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May 13th, 2022:

That stupid social media censorship law has been unblocked

The Fifth Circuit continues to debase itself.

A federal appeals court on Wednesday reinstated a Republican-backed Texas law that prohibits large social media companies from banning users over their political viewpoints.

The decision hands a win to Republicans who have long criticized social media platforms such as Twitter for what they call anti-conservative bias — disapproval that was amplified when President Donald Trump was banned from Twitter for violating the platform’s rules on inciting violence during the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.

The order did not evaluate the law on its constitutionality but instead allows the law to go back into effect while the case proceeds in district court, according to a statement from one of the plaintiff groups. The ruling came from a three-judge panel on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — which is often considered the most conservative appeals court in the country — and was not accompanied by a written opinion explaining the decision at the time of publication.

Two large industry trade groups that represent companies such as Google and Twitter sued to block the law last fall.

In December, a federal district court judge ruled in favor of the groups and blocked the law while the lawsuit continues, reasoning that the First Amendment protects a company’s right to moderate content and called parts of the law “prohibitively vague.” As a result, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed the district judge’s decision to the circuit court.

Passed during a special session last year, House Bill 20 also requires social media platforms with more than 50 million monthly users to publicly disclose information about content removal and account suspensions.

“HB 20 is an assault on the First Amendment, and it’s constitutionally rotten from top to bottom,” Chris Marchese, counsel for the NetChoice industry trade group, tweeted after the ruling. “So of course we’re going to appeal today’s unprecedented, unexplained, and unfortunate order by a split 2-1 panel.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I’ve been beaten down by the constant flow of atrocities from this outlaw court, so I’m going to hand it off to one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys:

Which means we have to hope there are still a few people on that bench who understand what the First Amendment says. I don’t have any faith, but what are you gonna do? Slate and Reform Austin have more.

Yes, you can use toll road funds for non-road projects

Who knew?

Surplus revenues from Harris County’s toll road system for years have paid for improvements to nearby roads and infused funds into street rebuilds around the county.

Now, the Harris County Toll Road Authority is about to go off-road. Under a plan unveiled Tuesday, the tolling agency will spend $53 million connecting existing cycling, running and hiking trails and building new ones. The projects, sketched out in a sweeping plan presented to Commissioners Court, aim to reconnect neighborhoods on opposing sides of the county’s tollways and leverage county money with that of management districts and other local agencies aiming to add trails.

“The toll road for a long time has been focused on finishing its system,” Executive Director Roberto Trevino said. “That’s changing to how do we manage it, and provide better mobility and connectivity even if you are not on the toll roads.”

The court approved the plan on a 3-2 vote, with Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle voting against it.

If fully built, the plan envisioned by HCTRA officials is a network of 236 miles of trails, usable by cyclists, runners and others, mostly adjacent to the sprawling county toll road system, primarily the 82-mile Sam Houston Tollway that rings the metro area. Made up of longer “network spine” projects of 5 miles or more, smaller community connectors that link local neighborhoods and targeted projects to build onto existing trails proposed by others, the total cost of all the links could reach $600 million or more and take years to build.

The effect, Trevino said, would be a much more inclusive transportation system.

“We are putting a focus on the areas around the toll road and putting back quality of life,” he said, noting the safety challenges some areas face because of the region’s large roads and the “divisive” discussions about how to integrate bicycle and pedestrian safety without compromising automotive travel.

Actually, we appropriated toll road funds for flood mitigation projects just last year, so we did actually know this. That won’t stop some heads from exploding at the thought of spending this money on (gasp!) BIKE TRAILS, but who cares? It’s legitimate transportation infrastructure, it will help mitigate road traffic a little by giving people safe options for not driving when they just have a short distance to go, and it will absolutely be a boon to quality of life. People use the heck out of the White Oak and Heights bike trails in my neighborhood. A lot of it is leisure travel rather than commuter or task-focused travel, but that’s fine. Quality of life is a big deal, and it’s a big return on the investment. It’s about time we used some of this money for this purpose. Stace has more.

The injury totals from AstroWorld

A lot of people were seriously hurt at that event.

More than 700 people were seriously injured during November’s Astroworld Festival tragedy, according to new court documents filed in Harris County this week.

Plaintiffs attorneys Jason Atkin, Richard Mithoff and Sean Roberts notified 11th Judicial District Judge Judge Kristen Brauchle Hawkins that they’d conducted a survey of people affected by the lethal Astroworld tragedy, which claimed the lives of 10 concertgoers late last year, including a 9-year-old boy and 14-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl.

According to the attorneys’ survey, some 732 people filed claims tied to injuries requiring significant medical treatment. An additional 1,649 claims were tied to injuries that required less extensive treatment, and they were also reviewing 2,540 claims for injuries where the severity was not fully ascertained.

The filing provides the latest and most complete picture, so far, of the toll of the Astroworld Festival, a local music festival which drew tens of thousands of visitors to Houston from across the region and the rest of the country.

[…]

The defendants in the lawsuit, Live Nation Worldwide, Scoremore Mgmt, ASM Global, Travis Scott, and others, generally deny the allegations, court records show.

One of the companies, Contemporary Services Corporation, has come under additional criticism, after a man successfully jumped onstage during a comedy show in Los Angeles last week and attacked Dave Chappelle.

Scott — who pleaded guilty to reckless conduct after urging fans to rush the stage during a 2015 show in Chicago and to a charge of disorderly conduct for similar behavior during a 2017 show in Arkansas — has consistently denied wrongdoing and asked to be removed from the lawsuits.

See here for the most recent update. The deaths of the ten concertgoers have been the headline of this story, but the sheer number of people that were badly injured would be grounds enough for the litigation that has followed. We can and should have investigations and task forces to look into what happened and why, but the discovery process is going to tell us a whole lot about this tragedy that we otherwise would not have known.

Endorsement watch: Still in reruns

The Chron re-endorses Duncan Klussman in the CD38 runoff.

Duncan Klussman

Last fall, Texas Republicans drew a new congressional district in western Harris County. This red-red-red seat was designed to specifically advantage Wesley Hunt, an Iraq war veteran who came within four points of beating U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher in another district in 2020.

The new district — the 38th — encompasses affluent parts of Houston such as River Oaks and stretches into conservative areas such as Tomball and Cypress. Hunt, who won the Republican primary, will be tough to beat. He’s been endorsed by both Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and has a formidable campaign war chest, with $1.8 million on hand as of March 31.

It will take a Democratic candidate with public service experience and a willingness to work across the aisle to make this race competitive. Of the two candidates in the primary runoff, we believe Democrats stand the best chance in November with Duncan Klussmann, a former Spring Branch ISD superintendent.

Diana Martinez Alexander, 48, a Houston ISD teacher and local activist, impressed us, and we admired her command of the issues facing the next Congress. She has fought hard to advance crucial issues near to the hearts of Democratic primary voters, such as voting rights, while also talking up local concerns such as flood mitigation and protecting Texas’ energy grid.

Okay, CD38 is not “red-red-red”. It went 58-40 for Trump in 2020, after having gone 72-27 for Mitt Romney in 2012. To be sure, it’s more red downballot, in the 62-35 range for most of those races, and I’d call that pretty red. I’m not disputing that it was drawn to elect a Republican, I just like a wee bit more precision in my quantitative analyses.

Anyway. My interview with Duncan Klussman is here, and my interview with Diana Martinez Alexander is here. One of these days I’d like to get a full oral history of the candidacy of Centrell Reed. I’ve seen a lot of strange things in this world over the past 20 years, and that whole thing was a new one on me.

Meanwhile, the Chron also re-endorsed Staci Childs for SBOE4.

Staci Childs

The Texas State Board of Education has a lot of power but perhaps not as much as some voters might think. Taxes? Budget decisions? As we wrote back in February: save it for another race. One of the important roles the state board does have, however, is shaping curriculum by setting standards and approving instructional materials. Curriculum has long inspired heated debate here in Texas but it’s especially relevant now in the era of anti-Critical Race Theory hysteria.

That’s why we’re thankful to see two educators in the SBOE District 4 Democratic runoff, including our pick Staci Childs.

Childs is a former teacher from Georgia turned lawyer who kept her foot in the education world through her nonprofit Girl Talk University. As a candidate for SBOE, her focus is on making the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards more flexible so teachers have more ability to address specific knowledge gaps for individual students while still helping them get on grade level and move on. Sometimes, she said, students fail to remain at grade level only because they didn’t catch on to a small part of the curriculum. The standards, she told us, should be flexible enough to allow them to get some special attention in those areas, so they can catch up without having to start from ground zero.

“I don’t want to say remedial, because that has a negative connotation,” Childs told us in February. “But we need a serious plan to address the TEKS, since … they do not address these learning gaps.”

My interview with Staci Childs is here and with Coretta Mallet-Fontenot is here. Meanwhile, they picked some dude in the GOP runoff for CD07 (now a 64-34 Biden district, but not called “blue-blue-blue”) and declined to pick either of the yahoos in the GOP runoff for CD29 (68-31 Biden, also not “blue-blue-blue”). Why they chose to spend time on that and not on the ignored judicial races, I couldn’t tell you. Whether they will complete their set of reruns in time for Monday’s start of early voting, I couldn’t tell you either.