault described their experience: “The legal system would blame us for our own rapes and say we had it coming.”

Lifelong problems increase as a result of discrimination and violence in schools, where trans people often underperform or drop out, and in workplaces, which deny us jobs or set up barriers that impede not just success, but often simple continued employment.

We’ve already established that SB6 singles out transgender people and that its passage will harm them. Gaither is just detailing the ways in which that harm will take place. What else is there to say about this?

Posted in: That's our Lege.

How all that activism is being received

Texas Monthly looks at the recent spate of rallies and visits to Texas elected officials’ events and offices to see what’s up.

John Simpson and Mark Leech had never participated in a protest before last month. In fact, the couple—who got married in Temple last June—wasn’t particularly political before the 2016 election. They became concerned, though, that there would be new challenges to their marriage as Donald Trump began issuing executive orders (there have been reports that the administration is drafting an order on religious freedom, which concerns Simpson and Leech). Simpson was also concerned about Trump’s appointed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the border wall, and the suggestion of new tariffs on Mexican imports. And so, together, they started making phone calls. A friend told Simpson to call his senators, but when he tried, he kept getting a busy signal. Then, when the couple learned that Texas U.S. Senator John Cornyn would be speaking at the Temple Chamber of Commerce on Friday, January 27—as the keynote speaker at the annual Salute to Business banquet—they decided to show up in person to voice their concerns.

They weren’t alone, either. They were joined by their neighbors in the community—the Bell County Democratic Party, an older man in a suit and tie with a sign that read “This Is What A Liberal Looks Like,” a retired National Guard member—and by dozens of people from Austin and Waco. All told, there were about seventy people waiting outside the Temple Convention Center that evening, starting around 4:30 in the evening and sticking around until seven, waiting for their Senator to arrive and chanting slogans like “What do we want? A town hall! When do we want it? Now!” and “Pick up your phone!”

The demonstration wasn’t made up of seasoned activists and full-time ax-grinders; there were college students in the crowd, but also retirees. “We’re the moderates,” the retired National Guard member explained. Simpson, who voted for Cornyn in 2014, said, “I didn’t know what to expect. This is my first protest.”

Cornyn. Ted Cruz, and Mike McCaul get most of the attention in the story, which is worth your time to read. I’ve been kind of amazed by the number of people I know who have been energetically calling and rallying people to call over this bill or that confirmation hearing – Betsy DeVos was a particular point of interest – these past few weeks. Many of them were not visibly active in politics before this. More than a few are people whose political orientation had been unknown to me before now. It may well be that all of this burns itself out at some point – November of 2018 is a long way off, and there are going to be far more losses than wins in the interim, given the current nature of Congress and the Capitol – but it’s equally plausible that the energy we’re seeing now builds on itself, with real infrastructure emerging to sustain it. I have believed all along that the political climate in 2018 will be different than what it was in 2010 and 2014. This has been mostly predicated on the sense that Republican voters won’t have the unifying villain of Barack Obama in the White House and will have to deal with their own inevitable disappointment in their elected heroes and their feet of clay. It’s clear there’s another side to that coin, where Democrats have the bulk of the enthusiasm. If this continues – and let’s be clear, it may not; see above about how far off the next election is – then we could be in for quite the year next year. In the meantime, keep calling and showing up. It’s working.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Friday random ten: Ladies’ night, part 32

I’m not kidding around.

1. Antidote – Rosie Carney
2. Why Can’t It Be Christmas Time All Year – Rosie Thomas
3. The Look – Roxette (Marie Fredriksson)
4. Cherry BombThe Runaways
5. Wildside – Sabrina Carpenter and Sofia Carson
6. Going Down To The River – Saffire-The Uppity Blues Woman (Ann Rabson, Gaye Adegbalola, and Earlene Lewis)
7. Ladies Lunch – Sally Fingerett
8. Touch Me (I Want Your Body) – Samantha Fox
9. Are You Kidding Around? – Samantha Shelton
10. Big Blue Sky – Sandra McCracken

Yes, Samantha Fox. I apologize for nothing. I know they’ve already made a movie about The Runaways, but if another one gets made in the next five years or so, I think Sabrina Carpenter could do a good job as Cherie Currie.

Posted in: Music.

Counting to 19 on SB6

That’s the number of votes needed to move the Patrick potty bill to the floor of the Senate for a full vote.

At times, it seemed like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was a bit like a man on an island when it came to one of his signature priorities this legislative session: the Texas Privacy Act, otherwise referred to as ‘the bathroom bill.’

He has worked for the weeks to rally support for the measure, facing stiff opposition from the traditionally GOP-friendly Texas business community. House Speaker Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican, has thrown cold water on the proposal at various private and public events. Not only did Gov. Greg Abbott not list it as an emergency item in last week’s State of the State address, he didn’t mention it at all.

Senate Bill 6, sponsored by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham, would prohibit city or county officials from adopting an ordinance that prevents a business from making policies for their bathrooms and dressing rooms. It also would bar local officials from considering these measures when awarding government contracts.

[…]

Getting the state’s largest business lobby on board is one challenge for Patrick, and using the PolitiFact article to weaken opposition is a start on that journey. However, he and Kolkhorst still are working on their Republican Senate caucus, too.

On Monday, Kolkhorst said she has 14 co-sponsors, 15 including her vote. No Democrat has signed onto the bill, and Patrick needs at least 19 senators to move the measure to the floor for a full chamber debate and eventual vote.

She said she respected her colleagues for letting her explain the bill to them, adding that she has verbal support from some senators who are not listed publicly as co-sponsors on SB 6.

The five Senators who are not coauthors (*) of SB6 are Schwertner, Burton, Nelson, Huffman, and Seliger. Doesn’t mean they don’t support it and wouldn’t vote for it, just means they’re not listed as coauthors. I have a hard time believing that at least four of them won’t vote to bring it to the floor once it has passed out of committee, but I suppose anything can happen.

Possibly of interest: The two Republican Senators in the most competitive districts are Konni Burton and Don Huffines, while the two in the next-most competitive districts are Joan Huffman and Kelly Hancock. Huffines and Hancock are coauthors, Burton and Huffman are not. I don’t know that that means anything, I was just curious if competitiveness of a district had any effect on support for SB6. I’ll say again, the single best thing Democrats and progressives can do to make the Senate a better place in 2018 is to take out Huffines, who is a total buffoon as well as being far more extreme than a district like his should allow. The other three need to be targeted as well – Burton’s district is the least red of the four – but Huffines, whose district is entirely within Dallas County, offers a lot of bang for the buck, especially given that a significant portion of his district overlaps with CD32, where the DCCC will be going after Pete Sessions. You don’t have many new worlds left to conquer, Dallas Democrats. Please make this one a priority.

(*) If you visit the link for SB6, you will see that Kolkhorst’s colleagues are listed as coauthors, not co-sponsors. I’m not quite enough of a legislative geek to be able to explain the difference, but I’m sure someone will enlighten us in the comments.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Paxton prosecutors want change of venue

At this point, who can blame them?

Best mugshot ever

The prosecutors in Attorney General Ken Paxton’s securities fraud case are asking for a change of venue, arguing they cannot get a fair trial in Collin County.

The prosecutors say Judge George Gallagher should move the case out of Paxton’s home county because he and his associates have waged a “22-month siege” against the prosecutors, witnesses and the court. The trial is set to begin May 1.

“Over the course of almost the last two years … Paxton’s posse of spokesmen, supporters, and surrogates — a clique herein collectively referred to as “Team Paxton” — has embarked on a crusade clearly calculated to taint the Collin County jury pool,” the prosecutors wrote in a filing Thursday.

The prosecutors cite several examples, including a Paxton supporter’s lawsuit against the county to limit prosecutors’ pay. Last month, a Dallas appeals court stopped payments to the prosecutors as a result of the lawsuit.

You could transfer the whole shebang to Travis County and let the DA’s office there handle it. It’d kill two birds with one stone. Just saying. Paxton’s attorneys have disputed the filing, so it will be up to the judge to decide. I’m thinking his first move will be to buy some extra-strength Advil.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Scandalized!.

Is the end near for straight-ticket voting?

It could be.

Rep. Ron Simmons

Partisan efficiency experts might love the time-saving charms of straight-ticket voting, but a number of the state’s top elected officials are ready to outlaw the practice.

Straight-ticket, or one-punch, voting allows people to cast a ballot for all of one party’s candidates with one pull of the lever, stroke of the pencil or click of the voting button.

One and done.

Its requires partisan faith on the part of a voter, an expression of trust in a party’s primary voters, a conviction that the chosen candidates — no matter who they are, what they’ve done and whether they are qualified — are better than candidates offered by the opposition party.

And it makes the coattails of the people at the top of the ballot very, very influential.

Just ask a judge.

“I will say only a word about judicial selection, but it is a word of warning,” Texas Supreme Chief Justice Nathan Hecht said this week in his State of the Judiciary speech. “In November, many good judges lost solely because voters in their districts preferred a presidential candidate in the other party. These kinds of partisan sweeps are common, with judicial candidates at the mercy of the top of the ticket. I do not disparage our new judges. I welcome them. My point is only that qualifications did not drive their election; partisan politics did. Such partisan sweeps are demoralizing to judges and disruptive to the legal system. But worse than that, when partisan politics is the driving force, and the political climate is as harsh as ours has become, judicial elections make judges more political, and judicial independence is the casualty.”

State Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, has filed legislation — House Bill 433 —to end straight-ticket voting in Texas. He might have some angels: House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have both sponsored bans in the past. Both remain critical of one-punch voting.

The major political parties are reluctant to part with it, however — it’s part of the regulatory advantage that makes the Republicans and the Democrats appear to offer the only viable choices for Americans — or Texans — who want to take part in civic life.

The two-party racket just about kills the possibility that you can find a candidate with whom you completely agree. Instead, you’re generally stuck with two options, left to choose the least undesirable candidate in a field of two.

Libertarians and Greens and Teas and Occupies and who knows who else would love to elbow their way in, but this is a protectorate.

[…]

One of the best arguments for straight-ticket voting is that there are too many people on the general election ballot, that too little is known about them and that the party label is the average voter’s most reliable guide to which candidate is more likely to agree with that voter’s political preferences.

A strong argument against is that partisan coattails can be stronger than brains. Every election seems to end with an unintended consequence, often a good judge tossed aside because the political winds replaced one party’s flag with another — or a loon elected by voters who actually knew nothing about their candidate.

Rep. Simmons filed the same bill in 2015, and what I wrote about it then still stands. Putting aside the fact that nobody had a problem with this until Democrats started winning judicial races in Dallas and Harris Counties, the arguments that Ross Ramsey puts forth just don’t make sense. You can vote straight ticket Libertarian or Green, you know, and if you can’t vote “Tea Party” it’s because no one is identified on the ballot as such because no official political party by that name exists. This past year was in many ways the best year ever for third party candidates, as they racked up big numbers in multiple statewide races, in particular for President and for Railroad Commissioner, despite the prevalence of straight party voting. Plenty of “loons” get elected in primaries and non-partisan elections (see, for instance, Dave Wilson getting elected to the HCC Board of Trustees in 2013). In what way does straight ticket voting make the difference?

The one thing that will change if straight ticket voting is taken away is that it will take longer to vote. If I had any reason to believe that the people pushing this also intended to address that problem, by allocating some money for counties to buy extra voting machines or allowing longer early voting hours or broadening the class of people who can vote by mail, then I would have no strong objection to this. But they don’t, and I have no reason to see this as anything but another way to make voting a little harder and less pleasant for some people. As such, I continue to oppose these bills.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Your Super Bowl AirBnB dream probably did not come true

Alas.

Vacation rental websites like Airbnb and Home Away still have pages of listings available for this weekend. Many are asking well over $1,000 per night for, in some cases, run-of-the-mill two-bedroom apartments.

Data from Airbnb Thursday show the typical price of booked listings in Houston for the Super Bowl is $150 per night. Listings within a 5-mile radius of NRG Stadium get a slight premium: $200 per night.

The most popular Houston neighborhoods for guest arrivals included Montrose, the Medical Center area and the Greater Heights.

See here and here for the background. That story was from Thursday, so I suppose it was still possible for some desperate last-minute renters to come in and sweep up those unclaimed listings at the listed rates. I kind of doubt it, though. Turns out, unless you have a particular kind of high-end property to rent out – and a particular kind of high-end renter looking for that kind of property – AirBnB is going to be the cheap alternative to a hotel, not the expensive alternative. Maybe next time, y’all.

Posted in: Elsewhere in Houston.

“Sanctuary cities” bill passes in Senate

As expected.

The Texas Senate late Tuesday gave preliminary approval to a controversial immigration measure to ban “sanctuary” jurisdictions in the state.

Senate Bill 4, filed by state Sen. Charles Perry, would punish local and state government entities and college campuses that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials or enforce immigration laws. The vote was 20-11 along party lines.

It would also punish local governments if their law enforcement agencies fail to honor requests, known as detainers, from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to hand over immigrants in custody for possible deportation. The punishment would be a denial of state grant funds. The bill doesn’t apply to victims of or witnesses to crimes, public schools or hospital districts.

[…]

The vote came after Perry added tough civil and criminal penalties for entities that don’t comply with the bill’s provisions. One amendment would make a department head whose agency violates the provisions of SB 4 subject to criminal prosecution in the form of a class A misdemeanor. Another added a provision that would subject the local agency to civil penalties, including a fine at least $1,000 for the first offense and $25,000 for each subsequent violation.

The severity of the proposals prompted state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston to ask Perry how far he was willing to go.

“What’s the next [amendment] going to do? Take their first born?” she asked.

The upper chamber also predictably shot down by party line votes several amendments Democrats offered to make the bill more palatable to their constituents, including a measure by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, that would have excluded college campuses. An amendment by state Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, which sought to require peace officers to learn immigration law was also voted down, as was another by state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. that would have prohibited the arrest of a person only because he or she was in the country illegally.

Garcia also asked Perry to remove a section of the bill that would punish a local entity for “endorsing” a policy that prohibits or discourages enforcing immigration law. Garcia said that section could be a violation of an elected official’s right to free speech and could be interpreted broadly.

See here for the background. There will certainly be lawsuits filed when this thing gets signed into law. The fact that legal genius Ken Paxton swears it’s legal is irrelevant – was there ever a chance he wouldn’t say that? – though what the courts ultimately do with this remains to be seen. (Other lawyers disagree with Paxton’s assessment.) The thing that needs to happen of course is for there to be a political price to pay for passing this bill. Lots of people showed up to testify against SB4. We need that same kind of turnout next November. Stace has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

The burden that keeps on depriving

North Carolina’s bathroom law, y’all.

The North Carolina Sports Association, which represents 27 counties across North Carolina that recruit and promote major sporting events, sent a letter to the state’s House of Representatives and General Assembly on Monday urging an immediate repeal of the controversial House Bill 2. The law, known as the bathroom bill, led to the removal of all the NCAA’s championship events in 2017, costing the state millions in combination with the NBA’s decision to remove this month’s All-Star game out of Charlotte.

The law prevents cities and counties from passing protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. And public schools must require bathrooms or locker rooms be designated for use only by people based on their biological sex.

The letter, written by Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance executive director Scott Dupree, noted the “window to act is closing rapidly” and said that North Carolina is “on the brink of losing all NCAA Championship events for six consecutive years.”

That time frame, which would include 2017-18 and then stretches from 2018-2022, most notably includes NCAA tournament events that could potentially be held in Greensboro, Raleigh and Charlotte. The letter cites 133 bids submitted to the NCAA by North Carolina cities, colleges and universities and estimated $250 million in economic impact on the state.

[…]

The NCAA’s championship bid review and evaluation process is underway and the letter stated that the NCAA said North Carolina will be removed from consideration because of HB2 based on the organization’s inclusion initiative.

Now obviously, the NCAA wasn’t going to give 133 championship events to North Carolina. Other states bid for those events as well, and the vast majority of them will wind up going someplace else no matter what. But “the vast majority of them” is not the same as “all of them”, which is surely what will happen if HB2 does not get repealed. The NCAA has already backed its words up with actions, so we know how this movie ends if North Carolina fails to act, no matter what Dan Patrick thinks. This is a very tiny piece of our future if SB6 passes. Don’t say we didn’t see it coming. Deadspin has more.

Posted in: National news, That's our Lege.

HISD Board to discuss recapture re-vote today

We should find out today if a re-vote on recapture is in our future.

At their monthly meeting Thursday, trustees for the Houston Independent School Board will consider putting recapture back on the ballot.

[…]

In November, HISD voters rejected the traditional way to send a check to the state. Now HISD must pay with actual commercial property – almost $18 billion worth. In July, Education Commissioner Mike Morath is scheduled to detach that property and let another district, such as Alief or Aldine ISD, tax it instead. That’s known as detachment and will reduce HISD’s tax base.

“The only way we can be in this negotiation period is if we do not go into detachment,” HISD Board President Wanda Adams said.

“The homeowners are going to take the brunt of that, not the commercial properties, the homeowners. Right now it’s not a win-win for anyone, but right now at least we have them moving,” she added.

That’s why HISD may give voters another shot at the issue in May.

At the same time, HISD’s bill to the state has dropped by $55-60 million, according to state estimates. That’s more than a 30 percent drop from the original bill of $162 million.

See here for the background. One of the reasons why I was willing to vote No on recapture in November was the possibility that we could have a do-over in May if the Lege did not take action to mitigate the damage. Turns out we didn’t need the Lege to make something positive happen. I believe the No vote provided the impetus for that development. As such, I’m willing to vote for a reduced recapture bill if the Board sees fit to undertake one.

UPDATE: The Chron editorial board takes note of the developments.

Posted in: Election 2017.

Texas blog roundup for the week of February 6

The Texas Progressive Alliance wonders if invading Australia will be next on Trump’s to do list as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Politifact muddles the economic debate over SB6

This doesn’t change anything, but we must fuss about it anyway.


In what appeared to be an attempt at a show of force, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Monday once again attacked claims that the proposed “bathroom bill” is bad for business in Texas.

Flanked by nine Republican senators — including Senate Bill 6 author state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst — Patrick appeared emboldened by a PolitiFact Texas report that identified flaws in some of the numbers used by the Texas Association of Business to sound the alarm on legislation regulating bathroom use for transgender Texans.

While PolitiFact focused only on weaknesses in the report commissioned by the top business lobby group in the state and did not rule out any actual impact in Texas, Patrick insisted that PolitiFact’s analysis undermined the “bogus” report, which claimed that anti-LGBT legislation could cost the state up to $8.5 billion and thousands of jobs.

“Fearmongering is what that report was about,” Patrick told reporters on Tuesday. “There is no evidence whatsoever that the passage of Senate Bill 6 will have any economic impact in Texas.”

[…]

Ahead of Patrick’s news conference, the Texas Association of Business in a statement defended its report and claims about the economic fallout Texas could be setting itself up for if it passed anti-LGBT legislation similar to laws passed in other states.

Calling it “the tip of the potential iceberg for Texas,” the group highlighted reports indicating the NCAA is on the verge of withholding major events from North Carolina for several years — a move that could keep $250 million in “potential economic impact” from the state.

“The Texas Legislature can protect Texas families and businesses from unnecessary, costly legislation and protect our state from the wide-ranging harm that discriminatory legislation delivers,” the statement read.

Politifact didn’t dispute that there would be a negative economic impact on Texas if SB6 passed, they just didn’t think it would be as bad as the high end of the TAB study’s range (which to be sure is what generally got reported, because everyone loves big numbers) indicated. The study had also drawn from states like Indiana and Arizona, which passed (or in the case of Arizona, had vetoed by the Governor) legislation that didn’t go as far as North Carolina’s HB2 did. And as far as North Carolina goes, we’ve seen plenty of negative effect, more than enough to convince anyone not wearing Dan Patrick’s blinders that SB6 would be bad for Texas. The NCAA has certainly made it clear that there’s a price for passing bills like that, a message that was aimed a San Antonio and the 2018 Final Four as much as anyone. Quibble about the size of the number if you want, it still exists and we can all see it coming. And not to put too fine a point on it, but even if there were no bad economic effects to worry about, SB6 is still wrong and it will still hurt people. There’s no changing that. Texas Monthly, the Texas Observer, and the Dallas Observer have more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Whose career would you like him to destroy?

Because that’s the kind of casual offer Dear Leader makes.

Sen. Konni Burton

President Donald Trump invited a wave of speculation Tuesday when he volunteered to “destroy” the career of a unnamed Texas state senator in response to a state sheriff’s complaint about the lawmaker.

Trump’s remark came during a meeting with sheriffs at the White House that included Rockwall County’s Harold Eavenson. When Trump asked the group for input on how to improve law enforcement, Eavenson spoke up.

“Asset forfeiture,” Eavenson replied. “We’ve got a state senator in Texas that’s talking about introducing legislation to require conviction before we can receive that forfeiture money and I told him that the cartel would build a monument to him in Mexico if he could get that legislation passed.”

“Who’s the state senator?” Trump asked, getting no answer from a demurring Eavenson. “Want to give his name? We’ll destroy his career.”

Hours after the exchange, it was still unclear to whom Eavenson, a Republican, was referring. He was not immediately available for comment.

The story notes that Sens. Konni Burton and Juan Hinojosa have both filed bills to do what Sheriff Eavenson is complaining about. It makes more sense for a Republican like Eavenson to whine about a Democratic Senator, but 1) I seriously doubt Chuy Hinojosa is the least bit intimidated, and 2) he’s in a safe-D district, and there’s not enough frothing Trumpies there to give him a primary challenge. That leaves fellow Republican Konni Burton, who’s in the Ted Cruz wing of the party and is generally an ally of Trump buddy Dan Patrick, not that any of that would help her. I have no idea to what extent Burton did or didn’t support Trump in the election, but she does disagree with him on trade, so if the seething hordes want to go after her, they’ve got an angle for it. Two angles now, I suppose.

One more thing, from Kevin Drum, who figures Burton is the target here:

My guess is that he has no idea what civil asset forfeiture is and has no real opinion about it. If, say, Trump had been in a meeting with a few senators, and Bob Goodlatte had remarked that “police can seize your money even if you weren’t convicted of a crime,” Trump probably would have reflexively answered, “Can you believe that?” Instead, a sheriff said it was a bad thing related to Mexicans, so Trump automatically agreed with him. That means it’s now official Trump administration policy.

Sad. But then again, Jeff Sessions is a huge fan of civil asset forfeiture and all the corrupt incentives it creates, so he probably would have gotten Trump on board one way or another. It’s yet another big win for the working class.

Indeed. Others who also landed on Burton and Hinojosa as the likely targets include Think Progress, Grits for Breakfast (who is a big supporter of the Burton bill), and Juanita. The Chron, Politico, Wonkblog, and The Hill have more.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Texas Central withdraws its land access lawsuits

Interesting.

The private developer of a planned bullet train between Dallas and Houston has withdrawn more than a dozen lawsuits against Texas landowners that sought court orders allowing the company access to private property to survey land for the 240-mile project.

Texas Central Partners officials said they are instead going to try and have an “open dialogue” with landowners about letting the company onto their land.

“We’re stepping back and going back to conversations and taking some of the heat out of our process,” said Texas Central President Tim Keith.

Texas Central Partners is developing a 240-mile bullet train line intended to transport passengers between Houston and Dallas in 90 minutes with a stop near Bryan. The company has partnered with Japanese train operator JR Central to bring its bullet train technology to Texas. The project has drawn support from officials in Houston and Dallas but opposition from communities and landowners that are expected to be near the train’s route.

In court filings, the company argued that state law allows it to enter private property to survey land that may be used for a potential route because it is a railroad. A group called Texans Against High-Speed Rail have said the company shouldn’t be considered a railroad because it doesn’t currently operate any rail lines.

In one Harris County lawsuit, attorneys for a landowner echoed that argument. A trial on the merits of those legal arguments was set for July, according to the Harris County District Clerk’s office.

Keith said Tuesday that the company was confident it would have secured a ruling in its favor. Texas Central and landowners had already settled 21 other similar legal filings. The company said the decision to withdraw the remaining suits was largely based on the fact that it’s already reached access and land-purchase options with more than 3,000 landowners.

See here and here for some background. Seems a little weird to me, but I’ll take them at their word for now. The Chron adds some details.

The company planning high-speed rail service between Houston and Dallas announced Tuesday it has reached preliminary agreements to buy property from nearly one-third of the landowners along the planned route, including half of those in two counties where vocal opposition has been strongest.

Texas Central said they have reached option agreements with owners of about 30 percent of the necessary parcels in 10 counties. The option agreements bind property owners to selling the right of way for the train, with the company paying them now for the right to purchase the land once Texas Central has final federal approvals and the funding to build the line, estimated to cost $12 billion.

“This is a significant step in the progress of the high-speed train and it reflects the positive dialogue we have had with landowners along the route,” Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar said in a statement. “Texans see the many benefits of a system that will provide a safe, reliable and productive alternative to the state’s transportation demands.”

Texas Central said 50 percent of the parcels needed in Waller and Grimes counties are covered by the option agreements. Landowners in the two counties have been some of the most vocally opposed to the line, which they say will ruin the rural character of the area. Many also have accused the company of heavy handed tactics negotiating with land owners.

Grimes County Judge Ben Leman, chairman of Texans Against High-Speed Rail, said the concerns with how property owners were approached should make people doubt the support Texas Central claims.

“If you are a landowner and you are sitting in your house and someone comes to your door and says they have eminent domain, or you can sign this agreement and we’ll pay 5 percent down… are you going to use eminent domain and cross your fingers,” Leman said.

[…]

[Leman] predicted the legislative session will be the “next big battleground” as the company seeks to have state lawmakers affirm some of its rights to use eminent domain, including a remedy to counties that have voted not to issue any construction permits to any entity that doesn’t have eminent domain authority, if the entity is crossing a public street.

We definitely agree on the Lege being the next battleground. I’ve got my eyes open for relevant bills. Swamplot has more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Precinct analysis: Dallas County statewides

Last time we looked at the Presidential numbers in Dallas County legislative districts (plus CD32). Today we follow up with a look at the statewide races. I’m going to throw a lot of numbers at you, so please bear with me. First up is the Railroad Commissioner race.


Dist  Christian     Yarb  Miller  Salinas
=========================================
CD32    127,172  101,375  18,842    7,581
                        
HD100     8,888   29,754   2,224    1,870
HD102    26,577   24,667   4,356    1,754
HD103     9,440   24,092   2,323    2,243
HD104     6,795   21,811   1,415    2,490
HD105    21,041   21,678   2,461    2,002
HD107    24,459   24,691   3,268    2,185
HD108    40,389   28,190   7,223    2,151
HD109    10,701   50,748   1,679    1,563
HD110     3,889   28,975     880    1,441
HD111    11,869   42,162   1,717    1,816
HD112    26,793   22,698   3,217    1,838
HD113    26,209   24,396   2,578    1,841
HD114    32,625   27,279   5,409    1,757
HD115    27,967   25,420   3,680    2,024
                        
HD100    20.80%   69.62%   5.20%    4.38%
HD102    46.34%   43.01%   7.59%    3.06%
HD103    24.78%   63.24%   6.10%    5.89%
HD104    20.90%   67.09%   4.35%    7.66%
HD105    44.60%   45.95%   5.22%    4.24%
HD107    44.79%   45.22%   5.99%    4.00%
HD108    51.81%   36.16%   9.27%    2.76%
HD109    16.54%   78.45%   2.60%    2.42%
HD110    11.05%   82.35%   2.50%    4.10%
HD111    20.62%   73.24%   2.98%    3.15%
HD112    49.12%   41.61%   5.90%    3.37%
HD113    47.63%   44.34%   4.69%    3.35%
HD114    48.64%   40.67%   8.06%    2.62%
HD115    47.33%   43.02%   6.23%    3.43%

Three things to note here, all of which we’ll talk about some more as we go on. First, while Hillary Clinton carried all of the State Rep districts, Grady Yarbrough only led in eight of the fourteen. Yarbrough is a perennial candidate who doesn’t campaign and his numbers reflect that, but as you will see even many strong candidates didn’t carry any more districts than he did. Note also that while Wayne Christian led in the other six districts, he only achieved a majority in HD108. Other Republicans did do better than that, but this is another illustration of the dilemma I mentioned before for Republicans in Dallas County, which is that they have no votes to spare.

Second, note that while Democrat Victoria Neave knocked off Republican incumbent Kenneth Sheets in HD107 while Republican Rodney Anderson held on in HD105, Grady Yarbrough did slightly better in HD105 than he did in HD107. This too will generally be the case with other candidates, yet it was the (mildly) redder district that flipped. My conclusion is that Rodney Anderson was a better candidate than Kenneth Sheets, Victoria Neave was a better candidate than Terry Meza, or some combination of the two. It would be nice to have a fuller understanding of this going into 2018.

Finally, note the relatively large share of the third party vote in this race. As much as 12% of the total went to the Libertarian or Green candidate in some districts. Part of this is the extreme disaffection for the two major party candidates – Yarbrough is this generation’s Gene Kelly, while Wayne Christian is Sid Miller with better Facebook etiquette. Libertarian candidate Mark Miller received numerous newspaper endorsements, which no doubt helped boost him. The level of third party votes varies quite a bit from race to race, and we’ll talk a bit more about that as we go.

Here are the Supreme Court races:


Dist   Lehrmann  Westgrn   Glass    Munoz
=========================================
CD32    136,227  102,030  11,608    5,515
                        
HD100     9,622   29,867   1,738    1,555
HD102    28,692   24,769   2,722    1,256
HD103    10,115   24,388   1,739    1,933
HD104     7,139   21,763   1,137    2,476
HD105    21,837   21,577   2,057    1,736
HD107    25,827   24,628   2,362    1,830
HD108    43,691   29,108   3,997    1,455
HD109    11,323   50,358   1,645    1,335
HD110     4,116   28,791     839    1,435
HD111    12,539   41,839   1,530    1,622
HD112    28,047   22,614   2,491    1,392
HD113    27,111   24,122   2,219    1,596
HD114    35,843   27,324   2,817    1,196
HD115    29,448   25,472   2,719    1,503
                        
HD100    22.49%   69.81%   4.06%    3.63%
HD102    49.95%   43.12%   4.74%    2.19%
HD103    26.50%   63.88%   4.56%    5.06%
HD104    21.96%   66.93%   3.50%    7.61%
HD105    46.26%   45.71%   4.36%    3.68%
HD107    47.26%   45.07%   4.32%    3.35%
HD108    55.83%   37.20%   5.11%    1.86%
HD109    17.51%   77.88%   2.54%    2.06%
HD110    11.70%   81.84%   2.38%    4.08%
HD111    21.80%   72.73%   2.66%    2.82%
HD112    51.42%   41.46%   4.57%    2.55%
HD113    49.25%   43.82%   4.03%    2.90%
HD114    53.35%   40.67%   4.19%    1.78%
HD115    49.79%   43.07%   4.60%    2.54%

Dist      Green    Garza  Oxford   Watbry
=========================================
CD32    130,386  111,872   9,681    3,195
                        
HD100     9,098   31,667   1,346      603
HD102    27,292   26,989   2,276      779
HD103     9,617   26,609   1,344      562
HD104     6,939   24,174     910      475
HD105    21,416   23,553   1,617      578
HD107    25,163   26,846   1,875      719
HD108    41,235   32,649   3,355      917
HD109    10,993   51,813   1,206      602
HD110     3,976   30,197     622      377
HD111    12,188   43,599   1,118      562
HD112    27,383   24,343   2,060      735
HD113    26,743   25,820   1,772      658
HD114    33,687   30,279   2,377      773
HD115    28,258   27,857   2,217      709
                        
HD100    21.30%   74.14%   3.15%    1.41%
HD102    47.60%   47.07%   3.97%    1.36%
HD103    25.22%   69.78%   3.52%    1.47%
HD104    21.35%   74.39%   2.80%    1.46%
HD105    45.41%   49.94%   3.43%    1.23%
HD107    46.08%   49.17%   3.43%    1.32%
HD108    52.76%   41.77%   4.29%    1.17%
HD109    17.01%   80.19%   1.87%    0.93%
HD110    11.30%   85.86%   1.77%    1.07%
HD111    21.21%   75.87%   1.95%    0.98%
HD112    50.22%   44.65%   3.78%    1.35%
HD113    48.63%   46.95%   3.22%    1.20%
HD114    50.19%   45.11%   3.54%    1.15%
HD115    47.86%   47.18%   3.76%    1.20%

Dist     Guzman  Johnson  Fulton Chisholm
=========================================
CD32    137,660  104,318   9,866    3,111
                        
HD100    10,332   30,480   1,356      537
HD102    28,955   25,318   2,291      737
HD103    11,311   24,926   1,386      503
HD104     8,833   22,313     870      478
HD105    22,576   22,271   1,666      635
HD107    26,507   25,365   1,953      753
HD108    44,174   29,648   3,422      839
HD109    11,758   51,244   1,120      513
HD110     4,882   29,384     607      302
HD111    13,190   42,695   1,082      533
HD112    28,371   23,238   2,118      765
HD113    27,635   24,827   1,837      685
HD114    36,095   27,820   2,399      716
HD115    29,790   26,192   2,302      731
                        
HD100    24.19%   71.37%   3.18%    1.26%
HD102    50.53%   44.18%   4.00%    1.29%
HD103    29.67%   65.38%   3.64%    1.32%
HD104    27.18%   68.67%   2.68%    1.47%
HD105    47.88%   47.24%   3.53%    1.35%
HD107    48.57%   46.47%   3.58%    1.38%
HD108    56.57%   37.97%   4.38%    1.07%
HD109    18.19%   79.28%   1.73%    0.79%
HD110    13.88%   83.54%   1.73%    0.86%
HD111    22.94%   74.25%   1.88%    0.93%
HD112    52.06%   42.64%   3.89%    1.40%
HD113    50.26%   45.15%   3.34%    1.25%
HD114    53.85%   41.50%   3.58%    1.07%
HD115    50.48%   44.38%   3.90%    1.24%

Lehrmann and Guzman were the two top performers for the GOP, while Garza was the high scorer for the Dems. All three Republicans far outperformed Wayne Christian, with the difference being especially visible in the lower totals for the Libertarian candidates. Lehrmann and Guzman carried eight of the 14 State Rep districts, while Green managed to take only six against Garza, with HDs 102 and 115 coming within a point of being blue. In all three cases, HD105 was more Democratic than HD107.

What really stands out for me is the disparity in Green candidate totals. Add in the RRC race, and it it is quite apparent that the two best performing Green candidates were Latino/a. Each of the other races featured a major party Latina candidate, which likely exaggerated the effect further. I discussed this at a macro level before, so none of this should be too surprising. It’s just really fascinating to see it at a more granular level. The lesson I would draw from this for Democrats is that Latino voter engagement is more complex and multifaceted than we might think.

Last but not least, the CCA races:


Dist       Keel   Meyers      Ash  Reposa
=========================================
CD32    135,994  104,110   10,500   3,510
                        
HD100     9,656   30,633    1,571     733
HD102    28,668   25,212    2,434     839
HD103    10,290   25,247    1,644     808
HD104     7,418   22,993    1,149     844
HD105    21,920   22,480    1,841     787
HD107    25,897   25,482    2,241     831
HD108    43,510   29,495    3,644   1,039
HD109    11,235   51,414    1,297     624
HD110     4,138   29,786      757     465
HD111    12,539   42,891    1,279     711
HD112    28,187   23,120    2,240     844
HD113    27,147   24,944    1,994     806
HD114    35,595   27,826    2,537     771
HD115    29,577   26,015    2,399     875
                        
HD100    22.67%   71.92%    3.69%   1.72%
HD102    50.16%   44.11%    4.26%   1.47%
HD103    27.09%   66.46%    4.33%   2.13%
HD104    22.89%   70.96%    3.55%   2.60%
HD105    46.61%   47.80%    3.91%   1.67%
HD107    47.56%   46.80%    4.12%   1.53%
HD108    56.01%   37.97%    4.69%   1.34%
HD109    17.40%   79.63%    2.01%   0.97%
HD110    11.77%   84.75%    2.15%   1.32%
HD111    21.84%   74.70%    2.23%   1.24%
HD112    51.82%   42.51%    4.12%   1.55%
HD113    49.46%   45.44%    3.63%   1.47%
HD114    53.34%   41.70%    3.80%   1.16%
HD115    50.24%   44.19%    4.08%   1.49%

Dist     Walker  Johnson Strange S-Castro
=========================================
CD32    133,937  106,627   8,271    5,357
                        
HD100     9,277   30,966   1,183    1,214
HD102    28,067   25,890   1,955    1,223
HD103     9,909   25,425   1,171    1,486
HD104     7,067   22,888     805    1,708
HD105    21,553   22,789   1,379    1,348
HD107    25,519   25,883   1,615    1,470
HD108    42,970   30,333   2,947    1,471
HD109    10,910   51,776     931    1,013
HD110     3,931   29,745     558      939
HD111    12,141   43,230     907    1,224
HD112    27,643   23,689   1,744    1,320
HD113    26,878   25,260   1,469    1,343
HD114    35,066   28,487   1,968    1,199
HD115    28,851   26,763   1,847    1,373
                        
HD100    21.76%   72.62%   2.77%    2.85%
HD102    49.12%   45.31%   3.42%    2.14%
HD103    26.08%   66.92%   3.08%    3.91%
HD104    21.77%   70.49%   2.48%    5.26%
HD105    45.79%   48.42%   2.93%    2.86%
HD107    46.84%   47.50%   2.96%    2.70%
HD108    55.29%   39.03%   3.79%    1.89%
HD109    16.88%   80.11%   1.44%    1.57%
HD110    11.18%   84.57%   1.59%    2.67%
HD111    21.11%   75.18%   1.58%    2.13%
HD112    50.82%   43.55%   3.21%    2.43%
HD113    48.91%   45.97%   2.67%    2.44%
HD114    52.56%   42.70%   2.95%    1.80%
HD115    49.04%   45.49%   3.14%    2.33%

Dist    Keasler    Burns Bennett
================================
CD32    134,429  107,470  11,490
                  
HD100     9,518   31,274   1,710
HD102    28,210   26,096   2,677
HD103    10,127   26,011   1,752
HD104     7,392   23,511   1,392
HD105    21,842   23,012   2,081
HD107    25,630   26,129   2,509
HD108    42,923   30,705   3,834
HD109    11,114   51,813   1,564
HD110     4,079   30,030     975
HD111    12,540   43,238   1,523
HD112    27,901   23,798   2,531
HD113    26,940   25,409   2,401
HD114    35,129   28,774   2,620
HD115    28,999   26,874   2,791
                  
HD100    22.39%   73.58%   4.02%
HD102    49.51%   45.80%   4.70%
HD103    26.73%   68.65%   4.62%
HD104    22.89%   72.80%   4.31%
HD105    46.54%   49.03%   4.43%
HD107    47.23%   48.15%   4.62%
HD108    55.41%   39.64%   4.95%
HD109    17.23%   80.34%   2.43%
HD110    11.63%   85.59%   2.78%
HD111    21.88%   75.46%   2.66%
HD112    51.45%   43.88%   4.67%
HD113    49.21%   46.41%   4.39%
HD114    52.81%   43.25%   3.94%
HD115    49.43%   45.81%   4.76%

The main point of interest here is the third race, which featured a Libertarian but not a Green. Mark Bennett did better than one of the other Libs and about the same as the other, while Robert Burns did a little better than his fellow Ds; he probably absorbed a few of the votes than might have gone Green otherwise, but not too many. I don’t think there are any firm conclusions to be drawn here. And note again, HD105 was more Democratic than HD107.

So that’s what we have so far. I’ll have one more post, with county races, next. Let me know what you think.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Alternate funding sources

That’s one way to do it.

State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, announced plans Friday to raise public funds for Travis County, days after Gov. Greg Abbott canceled about $1.5 million in criminal justice grants over the county’s new “sanctuary” policy.

Rodriguez’s initiative is called Travis County #StrongerTogether and it will allow the community to donate tax-deductible funds to the county in order to help sustain community programs that “protect our women, children and veterans,” according to a news release. The initiative is partnering with the Austin Community Foundation (ACF).

“The people of Travis County are resilient and take care of each other. That’s what Travis County #StrongerTogether is all about,” Rodriguez said in an emailed statement. “If Governor Abbott is willing to sacrifice our veterans, women and children to score political points, then we will show him the power of love.”

[…]

Hernandez has shown no signs of backing down in the face of the funding cuts. In a Facebook post Friday, Hernandez endorsed Rodriguez’s initiative, and predicted the money will help “maintain the programs Governor Abbott has defunded.”

“Together, we can raise the funds necessary to ensure that our community’s values are represented and that the most vulnerable in our community are receiving the assistance they need,” Hernandez wrote.

See here for the background. This went live on Friday the 3rd, and according to the banner on the Travis County Stronger Together webpage, a bit more than $66K had been raised as of 10 PM on Saturday the 4th; it’s now over $89K as of Monday at 3 PM. Not a bad start, and as the Facebook page only has a couple hundred Likes, there’s plenty of room for growth.

On the one hand, this great. Resistance takes many forms, and it would be extremely satisfying to tell Greg Abbott where he can stick that grant money. On the other hand, this is terrible. It’s not any kind of model for a functioning government, and it’s in no way sustainable. Not to put too fine a point on it, but another term for what is going on here is that this particular grant for a specific public purpose is being privatized. In any other context, progressives would not like this. To some extent, this is going to be resolved in the courts one way or another. Different electoral outcomes would also be the end of stuff like this. In the meantime, this is what we have. The Statesman, which has video of Sheriff Hernandez talking about this saga, has more.

Posted in: La Migra, The great state of Texas.

Three rideshare bills

The Texas A&M Transportation Institute Policy Center looks at the (first) three bills relating to ridesharing that have been filed in the Lege:

Three bills have been filed so far in the 85th Texas Legislature, regular session, addressing transportation network companies, frequently referred to as ride-hailing or (less accurately) as ridesharing. The bills are

  1. SB 113 Relating to the provision of and local regulation of certain for-hire passenger transportation.
  2. SB 176 Relating to the regulation of transportation network companies; requiring an occupational permit; authorizing a fee.
  3. SB 361 Relating to transportation network companies.

SB 113 and SB 176 have been referred to the Senate Business and Commerce Committee. SB 361 is expected to follow when it is referred to committee.

SB 133 prohibits municipalities from regulating any vehicles for hire (including taxis) and imposes minimal state-level regulation in its place. SB 176 and SB 361 also remove municipal authority over TNCs but introduce state level regulation. There are differences between the latter two (permit fees, for example), but the provisions of both bills are similar to those passed in other states. SB 361 further clarifies that TNCs are not motor carriers and, thus, not regulated under the motor carrier statutes.

There’s further analysis there, so go read the rest. SB361 is by Sen. Robert Nichols, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, SB176 is by Sen. Charles Schwertner; it has five co-authors, including Democratic Sen. Juan Hinojosa. SB113 is by Sen. Don Huffines, and it’s basically a part of his plan to turn cities into helpless wards of the state. That’s the order in which I’d rank them from least to most objectionable. I’d be fine if nothing passes, but something likely will, and if that is the case I can live with either of the first two. There’s room to make them less daunting for cities, and I hope that happens. We’ll see how it goes.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Nancy Drew – I mean, Dan Patrick – and the case of the missing jersey

Seriously?

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asked the Texas Rangers and Houston Police Department to team up in finding New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s football jersey, which was stolen Sunday night after the Super Bowl, according to an emailed news release.

“In Texas we place a very high value on hospitality and football,” Patrick wrote. “Tom Brady’s jersey has great historical value and is already being called ‘the most valuable NFL collectable ever.’ It will likely go into the Hall of Fame one day. It is important that history does not record that it was stolen in Texas.”

According to the news release, Brady’s jersey was stolen from the Patriots’ locker room at NRG Stadium in Houston. The Patriots beat the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI, 34-28.

“I’m a Texans and Cowboys fan first, but the unquestionable success of the Super Bowl in Houston last night was a big win for our entire state, and I don’t want anything to mar that victory,” Patrick said. “Whoever took this jersey should turn it in. The Texas Rangers are on the trail.”

A spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, of which the Rangers are a division, confirmed Monday afternoon that DPS has offered assistance to the Houston Police department but did not specify what that assistance entails. The Houston Police Department directed all inquiries to NFL security.

Putting aside the weaselness of claiming to be both a Texans fan and a Cowboys fan (*), don’t the Rangers have anything better to do? Even by the standards of self-aggrandizing political stunts, this is pretty egregious. Give it a rest, dude. Texas Monthly has more.

(*) I recognize that this is a thing politicians do – believe me, I’m from New York City, where Yankees/Mets and Giants/Jets and to a lesser extent Rangers/Islanders is a big deal. (**) I get it, I really do. I’ve just always believed as a sports fan that most of use have way more respect for people who stay true to their teams than we do to the panderers. Everyone knew President Obama was a White Sox fan. Even Rudy Giuliana never pretended to have an affinity for the Mets. You’d think Dan Patrick of all people would have no trouble choosing a side.

(**) The Nets were still in New Jersey when I was growing up, so Knicks/Nets wasn’t a thing. The Nets are in Brooklyn now, but it’s still not a thing.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

DCCC says it will aim for three Texas Congressional seats

We’ll see what this means in practice.

The House Democratic campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, announced Monday morning that the party intends to target two longtime GOP incumbents that, until recently, have long been considered locks for re-election: U.S. Reps. Pete Sessions of Dallas and John Culberson of Houston.

The two races are in addition to the committee’s targeting of U.S. Rep. Will Hurd of San Antonio, who represents Texas’ 23rd District, a perennial target which includes much of the state’s border communities.

[…]

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton carried all three districts in November, falling just short of an outright majority in each place, according to a DCCC analysis of election records. In contrast, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney won the same districts in 2012.

While many political observers say Clinton’s performance was likely a one-time phenomenon in the Sessions and Culberson districts, it could serve as a warning sign to Republican incumbents as split-ticket voting is a diminishing habit.

Culberson’s district saw the most dramatic shift: Romney carried the seat with 60 percent of the vote. Four years later, Trump drew 47 percent support, according to the DCCC.

[…]

Democrats on Capitol Hill say President Trump’s performance in Texas against Clinton is why they are concentrating on a state they mostly ignored in the last several cycles, save for Hurd’s district. Trump’s 9-point win over Clinton in Texas was the narrowest for a Republican presidential candidate in 20 years.

Democrats further argue that Trump underperformed in Texas’ urban areas, particularly in Dallas and Harris Counties. At least one Democratic operative close to leadership who was not authorized to speak on the record called the president a potential “albatross around their neck.”

Multiple interviews with House Democratic sources have yet to scare up any possible recruits in the two districts.

“It’s more of a, ‘Where can we go and create opportunities?'” said Moses Mercado, a plugged-in Washington lobbyist with Texas roots.

See here for some background. There’s no doubt that Trump underperformed in urban areas like Houston and Dallas. Further, the evidence I have so far suggests that the underlying partisan mix shifted in Democrats’ favor at least in CD07 and likely CD32; I have not had a chance to look at any part of CD23 yet. CDs 07 and 32 are still reliably Republican, but they are not overwhelmingly so. If 2018 winds up being a strong Democratic year, they’re in the ballpark. Even if not, if the partisan ground shifts by as much between 2016 and 2020 as it did between 2012 and 2016, then these two become genuine swing districts. Just in time for the next round of redistricting, to be sure, but still. It makes sense to pay attention to them, and there’s no reason not to start now.

For all the time I’ve spent cautioning about Presidential numbers versus judicial race numbers in gauging legislative districts, I am intrigued by the potential here. There were large numbers of Republicans in CD07 and CD32 who voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump, and a few more who voted for Gary Johnson or Evan McMullin or some other minor candidate instead of Trump. Surely some of these people, even as they generally voted Republican otherwise, will be open to the argument that in this election, if they still oppose Trump and want to do something to stop him, they need to vote against the members of Congress who are enabling him. I don’t know how many of these crossover voters might be willing to consider that – whatever the number is today, it may well be very different next fall – but we have some time to identify them and to figure out the best way to present that argument to them. If the DCCC really is serious about this, one way they can show it is to do a deep analytics dive into the precinct-level data and figure out who their target audience is. The hard part will be coming up with a message that is persuasive to them without alienating core Democrats, who are not going to be very tolerant about appeals to centrism or bipartisanship. A simple motto of “oppose Trump by opposing this Congressman who stand with him” is probably best.

As for finding candidates, we already have one in CD07, and I’m sure there will be plenty of people interested in CD23, as it is perennially competitive. As for CD32, again I’m sure there will be plenty of people who might want to run, but let me put in a good word for Allen Vaught, Army Reserve captain in Iraq and former State Rep from Dallas. I have no idea if he might be interested, but I do know he’d be a good candidate. D Magazine suggests current Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who would also be a fine choice. Let the recruiting begin!

Posted in: Election 2018.

Some things never evolve

The SBOE, for instance.

The Texas State Board of Education on Wednesday voted preliminarily for science standards that would keep in language that some say opens the door to creationism.

The votes came a day after the board heard from scientists begging them to remove the language. Board members are set to hold a second public hearing and take final votes on the changes to the science standards in April.

The process began in July, when the board convened a teacher committee that recommended the deletion of several high school science standards, including four controversial biology standards they said would be too complex for students to understand. In their recommendation for deleting a clause requiring students examine explanations on the “sudden appearance” of organism groups in the fossil record, they included the note, “Not enough time for students to master concept. Cognitively inappropriate for 9th grade students.”

Republican board member Barbara Cargill led the charge Wednesday to keep three of those four standards in some form — arguing that they would actually help students better understand the science and keep teachers away from creationist ideas.

[…]

At Tuesday’s public hearing, former Texas science teacher Joni Ashbrook told the board that specific language is included in creationist arguments that a supernatural agent explains a burst of new forms in the fossil record.

But Cargill said her addition allows students to fully comprehend the ebbs and flows in the number of organism forms over time. “Something obviously happened in the environment, and they’re gone and the fossil record flatlines and we don’t see them anymore,” she said.

I did not follow this closely, so let me point you to the Texas Freedom Network, which is as always on top of it. If you’re looking for a place to channel some excess activist energy in between calls to Cruz and Cornyn’s offices, contacting your SBOE member and asking them to support the change to this language would be helpful. If you want to bone up on creationist talking points and the scientific responses to them, the delightfully old school Talk Origins FAQ secion is a good resource. The Chron has more.

Posted in: School days, Technology, science, and math.

“The Short, Tumultuous Tenure Of Corpus Christi Mayor Dan McQueen”

This is just amazing.

Dan McQueen

After just 37 days in office, Dan McQueen announced his resignation as the mayor of Corpus Christi via Facebook last Wednesday. “Consider this my resignation. I resign immediately,” he wrote in the Facebook post, according to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. “The city can no longer deal with such differing views and divisiveness. I step down from my position as Mayor, in order to allow the council and city to regain focus on success. Sorry, they are now into my ex-wives and kids. Nothing good will come from that mess.”

The sudden resignation marked the end of a tumultuous, albeit short, tenure as mayor. McQueen, who ran as a political outsider and made promises to fix the city, encountered a clean water crisis less than two days after he came into power. In recent weeks, he took jabs at local media and members of the city council on Facebook, and found himself the subject of several investigative news reports that raised questions about the legitimacy of his educational background and the nature of his relationship with his chief of staff.

By the time McQueen officially tendered his resignation to the city secretary, he had clearly had enough of the intense public scrutiny that all high-ranking public officials inevitably must face. McQueen hinted at his intention to quit as early as last Monday, according to Corpus Christi’s local ABC affiliate KIII-TV, when he took to Facebook to criticize both the media and his constituents, all while drawing a tenuous link between himself and Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“On a Day of Unity, I find a City of Divisiveness. Dr. King and I both are graduates of Boston University, and I find my-self in a city named, “The Body of Christ” (IRONIC). However, in the past 35 Days, I have been attacked by council as being Sexist, Racist and continue to fight attacks from Media and the public. I just don’t see the VALUE in this fight for 600 more. I had such HOPE for our city. God Bless Corpus Christi!”

McQueen deactivated his Facebook page shortly after that post, then re-activated the account on Wednesday. Given his lack of experience in the public sector—during his campaign, McQueen branded himself as a “tech guy” who would apply his business and engineering background to the mayor’s office—it’s sort of understandable that McQueen felt a little shell-shocked by his busy first (and, as it would turn out, only) month leading the city. But it’s still surprising to see how quickly it all fell apart.

Read the whole thing, it’s something else. Basically, this guy was an outsider candidate, a businessman whose credentials turned out to be shaky, who was elected over an establishment politician because the people wanted “change”. It quickly became apparent that he was temperamentally unsuited for the job, and wound up spending a lot of time feuding with people on social media. I feel like I’ve heard this story before, I just can’t put my finger on where. At least in Corpus, there was a relatively painless resolution before any real damage was done. The rest of us should be so lucky.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

Weekend link dump for February 5

“Top athletes demand an immediate end to hijab ban in basketball”.

“Still, the survival of tax havens, like shipping flags of convenience, is an anomaly. If big, powerful countries and blocs really had a mind to it, they could roll over both in a week.”

“But it has long been a trope of Holocaust deniers and white nationalists to insist that Jews were only incidentally targeted.”

“Jihadist groups on Sunday celebrated the Trump administration’s ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, saying the new policy validates their claim that the United States is at war with Islam.”

“From religious leaders’ perspectives, backlash against Trump’s immigration policy may be the most ecumenical issue in America right now.”

“We strongly disagree with the Executive Order’s halting refugee admissions. We believe that now more than ever, welcoming newcomers and refugees is an act of love and hope. We will continue to engage the new administration, as we have all administrations for the duration of the current refugee program, now almost forty years. We will work vigorously to ensure that refugees are humanely welcomed in collaboration with Catholic Charities without sacrificing our security or our core values as Americans, and to ensure that families may be reunified with their loved ones.”

“The US turned down multiple opportunities to help Jews fleeing Nazi Germany in the run-up to the Holocaust. In one case, it refused to allow a ship carrying 900 German Jews to dock on American shores. The ship eventually turned back and returned to Europe, where over 250 of its passengers were ultimately killed. That ship was called the St. Louis. A Twitter account, set up by activist techie Russel Neiss, is currently tweeting out the names and fates of its passengers.”

“The malevolence of President Trump’s Executive Order on visas and refugees is mitigated chiefly—and perhaps only—by the astonishing incompetence of its drafting and construction.”

The White House Correspondents’ Dinner deserved to die anyway, but if anyone can do something positive with it, I’m sure Samantha Bee can.

Tom Price lied like a rug about a sweetheart stock deal he was given.

“Trump’s top advisors on immigration, including chief strategist Steve Bannon and senior advisor Stephen Miller, see themselves as launching a radical experiment to fundamentally transform how the U.S. decides who is allowed into the country and to block a generation of people who, in their view, won’t assimilate into American society.” And if that doesn’t scare you, maybe this will.

RIP, Masaya Nakamura, whose company created Pac-Man.

“Here’s what this means: Donald Trump’s executive branch is defying the judiciary, even with the personal, in-person assistance of national legislators. He is attempting, in part at least, to overturn constitutional government in the United States.”

“In other words, whether serving under Republican or Democratic administrations, Sally Yates has been the consummate public servant with a demonstrated commitment to justice and public safety for all Americans.”

“Those citizens who fantasize about defying tyranny from within fortified compounds have never understood how liberty is actually threatened in a modern bureaucratic state: not by diktat and violence, but by the slow, demoralizing process of corruption and deceit. And the way that liberty must be defended is not with amateur firearms, but with an unwearying insistence upon the honesty, integrity, and professionalism of American institutions and those who lead them. We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered. What happens next is up to you and me. Don’t be afraid. This moment of danger can also be your finest hour as a citizen and an American.”

I’m not even really a fan, but I’d totally be down with Hayley Atwell as the next Doctor Who.

RIP, John Wetton, bassist and singer with King Crimson and Asia.

“The contributions of Frederick Douglass will become more and more.”

If you’re an attorney and you want to do your part to resist the Trump Muslim ban, here are some things you can do.

“But wait! It gets worse. If churches can gather money without disclosing their donors – and obviously that degree of privacy protection is required for the free exercise of religion – and spend that money to run political campaigns, then the market is open for foreign as well as domestic corruption. The Russian, Chinese, Saudi, and Iranian governments would all, predictably, either find congregations already recognized by the IRS to use as front groups or incorporate new ones. Of course a group organized as a mosque might not be able to wield much influence without stirring up opposition, but nothing bars the Saudis or the Iranians from paying some stooges to set up a fake Baptist church.”

The #BowlingGreenMassacre is a perfect distillation of the Trump era.

“A collection of Silicon Valley executives, engineers and activists are quietly plotting a progressive counterattack against President Donald Trump, a sign of the industry’s growing anger at his election victory and actions on immigration.”

Posted in: Blog stuff.

A re-vote on recapture?

This is very interesting.

After reconsideration of an 18-year-old law, state education officials are adjusting their school finance calculations in a way that could save several dozen school districts roughly $100 million — while costing the state the same amount in revenue.

One of the apparent beneficiaries is Houston ISD, where the change means taxpayers will be sending about $60 million less to the state for public education than they had expected.

At issue is a calculation for recapture — the state’s term for the money that districts with higher property wealth send to the state for use in districts with lower property wealth.

It’s more commonly known as the Robin Hood system of school finance.

Some of those rich districts — “rich” here refers to the value of the districts’ property and not the income of its residents — have adopted homestead exemptions that are bigger than the exemptions mandated in state law. All school districts in Texas have to let homeowners deduct $25,000 from their taxable property values, but districts are allowed to raise those exemptions up to 20 percent of a home’s value.

Not all districts do that, and not all of those that do that are property rich. But some — including Houston ISD, the biggest one in the state — offer the higher homestead exemptions and are also subject to recapture, and they’re the ones subject to the new calculations from the Texas Education Agency.

In a letter sent Feb. 1 to school administrators, the agency’s associate commissioner for school finance said that starting in the current school year, TEA will include half of the money the districts have forfeited in optional homestead exemptions when calculating how much recapture money those districts should pay. That’s the agency’s new reading of a law that’s been on the books since 1999.

“The commissioner thinks he has the latitude to give them half credit for this,” said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston.

The recalculations would trim those districts’ bills considerably — by $100 million in rough numbers. In addition to Houston ISD, the unofficial list of beneficiaries of the new calculation include Spring Branch ISD, Highland Park ISD, Lake Travis ISD and Comal ISD. Officials with TEA said they have not yet calculated exact amounts for each district but said the $100 million is a reasonable estimate of the total cost this year.

[…]

Houston ISD said Friday evening that the board will consider a do-over and will vote next Thursday on whether to hold another election on May 6 to give voters an opportunity to reverse that November vote.

The effect of this new interpretation of the law would be to reduce HISD’s bill for recapture by about $60 million. HISD would still need to pay a bit more than $100 million to the state, so this is hardly a cure-all, but it’s a significant savings.

To me, this is a win for the No vote on recapture last November. As the story says, the TEA could have interpreted the law in this fashion, to allow districts that grant the higher homestead exemption more credit in the byzantize school finance system, years ago. I believe one reason – maybe not the only reason, but surely a big reason – why it didn’t happen before now is because there wasn’t a loud enough voice demanding the change. HISD’s No vote on recapture was a big deal that got people’s attention and focused some energy on just how screwy the system had become. Another boost to their argument was that HISD was being penalized for having a lower tax rate than it could have had. This particular kink in the way the finances were calculated was one of the things that “No on recapture” advocates like David Thompson pointed out, as it was a simple fix that could be easily implemented and would not only be fair but also have a big effect. Maybe this happens anyway if HISD meekly paid its recapture bill, but if anything should be clear at this point in time, it’s that kicking up a fuss tends to be a better way to get what you want.

Bettencourt’s office put out a press release lauding HISD for scheduling another vote. I haven’t seen any other reporting on this – as of Saturday there was nothing on HISD’s website or Facebook page about this – so he’s either being a bit premature or he’s gotten some verbal assurance that the Board will indeed approve a May election at its Thursday meeting. The Board can claim a victory here, and it should be able to sell the idea of writing a smaller check to the state to its constituents and allies from the last election. I’d be inclined to vote Yes this time around – the problem isn’t fully solved, and even without a big school finance overhaul there are other things that could be done for recapture districts like giving credit for pre-K students, but it’s a step in the right direction. It will be interesting to see how the Board reacts, and to see if groups like CVPE and the teachers’ union go along. Whatever else happens, this was a good thing.

Posted in: Election 2017, School days.