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May 22nd, 2007:

Anti-abortion bills die

RIP, SBs 785 and 920. Good riddance to you both. More here, plus a full timeline of SB785’s curious life here.

“Not if, but when”

Rep. Fred Hill, the most recent entrant into the Great Speaker Sweepstakes of 2007 (okay, second most recent), says it’s just a matter of time before the long-anticipated motion to vacate the Speaker’s chair is made.

Hill said if no one else made a motion to vacate House Speaker Tom Craddick, then he would. But he added that he didn’t think he would have to — that another upstart House member would. If the motion to vacate is successful, Hill also said he expected House members to nominate numerous speaker candidates, including Craddick. A candidate must win a majority of votes to claim the speakership, so the votes could go to more than one ballot.

“The membership of this body is very unhappy,” Hill told a gaggle of reporters. “I thought Tom would change. The bottom line is things are not changing.”

Hill said that a majority of the House had turned against Craddick.

Rumors are zipping around the House floor that a motion could come as early as tonight. Craddick’s been working the floor so hard, he might need a new pair of shoes before the session ends. The question is, will he need a new desk too?

Much more from Hill is here. Ominously for Craddick, he’s now lost the support of two Democrats:

Rep. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, can no longer be counted in Craddick’s column.

Rose and Rep. Eddie Lucio III met in a tense meeting with Craddick Tuesday afternoon. Afterwards, word swept the floor that the Democrats, two of the 15 that helped elect Craddick in January, had defected.

It added to the perception that a motion to vacate the chair could come tonight.

Lucio, a first-year legislator, confirmed tonight that he told Craddick he supports removing him as speaker. He said afterward he has no preference on who replaces Craddick.

“I respect the speaker, I respect his family,” Lucio said. He said he took heat from colleagues at the start of the session for voting for Craddick’s re-election as speaker, but he did so “based on a clean slate.”

Since then, Lucio said, the House has proved “more divided than ever. In order to have a Legislature that works together… there has to be a change.”

“Tom Craddick has been very nice to me,” he said. “Unfortunately, this is something that has to take place.”

Puts a bit of a dent in the “nicer Tom Craddick” thesis, doesn’t it? Rose was quoted in QR saying “I respect the Speaker and his family but I believe the House has to be governed from the middle.” I’ll drink to that. Do I hear a motion on the floor? BOR has more.

RIP, SB785?

I sure hope so.

Sen. Florence Shapiro’s abortion reporting bill has hit a major snag in the House — a point of order that has forced House sponsor Geanie Morrison to delay the bill three separate times. Latest ETA is 5 p.m. — but considering how many times it’s been pushed back, and the number of riled up folks who head to the podium each time the bill is SUPPOSED to come up, I’d say the chances of passage without a major brawl are slim. Heck, at this rate, the bills proponents would be lucky to get a chance at a brawl.

Shapiro’s bill won’t be the only one to die today, but it will be one of the more deserving of that fate. I know, I know, don’t count your chickens and all that, but I’m feeling hopeful.

Dewhurst: Senate will pass CHIP bill today

I sure hope so, that’s all I can say. It’s taken way, way too long.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said that a plan to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program will clear the Senate today.

“Of course this bill is going to pass today,” Dewhurst told a group of advocates from the Network of Texas IAF Organizations.

The Senate’s version of the plan will add about 100,000 children to CHIP by loosening restrictions put in place during a budget crunch in 2003. It would eliminate a 90-day waiting period and allow children to stay in the program for a full year instead of having to apply every six months.

However, unlike the House-approved version, the Senate version would have the eligibility of many families checked after six months. This would ensure that the state remain “true to the standards of eligibility,” Dewhurst said.

If only this fetishization for followup extended to other items.

The House-approved version of the plan would add about 33,000 more children to CHIP than the Senate-approved version, according to the Health and Human Services Commission.

But Dewhurst said there is no set number for how many children would be added.

“I am committed, I have always been committed, that any child that is eligible ought to be on the CHIP roll,” he said to advocates’ applause.

The House and Senate differences will likely be reconciled in a conference committee. Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, said both the House and Senate versions would be an improvement over the current rules.

“People in our state are having to die because they can’t afford to live,” he said.

Here’s a listing of the differences between the House and Senate bills. Let’s get this done, folks.

A short rant about TiVo customer service

Tiffany called me earlier today to say that our less-than-six-months-old Series 3 TiVo was rebooting itself over and over again. Not having anything better to offer, I suggested she call TiVo customer support to see what could be done. She did, and we got the bad news: Our unit was fried, and we needed to get a new one.

That’s about the last thing you want to hear the day before the season finale of Lost gets aired, but the news got worse from there. TiVo has what has to be one of the worst exchange policies I’ve ever encountered. We had two basic choices: We could ship them our malfunctioning unit, and when they received it they’d send us a replacement, or we could put a deposit down on our credit card for the full purchase price of a Series 3 ($799) and they’d send us the new one within 24 hours. By UPS ground, mind you. We’d still have to send back the bad box, at which point the charge would be credited. Well, within ten days, anyway.

After pitching a fit and talking to a supervisor, the best they could do for us was to give us two-day shipping and a return shipping label for the dead TiVo. We still had to put down a deposit to get the new one shipped right away. Which is what we eventually settled for, after giving everyone we spoke to a prolonged venting of our dissatisfaction.

It’s bad enough that the timing of this couldn’t be worse. Never mind sweeps week, Tiffany had come to depend on the TiVo to keep her sane amid the daytime TV wasteland while she’s home with Audrey. We can at least still receive basic cable dirtectly through the TV, though since we don’t watch non-kid-friendly stuff while Olivia is awake, that’s going to put a crimp in things; I offered to spirit Olivia out of the house for an hour after dinner so at least Tiffany could watch the season-ender of NCIS. We’ve also lost a boatload of shows that were saved on the Series 3’s much larger disk drive, including the most recent Sopranos (which I fortunately will be able to see via HBO On Demand), three episodes of Waking the Dead, which was going to help bridge the gap between this season and summer shows like The Closer, and loads of Jack’s Big Music Show, Go, Diego, Go!, and Miss Spider, which is what Olivia gets to watch (two shows a day max).

What really hurts is that we just love TiVo. It’s a lifestyle changer, which gives us a lot more control over our own leisure time. I can cope with the loss of the convenience for a few days, even if it is a bit disquieting to see just how much we’ve come to depend on it, but the customer-unfriendliness of their exchange policy has put a big damper on my enthusiasm for them as a company. I wouldn’t be so upset if this were an older unit (note that our almost four-year-old original Series 2, which we gave to my in-laws when we upgraded, is still working fine), but this thing is practically brand new. I expected much better than this, and it’s a huge disappointment to realize otherwise.

I don’t have a point to this. I’m just mad and felt like venting, and hey, that’s why God gave us blogs, right? I’m still mad, but I’ll get over it. Thanks for indulging me.

Four! Four for Speaker!

And Brian McCall throws his hat in the ring once again. I’m beginning to think Burka is right about the full list of contenders. Where’s Gib Lewis when you really need him?

UPDATE: Holy guacamole, we’re up to five now. How many will there be by the time all is said and done?

Darned Good Questions Department

I haven’t followed the ins and outs of SB966, also known as the he Free Flow of Information Act or the Shield Law, which was killed on a point of order last night. (Vince has all the background if you’re interested.) There’s something to why it was killed, however, as Karen Brooks demonstrates.

It was being carried by one of the House’s mainstay conservative Rs, Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale, from a neighboring district, who votes the same way she does 99 percent of the time.

So, I’m not sure what problem she had with him that she wanted to kill a bill that was extra important to him. If the Riddler had issues with Rep. Too Cool for School or his bill, she didn’t tell him a thing. Her strike came out of the blue.

[…]

Since she didn’t tell Corbin why she didn’t like it, and she only asked one question from the back mic, that’s all we’ve got to go on.

“Corbin, are you aware that our district attorney, Chuck Rosenthal, is very opposed to this bill?”

Then ka-blam. She gets all Talton on him.

Here’s a question: Is the Riddler aware that the DAs opposed Jessica’s Law? I believe she might have been.

Here’s another question: Is she aware of why the DAs opposed Jessica’s Law? Because they say it would make it harder for them to win cases/close crimes/etc. Same reason they oppose the shield bill. Both bills. Same reason.

Third and final question: Why are the DAs right about journalists but wrong about abused children?

…. Yeah, I don’t have an answer for that one, either. I’ll let you know if I figure it out.

Emphasis in the original. In case you’re unclear, the House sponsor of “Jessica’s Law” was, of course, Debbie Riddle. Like I said, darned good questions.

UPDATE: Chron story is here. Geez, a comma?

Speed trap camera bill goes to Governor Perry

HB922, a bill by Rep. Vicki Truitt (R, Southlake), which would ban the use of cameras to catch speeders and which passed the House earlier this month, has now passed the Senate and is on its way to Governor Perry’s desk.

[Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, the bill’s Senate sponsor,] said the cities of Rhome, northwest of Fort Worth, and Marble Falls, northwest of Austin, have used cameras to create “speed traps.” He said motorists don’t learn they’ve been nailed – on a criminal charge — until a notice arrives in the mail from a Rhode Island tech company days or weeks later. That robs a driver of ability to argue with the cop who stops him, Mr. Carona said.

Note that making it a criminal charge differs from the use of red light cameras, where a civil citation is issued. And speaking of which:

Sen. Mike Jackson, R-LaPorte, asked Mr. Carona if he’d agree to expand the bill so it also would outlaw using automated cameras to cite people for running red lights. Mr. Jackson said Garland was one of the first cities to do that. Separate legislation to kill the practice has been bottled up this session, he explained.

“Will you take my amendment?” he asked Mr. Carona.

“Oh, no sir,” Mr. Carona replied. “I don’t mind dating you but I don’t want to marry you.”

Heh. As we know, a related bill is in conference committee. We’ll see what happens with it.

TRO granted in Farmers Branch lawsuit

No surprise here.

A federal judge on Monday issued an order halting enforcement of a voter-endorsed ordinance preventing apartment rentals to most illegal immigrants, a day before the ban was to take effect in this Dallas suburb.

U.S. District Judge Sam A. Lindsay wrote that only the federal government can determine whether a person is in the United States legally.

Instead of deferring to federal officials, Farmers Branch has created its own classification to determine which noncitizens may rent an apartment, the judge ruled, also noting that Farmers Branch appeared to have taken federal regulations regarding housing benefits for noncitizens and used them to define who may rent an apartment in the city.

“The court recognizes that illegal immigration is a major problem in this country, and one who asserts otherwise ignores reality,” Lindsay wrote. “The court also fully understands the frustration of cities attempting to address a national problem that the federal government should handle; however, such frustration, no matter how great, cannot serve as a basis to pass an ordinance that conflicts with federal law.”

The ordinance was to take effect Tuesday, more than a week after voters approved the regulation by 68 percent, according to unofficial election results.

However, “public approval of the Ordinance, by itself, does not guide the court as to whether the Ordinance complies with the law,” the judge wrote.

Hopefully this is the first step to getting this law thrown out. Vince has a press release from MALDEF and the ACLU on the ruling. Meanwhile, a second lawsuit addressed an ancillary issue:

The lawsuit seeks the creation of single-member districts, in which a city council member is elected to represent a specific section of the city. Both large and small cities with diverse racial makeup use the system, said Rolando Rios, the attorney leading the suit.

Activists say if the method had been in place, at least one Latino candidate would have been elected to the council and could represent the group. All five council members are white men.

As we know, it was a lawsuit from the 1970s that led to the implementation of single-member City Council districts in Houston. Given the recent actions by Farmers Branch City Council and that city’s substantial Hispanic population, I’d say the same setup there is long overdue.

The taxes of sin

Frankly, I’d have thought the strip clubs would have contributed more in taxes than this, but apparently not.

During the 10 years the city has fought in court for tougher rules regulating Houston’s strip clubs, it has also accepted at least $6 million of their money.

That’s the city’s cut from nearly half a billion dollars in beer, wine and liquor sales inside the dozens of topless clubs that have operated since 1997, according to state tax records examined by the Houston Chronicle.

That was the year the City Council adopted a strict new ordinance regulating the clubs and other places defined as sexually oriented businesses. Among many new rules, the law prohibits them from operating near schools, churches, parks and one another.

[…]

From one perspective, the sales figures and resulting tax revenue show a thriving industry popular among some residents, tourists and conventioneers.

“The numbers reveal the degree to which this is something that people patronize,” said John Weston, a Los Angeles-based attorney leading the preparation of a federal appeal on behalf of Houston’s cabarets. “There’s a huge infusion of capital that the city jeopardizes by trying to close these cabarets.”

The opposing view is that the money reflects a tiny fraction of the city’s overall operating funds — a $600,000-per-year slice of money the city can afford to sacrifice to limit sex businesses.

“I always have concern when the government is collecting revenues from businesses that aren’t in the best interests of the constituents,” said City Councilman M.J. Khan, who likened the cabaret proceeds to lottery revenue.

“I can honestly tell you that the city would not lose any services if these revenues were eliminated,” he said.

I’m sure Council Member Khan is correct about the bottom line impact if these tax revenues were to disappear, though who knows what other effects may be felt. On the other hand, I’m also sure the city is happy to collect sales taxes on things like cigarettes, alcohol, fatty foods, and any number of other not-in-the-best-interests-of-the-constituents items. And are we running all the city’s investments through the Timothy Plan, or are we more interested in a values-neutral, profit-centric approach? I mean, if some kinds of money are dirty, then please tell me what’s clean, so we can only derive our revenues from those things. Seems to me that’s the logical conclusion of Khan’s premise.

The topless clubs pay 14 percent of their gross mixed-beverage sales to the state. The city and Harris County each get a 10.7 percent cut of the state’s take, state and local officials say.

County officials could not be reached for comment on the possible loss of revenue from topless clubs within the city.

As with the city, I’m sure it’s not that big a line item in their budget. It’d be interesting to know if they do have an opinion about this, especially since they weren’t asked.

Campos smacks Lopez

Yesterday, I discussed John Lopez’s column from Sunday, in which he introduced a racial angle to the effort by the Houston Dynamo to get a downtown stadium built. Among other things, Lopez said:

[Astros owner Drayton] McLane, whose reputation among minority groups has been less than stellar, recognizes the benefits of backing the plan go beyond the tangible.

This drew a strong response from Astros fan and political consultant Marc Campos:

If minority groups have a problem with Drayton McLane, that’s news to me. It’s also news to minority leaders in H-Town. I don’t know which minority groups Lopez was referring to, I would certainly like to know.

It is kind of BS for Lopez to take this shot at Drayton. Lopez forgets that Drayton worked with the minority community to make sure minorities participated in a major way in the construction of the ballpark. Minorities and women also make up 30% of the food service investment at Minute Maid thanks to a deal Drayton and minority leaders struck in 1999.

[…]

Lopez’ shot at Drayton is irresponsible and downright mean. I know a lot more about minority groups than Lopez. I know whose reputations are “less than stellar” among minority groups. Drayton McLane is nowhere near that list. Drayton McLane is respected by many minority leaders in H-Town and Drayton McLane respects H-Town’s minority community. Lopez would be better off writing about why the Chron doesn’t have any Latino news columnists. Drayton doesn’t deserve to be dissed on this. Shame on John Lopez.

I don’t claim to have a dog in this fight, but it seems to me that if Lopez is going to make a claim about Drayton McLane’s standing among minority groups, he ought to cite some evidence for that. Search through the Chron’s archives, or pick up the phone and get a quote or two, it’s not that hard. Maybe he’s right – Campos didn’t cite any evidence for his assertion about McLane, either – but why should we take his word for it?

On a side note, I disagree with the notion that downtown is the wrong location for Dynamo Stadium. If it’s going to be in Houston and not Sugar Land or the Woodlands, then I think downtown is fine. It will be both more convenient and more attractive than Robertson Stadium, where I presume they’re at least drawing enough of a crowd to be viable. I just think they ought to pay for that downtown stadium themselves.