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January, 2007:

RIP, Molly Ivins

Molly Ivins has passed away.

Molly Ivins, the irreverent nationally syndicated columnist from Texas who rankled conservatives and delighted liberals, died late this afternoon after a seven-year battle with breast cancer. She was 62.

A self-described leftist agitator, she infused her writings with both passion and wit. Her career spanned some 40 years, and in that time she thought nothing of calling President George W. Bush “Billy Bob Forehead,” and current Texas Gov. Rick Perry “Governor Goodhair.” Her columns drew such attention that her picture once graced billboards in North Texas above the words, ‘Molly Ivins Can’t Really Say That, Can She?’ (That later became the title of one of her best-selling books).

That’s probably my favorite of her books, because it has all of her best stories from the old days, including the one about Ann Richards. I doubt I can say anything about Molly Ivins that you won’t be able to read elsewhere, so let me just say that the state of Texas is a little bit smaller today. They broke the mold when Molly was born, and we’ll all miss her terribly. Rest in peace, Molly Ivins.

Read on for an obituary from her friends and colleagues at the Texas Observer, and click the Observer link for much more.

UPDATE: OK, one story I can think of, since Julia brought up “gang pluck”. In “Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She?”, Ivins wrote that she hated being copy-edited by the NYT. The capper for her was when they changed her description of a man “with a beer gut that belonged in the Smithsonian” to a man “with a protuberant abdomen”. Can’t say I blame her at all.


NASA chief rebuked for DeLay endorsement

You may recall back in March that NASA Administrator Michael Griffin stirred up some trouble when he gave a public address that included an exhortation to the audience to keep Tom DeLay in office. This is because of the Hatch Act, which forbids government employees from endorsing political candidates. It took awhile, but the federal Office of Special Counsel, which investigates and enforces alleged violations of the Hatch Act has reprimanded Griffin for his statements. Muse and Bay Area Houston have the details.

Metro’s HOV crackdown

I see that Metro is cracking down on HOV violators.

Metro police officer Scott Ashmore parked his motorcycle at the top of the T-shaped ramp of the Northwest Freeway HOV lane at Dacoma and waited. But not for long.

A woman in a silver Hyundai topped the ramp and slowed down to make the sharp turn as Ashmore — one of 10 Metropolitan Transit Authority motorcycle officers who enforce occupancy rules on the lanes — waved her over to the shoulder.

The driver, in a brief conversation through the window, explained that she was pregnant.

“But the state of Texas doesn’t count you as an individual until you’re born,” Ashmore said. He issued her a citation.

Minutes later it was a black SUV. The driver “said she had been late to work twice already and she didn’t want it to happen again,” Ashmore said.

Metro police took the news media along this morning to show how they enforce the lane regulations, and some of the problems they encounter.


A rough count showed about two out of three vehicles that passed Ashmore appeared to have no more than one occupant. The Northwest HOV requires three or more riders from 6:45 a.m. to 8 a.m., and two or more at other times. Fines average $125 and can be as steep as $200, Metro says.

Metro gets none of this revenue, which goes to the city or county, depending on location. “Our goal is to get compliance,” said Metro Police Chief Tom Lambert.

Just curious here: At what point does this sort of thing become a “revenue grab”? Actual cops are involved, so it would seem to pass the Michael Kubosh test. Can Metro cops do this forever without suffering the slings and arrows of snarky bloggers? Or is there some magic threshhold at which it becomes a bad thing? Help me out here.

Police allow some to slip past because they’re busy issuing someone else a ticket. And officers don’t want to create a jam at the HOV exit, since that can cause accidents as motorists crest the rise and encounter the stopped traffic.

Some single-occupant vehicles are driven by on-duty law officers and others who can ride the lanes alone, and others have toddlers in car seats in the back, hard to spot unless the window is opened.

“Without tinted glass and kids my job would be easier,” Ashmore said.

So even with a cop staking out the HOV lane, a single-occupancy car can escape punishment by sheer luck and the need to avoid bottlenecks. The cop also has to make guesses about which cars to pull over. If only there were some kind of technology that would optimize the task of identifying lawbreakers while avoiding issues of snarling traffic and risking collisions…

OK, I’m not really advocating cameras here. I’d have the same concerns about data privacy that I have with red light cameras – even more so, since by definition you’d need images that could fully capture each vehicle’s interior. I’m simply noting that for all their flaws, cameras do ensure that the law is applied universally rather than by fate, and that there is a side benefit of enhanced officer safety. I don’t think either of those points really gets discussed when red light cameras are the subject. Houstonist has more.

Campaign kickoff event for Melissa Noriega

Time to gear up for the May special election. Click the More link for an invitation to Melissa Noriega’s campaign kickoff event, to which all are welcome.


“For Better or For Worse”, but not for much longer

The pile of comic strip retirements is about to get bigger. Well, sort of.

First, the bad news: Lynn Johnston needs a break.

The cartoonist has, after all, written and drawn the popular comic strip For Better or for Worse for 28 years, in sickness and in health, without complaint, while Aaron McGruder (Boondocks), Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes) and others griped, took extended hiatuses and retired.

“What wusses!” she exclaims.

But Johnston turns 60 this year, and she wants to do things in life that are difficult to do while producing 365 comic strips a year.

“I want to travel and study and paint, and I want to spend some time with friends and family,” Johnston says.

“We’re starting to get to the stage when you go to funerals and that’s where you reunite with friends,” she continues. “I want to be able to spend time with friends while they’re still alive.”

The good news, however, is that Johnston isn’t retiring. Instead, the strip — which appears in more than 2,000 newspapers, including the Houston Chronicle — will be transformed in September into what Johnston calls “a hybrid” of new and old material.

She will continue to write and draw, but the new material will serve to frame flashbacks consisting primarily of recycled material. These strolls down memory lane also sometimes will contain new material that amplifies, embellishes or completes story lines of old.

For instance, Johnston mentions a character, Deena, who was absent from the strip for a long time without explanation. In her head she knew why Deena disappeared, but she never got around to drawing it. Now she will.

For the most part, however, the continuing saga of the Patterson family will end. Characters will stop aging. Existing story lines will be wrapped up before the change. Think of the new format as a long goodbye.

Well, okay. I’m a longtime fan of FBoFW, so I’m glad I’ll still have it, for however long Johnston does it. She’ll still be adding some content, and the strip will still be hers, so this is better in every meaningful respect than the continued flogging of old joke-a-day strips where the original artist is long dead. I presume at some point she’ll retire fully, and by then I figure I’ll be ready to let go.

Just guessing here, but I suppose we’ll see Michael and family move into new digs; Elizabeth finally find the right guy (I’m betting Anthony gets his wish); and maybe John join Ellie in retirement. I presume we’ll be spared seeing Ellie’s dad die as her mom did some years ago. That’s about it in terms of major story lines. Anybody want to add to that?

Sprint says “Switch”

Switch away from Sprint, that is.

State Comptroller Susan Combs on Monday asked Sprint to quit charging customers a fee reflecting Texas’ expanded business tax, but a spokesman for the wireless phone company said the surcharge will stay.

Sprint in January began charging a surcharge totaling 1 percent of each customer’s wireless rate plan called the “Texas Margin Fee Reimbursement.”

The fee is meant to cover part of the money that Sprint will owe next year under the business tax expansion, said John Taylor, senior manager of public affairs for Sprint Nextel Corp.

“There is nothing in Texas or federal law that precludes us from making this business decision, which we fully disclosed to our customers and to the public,” Taylor said.


Perry spokesman Robert Black called the company’s surcharge “a political stunt trying to poke their finger in the eye of the Legislature. … Why don’t they put other charges on their bill? Why don’t they ask their ratepayers to pay their utility bill or their CEO’s bar bill?”

Not to put too fine a point on it, Robert, but they already do pass those charges on to their customers. They just don’t itemize them. But hey, I appreciate the rage-against-the-machine sentiment anyway.

Putting aside any political points that may or may not be scored by this little stunt, it seems to me that unless Sprint backs off (or is forced to back off) from this, it opens a competitive opportunity for its competitors. The ad copy practically writes itself. Will Verizon, Cingular, T-Mobile et al follow Sprint’s lead, or will they distinguish themselves as the provider with lower fees? We’ll see.

Danno makes his choice

It seems that Sen. Patrick has made his choice: The constitutional spending cap outweighs property tax cuts.

Patrick said the folks in his district told him over the weekend not to break the cap.

“The people I talked to fully understood that such a vote might mean the promised property tax relief may not be fully realized,” he said. “However, to them and to me, a fiscally responsible state government is more important than the property tax relief that has been promised to them.”

He said he’s open to an idea that would allow voters to decide if the cap needs to be broken, which is essentially what some lawmakers and Gov. Rick Perry are proposing. But he only wants to do that if the Legislature puts before voters a plan to lower the state’s cap on increases in residential property values. The appraisal cap is now 10 percent, but Patrick wants it lowered to 3 percent.

“Let the voters decide on both or let them decide on neither,” he said.

The Legislature is almost certain not to approve a constitutional amendment calling for a 3 percent appraisal cap.

Fine by me. I don’t think he’ll get what he wants, which in the case of the spending cap is deep cuts to other forms of spending, so I’m happy to have him gum up the works a bit. Who knows, maybe there’ll be enough resistance to lifting the spending cap that the property tax cuts will have to be scaled back. I can dream, can’t I?

Other conservatives, like Patrick, are making noise about sticking to the spending cap, which would force cuts in state spending in the neighborhood of 20 percent. Meanwhile, some liberal Democrats chafe at the idea that it’s worth busting the cap to cut property taxes but not put more money into programs such as Medicaid or public education. Isn’t there an old saying about politics and strange bed fellows?

Indeed. There’s also another one, about being careful about what one wishes for. Be cautious in how you play this, folks. That’s all I’m saying.

Long as we’re discussing Danno, I want to comment on this observation by Karen Brooks.

The debate on the suspension of the rules today in the House brought to mind the Senate’s now-famous “Rule of 21.”

First made popular, of course, when Lt. Gov. Dewhurst revoked it during the Congressional redistricting fight and Dem senators’ flight to Albuquerque.

Came to us next via Sen. Dan Patrick, a conservative R from Houston who ran – in part – on how much he hates the rule that lets the minority have some swat in the Senate.

He tried to revoke it a few weeks ago but got voted down 30-1.

The House vote that happened today, using only 34 votes to kill a routine motion to suspend the constution, gives the minority a little sway for a little while. So people were kind of buzzing about the Senate deal when someone noticed Sen. Dan Patrick on the House floor. Near the front. Shaking someone’s hand, I forget who.

I didn’t ask him what he was doing there, but could it really be a coincendence?
I mean … really?

Here’s the thing. In case we’ve all forgotten, pretty much every way the Lege is set up is designed to keep it from doing too much. Biennial sessions of only 140 days, the 60 day rule, tax laws only originating in the House, and yes, the Senate’s 2/3 tradition – all of them help put the brakes on. You’d think someone who favors small government would appreciate such mechanisms and the checks they put on the Lege. I guess “limited government” is only a virtue when it’s the other guys that are in charge.

Resolution to vote on bills early fails

The vote on HR4, the resolution to suspend the constitutional rule against bringing bills to the floor in the first 60 days of a legislative session, has been conducted, and the resolution has failed, with 34 votes against, more than enough to sink it. Given that only 142 votes total were cast, 23 nays would have been sufficient, as the 4/5ths provision refers to total membership, not those present. Looks like the debate got a little contentious – see here, here, and here for examples. That last link contains some data that I think gives the whole debate some perspective:

[Democratic Rep. Jim] Dunnam is up now. Says look at the facts of what we are really talking about. “We are told if we don’t pass this, the whole House will come to gridlock. I have the calendars from the last several sessions. In the 76th legislature, do you know how many were brought up in the first 60 days? Two! In the 77th, we brought up six. In the 78th session, six came to the House floor, and in the 79th session, ten bills. Those include the emergency bills. So you are being told if we can’t bring up ten bills in the next 60 days the Senate is going to rule the world and the sky is going to fall. If we can’t take up 6-10 bills in the next 60 days, nobody’s bills are going to be passed. That’s not credible. You know that.”

For better or worse (and in my opinion it’s for the better), the Dems (plus Robert Talton, the lone R to vote No) prevailed. We’ll just have to see what happens next. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Looking at the list of nays, I’m struck by a couple of things: Six freshman Democrats voted against Craddick. Several members not known for being agitators – I’m thinking people like Scott Hochberg and Mike Villarreal in particular, but there are others – voted against Craddick. Rick Noriega, who was named to Appropriations despite being a vote against Craddick for Speaker, voted against Craddick. Make of that what you will.

I’m told that this vote in years past has been conducted on the same day as the Speaker vote. While it’s easy to see why that didn’t happen this time, you have to wonder if holding it after committee assignments came out was a smart move by Team Craddick. Maybe he should have kept the leverage he had. On the other hand, maybe he’ll spin this as “I didn’t retaliate in committee assignments, and this is the thanks I get.” Who knows? This session has already been more interesting than the two (regular) ones that preceeded it.

From the “Things I Wish Were True But Aren’t” Department

Miya Shay posted something this morning that got my heart racing:

What’s former Congressman, Mayoral and Gubernatorial Candidate Chris Bell up to these days? It appears that he’s ready for his next political adventure. Several sources say that Bell is ready to take on Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal. Former journalist-turned-lawyer-turned-politician Bell is the quintessential Democrat. Much can be said for the perennial prosecutor Chuck Rosenthal on the Republican side. If this battle indeed shapes up, should be an interesting one to watch! Stay tuned.

Nothing would please me more than to see Bell (who you may recall was the leading votegetter among gubernatorial candidates in Harris County last November) take out our sorry District Attorney. In hopes of being first aboard the Bell-for-DA bandwagon, I sent him an email asking if this were true. Unfortunately (for me, at least) his answer was unequivocal: “Totally false”. He was sufficiently adamant about this that he had his former campaign manager Jason Stanford contact me as well to make sure I knew that he had categorically denied this rumor. Stanford told me they didn’t know who was floating this, and he said it was not a trial balloon on Bell’s part. Put simply, Bell ain’t running.

Like I said, I wish this were true, but it’s not. I’m sure we’ll be hearing about another candidate soon, since this is not only an eminently winnable race for a Democrat, it’ll be the top race in the county next year. Feel free to speculate about who else might be talked about in the comments.

UPDATE: Miya prints Chris’ denial of the rumors.

You can sort of still smoke ’em in Bellaire

Two weeks ago, the city of Bellaire declined to join Houston in banning smoking in restaurants. Turns out that it may not matter much, because one of the few places inside Bellaire that allows smoking (I could swear I read there were two of them somewhere, but can’t remember where), the venerable Bellaire Broiler Burger, has decided on its own to ban it.

Starting Feb. 1, the only thing smoking at the Bellaire Broiler Burger will be a sizzling-hot grill, frying up the legendary patties.

The dining institution known for both its retro appearance and cuisine will ban smoking, even though Bellaire’s City Council bucked requests by the city of Houston and a restaurant association Jan. 15 and turned down a no-smoking ordinance by a vote of 2-5.

Loyal customers’ opinions were what made the decision for the eatery. And their affection for the nostalgia didn’t extend to the eras when smoking was socially acceptable.

“Because this place is so old, we have very little ventilation in the dining room,” said manager Pamela Howard, who says she’s a smoker herself. “We’ve talked to our customers, and we definitely are losing some or are in danger of losing some because we allow smoking.

“The people who do smoke say they like our food so much, they’d come even if they can’t smoke here.”

A prominent sign warning of the impending ban has been posted, and Howard said she and servers are trying to take the time to explain the decision to customers and ask for their continued business.

“We tried to accommodate everyone for a long time, but we just can’t any longer,” she said.

Depending on one’s perspective regarding these laws, one could interpret this as evidence that such laws are not needed, since the market has apparently done the dirty work, or that they do no harm to established businesses, since in this case at least they were not in danger of losing regulars had they been forced to make the change. Personally, I think I need to have a burger there to celebrate their decision. After February 1, of course.

In which I vent about Old Spanish Trail

I’m only blogging about this Rad Sallee column today because it took me all day yesterday to quit being so PO’ed about it.

“The OST segment between Texas 288 and Fannin may be one of the slowest projects I’ve ever witnessed, and I’ve been living in Houston for a long time,” writes L. Kian Granmayeh.

He lives near the Texas Medical Center and drives daily on Old Spanish Trail, often referred to by its initials.

“It seems like more than a year ago they began working on this less-than-two-mile segment, and about six months ago they stripped off the top layer, leaving a horrible driving surface.

“Since then, they have repaved half of the lanes but the others have been untouched and have manhole covers that protrude from the ground.”

Granmayeh said he seldom sees work being done there, and when he does it’s only a couple of trucks.

“I’d be shocked if this project finishes before rodeo time,” he said.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo at Reliant Park will draw lots of additional traffic to the area Feb. 27-March 18.

Old Spanish Trail is a Houston street, but it’s also part of U.S. 90A (as is South Main), so Texas Department of Transportation district engineer Maureen Wakeland fielded this one.

The project has about four more weeks to go, weather cooperating, she said, but given the time of year, “six to eight weeks is more likely.”

Grab leather and brace for more hard riding, rodeo fans.

Wakeland said some of the earlier delay was caused by change orders on the project, but more recently it was the rain and cold. A dry surface and temperatures at least 60 degrees are needed for pouring asphalt, she said.

“When I visit the project for inspection on good consecutive weather days, I see multiple crews working,” Wakeland said.

“I am sensitive to the writer’s inquiry, as I travel the area very regularly. I assure you that I am monitoring the work, and that I am working toward completing the project.”

I don’t know what Maureen Wakeland is smoking, but I drive that segment of OST (the construction actually goes all the way to Kirby) nearly every work day, and I’m here to tell you I haven’t seen a whole lot of work going on, especially lately.

Let’s clarify a few things first. As near as I can tell, the main work that has been done along this stretch of road was to install new sidewalks. Which is fine – there’s actually a decent amount of pedestrian traffic – but why they had to tear up the street to do this is a mystery to me. They didn’t do that all at once – they tore up the right lanes (it’s three lanes each direction) first, then did the sidewalk work, then tore up the other lanes and some of the medians, and finally have done some paving. And yes, it has been months. And months. And months since they started.

When Mr. Granmayeh says “they have repaved half of the lanes”, he means it literally: For at least the stretch near where I work at Greenbriar, the left lane and half of the middle lane on each side is paved. Yes, one and a half paved lanes in each direction. Why? Who knows. But it’s been that way for weeks. What’s especially frustrating is that like many other aspects of this job, that paving occurred very rapidly, then nothing more happened for a long time. Whatever was in those “change orders” Wakeland refers to, they had a hell of an effect.

The icing on the cake for me is that at the intersection of OST and Stadium, which is the entrance I usually take to get to work, the unpaved right lanes on OST are about two inches lower than the paving on Stadium, which means that every time I cross OST at Stadium, I put my car’s suspension at risk. And once again, it’s been this way for many weeks.

Monday was the first day in a long time that I saw some actual work being done. I couldn’t tell you what they were doing, other than blocking two lanes on the westbound side from 288 to Almeda, but they were there. I think it had to do with the medians, both there and nearer to Fannin, where at least they only blocked one lane of traffic.

Far as I can tell, the city is making faster progress on the Kirby storm sewer project than TxDOT is here. Whoever is actually managing this construction effort has done a crappy job.


I already know some bloggers who are or have been teachers, so this is no surprise to me.

After long days of grading papers and disciplining rowdy children, a growing number of tech-savvy teachers are creating online journals to vent about the stresses of the profession.

Educators who have already embraced the technology — called blogs (short for web logs) — find themselves walking a fine, virtual line of conduct. They strive to entertain and inform, but can’t violate their school districts’ ethics policies or federal laws designed to protect students’ confidentiality.

Most teachers who blog have opted to do so underground — refusing to cite their names, workplaces or other identifying details — to avoid potential professional pitfalls.

“School administrators tend to be pretty vindictive and they don’t like people with different ideas from them. People who speak out are not regarded very highly,” said Mike in Texas, an elementary school science teacher from East Texas, who started an online diary two years ago as a way of defending public education.

Obviously, any blogger who writes about what happens at work faces the same risk. Teachers are more visible in some ways, and writing about kids or certain aspects of their personal lives, even in a well-disguised manner, can certainly generate a strong and unsympathetic response to someone who gets caught at it, so anonymity is probably a necessary choice for them more than it might be for the average blogger.

Some teacher-bloggers predict that their districts may soon draft rules outlining what employees can and can’t say online.

Most Houston-area districts have remained silent on the issue of what teachers may post on their blogs, although the Katy school district issued a stern warning to employees last fall after some expressed concern about educators and students chatting online.

“While the district does not have the authority to prevent district employees from subscribing to these types of applications from their homes or from exercising their rights to free speech, employees are held accountable for adhering to the state code of ethics for educators,” wrote Lenny Schad, Katy’s deputy superintendent for information and technology services.

Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said districts can’t restrict teachers from commenting on public matters.

They can, however, forbid teachers from revealing students’ identities or from using taxpayer resources for personal pursuits.

“They have an absolute right to blog,” Fallon said. “Just not on school time, not on school computers — even if it’s lunch, it’s still a school computer.”

Again, no different than it would be for any other wage slave, though I daresay the computers at schools are monitored more closely than they might be at many businesses. Bottom line, whatever you do for a living, blog wisely.

“Bohemians, attorneys, and hippies”

I’ve blogged before about the impending development in the Rice Village that would close off a block of Bolsover and replace the little strip center there now with a high-rise mixed-use thing. The picture above gives a brief view of the coming attractions, and it’s got some area folks a tad bit worked up.

“The bohemians and hippies might not be so bad, if they don’t drive,” a caller from Southampton Place said. “But, this community simply can’t handle any more lawyers — with or without cars.” Perhaps fearing litigation from a future neighbor, the source asked not to be identified.

While construction of the project awaits the establishment of a sales price from the city of Houston to complete the street abandonment, Randall Davis, who is handling the disposition of the 225 condominiums, said a sales office will open March 1.


According to Davis, work on Phase 1 of the project along the north side of Bolsover will tentatively begin in late July and be completed in January 2009. When finished it will be comprised of 80,000 square feet of retail space and 125 condominiums.

Phase 2, which be located on the opposite side of the street, has no current timetable and will add 50,000 square feet for merchants and 100 living spaces.

Asked about the “bohemians, attorneys and hippies” reference in his sign, Davis said, “it means whatever you want it to mean.”

He declined to comment on how many bohemians and hippies he thought could afford to live in Sonoma.

“I think advertising is about making people read a sign,” Davis said.

Well, it worked, and whatever it means (Lord knows I couldn’t tell you) it’s done the job of making people look. Whether it gets them to buy or not, we’ll see.

In related news, the Chron somewhat belatedly came out against the proposal to close off Bolsover. I’m not sure why they wrote about it at this time, and I’m not sure I agree with them. The problem in that area is more with north-south traffic – Kirby is a mess and it’s going to get much worse in the short term – not so much the one block of east-west traffic that stretch of Bolsover represents. The project includes some improvements on Kelvin and Morningside, which would help the north-south traffic flow a little bit. I can’t say I’m in love with the idea of selling off public streets, but I don’t think the traffic concerns the Chron raises are the issue here.

Just say “No” to Tom Craddick

As you know, the Lege will be back in Austin tomorrow for what would normally be a pro forma vote to suspend the Constitutional rule against bringing non-emergency legislation to the floor in the first 60 days of the session. And as you also know, the vote will be anything but a formality. I’ve heard from a source that it’s a sure thing that this vote goes against Speaker Craddick, and that it will be a bipartisan vote to boot, but I figure it never hurts to let your representative know how you feel about stuff like this. It’s not like he or she is going to get flooded with calls about this otherwise obscure procedural vote, so at least you know you’ll be heard.

In the interest of saving space, I’ll point you to Vince, Boadicea, and Muse, who lay out the case for voting against Craddick’s wishes. If you have a moment, please contact your Rep and ask him or her to join in on that. And tune in tomorrow to see how this plays out.

UPDATE: My take on the pros and cons of this vote for Democrats is here.

UPDATE: Former State Rep. Glen Maxey has more.

Rebate this!

Let me see if I’ve got this straight. The budget surplus isn’t as big as we thought it might have been. Thanks to our obsessive desire to feed the property tax cut beast, we’ve got $2.5 billion in unallocated money for $4 billion worth of priorities. The ballyhooed business tax, centerpiece to Governor Perry’s plan to reform school finance reduce property taxes, is riddled with loopholes that will likely have negative repercussions for future revenue collection, which in turn will put even more strain on the budget as we try to pay for future property tax reductions.

And amid all that, Governor Perry is actually talking about tax rebates? Is he nuts?

Gov. Rick Perry thinks lawmakers should be allowed to rebate money directly to taxpayers, but the check is far from being in the mail.

Legislative leaders, miles short of embracing the idea, are concerned about the state’s ability to make good on already-promised school property tax relief and other obligations, despite billions in projected new revenue. Some wonder how rebates could be fairly calculated.

Asked what he thinks about the rebate idea, which Perry declared an emergency item more than two weeks ago, Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, replied, “Not much.”

“The big issue to me in this session is to make sure that we set aside enough of the surplus to guarantee that we’ll be able to meet our property tax promises in future years,” Ogden said.

I’m at a loss for words. All I can say is that I hope something that resembles sanity prevails; fortunately, that seems to be the case here. I wouldn’t have thought that the full-on property tax cut could have been a lesser of two evils choice in any context this session, but clearly I was wrong. Clearly, I wasn’t cynical enough.

The business tax needs to be fixed already

Looks like the new business tax may need to be fixed even before it gets put into effect.

The law dramatically expands the number of business taxpayers. But it’s also riddled with errors and in some cases created new loopholes that, if not fixed, could cost the state dearly in lost revenue; in other cases it’s been drawn so tightly that companies’ tax liabilities could go from almost nothing to thousands or millions of dollars, experts say.

In one glaring error, lawmakers botched the fix to one of the most popular tax shelters: Limited liability partnerships that doctors and lawyers often use to avoid business taxes were left off a list of taxable entities. State officials say such partnerships can still be taxed. But without a rewrite, that part of the law could invite a lawsuit.

“If they can clearly put that in a statute, then it may save us a court case down the road,” said Jerry Oxford, supervisor of the franchise tax policy section in the state comptroller’s office.


“The devil’s always in the detail,” said state Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, who describes keeping the tax law intact as his most important job this session. “What exactly do you mean by ‘technical problem’?”

For example, one glitch — the product of what has been described as a typographical error — gives certain real estate investors a huge tax break by granting them deductions no other entity can get.

Other passages give breaks to one industry but not to others doing virtually the same thing. [Bob Owen, a legislative expert at the Texas Society of Certified Public Accountants], said that in one case manufacturers can take deductions for subcontractor payments that the service industry cannot.

In another section, he said, a “flow-through” provision unfairly allows only a handful of industries to exempt from taxes certain revenues that pass in and then pass right back out.

Lawyers who win a legal judgment, for example, could use the provision to remove from the taxable equation the award given to the client and the money paid to outside attorneys — leaving only their fees. But travel agencies, which get a lot of money that goes right back out to airlines, tour operators and the like, would have to include the entire amount they took in, Owen said.

“I think it is a major issue,” he said. “It will probably have a major revenue impact.”

Would have been nice to have known this, oh, I don’t know, maybe last year sometime. Like, you know, when the bill was being voted on. Well, you know what they say: There’s never time to do it right, but there’s always time to do it over. Link via Eye on Williamson.

Point/not-quite-counterpoint on rail

I don’t know for sure, but I presume that when the Sunday Chron runs two op-eds on more or less the same subject from opposing perspectives it was planned, as in they invited the two point/counterpointers to submit the pieces in question. Sometimes these things work better than other times, but usually it’s a decent enough way to try and give equal time in a debate.

Unfortunately, one of the times when it doesn’t work so well is when one participant argues for a specific point, which the other person doesn’t address. Such as yesterday’s examples, in which Rep. John Culberson gave his usual talking points on the Universities rail route, while Ed Wulfe wrote this feel-good executive summary of the whole plan. It fails as a point/counterpoint (if it was planned as such – maybe it was just coincidence that these two pieces shared the Opinion section yesterday) because Wulfe only mentioned the Richmond/Westpark issue in passing, while Culberson made it his central thesis. Well, and because Wulfe didn’t really say anything remotely objectionable. If Wulfe intended his piece as an argument, it wasn’t Culberson he was arguing against; at least, not the 2007 post-referendum Culberson.

And I feel a little cheated by that, because I think there should have been a forceful pro-Richmond statement to accompany Culberson’s piece and counter his misleading spin regarding the election results. Again, assuming this was a deliberate setup, either Wulfe got the wrong instructions or he was the wrong person for the job. Either way, it’s a shame. There’s no shortage of pro-Richmond rail supporters. They deserve to have their voices heard.

Like I said, maybe it was just a coincidence that these two pieces appeared simultaneously. If so, then maybe there’ll be a followup by someone who was also expecting something else and was disappointed with what we got. That would be nice, since you can’t have a debate if the two people involved are not talking about the same thing.

UPDATE: This is what I’m talking about. That’s a genuine counterpoint to the Culberson piece. If I were to boil it down to a soundbite, it’d be something like “What do you want Metro to serve: the people of Houston, or ballot language as interpreted by the people who lost the referendum?”

Talking about taking the train to Galveston

Texas’ oldest rail line may ride again soon.

The group of consultants, engineers and planners envisions a train running from an as-yet-undecided station in Houston at 59 mph along the 140-year-old Galveston, Houston & Henderson Railroad, said consultant Barry Goodman, Goodman Corp. president.

The passenger line would make four to six stops before arriving at the Galveston Railroad Museum, housed in the former Galveston passenger terminal. Debarking passengers would exit through the museum to board a trolly, electric bus, horse-drawn carriage or cruiseship shuttle.

Goodman, whose company is leading the study, said Galveston plans to build a transportation hub next to the railroad museum to allow connections with buses and taxis.

The passenger line might be built in two stages, the first running from League City to Galveston and later extending to Houston, [study-group member John Bertini, chairman of the Galveston Railroad Museum board,] said.

“For the leadership of the region to ignore the possibility to rebuild a rail corridor that has been there 100 years, that can be done at a fraction of the cost of building highway capacity and would reduce pollution … it would be irresponsible for that opportunity to be ignored,” Goodman said.

The Houston-Galveston corridor is better suited for passenger rail than other routes because it has heavy traffic in both directions morning and evening, Bertini said. Other routes have heavy traffic in one direction in the morning and the opposite direction in the evening, he said.

Unlike other traffic corridors, the Houston-Galveston route is heavily traveled on weekends as well because Galveston is a prime tourist destination for Houstonians, he said.

We’ve talked about such a rail line and how it could benefit the tourist industry of the Houston-Galveston area before. I still think it’s a good idea (so does John), and I’m glad to see that it has political support. The fact that it would be cheaper than expanding I-45 just sweetens things. I hope the planners can come up with a viable design. We’ll see.

Means and ends

Two, four, six, eight, welfare reform wasn’t so great.

When Texas became one of the first states in the nation to overhaul welfare by insisting the poor work, the governor made a bold prediction.

“I believe this bill will make Texas a much better place,” Gov. George W. Bush said at the June 1995 bill signing.

If issuing fewer welfare checks means better, then Texas has succeeded. But Texas’ welfare-to-work success masks a growing poverty problem that, critics say, has little to do with the writing of paltry checks and much to do with the state’s historical resistance to offering services to those in need.

More than a decade after Bush signed the bill into law, the number of people receiving a Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, check has fallen 73 percent.

Today, fewer than 5 percent, or about 173,000 of the state’s 4 million poor children and adults, receive checks, a maximum of $223 monthly for a mother and two children.


“We’ve ended welfare as we know it, but we haven’t done anything about poverty,” said Barbara Best, Texas executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund. “I can’t imagine what the future of this state will be like if we don’t start investing in families and children.”

Texas has moved thousands of poor single mothers into the work force, but their average wage of $7.19 an hour isn’t lifting them out of poverty. Officials say that benefits, including child care, Medicaid, federal tax credits and food stamps, help provide a safety net, but charities often have to fill the needs of these women, who represent the majority of those on welfare.

Five years ago, 3.1 million individuals were living below federal poverty levels.

By 2005, more than 17 percent of Texans were living below federal poverty levels, with 800,000 more living in poverty than in 2000, pushing the total Texas poverty picture toward 4 million. And nearly one in four children now lives in a poor household, making Texas the fifth-worst state for child poverty.

Poorer children are more likely to arrive at school unprepared to learn. If they fail and drop out, their job prospects are severely limited. Or, they may become parents who are unable to properly care for their children.

Did someone say fail and drop out?

One out of three Texas students don’t graduate, and more students drop out than finish high school in the state’s largest cities, according to education experts.

Statewide, more than 2.5 million students have dropped out of Texas high schools in the last 20 years, and each graduating class loses about 120,000 students from freshman year to senior year, according to the San Antonio-based Intercultural Development Research Association.

The research group says more than half of students in Texas’ largest cities drop out. The dropout rate among blacks, Hispanics and low-income students is about 60 percent, according to the Center for Education at Rice University.

The statewide dropout rate is about 33 percent — or 20 points higher than what the Texas Education Agency reports.

Experts warn that the high dropout rate will lead to economic and social problems.

“If you live in a city like Dallas or Houston and half of your kids are not finishing high school, it’s a social crisis,” said Eileen Coppola, a researcher at Rice.

Dropouts are more likely to live in poverty, have health problems and end up in jail, Coppola said.

Dropouts on average earn about $9,200 per year less than high school graduates, said Frances Deviney, director for Texas Kids Count. That means dropouts give up about $900 million per year in wages.

The 2.5 million dropouts over the last 20 years represent $730 billion in lost revenue and costs for the state, Deviney said, citing a report from the research association.

“We have a huge problem,” Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said.

But don’t worry! We’ll get right on those property tax cuts. That’ll help for sure.

Back to the original story:

Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, a Kerrville Republican who authored the 1995 bill, said he’s satisfied that lawmakers did change the culture of dependence and replace it with one that relied on work.

“At this point, the reduction in welfare rolls is a resounding and unquestionable success,” he said.

And if the goal all along was simply to get people off welfare, then I’d have to agree that Texas has been successful at doing so. Of course, if that were the point, then all that really needed to be done was change the rules to make it harder to get on welfare. (Which is pretty much what was actually done.) If on the other hand the goal was to help reduce the number of people, especially children, living in poverty, then I’d say we’ve failed miserably. I guess it’s a good thing that wasn’t the goal, then. Eye on Williamson has more.

New frontiers in caffeine

Two words: Caffeinated doughnuts.

Dr. Robert Bohannon, a molecular scientist, says he has developed a way to add caffeine to baked goods, without the bitter taste. Each piece of pastry is the equivalent of about two cups of coffee.

You can’t buy the amped up doughnuts yet, but Bohannon says he’s been approached some heavyweight companies, including Krispy Kreme, Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks about carrying it.

And what beverage would be the perfect accompaniment to a caffeinated doughnut? Why, a nice frosty glass of caffeinated beer, of course. You’ll never look at breakfast the same way again.

What is HCTRA up to?

Tory recently had the opportunity to meet with the management of the Harris County Toll Road Authority and ask them a bunch of questions. The notes he took make for some very interesting reading. Check it out.

Would you like fries with that, K-Fed?

In the immortal words of Dogbert, sometimes no sarcastic remark seems adequate.

A restaurant trade group says it is insulted by an insurance company’s planned Super Bowl ad that stars Kevin Federline as a fast-food worker.

Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.’s 30-second spot shows Federline, who is estranged from pop princess Britney Spears, performing in a glitzy music video. However, the punch line is that he’s daydreaming – while cooking french fries at a fast-food joint.

The ad amounts to a “strong and direct insult to the 12.8 million Americans who work in the restaurant industry,” wrote National Restaurant Association President and Chief Executive Steven Anderson in a letter to Nationwide CEO Jerry Jurgensen.

The commercial “would give the impression that working in a restaurant is demeaning and unpleasant,” Anderson wrote.

If the Columbus-based insurer airs the spot during the televised Feb. 4 Super Bowl, Anderson said his organization will “make sure that our membership – many of whom are customers of Nationwide – know the negative implications this ad portrays of the restaurant industry.”

A Nationwide executive shrugged off the criticism, saying that where humor is involved, there always will be somebody who doesn’t get it.

The company doesn’t mean to offend restaurant employees, said Steven Schreibman, vice president of advertising and brand management.

“We’re not making fun of anybody, except maybe Kevin Federline.”

I don’t know about you, but as of this minute I plan to TiVo the Super Bowl just to make sure I don’t miss this ad. Thanks to Ryan Wilson of the AOL Fanhouse for the link.

You may or may not already be late

Are you one of those people who always runs a little late? Do you set your clock ahead a few minutes in an effort to be on time, only to be thwarted because you mentally adjust for the fact that your clock is known to be fast? If so, here’s a solution for you: a clock that runs an undefined number of minutes fast, with the exact amount changing within a defined range. As such, you know you’re a bit ahead but you don’t know how much, so you’d better be on the safe side and leave now just in case. Hey, it could work. Link via Crooked Timber.

Molly Ivins back in the hospital

Get well soon, Molly!

Nationally syndicated columnist Molly Ivins has been hospitalized in her recurring battle with breast cancer.

“I think she’s tough as a metal boot,” her brother, Andy Ivins, said Friday after a visit with her at Seton Medical Center in Austin.

Andy Ivins said his sister was admitted to Seton on Thursday. She spent Friday morning with longtime colleagues and friends, and was “sleeping peacefully” when he arrived later in the day.

A self-described leftist agitator, Ivins, 62, completed a round of radiation treatment in August, but the cancer “came back with a vengeance,” and has spread through her body, Andy Ivins said.

I hate to say it, but this doesn’t sound good. I truly hope I’m wrong, because we need people like Molly Ivins more than ever now, but I’m fearing the worst. My very best wishes for a complete and successful recovery go out to Molly Ivins.

WNBA to approve Comets sale

According to the Houston Roundball Review, the Houston Comets are going to have a press conference on Wednesday, January 31, to announce that the proposed sale of the franchise to Hilton Koch has been approved and will go through. The Women’s Hoops blog has more on this.

According to HRR, the timing of this announcement (which has apparently been delayed twice) is important because free agent signings begin February 1. The Comets also can’t hire their new coach until the sale has been completed. In other words, it’s time to get this done and move on. Stay tuned.

Residents want West Alabama put back the way it was

According to the Examiner, folks living near West Alabama want their old street back. You may recall that back in 2003 when Spur 527 was taken offline for construction, changes were made to Alabama to help it serve as an alternate route into downtown. Now that the spur is open again, some residents want those changes unmade.

The street originally had one primary lane going in each direction, with a middle turning lane and designated bicycle lanes on either side.

With the new plan, new traffic signals were installed along the corridor, turning the central lane into a reversible contraflow lane. The bicycle lanes were removed, and new ones were designated along Fairview Drive.

For residents in the neighborhoods through which West Alabama runs, perhaps the most noticeable changes were new signals and signs prohibiting left turns onto and off of the street, and prohibiting right turns on red lights. Longtime residents had to devise new ways to navigate to and from their homes.


Neil McKenna, a five-year resident of the 1700 block of Harold Lane, said that before the changes, West Alabama had a much more “residential” character.

“It was quieter, there were more pedestrians,” said McKenna, a research scientist who works in the Texas Medical Center. A bicyclist, McKenna also bemoans the removal of West Alabama’s bicycle lanes.

Both McKenna and Ray Jones, the founder of the West Alabama Quality of Life Coalition, say they heard officials say during a hearing in the federal proceeding prior to the spur reconstruction project that once it was completed, West Alabama would be restored to its original configuration.

District D Councilwoman Ada Edwards, who had only recently taken office when the spur project began, said she doesn’t specifically recall who may have said that the street would be returned to its original status, but that was her understanding of what would happen.

However, Wes Johnson, spokesman for the city’s Public Works Department, said that commitment was never made.

In any event, McKenna and Jones say it’s time for the street to be changed back.

“As a local resident, it’s an issue of great concern,” McKenna said. “The city needs to act on it.”

Regardless of what may or may not have been promised, I think McKenna and Jones have a valid complaint here. At the very least, they deserve an explanation for why Alabama’s configuration has not been changed back yet, and what timeline there may be for doing so. I have a feeling that if this matter is still unresolved in a few months, it will become a campaign issue for Edwards’ soon to be open Council seat.

There is, however, another issue involved:

[S]ince the spur project controversy has come and gone, Johnson said, a new element has entered the picture — METRO’s plans to build the University Line light rail line. For months, METRO officials, residents and politicians have wrangled over where the line will go, including along Richmond Avenue, a few blocks from West Alabama.

Johnson said the traffic management plan that resulted in West Alabama’s reconfiguration cost the city about $1 million. He said it would not be prudent to restore the original configuration of the street before a final decision on the rail line.

Edwards, however, said she would like to see West Alabama’s restored.

“This is what the community wants,” she said.

We know there are three possible routes that would affect this area; two of them run on Richmond through at least Edloe, the other is the Culberson option that cuts over at Montrose. It’s the only one that won’t attract Culberson’s opposition, but it’s also the most expensive and least effective route, and it will attract other opposition. Regardless of that, it will be awhile before Metro makes its choice, and awhile after that before we know whether the alignment they choose will actually get funded and built.

Having said that, we ought to have a pretty good idea by now what Metro has in mind to do to alleviate the construction woes on Richmond for the event that it needs them. Surely Metro will tout its amelioration plans (and likely already has been touting them) as part of its push to get whatever route it chooses completed. So how about all stakeholders here get together with Metro and talk about what Metro foresees as the impact of its possible future construction will be on Alabama? Maybe you’ll find that they think it won’t be so bad, just as the spur construction turned out to have less impact on the surface roads than people expected. Wouldn’t that make more sense than waiting till all the pieces are in place, however many months from now that is?

GLBT Caucus view of the Council candidates

The Houston GLBT Political Caucus takes a look at the five-so-far declared candidates for the open City Council seat, and adds some details that I had forgotten or hadn’t know. Despite some low profiles, this is an interesting and diverse group that we will have on the ballot. Check it out.

Committee assignments are out

This just arrived in my Inbox. Gotta love late Friday afternoon news. Hot off the presses, here are the committee assignments for the 80th Lege (PDF). Read and enjoy, commentary will follow later.

UPDATE: Jim Pitts fires back.

System overview and downtown BRT

Christof has a couple of Metro rail-related posts up, about how the overall system is shaping up, and how the Southeast BRT line will interact with the Main Street line. He’s about to start doing a lot of posts related to the Universities line alignment, and how it will fit with the rest of what Metro has to offer, so get ready to read up on all this.

In related news, the Chron reports that a pair of local Congressfolk will try to help Metro fulfill its original promise from the 2003 referendum by upgrading the BRT routes with real light rail lines.

[Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green] attended the meeting at which the Metropolitan Transit Authority board approved negotiating with a team headed by Washington Group International for the $1 billion project to design and build the planned North, East End, Southeast and Uptown lines and a north side “intermodal terminal” for buses and trains.

Metro hopes federal dollars will fund half that cost, said spokeswoman Sandra Salazar, and the agency has permission to count $326 million already spent on its Main Street line toward local matching funds.

Metro CEO and President Frank Wilson reaffirmed Thursday that the agency plans to lay rails in the right-of-way, commonly called a guideway, from the outset.

And Metro has changed its terminology from BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) to GRT (Guided Rapid Transit) to include both options.

Jackson Lee said she and congressional colleagues who represent affected neighborhoods hope that “a GRT will be an LRT — a light rail.”

Board Chairman David Wolff said Jackson Lee’s appointment last week to chair the transportation and infrastructure subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee gives her “a very important role to play in the future of transit all around the country and particularly in Houston.”

Jackson Lee said she would meet with federal agency heads and try to expedite funding.
“The message will have to be reinforced in Washington that Houston is now serious about moving forward with a Metro system,” she said. “But because of the competitiveness of federal funding and the numbers seeking federal funds, we will have to be both bipartisan and strong.”

Good for them. The people voted for light rail, the people want light rail, and the people should be able to get light rail. Whoever you blame for Metro scaling these routes back from light rail to BRT GRT, it’s not too late to fix those problems and do this right. I wish Reps. Jackson Lee and Green the very best of luck in getting this done.

One thing to highlight from the article:

The new Democratic edge in Congress does not guarantee success, even if Metro has support for its plans from powerful Texas Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, sits on a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee that holds transportation purse strings, and he could oppose funding for routes that deviate, in his view, from those described in the 2003 resolution approved by voters.

His aide Nick Swyka said Culberson would not comment on the projects in Wednesday’s vote.

However, he said, Culberson has not changed his mind that Metro is bound by a 2003 transit referendum to build the University light rail line on Westpark and not Richmond. Contracts for that project were not on Thursday’s agenda.

One might read these paragraphs and come away with the impression that it’s an open question whether or not Rep. Culberson would intervene in these projects and oppose any change to their current design. That’s how I read it, and needless to say I found that thought alarming. I also found it highly inconsistent with the “you don’t mess with my district and I won’t mess with yours” article from November. Surely, I thought, we’re not about to get punked, right?

And the good news is that my impression was not correct. I called Nick Swyka, and he said that the reason Culberson did not comment on the projects in question here was precisely because he doesn’t get involved, and doesn’t plan to get involved, in matters like this that are not in his district. He may or may not vote for any future appropriations to Metro that Jackson Lee and/or Green may propose (I didn’t ask about this, and I daresay it would have been premature for Swyka to comment anyway had I asked), but he won’t try to block what they’re doing. That’s all I could ask, and I’m glad to hear it. One less thing to worry about.

And more red light cameras have been installed

Via Houstonist, there are now ten more red light cameras around the town. Here they are, so you’ll know where to behave yourself:

  • West Loop at San Felipe (east frontage road)
  • Southwest Freeway at Bellaire (west frontage road)
  • Bissonnet westbound at Southwest Freeway east frontage road
  • Southwest Freeway at Beechnut (east frontage road)
  • Southwest Freeway at Fondren (east frontage road)
  • Chartres northbound at St. Joseph’s Parkway
  • El Dorado northbound at Gulf Freeway
  • Hollister northbound at 290 west frontage road
  • West Road eastbound at North Freeway west frontage road
  • North Wayside southbound at East Freeway north frontage road

And while many people (150 a day, by Houstonist’s count) have been receiving tickets for running red lights, far fewer have actually paid them so far.

About a quarter of drivers ticketed from September through December had paid the fine by the end of the year, Houston Police Department records show.

The actual collection rate may be higher because of a lag time between when a driver receives a violation and pays the fine, said Adam Tuton, vice president of American Traffic Solutions Inc., the camera vendor.

Violators have 45 days to pay or request a hearing to contest the citation. So some drivers ticketed in December still have time to pay, or payments already made may be recorded in January statistics.

More than 14,000 citations were issued between September, when the program went into effect, and December. That includes 10 city intersections where cameras were first installed, as well as 10 more locations where cameras began photographing violators’ license plates in November.

“The program is working much like we anticipated,” said Sgt. Michael Muench, who oversees it.


When the camera-monitoring program began, police estimated a quarter of violators would pay their tickets.

Houston Police Department Budget Director Larry Yium said then that the estimate was low and somewhat arbitrary. Jim Tuton, Adam Tuton’s brother and the CEO of ATS, said previously that he expected the collection rate to be as high as 90 percent, based on collections in other cities.

Unpaid citations are referred to collection agencies, so nonpayment could show up on credit reports. But because camera-generated citations are civil, not criminal, courts can’t issue arrest warrants for those who don’t pay, as they can for drivers who don’t pay speeding tickets — or red-light tickets issued by police who witness violations.

The lack of that criminal tool against violators caught on camera may partly explain why the city hasn’t been able to dragoon more violators into paying.

There’s a big difference between 25% and 90%. I’m guessing that 90% projection was made with the incorrect assumption that there would be criminal sanctions for not paying up. Even still, 25% seems a bit low. I know I’d pay up, because I wouldn’t want to find out what would happen to me if I didn’t, even if I knew it wouldn’t result in criminal charges. Perhaps I’m more risk-averse than the people who are getting ticketed. That wouldn’t surprise me.

Questions: How long does it take before a second notice goes out, and how does that affect the payment rate? When will the collection agencies get involved? And how much of a revenue generator can this thing be if three out of four people ignore the tickets they get?

No committees yet

Well, we were promised committee assignments for the House by yesterday, but we didn’t get them. The Statesman blog has the best summary of the situation.

“The speaker promised too much to too many people,” said Waco Rep. Jim Dunnam who leads the House Democratic caucus.

Given that 68 House members signaled their opposition to Craddick’s re-election on Jan. 9, Craddick promised in the election aftermath to be kinder-and-gentler in running the House, listening more to the members than ramrodding his agenda.

The delay, according to Craddick loyalists who sought anonymity because their committee assignments are in play, is prompted more by his longest-serving allies feeling they are not getting enough in return for their loyalty. As Craddick told members of his new team what their assignments would be, the word trickled out to other members.

Some weren’t satisfied.

Craddick is finding it hard to please everyone–or at least the 80 members who stuck with him.

Rep. Robert Talton, R-Pasadena, is questioning Craddick’s motives.

“He’s not kinder and gentler,” said Talton, who voted against Craddick. “He’s just trying to be smarter.”

Wouldn’t that be a sweet little piece of karma – Craddick overselling his ability to deliver goodies, like a more Machiavellian Max Bialystock, and coming a cropper because of it.

And worse for Craddick, he’s run into some resistance on a vote that’s normally pro forma:

Craddick asked all members to be present Tuesday for a vote on suspending a constitutional rule prohibiting consideration of legislation–not designated by the governor as emergency items–on the House floor within the first 60 days of the session.

It would take four-fifths of the House’s 150 members to suspend the rules. Craddick reminded members Thursday that the rule had been suspended every legislative session but one.

But Tuesday’s vote might be more difficult because as few as 31 members can kill it.

Dunnam said he sees no reason to give Craddick, criticized for being autocratic, a “blank check” to speed any legislation he choses with very little committee input.

Dunnam said Craddick used the rule suspension in 2003 to ram his pro-business agenda, including curbing the ability of people to sue companies.

Instead, given the level of distrust in the House, Dunnam said the members should suspend the rules for specific legislation instead of giving the speaker control over the early agenda.

Capitol Letters has more on this, while Eye on Williamson notes there’s likely already at least 27 votes in favor of making Craddick work for it. I certainly favor that approach. We’ll see what happens. Burka and Rep. Pena have more, while Pink Lady has a modest proposal.

How much do you like beer?

Wanna be a tour guide at the Saint Arnold brewery? Houstonist tells you how and why:

Brewery tours are held each Saturday at one o’clock in the PM. Volunteer duties include handing out those nifty wooden beer tokens, pouring brews and cleaning up after the tourees. The perks include discounts, exclusive event invites and of course enjoying a tasty beverage or seven at the conclusion of each tour.

The catch is that all volunteers must attend a TABC course. The next one is at the brewery on Tuesday, the 30th. It’ll cost you $25 and take four hours of your time to have an instructor tell you to use common sense about serving folks, as in if they drink to much and hurt themselves you and the establishment may be liable. There’s other lessons, too, but that’s the main one.

Contact the brewery if you’re interested and have some Saturdays to spare. Be sure to let us know if you need help polishing off a sixer.

Saint Arnold Brewing Company
[email protected]

If you really like beer (and you know who you are if you do), this is a sweet deal. Go forth and help spread the joy.

Abbott says no death penalty for illegal abortions

Well, that’s a relief.

The death penalty cannot be used against doctors who perform abortions without parental approval or during the third trimester, according to an opinion released Wednesday by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.

A state lawmaker asked Abbott to clarify the available punishments after a prosecutors group contended that a law passed in 2005 had the unintended consequence of allowing doctors to be charged with capital murder in those scenarios. In Texas, capital murder is punishable by life in prison or the death sentence.

No doctors have been charged with capital murder, and it’s difficult to imagine a prosecutor using that tactic, said Shannon Edmonds, the Texas District and County Attorneys Association official who came up with the interpretation.

But Rep. David Swinford said he wanted Abbott to clarify the law before any cases arose because he did not think the Legislature wanted doctors to be prosecuted in that way.

“We never discussed a capital murder deal at any time, so I know that was not anybody’s opinion about the thing,” said Swinford, R-Amarillo.

Background on this matter can be found here and here – the latter link is an explanation of the TDCAA’s position by its staff counsel and head of publications. As noted by Shannon Edmonds, the AG’s opinion is not binding on anyone, so the most direct way to resolve this is to amend the existing laws to clarify them. Well, repealing them would be a nice, neat answer as well, but as that sadly ain’t gonna happen, an update would seem to be in order. We’ll see what happens.

Austin citizenship drive

From the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition:

State Representative Eddie Rodriguez in collaboration with the University Leadership Initiative, will conduct Austin’s Citizenship Drive on Saturday, January 27th, 2007 starting at 8:00 am at the LBJ School of Public Affairs located 2315 Red River, (inside the Sid Richardson building) in the city of Austin, TX 78705. The goal of the workshop is to help eligible legal permanent residents apply for U.S. citizenship.

Last spring, millions of immigrants and their supporters marched in cities throughout the United States in support of comprehensive immigration reform. The unprecedented levels of participation has motivated thousand of individuals to seek other avenues to continue their civic engagement, including more direct democratic actions such as voting, which requires legal permanent residents to first become naturalized citizens.

“The message is loud and clear: Immigrants are an integral part of the American community” said State Representative Eddie Rodriguez. “There is no better way to demonstrate our community’s patriotism and commitment to this country than by becoming full participants in its democracy. U.S. citizenship and voting are clearly the next steps.”

Approximately four out of ten Latino adults living in the U.S. are not citizens, of which 5 million are eligible for naturalization. In Texas, there are approximately 800,000 Latinos potentially eligible to become U.S. Citizens. Research demonstrates that Latino naturalized citizens, are voting at higher rates than native born Latinos in many states,” notes Rebecca Acuna, Policy Analyst with ULI. “Our community can continue to change the political landscape of our country through increased electoral participation.”

Eligible applicants for U.S. citizenship are encouraged to arrive early, as the first 300 legal permanent residents who arrive and meet the requirements to solicit citizenship will be ensured assistance. To apply, applicants must be:

* At least 18 years old
* A legal permanent resident for at least five years (3-Years if married to U.S. Citizen)
* Able to read, write, speak, and understand basic English, and have basic knowledge of U.S. History and government
* Of good moral character.

In addition, the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services requires citizenship applicants to submit a $400 money order along with the application. “So if possible,” Acuna stressed, “applicants should consider bringing the money order and complete the full application process on the day of the workshop.”

For more information, applicants may call 441-8123 ext 101 or 113.

Organizers estimate that 70 bilingual volunteers are needed to conduct the event. Persons interested in volunteering are encouraged to call 441-8123 ext 101 or 113. Training will be provided.

Sounds like a fine idea to me. Good luck to all who participate.