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Houston will have a bond on the ballot

First I’d heard of this, but it should be pretty routine.

Houston will ask voters in November to approve a $478 million bond program to buy fire and police vehicles, renovate or replace city facilities and give the city’s animal shelter a new home.

City Council voted 16-1 Wednesday to approve an election for Nov. 8, Houston’s first bond referendum since 2017. District G Councilmember Mary Nan Huffman was the lone no vote.

If approved by voters, the city would sell the bonds to investors and use the proceeds on infrastructure. It would pay back the money, plus interest, with debt service over a longer term. The proposed debt package does not include an increase in property taxes.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said the strategy in formulating the plan was to be “very pragmatic” and avoid creating a “wish list” of spending items. A massive increase in debt service would put a drag on the city’s operating budget, he said. Houston has paid an average of $340 million over the last four years to pay down past public improvement bonds.

To that end, the package primarily would be used to fund $194 million in already-planned projects in the city’s capital budget that have no current funding source. They are listed in the plan as being paid for by a “future bond election.”

The proposal also would hold $156 million to address the city’s backlog of deferred maintenance and $60 million to help cover higher inflation costs. Also included are $45 million for a new animal care building, $13 million for new parks facilities, and a $10 million earmark for improvements to Agnes Moffitt Park in Timber Oaks. District A Councilmember Amy Peck won council approval on an amendment to tack that project onto the proposal during the vote Wednesday.

[…]

In the broader bond package, more than half — $277 million — would go to public safety, $50 million to parks, $47 million to BARC, $29 million in general government improvements, $26 million for libraries and $6 million for Solid Waste Management.

Among the projects already in the works: $87.5 million for police and fire vehicles and equipment, the $13.7 million replacement of Fire Station 40 on Old Spanish Trail, $9.2 million in other fire station renovations, $8.8 million for the renovation of five health and multi-service centers, and $2.8 million in upgrades to City Hall.

All of that spending will be dependent on voters’ approval in November.

There will also be a Harris County bond referendum on the ballot as well. If past form holds, both will be split into multiple items, each one specific to a purpose. In 2017, two years after the last Harris County bond referendum, all five Houston items passed with 72 to 77 percent of the vote. I will be surprised if there’s any serious opposition to this.

New bail bond rule survives again

On to the appeals.

A judge rejected a second attempt by a bail bonding business to put an end to a Harris County rule requiring defendants accused of violent offenses to pay a minimum 10 percent fee to secure their release from jail, officials said Monday.

55th District Court Judge Latosha Payne ruled Aug. 9 against a temporary injunction stemmed from civil litigation lodged in April against the Harris County Bail Bond Board that attempted to prevent the premium policy from taking effect. A judge blocked the initial attempt as well.

All About Bail Bonds owner and plaintiff Sunya Claiborne argued in the lawsuit that the policy jeopardizes her business — calling the minimum fee requirement “classic price fixing and a per se antitrust violation.” The lawyer for the plaintiff, Kevin Pennell, said he plans this week to appeal the judge’s order.

Without the minimum fee, Claiborne planned to “offer competitive pricing of less than 10% of the face amount of the bond to consumers who desire to purchase a bail bond for themselves, or their loved ones charged with a designated offense and qualify for reduced payment terms,” according to court documents.

The Harris County Attorney’s Office — whose attorneys were unaware of the judge’s ruling until the order was uploaded Monday to the Harris County District Clerk’s Office — defended the Bail Bond Board against the lawsuit. The policy was prompted by a Commissioners Court resolution urging the board members to adopt rules regulating the minimum fee that a bondsman must collect to secure a defendant’s release on violent charges.

“People accused of violent crimes should not get any discounts while they await trial,” Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, who proposed the fee minimum to county commissioners, said in a statement. “This affects no one accused of the most minor, nonviolent offenses who would be stuck in jail because they aren’t able to pay.”

See here and here for some background. The original hearing was in the 269th Civil Court, and the second hearing was to have been on May 6. I don’t know why the change of court and I don’t know if the second hearing was delayed or if it just took that long for a ruling, but here we are. I thought the “price fixing” argument was weak and as such I’m not surprised at this outcome. I don’t see the appeals being successful, but maybe there’s some technical point of law on which they can get a rehearing. Given the speed of the appellate process, expect it to be a long time before the next update.

If your advocacy includes convincing children to carry their rapist’s baby to term, your advocacy is bad

Towards the end of this overall infuriating story about “crisis pregnancy centers” in Texas, we come to a quote that stunned me so hard I had to step away from the computer for a few minutes.

If they can get an “abortion-minded” woman to have a conversation, Pinson feels confident that the center’s staff can change her mind. In their counseling sessions, Pinson says, they “pour into girls,” persuading them that, no matter the obstacles in their lives, they can become successful mothers.

Pinson welcomes even the most devastating cases.

“I’ve seen a lot of 13-year-olds do phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be a negative thing.”

She closely followed the case of the 10-year-old rape victim who was denied an abortion in Ohio last month. If that girl came into her center, Pinson would suggest she consider adoption, she said, adding that abortion would not fix the girl’s problems.

“That life is still a life and, even at 10, she knows a life is inside her.”

The level of disregard for the lives of these children utterly took my breath away. Let’s be clear that every one of these children has been raped, most likely by someone close to them – family member, friend, teacher, coach, clergyman, neighbor. Let’s also be clear that the health risks of carrying a pregnancy to term for young girls is significantly higher than it is for adult women, partly because these girls are smaller and less developed than adult women. Because, you know, they’re children. Let’s be clear that the trauma and adverse mental health effects on these children is something all of us who have not had any personal experience with is far greater than we think. To sweep all of that aside because your “values” tell you that an embryo is of greater value than that child and its interests must be put above those of that child, I struggle to form the words in response. I just know that I would never want to let you near any child I have ever known.

This is a long and detailed story about a phenomenon that has plagued us for a long time and is now going to get worse, with more and greater adverse health effects brought to more women and girls. You should read it, though I warn you it will make you very angry. Use that anger, and make more people like you angry in the same way, because this is what we’re fighting.

Texa blog roundup for the week of August 15

The Texas Progressive Alliance weekly roundup is not classified as Top Secret and thus can be safely taken home with you.

(more…)

All of Gillespie County’s elections staff resigns

Who could blame them?

Citing threats and even stalking, all three employees at the Gillespie County elections office have resigned from their positions, leaving the office empty with less than three months before the primary election in November.

The Fredericksburg Standard-Radio Post first reported the wave of resignations last Wednesday, after staff say they received numerous threats and in some cases, even stalking. Now former Gillespie County Elections Administrator Anissa Herrera told the Standard that after the 2020 election she was threatened, stalked and called out on social media.

“The year 2020 was when I got the death threats,” Herrera told the Post. “It was enough that I reached out to our county attorney, and it was suggested that I forward it to FPD (Fredericksburg Police Department) and the sheriff’s office.”

[…]

Josh Blank, director of research at the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, says that with the threats election workers are facing — coupled with an already difficult job — it is more surprising that additional election workers have not yet resigned.

“You’re asking people to do more work under greater scrutiny, and now, threats of physical violence. So it’s not so surprising that this sort of, you know, election workers has decided to resign.” Blank said.

Gillespie County voter Victoria McClurd says that she was both shocked and not shocked that resignations occurred.

“If they’ve been receiving death threats, then I would too, because we’ve gotten to a point where the threats are not benign,” McClurd said. “[In] the last election I was going to be a poll person, and they were talking to us about what to do if someone comes in and is violent. That’s not what happens in a civilized society.”

Sam Taylor, the assistant secretary of state for communications, said the state is already working with Gillespie County officials to help them move forward and prepare for the upcoming election.

“We have already committed to sending trainers from our office to ensure that the County will have the tools and resources they need to conduct a successful election in November,” he said in an email statement.

As we know, it’s not just in Gillespie County that election workers are being terrorized. These folks were just the highest profile to date to say screw it, my life and my family’s life aren’t worth this shit. Note that Gillespie County voted 79% for The Former Guy in 2020. At the risk of trying to impute rational thought on these idiots, what exactly do you think was going on there?

Obviously, the bulk of the blame here lies with our felonious ex-president, but it certainly doesn’t stop there. Every statewide elected Republican that has ever dabbled with election conspiracies, unsubstantiated claims about voter “fraud”, casting suspicion on mail ballots or ballots cast in Democratic counties, they all share the blame for this. State Rep. Kyle Biederman, who “represents” Gillespie County, is one of the worst offenders out there. If they would like for their own elections to be handled in a smooth and competent manner, now would be a good time to say something to push back on the paranoia and rage that they’ve been stoking. Greg Abbott could ask the Texas Rangers to step in and investigate the threats made against Anissa Herrera and her colleagues. Ken Paxton could personally vow to prosecute whoever gets arrested to the fullest extent of the law. Dan Patrick could promise to pass a law that would offer more protection to election workers and provide harsher penalties for making these kinds of threats. That won’t undo their damage but it ought to make the jackals doing the threatening think twice about it. It would also be the right thing to do, and might help turn the temperature down a bit.

This is a five-alarm fire. For once, the arsonists have a chance to try to atone for their sins. What are they going to do about it?

UPDATE: From the Express News, as carried by the Chron:

Gillespie County Judge Mark Stroeher told the Standard-Radio Post that the entire staff resigned for similar reasons, leaving the county in a dire situation for the upcoming November election.

He said that the county has “some people who are pretty fanatical and radical about things” and drove out Herrera and the staff. Stroeher said that the job became more difficult than it probably should be “because of some individuals who are continuing to question how they are doing things,” according to the Standard-Radio Post.

“Elections are getting so nasty and it’s getting dangerous,” Stroeher said to the Standard-Radio Post.

Stroeher told the outlet that he will be contacting the Texas secretary of state for guidance about holding the November elections.

“It’s unfortunate because we have candidates that need to be elected, and we have voters who want their voices to be heard by the ballots,” Stroeher said. “I don’t know how we’re going to hold an election when everybody in the election department has resigned.”

And what have you been doing to combat that fanaticism and radicalism you mention, Judge Stroeher? This is your responsibility, too.

Vote No and take the credit anyway

It’s a tale as old as time.

Not Ted Cruz

Republicans in Texas are proud to stand and announce local grants from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The problem is they all voted against it. All of them.

For the second time in two weeks, Houston scored a big grant from the Department of Transportation, and for the second time in two weeks, Republicans were quick to show up for the ribbon cutting. The back-to-back $21 million announcements, first for the Telephone Road Main Street Redevelopment project and then for 20 new electric buses, were celebrated by local Houston officials, even Republicans who opposed the projects.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia, both of whom proudly supported the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act back in 2021, talked about how these funds make needed investment in often overlooked communities. Both programs will serve low to moderate income communities by providing cleaner and more efficient public transportation as well as safer streets.

The announcement also attracted representatives of the “C” team – Cornyn, Cruz, and Crenshaw – who lined up to show support. Staffers from all stood with METRO Chairman Sanjay Ramabhadran and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner to make Monday’s announcement.

Earlier this year, Texas Republican Representative Ronny Jackson claimed an “instrumental” role in securing funding for a water purification project in his district despite vocal opposition to the infrastructure bill, which is funding the project. Jackson voted against the measure and mocked it as “bloated,” but apparently not too bloated for his pet project.

Newly-elected Congresswoman Mayra Flores of Brownsville also opposed the infrastructure bill, but is now touting the federal largesse pouring into South Texas without revealing that she vehemently opposed the enabling legislation as “wasteful” and smearing Republicans who voted for the bill “the RINO Bunch.”

She joins a long list of Republicans who have recently “voted no and taken the dough,” in refusing to support investments in their communities to please their far-right base, but then being the first in line to take credit.

See here for the background. The “C” team (great name, btw) also voted against the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Sometimes, all you can really do is laugh at the sheer absurdity of it all. But if you’re going to laugh, it’s best to point fingers at the objects of your laughter as well.

Don’t give these fools an inch, New Mexico

Defeat them at every turn.

For New Mexico state Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, the arrival of a new abortion clinic in Las Cruces, the city she represents, is surreal. Over the years, there hasn’t been consistent access to the procedure as providers came and went.

But now — weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court revoked the constitutional right to an abortion — the clinic at the heart of that decision has relocated from Mississippi to the city just across the Texas border of El Paso. It’s one of several clinics to announce its move to New Mexico in recent weeks.

It has quickly become Texas’ only neighboring state to protect abortion access and one of the few “haven” states in the southwest. People there have been preparing for a deluge of abortion-seekers — and those who want to stop the state from offering the procedure at all.

“Now people are coming from across the country — at great stress, great exhaustion, great trauma — to arrive in our community, where likely they will be met by a handful of angry protesters, so that they can access health care,” Lara Cadena told The Texas Tribune.

Close behind those traveling to Las Cruces for care are activists like prominent anti-abortion advocate Mark Lee Dickson, who helped Texas towns ban abortion before Roe. v Wade was overturned. The ordinances he championed served as the model for Texas legislation that severely limited when an abortion could be performed, which the Supreme Court declined to block.

Now, Dickson hopes to eliminate some of the next closest options as he tries to expand city abortion bans to conservative-leaning New Mexico towns.

“Southeast New Mexico feels a lot like Texas,” Dickson told the Tribune.

Aware of the looming threat, local leaders and abortion clinics opening in New Mexico remain confident that protections in the state constitution will prevent Dickson from gaining ground.

“We don’t need any outsiders coming here to try to mess with our autonomy and our capacity to shape our own families,” Lara Cadena said. “So when I hear all these activists coming over, I say, ‘Bring it.’”

Dickson isn’t oblivious to the legal and political barriers he’ll face in a state that leans Democratic.

“No matter what state we’re looking at, there’s a way to do this. And sometimes it’s a matter of challenging laws. I mean, that’s how we’ve gotten where we’re at today,” he said.

[…]

In addition to the opening of Pink House West — the new iteration of the now-closed Jackson Women’s Health Organization — New Mexico communities along the Texas border likely will see another health care clinic providing abortions with the arrival of Whole Woman’s Health. The provider recently closed the doors to its four clinics in Texas. Whole Woman’s Health plans to open somewhere just across the border to serve Texans traveling for abortions.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, the organization’s president and CEO, told The Texas Tribune that the continued efforts to curtail abortion rights have provided her team with lots of experience on how to best combat anti-abortion regulations.

And she has some advice for New Mexicans who can anticipate the full force of Texas’ anti-abortion advocates: Do “not concede any small thing.”

She pointed to Texas’ previous six-week ban and 24-hour waiting period that Republican legislators once presented as compromises.

“It’s a strategy to make the next restriction they decide to introduce sound reasonable,” Hagstrom Miller said.

See here for some background. The rest of the story goes into some history and the lay of the law in New Mexico, which offers some firm protections for pregnant people, including a prohibition on cities passing their own anti-abortion laws. I’m nobody’s expert on New Mexico, but if the folks there are confident in their ability to maintain their current course, I have no grounds to disagree. That said, let the record show me in full agreement with Amy Hagstrom Miller: Don’t concede an inch to these bastards. Fight them every step of the way, and send them home losers. It’s the only way to be sure.

A long look at the lack of accountability in Uvalde

CNN has a very long piece about how there are many investigations going on about the Uvalde massacre but seemingly little to hold anyone accountable for it. Uvalde residents, especially the parents of Robb Elementary children, are increasingly frustrated with the lack of information and the lack of action.

At Uvalde school district and city council meetings this week, community members again pressed their elected officials on why officers at the school that day haven’t been relegated to desk duty or fired. The school district superintendent also was asked why he had not sought an independent investigation into the tragedy, and the mayor was pressed on how and why the city chose an Austin, Texas, investigator to lead its internal review.

“We have yet, almost three months later, to hear any answers or to see any accountability from anybody at any level — from law enforcement officers, to campus staff, to central office and beyond,” Uvalde resident Diana Olvedo-Karau told the school board. “And we just don’t understand why. I mean, how can we lose 19 children and two teachers tragically, just horribly, and not have anybody yet be accountable.”

“It’s approaching three months, and we are still being placated with tidbits or being outright stonewalled or being given excuses” about the city police department’s response, said resident Michele Prouty, who passed out complaint forms against Uvalde police at Tuesday’s city council meeting. “What we have instead — what we are traumatized again and again by — is an inept, unstructured national embarrassment of a circus tent full of smug clowns. These clowns continue to cruise our streets sporting their tarnished badges.”

A looming US Department of Justice after-action report has perhaps the strongest chance of giving a clear understanding of how the day’s horrific events unfolded, experts who spoke to CNN said. Such reports tend to home in on opportunities for improvement, while discipline typically must be backed by precise allegations that would hold up if challenged by an officer or subject to court hearings or arbitration processes.

But it’s not clear precisely what parameters those who are overseeing reviews of the city and school district police departments are using to identify systemic failures or root out findings that could lead to discipline for officers.

The Texas Department of Public Safety has said its wide-ranging internal review could result in referrals to an inspector general. The agency also is conducting the criminal investigation into the Uvalde massacre itself — probing details such as how the shooter got his guns and his online communications before the attack — separate from the internal review of its officers’ conduct at Robb Elementary. Part of that work, it has said, is “examining the actions of every member of (a) law enforcement agency that day.” But it’s not clear whether officers are cooperating with the inquiry.

The district attorney reviewing the criminal investigation, Christina Mitchell Busbee, said she would “seek an indictment on a law enforcement officer for a criminal offense, when appropriate, under the laws of Texas.” But it’s not clear under what law any officer might be charged or whether evidence so far supports charges.

Meantime, how Texas DPS has cast its own role in the tragedy already has come under scrutiny. Its officers were at Robb Elementary earlier than previously known — and longer than Texas DPS has publicly acknowledged — materials reviewed by CNN show, with at least one DPS trooper seen running toward the school, taking cover behind a vehicle and then running toward an entrance within 2-1/2 minutes of the shooter entering. The agency’s director instead publicly has focused on when the first DPS agent entered the hallway where classrooms were under attack.

Further, a Texas DPS spokesperson who made three phone calls to a DPS sergeant inside the school during the 70-plus minutes officers waited to confront the gunman later gave journalists a narrative that quickly unraveled. Since then, news organizations, including CNN, have sued the Texas DPS for access to public records related to the massacre.

Amid the inconsistencies, the head of the state’s largest police union, along with a senior state lawmaker, have questioned Texas DPS’s ability to investigate itself. “I don’t know that we can trust them to do an internal investigation,” Charley Wilkison, executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, told CNN.

“It would be best if the investigation were headed up by an outside independent source that the public can have total confidence in,” said Wilkison, whose union represents law enforcement officers across the state, including some in Uvalde. 

[…]

It’s not clear whether any internal city investigation was underway between the May 24 massacre and the announcement of the internal investigation, though best practices for investigations dictate they usually begin as close to the incident as possible.

Then at a July 26 city council meeting, city officials said they’d hired the firm of Jesse Prado, a former Austin police homicide detective, to lead their review. Council members said their investigator should finish his work within two months, then Prado will make recommendations — possibly including disciplinary actions — to the council.

“If there’s any officer that’s in violation of any policy or procedure that they needed to act on and did not and might have caused these children to die, these teachers to die, I can assure you, heads are going to roll,” Uvalde City Councilmember Hector Luevano said during the session. Prado declined to comment for this story.

City officials, meantime, have refused for nearly two weeks to answer questions about their review of officers’ actions that day. Tarski Law, listed on the city council’s website as city attorney, also declined to comment and referred questions to Gina Eisenberg, president of a public relations firm that specializes in “crisis communications” and was hired by the city to field media requests. Eisenberg said the city would not comment. McLaughlin, the mayor, said Tuesday he couldn’t characterize the city’s relationship with Eisenberg, who hired her or who is paying her bill, saying, “I don’t know anything about her. I have nothing to do with it.”

Eisenberg also declined to answer questions about the city police department review process. McLaughlin was certain such a process existed but wasn’t aware of related procedures, he told CNN on Tuesday. The internal investigation led by Prado was launched August 1, Eisenberg said. The city attorney chose Prado for the job without a bidding process and based on word-of-mouth recommendations, the mayor told CNN; Tarski Law referred CNN to Eisenberg, who wouldn’t provide a copy of its contract with Prado’s firm, explain what the department’s internal affairs process was before the shooting or say whether that process was used at any time before Prado was hired. Eisenberg said the city would not release further information or comment.

The full scope of Prado’s investigation also isn’t clear — whether he’s conducting an after-action review meant to identify failures for future understanding or investigating specific allegations of broken rules in response to internal complaints, or some hybrid. Prado will have “free range to take the investigation wherever the investigation takes him,” McLaughlin told CNN on Tuesday. While it’s unlikely Prado’s source materials will be released, the mayor said, he vowed to make Prado’s report public after first sharing it with victims’ families — “if I have any say in it.”

“When we see that report, whatever it tells us we need to do and changes we need to make — if it tells us we need to let people go or whatever it tells us — then that’s what we will do,” McLaughlin told CNN.

[…]

While it’s unclear when any of the reviews of law enforcement’s response to the Uvalde massacre will wrap up, the Texas DPS probe — like the others — could have implications for its own and other officers, raising the stakes for how impartially and transparently it’s handled. As with the other probes, too, how it’s conducted and what it concludes will impact what closure families of the slain in this small, tortured city can receive.

Texas DPS “was fast to wash its hands, to point fingers and to make sure that the general public, particularly the elected officials, knew that they were spotless, blameless and that this was a local problem,” said Wilkison, the police union chief.  ”No one created this environment, (in) which everyone’s to blame except DPS. No one did that except them. If we’re to never, ever let this happen in Texas, we have to know what happened, exactly what happened.”

Even with that long excerpt, there’s a ton more at the link, so go read the whole thing. I can’t say I’m a big fan of CLEAT, but Charley Wilkison is right that the report DPS is working on is deeply suspect. I expect that the Justice Department probe will be the most useful, but all they can do is make recommendations. They have no power to change anything. That’s up to DPS and the locals themselves, and it’s clear none of them are particularly motivated to examine themselves.

As I see it, there are two paths to actually making things happen. One is through lawsuits, filed by the parents of the murdered children. File against DPS, against the city of Uvalde, the Uvalde police and the Uvalde school police, and so forth. This will be painful for them, it will take years to get to a conclusion, and it will be a massive fight to get the kind of information they’ve been demanding released, but the discovery process once it kicks in will be a very effective provider of sunlight. The downside is as noted – it will take years and be traumatic over and over again for the families – but in the end I would expect to finally get a real view of what happened, and maybe some financial penalties for the malfunctioning government entities.

The other is through elections. The people of Uvalde should give strong consideration to voting out their entire city and school district governments. Maybe some of those same parents might want to run for one or more of those offices. You want transparency, put some people in power who are truly committed to it. Along those same lines, voting in a new Governor would be the most direct route to getting transparency from DPS. I feel quite confident that Governor Beto O’Rourke will be delighted to appoint a new head of DPS with a mandate to clean house and make public all of the things that department did wrong in this debacle. Nothing like a little regime change to make things happen.

The proposed HISD charter partnership policy change

I don’t have a lot of time to dig into this, but there are a couple of things I wanted to touch on.

Parents, education advocates and a group of Houston elected officials including three Houston ISD trustees on Monday blasted a proposal by other school board members that would change the district’s policy surrounding charters, calling the measure dangerous to public schools and imploring it be taken off an agenda days before its first reading.

Revisions to the policy, which was initially issued in April 2018, would grant parents or guardians the authority to approve or turn down a partnership with a charter, or other entities permissible under the state’s education code, that is initiated by the district’s administration.

A detail of the proposed changes that garnered opposition would create a pathway for 60 percent of parents or guardians of an HISD school “to be served by a new or existing school,” according to a draft of the proposal, allowing them to initiate such a partnership.

The board of education is scheduled to have a first reading of the proposal on Thursday morning, which has also drawn criticism as it will occur during working hours. While nearly 60 other policies will have a first reading this week it appeared the charter one was the only to have been presented by trustees; it included a line that called the proposed changes “boardmember-proposed revisions.”

Trustees Kathy Blueford-Daniels, Elizabeth Santos and Myrna Guidry stood with a group of parents and elected officials — including Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, and various state representatives — at a Monday afternoon news conference opposing the proposed policy.

“This is not about giving parents voice in our school,” said Ruth Kravetz, co-founder of local advocacy group Community Voices for Public Education that organized the event. “Charter operators will promise the sun, the sky and the moon to get parent buy-in.”

Trustee Sue Deigaard, who represents HISD schools from parts of Montrose to southwest Houston, said the proposed changes could help the district with its deficit, and declining enrollment, as the partnerships give schools systems additional funds through a state law. The policy as it is gives the board and administration discretion over the decisions on such partnerships — and not much say to parents, she said.

HISD, the state’s largest school system, has about 195,000 students and is not projected to increase its enrollment to pre-pandemic levels, administrators told trustees during budget workshops. In 2015, for instance, HISD had about 215,000 students.

“We know from the budget conversations in the spring that we are going to have some really tough decisions ahead, possibly close schools,” Deigaard said in an interview. “I wanted to make sure that the superintendent had that tool if he wanted to use that tool.

She added, “Here’s a sort of grounding value that I had in the process, really multiple grounding values: One was — how do we make sure we open up opportunities but make sure that we’re not doing anything that would be harmful. The other grounding principle was when we make these big decisions, such as a school closure or partnership, how do we ensure that we’re doing it with families and not to them.”

[…]

Deigaard said concerns about the policy were valid but in her view the proposal empowered parents to approve or disapprove such a change.

“I think it’s a very real fear for families to think, ‘Oh, my school is going to get partnered off,” Deigaard said. “If that’s not what they want, this policy says they don’t have to have that.”

This all bubbled up after a tweet on Saturday, which made a reference to this change but didn’t have anything specific. I wound up having a conversation with Sue Deigaard, who has always been very generous with her time when I have questions about complicated school stuff. There are a number of things that motivated this, including the possibility of utilizing underused space in existing schools and giving parents who aren’t currently sending their kids to HISD a reason to do so – she mentioned conversations with parents who want a particular type of program or school option that doesn’t currently exist. Countering the enrollment decline, and taking steps to keep HISD as a primary option for parents were a main message I took away from my conversation with her.

At a fundamental level, I trust Sue Deigaard – who, as I have said in previous posts, is someone I’ve known for a long time, going back to when we were both at Rice – and I don’t believe there’s any appetite within HISD to give a bunch of power and money to charter schools. Your mileage may vary on these points. I’m sure there’s plenty of room for discussion and disagreement about this proposal, as would be the case for any big proposal. The story notes that Superintendent House may not end up supporting it, if there isn’t sufficient public support for it. If so, then so be it. This is a first reading – it may not make it to second reading. I want to hear more about it. From there, we’ll see where it goes.

(Today is “move kid #1 into her college dorm day”, so I’m a little pressed for time right now. I’ll try to know more about this next time.)

First school ratings since 2019 released

All in all, not too bad. But for poorer schools and school districts, it remains a very hard go.

The Texas Education Agency on Monday released its first public school ratings in three years and despite pandemic interruptions, the number of schools that received the highest rating increased.

This year, 27.9% of 8,451 schools evaluated received an A rating. Another 46.1% received a B, 19.4% received a rating of C and 6.7% received “Not Rated” labels. Not all schools and districts are rated because some are alternative education programs and treatment facilities.

The state agency’s ratings — tied in large part to results of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR test — are the latest metrics used to grade how well Texas public schools are performing as students emerge from the worst of the global coronavirus pandemic. Even though students returned to classroom instruction last year, surges in COVID-19 infections both last fall and winter forced some schools to close and revert back to remote instruction.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath credited local educators with the increases seen, despite those interruptions, in each of the A and B categories and a reduction in the number of schools that received below-average grades, those in the “Not Rated” category.

“These results show our state’s significant investment in the post-pandemic academic recovery of Texas public school students is bearing fruit,” Morath said. “I’m grateful for the driving force behind this year’s success: our teachers and local school leaders.”

The TEA’s ratings are determined by scores in three categories: how students perform on the STAAR test, which is given each spring; improvement in those scores; and how well schools are educating disadvantaged students. Students are tested on different subjects: reading, math, science and social students.

Districts also get an overall rating. There are a total of 1,207 school districts in Texas, and 1,195 were evaluated. Out of the districts evaluated, 33.1% got an A, 54% got a B, 9.4% got a C and 3.5% got a “Not Rated” label.

[…]

In 2019, the last time that TEA put out these ratings, 8,302 schools were rated, and 21.1% received an A, 39.5% received a B, 26.1% received a C and 13.3% received failing grades. In 2019, 1,189 districts were rated. Of those, 25.3% received an A, 56.9% received a B, 13% received a C and 4.8% received failing grades.

Texas continues to show some struggle with getting “high-poverty” schools an A grade. Data shows that only 18% of those campuses in Texas were rated an A. The TEA labels schools as “high-poverty” if their number of economically disadvantaged students surpasses 80%. Of the schools that received a “Not Rated” label, over half of them were “high-poverty” schools.

Texas has about 5.4 million students in its public schools, and 60% of them are economically disadvantaged, meaning they qualify for free or reduced lunch. Out of the 8,451 schools rated this year, 564 campuses received the “Not Rated” label. Most of these “Not Rated” campuses — 499 — serve students who live in some of the state’s poorest communities.

While there is work to be done with Texas’ poorer schools, Morath said, the increase among the A-rated schools — a rise seen after the pandemic interrupted classroom instruction — means the state is on the right track to catch students up to pre-pandemic levels.

This spring’s STAAR results showed big gains in reading. While math scores did increase from the dips seen in 2021, they revealed that Texas students still have work to do to catch up to their pre-pandemic test score levels.

You can see all the results here. The Chron complied results for area schools; HISD overall got a B, but some schools such as Kashmere and Yates high schools were Not Rated, which is the grade given in place of a D or F this year. Those grades will return next year. As I said, all things considered this isn’t bad, but there remains a lot of work to do. We need the Lege to not do anything to screw it all up next spring. Reform Austin has more.

DMN/UT-Tyler: Abbott 46, Beto 39

Here we go again with the DMN/UT-Tyler poll, which if nothing else always provides something to talk about. The unreadable DMN story is here. The Chron has a story with a semi-ridiculous headline about how Abbott has slightly increased his lead in the race. This is semi-ridiculous because the topline result is 46-39 in his favor, exactly what it was in the DMN/UT-Tyler poll from May. The comparison they are making is to polls from July, so if you want to go there it’s up from a five point lead in the UH Hobby Center poll, up from a six point lead in the UT Politics Project poll, but down from an eight point lead in the CBS News poll. This is why I prefer to compare between polls of the same type, and why I specify when comparing to other polls. It’s also why I preferred to stay away from “Beto is gaining” narratives in July, because as I said all it takes is one poll that shows a slightly bigger lead for Abbott and it all gets blown up.

Anyway. The poll data is here and I’ll give you the highlights with a few comments.


Abbott    46
Beto      39
Other     13
DK         1

Patrick   36
Collier   28
Other     15
DK        21

Paxton    34
Garza     32
Other     15
DK        18

Dem       48
GOP       50

“Other” is the sum of named Libertarian and Green candidates (one of each in the Governor’s race, just one in the other two) plus the “Other” response. For obvious historic reasons, I don’t expect any of these numbers to be that high in November; this is mostly people not committing to an answer at this time for whatever the reason. The fourth listing is for the generic “which party are you voting for in the US House race” question. Note that this was 49-48 for Republicans in May, and 52-45 for Republicans in February.

The main thing I’ll say about these individual results is that Beto gets only 81-12 support among Dems, with Abbott getting 85-8 among Republicans. Somehow, this poll reports 21% of Black voters supporting Abbott, which at least would explain the overall Dem numbers. Let’s just say I don’t find that particularly credible and move on. Beto has taken the lead among independents in this poll at 34-31; it was 36-29 among indies for Abbott in February and a bizarre 16-6 for Abbott in May – as I noted in the earlier post, that reporting seemed to be screwed up. Both Mike Collier (20-19) and Rochelle Garza (24-19) lead among indies as well. Neither was tested in May as they were still in primary runoffs.

Next is the approvals questions:


Name       Approve  Disap  None
===============================
Biden           41     56     3
Abbott          47     49     4
Beto            43     43    13
Patrick         41     39    20
Paxton          41     40    19

For Beto, the question is asked as whether you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of him. President Biden was at 39-58 in May, so this is an improvement. Abbott was at 46-50 in May, Beto was 42-44, Paxton basically the same at 42-41. Dan Patrick had a strange 50-41 approval result in May – this is more in line with other results and overall expectations.

Two issue questions about abortion:

Do you approve or disapprove of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and allow states to decide abortion policy?


Strong approve        31
Somewhat approve      11
Somewhat disapprove   10
Strong disapprove     39

Should abortion be illegal in all cases, illegal in most cases, legal in most cases, or legal in all cases?


All illegal     31
Mostly illegal  13
Mostly legal    30
All legal       25

I’ve copied the exact wording. Abortion polling is complex and highly dependent on how questions are worded. The one thing that is totally clear is that there is little support for the current law, which basically allows for no exceptions.

We’ll see if we get more results soon. August and September is usually a busy time for such data. As always, take any individual result with skepticism, not because they are untrustworthy but because they are each just one data point.

The book ban requests are coming from inside the house

Typical “grassroots” campaign.

Greg Abbott in the 80s

The wave of book reviews and removals that swept across Texas in the last year was driven more by politicians than parents, a Houston Chronicle analysis found, contradicting claims that recent book bans were the result of a nationwide parental rights movement to have more control over learning materials.

The findings, drawn from public information act requests sent to nearly 600 Texas school districts that teach more than 90 percent of the state’s 5.4 million public school students, show there were at least 2,080 book reviews of more than 880 unique titles since the 2018-19 school year. Of those, at least 1,740 reviews occurred during the 2021-22 school year.

Nearly two thirds of those reviews — 1,057 — occurred after state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, asked districts last fall to check their shelves for books on a list he circulated. The books on Krause’s list of roughly 850 titles, predominantly feature LGBTQ+ characters and people of color in main character roles, as well as mentions of racism, the Holocaust, sexual violence, sexuality and abortion.

About a dozen districts account for more than 1,500 of the book reviews, the Chronicle found. Most of the reviewed works remained on shelves, with 269 books removed entirely and 174 instances in which access to titles was made available only to older students. In some cases, districts removed books they deemed out of date but replaced them with more recent titles on similar subjects.

Most districts in the Houston region largely ignored the Krause list or did not conduct reviews because of it.

Krause did not respond to emails requesting an interview, and has refused to reveal whether he and his office created the list or if it came from a third party. In an interview with the Dallas Morning News last November, he called his letter and the list “an inquiry used for fact gathering to see if anything needs to be done,” and said he did not anticipate they would be leaked to the news media.

“We could decide there’s nothing here, let’s move on. And nobody even knows about it. Or it could be we’ve got a pervasive problem,” he said. “It certainly raised the consciousness of parents needing to be involved in their schools. We’ve had some school districts thank us and say, ‘We don’t want inappropriate materials for our kids.’ We wanted to give schools an idea of what books they had in their library so they don’t get caught off guard.”

The Chronicle’s findings, likely an under-count of book reviews because 292 districts did not respond, represent one of the clearest assessments to date of the extent of an escalating, national assault — mostly led by politicians, elected officials and conservative activists — on literature that explores race, LGBTQ+ issues and sexuality.

“It’s a malign campaign to create a moral panic around information young people want and need,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. “It’s resulted in really tragic consequences, not only for young people being denied access to information, but also for people who are made to understand they don’t belong in their communities, at least in the eyes of the individuals who raise these claims.”

The library association registered challenges or removals of 1,597 individuals books across the country in 2021, a record number since the nonprofit began keeping a tally 20 years ago.

See here, here, and here for some background. I would bet that Krause had help from one or more under-the-radar billionaire-funded right wing groups. Why do the work when it’s so easily outsourced? To be fair, some of the book-banning energy does come from deeply committed bigots from the private sector. There’s never an escape from those people. Sadly, it’s the school librarians who are on the sharp end of the stick here. I don’t know what we can do about that. Read the rest of the story and get involved with your neighborhood schools to help them deal with this crap.

GOP seeks to knock Libertarians off the ballot

They tried this in 2020 with no success, but might be better positioned this year.

Texas Republicans have filed a petition to knock 23 Libertarian candidates off the November ballot for not paying their filing fees.

On August 8, 23 Texas Republicans filed a petition of mandamus with the Supreme Court of Texas to remove their Libertarian Party of Texas (LPT) competitors from the November general election ballot.

Some high-profile Republicans on the petition include Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick, U.S. Reps. Pat Fallon (R-TX-4) and Troy E. Nehls (R-TX-22), and candidate for U.S. House District 15 Monica de la Cruz. The four face opposition from Libertarians Shanna Steele, John Simmons, Ross Lynn Leone, Jr., and Joseph Leblanc, respectively.

“In addition to filing an application for nomination by convention,” the petition reads, “Texas law requires a candidate for public office to either pay a filing fee or submit a signature petition in lieu of a filing fee.”

“Despite their knowledge of these requirements, candidates seeking public office as members of the Libertarian Party of Texas in the upcoming 2022 General Election deliberately refused to pay their required filing fees and also failed to file their required signature petitions in lieu of payment of their required filing fees.”

Before filing the petition, the Republicans confirmed with the Texas Secretary of State that the Libertarians had not paid their filing fees. The Libertarians had not done so, prompting the Republicans to petition the Supreme Court “to issue an emergency writ of mandamus” to force the Libertarians “to comply with their legal and ministerial obligation.”

Texas Republicans filed a similar suit against the LPT in August 2020 for failing to meet their certification requirements, which the state Supreme Court rejected for missing the deadline. But this year, the petition was filed before August 26, “the deadline of the 74th day before the November 8th election” to file such a complaint.

Also in August 2020, three Democratic campaigns won restraining orders against three Green Party candidates who failed to pay their filing fees and were subsequently removed from the ballot.

In the Republicans’ suit two years ago, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the code has different rules for parties that choose candidates through conventions, like the Libertarian Party, and those that use primaries, like the Republican and Democratic Parties.

In 2019, House Bill 2504 was filed to require parties that nominate candidates with conventions to pay a filing fee to appear on the ballot. The fee ranges from $300 for a State Board of Education candidate to $3,750 for statewide office.

“Parties holding primary elections are subject to one set of rules, and other parties are subject to other sets of rules,” the court wrote. “These differences may seem to benefit or burden one class of parties or another, depending on the circumstances.”

See here for some background on the Republicans’ attempt in 2020 to knock Libertarians off the ballot. The Dems did succeed in getting a few Green Party candidates off the ballot that year, but others were later reinstated with a little help from Ken Paxton. Never were there stranger bedfellows.

There is also a lawsuit that is as far as I know still active over that bill requiring third parties to pay a primary fee. There was an appellate court ruling in September of 2020, right in the middle of all the candidate-booting efforts, that sort of lifted a restraining order that prevented the Secretary of State from enforcing that law, but the ruling was far more complex than just that. I honestly have no idea if the restraining order is still in place or not, but I suppose the Supreme Court will address that when it rules on the mandamus. I also have no idea if Dems are going to try similar action against Greens this year; if they are, time is running short for them. This is one of those rare times when you can expect a ruling in short order, because the ballots need to be finalized soon. Chuck Lindell has more.

Weekend link dump for August 14

“The Surprising History of the Slur Beyoncé and Lizzo Both Cut From Their New Albums”.

“The construction of a world based on lies is a key component of authoritarians’ takeover of democratic societies.”

“The fake electors are the entry point to Trump’s various efforts to pressure state officials into throwing out Biden’s win and to turn the Jan. 6 joint session of Congress into the denial – and not the certification – of Biden’s win.”

“Even before the COVID-19 vaccine was authorized, there was a plan to discredit it.”

“Many adult adoptees are tired of being rendered as products to prove a point. They challenge the argument that adoption is a simple, sacred and mutually beneficial solution to unplanned pregnancy.”

“It’s fit that Alex Jones is held accountable for the impact of his words. He used false statements of fact to paint his picture, and those false statements of fact caused harm. But I suspect that a vast judgment against Jones won’t have much value as a deterrent or proclamation of truth. Jones is loathsomely rich because people want to consume his art. His landscapes of hate and fear and mistrust resonate with a frightening number of Americans. The people who enjoyed his Sandy Hook trutherism didn’t enjoy it because it was factually convincing or coherent; they enjoyed the emotional state it conveyed because it matched theirs. The plodding technicalities of law are probably inadequate to change their minds.”

RIP, Olivia Newton-John, actor best known for Grease and pop singer of many #1 hits. Cancer truly sucks.

Go big or go home, Merrick Garland.

“As such, Hulu, a money-making streaming service with 45.6 million subscribers (as of April 2; we’ll get an update for the June quarter on Wednesday afternoon) and major ARPU (average revenue per user), could be lost to history. Sounds crazy, because it kind of is.”

“You’d think a platform made up of independent creators who were once like Barlow and Bear would stand by them in their time of strife, not abandon them. However, Barlow and Bear’s hubris might bring down future creators’ ability to create. If this project gets shut down, future ones might never get off the ground. Plus, fans don’t seem to like Barlow and Bear’s seeming disrespect for the female creators of the source material, Rhimes and Quinn.”

“How 2 DC Watchdog Groups Blew Open The Trump Administration’s Deleted Texts Scandal”.

“[H]ow abortion could and will be prosecuted in the United States, and how tech companies will be enlisted by law enforcement to help prosecute their cases.”

“But the gulf between Trump and the generals was not really about money or practicalities, just as their endless policy battles were not only about clashing views on whether to withdraw from Afghanistan or how to combat the nuclear threat posed by North Korea and Iran. The divide was also a matter of values, of how they viewed the United States itself.”

“You can depend on Pete Rose. He will always let you down.”

“As president, Trump approved a law increasing penalties for mishandling classified info. It could come back to bite him.”

RIP, Gene LeBell, actor, stuntman, and wrestler who faced off onscreen against Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Bruce Lee.

“Just a few hours shy of the deadline set in late July by hundreds of top female writers and showrunners on abortion safety protocols, most of Hollywood’s biggest studios and streamers today opted to sidestep specifics.”

“The former president was the most dangerous person in the world when he held power, and he never had respect for the rule of law.”

RIP, Anne Heche, Emmy-winning actor.

RIP, Lamont Dozier, Motown songwriter who penned hits for the Supremes, the Four Tops, the Isley Brothers, and more.

“The complete guide to every excuse Republicans have made for Trump’s theft of classified documents”.

Supreme Court to review parental consent bypass rules

Nothing good is likely to come of this.

The Texas Supreme Court is reconsidering rules that allow Texans under 18 to obtain abortions without parental consent in light of the state’s soon-to-take-effect abortion ban.

Chief Justice Nathan Hecht asked an advisory committee to make a recommendation on the matter in an Aug. 1 letter obtained by Hearst Newspapers, asking the committee to “conclude its work” at a meeting next week on Aug. 19.

A spokeswoman for the high court explained that the justices believe the new law, and a landmark June ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court overturning federal protections on abortion, have “raised questions about whether the parental-notification rules are still consistent with Texas law.”

“The court asked the advisory committee to study the issues raised in the referral letter and make recommendations, which it does almost any time rule changes are contemplated,” said the spokeswoman, Amy Starnes.

Current Texas rules require abortion patients under 18 to notify their parents when they are seeking an abortion and receive their permission. But the rules also allow the teen to seek permission from a judge instead.

The number of minors who have been able to access that legal process ground to a near-halt after Texas imposed its six-week abortion ban in September 2021 — in August, 20 minors were able to get their cases before judges, state data shows. By October, once the ban was in place, that number dwindled to just two.

Still, attorneys who represent the young “Jane Does,” named as such in court filings for confidentiality purposes, say there will still be a need for the process, known as judicial bypass, even once the trigger ban takes effect on Aug. 25.

Though the trigger ban includes no exception for rape or incest, it does include an exception for pregnancies that risk death or “substantial impairment of a major bodily function.” The exception has spurred debate statewide, especially among doctors and hospital groups concerned that it is too vague and creates legal liability for them.

[…]

Blake Rocap, legal director at Jane’s Due Process, a nonprofit that helps represent pregnant minors in Texas, said there will still be a need for the bypass process for children whose physicians determine their pregnancies qualify for that health exception.

“You can see a possibility where a minor patient may have a pregnancy that is causing their health to deteriorate, causing a lot of risk or is dangerous for them in the future,” Rocap said. “Let’s say they’re a really young victim of sexual assault or incest and their body is not able to handle a full-term pregnancy just because they’re not physically big enough … They would need a bypass.”

Rocap added that would be especially important in the case of minors in CPS or foster care who will always need bypass because under Texas law, the state is not allowed to consent to abortion.

Less than 1 percent of abortions, or 31, were performed in 2021 on patients 13 years old or younger, according to data collected by the state health department. A little over 2 percent involved patients under 18, including 226 patients between 14 and 15 years old and 807 between 16 and 17.

I guess I’m not sure what it is that has changed here from the perspective of the judicial bypass process. Abortion is now far more restricted than before for minors, but if a young person qualifies for an abortion under the health exception then I don’t see how the question of whether they need to notify their parents or can be approved by a judge to protect their personal safety is any different. All of this makes my skin crawl and is a reminder why parental notification laws were such a bad idea in the first place – the kind of person who doesn’t want to tell their parents they need an abortion probably has a good reason for that. I have less visceral distrust of the Texas Supreme Court right now than I do of the US Supreme Court, but I don’t have much trust in what they’re doing here. I hope to be proven wrong about that.

Election officials and workers need our help

We’ve identified the problem. That’s good. Now let’s do something to fix it.

Misinformation about elections has led to violent threats against election workers in Texas and other states — including one who was told “we should end your bloodline” — according to a new report released by a House panel Thursday.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform heard from one county election official in Texas that he received death threats after being singled out by out-of-state candidates who claimed the 2020 election was stolen. Those threats quickly escalated and eventually included his family and staff.

Tarrant County Elections Administrator Heider Garcia received social media messages including, “hunt him down,” “needs to leave Texas and U.S. as soon as possible,” and “hang him when convicted for fraud and let his lifeless body hang in public until maggots drip out of his mouth.”

The report said Garcia had to call law enforcement when his home address was leaked and calls for physical violence against himself and his family increased — eventually leading to threats against his children that included “I think we should end your bloodline.” Law enforcement determined that none of the threats broke the law, but they did provide coordination and additional patrol around his neighborhood.

The findings are the latest evidence of how former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims that the 2020 election was rigged against him have taken root as they have been echoed by his supporters, including Texas Republicans who passed new voting restrictions last year.

The report comes as polling released this week indicates two-thirds of Texans who identify as Republicans still do not believe the 2020 election was legitimate. The June survey by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin found 66 percent of Texas Republicans said they don’t believe President Joe Biden legitimately won the election. That was unchanged from February when they were asked the same question.

The report is part of a longrunning effort by congressional Democrats to push back on Trump’s claims and new voting restrictions in states, including Texas.

“Election officials are under siege,” said U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat who chairs the oversight panel. “They face growing campaigns of harassment and threats, all driven by false accusations of fraud.”

[…]

Garcia wrote that Sidney Powell, Trump’s former lawyer who sought to overturn the 2020 election, appeared on Fox News pushing bunk claims about voting machines turning Tarrant County blue. Garcia was also targeted by Michelle Malkin, a conservative commentator on Newsmax, and far-right website The Gateway Pundit.

Their attacks on Garcia came when Biden won the typically red county by 0.2 percentage points after Trump had led the initial count on election night, before late absentees and provisional ballots were included.

“What followed in the next 4 to 6 weeks was a terrible time of threats and concerns for the safety of my family, my staff and myself,” Garcia wrote.

The House panel in April sent letters to elections administrators in Texas, Arizona, Florida and Ohio asking how misinformation had impacted their work. The report’s findings are based, in part, on responses by Remy Garza, a Cameron County election official who is president of the Texas Association of Election Administrators.

Garza told the committee that during debates in the legislature over proposed changes to voting laws, public testimony frequently included “broad generalizations of alleged fraud” and “repeated misleading information about actions taken by the Harris County clerk responsible for the November 2020 election.”

Garza said the bills Texas Republicans passed were inspired by “false information” and were also sometimes impossible for elections administrators to implement. For instance, the state Legislature enacted a requirement for voting machines to produce a paper record without providing the necessary funds to cover the costs of converting existing equipment to comply, as well as other requirements that are not possible in counties that don’t have certain elections systems.

I have a hard time understanding how those threats against Heider Garcia’s family would not be considered violations of the law. If that’s the case, then the law needs to be updated, because we just can’t have that in a world where we also want free and fair elections run by competent people. Various provisions to offer protection to election officials were included in the voting rights bills that passed the House but were doomed by the filibuster in the Senate. I’m hopeful we’ll get an update to the Electoral Count Act of 1877 to shore up the weaknesses that Trump tried to exploit in 2020, but I seriously doubt that an amendment to include those election official protections could be added, for the same filibuster-related reasons. We’re going to need the same “hold the House and expand the Dem majority in the Senate” parlay to have some hope for this next year. I hope we can wait that long. The Trib has more.

Metro gets electric bus money

Good.

Metro’s plan to gradually get rid of gasoline-powered buses took a step forward this week, when federal officials awarded the transit agency nearly $21.6 million to replace 20 diesel buses with electric ones, and the equipment needed to keep them charged.

“These essential funds will help our region transition to lower-polluting and more energy-efficient transit vehicles quicker,” Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, said in a statement announcing the award from the Federal Transit Administration. “I look forward to watching the positive impact this brings to Houston Metro and residents.”

Metropolitan Transit Authority officials applied for the money in May, citing the grant as a part of overall efforts to replace its diesel fleet. Federal officials, as part of the transportation bill passed last year, increased funding for zero emission buses from about $182 million to $1.1 billion, allowing transit agencies to compete for the funds with a greater likelihood of winning funding.

[…]

Board members one year ago approved a plan for Metro to purchase only zero-emission vehicles by 2030, giving the agency years to convert its fleet of more than 1,200 buses away from diesel.

So far, Metro has made plans to purchase 50, including the 20 covered by this week’s grant. The agency earlier this year received funding from the Houston-Galveston Area Council, which doles out some federal money in the area, for 20 electric 40-foot buses — those that typically operate local routes — and ten smaller shuttles that often operate MetroLift paratransit routes.

See here for the most recent update. It’s obviously going to take awhile to replace the whole fleet, but you have to start somewhere. Hopefully, there will be more federal funds available in the future to help. Kudos to all for getting this going.

Deshaun Watson “apologizes”

As you may infer, I’m not impressed.

Deshaun Watson’s best play in his preseason debut with the Cleveland Browns came long before he took the field in Jacksonville.

Watson apologized Friday “to all the women I have impacted” after being accused by two dozen women of sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions.

Potentially facing a year-long suspension, Watson publicly expressed remorse and contrition for the first time since he was accused of sexually harassing or assaulting the women during therapy sessions in 2020 and 2021.

He spoke before the team’s exhibition opener, a 24-13 victory against the Jaguars (0-2) in which Watson was roundly booed during three series of work. Fans in one end zone could be heard chanting vulgarities at Watson during his first drive.

[…]

“Look, I want to say that I’m truly sorry to all of the women that I have impacted in this situation,” Watson said in the pregame interview. “The decisions that I made in my life that put me in this position I would definitely like to have back, but I want to continue to move forward and grow and learn and show that I am a true person of character and I am going to keep pushing forward.”

Watson has denied any wrongdoing, and grand juries in two Texas counties declined to indict him on criminal complaints. He settled 23 of 24 civil lawsuits.

I hope I don’t have to explain why that “apology” is lame and meaningless. I suspect that Watson is beginning to fear that his suspension will be lengthened, and this is his feeble attempt to mitigate. I can’t imagine it would have any effect, and frankly if this is the best he can do then he better hope it doesn’t have a negative effect. But I suppose you never know. ESPN and Yahoo Sports have more.

More on polling about abortion

Not a new poll, but a closer look at the June UT/Texas Politics Project poll, with a longer look back at over a decade’s worth of polling data.

Under current Texas law, abortion is prohibited even in cases of rape or incest. But polling shows Texans overwhelmingly support exceptions for rape and incest — only 13% and 11%, respectively, said pregnant people should not be able to obtain abortions in those cases.

Renée Cross, senior director of the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston, is not involved with the Texas Politics Project but has also conducted polling on abortion policy.

“More helpful polling questions are those that try to get to the nuance, rather than do you support or oppose this one option,” she said.

To that end, the latest Texas Politics Project poll asked registered voters to consider how far along in pregnancy a person should be allowed to obtain an abortion when accounting for different circumstances, including when the person’s health was endangered, the pregnancy was a result of rape or the family could not afford any more children. This is the first time pollsters asked these questions of respondents.

While most Texans support exceptions for rape and incest, some still want to see limitations based on how far along a person is in their pregnancy. Nearly a quarter of respondents want abortions in cases of rape or incest limited to the first six weeks of pregnancy, a point at which many people do not know they are pregnant. Last September, 10 months before Roe v. Wade was overturned, Texas banned abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, with no exception for cases of rape or incest.

Poll respondents supported more restrictions when asked about abortion in cases where the family is low income, or the pregnant person either doesn’t want to marry or is married and doesn’t want more children. Over 30% of voters said abortion should not be allowed in those cases.

These numbers are mostly consistent over time. The Texas Politics Project started polling registered voters about abortion availability in 2009. A historical look shows voters’ opinions on abortion have not changed much in over a decade.

One thing that has changed is people’s views on whether Texas’ existing laws about abortion should be made more strict, less strict, or left about the same. As Texas’ laws have gotten increasingly strict, the “abortion laws should be made less strict” group has grown from 26% in 2013 to 43% as of this June. The “more strict” group – one wonders what could possibly sate them, then one decides it probably isn’t worth asking that question – has gone from 38% to 23% in that same time span, while the “leave it as is” crowd has been basically static, from 20% to 23%.

It’s worth looking at the polling project’s post about their June numbers and scroll down to the section on abortion, where they asked questions about at what stage of a woman’s pregnancy would you support her being able to get an abortion under various circumstances. The choices for “when” are Never, up to 6 weeks, up to 12 weeks, up to 24 weeks, up to 36 weeks, and Any Time. The first four question are about circumstances where things are bad: The woman’s health in in danger, the woman was a victim of rape, the women was a victim of incest, and there is a strong chance of a serious birth defect. In all of those cases, support for allowing an abortion is high, though a significant portion of that support is often for just the first six weeks, while the support for “Never” ranges from 8 to 19 percent. If you group the “through 12 weeks” responses with the increasingly liberal ones, all of those positions get a majority, ranging from 53 to 62 percent. “Never” and “up to 6 weeks” add up to at most 35% for those items.

That’s the good news. The less good news is that for questions about discretionary abortions – the woman’s family is poor and they can’t afford a child, the woman is unmarried and doesn’t want to get married, the woman is married and doesn’t want another child – the Never group is the biggest at 34 to 36 percent, with the Any Time group at half that level. There’s still more support for the “up to 12 weeks” and more liberal groups than Never (41 to 45%), but Never plus “up to 6 weeks” is a slight plurality in all three cases.

In other words, this all only goes so far. That may yet change over time – this is June data we’re talking about, we’re still figuring things out in this post-Dobbs world – but we’re a long way from the state being a basically pro-choice place. It’s more pro-choice than what the Legislature allows – much more so in some cases – but there are definite limits.

One more thing:

Jim Henson, director of the project, said that in the years the poll has been conducted, people haven’t had many reasons to shift their viewpoints on abortion.

“Abortion has been a present enough issue that I think most people who have an attitude on abortion have thought on it enough to be pretty fixed on their attitude,” he said.

[Joshua Blank, research director for the project notes that these attitudes were all developed under Roe v. Wade. Now that it’s overturned, people will be forced to ask themselves new questions about where exactly they stand on the issue of abortion.

“That was all under the framework of Roe v. Wade, which allowed people to develop attitudes,” he said. “The fact that there were clear guardrails around what was and was not allowable in terms of restrictions helped enforce the rigidity of peoples’ attitudes because there was a backstop either way about what the courts would presumably accept.”

[…]

The Hobby School of Public Affairs also recently polled registered Texas voters on abortion availability and policy. [Renée Cross, senior director of the Hobby School] said the polls focus on proposed laws after the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade.

“So rather than focusing primarily on ‘do you support abortion rights,’ we went a step further saying ‘this is the law of the land now, so now what do you support.’”

The Hobby School’s poll asked voters to assess potential policies such as whether abortion should be considered a homicide and whether it should be legal for Texans to take abortion-inducing pills obtained out of state. Around 60% of respondents oppose both classifying abortion as a homicide and making it a felony to take abortion-inducing pills from out of state. Around 30% support those classifications, while around 10% said they don’t know.

What that suggests to me is that for now, the best approach is probably to try to draw a line in the sand and say “no more restrictions”, talk a lot about how women are being endangered right now because they can’t get treated for miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies because of our “no exceptions” law, and emphasize that what Republicans want is to punish people for abortion. That’s where the vast majority of the support is. We’re going to have to do a lot more work to move things beyond that, but for the purposes of the November election, vowing to protect the rights of women that have been taken away by SCOTUS and the Legislature is the best bet.

HISD buys stuff for its police

Okay, but I hope the plan to deal with an active shooter has more than this in it.

Houston ISD trustees Thursday evening approved a measure to buy 200 rifles, ammunition and 200 ballistic shields for the district’s police department, which Superintendent Millard House II said last week was not prepared with its current equipment to stop an active shooter.

Trustees voted 6-3 on the purchase after spending roughly an hour in closed executive session discussing the item and about 20 minutes of intense discussion from the dais. Trustee Dani Hernandez proposed postponing the measure by a week because she was “not willing” to proceed without more specific information. That effort, however, failed with a 3-6 vote.

Earlier in the meeting, about a dozen speakers urged the board to delay the vote or to vote no.

“I need more information about the broader safety plan for the district in general. At this time, I don’t believe I have all the information I need,” Hernandez said before the vote. “I don’t think that we have explored all options at this point — safety is essential for HISD.”

HISD Police Chief Pete Lopez told the board last week he was confident in the training the police department had received but he did “not have a lot of confidence in preparing our officers to encounter a suspect without the proper equipment.” The equipment to be purchased would be used to help with scenario-based training to learn how to respond to such a threat.

“My officers are dedicated to our students and to our staff and regardless if we have the equipment or not, we are still going to respond,” Lopez said after the vote. “This act tonight will allow us to respond in a safer manner.”

The police gear will be for specific situations, not items that police will walk around with, House said.

“The bigger issue here is ensuring that they have all the tools possible so that they can be as safe as possible,” House said, “and provide the kind of safety that we want to provide on campuses.”

See here for the background. While in general I tend to think that most police departments have (and spend money on) too much stuff, I don’t have an opinion on this particular purchase. I’ll accept that they need it in the absence of any evidence to the contrary. I will just say again that all the manpower and equipment added up to diddly squat in Uvalde, so what I want – what I would think we would all want – is to know that there’s a plan in place for this kind of horrific scenario, and training in place to back it up. I still haven’t seen any talk about that, and that concerns me. Buying stuff is the easy part. Please reassure all of us that you’re at least working on the hard part, HISD.

More on your forthcoming phone bill increase

The Chron gets on the story.

Texans who use a phone should expect to pay more for that service, thanks to a startling rate increase adopted by the Public Utility Commission of Texas last month.

Commissioners in July voted to increase a longstanding surcharge assessed on telecommunications providers’ receipts for voice services to 24 percent from 3.3 percent. The new rate, which took effect Aug. 1, will add couple of dollars a month for a consumer with a typical individual cell phone plan, and potentially several times that for customers with family plans, or those who pay for calls on a per-minute basis.

“It’s unprecedented,” said Rusty Moore, COO of BBT Telecom, a provider headquartered in Alpine, and board president of the Texas Telephone Association.

[…]

The PUC, in a statement, said the increased fees were imposed on the telecom companies, and they “are not required” to pass on the costs onto residential and business customers. But in practice, telecommunications providers typically choose to do so, the agency explains in a separate Universal Service Fund fact sheet.

T-Mobile, for example, has begun notifying customers that increased fees will show up on their bills starting this month. The exact increase will depend on the customer’s plan.

The change will remain in effect for months, if not longer. Rich Parsons, the agency’s spokesman, said the PUC plans to reduce the fee in about a year as the fund is replenished. But, he added, the rate may not drop back to its previous level of 3.3 percent unless the commissioners vote accordingly.

“It is too soon to know how much the rate will be reduced,” he said.

While the Texas Telephone Association heralded the initial court victory, Moore explained that the PUC’s approach to covering the gap is really not what the organization had in mind, or considers best. In 2021, TTA had backed legislation that would have extended the universal service fee to voice over internet protocol service providers — which allow users to make phone calls over the internet —as well as traditional providers. The bill passed the Texas Legislature with overwhelming support but was vetoed by Gov. Greg Abbott.

It would be better, Moore argued, to have “a much longer glide path” to restoring the funding with more modest rate increases over a longer period..

“This is not what we advocated for in any way, shape, or form,” he said.

Moore’s company, BBT, reckons higher cost residential consumers approximately $4.61 per month, and business customers $6.21.

See here for the background. This story puts some actual numbers on the increase – as noted, how much your bill will go up depends on your carrier and your plan – but just implies the connection to Greg Abbott. At least now this is known to more people. Feel free to help them understand where it came from.

At least you’re (probably) not giving birth in West Texas

This is a long story about the lack of prenatal and obstetric care in West Texas. It’s mostly set in Alpine, Presidio, and Big Bend, which are the “big cities” in the area that actually have doctors and medical facilities in them. The one hospital in the area is in Big Bend, and its labor and delivery unit is now closed much of the time, for a variety of reasons. This is a small taste of what it’s like to be pregnant in this part of the state.

Big Bend is the only hospital in a 12,000-square-mile area that delivers babies. If Billings’s patient goes into labor when the maternity ward is closed, she’ll have to make a difficult choice. She can drive to the next nearest hospital, in Fort Stockton, yet another hour away. Or, if her labor is too far along and she’s unlikely to make it, she can deliver in Big Bend’s emergency room. But the ER doesn’t have a fetal heart monitor or nurses who know how to use one. It also doesn’t keep patients overnight. When a woman gives birth there, she’s either transferred to Fort Stockton—enduring the long drive after having just had a baby—or discharged and sent home.

This situation is stressful and dangerous for pregnant women. Uterine hemorrhages, postpartum preeclampsia (a potentially deadly spike in blood pressure), and other life-threatening complications are most likely to occur in the first few days after childbirth. This is why hospitals usually keep new mothers under observation for 24 hours to 48 hours. “This is not the ‘standard of care’ that women should receive,” Billings says. “You’re not supposed to discharge patients and leave it up to chance.”

Big Bend doesn’t really have a choice. In the past two years, almost all its labor and delivery nurses quit. The hospital has tried to replace them, but the national nursing shortage caused by the pandemic has made that impossible. When Big Bend is too short-staffed to deliver a baby safely, its labor and delivery unit has to close.

[…]

Medicaid pays for 42 percent of all hospital births, but it doesn’t reimburse hospitals for the full cost of care. (In most states it pays between 50 cents and 70 cents on the dollar, which means a hospital loses money when it cares for someone on the program.) To offset its losses, a hospital often charges its privately insured patients significantly higher fees. But if it’s in a poor neighborhood and doesn’t have enough privately insured patients, it can’t recoup the money. So most pre-pandemic maternity ward closures were in low-income areas and disproportionately affected pregnant women of color. Pandemic-related nursing shortages have only made the situation worse. Nowhere is this problem more evident than in Texas.

The state is the national leader in maternity ward closures. In the past decade, more than twenty rural hospitals have stopped delivering babies. More than half the state’s rural counties don’t even have a gynecologist. Texas has some of the lowest income eligibility limits for Medicaid and has declined to expand them, as allowed by the Affordable Care Act. (Childless adults don’t qualify for the program unless they’re disabled.) As a result, more than 18 percent of Texans don’t have health insurance, the highest percentage of uninsured residents in the U.S. Income eligibility limits jump for pregnant women—$36,200 for single mothers, $45,600 for married ones—but the application process takes at least a month. According to the March of Dimes, a fifth of all pregnant women in Texas don’t get prenatal care until they’re five months along. In other words, when a poor woman gets pregnant in Texas, it’s hard for her to find a doctor or even a hospital.

“What we’re seeing in terms of health outcomes, it’s not good,” says John Henderson, chief executive officer and president of the Texas Organization of Rural & Community Hospitals. “We have lower birth weights, more preterm births. When it comes to caring for pregnant women and their babies, Texas does not compare favorably to other states.”

Like I said, this is a long story and it’s worth your time to read. I’m old enough to remember when tort “reform”, in particular putting a cap on damage awards that can be given in medical malpractice lawsuits, was supposed to usher in a new era of doctor abundance in Texas. I don’t think that has worked out in the way we were promised. Towards the end, one of the doctors the author spoke to for the story notes that since abortion was already impossible to get in their region, the new state ban on abortion likely won’t result in more babies being born there. These docs will still deal with miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies and other life-threatening situations – they tell some amazing stories – despite the threat to their own safety. Click over and read on for more.

Time for the usual debate about debates

Of course Greg Abbott doesn’t want to have debates. There’s no value in them for him.

Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday he has agreed to debate Democratic opponent Beto O’Rourke on Sept. 30 in the Rio Grande Valley.

O’Rourke said he would debate Abbott in the Valley but did not commit to the Sept. 30 debate. Without ruling it out entirely, he also called for three “town hall-style debates.”

The perennial debate over debates kicked off Tuesday afternoon, when Abbott’s campaign announced he had accepted an invitation from Nexstar Media Group to debate O’Rourke on the evening of Sept. 30 at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg. Abbott’s campaign called it “the one and only gubernatorial debate of the 2022 election,” implying it is the only one he is willing to do.

O’Rourke’s campaign responded a little over an hour later.

“We looked forward to attending a forum hosted by Nexstar Media Group in the Rio Grande Valley at a mutually agreed upon date and time, but one debate in one community for the entire state of Texas is not nearly enough,” O’Rourke spokesperson Chris Evans said in a statement.

The O’Rourke campaign said it additionally wants Abbott to “participate in three town hall-style debates in every region of the state during weeknights this fall where they can take questions directly from their fellow Texans.”

Abbott’s choice of the evening of Sept. 30 — a Friday evening in the fall — is a timeworn tactic of incumbents looking to agree to a debate when not as many Texans are paying attention as they would on other nights of the week.

[…]

Abbott debated his last Democratic challenger, Lupe Valdez, once — also on a Friday evening in late September.

Honestly, I’m surprised he even agreed to one. I guess ducking them entirely would be a bad look, and maybe it would be enough of a story that this was the preferred alternative. But yeah, a Friday night in late September is par for the course. Beto will make as much noise as he can about this, and he can counter by setting up other debates that he’ll participate in whether Abbott does or not. He’s of enough interest that they may draw enough attention to make Abbott uncomfortable. I think in the end one will be all we get, but we’ll see.

(Standard disclaimer: I’m not really much of a debate watcher. I don’t think they have that much effect in a contest like this. They’re of greater value in situations where lots of people don’t know much about the candidates and are just trying to get a decent first impression. Primary debates, and forums for local candidates especially in non-partisan races are great. This, less so. But they can be good theater, and there’s always the risk of a disaster.)

Motherfuckergate

Sometimes, I just enjoy a a story about swearing.

Beto O’Rourke confronted a heckler Wednesday at a campaign event who laughed while he was talking about the Uvalde school shooting, telling the person, “It may be funny to you, motherfucker, but it is not funny to me.”

The moment, which spread quickly online afterward, came as the Democratic gubernatorial challenger was hosting an evening town hall in Mineral Wells. On live broadcasts of the event, loud laughing could be heard as O’Rourke described the impact of AR-15s, dropping to a knee to emphasize what he said were the wartime capabilities of the firearm.

O’Rourke’s admonishment of the person drew sustained applause and cheers from the crowd. He quickly moved on in his stump speech, talking about wanting to keep kids safe as the school year begins.

It is unclear who exactly was laughing, but tweets from the event showed there was a group of protesters present holding campaign signs for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. On one live broadcast, the camera panned to the group after O’Rourke’s response and showed one of them laughing.

“Nothing more serious to me than getting justice for the families in Uvalde and stopping this from ever happening again,” O’Rourke tweeted afterward.

It was not the first time O’Rourke has addressed heckling at an event while discussing gun violence. He responded less explicitly last month in Snyder, telling the person, “Might be funny to you. It isn’t to me.”

It’s well known by this point that Beto has a potty mouth, which for many of us is part of his appeal. I don’t know why this particular example of said saltiness went national, but it did. The story notes that while there have been some examples of tension and conflict at Beto rallies with Republican protesters and troublemakers, there have also been examples of Beto engaging with these Republicans in a fairly cordial and civil manner. There were enough of these that Team Abbott warned its supporters to avoid wearing GOP-branded attire to Beto rallies, for fear they may get involved in one of these examples of civil discourse and thus used as part of the case for Beto. Anway, while I don’t engage in a lot of profanity on this blog, sometimes one has to do what one has to do.

Also, too:

I mean, I know which of the two I find far more offensive.

Goodell thinks Watson should get a year’s suspension

Well, it’s in the hands of someone he picked to hear the appeal, so.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says the league is seeking a tougher penalty for Deshaun Watson because the quarterback’s actions were “egregious” and “predatory behavior.”

Last week, the NFL formally appealed Watson’s six-game suspension, which was handed down by NFL disciplinary officer Sue. L Robinson earlier this month. At a league meeting called to formally approve the Denver Broncos’ new ownership group Tuesday, Goodell was asked why the NFL appealed Robinson’s decision and was seeking a suspension of at least a year for the Cleveland Browns quarterback.

“We’ve seen the evidence, she was very clear about the evidence, she reinforced the evidence,” Goodell said. “There were multiple violations that were egregious, and it was predatory behavior.”

Last week, the NFL appointed Peter C. Harvey, a former New Jersey attorney general, to hear the appeal of Watson’s suspension for violations of the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Goodell said Tuesday he did not know when Harvey would make a ruling.

See here, here, and here for some background. There have been some comments on previous posts about how Watson hasn’t been convicted of anything, he’s just been accused, and so why is he being punished at all. I just want to point out that none of this is happening in a court, it’s all a part of a disciplinary process that the NFL Players Association negotiated with the NFL. The statements of the accusers, as well as evidence they have provided in the form of texts and direct messages and so forth, were all taken into account as part of this process. Beyond that, we are all allowed to use our own judgment of the facts that we have seen. I personally find Watson’s explanations to be wholly unconvincing. Your mileage may vary, but there’s nothing unfair or unjust about how we got here. The main difference from before is that Roger Goodell is no longer the sole arbiter of what happens to a player in this situation.

Anyway. On a side note, Deshaun Watson will make his debut for the Browns in their preseason opener today. The suspension, whatever it winds up being, was only for the regular season, and presumably for the playoffs if it gets extended. Until then, he’s free to be on the field, and he’ll get paid nearly all of his salary for the year regardless. Don’t fret about Deshaun Watson. He’s doing just fine. Sean Pendergast has more.

UPDATE: From Thursday evening:

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson would accept an eight-game suspension and $5 million fine to avoid missing the entire season, a person familiar with his defense told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Watson, who is facing a potential year-long ban for sexual misconduct when he played for the Texans, would agree to a lesser penalty in a settlement, said the person who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

The biggest question is whether the NFL would make this compromise.

A settlement has always been possible, but it’s not clear if the sides are in active discussions.

Someone’s feeling the heat.

EPA to investigate TCEQ over concrete plant permits

Well, this ought to be interesting.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is the subject of an investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency following complaints that the state agency violated civil rights laws in its permitting of concrete batch plants.

The Harris County Attorney and Lone Star Legal Aid, a nonprofit law group, alleged that the state environmental agency discriminated against racial and ethnic minorities and those with limited English proficiency through a revised permitting process to build new concrete batch plants.

Their complaints, filed with the EPA earlier this year, said TCEQ failed to provide information in Spanish and insufficiently protected communities of color who live in areas where concrete facilities are predominantly located.

The concrete plants are subject to permits that aim to limit pollution in the form of particulate matter and crystalline silica — which have been linked to respiratory diseases and cancer — but independent testing of concrete facilities by the complaint’s authors indicate that pollution levels exceed health-based limits.

Last year, TCEQ approved an amendment that included exemptions for emission limitations for concrete batch plants, in response to an application to construct a plant by a Fort Worth concrete company. Area residents had fought the company’s application, which was rejected on the grounds that it didn’t adequately study the impacts of pollutants. TCEQ later passed the amendment and approved the company’s application after what it called a “clerical error.”

The EPA’s civil rights compliance arm announced the investigation last Wednesday. The investigation will focus on whether the adoption of the amendment — and the permitting process — is discriminatory, and whether the state agency failed to seek meaningful public comment.

The Chron adds some more details.

County Attorney Christian Menefee and Lone Star lawyers alleged in separate complaints to the EPA earlier this year that the state agency discriminated against Black and Latino residents when they didn’t adequately ensure communities would be protected and didn’t appropriately seek input from people who aren’t fluent in English.

Local, state and federal leaders celebrated the EPA’s decision to look at the discrimination claims Tuesday. They saw it as a chance to win long-sought relief for people who have suffered from batch plants. Facility operators say the plants are safe and need to be close to construction sites. People near them, concerned for their health, plead for them to go far away.

“Time and again, the TCEQ has approved permits for additional plants in these very same neighborhoods, and failed to ensure that the pollution that comes out of these plants does not harm human health and the environment,” Menefee said. “We’re here today because the TCEQ failed to address these issues when it had the chance.”

[…]

Applications are frequently submitted to start up concrete batch plants in the Houston area. They elicit strong backlash from residents who often already know what it’s like to live by one. Residents in Aldine recently packed a room to tell TCEQ not to approve another new plant — only to find out that the deadline had already passed to ask the state agency to escalate the dispute to the next level.

EPA stepping in signaled a shift in that fight for residents who have little more than emotional appeals on their side, and what help they can get from frustrated government representatives.

“This is important to us,” said Huey German-Wilson, president of the Trinity and Houston Gardens Super Neighborhood, “and now we have someone to hear us loud and clear, for the small Black and brown voices in communities that have not been heard.”

Politicians at the news conference slammed the state environmental agency for valuing the needs of industry over the health of people. They said that it took President Joe Biden — a fellow Democrat — winning the White House for federal regulators to put pressure on this issue in the conservative Lone Star State. Recent bills proposed in the state legislature largely floundered.

Neighborhoods with batch plants lack deed restrictions and zoning to protect them, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee said. And facilities are often in communities of color — not wealthy, white River Oaks — making what has been happening clear environmental racism, state Sen. Borris Miles said.

Menefee’s office asked the EPA to stop any new standard concrete batch plant permits from being issued until the investigation is finished, he said. A public meeting has been scheduled later this month for residents to weigh in on a plant that’s been proposed in Simonton, a small city west of Houston in rural Fort Bend County.

This isn’t a lawsuit, it’s an investigation. I have no context to guess how long it may take, though I’d expect that if the state doesn’t like what the EPA says we’ll get a lawsuit afterwards. Until then, we wait. Here’s a Twitter thread from Chron reporter Emily Foxhall with more quotes.

Dallas passes its ordinance to protect abortion access

Good job.

Dallas City councilmembers almost unanimously passed the “Grace Act,” an ordinance aimed at deprioritizing investigations into abortions by local police departments.

[…]

This new resolution prevents city resources from being used to create records for a person seeking an abortion, or to provide governmental bodies or agencies about pregnancy outcomes or to conduct surveillance to determine if an abortion occurred.

Investigations or prosecutions of abortion allegations will also be the lowest priority for law enforcement under the “Grace Act.”

Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia was in attendance for the City Council meeting and was asked before the ordinance passed how the Dallas Police Department would enforce the resolution while complying with their sworn oath to enforce state law.

“We don’t know yet,” Garcia said plainly. “Myself and other chiefs in other cities don’t know exactly how this is going to look.”

Once DPD gets some direction from other cities or the state, Garcia said he would work with the city manager to figure out what standard operating procedures will be with the new resolution in mind.

“Having a policy that says you will not enforce a law on the books would be a violation of our police officer’s oath,” Garcia said. “Using discretion is different than saying you will not enforce a law in the State of Texas.”

See here for some background. As we know, Austin, Denton, and San Antonio have already taken similar action. We’re still waiting for Waco, and I have no idea if this is on the radar for Houston. Only Mayor Turner can put it on the Council agenda, and I have not seen any quotes from him about his thinking on the matter. I’ve no doubt such an ordinance would pass, but so far I don’t know if one will be introduced. If you have some insight on this, I’d love to hear it.

Thou shalt not violate copyright

It’s right there in the Commandments.

A McAllen church is facing backlash for illegally performing Hamilton with anti-LGBTQ messaging and biblical themes, according to multiple reports. The Door Christian Fellowship Ministries of McAllen changed Lin-Manuel Miranda’s rendition of the musical to incorporate a sermon that compared being gay with having an addiction.

The Hamilton team in New York told the Washington Post that it did not give a license or permission to the Door McAllen church in McAllen to stage the performance and that it was an illegal reproduction. The OnStage Blog, the first to report about the show, revealed the production live streamed the unauthorized show on Friday, August 5.

During the live streams, characters Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler Hamilton talked about how Jesus “saved” them. After one of the performances, Pastor Victor Lopez gave a sermon with language that compared being gay to alcohol and drug addiction, according to OnStage Blog.

“He knows exactly what you’ve gone through,” Lopez said, referring to God, according to the video. “You’ve gone through maybe broken marriages. Maybe you struggle with alcohol, with drugs – with homosexuality – maybe you struggle with other things in life, your finances, whatever, God can help you tonight. He wants to forgive you for your sins.”

In a statement to the Dallas Morning News, Pastor Roman Gutierrez said he acquired legal permission from the team behind Hamilton to produce the church’s show. In a sermon on Sunday, August 7, Gutierrez said that he received a request from a lawyer to remove videos of the performance published online. He added the church is not anti-LGBTQ and “everyone is always welcome”

Miranda’s Hamilton team denied giving the pastor permission to perform the show, according to the Dallas Morning News. The team said that they sent the church a cease and desist letter on Saturday, August 6 after the Friday performance. Hamilton allowed the church to continue with Saturday’s show as long as no pictures or videos were taken.

Yeah, you don’t get to put on a performance of copyrighted material without a license. You sure as heck don’t get to change the words and lyrics to a musical without the permission of the copyright holder. This is not complicated or mysterious stuff. And yes, despite their protest, this wretched performance and its accompanying sermon were anti-LGBTQ. Again, this is not complicated or mysterious.

The OnStage Blog has been all over this, cataloging the changes the church made to the script, running statements from the Hamilton team and Lin-Manuel Miranda, and my personal favorite, documenting that this same church pulled the same stunt with Beauty and the Beast in 2018. The fact that they avoided any repercussions from Disney’s squadron of IP attorneys is kind of a miracle, I have to admit.

Anyway. I don’t know if this will end up being a temporary kerfuffle or if The Door Christian Fellowship Ministries will get its collective butt dragged into court for their utter disregard for the law. I think they should, as this is not their first offense and they clearly need to have the message about respecting other people’s creations implanted. I’ll keep my eyes open for further updates. WFAA has more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of August 8

The Texas Progressive Alliance would like to see more damage awards being given to Sandy Hook parents as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

DPS can keep Uvalde info secret for now

Hopefully not for much longer.

Sen. Roland Gutierrez

A state district judge ruled Wednesday that the Department of Public Safety does not have to turn over records related to the Uvalde school shooting sought by state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who had sued the state police in hopes of securing them.

The order by Travis County 419th Civil District Court Judge Catherine A. Mauzy was narrow, however, and sidestepped the question of whether the state police can withhold records concerning their response to the May 24 massacre at Robb Elementary School. Mauzy concluded that Gutierrez had not properly filed his request under the Texas Public Information Act, the state’s public records law, and therefore DPS was not obligated to fulfill it.

Still, the outcome grants a reprieve for the state police, who have fought to keep secret the details of how 91 officers responded to the shooting. Gutierrez, whose district includes Uvalde, wrote a letter to DPS Director Steve McCraw on May 30, requesting the agency’s training manuals as well as any documents that detail how the state police responded to the shooting that day. In a hearing last week, DPS officials said that request should have gone to the agency’s media relations office.

Gutierrez said Wednesday he disagreed with the ruling and suggested the state police were simply looking for an excuse not to comply with his request. The lawmaker has been among the most critical state officials of how DPS has handled the shooting.

“It is most absurd that Department of Public Safety continues to fight even the most benign distribution of documents, like a training manual,” Gutierrez said. “And they refuse to do it because they’re culpable of their negligence and malfeasance on that day.”

See here for the background. Sen. Gutierrez has since released a statement that says he will appeal, and he will also re-file his request per the court’s orders. If so, then one way or another he should be able to get that information eventually. I’m sure we’ll have to go through more litigation before DPS complies. But I do expect that at some point they will have to.

Here’s hoping we’ll have fewer mail ballot rejections in November

Counties are taking the problem seriously, which is a good start.

The statewide rejection rate [for mail ballots] was more than 12 percent in the primary — six times what it was in the last midterm year in 2018. By the primary runoffs, the rate was down to less than 4 percent rejected, according to data from the secretary of state’s office.

Ahead of the November general elections, a number of elections officials say they have found a simple fix — a brightly colored insert that arrives with mail ballots, explaining the new requirements and showing the easily forgotten space under the flap of the return envelope where the voter’s ID number needs to be printed.

[Bexar County Election Administrator Jacqui] Callanen said the insert is small enough and positioned in such a way that it will likely fall to the floor when voters open the mail ballot packet, so they can’t miss it. She said her office used the inserts in May primary runoff elections and saw immediate results.

“We had under a 1 percent reject rate,” Callanen said. “We were back to where we belonged, which was a dance of joy.”

Other large counties saw similar success with including physical reminders in ballot materials. Those counties may hold the answer for still-struggling counties like Harris to improve their own rates.

Harris County did not include a notice with May primary runoff ballots and reported a rejection rate of 7.7 percent in the Republican primary and 5.9 percent in the Democratic primary. Overall, out of 34,124 ballots cast; 2,294 were rejected.

While those rates were down from the sky-high 20 percent and 18 percent rates in the Republican and Democratic primaries respectively, they were still far higher than the county’s less than 0.3 percent rejection rate in the last midterm primary in 2018, when just 135 ballots were tossed.

[…]

Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the secretary of state, said the inserts “appeared to make a difference.” Taylor said elections officials across the state learned about the inserts and other best practices during an election law seminar the agency held at the beginning of this month.

Following the success of inserts in other parts of the state, Harris County election officials said this week they are including a new insert about voter ID requirements with their mail ballot applications, and adding voter ID information to an existing insert with mail ballots, for November’s general election.

In addition to an insert, Harris County interim elections administrator Beth Stevens said the county will redesign its mail ballot envelope, highlighting the space for the voter’s ID with a red box, in the same way the space for the signature is highlighted.

They will also educate voters through paid advertising and in-person community meetings and will put more resources into identifying ballots that need corrections, she said.

“We have increased our vote-by-mail team’s staffing level to account for the new requirements of SB1,” Stevens said, “which includes additional folks to answer phones, to answer voters’ questions, as well as people to handle vote-by-mail cures, either done online or in person.”

You know me and mail ballot rejections. We’ve talked about the design of the ballot and the envelope as a way of giving voters a hand in ensuring they fill in all the right data, and I’ve singled out Bexar County for being ahead of the curve. I’m more than happy to see Harris County start to catch up in this department. I’m reasonably optimistic that counties have taken adequate steps to really mitigate this issue.

I also want to point out that in a world where we absolutely had to have these new requirements, it would have been far better for there to have been a seminar like the one Sam Taylor from the SOS office describes well before the first election subject to those requirements, not four months after the first one and with two others in between. The Legislature gets the lion’s share of the blame for that – they simply didn’t care about the negative effects of the new law – but the SOS deserves some criticism for not pushing back hard enough. There’s nothing we can do now about the ballots that got rejected for no good reason. I just hope we’ve learned enough from this painful experience to minimize those losses going forward.

It’s not a teacher shortage yet

But you can see one on the horizon.

School districts across the Houston region are trying to fill thousands of teacher vacancies before most will be welcoming students back to classrooms in the coming weeks.

A review of about 18 area school districts’ job listings, including Alvin, Deer Park, Fort Bend, Galena Park, Goose Creek, Katy, Magnolia, Pasadena, Galveston, Humble, Spring Branch and Spring ISDs, as well as Lamar CISD, showed a need for more than 3,400 educators to fill a variety of vacancies as of Monday.

The Houston Independent School District, the state’s largest system scheduled to kick off its year Aug. 22, had about 870 openings for certified teachers listed on its career portal Monday.

Aldine ISD, which serves nearly 67,000 students and employs more than 4,000 educators, currently has 370 teacher vacancies. That number is “way up” from previous years, according to administrators, despite recruiting efforts that include signing bonuses, increased salaries and looking for applicants internationally. Klein ISD is searching for 120 teachers, according to its website. Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, the state’s third-largest system, is trying to fill 472 teaching vacancies.

It is a nationwide problem as low pay, long hours and the politicization of education have taken their toll on the beleaguered profession.

“You look across the state and across the country, there are districts even smaller than us with even more vacancies,” HISD chief talent officer Jeremy Grant-Skinner said. “We’re all feeling the challenge together of staffing during this very unique time. We’re feeling like we’re going to get as close as we can.”

HISD, with roughly 195,000 students and 27,000 full- and part-time employees, had about the same number of vacancies at this time a year ago, Grant-Skinner said, before reducing it to about 400 by the time schools opened. To fill those openings until certified educators could be hired, the district sent central administration staffers who held teacher certifications into classrooms. Grant-Skinner said there have been no conversations about doing that again this year.

The 870 openings represent about 8 percent of the 11,000 teachers included in the upcoming year’s budget.

Since then, the district has raised teacher pay, hoping it will help recruit and retain educators. Several other districts, including Katy and Cypress-Fair ISDs, also have boosted teacher salaries.

Emphasis mine. I highlighted that to note that this problem, at least for HISD, is not unprecedented. The gap was more than cut in half least year, HISD was able to fill in other vacancies from within, and they have raised their pay as a way to attract new job seekers. There are obviously a lot of major challenges facing teachers now, most of which are the result of actions taken by Republicans, but it’s too soon to say for this year that the problem is getting worse. That may end up being the case, and it’s good to draw attention to this now, I just want to be a little cautious about getting ahead of ourselves.

That said, there are other danger signs out there that should be taken seriously.

More Texas teachers are considering leaving the profession than at any point in the last 40 years, according to new polling from the Texas State Teachers Assocation.

The survey found that 70 percent of teachers were seriously considering quitting this year, a substantial jump from the 53 percent who said so in 2018, the last time the typically biennial survey was conducted. Teachers attributed their grim outlook to pandemic-related stress, political pressure from state lawmakers, less support from parents and stretched finances.

The survey represented all grade levels and regions of the states. It was skipped in 2020 amid of the pandemic.

[…]

In the survey, which was completed by 688 Texas teachers, 94 percent said the pandemic increased their professional stress, and 82 percent said financial stress was exacerbated. Experts have pointed to better pay as a key way to recruit and retain teachers. Respondents taught for about 16 years on average, and their average salary was around $59,000. That’s about $7,000 below the national trend, according to the teachers association.

Besides salary, Texas teachers on average also receive some of the worst retirement benefits of those in any state, a separate study from June found. Teachers who have retired since 2004 have not received a cost-of-living adjustment, although the Legislature has routinely passed “13th check” bills that send extra annuity payments.

In addition to pay, 85 percent said they felt state lawmakers held a negative view of teachers, 65 percent said the public held a negative view and 70 percent said support from parents had decreased over the last several years.

If your job is more stressful than before, if you don’t feel respected by the powers that be or your stakeholders, and if on top of that you could make more money doing something else, well, that’s a pretty powerful combination. We can take this feedback seriously and try to do something about it, or we can ignore it and risk having to deal with a crisis situation later. Seems like a straightforward choice to me.

If “bad apples” are the problem, then shouldn’t getting rid of them be a high priority?

This San Antonio Report story is about the nine-year saga of the Redus family to get justice for their son Cameron, who was killed by University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) police officer Christopher Carter in 2013 outside Redus’ apartment. Carter has said in reports and depositions that he observed Redus getting into his car late at night while appearing to be drunk and followed him home to his apartment complex. (Redus happened to be a UIW student, which Carter didn’t know as he first observed him.) At the apartment complex, Carter shot and killed Redus, claiming that Redus had attacked him. All the evidence that has been found about the shooting contradicts that claim. By any reckoning, the shooting of Cameron Redus was completely unjustified.

The wrongful death litigation has been ongoing for several years, with UIW declining to settle despite a lot of pressure being put on them to do so. The lawsuit just survived a motion to dismiss by the 4th Court of Appeals, which led to this overview of the case by the San Antonio Report. I want to highlight the bits in there about Carter’s record as a police officer.

If the case finally goes to trial, Carter’s troubled past as a peace officer and UIW’s failure to conduct a background check before hiring Carter in 2011, or provide him with significant training afterwards, will come under the spotlight, according to pretrial depositions.

So will a number of incidents involving Carter during his time at UIW, including a middle-of-the-night intrusion into a female student’s dorm room under the guise of investigating a campus fender-bender, an episode that occurred two months before the Redus shooting. A formal complaint by the student’s family resulted in Carter’s supervisors acknowledging the officer’s unacceptable behavior and warning the student to avoid on-campus encounters with Carter.

Other allegations reported by fellow UIW officers: Carter twice unholstered his service weapon on campus in inappropriate shows of bravado and took part in an illegal, on-campus shooting of pigeons after police vehicles were soiled by the birds. Carter was formally reprimanded by his supervisor for verbally abusing and intimidating people on the Incarnate Word High School campus while directing traffic.

None of his transgressions or past issues in other law enforcement jobs led to serious disciplinary actions or a decision to terminate him from the campus force, even though other officers and UIW employees have told me Carter was widely regarded as a pariah unsuited to carry a gun or wear a badge.

[…]

Pretrial depositions raise serious questions about UIW’s hiring practices for its police force. Sources at UTSA and Trinity University told me Carter applied for positions there at the time, but his evident inability to hold a job led them to ignore his application.

Carter said he worked as a convenience store clerk and pawn shop manager trainee after earning a criminal justice degree from UTSA in 1997. He attended San Antonio College’s Law Enforcement Training Academy from 2003 through 2004 where he earned his peace officer’s license.

From September 2004 when he was hired as an unpaid reserve deputy for the City of Marion until May 2011 when he was hired as a full-time campus police officer for UIW, Carter held nine different law enforcement or security jobs, most only for a matter of months, according to his deposition testimony.

Carter said he lasted six months in the unpaid position with the City of Marion; eight months as an unpaid reserve officer with the City of Cibolo; six months as an unpaid support deputy with the Bexar County Sheriff’s Department; three months as a paid deputy with the Atascosa County Sheriff’s Department; six months as a paid court bailiff with the Bexar County Sheriff’s Department; six months as a licensed private investigator for Hub International insurance company; five months as a part time reserve officer for the City of San Antonio’s Marshal Unit, working nights as a municipal court bailiff; seven months as a night patrol officer for the City of Mathis, where he was fired for reasons Carter said he cannot recall; and six months as a code enforcement officer and peace officer for the City of George West.

Carter was hired by UIW as a campus police officer in May 2011 and was placed on paid administrative leave after fatally shooting Redus in December 2013. One year later, university officials allowed him to resign in good standing.

Since then, after applying without success for dozens of positions with various area law enforcement agencies, including applications to the City of San Antonio and Bexar County, Carter was finally hired in December 2015 for a part-time job in the City of Orange Grove in Jim Wells County, which he held for six months until May 2016. Carter was then rehired by the City of Mathis, but was fired after 11 months in March 2017.

Carter’s last job in law enforcement was with the City of Poteet, where he began as a reserve officer before moving into a full-time position. That employment ended after three-and-a-half years in November 2020 when he said he “retired” to return to San Antonio to care for family members.

A UIW panel that conducted a single pre-employment interview with Carter in April 2011 did not press him about his inability to hold a job for long, and did not ask why he was terminated by the City of Mathis, Carter said in his deposition. Carter said UIW did not require him to take any verbal or written tests, and he was never shown the university police department’s 113-page policy and procedures manual.

Carter said he did not meet UIW Police Chief Jacob Colunga prior to his hiring, and initial on-the-job training was limited to shadowing another UIW officer for two weeks. Colunga was demoted in 2014, months after the shooting.

Author Robert Rivard, who has been a longtime critic of UIW for its behavior in this incident, turned that into an editorial decrying the common practice of cops being able to go from one job to the next even as their performance demonstrates their inability to do that job. Even a cursory glance at Carter’s career would make one wonder why any law enforcement agency would hire him, and if they did hire him why they wouldn’t train him relentlessly to make sure he was up to snuff. The consequences for not doing those things are predictable and tragic. And all of this is before we take race into account – Cameron Redus, unlike many other high-profile victims of police violence, was white. These consequences so often and so regularly fall on people of color, and for the most part are invisible to many of us. But they’re very much there.

The “bad apples” explanation for police violence is woefully inadequate, but it is the case that a small number of police officers at any agency are disproportionately responsible for unjust and violent actions. It’s hard enough getting those officers off the force, but when that does happen – often through non-official means, which allows said officers to resign in good standing – they can almost always find employment elsewhere, with few to no questions asked. Tom Coleman, the undercover cop responsible for the arrest and conviction of dozens of innocent Black residents of Tulia, Texas, is another prime example of this. It’s long past time for us to ask the question why this is so, and what we should be doing about it.

Acompañamiento

Great story about the abortion access community in Mexico, which arose while abortion was criminalized there and continues now that it is legal in much of the country, and how it is starting to help women in the US, especially in Texas.

Hi, I’m four weeks pregnant. Eight weeks. Six weeks.

The stream of pings and messages through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp reach Sandra Cardona Alanís at her home in this mountainous region of northern Mexico. She is an acompañante and a founder of Necesito Abortar México, a volunteer network that has helped thousands of people across Mexico access abortion, usually at home, by providing medication and support.

With the constitutional right to abortion in the United States eliminated and numerous states moving swiftly to cut off all access, more and more of the calls to Mexican organizations like Cardona Alanís’ are coming from places like Texas.

People seeking help are reaching not just over a border but across a cultural divide between two countries following distinct paths in providing reproductive health care. As abortion access is being restricted in the United States, it is expanding in Mexico.

Because abortion-inducing medication can be obtained in Mexico without a prescription, networks like the one Cardona Alanís helped found exist alongside the more traditional medical clinics that typify abortion in the United States.

The Necesito Abortar México network is one of several that operate outside the formal medical establishment, offering people the ability to manage their own abortions without visiting a clinic. They usually hear from two or three new people a day. The day the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against abortion rights, they heard from 70, half of them calling from the United States.

Even before the full effects of Roe v. Wade’s reversal kick in, Texas is being stitched into the Mexican system as the networks build out their models of helping provide safe abortion at home on an international scale. For months, they’ve been helping train volunteers that will prop up new U.S.-based networks. And they have moved thousands of doses of abortion medication into the United States, creating informal stockpiles to more easily distribute the drugs.

Exporting their model likely will not come easily, though, as the legal landscape continues to shift. Abortion-inducing drugs must be discreetly transported into the United States where they’re available only with a prescription.

Those in the United States involved in building an accompaniment system face potential legal risks both criminally and civilly, especially as Republicans in states like Texas seek to choke off any and all possibility of allowing their residents to access abortion.

Adopting the Mexican model would also require a revolution in thinking about abortion in the U.S., removing the procedure from a system of doctors and clinics and shifting it into homes across states like Texas.

But that autonomy, Cardona Alanís and her partner Vanessa Jiménez Rubalcava often say, changes everything.

“This is an opening for women to realize that they can have abortions in their own homes,” Jiménez Rubalcava said. “When they realize it can be in their hands — and not in the hands of government or the medical system — there’s going to be no stopping them.”

Read the rest, it’s well worth your time. “Acompañamiento” is the collective term for this social movement created by women looking to help each other access safe abortion. Ensuring that misoprostal and mifepristone can get to women who need them for a medication abortion and expanding clinic access in Mexico for Americans who can travel there are a part of it. There’s a ton to admire about all this, but if you think that the border is politicized now, wait until abortion becomes part of that dynamic. It’s just a matter of time before someone claims that part of the justification for the border wall is to keep American women from crossing into Mexico to seek abortion care.