Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Clay Jenkins

Hey, how about trying that local control thing again?

Seems like it might be worth a shot to led Mayors and County Judges lead on coronavirus response again, since they’ve done so much better a job of leading than Greg Abbott has.

As Texas grapples with soaring coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, local elected officials in some of the state’s most populous counties are asking Gov. Greg Abbott to roll back business reopenings and allow them to reinstate stay-at-home orders for their communities in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.

Officials in Harris, Bexar, Dallas and Travis counties have either called on or reached out to the governor in recent days, expressing a desire to implement local restrictions for their regions and, in some cases, stressing concerns over hospital capacity.

Stay-at-home orders, which generally direct businesses deemed nonessential to shut down, were implemented to varying degrees by local governments across the state in March before the governor issued a statewide directive at the beginning of April. Abbott’s stay-at-home order expired at the end of April, when he began announcing phased reopenings to the state and forcing local governments to follow his lead. Since then, a number of local officials, many of whom have been critical of Abbott’s reopening timeline, have argued that the jurisdiction to reinstate such directives is no longer in their hands.

“If you are not willing to take these actions on behalf of the state, please roll back your restriction on local leaders being able to take these swift actions to safeguard the health of our communities,” Sam Biscoe, interim Travis County judge, wrote in a letter to Abbott on Monday.

Biscoe asked Abbott “to roll all the way back to Stay Home orders based on worsening circumstances,” further cap business occupancy, mandate masks and ban gatherings of 10 or more people.

Officials in Bexar County also wrote a similar letter to the governor Monday, writing that “the ability to tailor a response and recovery that fits the San Antonio region’s need is vital as we look forward to a healthier future.”

“Our region’s hospital capacity issues and economic circumstances require stronger protocols to contain the spread of this disease,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg wrote. The two asked Abbott to “restore the ability for the City of San Antonio to take additional local preventative measures, including potential Stay Home/Work Safe restrictions.” They also asked the governor to mandate face coverings when outside a household and “clearer language that strictly limits social gatherings,” among other things.

[…]

Meanwhile, counties and cities across the state have implemented face mask requirements for businesses after Wolff, the Bexar County judge, moved to do so without facing opposition from Abbott. The governor had previously issued an executive order banning local governments from imposing fines or penalties on people who chose not to wear a face mask in public.

Local leaders have also voiced concerns about the testing capacity of large cities. In Travis County, Biscoe explained that because of the “rapidly increasing demand,” they are rationing testing only for people with symptoms. The stress on the system is also making contact tracing efforts more difficult.

“In summary, the rapid increase in cases has outstripped our ability to track, measure, and mitigate the spread of the disease,” Biscoe wrote.

Here’s the Chron story; Mayor Turner has joined the call for this as well. I seriously doubt Abbott will do any of this, because it will serve as an even more stark reminder of his abject failure to lead. But if the worst is still ahead of us, then it’s a choice between taking action now and making it end sooner, or denying reality and letting more people get sick and die. Abbott’s going to have to live with the consequences of his poor decision-making regardless, he may as well choose to do the right thing this time.

Of course, there may be other complications this time around.

The Texas Bar & Nightclub Alliance said it plans to sue the state of Texas over Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent order once again shutting bars across the state.

“Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance (TBNA) is taking the necessary steps to protect the rights of our members and their employees across the state, who have been unjustly singled out by Governor Abbott,” TBNA president Michael E. Klein said in a statement.

[…]

TBNA said its members want to be allowed to reopen and have the same capacity allowances as restaurants, grocery stores and big-box retailers. It will sue in both state and federal court seeking to override Abbott’s order.

The majority of Texas bars had been adhering to strict guidelines restricting occupancy and ensuring safe serving practices for both customers and employees, TBNA’s Klein said. His take: if restaurants with bar rooms can operate at limited capacity, why can’t actual bars?

“To suggest the public welfare is protected by singling out one specific type of alcoholic beverage license over another is without logic and does not further the aim of protecting the public from COVID,” he added.

Well, one way to cure that disparity would be to order that all of them be closed for all except to go service. We’d also need to extend that waiver that allow restaurants to sell mixed drinks to go, which I’d be fine with. While I understand where the TBNA is coming from, this is Not Helping at a bad time. But then, given how Abbott folded on enforcing his own executive order in the Shelley Luther saga, I get why they thought taking an aggressive stance might work. Eater Austin has more.

UPDATE: Looks like the TBNA has been beaten to the punch:

Hoping to block Gov. Greg Abbott’s Friday decision ordering Texas bars to close due to a rise in coronavirus cases, more than 30 bar owners filed a lawsuit Monday challenging Abbott’s emergency order.

The lawsuit, first reported by the Austin American-Statesman, was filed in Travis County District Court by Jared Woodfill, a Houston attorney who has led previous legal efforts opposing Abbott’s other shutdown orders during the pandemic.

“Why does he continue unilaterally acting like a king?” Woodfill, former chair of the Harris County Republican Party, said of Abbott in an interview. “He’s sentencing bar owners to bankruptcy.”

[…]

In the lawsuit, the bar owners argue that their rights have been “trampled” by Abbott, while “thousands of businesses are on the brink of bankruptcy.”

Abbott on Friday said it “is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars.”

Tee Allen Parker said she is confused. As a bar owner in East Texas, she’s allowed to walk into church or a Walmart but not permitted to host patrons at Machine Shed Bar & Grill.

“I don’t think it’s right that he’s violating our constitutional rights,” Allen Parker, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, said Monday in an interview. “The reason I’m speaking up is I don’t like that he can’t be consistent. You lead by example. Everything he’s said he’s walked back. And I’m disappointed in him because I was a big fan of his.”

A copy of this lawsuit is here. I’ll say again, as with all of the other COVID-related lawsuits that Jared Woodfill has had his slimy little hands in, we deserve to have serious questions asked by better people than this. As for Tee Allen Parker, I swear I am sympathetic, but no one actually has a constitutional right to operate a bar. I would suggest that the solution here that prioritizes public health while not punishing businesses like hers that would otherwise bear the cost of that priority is to get another stimulus package passed in Washington. Such a bill has already passed the House, though of course more could be done for the Tee Allen Parkers of the world if we wanted to amend it. Maybe call your Senators and urge them to ask Mitch McConnell to do something that would help? Just a thought.

Hidalgo issues new mask order

Greg Abbott said we could, so there.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued an order Friday mandating that businesses require customers to wear masks, her latest effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

She and other county leaders increasingly are worried about a surge in COVID-19 cases since Memorial Day, which has resulted in eight straight days of record hospitalizations in Harris County. Hidalgo framed the mask rules as a common-sense complement to social distancing that empowers business to protect patrons.

“The idea is to see this as no shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service,” Hidalgo said at a news conference. “It gives people an understanding of what to expect when they go into an establishment.”

Her order hews closely to face-covering rules issued by Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff earlier this week and will go into effect Monday. It expires June 30, though Hidalgo hinted she likely would seek an extension.

It requires all customers 10 and older to wear a face covering inside a businesses; employees who work at a business where distancing from others is impossible also are required to wear a mask. Exceptions include eating at a restaurant, pumping gas, visiting a bank or anytime wearing a mask poses a health risk.

[…]

Mayor Sylvester Turner was one of nine executives of Texas cities to sign a letter to Abbott on Tuesday urging the governor to order residents to wear masks or let local leaders do so themselves. Turner said he would direct police to hand out masks instead of tickets, as they had done in April.

Turner praised Hidalgo’s order and noted the troubling rise in cases, including a new batch of 972 infections in Houston alone he announced from the lectern. Most of those were the results of tests conducted June 5 to June 10, he said.

“Toward the end of April and the first couple weeks of May, we flattened the curve and the numbers were headed in the right direction,” Turner said. “Now, the numbers are starting to tick up, and so we’re encouraging people, at the very minimum, to mask up.”

Greater Houston Partnership CEO Bob Harvey joined the leaders to announce that the business community supported the mask rules.

See here and here for the background. Mayor Turner has fully endorsed Judge Hidalgo’s order. Dallas County has done the same. And just to put a little bit of pressure back on Abbott, the Texas Restaurant Association has called for a statewide mask order. I don’t see that happening, as we are all too busy being call on to clap harder, but we’ll see how it goes.

By the way, remember the model that suggested the new case count for COVID-19 could climb from about 200 a day, which it was a month ago, to over 2,000 a day? The good news is that we’re still nowhere close to that. Looking at the Harris County Public Health data, we’re at roughly double where we were in mid-May, which isn’t great but is far from an order of magnitude increase. There is some lag built into these numbers, though, so we’ll need to check back in another two weeks, and then again after that to see if the mask order, which goes into effect on Monday, made a difference. We know it can’t hurt. Stay safe and wear your mask, people.

Masks up

We solved Greg Abbott’s riddle, so all is well now, right?

With Gov. Greg Abbott’s apparent blessing, Bexar and Hidalgo counties have imposed a new mask rule for local businesses, saying they must require employees and customers to wear masks when social distancing isn’t possible. The move appears to open a new way for local officials to require mask use in certain public spaces after Abbott stymied prior efforts by local officials to put the onus on residents.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff’s and Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez’s orders comes after Abbott issued an executive order June 3 banning local governments from imposing fines or criminal penalties on people who don’t wear masks in public.

Wolff’s order states that, starting Monday and running through the end of the month, businesses in Bexar County must require face masks “where six feet of separation is not feasible” before the business risks facing a fine of up to $1,000. Cortez’s order states businesses in Hidalgo County will risk being fined starting Saturday and will remain in effect until further notice.

The orders also state that, consistent with Abbott’s executive order, “no civil or criminal penalty will be imposed on individuals for failure to wear a face covering.” Later in the day, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg signed an update to his emergency health order to express support for and adopt Wolff’s order, saying that, as the number of coronavirus cases increase in the city, “masks are our best line of defense.”

[…]

“I’m pleased that the Governor has changed his mind. I’m asking our county lawyers and business leaders to look at this and plan to make a proposal for the Commissioner’s Court to look at very soon,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a statement, who said he’s already looking into whether he’ll follow suit.

A spokesperson for Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said they are checking with the county attorney’s office on Wolff’s order, adding that “we’re not any safer today than we were in March. There is no vaccine. No cure. We remain very concerned about the trajectory of hospital admissions.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office had already warned officials in big cities, including San Antonio, to roll back “unlawful” local emergency orders that featured stricter coronavirus restrictions than those of the state, while hinting of lawsuits if they do not. Paxton’s office declined to comment on Wolff’s order Wednesday.

See here for some background. The city of Austin has already issued a similar order, and I figure it’s just a matter of time before Harris and Dallas and a bunch of other places follow suit. I feel confident saying that the wingnut contingent will not take this lying down, so the question is whether they fight back via Hotze lawsuit, or do actual elected Republicans with their own power and ambition like Ken Paxton get involved? And when they do, what inventive technique will Abbott find to shift the blame to someone else this time?

The COVID models remain pessimistic about Texas

Make of this what you will.

The coronavirus may still be spreading at epidemic rates in 24 states, particularly in the South and Midwest, according to new research that highlights the risk of a second wave of infections in places that reopen too quickly or without sufficient precautions.

Researchers at Imperial College London created a model that incorporates cellphone data showing that people sharply reduced their movements after stay-at-home orders were broadly imposed in March. With restrictions now easing and mobility increasing with the approach of Memorial Day and the unofficial start of summer, the researchers developed an estimate of viral spread as of May 17.

It is a snapshot of a transitional moment in the pandemic and captures the patchwork nature across the country of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. Some states have had little viral spread or “crushed the curve” to a great degree and have some wiggle room to reopen their economies without generating a new epidemic-level surge in cases. Others are nowhere near containing the virus.

The model, which has not been peer reviewed, shows that in the majority of states, a second wave looms if people abandon efforts to mitigate the viral spread.

“There’s evidence that the U.S. is not under control, as an entire country,” said Samir Bhatt, a senior lecturer in geostatistics at Imperial College.

[…]

The Imperial College researchers estimated the virus’s reproduction number, known as R0, or R naught. This is the average number of infections generated by each infected person in a vulnerable population. The researchers found the reproduction number has dropped below 1 in 26 states and the District. In those places, as of May 17, the epidemic was waning.

In 24 states, however, the model shows a reproduction number over 1. Texas tops the list, followed by Arizona, Illinois, Colorado, Ohio, Minnesota, Indiana, Iowa, Alabama and Wisconsin.

When the R naught is below 1, it means the virus is hitting a lot of dead ends as it infects people. Someone who is infected but who follows social distancing rules or stays quarantined until recovering has a good chance of not infecting anyone else. The challenge is finding a way to reopen the economy with sufficient care to prevent the reproduction number from going over 1.

[…]

In Texas, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said he consults with doctors and experts from area hospitals, “and what they tell us is that we’re reopening too fast, and we’re reopening in the wrong order.”

Local jurisdictions in Texas do not have the authority to issue more stringent restrictions than the state, which began aggressively reopening this month. So Dallas has focused on messaging. The county has a daily “covid-19 risk level” that is currently red, for “stay home, stay safe.” Officials are working on seals that businesses can display to indicate they are meeting local public health guidelines, not just state mandates.

The Imperial College estimates for Texas are in line with internal modeling conducted by university experts advising state leaders.

Rebecca Fischer, an epidemiologist at Texas A&M University and part of a team partnering with the governor’s office, said the daily caseload was fluctuating, but “it looks like we’re not cresting a peak and coming down the other side.”

The embedded graphic shows the probability (according to the model) that R naught is less than one in the given state. For Texas, that probability is close to zero, which means that the virus is still spreading at an increasing rate. This is consistent with the PolicyLab study, which uses county-level data. You can see the Imperial College study here, and a brief analysis of it by Josh Marshall here. There’s still a lot we don’t know, and if loosening restrictions is going to have a bad effect on the pandemic it’ll still be a couple of weeks before we really begin to feel it. Staying at home, social distancing, and wearing masks are still your best bet, but I doubt I will convince you of that if you’re certain you know better.

The Hair Affair

I have a hard time wrapping my mind around this story, so to save myself a little brain power I’m going to outsource it.

Lisa Falkenberg:

Let’s be clear about something: Shelley Luther, the Dallas-area salon owner-turned-folk hero, wound up in jail this week because of her very public, very theatrical refusal to follow Abbott’s very own order.

Abbott’s executive order, which preempted local orders, delayed the reopening of salons as part of a phased-in approach to restart the Texas economy responsibly.

And like Abbott’s other orders issued during this outbreak, it specified stiff consequences for noncompliance: A fine not to exceed $1,000, up to 180 days in jail, or both.

So why, as soon as Luther’s case got widespread attention, did he begin to condemn local authorities who enforced it?

“Throwing Texans in jail who have had their businesses shut down through no fault of their own is nonsensical, and I will not allow it to happen,” Abbott said in a statement.

Allow it? Technically, he ordered it. Even Northeast Tarrant Tea Party leader Julie White McCarty saw through Abbott’s hypocrisy: “Governor Abbott gave orders putting severe limitations in place,” she wrote on Facebook. “Governor Abbott is now condemning the enforcement as if he’s innocent.”

[…]

But Luther held court for days in front of TV cameras. She didn’t just violate an order to close her salon – she tore it up. When a veteran, 65-year-old Dallas judge gave her an easy out if she’d just apologize and follow the law, she scoffed in defiance. So, he did what judges do: found her in contempt in court.

She could have taken the deal and gone home to her kids and waited until she could open legally on Friday.

Clearly, Luther and her legions of admirers had turned her into a cause. That’s why she went to jail — to draw attention to what she believes is a violation of her rights. And that’s the point of civil disobedience. While others have advanced noble causes such as suffrage and equality, Luther did it to defend her right to work even if doing so puts her workers, neighbors and customers at risk amid a deadly pandemic.

But hey, if she wants to be the hero, a rebel with a cause, the patron saint of social distancing scofflaws, she can’t play the victim, too.

Christopher Hooks:

The conflict really kicked off on April 25, at a protest in front of the Frisco City Hall calling for the reopening of shuttered businesses. Shelley Luther, the owner of Salon à la Mode, took center stage. She had gained local publicity for reopening her business in defiance of Governor Greg Abbott’s shutdown order. By way of enforcing it, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins had sent her a cease and desist order—and, as Abbott had laid out in his order, a $1,000 fine. (The governor also threatened violators with up to 180 days in jail.) In front of a cheering crowd, Luther ripped up the document. There she stood: she could do no other.

Your move, governor. On April 27, at a press conference, Abbott laid out his vision for unwinding his shutdown order. On May 1, his “phase one” would go into effect, allowing retail businesses and restaurants to partially reopen, as long as they followed certain guidelines. In mid-May, assuming things had gone well and COVID-19 infection numbers weren’t spiking, he declared that he would move Texas to “phase two” and allow more businesses to open. Hair salons, barbershops, gyms, and bars could welcome customers back in once the state had collected “two weeks of data to confirm no flare-up of COVID-19” after phase one, he said.

Why the different standards? Well, barbering and hairstyling involve sustained intimate contact, in an environment where customers are coming and going over the course of the day. Barbershops and salons provide a much more potent risk for viral transmission than, say, a Home Depot. And why two weeks? That’s the minimum period required to get a sense of whether the virus is in submission, according to public health experts. Though the coronavirus has a median incubation time of about five days, some of those infected don’t show symptoms until about twelve to fourteen days after infection.

Abbott got pushback from all sides. Some thought he was moving too fast while others complained that he was acting too slowly. Setting that aside, he deserves at least a little credit for the fact that unlike some governors—the fella who rules over our unfortunate brothers and sisters in Georgia, for one—Abbott at least had a plan. With dates. A 66-page manual. An order of operations. Something you could make into a flowchart. Less dangerous businesses first, more dangerous businesses later. Capiche?

[…]

Now, the question of what to do with those who violate public health directives—who put the public at risk indirectly—is a tricky one. Many liberals and conservatives now find agreement in the idea that no one should be put in jail for nonviolent crimes. The situation is trickier when, like Luther, violators are given many, many chances to conform to the law and refuse. It’s a question that we’re probably going to have to face again, as we struggle to adjust to having COVID-19 as a neighbor, and it’s going to be difficult every time.

Citizens of South Korea or Denmark may like big government telling them what to do to stay safe, but we’re America, baby, and we’re high on Alex Jones’s brain-healing powder. We’re a country that’s fighting a culture war about whether wearing masks makes you a wimp, and where men complain loudly on television that the pandemic is making it hard to buy lawn fertilizer.

It’s notable, perhaps, that Shelley Luther shows up in at least one other pandemic-related local news story in the last few months. On March 11, KHOU interviewed Luther and her boyfriend, Tim Georgeff, as they boarded a cruise ship in Galveston. Were they worried about getting on an enormous floating petri dish in the middle of a pandemic, not long after the entire Diamond Princess had been quarantined in Japan? “Well, for one, I have a real good friend who’s a doctor,” Georgeff told the reporter. “It’s really nothing more than a severe cold.”

But there’s one point that’s worth triple-underlining, and it’s the strangest part of the whole salon saga. Judge Moyé has been cast as the villain, the oppressor, whose puppetmaster is Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. It’s important to listen to Moyé’s words as he sentenced Luther. He was convicting her, he said, because of the rather sensible proposition that “the rule of law governs us … Society cannot function when one’s own belief in the concept of liberty permits you to flaunt your disdain for the rulings of elected officials,” Moyé said.

Here’s the thing. One of the “rulings” in question here is by Abbott, who, if you need reminding, is the Republican governor of Texas. Moyé, a Democrat, is defending Abbott’s prerogative in ordering business closures for public health reasons. Abbott isn’t alone in this, of course. The president, the governor of Texas, the Dallas county judge, and an assortment of both Democratic and Republican mayors in North Texas all agreed that Americans should cool it in April. This group may never agree on anything ever again, but they agreed on this. And yet the Republican officeholders are urging conservatives to train their fire on Moyé and Jenkins.

Ross Ramsey:

She’s not the only Texas beautician arrested for tending to customers during the pandemic — just the one who got the attention of the top politicians in Austin. Consider the story of two women in Laredo busted in April for offering nail and eyelash services in violation of pandemic-spurred restrictions. Ana Isabel Castro-Garcia was arrested by Laredo police after arranging to do the nails of an undercover cop posing as a customer. Brenda Stephanie Mata was arrested for a similar transgression, offering eyelash services to an undercover officer. Nails and lashes weren’t on the list of essential services under that city’s “COVID-19 Emergency Management Plan.”

Illegal grooming is hardly of interest to the average neighborhood crime watch or the FBI — whether it takes place in Laredo or in Dallas — but the law is the law.

Maybe it’s a big-city thing. State officials got after Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo for a mandatory mask law that included fines for violators caught without masks in public. That furor also didn’t reach Laredo, where state officials had ignored a similar law for weeks. Maybe state officials just don’t pay attention to Laredo, or the Houston masks and the Dallas hair were just convenient attention-getting distractions for stressed-out politicians in the middle of a scary pandemic.

Whatever the case, salons can reopen in Texas on Friday to 25% of their regular capacity, freeing the state’s politicians to argue about other essentials.

Dale Hansen:

Those who blame the judge, saying it was a political stunt to put her in jail, are ignoring the real stunt here.

Luther’s GoFundMe page has raised more than half a million dollars, because it is true, there really is one born every minute. But I’m assuming she can feed her family now, and she will share her bounty with all those who can’t.

No one likes the position we’re in now. The virus has made it incredibly hard on almost all of us. But to excuse the actions of Luther, would create a society that I don’t think any of really want to live in.

[…]

We’re not in this together, we never have been. And all the sweet commercials won’t make it so.

Gov. Abbott and our other state leaders have proven again that the rule of law doesn’t matter, and court orders can be ignored as long as you are well-to-do and white.

If Shelley Luther’s beauty salon was in South Dallas the lieutenant governor would’ve never paid her fine and she’d still be in jail. And not a single one of you would be blaming the judge.

There. May Shelley Luther sink back into obscurity, and may we all remember the words of a long-ago statesman who said “We must all hang together, or we will surely hang separately.”

The state of the state’s response

I mean, it’s something.

Gov. Greg Abbott took multiple measures Sunday designed to expand hospital staffing and capacity in Texas, but declined to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order — even as calls for such an action increased as the new coronavirus continued to spread across the state.

In an effort to free up hospital beds in anticipation of an influx of patients sick with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, Abbott ordered health care professionals to postpone “all surgeries that are not medically necessary” and suspended regulations to allow hospitals to treat more than one patient in a room.

But he did not order all Texans to shelter in place, noting that there are still many counties in the state without confirmed cases and that he wants to see the full impact of an executive order he issued Thursday. In the meantime, he welcomed local officials to take more restrictive action than he has statewide.

During an afternoon news conference at the state Capitol in Austin, Abbott also announced the formation of a “strike force” to respond to the coronavirus and that the Texas National Guard, which he activated several days ago, would be deployed this week to help hospitals deal with the outbreak.

In the lead-up to Abbott’s news conference, though, attention centered most intensely on whether he would go beyond the executive order that he issued Thursday. That order urged all Texans to limit public gatherings to 10 people, prohibited eating in at restaurants and bars and temporarily closed schools. That order went into effect midnight Friday and goes through midnight April 3.

“We need to see the level of effectiveness of the executive order,” Abbott said. “What we may be right for places like the large urban areas may not be right at this particular point of time for the more than 200 counties that have zero cases of COVID-19.”

[…]

Abbott said that his decision not to issue a statewide order should not stop local officials from issuing such orders in their jurisdictions.

“Local officials have the authority to implement more strict standards than I as governor have implemented in the state of Texas, “Abbott said. “If they choose to do so I would applaud them for doing so, but at this time it is not the appropriate approach to mandate that same strict standard across every area of the state, especially at a time when we are yet to see the results coming out of my most recent executive order.”

See here for the background. I can see the reason for Abbott’s actions, or lack thereof. It’s not clear that this is necessary for rural areas, and for the most part the localities that have needed such action have taken it themselves. (Insert reminder about Abbott’s self-serving relationship with the concept of “local control” here.) Indeed, the next story the Trib ran is about Dallas County prepping a shelter-in-place order. (Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has said she is considering such an order but has not yet announced one.) At least some hospitals have already acted to limit or suspend elective procedures as well. What all of this does is mostly make me think that Abbott is behind the curve rather than ahead of it. You know I don’t think much of our Governor, but even for him this seems kind of limp. What could he be doing that isn’t already being done? That’s what I’d like to know.

Coronavirus and local control

From Politico, evidence that there are no small-government “conservatives” in pandemic self-isolation foxholes:

Texas is a big state with a proud small-government philosophy. And that’s being tested by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Strict bans on public gatherings to curtail the virus’ reach and widespread testing and treatment run counter to the politics of top Texas officials. Instead they’re calling on local officials to lead the response.

As governors in states including New York and California have imposed statewide measures such as closing schools and limiting commerce, Texas leaders have been reluctant to set restrictions conservative voters might consider draconian and business leaders oppose. They’ve also opposed steps to expand health insurance coverage.

Texas’ Republican Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration Friday — after dozens of states already had done so — and activated the National Guard on Tuesday, after more than a dozen states already had. State officials have yet to impose statewide limits on public gatherings, close schools or beaches or issue a special open enrollment period for health insurance, as California, New York and other big states have. And some health providers say Texas has been slow to boost coronavirus testing capacity and help them meet equipment needs.

“In this instance, President Trump is right: Governors need to step up,” Clay Jenkins, a Democrat and Dallas County’s top elected official, said in an interview. “When it comes to stemming the tide of the loss of life that we’re staring at, the governor is in a unique position to act.”

Abbott is fully in charge of the state’s response, because as part of the small-government philosophy, the state’s Legislature meets only in odd years for 140 days. So far, more than 60 coronavirus cases and one death have been confirmed in the state. Abbott said he expects the number of cases to explode next week as more testing capacity comes online and more diagnoses are counted.

Abbott, who has been governor for five years, tends to shine in moments of crisis. He’s been relatively hands-off during legislative sessions, but has played an active role in managing during disaster. Abbott earned praise for providing a steady hand during Hurricane Harvey, which hit Houston in 2017.

But the swift-spreading coronavirus public health crisis is catching Texas unprepared. The state, which didn’t expand Medicaid, has the highest uninsured rate in the country meaning millions of people don’t have doctors to call if they show symptoms. And Abbott has opposed local paid sick leave ordinances, which could encourage sick people to stay home and keep from spreading the virus, saying they hamper business growth.

[…]

Abbott’s office says the governor believes in taking a decentralized approach letting local officials take the lead in imposing restrictions and relying on private companies to help boost testing capacity.

Several Texas cities and counties have already closed schools and limited public gatherings. That includes Austin, which issued an order Tuesday banning gatherings of more than 10 people and shutting down restaurants and bars through early May.

“County judges and mayors have done a very good job in listening to local health officials,” Abbott’s spokesman John Wittman said in an interview. “What is best in Dallas may not be best for Amarillo or Abilene.”

Those of you who are old enough to remember the last couple of legislative sessions have likely done a spit-take to the sound of a record scratch upon hearing those words. But they’re not the first time they have been uttered. From the Trib, plowing a similar furrow three days earlier:

Abbott’s office, asked about the local protocols, said Monday that cities and counties “have done a very good job of doing what is right for their municipalities” and nodded to how helpful local decision-making can be in a state as large as Texas. That approach is in stark contrast to Abbott’s recent attitude toward local control. In the past few years, he has routinely sparred with mayors and backed several laws that chipped away at the power of cities and counties.

“Texas is so diverse that what is right in Houston and Harris County and Dallas and San Antonio may not be the best approach in Amarillo,” Abbott spokesman John Wittman said. “These cities and counties are following the proper protocol and guidance that they are receiving from their local health departments.”

Abbott’s push for local decision-making comes as the nation’s top infectious disease expert said the most effective way to stop spread of COVID-19 may be a 14-day nationwide shutdown.

So, local control is best when tough decisions that Greg Abbott doesn’t want to have to make need to be made. Otherwise, cities and counties need to stop thinking and acting in their own best interests and let Greg Abbott and the Republican Party do all of that for them. Could someone please make sure to have multiple large multi-colored printouts of those John Wittman quotes plastered all around the Capitol next year? Thanks. The Observer, which goes into a lot more detail, has more.

The Harris County bail lawsuit effect on Dallas County

The Trib looks to see if the recent Harris County bail lawsuit settlement might affect the bail lawsuit in Dallas County.

“Anytime one county settles, it could possibly provide a roadmap for another county, but I can’t say that it will,” said Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot, whose county’s bail practices have also been slammed by a federal judge. “The landscape of this lawsuit is different.”

A big piece of that is because Dallas’ lawsuit, like another in Harris and one in Galveston, targets bail practices not only for misdemeanor defendants, but for felony cases, too.

[…]

“I’ve been studying very closely what’s happening in Harris County, and I think that it’s a step in the right direction and something that we should … modify or use as a blueprint for felony cases,” said State District Court Judge Brandon Birmingham, a Democrat and defendant in Dallas’ lawsuit. He was especially interested in the idea of an open-hours court.

Adding felonies to the lawsuit against bail practices in Dallas brought a new complication, however. The judges work for the state, not the county, and are being represented by the Texas attorney general’s office, which claims they have no jurisdiction over early bail decisions. County officials, who are largely Democratic, have said the attorney general’s office, run by Republican Ken Paxton, has stalled settlement talks and reform efforts.

“The fact that felony judges are part of the lawsuit complicates resolution,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, a Democrat. “The AG office’s public positions on criminal justice reform and bail reform are not the same as the Commissioners Court or most of our elected judges.”

The attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a court filing last month, Texas Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins wrote that the Dallas lawsuit goes too far by including felony judges. He said bail decisions are set by county judicial officers before felony judges assume jurisdiction over criminal matters.

“Despite tens of thousands of words spilled in this case so far, [the plaintiff] has yet to articulate just what she expects the felony judges to do, going forward, to remedy her alleged harm,” Hawkins wrote.

But things appear to be moving toward resolution. Two district judges, including Birmingham, recently began conducting their own bail hearings every morning and hired a lawyer to represent them instead of the attorney general. Jenkins and Creuzot confirmed that the parties are now headed to mediation to hopefully come up with a settlement proposal or consent decree.

See here for more on the second Harris County lawsuit, the one involving felony cases. It was filed in January and I haven’t seen any updates as yet, nor do I know if the AG’s office has gotten involved. Be that as it may, it seems to me that the underlying principle is the same, and should be viewed through a similar lens by the federal court. This time, Harris will follow behind Dallas, so we’ll see where they lead us.

We have a candidate in CD06

Good.

Rep. Ron Wright

A Waxahachie Democrat who is business partners with Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins is running for Congress in 2020 against Rep. Ron Wright, an Arlington Republican who was first elected to office last year.

Stephen Daniel, an attorney, on Wednesday announced his House campaign, telling The Dallas Morning News that residents in the suburban-rural district “haven’t been adequately represented” by the incumbent and that, politically, “it’s a closer district than people think.”

“A lot of people are disenchanted,” said the 42-year-old, who grew up just outside of the district in Itasca, a tiny town in Hill County, and then eventually moved to Ellis County after law school.

The campaign launch could signal that Democrats are serious about expanding the battleground map in Texas, which was already expected to host eight competitive House races next year. While Daniel is a political novice running in a traditional GOP stronghold — one that President Donald Trump won by 12 points in 2016 — the attorney’s ties to a prominent North Texas Democrat like Jenkins could give him a step up in fundraising, name ID and party support. Consider that Daniel is vowing to raise $4 million, which would be a stunning amount for a congressional seat that hasn’t been the subject of a full-on campaign bout in decades.

[…]

Democrats have already circled pick-up opportunities in six Lone Star State districts where the incumbent Republican House member last year won by 5 points or less. The only North Texan among that group is Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell. Republicans, meanwhile, are eager to win back two longtime GOP seats that they lost last year in Texas. One of those districts is now represented by Rep. Colin Allred, a Dallas Democrat who ousted former Rep. Pete Sessions.

The contest for Wright’s seat could join that crowded docket. Daniel is pitching himself as a native son with humble roots. He “grew up very country,” he said, helping his dad work at a local landfill. He was also the first in his family to graduate from college, he said, ultimately earning a law degree from St. Mary’s University School of Law. He’s worked as a personal injury attorney for the last 15 years alongside Jenkins, who hailed Daniel’s “compassion, grit and tenacious spirit.”

“He cares about people and has earned the nickname ‘Bulldog’ for his zealous representation of his clients,” texted Jenkins, a longtime Democratic power player who was elected in 2010 as Dallas County judge.

As a reminder, this is Ron Wright. So yeah, I’m glad to see this. As noted, CD06 is not currently on the Dems’ target list, but Beto got 48.0% there, so it’s not a stretch to see it get on the radar. And the fastest way to get on that radar is via fundraising. Jana Sanchez, who is serving as Daniel’s treasurer, raised $734K last cycle, which in most other contexts would be excellent but is basically an opening bid here. I’ll definitely be looking for Stephen Daniel’s report at the end of this quarter. And with his entry, the only high profile district that still lacks a candidate is CD31; we’re still waiting on Wendy Davis in CD21, but we do have Jennie Lou Leeder, so that’s something. Let’s get that slate filled out.

Dallas County gets the Harris County treatment in its bail lawsuit

We have a precedent, even if everything is still a work in progress.

Taking a cue from the rulings on Harris County’s bail-setting practices, a U.S. district judge in Dallas issued a temporary order Thursday evening saying the county’s post-arrest procedures routinely violate inmates’ constitutional rights. The judge gave the county 30 days to change its ways.

U.S. District Judge David Godbey in Dallas said that the county has to stop the practice of imposing pre-set bail bond amounts, which often keep poor defendants locked up for days or weeks while letting wealthier ones go free, without individual consideration if arrestees claim they can’t afford it. He sided with the plaintiffs’ allegation that the county uses “wealth-based detention.”

“Wealthy arrestees — regardless of the crime they are accused of — who are offered secured bail can pay the requested amount and leave,” Godbey wrote. “Indigent arrestees in the same position cannot.”

[…]

Godbey relied heavily on Harris County rulings from the federal district court and the appellate court. He said the cases had the “same roots” — despite Dallas’ lawsuit also including felony defendants whereas Harris only involves those accused of misdemeanors — and concluded that doing anything other than what the appellate court ruled in Harris would “put the Court in direct conflict with binding precedent.”

“Broadly, those procedures include ‘notice, an opportunity to be heard and submit evidence within 48 hours of arrest, and a reasoned decision by an impartial decision-maker,’ he wrote, quoting the higher court’s ruling.

See here for some background, and here for an earlier story on how bail hearings have been done in Dallas. You know where I stand on this, and we both know that Dallas County has Democratic leadership, and thus I hope more than enough incentive to find a settlement. Some long overdue change is coming, and it is in everyone’s best interests to embrace it. The Chron and the Observer have more.

Dallas County “discrimination against white voters” lawsuit dismissed

It was always a silly idea.

A federal judge Thursday dismissed a landmark lawsuit that accused Dallas County commissioners of discriminating against white voters.

The lawsuit sought to dismantle the boundaries the county uses to elect commissioners, claiming that the lines dilute the voting strength of white residents.

U.S. District Judge Sidney Fitzwater said it’s possible for white voters to successfully claim voting rights discrimination, but he ruled that lawyers for the plaintiffs in Anne Harding vs. Dallas County didn’t prove their case.

He wrote that given the political makeup of Dallas residents of voting age, and the geographical distribution of Anglo Republicans, it isn’t possible to know if a GOP candidate could be elected in a second district.

“In other words, because plaintiffs have failed to produce any evidence at trial that the Commissioners Court could have created two performing districts for Anglo Republicans, the logical result is that [defendants] did not dilute the [Anglo Republican] vote,” Fitzwater wrote.

He continued: “In fact, if anything, the evidence shows that plaintiffs’ voting power has been strengthened, rather than diluted, by the concentration of Anglos in [Precinct 2] where they can reliably elect a Republican candidate. Accordingly, the court finds that plaintiffs have not proved their vote dilution claim.”

[…]

During the trial, the plaintiffs offered alternative boundaries that their experts contended would have resulted in two conservative Republicans on the Commissioners Court.

But Fitzwater was swayed by testimony from Democratic strategist Matt Angle, who drew the 2011 map. Angle said it wasn’t a given that voters in the two “Anglo” districts the plaintiffs sought would elect a Republican to the court.

Fitzwater’s opinion states that under the plaintiffs’ plan, white voters would be split between the existing Republican district and another one, opening the door for Democrats to control every seat on the Commissioners Court.

“There are not a sufficient number of Anglo Republicans to elect a Republican candidate in more then one commissioner district,” Fitzwater wrote.

See here and here for the background. A copy of the decision is embedded in the story. I’m dubious about the assertion that white voters could successfully claim voting rights discrimination – to say the least, I think the bar for that is going to be very, very high – but I’m not going to worry about that right now. The plaintiffs have a month to decide if they’re going to appeal. Good luck with that.

Testimony ends in Dallas County “oppressed white voters” trial

It’ll be awhile before we have a verdict.

Testimony ended Thursday in the landmark redistricting case over whether Dallas County discriminates against white voters.

The four-day trial — Ann Harding vs. Dallas County — featured analysis by local and national redistricting experts and video of two raucous county Commissioners Court meetings.

U.S. District Judge Sidney Fitzwater will wade through the evidence and issue a ruling. That could take months because the judge will receive 50-page closing arguments from lawyers on both sides and hear final oral arguments in late May or early June.

The lawsuit, filed in 2015, contends that the electoral boundaries county commissioners developed in 2011 dilute the white vote. Democrats enjoy a 4-1 advantage on the Commissioners Court. The districts are led by three Democrats — John Wiley Price, who is black; Elba Garcia, who is Hispanic; and Theresa Daniel, who is white. County Judge Clay Jenkins, also a Democrat, is white and is elected countywide. Mike Cantrell, also white, is the only Republican on the court.

See here for the background. I don’t really have anything to add to what I wrote before. I can’t imagine this will get anywhere, but we do live in strange times.

White voters sue Dallas County over claims of voter discrimination

I have four things to say about this.

Are white voters in Dallas County being discriminated against?

That question, which might cause some to chuckle, will be answered after a trial starting April 16 that could change the face of the voting rights struggle in America.

Four white residents are suing Dallas County, claiming that the current boundaries of county commissioner districts violate their voting rights. The case is believed to be one of the first in the nation where a group of whites is seeking protection under the Voting Rights Act.

The lawsuit foreshadows a potential turnabout in Texas’ and the nation’s racial politics. As Hispanics, blacks and other minorities close in on making America a country where minorities make up the majority, some whites are attempting to use civil rights laws to protect themselves from what they see as discrimination.

Dallas County, once dominated by white Republicans until demographic shifts paved the way for Democrats, is the ideal testing ground for such a case.

“There will be people who look up and say ‘oh, come on,’ but the facts are clear and it should not matter who is on the short end of the stick,” said Dallas lawyer Dan Morenoff, executive director of the Equal Voting Rights Institute. “The whole point is to assure state and local government can’t rig elections against races they don’t like.”

The white residents are backed by the Equal Voting Rights Institute. They are asking the court that the current Commissioners Court boundaries, approved in 2011, be redrawn to allow white residents to elect the commissioner of their choice.

[…]

Redistricting experts say the plaintiffs will have a hard time prevailing over the county. The Voting Rights Act, in part, protects victims of historical and systemic discrimination. White voters don’t fall in that class. A challenge to the maps on grounds that the white residents’ constitutional rights were violated has already faded.

“That’s a pretty high hurdle to overcome,” said Michael Li, an election law expert and senior counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program at New York University. “There hasn’t been a history of discrimination against white voters in Dallas County.”

Justin Levitt, associate dean for research at Loyola University in Los Angeles, agreed.

“You have to prove that the government intentionally took action against people because of their race. That is going to be much harder to demonstrate,” he said. “The case is going to turn on whether there is a history of discrimination against Anglos or present-day signs of discrimination.”

[…]

The lawsuit argues that the political clout of white voters has been purposefully diminished. Whites in Dallas County overwhelmingly vote for Republicans, the suit says, while blacks and Hispanics tend to vote for Democrats. The 4-to-1 Democrat-to-Republican ratio is a sign that whites have become disenfranchised, the suit says.

“The plaintiffs’ view is that a map was drawn on the basis of race to make sure a group couldn’t elect the candidate of their choice,” Morenoff said. “We think the law is pretty clear that it’s illegal. We’re making the same arguments that plaintiffs have made in Texas the past few decades. The law protects racial minorities whoever they are.”

But a white majority exists on the Commissioners Court even though Hispanics represent the largest racial group in the county. According to the U.S. Census, Hispanics make up 39 percent of the county population. The county is 33 percent white and 22 percent black.

[County Judge Clay] Jenkins, [Commissioner Theresa] Daniel and [Commissioner Mike] Cantrell are white. Daniel is a Democrat and Cantrell is a Republican. There is one black commissioner, Democrat John Wiley Price, and one Hispanic commissioner, Garcia, a Democrat.

The plaintiffs are arguing that white conservatives were not able to elect their candidate of choice.

Whites make up 48 percent of Dallas County voters, but essentially elect 25 percent (one commissioner) of the court, the lawsuit states.

Many white voters were packed into precincts controlled by Daniel, Price and Garcia. And others had their votes wasted after being packed into Cantrell’s Precinct 2, the lawsuit says.

Lawyers for the county disagreed in a court filing.

“Plaintiffs’ amended complaint fails to allege or demonstrate how the currently elected County Commissioners are not the candidate of choice of Anglo voters,” they wrote. “Even if the five commissioners are the candidates of choice of African-American and Latino voters, that fact does not preclude those Commissioners from also being the candidates of choice of Anglo voters.”

The trial is expected to take four days.

Li, the election law expert who spent 10 years in Dallas as a lawyer for Baker Botts, says redistricting cases like the one in Dallas County could evolve into referendums on partisan gerrymandering. Two such cases are before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“In the future, instead of race-based claims, they may claim that there was partisan gerrymandering,” Li said.

1. Good luck with that.

2. There are only four commissioners per county, plus a County Judge, so the result of one election can have a dramatic change to the partisan ration – you can go from 50-50 to 75-25 overnight, for example. Add in the County Judge and a “balanced” Court will be 60-40 one way or the other. My point here is that there’s only so much precision one can achieve.

3. Also, too: Harris County is at least as Democratic as Dallas is Republican, and at least as non-Anglo as Dallas is. Yet Harris County Commissioners Court has four Anglo Republicans and one African-American Democrat. Commissioners precincts were also redrawn following the 2010 election in which Jack Morman ousted Sylvia Garcia to protect the most vulnerable of the Anglo commissioners. Be careful what you’re wishing for here, Republicans. And yes, there was a lawsuit filed here over that, and the plaintiffs lost. Anyone think these folks in Dallas have a better claim than the plaintiffs in Harris County did?

4. Too bad the Supreme Court kneecapped the Voting Rights Act, huh? Maybe casting this as a partisan gerrymandering claim will help, assuming SCOTUS finds a remedy for that. In which case, again I say to be careful what you ask for, Republicans.

A copy of the lawsuit is here, and the county’s response is here; they are also embedded in the story. As always, I welcome feedback from the lawyers out there.

Lawsuit filed over Dallas County bail practices

Bring it on, I say.

On the heels of a federal ruling slamming Harris County for its bail practices, civil rights lawyers have now set their sights on a county with a similar system: Dallas.

Six indigent misdemeanor and felony defendants arrested this week and held in the Dallas County Jail filed suit against the county on Sunday night, claiming the bail system unconstitutionally discriminates against them by holding them in jail for days or weeks while letting similar defendants with cash walk free. One plaintiff, Shannon Daves, is a 47-year-old homeless and jobless transgender woman arrested on a misdemeanor theft charge. She has been kept in solitary confinement in the men’s unit since Wednesday under a $500 misdemeanor bond she can’t afford, the lawsuit claims.

“This system is really devastating for the people who can’t afford to purchase their freedom,” said Trisha Trigilio, a senior attorney at the ACLU of Texas, one of the legal groups representing the inmates. Lawyers with the Civil Rights Corps and the Texas Fair Defense Project are also leading the lawsuits in both Dallas and Harris counties.

[…]

In Dallas County, the plaintiffs state that judicial magistrates set money bail based on the alleged crime and prior convictions without considering an inmate’s ability to pay or determining if non-monetary conditions of release, like an ankle monitor or cab fare voucher, could ensure the defendant shows up to court. Texas law requires officials to consider financial ability when setting bail.

Instead, poor inmates who have yet to be convicted usually stay in jail because they can’t afford the bail, sometimes causing them to lose their jobs or housing, the lawsuit said. The lawsuit also argues that the threat of lengthy jail stays while awaiting trial encourages defendants to plead guilty.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said Sunday that he wouldn’t comment on a pending lawsuit, but said the county is working to improve the system.

“I support bail reform because some low-risk suspects that don’t need to be there are held in Texas jails at taxpayer expense simply because they can’t afford to bond out,” he said.

Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price also pointed to the county’s efforts to reform its bail system, touting a decrease in the county jail population. As of December, there were about 5,000 inmates in the jail, which has a capacity for about 8,700, according to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

You can see a copy of the complaint here. There are differences between the Dallas and Houston cases – the Dallas one involves felons as well as misdemeanants, and as noted their jail population had already declined by a significant amount. And, not to make too fine a point of it, Dallas County is ruled by Democrats, not Republicans. I would hope that means they’ll be much more amenable to finding a settlement rather than draw this out. (As this story reminds us, the Harris County case hasn’t even been heard yet – Judge Rosenthal’s ruling was an injunction, not on the merits.) We’ll see what happens. The ACLU’s statement on the suit is beneath the fold.

(more…)

Rick Perry doesn’t want people to get health insurance

There’s really no other viable explanation.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

On a White House conference call on Monday, Texas Democrats criticized Gov. Rick Perry and other Republican state leaders for “getting in the way” of implementing federal health care reform.

During the call, which was organized by the White House to tout the impact of the Affordable Care Act in Texas, state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins accused state leadership of creating obstacles to keep Texans from obtaining health insurance, as required by the health care law, also known as Obamacare. The two Democrats cited Texas’ decision not to expand Medicaid, the lack of a state-based insurance marketplace and proposed additional rules for federal navigators.

Martinez Fischer called Texas the “poster child” for the uninsured, adding that the state’s rate of residents without health insurance — the highest in the nation at about 25 percent — had received “no relief from state leadership.”

“I wish we would use our energy and momentum in Texas with our statewide elected officials to actually embrace and work cooperatively with the administration to expand ACA opportunities in Texas rather than the trail of roadblocks,” Martinez Fischer said.

Jenkins questioned Perry’s request for additional regulations on federal navigators, who are charged with helping individuals sign up for health insurance.

“If they won’t help citizens gain access to coverage, they ought to stand down and stay out of the way for those of us who are willing to work to do the job for Texas,” Jenkins said.

Perry first requested the rules in September, citing consumer privacy concerns. Other Republican state leaders, including Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Attorney General Greg Abbott, followed suit.

Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed called the conference call an attempt to distract from the Affordable Care Act’s “continued failures.” She cited the technical problems of the federal online insurance marketplace, concerns surrounding the training of navigators and delayed enrollment deadlines.

“Texas families and businesses don’t need more empty rhetoric from the Obama administration to know that Obamacare is a failure,” Nashed said.

It takes a certain level of sociopathy to say something like that when you are the Governor of the state with by far the highest number of uninsured people, and you’ve been Governor for thirteen years without doing a single thing about it. Except for all the things you’ve done to deny health insurance to people, such as the CHIP cuts and our famously stingy Medicaid eligibility requirements and onerous enrollment processes. Hey, remember when we spent a couple hundred million dollars outsourcing our Health and Human Services Commission and gave the money to a private firm that didn’t know its ass from a pencil eraser? Those were the days, my friend.

The antipathy towards health insurance comes through in everything Rick Perry – and David Dewhurst and Greg Abbott and the rest of the sorry lot – does, from imposing needless burdens on navigators to refusing to expand Medicaid to refusing to implement an exchange, and on and on. If there were some honest ongoing effort over the past decade-plus to do something about the millions of uninsured in Texas, that would be one thing. But the record, and the inactivity, speak for themselves. There’s really no other way to characterize it. Millions of people have become insured around the country, but all we get here is rage and denial.

Oh, and bad journalism, no doubt influenced by the lying and obfuscation. Do make sure you click those two links and read the stories, which have now coaxed an apology for the half-assed job they did from the Star-Telegram. Senators Sylvia Garcia and Rodney Ellis have more.

Dallas County to sue state over voter ID

The shoe is on the other foot.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Democratic Dallas County commissioners narrowly agreed [Tuesday] afternoon to join a lawsuit against Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry over state efforts to enforce a controversial voter identification law.

Democratic Commissioner Elba Garcia stepped out of the partisan fray inextricably linked to the national debate on voter ID laws and joined Republican colleague Mike Cantrell in voting against the move. County Judge Clay Jenkins and commissioners Theresa Daniel and John Wiley Price, all Democrats, votes for the measure.

Supporters of suing, including District Attorney Craig Watkins, said the move is an attempt to protect voters’ rights. An estimated 220,000 county voters lack the identification the law would require.

Cantrell, the lone Republican commissioner, accused his colleagues of using county funds to push a partisan agenda. Garcia criticized the lack of detailed information on what joining the suit will cost.

Here’s a fuller story in the DMN that adds a few more details.

Missing from the vote at Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting was a clear idea of just how much the county’s direct involvement will cost taxpayers.

That’s largely because commissioners haven’t been told what expenses will need to be covered — or how much of those costs will be paid by the lawsuit’s existing plaintiffs. Before the vote, Cantrell failed to get attorney Chad Dunn to provide ballpark figures of the suit’s total cost or each plaintiff’s likely contribution.

That ambiguity prompted Garcia’s opposition. Garcia said she wanted more time to figure out how much the county could end up paying Dunn’s firm. She said officials were told they had to vote Tuesday so that the state could be served with legal papers in the case before a hearing scheduled for next month.

Garcia said that state leaders still hadn’t been served with the initial complaint from the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in June.

“When I ask for one week and I’m told it’s now or never, you won’t be a part of it, I take that as my questions are not important,” Garcia said.

When asked why attorneys couldn’t request that the September hearing be moved to allow both sides more time to prepare, Jenkins said there is no guarantee such a request would be granted.

As she did on the campaign trail last year, Daniel said managing the county’s budget is the primary job of commissioners. But she added Tuesday that fighting the state is the “right thing to do” because Texas is using taxpayer money to disenfranchise voters.

“That’s wrong, but that’s on somebody else’s plate,” she said.

According to this DMN story from before the vote, the commissioners voted to hire a law firm to join a federal lawsuit. That would be the Veasey lawsuit, which of course is now enmeshed with the Justice Department lawsuit. I’m honestly not sure what the practical effect of this will be, but hey, the more the merrier. The question about how much this will cost is a fair one, and if it turns out to be a bigger number than expected it will be a political issue for County Judge Clay Jenkins and DA Craig Watkins, both of whom are up for re-election next year. As for the complaint about pushing a partisan agenda, well, tell it to Greg Abbott. A statement from the Dallas County Democratic Party is beneath the fold, and BOR, The Trib, and Trail Blazers have more.

(more…)

Yes, Rick Perry still hates Medicaid

We’re not surprised by this, right?

It’s constitutional – deal with it

The Texas rhetoric around a key facet of federal health reform — whether the state will expand subsidized insurance to its poorest adults — reached the high water mark on Monday, with back-to-back press conferences at the Capitol featuring political leaders on both sides of the aisle.

Republicans including U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and members of a conservative think tank gathered first, reaffirming their opposition to expanding Medicaid, a key tenet of “Obamacare” that is widely supported by Democrats. The expansion — and in particular, the flexibility the federal government has shown some Republican-led states in implementing it — has in recent months drawn the support of some fiscal conservatives reluctant to pass up billions of federal dollars and the opportunity to curb Texas’ ranks of the uninsured.

“For those states buying into this, they will come to rue the day,” Cruz said.

“When the federal government retreats,” Cornyn added, “the state’s going to be on the hook.”

[…]

Republican lawmakers want the Obama administration to give Texas a block grant for Medicaid, which the state would use to subsidize private health savings accounts for low-income recipients. Medicaid recipients would either enroll in a Medicaid managed care plan or be given subsidies on a sliding scale based on their income. The state would also likely include “personal responsibility” measures, such as higher co-pays for patients who went to the emergency room for minor ailments.

Perry said federal leaders need to “decide if they trust” Texas to run Medicaid as the state sees fit, and called the Obama administration “harder to deal with than previous administrations.” But when asked whether he, Cruz or Cornyn had reached out to begin negotiations with the Obama administration on ways to reform Medicaid with federal dollars, Perry said that was the job of the Legislature and the state’s health and human services commissioner.

Did I mention that Perry would make bogus claims about the feds not negotiating in good faith? Why yes, I did. It’s really very simple – Perry, Dewhurst, Abbott, Cornyn, Cruz, the poo-flinging nihilists at the TPPF, they don’t want to help anyone who doesn’t have access to health care. They could not care less about these people. It’s not about the money, it’s not about compassion (since none of them have any), it’s about ideology. They could not be any clearer about this.

Note, by the way, the cloistered nature of Perry’s gathering of the elites, which includes lobbyists but no one who is or would be affected by the decision to expand Medicaid. Now contrast that to some of the people who are affected by that decision.

The county judges of Texas’ most populous counties, as well as the Chambers of Commerce of most of Texas’ largest cities, have endorsed Medicaid expansion as a means of paying for health care in a state with the highest number of uninsured individuals in the country. Without it, they say local taxpayers foot the bill as poor people seek care in expensive emergency room settings.

Some of those people came to the Capitol as well, though they weren’t invited to Perry’s little conclave.

Democrats in Congress and the Legislature, uninsured parents, the head of the state’s main hospital trade group and top local officials in Dallas and San Antonio urged state GOP leaders Monday to negotiate with the Obama administration to expand Texas’ Medicaid program for the poor.

“The public hires us not to do the ideological thing but the smart thing,” said San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said it’s unacceptable to leave a large bloc of the population relying on safety net hospitals’ emergency rooms for care when their maladies could receive earlier attention and treatment.

“Do we want to insure the 1.5 million uninsured Texans that need this primary care and are eligible under the expansion population?” he said. “It’s time to put politics aside and stand up to the extremist factions of political parties and work together on the local, state and federal level to find a plan that fits the unique needs of struggling Texans and expands our Texas economy.”

[…]

Ofelia Zapata, an Austin housewife and mother, said her husband is an uninsured laborer who works long hours but can’t afford private coverage. And yet he makes too much to qualify for Medicaid, said Zapata, who is a leader of the Industrial Areas Foundation group Austin Interfaith.

She cast the policy question in moral and religious terms.

“As a Roman Catholic, we believe in dignity of a human person and demands that we stand in solidarity with the poor,” she said. “We must therefore expand Medicaid for Texas families.”

I’m terribly sorry, Mrs. Zapata, but Rick Perry and his cronies don’t care about you. They don’t care what people like Ed Emmett and the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce think. They don’t care about the lives that would be saved by expanding Medicaid, because being “pro-life” has nothing to do with living people. They don’t care what a bunch of protesters think. (There are pictures here and here if you care what they think.)

Oh, and just so we’re clear, this full-on opposition to the Affordable Care Act in general and Medicaid expansion in particular is strong evidence that the GOP’s ballyhooed efforts to “re-brand” themselves and reach out to Latino voters is just so much hot air. Latinos strongly support the Affordable Care Act. In general, Latinos and other voters of color support a much more robust role for government, which kind of complicates the whole “small government/starve the beast” message the GOP has to offer. In addition, the bulk of uninsured Texans are Latino. These are the people that would greatly benefit from Medicaid expansion. But of course, Rick Perry and his cronies don’t care about them. I’m still not terribly hopeful that Perry’s obstinacy will have an electoral effect next year. But that day, and that effect, is coming.

UPDATE: More from PDiddie, and the Texas Organizing Project, which was responsible for some of those protesters from yesterday, has more in store for today:

A recent study shows sixty-eight percent of working class Texans don’t know they’d be covered under the health care expansion if it comes to the Lone Star State, but community activists from Texas Organizing Project want to change that. They’re meeting in Austin to lay out their “Find the 1.5” campaign which sets an ambitious goal to identify the 1.5 million Texans that would benefit from Health care Expansion. They’ll be joined by State Senators Rodney Ellis, Wendy Davis and Sylvia Garcia for a press conference laying out the details of the campaign where they’ll canvass clinics, grocery store parking lots and neighborhoods in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley to inform and organize those poised for coverage under the expansion.

“I didn’t know I would qualify for coverage until someone showed me the details,” said Gloria Payne who chairs the health care campaign in Houston. “We’re not going to sit back and let them make decisions for us, we want in on the conversation,” concluded Payne. The campaign will begin it’s neighborhood rollout Wednesday in Houston and the Rio Grande Valley, Thursday in San Antonio and Friday in Dallas.

Who: State Senators Rodney Ellis, Wendy Davis and Sylvia Garcia; Texas Organizing Project and allied organizations.

What: Press conference for statewide neighborhood rollout campaign to “Find the 1.5” million working, uninsured Texans that would benefit from health care expansion.

When: Tuesday, April 2, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Where: Texas State Capitol, Lieutenant Governor’s Press Room, Room 2E.9

As if you needed another reason to support Medicaid expansion

Even more data on why Medicaid expansion makes sense from Texas Impact.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

The study, by former Texas deputy comptroller Billy Hamilton, says Texas shouldn’t pass up the chance to insure up to 2 million of its more than 6 million uninsured people.

Hamilton cited other benefits. Expansion of the Medicaid rolls would “provide relief to local taxpayers and increase the financial stability of the health care infrastructure on which all Texans depend,” he wrote.

Texas Impact, a statewide interfaith group with a progressive bent, and San Antonio-based Methodist Healthcare Ministries, which owns half of the largest hospital and health care system in South Texas, commissioned Hamilton’s study. It was released last month but on Monday, the sponsoring groups issued this update, which breaks out the financial effects and numbers of newly covered persons by county and by legislative district.

Gov. Rick Perry and other state GOP leaders oppose the Medicaid expansion, saying the state-federal program is a mess and a budget-buster.

Hamilton’s study, though, says if Texas agrees to the expansion, the state would reap $27.5 billion in new federal health care spending from 2014-2017. That would generate an estimated 231,000 jobs by 2016, and just under $68 billion of new economic activity in the state over the four-year period, he found. Hamilton said the additional economic jolt would throw off $2.5 billion in new local tax collections statewide in 2014-2017.

Under his “moderate enrollment growth” scenario, in which about 1 million adults statewide would gain Medicaid coverage, Dallas County would attract $612 million annually in federal Medicaid match by 2016 and Collin County, $132 million. Those figures compare with combined county, hospital district and/or private hospital charity care costs of $691 million in Dallas County, and $9 million in Collin County, for the most recent year for which data were available.

“As if saving local taxpayers millions on low-income care isn’t enough, lawmakers can actually bring new revenues to their districts without raising taxes — and make their constituents healthier in the process,” said Bee Moorhead, an ordained Presbyterian clergy woman who is Texas Impact’s executive director.

See here for the initial Texas Impact report, and click on the “this update” link in the story to see what’s new. Basically, they broke out the numbers by House and Senate district, so if you want to contact your legislators and let them know why they should be behind this effort (hint, hint) you can have some facts at your fingertips. You might also contact your County Commissioner about it, since the numbers are based on county figures. Speaking of counties and Commissioners Courts, Travis County has passed a resolution calling on the Lege to take action on expanding Medicaid, following the lead of Dallas County. Bexar County will vote on this on February 26. What is your county doing? Whatever it is, keep up the pressure. You can’t be heard if you’re not making noise. And the more Rick Perry feels the need to defend himself, the better.

Here’s more from the Chron:

Hospital districts, county health care services, jails and charities in Harris County spent $920 million providing services to the uninsured for which they were not reimbursed, according to 2011 figures. If the Texas Legislature approves Medicaid expansion, at least $645 million and as much as $1.4 billion in federal funding would reach Harris County in 2016 to provide services for many of the currently uninsured, depending on how state leaders would structure the expanded coverage, according to estimates.

Using data from hospitals, the census and current legislative proposals, the report also estimated increases to local tax revenue from expanding services to an additional one million adults, which in Harris County could be as high as $411.5 million over four years starting in 2014.

[…]

Elena Marks, a health policy expert at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, said federally funded Medicaid expansion is too good to pass up, citing a 2012 study by The Perryman Group titled, “Only One Rational Choice.”

Rather than looking at the flow of federal, state and local tax dollars in health care, that study looked at the overall economic impact of reducing uncompensated care, enhanced productivity from healthier Texans and other multiplier effects. It concluded that every dollar spent by the state on Medicaid would return $1.29 in revenue over the first 10 years of the expansion.

Marks warns, however, that expanding Medicaid would not be enough, hoping that local funds freed by federal and state dollars could go toward improving care.

She points to a federal grant program operated through Regional Healthcare Partnerships that funds innovative improvements to providing primary care, serving at-risk populations and targeting particular diseases.

El Paso and Dallas counties have passed resolutions urging legislative approval, and a network of state non-profits, including Houston’s The Metropolitan Organization, are encouraging others to follow suit.

“American taxpayers already have funded the increased health insurance coverage, but it’s the governor’s decision whether eligible Texans will be allowed access to it,” said Kevin Collins, TMO co-chairman and a Catholic pastor, in a press release about a rally at the state capitol Wednesday. “Access to affordable, quality health care is a fundamental right for all.”

Yes, let’s not forget the Perryman report or the Legislative Budget Board recommendation, either. The usual nattering nabobs are quoted in both stories fretting about the Medicaid match maybe someday being reduced by the Feds (at which point Texas could choose to back out if it wanted to) or Medicaid not being perfect but not addressing any of the points about the economic boon that Medicaid expansion would be or the lives that it would save, and surely not having any viable alternatives because they don’t care about that sort of thing. Oh, they also express concern about there not being enough doctors to handle the influx of new Medicaid recipients, which while valid on its face is deeply ironic coming from the kind of people that crammed tort “reform” down our throats partly on the premise that drastically limiting liability on doctors would lead to a flood of new MDs in our state. So yeah, I don’t really take any of their whining seriously. Even Florida Governor Rick Scott, who was one of the lead plaintiffs in the suit against Obamacare, has agreed to expand Medicaid for at least the first three years, when the feds are picking up 100% of the cost. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, writing in the Trib, has more.

Working the county Medicaid expansion angle

As statewide Medicaid expansion is being pushed in Austin, some activists are going to various County Commissioners Courts to push for the county option to expand Medicaid as well.

“A broad spectrum of people across business, faith and health care communities are coming together to ask that we find a way to draw down these federal dollars, and I think it’s imperative that we do,” said Judge Clay Lewis Jenkins, chairman of the Dallas County Commissioners Court.

In 2011, local Texas governments, cities and counties, spent $2.5 billion in unreimbursed health care costs, according to a report by Billy Hamilton, the state’s former deputy comptroller and former chief revenue estimator. If Texas expanded Medicaid coverage to impoverished adults in 2014 under the Affordable Care Act, the state could receive an additional $100 billion in federal dollars over 10 years, helping to offset that spending by local governments. The state would pay $15 billion during that time, which opponents of the expansion, including state Republican leaders, argue is too much.

“We’re doing his across the state. The resolution is our strategy…to put pressure on the governor and the Legislature to pass Medicaid expansion,” said Willie Bennett, lead organizer with the Dallas Area interfaith coalition, which helped write the resolution on Medicaid expansion that Dallas County plans to adopt on Tuesday. He said their organization helped craft a similar resolution that the El Paso County Commissioners Court adopted on Monday, and is working with other major counties to also pass resolutions.

[…]

“Working uninsured [Texans] are leading the fight. These are everyday people who work, some of them six days a week, but can’t afford health insurance,” said Durrel Douglas, a spokesman for the Texas Organizing Project.

Dallas County could get $580 million in federal revenue to help insure 133,000 additional residents through the Medicaid expansion, Jenkins said. (Use this Tribune interactive to compare the costs and savings of expanding Medicaid.)

“What it boils down to is, if we don’t take it, our federal tax dollars will pay to cover this population everywhere else in the country and our local tax dollars will pay to cover it here,” Jenkins said. “That puts us at a health care disadvantage, because we have the nation’s highest uninsured rate already, and it puts us at a competitive disadvantage because you’re paying federal taxes to cover everybody else, but you’re not getting your fair share.”

I’m still not certain that the county option is allowable under Medicaid rules, but I applaud the Texas Organizing Project for their initiative. The more sources of pressure that exist for expanding Medicaid, and the more voices calling for it, the better. They got what they wanted in Dallas County.

Dallas County commissioners endorsed an expanded Medicaid program Tuesday that would cover uninsured low-income residents who otherwise must rely on charity care or county tax dollars to cover their medical costs.

County Judge Clay Jenkins said the 4-0 vote was not a political ploy directed at Gov. Rick Perry and other Republicans, who have staunchly opposed expanding the state-federal program.
“I hear Governor Perry saying Medicaid is a system in need of reform, and I agree,” Jenkins said. “Let’s find a way to craft a Texas plan that reflects the values of the state’s elected leadership and brings those much-needed dollars here.”

[…]

Locally, the expansion would funnel an estimated $580 million to Dallas County to cover new Medicaid recipients in 2014. The money would lessen the burden on local health care providers now treating such uninsured patients, usually in their emergency rooms.

“Parkland Hospital has estimated that the expansion will cover 133,000 Dallas County residents, whether they are going to Baylor’s ER for care or to Parkland’s community clinics,” Jenkins said. “This is the math, and it makes sense.”

[…]

The Dallas County vote won praise from the medical community.

Dr. Sue Bornstein, a former board member of the Dallas County Medical Society, said the current Medicaid system needs fixing as well as expansion.

“I’m certainly pleased that the county judge came out with this,” she said. “It’s our tax money, too. And in Texas we don’t want our tax money going someplace else.”

That’s the argument that has swayed an increasing number of Republican governors to accept Medicaid expansion, but as we know Rick Perry is more resistant to facts and reality than most. The TOP is working on similar resolutions in other counties – via email, Durrel Douglas told me that Bexar County, whose officials were the originators of the county expansion idea, is slated to vote on theirs in two weeks, and they are working to bring them to Harris, Hidalgo, El Paso, and hopefully others as well. I wish them the very best of luck. ThinkProgress has more.

Dallas County’s elections administrator resigns

I spotted this story in the DMN the other day.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins has called a meeting of an obscure commission charged with appointing a county elections chief, raising the suspicion that it’s an attempt to oust longtime Elections Administrator Bruce Sherbet.

The County Election Commission, which county officials say has not met since the late 1980s, is made up of Jenkins, Tax Assessor John Ames, County Clerk John Warren, local Republican Party Chairman Jonathan Neerman and local Democratic Party Chairwoman Darlene Ewing.

The meeting has been set for 3:30 p.m. Friday at the Fox conference room in the Dallas County Administration Building.

Jenkins said Tuesday he is not targeting Sherbet for removal but simply convening the meeting because state law says it must meet every two years.

“What this is to me is following what I understand to be the law,” Jenkins said. “All the members of the committee are free to nominate whomever they want to.”

Jenkins, who said the meeting would take five minutes, did not comment specifically about Sherbet or his job performance, saying it would be inappropriate for him to do so since he is county judge and Sherbet is a county employee.

The newly elected county judge, however, did not rule out that a vote on Sherbet would be taken at the meeting.

Neither of the two party chairs had any desire to make a change, according to the story, so the four-fifths majority to remove Sherbet didn’t exist regardless of what Judge Jenkins has in mind. In the end, that didn’t matter because Sherbet resigned later in the day. I know nothing about Bruce Sherbet and have no opinion as to how good a job he did, though clearly a lot of people liked him, I’m just noting this story out of curiosity over how Judge Emmett’s proposal for an elections administrator for Harris County is doing. I suppose the fact that the county is firing people left and right and is supposed to be under a hiring freeze would create obstacles to the creation of a new position. Still, I haven’t heard anything since Don Sumners’ post-election tantrum about the idea and the subsequent kerfuffle over his attempt to make voter registration more difficult, so I thought I’d throw this out there and see what happens.

Clay Jenkins

Clay Jenkins is a candidate for County Judge in Dallas. He’s running in the Democratic primary against the incumbent, Jim Foster, who knocked off the Republican incumbent in the 2006 countywide sweep, in a race nobody expected him to win. (This is why we say Run Everywhere.) I don’t normally get involved in that kind of race outside of the Houston area, but Jenkins was a big supporter of Rick Noriega last year, and any friend of the Noriegas i a friend of mine. Rick and Melissa are hosting an event for Clay Jenkins at their place this Sunday – details are beneath the fold – so if you’d like to know more about Jenkins and what’s going on in Dallas, come on out to the Noriegas’ house on Sunday and find out.

(more…)