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May 7th, 2007:

“Gutted” statewide smoking ban bill passes the House

For what it’s worth.

The smoking ban seemed to have recovered from a near-defeat Friday but staggered further Monday before it passed 91-48.

Now in its weakened state, the bill still needs a final House vote before it goes to the Senate, where it faces an uphill battle to survive.

Myra Crownover, the Lake Dallas Republican pushing the measure, said the ban is needed to protect workers and other people regularly exposed to secondhand smoke.

“Our attempt is to save lives. Secondhand smoke kills,” Crownover said, vowing to try to get the bill back to its original, stronger form. “Nothing is ever finished until it signed by the governor.”

The biggest fight came over an attempt to exempt bars, which Crownover argued would have defeated the purpose of the bill. The bar exemption had been placed in the bill Friday, but was removed after negotiations over the weekend.

But Crownover later accepted an amendment that allows property owners — not always the bar or restaurant operator — to decide if smoking will be allowed. The owner would have to post a sign in a conspicuous place noting that smoking is permitted.

Crownover acknowledged that the exemption punches a huge hole in the ban.

“I will work very hard,” to take it out, she said.

The bill includes other exemptions for bingo and VFW halls and bars that offer their employees health insurance. Cities could also opt out if local voters can get the issue on the May 2008 ballot.

The Senate companion bill is still in committee, so this may have all been for naught anyway. For good or ill, the time spent on this bill may mean others won’t get heard at all. Too bad most of the bad ones have already had their day on the floor, but that’s how it goes. Capitol Letters and Postcards from the Lege have more.

HB13 passes the House

Grits and Vince have the details. I predict it’ll have a much easier time in the Senate – it’ll need to have a much easier time, or there’ll be no time to pass it. Even a joint committee might run up against the clock. Not that this would be a bad thing, mind you.

UPDATE: Early coverage of the House action.

“Today, we denied the state level law enforcement, the DPS, its ability to do the fullest job that it possibly could on the border,” said Democratic Rep. Jessica Farrar of Houston, who voted against the bill. “We are … setting up a political patronage system instead of basing law enforcement decisions on law enforcement criteria. We risk continuing the dismal results obtained thus far.”

Amen. At least the Raymond and Noriega amendments made it in. Take your small victories where you can, I always say.

Anti-clean air bill gets moved to friendlier turf

Remember SB1317, the anti-clean air bill that could have been stopped in the Senate but wasn’t? And remember how I was worried that it might get routed to a friendly committee for a clear path to passage in the House? Over the weekend, I reported that it was instead routed to the Urban Affairs Committee, where an identical bill had been locked up. Unfortunately, it’s not there any more.

Upon passage, Jackson’s bill was referred to Urban Affairs, which is chaired by Houston Democrat Kevin Bailey. A few hours later the bill was re-referred to the Environmental Regulation Committee, which Angleton Republican Dennis Bonnen chairs. Bonnen has not heard any of the air toxics bills filed by Democrats this session. Let’s see if he puts Jackson’s bill on the fast track.

The makeup of the committees suggest the bill has a better chance coming out of Environmental Regulation, which has five Republicans and two Democrats. Urban Affairs, in contrast, has five Democrats and two Republicans.

Suggests, hell. It screams it from the rooftops.

Look, it’s very simple. Remember what Sen. Jackson said during the floor debate?

“This isn’t over air quality. It’s over city sovereignty,” said Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, who carried the bill. “This is a policy issue, not an environmental bill.”

You would think that a city sovereignity bill would properly belong in Urban Affairs, wouldn’t you? Especially since an identical bill is already in Urban Affairs. But you’d be wrong. Despite not being an environmental bill, it’s in the Environmental Regulation Committee, where it’s sure to get passed. How awfully damn convenient.

At this time, I’d say the best thing that could happen is a point of order. There’s got to be something in there if someone can find it. It’d be nice to know what role Kevin Bailey might have played in this bill’s removal from his committee. Remember how being a Craddick Democrat means you get to have power to do good? This is one of those times when that power was needed, and unless someone can explain to me otherwise, I’d say Bailey flunked the test. When this bill passes, you can add him to the list that starts with Mike Jackson and Eddie Lucio of people to thank for it.

More HB13 debunking

HB13 is scheduled to be on the floor of the House yet again today, at which time we may get some answers to the questions Scott Henson raised concerning federal funding questions that its sponsor, Rep. David Swinford, had claimed about it. Scott has some more questions today:

HB 13’s sponsor David Swinford claimed having the Governor oversee these funds was required by federal statute, but as I reported over the weekend, that’s not true. It turns out grant money would be given directly to counties from the US Attorney General and would not pass through the Governor at all!

Indeed, Rep. Rick Noriega’s office compiled an analysis of where these functions have been placed in all 50 states that staff will distribute to House members. Bottom line, here’s an overview of where various states have placed homeland security powers:

Governor: 12
Department of Public Safety: 15
Adjutant General: 5
Independent Agency: 11
Other: 6

So other states don’t have HB 13’s structure, and there is no federal statute or even pending legislation in Congress that would require such funds to pass through the Governor’s office. Given Chairman Swinford’s misreading of federal law and his misunderstanding with Congressman Culberson (who did not draft his federal legislation to mirror Swinford’s bill), I hope he backs off these unnecessary and increasingly inexplicable demands.

Remember how the hullabaloo over Governor Perry’s HPV order was really about Perry’s overreaching his authority, and the House snapping him back into place? Well, I say this is another example of such overreach. Will the House act as they did with HB1098, or do the Governor’s wild-eyed claims about terrorists cancel out such concerns? We shall see. The Observer has more.

If not you, then who?

Through Friday, just under 24,000 people had voted in Harris County (PDF). That includes other city elections, like Pasadena and Deer Park, various school board elections, and the constitutional amendment. It does not include the weekend, which might have added another 5000 ballots or so. Counting today and tomorrow, I’d guess we’ll wind up with about 35,000 early votes being cast, which suggests about 80,000 total votes. If that were city of Houston only, it would mean that the County Clerk estimate of eight percent turnout was accurate. Since it isn’t just city of Houston, I’ll stand by my projection of five percent.

Which makes your vote worth that of twenty people. Assuming you cast it, of course. If you don’t, well, what other nineteen people will you be lumped in with?

Early voting concludes tomorrow. You have from 7 AM till 7 PM today and tomorrow to vote early, at one of these locations. After that, Election Day is May 12. Please don’t miss out.

HB13: Swinford and Culberson

Grits asks a very interesting question regarding HB13:

House State Affairs Chairman David Swinford has said he’d rather kill HB 13, the Governor’s homeland security bill, than move police powers to the Department of Public Safety away from the Governor’s control. In both the committee hearings and on the floor the other day Swinford referenced a deal he made with Congressman John Culberson that he intended to honor. According to the El Paso Times:

Swinford said moving control of border security money out of Perry’s office could jeopardize a deal he has made with Texas congressmen to get border sheriffs more federal money. “I will kill the bill before I go back on my word,” he said.

That struck me as odd, and the chair has said it more than once – he’d rather kill his own bill than move this out of Gov. Perry’s control!

What sort of deal could this be, I wondered? Why would John Culberson have so much say so over whether Texas gets money or not or whether a state agency is under the Governor or under an independent board?

Click on to read more. I’d like to know the answer to that, too.

Meanwhile, we finally have a response from Gov. Perry to the swiftboating of Rep. Rick Noriega.

At issue was a letter sent April 27 from state Homeland Security Director Steve McCraw to Noriega that accused the Houston Democrat of taking a “bury our heads in the sand” approach to border security.

[…]

Noriega, a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard who missed the 2005 legislative session while he was deployed to Afghanistan, called the letter “both insulting and irresponsible” and called on Perry to retract it.

“We’re talking about the safety of Texas,” Noriega told the Star-Telegram on Wednesday. “To then attempt a diversionary tactic by killing the messenger is not appropriate for something this serious.”

Perry replied in a letter of his own thanking Noriega for his Guard service, and offered to address his concerns in depth at a later date. Perry spokesman Robert Black said Noriega might not have a complete grasp of the responsibilities of the homeland security office.

“It’s important for Representative Noriega to have a full understanding of what the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security entails,” Black said. “It’s not just about border security, but emergency management in the event of a disaster, drug interdiction and coordinating efforts to keep our citizens safe.”

Noriega called the comments condescending, and said that he was raising legitimate questions about policies implemented or planned by the homeland security office that did not intend to minimize the need for a secure southern border.

He reaffirmed his statements that state officials are exaggerating the threat of terrorists gaining access to U.S. territory from Mexico’s border with Texas. The more vulnerable targets, he said, are the nation’s small airports, seaports and power plants.

“They are using the terrorism threat as an excuse for immigrant bashing,” Noriega said.

I think we all understand what the Governor’s Homeland Security office is about, which is why there’s been so much bluster and secrecy surrounding it. It wouldn’t bother me at all if Rep. Swinford followed through on his threat to pull the bill. Go ahead, throw me in the briar patch!

Finally, Muse comments on the elephant in the room, and notes that Governor-For-a-Day Mario Gallegos made Noriega Director of Homeland Security for a day. If only!

Dynamo: Moving near the Astros?

Miya Shay reports that the Houston Dynamo may become the Houston Astros’ newest neighbor.

Officially, the Dynamo say they are still looking at building a new stadium either in Sugar Land or Houston. But I’ve learned there’s been a strong push by city and sports leaders in town to keep the team in Houston. And while the final decision is still weeks away, there’s been lots of scouting for a potential location.

As the Houston Dynamo players try to defend their championship, the team’s front office is trying to find the team a permanent home.

“We really want to find the site that makes the most sense for the franchise, for the sport of soccer, and what we think can give us the best opportunity to not only grow our business, but to really embrace the soccer community,” said General Manager Oliver Luck.

Luck would not go into specifics, but multiple sources say the Dynamo is seriously considering a stretch of parking lot located just east of Minute Maid Park. Owned by the Houston Sports Authority, the large surface parking lot is under a 30-year lease by the Astros. But Pam Gardner says the team’s willing to share.

“We’ve been really, really thrilled with the situation we have downtown,” she said. “We would have to look at how we might look into some shared environments. Where they might put it might affect what else they have around them. Without knowing the specifics on their plan, it’s hard to really address that.”

Your move, Sugar Land.

How unromantic

‘stina brings news of an incident at the Romantic Times Book Lovers’ Convention here in Houston. I’ll leave it to you to click over and read the details. All I know is that it looks like Fred Head finally found someone who’d vote for him.

Great moments in publishing

There really are days when I feel like I’ve seen it all.

Believe it or not, there actually does exist a magazine called Blogger & Podcaster. And yes, the tagline is: “For Aspiring New Media Titans.” And yes, you won’t even come close to being the first to mock the effort. Nevertheless, Troy McCullough of the Baltimore Sun says “the concept of a blogging trade publication isn’t as crazy as some have made it out to be” and insists that the magazine “has shown it has some early potential.”

I don’t know about you, but my personal Sign Of The Apocalypse count is now well into three digits. Thanks to the ever-vigilant Julia for the link.