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Census

Trump administration seeks to dismiss MALDEF lawsuit over Census citizenship question

It’s hard to keep all these Census lawsuits straight.

As multiple court fights over the addition of a citizenship question to the once-a-decade census heat up, the Trump administration is working to keep several Texas groups representing Latino and Asian residents on the sidelines.

In a late Friday filing, attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice asked a Maryland-based federal judge to toss a lawsuit filed by the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and the Texas Senate Hispanic Caucus — among other Texas-based organizations — that’s meant to block the controversial question from appearing on the census questionnaire in 2020.

Those groups allege that the addition of the citizenship question is unconstitutional because it will lead to a disproportionate undercount of Latino and Asian residents, non-citizens and their family members. Justice Department lawyers responded by challenging the plaintiffs’ standing to dispute the federal government’s decision to ask about citizenship status, and they argued it was unlikely the plaintiffs would be able to prove that the question would be harmful to them.

“The relief sought in this suit — an order barring the Secretary of Commerce from collecting demographic information through the decennial census — is as extraordinary as it is unprecedented,” the Justice Department attorneys wrote in the filing.

[…]

Throughout the almost 100 pages of legal briefs filed with the court on Friday, attorneys for the Trump administration sought to undermine those undercount concerns, repeatedly describing them as “too attenuated and speculative” to provide those challenging the inclusion of the question with firm legal standing.

A drop in responses and the alleged potential fallout “would be not be fairly traceable to the Secretary’s decision but would be attributable instead to the independent decisions of individuals who disregard their legal duty to respond to the census,” they wrote.

The Trump administration hasn’t had much success in fending of legal challenges to the citizenship question. As of this week, judges have greenlighted five federal lawsuits despite the administration’s objections.

[…]

In its Friday response, the Trump administration put forth several of the same arguments it presented in the Maryland suit [U.S. District Judge George] Hazel already ruled could move forward and even offered a rebuttal to what DOJ lawyers described as the judge’s “misguided” analysis.

See here for more on this lawsuit. In addition to the one in Maryland noted in the story, the lawsuit in New York was allowed to proceed as well. Given that the plaintiffs have discretion over where they file, you’d think that would bode well for this one as well.

Census lawsuit proceeds

Good.

A federal judge in New York on Thursday allowed a lawsuit challenging the addition of a citizenship question to the Census to move forward. U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman’s decision rejected the Trump administration’s request to dismiss the lawsuit, which was brought by numerous states and localities.

The judge said that the court has jurisdiction to review Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s decision to add the question, rejecting the administration’s arguments that Ross could be insulated from judicial review.

Furman said that while Ross indeed had the authority under the Constitution to add the question, the judge concluded that the exercise of that authority in this particular case may have violated the challengers’ constitutional rights.

At this stage of the proceedings, Furman is required to assume the challengers’ allegations are true, and he must draw any inference from those allegations in the challengers’ favor. In doing so on Thursday, Furman said that the challengers “plausibly allege that Secretary Ross’s decision to reinstate the citizenship question on the 2020 census was motivated by discriminatory animus and that its application will result in a discriminatory effect. ”

See here, here, and here for the background. Nothing really new here, just another chance for me to say that this absolutely was motivated by discrimination and that it would be very nice to have it halted by the time the counting actually begins. Daily Kos and NPR have more.

Census lawsuit may proceed

Good.

A federal judge said Tuesday that there was a “strong showing of bad faith” by the Trump administration in adding a controversial question about US citizenship to the 2020 census. The judge hinted that he would allow the case to move forward over objections from the administration, and senior administration officials will be subjected to questioning under oath about why the question was added.

Judge Jesse Furman of the Southern District of New York, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, said the administration “deviated from standard operating procedure” by adding the question with no testing. Furman ruled that the plaintiffs challenging the question—including the state of New York and the American Civil Liberties Union—can depose senior officials from the Commerce Department and Justice Department as the case moves forward.

The census has not asked respondents about their citizenship status since 1950. Civil rights groups say the citizenship question will depress response rates from immigrants, imperil the accuracy of the census, and shift political power to areas with fewer immigrants. The census determines how $675 billion in federal funding is allocated, how much representation states receive, and how political districts are drawn.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, approved the citizenship question in March, saying it was needed for “more effective enforcement” of the Voting Rights Act. Ross said at the time and in subsequent testimony before Congress that he approved the question after the Justice Department requested in December 2017 that it be added.

However, Ross stated in a memo he filed to the court on June 21 that he first considered adding a citizenship question to the census after he was confirmed as commerce secretary in February 2017, months before the Justice Department requested the question. He wrote that he had approached the Justice Department about the question, not the other way around, after consulting with “other senior Administration officials” who had “previously raised” the citizenship question.

Furman cited Ross’s memo to question his truthfulness and the administration’s motives in adding the question. “It now appears these statements were potentially untrue,” Furman said of Ross’ claims that the question was added at the Justice Department’s request. “It now appears that the idea of adding a citizenship question originated with Secretary Ross and not the Department of Justice.”

See here and here for some background. The judge did subsequently allow the lawsuit to go forward, while also granting the motion for discovery. I for one can’t wait to see what bits of treasure that digs up. Time is of the essence here, so I hope there’s a speedy schedule to get us towards a resolution.

Demography and our destiny

Trends keep on trending.

Harris County continues to grow more diverse, with population increases among every ethnic and racial group, except non-Hispanic whites between 2016 and 2017, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

In Harris County, 43 percent of the population now identifies as Hispanic, while the share of residents who report they are non-Hispanic whites now sits at 29.7 percent. A year prior, the rates were 42.5 percent and 30.2 percent respectively, representing a continuation in a years-long trend.

Some of this is due to the fact that the number of people who identified as non-Hispanic whites has decreased by 17,000 residents — likely due to outward migration – while the population for minority groups has steadily grown. Because Hispanic is an ethnicity, not a race, Census respondents are able to select a race, as well as whether they are Hispanic or non-Hispanic.

“All of the other groups experienced population increases,” said Molly Cromwell, a demographer at the Census Bureau. “The ‘two or more races’ group had the fastest growth, at 2.5 percent, adding over 2,000 people last year. And Asians had the second-fastest growth rate of 1.7 percent, adding more than 6,000 people in Harris County last year.”

“The census has this projection for what America will look like in 2050, and it’s basically the picture of Houston today,” said Stephen Klineberg, a sociology professor at Rice University, and founding director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research. “And this pattern is exactly what you would expect this year: No increase among Anglos, and a continuing gradual and consistent increase of other populations.”

We’ve seen some of this before. The out-migration pattern is worth watching – Dallas County has experienced something similar in recent years, which has limited its growth – and of course international migration will be a huge variable at least until we get some sanity back in the federal government. None of this changes the basic patterns, it just slows things down a bit. The Trib has more.

Once, twice, three times a lawsuit

There’s actually now five lawsuits and counting over the Census citizenship question, but “three” fit my headline better.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the Trump administration on Wednesday over its decision to add a controversial question about US citizenship to the 2020 census. The ACLU suit is the fifth one challenging the citizenship question, which is likely to depress the response rate among immigrants and reduce the political power of the cities and states where large numbers of them live.

“The addition of the citizenship question is a naked act of intentional discrimination directed at immigrant communities of color that is intended to punish their presence, avoid their recognition, stunt their growing political power, and deprive them and the communities in which they live of economic benefits,” states the lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of immigrants’ rights groups.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the Trump administration on Wednesday over its decision to add a controversial question about US citizenship to the 2020 census.

[…]

The ACLU lawsuit follows four similar suits: one from the state of California, one from New York and 16 other states, and one each from a Democratic redistricting group led by former Attorney General Eric Holder and the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

See here, here, and here for some background. I wouldn’t trust this administration’s ability to run a garage sale, but this particular development just adds another deep layer of concern. I sure hope we start seeing some action on these lawsuits, because time is very much of the essence. Daily Kos has more.

More Census litigation

Also good.

The Mexican American Legislative Caucus and the Texas Senate Hispanic Caucus are suing the Trump administration in hopes of blocking the addition of a citizenship question to the once-a-decade census of every person living in the United States.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in a Maryland-based federal court, the Texas-based groups allege that the addition of the controversial question is unconstitutional because it will lead to a disproportionate undercount of Latino and Asian residents, non-citizens and their family members.

That undercount would endanger billions of dollars tied to social services funding and deprive those individuals of equal representation in the U.S. House and during the redrawing of political boundaries that follows each census count, the plaintiffs allege.

[…]

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of more than a dozen plaintiffs — including several Texas-based nonprofits that advocate for Latino residents and legislative Latino caucuses out of Arizona, Maryland and California — who say they are seeking to “preserve the integrity” of the census count.

The Trump administration’s “inclusion of a citizenship question in the 2020 decennial Census is arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, and otherwise not in accordance with law,” the plaintiffs wrote in their filing.

They specifically allege that the inclusion of the citizenship question violates the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause because it is “motivated by racial animus” toward Latinos, Asians, non-citizens and immigrants. They also argue that the court should act to prevent the undercount that would result from the addition of the question, which would amount to a violation of the Enumerations and Apportionment Clauses.

A coalition of cities and states had previously filed a lawsuit for the same reasons. It can’t hurt to get more irons in the fire on this, given the stakes and the fact that our morally bankrupt Attorney General has no interest in opposing this harmful idea. Given the timing, we’re going to need to start seeing some rulings soon for any of this to matter. I’ll keep an eye out.

The revenue cap is stupid and harmful

Reason #4,739:

Mayor Sylvester Turner

In posting a sluggish population growth estimate for Houston, the U.S. Census Bureau blew a $17 million hole in the city budget.

City officials had expected the count would show Houston had added about 30,400 people by January from the year prior. The Census Bureau on Thursday, however, estimated the city grew by just 9,200 between July 2016 and last summer.

Because the revenue cap voters approved in 2004 limits the city’s annual increase in property tax collections to the combined rates of inflation and population growth, that means Mayor Sylvester Turner must adjust his proposed $2.5 billion general fund budget.

Or he will, if he is unsuccessful in challenging the Census estimate. The city’s estimates, he said, are more up to date and are “based on greater familiarity with local indicators.”

To challenge the estimate, Houston can submit data on topics such as residential building and demolition permits, mobile home placements, household sizes and apartment occupancy rates.

Houston successfully challenged its formal count in the 2010 Census, and also added 3 percent to its population estimate via an appeal in 2006, and a little more than 1 percent to its 2008 count, according to the Census website.

The city’s press release is here. Neither the rate of inflation nor the rate of population growth have anything to do with the city’s needs or its financial capacity. It also as you can see puts an awful lot of power in the hands of unelected federal bureaucrats. Who I’m sure are fine people, but they’re not accountable to the voters of Houston. I mean seriously, who thinks this makes sense? The whole stupid thing needs to be repealed.

Cities and suburbs up, rurals down

The story of Texas’ population.

Recently released data from the Texas Demographic Center spelled bad news for many rural areas in the state: populations there were still shrinking, or growing slowly.

Population growth in Texas remained concentrated in urban areas in 2016, according to the new numbers. That meant the fight continues for many small towns in Texas that are struggling to maintain or build their communities and economies.

The new estimates, released in late April, approximate population per county as of July 1, 2016. They were calculated using different methodology than U.S. Census Data estimates. Usually, the two are within range of each other, said Lloyd Potter, the state demographer.

State results confirm an ongoing trend in the second-most populous state in the country of movement toward urban centers and the booming suburban areas that surround them.

“Texas is growing more than any other state,” Potter said. “Those points are really where the bulk of the population growth is occurring.”

Here’s the Texas Demographic Center website. There’s a link to the 2016 Preliminary Population Estimates, though when I looked the 2016 data was not yet there. I’ll be interested to see how these numbers compare to the Census projections for Harris County. Nothing is official until the 2020 count is done, as problematic as that may be, but this is a preview of the redistricting to come. It’s never too early to start thinking about what the next set of maps will look like.

Harris County is not growing the way it used to

And the reason for that is that people aren’t moving here the way they used to. Quite the opposite, in fact.

There’s been a lot of publicity lately about the fact that in the last couple of years, Harris County has not been the population growth machine it’s been in the past – while nationwide the suburbs are now growing faster than core urban areas.

As we reported not long ago, the most recent Census estimates show that metro Houston fell far behind metro Dallas in population growth last year, after several years in the No. 1 spot. Meanwhile, the Census found that last year Harris County fell far behind Maricopa County, Arizona, which is now the No. 1 county in the nation for population growth. And recently the respected demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution found that population growth in core urban areas like Harris County has now fallen behind growth rates in the suburbs, the exurbs, and rural areas.

Further analysis by the Kinder Institute finds that underlying all three of these trends are two striking facts: First, the decline in population growth in metropolitan Houston is all occurring in Harris County. And second, that decline in population growth is due entirely to a striking reversal in domestic in-migration in Harris County. Natural increase (births over deaths) and international migration are holding steady, but in 2017 far more people moved out of Harris County to go to other places in the United States than moved into Harris County from other places in the United States, according to the recently released Census data.

Clearly, many of these out-migrants may simply be going to the Houston suburbs. But the population dynamics in the suburbs have not changed much in the last couple of years. And the idea that Harris County is losing domestic migrants flies in the face of Houston’s own self-image. After all, the idea that you live off of natural increase and international migration – while losing your own residents to other places – is often viewed in Houston as a California kind of thing, not a Texas kind of thing.

Click over and read on for the charts and the details. For Harris County, both natural population growth – i.e., births minus deaths – and international migration have held steady, and those numbers are enough so that even with more people moving out rather than moving in, Harris County is still growing, just more slowly than it was as recently as 2014. But natural growth is contingent on having a young population, which we have in part because of migration, and with the lunatic xenophobe in the White House right now I wouldn’t bank on these things continuing as they have, at least in the near-to-medium term. Population is power in our world, so if these trends continue then we may see Harris County lose influence relative to the big suburban counties as the city of Houston has lost influence relative to the county in the past couple of decades. If this is a trend, it’s the beginning of one, so it may still be a blip and there may be things we can do to affect it. I’d say it’s worth our time to try and figure this out.

Multiple cities and states sue over Census citizenship question

Good.

Seventeen states, the District of Columbia, and six major cities sued the Trump administration on Tuesday over the addition of a controversial new question about US citizenship to the 2020 census. This is the third major lawsuit against the administration’s action, after California and the NAACP sued last week, marking a major escalation of the legal and political battle over the census. Civil rights advocates say the question is designed to spark fear in immigrant respondents and will cause many immigrants not to be counted, diminishing the political power and financial resources of the jurisdictions where they live.

“This is a blatant effort to undermine the census and prevent the census from carrying out its Constitutional mandate,” said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who organized the multi-state lawsuit, at a press conference in lower Manhattan. New York has the third-largest immigrant population in the country, after California and Texas. More than 1 in 5 New York residents are foreign-born. “This is an effort to punish states like New York that welcome immigrants,” Schneiderman said.

The lawsuit says the new question “violates the constitutional mandate to conduct an ‘actual Enumeration’” of the country’s entire population, not just citizens, as well as a provision of the 1946 Administrative Procedure Act barring federal agencies from taking “arbitrary, capricious” actions.

The lawsuit was filed by New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia, and joined by the cities of Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Providence, San Francisco, and Seattle. The bipartisan US Conference of Mayors, which represents the 1,400 cities with a population of 30,000 or more, also joined the suit.

[…]

Past leaders of the Census Bureau and current advisers to the bureau have also blasted the question. Six former bureau directors, who served under Republican and Democratic presidents, told Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in January that “an untested question on citizenship status at this late point in the decennial planning process would put the accuracy of the enumeration and success of the census in all communities at grave risk.” Members of the bureau’s Scientific Advisory Committee, who are appointed by the director, blasted the decision at a meeting of the Census Bureau last week.

“I want to say in no uncertain terms that I think this is an absolutely awful decision,” said D. Sunshine Hillygus, a professor of political science at Duke University. “I am dumbfounded that this decision is coming in at such a late date. My view is that this is going to have severe negative implications for data quality and costs.”

She began her PowerPoint presentation at census headquarters with the phrase “W.T.H.,” short for “what the hell.”

The Commerce Department, which oversees the census, said the new question was needed to better enforce the Voting Rights Act, but Vanita Gupta, the former head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under Barack Obama, told Mother Jones that was “plainly a ruse to collect that data and ultimately to sabotage the census.”

See here for some background. Even with the involvement of the US Conference of Mayors, I say every city of decent size should want to get involved, because it’s their residents who are going to be undercounted as a result of this malevolent policy, and that will cost them in terms of funding, representation, and more. This is a big, serious deal and it needs to be treated as such. Think Progress, which also looks at the effect of this policy on Texas, has more.

Everybody should be counted

The 2020 Census has big challenges, especially in Texas.

But even two years out from the 2020 count, local officials, demographers, community organizers and advocates say they are worried the census could be particularly tough to carry out in Texas this go-around.

They are bracing for challenges both practical — Hurricane Harvey displacement, internet accessibility and fewer funds with which to knock on doors — and political, namely anti-immigrant rhetoric and fears that a citizenship question will be included in the census questionnaire. Those issues aren’t insurmountable, officials say, but they will probably make Texas, which is already hard to count, even tougher to enumerate.

An accurate census is critical to the state. It is used to determine how many representatives Texas is entitled to elect to Congress. And the Texas Legislature and local governments rely on the data to redraw corresponding political boundaries.

The census also serves as a roadmap for the distribution of billions of federal dollars to the state and local communities, including funding for low-income housing, medical assistance and transportation projects.

But those working toward an accurate count in Texas are, in many ways, starting from behind. Massive in both size and population, Texas is home to millions of residents who fall into the categories of people who pose the biggest challenges for the headcount — immigrants, college students, children younger than 5 years old, to name a few.

After the 2010 census count, the U.S. Census Bureau found that most Texas residents live in areas that may be harder to count. Using a “low response score,” which is based on the likelihood that residents will not self-respond to a questionnaire, the bureau found that most Texas residents live in census tracts — geographic areas that include 1,200 to 8,000 residents — that exceed the national average for low response scores.

That’s particularly evident in areas with large shares of Hispanics and residents living in poverty, which are prevalent across the state.

“Certainly, we have populations that are hard to count — people whose first language isn’t English, people who have lower levels of educational attainment, people who move frequently,” state demographer Lloyd Potter said. “You have both recent immigrants and then, certainly, people who are unauthorized who are going to be wary of anyone who is knocking on their door and asking questions.”

That’s the chief concern among those working toward an accurate count in Texas.

Almost 5 million immigrants live in the state, and it’s estimated that about two-thirds are noncitizens — legal permanent residents, immigrants with another form of legal status or undocumented immigrants. Additionally, more than 1 million Texans who are U.S. citizens live with at least one family member who is undocumented.

Local officials, advocates and demographers for months have expressed grave concerns about the reception the 2020 census will receive among Texas immigrants who have likely followed years-long heated national and local debates over undocumented immigrants, immigration-enforcement laws like the one passed by the Texas Legislature last year and immigration crackdowns.

“Anyone close to this issue is really concerned. It’s an anti-immigrant environment,” said Ryan Robinson, demographer for Austin, which is home to 167,000 immigrants. “It’s always hard to count immigrants, but this is really going to be a tough issue.”

The fact that preparations for the Census are being done now by the understaffed and under-competent Trump administration isn’t making this any easier. Remember that the reason Texas got those four extra Congressional seats in the 2010 Census was our rapid growth due in large part to immigration. It would be quite ironic if we missed out on getting a seat or two because of a Census undercount that was the result of Republican legislative priorities. The Trib, Mother Jones, Texas Monthly, and Erica Greider have more.

Concerns about the Census

We need to pay attention to this.

Latino leaders are warning of a developing crisis in the 2020 census and demanding that the Census Bureau act aggressively to calm fears in immigrant populations about data misuse.

Citing focus groups and initial interviews in Texas and across the country, the bureau’s Mikelyn Meyers recently reported “an unprecedented groundswell in confidentiality and data sharing concerns” related to the 2020 count.

“We’re concerned that this may present a barrier to participation in the 2020 census,” she said. “And this is particularly troubling due to the disproportionate impact on hard-to-count areas.”

Harris County, which is roughly 42 percent Hispanic, has long been an area of concern for the Census Bureau. Last spring, officials tested new technology in only two counties – Harris and Los Angeles – aimed at improving response rates in hopes of finding solutions before 2020.

More than 1.45 million people live in what are considered “hard-to-count” census tracts in the nine congressional districts that include Harris County, according to U.S. census data analyzed and mapped by the City University of New York’s Center for Urban Research. The researchers counted tracts with response rates below 73 percent in the 2010 census as “hard to count.”

Laura Murillo, president and CEO of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, noted that the Latino community has historically shied away from participating in census surveys. For the 2010 census, the Houston chamber hosted information sessions and explained that responses assist the government in making decisions about how to spend federal tax dollars.

While Murillo said the chamber is willing to partner with the Census Bureau again, the federal government’s actions on immigration have alienated many Latinos and will make openly sharing information with government officials a hard sell. She cited the Trump administration’s decisions to push for a border wall and end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program, also known as DACA, as reasons some may find to be wary.

“Trust has been breached,” she said.

Two things to remember. One is that the Census is actually specified in the Constitution, so just on that alone it’s a big deal. Two, in addition to political purposes such as apportioning Congressional districts, businesses and academics and local governments and more rely heavily on the demographic and economic data that the Census provides. We need to get this right, and that means (urk) depending on the Trump administration to not screw it up. You can see why people are raising the alarm.

Here comes Conroe

Not so little anymore.

This isn’t the first time Conroe, population 82,286, has recorded notable growth.

In 2015, it was one of the 13 fastest-growing cities by percentage, ranking sixth below other Texas cities like San Marcos, Georgetown and Frisco. The next year, according to Census numbers released Thursday, Conroe zoomed to the top spot and became the headline on news stories across the country.

Forty miles north of downtown Houston, Conroe is the county seat of one of the fastest growing counties in Texas. Montgomery County netted more than 19,700 residents between July 2015 and July 2016, as Houston-area suburbs continued to expand.

In fact, Texas had four of the five fastest-growing large cities in the U.S., each near a major city. Following Conroe were the Dallas suburbs of Frisco and McKinney, which grew by 6.2 percent and 5.9 percent, respectively. Georgetown, an Austin suburb, was the fifth-fastest growing city with a population increase of 5.5 percent.

Officials in the Texas cities and the state’s demographer attribute the growth to various factors, including the state’s robust jobs market and the cities’ diversified economies, lower costs of living and skilled workforces that earn higher wages.

“A lot of times when people think of Texas, they think about cowboys and roping cows. But really we have … cutting edge manufacturing, technology and finance, and certainly all of the oil extraction activity as well,” Texas State Demographer Lloyd Potter said.

For Conroe Mayor Toby Powell, a self-described “ol’ boy” who has lived in the city all his 76 years, the growth is no surprise.

In fact, Powell said, Conroe officials already had been planning for increased demand for city services and infrastructure. A new police station has just opened, and a new fire station is under construction. The city also has purchased 75 acres of land to build a second sewer plant.

Traffic congestion already can be seen just a few minutes away from its town square lined by old-fashioned street lamps and dotted with benches extolling the city’s history. Along Highway 105, which runs east-west through Conroe, shopping centers are home to chain stores and restaurants like Target, Home Depot, Panera Bread and Chipotle Mexican Grill, and queues of cars back up at lights and turn lanes.

Maybe I shouldn’t have joked about Conroe trying to annex The Woodlands back in the day. The former-small-town-turned-booming-suburb narrative isn’t new, and like so many other places – Katy, Pearland, Spring, etc etc etc – two facts remain: The original small town and the booming suburb that supplants it are two very different places, and the secret ingredient in all of them is an abundance of cheap, undeveloped land on which to build. That was Houston’s secret once upon a time, too. I don’t have any large point to make here, but I will note that just as the politics in places like Katy and Pearland have started to change as their populations have increased and diversified, so too will this happen in Conroe. It would be nice to have a bit of Democratic infrastructure in place for when that happens.

Harris County’s growth slows

We’re still growing, we just didn’t grow as fast last year as we had in previous years.

After eight straight years of boom – adding more new residents than any county in the nation – Harris County in 2016 felt some of the oil bust’s sting.

The county gained a total of about 56,600 people last year, a decline of 37 percent from the previous year, placing it behind Arizona’s Maricopa County, which added nearly 81,400 new residents.

The decline was largely attributable to the fact that for the first time in years more people – about 16,000 – left Harris County than moved here from elsewhere in the country, according to Census data released Thursday.

Despite the losses, Harris County held on to its No. 2 position in the nation in overall growth thanks to the number of people moving here from abroad and the number of births.

The greater Houston region, which includes The Woodlands and Sugar Land, also saw the total number of new residents fall by about 21 percent to just over 125,000 in 2016, the lowest in at least the last four years.

[…]

State demographer Lloyd Potter said Houston’s population growth is also powered by its high birth rates, especially among its young, rapidly expanding Hispanic population.

“The net out domestic migration was pretty substantial,” Potter said. “That’s kind of impressive, to still have the second-highest numeric growth. You would have expected it to slip a little more than that.”

Stephen Klineberg, a Rice University sociology professor and founding director of its Kinder Institute for Urban Research, pointed to the fate of other cities that have seen similar dramatic job declines such as Detroit, where Wayne County last year lost about 7,700 residents, the most in the nation after Chicago’s Cook County. Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, has in the past called for more visas for high-skilled immigrants for the Detroit area, citing the population losses and need for an economic jump-start.

“This is a powerful reminder of how much Houston benefits from immigration,” Klineberg said.

We sure do, in many ways. The flip side of that is that we have a lot to lose if immigration is curtailed the way Dear Leader Trump and his minions want to. Even with them being 0 for 2 on travel bans, we’re already seeing the effect of that. We’ll just have to see what the numbers look like next year.

You can’t talk about population growth without talking about redistricting. Texas is on track to get more Congressional seats in the 2020 reapportionment, probably two or three. It seems likely that the greater area, if not Harris County itself, will get a bigger piece of the Congressional pie. Of more interest is whether Harris County will remain at 24 members in the Legislature, or if it will go back to having 25 members. Too early to say, and things can certainly change, but it could happen. Keep that in mind as we go forward. This Chron story and the Trib, both of which have charts, have more.

On welcoming immigrants

Mayor Turner puts out the welcome mat for a key part of Houston’s community.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

A press conference Monday morning to announce the unveiling of Houston’s Office of New Americans and Immigrant Communities evolved into a denunciation by city officials of President-elect Donald Trump’s rhetoric toward immigrants and refugees.

With portraits of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. looking down across the diverse crowd at the Neighborhood Center’s Baker-Ripley Center Monday, Mayor Sylvester Turner pledged to protect citizens against discrimination and to remain a “just and compassionate city.”

“In the wake of a national election, many members of our community are asking whether they will continue to have a place in our great city. They fear for themselves, their children and their communities. We cannot ignore those realities,” Turner said, emphasizing that 1 in 4 Houstonians are foreign born. “The city that existed prior to the election is the same city that exists today.”

Though his exact positions have wavered over the past few months, Trump has called for deporting all immigrants here illegally as well as curbing legal immigration. At one point he also suggested banning all Muslims from entering the United States.

Last week, Turner joined 17 other mayors across the country in urging the president-elect to support the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which provides protections to certain immigrants who illegally entered the country as minors. Trump has spoken of rescinding DACA.

The new office, formerly known as the Office of International Communities, will provide guidance and assistance to immigrant and refugee communities in obtaining citizenship and access to services. The rebranding does not come with increased staff or funds, according to city officials.

It will work in conjunction with other organizations, like the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative, in the “Welcoming Houston Task Force,” which will provide recommendations early next year to Turner on gaps in immigrant services.

The Mayor’s press release is here. Immigrants are a big part of Houston, culturally and economically. A quick check at census.gov says that 28.5% of Houston’s population in the 2011-2015 time frame was foreign born. They’re key components in medicine, energy, information technology, restaurants and hospitality, and more. So it makes all kinds of sense to put out an expressly open and welcoming message, especially at a time when neither the state nor incoming federal government is either of those things. And if that puts the city at odds with the state and the feds, well, that’s a fight worth having. A statement by the Texas Organizing Project is beneath the fold, and Stace, the Press, and KUHF have more.

(more…)

We could be #3!

In a decade or so! If current trends hold.

Chicago, the only city among the nation’s 20 largest to see population loss in 2015, could be overtaken in a decade by Houston as the third-most-populous city if the trend continues, experts said.

The city of Chicago lost about 2,890 residents between 2014 and 2015, bringing the city’s population down to 2,720,546, according to newly released data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Numbers made available in March showed the greater Chicago area, which includes the city and suburbs and extends into Wisconsin and Indiana, lost an estimated 6,263 residents — the greatest loss of any metropolitan area in the country.

[…]

The nation’s fourth-most-populated city, Houston, saw the second-largest increase among major cities, gaining 40,032 residents between 2014 and 2015. While Houston’s population, about 2.3 million, is still about 424,000 residents behind Chicago, experts say that if the trends continue, Houston could eclipse Chicago’s population in about 10 years.

“That’s the trend,” said Rob Paral, a Chicago-based demographer. “Even if Chicago stays fairly steady for a period, Houston would pass us up in about 10 years. It’s not inconceivable.”

But William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution who analyzes census data, said such 10-year projections are “crystal ball kinds of predictions,” as they cannot account for economic shifts. While Texas’ economy is thriving as a result of the oil and gas industries right now, there have been periods of volatility, he said.

The same could be said for Chicago, as it’s only the first year in several that the city’s population has dropped.

“It’s certainly possible,” Frey said, when asked about the likelihood of Houston becoming the country’s third-largest city. “If you project those (populations) out, then it’ll be close to 10 years before there’s a convergence. But that’s not likely to be the case.”

I would have to agree that projecting this out ten years is a dicey proposition. Chicago’s population loss is a recent thing, and as Houston Tomorrow reminds us, it wasn’t long ago that the city of Houston’s share in the region’s growth was much smaller. Things could look very different in a few years’ time, is what I’m saying. Be that as it may, it’s kind of amusing watching Chicago freak out a little about this. May as well enjoy it while we can. The Urban Edge blog has more.

Is the Evenwel decision the last word on “one person one vote”?

Maybe not.

With a long-running legal struggle raging over one of the nation’s strictest voter identification laws, Texas was already a prime battleground in a war between conservatives and liberals over voting rights. And on Monday, experts here and elsewhere say, the Supreme Court may have opened a second front.

The court said unanimously that the state could take into account all of its 27 million residents when it carves its territory into voting districts for the State Senate, regardless of whether they can vote in elections. It was a setback for conservatives who want to limit that redistricting population to eligible voters, and a resounding affirmation of the one-person-one-vote principle that has governed most redistricting nationwide for decades.

But it was probably not the final word because the court was silent on whether any other population formula could be used to draw new voting districts. And within hours, advocates on both sides of the issue indicated that Texas or another conservative-dominated state was bound to do just that, probably after the 2020 census triggers a new round of redistricting nationwide.

“This has been an issue that has bubbled up in the courts and in the realm of social science pretty consistently,” said Edward Blum, the president of the Project on Fair Representation, the conservative advocacy group that brought the lawsuit. He said the group would urge political officials to abandon the one-person-one-vote formula for a more limited guideline, something that almost certainly would lead to a second court battle. And the state of Texas, the defendant in the group’s lawsuit, indicated in court filings that it would prefer to have that option.

“The big case isn’t this case, but the next case,” said Daniel P. Tokaji, a professor at Ohio State’s Mortiz College of Law and an authority on elections law.

Maybe yes.

“The court went as far as it possibly could go in casting a pall on the possible idea of challenging this again with an alternative method of counting,” said Janai Nelson, associate director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, on a press call with reporters Monday. She and others pointed to a footnote in Ginsburg’s opinion that suggested she doubted it would even be possible to draw districts the way the challengers were advocating without ignoring other traditional redistricting principles.

“That language very firmly closes the door on the idea that trying to [use] something other than total population is a good idea,” Nina Perales, the vice president of litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said on the same press call.

That’s not to say that Blum and others won’t try, but their argument for why states should think they’d be allowed to do so just got a lot harder with the language in the majority opinion.

“Any state that’s thinking about doing that is going to have to think that there’s a very serious risk that they’re going to get tied up in a lot of litigation,” Sam Bagenstos, a University of Michigan law professor who previously worked in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, told TPM.

But it’s not just for legal reasons that states have largely stuck to using total population to draw their districts. As Evenwel revealed, there is an absence of data that is a reliable as the census’ total population numbers. And it’s not just Democratic-leaning minority populations that would be negatively affected. Districts with a lot of children, for instance, could also be at risk, a reality Ginsburg also nodded to in her opinion.

“There’s certainly people who will try to make the argument and see if any legislature will bite,” said Michael Li, counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, a non-partisan organization that defends voting rights. “States really have chosen to do total population for a lot of good reasons, both the political consequences and that the data is much much better.”

See here for the background. I don’t expect a zealot like Edward Blum to go away – this is his life’s work – but the commentary I read after the decision was handed down suggests it won’t be easy. A state would have to draw a Blum-style map and then defend it in court. If they took that route, the key question would be whether their Blum map would be stopped by the courts while the litigation was ongoing, or would they get to use something like it as has been the case with the 2011/2013 maps? In that case, there’s much to be gained and little to lose, but if not you could wind up spending a ton on litigation and in the worst case having the door permanently slammed on this approach. Check back in 2021 and we’ll see if Texas or some other state takes up the challenge.

SCOTUS upholds “one person, one vote”

Good news.

In a unanimous decision released Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to uphold Texas’ current system for drawing legislative districts so that they are roughly equal in population.

The Supreme Court’s ruling is a victory for legislators — mostly Democrats — who represent districts with significant populations of people who are not eligible to vote: primarily children and non-U.S. citizens.

[…]

The case brought together dozens of state legislators who signed on to briefs arguing in Texas’ favor. Members of the House of Representatives’ Mexican American Legislative Caucus and the Texas Senate Hispanic Caucus argued that the legal challenge represented a direct attack on their constituents, many of whom are ineligible to vote because they do not hold citizenship status. In order to accommodate thousands of additional eligible voters necessary to achieve district parity under Evenwel and Pfenninger’s plan, their districts would soar in size so much that their ability to represent their constituents effectively would be diminished, they said.

The Supreme Court acknowledged that argument in the majority ruling.

“As the Framers of the Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment comprehended, representatives serve all residents, not just those eligible or registered to vote,” Ginsburg wrote. “Nonvoters have an important stake in many policy debates — children, their parents, even their grandparents, for example, have a stake in a strong public education — and in receiving constituent services, such as help navigating public-benefits bureaucracies.”

“By ensuring that each representative is subject to requests and suggestions from the same number of constituents, total population apportionment promotes equitable and effective representation,” the ruling concluded.

See here, here, and here for the background. ThinkProgress celebrates the win, but notes that the battle has not been fully settled.

Yet, while [Edward Blum, the conservative activist behind this lawsuit] did not prevail today, some ominous signs for Latino communities in states like Texas can be found in Ginsburg’s opinion. Ginsburg repeatedly uses language suggesting that states have some discretion to decide how to divvy up representation within the state. She writes that “it is plainly permissible” to divide up districts as Texas has done, and that “states and localities may comply with the one-person, one-vote principle by designing districts with equal total populations.”

That leaves an open question — whether states also may comply with one person/one vote by designing districts in the way that Blum would prefer. Ginsburg’s opinion does not answer that question. Nor does a separate opinion by Justice Samuel Alito, which states that “whether a State is permitted to use some measure other than total population is an important and sensitive question that we can consider if and when we have before us a state districting plan that, unlike the current Texas plan, uses something other than total population as the basis for equalizing the size of districts.”

Nevertheless, it is reasonably likely that Texas, or some other conservative state, will test this proposition in short order. Why wouldn’t the sort of lawmakers who embrace tactics like partisan gerrymandering and voter ID laws try to shift representation towards more conservative white communities if they can get away with it?

The practical effect of Evenwel, in other words, may simply be to shift Blum’s advocacy away from the Supreme Court and towards state legislatures.

Rick Hasen, however, is not very concerned about that.

Justice Ginsburg’s opinion holds that districting using total population was consistent with constitutional history, the Court’s own decisions, and longstanding practice. A long section of Justice Ginsburg’s opinion recounts constitutional history, and relies on the fact that for purposes of apportioning Congressional seats among states, total population, not total voters, must be used. Plaintiffs’ argument in Evenwel was inconsistent with this practice. As to the Court’s own precedents, Justice Ginsburg acknowledged language supporting both total voters and total population as possible bases, but Court’s practice has been to look at total population in its cases. Further, that is the practice that states uniformly use, despite the occasional case such as Burns v. Richardson, allowing Hawaii to use a registered voter level.

Finally, Justice Ginsburg gives a sound policy reason for a total population rule. In key language, she writes that “Nonvoters have an important stake in many policy debates—children,, their parents, even their grandparents, for example, have a stake in a strong public-education system—and in receiving constituent services, such as help navigating public-benefits bureaucracies. By ensuring that each representative is subject to requests and suggestions from the same number of constituents, total population apportionment promotes equitable and effective representation.” A footnote following this states that even though constituents “have no constitutional right to equal access to the their elected representatives,” a state “certainly has an interest in taking reasonable, nondiscriminatory steps to facilitate access for all its residents.”

Perhaps the most important aspect of Justice Ginsburg’s opinion, and especially notable because it attracted the votes of not just the liberals but also Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy, is the Court’s refusal to give Texas the green light to use total voters if it wants in the next round of redistricting. The Court simply put the issue off for another day. It is hard to stress enough what a victory this is for liberal supporters of voting rights. Many of us thought Burns already gave Texas this power. The fact that the Court leaves that issue open will serve as a deterrent for states like Texas to try to use total voters in the next round of redistricting, because it will guarantee major litigation on the question.

SCOTUSBlog sums up:

The ruling’s bottom line was unanimous, but the main opinion bore many signs that its warm embrace of the theory of equality of representation had to be qualified by leaving the states with at least the appearance of the power of choice, to hold together six solid votes.

Two of the eight Justices were clearly not satisfied with the rhetoric and some of the implications of Justice Ginsburg’s opinion, and only joined in the outcome. Those were Justices Samuel A. Alito, Jr., and Clarence Thomas, each of whom wrote separately. Thomas also joined most of Alito’s opinion.

Had Justice Ginsburg not held five colleagues in support of what her opinion actually said in the end, two — perhaps Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy — might have abandoned the common result. The result then might have been that the Court would have split four to four, settling nothing and releasing no opinion at all while leaving intact a three-judge federal district court’s ruling that Texas had the authority to base its state legislative seats on a division of the total population of Texas.

Texas actually had wanted the Court to allow it to use a total population metric, but to go further and give the states explicit constitutional permission to map out districts with equal populations of voters. The Obama administration also had wanted the Court to rule that the Constitution actually required total population as the starting point for redistricting. Neither persuaded the Court to go take those further steps.

I’m sure Blum and his ilk will never go away, but at least as far as this goes, they would appear to have a steep hill to climb to win in a subsequent attempt to do something like this. For that we can be glad. A statement from Sen. Sylvia Garcia, whose Senate district would have been greatly affected by this lawsuit, is here, and a statement from the Mexican American Legislative Caucus is here. Daily Kos, the Brennan Center, Trail Blazers, Kevin Drum, TPM, the Lone Star Project, ThinkProgress, the Chron, and the Current have more.

UPDATE: More from The Nation and The Atlantic.

More Congressional seats are likely on the way

If current trends continue, that is.

Texas could pick up two, perhaps three, new congressional seats following the 2020 decennial Census if current population growth continues through the decade, political and demographic experts said Thursday.

With continued growth in Texas’ four major metropolitan areas, they said, the state could almost match the gains it made in political representation after the 2010 Census, when it added four seats in Congress.

The Houston metropolitan area has led the way this decade, according to Census Bureau data released Thursday, potentially positioning the area for two additional seats in fast-growing Fort Bend and Montgomery counties.

The San Antonio area likely would be at the top of the list for an additional congressional seat, as well, said state demographer and University of Texas at San Antonio professor Lloyd Potter.

All told, the state’s largest metro areas – anchored in Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio – added about 400,000 people last year, more than any other state in the country.

[…]

The greater Houston area, which includes The Woodlands and Sugar Land, added about 159,000 residents between July 2014 and July 2015, while the second-fastest-growing Texas metro area, Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, saw an increase of 145,000.

The state’s population growth was led by Latinos in the last decade, Potter said, a trend that has accelerated.

“I can see areas that, maybe historically, were largely non-Hispanic white shifting and becoming more integrated in terms of having people of Hispanic descent, Asian and even African-American in them,” Potter said.

Under those circumstances, it could become increasingly difficult for Republicans, who will control the state legislature for the foreseeable future, to draw the new congressional and state district lines in ways that favor their party.

In the short term, given the party’s firm grip on power in Texas, growth in the state will favor the GOP, but that political calculus cannot last in the long-term, according to Bob Stein, a political science professor at Rice University.

“There simply aren’t enough bodies to go around to draw what we might call safe Republican districts,” Stein said. “Nonetheless, I think Republicans will find a way to advantage themselves, particularly in the statehouse. But increasingly, what you’re going to find is a black and Hispanic population become an obstacle to drawing districts.”

Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here. As I said before, let’s wait and see what the next estimates have to say, because things could slow down considerably before the actual Census takes place if the oil and gas industry is still in a slump. There’s also the matter of that pesky never-ending litigation spawned by the 2011 redistricting (technically, we’re fighting over the 2013 maps), which if nothing else may offer some direction on how the GOP might proceed in 2021. With all that said, here are a few thoughts:

– If trends continue and Texas does get three new Congressional seats, I fully expect two of them to be drawn as Republican districts. Never mind that it was almost entirely growth in the minority population drove the increase – that didn’t matter to the Republican map-drawers in 2011, and it won’t matter to them in 2021 unless they are forced to take it into consideration by the courts. Even then, the only scenario under which I see more than one Democratic district being drawn is if the Republicans conclude that they can’t draw any more GOP districts without putting their incumbents at risk.

(I will stipulate here that the Democrats thought this way when they were in charge, too, and that we’d be having a different conversation now if we had some kind of independent redistricting commission in place. That ain’t gonna happen, and I will further stipulate that it won’t happen if by some miracle the Dems seize control of the Lege in 2021. Let’s keep our eye on the ball that is actually in play.)

– I fully expect the Republicans to try once again to draw Lloyd Doggett out of a district. They tried in 2003, they tried in 2011, why wouldn’t they try in 2021? Death, taxes, and Lloyd Doggett has a target on his back in redistricting.

– You can also be sure that they will try to make CD23 as Republican-friendly as possible. That district is one of the few that is still under dispute in the ongoing litigation, and if there’s one lesson to be taken from the 2011 experience it’s that whatever egregious thing you do in drawing the maps, you’re going to get at least two cycles of benefit from it before any corrections are made, so why not go for broke? That will be the case in 2021, and assuming President Trump doesn’t dissolve Congress in his second term, I’d bet it’s a point of contention in 2031, too.

– Moving on to other entities, I wonder if the Republicans will try to do to Kirk Watson in the Senate what they’ve tried to do to Doggett in Congress. It amazes me that Travis County has pieces of so many Congressional districts in it – I joked back in 2011 that if the GOP could have figured out a way to put a piece of all 36 Congressional districts in Travis County they would have – all but one of which is held by a Republican, yet the large majority of SD14 is in Travis County, and the large majority of Travis County is represented by good old liberal Watson. Maybe it’s harder to stick a shiv in a colleague than some chump in Washington, I don’t know. But if SD14 survives more or less intact in 2021, I will begin to wonder just what Sen. Watson has on his fellow Senators.

– I also wonder if SD19, which has a lot of overlap with CD23, might get tinkered with in a way that would make it more of a district that could be won by either party based on whether or not it’s a Presidential year. SD19 isn’t that heavily Democratic, though Sen. Uresti survived 2010 intact and is on a Presidential cycle this decade. There’s less pressing a need for this from a GOP perspective since the two thirds rule was killed, and there’s still that pesky litigation and the queasiness they may feel about knifing a colleague, but hey, a seat’s a seat.

– The GOP will likely try to make SD10 a little redder, and if they think about it, they might take a look at SD16, too. That district can be pretty purple in Presidential years (it’s on a non-Presidential cycle this time around), and with a less-congenial member in place now than John Carona was, it could be a tempting target. Major surgery isn’t required to shore it up, just a little nip and tuck. Just a thought.

– As for the State House, the two main questions for me are whether Harris County will get 25 members again, and if Dallas County, which lost two seats in 2011, will get one or more back. We won’t know the answer to these questions until the Redistricting Committee gets down to brass tacks in 2021.

– The ongoing litigation is as much about the State House as it is Congress, though in both cases the number of districts currently in dispute is small. As with the Congressional districts, I fully expect that the same fights will occur over the same places, which includes the places where the court ruled against the plaintiffs initially. Some of those places – western Harris County (HD132), Fort Bend (HD26), the Killeen/Fort Hood area (HD54) – could support districts that are tossup/lean Dem right now if one were inclined to draw such things. I suspect that battleground will be bigger in 2021.

– Since the debacle of 2010, much has been written about the decline of Anglo Democrats in the Lege. That number has dipped again, thanks to the retirement of Rep. Elliott Naishtat and subsequent primary win by Gina Hinojosa. What could at least temporarily reverse that trend is for Dems to finally win a couple of the swingy Dallas County seats that are currently held by Republicans, specifically (in order of difficulty) HDs 114, 115, and 102. (HDs 105 and 107 are far closer electorally, but checking the candidateswebsites, the Dems in question are both Latinas.) Longer term, if the Dems can make themselves more competitive in suburban areas, that number will increase. This is a corollary of Mary Beth Roger’s prescription for Texas Dems, and it’s something that needs more emphasis. Texas Dems ain’t going anywhere till we can be a credible electoral threat in suburban counties. Our pre-2010 caucus was bolstered by the presence of legacy rural incumbents. We’re not winning those seats back any time soon. The good news is that we don’t need to. The opportunities are elsewhere. The bad news is that we haven’t figured our how to take advantage of it, and it’s not clear that we’re putting that much effort into figuring it out.

We’re still growing

The collapse of the oil boom has not slowed down Texas’ rapid population growth.

The Houston area added more people last year than any metropolitan region in the country, continuing its exceptional growth of the last decade and a half, according to new U.S. Census Bureau data released Thursday.

Combined, the greater Houston metropolitan area, which includes Houston, The Woodlands and Sugar Land, grew by about 160,000 people between July 2014 and July 2015. Even in a year when the region was rocked by falling oil prices, the population gain was still bigger than the two previous years, when the boom appeared never-ending.

As a whole, the so-called Texas Triangle of Houston, Austin/San Antonio, and Dallas-Fort Worthadded more people last year than any other state in the country, growing by more than 400,000 residents, or roughly the population of Minneapolis. Harris County alone added nearly 90,500 residents.

“Our growth has been so exceptional that we are out-competing” the rest of the nation, said Steve Murdock, a former Census Bureau director who heads the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas at Rice University.

Not only has the region grown more in absolute numbers than the rest of the country – it is also growing at a faster rate.

Of the country’s 20 fastest-growing counties, eight were in Texas, including Fort Bend County, which added nearly 29,500 people last year and expanded by more than 4 percent. Of the nation’s 20 fastest-growing metro areas, Houston is by far the biggest city on the list, with growth of 2.4 percent.

The reason people keep flocking here: Jobs, lots of them, and a cheap cost of living. But even within the period measured by the Census – which started at the beginning of oil’s decline and ended before prices bottomed out last month – there were signs that growth was slowing, though just slightly. Oil prices peaked in June 2014 at about $105 a barrel and have tumbled more than 50 percent since.

“We’re starting to feel the impact,” said Patrick Jankowski, senior vice president of research for the Greater Houston Partnership, an economic development organization.

He said the Houston metro area created 57,300 jobs during the period tracked by the Census, compared with 97,500 new jobs the year before. About 22,000 new jobs are forecast for this year, a significant drop.

Although the number of people moving to Harris County from other cities and states had been surging upward for years, it dropped by 20 percent in the period covered by the Census. The greater metro area saw a more gradual decline of 6 percent, to about 62,000.

“The word is getting out there nationally and internationally that we’re not booming like we used to,” Jankowski said. “We’re still going to have people moving here, but not at the rate when the economy was booming.”

Still, he noted that the Houston region has added nearly 737,000 people since the 2010 census – growth of about 12 percent – while many other cities like Chicago are losing residents en masse.

“As far as absolute numbers, we’ve added more population than New York, more than Los Angeles, more than Dallas in the last five years,” he said. “That’s the sort of numbers other places would kill to have.”

The slight cooling “gives us a chance to catch our breath,” he added.

The Houston area also has a fair amount of growth from natural causes, which is to say more people being born than people dying. It will be interesting to see what these numbers look like in another two years, especially if oil and gas prices remain low. I don’t expect the area to lose population, but there’s a lot of room still for its growth to decelerate.

There’s a map embedded in the story that shows the growth of each county. Every major metro area, including places like Tyler (Smith County), San Angelo (Tom Green County), and Abilene (Taylor and Jones counties) grew. The one sort-of exception was Amarillo, which is split between Randall (grew by 1,575) and Potter (lost 474) counties. Some grew more than others – El Paso, which has 835,593 people, only added 48 more. The only counties of any size I could find that didn’t grow were Coryell (population 75,503; lost 4 people) and Wichita (population 131,705; lost 1,250). Wichita, home of Wichita Falls, was the only county in Texas to lose more than 1,000 people. And if you’ve ever wondered why traffic on I-35 is as bad as it is, every county along I-35 from Bexar to Bell grew by at least 5,000 people. So there you have it. The official Census Bureau press release is here, and Texas Monthly, Reuters, Bloomberg, CultureMap, the DMN, and the Trib have more.

It’ll be 2020 before you know it

The Census is coming to town.

The U.S. Census Bureau kicked off a Census test in Harris County on Monday, surveying 225,000 households as part of its preparation for the 2020 review, the first of its kind to rely primarily on the Internet.

People will be encouraged to answer the questionnaire via the Internet or smart phone apps, though paper and telephone responses will remain available as in the past.

The bureau has already conducted seven tests across the country between 2012 and 2015 that studied topics ranging from race and ethnicity in its run-up to the mandatory once-a-decade headcount. Its eighth and ninth test in Houston and Los Angeles will allow the bureau to try out new designs, methods and technology to collect and process responses to the Census. The two areas were chosen because they are both large and demographically diverse metropolitan areas in which multiple languages are spoken and with a wide spectrum of Internet usage.

The main focus of the test,which runs through August, is refining the process for visiting households that do not respond to the Census, said Deirdre Bishop, chief of the decennial census management division for the Census Bureau.

“What will be really important is using smartphones to collect information from non-responding housing units,” she said. “If we can’t get a response, we’ll be refining how to get that information from what was already given to the government, such as from the U.S. Postal Service, the Internal Revenue Service, or the Social Security Administration.”

Here’s all the information you need about this test. It’s going on now, so participate if you can.

Texas in line to get more Congressional seats

From Daily Kos:

[Last] week, the U.S. Census Bureau released new annual population estimates for the year between July 1, 2014 and July 1, 2015, and there are plenty of notable details. But the most important takeaway is the implications for the next round of congressional reapportionment that will follow the 2020 census. And using these new population totals, Election Data Services has updated their projections as to which states will gain and lose seats in the House.

[…]

There are only minor changes from EDS’s projections last year, when the firm predicted (albeit with less confidence) that California and Virginia would both gain seats. This time, interestingly, EDS says that whether you look at the longer-term from 2010 to 2015, or whether you use a shorter-term trend such as from 2013 to 2015 or just 2014 to 2015, all of their projections now come out the same way—something that wasn’t true a year ago.

Click over to see the table. I’ll spoil it for you and say that Texas is currently in line to pick up three more Congressional seats, which would boost our total to 39. That’s fueled by 1.82% population growth, or 490,036 new residents, over the period of July 1, 2014 to July 1, 2015; see here for the data. That link doesn’t go into further detail, but I’m sure a lot of that growth is fueled by children and non-citizens, who some people think shouldn’t be counted for purposes of apportioning legislative districts. But they sure do count when it comes to doling out new ones.

The arguments in the “one person, one vote” case

Here’s the Chron story:

“We start with the proposition that one person can’t be given two votes, while their neighbor be given one vote,” said Arlington, Va., attorney William Consovoy, arguing Evenwel’s case before the high court.

Texas officials argued that the state – like every other state and the U.S. House of Representatives – apportions legislative districts fairly by the only workable measure it has: total population as calculated by the U.S. Census Bureau. Any disparities in actual voters, they counter, must be intentionally “invidious” for the courts to intervene.

“When a state equalizes a population base, it’s not discriminating,” said Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller. “It’s doing exactly what the one-person, one-vote doctrine was set up to do.”

[…]

Liberals on the court echoed many of the same concerns as activists who view office-holders as representatives of their entire communities, not just voters.

“There is a voting interest,” said Justice Sonia Sotomayor. “But there is also a representation interest. The Legislature is protecting not just voters. It’s protecting its citizens or non-citizens.”

Along with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sotomayor asked the most pointed questions of Consovoy, noting that under Evenwel’s system, women, African-Americans and others who were once denied the right to vote would not have counted in past legislative apportionments.

But Justice Samuel Alito, one of the court’s conservatives, noted that the current system of counting total population includes prisoners, “undocumented aliens,” and others who can’t vote. “Isn’t your argument that voters are irrelevant?” Alito said, pressing the government lawyers.

The two sides also jousted on the rights of children.

“Children are represented at the polls,” Consovoy said, “They’re represented at the polls by their parents.”

“How about children who are citizens when their parents are not?” Sotomayor shot back.

See here for the background. Here’s the Trib‘s coverage.

Texas Solicitor General Scott A. Keller and U.S. Deputy Solicitor General Ian H. Gershengorn defended the current process Tuesday, with Keller arguing that an unraveling of the current system would “upend the redistricting process.”

Justice Samuel Alito challenged Gershengorn with what he described as “an extreme case”: a rural district with a large prison full of disenfranchised incarcerated people. Justice Anthony Kennedy questioned why voter equality and population equality were mutually exclusive.

Keller countered that to side with the plaintiffs, “states would inevitably have to disregard many other traditional redistricting factors, like compactness, continuity [and] keeping communities together.”

Gershengorn pointed to New York City as an example of why the plaintiffs’ argument was unfeasible.

He noted that 9 percent of Manhattan’s population is children, who are included in the census but are not able to vote. In contrast, 30 percent of the population in neighboring borough Brooklyn is made up of children.

If the Evenwel-endorsed standard became law, Gershengorn said, Brooklyn would theoretically need to absorb Manhattan voters into its state legislative districts. In his view, that would disrupt political constituencies and compactness.

And here’s SCOTUSBlog:

In fact, the principle of “one person, one vote” has been understood as equality of districts, rather than voters, on the theory that everyone placed in each district — whether eligible to vote or not — is entitled to be represented by the winner. But there is a political movement now, increasingly active, that is pushing for the famous phrase to mean voter equality, so the process would start with making sure that those who are qualified to vote should wind up with roughly equal numbers in each district.

If there is great disparity between the numbers of eligible voters between districts, the theory goes, there is no voter equality: those in districts with fewer voters have considerably more clout, at election time, than those with many voters — even if the districts’ total populations are equal. A district over-populated with voters is said to dilute the ballot strength of each, compared to some other districts’ residents.

This equality theory was neatly captured by Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. — although it was not clear whether he was really tempted to embrace it, or was just exploring its meaning. Suppose, he said, there was a rural district in which only nine percent of the population could vote, because its overall population is swelled by a large prison and none of the inmates can vote, but there is another district with about the same total population, but ninety percent of its residents can vote. “Is that okay?” he asked a federal government lawyer, Deputy Solicitor General Ian H. Gershengorn.

Gershengorn responded that the courts have recognized that legislatures, in drawing new districts, are entitled to rely on census data — that is, total population figures. There is no existing way, Gershengorn would go on to say, for the census to provide data that would aid legislatures in dividing up seats according to voter figures without simultaneously winding up with major differences in total populations. That, he indicated, would skew district population differences.

What the plaintiffs are arguing for is that citizen voting age population (CVAP) be used as the standard to draw districts. The effect that would have on districts with a heavy concentration of Latino voters, who tend to be younger and more likely to be non-citizens, would be profound, but the main practical problem is that there’s no accepted standard to enumerate CVAP. The Census relies on an actual count, while CVAP is done by various statistical sampling methods, none of which are allowed to be used in doing the Census. The argument about prisoner populations in rural areas is particularly ironic, since as things stand right now those prisoners, many of whom come from the big urban areas like Houston and Dallas, are counted in the population of the small rural counties where they are incarcerated. That has the effect of favoring those rural areas in the redistricting process. In addition, a big part of the reason why Texas has been gaining so many members of Congress in recent years is because its overall population growth is fueled in large part by big increases in children and foreign-born immigrants. If plain old population is good enough for that, surely it ought to be good enough for drawing districts. But of course, the law is what five members of the Supreme Court say it is, so who knows. ThinkProgress, which also wrote at length about another redistricting-related case that could stand everything we now know about apportionment on its head, Ross Ramsey, and Dahlia Lithwick have more.

Oral arguments in “one man, one vote” case today

High stakes, indeed.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Tuesday in a case that could have far-reaching implications for the way legislative districts in Texas — and across the country — are drawn. A coalition of Texas legislators, mostly Democrats, fears that if voters suing the state succeed, minority communities will have significantly reduced political power.

The case, Evenwel v. Abbott, centers around the legality of Texas’ current method for drawing the lines dividing state Senate districts. As it stands, Texas draws its districts so they are roughly equal in population. Even those who can’t vote — such as children, non-citizens and felons — get equal representation in the Senate.

The Texans suing the state, Sue Evenwel of Mount Pleasant and Edward Pfenninger of Montgomery County north of Houston, say this method leads to “gross malapportionment” of the value of their votes. Because there are a larger number of potential voters in Pfenninger’s district than there are in Evenwel’s district, Pfenninger says his ballot counts for less.

Dozens of state legislators, mostly Democrats, have signed on to briefs with the court defending the legality of Texas’ current policy — that all Texans, regardless of their eligibility to vote, should have equal representation. Among the briefs are one by the House of Representative’s Mexican American Legislative Caucus — a group of 41 state representatives, all but five of whom are Democrats — and the Texas Senate Hispanic Caucus, made up of 11 Democratic senators. Those same 11 senators filed another brief presenting further arguments in the state’s favor.

“This case represents a direct attack on our constituents,” said Sen. José R. Rodríguez, D-El Paso, who chairs the Senate Hispanic Caucus. “The implications could not be larger for minority voting rights and for Texas as a whole.”

See here for some background, and here for some historical perspective. SCOTUS had previously declined to hear a similar case from Texas brought by the same crowd. It’s unclear why they took this one up, but courts have consistently turned back such challenges in the past, as did the Fifth Circuit in this case.

Note that in this case, the defendant is the state of Texas, so that puts Abbott and Paxton on the same side as MALC and the Senate Hispanic Caucus. However, that doesn’t mean they are on the same page in defending against this lawsuit.

Texas officials are defending their map, but with a catch. They say the Constitution gives options to state and local governments, letting them decide to equalize districts based either on total population or those eligible to vote.

“The equal protection clause does not compel a state to choose a particular population base when reapportioning,” the state argued.

The Obama administration is urging a more limited ruling. U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli says the court should uphold the Texas map and its use of total population, without suggesting that officials might have other options.

Those advocating for total population say any other measure would be fraught with practical problems. States can rely on the once-a-decade U.S. Census to map total population, but no comparable data exists to allow the use of eligible voters, according to a brief filed by Nathaniel Persily, a Stanford Law School professor who specializes in election law.

A brief on the other side argues that map-makers can reliably use a separate survey, conducted by the Census Bureau based on statistical samples, that provides estimates of the citizen voting-age population. That brief was filed by demographers led by Peter Morrison, founding director of the RAND Corp.’s Population Research Center.

Of course, Congressional Republicans have been fiercely opposed to using statistical sampling by the Census Bureau in conducting its decennial survey, so this bed is just packed full of strangers. We’ll see how it goes. ThinkProgress, Trail Blazers, TNR, Michael Li, Rick Hasen, and Richard Pildes have more.

We’re still #1!

In uninsured people.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

For the first time in more than a decade, Texas’ uninsured rate dipped below 20 percent, analysts said [recently] following the release of U.S. Census data.

Slightly more than 5 million Texans were uninsured in 2014 — a 700,000 decrease from the year before. That represented a 3-point dip in the percentage of Texans without health insurance, to 19 percent — the largest gain in health care coverage in Texas since 1999, according to the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities.

The data released Wednesday marked the first government-provided snapshot of the uninsured rate since the rollout of Healthcare.gov, the health insurance marketplace created by President Obama’s signature health law.

Texas remains the state with the highest rate of uninsured people, according to the federal survey. Nationwide, the uninsured rate fell from about 15 percent to 12 percent.

And it’s not just in the rate where we lead, it’s also in sheer numbers.

Texas’ decrease was just 40 percent of the size of California’s shrinkage of its uninsured population. It reduced the number of uninsured by 1.73 million folks. That’s out of proportion to population. The bureau’s latest estimates show California has about 1.4 times as many people as Texas — 39 million versus 27 million. California has expanded Medicaid and runs its own online health insurance marketplace.

For many years, the Golden State has had the largest uninsured population. No longer. Texas does.

The Lone Star State has not just the highest percentage but the biggest raw number of uninsured — 5,047,000. In 2013, California had 6.5 million uninsured residents, while Texas had 5.75 million. But last year, California’s number dipped below 4.8 million.

“California has seen robust increases in both private insurance coverage under the [federal law’s] marketplace and public coverage through Medicaid coverage for working poor adults,” said Obamacare supporter Anne Dunkelberg, a veteran health-policy analyst at the center-left think tank the Center for Public Policy Priorities. She noted that California posted a nearly 5 percentage point decrease in its uninsured rate. It dropped from 17.2 to 12.4 percent, compared with only 3-point drop in Texas from 2013 to 2014.

But hey, at least we surpassed California in something, amirite? Woo hoo, high five!

All five of the states with the highest uninsurance rate have one thing in common: They failed to expand Medicaid. Well, two things in common, that and having Republican Governors and legislatures. But if you knew the first part, you could have guessed the second.

Counting the number of same sex marriages in Texas

Fewer than I’d have guessed, but still a decent amount percentage-wise.

Statewide, an estimated 2,500 same-sex couples have received marriage licenses in Texas since the [Obergfell] ruling.

There is no exact accounting of how many same-sex marriage licenses have been issued in Texas or Tarrant County because gender is no longer listed on licenses.

But the Star-Telegram’s review of marriage licenses issued in Tarrant County the past two months shows that almost 9 percent of the licenses appear to have been issued to same-sex couples. Statewide, 5.7 percent of marriage licenses appear to have been given to same-sex couples.

“There are many same-sex couples who simply waited until it was legal to seek licenses,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at TCU. “As a result, there have been a number of folks who might have gotten married years ago had it been possible to do so who are taking advantage of their opportunity to gain legal recognition for their committed relationship.

“My guess is that the overall percentage will shrink over time from this initial data once the ‘pent-up demand’ has been satisfied.”

[…]

Officials stress that state estimates of same-sex marriage licenses are just that: estimates.

“Since the application no longer has gender identifiers, this ballpark number is based on what we can assume from the applicants’ names,” said Carrie Williams, director of media relations for the Texas Department of State Health Services, which maintains vital records for the state, including marriage applications.

Overall, the state has received 43,522 marriage license applications since June 26, including the estimated 2,500 for same-sex couples, she said.

To get an idea of how many marriage licenses Tarrant County has granted to same-sex couples, the Star-Telegram reviewed a list of 3,427 applications from June 26 to Sept. 8.

The county does not keep a “breakdown of same-sex marriage license applications versus non-same-sex applications,” said Jeff Nicholson, chief deputy for Tarrant County Clerk Mary Louise Garcia. “Since June 26, the forms and our software have been modified so there is no way to discern this. It simply refers to applicants.”

The review shows that at least 296 licenses — or 8.6 percent — appear to have been issued to same-sex couples.

On the one hand, I thought the “pent-up demand” might have been higher. On the other hand, a lot of couples in Texas that really wanted to be married went and got married in other states rather than wait. Either way, I do think the number will decline some as a share of all marriages, then level off. We’ll get a much better handle on the real numbers when the 2020 Census is done. One hopes that by then the whole subject will be considered little more than a statistical curiosity. The Current has more.

We’re (about to be) Number 3!

In population. By the year 2025. Suck it, Chicago!

HoustonSeal

Hidden in the haze of the petrochemical plants and beyond the seemingly endless traffic jams, a Texas city has grown so large that it is poised to pass Chicago as the third biggest in the United States in the next decade.

Houston has been one of the fastest-growing U.S. cities for years, fueled by an energy industry that provided the backbone of the economy, low taxes and prospects of employment that have attracted job seekers.

But Houston also embodies the new, urban Texas, where political views have been drifting to the left, diversity is being embraced and newer residents are just as likely to drive a hybrid as a pickup truck.

Houston’s move is also indicative of demographic shifts unfolding in the United States that will increase the population and political clout of the Lone Star State over the next several decades.

Within eight to 10 years, Houston is forecast by demographers in the two states to pass Chicago, which has seen its population decline for years, as the third-largest city.

Houston is projected to have population of 2.54 million to 2.7 million by 2025 while Chicago will be at 2.5 million, according to official data from both states provided for their health departments. New York and Los Angeles are safe at one and two respectively.

Houston has long been associated with the risk takers in the oil industry and more recently as one of the better cities to find a job.

“Texas has a long tradition, and Houston has it in spades, that we are not so much interested in where you are from. We want to know what you can do,” Houston Mayor Annise Parker said in an interview with Reuters.

Chicago officials were not immediately available for comment.

And indeed, what could they say? Jokes aside, I confess to being a little wary of this projection when I first looked at it, but given that the city’s population has grown almost as much in the 2010-2014 period as it did between 2000 and 2010, I can see how we might get there. Our growth hasn’t always been even – far from it – and it’s demonstrably less in bad economic times (like the oil bust days in the 80s), so this is hardly a guarantee. But while the eventual date might not be set, the trend seems clear. Yay for us!

A lot of the story has the annoying tone of someone who’s never set foot in the state, much less Houston itself, but we’re all used to that by now. It also contains a cautionary note:

On social issues, residents in one of the most racially diverse U.S. cities are seen as “tolerant traditionalists” who espouse conservative values and open minds when it comes to social issues, according to a poll from the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Houston’s Rice University.

Residents generally have a positive view of immigrants, favor same-sex marriage and are more progressive than the state’s socially conservative Republican leadership, it said.

Pending the outcome of the HERO referendum, of course. Remember all that positive press Houston got in 2009, not just nationally but globally, when Annise Parker was elected? Sure, a lot of it was based on the same blissfully provincial ignorance about Houston – who could have possibly thought that an OIL TOWN in a backwards hellhole like Texas could elect a GAY MAYOR?!? – but for all that it was positive, and made some people reassess their view of our fair city. What kind of a reaction do you think we’ll get it we repeal an equal rights ordinance? I for one would rather not find out. The Press and Texas Leftist have more.

On to the benefits

Now that same sex marriage is the law of the land, Texas employers need to make sure that the spousal benefits they offer apply to all spouses.

RedEquality

“If an employer provides benefits to anyone who is currently married, they must now treat gay and lesbian employees the same and offer them the exact same benefits,” said Neel Lane, a San Antonio lawyer at corporate law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

“The ruling has an enormous impact on employers and employees in Texas,” said Lane, who represents on a pro bono basis a gay couple in Texas who have challenged the state’s ban on same-sex marriages.

[…]

Lawyers said they have been inundated with calls – mainly from small- and medium-sized business owners – seeking legal advice on updating employment and benefits forms but also asking if there are ways under Texas law to avoid having to make changes.

James Griffin, an expert on employment benefits and federal tax law at Jackson Walker in Dallas, said the legal advice he is giving his business clients is simple.

“Don’t waste your time looking for ways to defeat this,” Griffin said. “The Supreme Court decision is very broad. This issue is done. Make the changes and move on.”

Griffin and other lawyers say most large corporations implemented policies years ago that extend benefits to same-sex couples.

But they say some Texas-based companies that operate exclusively within the state have not addressed the issue because they have never had employees come forward and say they are gay and want benefits for their partners. Lawyers say that because Texas political leaders have been adamantly anti-same-sex marriage and benefits, many workers were afraid to step forward.

“Now, because of the Supreme Court ruling, a lot of people who have been reluctant are going to raise their hand for the benefits and the companies have to address it,” said Mark Shank, an employment law partner at Gruber Hurst Elrod Johansen Hail Shank in Dallas.

Among the employers who have already taken action is the state of Texas.

The state’s bureaucracy is moving forward to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s gay-marriage decision, even as state elected officials – including Gov. Greg Abbott – have lambasted the landmark ruling.

Starting Wednesday – less than a week after the decision – the Employees Retirement System of Texas, the University of Texas System and the Texas A&M System will extend benefits to spouses of gay and lesbian employees.

That means the state’s largest employer, the State of Texas, will join the list of those providing equal benefits to same-sex partners.

The decision is latest sign that state government is accepting the ruling, which struck down gay marriage bans in Texas and other states. And that bureaucratic churn provides a notable counterbalance to the saber-rattling by Abbott and other top Republicans.

“This is all kind of new for us,” said Catherine Terrell, a spokeswoman for the Employees Retirement System of Texas. “We’re just looking at what other employers have seen.”

The state employees some 311,000 people, according to the state auditor’s office. Terrell said ERS, which handles benefits for most state employees, was anticipating that about 1,500 spouses of gay employees would now enroll for benefits.

A “notable counterbalance to the saber-rattling”. I like that. When you consider all the county clerks who ignored Ken Paxton’s legal “advice”, it’s quite clear who’s really out of touch here. That doesn’t mean they’re going to acknowledge it any time soon.

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas is also providing these benefits now; they weren’t included in the Trail Blazers post. Regarding the UT and A&M systems, I like the quote in this Trib story about that:

Professors at Texas’ public universities celebrated the extension of benefits, saying the policy change will offer relief for many gay and lesbian employees and reduce the rate at which they leave Texas institutions in search of schools that accommodate same-sex couples.

Patrick Burkart, a communications professor at Texas A&M University, said extending benefits for same-sex couples will put the university on the “same competitive footing” as other research universities across the country because it will help retain and recruit top faculty and staffers.

“What we’re going to find out is how expensive it’s been to keep a discriminatory policy on the books as we have,” said Burkart, the secretary and treasurer of the A&M chapter of the American Association of University Professors, which has pushed for the benefits for years.

Burkart, who has served on several faculty search committees, indicated that the previous policy denying benefits to same-sex spouses or partners kept potential candidates from applying for posts at the school.

Hundreds of colleges across the country offer benefits to same-sex spouses or same-sex domestic partners.

”I think our university has suffered for it, and now is a great time to catch up and gather our strengths,” Burkart said.

I’m willing to bet none of our “saber-rattling” state leaders ever considered that, and if any of them did, I seriously doubt they cared. It is of course one big reason why so many private employers have been doing this for so long – you’ve got to keep up with the competition. Burying your head in the sand never works.

Let’s go back to the first story for a minute to see an example of another place where they can demonstrate that:

Legal experts also say the first major domino likely to fall will occur in federal court in Wichita Falls, where a federal judge in March, at the request of Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Paxton, issued an injunction that prevented the federal Family and Medical Leave Act from applying to same-sex couples in Texas.

Because of the ruling, Texas was one of four states in the U.S. where FMLA benefits have been denied to gay couples involved in civil unions.

“That decision will almost certainly be reversed right away,” said David Coale, a partner at Lynn Tillotson Pinker & Cox. “State political leaders may try to fight it, but they are going to lose, and then they are going to have to pay a lot of money to lawyers for pursuing frivolous legal claims.”

See here and here for the background. The lawsuit involved federal employees in Texas, who were covered by an Obama executive order extending employment benefits to same-sex spouses. In the face of Obergfell v. Hodges, the injunction that was granted is clearly out of order. I presume a motion to lift the injunction will be filed shortly, and will be granted right away. Any other outcome is unfathomable.

Moving on, all the newly-married couples in Texas can now sign up for health insurance if they need to.

Same-sex couples who marry have had what the Affordable Care Act considers a “qualifying life event.” And that triggers a special 60-day enrollment period to purchase health insurance from Texas’ federally run, online marketplace, a group promoting enrollment said Tuesday.

Enroll America, a nonprofit supporting Obamacare, said in a release that under the health law, marriage is one of the unusual phenomena that allow consumers a mid-year bite at the apple. The others are having a baby, moving to a different coverage area, getting divorced and experiencing certain changes of income that would affect tax credits and cost-sharing subsidies.

“People don’t know that the special enrollment period exists,” Enroll America spokeswoman Annette Raveneau said in an interview.

[…]

Newly married same-sex couples and others with qualifying life events can sign up all by themselves, using HealthCare.gov.

Raveneau, though, strongly recommends that shoppers meet in person with a certified assistance counselor or Obamacare navigator. They can schedule appointments using Enroll America’s “Get Covered Connector.”

“The people who use an in-person assister, which are free, are twice as likely to finish the enrollment process and actually get a plan,” she said.

How many people might be able to do this? We can only guess, in part because the state has no plans to count how many same-sex couples get hitched.

Though Texas collects detailed data on marriages by county and age, getting better information on same-sex marriage rates in Texas could take years since the state has no plans to separately track those unions. Following Friday’s ruling, the Department of State Health Services released a new gender-neutral marriage application for counties to use. The application does not ask for the sex of either of the applicants.

“We are not specifically tracking those at this time,” said Carrie Williams, a spokeswoman for the department. “The application asks for Applicant One and Applicant Two and currently does not ask for gender.”

States in which same-sex marriage was legal before Friday have taken different record-keeping approaches. Oregon, Vermont and Washington track marriage licenses specifically issued to same-sex couples. California and Florida simply track all marriages, and do not differentiate between same-sex and opposite-sex unions.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey estimated in 2013 that there were 252,000 married same-sex couples in the country, but later said that was likely an overestimate, citing flawed data. A recent paper from a census researcher put the figure at closer to 170,000.

The patchwork of data collection means reliable numbers on how many same-sex couples are getting married in different states may not be available until the next census in 2020, said Drew DeSilver, a senior writer with the Pew Research Center who has researched the issue.

I guess I’m not too bothered by this, since there doesn’t seem to be a single standard practice nationwide. It would be nice to know, but given the way the updated form is worded, I understand the reasoning. I’m sure there will be a million ways to come up with reasonably accurate estimates – new Obamacare enrollments will be one data point – and we’ll have Census data soon enough.

Metro board seeks to expand

It’s change that has been anticipated since the 2010 Census data was released.

HoustonMetro

With all indications pointing to more people in the Metropolitan Transit Authority service area living outside Houston than inside the city, Metro officials are asking to accelerate a state-mandated expansion of the transit agency’s board. The change would mean more members appointed by Harris County and smaller municipalities and a dilution of Houston’s majority control of the board.

“I believe this region is ready for this to be a regional agency,” said Allen Watson, Metro’s vice chairman. “This is the time to do it.”

The board is made up of nine members – five appointed by Houston, two by Harris County and two by the smaller 14 cities included in Metro’s service area, covering 1,303 square miles. That composition has been in place since 1982, when, by state law, the Metro area population grew to warrant four non-Houston slots.

The next step would be an 11-member board, with the county getting another appointee, and the chairman’s post shifting from Houston to a choice made by the 10 Metro board members. Houston would continue to have five appointments.

A board expansion would be triggered once the population outside Houston within Metro’s area is larger than the city’s population, as calculated by the U.S. Census. The balance nearly shifted as part of the 2010 decennial census.

Rather than wait for the official census in 2020, Metro officials – working with state lawmakers – are seeking to speed up the transition, saying it is the right way to apportion transit power in the area, and something they will have to do eventually. State laws govern how transit boards are organized, so any early move to an 11-member board would take legislative action. State Rep. Garnett Coleman and state Sen. Rodney Ellis, both Houston Democrats, have filed bills to help Metro make the move.

The legislation also would clear up some hiccups in board rules and procedures, setting deadlines for cities and Harris County to make appointments and staggering terms so board members rotate in and out annually. Board member terms still would be two years, with a maximum of eight years.

[…]

The change also would allow Metro to pivot to serve an increasing demand for service to and from suburban communities into the city, which comes with more non-Houston seats at the table, said Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack.

“There needs to be additional focus on commuter rail, versus what you see in downtown,” Radack said. “Right now, Houston has total control, but the service area and needs are bigger than that.”

Radack balked at the idea more county-chosen Metro members would dilute and weaken core transit service.

“I don’t think the move needs to be away from what’s been going on with Metro,” he said. “I think it needs to be expanded.”

See here for some background. At that time, this was seen as a way to shift power on the Metro board, which a lot of people including me th0ught was detrimental. As this story notes, Metro is in much better financial shape and there’s a lot less tension between it and Harris County. As such, everyone is on board with this, and it’s being seen as a way to expand service, not move things around. As Jay Crossley, who also had some concerns, said in the article, it’s a good thing if more people see themselves as represented by Metro and want to have access to its services.

Not part of the scope of this issue but worth asking anyway: Is it a good time to bring up the issue of expanding Metro’s service area, to include places like Fort Bend? If there is momentum again to build some commuter rail lines, including the US90A line that could and should go into Fort Bend, it would be nice to have that piece of the puzzle in place. Maybe that’s too complex a thing to deal with now, and maybe there are good reasons to wait till other business has been conducted, I don’t know. I just thought I’d ask, and this seemed like as good a chance as any to do so.

The marriage equality economic boost

From Equality Texas:

RedEquality

The Williams Institute released a report today estimating that marriage for same-sex couples in Texas would add $181.6 million to the state and local economy over a three-year period. The report predicts that 23,000 Texas couples would marry, spending an average of more than $6,000 per wedding. Up to 1,500 jobs would be created in the state.

“Overall these numbers seem, if anything, conservative for the long run,” said Dr. Daniel S. Hamermesh, Professor in Economics, Royal Holloway University of London, and Sue Killam Professor in the Foundation of Economics, University of Texas at Austin. “Further, marriage for same-sex couples allows couples to be better off – creating what economists call a ‘marital surplus’ which provides an even greater economic benefit.”

The Williams Institute utilized state-level data, as well as the 2010 U.S. Census and the American Community Survey, to conservatively estimate the impact of extending marriage to same-sex couples in Texas.

“The Williams Institute report affirms that the freedom to marry is good for business in Texas,” said Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas. “Allowing gay couples to marry here would give an economic boost to caterers, florists, event venues, and others who make a living through wedding planning. Our economy is already one of the strongest in the country, and marriage for same-sex couples would only add to that prosperity, while doing the right thing morally and constitutionally.”

You can see the study here. It’s a three-year projection that includes things like spending on the wedding itself by the couples, spending by out of state guests, and sales taxes. One item they don’t single out is the fees for marriage licenses, which provided a nice little boost for New York City in the first year that same sex marriages were allowed there. Every county clerk in Texas ought to be in favor of this if they know what’s good for them. Now to be fair, in the context of an economy the size of Texas’, this is pocket change. But given the many, many other good reasons for marriage equality, it’s another cherry on top of the sundae. There’s no good reason not to support it.

(I must note that there is one reason professed to disagree with this study and oppose same sex marriage, given by usual suspect Jonathan Saenz. It’s so incredibly stupid and bizarre that I can’t even bring myself to quote it. It’s here if you want to see for yourself. Don’t blame me if your head explodes.)

Along those lines EqTX is also calling on AG Abbott to drop the appeal of the ruling that tossed Texas’ ban on same sex marriage, on the grounds that plaintiffs have won 26 straight rulings. I totally agree on the merits, but it must be noted that in the recent Tenth Circuit ruling, one of the three judges bought the bogus traditional argument, and Abbott gets to plead his case before the Fifth Circuit, which as we know sucks. (Well, he’ll eventually get around to pleading his case.) As such, I can’t claim this is a slam dunk for the good guys, even though it should be. By the way, just as a reminder, Sam Houston would drop the appeal if he were AG. Just saying.

Finally, last week’s Houston Press had a cover story about being a same-sex married couple in Texas, which was similar in nature to the Observer article from earlier this month. I’m pretty sure every publication in Texas could do their own story and not repeat any of them. Texas Leftist has more.

Lawsuit filed over Senate map

From Texas Redistricting:

[Monday] morning, two Texas voters filed a suit in federal court challenging the state senate map drawn by the Texas Legislature on the grounds that it violated the equal protection guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment by using total population rather eligible voters to draw districts.

The plaintiffs in the case are backed by the Project for Fair Representation, which also helped back Shelby County’s challenge to section 5 of the Voting Rights Act as well as efforts to overturn affirmative action policies at the University of Texas at Austin.

The Center’s press release announcing the new Texas suit can be found here.

More information here.

What’s at issue?

The plaintiffs argue that the current Texas senate map (Plan S172) must be redrawn using “eligible voters” rather than “total population” – the measure long used by the Texas Legislature – because the latter now results in districts with significantly differing numbers of voters.

By not using eligible voters, the plaintiffs say the Texas Legislature violated the “one-person, one vote” principle of the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment by allowing some voters’ votes to count for more than those of others.

Why are there disparities?

In Texas, the major driver of disparities in the number of eligible voters is the high number of non-citizens in parts of the state – mainly its urban and suburban cores. For example, in places like Dallas and Houston, commonly accepted estimates are that around half of adult Hispanics are non-citizens.

Of course, disparities also can exist for any number of other reasons, including higher numbers of children under 18 in fast growing parts of the state or a larger number of people who are unable to vote because of felony convictions.

However, differing citizenship rates are, by far, the largest driver of disparities in the number of eligible voters.

[…]

How would drawing districts using “eligible voters” change the current map?

At present, Texas senate districts have a target population of 811,147 people.

If courts were to require maps to be drawn using some measure of eligible voters, the target size of districts also would change.

For example, although Texas has over 25 million people, its citizen voting age population in the most recent Census Bureau report was estimated to be just 15,583,540. Using CVAP to draw districts would mean that each district would have a CVAP target of 502,695.

That target population would require significant reworking of districts that presently have large Hispanic populations.

In the Houston area, for example, SD-13, represented by State Sen. Rodney Ellis, has a CVAP population of only 419,035, and SD-6, represented by State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, fares even worse with just 377,505 citizens of voting age. Likewise, in the Dallas area, SD-23, represented by State Sen. Royce West, has just 456,955.

Even with permitted deviations from the target population, these districts would need to add population, mostly likely by drawing from neighboring Anglo-dominated districts. Though those people might or might not be Anglo, the need to add large numbers of people mean the demographics and electoral performance of the districts could change materially. In fact, the need to add people might very well jeopardize the protected status that those districts currently enjoy under section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

In other words, this could be a very big deal not only for Hispanics but also potentially African-Americans.

There could be practical impacts as well for legislators since urban districts would likely end up with far greater numbers of total people – who, although they might not be able to vote, still have need for constituent services – and be much larger physically as well.

Wasn’t there a similar case recently about the same issue?

Yes. In fact, it involved many of the same players.

In Lepak v. City of Irving, the lawyers in the Texas senate case – also backed by the Project for Fair Representation – represented Irving residents in arguing that the city’s new single-member council district map was unconstitutional because it had been drawn using total population rather than CVAP.

Both the district court and the Fifth Circuit ruled against the Irving plaintiffs, citing the Fifth Circuit’s ruling in Chen v. City of Houston, which held that the question of whether to use total population or CVAP was a political question and thus not reviewable by courts.

The Irving plaintiffs sought to have the decision reviewed by the Supreme Court, but the high court declined last April to take the case.

However, the Texas senate case potentially represents another opportunity to have the Supreme Court take up the issue since any appeal would go directly to the Supreme Court as a matter of right.

More background on Lepak here.

There’s more at the link, but basically this is a nuisance action being brought by some professional grievance-mongers. It would serve them right not only to have the case dismissed with prejudice, but also to be assessed full court costs and attorneys’ fees for wasting everyone’s time. The Observer and Rick Hasen have more.

Making the push to sign people up for health insurance

Harris County is at ground zero for this national effort.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

With less than two months remaining to enroll in the health care marketplace, the federal government is focusing outreach efforts on areas with the largest concentrations of uninsured, including Texas’ Harris and Dallas counties.

According to a study conducted for The Associated Press, half of the nation’s uninsured live in just 113 of the 3,143 counties. Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the U.S. – about 1 in 4 people – and the two biggest concentrations in Texas are Harris and Dallas counties. That sort of data are what brought U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to Dallas last week and why the agency is coordinating with Houston health officials on advertising aimed at spreading the enrollment message.

Martha Blaine, executive director of the Community Council of Greater Dallas, said Texas’ refusal to expand Medicaid is the main factor.

“I think the other reason that we’re not making the headway against the uninsured in Texas is that … with the federal exchange Texas did not receive any of the outreach money. And so we do not have high-profile outreach programs like California has,” Blaine said. “The general public does not have a unified message in Texas.”

Federal officials have identified 25 key metro areas to focus on before the March 31 end of open enrollment, including Dallas and Houston; South Florida and Orlando; the northern New Jersey megalopolis; Phoenix and Tucson; Detroit and Cleveland; Atlanta and Nashville. In mid-January, federal officials reported more than 118,500 Texans had used the health care web site to sign up for insurance.

To some extent, saying that “half of the nation’s uninsured live in just 113 counties” is functionally the same as saying a lot of people live in these counties. By my count, the 100 most populous counties in the US contain more than 40% of the total population, so having half the uninsured population in the top 113 seems right in line with that. On the plus side, having so many of them concentrated in a small number of places makes outreach easier. On the other hand, as Joan McCarter notes, the biggest of these big counties are mostly in states like Texas that didn’t expand Medicaid, which puts a lot of people into the coverage gap, and which are most subject to the resistance/sabotage efforts of their state governments. The people and groups doing the outreach have their work cut out for them.

In Austin, a coalition of activists launched on Wednesday a bilingual campaign to spotlight stories from Texans who cannot afford health care insurance because of the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid coverage to low-income adults under the Affordable Care Act.

The initiative, dubbed “Texas Left Me Out,” is being spearheaded by more than 40 health care and community advocacy groups. The activist coalition has set up websites in English and Spanish and a phone line to collect stories from uninsured Texans about their experiences.

The group also said it planned to deliver letters to the offices of every member of the Legislature in an effort to convince state lawmakers “that this problem needs to be fixed and it needs to be fixed as quickly as possible,” said Sister JT Dwye, of the Catholic Church-affiliated Seton Healthcare Family.

I’ve noted the efforts of Texas Left Me Out before. They’re as much about winning elections as anything else, because we won’t be able to make sufficient gains on this problem until the nature of our government changes. Another tough job, but it’s got to be done. Check out the Texas Left Me Out and do what you can to get involved.

Murder by numbers 2013

The beginning of the new year means a look back at the homicide count for the previous year.

Homicides are up in unincorporated Harris County, where the Sheriff’s Office is reporting a nearly 20 percent uptick in 2013, preliminary year-end statistics show.

Killings in 2013 totaled 91 as of Tuesday – the second-highest tally in the past five years, and about a 19.7 percent increase from 2012, according to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.

Authorities said the 2013 figure appears to have been driven by a cluster of cases involving multiple victims.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia cited a Nov. 9 case at a Cypress house party where two high school students were fatally shot and 19 others were wounded. He also recalled an incident Nov. 20 in which a gunman shot five people at a northwest Harris County apartment complex. Three died.

“We don’t see that as a particular pattern,” Garcia said of the multi-victim cases. “These are just circumstances that have occurred this year and we hope they never repeat themselves.”

In Houston, preliminary data showed the homicide count was down from 2012, which ended with 217.

As of Dec. 20, the Houston Police Department recorded 199 slayings compared with 207 for the same time last year, according to Homicide Division Capt. Dwayne Ready. HPD’s latest reports show about a 3.8 percent decrease.

If the 2013 total remains below 217, it would be the second lowest since 1965, when 139 people were killed, HPD officials said. The lowest since that date was in 2011, which had 198.

[…]

Violent crime overall has been trending down for several years, both nationally and locally. By and large, crime experts say that violent crime has been experiencing slight fluctuations rather than sharp increases and decreases.

Phillip Lyons, a criminal justice professor at Sam Houston State University, said those decreasing figures may now be leveling off, showing some stabilization in crime statistics.

“We are at that point, where it seems as though there is overall stability, and that obviously means there are going to be some places that are reporting higher numbers than last year and other places that are reporting lower numbers than last year,” Lyons noted. “It all essentially averages out to not much change.”

See here and here for the previous installments of this story. I basically agree with Prof. Lyons, there really isn’t much happening here. The uptick in unincorporated Harris County is likely just statistical noise. If it goes up for a few years in a row, that may be something. A one year bump that isn’t that big in absolute terms and even smaller in per capita terms is not.

Here’s the sidebar to the story with numbers from the past five years:

Annual number of homicides in Houston and unincorporated Harris County in recent years:

City of Houston:

2009: 287

2010: 269

2011: 198

2012: 217

2013: 199 (As of Dec. 20, 2013)

Unincorporated Harris County

2009: 93

2010: 74

2011: 69

2012: 76

2013: 91 (As of Dec. 31, 2013)

If unincorporated Harris is up over 100 for the next couple of years that may be worrisome, but again keep in mind that the overall population there is rising, too. This chart would be a lot more meaningful if it included the number of homicides per 100,000 residents, as that is a number that will be better to compare over time. Consider the statement above about how 199 murders in Houston would be the second lowest since 1965 when there had been 139. Well, the population in Houston in 1965 would have been less than half what it is today, so 199 murders in 2013 is therefore significantly less – back of the envelope, it would have been about 14 per 100,000 in 1965 (I’m assuming a population halfway between the 1960 and 1970 Census numbers, which would be about one million) but only about 9.5 per 100,000 in 2013 (assuming a population of 2.1 million). Putting it that way, the total number of homicides in Houston was probably as low as it has ever been in a much longer time frame. When was the last time you heard someone say that?

Perry keeps asking for the same Medicaid waiver he hasn’t gotten in the past

Same as it ever was.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

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Gov. Rick Perry is preparing for yet another battle in his war against Obamacare.

In a letter to the state’s health agency on Monday, the governor laid out his plan to request a federal waiver to reform Medicaid as Texas sees fit — without expanding eligibility.

“Seemingly, the president and his administration are content to simply throw money at a problem and hope that any problems will resolve themselves,” Perry wrote in a Monday letter to Kyle Janek, the executive commissioner of Texas’ Health and Human Services Commission. “My response, and the response of the Texas Legislature, has been crystal clear: Texas will not expand Medicaid under Obamacare.”

Instead, Perry has asked that the agency request flexibility in the form of a block grant — a fixed amount of money, rather than matching dollars for Medicaid services — from the federal government to fundamentally reform Medicaid. Specifically, Perry requested that the agency seek a waiver that allows the state to make changes to the program without receiving federal approval, continue asset and resource testing to determine eligibility, and initiate cost-sharing initiatives, such as co-payments, premiums and deductibles, among other reforms.

The waiver “should give Texas the flexibility to transform our program into one that encourages personal responsibility, reduces dependence on the government, reins in program cost growth and efficiently improves coordination of care,” Perry wrote.

[…]

In a second letter sent to HHSC on Monday, Perry requested that the agency develop a mechanism to continue collecting and analyzing income, asset and resource information on Texans who apply for Medicaid benefits. That’s despite a provision in the Affordable Care Act — one that takes effect on Jan. 1 — that requires the state to stop asset testing to determine Medicaid eligibility.

A copy of the letter requesting the block grant is here, and a copy of the letter on asset testing is here. Texas has been asking for a Medicaid block grant since at least 2008, when the Bush administration rejected the request. Perry knows full well what the answer will be, he’s just going through the motions out of spite and the continued delusion that he’ll be appealing to Iowa voters in 2016. If the CMS assigned me the task of writing the response, I’d start out by noting that in any negotiation, there must be good faith and a willingness to give something to get something. As the primary purpose of block granting Medicaid is the limit services, and the primary purpose of the Affordable Care Act is to enroll more people in health insurance plans, Perry’s proposal demonstrates neither of those things. Just this week, we’ve seen two examples of other Republican governors agreeing to expand Medicaid. They both wrung some concessions out of the feds in doing so, but the end result will be more people getting access to health care. And Lord knows, we need a commitment to providing access to health care in Texas.

Texas continued to have the highest rate of people without health insurance in 2012 at 24.6 percent, according to the Current Population Survey estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Tuesday.

“Texas has often had the highest uninsured rate throughout the country,” said David Johnson, chief of the Census Bureau’s Social, Economic and Housing Statistics Division. He added that additional data from the American Community Survey that the Census Bureau plans to release later this week would provide more specific information on health insurance rates in states and metropolitan areas.

The Current Population Survey estimates revealed that the national uninsured rate declined in 2012, to 15.4 percent from 15.7 percent in 2011. The national real median income and official poverty rate were not statistically different in 2011 and 2012, according to the estimates.

Thanks to the insurance exchanges and the ACA subsidies, Texas’ unacceptably high level of uninsured people will decline, though as always Perry is doing everything he can to keep as many Texans as possible sick and unable to do anything about it. Perry and his fellow Republicans just don’t give a damn about the problem. Until they do, I see no reason for the feds to waste any time on these pointless requests.