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May 13th, 2023:

One gambling bill makes it out of the House

It will enjoy a brief and beautiful life, like the first snowflake falling onto the street, before dying of starvation and neglect in the Senate.

Photo by Joel Kramer via Flickr creative commons

In dramatic fashion, the Texas House on Thursday gave final approval to legislation that would let voters decide whether to legalize online sports betting across the state.

The proposal needed 100 votes to pass and got exactly that when the roll was first called. A subsequent verification of the vote, which took several minutes as the clerk ticked through every member, produced 101 votes in favor of House Joint Resolution 102.

It is one of two proposals to expand gambling that have headlined the past two days in the lower chamber. Another, more ambitious piece of legislation, House Joint Resolution 155, would let voters decide whether to legalize casinos in Texas. The final consideration of that proposal was delayed until noon Friday as supporters continued working to find 100 votes.

Regardless, both proposals face long odds in the Senate, where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has repeatedly said there is not enough support. And Friday is the deadline for the House to give final passage to its bills, meaning the casino legislation is running into a time crunch.

On Wednesday, the House initially approved both proposals, but neither received the two-thirds majority that proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution need to make it out of the chamber. That left them in an uncertain position heading into Thursday.

The author of the sports-betting legislation, Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, gave an emphatic final speech on the House floor Thursday, reiterating his argument that many Texans are already betting on sports, only illegally.

“Every single one of them are criminals … under Texas law, and I believe that we should pass this bill to let them come out of the shadows and to carefully and safely regulate this,” Leach said.

The sports-betting legislation was able to clear the 100-vote threshold after several members changed their votes Thursday. At least five voted yes on HJR 102 on Thursday after voting no a day earlier.

A day earlier, the House passed the casino proposal by a vote of 92-51 and then the sports-betting proposal by a 97-44 vote. Both resolutions need a two-thirds majority from the House and Senate, followed by voter approval, to amend the state constitution.

See here for some background. I invite you to think of some other activities that are legal in other states and draw many Texans to them to partake in them because doing so would make them criminals here in Texas while I tell you that the casino bill ultimately went down.

The high-profile push to bring casinos to Texas this legislative session ended Friday after supporters acknowledged that they did not have enough votes to advance it out of the state House.

One of the authors of casino legislation, Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin, postponed consideration of his bill until Nov. 29, dooming its chances ahead of a midnight deadline to move it out of the lower chamber.

As the stories note, legislation to expand gambling made it farther this year than it ever had before, and that’s not nothing. It still faces the same immovable object in the Senate, and I don’t see anything to suggest that’s going to change. My advice to the casinos would be to work to remove said immovable object electorally, rather than continue to bash their heads and their seemingly limitless wallets against the wall every two years. I don’t see how that would be a worse strategy than what they’ve been doing for however long. The Chron has more.

Houston still doing well sheltering the homeless

Good news.

As she waited for the results of a yearly census of the Houston area’s homeless population, Ana Rausch clicked open an email detailing the soaring number of eviction filings in Harris County. This March, 6,600 households had evictions filed against them, compared to a pre-COVID average of 3,800.

As the vice president of program operations for the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston and Harris County, which coordinates the region’s homelessness response, she viewed the data with some worry. She hoped the count wouldn’t show a corresponding increase in homelessness.

Now that the results are in, she is relieved, she said. During a year that saw both evictions and funding for Houston’s programs combating homelessness soar, 2023’s overall count stayed flat from the year before, with the number of people living in tents, cars and other places unfit for habitation down and the number of people in shelters up.

Every year, thousands of volunteers fan out across the country to take stock of their regions’ homeless populations. It’s this census, known as the Point-in-Time Count, that has brought Houston national recognition for its success in reducing its homeless population by roughly two-thirds since 2011.

The 2023 results, released Wednesday morning, showed the count of people living in tents, cars and other places unfit for habitation dropped 17 percent in the Houston area, to 1,200 people from 1,500 the year before. At the same time, the number of people living in shelters increased 18 percent, to 2,000 from 1,700. In the past year, shelters lifted the social distancing measures that sharply reduced the number of beds available during the pandemic.


Mayor Sylvester Turner also trumpeted the reduction of people living on the streets, in vehicles or in other unsheltered situations. Such a result “does not happen by mistake,”  he said in a release. “Rather it’s the result of making it a top priority, enhancing our invaluable partnership with Harris County and the community, and strategically funding data-proven, holistic housing solutions.”

In 2022, Houston, Harris County, the Coalition for the Homeless and their partners poured resources into a strategy of closing down homeless camps by offering everyone in them housing. The strategy has required opening a navigation center, where people moved out of a camp can stay while awaiting their permanent housing, and renting out units where people can stay longterm with supportive services such as caseworkers. The city, county and their partners housed 2,500 people in 2022, and more than 9,000 people who had been without homes were housed through their programs on the night of the count.

In a year when inflation spiked and many eviction protections ended, “We suspect that we might be somewhat unique and remarkable in the fact that we saw our unsheltered count go down,” said Catherine Villarreal, director of communications for the Coalition. However, many cities have yet to release their results from this year’s count, so it’s to be seen how Houston’s results compare.

See here for some background. These counts aren’t perfect – people couch-surfing with friends and acquaintances will be missed, for example – but the big picture is there, and it’s a good one for Houston. There will always be more work to do, but we have done a lot to improve this situation for thousands of people. We should be proud of that. Axios has more.

The bracted twistflower

Gotta save our wildflowers, y’all.

The bracted twistflower, a Texas wildflower threatened by growing urban sprawl, was declared a threatened species Monday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The tall, bright purple flower, which has seen significant decline across its range in the rapidly developing I-35 corridor between Austin and San Antonio, will receive protection under the Endangered Species Act. Close to 1,600 acres across four Texas counties — Uvalde, Medina, Bexar and Travis — have been designated critical habitat for the plant.

The protection, which comes after the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit in 2021 against the federal agency, will lead to the development of a recovery plan to reintroduce the plant and prescribe conservation actions. It will also make removing, cutting, digging up or harming the plant illegal.

“Very few busy Texans in the world today pause to think about these plants … but they still play an absolutely essential role in our world,” said Michael J. Robinson, senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The once thriving Hill Country wildflower blooms in the spring and requires specific soil that is only found near the edge of Glen Rose and the Edwards Plateau region. It also needs subsurface water and a mix of sun and shade that’s provided by ashe juniper trees and live oaks. Its lavender-colored flowers supply nectar and pollen for Texas bee species.

“This is a species that could be recovered within a few decades if its remaining habitats are managed appropriately,” Chris Best, state botanist for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Texas, said in a press release.

Conservationists say wildflower populations are increasingly separated from each other to the extent that pollinators like bees that ensure reproduction can’t make it from location to location, which increases the loss of genetic diversity and hurts the plant’s ability to adapt to other threats.

The Endangered Species Act defines a threatened species as “any species which is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” The wildflower has lost habitat to development, hungry white-tailed deer and non-native grazing animals.

It’s the second Texas plant the federal agency has listed under the Endangered Species Act this year. Last month, it added the prostrate milkweed, a rare Texas plant crucial for the survival of monarch butterflies, to the endangered list last month. All 24 known populations of prostrate milkweed are found within eight miles of the Rio Grande.

See here for more about the prostrate milkweed. I thought at the time that there would be litigation of its place on the endangered list, as one of the reasons for its endangerment is the border wall, but so far nothing as far as I can tell. Then again, its official listing was on March 30, so maybe it just hasn’t happened yet. The bracted twistflower will be listed later this month, and hopefully there will be no potential for controversy with it.