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May 23rd, 2007:

Dewhurst gives up the pursuit of HB218

Good.

It appears the Legislature will not pass a voter identification bill that Republicans desire and Democrats loath as Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst sent ailing Sen. Mario Gallegos home Wednesday night.

Gallegos, recovering from a liver transplant and potentially in danger of his body rejecting the replacement, has stayed in the Capitol despite his doctors’ advice to remain in Houston.

The Democratic lawmaker is the swing vote in determining whether the bill comes up for debate.

“I sent Mario home,” Dewhurst told reporters.

That means the lieutenant governor has no plans to call up the contentious legislation. Doing so would certainly trigger a filibuster by Democrats and kill scores of bills.

The Senate must tentatively approve House bills by midnight. Legislation that doesn’t pass before the deadline is dead.

Thank you, Lt. Gov. Dewhurst. Sen. Gallegos thanks you as well.

He said he wasn’t going to do it, but the emotion of the evening got the better of him.

Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston asked for and received a personal privilege to stand and thank Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and the Senate for agreeing not to consider the Voter ID bill.

“As a human being to another human being, I appreciate it, I don’t mind telling you,” Gallegos said.

[…]

Gallegos said he was sincerely moved by the consideration shown him by a Senate that last week was angrily split over House Bill 218, which would require voters to present identification before casting ballots.

“I’ll be back and if you want to fight this battle again, we’ll fight it, but with a healthy Mario Gallegos,” he said, before receiving a standing ovation.

That is the most-deserved standing O of the year. Sen. Gallegos, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you for all you did this session. Enjoy all the yellow roses that have been sent.

For posterity, here’s Sen. Gallegos’ op-ed on voter ID and why he chose to stand and fight. I’m reprinting it beneath the fold for future reference.

(more…)

Anti-rail lawsuit ruling

We have ourselves a ruling in the anti-rail “lawsuit” that was filed a few weeks ago.

A judge today denied a Richmond Avenue merchant’s request to make Metropolitan Transit Authority officials testify about their light rail and Bus Rapid Transit plans, even though she had not yet filed a lawsuit against the agency.

Plaintiff Daphne Scarborough’s attorney, Andy Taylor, said he will now file such a lawsuit — which he had earlier described in state District Judge Levi Benton’s court as “full-blown nuclear war.”

“We’re going to see this thing all the way to the Supreme Court,” Taylor said.

Bring it on. There was no way that this crowd was ever going to stop short of a lawsuit, so this doesn’t even count as a bump in the road. Let’s settle this once and for all. More to come soon, I’m sure.

Senate passes CHIP bill

Well, HB109 passed yesterday and that’s a good start, even if there’s room for improvement.

The Texas Senate on Tuesday agreed to loosen some enrollment restrictions for children in the state’s low-cost insurance program for working poor families, allowing their families to renew their coverage once a year instead of twice.

The proposal would reverse several changes the Legislature implemented to the Children’s Health Insurance Program in 2003, when the state faced a $10 billion budget shortfall.

The bill would require electronic income checks every six months for families at the top of the income eligibility scale. State officials would only contact families whose income appears to have risen beyond the program’s limits, Sen. Kip Averitt said.

“Most of the families will never even know that it ever happened,” said Averitt, R-Waco.

Except for those that get thrown off, of course. Let’s just hope that Accenture isn’t involved in this process. I’m not the only person thinking along those lines, either.

Rep. Sylvester Turner, the bill’s House sponsor, said he wouldn’t accept the Senate’s changes because that version would only add 100,000 children to the CHIP rolls. The House version would add about 30,000 more kids, he said.

“I think we can do better and I think the kids deserve better and I’m going to, along with the House conferees, fight for better,” said Turner, D-Houston, referring to the committee of lawmakers from both chambers that will work out the differences between the bills.

House and Senate budget writers approved almost $90 million for CHIP last week. That’s enough to cover the changes made by the House.

[…]

The bill was a disappointment for advocacy groups that favor the House’s version.

Barbara Best, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund of Texas, said she fears the state will have as many problems with this computer system as it has had with other social services programs.

“After the disastrous performance of the private contractor Accenture, this is not the time to institute a complicated new eligibility check that relies on untested technology,” Best said in a statement.

Has anyone thought about the procedure for appealing the result of that eligibility check? Maybe I should take a step back and ask if there even is a way to appeal if you think you were incorrectly ruled ineligible. Surely there must be, right?

Anyway, I presume Rep. Turner will be on the conference committee. We’ll see if he can get his version of the bill across the goal line.

Rose and Lucio

Well, we’ve made it through another day without an official motion to vacate the Speaker’s chair. It makes sense that it would happen after last night’s deadline for passing bills on third reading, but until it actually happens, I and I’m sure other folks will have a feeling of apprehension about this. We had a chance to take out Tom Craddick at the beginning of the session, and we failed. It feels like there have been many openings in the past few days to take a second shot at it, but none were used. I just hate the thought that this could be all buildup and no payoff.

On the other hand, this time around more Craddick allies are publicly abandoning him. It seems to me that Craddick has no more carrots to offer anyone who might be wavering now. He’s got plenty of stick to wield, in the form of his $4 million campaign war chest, but how effectively can he use that if enough people tell him to buzz off? Nobody can win a fight on that many fronts, right?

I don’t know. But I do know that every defection makes me feel better about the potential end of this session. And with that in mind, I want to echo what Vince is saying about the two Democrats to jump off the USS Craddick, Patrick Rose and Eddie Lucio III.

While some may be tempted to say “it’s about time,” or “it’s too late” for the Rose and Lucio defections from the Craddick camp, we believe the time is always right to see the light.

Lucio and Rose each no doubt had their reasons for siding with the Speaker early in the session. Whatever their reasons may have been, the fact remains that they have realized that Republicans and the Craddick Administration have a different definition of “bipartisan” than Democrats (and, for that matter, the rest of the world) have.

What Lucio and Rose did today was not without risk. Both have assured themselves of Republican opponents well-funded by Craddick and his allies. Further, should we be unfortunate enough to be forced to endure a Republican majority in the next session or, God forbid, another Craddick speakership, Rose and Lucio would face proverbial back-benching.

Regardless of when one makes the decision to come to the right side of an issue or a movement, it’s a decision worthy of some praise. The bottom line is that they did the right thing.

Too, the defection of these two may serve as a sign to other Craddick Democrats that the time is now for House Democrats to unite under their full strength for at least the last days of the Session.

I agree completely. You can’t get people to come over to your side if you berate them when they finally do so. Yes, I would have preferred to have had these two gentlemen on our team from the beginning, but they’re here now, and I hope they’re setting an example for the others. A thousand times better to be Rose and Lucio than Dawnna Dukes. Where will the rest of the Craddick Dems go?

UPDATE: Stace joins in.

UPDATE: Burka and EoW add their takes on Craddick’s ability to punish defectors.

Heck of a job, Joshie

Obviously, I don’t actually care who will win the Republican nomination for President. Having said that, if I were a John McCain fan, I’d shudder in horror at this news.

Josh Robinson-State Field Director [for South Carolina]

A graduate of Texas A&M University, Josh comes from Houston, Texas after working on a number of Congressional, State House, and State Senate races. Additionally, Josh has spent time at RNC Headquarters in the Department of Grassroots Development.

If that name sounds familiar, it’s because the last campaign Josh Robinson worked for was Martha Wong’s. Along the way, he called the Texas ParentPAC a “fringe group”, gave a bogus explanation for using clumsily-altered campaign signs, and of course oversaw the release of the worst campaign ad ever.We know how well all that went. Let me just say I hope Robinson goes from this campaign to that of the eventual Republican nominee, so he can do for him what he did for Martha and will do for McCain.

Super Bowl XLV to be in Arlington

Congratulations to the North Texas Cowboys for their successful efforts.

The new Dallas Cowboys stadium in Arlington will host the 2011 Super Bowl, the National Football League announced Tuesday.

NFL owners, in a secret ballot, chose North Texas over bids from Arizona and Indianapolis.

The game is not only expected to turn the world’s attention to the Dallas area – nearly 140 million people watched all or part of this year’s Super Bowl, played in Miami – but also to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in economic benefits to North Texas cities and businesses.

Yes, yes, we’ve heard that before. I’m just surprised no one had a specific number at hand to use in a quote.

Bill Blaydes, chairman of the Dallas City Council’s Economic Development and Housing Committee, said he’s uncertain what the game’s overall economic effect will be, “but having your city on TV screens for 30 straight days leading up — you can’t pay for that kind of advertisement.”

See what I mean? How totally wishy-washy. Here, help yourself to these numbers. They’ll be as valid for Dallas North Texas in 2011 as they were for Houston in 2004.

This comment on the Rice fan forum greatly amused me.

If ESPN’s Sports Guy didn’t enjoy his time in Houston for SB XXXVIII, then I can’t wait for his columns about one in Arlington. As I recall his chief complaints had to do with the general lack of a big central party scene. There were plenty of parties, but he thought there was no place like South Beach or the French Quarter that essentially exists for that purpose. So things were spread out. Well I think that activities in the Metroplex are likely to be even more spread out. His other complaint was the Houston weather. We had one of those cool, damp, grey weeks. It was not bad at all, but it wasn’t exactly “Chamber of Commerce” weather either. DFW could have great weather. Or they could get nailed with an ice storm that would make travelling on the freeways a huge headache.

Amen, brother. I can’t wait to see how he’ll whine about how all the free entertainment he’s being paid to attend is just so inconvenient for him to get to.

Rockets hire Adelman

He’s a retread, but as retreads go Rick Adelman is perfectly serviceable. I’m still not exactly sure how exactly the wheels came off of the Jeff Van Gundy bus, but given that they did, we could have done far worse. Hope you have better luck in the playoffs than Van Gundy did, Rick.

Richard Justice has a fairly measured take of the situation. While I tend to agree with him that the root cause of the Rocket’s plateauing is more one of personnel than coaching, I have to quibble with this:

[Rockets owner Les] Alexander’s problem is that he has some bad ideas about what wins in the NBA. After four years of listening to Van Gundy preach rebounding and defense, Alexander apparently wants more points and more excitement.

He might be hoping that more points will lure fans into the expensive seats at tipoff. Never mind that these NBA playoffs have again proved rebounding and defense win.

All those high-flying teams — Phoenix, Golden State and Denver — are watching San Antonio and Utah slug their way through the Western Conference finals. Of the NBA’s 13 highest-scoring teams, just one — Utah at No. 6 — is still in the playoffs.

This is a bit disingenuous, since one of those high-flying teams got hosed by the league in the aftermath of Robert Horry’s Australian-rules-football foul on Steve Nash in Game 4. Had the Suns been at full strength for Game 5, they might well be the ones going against Utah in the conference finals now. To be sure, Justice’s point is correct in general, and Phoenix does rebound and play defense well. But those things are not incompatible with a high-powered offense (see, e.g., Lakers, Showtime era), and to ignore the external factor that helped knock the Suns out this year is just wrong.

This year’s hurricane plans

Whether this hurricane season will be active or not, local authorities are planning for the worst.

Harris County officials said Monday they are as prepared as they can be for hurricane season, which begins June 1.

The key question, they said, is whether local residents have taken appropriate precautions.

“The government can only do so much,” said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who is facing his first hurricane season as the county’s chief executive. “The first person you must turn to is yourself. Individuals have to make sure they’re prepared.”

Area residents must recognize whether they live in one of four zones, delineated by ZIP codes, that might be placed under a mandatory evacuation order because of a storm surge, officials said.

An estimated 300,000 people in Harris County live in the surge zones.

The map is here (PDF). Note that the vast majority of the mandatory evacuation areas are outside of Harris County. Indeed, while 300,000 people sounds like a lot, it’s less than ten percent of the total population.

On a related note, anyone remember the executive order from last year that mandated a single “incident commander” for each of the state’s 24 regions to be in charge of things like hurricane evacuations? And remember the response from local officials, which did not please the Governor? Well, SciGuy remembers, and he gives an update on how things look today. Check it out.

Time for the annual “Very Active Hurricane Season” forecast

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Government forecasters called for a busier than normal hurricane season Tuesday.

National Weather Service forecasters said they expect 13 to 17 tropical storms, with seven to 10 of them becoming hurricanes.

The forecast follows that of two other leading storm experts in anticipating a busy season.

The likelihood of above normal hurricane activity is 75 percent, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.

“With expectations for an active season, it is critically important that people who live in East and Gulf coastal areas as well as the Caribbean be prepared,” said Bill Proenza, director of the national hurricane center in Miami.

As SciGuy says, the hurricane prediction season is lasting as long as the actual hurricane season itself. Given that the first predictions for this year were made last December, that’s more truth than jest. Note that in the table SciGuy put together, we have this apparent outlier, which suggests we’ll have a fairly quiet year. What do you think? Place your bets and we’ll see at the start of the Hurricane Prediction Season for 2008.