Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

August, 2022:

Supreme Court to review parental consent bypass rules

Nothing good is likely to come of this.

The Texas Supreme Court is reconsidering rules that allow Texans under 18 to obtain abortions without parental consent in light of the state’s soon-to-take-effect abortion ban.

Chief Justice Nathan Hecht asked an advisory committee to make a recommendation on the matter in an Aug. 1 letter obtained by Hearst Newspapers, asking the committee to “conclude its work” at a meeting next week on Aug. 19.

A spokeswoman for the high court explained that the justices believe the new law, and a landmark June ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court overturning federal protections on abortion, have “raised questions about whether the parental-notification rules are still consistent with Texas law.”

“The court asked the advisory committee to study the issues raised in the referral letter and make recommendations, which it does almost any time rule changes are contemplated,” said the spokeswoman, Amy Starnes.

Current Texas rules require abortion patients under 18 to notify their parents when they are seeking an abortion and receive their permission. But the rules also allow the teen to seek permission from a judge instead.

The number of minors who have been able to access that legal process ground to a near-halt after Texas imposed its six-week abortion ban in September 2021 — in August, 20 minors were able to get their cases before judges, state data shows. By October, once the ban was in place, that number dwindled to just two.

Still, attorneys who represent the young “Jane Does,” named as such in court filings for confidentiality purposes, say there will still be a need for the process, known as judicial bypass, even once the trigger ban takes effect on Aug. 25.

Though the trigger ban includes no exception for rape or incest, it does include an exception for pregnancies that risk death or “substantial impairment of a major bodily function.” The exception has spurred debate statewide, especially among doctors and hospital groups concerned that it is too vague and creates legal liability for them.

[…]

Blake Rocap, legal director at Jane’s Due Process, a nonprofit that helps represent pregnant minors in Texas, said there will still be a need for the bypass process for children whose physicians determine their pregnancies qualify for that health exception.

“You can see a possibility where a minor patient may have a pregnancy that is causing their health to deteriorate, causing a lot of risk or is dangerous for them in the future,” Rocap said. “Let’s say they’re a really young victim of sexual assault or incest and their body is not able to handle a full-term pregnancy just because they’re not physically big enough … They would need a bypass.”

Rocap added that would be especially important in the case of minors in CPS or foster care who will always need bypass because under Texas law, the state is not allowed to consent to abortion.

Less than 1 percent of abortions, or 31, were performed in 2021 on patients 13 years old or younger, according to data collected by the state health department. A little over 2 percent involved patients under 18, including 226 patients between 14 and 15 years old and 807 between 16 and 17.

I guess I’m not sure what it is that has changed here from the perspective of the judicial bypass process. Abortion is now far more restricted than before for minors, but if a young person qualifies for an abortion under the health exception then I don’t see how the question of whether they need to notify their parents or can be approved by a judge to protect their personal safety is any different. All of this makes my skin crawl and is a reminder why parental notification laws were such a bad idea in the first place – the kind of person who doesn’t want to tell their parents they need an abortion probably has a good reason for that. I have less visceral distrust of the Texas Supreme Court right now than I do of the US Supreme Court, but I don’t have much trust in what they’re doing here. I hope to be proven wrong about that.

Election officials and workers need our help

We’ve identified the problem. That’s good. Now let’s do something to fix it.

Misinformation about elections has led to violent threats against election workers in Texas and other states — including one who was told “we should end your bloodline” — according to a new report released by a House panel Thursday.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform heard from one county election official in Texas that he received death threats after being singled out by out-of-state candidates who claimed the 2020 election was stolen. Those threats quickly escalated and eventually included his family and staff.

Tarrant County Elections Administrator Heider Garcia received social media messages including, “hunt him down,” “needs to leave Texas and U.S. as soon as possible,” and “hang him when convicted for fraud and let his lifeless body hang in public until maggots drip out of his mouth.”

The report said Garcia had to call law enforcement when his home address was leaked and calls for physical violence against himself and his family increased — eventually leading to threats against his children that included “I think we should end your bloodline.” Law enforcement determined that none of the threats broke the law, but they did provide coordination and additional patrol around his neighborhood.

The findings are the latest evidence of how former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims that the 2020 election was rigged against him have taken root as they have been echoed by his supporters, including Texas Republicans who passed new voting restrictions last year.

The report comes as polling released this week indicates two-thirds of Texans who identify as Republicans still do not believe the 2020 election was legitimate. The June survey by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin found 66 percent of Texas Republicans said they don’t believe President Joe Biden legitimately won the election. That was unchanged from February when they were asked the same question.

The report is part of a longrunning effort by congressional Democrats to push back on Trump’s claims and new voting restrictions in states, including Texas.

“Election officials are under siege,” said U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat who chairs the oversight panel. “They face growing campaigns of harassment and threats, all driven by false accusations of fraud.”

[…]

Garcia wrote that Sidney Powell, Trump’s former lawyer who sought to overturn the 2020 election, appeared on Fox News pushing bunk claims about voting machines turning Tarrant County blue. Garcia was also targeted by Michelle Malkin, a conservative commentator on Newsmax, and far-right website The Gateway Pundit.

Their attacks on Garcia came when Biden won the typically red county by 0.2 percentage points after Trump had led the initial count on election night, before late absentees and provisional ballots were included.

“What followed in the next 4 to 6 weeks was a terrible time of threats and concerns for the safety of my family, my staff and myself,” Garcia wrote.

The House panel in April sent letters to elections administrators in Texas, Arizona, Florida and Ohio asking how misinformation had impacted their work. The report’s findings are based, in part, on responses by Remy Garza, a Cameron County election official who is president of the Texas Association of Election Administrators.

Garza told the committee that during debates in the legislature over proposed changes to voting laws, public testimony frequently included “broad generalizations of alleged fraud” and “repeated misleading information about actions taken by the Harris County clerk responsible for the November 2020 election.”

Garza said the bills Texas Republicans passed were inspired by “false information” and were also sometimes impossible for elections administrators to implement. For instance, the state Legislature enacted a requirement for voting machines to produce a paper record without providing the necessary funds to cover the costs of converting existing equipment to comply, as well as other requirements that are not possible in counties that don’t have certain elections systems.

I have a hard time understanding how those threats against Heider Garcia’s family would not be considered violations of the law. If that’s the case, then the law needs to be updated, because we just can’t have that in a world where we also want free and fair elections run by competent people. Various provisions to offer protection to election officials were included in the voting rights bills that passed the House but were doomed by the filibuster in the Senate. I’m hopeful we’ll get an update to the Electoral Count Act of 1877 to shore up the weaknesses that Trump tried to exploit in 2020, but I seriously doubt that an amendment to include those election official protections could be added, for the same filibuster-related reasons. We’re going to need the same “hold the House and expand the Dem majority in the Senate” parlay to have some hope for this next year. I hope we can wait that long. The Trib has more.

Metro gets electric bus money

Good.

Metro’s plan to gradually get rid of gasoline-powered buses took a step forward this week, when federal officials awarded the transit agency nearly $21.6 million to replace 20 diesel buses with electric ones, and the equipment needed to keep them charged.

“These essential funds will help our region transition to lower-polluting and more energy-efficient transit vehicles quicker,” Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, said in a statement announcing the award from the Federal Transit Administration. “I look forward to watching the positive impact this brings to Houston Metro and residents.”

Metropolitan Transit Authority officials applied for the money in May, citing the grant as a part of overall efforts to replace its diesel fleet. Federal officials, as part of the transportation bill passed last year, increased funding for zero emission buses from about $182 million to $1.1 billion, allowing transit agencies to compete for the funds with a greater likelihood of winning funding.

[…]

Board members one year ago approved a plan for Metro to purchase only zero-emission vehicles by 2030, giving the agency years to convert its fleet of more than 1,200 buses away from diesel.

So far, Metro has made plans to purchase 50, including the 20 covered by this week’s grant. The agency earlier this year received funding from the Houston-Galveston Area Council, which doles out some federal money in the area, for 20 electric 40-foot buses — those that typically operate local routes — and ten smaller shuttles that often operate MetroLift paratransit routes.

See here for the most recent update. It’s obviously going to take awhile to replace the whole fleet, but you have to start somewhere. Hopefully, there will be more federal funds available in the future to help. Kudos to all for getting this going.

Deshaun Watson “apologizes”

As you may infer, I’m not impressed.

Deshaun Watson’s best play in his preseason debut with the Cleveland Browns came long before he took the field in Jacksonville.

Watson apologized Friday “to all the women I have impacted” after being accused by two dozen women of sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions.

Potentially facing a year-long suspension, Watson publicly expressed remorse and contrition for the first time since he was accused of sexually harassing or assaulting the women during therapy sessions in 2020 and 2021.

He spoke before the team’s exhibition opener, a 24-13 victory against the Jaguars (0-2) in which Watson was roundly booed during three series of work. Fans in one end zone could be heard chanting vulgarities at Watson during his first drive.

[…]

“Look, I want to say that I’m truly sorry to all of the women that I have impacted in this situation,” Watson said in the pregame interview. “The decisions that I made in my life that put me in this position I would definitely like to have back, but I want to continue to move forward and grow and learn and show that I am a true person of character and I am going to keep pushing forward.”

Watson has denied any wrongdoing, and grand juries in two Texas counties declined to indict him on criminal complaints. He settled 23 of 24 civil lawsuits.

I hope I don’t have to explain why that “apology” is lame and meaningless. I suspect that Watson is beginning to fear that his suspension will be lengthened, and this is his feeble attempt to mitigate. I can’t imagine it would have any effect, and frankly if this is the best he can do then he better hope it doesn’t have a negative effect. But I suppose you never know. ESPN and Yahoo Sports have more.

More on polling about abortion

Not a new poll, but a closer look at the June UT/Texas Politics Project poll, with a longer look back at over a decade’s worth of polling data.

Under current Texas law, abortion is prohibited even in cases of rape or incest. But polling shows Texans overwhelmingly support exceptions for rape and incest — only 13% and 11%, respectively, said pregnant people should not be able to obtain abortions in those cases.

Renée Cross, senior director of the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston, is not involved with the Texas Politics Project but has also conducted polling on abortion policy.

“More helpful polling questions are those that try to get to the nuance, rather than do you support or oppose this one option,” she said.

To that end, the latest Texas Politics Project poll asked registered voters to consider how far along in pregnancy a person should be allowed to obtain an abortion when accounting for different circumstances, including when the person’s health was endangered, the pregnancy was a result of rape or the family could not afford any more children. This is the first time pollsters asked these questions of respondents.

While most Texans support exceptions for rape and incest, some still want to see limitations based on how far along a person is in their pregnancy. Nearly a quarter of respondents want abortions in cases of rape or incest limited to the first six weeks of pregnancy, a point at which many people do not know they are pregnant. Last September, 10 months before Roe v. Wade was overturned, Texas banned abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, with no exception for cases of rape or incest.

Poll respondents supported more restrictions when asked about abortion in cases where the family is low income, or the pregnant person either doesn’t want to marry or is married and doesn’t want more children. Over 30% of voters said abortion should not be allowed in those cases.

These numbers are mostly consistent over time. The Texas Politics Project started polling registered voters about abortion availability in 2009. A historical look shows voters’ opinions on abortion have not changed much in over a decade.

One thing that has changed is people’s views on whether Texas’ existing laws about abortion should be made more strict, less strict, or left about the same. As Texas’ laws have gotten increasingly strict, the “abortion laws should be made less strict” group has grown from 26% in 2013 to 43% as of this June. The “more strict” group – one wonders what could possibly sate them, then one decides it probably isn’t worth asking that question – has gone from 38% to 23% in that same time span, while the “leave it as is” crowd has been basically static, from 20% to 23%.

It’s worth looking at the polling project’s post about their June numbers and scroll down to the section on abortion, where they asked questions about at what stage of a woman’s pregnancy would you support her being able to get an abortion under various circumstances. The choices for “when” are Never, up to 6 weeks, up to 12 weeks, up to 24 weeks, up to 36 weeks, and Any Time. The first four question are about circumstances where things are bad: The woman’s health in in danger, the woman was a victim of rape, the women was a victim of incest, and there is a strong chance of a serious birth defect. In all of those cases, support for allowing an abortion is high, though a significant portion of that support is often for just the first six weeks, while the support for “Never” ranges from 8 to 19 percent. If you group the “through 12 weeks” responses with the increasingly liberal ones, all of those positions get a majority, ranging from 53 to 62 percent. “Never” and “up to 6 weeks” add up to at most 35% for those items.

That’s the good news. The less good news is that for questions about discretionary abortions – the woman’s family is poor and they can’t afford a child, the woman is unmarried and doesn’t want to get married, the woman is married and doesn’t want another child – the Never group is the biggest at 34 to 36 percent, with the Any Time group at half that level. There’s still more support for the “up to 12 weeks” and more liberal groups than Never (41 to 45%), but Never plus “up to 6 weeks” is a slight plurality in all three cases.

In other words, this all only goes so far. That may yet change over time – this is June data we’re talking about, we’re still figuring things out in this post-Dobbs world – but we’re a long way from the state being a basically pro-choice place. It’s more pro-choice than what the Legislature allows – much more so in some cases – but there are definite limits.

One more thing:

Jim Henson, director of the project, said that in the years the poll has been conducted, people haven’t had many reasons to shift their viewpoints on abortion.

“Abortion has been a present enough issue that I think most people who have an attitude on abortion have thought on it enough to be pretty fixed on their attitude,” he said.

[Joshua Blank, research director for the project notes that these attitudes were all developed under Roe v. Wade. Now that it’s overturned, people will be forced to ask themselves new questions about where exactly they stand on the issue of abortion.

“That was all under the framework of Roe v. Wade, which allowed people to develop attitudes,” he said. “The fact that there were clear guardrails around what was and was not allowable in terms of restrictions helped enforce the rigidity of peoples’ attitudes because there was a backstop either way about what the courts would presumably accept.”

[…]

The Hobby School of Public Affairs also recently polled registered Texas voters on abortion availability and policy. [Renée Cross, senior director of the Hobby School] said the polls focus on proposed laws after the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade.

“So rather than focusing primarily on ‘do you support abortion rights,’ we went a step further saying ‘this is the law of the land now, so now what do you support.’”

The Hobby School’s poll asked voters to assess potential policies such as whether abortion should be considered a homicide and whether it should be legal for Texans to take abortion-inducing pills obtained out of state. Around 60% of respondents oppose both classifying abortion as a homicide and making it a felony to take abortion-inducing pills from out of state. Around 30% support those classifications, while around 10% said they don’t know.

What that suggests to me is that for now, the best approach is probably to try to draw a line in the sand and say “no more restrictions”, talk a lot about how women are being endangered right now because they can’t get treated for miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies because of our “no exceptions” law, and emphasize that what Republicans want is to punish people for abortion. That’s where the vast majority of the support is. We’re going to have to do a lot more work to move things beyond that, but for the purposes of the November election, vowing to protect the rights of women that have been taken away by SCOTUS and the Legislature is the best bet.

HISD buys stuff for its police

Okay, but I hope the plan to deal with an active shooter has more than this in it.

Houston ISD trustees Thursday evening approved a measure to buy 200 rifles, ammunition and 200 ballistic shields for the district’s police department, which Superintendent Millard House II said last week was not prepared with its current equipment to stop an active shooter.

Trustees voted 6-3 on the purchase after spending roughly an hour in closed executive session discussing the item and about 20 minutes of intense discussion from the dais. Trustee Dani Hernandez proposed postponing the measure by a week because she was “not willing” to proceed without more specific information. That effort, however, failed with a 3-6 vote.

Earlier in the meeting, about a dozen speakers urged the board to delay the vote or to vote no.

“I need more information about the broader safety plan for the district in general. At this time, I don’t believe I have all the information I need,” Hernandez said before the vote. “I don’t think that we have explored all options at this point — safety is essential for HISD.”

HISD Police Chief Pete Lopez told the board last week he was confident in the training the police department had received but he did “not have a lot of confidence in preparing our officers to encounter a suspect without the proper equipment.” The equipment to be purchased would be used to help with scenario-based training to learn how to respond to such a threat.

“My officers are dedicated to our students and to our staff and regardless if we have the equipment or not, we are still going to respond,” Lopez said after the vote. “This act tonight will allow us to respond in a safer manner.”

The police gear will be for specific situations, not items that police will walk around with, House said.

“The bigger issue here is ensuring that they have all the tools possible so that they can be as safe as possible,” House said, “and provide the kind of safety that we want to provide on campuses.”

See here for the background. While in general I tend to think that most police departments have (and spend money on) too much stuff, I don’t have an opinion on this particular purchase. I’ll accept that they need it in the absence of any evidence to the contrary. I will just say again that all the manpower and equipment added up to diddly squat in Uvalde, so what I want – what I would think we would all want – is to know that there’s a plan in place for this kind of horrific scenario, and training in place to back it up. I still haven’t seen any talk about that, and that concerns me. Buying stuff is the easy part. Please reassure all of us that you’re at least working on the hard part, HISD.

More on your forthcoming phone bill increase

The Chron gets on the story.

Texans who use a phone should expect to pay more for that service, thanks to a startling rate increase adopted by the Public Utility Commission of Texas last month.

Commissioners in July voted to increase a longstanding surcharge assessed on telecommunications providers’ receipts for voice services to 24 percent from 3.3 percent. The new rate, which took effect Aug. 1, will add couple of dollars a month for a consumer with a typical individual cell phone plan, and potentially several times that for customers with family plans, or those who pay for calls on a per-minute basis.

“It’s unprecedented,” said Rusty Moore, COO of BBT Telecom, a provider headquartered in Alpine, and board president of the Texas Telephone Association.

[…]

The PUC, in a statement, said the increased fees were imposed on the telecom companies, and they “are not required” to pass on the costs onto residential and business customers. But in practice, telecommunications providers typically choose to do so, the agency explains in a separate Universal Service Fund fact sheet.

T-Mobile, for example, has begun notifying customers that increased fees will show up on their bills starting this month. The exact increase will depend on the customer’s plan.

The change will remain in effect for months, if not longer. Rich Parsons, the agency’s spokesman, said the PUC plans to reduce the fee in about a year as the fund is replenished. But, he added, the rate may not drop back to its previous level of 3.3 percent unless the commissioners vote accordingly.

“It is too soon to know how much the rate will be reduced,” he said.

While the Texas Telephone Association heralded the initial court victory, Moore explained that the PUC’s approach to covering the gap is really not what the organization had in mind, or considers best. In 2021, TTA had backed legislation that would have extended the universal service fee to voice over internet protocol service providers — which allow users to make phone calls over the internet —as well as traditional providers. The bill passed the Texas Legislature with overwhelming support but was vetoed by Gov. Greg Abbott.

It would be better, Moore argued, to have “a much longer glide path” to restoring the funding with more modest rate increases over a longer period..

“This is not what we advocated for in any way, shape, or form,” he said.

Moore’s company, BBT, reckons higher cost residential consumers approximately $4.61 per month, and business customers $6.21.

See here for the background. This story puts some actual numbers on the increase – as noted, how much your bill will go up depends on your carrier and your plan – but just implies the connection to Greg Abbott. At least now this is known to more people. Feel free to help them understand where it came from.

At least you’re (probably) not giving birth in West Texas

This is a long story about the lack of prenatal and obstetric care in West Texas. It’s mostly set in Alpine, Presidio, and Big Bend, which are the “big cities” in the area that actually have doctors and medical facilities in them. The one hospital in the area is in Big Bend, and its labor and delivery unit is now closed much of the time, for a variety of reasons. This is a small taste of what it’s like to be pregnant in this part of the state.

Big Bend is the only hospital in a 12,000-square-mile area that delivers babies. If Billings’s patient goes into labor when the maternity ward is closed, she’ll have to make a difficult choice. She can drive to the next nearest hospital, in Fort Stockton, yet another hour away. Or, if her labor is too far along and she’s unlikely to make it, she can deliver in Big Bend’s emergency room. But the ER doesn’t have a fetal heart monitor or nurses who know how to use one. It also doesn’t keep patients overnight. When a woman gives birth there, she’s either transferred to Fort Stockton—enduring the long drive after having just had a baby—or discharged and sent home.

This situation is stressful and dangerous for pregnant women. Uterine hemorrhages, postpartum preeclampsia (a potentially deadly spike in blood pressure), and other life-threatening complications are most likely to occur in the first few days after childbirth. This is why hospitals usually keep new mothers under observation for 24 hours to 48 hours. “This is not the ‘standard of care’ that women should receive,” Billings says. “You’re not supposed to discharge patients and leave it up to chance.”

Big Bend doesn’t really have a choice. In the past two years, almost all its labor and delivery nurses quit. The hospital has tried to replace them, but the national nursing shortage caused by the pandemic has made that impossible. When Big Bend is too short-staffed to deliver a baby safely, its labor and delivery unit has to close.

[…]

Medicaid pays for 42 percent of all hospital births, but it doesn’t reimburse hospitals for the full cost of care. (In most states it pays between 50 cents and 70 cents on the dollar, which means a hospital loses money when it cares for someone on the program.) To offset its losses, a hospital often charges its privately insured patients significantly higher fees. But if it’s in a poor neighborhood and doesn’t have enough privately insured patients, it can’t recoup the money. So most pre-pandemic maternity ward closures were in low-income areas and disproportionately affected pregnant women of color. Pandemic-related nursing shortages have only made the situation worse. Nowhere is this problem more evident than in Texas.

The state is the national leader in maternity ward closures. In the past decade, more than twenty rural hospitals have stopped delivering babies. More than half the state’s rural counties don’t even have a gynecologist. Texas has some of the lowest income eligibility limits for Medicaid and has declined to expand them, as allowed by the Affordable Care Act. (Childless adults don’t qualify for the program unless they’re disabled.) As a result, more than 18 percent of Texans don’t have health insurance, the highest percentage of uninsured residents in the U.S. Income eligibility limits jump for pregnant women—$36,200 for single mothers, $45,600 for married ones—but the application process takes at least a month. According to the March of Dimes, a fifth of all pregnant women in Texas don’t get prenatal care until they’re five months along. In other words, when a poor woman gets pregnant in Texas, it’s hard for her to find a doctor or even a hospital.

“What we’re seeing in terms of health outcomes, it’s not good,” says John Henderson, chief executive officer and president of the Texas Organization of Rural & Community Hospitals. “We have lower birth weights, more preterm births. When it comes to caring for pregnant women and their babies, Texas does not compare favorably to other states.”

Like I said, this is a long story and it’s worth your time to read. I’m old enough to remember when tort “reform”, in particular putting a cap on damage awards that can be given in medical malpractice lawsuits, was supposed to usher in a new era of doctor abundance in Texas. I don’t think that has worked out in the way we were promised. Towards the end, one of the doctors the author spoke to for the story notes that since abortion was already impossible to get in their region, the new state ban on abortion likely won’t result in more babies being born there. These docs will still deal with miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies and other life-threatening situations – they tell some amazing stories – despite the threat to their own safety. Click over and read on for more.

Time for the usual debate about debates

Of course Greg Abbott doesn’t want to have debates. There’s no value in them for him.

Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday he has agreed to debate Democratic opponent Beto O’Rourke on Sept. 30 in the Rio Grande Valley.

O’Rourke said he would debate Abbott in the Valley but did not commit to the Sept. 30 debate. Without ruling it out entirely, he also called for three “town hall-style debates.”

The perennial debate over debates kicked off Tuesday afternoon, when Abbott’s campaign announced he had accepted an invitation from Nexstar Media Group to debate O’Rourke on the evening of Sept. 30 at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg. Abbott’s campaign called it “the one and only gubernatorial debate of the 2022 election,” implying it is the only one he is willing to do.

O’Rourke’s campaign responded a little over an hour later.

“We looked forward to attending a forum hosted by Nexstar Media Group in the Rio Grande Valley at a mutually agreed upon date and time, but one debate in one community for the entire state of Texas is not nearly enough,” O’Rourke spokesperson Chris Evans said in a statement.

The O’Rourke campaign said it additionally wants Abbott to “participate in three town hall-style debates in every region of the state during weeknights this fall where they can take questions directly from their fellow Texans.”

Abbott’s choice of the evening of Sept. 30 — a Friday evening in the fall — is a timeworn tactic of incumbents looking to agree to a debate when not as many Texans are paying attention as they would on other nights of the week.

[…]

Abbott debated his last Democratic challenger, Lupe Valdez, once — also on a Friday evening in late September.

Honestly, I’m surprised he even agreed to one. I guess ducking them entirely would be a bad look, and maybe it would be enough of a story that this was the preferred alternative. But yeah, a Friday night in late September is par for the course. Beto will make as much noise as he can about this, and he can counter by setting up other debates that he’ll participate in whether Abbott does or not. He’s of enough interest that they may draw enough attention to make Abbott uncomfortable. I think in the end one will be all we get, but we’ll see.

(Standard disclaimer: I’m not really much of a debate watcher. I don’t think they have that much effect in a contest like this. They’re of greater value in situations where lots of people don’t know much about the candidates and are just trying to get a decent first impression. Primary debates, and forums for local candidates especially in non-partisan races are great. This, less so. But they can be good theater, and there’s always the risk of a disaster.)

Motherfuckergate

Sometimes, I just enjoy a a story about swearing.

Beto O’Rourke confronted a heckler Wednesday at a campaign event who laughed while he was talking about the Uvalde school shooting, telling the person, “It may be funny to you, motherfucker, but it is not funny to me.”

The moment, which spread quickly online afterward, came as the Democratic gubernatorial challenger was hosting an evening town hall in Mineral Wells. On live broadcasts of the event, loud laughing could be heard as O’Rourke described the impact of AR-15s, dropping to a knee to emphasize what he said were the wartime capabilities of the firearm.

O’Rourke’s admonishment of the person drew sustained applause and cheers from the crowd. He quickly moved on in his stump speech, talking about wanting to keep kids safe as the school year begins.

It is unclear who exactly was laughing, but tweets from the event showed there was a group of protesters present holding campaign signs for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. On one live broadcast, the camera panned to the group after O’Rourke’s response and showed one of them laughing.

“Nothing more serious to me than getting justice for the families in Uvalde and stopping this from ever happening again,” O’Rourke tweeted afterward.

It was not the first time O’Rourke has addressed heckling at an event while discussing gun violence. He responded less explicitly last month in Snyder, telling the person, “Might be funny to you. It isn’t to me.”

It’s well known by this point that Beto has a potty mouth, which for many of us is part of his appeal. I don’t know why this particular example of said saltiness went national, but it did. The story notes that while there have been some examples of tension and conflict at Beto rallies with Republican protesters and troublemakers, there have also been examples of Beto engaging with these Republicans in a fairly cordial and civil manner. There were enough of these that Team Abbott warned its supporters to avoid wearing GOP-branded attire to Beto rallies, for fear they may get involved in one of these examples of civil discourse and thus used as part of the case for Beto. Anway, while I don’t engage in a lot of profanity on this blog, sometimes one has to do what one has to do.

Also, too:

I mean, I know which of the two I find far more offensive.

Goodell thinks Watson should get a year’s suspension

Well, it’s in the hands of someone he picked to hear the appeal, so.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says the league is seeking a tougher penalty for Deshaun Watson because the quarterback’s actions were “egregious” and “predatory behavior.”

Last week, the NFL formally appealed Watson’s six-game suspension, which was handed down by NFL disciplinary officer Sue. L Robinson earlier this month. At a league meeting called to formally approve the Denver Broncos’ new ownership group Tuesday, Goodell was asked why the NFL appealed Robinson’s decision and was seeking a suspension of at least a year for the Cleveland Browns quarterback.

“We’ve seen the evidence, she was very clear about the evidence, she reinforced the evidence,” Goodell said. “There were multiple violations that were egregious, and it was predatory behavior.”

Last week, the NFL appointed Peter C. Harvey, a former New Jersey attorney general, to hear the appeal of Watson’s suspension for violations of the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Goodell said Tuesday he did not know when Harvey would make a ruling.

See here, here, and here for some background. There have been some comments on previous posts about how Watson hasn’t been convicted of anything, he’s just been accused, and so why is he being punished at all. I just want to point out that none of this is happening in a court, it’s all a part of a disciplinary process that the NFL Players Association negotiated with the NFL. The statements of the accusers, as well as evidence they have provided in the form of texts and direct messages and so forth, were all taken into account as part of this process. Beyond that, we are all allowed to use our own judgment of the facts that we have seen. I personally find Watson’s explanations to be wholly unconvincing. Your mileage may vary, but there’s nothing unfair or unjust about how we got here. The main difference from before is that Roger Goodell is no longer the sole arbiter of what happens to a player in this situation.

Anyway. On a side note, Deshaun Watson will make his debut for the Browns in their preseason opener today. The suspension, whatever it winds up being, was only for the regular season, and presumably for the playoffs if it gets extended. Until then, he’s free to be on the field, and he’ll get paid nearly all of his salary for the year regardless. Don’t fret about Deshaun Watson. He’s doing just fine. Sean Pendergast has more.

UPDATE: From Thursday evening:

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson would accept an eight-game suspension and $5 million fine to avoid missing the entire season, a person familiar with his defense told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Watson, who is facing a potential year-long ban for sexual misconduct when he played for the Texans, would agree to a lesser penalty in a settlement, said the person who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

The biggest question is whether the NFL would make this compromise.

A settlement has always been possible, but it’s not clear if the sides are in active discussions.

Someone’s feeling the heat.

EPA to investigate TCEQ over concrete plant permits

Well, this ought to be interesting.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is the subject of an investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency following complaints that the state agency violated civil rights laws in its permitting of concrete batch plants.

The Harris County Attorney and Lone Star Legal Aid, a nonprofit law group, alleged that the state environmental agency discriminated against racial and ethnic minorities and those with limited English proficiency through a revised permitting process to build new concrete batch plants.

Their complaints, filed with the EPA earlier this year, said TCEQ failed to provide information in Spanish and insufficiently protected communities of color who live in areas where concrete facilities are predominantly located.

The concrete plants are subject to permits that aim to limit pollution in the form of particulate matter and crystalline silica — which have been linked to respiratory diseases and cancer — but independent testing of concrete facilities by the complaint’s authors indicate that pollution levels exceed health-based limits.

Last year, TCEQ approved an amendment that included exemptions for emission limitations for concrete batch plants, in response to an application to construct a plant by a Fort Worth concrete company. Area residents had fought the company’s application, which was rejected on the grounds that it didn’t adequately study the impacts of pollutants. TCEQ later passed the amendment and approved the company’s application after what it called a “clerical error.”

The EPA’s civil rights compliance arm announced the investigation last Wednesday. The investigation will focus on whether the adoption of the amendment — and the permitting process — is discriminatory, and whether the state agency failed to seek meaningful public comment.

The Chron adds some more details.

County Attorney Christian Menefee and Lone Star lawyers alleged in separate complaints to the EPA earlier this year that the state agency discriminated against Black and Latino residents when they didn’t adequately ensure communities would be protected and didn’t appropriately seek input from people who aren’t fluent in English.

Local, state and federal leaders celebrated the EPA’s decision to look at the discrimination claims Tuesday. They saw it as a chance to win long-sought relief for people who have suffered from batch plants. Facility operators say the plants are safe and need to be close to construction sites. People near them, concerned for their health, plead for them to go far away.

“Time and again, the TCEQ has approved permits for additional plants in these very same neighborhoods, and failed to ensure that the pollution that comes out of these plants does not harm human health and the environment,” Menefee said. “We’re here today because the TCEQ failed to address these issues when it had the chance.”

[…]

Applications are frequently submitted to start up concrete batch plants in the Houston area. They elicit strong backlash from residents who often already know what it’s like to live by one. Residents in Aldine recently packed a room to tell TCEQ not to approve another new plant — only to find out that the deadline had already passed to ask the state agency to escalate the dispute to the next level.

EPA stepping in signaled a shift in that fight for residents who have little more than emotional appeals on their side, and what help they can get from frustrated government representatives.

“This is important to us,” said Huey German-Wilson, president of the Trinity and Houston Gardens Super Neighborhood, “and now we have someone to hear us loud and clear, for the small Black and brown voices in communities that have not been heard.”

Politicians at the news conference slammed the state environmental agency for valuing the needs of industry over the health of people. They said that it took President Joe Biden — a fellow Democrat — winning the White House for federal regulators to put pressure on this issue in the conservative Lone Star State. Recent bills proposed in the state legislature largely floundered.

Neighborhoods with batch plants lack deed restrictions and zoning to protect them, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee said. And facilities are often in communities of color — not wealthy, white River Oaks — making what has been happening clear environmental racism, state Sen. Borris Miles said.

Menefee’s office asked the EPA to stop any new standard concrete batch plant permits from being issued until the investigation is finished, he said. A public meeting has been scheduled later this month for residents to weigh in on a plant that’s been proposed in Simonton, a small city west of Houston in rural Fort Bend County.

This isn’t a lawsuit, it’s an investigation. I have no context to guess how long it may take, though I’d expect that if the state doesn’t like what the EPA says we’ll get a lawsuit afterwards. Until then, we wait. Here’s a Twitter thread from Chron reporter Emily Foxhall with more quotes.

Dallas passes its ordinance to protect abortion access

Good job.

Dallas City councilmembers almost unanimously passed the “Grace Act,” an ordinance aimed at deprioritizing investigations into abortions by local police departments.

[…]

This new resolution prevents city resources from being used to create records for a person seeking an abortion, or to provide governmental bodies or agencies about pregnancy outcomes or to conduct surveillance to determine if an abortion occurred.

Investigations or prosecutions of abortion allegations will also be the lowest priority for law enforcement under the “Grace Act.”

Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia was in attendance for the City Council meeting and was asked before the ordinance passed how the Dallas Police Department would enforce the resolution while complying with their sworn oath to enforce state law.

“We don’t know yet,” Garcia said plainly. “Myself and other chiefs in other cities don’t know exactly how this is going to look.”

Once DPD gets some direction from other cities or the state, Garcia said he would work with the city manager to figure out what standard operating procedures will be with the new resolution in mind.

“Having a policy that says you will not enforce a law on the books would be a violation of our police officer’s oath,” Garcia said. “Using discretion is different than saying you will not enforce a law in the State of Texas.”

See here for some background. As we know, Austin, Denton, and San Antonio have already taken similar action. We’re still waiting for Waco, and I have no idea if this is on the radar for Houston. Only Mayor Turner can put it on the Council agenda, and I have not seen any quotes from him about his thinking on the matter. I’ve no doubt such an ordinance would pass, but so far I don’t know if one will be introduced. If you have some insight on this, I’d love to hear it.

Thou shalt not violate copyright

It’s right there in the Commandments.

A McAllen church is facing backlash for illegally performing Hamilton with anti-LGBTQ messaging and biblical themes, according to multiple reports. The Door Christian Fellowship Ministries of McAllen changed Lin-Manuel Miranda’s rendition of the musical to incorporate a sermon that compared being gay with having an addiction.

The Hamilton team in New York told the Washington Post that it did not give a license or permission to the Door McAllen church in McAllen to stage the performance and that it was an illegal reproduction. The OnStage Blog, the first to report about the show, revealed the production live streamed the unauthorized show on Friday, August 5.

During the live streams, characters Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler Hamilton talked about how Jesus “saved” them. After one of the performances, Pastor Victor Lopez gave a sermon with language that compared being gay to alcohol and drug addiction, according to OnStage Blog.

“He knows exactly what you’ve gone through,” Lopez said, referring to God, according to the video. “You’ve gone through maybe broken marriages. Maybe you struggle with alcohol, with drugs – with homosexuality – maybe you struggle with other things in life, your finances, whatever, God can help you tonight. He wants to forgive you for your sins.”

In a statement to the Dallas Morning News, Pastor Roman Gutierrez said he acquired legal permission from the team behind Hamilton to produce the church’s show. In a sermon on Sunday, August 7, Gutierrez said that he received a request from a lawyer to remove videos of the performance published online. He added the church is not anti-LGBTQ and “everyone is always welcome”

Miranda’s Hamilton team denied giving the pastor permission to perform the show, according to the Dallas Morning News. The team said that they sent the church a cease and desist letter on Saturday, August 6 after the Friday performance. Hamilton allowed the church to continue with Saturday’s show as long as no pictures or videos were taken.

Yeah, you don’t get to put on a performance of copyrighted material without a license. You sure as heck don’t get to change the words and lyrics to a musical without the permission of the copyright holder. This is not complicated or mysterious stuff. And yes, despite their protest, this wretched performance and its accompanying sermon were anti-LGBTQ. Again, this is not complicated or mysterious.

The OnStage Blog has been all over this, cataloging the changes the church made to the script, running statements from the Hamilton team and Lin-Manuel Miranda, and my personal favorite, documenting that this same church pulled the same stunt with Beauty and the Beast in 2018. The fact that they avoided any repercussions from Disney’s squadron of IP attorneys is kind of a miracle, I have to admit.

Anyway. I don’t know if this will end up being a temporary kerfuffle or if The Door Christian Fellowship Ministries will get its collective butt dragged into court for their utter disregard for the law. I think they should, as this is not their first offense and they clearly need to have the message about respecting other people’s creations implanted. I’ll keep my eyes open for further updates. WFAA has more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of August 8

The Texas Progressive Alliance would like to see more damage awards being given to Sandy Hook parents as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

DPS can keep Uvalde info secret for now

Hopefully not for much longer.

Sen. Roland Gutierrez

A state district judge ruled Wednesday that the Department of Public Safety does not have to turn over records related to the Uvalde school shooting sought by state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who had sued the state police in hopes of securing them.

The order by Travis County 419th Civil District Court Judge Catherine A. Mauzy was narrow, however, and sidestepped the question of whether the state police can withhold records concerning their response to the May 24 massacre at Robb Elementary School. Mauzy concluded that Gutierrez had not properly filed his request under the Texas Public Information Act, the state’s public records law, and therefore DPS was not obligated to fulfill it.

Still, the outcome grants a reprieve for the state police, who have fought to keep secret the details of how 91 officers responded to the shooting. Gutierrez, whose district includes Uvalde, wrote a letter to DPS Director Steve McCraw on May 30, requesting the agency’s training manuals as well as any documents that detail how the state police responded to the shooting that day. In a hearing last week, DPS officials said that request should have gone to the agency’s media relations office.

Gutierrez said Wednesday he disagreed with the ruling and suggested the state police were simply looking for an excuse not to comply with his request. The lawmaker has been among the most critical state officials of how DPS has handled the shooting.

“It is most absurd that Department of Public Safety continues to fight even the most benign distribution of documents, like a training manual,” Gutierrez said. “And they refuse to do it because they’re culpable of their negligence and malfeasance on that day.”

See here for the background. Sen. Gutierrez has since released a statement that says he will appeal, and he will also re-file his request per the court’s orders. If so, then one way or another he should be able to get that information eventually. I’m sure we’ll have to go through more litigation before DPS complies. But I do expect that at some point they will have to.

Here’s hoping we’ll have fewer mail ballot rejections in November

Counties are taking the problem seriously, which is a good start.

The statewide rejection rate [for mail ballots] was more than 12 percent in the primary — six times what it was in the last midterm year in 2018. By the primary runoffs, the rate was down to less than 4 percent rejected, according to data from the secretary of state’s office.

Ahead of the November general elections, a number of elections officials say they have found a simple fix — a brightly colored insert that arrives with mail ballots, explaining the new requirements and showing the easily forgotten space under the flap of the return envelope where the voter’s ID number needs to be printed.

[Bexar County Election Administrator Jacqui] Callanen said the insert is small enough and positioned in such a way that it will likely fall to the floor when voters open the mail ballot packet, so they can’t miss it. She said her office used the inserts in May primary runoff elections and saw immediate results.

“We had under a 1 percent reject rate,” Callanen said. “We were back to where we belonged, which was a dance of joy.”

Other large counties saw similar success with including physical reminders in ballot materials. Those counties may hold the answer for still-struggling counties like Harris to improve their own rates.

Harris County did not include a notice with May primary runoff ballots and reported a rejection rate of 7.7 percent in the Republican primary and 5.9 percent in the Democratic primary. Overall, out of 34,124 ballots cast; 2,294 were rejected.

While those rates were down from the sky-high 20 percent and 18 percent rates in the Republican and Democratic primaries respectively, they were still far higher than the county’s less than 0.3 percent rejection rate in the last midterm primary in 2018, when just 135 ballots were tossed.

[…]

Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the secretary of state, said the inserts “appeared to make a difference.” Taylor said elections officials across the state learned about the inserts and other best practices during an election law seminar the agency held at the beginning of this month.

Following the success of inserts in other parts of the state, Harris County election officials said this week they are including a new insert about voter ID requirements with their mail ballot applications, and adding voter ID information to an existing insert with mail ballots, for November’s general election.

In addition to an insert, Harris County interim elections administrator Beth Stevens said the county will redesign its mail ballot envelope, highlighting the space for the voter’s ID with a red box, in the same way the space for the signature is highlighted.

They will also educate voters through paid advertising and in-person community meetings and will put more resources into identifying ballots that need corrections, she said.

“We have increased our vote-by-mail team’s staffing level to account for the new requirements of SB1,” Stevens said, “which includes additional folks to answer phones, to answer voters’ questions, as well as people to handle vote-by-mail cures, either done online or in person.”

You know me and mail ballot rejections. We’ve talked about the design of the ballot and the envelope as a way of giving voters a hand in ensuring they fill in all the right data, and I’ve singled out Bexar County for being ahead of the curve. I’m more than happy to see Harris County start to catch up in this department. I’m reasonably optimistic that counties have taken adequate steps to really mitigate this issue.

I also want to point out that in a world where we absolutely had to have these new requirements, it would have been far better for there to have been a seminar like the one Sam Taylor from the SOS office describes well before the first election subject to those requirements, not four months after the first one and with two others in between. The Legislature gets the lion’s share of the blame for that – they simply didn’t care about the negative effects of the new law – but the SOS deserves some criticism for not pushing back hard enough. There’s nothing we can do now about the ballots that got rejected for no good reason. I just hope we’ve learned enough from this painful experience to minimize those losses going forward.

It’s not a teacher shortage yet

But you can see one on the horizon.

School districts across the Houston region are trying to fill thousands of teacher vacancies before most will be welcoming students back to classrooms in the coming weeks.

A review of about 18 area school districts’ job listings, including Alvin, Deer Park, Fort Bend, Galena Park, Goose Creek, Katy, Magnolia, Pasadena, Galveston, Humble, Spring Branch and Spring ISDs, as well as Lamar CISD, showed a need for more than 3,400 educators to fill a variety of vacancies as of Monday.

The Houston Independent School District, the state’s largest system scheduled to kick off its year Aug. 22, had about 870 openings for certified teachers listed on its career portal Monday.

Aldine ISD, which serves nearly 67,000 students and employs more than 4,000 educators, currently has 370 teacher vacancies. That number is “way up” from previous years, according to administrators, despite recruiting efforts that include signing bonuses, increased salaries and looking for applicants internationally. Klein ISD is searching for 120 teachers, according to its website. Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, the state’s third-largest system, is trying to fill 472 teaching vacancies.

It is a nationwide problem as low pay, long hours and the politicization of education have taken their toll on the beleaguered profession.

“You look across the state and across the country, there are districts even smaller than us with even more vacancies,” HISD chief talent officer Jeremy Grant-Skinner said. “We’re all feeling the challenge together of staffing during this very unique time. We’re feeling like we’re going to get as close as we can.”

HISD, with roughly 195,000 students and 27,000 full- and part-time employees, had about the same number of vacancies at this time a year ago, Grant-Skinner said, before reducing it to about 400 by the time schools opened. To fill those openings until certified educators could be hired, the district sent central administration staffers who held teacher certifications into classrooms. Grant-Skinner said there have been no conversations about doing that again this year.

The 870 openings represent about 8 percent of the 11,000 teachers included in the upcoming year’s budget.

Since then, the district has raised teacher pay, hoping it will help recruit and retain educators. Several other districts, including Katy and Cypress-Fair ISDs, also have boosted teacher salaries.

Emphasis mine. I highlighted that to note that this problem, at least for HISD, is not unprecedented. The gap was more than cut in half least year, HISD was able to fill in other vacancies from within, and they have raised their pay as a way to attract new job seekers. There are obviously a lot of major challenges facing teachers now, most of which are the result of actions taken by Republicans, but it’s too soon to say for this year that the problem is getting worse. That may end up being the case, and it’s good to draw attention to this now, I just want to be a little cautious about getting ahead of ourselves.

That said, there are other danger signs out there that should be taken seriously.

More Texas teachers are considering leaving the profession than at any point in the last 40 years, according to new polling from the Texas State Teachers Assocation.

The survey found that 70 percent of teachers were seriously considering quitting this year, a substantial jump from the 53 percent who said so in 2018, the last time the typically biennial survey was conducted. Teachers attributed their grim outlook to pandemic-related stress, political pressure from state lawmakers, less support from parents and stretched finances.

The survey represented all grade levels and regions of the states. It was skipped in 2020 amid of the pandemic.

[…]

In the survey, which was completed by 688 Texas teachers, 94 percent said the pandemic increased their professional stress, and 82 percent said financial stress was exacerbated. Experts have pointed to better pay as a key way to recruit and retain teachers. Respondents taught for about 16 years on average, and their average salary was around $59,000. That’s about $7,000 below the national trend, according to the teachers association.

Besides salary, Texas teachers on average also receive some of the worst retirement benefits of those in any state, a separate study from June found. Teachers who have retired since 2004 have not received a cost-of-living adjustment, although the Legislature has routinely passed “13th check” bills that send extra annuity payments.

In addition to pay, 85 percent said they felt state lawmakers held a negative view of teachers, 65 percent said the public held a negative view and 70 percent said support from parents had decreased over the last several years.

If your job is more stressful than before, if you don’t feel respected by the powers that be or your stakeholders, and if on top of that you could make more money doing something else, well, that’s a pretty powerful combination. We can take this feedback seriously and try to do something about it, or we can ignore it and risk having to deal with a crisis situation later. Seems like a straightforward choice to me.

If “bad apples” are the problem, then shouldn’t getting rid of them be a high priority?

This San Antonio Report story is about the nine-year saga of the Redus family to get justice for their son Cameron, who was killed by University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) police officer Christopher Carter in 2013 outside Redus’ apartment. Carter has said in reports and depositions that he observed Redus getting into his car late at night while appearing to be drunk and followed him home to his apartment complex. (Redus happened to be a UIW student, which Carter didn’t know as he first observed him.) At the apartment complex, Carter shot and killed Redus, claiming that Redus had attacked him. All the evidence that has been found about the shooting contradicts that claim. By any reckoning, the shooting of Cameron Redus was completely unjustified.

The wrongful death litigation has been ongoing for several years, with UIW declining to settle despite a lot of pressure being put on them to do so. The lawsuit just survived a motion to dismiss by the 4th Court of Appeals, which led to this overview of the case by the San Antonio Report. I want to highlight the bits in there about Carter’s record as a police officer.

If the case finally goes to trial, Carter’s troubled past as a peace officer and UIW’s failure to conduct a background check before hiring Carter in 2011, or provide him with significant training afterwards, will come under the spotlight, according to pretrial depositions.

So will a number of incidents involving Carter during his time at UIW, including a middle-of-the-night intrusion into a female student’s dorm room under the guise of investigating a campus fender-bender, an episode that occurred two months before the Redus shooting. A formal complaint by the student’s family resulted in Carter’s supervisors acknowledging the officer’s unacceptable behavior and warning the student to avoid on-campus encounters with Carter.

Other allegations reported by fellow UIW officers: Carter twice unholstered his service weapon on campus in inappropriate shows of bravado and took part in an illegal, on-campus shooting of pigeons after police vehicles were soiled by the birds. Carter was formally reprimanded by his supervisor for verbally abusing and intimidating people on the Incarnate Word High School campus while directing traffic.

None of his transgressions or past issues in other law enforcement jobs led to serious disciplinary actions or a decision to terminate him from the campus force, even though other officers and UIW employees have told me Carter was widely regarded as a pariah unsuited to carry a gun or wear a badge.

[…]

Pretrial depositions raise serious questions about UIW’s hiring practices for its police force. Sources at UTSA and Trinity University told me Carter applied for positions there at the time, but his evident inability to hold a job led them to ignore his application.

Carter said he worked as a convenience store clerk and pawn shop manager trainee after earning a criminal justice degree from UTSA in 1997. He attended San Antonio College’s Law Enforcement Training Academy from 2003 through 2004 where he earned his peace officer’s license.

From September 2004 when he was hired as an unpaid reserve deputy for the City of Marion until May 2011 when he was hired as a full-time campus police officer for UIW, Carter held nine different law enforcement or security jobs, most only for a matter of months, according to his deposition testimony.

Carter said he lasted six months in the unpaid position with the City of Marion; eight months as an unpaid reserve officer with the City of Cibolo; six months as an unpaid support deputy with the Bexar County Sheriff’s Department; three months as a paid deputy with the Atascosa County Sheriff’s Department; six months as a paid court bailiff with the Bexar County Sheriff’s Department; six months as a licensed private investigator for Hub International insurance company; five months as a part time reserve officer for the City of San Antonio’s Marshal Unit, working nights as a municipal court bailiff; seven months as a night patrol officer for the City of Mathis, where he was fired for reasons Carter said he cannot recall; and six months as a code enforcement officer and peace officer for the City of George West.

Carter was hired by UIW as a campus police officer in May 2011 and was placed on paid administrative leave after fatally shooting Redus in December 2013. One year later, university officials allowed him to resign in good standing.

Since then, after applying without success for dozens of positions with various area law enforcement agencies, including applications to the City of San Antonio and Bexar County, Carter was finally hired in December 2015 for a part-time job in the City of Orange Grove in Jim Wells County, which he held for six months until May 2016. Carter was then rehired by the City of Mathis, but was fired after 11 months in March 2017.

Carter’s last job in law enforcement was with the City of Poteet, where he began as a reserve officer before moving into a full-time position. That employment ended after three-and-a-half years in November 2020 when he said he “retired” to return to San Antonio to care for family members.

A UIW panel that conducted a single pre-employment interview with Carter in April 2011 did not press him about his inability to hold a job for long, and did not ask why he was terminated by the City of Mathis, Carter said in his deposition. Carter said UIW did not require him to take any verbal or written tests, and he was never shown the university police department’s 113-page policy and procedures manual.

Carter said he did not meet UIW Police Chief Jacob Colunga prior to his hiring, and initial on-the-job training was limited to shadowing another UIW officer for two weeks. Colunga was demoted in 2014, months after the shooting.

Author Robert Rivard, who has been a longtime critic of UIW for its behavior in this incident, turned that into an editorial decrying the common practice of cops being able to go from one job to the next even as their performance demonstrates their inability to do that job. Even a cursory glance at Carter’s career would make one wonder why any law enforcement agency would hire him, and if they did hire him why they wouldn’t train him relentlessly to make sure he was up to snuff. The consequences for not doing those things are predictable and tragic. And all of this is before we take race into account – Cameron Redus, unlike many other high-profile victims of police violence, was white. These consequences so often and so regularly fall on people of color, and for the most part are invisible to many of us. But they’re very much there.

The “bad apples” explanation for police violence is woefully inadequate, but it is the case that a small number of police officers at any agency are disproportionately responsible for unjust and violent actions. It’s hard enough getting those officers off the force, but when that does happen – often through non-official means, which allows said officers to resign in good standing – they can almost always find employment elsewhere, with few to no questions asked. Tom Coleman, the undercover cop responsible for the arrest and conviction of dozens of innocent Black residents of Tulia, Texas, is another prime example of this. It’s long past time for us to ask the question why this is so, and what we should be doing about it.

Acompañamiento

Great story about the abortion access community in Mexico, which arose while abortion was criminalized there and continues now that it is legal in much of the country, and how it is starting to help women in the US, especially in Texas.

Hi, I’m four weeks pregnant. Eight weeks. Six weeks.

The stream of pings and messages through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp reach Sandra Cardona Alanís at her home in this mountainous region of northern Mexico. She is an acompañante and a founder of Necesito Abortar México, a volunteer network that has helped thousands of people across Mexico access abortion, usually at home, by providing medication and support.

With the constitutional right to abortion in the United States eliminated and numerous states moving swiftly to cut off all access, more and more of the calls to Mexican organizations like Cardona Alanís’ are coming from places like Texas.

People seeking help are reaching not just over a border but across a cultural divide between two countries following distinct paths in providing reproductive health care. As abortion access is being restricted in the United States, it is expanding in Mexico.

Because abortion-inducing medication can be obtained in Mexico without a prescription, networks like the one Cardona Alanís helped found exist alongside the more traditional medical clinics that typify abortion in the United States.

The Necesito Abortar México network is one of several that operate outside the formal medical establishment, offering people the ability to manage their own abortions without visiting a clinic. They usually hear from two or three new people a day. The day the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against abortion rights, they heard from 70, half of them calling from the United States.

Even before the full effects of Roe v. Wade’s reversal kick in, Texas is being stitched into the Mexican system as the networks build out their models of helping provide safe abortion at home on an international scale. For months, they’ve been helping train volunteers that will prop up new U.S.-based networks. And they have moved thousands of doses of abortion medication into the United States, creating informal stockpiles to more easily distribute the drugs.

Exporting their model likely will not come easily, though, as the legal landscape continues to shift. Abortion-inducing drugs must be discreetly transported into the United States where they’re available only with a prescription.

Those in the United States involved in building an accompaniment system face potential legal risks both criminally and civilly, especially as Republicans in states like Texas seek to choke off any and all possibility of allowing their residents to access abortion.

Adopting the Mexican model would also require a revolution in thinking about abortion in the U.S., removing the procedure from a system of doctors and clinics and shifting it into homes across states like Texas.

But that autonomy, Cardona Alanís and her partner Vanessa Jiménez Rubalcava often say, changes everything.

“This is an opening for women to realize that they can have abortions in their own homes,” Jiménez Rubalcava said. “When they realize it can be in their hands — and not in the hands of government or the medical system — there’s going to be no stopping them.”

Read the rest, it’s well worth your time. “Acompañamiento” is the collective term for this social movement created by women looking to help each other access safe abortion. Ensuring that misoprostal and mifepristone can get to women who need them for a medication abortion and expanding clinic access in Mexico for Americans who can travel there are a part of it. There’s a ton to admire about all this, but if you think that the border is politicized now, wait until abortion becomes part of that dynamic. It’s just a matter of time before someone claims that part of the justification for the border wall is to keep American women from crossing into Mexico to seek abortion care.

On resign to run

The TL;dr version of this is “No one ever said the Elections Code was fair”.

John Whitmire’s plans have been clear since November: He is running for re-election to the state Senate, and he also is running for mayor.

If all goes according to his plan, Whitmire will serve out his final legislative session in the Senate in 2023, turn his attention to campaigning for City Hall in the summer and win a new job in November or December.

City officials in Houston, though, do not have the same luxury, and it is creating political hurdles this year for ambitious council members looking for new jobs — especially those that may want to take City Hall’s top office.

Texas has a resign-to-run law meant to discourage officials from holding one office while running for another. The law dates back to a 1958 constitutional amendment, purportedly aimed at ensuring elected officials concentrate their attention on the job they already have and do not run campaigns while on the taxpayers’ dime.

The state applies the rule only to certain county and city officials, though, and not to those who serve in Austin. That is why Whitmire can, essentially, run for two jobs at the same time. Legislators have run for just about every job in the state while keeping their posts.

Lawmakers have amended the constitutional provision underlying the rule several times over the last couple decades. None of those changes added state officials to the mix.

“They never applied the logic to themselves,” said Nancy Sims, a longtime political consultant who now teaches at the University of Houston.

The story notes that this has only been an issue for Houston City Council members since 2016, following the referendum that altered the term limits ordinance and changing Council terms from two years to four. It also notices the outlier fundraising of CM Ed Pollard, who if he is a Mayoral candidate would have to step down. I confess, I had forgotten about the new application of resign-to-run in discussing Pollard’s potential plans; it is certainly more complicated for him now. Maybe he’ll keep piling up the cash and then challenge whoever gets elected next year in 2027, when he’d only be giving up the last year or so of his second term. I’m just speculating wildly here. Anyway, the state constitution specifies who has to resign to run for something else and who doesn’t, it’s highly unlikely that will ever change to apply to legislators, and that’s just the way it is.

The Fresh Start program

I approve of this.

The possibility of finally putting a misdemeanor from 1993 behind her brings 53-year-old Jennifer Sigers to tears.

“I’m more excited than anything that this too shall pass,” said Sigers, who was among at least 100 people who showed up to a north Houston community center for the opportunity to remove certain non-violent misdemeanors from their criminal records. The event on Saturday morning was the latest resource fair affiliated with the new Fresh Start program with Harris County Courts.

“I’m ashamed of it,” Sigers said about the incident from roughly 30 years ago that’s still on her criminal record, which occurred after she said police misidentified her while pursuing someone else who had been evading police at her sister’s apartment complex.

“I’m a kind, gentle person. And when you have people that ask you ‘do you have a background’ and you tell them, they turn around and look down on you like, you’re this bad person. I’m not a bad person,” said Sigers, who drove from her home in Spring to participate in the program and brought both her sons to see if they could benefit as well.

More than two hours before the Harris County Courts Fresh Start event began, people were outside to sign up, indicating significant community interest in the programs offered — records sealing as well as receiving free children’s backpacks, free enhanced library cards, COVID-19 vaccines and immigration consults.

Saturday’s event is the third Fresh Start community outreach event by Harris County Courts for sealing records, which can be a burdensome, costly process, according to Harris County Criminal Court Judge Raul Rodriguez.

“A lot of times, many don’t know how to do it so they hire a lawyer to do it, and so there’s fees there. So, this particular program allows these individuals to be able to seal their records without having to hire a lawyer,” Rodriguez said.

[…]

Hundreds – even thousands – of individuals are likely eligible to seal their criminal record, according to a rough estimate from Harris County Courts Office of Court Management.

Sealing records is available for people with a completed deferred adjudication for low-level, non-violent misdemeanor offenses.

Under the Fresh Start program, “sealing your record” means that qualifying individuals can get orders of non-disclosures, which means their criminal charge isn’t required on public disclosures, like apartment or job applications. However, criminal justice agencies are still able to view the charges.

The program was created as an extension of the restorative justice initiative Bayou City Community Court and is aimed at bridging the gap between the community and the criminal justice system, according to Harris County Criminal Court Judge Toria Finch.

“We believe that if we give people resources, we give people opportunity, we give people purpose, that also combats crime. And so a lot of people cannot get jobs, a lot of people cannot move forward with their life because of a mistake that may have happened years ago,” she said.

Details of the Fresh Start program, for which there will be another event before the end of the year, are here. This is a great idea, and should be emulated by other counties. One of the points of the criminal justice system is to get people who have transgressed to go back to being lawful citizens. When they do, they should be able to officially put their past behind them, for if they cannot then what’s the point? Given how cumbersome and time-consuming the process to seal one’s record can be, offering it as an occasional service makes a lot of sense. Kudos to all for doing this.

When we say “fix the grid”…

This is one of the obvious ways we could attempt to do that.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

The state’s High Plains region, which covers 41 counties in the Texas Panhandle and West Texas, is home to more than 11,000 wind turbines — the most in any area of the state.

The region could generate enough wind energy to power at least 9 million homes. Experts say the additional energy could help provide much-needed stability to the electric grid during high energy-demand summers like this one, and even lower the power bills of Texans in other parts of the state.

But a significant portion of the electricity produced in the High Plains stays there for a simple reason: It can’t be moved elsewhere. Despite the growing development of wind energy production in Texas, the state’s transmission network would need significant infrastructure upgrades to ship out the energy produced in the region.

“We’re at a moment when wind is at its peak production profile, but we see a lot of wind energy being curtailed or congested and not able to flow through to some of the higher-population areas,” said John Hensley, vice president for research and analytics at the American Clean Power Association. “Which is a loss for ratepayers and a loss for those energy consumers that now have to either face conserving energy or paying more for the energy they do use because they don’t have access to that lower-cost wind resource.”

And when the rest of the state is asked to conserve energy to help stabilize the grid, the High Plains has to turn off turbines to limit wind production it doesn’t need.

“Because there’s not enough transmission to move it where it’s needed, ERCOT has to throttle back the [wind] generators,” energy lawyer Michael Jewell said. “They actually tell the wind generators to stop generating electricity. It gets to the point where [wind farm operators] literally have to disengage the generators entirely and stop them from doing anything.”

[…]

Wind energy is one of the lowest-priced energy sources because it is sold at fixed prices, turbines do not need fuel to run and the federal government provides subsidies. Texans who get their energy from wind farms in the High Plains region usually pay less for electricity than people in other areas of the state. But with the price of natural gas increasing from inflation, Jewell said areas where wind energy is not accessible have to depend on electricity that costs more.

“Other generation resources are more expensive than what [customers] would have gotten from the wind generators if they could move it,” Jewell said. “That is the definition of transmission congestion. Because you can’t move the cheaper electricity through the grid.”

A 2021 ERCOT report shows there have been increases in stability constraints for wind energy in recent years in both West and South Texas that have limited the long-distance transfer of power.

“The transmission constraints are such that energy can’t make it to the load centers. [High Plains wind power] might be able to make it to Lubbock, but it may not be able to make it to Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston or Austin,” Jewell said. “This is not an insignificant problem — it is costing Texans a lot of money.”

Some wind farms in the High Plains foresaw there would be a need for transmission. The Trent Wind Farm was one of the first in the region. Beginning operations in 2001, the wind farm is between Abilene and Sweetwater in West Texas and has about 100 wind turbines, which can supply power to 35,000 homes. Energy company American Electric Power built the site near a power transmission network and built a short transmission line, so the power generated there does go into the ERCOT system.

But Jewell said high energy demand and costs this summer show there’s a need to build additional transmission lines to move more wind energy produced in the High Plains to other areas of the state.

Jewell said the Public Utility Commission, which oversees the grid, is conducting tests to determine the economic benefits of adding transmission lines from the High Plains to the more than 52,000 miles of lines that already connect to the grid across the state. As of now, however, there is no official proposal to build new lines.

Sure would be nice to have such a proposal, wouldn’t it? That’s a thing that the Governor and the Legislature could make happen if they wanted to. Unfortunately, a lot of them don’t want to, and of course Greg Abbott is incapable of taking any positive action. So here we are, with those of us too far away from the existing turbines to benefit from them looking longingly at the Gulf of Mexico for some future relief. I don’t know how much it might cost to build out the transmission network (the story doesn’t say), or to invest in battery storage for solar energy (another thing we’re good at generating in this state, as noted in the story), but I’m sure we could find the money if we wanted to. First, though, we have to want to. And that means electing people who want to. Because we don’t have that now.

Texas Two-Step (TM)

What a tale.

After two years experimenting with an old Persian family technique using grains and raisins, Ali Ansari finally nailed his new vodka recipe. He poured $4 million into building a distillery outside of Houston and branded his drink DASH, hoping it would evoke a slow-sipping spirit — “one dash at a time,” he explained.

But when it came time to name a new productline, it occurred to him that DASH, which he had thought of as sleek and modern, wasn’t exactly right. “It doesn’t really present Texas,” he said.

Ansari had started several businesses since immigrating nearly 30 years ago to attend school. One thing he’d learned was when it comes to brand loyalty, Texans love Texas. As a guiding spirit, Austin-based Tito’s Vodka built a multi-billion-dollar empire off its folksy Lone Star roots.

Brainstorming possible names with friends, he hit on a perfect fit. “I used to go dancing with my girlfriend at this old club, Wild West, on Gessner Street,” he said. “We would do the Texas Two Step.”

The words conjured pearl-snapped couples gliding across boot-smoothed dance floors on warm summer nights. People having Texas fun — and, between dances, perhaps enjoying a new and unique adult beverage. Ansari filed an application to trademark Texas Two Step Vodka.

But he was dismayed to learn that a rich and powerful entity already claimed to have locked up the legal right to the famous dance name. It demanded Ansari immediately drop his plans to use the words for his product. When it lost its Two Step case at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, it continued to pursue Ansari into federal court.

It was the State of Texas.

Specifically, it was the Texas Lottery Commission that sued him, having trademarked “Texas Two-Step” in 2001 for one of its games. I will admit that as a non-gambling person I had no idea about that, but I will say that if you google “Texas Two Step”, the first results are indeed the Texas Lottery Commission. If Google says it, it must be true.

The funny thing to me is that “Texas Two-Step” was also the name used to describe the primary election process used by Texas Democrats through the year 2008. That was my first year as a precinct chair, and for my troubles I got to lead the caucus part of that – after the vote, there was a caucus in each precinct, which through a process too convoluted to describe eventually led to the number of delegates each Presidential candidate wound up with. You may recall that Hillary Clinton wound up with more delegates than her share of the vote would have provided if it had been based solely on vote totals. Anyway, that was scrapped for something simpler and more sane in 2012, and it is little more than a bit of dusty history now.

Except that as far as I know, the TLC didn’t sue anyone over the use of that name. Maybe because the Dems had used that name prior to the TLC trademarking it, maybe because there wasn’t any money at stake, maybe for some other reason, I don’t know. I’m just saying, maybe the state of Texas could cool its jets here a little and give Mr. Ansari a break. As he said in the story, it’s not like an association with vodka is going to sully the good name of a scratch-off game. Go read the rest and see what you think.

Buzbee blames the NFL for Watson’s short suspension

Surely you expected that Tony Buzbee would have something to say about all this.

For the first woman to sue former Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson —and nearly all those who followed suit — the legal process is over.

They settled their cases alleging sexual assault and harassment. An NFL-hired arbitrator gave the football player a six-week suspension. And two grand juries declined to pursue criminal charges.

Through it all, the NFL and Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg failed those women, Houston attorney Tony Buzbee said Thursday.

“We are here today with a message to the NFL,” the lawyer said during a news conference. “Every victim of sexual assault is watching (Commissioner) Roger Goodell and the NFL right now. And this idea that Mr. Goodell is going to hand it off to someone independent, we don’t buy it.”

“Mr. Goodell, what will you do?”

[…]

Despite the disappointing decision with the District Attorney’s Office and the league, [Ashley] Solis said she finally feels like she has power.

She described the past two-and-a-half years as “emotionally and mentally tasking.” As the first person to file a lawsuit and the first to speak publicly, she received countless threats from Watson fans. That vitriol sent her into a depression, but letters she received from numerous victims rejuvenated her, she said.

Solis learned that victims have the ability to speak up. They can make changes happen, she said.

“If anyone has ever tried to abuse their status, and overpower you, remind them that they picked the wrong one to try that with,” she said. “That’s exactly what I am – the wrong one.”

Solis was one of 10 women to speak with NFL investigators, Buzbee said. He added that he would’ve made more of his clients available, but he said the NFL “wasn’t really interested in talking to them.”

“It really makes you want to scratch your head and wonder, ‘What the devil is going on?'” Buzbee said.

Arbitrator Sue L. Robinson made note of the NFL’s failure to interview all 24 women in her 16-page report, distancing her decision by saying, “My credibility determinations are based largely on the credibility of the NFL investigators.”

NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy disputed Buzbee’s claims. He provided a statement that said the league interviewed 49 total people and attempted to interview all of the 24 women who filed suit but the remaining 12 “were not made available by their attorney or did not feel comfortable being interviewed.”

The investigation’s outcome made some of the victims to feel invisible, or as if they had been slapped, Buzbee said.

See here for the previous update. Goodell has already delegated the appeal to someone else, as allowed by the collective bargaining agreement. I think that was the correct thing for him to do, but I can see how Buzbee sees it differently. As for the dispute over how many of the women were available to talk with the NFL as part of the process, I’ll wait and see if there’s evidence to support one side’s claims or the other’s.

In the meantime, now we wait on the appeal.

The NFL Players Association announced Friday that it replied to the NFL’s appeal of Deshaun Watson’s six-game suspension by NFL disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.

“We have filed our reply brief to the NFL’s appeal regarding the Deshaun Watson matter,’’ the NFLPA said in a statement posted on Twitter.

The union, which had two business days to reply, had no further comment.

The matter is now in the hands of appeals officer Peter C. Harvey, the former New Jersey attorney general who was appointed Thursday by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. There’s no set timeframe for a decision, but it must be processed on an expedited basis. The two sides — the NFL and NFLPA — can also try to negotiate a settlement before the ruling.

But the NFLPA is still poised to sue in federal court, possibly pending the outcome of the appeal.

“If the new arbitrator increases Watson’s punishment – once again this sets up a legal battle between the union and league challenging the fairness of the penalties and (Roger) Goodell’s authority to penalize the players for their alleged roles,’’ said attorney Daniel Moskowitz, a sports law litigator in Dallas, who has represented several NFL players in NFL investigations involving the personal conduct policy, violation of league substance abuse and other code of conduct policies.

The NFLPA and Watson’s legal team can also file before the decision by Harvey, who helped develop and implement the league’s personal conduct policy.

So we wait. I don’t think this will take very long for the simple reason that it makes sense for there to be a resolution, at least as far as this process goes, before the season begins. After that, who knows. Sean Pendergast has more.

Weekend link dump for August 7

“Misinformation is eroding the public’s confidence in democracy”.

The anti-abortion fanatics just don’t care at all about the life and health of the mother.

“Do Vending Machines Really Kill More Americans Than Sharks Every Year?”

“A collective of more than 400 television creators and showrunners sent a letter to top-level executives at Netflix, Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery, NBC Universal, Apple and more, demanding specific protocols to protect pregnant employees in states where abortion is outlawed.”

By the way, if you got to the bottom of that list and asked yourself “where are all the dudes?”, the answer is here. And good for them.

A brief history of recessions, and how something gets to be called a “recession”.

“The infant mortality rate in states banning or expected to soon ban abortion is 6.3 per 1,000 births. In states that aren’t going to ban abortion, it’s 4.7 per 1,000.”

RIP, Nichelle Nichols, actor best known for playing Lt. Uhura on Star Trek, one of the first Black female leads on TV. A bunch of well-deserved tributes from across the Star Trek universe is here.

RIP, Pat Carroll, Emmy-winning actor who provided the voice of Ursula in The Little Mermaid.

Welp, Netflix is now suing the creators of that Bridgerton: The Musical production.

RIP, Paul Coker, character and production designer for the classic Rankin/Bass stop-motion and animated holiday specials and longtime MAD Magazine artist.

“It’s Time For a National Gun Buyback“.

“It’s hardly new to point out that algorithmic trending lists can amplify bad stuff to huge audiences. So why does Twitter still have this feature in 2022?”

RIP, Vin Scully, iconic and legendary broadcaster for the LA Dodgers.

Schadenfreude. Pure, unadulterated, blissful schadenfreude. Try not to injure yourself stifling giggles.

“This is a foundational principle in the United States: That while voters should be able to pick their president and their representatives in Congress and at the state level, and have the power to vote on various state-level laws, our Constitution protects the rights of minority and other historically mistreated groups as well. No one should see their basic rights subject to the tyranny of the majority.”

“I can only speak for myself, but I never believed their infinitely repeated protestations that they didn’t want to ban abortion, just make reasonable regulations about it. I didn’t believe it because they didn’t even believe it themselves. Apparently, about six out of 10 voters didn’t believe them either.”

But his emails!

“After passing the House with the support of 47 Republicans, the Respect for Marriage Act, which would protect marriage rights for same-sex couples if the Supreme Court were to overturn its 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, faces much dimmer prospects in the Senate. There is one reason why: the Christian right still controls the Republican Party.”

Multiple cities sue streaming services over franchise fees

This has been coming for awhile, it seems.

A lawsuit filed Thursday by 25 Texas cities claims that Disney, Hulu and Netflix have for years stiffed the cities out of dollars the streaming giants are required to pay under state law — and now cities are coming to collect.

Austin, Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth are among the cities that sued the streaming services in Dallas County to recover money they say they has been owed since 2007 and to require the services to pay each year going forward. Under state law, the services have to pay cities a franchise fee — which traditional cable providers also pay — in exchange for using communication lines over public rights of way to transmit their services into homes.

As more people abandon cable subscriptions in favor of streaming services, cities have lost franchise fee revenue — money that goes to fund city services like police and fire protection as well as roads, parks and libraries.

Cities haven’t made up that revenue with fees from streaming services, said Steven Wolens, a former Texas lawmaker and lead attorney for the cities. Even though state law classifies them as video service providers that must pay the fees, the major streamers haven’t paid cities a dime, Wolens said.

“They should have been paying this fee from the very beginning,” Wolens said. “Shame on them because they are using the public right of way that every other company pays the city to use.”

Exactly how much the streaming giants owe Texas cities isn’t known, Wolens said. For a smaller city, the losses could number in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said. For a larger city, that figure could be in the millions.

Other Texas cities that joined the lawsuit are Abilene, Allen, Amarillo, Arlington, Beaumont, Carrollton, Denton, Frisco, Garland, Grand Prairie, Irving, Lewisville, McKinney, Mesquite, Nacogdoches, Pearland, Plano, Rowlett, Sugar Land, Tyler and Waco.

The cities are seeking funds dating to when the services launched — Netflix in 2007, Hulu in 2008 and Disney+, The Walt Disney Co.’s streaming service, in late 2019.

The city of Beaumont, which as you can see is involved in this litigation, filed its own lawsuit against these three streaming services in February. I could not find any news about that lawsuit since then, so I don’t know if it has been dropped in favor of the current litigation or if there are now two separate actions. My searching did find that several cities were working on this at least as far back as last year. I’d sure like to see a more in depth story about this, but for now this is what we have. Any lawyers want to offer an opinion on their odds of success? The Chron has more.

How would HISD’s police respond to an active shooter incident?

It’s a question we would all rather not have to think about, but this is the world we live in. And at this time, the answer that Superintendent Millard House gave to that question was not reassuring.

Houston ISD’s police department would not be prepared should Texas’ largest school district be targeted by active shooter, Superintendent Millard House II said Thursday night.

“I don’t know that this has garnered community insight but what I do know is that, if there was an active shooter in HISD, our police department is not prepared,” House said during an agenda review meeting.

His remarks were in response to questioning from Trustee Dani Hernandez regarding an item the board is expected to vote on during next week’s meeting for purchase of items worth more than $100,000. The specific agenda item includes various purchases for the school district’s police department.

House said the district would be buying 200 rifles, 200 ballistic plate shields and rifle ammunition.

“As we study the Uvalde scenario and looked at what … proper preparation that needs to be in place, officers would not have been prepared for what that looks like,” House said.

[…]

Hernandez asked what research was guiding HISD, instead of feelings. House asked HISD police Chief Pete Lopez to share information in response to her question.

Lopez said research showed police who were better prepared helped in stopping a shooter faster. He was confident about training the district’s police force — estimated to be more than 200 employees — had received. But he did “not have a lot of confidence in preparing our officers to encounter a suspect without the proper equipment.” He said they needed scenario-based training to learn how to respond to such a threat.

The school district has about 195,000 students.

“The equipment that I’ve requested is to provide additional training to teach the officers how to breach the doors, how to use those shields and also quickly enter that room and neutralize the suspect,” Lopez said. “And of course save our students and our staff.”

Like I said, nobody wants to have to think about this. Given that we have to, there are two things that I want to know up front, based on what we have witnessed from Uvalde. One is that there is always a clear definition of who is in command at such a scene. While it’s unlikely that DPS and Border Patrol would show up at an HISD school wit an active shooter, HPD and the Sheriff’s office will almost certainly have officers on the scene. Make sure that there is a written policy that says who is the leader, so that we don’t have a nightmare situation where dozens of cops are waiting around for someone to tell them what to do. And two, the policy must also state that the top priority is going after the shooter, again to avoid a repeat of what happened at Robb Elementary. Everything else, from best practices to training to equipment to whatever else can be provided for. First and foremost, we have to make sure that there’s a commitment to stop the person or persons responsible for the shooting. You wouldn’t think this is a thing that needs to be said, and to be clearly spelled out in an official document for which there would be severe consequences for now following it, but it is and we do. So let’s make sure we have one. Campos has more.

Houston will monitor for monkeypox in the wastewater

Seems like a good idea.

Houston will begin monitoring its wastewater for monkeypox in late August as cases of the blister-causing contagion continue to climb, health officials said.

Scientists will begin testing for the monkeypox virus in city sewage samples “starting in about three weeks,” Houston Health Department spokesperson Porfirio Villarreal said Thursday morning.

There are 152 cases in Harris County, 131 of those in Houston, the county’s Public Health Department reports. More than 6,300 Americans had tested positive for monkeypox as of Wednesday, nearly 500 of them in Texas. Many cases have been among gay and bisexual men, but the disease can be spread among anyone via close contact.

To collect the data, Houston scientists will take weekly samples from flushed wastewater at sewage treatment plants across the city. Once tested, the samples will give scientists a snapshot of which neighborhoods have the most monkeypox virus.

Health officials have used wastewater tracking to monitor COVID-19 levels in the city’s sewage since the beginning of the pandemic to understand how quickly the virus is spreading among the city’s two million inhabitants. The tracking project, a joint effort by Rice University and the Houston Health Department, offers clues to the severity of the pandemic that may be invisible in testing data.

We are familiar with the track-COVID-in-the-wastewater project, which has been a resounding success (and which is currently showing a decrease in the levels, praise be). Not clear yet if this data will show up on the same dashboard or if there will be a new one, but we’ll know soon enough. I’ll be on the lookout.

Most of the lawsuit against the voter suppression law survives a motion to dismiss

Some good news.

In a limited order this week, a federal judge threw out some civil rights and discrimination claims brought as part of a complex and ongoing legal dispute over strict new voting rules in Texas.

The lawsuit filed last year alleges that the rules violate the U.S. Constitution, the Voting Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act by restricting voter assistance and making it easier for “partisan poll watchers to intimidate voters and poll workers.”

[…]

In his order on Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Xavier Rodriguez, a George W. Bush appointee, did not provide a clear win to either side in the protracted legal fight.

On one hand, Rodriguez did agree with Texas officials that civil rights groups had in some cases failed to a state a claim, meaning they could not adequately show a violation of federal law or a potential injury to voters. He dismissed a handful of claims brought by the civil rights groups, which include the League of Women Voters of Texas and the Workers Defense Action Fund.

On the other hand, Rodriguez’s order was hardly kind to Texas officials. Over the course of 61 pages, he detailed not only why civil rights groups had standing to sue, but also how they’d “clearly” established that SB1 could have discriminatory effects on voting rights.

The judge waved off efforts by Texas officials to have more or all of the lawsuit dismissed — including the state’s unusual argument that civil rights groups shouldn’t be able to sue because “the organizations themselves do not have a disability.”

“It is well settled,” Rodriguez wrote, “that an organization may sue as the representative of its members.”

While past filings in this lawsuit have largely hinged on nuances of civil rights law, Tuesday’s order was interesting because it detailed the lived experiences of disabled voters in Texas.

The civil plaintiffs presented examples from at least three voters — all members of the disability voting-rights group REV UP — whom they said could be harmed by Texas’ new voting law.

These examples were “non-exhaustive,” plaintiffs said, and represented just some of the disabled Texans who could face voting difficulties if SB 1 is allowed to stand.

See here for the background. There were multiple lawsuits filed, with the Justice Department getting involved later on. This is the San Antonio lawsuit from that first blog post. I assume that most if not all of these cases have been combined but it’s hard for me to say from the information I have easily available. Democracy Docket has some information on this one, and they provide a PDF that combines multiple orders from Judge Rodriguez; the Courthouse News story only has one of them, which threw me for a minute as I was trying to verify that I was referring to the correct case. This stuff is complicated, y’all.

Anyway. That story goes into two of those examples, and you should read about them, they’re quite compelling. I’m never quite sure if the Republicans who pass these voter suppression bills legitimately don’t care that people such as these plaintiffs won’t be able to vote as a result, or if they just can’t be bothered to hear their stories while the bills are in progress, lest they have some feelings of guilt or remorse, if those are possible for them. The end result is the same, I just want to know how to calibrate my contempt. Anyway, this is in addition to the other voter suppression bill that was struck down – we are apparently at a point where a bunch of these are getting some action, which is always exciting. As usual, nothing is safe until the Fifth Circuit is done with it, and we know what that usually means. So celebrate responsibly, we may be mourning later on.

William-Paul Thomas

This is bad. The question is how much worse might it be.

William-Paul Thomas, the mayor’s council liaison, was offered more than $13,000 by a local bar owner to help him pass a building inspection and fast-track a new permit to reopen a bar as a restaurant, newly unsealed court documents show.

Thomas contacted the “relevant” fire official to ensure the unnamed business owner passed the inspection in May 2020, prosecutors wrote, and then he used his position in the mayor’s office to “pressure other officials” to approve the permit in July, as well. He was paid an undisclosed amount of money for his efforts.

Thomas pleaded guilty on July 25 to one federal count of conspiracy to accept a bribe. He will appear for sentencing before U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen on Nov. 28. His lawyer, Monique Chantelle Sparks, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The documents were sealed until Wednesday morning at the request of the U.S. Attorney’s office. The Chronicle published an article about the allegations Tuesday night. Thomas’ plea deal, however, remains sealed.

It is unclear whether federal investigators are looking into the unnamed city officials Thomas allegedly worked with to get the certificate and permit approved, or if they are conducting a broader inquiry into City Hall affairs.

Sean Buckley, a legal expert on federal judicial procedures, said Thomas’ quick guilty plea and his willingness to forgo a probable cause hearing before a grand jury means he likely agreed they had strong information against him. It also suggests Thomas may be part of a wider investigation by the Justice Department.

Thomas abruptly resigned from his City Hall position last Wednesday, one day after pleading guilty. He told the mayor in an 11:30 p.m. email he was retiring due to health reasons.

[…]

City Attorney Arturo Michel said later Wednesday the office of the inspector general is opening its own investigation, based on the document’s charges that Thomas worked with officials in the fire department and permitting office to approve the requests.

Prosecutors say the bar owner — whom they did not name — needed to pass a city fire inspection to get a temporary certificate of occupancy in May 2020. He turned to Thomas for help.

“Thomas, in his official capacity, placed calls to the relevant Houston Fire Department official to ensure that COMPANY 1 would pass its fire inspection and be issued its TCO,” the charging document says. The owner then paid Thomas an undisclosed amount of money after he got the certificate.

It is not clear which fire department official Thomas contacted. Fire Chief Samuel Peña said it difficult to identify the person without the name of the business.

The business owner reached out again in June 2020, after his bar — a separate business — was shut down by the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission. COVID-19 restrictions around that time ordered bars to close but allowed restaurants to continue operating with limited capacity.

“On July 6, 2020, BUSINESSMAN 1 offered THOMAS up to $13,0000 to have the necessary permit issued quickly so that COMPANY 2 could reopen,” the document says. “THOMAS agreed to use his official position to pressure other officials to issue the permit quickly, all in exchange for money.”

Thomas then used his position to “pressure other officials” to grant the necessary permit, and the owner was allowed to open as a restaurant. It is not clear which specific permit the owner was seeking from the city; the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission was responsible for classifying bars and restaurants based on the percentage of sales that came from alcohol.

Buckley, a federal defense lawyer who represented former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman and authored a book on federal criminal rules and codes used by trial attorneys across the country, reviewed the court documents at the request of the Houston Chronicle. He is not involved in the case.

“He’s obviously cooperating because no one who is a target in a federal investigation would ever agree to plea to a criminal information unless there have been extensive discussions between the target, his lawyer and the government leading up to that decision,” Buckley said.

“Either the government lawyers showed him what they had or he knew what they had. He knew he had everything to gain by cooperating and agreeing to plead guilty without forcing the government to get an indictment from the grand jury, and much to lose by not cooperating.”

Buckley said it also clear the investigation, by prosecutors from the public corruption unit, has been going on for months and there likely is a wider-ranging investigation underway involving multiple defendants.

“My read on this is that this person has something of value to the government,” Buckley said.

He said the documents also indicate “there is an environment in the city of Houston that allows this type of thing to take place.”

I will say up front that I am acquainted with William-Paul. As is the case in this kind of situation, I’m shocked to see the story. I don’t know him well enough to say more than that, but as I have met him and talked to him, I wanted to say so.

I Am Not A Lawyer, and I have no experience in these matters, but it seems to me unlikely that there would be only one such transgression like this. If nothing else, I would think the FBI wouldn’t prioritize a case with one crime of this nature. I’d expect that the bribe payer and whoever was involved with the Fire Department and permitting office will be implicated next. The big question is then whether it goes beyond that, and if so how far. There is certainly the potential for this to be big, but we won’t know until the FBI tells us, and as we know from other experiences that may take a long time. In the meantime, I wouldn’t want to be BUSINESSMAN 1 or anyone else who might be implicated. Don’t take or give bribes, y’all.

Further thoughts on the Deshaun Watson suspension

Just a few things I’ve read, to try to understand what happened here. Make of them what you will. Note that I drafted this before the news of the NFL’s appeal.

Pro Football Talk:

How does Watson, who faced 24 lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions, get suspended only six games when Cardinal receiver DeAndre Hopkins was suspended six games for trace amounts of a PED he claims he didn’t know he ingested and Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley was suspended a whole season for making $1,500 in parlay wagers?

On the surface, the answer is easy. These three players were suspended under three completely different policies: Personal Conduct, PED, and gambling.

There’s a more nuanced explanation. The PED policies and gambling policies go directly to the integrity of the game, whether by cheating in it or betting on it. The Personal Conduct Policy relates to off-duty behavior, conduct that has no connection to the league’s core business interests.

Not sure how much that nuance helps, but I suppose it’s worth keeping those distinctions in mind, if only to get the underlying facts straight.

CBS Sports:

There’s a chance that the length of the suspension could still change and that’s because the NFL is allowed to appeal the decision (Watson’s camp could also appeal the decision, but the NFLPA previously announced on Sunday that no appeal would be coming from that end).

If the NFL decides to appeal, it will create a new layer of drama and that’s because the appeal would be heard by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell or someone he designates. As of Monday afternoon though, the league had yet to make a decision about a possible appeal.

“We appreciate Judge Robinson’s diligence and professionalism throughout this process,” the NFL said in a statement. “Pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement, the NFL or the NFLPA on behalf of Watson may appeal the decision within three days. In light of her findings, the league is reviewing Judge Robinson’s imposition of a six-game suspension and will make a determination on next steps.”

[…]

Although the new collective bargaining agreement took away Goodell’s power to hand out a punishment, he didn’t really lose very much power since he’s the one who oversees the appeal process.

Here’s the pertinent language in the CBA:

“The Disciplinary Officer’s disciplinary determination will be final and binding subject only to the right of either party to appeal to the Commissioner. The appeal shall be in writing within three business days of the Disciplinary Officer’s decision, and any response to the appeal shall be filed in writing within two business days thereafter. The appeal shall be limited to arguments why, based on the evidentiary record below, the amount of discipline, if any, should be modified. The Commissioner or his designee will issue a written decision that will constitute full, final and complete disposition of the dispute and will be binding upon the player(s), Club(s) and the parties to this Agreement.”

Based on the language in the CBA, the NFL now has three days to file an appeal in writing. Once the appeal is filed, Goodell (or his designee) will have two days to respond to it.

If the NFL doesn’t appeal, then the case is over and Watson will serve a six-game suspension. It’s possible the league will go this route because it doesn’t want to undermine Robinson’s decision.

In my initial reaction, I said that I’d change “possible” to “highly likely”, and that I could not see the NFL stirring this up when they have a chance to let it go and get on with their business. Clearly, I was wrong about that.

Slate:

Why did Watson skate? It isn’t because Goodell doesn’t understand the seriousness of the situation. Even if only for image maintenance, the NFL wanted a bigger chunk of games. But that does not let the NFL off the hook. It also does not mean all of the fault with the short suspension lies with the arbitrator, whom both management and labor asked to resolve the length of the suspension. At core, Watson will soon be under center for the Browns because the NFL spent years laying two sets of tracks that led straight to this decision and will soon lead the league beyond it. One was a disciplinary system that did not come down hard on violence against women for many years, and which complicated the NFL’s efforts to win a workplace dispute with Watson when it became clear that one of the best, most famous players in the NFL deserved a long, long break away from the game. The other was cultural. The NFL and its giant media industry cultivated an environment where any player as good as Watson can be two things at once—a hero whom fans adore and a commodity that teams crave—and where any inconveniences the real world might impose on those roles are just those: inconveniences. Watson did not get a light punishment because the NFL doesn’t care. He got one because the NFL is a universe where “caring” is not the point.

The contradictory thing about Robinson’s report is that she seems to generally agree with the NFL that Watson behaved horrendously toward his accusers. “Mr. Watson’s pattern of conduct is more egregious than any before reviewed by the NFL,” she writes at one point. She writes that “it is difficult to give weight” to Watson’s wholesale denial not just of any criminal conduct, but of ever having so much as gotten an erection during one of the massages in question. She finds that by the NFL’s definition of sexual assault in its code of conduct, which is “unwanted sexual contact with another person,” Watson committed sexual assault. But Robinson calls Watson’s acts “non-violent sexual assault.” It is a mind-bending phrase. Can any sort of sexual assault be “non-violent”? Is there a way to breach consent and not be violent? Of course not. It is an inherently violent act, whether it involves blood and bruises or not. But to read Robinson’s decision, the NFL’s past laxness toward overt violence made it difficult for her to square the league’s desired punishment of Watson as a matter of workplace policy. “By ignoring past decisions because none involve ‘similar’ conduct, however, the NFL is not just equating violent conduct with non-violent conduct, but has elevated the importance of the latter without any substantial evidence to support its position,” Robinson says. The NFL decided that it cared about this player violating women, but because it hadn’t acted accordingly in the past, it couldn’t impose the punishment it wanted.

My mind is still trying to unbend from that one.

ESPN:

Basically, Robinson is saying something akin to, You want to argue that this behavior deserves a more severe penalty, fine. Maybe you’re right. But that’s not in your policy, and you can’t just make policy to support one specific case as it’s going on. If the league wants to do what it did post-Rice and adjust its policy to account for the type of behavior Watson is herein found guilty of, it should do that — then everyone would know.

Interesting argument, for sure, but it answers a lot of the questions about the length of the suspension vis-à-vis some others in the past. She goes on to write, “It is inherently unfair to identify conduct as prohibited only after the conduct has been committed, just as it is inherently unjust to change the penalties for such conduct after the fact.”

Remember, Robinson first decided she was not starting from a six-game baseline but from one of three games or fewer, based on precedent set by other nonviolent sexual assault cases. As “aggravating factors” (that is, reasons to increase the suspension), she cites Watson’s “lack of expressed remorse and his tardy notice to the NFL of the first-filed lawsuit.” As “mitigating factors” (that is, reasons to go easier on him), she cites “he is a first-time offender and had an excellent reputation in his community prior to these events. He cooperated and has paid restitution.”

Very interestingly, she also notes the league could have placed Watson on the commissioner’s exempt list last year and chose not to, which she appears to think means the league didn’t consider his behavior worthy of such punishment until it saw the public reaction to it. She makes that clear in her conclusion when she writes, “The NFL may be a ‘forward-facing’ organization, but it is not necessarily a forward-looking one. Just as the NFL responded to violent conduct after a public outcry, so it seems the NFL is responding to yet another public outcry about Mr. Watson’s conduct.”

Robinson writes that she settled on six games because it is the largest suspension ever imposed for nonviolent sexual conduct but that Watson’s behavior is more egregious than the behavior that led to previous suspensions for nonviolent sexual conduct.

If the NFL had taken domestic violence seriously from the beginning, we wouldn’t be where we are now.

The Ringer:

The ruling fails to grapple with the serial nature of Watson’s actions, which is essential to the nature of what he did. Some of the women who said Watson harassed or abused them refused to work with him again. Some considered changing careers entirely. And after each woman made clear that Watson’s advances were unwanted and wrong, Watson sought out more women.

Twenty-seven women, six games. Robinson was looking at only four of the cases—was each of those four women worth 1.5 games? If Robinson had ruled on all 27 women who came forward with their accounts of Watson’s misconduct, would he be suspended for 40.5 games? Or perhaps it’s an unsolvable equation, because the NFL’s personal conduct policy left no room for the gray areas of sexual violence or the possibility of multiple accusers.

Robinson’s ruling is based on two guiding principles, both of which are immensely flawed. On the one hand, the ruling emphasizes that the six-game suspension is a matter of precedent based on the league’s previous penalties related to sexual misconduct. This is a mistake. No previous player has been named in so many accounts by so many women. I don’t know the correct punishment for 27 cases, or whether it’s different from the amount that would be correct for 10 or 50 or 75. But how can anybody appeal to precedent when the misconduct itself is so clearly unprecedented? There’s no number that would have felt right, but it’s certainly wrong for the number to be determined by a technicality that doesn’t have anything to do with Watson’s case or the women affected.

[…]

In the end, there’s one easy way to tell that this punishment was too light: by looking at Watson, who spent decision day practicing with the Browns and signing autographs for a mob of fans at training camp. Watson has avoided criminal charges and settled 23 of the 24 lawsuits against him. He has not even remotely expressed public contrition for his actions. At this point, it would be possible for him to say some form of “I’m sorry,” or to speak out against sexual violence without admitting personal guilt. He has chosen not to, and he probably never will. (Robinson specifically mentioned Watson’s “lack of expressed remorse” as a factor in her decision, though clearly it didn’t weigh that heavily.)

I don’t have anything insightful to add to that.

Defector:

You do not need to have a PhD in workplace procedures to gather that a policy crafted in response to a public relations crisis will not work. In this case, the NFL created its anti-violence policy in the late 1990s after future Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon was arrested for intimate-partner violence, for which he was found not guilty, followed by exposé after exposé from sports reporters about violence by players toward women, all amid the 1990s wave of tough-on-crime legislation. Like many of the pro-police, pro-prison policies of that era, the NFL’s plan to threaten its players into compliance with vague threats of “suspension” failed, has continued to fail, and probably will always fail because bad policy begets bad policy, no matter how many times you rework it, reframe it, or even renegotiate it. The personal conduct policy has been a failure from the moment it was created, (though this has not stopped other major North American sports leagues from copying it for the sake of public relations). Left to its own devices, the NFL will never get this right.

All the NFL can do is try to find a different person to blame, a new figure onto which it can foist this odious burden of reminding us all that a good enough player will always find a way back onto the field, with just their bank account a little lighter. On Monday, that person was retired judge Sue L. Robinson, who issued her decision to suspend Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson for six games after two dozen women sued Watson in civil court, all describing various levels of sexual misconduct by him during massage therapy appointments that included finding ways to touch them with his penis and ejaculating on them. Depending on who delivers your sports news, this was seen as either a humiliation for the NFL or great news for Watson’s new team, the Cleveland Browns. But what those quick takes never quite address is why the NFL and pro sports, time and time again, seem utterly clueless about what to do when a player is accused of violence.

[…]

Robinson ended her decision with the equivalent of a legal tongue-lashing for the NFL, essentially telling them that significant changes to how it handles player discipline must be collectively bargained. (“It is inherently unfair to identify conduct as prohibited only after the conduct has been committed, just as it is inherently unjust to change the penalties for such conduct after the fact.”) You could say the NFL has a precedent problem. It’s a problem with a solution—negotiate better rules with players during the next round of collective bargaining. The players would, in return, request significant concessions from the league, and that would be fair because that’s how unions protect the rights of workers. The NFL could completely revamp its conduct policy to include community service, therapy, more preventative measures like education, or one of the many tools shown to actually work. It could even ask for harsher punishments, though it’s always worth remembering that that zero-tolerance policies don’t work and harsh punishment does not deter crime. In return, the league could give players truly guaranteed contracts, better healthcare, or agree to stop extending the regular season. All of this would be fair and likely would withstand the scrutiny of a retired judge, like Robinson, if the league chose to go this route.

The NFL will never do it.

Diana Moskovitz has been on the sports-and-crime-and-society beat for a long time, and she’s always a must read on these stories.

And here’s one more from The Ringer, post-appeal by the NFL.

The danger of a short suspension for Watson, then, is twofold: First, the media scrutiny if he were to return in mid-October would be intense. The NFL could weather that. But the second and biggest problem with a short suspension is that the Watson saga is still ongoing. It hasn’t even been two months since Vrentas’s most recent bombshell report: that Watson met with at least 66 women for massages within a 17-month period, and that the Houston Texans helped facilitate appointments and even provided Watson with nondisclosure agreements. One lawsuit is still active. Optically—and a lot of this is optics—it’s bad for the league to have Watson play in October. But even worse, the depth and scope of the story means that there may be more reporting to come, more shoes to drop. The outside investigations are not going away. The women involved in these cases are not going away simply because Watson might return to the field.

The NFL had to appeal for any number of reasons: First, Robinson’s report savages Watson’s behavior but makes clear that the six-game suspension was based on her belief that the NFL can’t make wholesale changes to its suspension lengths without prior notice to the players. The ruling came from an extremely narrow interpretation of the CBA, while the NFL, on the other hand, has a long history of changing rules quickly and without much notice. Also, there’s the matter of Watson not showing any remorse for his actions or admitting any wrongdoing—both factors that were cited to his detriment in Robinson’s report. In fact, reporters on Wednesday said that Watson’s camp still believed six games was too much.

If Watson’s suspension had stayed at six games, it would have kept a broken system broken. Not just because it would mean that virtually no personal conduct policy violation could extend beyond six games, but because it would reward a franchise that went all in on one of the most reckless moves in modern NFL history. It’s important to note here that a handful of teams would have loved to have Watson on their team, which is why the cost to trade for him this spring was so high in picks, and eventually money. The Browns were the ones who guaranteed him a fifth year. The Browns were the team that, just after a grand jury declined to indict Watson, gave him more leverage and the largest fully guaranteed deal in NFL history. Watson’s no-trade clause meant he could pick his destination, and Cleveland did everything it could to ensure it would be his choice.

I don’t know how much any of this helped me make sense of it all, but I feel like I needed to read all this. Hope it helped you a little.

State ordered to turn over voter purge data

Very good.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A federal judge ruled this week that the state is violating U.S. law by refusing to release its list of more than 11,000 registered voters that it identified as potential noncitizens, and ordered the release of the data within 14 days.

A coalition of civil rights groups sued the Secretary of State’s Office in February for withholding the data concerning a voter purge program targeting immigrants that was mandated by a new Republican-backed election law.

The new elections law, passed after a heated partisan battle last summer, requires that the office conduct regular sweeps of the voter rolls to verify citizenship status by cross-checking data provided by the Texas Department of Public of Safety.

The groups are concerned that thousands of immigrants could have their voter registrations canceled based on outdated or incorrect records, a potential repeat of a botched voter purge in 2019 that ended with a court settlement restricting who could be targeted in future purges.

The state had attempted to cancel registrations of almost 100,000 registered voters, but many were later found to be naturalized citizens or others who had been flagged in error. About 70,000 immigrants are naturalized in Texas each year on average and become eligible to vote.

Without the data on the purge initiated earlier this year, the groups say they can’t confirm that the state is complying with the 2019 settlement agreement. Within months of the new program’s launch, county officials warned the state that the lists included people who registered to vote at their naturalization ceremonies.

“We’ve kind of seen this movie before in 2019,” said Danielle Lang, senior director for voting rights at the Campaign Legal Center, which represented the civil rights groups. “Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence suggests the same thing is happening despite Texas’ claims that it’s following 2019 settlement agreement. We’re glad to finally be able to get access to the data, so the public can better understand what this process looks like and why eligible citizens are being caught up in the system.”

See here for the background. The Secretary of State has amply demonstrated that it cannot be trusted in matters like this. They need to be watched like a hawk, and that means they need to be completely transparent about every step they take. As with the other voter registration case we heard about this week (*), the Fifth Circuit is a threat, but maybe not as bog a threat in this one. The state could accept the ruling and provide the data – surely they want to show they have nothing to hide, right? – but I’m not that naive. We’ll see what they do next.

(*) As it happens, the judge for both of these cases is Lee Yeakel, a George W. Bush appointee. He has had himself a busy week.

Commissioners Court plans to put a bond issue on the ballot

First one in seven years.

Harris County voters will have more on their November ballot, after a divided commissioners court Tuesday took the first step toward a $1.2 billion bond package for police, parks, drainage and roads.

Common with many votes, the court was split 3-2 on the matter, with County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia in favor and Tom Ramsey and Jack Cagle opposed.

Tuesday’s debate reiterated much of what divided county officials leading up to the vote, including the ability to put a robust plan in front of voters by November, concerns about future needs such as flood control and how exactly officials would split the windfall of money should voters approve.

The plan would likely lead to three bond votes on the ballot — $100 million for public safety, $200 million for parks and $900 million for transportation and drainage projects ranging from street maintenance to sidewalks and safety-related road repairs.

“People want to see that money spent yesterday,” Garcia said, noting the litany of improvements county residents are demanding.

Tuesday’s vote moved the county closer to a bond referendum, but did not finalize it. To call the election and set it for the November election, commissioners court must meet and call for the election between Aug. 12 and Aug. 22, per state law. They must also approve ballot language, which will guide the terms of the bond.

[…]

Though split on the plan, no one disputed Harris County has massive needs across a host of categories.

“I think people are clamoring for more capital investments,” Ellis said.

Local roads are in disrepair, drainage worries dot unincorporated communities who remember rising waters from Tropical Storm Harvey and Tropical Storm Imelda all too well and sheriffs operate out of outdated and crumbling buildings.

Voters “don’t need to be sold on flood control, roads and public safety,” said State Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, who spoke Tuesday in favor of the bonds.

Commissioners, however, struggled to find common ground on how they would share the money. Ellis and Garcia pressed for a “worst-first” approach that would focus funding in areas they said were previously neglected in their Precinct One and Precinct Two areas, and away from doling the money based on population and lane miles of road. Ramsey and Cagle, concerned about the inequity of that plan, said some equal divisions were needed so Precinct Three and Precinct Four could make needed repairs.

To satisfy her own concerns that funds needed to address problem areas but fairly include projects in each commissioners’ area, Hidalgo proposed the $100 million in public safety remain countywide, but that the road and parks money be divided in a way by the county that assured each precinct at least $220 million — leaving another $220 million to be spent where needs are greatest.

“Everybody has a base level of revenue from this bond,” she said.

Despite that compromise, other doubts remain, Ramsey said, citing the lack of project specifics provided by county staff.

Here’s the Tuesday morning version of the story, which in turn references that 2015 bond package. A total of four propositions that year passed easily, with percentages ranging from 61 to 74. I don’t have a strong opinion at this time about how the funds should be divvied up – I don’t recall that particular debate coming up in the past, for what it’s worth, but Commissioners Court was a lot clubbier in those days – nor am I particularly worried about a detailed project list at this time. We should have one, to be sure, but I think most people don’t get too far into those details when casting their vote. It’s for law enforcement/roads/bridges/parks/flood control/etc etc etc? That’s likely enough info for most voters. We’ll see what details we get when the final ballot language is proposed.