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May 27th, 2007:

Reports of HB13’s death were exaggerated

Cripes. Some bills just won’t stay dead.

Rep. Frank Corte, the House’s number one law-and-order-civil liberties-be-damned legislator is trying to ride to the rescue. According to sources on the conference committee, Corte is trying to shovel some of the worst provisions in HB 13 into his SB 11 (another awful homeland security bill). In particular, Corte wants to put the fusion center, a fancy name for a huge intelligence database that will house both private and public information on Texans, into the governor’s office.

The bad news is that Corte has gotten this past the committee conferees on SB11. The good news is that, as Grits notes, it’ll take a 2/3 majority to pass due to the route Corte took to get it this far. Surely fifty Nays is not too high a hurdle to kill it. Right? If all else fails, maybe the House just won’t have time to get to it. Keep your fingers crossed.

Talton the Torpedo strikes

Rep. Robert Talton, the biggest bill-killer this session, has apparently called a point of order on the budget bill, HB1. He was one of a few anti-Craddick Republicans to complain about pork in the budget, and it looks like he’s found a way to put his feelings into action (after being thwarted on the CHIP bill earlier). I’m told they’re conferring now, to try and figure out what to do with the wrench he’s just thrown into the works. Lord knows there’s been no rhyme or reason to point of order rulings, but who knows how this may play out. The Senate has delayed its action on the budget till tomorrow. A special session is hanging on this. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Craddick rules against Talton, then after muttering some dark imprecations Torpedo Bob makes a gentlemanly retreat. Special session averted for the time being.

Comments on Memorial Day

The following is from Rep. Rick Noriega:

Comments on Memorial Day

LTC Rick Noriega

May 27, 2007

Our great country is at war. This Memorial Day weekend, as we move from barbecue to pool, we need to take a moment and reflect on the true origin of this weekend holiday. We need to remember the sacrifice of those who have gone before, those who are serving now, and those who have lost more than most of us could ever imagine. Memorial Day has grown from various solemn remembrances of the sacrifices of our soldiers as far back as 1868 in Waterloo, NY, and was declared a federal holiday in 1971.

One of the things this holiday may represent is that people have died for our right to disagree. In the face of such service and sacrifice, using overheated, incendiary language normally used to typify armed conflict to describe divisions in the Texas House of Representatives is not helpful and possibly irresponsible. “Insurgents,” “rebels,” “storming,” “charged,” “anarchy” are not appropriate terms to describe the occurrences in the Texas House this weekend. It is dramatic to use such over-the-top expressions, but it is not accurate or appropriate.

Genuine differences in opinion, concern about appropriate use of Texas House rules to stifle debate and disagreement, fundamental discussions of the use of this great state’s resources to meet the needs of its citizens–all are in play at the Texas Capitol this holiday. In the face of such drama, it is tempting to go over the top to try and convey the intensity of the discussion and the strong differences in opinion of the members of the Texas House. For the sake of accurate reporting and the gravity of the discussion, it might be more responsible to take the language down a little and leave the war analogies to CNN and Fox News.

Democracy is messy. Democracy at its best is not everyone agreeing, of not knowing the answer to every question. Democracy is hashing out all the sides and listening to all the voices, and bringing forth the common ground for the common good. We would challenge you to not silence the voices of discontent, but instead embrace the fundamental tenet of democracy, that of listening to a different view.

We are at a critical time in our history and in the Texas House of Representatives, and there is fundamental bipartisan disagreement in the Texas House about our future, its leadership and the rule of law.

As our men and women overseas defend our freedom to argue and discuss and compromise and disagree, please honor their service by a responsible use of language. And please understand that our duty and responsibility for the common good, for democracy, suggests that the current bipartisan effort in the Texas House must have its voice heard. God bless Texas.

I see that Burka is still using the language of “insurgents” and whatnot, but he’s got a pretty clear-eyed view of te situation (see here and here for more), so I’ll let it slide this time.

Elsewhere, Vince is liveblogging, BOR is keeping track of the Craddick Ds, and the Texas Democratic Party is calling on people to sign their petition to “encourage Speaker Tom Craddick to respect the will of the people as represented by our elected Representatives and ask that he either resign immediately or allow the Texas House to vote on a motion to vacate the Chair”. Stay tuned.

Oh, yeah, the budget, too

We may finally get to some budget debate today, too. If you want to know where things stand, the CPPP, in particular Scott McCown, says:

“While the budget will spend almost 95% of General Revenue on education, health care, and corrections, too much has been set aside for tax cuts that mostly benefit upper-income families. As a result, many important needs will go unmet, while our tax system grows more unfair. The budget will keep Texas at the bottom in what we invest in our children and how we care for our most vulnerable.” Here CPPP has prepared county-level information to illustrate the current and potential impact of state government spending in local communities. More detailed analyses of program-level impacts will be made available as soon as possible.

There’s multiple links there with detailed analyses for those who want to know. Check it out.

CHIP deal reached

With all the craziness in the House yesterday, the news that a CHIP deal was reached by Senate and House conferees got overlooked. Which is too bad, because it looks like it’s a pretty good deal.

Under the agreed-to plan, which still needs a final OK from the full House and Senate, the CHIP families with the highest incomes would have their eligibility checked after six months in the program. A family of four can earn up to $41,000 and still be eligible for CHIP.

The families of about 9 percent of CHIP children — some 29,000 children — would be affected. That’s a change from the 40 percent of families the Senate plan proposed to check. The House plan didn’t have the electronic checks.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has said that the electronic verifications would ensure that only eligible children are enrolled. Opponents to the checks, such as Turner, argued that it would be red tape for families.

The compromise plan would add 127,556 children to the program by easing enrollment restrictions put in place in 2003. It would eliminate a 90-day waiting period for uninsured children to enroll and it would allow families to stay in the program for a full year instead of having to re-apply every six months.

More from the AP:

Sen. Kip Averitt said House and Senate negotiators have signed off on the deal and plan to seek each chamber’s approval on Sunday.

“I think it’s an excellent opportunity for the state to enroll a significant number of new children into the program,” said Averitt, R-Waco, who led the Senate’s negotiating team.

[…]

The compromise plan increases the income level where checks begin so that fewer families go through the process. State officials estimate that at least 27,000 more children would be covered under the compromise plan than in the Senate’s version.

House and Senate budget writers have already approved almost $90 million for CHIP, though neither chamber has adopted the spending plan yet.

One advocacy group hailed the compromise as an “important victory for Texas children.”

“Texas will be able to reduce its number of uninsured children, children will receive care in doctors offices instead of emergency rooms, and Texas will be able to maximize federal matching funds instead of sending our tax dollars to other states,” said Barbara Best, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund of Texas.

Hopefully, this final version of HB109 will get passed in both chambers so that even if there is a special session there won’t be any need to revisit this. They should be back in chamber now, so we’ll see.

What next in the House?

So we’re down to the wire for the Lege this session, with a lot of unfinished business to deal with amid all the Speaker strife. I know that Tom Craddick will be more powerful if he makes it through to sine die as Speaker, but there’s a part of me that would rather see his deposing put off till 2009 if the alternative is not passing the budget and going to a special session. While I don’t doubt that there are some budget items that need scrutiny, a special session means that all kinds of bad legislation that we thought were dead is back in play (at least one such bill has already been resurrected). Basically, a special session means the two nasty voter ID bills become law.

Given that choice, I’d rather go home and fight it out in the elections. I’d rather have the specter of Tom Craddick as Supreme Dictator For Life be the dominant image from this session rather than give his supporters the chance to claim that the opposing forces put the Speaker fight above House business, with the special session as proof. Especially since it’s looking like more Craddick supporters are reassessing their positions going forward.

“Obviously, he’s damaged goods after this deal, in terms of leading a bipartisan Legislature,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Warren Chisum said about 24 hours after the House had descended into chaos over Mr. Craddick’s use of the rules to quash any effort to unseat him.

[…]

“We have respected him as speaker up to a point, but there’s a lot of dissatisfaction in the House over the way it’s being run,” said House Financial Institutions Committee Chairman Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, who has staunchly supported Mr. Craddick’s speakership. “Three sessions [as speaker] is enough.”

Mr. Solomons, who carried the resolution writing the House rules in January, said he was stunned at the speaker’s interpretation of his own power.

“As the person who did the rules and served under a number of parliamentarians, I was unaware that there was that absolute power on the part of the speaker,” he said. “The speaker always had a lot of power, but not absolute power. That was not the intent of the rules. … No legislative body in the country provides absolute power to any one individual.”

[…]

Dallas GOP Rep. Dan Branch, a loyal Craddick ally since he entered the House in 2003, said that he was “reserving judgment” about 2009 until the House can make it to adjournment on Monday – and that he wants to focus on state business until then.

“After that,” he said, “I look forward to sitting down with the speaker and talking about his future and what’s best for the state.”

Asked whether he would support Mr. Craddick’s drive for another term as speaker, Mr. Chisum, R-Pampa, said he’s still waiting to see if he’ll run.

“He’s going to have to do a lot of soul-searching before the rest of us can decide what to do,” he said.

I don’t know what will happen today, and to some extent you have to take remarks like these with a grain of salt. And of course with various filibuster threats on the budget, there may not be a choice in the special session matter. All I’m saying is that I hope we’re all on the same page strategy-wise.

I was going to do a roundup of news coverage of yesterday’s action, but South Texas Chisme saved me the trouble. As always stay tuned.

Strip clubs get an stay of execution

The Astrodome may have lost its reprieve, but it appears that the local strip clubs have gained one for themselves, at least for now.

On Friday, a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans issued a stay of enforcement pending the outcome of an “expedited” appeal to be argued as soon as August.

The stay prevents the city from arresting employees and owners at the Colorado Bar & Grill and The Men’s Club, and possibly five other large businesses that have joined in the appeal: Ritz Cabaret, Treasures, Trophy Club, Gold Cup and Centerfolds.

“We’re quite excited, and very, very pleased for the clients and the citizens of Houston,” said John Weston, a Los Angeles-based lawyer representing Colorado Bar & Grill and The Men’s Club.

[…]

It was unclear Friday how many other businesses would be protected from enforcement by the stay. The court’s order lists several other topless clubs and bookstores. Some businesses’ names and owners have changed since the case was filed a decade ago, so a precise number couldn’t be determined late Friday.

Don Cheatham, a senior assistant city attorney monitoring progress in the case, received word from the appellate court by phone late Friday. He said he wasn’t yet sure how the ruling would affect the city’s plans.

“We don’t know how broad it is or what it covers,” he said of the ruling, which he hadn’t yet read.

Houston police Capt. Steve Jett, who commands the vice unit investigating the businesses, said he was surprised by the decision and would have to discuss it with city attorneys before proceeding.

[…]

To get Friday’s stay from the 5th Circuit, the clubs’ lawyers had to show there were substantial legal questions remaining in their appeal, and that they would suffer more if the enforcement continued than the city if it were halted pending resolution of the case.

The ruling offered a glimmer of hope to at least some businesses, who had been preparing to close, move or change their operations to comply with the ordinance.

[…]

Their appeal argues against the distance provision in the ordinance, saying the city can’t justify that the businesses have negative “secondary effects” at their current locations.

“There was no constitutional justification for expanding the distances such that it had a retroactive impact upon the previously licensed businesses,” said Weston, who has argued seven cases before the U.S. Supreme court.

Among many issues raised in the appeal, they also argue that there aren’t enough alternative sites for them to legally operate, and that the judge erred by examining the availability of those locations based on decade-old, not current, conditions in Houston.

I keep coming back to the distance provision. It doesn’t seem right to me that a business that has operated legally for a decade or more under one requirement can suddenly be declared illegal. And I’m also not sure what the public interest is in keeping something a certain distance away from a church. Residences and schools, sure, but churches? I don’t understand. Looks like getting this injunction was a nontrivial thing, so maybe there is still hope for the clubs. We’ll see.

Not so fast on that Astrodome reprieve

Miya Shay reports that the effort by Sen. Kyle Janek to make the Astrodome redevelopment project eligible for certain tax rebates may not make it through after all. With all that’s happening in the House, if this wasn’t a sure thing before, I wouldn’t think much of its chances now. But we’ll see. FYI, this is a video report, and you have to sit through a 20-second commercial first.

Earthlink passes test in Philadelphia

Good news for EarthLink, our city WiFi provider.

EarthLink, the Internet Service Provider that has contracted to build a wireless network in Houston, today cleared a major hurdle in Philadelphia, where it has begun building another of the nation’s largest networks.

The first phase of the Philadelphia project, a 15-square mile network that blankets downtown, works well and has gained approval from the nonprofit group hired by the city to oversee the project, Mayor John Street announced.

That means EarthLink can continue to build in Philadelphia, which expects to have a wireless connection by the end of the year that covers nearly all of the city’s 135-square miles.

Houston’s project is planned for nearly five times that size, 640-square miles, the biggest in the country.

Nice to see progress. Hopefully they’ll see equivalent process in their business model review as well.