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Troy Fraser

The state’s voter ID failure is much bigger than you think

You really have to read this.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The confusion started in the first hour of the first day of early voting in San Antonio last October.

Signs in polling places about the state’s controversial voter ID law contained outdated rules. Poll workers gave voters incorrect information. Lines were long — full of people who were full of uncertainty.

The presidential election of 2016 was off to a sputtering start in Texas, where years of angry claims about illegal voting had led to a toughening of identification requirements for those going to the polls.

On that day last October, Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, was met with a line out the door when she arrived at her San Antonio polling place.

“A poll worker stood in front of me where I was and said, ‘You are at the one-and-a-half-hour mark,'” Perales said. “And she insisted your ID needed to be out when you got to the front of the line.”

But that, in fact, wasn’t the law. A compromise a federal court had settled on months before allowed those without photo IDs to fill out an affidavit and show alternate ID.

“So, we filed suit against the county,” Perales said.

Days later, Bexar County, home to San Antonio, agreed to try and remedy its mistakes — poll workers would be retrained, signs would be corrected and voicemail instructions for voters would be updated.

But a ProPublica review of the 2016 vote in Texas shows that Bexar County’s problems were hardly isolated — and, in many cases, were beyond fixing.

Indeed, the state’s efforts to enact and enforce the strictest voter ID law in the nation were so plagued by delays, revisions, court interventions and inadequate education that the casting of ballots was inevitably troubled. Among the problems that surfaced:

  • The promised statewide effort to inform Texans about voter identification requirements failed terribly. ProPublica contacted hundreds of community organizations and local county party officials to see if they’d received a voting instruction manual the state said it had sent but could not find one who had used it. The largest voter education groups — League of Women Voters Texas, the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, MALDEF and several disability rights groups — said they didn’t get copies at all.
  • The fiscal note attached to the 2011 bill indicated voter education would cost the state $2 million. That’s one-fifth what a similar bill in Missouri — a state with 21 million fewer people than Texas — allocated. While the Texas secretary of state’s office spent the majority of its voter education budget in 2016 to educate voters about the law, the money appears to have been wasted on an ineffective campaign.
  • The Texas Department of Public Safety, a law enforcement agency tasked with issuing free IDs for voting purposes, initially required those who applied for the ID to be fingerprinted, a decision many say scared off potential voters. DPS also didn’t have Spanish translators in all of its offices and didn’t initially provide applications or information about the free IDs in any language other than English.
  • Remarkably, the very aim of the legislation — to thwart people from voting illegally — was not fully addressed by the law, which allowed three versions of identification obtainable by non-citizens.

Jacquelyn Callanen, the election administrator for Bexar County, said she is still furious about the state’s performance in handling last November’s vote.

“I’ve been doing this for 22 years,” she said. “This was the most complicated and emotionally charged election I have ever seen.”

There’s a ton more, and you need to read the whole thing. It will piss you off, and it should. We know that the state’s so-called voter ID education effort last year was a boondoggle and a failure, but you can’t fully appreciate how big a failure it was without this. Among other things, the story recounts the history of voter ID legislation in Texas, how the Elections department at the Secretary of State’s office became politicized and denuded of competence, and more. As noted by the Brennan Center, there will be a status call on June 7 to sort out the issues in determining a remedy in the wake of the ruling last month that the voter ID law was passed with discriminatory intent. I say any such remedy needs to begin with a complete scrapping of the existing law and an eight-figure campaign to do real voter (and elections administrator) education, done by multiple firms that don’t make BS claims about “proprietary” information. Then maybe, just maybe, we can claim to have set things right. Read the story and see what I mean.

Primary Day is today

From the inbox:

vote-button

“Visit www.HarrisVotes.com to ensure you go to the correct voting location and to find your personal sample ballot for the Tuesday, March 1, Republican Party and Democratic Party Primary Elections,” said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, encouraging voters to use the information provided by the County Clerk’s election website before heading to the polls. “Voters can find everything they need to vote, including polling locations, their personal sample ballot, and a list of acceptable forms of Photo ID at www.HarrisVotes.com.”

On Election Day, polling locations will be open from 7 am to 7 pm. In Harris County, the Republican Party will have 401 polling locations and the Democratic Party 383. “Remember, voters are required to vote at the polling location their precinct is designated to vote at on Election Day. During primary elections, the political parties determine where the voting locations are situated based on their respective voter strongholds,” Stanart reminded voters.

In Texas, a registered voter may vote in either party’s Primary Election during an election cycle, but only one party, not both. Overall, in Harris County, there are over 150 races for each party. “Voters can expect to see about 50 contests on their personal ballot. I recommend voters print out their personal ballot, do their homework, and bring their marked up ballot with them into the polling booth,” advised Stanart.

At the close of Early Voting on Friday, 216,961 voters cast their ballots early, or by mail surpassing the 115,958 who voted early in the 2012 primary elections. “Voter participation in the Primary Elections is very important,” concluded Stanart. “If you have not voted, go vote. Your vote will make a difference.”

For more election information, voters can visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call 713.755.6965.

You can find your precinct location here. Do not assume that your normal November location will be open – check first and be sure. You can get a free ride from Metro to your polling station if you need it.

PDiddie names the races he’ll be watching tonight. I agree with his list, and would the four contested Dem primaries involving incumbent State Reps as well – Alma Allen in 131, Gene Wu in 137, Jessica Farrar n 148, and Hubert Vo in 149. All four are vastly better than their opponents, and a loss by any of them would be deeply embarrassing and a kick to the face. I don’t expect any of them to be in danger, but one never knows, and the stakes here are high. The only other contested-incumbent race on the Dem side of interest is in El Paso, where Rep. Mary Gonzalez is being challenged by former Rep. Chente Quintanilla in a race that’s as much about the present and future versus the past as anything else. Quintanilla is one of several former members trying to get back into the game. At least in his case, I’d prefer he stay retired.

Beyond that, I will of course be interested in the rematch in SD26, plus the open seat fight in CD15, where Dolly Elizondo has a chance to become the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas. Most of the rest of the action of interest is on the Republican side, where the usual wingnut billionaires are doing their best to buy up the Legislature, and several incumbent members of Congress are running scared of the seething hoards in their districts. Turnout will be high, which may or may not be good news for Ted Cruz. It’s especially amusing to see professional Cruz cheerleader Erica Greider freak out about Cruz voters ganging up on House Speaker Joe Straus in his primary. I find myself having to root for members like Byron Cook and Charlie Geren, not because they’re great legislators from my perspective but because they’re part of a decreasing faction that still acts like grownups. The Senate is sure to get worse with the departure of Kevin Eltife, thought there’s at least a chance a small piece of that difference could be made up by whoever replaces the execrable Troy Fraser. One must find the small victories where one can. The SBOE is always good for either an atrocity or a belly laugh, depending on how you look at it. Lastly, to my Harris County Republican friends, if you let Don Sumners beat Mike Sullivan for Tax Assessor, you deserve to never win a countywide race again.

I may or may not post results tonight, or I may save them for the morning. Whatever the case, go vote if you haven’t. Remember, you forfeit all right to bitch about who gets elected if you don’t participate.

Some early legislative race news

Just a few links of interest. First, the race in SD24 heats up.

Rep. Susan King

Republican state Rep. Susan King said Monday that she will join an increasingly crowded primary field to replace retiring GOP state Sen. Troy Fraser.

King had earlier said she would not seek re-election to the House, where she is serving her fifth two-year term, while exploring whether to run for Fraser’s district, which encompasses 17 counties mostly in the Hill Country, including a slice of western Travis County.

King, who announced her campaign at an evening event in her hometown of Abilene, joined five other candidates who have said they will compete in the Republican primary

See here for the background. Just a reminder, this district includes Abilene, Austin, and San Antonio. Gotta love redistricting.

Enfant terrible Jonathan Stickland gets a mainstream challenger.

Bedford pastor Scott Fisher plans to announce Tuesday that he is taking on Stickland, according to GOP sources. In recent days, Fisher has been informing friends in the district and Austin of his soon-to-be campaign.

Fisher, who serves as senior pastor at Metroplex Chapel in Euless, has a long resume of public service. He has formerly chaired the Texas Youth Commission and the board of the JPS Health Network, and he currently chairs the Texas Juvenile Justice Department and the board of Metroplex Chapel Academy.

Fisher has also been a member of the Texas Ethics Commission, and served on the boards of One Heart, a criminal justice project aimed at young people, and Mid Cities Pregnancy Center, which helps women deal with unplanned pregnancies.

The story lines will write themselves. All I can say is that a Lege without Stickland will be a better Lege. Having said that, RG Ratcliffe noted that Fisher was a bigwig in the Texas Christian Coalition back in the 90s, so this is definitely a case where one needs to be wary about what one wishes for.

And speaking of those story lines.

High-profile legislative races are already developing in Tarrant County nearly two months before candidates can even file to get their names on the ballot.

Two local Republican races heating up — for House District 99, represented by Charlie Geren of Fort Worth, and House District 94, now represented by Tony Tinderholt of Arlington — offer a glimpse of the type of races ramping up statewide.

“Tarrant County will be a microcosm of the battle between centrist conservative supporters and movement conservative opponents of Speaker [Joe] Straus that will take place across the state,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

[…]

On one side, there’s Geren, president of Railhead Smokehouse and a real estate developer, who has represented the district since 2001 and is a powerful top lieutenant of House Speaker Straus.

On the other, there’s Bo French, a private equity investor and political newcomer from Fort Worth, who served as a chief officer of the late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s tactical training company Craft International. He drew media attention last year for ending up in court arguing with Kyle’s widow about the future of the company.

The two men and their prominent families have long run in the same circles.

“I’ve known Bo all his life and I’ve known his parents a long time,” said Geren, 65, who added he was surprised when French jumped into the race. “I’m just going to run hard and win.”

French, 45, said he picked this district to run in because he knows a lot of people in the district and believes that his “principles will represent them and their families.”

[…]

Tinderholt, a 21-year military veteran whose past included a bankruptcy filing in the 1990s and several marriages, unseated Rep. Diane Patrick in the GOP primary last year and won a fiery battle in the general election.

“Some ‘establishment’ conservatives may still be angry that Rep. Tinderholt defeated longtime favorite Diane Patrick and may try and unseat him,” said Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Despite concerns he would be a vocal dissenter in the Legislature earlier this year, Tinderholt, 45, for the most part appeared to follow the typical freshman play book, watching and learning.

“You could see he was a work in progress,” Kronberg said. “He was paying attention, learning issues. But throughout North Texas, there’s some despair that there’s very little active representation of the stakeholders (business, schools) that make the community work.”

Now Andrew Piel, 43, has announced he will challenge Tinderholt in the primary..

“This last summer, people came to me and said they had concerns about the effectiveness of the incumbent representing Arlington in an efficient manner,” said Piel, a business and construction law attorney and a former Tarrant County assistant district attorney. “I talked to people for months [and] prayed about it.

“I feel like it’s time for a change.”

Piel has lined up a host of supporters, including community leader Victor Vandergriff, former Arlington Mayors Robert Cluck and Richard Greene, former state Sens. Chris Harris and Kim Brimer, former state Reps. Toby Goodman and Barbara Nash, and Arlington school board members Bowie Hogg and John Hibbs.

Tinderholt is terrible, and a potential longshot pickup if he survives his primary. Geren has survived challenges before and will likely survive this one.

Finally, on the Democratic side, attorney and military veteran Bernie Aldape has thrown his hat into the ring for HD144, joining a field that already includes former Rep. Mary Ann Perez and Pasadena Council Member Cody Ray Wheeler. As things stand right now, that’s the most interesting local Democratic primary, for a seat that ought to swing blue next year.

Rep. Susan King not running for re-election

Though she may run for Senate instead.

Rep. Susan King

State Rep. Susan King has decided against seeking re-election as she considers a run for the Texas Senate, the Abilene Republican announced Tuesday.

King said she would announce by the end of the month whether to launch a bid for Senate District 24, where Troy Fraser is stepping down after nearly 20 years representing the region in Central Texas. In the meantime, King has formed an exploratory committee and stocked it with $1 million from her state House campaign account and a family loan.

“I will spend very little of these funds in the exploratory period, but feel it is important to be a serious candidate invested in winning should I decide to run,” King said in a news release.

See here for more on SD24. The Trib reported on the possible field of candidates in that race shortly after Fraser announced his exit. I don’t know much about Rep. King, which actually makes her kind of appealing to me as a potential replacement for Fraser, on the grounds that if she’s been that low profile, she’s unlikely to have been one of the wacko birds. And let’s face it, being better than Troy Fraser is a mighty low bar to clear. By the way, if you click that Trib link, you’ll see that it describes SD24 as “[covering] a large swath of Central Texas, stretching from northwest of San Antonio through the Hill Country up to Abilene”. Because of course San Antonio and Austin should share a Senate seat with Abilene.

Fraser and Ratliff to step down

There’s good news:

Sen. Troy Fraser

State Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, announced Tuesday that he is not running for re-election, ending a tenure at the Capitol that has spanned four decades.

“There comes a time when leaders must take a look at the trail they have blazed and reflect on all they have done,” Fraser wrote in a letter to colleagues and friends. “There also comes a time when leaders must allow others the opportunity to leave their mark. Today marks that time for me.”

Fraser, who chaired the Natural Resources Committee this past session, was the seventh-most senior member of the Senate, having taken office in January 1997. From 1988 to 1993, he served in the House.

[…]

He said his “proudest accomplishment” was passing Texas’ voter ID law in 2011, considered the toughest in the nation. A legal challenge to the statute is still working its way through federal courts.

That last paragraph sums up why this is good news, as Fraser had his fingerprints on a ton of bad legislation, with not much good to balance it out. The district is solidly Republican – as Greg commented, it envelops all of Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock’s House district – but Fraser is bad enough to have some hope that whoever replaces him might be at least a little better. No guarantees of course – it can always be worse, and it’s never comfortable having to hope for a good outcome in a Republican primary – but there is plenty of room to go up.

And there’s bad news:

Thomas Ratliff

State Board of Education Vice Chairman Thomas Ratliff has decided not to seek another term on the board next year, saying he has accomplished most of his goals. Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, who has been on the board since 2011, has generally received high marks during his tenure.

Ratliff, son of former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, made news back in 2010 when he upset former board Chairman Don McLeroy of College Station in the GOP primary that year. McLeroy was the leader of the social conservative bloc on the education board and drew national attention for his efforts to limit coverage of evolution in science textbooks.

When he ran for the seat, which now represents northeast Texas, Ratliff said he wanted to reduce the influence of partisan politics on the board and improve the strained relationship between the board and the Legislature. At the time, there was support among lawmakers for scaling back the authority of the board.

“I feel these goals have been largely accomplished through a combination of my efforts, the efforts of several of my colleagues and voters across the state,” he said, adding he will serve out the final year and a half of his current term.

Being the candidate who sent the infamous Do McLeroy back to private life, Ratliff is Exhibit A for “best possible outcome in a GOP primary in deep red turf”. We can only hope that his successor is like him and not like the man he ousted.

Finally, some poignant news:

Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon

One of the best speeches of this year’s legislative session also was one of the more difficult to watch.

It came in the closing days as the House OK’d a bill addressing one of the Great State of Texas’ greatest disgraces. HB 48, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed Monday, sets up a state panel to figure out how wrongful convictions happen and how to avoid them. All together now: “About time.”

Approval culminated a persistent battle by a lawmaker now fighting a personal one – one that reminds us of the better side of our lawmakers. The more shrill partisans among us could learn something from the friendships and respect that develops when 182 people of varying philosophies and backgrounds spend 140 days in relatively close quarters at the Capitol in odd-numbered years.

Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, was helped to the front microphone Thursday to move final approval of her HB 48. A cancer survivor, McClendon now is struggling with health issues that have affected her mobility and speech. In December, she underwent surgery to remove water from her brain.

Supported on her left by Rep. J.D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville, and her right by Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, McClendon needed help to get the bill across the finish line.

“You move to concur in Senate amendments,” Bonnen said quietly into her ear, followed by an awkward pause as the House waited for McClendon to form the words.

“You can do it,” Bonnen told McClendon. “We got you.”

They did, literally.

“You’re going to say, ‘Members, I move to concur,'” Sheffield told McClendon.

“Members,” McClendon, surrounded by supportive colleagues, said slowly, “I move to concur with Senate amendments.”

The voting bell rang. Bonnen again assured McClendon, “We got you,” and HB 48 was approved, to applause, by a 137-5 margin.

His right arm around McClendon, co-sponsor Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, called the vote “a tremendous victory for this House, for the Legislature and for this lady right here whom all of us know and love.”

“This is a wonderful, wonderful lady and many, many lives are going to be saved and changed because of her work on this issue,” said Leach, adding that serving with McClendon, with whom he shares little political common ground, “has been the honor of a lifetime.”

McClendon then spoke about this legislation in particular and legislative life in general.

“I just want to briefly say that I appreciate those who stuck with me,” she said slowly as a legislative battle she began seven years ago headed to successful conclusion. “Some said it wasn’t going to work, that we couldn’t do it.”

I knew Rep. McClendon had been ill for some time, but I hadn’t realized just how tough for her this session must have been. I don’t know if her health will impel her to step down or not, but if it does, she finished her career on a high note with the passage of innocence commission bill. That bill should have rightfully passed in 2013, but it was derailed by the egotistical gamesmanship of Sen. Joan Huffman. Thankfully, Sen. Huffman managed to put a lid on it this time.

I’ve seen a few snarky Facebook posts since sine die by folks who are playing at the “disaffected cool kid who’s just so over all this stuff” thing. I get the frustration – it’s definitely been a rough 12 months, with less reason to feel optimistic about the near term political future around here – and Lord knows I’m not above cynicism. Dems did their share of puzzling and dispiriting things this session, most notably on the Denton anti-fracking ban bill. But it’s people like Rep. McClendon and what they are able to accomplish out of the spotlight and against sizable obstacles, that are what it’s about to me. I think we lose something fundamental if we lose sight of that. I know it’s hard having to play defense all the time, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still chances to move the ball forward here and there. Thank you, Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, for all you do.

Texas plans to sue over EPA’s latest clean air plan

So what else is new?

ERCOT

Attorney General Ken Paxton said Tuesday that he plans to sue the Obama administration over the proposed “Clean Power Plan,” its plan to combat climate change by slashing carbon emissions from power plants.

“Texas has proven we can improve air quality without damaging our economy or Texans’ pocketbooks,” the Republican said in a statement, claiming the rules would threaten the power grid and increase electric prices. “I will fight this ill-conceived effort that threatens the livelihood and quality of life of all Texans.”

Using those arguments over the past year, the state’s Republican leadership has loudly panned the proposal, which would require the state to cut close to 200 billion pounds of carbon dioxide in the next two decades however it sees fit.

Environmental and health advocates say limiting the greenhouse gas would help fight climate change, bolster public health and conserve water in parched Texas, and they suggest that opponents are exaggerating the economic burdens.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency suggests that Texas could meet its goal through a combination of actions: making coal plants more efficient, switching to cleaner-burning natural gas, adding more renewable resources and bolstering energy efficiency. Under the proposal, Texas could also adopt a “cap and trade” program – a scheme in which companies bid on the right to pollute.

The federal proposal is scheduled to become final in June, and Texas would have one year to submit its plan. But some watching the debate expect the EPA to push back the deadline amid pressure from states and other critics.

If Texas ignores the rules, the EPA will construct its own plan for Texas, though the agency has not said what that might look like. Democrats and others call that approach risky and suggest it would beckon more stringent requirements.

Bills that would direct Texas regulators to adopt a plan are nearing their death in the Legislature.

Fossil fuel interests and 15 U.S. states – not including Texas – have sued the EPA over the proposed rules in a case heard last week in federal court. Judges appeared skeptical of a challenge to rules that haven’t been finalized.

See here, here, and here for the background. I have to say, if Paxton managed to deliver that line about Texas improving its air quality on its own with a straight face, it will be the most impressive thing he ever does in office. Texas has fought the EPA multiple times in recent years with little to show for it, with another fight currently before the Supreme Court. Doesn’t mean they’ll lose this time, but it does give one some hope. It would of course be cheaper and easier and better for everyone if they would give up this fight and adopt rules that the state is already most of the way towards meeting anyway, but like most things in life that comes down to winning elections, and we know how that has gone around here.

Meanwhile, if you don’t like the idea of the EPA wielding power over Texas, you won’t like this, either.

Texas appears poised to enact environmental legislation that could trigger an unintended consequence: more federal oversight.

Fast-moving bills that would curb opportunities for public protest so state environmental permits can be issued more quickly have drawn the attention of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, long the state’s political punching bag.

The agency says it has concerns about the legislation, and may need to review whether it jeopardizes permitting authority the EPA has granted Texas.

Senate Bill 709 would scale back contested case hearings, a process that allows the public to challenge industrial applications for permits at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) — such as those allowing wastewater discharges or air pollution.

Similar versions of the bill pushed by Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, and Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, have sailed through the House and Senate, rankling consumer and environmental groups.

[…]

The EPA says it shares concerns about the bill, which would overhaul the hearings process in a variety of ways. It would give the agency sole discretion to determine who is an “affected person” who could ask for a hearing; set an 180-day time limit for the proceedings (with potential exceptions); narrow the issues the public could argue; and arguably shift the burden of proof from the company to the public.

“EPA is concerned that as currently drafted, [the legislation] could be read to impact the applicability of federal requirements to federal permitting programs being implemented by the TCEQ,” David Gray, director of external affairs for the EPA’s Dallas-based regional office, recently wrote to Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, who had asked for input.

Gray called the shift in the “burden of proof” as particularly problematic, adding that the EPA should review the legislation to ensure that it doesn’t “interfere with federal requirements or alter the basis for one or more program requirements.”

See here for the background. It’s like we can’t help ourselves sometimes, isn’t it?

And finally, on a related note:

Kansas and Texas will file amicus briefs supporting Florida in its lawsuit against the federal government over Medicaid expansion, Gov. Rick Scott announced Monday.

Scott filed suit last week, alleging that the federal government is “coercing” the state into accepting Medicaid expansion by witholding the extension of a different Medicaid program. The Low Income Pool brings $1.3 billion in federal funds to the state to pay hospitals for care for the poor and uninsured and is set to expire June 30.

“I am glad Kansas and Texas are joining our fight against the Obama Administration for attempting to coerce Florida into Obamacare expansion by ending an existing federal healthcare program and telling us to expand Medicaid instead. The US Supreme Court has already called this sort of coercion tactic illegal,” Scott said in a released statement.

In granting a one-year extension last year, federal officials stated they would not extend it again without significant changes. A recent letter from federal officials to the state clearly suggested the fate of LIP was tied to Medicaid expansion but officials with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services have also said Florida is free to expand Medicaid or not as it wishes.

See here for the background. Daily Kos has characterized the Florida lawsuit as being about refusing federal Obamacare dollars while demanding federal non-Obamacare dollars, which strikes me as apt. Easy to see why it was irresistible to Texas to join in. Ed Kilgore has more.

Tesla going nowhere

We have entered the period of the legislative calendar where bills that have not been voted out of committee or aren’t scheduled for a vote begin to get pronounced dead. Here’s the Tesla bill’s obituary.

A crusade waged by Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk to change Texas law to allow his company to sell electric cars directly to customers is on life support at the Legislature.

After getting crushed by state auto dealers at the Capitol two years ago, Musk all but declared war in the name of Tesla, assembling a deep bench of powerful lobbyists and spreading out a total of $150,000 in political contributions to dozens of lawmakers in recent months.

However, bills backed by Musk and his money-losing electric-auto firm have not just stalled in the Senate and House – where unfriendly committees have suffocated the proposals – but appear to be heading in reverse as key legislative deadlines approach.

The latest blow: the senator authoring a bill to allow Tesla to sell directly in up to 12 locations across Texas said recently that he’s abandoned plans to push the measure forward.

“We’re not looking at pursuing the bill at this time,” state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, said.

[…]

Hancock, the senator carrying the Tesla proposal, did not elaborate on why he was burying his proposal. But his sudden cold shoulder reflects the less than enthusiastic public response the bill received in the Senate, where it sits with no champion, no joint authors and no co-sponsors. Tesla never received a hearing, and won’t unless the House moves its version of the bill over, said Sen. Troy Fraser, who chairs the committee considering the legislation.

“Even the members in favor, which were not very many, do not want to have a hearing,” said Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, who polled the committee two weeks ago on whether to hold a Tesla hearing.

In the House, Tesla’s bill is actively being worked by an Austin Democrat, but also has been met with resistance. A panel of lawmakers gave the measure a lukewarm reception at a hearing last month in which a Tesla official said the company may have to resort to taking Texas to court to get what it wants.

The House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee left the bill pending, and the panel’s No. 2 says he doesn’t think it has enough support to move forward.

“It’s fair to say that Tesla is dead in committee for this session,” said state Rep. Roland Guitterez, a San Antonio Democrat who serves as the committee’s vice chair and opposes the bill. “If there was a willingness to move Tesla, I think we would have taken the vote already.”

See here, here, here, and here for the background. I’ve made the comparison to microbreweries often enough that even I’m tired of it, but keep two things in mind. One is that it took the craft brewers four sessions to get a bill passed; this is only the second session that Tesla has tried. And two, the brewers built a pretty good grassroots organization to bolster their cause. That’s easier for them to do since they have far more customers than Tesla does, but it worked where the spend-tons-of-money-on-lobbyists approach didn’t, or at least hasn’t so far. Draw your own conclusions. In the meantime, I’m sure Tesla will be back again in 2017.

Senate bill to kill high speed rail advances

Didn’t know there was one of these.

The Senate Transportation Committee voted 5-4 to pass out Senate Bill 1601, from state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, which would strip firms developing high-speed rail projects from eminent domain authority.

Texas Central High-Speed Railway is developing a privately financed bullet train to carry passengers between Houston and Dallas in less than 90 minutes, with a single stop in between near College Station. The company has said it hopes to have the train running by 2021 and has vowed to not take any public subsidies. While the project has drawn strong support in Houston and Dallas, officials in the largely rural communities along the proposed route have expressed opposition.

Kolkhorst said Wednesday that she didn’t want to see private landowners lose their land for a project that she believed is likely to fail.

“While I think in some countries it has worked, I don’t see a whole lot of high-speed rail across the United States,” Kolkhorst said. “I just don’t see it, and I’m not sure I want Texas to be the guinea pig on this.”

Four Republicans joined Kolkhorst in voting for the bill: Transportation Chairman Robert Nichols of Jacksonville, Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay, Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills and Bob Hall of Edgewood. Voting against the bill were two Houston Democrats, Rodney Ellis and Sylvia Garcia, and two North Texas Republicans, Don Huffines of Dallas and Van Taylor of Plano.

[…]

Texas Central Chairman and CEO Richard Lawless told the committee he felt his company was being unfairly singled out.

“All that we ask that this train be treated like any other private train in Texas,” Lawless said. “It does not seem fair to us that this train should be prohibited in Texas just because it goes faster than other trains.”

Those informational meetings sure look like a necessary idea. I noted a bill filed in the House that would have required each city and county along the route to approve the idea. Maybe that was overkill, as that bill has not been scheduled to be heard in committee as yet. What’s most interesting here is that the vote against it was bipartisan, with two Metroplex-area Senators not joining with their mostly rural colleagues (Kelly Hancock being the exception) on this. That suggests to me that this bill might have a hard time coming to the floor, or even getting a majority. If that’s the case, I’m okay with that. Hair Balls has more.

Local control deathwatch: Environment

Unsurprisingly, the Denton fracking ban has provoked a strong reaction.

As policy dilemmas go, the one triggered when Denton voters decided last fall to ban hydraulic fracturing in their city looked like a whopper: The oil and gas industry versus local control — two things Texas holds dear — in intractable opposition. There seemed little doubt lawmakers would weigh in upon their return to Austin.

But four months after the North Texas city’s historic vote, top state lawmakers don’t appear to be scratching their heads. Petroleum is winning hands down, and local control appears headed for a beating.

Several legislative proposals so far leave less wiggle room for Texas cities to regulate oil and gas production. 

“We need to restate that principle that the state has responsibility to regulate the oil and gas industry,” said state Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, who chairs the House Energy Resources Committee. “I don’t know where people might have believed that the state was not going to assert fully its rights to regulate that.”

Texas lawmakers this session have filed at least 11 bills that would discourage local governments from enacting or amending certain drilling rules. Meanwhile, those watching legislation on the issue say they haven’t noticed one proposal to bolster – or even support – local control on petroleum development.

“We didn’t expect these to be just completely one-sided,” said Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League. “Instead, they’re swinging for the fences, and it’s quite alarming.” 

The trend is part of a broader debate — touching on issues including plastic bag bans and sanctuary cities — that some Republicans have sought to reframe as a debate about the size of government.

Supporters of Denton’s fracking ban “accused me of violating my conservative principles, arguing that since a local government passed a measure, any attempt to overturn it would be using ‘big government’ to squash dissent,” state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, wrote in a recent op-ed in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “They have it backwards, because ‘big government’ is happening at the local level.”

One of King’s bills would require cities to get the attorney general’s blessing before enacting or repealing any ordinance by voter initiative or referendum, the tool Denton activists used to push that city’s fracking ban. Another would require cities that tighten drilling regulations to reimburse the state for any lost tax revenue.

Other bills have addressed compensation for mineral rights owners harmed by a local ordinance, while legislation from state Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, gets right to the point of the Denton debate: It would ban fracking bans.

Perhaps the most controversial proposals, however, are those most likely to pass. Identical bills from Darby and Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, chairman of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, would limit cities’ power to regulate the industry to “surface activity that is incident to an oil and gas operation, is commercially reasonable, does not effectively prohibit an oil and gas operation, and is not otherwise preempted by state or federal law.”

Texas law says the state intends its mineral resources to be “fully and effectively exploited,” but courts have said the power isn’t absolute. The Texas Railroad Commission oversees the state’s oil and gas industry, with authority to adopt “all necessary rules for governing and regulating persons and their operations.” Local governments have the right to impose reasonable health and safety restrictions, and the Legislature has granted most Texas cities the power to “regulate exploration and development of mineral interests.” 

See here for past coverage. I would have voted for the Denton ban, but I can understand the objections to it. Mineral rights are complex in Texas, and anyone who had such rights within Denton could reasonably complain that his or her property was taken away. It’s also generally better to have a uniform regulatory environment to facilitate business compliance. But that gets to the crux of the matter here, which is that the regulatory environment in Texas is a joke. The Railroad Commission is a complete lapdog for corporate interests. It’s precisely because activists in Denton felt they were being ignored and pushed aside that they sought out an alternate remedy. If we had a useful, functioning Railroad Commission, we would not have had this ballot referendum or interest in having such a referendum in other cities. This is not hard to understand, but the campaign coffers of people like Phil King and Konni Burton depend on them pretending to not understand it.

And speaking of the environment.

In another fight over local control this session, state Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth), one of the more powerful lawmakers in the House, is pushing a bill that would erode the ability of cities and counties to collect civil penalties from polluters. This morning, Geren described the latest version of his House Bill 1794 to the House Environmental Regulation Committee as a way to curb “lawsuit abuse” by capping the maximum penalties that can be assessed on environmental violators at $4.3 million and imposing a five-year statute of limitations on the filing of lawsuits.

The legislation appears to be a response to high-profile litigation between Harris County and three companies considered liable for the San Jacinto River waste pits, an EPA Superfund site that has been leaking dioxins into the San Jacinto River and Galveston Bay for decades.

While Geren jettisoned some of the most far-reaching parts of the original version of HB 1794—a requirement for local governments to prove that a company “knowingly or intentionally” violated the law, for example—local authorities and environmentalists said they were still opposed.

Tom “Smitty” Smith, the veteran head of Public Citizen’s Texas office, said cities and counties need the ability to force polluters to pay civil penalties because state enforcement of environmental laws is so weak.

“We think the [Texas Commission on Environmental Quality] is a toothless tiger,” he said. The agency doesn’t have the resources or “the guts to go after biggest polluters.”

[…]

County- or city-led lawsuits seeking penalties from water polluters are relatively rare, but Harris County, with its vast petrochemical facilities, 20 known Superfund sites and loose rules that allow homes next to industry, is probably the most litigious. In the last 19 years, the county has issued 18,000 violation notices to companies and filed 205 civil actions, said Cathy Sisk, a retired environmental attorney with Harris County. She said the county only resorted to the lawsuit because the three successor companies hadn’t done anything to clean up the site, even going so far as to defy EPA’s orders.

“We feel like in those cases we need a hammer,” she said.

Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle, a Republican, made a pitch for keeping local control. “Government is best when it’s closest to the people,” he said. Sometimes, state officials are “removed from the passion of the folks who actually live in the neighborhoods, where we work, where we breathe, where we play and live.”

HB 1794 was left pending. A companion bill in the Senate, SB 1509, by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) has yet to be assigned a committee.

Indeed, the TCEQ is as useless as the Railroad Commission and as deeply in the pocket of the people and businesses they are supposed to regulate. What else is one to do but take the avenue that is available? If you don’t want the Harris County Attorney filing so many lawsuits against polluters, then provide a regulatory agency that will, you know, actually regulate. That includes going after the bad actors and levying punishments as needed. Again, this is not hard to understand. It should not be this hard to do.

Voter ID trial testimony ends

The state of Texas put on its case in the voter ID trial.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Lawyers from the Texas attorney general’s office presented witnesses Wednesday in federal court defending the state voter ID law as necessary and attempting to rebuff claims that it is discriminatory.

The state’s case in the federal trial, now in its second week, relies in part on the written testimony, read in court, of Republican state legislators. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos heard testimony from state Sens. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, and Dan Patrick, R-Houston, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, who said that the voter ID law had the support of the vast majority of people across that state.

[…]

Also Wednesday, witnesses for the state and plaintiffs’ lawyers — representing the U.S. Justice Department, as well as several civil rights groups — sparred over the voter ID law and its effects.

During one exchange, Richard Dellheim, a Justice Department lawyer, tried to discredit an expert witness for the state.

Trey Hood, a University of Georgia political science professor, was called by the state to discuss his study that showed the voter ID law in Georgia resulted in suppressed voter turnout in 2008 among people of all races and ethnicities, compared with the comparable election in 2004 before the law was enacted.

Dellheim asked Hood if the study was valid and applicable in Texas. Hood said he thought so, though he later said he couldn’t empirically prove it was.

Dellheim then pointed to other courts’ opinions about Hood’s work, and noted his studies were called “wholly unreliable,” “suspect” and substantially less credible than other studies.

Oops. There were other embarrassing revelations as well.

Emails from a Department of Public Safety official raised questions Tuesday in federal court about the sincerity of the agency’s voter qualification efforts.

“Zero’s a good number,” Tony Rodriguez, a senior DPS manager wrote in a email presented as evidence in the ongoing voter ID trial. Rodriguez was responding to a subordinate’s report that no election identification certificates had been issued the day before at a DPS location.

Election Identification Certificates, or EICs, are a form of identification provided under the contested law that requires Texans to show certain photo identification before casting a ballot. The EICs are an alternative for citizens who are unable to – or chose not to – get other forms of qualifying photo identification.

The messages were discussed the same day the State of Texas began defending its voter ID law in a trial that has garnered national attention for its potentially wide-reaching implications. The law in question, known as Senate Bill 14, was passed by the Texas Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry in 2011.

Another email from Rodriguez refers to a citizen inquiring about getting an EIC only to change their mind and leave the DPS office as a “close call.” Earlier in that message, it reads that the agency was continuing its “clean sweep.”

“This is getting better by the day,” Rodriguez writes in another when a different report shows no EICs had been issued.

He said that was his way of expressing disappointment over the lack of certificates issued despite extensive man hours going into the program. It was sarcasm, he told a Department of Justice lawyer in court Tuesday.

She wasn’t convinced.

“‘This is getting better by the day’ is a pretty unusual way to express disappointment, yes?” DOJ attorney Anna Baldwin asked Rodriguez during his testimony.

A recent tally shows the state has issued 279 EICs despite having more than 350 locations or entities equipped to distribute the cards, according to court testimony.

That’s an attitude that comes from the top, I’d say. Not hard to understand why it might be pervasive among the folks on the ground as well. See also this Trib story about the lack of places at which to get an acceptable form of voter ID and the fuss that Democratic Senators are raising about it.

By the way, if you’re wondering why testimony from Republican legislators was read into the record from earlier depositions instead of being taken live, you’re not the only one who thought it was odd.

Before resting, the state declined to unseal testimony of other lawmakers and did not read transcripts from their depositions into the record.

Notably, the court did not hear from Speaker Joe Straus, who presided over the House when the voter ID law passed, and Rep. Patricia Harless, a Republican from Spring and author of the House version of the voter ID bill, both of whom were on the state’s list of witnesses.

Plaintiffs’ lawyer Gerry Hebert, who is representing U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, and the League of United Latin American Citizens, said he cannot remember — in his 41 years of practicing law — when a state or local government declined to call an elected official to testify in person at a trial, especially when the intent of the legislative body is at stake.

“It’s extraordinary,” he told the American-Statesman.

Herbert said he believed the absence of live testimony from lawmakers signaled that they cannot defend the law in court, Hebert said.

Attorney general spokeswoman Lauren Bean responded to the criticism by saying: “Unlike the plaintiffs, the state will try this case in the courtroom, not the media.”

I’m sure the judge will be duly impressed by the majesty of your retort, Lauren. Abbott has gone to great lengths to prevent any Republican legislator or legislative staff member from testifying. It’s more than fair to speculate as to why. I hope the judge notes this in her opinion.

As always, see the Brennan Center’s coverage – here are their writeups for Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday morning, and Wednesday afternoon. The state has rested its case as of Thursday, and closing arguments will be held on September 22.

One more interesting bit from Zachary Roth at MSNBC:

Defending the ID measure, lawyers for Texas sought to cast doubt on the credibility of some expert witnesses, but offered little that undermined the broad thrust of the challengers’ case. They said at the close of proceedings Monday that they planned to offer just two witnesses, with their presentation lasting only around a day and half.

The law’s opponents suggested privately that Texas’s laissez-faire approach shows the weakness of its defense. But the state may be relying on a basic reality: Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, the burden of proof is on the challengers to show that the ID law will stop Texas’s racial minorities from voting.

Texas’s voter ID law, passed in 2011, was struck down the following year by a federal court, which ruled that it violated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Under Section 5, Texas and other covered areas had to show that their election laws didn’t disproportionately affect racial minorities before they could go into effect. In 2013, the Supreme Court neutered Section 5 in Shelby County v. Holder, and hours later, Texas announced that its ID law was back in force.

It’s now being challenged under Section 2 of the VRA, which was unaffected by Shelby. But under Section 2, the onus is on the law’s challengers to show not just that it hits minorities hardest, but that it does so because of a history of racial discrimination. That’s a relatively high bar to meet—though it’s one that voting rights advocates have met lately, at least for now, in the Wisconsin and Ohio cases.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, an Obama appointee, did little to tip her hand. But lawyers for the plaintiffs said they took her obvious engagement and interest—she took frequent notes, and several times interjected to ask witnesses to clarify points—as a promising sign.

[…]

The challengers also continued to attack the main rationale Texas has offered for the ID law: that it’s needed to stop fraud. Lorraine Minnite, a political scientist at Rutgers University who has conducted perhaps the closest analysis of voter fraud claims, testified that voter impersonation fraud—the only kind of fraud that the ID might stop—is vanishingly rare.

Minnite said there have been just four such cases in Texas since 2000—and it’s not clear that any of them would have been prevented by the ID law.

At times, lawyers for Texas seemed disorganized or disengaged. Reed Clay sought to use a U.S. Congressional report to discredit Project Vote, a voter registration group with whom Minnite has been associated in the past, but was unable to find the relevant portion, and gave up.

Later, John B. Scott seemed to think better of a line of questioning about an expert witness’s past clients, and abruptly abandoned it, triggering laughter in the courtroom—and even a faint smile from Judge Gonzales Ramos.

The defense in the redistricting trial has been similar, in that the state hasn’t bothered to do much. This is what happens when the burden of proof is not on you. PDiddie and Texas Leftist have more.

No hiding behind privilege

Here’s your latest voter ID litigation update, from the Brad Blog:

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Just over a week ago, it was North Carolina legislators ordered by the court to cough up documentation relating to passage of new, draconian restrictions on voting rights in their state. Now, legislators in Texas are facing much the same thing, as that state’s extreme polling place Photo ID restrictions also face legal and Constitutional challenge.

By way of an eight-page Order [PDF]issued late last week, U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos has directed the State of Texas to serve upon the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) documents that relate to the question of whether “state legislators, contrary to their public pronouncements, acted with discriminatory intent in enacting SB 14,” the Lone Star State’s polling place Photo ID restriction law.

[…]

As the DoJ explained in a supplement [PDF] to its motion to compel the release of documentation relating to legislative deliberation before enactment of the law, Texas refused to turn over a wide array of relevant documents, including “numerous communications concerning SB 14 and prior photographic voter identification proposals amongst Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, Speaker Joe Straus, Senator Troy Fraser (Senate sponsor of SB 14), Representative Patricia Harless (House sponsor of SB 14), and their top aides.”

Texas Republicans asserted that they could conceal such evidence because of what they claim to be an “absolute” legislative privilege — this despite numerous cases in which courts have not only held otherwise, but have relied upon such things as emails between legislators as evidence of discriminatory intent, according to the DoJ filing.

Federal judges, in this case, and in the pending federal challenge to North Carolina’s massive election “reform” bill have now both rejected the effort by Republicans to hide documentary evidence of discriminatory intent behind a shield of “absolute” legislative privilege.

As occurred in the North Carolina case, Judge Gonzales recognized the existence of a “qualified” legislative privilege to protect such documents from being released. The question as to whether documents must be produced is arrived at by applying a five-part test: “(1) the relevance of the evidence sought to be protected; (2) the availability of other evidence; (3) the seriousness of the litigation and the issues involved; (4) the role of the government in the litigation; and (5) the possibility of future timidity by government employees who will be forced to recognize that their secrets are violable.”

That five-part test weighs the need for confidentiality amongst legislators and their aides against the need to eliminate “racial discrimination in voting — the bedrock of this country’s democratic system of government,” as described by Ramos in her ruling.

Click over for further details. Texas Redistricting was also on this. There’s also an update to the scheduling order for the trial, which remains on September 2.

Shark fins

I’m not sure why the practice of shark finning wasn’t illegal already.

We’re the dangerous ones

Texas lawmakers are considering a ban on the sale and possession of shark fins, a move that reflects a growing trend to protect the imperiled creatures at the top of the ocean food chain.

Conservationists say the global trade for the age-old delicacy has helped drive rampant illegal shark finning. The practice involves slicing off valued fins from living sharks and dumping their still-writhing bodies back into the ocean to die.

They estimate that tens of millions of sharks are killed each year to support the shark fin market. By also banning the trade, “we are reducing the number of sharks killed specifically for their fins,” said Katie Jarl, Texas state director for the Humane Society of the United States, which is lobbying for the ban in Texas and elsewhere.

Eight states already have outlawed the trade, but Texas would be the first along the Gulf Coast to prohibit it. The Senate could sign off on House Bill 852 by Rep. Eddie Lucio III, a Brownsville Democrat, as soon as Monday.

While the legislation has bipartisan support, some fishing operators who catch sharks legally oppose the ban. The fin, which is used to make an expensive Chinese soup, is the most valuable part of the shark, said Buddy Guindon, who owns Katie’s Seafood Market in Galveston and operates commercial fishing boats in the Gulf.

“All it will do is drive fishermen out of Texas,” perhaps to Louisiana, which has less stringent catch limits and no ban on sales, Guindon said. “It’s not going to stop illegal shark finning.”

Texas and the United States already have some of the world’s toughest restrictions on shark fishing. The state limits fishermen to one shark per day, while federal law requires that sharks caught legally in all U.S. waters must be landed with fins attached.

But the regulations are difficult to enforce because the fins are easy to conceal.

Here’s HB852. Unfortunately, it appears to be dead in the water after running into some resistance on the Senate floor, mostly from frequent anti-environmentalist Troy Fraser. It’s not like the wholesale slaughter of sharks is some kind of major issue with global implications or anything. That does argue for federal action, since it almost surely is the case that banning it in Texas would simply shift the practice to Louisiana, but generally speaking state action is a great catalyst for federal action, and we just missed a chance to make something happen. Sorry about that, sharks.

Division over the payday loan bill

Quite a heated little fight in the Senate yesterday.

An ugly scene erupted in the Texas Senate today, with Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas) suggesting that some of his Republican colleagues were “shills” for the payday loan industry and worrying that the GOP would be seen as “the party that is backed and bankrolled by payday lenders.”

After intense negotiations this week, Carona told lawmakers he had struck a deal to pass legislation to reform payday and auto-title lending in Texas. Most of the consumer groups, the cities, Senate Democrats and even the payday loan industry were on board with the “hard-fought compromise,” he said.

“There have been great concessions on both sides,” Carona said. “We can leave this chamber at the end of May and honestly say we made a significant incremental step forward on protecting consumers.”

However, as Carona moved toward a suspension of the rule to bring the bill up for debate, which requires two-thirds of the Senate, he complained that payday-loan lobbyists were calling senators on the Senate floor and asking them to change their votes. He even hinted that two GOP senators were acting as agents for the industry.

“If we don’t do it this time, you won’t be able to regulate this industry two years from now,” he said. “This industry will be so much wealthier, so much more politically powerful that you won’t be able to say no and you won’t be able to draw the line. I know the lobbyists are just in a frenzy right now to try to stir up some action on the floor and get one or two of my colleagues who seem to be working the floor to change their vote.”

Sen. Carona wound up pulling the bill down. The Trib adds some details.

Carona, who said the bill had been “negotiated literally through the night,” brought with him to the floor six amendments that were intended to address the concerns of some consumer advocates who said the bill didn’t go far enough in limiting the abilities of short-term lenders.

Ultimately, the bill was pulled before debate on the amendments began, but Carona said they mostly contained ways to strengthen consumer protections, including limiting the types of loans that short-term lenders could offer, mandating that lenders accept partial payments, and limiting the maximum duration of multiple-payment loans — a major sticking point for consumer advocates.

“There are only two or three amendments that the industry really finds objectionable,” he said, “and in that case, all we’re asking the chamber to do is do what’s right for consumers.”

Early in the debate, state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said many senators’ support for the measure would depend on the inclusion of those six amendments in the final bill.

“I think that there will be an effort to stop 16 people from voting for any conference committee report that strips those out,” he said, referring to the version of the bill that could emerge from a future House vote.

But some senators, who had previously expressed their intent to vote for the bill that emerged from committee, balked at the proposed changes. In an argument about process that turned personal, critics of the bill took issue with the way Carona brought his amendments to the floor.

Leading the criticism was state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, who charged that Carona hadn’t given the chamber enough time to review the proposed changes. While calling payday lending reform a “difficult issue,” he asked Carona if he had sent the amendments around 24 hours in advance. Carona’s reply was sharp.

“No, sir,” he said. “And, frankly, I haven’t seen you do that with your bills.”

[…]

Fraser was joined in his criticism by Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who also argued that the legislative process should be slowed down to give senators time to consider prospective amendments, adding that he had concerns about Houston’s ability to regulate payday lending under the bill.

“What’s the rush?” Whitmire asked Carona.

Because “the industry has hired damn near every lobbyist in town to kill this bill,” Carona replied.

When Carona replied that he had been in constant contact with the city of Houston to determine its position on the bill, Whitmire erupted, telling Carona that he would represent his own constituents. He again criticized Corona for rushing the process.

“When you were negotiating this most recent agreement, I was chairing [Senate] Criminal Justice for four hours,” Whitmire said. “I think this has gotten totally out of control.”

The bill in question is SB 1247. Before this kerfuffle, the main divisions had been among consumer advocates.

Some progressive groups, including the Center for Public Policy Priorities and Texas Impact, have thrown their support behind the bill, arguing that it’s better than the status quo.

“For us, doing nothing is not an option this time around,” said Don Baylor, senior policy analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities. He points to estimates that limiting the number of times borrowers can “roll over” loans would save consumers at least $132 million.

“You get to a point where you ask yourself the question, Is there any more money [for consumers] left on the table? The folks that have decided to support it have decided there isn’t any more money on the table.”

Bee Moorhead, director of interfaith group Texas Impact, said that it’s important that legislators show the increasingly aggressive and powerful industry who’s boss.

“The thing that’s hard is that first step,” Moorhead said, “saying the state gets to decide under what terms you do business.”

Opposing the bill, however, are most Senate Democrats, the Texas Catholic Conference, Baptist organizations, Texas Appleseed and AARP.

They say that Carona’s approach falls short of meaningful reform and sanctions harmful new loan products.

“Our opposition is that this bill doesn’t do what it purports to do,” said Ann Baddour, with Austin-based group Texas Appleseed.

The pre-emption of local ordinances is the sticking point for many, myself included. It should be noted that there is a decent argument for proceeding anyway, as articulated in the Chron.

The bill has split the community of nonprofits that lobby legislation affecting the poor. Favoring it are the Center for Public Policy Priorities, Goodwill Industries and Texas Impact, whose leaders believe it provides a pragmatic system of statewide regulation.

While it pre-empts the stronger city ordinances, they believe lenders simply are directing borrowers to suburban locations outside the reach of city enforcement.

The industry has launched legal challenges to those ordinances that probably will be resolved by the conservative Texas Supreme Court, said Scott McCown, executive director of the public policy center. “Do we really think that if the ordinances are challenged, the Texas Supreme Court is going to say they are valid and enforceable?” he asked.

McCown also said most cities do not have the “economic wherewithal” to enforce the ordinances. While he would like the bill to be stronger, McCown said, “our assessment is that this was the best we could do.”

[…]

Carona’s bill would limit the number of times lenders could “roll over” a loan and charge new fees. That provision would save Texas consumers at least $132 million a year, according to an analysis by the Texas Consumer Credit Commission.

[Rob] Norcross said [the payday lending group Consumer Service Alliance of Texas] agreed to it in response to the plethora of city ordinances and the burden that dealing with so many different laws creates for business. “If anybody thinks anybody (in the industry) is happy, they are wrong,” he said. “This is a high price to pay.”

I’m a half-a-loaf guy and I get where McCown and Moorhead are coming from. I’m still reluctant to support this thing, though perhaps I’d feel better once I knew what the amendments that never got to be debated are about. The Observer indicated that Carona may bring the bill back on Monday, though the Trib suggested it could be longer than that. I don’t know what to think at this point, other than to marvel once again at how sleazy the payday lending industry is. Trail Blazers has more.

Protecting polluters

Ridiculous.

Ship Channel circa 1973

It’s never been easy fighting powerful polluters in Texas. A bill approved by a Senate committee today would make it even harder. With a big push from the Texas Chemical Council and the Texas Association of Business, the Senate Natural Resources Committee voted 6-3 today for legislation “streamlining” (read: weakening) the process that communities and environmental groups can use to challenge permits to pollute. (Democrats Rodney Ellis and Carlos Uresti as well as Republican Robert Duncan were the ‘no’ votes.)

“We are very disappointed by the committee’s vote today,” said Environment Texas Director Luke Metzger. “The deck is already stacked against residents when a powerful polluter applies for a permit to discharge chemicals in to our air, water and land.”

Senate Bill 957 by Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay) would put limits on contested case hearings, mini-trials in which each administrative law judges hear testimony and evidence from each side. Environmental groups already complain that the process is flawed: The judges can only offer recommendations to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. That agency, run by corporate-friendly Rick Perry appointees, often ignores or downplays the judge’s proposals.

However, SB 957 would weaken it even further. Fraser’s proposal would shift the burden of proof from the company seeking the permit—often some of the most lucrative and powerful corporations in the world—to the protestant, often a hastily-formed grassroots group or an environmental organization. The bill would also strictly limit how long the contested case hearing could last; limit who could participate; narrow the scope of the hearing; and eliminate discovery.

Here’s SB957. It’s not the only polluter-friendly bill out there.

Some county governments have found that when it comes to suing corporations over polluted property, hiring a private law firm on a contingency fee basis is the way to go.

But against the backdrop of a multi-billion dollar dioxin case in Harris County, there’s an effort to outlaw those arrangements in pollution lawsuits. The House Committee on Environmental Regulation has scheduled a hearing today on a bill that would ban counties from using private firms, HB 3119.

The bill has the support of the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute that compiled a report on what it calls the “dubious practice of employing private lawyers on a contingency basis.”

“The arrangement creates a variety of perverse incentives. A county faces no risk in bringing a suit and the outside, contingency-based counsel has no incentive to settle the suit,” said Brent Connett, communications director for the group.

The group argues that instead, contingency fee deals encourage private firms to enrich themselves at the expense of adequately funding the cleanup of toxic sites.

Harris County, which was the focus of the conservative group’s report, says contingency fee arranagements are vital to its efforts to litigate pollution cases.

“We don’t have money to go out and hire lawyers. You’re talking about, at a minimum, hundreds of thousands of dollars that we would have to spend up front just to go to court. With the contingency fee, we don’t have to do that. We only pay if we win,” said Terrence O’Rourke, special assistant to the Office of the Harris County Attorney.

[…]

[Harris County] points out that the big corporations fighting the suits often use very experienced, highly-paid attorneys.

“They’re spending millions on their lawyers and Harris County can’t afford that. We’ve got contingent fee lawyers,” says O’Rourke, the county’s special assistant.

The point of taking cases on contingency is that it only pays to take cases you think can win. Otherwise, it’s a lot of hours down the drain for nothing. One could argue that it’s the attorneys for the polluters that have no real incentive to settle, since they get paid by the hour. But maybe as a compromise, we could set up a public defender system for the businesses that find themselves plagued by these suits, to represent them free of charge. Think the polluters would go for that? Yeah, me neither.

Here’s the Chron on these two bills:

“It surprises me a little bit because there is no history of us settling cases in opposition to the attorney general or against the wishes of the attorney general,” said Rock Owens, who heads the environmental division in the Harris County Attorney’s office, which historically has filed the most civil environmental lawsuits in the state.

Owens said the legislation would diminish an authority local governments have had for decades to punish environmental offenders, and also make for an uneven playing field as governments cannot afford to pay private attorneys on an hourly basis like the companies they sue.

While the county has been filing environmental cases for a long time, it only recently began recruiting outside counsel. Six cases have been relegated to private firms.

[…]

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said the county has not taken an official position on hiring outside lawyers on a contingency fee basis, but that all counties “ought to be able to make those decisions on their own.”

Once again I note the irony of people who rant and rage about the federal government telling Texas what it can and can’t do but who are lining up to tell various local governments, often in localities far from their own home districts (Rep. Cindy Burkett, author of HB 3119, is from the suburbs of Dallas), what they can and can’t do. The good news is that SB957 likely won’t get past the Senate’s two-thirds rule, while HB3119 hasn’t yet been voted on in committee. If we’re lucky, it won’t have enough time to make it through, or it too will die from insufficient Senate support. But until they both do die, they’re menaces to be watched.

Meet SWIFT

SWIFT is the State Water Infrastructure Fund for Texas, which would be created by the big water bills of the session, HB4 and SB4. Basically, this is a plan to create a water infrastructure bank, to finance various water projects that the state needs at low interest, with some seed money from the Rainy Day Fund to get started. So far the proposals have been met with approval by the various stakeholders.

A parade of Texas mayors on Tuesday urged state lawmakers to invest $2 billion in reservoirs, pipelines and other water-supply projects.

Houston’s Annise Parker, San Antonio’s Julian Castro and other mayors said the passage of House Bill 4, which would create a fund to help pay for water-related infrastructure, is necessary to satisfy the demands of residents and businesses.

“We are not going to wait, but it sure would be nice to have the state with us,” said Parker, who said Houston is moving forward on water projects. “If the rest of the state does not make the same efforts we have, we may lose our competitive advantage.”

[…]

State Rep. Allan Ritter, a Nederland Republican who filed the bill, said a $2 billion capitalization could finance the state’s entire long-range water plan, which identifies 562 projects at a cost of $53 billion over the next half-century.

The initial $2 billion would come from the state’s rainy day fund

The projects would be selected by the Texas Water Development Board but would be locally owned and controlled, Ritter emphasized.

“They need help in what I call ‘getting over the hump,'” he said of the financing challenge water providers face with projects that can cost hundreds of millions of dollars and take years to complete.

There’s a lot of money at stake, and any time there’s a lot of money at stake, there are many competing interests for it.

“We can’t afford to pit one [group] against another,” said Laura Huffman, of the Nature Conservancy. “A growing state is going to want to eat, drink and turn the lights on.”

Much will depend on whether key lawmakers—Rep. Allan Ritter (R-Nederland) and Fraser in particular—can craft a fair structure for distributing what will likely be billions of dollars over the coming decades.

“I think it’s like most of the issues that come before this body,” said state Rep. Doug Miller (R-New Braunfels). “Follow the money.” Austin American-Statesman reporter Asher Price did just that. He found that one of the organizations behind the push for a state water bank, H2O4Texas, is funded by “industries that stand to benefit from massive projects to move water around the state.”

That’s not terribly surprising but suggests that legislators will have to be careful to guard against allowing the water bank to turn into a slush fund.

The key word is: prioritization. The state water plans lists 562 distinct water projects, a wish list drafted by hundreds of “stakeholders” organized into 16 regional water planning groups. Those projects are the essence of the plan. But how do you pick which ones to fund? What form does the funding take—grants, loans, etc? Which projects get funded first? Do conservation-focused projects receive a leg up or is the money going to flow into new reservoirs?

Ritter’s legislation, House Bill 4, has been praised by environmentalists for requiring that at least 20 percent of the funds go toward water conservation.

Sen. Fraser’s legislation, Senate Bill 4, would create a fund outside of the state treasury but would put the Texas Water Development Board in charge of prioritizing the projects. But Fraser repeatedly complained today that the board is ill-equipped to take on such a huge task. Fraser said he’d had trouble getting a simple list of water-supply projects that the board considers top priorities.

Under Senate Bill 4, the Water Development Board would be run by three full-time commissioners instead of six part-timers. It would also set up a nine-member advisory committee to recommend water projects to the full board. Other senators, however, piled on Fraser’s proposal, leading him to stress that it was a work in progress and likely to be negotiated until the bitter end.

This AP report goes into more detail about conservation and highlights a potential stumbling block for the legislation.

Luke Metzger, director of the advocacy group Environment Texas, told the Senate Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday that it was critical that the state emphasizes conservation and ensures enough water is left behind for the eco-system. He pointed out that large-scale water projects, such as new reservoirs, can have a negative impact on the environment.

“In 1968, the State Water Plan predicted that by the year 2020 you would need 32 million acre-feet of water. Of course it’s almost 2020 now, and we’re only using 18 million acre-feet,” he said. “It’s critical that in planning for the next 50 years, we are flexible and we’re careful not to burden Texans in the future with huge debts for projects we might not need.”

He pointed out that San Antonio grew by more than 65 percent while still using the same amount of water and said other cities could follow that model. He said plans are for the state to meet 34 percent of future water needs through conservation and called on the committee to set aside that much of the new water fund for projects that save water.

Just fixing leaky water mains could save enough water for 2.7 million Texans, Metzger said.

[…]

So far no group has come out against creating what would be called the State Water Infrastructure Fund for Texas, or SWIFT. But the measure may require Republican lawmakers to vote in favor of lifting the state’s constitutional spending limit, which many conservatives do not want on their record.

Have I mentioned before that artificial spending and revenue caps are stupid and destructive? This is another illustration of why. The issue here is whether appropriating money from the Rainy Day Fund would count towards the revenue cap, which mandates that spending can only grow so much from one biennium to the next. Use of the Rainy Day Fund wasn’t originally intended to be included in such calculations, but the fanatics who rule over Republican primaries don’t care for such subtleties, so the issue remains a potential roadblock for doing the things the Lege has said it wants to do.

Abbott gives on legislative privilege

About time.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

In an effort to move to trial more quickly, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has quietly dropped his opposition to the Department of Justice’s request to take depositions from state lawmakers in the voter identification case.

In March, Abbott asked a federal court in Washington to shield 12 state lawmakers from giving depositions in the state’s voter identification case against the Justice Department. Citing legislative privilege, Abbott’s office said that the department’s requests to depose lawmakers and subpoena records amounted to “an unwarranted federal intrusion into the operations of the Texas Legislature.”

But now, Abbott has decided to stop trying to prevent the depositions, said Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for Abbott.

“In order to move the case forward without delay, the State agreed to allow depositions to proceed,” Strickland said in a statement.

The Justice Department has asked for depositions from the author of the voter ID measure, Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay; its House sponsor, Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring; various legislative staffers; and other lawmakers.

[…]

Luis Figueroa, a staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is intervening in the case, confirmed that depositions have begun and that lawyers for the civil rights group were on hand for some of them.

Figueroa said the state began to cooperate and stop fighting the depositions after the D.C. court admonished it for slowing the voter ID case and jeopardizing the July 9 trial date.

Abbott has been braying loudly about how it’s everybody else’s fault that this process has dragged on for so long despite the bench-slapping his office got and the fact that his expansive view of what constitutes privileged information was what had been bogging things down this time. The fact that he has finally conceded that these legislators will have to answer some questions doesn’t mean they’ll answer them all – they are still claiming legislative privilege, and those disputes will be settled by the court on a case by case basis. That will likely take even more time, which again is fine by me. The longer this takes, the better. Texas Redistricting has more.

Voter ID lawsuit action this week

Tomorrow, the DC Court will hear “oral argument on the State of Texas’ request to block the depositions of 12 Republican legislators who were involved with the voter ID bill, including State Sen. Dan Patrick and state representatives Debbie Riddle and Leo Berman as well as Speaker Joe Straus”.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The only voter ID anyone should need

The motion also sought to bar discovery of written communications between members of the Legislature, communications between legislators and their staffs, and communications between legislators and their constituents, regarding the bill.

The motion said that efforts by the Justice Department and intervenors to obtain the documents and depositions were barred by a “long recognized” legislative privilege and “represent[ed] an unwarranted federal intrusion into the operations of the Texas Legislature” that “threaten[ed] to push section 5’s already-questionable incursions on state prerogatives past the constitutional breaking point.”

The state said that recognizing legislature privilege in cases like this would “not interfere with the judicial preclearance process because it does not prevent litigants from establishing that a state law was enacted with a racially discriminatory purpose.” Instead, the state argued that a “racially discriminatory purpose can be determined from publicly available documents, the relevant history surrounding the enactment, and common sense.”

You can see the motion here. Burka was not impressed.

Abbott increasingly acts like a politician instead of a lawyer. His move this week to ask a Washington, D.C. court to allow the legislators involved in the battle over the Voter ID to avoid giving deposition testimony is really putting a thumb on the scales of justice. This is a lawsuit. Why shouldn’t DOJ, as one of the parties, have the right to depose witnesses? What are the federal rules of civil procedure for, if not this? Abbott would scream bloody murder if the shoe were on the other foot and he was attempting to depose witnesses.

According to the Statesman, The U.S. Department of Justice, which is facing off against Abbott’s office in a case in which the Attorney General seeks to have Texas’ voter ID law go into effect for the upcoming elections, has asked to depose or question under oath the Senate author of the voter ID bill, Troy Fraser; the House sponsor, Patricia Harless; and other lawmakers. What is Abbott’s justification for keeping key legislators from being deposed? State’s rights, of course: “an unwarranted intrusion into the operations of the Texas Legislature.” Let me see if I understand this. Requiring legislators to give testimony about the passage of a bill is an unwarranted intrusion into the operations of the Legislature. What does the Legislature do other than pass legislation? What else is “the operations of the Legislature?”

A couple of Burka’s commenters made the points that such internal communications cause Abbott and the state a fair amount of heartburn during the redistricting preclearance trial, and that some of the legislators Abbott is trying to protect, including SB14 sponsor Sen. Troy Fraser, weren’t exactly articulate and knowledgeable about the legislation they were pushing at the time it was being debated. The Justice Department filed its response on Thursday.

The department argues however, that: “Discovery seeking to determine whether the state can meet its burden that the change was not motivated by discriminatory purpose is an appropriate inquiry. Therefore, the discovery at issue here is relevant. Texas bears the burden of establishing that SB 14 has neither a discriminatory effect nor a discriminatory purpose.”

It adds that there has never been any state legislative “privilege identified in the federal rules of evidence and the D.C. Circuit has never recognized one.”

Indeed, the DOJ quoted Judge Rosemary Collyer from the redistricting preclearance trial on that point in its response. The numerous intervenors in the case also filed a response. The state has till today to respond to the response, then there will be the status conference tomorrow. The trial itself is scheduled for July 9, but the constitutional issues the state wants to bring up won’t be addressed until and unless preclearance is denied, so it’s unlikely they can be heard in time for a final ruling this year. A busy and eventful year just keeps getting more so.

DOJ defers again on voter ID

In addition to the interim maps, we got some more good news yesterday.

Texas provided “incomplete” information that does not enable federal officials to determine whether their proposed voter ID law would be discriminatory, the Justice Department said in a letter Wednesday.

Essentially, the letter from DOJ Civil Rights Division Voting Section Chief T. Christian Herren Jr. restarts the clock on when the Department has to make a decision about whether the law signed by Gov. Rick Perry complies with the Voting Rights Act. They have 60 days from when Texas sends them complete information.

As the Trib notes, this may mean that the law will not be allowed to take effect on January 1, as the DOJ now has another 60 days to make up its mind. Perhaps if the state ever sends the DOJ the information it has requested, the DOJ might be able to issue a ruling.

The Secretary of State filed its original request for preclearance in July, but the department determined in September that it needed more information, specifically the racial breakdown and counties of residence of the estimated 605,500 registered voters who do not have a state-issued license or ID, and how many of them have Spanish surnames. It requested the same information for registered voters who do have valid IDs.

On October 5 the state responded by saying it did not have the requested information because it does not collect race data on voter registration applications. So instead, it submitted a list of all the Hispanic surnames in Texas, as determined by the U.S. Census Bureau. It also offered to run that list against the list of registered voters to determine how many have Hispanic names, and provided a spreadsheet showing how many registered voters resided in each county as of Sept. 16. The spreadsheet shows how many voters did not provide an ID when they registered to vote, how many voters did not provide an ID but whose records matched an ID record in the Department of Public Safety database — meaning they have been issued an ID — and those who did not provide an ID and could not be matched with a DPS record.

Though the state subsequently offered late last month to use DPS data to compile a breakdown, Wednesday’s letter implies that it has yet to submit the information.

“Although you did not indicate a date when this information would be available, you noted that the state will provide the results of its analysis as expeditiously as possible,” the letter states.

The SOS can take all the time it wants, as far as I’m concerned. The fifth of never works for me as a deadline. Of course, as many people have noted, if the SOS does ever get around to providing the data the DOJ wants, it may very well have the effect of proving the discriminatory effect that opponents of voter ID have been predicting all along. Given that, delaying and hoping for divine intervention or a sudden acceptance of their no-answer answer seems like a decent strategy.

It’s amusing that the DOJ slapped down the SOS again the same week that Republican State Rep. Patricia Harless, who had said that the DOJ’s initial request for more data was “reasonable” and that the SOS should be able to respond quickly, published a lame pro-voter ID op-ed that essentially boiled down to “it won’t suppress as many votes as the critics say” and “it polls well”. I mean, Free Ice Cream Day would probably poll well, too, but that doesn’t mean it would be good public policy. Notably, Harless snuck in a bit about how voter ID would protect us from “fraud”, but nowhere in her piece did she document any actual examples of fraud that voter ID would protect us from. We all know the reason for that, of course, but then Harless can’t exactly come out and admit that the actual purpose of voter ID is to make it harder for some people to vote, as that might sound scary. But a discriminatory law by any other name would still discriminate.

News flash: Voter ID will mean fewer people can vote

I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

As many as a quarter of voters in some small Texas counties might not be able to cast ballots if the federal government allows the new state voter ID law to go into effect.

And in some places, the potential for that decrease in the number of voters could affect the outcome of elections.

The impact of the law was gleaned from several pages of data that the Texas secretary of state’s office provided to the U.S. Department of Justice, which is reviewing the law to determine whether it illegally hurts minority voters.

The data show that in 27 of Texas’ 254 counties, at least 10 percent of the registered voters might be unable to cast ballots, if Senate Bill 14 by Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, takes effect.

New flash #2: This is a feature, not a bug. If the law gets preclearance, it will do exactly what the Republicans who have been relentlessly pushing it intend for it to do. Not that they’re honest enough to admit it, of course.

Late last month, the Justice Department postponed its decision on pre-clearance. It asked the state for more information about voters. In particular, the department wanted more information on more than 600,000 registered voters whose names don’t appear in Texas databases of people with valid driver’s licenses or state-issued ID cards.

Rich Parsons, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, urged caution in interpreting the numbers. He said at least some of the 600,000 people in question might have what they need to vote.

“It is very possible they have one of the permissible forms of ID as required by Senate Bill 14,” Parsons said. “But we don’t know.”

The data show a potentially serious situation in Presidio County in Southwest Texas.

There, as many as 25.9 of registered voters might not have the required photo ID to cast ballots. If the new law were to take effect, as many as 1,313 out of 5,066 registered voters might be unable to vote.

State Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring , who sponsored the voter ID legislation in the House, discounted the possibility that her measure would diminish some people’s votes — even in Presidio County. “I don’t think this, in any way, is going to disenfranchise anyone,” she said.

Harless said most of the people not found in DPS files would be able to vote. Maybe their licenses and voter ID cards are different because one has a maiden name and the other has a married name.

Rep. Harless, meet Dorothy Cooper. If you believe that her experience in Tennessee will not happen to people here, you are at best tragically naive. It’s clear that the Secretary of State cannot answer the questions that the DOJ has raised about this law and its obviously retrogressive effects on voting rights. The only acceptable solution is to deny it preclearance.

Death from above, Senate version

The Senate has approved the “pork chopper” bill, with some amendments.

State Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, said there are more than 2 million feral hogs across the state. They used to be mostly a problem for rural landowners, but now urban dwellers are dealing with the scourge. “We’re having these hogs come in and tear up backyards and endanger the lives of young children,” he said.

It’s already legal in Texas to shoot feral hogs and coyotes from helicopters. But it’s an expensive endeavor. Fraser said his bill would allow landowners to bring a revenue stream by selling seats on the helicopters to hunters who want to come help them exterminate the hogs on their property.

Fraser was the Senate sponsor of HB716, which passed by a 29-2 vote. It now goes back to the House, where it had passed in April for concurring or a conference committee. Feral hogs should consider themselves duly on notice.

UPDATE: And it’s on its way to the Governor.

Can we take a step forward without also taking one back?

From last week’s Texas Tribune on the subject of plastic bag recycling.

On Tuesday the Senate’s Committee on Natural Resources heard testimony on a bill sponsored by the committee’s chairman, state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, that would require large retailers like Wal-Mart to have well-labeled bag recycling canisters in their stores. This afternoon the House’s Environmental Regulations committee heard testimony on a similar bill, sponsored by Rep. Kelly Hancock, R-Fort Worth.

“It encourages more eco-friendly behaviors,” said Hancock, who said that plastic bags cannot be recycled at curbside. It was a “free market-based solution,” he emphasized, that would result in more bags being recycled and made into items like benches or flower pots.

Environmental groups, however, oppose the bills because a clause at the end of both would “preempt” local rules that are in conflict with the bill. They fear this would prevent cities from banning the bags outright. Already, Brownsville has instituted a plastic bag ban, which took effect in January, and two other locations — Fort Stockton and South Padre Island — have approved bag bans that will come into effect in the coming months.

“We shouldn’t tie the hands of local communities trying to reduce solid waste,” said Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, in an email. Metzger did not testify but opposes the bill.

Fraser said that the bill aimed to bring a “transition” period for plastic bags. “We’ve got plastic bags in the system and we’re moving toward trying to eliminate them,” he said.

But Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, noted that there was “nothing in this bill that eliminates plastic bags in the waste stream,” and he feared that cities wanting to ban bags would be preempted from doing so under the bill’s language. Fraser said the three cities with bag bans would not be preempted, but it appeared that other cities that moved to ban bags in the future would be preempted.

Large retail groups like Wal-Mart and the Texas Restaurant Association back the bill, and several bag manufacturers also testified in favor.

I’ve noted the Brownsville and South Padre bag-banning efforts; Fort Stockton was news to me. Fraser’s bill is SB908; it was approved by the committee and is on the intent calendar for tomorrow. Hancock’s bill is HB1913; it’s still in committee. While there are times when it makes sense for the state to establish a single standard for something and in doing so override what cities have done, this isn’t one of those times. I’m confident that this provision is in there to get support from those large business interests. I’d prefer the Lege take no action at this time than take a step to prevent other cities from following Brownsville or South Padre or Fort Stockton’s example. Let’s let there be some experimentation to see what works best, and let’s leave some flexibility in place for the future rather than impose a one-size-fits-all solution. We should have bag recycling dropoffs at these locations, but we should be allowed to have more than that if we want it as well.

Voter ID 2011

The debate is going on in the Senate today over voter ID – it will be taken up by the House later, after committee hearings that are sure to be a freak show. You can follow the ins and outs at places like the Chron’s Texas Politics blog and the Statesman’s Postcards from the Lege; be sure to read this Seinfeldian classic so you can fully appreciate the deep unseriousness of the whole shebang. I do want to highlight one bit from this Chron preview story, helpfully flagged by TexasChick in the comments:

“This year’s Senate Bill 14, however, allows a person to vote only with a Texas driver’s license or state identification card, a valid military ID or a federal document such as a passport that proves citizenship and contains a photograph. The bill also includes $2 million for voter education and requires the Texas Department of Public Safety to issue a free photo ID card to any citizen who wants it for voting.”

Now I firmly believe that if the state is going to put conditions on citizens’ ability to exercise their rights, the very least they can do is to try to accommodate the citizens who need help meeting those conditions. As such, I’m not going to criticize the $2 million that’s to be allocated (from federal HAVA funds, mind you) to accomplish that, other than to note that it’s not a whole lot of money though it is greater than zero. I just want to point out that what this shows is that if the people in charge really want to do something, they will find a way to pay for it. So, two million bucks to help disenfranchise marginally fewer people (some people, anyway) than strictly necessary, we can do that. Public education, on the other hand, that’s gonna get cut somewhere between 9.3 and 9.8 billion dollars. Priorities, you know. Abby Rapoport, who notes that this version of the voter ID bill is more stringent than any currently out there, and as such may not survive scrutiny from the Justice Department (we can only hope), has more.

UPDATE: How could I possibly forget about the devious nuns? Gotta watch those nuns, they sure are tricky.

Dirty deals, done dirt cheap

So I missed this DMN story from the weekend about Rick Perry’s excellent fortune in the real estate market.

Three years after Gov. Rick Perry’s biggest real estate score, questions persist about whether the governor benefited from favoritism, backroom dealing and influence-buying.

The Dallas Morning News found evidence that Perry’s investment was enhanced by a series of professional courtesies and personal favors from friends, campaign donors and the head of a Texas family with a rich history of political power-brokering.

Together they may have enriched Perry by almost $500,000, according to an independent real estate appraisal commissioned by The News.

BOR breaks it down into small, easy pieces. Short version: It’s good to be the king. It’s even better when your business partner in the deal forgets to disclose it, as required by law.

State Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, didn’t list his September 2000 acquisition of the waterfront lot on Lake Lyndon B. Johnson in the disclosure form he filed for that year. He also didn’t note a year later the fact that Perry purchased the property from him in 2001, the documents show.

State law requires elected officials such as Fraser, a friend and political ally of the governor, to describe “any and all” interests they or their families have in real property. They also must disclose any proceeds they received when those interests are sold. Failure to file the forms on time can result in civil penalties levied by the commission, though Fraser will not face enforcement because the commission doesn’t have the authority to levy fines for a 10-year-old violation.

Fraser, a wealthy investor, listed numerous stock holdings and other financial information on the 52-page filing but omitted the land deal. He was traveling out of the state on Wednesday and was unavailable for comment, said his chief of staff, Janice McCoy, who declined to discuss the issue.

Andy Wilson, a research associate for campaign finance issues at the watchdog group Public Citizen Texas, said the senator’s failure to correctly file the forms is no small matter. “The public’s right to know on this is absolute,” Wilson said. “Considering that, for most Texans, their homes are the most important thing that they own, I’m surprised that someone would forget to put this on a financial disclosure — especially waterfront property on Horseshoe Bay.”

I dunno, you’d think that buying and selling a house is the sort of thing you might remember doing. Unless of course there was something about it that you didn’t want people to know about.

Turns out that’s not the only questionable dealing Perry has done. The good folks at the Back to Basics PAC have uncovered a few more, which they detail at their latest website, RicksDirtyDeals.com. From their press release:

Today, Back to Basics PAC launched a new website highlighting a few of the suspicious and murky land deals that have put hundreds of thousands of dollars in Rick Perry’s pockets.

Rick Perry said, “The idea that you’re supposed to go get an ethics report when you buy a piece of property might be a bit cumbersome for elected officials.”

We disagree, Governor. Back to Basics PAC believes Texans have a right to know about Perry’s dirty deals, and we will continue doing everything we can to make sure all Texas voters hear about his unethical and corrupt behavior.

Visitors can watch Perry play “Let’s Make a Deal” at www.RicksDirtyDeals.com.

Here’s the source for that “cumbersome” quote. Hey, if it’s too much trouble to report that kind of thing, there’s always life in the private sector, where you can use your cronies to get as rich as you want without anyone caring too much about it.

By the way, that Ricks Dirty Deals site pays homage to that classic game show “Let’s Make A Deal”. For those of you who are too young to remember the 1970s, here’s a short clip to give you a feel for it:

Is it just me or does anyone else think that Monte Hall’s hair is a primordial ancestor of Rick Perry’s? Among the many charms of this show was the silly costumes the studio audience members wore to get Hall’s attention – I’ve been picturing Troy Fraser and Mike Toomey in fright wigs and clown shoes as a result of all this – and vintage 70’s muscle cars, of the kind they don’t make any more. Those were the days, my friends.

Finally, as an aficionado of 70s-era game shows, I recognize the theme music they’re using on www.RicksDirtyDeals.com – not from “Let’s Make A Deal”; clearly the Back to Basics folks are too young for this – but for the life of me I can’t place it, and it’s driving me crazy. A little help here, please? Thanks.

Solar on the special agenda?

I have somewhat mixed feelings about this.

State Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, said Tuesday that he’s put in a request for several measures, including a bill to improve accountability at member-owned utilities, to be part of an upcoming special legislative session.

Fraser said he understands the governor’s office is hoping for a quick “get-in, get-out” special session of about three days to push through sunset bills to keep several key state agencies operating.

But the special session could go beyond that plan.

[…]

[M]embers are submitting requests in the case the call is expanded, especially in light of the chubbing at the end of the session that killed several measures.

Among those, the co-op bill and a solar energy initiative bill could be on the list, he said.

“Yes, I have made the request,” Fraser said Tuesday.

On the one hand, I’d love to see these measures, which had passed without major opposition – SB545, the solar bill, passed the Senate on a 25-5 vote, and was passed out of the House committee on a 7-1 vote – get another chance. As Citizen Sarah notes, this may be our last chance to keep Texas from losing out on big opportunities in the solar market to other states. On the other hand, the farther away we get from the original, announced concept of a “get in, get out” session, the more likely that crap like voter ID will be resurrected. I don’t know how to evaluate that possibility right now, but I’m wary of it.

So what happens now?

Hell if I know.

In a last-minute legislative meltdown, the Texas Senate adjourned Monday night without passing key measures to avert a shutdown of the Texas Department of Transportation and other state agencies, raising the specter of a special session this summer.

The sticking point was $2 billion in transportation bond funding that the House failed to pass before gaveling out the 2009 regular session a few hours before the Senate.

Angry Republican senators said it was preferable to quit and let Gov. Rick Perry call the Legislature back into a 30-day special session to continue the agencies and pass the bonds. Several Democrats argued against the move, saying it was dangerous to begin the shutdown process of major agencies.

Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, blamed the House for the 11th-hour unraveling of the session — saying the chamber acted irresponsibly by adjourning sine die — the Latin phrase used to describe the final day of the session.

“The House had the ability to act,” he said. “They went sine die after destroying the bulk of four and a half months of work that passed through this body.”

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, said it was foolish to allow tension between the two chambers to derail the session. Both the transportation agency and the Texas Department of Insurance would face a shutdown by September 2010 unless Perry calls the Legislature back into session to reauthorize their existence.

“I don’t think the people of the state of Texas care if the Legislature is doing a ping-pong across the rotunda of blame, of ‘no you did it, no you did it’ “ she said. “I’m afraid that we are shirking our responsibility.”

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst made it clear senators wanted the transportation bonds passed.

“We’re all upset about it,” Dewhurst said. “That came as a little bit of a surprise.”

The only opinion that matters at this point is Rick Perry’s, and as of this posting he hasn’t said anything publicly yet. If he calls the Lege back, he can get them to take another crack at passing voter ID. But he can’t raise money while the Lege is in session, which one presumes might matter to him, and it’s not clear what he might want the Lege to achieve with some of this stuff, most notably the TDI. Like I say, hell if I know. BOR has more.

UPDATE: My bad, he can raise money during a special. But so far, at least, he’s not sounding like he wants to call one.

Said Perry spokesperson Allison Castle: “Tonight’s action in the Senate will not impact the business of state agencies. These agencies will continue to conduct business as usual and serve the people of Texas. This has been a successful legislative session and there is still important business to take care of during the next 20 days of evaluating legislation that has passed this session.”

I hope he stays true to that.

House approves windstorm insurance bill

The one known threat of a special session has just been dramatically reduced.

House members today approved the conference committee report shoring up a fund supporting hail and windstorm insurance coverage for coastal property-owners.

Assuming the Senate similarly OK’s the legislation, it’ll go to Gov. Rick Perry, whose threat to call a summer special session if lawmakers didn’t address the windstorm topic helped kick-start negotiations about 10 days ago.

Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, said a moment ago he expects Senate approval tonight. Referring to previous efforts to amend the windstorm law, Fraser said: “This represents six years of work, so we’re excited.”

Details are in the Postcards entry. According to TrailBlazers, the vote was 147-0 in favor, so one hopes that this will carry forward and get signed. Doesn’t mean there can’t or won’t be a special session, but it does mean the one issue that Governor Perry explicitly said could trigger one will be resolved. That’s all one can hope for at this time.

Extending the deadline

The deadline for finishing up conference committee work was supposed to be last night at midnight. There was too much work to do for that, so the deadline got pushed back for 24 hours.

That means the Senate on Monday likely will be approving dozens of conference committee reports — the final versions of bills — where they were supposed to just do minor corrections to a few bills.

Senate Administration Committee Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, told senators a few minutes ago that 131 House bills loaded up with Senate amendments are still in conference — meaning they are still in negotiation with House members.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Williams said.

The vote to waive the rule and extend tonight’s deadline was 31-0. A four-fifths vote of at least 25 senators was required.

Among other things, that means that there’s more time for a deal on windstorm insurance, which is now the must-pass bill of the session, as a failure to do so will mean a special session. It also means that there may be some hope for the previously-declared dead solar bill.

At the stroke of midnight last night, Sen. Troy Fraser’s SB 545, the “chosen” solar incentives bill for the legislative session, seemed to have drawn its last breath when Rep. Sylvester Turner killed its vehicle.

Fraser’s solar bill would have provided incentives for solar installation, with a view to increasing solar energy generation in Texas. Since the bill didn’t make it through the House chubfest last week, it was tacked on to HB 1243, which would require utilities to purchase extra electricity from on-site renewable generation.

Well: Would have required. Turner killed the bill last night, seemingly out of hurt feelings over other bills that didn’t make it through the parliamentary process over the past day.

“All day long we have been sending bill after bill back on germaneness,” Turner said, objecting to the fact that HB 1243 had absorbed three loosely related measures.

He also objected to the electricity rate increases that would have been passed onto consumers to fund the solar incentives. Still, at 20 cents per month for residential customers, the increases were quite small.

[…]

According to Environment Texas advocate Luke Metzger, establishing a solar incentives program is critical in Texas right now, since the solar manufacturing base isn’t permanently settled anywhere. If Texans buy more solar systems, it could persuade manufacturer’s to set up shop here. Without the incentives, Metzger says, “we’ll miss the solar boat for decades to come, potentially.”

But all hope is not lost. Last week’s chubfest in the House has put legislators through an exercise in it ain’t over ’til it’s over. And it ain’t over for solar incentives, which may find a viable vehicle in Fraser’s own SB 546, the session’s “chosen” energy efficiency bill, which is in conference committee today.

If SB 546 can accommodate solar incentives legislation, Metzger does not think there will be a problem with germaneness.

However, he points out, “the other danger still is timing. This all has to happen very quickly in order to avoid Turner or anyone else trying to chub it to death.”

Keep hope alive. Maybe the extended deadlines will be sufficient to allow this to pass. Stranger things, almost always for the worse, have happened.

Other items to keep an eye on are SCR72, the joint resolution to clean up after the Railroad Commission, and HB498, the innocence commission study bill. A lot of good criminal jurisprudence reform bills were chubbing victims so salvaging that one would be nice.

The state of solar power

The Chron has a feature story on efforts to ramp up solar power in Texas.

[S]olar advocates say the right legislation could do the wind industry’s success one better.

One approach, incentives to install solar panels on homes and businesses, could be the catalyst for a homegrown industry of system installers and panel manufacturers, they say. Those manufacturers also could benefit from close proximity to an existing link in the solar supply chain — the single largest manufacturer of high quality polysilicon used in semiconductor chips and solar panels, which is located in Pasadena on the Houston Ship Channel.

“Really you want to develop a sustainable industry that does not require incentives,” said Steve Chadima, vice president of internal affairs for SunTech Power, a Chinese solar panel manufacturer that is eyeing Texas as a possible plant site. “You don’t want to live on the dole forever. But you need to jump-start the industry for it to develop along all the sectors.”

As legislative deadlines approached late Tuesday, advocates were closely watching a bill that would give out $500 million in rebates over the next five years to businesses and homeowners who install solar panels. Money for the rebates would be raised through monthly fees on electric bills—about 20 cents for residential customers, $2 for small businesses and $20 for industries.

The law would also require retail electric companies to buy a customer’s surplus electricity at a fair market price or credit the customer’s bill and provide incentives for commercial-scale solar installations.

The bill’s fate was uncertain, and its supporters in the legislature and the solar industry fear that if it doesn’t pass the Legislature this year, other states that offer incentives will get a leg up on Texas in developing new solar business.

The bill in question is SB545, which was sadly one of the victims of the weekend chub-a-rama. However, as Citizen Sarah notes, there’s still hope.

This afternoon, the Senate has HB 1243 on their intent calendar. HB 1243 is a “net metering” bill which would ensure that owners of solar installations, small wind turbines, or biogas generators get paid a fair price for the excess power they produce. As HB 1243 is a solar-related bill, it can be deemed germane, or related, to solar SB 545, which “died” last night […].

Which means that SB 545 can (maybe, possibly) be amended to HB 1243. Tentative huzzah!

It gets better. HB 1243 is co-authored by Senator Troy Fraser — the same fellow who sponsored SB 545. As both of these bills are Fraser’s babies, the chances of SB 545 living on as an amendment are looking pretty good.

We should know soon enough. Both HB1243 (99-36 in the House) and SB545 (25-5 in the Senate) passed easily enough, so one hopes this would not be controversial. I’ve got my fingers crossed. I’ve got my fingers crossed. NewsWatch: Energy has more.

UPDATE: Success!

The text of Senate Bill 921 was attached to House Bill 1243, a measure relating to net metering for electric service customers that was earlier passed the House.

Also attached was the text of Senate Bill 545, a bill earlier passed by the Senate that is designed to provide incentives for solar projects.

I don’t know how the vote went, but it doesn’t really matter. It passed, and as long as the House concurs, it’s off to the Governor for an autograph. Nicely done, Senate.

Windstorm insurance bill passes House committee

I’ve mentioned the prospect of a special session several times lately. One of the issues that could be the cause of a special session is windstorm insurance, as the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association took it on the chin last year thanks to Hurricane Ike. Governor Perry even came to the floor of the House yesterday to threaten that he’d call a special session for June 2, the day after sine die, if a bill didn’t get passed. Apparently, that was enough to make something happen.

Windstorm insurance reform legislation suddenly got voted out of a House committee Wednesday after Gov. Rick Perry threatened to call a special session on June 2 if the bill does not pass.

Both inland and coastal lawmakers expressed concerns about the bill they voted on, but said they needed to get something to a House/Senate conference committee if there is any hope of reaching a compromise to avoid a special session.

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, complained that he was being forced to vote on a 51-page bill that he had not read. He said the House has had the entire session to work on a compromise and now was being presented a “false choice” of voting on an unseen bill or having it die in the Legislature’s closing crunch.

“The House is on fire! Let’s vote it out,” Martinez Fischer said.

“I don’t care what you do. If you want to vote it down, vote it down,” replied House Insurance Committee Chairman John Smithee, R-Amarillo.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, joined Martinez Fischer in voting against the bill, also complaining that she had not had a chance to read it.

“I’m not trying to slow the process down, but don’t I have a right to read this stuff?” Thompson asked.

Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, urged his fellow committee members to vote for the bill just to keep it moving and not let it die. He said there are many things in it that still bother him.

“We have been told we will be called into a special session on June 2 if we do not get this matter resolved,” Hunter said. “Get the process moving so we do not kill the issue.”

The bill in question is SB14, which was approved by the Senate on April 30, but which has been revised since then. One hopes everyone will have the time to read the bill before it gets voted on again, not that this has ever been a requirement for getting stuff passed; if it were, we might never have heard the words “Trans Texas Corridor”. One also hopes that this bill will be given priority over clearly less-important things like voter ID. Finally, one hopes that this is the only thing that’s on Governor Perry’s list of reasons for which to call a special session, and not just the cudgel of the day. I don’t want the Lege to come back this summer any more than they do.

Windstorm insurance changes

If you live near the coast, get ready to pay more for windstorm insurance.

Coastal residents insured by the state windstorm fund could see increases of 5 percent per year for the next three years under a bill passed Thursday by the Senate.

The vote to send the bill to the House was 27-4. One senator who voted against it said the rate increases are still too much for residents rebuilding from Hurricane Ike.

“I was very concerned about the impact the bill would have on the coastal communities. They’ve been hit hard and many are struggling to recover,” said Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston.

But the bill author, Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, said the Legislature has to do something to build up the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, which was depleted by Hurricanes Ike and Dolly last year.

“Currently, TWIA has $68 billion in coverage written along the entire Texas coast and there is zero money in the reserve fund. This exposure is rapidly expanding as more residents and businesses seek windstorm coverage from TWIA,” Fraser said.

TWIA provides coverage to homeowners and businesses in 14 coastal counties and a part of Harris County who can’t find it elsewhere.

I can appreciate Sen. Huffman’s concern, but I can also imagine how her vote might have gone had this not directly affected her constituents. I mean, it’s ultimately the taxpayers who are subsidizing the TWIA. Shouldn’t those who choose to live along the coast pay a bigger share of that cost? All a matter of perspective, I suppose. Burkablog and Postcards have more.

Go Solar Texas

You won’t see this ad in Houston, but it is running in other parts of the state in support of solar energy and legislation to promote solar energy in Texas.

In honor of Earth Day tomorrow, ACT Texas gives us an update on three renewable-energy bills:

SB 545 – Senator Fraser: relating to the creation of a distributed solar generation incentive program.

This bill creates a five-year incentive program, administered by electric utilities, for commercial and residential customers to increase the amount of distributed solar generation installed. The incentive program would be funded by a nominal monthly fee on residential, commercial and industrial customers. The program would generate an estimated $50 million per year and lead to approximately 70 MWs of on-site renewables by 2015.

HB278 – Representative Anchia: relating to energy demand and incentives for distributed renewable generation.

This bill creates incentive programs, administered by electric utilities, for commercial customers, residential customers, and homebuilders to build on-site solar and geothermal generation. It also sets the goal of an additional 2,000 MWs of generating capacity from distributed renewable energy sources to be installed by the state by 2020, and at least 1,000 MWs by 2015.

SB 541 – Senator Watson: relating to incentives for Texas renewable energy jobs and manufacturing.

Seeks to create renewable energy manufacturing jobs in Texas by giving extra credit for electricity produced by equipment that is made in Texas. The bill increases the goal for renewable energy and seeks to expand on Texas’ success with wind power, by setting a 3,000 megawatt goal for non-wind renewable generation in Texas

SB545 passed out of the Senate yesterday, so that’s good news. The biggest enemy of all these bills at this time is the clock, or more appropriately the calendar. Maybe with the budget passed we’ll see some more action. As always, it’s never a bad idea or a bad time to contact your Rep or Senator’s office in support of a bill you favor.

Voter ID begins in the House today

Two days’ worth of hearings on the single most important issue facing Texas today. Here’s the schedule for today – unclear when it will start, probably sometime after lunch. Invited testimony only today, meaning all the usual charlatans and hoaxsters who claim in-person fraud is rampant will have yet another chance to spew their falsehoods. Public testimony is tomorrow. After that, unless something unexpected happens, I presume SB362, possibly amended and possibly not, and perhaps some other, similar bills will be sent to the House floor for an eventual vote. Stay tuned.

Senate wraps up voter ID

In the end, after more debate and a bunch of Democratic amendments that were rejected by the same 19-12 vote, SB362 itself was passed on second reading in the Senate on a 19-12 party line vote. There were two amendments that were tacked on.

The amendment, introduced by Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, and adopted unanimously, seems to remove the requirement that a voter must show their voter registration cards. Under SB 362 as amended, if photo identification is not presented, a voter will still be able to vote by providing a combination of two other documents, such as a utility bill and a library card. There is confusion around whether voter registration cards would retain any relevance if this passes. This point will likely be clarified prior to the Senate’s final vote tomorrow.

A second amendment authorizes the secretary of state to use any funds available, including federal funds, to educate voters on the new requirements. The amendment drew criticism from Democrats for seeming to betray the falsehood of the bill’s fiscal note, which says there will be no fiscal impact to the state. The Senate Finance Committee has already put a rider into the appropriations bill dedicating $2 million for this purpose should SB 362 pass.

That first amendment almost makes you wonder what the point of all this was. I suppose we’ll learn that today. If not, that $2 million, which must have been found in the couch cushions somewhere, will presumably help to teach us.

Lord only knows when the House will get to this, given that the House has gotten to very little so far. Some Dems such as Rep. Rafael Anchia have been saying that SB362 will not make it through the House. I don’t feel quite that confident, but it wouldn’t surprise me if some watered-down version of this, perhaps the Chuck Hopson compromise bill, gets sent back to the upper chamber. Given that there’s already talk of a special session because of concerns that the budget won’t get passed on time and/or will get vetoed by Governor Perry as part of his continued grandstanding tour over stimulus money, I don’t think we can count on running out the clock. I expect something to pass, and then it’ll be up to the feds to decide whether or not it sticks.

No voter ID today

The Senate was supposed to finish doing its dirty work on voter ID today, but a clerical error has put things off for another day. Including all previously scheduled committee meetings, because nothing else can get done till the single most important issue facing Texas today is disposed of. Well, if nothing else that helped keep my Twitter traffic to a manageable level today, no small thing with all the SxSW tweeting going on. Tune in tomorrow, yadda yadda yadda. BOR and EoW have some related reading to tide you over till then.