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Anti-Israel boycott law amended

For whatever this is worth.

Gov. Greg Abbott this week signed a bill into law that limits the scope of a controversial anti-Israel boycott law, just weeks after a federal judge temporarily blocked its enforcement in an ongoing First Amendment lawsuit.

The 2017 law — which seeks to combat the Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions movement, an international protest over Israel’s treatment of Palestinians — prohibits state agencies from investing in and contracting with companies that boycott Israel. It also requires anyone contracting with the state to pledge in writing that it will not boycott Israel.

The changes Abbott signed into law Tuesday make it only applicable to contracts of at least $100,000 with companies with 10 or more full-time employees. Legislators who support the law have said they never intended for it to impact individuals or small businesses.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who had appealed the preliminary injunction to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, did not waste time in filing a motion to dismiss the federal lawsuit brought by several Texas contractors who claimed it violated their right to free speech.

In the motion filed Wednesday, Paxton argued that “this legislative enactment is exactly the kind of development that the Fifth Circuit has recognized will render a case moot.”

ACLU of Texas spokeswoman Imelda Mejia said the agency, which is representing some of the plaintiffs in the suit, said the agency is “analyzing the new law and its possible implications on our case.”

[…]

Federal judges have struck down laws in Arizona and Kansas and upheld one in Arkansas; all are on appeal but the Kansas law.

There, after the Kansas Legislature made nearly identical changes to those signed by Abbott on Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union, lacking an affected plaintiff, agreed to dismiss its lawsuit.

See here for the background. Given that the lawsuit in question involved an individual who would no longer be affected by the law, it probably is the case that a motion to dismiss would succeed. That said – and here I put on my I Am Not A Lawyer hat – I don’t think the change to the law fixes the underlying constitutional problem. We’ll see if the court agrees.

Injunction granted against Texas anti-Israel boycott law

From the inbox:

A federal court today ruled that a Texas law that requires government contractors to certify that they are not engaged in boycotts of Israel or companies that do business with Israel is unconstitutional. The judge ruled that the law, HB 89, which went into effect in 2017 violates the First Amendment’s protection against government intrusion into political speech and expression.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for the free speech rights of all Texans,” said Tommy Buser-Clancy, staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas, who argued the motion to block the law in court. “The right to boycott is deeply ingrained in American tradition, from our nation’s founding to today. The state cannot dictate the views of its own citizens on the Israel/Palestine conflict – or any issue – by preventing them from exercising their First Amendment right to boycott.”

“We applaud this decision, though nothing about it surprises us; in its decision the court has affirmed its understanding that this law was intended to chill the expression of personal opinion,” stated Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas. “By any name, that’s free speech and free speech is the north star of our democracy. It’s foundational, and this decision underlines that no issue of importance can be addressed if the speech about it is stymied, or worse, silenced.”

The ACLU of Texas filed its lawsuit challenging the law on behalf of four Texans who were forced to choose between signing away their right to boycott or forgoing job opportunities and losing income. Those plaintiffs are represented by attorneys from the ACLU of Texas, the ACLU Speech Privacy & Technology Project, and Kevin Dubose of Alexander Dubose Jefferson & Townsend LLP in Houston.

“I’m very happy that the judge has decided to support our right to hold our own political beliefs and express them as we see fit,” said John Pluecker, a plaintiff in the ACLU of Texas lawsuit. “This ruling goes beyond just the plaintiffs – this law needed to be challenged for everyone. People in Texas need to know that our ability to earn our livelihoods won’t be threatened by the state because of our political positions.”

More information on the case is available here: https://www.aclutx.org/en/press-releases/aclu-texas-files-first-amendment-challenge-anti-boycott-law

A copy of today’s decision is available here: https://www.aclutx.org/sites/default/files/4-25-19_bds_order.pdf

The first paragraph in that press release is inaccurate. This was not a final ruling, it was a ruling on a motion for a temporary injunction, as well as a ruling on motions to dismiss by the defendants. The court granted the motion for the injunction and enjoined the state from enforcing HB89, while denying the motions to dismiss. I noted this lawsuit in passing in this post about the Texas-versus-AirBnB matter. This NYT profile of plaintiff Bahia Amawi has some good information if you want more. A law like this just seems unconstitutional on its face – it restricts speech in a clear and direct manner – but as we know by now, the federal courts can be a strange place. Just keep this law in mind the next time you hear Greg Abbott or someone like him prattle on about supposed efforts to curb “free speech” on college campuses. See the Chron and the Trib for more.

Texas versus AirBnB update

From last week:

The Texas Comptroller’s office said Tuesday it’s reviewing the inclusion of Airbnb on a list of companies that boycott Israel and are banned from doing business with the state after the company announced a change to its policy for listings in the West Bank.

The home-sharing company said in a statement that it’s reversing a plan announced this November to remove about 200 rental listings from the territory, whose ownership is disputed by Palestinians. The company said it will donate the profits to humanitarian aid groups.

“Airbnb has never boycotted Israel, Israeli businesses, or the more than 20,000 Israeli hosts who are active on the Airbnb platform,” the company said in the statement. “We have always sought to bring people together and will continue to work with our community to achieve this goal.”

The company’s decision to delist the properties had prompted the state last month to blacklist it in keeping with a 2017 law that bans state agencies from contracting with or investing in companies that boycott Israel. The law was touted by Republicans, including Gov. Greg Abbott, as a way to show solidarity with Israel.

See here for the background. As I’ve said before, governments base policy decisions on who they do and don’t want to do business with all the time, so this policy is in and of itself not remarkable. It’s dumb and misguided, but not unusual. It’s also led to some other consequences.

Texas state agencies are beginning to divest nearly $72 million worth of stock in a company said to be boycotting Israel — the first financial move after a year-old law that bars Texas agencies from investing in such companies.

Two major state pension funds — the Employees Retirement System of Texas and Texas Permanent School Fund —own $68 million and about $4 million, respectively, worth of stock in DNB ASA, a Norwegian financial services company, officials said, though the company has denied it boycotts Israel.

[…]

The Comptroller’s office, upon the advice of two contracted consulting groups, identified four companies as having boycotted Israel, though all of them deny that they engage in any punitive ban.

Employees Retirement System spokeswoman Mary Jane Wardlow said the fund began divesting March 1, 2018, when it had about $68 million invested in DNB, and as of early April had divested about half that amount. Divestment should be complete by June, Wardlow said.

The Texas Permanent School Fund did not respond to a request for information on its divestment.

The state has no direct holdings in any of the other three companies on its divestment list, according to notifications to the state obtained by Hearst Newspapers.

Two of the six state agencies affected by the law —Texas County and District Retirement System and Texas Municipal Retirement System — had indirect investments in DNB, records show.

And three of the six state agencies affected by the law — the Employees Retirement System of Texas, Texas Municipal Retirement System and Teacher Retirement System of Texas — had indirect investments in Airbnb. (The only agency to disclose how much, ERS, had about $460,000-worth.)

But the law doesn’t require state governmental entities to divest from indirect holdings. It only requires them to send letters to the managers of the investment fund in question and request that they remove blacklisted companies from the fund or create a similar fund without those companies.

If the manager can’t come up with a fund with “substantially the same management fees and same level of investment risk and anticipated return,” the law requires no further action.

I mean, I don’t think this was a good idea, but if you do, then this is what you signed up for.

Texas versus AirBnB

This is one to watch.

Texas is adding short-term-rental site Airbnb to a list of companies that cannot receive state investments because it disallows Israeli-owned rentals in the disputed West Bank.

Airbnb is the only American-based company on Texas’ anti-Israel boycott list, which includes a Norwegian financial services group, a British wholesale co-op and a Norwegian insurance company.

Texas is making it “very clear that our state stands with Israel and its people against those wishing to undermine Israel’s economy and the wellbeing of its people,” said a statement from state Comptroller Glenn Hegar’s office.

In November, Airbnb said it would remove about 200 listings in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. It cited a variety of factors for its decision, including whether listings inside an occupied territory had a direct connection to a larger regional dispute.

“We unequivocally reject and oppose the BDS movement and are disappointed by the decision,” Airbnb said in a statement. “There are over 20,000 Airbnb hosts in Israel who open their doors and showcase the best of Israeli hospitality to guests from around the world.”

In addition to the West Bank, Airbnb also said it has removed listings in the disputed territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Airbnb has about 20,000 Israeli hosts who’ve welcomed more than 1 million visitors, including 4,700 Texans in 2018, the company said.

Texas’ move was praised by Christians United For Israel, the public policy arm of the nation’s largest pro-Israel organization. It likened the so-called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which seeks to “end international support for Israel’s suppression of Palestinians,” to “terrorists” and “hostile nations.”

[…]

Democratic critics of laws cracking down on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement are increasingly skeptical of Israel’s policies and see such laws as an infringement on free speech. In January, Florida added Airbnb to a list of companies that it defines as boycotting Israel. The same month, a bill to crack down on the BDS movement was blocked by Democrats in the Senate.

The backlash against Airbnb comes as the company is reportedly preparing for an IPO sometime in 2019.

I don’t want to get too deep into the weeds here, so let me sum up: The Lege passed a law in 2017 that created this policy and led to AirBnB’s blacklisting. The push for this has largely come from the Christian far-right fringe, with radical clerics like John Hagee in San Antonio as the main cheerleaders. The author of that bill, Rep. Phil King, has filed another bill that intends to clarify that the law applies to companies and not individuals. One possible reason for that is that there has already been a lawsuit filed, by a speech pathologist in Pflugerville who lost her job with Pflugerville ISD over her support for BDS. The current law is broad enough that it may well be vulnerable to litigation on free speech grounds. AirBnB has 90 days to respond to the Comptroller’s actions, so if a lawsuit is to come of this, it’ll happen after that. Got it? Good.

It’s all bathrooms, all the time

People are paying attention to Dan Patrick’s anti-LGBT bathroom bill, and for the most part they do not like it.

In early February, the Super Bowl will be in Houston and in late March, the women’s Final Four will be in Dallas. If Patrick pushes the bathroom bill through the Senate by then, as expected, there will be a lot of unflattering stories.

For a taste of things to come, consider Monday’s subhead in The Economist: “In the toilet.”

How about this comment from a writer at The New York Daily News: “We probably should have stopped playing big-time sports in Texas a long time ago because gay rights have been under siege in Texas for decades.”

Then there’s Rick Riordan, the Texan who wrote the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series. After the bathroom bill was filed last week, he turned down an offer to attend a celebration of authors by the Texas Legislature.

“If they want to honor me, they could stop this nonsense,” Riordan wrote on Twitter.

[…]

There’s already been a backlash. Over a dozen large events, slated to bring in roughly 180,000 visitors, have contacted Dallas officials and said they would cancel, said Phillip Jones, CEO of Visit Dallas, the organization that promotes conventions and other tourism business here.

“That’s the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

An education group with about 20,000 members had penciled in Dallas for 2020, he said. Because of the bathroom bill, the group is considering a Midwest city instead.

Jones cited a survey that showed 53 percent of meeting planners are avoiding cities that don’t have universal bathroom use. Many planners are putting off decisions on Dallas until they see what happens with the Lege.

“We’re already suffering because of this negative perception,” Jones said.

Perception is the right word. Patrick pledged to make transgender bathrooms a top priority for the Legislature. He said it’s about safety and privacy, and not giving in to political correctness. But that’s not how others see it.

“The message to transgender people is stark — we do not and will not accept you,” wrote The Economist.

Dan Patrick, of course, disputes the very notion that Texas would lose any business at all due to his bathroom bill. So whatever you do, don’t show him this.

An academic group is threatening to pull an upcoming conference from Houston next year, citing concerns with a bill before the Texas legislature that would require transgender people to use bathrooms corresponding to their assigned sex at birth.

The American College Personnel Association, a trade group based in the nation’s capital, expects more than 3,100 people to travel to Houston over three days in March 2018 for the conference. Executive Director Cindi Love cited concern for transgender college students’ and attendees’ safety as a reason for potentially relocating the conference.

“We cannot bring transgender-identified members to a city and risk (discrimination) if they leave the facility where we’ve contracted,” Love said Wednesday morning. The group backed out of a conference in North Carolina scheduled for last summer after that state passed a similar law.

Love said the group’s withdrawal from Houston would mean $5.129 million in lost revenue for the city and state, calculating that figure from airfare, ground transportation, hotels, food, entertainment and other conference arrangements.

Yeah, but they’re a bunch of filthy academics, so their money doesn’t really count, right? Everything can be rationalized if you need it to be.

Meanwhile, the business lobby still wants no part of this.

Chris Wallace, the new president of the Texas Association of Business, said his priorities are better roads, expanded education, smarter taxation, sustainable heath care and no legislation that will tarnish the state’s brand.

“Infrastructure … that’s an issue for every legislative session,” Wallace said. “In any taxation discussion, we want to ensure it is fair for business, because business makes up more than 60 percent of the tax base.”

To improve the future workforce, the association wants to see free full-day pre-kindergarten, implementation of the A-through-F school accountability ratings and a way to link 10 percent of a four-year college’s funding to responsible graduation rates.

“Businesses put a lot of money into the education system, and many are questioning the return on investment,” Wallace said.

Other priorities include lowering health care costs by expanding telemedicine access and giving advanced-practice registered nurses more authority.

Stopping the transgender bathroom bill introduced by Houston-area Sen. Lois Kolkhorst may be the biggest fight to save the state’s reputation.

Former Chronicle reporter R.G. Ratcliffe recently explained in Texas Monthly magazine how Toyota Motor Corp. agreed to move its North American headquarters to Plano only after the city council promised an anti-discrimination ordinance that Kolkhorst’s bill would repeal. A non-discrimination ordinance was also a top priority for Apple when it created thousands of jobs in Austin. Major corporations care about this issue more than lawmakers realize.

“We’ll oppose any kind of legislation that would impact any our members’ abilities to recruit their workforce, or that would negatively impact economic development, such as recruiting corporate relocations,” Wallace said.

The association can’t defend business’s interests by itself, though. Wallace needs business leaders to do their part.

“They’ve got to speak up,” he said. “Whatever the issue is, we encourage businesses to make their voices heard with legislators.”

Look, there are plenty of things the business lobby likes that I don’t. The A-F grading system for schools is at best a very rough work in progress, and of course they’re all about tax cuts. But my argument is that almost by default these guys are more in line with the Democrats these days than they are with the Republicans, and they need to recognize that whatever reservations they may have about the Dems, one-party rule in this state is not a good thing for them. They don’t need to link hands with the SEIU, but a limited strategic alliance could be quite beneficial. The fact is, they may well succeed in killing the bathroom bill this session, but as Patrick himself told the Trib, he’s never going to give up on it. If they want this thing to be well and truly dead, there are two ways to ensure that. One is to defeat Dan Patrick in 2018. The other is to reduce the number of Patrick minions in the Senate.

After the vote rejecting West’s amendment to the rules, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, suggested another solution: “I think what we need to do is elect two more Democrats. Then we’d be forced to work together.”

I don’t have precinct data from the Senate districts that will have elections next year, but the names to look at are Konni Burton, Don Huffines, Joan Huffman, and Kelly Hancock. I guarantee, the 2016 numbers will make those seats look at least somewhat competitive, and winning even one of them would make a real difference. If the business lobby is serious about defeating not just this bill but the next however many incarnations of it, this is what it’s going to take. Are they in or are they not? The Observer has more.

Don’t know much about international relations

Sheesh.

Not Greg Abbott

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday continued his campaign against the controversial Iran nuclear deal, urging fellow governors nationwide to ignore President Obama’s suggestion to lift economic sanctions.

In a two-page letter, issued after he met in Dallas with Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, Abbott urged his colleagues in other states to strengthen existing sanctions, much as he has proposed that the Texas Legislature approve when it comes into session next January.

In the letter, he calls the Iran Deal “foolhardy” because Iran “has consistently and blatantly flouted the terms of previous international agreements” and already has conducted “long-range ballistic missile tests in defiance of United Nations resolutions.”

“I strongly oppose the Iran Deal because it undermines the national security of the United States and its strategic allies abroad — especially our most important Middle East ally, Israel, ” Abbott stated in the letter, labeling Iran “the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism.”

“Entering into an agreement with a country that consistently calls for ‘death to America’ and articulates anti-Semitic policies is short-sighted and ignores geopolitical realities.”

Abbott said the Iran Deal “does not eliminate Iran’s ability to obtain a nuclear warhead — much less completely and permanently dismantle its nuclear capability. Expecting Iran to actually adhere to the deal is equally foolhardy.”

I suppose that I could point out that objective reality since the agreement was signed contradicts everything that Abbott claims, but we all know about reality’s well-known liberal bias, so we’ll just move on. Abbott’s gonna do what Abbott’s gonna do, but if I were a private business, I’d be just a little worried that Abbott might not want to stop at just forbidding government agencies from doing business with Iran. I mean, what assurance do you have that he won’t?

Oh, Buc-ee’s

Ugh.

Make your own beaver joke

Convenience-store chain Buc-ee’s Ltd. has garnered lots of attention for its clean restrooms. But this week, it’s the owners’ endorsement of tea party favorite Dan Patrick, who faces incumbent David Dewhurst in the Republican runoff for lieutenant governor, that’s drawn the spotlight.

Congressman Joaquin Castro has bashed Buc-ee’s owners over the endorsement and Monday called for a boycott of the stores.

In a tweet, the San Antonio Democrat said he wouldn’t gas up at Buc-ee’s “since they support a fear-mongering immigrant basher.”

Castro’s brother, Mayor Julián Castro, is expected to debate immigration reform with Patrick in April after the two traded barbs though social media.

But any antipathy toward Buc-ee’s puts its critics at odds with legions of Buc-ee’s fans.

They say they love the stores’ reasonable gas prices, squeaky-clean restrooms, foods from jerky to Beaver Nuggets and shelves of Texas kitsch.

[…]

Lake Jackson-based Buc-ee’s was founded in 1982 by Arch “Beaver” Aplin III and Don Wasek.

The company operates 28 stores, mostly in Southeast and Central Texas, its website says. More are planned.

Buc-ee’s Aplin and Wasek didn’t return phone calls seeking comment about the company’s long-range expansion plans or their political stance.

Campaign finance reports show the two have donated thousands of dollars to Republican candidates over the past two decades, including a combined $11,100 to Gov. Rick Perry and $50,000 to Attorney General Greg Abbott on Jan. 21.

However, reports did not reflect a donation to Patrick, likely because candidates have not filed updated reports since the March 4 primary election.

Buc-ee’s general counsel Jeff Nadalo said in an email that Aplin and Wasek have contributed to Patrick’s campaign, but “as a company, Buc-ee’s doesn’t support political candidates” and the company’s doors “are open 24/7 to everyone.”

Attorney Nadalo reiterated that distinction between the owners (Buc-ee’s is not a publicly traded company) and the company to Bud Kennedy. As Stace notes, that would make them an exception to the “corporations are people, my friend” mantra. Well, they’re free to support the candidates of their choice, and other people are free to decide what that means to them. I think you’re on solid ground if you decide you’ll just use their famous bathrooms but not spend any money there. I must note there is some nuance in all this:

In his talk in Terrell, Aplin said Buc-ee’s normally pays 40 percent to 45 percent above the area’s industry average for similar jobs.

A cashier in Terrell will start at $11 to $11.50 an hour, he said. For the Texas City store, the company is hiring cashiers, food-service workers and maintenance workers at pay that ranges from $11 to $14 an hour, its website states. When Buc-ee’s opened a 67,000-square-foot store in New Braunfels in 2012, it was a plus for that community’s economy, a local official said.

“There is no doubt that it makes a difference, but being able to quantify that is difficult,” said Rusty Brockman, director of economic development for the Greater New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce. “But I can quantify it in this way: They brought a great name and a destination to New Braunfels — a business that is clean, progressive and run by a true entrepreneur. And they brought 225 jobs paying more than $12 an hour.”

It would be easier to demonize them if they treated their employees like dirt. And if you’re not feeling conflicted now, consider this:

Buc-ee’s co-owner Arch “Beaver” Aplin gave $12,000 to Democrat Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate campaign in 2004.

[…]

Jeff Nadalo, general counsel for Buc-ee’s, told Lone Star Q on Wednesday he isn’t sure why Aplin, who lives in Lake Jackson, where Buc-ee’s is headquartered, would contribute money to Obama — who has become public enemy No. 1 for Patrick and other Texas Republicans.

“Your guess would be as good as mine,” Nadalo said. “I know the media is portraying them [the Buc-ee’s owners] as staunch Republicans, but I couldn’t even tell you their political affiliation. I think they’re just smart business guys.”

[…]

Likewise, people have a right not to spend money at Buc-ee’s, but Nadalo said when it comes to LGBT issues, the company is supportive. For example, he said some customers recently complained about a transgender employee at the company’s Cypress location.

“I think the LGBT community would be pleased to hear that despite protests from customers, Buc-ee’s has treated her just like we would any other employee,” Nadalo said. “We’ve embraced her into our family. We did not fall prey to that rhetoric. The corporate social philosophy of the company has clearly been driven in a direction which is conducive to the LGBT objective.”

However, Nadalo confirmed the company doesn’t have an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policy. He said the company’s current policy mirrors federal law, but added he’d be willing to take up the matter with the human resources department.

“I would certainly be happy to bring it to their attention that we’re perhaps not on paper espousing the objectives that some of our customers would like to see,” Nadalo said.

Asked about domestic partner benefits, Nadalo said the company doesn’t currently offer health insurance to employees, but plans to begin doing so soon.

“If we extend coverage to straight partners, we would extend it to gay partners,” he said.

They’ll have to offer health insurance to employees who work 30 hours a week under the Affordable Care Act, right? They don’t have to offer domestic partner benefits, but I hope they do, and I hope they follow through as Nadalo expects.

Anyway. I’m in the vicinity of a Buc-ee’s maybe twice a year, so any behavioral changes I make are not going to be noticed by anyone. We’ll probably still take potty breaks there, because the kids like the place. Let’s just say my feelings about the franchise are a lot more complicated now. Campos and Texas Leftist have more.

Cookiecott 2014

Hissyfit 2014 might be a more accurate description.

A coalition of anti-abortion groups is trying to crumble Girl Scout cookie sales because of a Twitter post of an online news article that recognized several accomplished women, including gubernatorial hopeful Wendy Davis, who rose to national attention with a filibuster against anti-abortion legislation in the state Senate.

The coalition of groups, spearheaded by Pro Life Waco, has organized a boycott of Girl Scout cookies because its members say the organization has publicly supported the Fort Worth Democrat, and other “feminists” who defend abortion rights.

But the Twitter post since has been deleted and the national Girl Scout organization issued an apology last week, saying “our sharing of the article was not meant to signal an endorsement of any of the women featured.”

“It’s unfortunate that we have special interest groups who are using the Girl Scouts to promote their agenda. Particularly since today begins the National Girl Scout Cookie Weekend kickoff,” said Stephanie Finleon, Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas chief development and communications officer.

A spokeswoman for the Davis campaign declined to comment on the boycott but said Davis was a Girl Scout Brownie when she was a child and served as a Brownie troop leader for her daughter’s troop in Fort Worth.

John Pisciotta with Pro Life Waco, the boycott’s organizer, said of the effort: “It’s substantially an education campaign for parents.”

The group is airing radio ads on five stations in Central Texas to push “CookieCott 2014.”

I’d say it’s more of a grab for attention by someone who is easily offended. He’s done this before, the last time the Girl Scouts did something he didn’t approve of. It’s a free country, and if these folks think this is a good use of their time, then who am I to argue? I figure it’ll be about as effective as the Boy Scout boycott, with the additional chance that some deep thinker like Erick Erickson will make one of his usual incredibly offensive remarks and remind us all why Wendy Davis became such an inspirational figure to so many people in the first place. In the meantime, I just know that when a Girl Scout comes knocking on my door, as one generally does around this time of the year, I’ll place my usual order and not give the matter another thought. The LA Times has more.

Unfair pay

Patricia Kilday Hart uncovers some skulduggery in one of Rick Perry’s vetoes.

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson

Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a bill that would have let victims of wage discrimination sue in state court after receiving letters against the measure from the Texas Retailers Association and five of its members, mostly grocery stores, according to records obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, who authored HB 950 mirroring the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, said she unaware that the group and the businesses opposed her bill, or that they sought a gubernatorial veto.

Among the businesses advocating for a veto was Kroger Food Stores.

“I shop at Kroger’s for my groceries,” Thompson said. “I shopped there just last week. I’m going to have to go to HEB now. I am really shocked.”

Also writing to seek a veto were representatives of Macy’s, the Houston grocery company Gerland Corp., Brookshire Grocery Company, Market Basket, the Texas Association of Business and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

Here’s HB950, which received 26 Republican votes in the House on third reading. I take no pride in noting that I predicted the veto, though I did so on the usually reliable grounds of Rick Perry being a jerk. I had no idea that he had help in that department this time.

Two other prominent business groups – the Texas Association of Business and the National Federation of Independent Businesses – also wrote Perry urging a veto, but those groups opposed publicly during committee hearings. Thompson said she heard “not one time” from any of the retailers.

In his veto proclamation, Perry did not mention the opposition of any business groups, but cited Texas’ positive business climate as a reason to oppose the bill: “Texas’ commitment to smart regulations and fair courts is a large part of why we continue to lead the nation in job creation. House Bill 950 duplicates federal law, which already allows employees who feel they have been discriminated against through compensation to file a claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.”

In his request for a veto, Ronnie Volkening, president and CEO of the Texas Retailers, said the bill was “unnecessary, in that existing law provides adequate remedies against employment discrimination; and harmful, in that it undermines opportunities for timely resolution of employment dispute in favor of fomenting expensive and divisive litigation.”

[…]

The retailers complained to Perry that under HB 950, the statute of limitations would be reset every time a worker received a retirement check. Not so, said Thompson, who said she rewrote the bill to exclude retirement benefits to win Republican support in the Texas Senate.

“They didn’t read the bill or someone get them the wrong information,” she said.

Gary Huddleston, Kroger’s director of consumer affairs, said he relied on the retailers association for his information on the bill. “I regret that Representative Thompson is upset and I am sure Kroger, along with the Texas Retailers Association, would like to discuss the issue with her,” he said.

Yo, Gary. You think maybe the time to “discuss the issue” with Rep. Thompson might have been during the session, when the bill was being written, heard in committee, and voted on? Because at this point, Rep. Thompson would be fully justified in discussing the issue of putting her foot up your rear end.

Let me refer once again to Nonsequiteuse for the reasons why this bill was a good idea and a necessary law.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a federal law, doesn’t mandate that women should receive equal pay for equal work, and it doesn’t make it illegal to discriminate (another law takes care of that). It is a more technical law that deals with the amount of time someone has to file a lawsuit if they discover that they are facing pay discrimination.

The law used to be that you had a relatively short period of time from the first time you were paid unequally. So, you are hired for a job on January 1st, and get your first paycheck on the 5th (I know, bear with me), and it turns out you are being paid less than a man doing the exact same job. Before this act, you were presumed to know that and to have only 180 days to file a lawsuit to remedy it. If you didn’t discovery the discrimination until the following January (or even the following October, or whenever 180 days is from January 5th), you were out of luck.

Realistically, of course, we all know that no one walks around on day 5 of a new job comparing paychecks. People are socialized not to talk about salary, and some companies (and I’ve always wondered if this is legal) explicitly tell you not to talk about salary.

The outcome, of course, was that if you didn’t learn early in the game that you were being discriminated against, you were out of luck, and your employer got away with it.

The Lilly Ledbetter Act changes the game, and says the statute of limitations starts afresh with each discriminatory paycheck. So, as long as you’re getting a discriminatory paycheck, you have a cause of action.

In other words, as long as the employer is violating your rights, you have a chance to remedy the situation in court.

Seems fair, doesn’t it? I mean, nowhere in life do we say that if you break the rules long enough without anyone noticing that you get a free pass, so why would we do it with discriminatory pay?

Note that this law isn’t a guarantee that you’ll be able to prove discriminatory pay. It merely extends your time frame for filing a lawsuit.

The allowance to file in either state or federal court is important, too. State courts are less expensive and easier to access–consider that every county has a courthouse, but few have federal ones (just 29 places for federal courts to meet in Texas).

It’s about making it just a tad bit harder to screw the little guy. I’m not surprised that Rick Perry couldn’t care less about that – he has a long and established record of not caring about that sort of thing – and his heir apparent Greg Abbott has a similar record of indifference. While I can’t say it’s surprising that these business interests would go skulking about under what they hoped would be the cover of darkness to maintain their unfair advantage over their workers, it is nonetheless shocking and appalling, and it deserves to come with a price tag attached. To that end, there is a push to boycott Macy’s and Kroger until they reverse their stance on this. Rep. Thompson and Sen. Sylvia Garcia have already canceled events at Macy’s having to do with the annual sales tax holiday as a result of this. I never know how much to expect from this kind of action, but I fully support making sure people know what the businesses they support are up to when they think we’re not looking. The long term answer is of course to elect better legislators and especially better Governors, which is much harder to do but will reap much bigger rewards. In the meantime, go ahead and heap all the shame you can on the retailers that pushed for this veto. They deserve every bit of it. BOR, Stace, PDiddie, Texas Leftist, and Progress Texas have more.

Targeting Frito-Lay

I’ve talked about sporting events like the 2011 MLB All Star Game that are currently scheduled to be held in Arizona and of various ways that people who have some involvement with them have spoken out about Arizona’s “Show me your papers” law in an effort to change the law, or at least change where that sporting event will be played. One group that hasn’t been discussed yet is the sponsors of these events. Well, they’re being pressured, too.

Frito-Lay Inc. is among the “dozens of companies” nationwide being urged to drop sponsorship of sporting events in Arizona following that state’s passage of a controversial immigration bill.

Reports circulated Monday that Latino-activist groups — including the League of United Latin American Citizens — were calling for a boycott of products made by Frito-Lay if the Plano-based snack maker did not end its sponsorship of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz.

A national spokesman for LULAC, one of the nation’s largest Latino activist groups, said LULAC is not calling for a boycott, though some local members might embrace such a move. He said he is making plans to meet with executives from a variety of companies to talk about their sponsorships.

“Let me be clear: There is no LULAC boycott of Frito-Lay or any other company,” said Brent Wilkes, executive director of the Washington-based group, which has its strongest presence in Texas.

He said Frito-Lay is among the “dozens of companies that we’ve reached out to, to ask them to pull their sponsorship of events in that state.” He did not say if he was meeting with any other Texas companies.

This is a common tactic, and I certainly wish LULAC well with their efforts, but I doubt they will have any effect. Not at this time, at least, what with the Arizona law polling depressingly well. I don’t think they’ll have a broad enough base of support to make this work, especially when you realize that companies that yield to this kind of pressure always face blowback. Again, I wish them well, but it’s going to be a long haul.

Austin divests itself from Arizona

Good for them.

The Austin City Council decided Thursday to end business and travel ties with the state of Arizona to protest a new state law that will allow law enforcement officers there to detain people they suspect are in the country illegally.

There was little discussion before the resolution passed unanimously . Two people showed up to speak in favor of it; none spoke against.

The resolution, proposed by Council Member Mike Martinez , calls for ending all city business travel to Arizona, unless it is related to police investigations, providing humanitarian aid or protecting Austinites’ health and safety. It also asks the city manager to review all city business with and investments in the state of Arizona and devise a plan to end them.

[…]

Austin has no contracts with or investments in the state of Arizona, according to memos from city controller Diana Thomas . Forty-eight employees in six city departments, including council offices, Austin Energy and the police department, took 20 business trips to Arizona over the past year, at a cost of $47,908.

Obviously, that’s not a lot of commerce. The symbolism matters, though, and the fact that it’s not that much means it ought to be a not-too-difficult decision for an interested city council to make. And if enough cities do it, the cumulative effect will be nontrivial. As only the Mayor can add an item to Houston City Council’s agenda, any action here would have to originate from that office. Drop a note to Mayor Parker at mayor@cityofhouston.net, or contact your Council member and ask him or her to ask the Mayor about it if you want to see it happen here.

Don’t play ball with the state of Arizona

What Kevin Blackistone says.

About 10 years ago, the NCAA made one of its most bold and upright decisions: it refused to allow any more of its postseason tournaments, like March Madness, to be held in South Carolina until the state stopped flying the banner of the long defeated racist Confederacy in the face of 21st century societal progress.

NCAA spokesman Bob Williams explained at the time that the organization wanted to “ensure that our championships are free from any type of symbolism that might make someone uncomfortable based on their race.”

As such, it is time for the governors of college athletics to expand their postseason ban. Arizona should be next, immediately.

The University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., should lose the BCS National Championship Game scheduled to be played there next January unless Arizona legislators rescind soon and for good an anti-immigration law they just passed that gives police the right to stop and search for documents anyone police suspect of being in the country illegally.

After all, that law means racially profiling people who appear to be Hispanic, no matter what Arizona lawmakers claim. That means making an entire group of people, as the NCAA spokesman said, uncomfortable in Arizona because of their heritage. That’s unquestionably wrong.

In my previous post, I mentioned former Arizona Governor (and world class bozo) Evan Mecham, whose racist antics cost his state a Super Bowl, among other things. Evan Weiner recalls that, and notes that there are other sporting events that may – ought to – be yanked until the Arizona Lege makes amends.

The Glendale, Arizona stadium, that is the home to the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals and hosted the 2008 Super Bowl, is one of the 18 cities that has been proposed for use by USA Bid Committee in an effort to win the FIFA World Cup in either 2018 or 2022.

Houston is on that list as well, with the Dynamo ownership being on the USA Bid Committee. Note to local activists: Why not put a little pressure on the Dynamo to raise a stink about this? If there’s going to be any real blowback against Arizona for this bit foolishness, it’s got to come from the grassroots, and this is a good entry point. Here’s their contact info:

HOUSTON DYNAMO FRONT OFFICE

1001 Avenida de las Americas, Ste. 200
Houston, TX 77010

Phone: (713) 276-7500
Fax: (713) 276-7572
E-mail: info@houstondynamo.com

Twitter
Facebook

Let them know, politely, that you don’t want any Arizona city included on the USA Bid Committee’s list for the FIFA World Cup, and that you would like the Dynamo to take a stand on the matter. If you’re a Dynamo fan, especially if you’re a season ticket holder, make sure they know that as well. They have an interest in keeping their fans happy. Obviously, the Dynamo haven’t done anything wrong, but this is how stuff gets done.

And Astros fans can get involved, too.

Major League Baseball is set to hold its 2011 All-Star Game in Phoenix, where the Diamondbacks play, and activists are calling on MLB to pull the game out of Arizona in protest of the new law. The idea is being espoused by activist bloggers at Daily Kos and Change.org, hosting a petition on its website to move the All-Star Game out of Arizona.

Some are calling on baseball fans to boycott at least one MLB game. A Facebook group is specifically calling on fans to boycott the Arizona Diamondbacks’ May 7 home game against the Milwaukee Brewers. The group wants the D-Backs to state a position on the new law.

There’s hashtag, #AZMLBB, being used on Twitter for discussion of this movement.

Unfortunately, the Astros do not display Contact information as prominently as the Dynamo do, so you may have to figure out the best way to let them know how you feel yourselves. They’re on Facebook here. As with the Dynamo, they too will want to keep their fans happy. Stace has more.