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Constitution

We don’t need a vote to expand Medicaid

There’s a fundamental truth that needs to be addressed in this.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

On Tuesday, Missouri became the 38th state to expand Medicaid, opening healthcare to over 230,000 Missourians. It joins a lengthy list of GOP-led states in expanding healthcare, including Nebraska, Utah, and Oklahoma. Meanwhile in Texas we still lead the country in the number of uninsured and, since the COVID-19, pandemic another 650,000 have lost their health insurance.

The ballot initiative to expand Medicaid passed in Missouri by 53 percent, with several suburban counties in St. Louis and Kansas City voting overwhelmingly for the measure. The governor of Missouri, a staunch conservative, actually added the ballot initiative to the August primary ballot instead of November’s presidential ballot, hoping a smaller turnout would defeat the measure.

Clearly, the voters of Missouri felt expanding Medicaid was important for their state. The vote also comes as the Trump administration continues its effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, potentially kicking 20 million Americans off their health care and denying preexisting conditions coverage to over 120 million. Both Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton support ending the ACA.

Texas has been in a health crisis for a long time, well after the state decided not to expand Medicaid through the ACA. According to a report from 2018, over 17 percent of Texas residents lacked health coverage. That’s about 5 million Texans without access to health care.

With COVID-19, that health crisis has only exacerbated. While cases and hospitalizations from COVID-19 have gone down in parts of the state, those numbers will likely rise precipitously as schools open. Over 7,000 Texans have died from the coronavirus. Many hospitals, particularly rural ones, are overwhelmed. The health care status quo has never felt so dangerous and untenable.

So will Texas ever get a chance to vote on expanding Medicaid? According to Republican lawmakers in the state, that would be a “no.” Rep. Celia Israel commented on Twitter that she and Rep. John Bucy sponsored a bill in the last legislative session that would allow voters to “weigh in and expand Medicaid,” but that it never got a hearing.

[…]

If Texans do get a chance to vote on expanding Medicaid, it will surely be opposed by Republicans statewide and in the legislature. If history is any guide, however, improving health care will transcend partisan lines.

The people of Missouri voted on the question of expanding Medicaid because the state of Missouri allows for laws to be enacted by referendum. In other words, in the state of Missouri and a number of others, you can collect petition signatures to put a proposed law up for a vote by the people, which is then enacted if it passes. Different states have different rules for this, but that’s the basic idea. The city of Houston allows for charter amendments to be put up for a vote via the petition process, which is always a fun thing to endure. For better or worse, the state of Texas does not allow for this.

The key thing to understand here is that the folks who pushed Medicaid expansion in Missouri via referendum did so for the explicit purpose of bypassing Missouri’s legislature and governor, both of which opposed Medicaid expansion. Most states early on passed Medicaid expansion via their legislatures, including some Republican states, but in recent years most of the action has come via the ballot box, in states like Idaho and Nebraska and Oklahoma. The key ingredients there were a combination of legislators and governors that opposed expanding Medicaid, and a petition process that allowed for the legislative process to be circumvented.

So if you’ve wondered why if those states can vote to expand Medicaid why can’t Texas, the answer is because the law doesn’t allow for it. It can only be done via the Legislature. Indeed, bills to do some form of Medicaid expansion have been proposed but have not gotten anywhere. The reason for that of course is intransigent Republican opposition, but guess what: The Democrats have a shot at taking the majority in the State House this year (as you may have heard), which would overcome one of those obstacles. We’d still need to take the Senate and elect a new Governor to finish the job, but at the very least the House could pass a Medicaid expansion bill, or put something for it in the budget, and dare the Senate and Greg Abbott to oppose it. I for one would be fine with having the 2022 Governor’s race be defined in large part by expanding Medicaid (in addition to, you know, COVID-19 response).

If that’s the case, then what was Rep. Israel tweeting about? Very simply, it was a political move to try to force the issue in a slightly different way. What Reps. Israel and Bucy proposed was a Constitutional amendment, which is something that the voters have to approve, which would have expanded Medicaid. Why propose a Constitutional amendment, which requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers, instead of a regular old bill that needs only a simple majority? Three reasons: One, constitutional amendments do not need the governor’s approval, so it would go to the voters regardless of what Greg Abbott wanted. Two, it offered Republican legislators who opposed Medicaid expansion but might have felt the need to do something a way out, as in “just vote to let the people decide, and we’ll never bother you about it again”. And three, constitutional amendments can only be changed or repealed by subsequent constitutional amendments, with their two-thirds-majority requirements, thus protecting Medicaid expansion via this avenue from the whims of a future Republican legislature.

The point is, though, we don’t need to vote to expand Medicaid. At least, we don’t need to vote on a ballot proposition to do it. We just need to vote for a Legislature and a Governor who are willing to do it. We’re a lot closer to that than we’ve ever been, and we’re closer to it than states like Missouri and Idaho and Nebraska and Oklahoma had any hope of being. The votes we need to expand Medicaid are this November, and November of 2022. Those are the prizes to keep your eyes on.

Another lawsuit against Abbott over emergency orders

This one is a bit more serious due to the lack of Hotze and Woodfill, but it’s still not a great way to have the debate about this issue.

Five Republican Texas lawmakers are suing Gov. Greg Abbott over the state’s $295 million COVID-19 contact tracing contract to a small, little-known company, alleging the agreement is unconstitutional because it wasn’t competitively bid and because the funds should have been appropriated by the Legislature in a special session.

In the Travis Country district court suit filed Monday, State Reps. Mike Lang, Kyle Biederman, William Zedler, Steve Toth and state Sen. Bob Hall named as defendants Abbott, the Texas Department of State Health Services and the company awarded the contract, the Frisco-based MTX Group.

Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton have defended the contract. Abbott did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawmakers are seeking a court order voiding the contract for lack of statutory authorization and deeming unconstitutional the governor’s application of the Texas Disaster Act of 1975, which gives him broad powers in the case of an emergency, in granting the contract.

“The Texas Constitution requires a separation of powers, and that separation leaves policy-making decisions with the Texas Legislature,” the lawsuit states. “These decisions are not changed by pandemics.”

Abbott has declined to convene a special session since March when the coronavirus pandemic began, instead leaning on his emergency powers to issue a series of sweeping executive orders governing what businesses can open, where people can gather in public, and mandating safety measures including wearing face coverings in public.

While the law has been used by governors for years, the time span of the coronavirus-related orders is unprecedented and raises questions about the durability of that legal justification.

As the story notes, the Supreme Court just rejected several Hotze lawsuits relating to executive emergency powers, saying he lacked standing. I don’t know if that is likely to be an issue in this case or not. I still agree with the basic premise that we need to have a robust debate about the parameters of the Texas Disaster Act, including when the Governor should be compelled to call a special session so that the Lege can be involved in the decision-making process. I also still think that this is a lousy way to have that debate, and while these five legislators have more gravitas than Hotze, that’s a low bar to clear. To put it another way, the anti-face mask and quarantine lobby still isn’t sending their best.

There’s no doubt that the contact tracng deal was a boondoggle, and I welcome all scrutiny on it. And I have to admit, as queasy as I am with settling these big questions about emergency powers by litigation, there isn’t much legislators can do on their own, given that they’re not in session and can’t be in session before January unless Abbott calls them into a session. I’m not sure what the right process for this should have been, given the speed and urgency of the crisis. The Lege very much needs to address these matters in the spring, but I’m leery of making any drastic changes to the status quo before then. In some ways, this is the best argument I’ve seen against our tradition of having a Legislature that only meets every two years. Some things just can’t wait, and we shouldn’t have to depend on the judgment of the Governor to fill in the gaps. I hope some of the brighter lights in our Legislature are thinking about all this. The Trib has more.

So how’s Greg Abbott doing post-mask order?

Greg Abbott consistently polls as the politician with the highest approval rating in the state. He was basking in adulation a few weeks ago when things were reopening and the coronavirus numbers still looked good. How are things going for him now that he’s had to shut down the bars and require masks and we’re all worried about the hospitals overflowing? Well, there’s this:

The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office says it will not enforce Gov. Greg Abbott’s order requiring most Texans to wear masks when they’re in public.

In a statement, the agency said it “will take NO actions to enforce” the order, arguing that it is unenforceable because it doesn’t allow law enforcement to detain, arrest or jail violators.

“This language strips law enforcement of the necessary tools to enforce compliance with the law,” the agency said.

[…]

The sheriff’s office argued the order could subject it to civil liability if deputies stop someone for failing to wear a mask and it is misconstrued as a detention. The agency said “holding someone for the purpose of issuing a citation related to a fine is a legally defined detention under current Texas law.”

“We are in a public health crisis and we will use this opportunity to educate our community while still respecting individual liberties,” the sheriff’s office said.

They did say they would respond to a call from a business who had a customer who refused to wear a mask upon entering. Sheriffs from a couple of other Republican counties have made similar statements as well. I mean, I can kind of see their point here, and as we know Greg Abbott basically destroyed the legitimacy of any kind of enforcement mechanism for mask and stay-at-home orders in the Shelley Luther debacle. It’s still a bit stunning to see a Republican sheriff say publicly that they won’t do what Abbott wants them to do. They appear to have no fear of political blowback.

Which leads us to this:

The Ector County Republican Party voted Saturday to censure Gov. Greg Abbott, accusing him of overstepping his authority in responding to the coronavirus pandemic, while state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, called for a special session so lawmakers could have a say in how Texas proceeds amid soaring caseloads.

The party executive committee in Ector County, home to Odessa, passed the censure resolution 10-1, with one abstention and three voting members who were not present, according to the chairperson, Tisha Crow. She said she was among those who supported the resolution, which accuses Abbott of violating five party principles related to his exercise of executive power during the pandemic.

While the resolution asks that delegates to the state convention later this month consider — and affirm — Ector County’s action, Crow said consideration is “not guaranteed,” and one precinct chair, Aubrey Mayberry, said the resolution “doesn’t have any teeth” for now — but that it was important to send a message about what they consider Abbott’s overreach.

Mayberry, who voted for the resolution, said he was working with precinct chairs in other Texas counties to get similar resolutions passed ahead of the convention.

That’s a pretty direct slap in the face, and with the state GOP convention almost upon us, the potential for this to become A Thing is substantial. Will that represent some steam that has been blown off, or will it be the first step towards a serious rebellion? That’s an excellent question.

[State Sen. Charles] Perry wrote Saturday on Facebook that he is “deeply concerned about the unilateral power being used with no end in sight.”

“This is why I urge Governor Abbott to convene a special session to allow the legislature to pass legislation and hold hearings regarding the COVID-19 response,” Perry said. “It should not be the sole responsibility of one person to manage all of the issues related to a disaster that has no end in sight.”

In the upper chamber, state Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, has also called for a special session, as have several House Republicans.

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer had previously called on Abbott to work with the Legislature on COVID response instead of acting so unilaterally, though he’s a Democrat and I didn’t see the words “special session” in that article. As I have said repeatedly, the extent of the Governor’s emergency powers is a subject that really demands further discussion, and so far all we’ve gotten is a bunch of Hotze/Woodfill lawsuits, which is the worst possible way to come to a decision about what Abbott and whoever succeeds him can and cannot do. Among other things, I think this is exposing a real weakness in our 20-weeks-every-other-year legislative calendar, precisely because there’s a lot of things that the Lege can and should be doing right now, but is unable to because they’re not in session. The same was true in 2017 following Hurricane Harvey, though at least there everyone understood what the emergency actions were for and there was a clearer metric for when they would be lifted.

I would argue that legislators need to think about proposing some constitutional amendments to 1) more clearly define the parameters of the Governor’s executive power, and 2) maybe automatically trigger a special session under certain crisis conditions. I obviously haven’t thought this all through, and I don’t want to see legislators rushing forth with half-baked ideas, but I am serious that we need to take a look at this. The current model of “Governor hands down orders from on high that no one knew were coming and then gets sued by a couple of crackpots from Houston so that the courts can eventually sort it all out” doesn’t seem like it’s sustainable.

Age discrimination lawsuit filed over vote by mail

This is something new.

Citing the threats of the coronavirus, six Texas voters filed suit in federal court Wednesday challenging restrictions that limit age eligibility for voting-by-mail to those 65 and older.

In a lawsuit filed in San Antonio, the voters — all between the ages of 18 and 28 — claim the Texas election code violates the 26th Amendment’s protections against voting restrictions that discriminate based on age. While all Texas voters 65 and older can request a mail-in ballot, those younger than 65 must meet a narrow set of requirements to qualify.

The voters are backed by the National Redistricting Foundation, an affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee chaired by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The lawsuit cites the urgency brought on by the coronavirus outbreak in asking a federal judge to remedy what they argue are discriminatory and unconstitutional age restrictions.

“Having opted to make mail-in voting an option for voters in Texas, Defendants may not constitutionally choose to restrict access to the franchise to voters for no other reason than the fact that they are 18 years old, 25 years old, or 64-and-a-half years old. Period,” the lawsuit argues. “While the Absentee Ballot Age Restriction would be unconstitutional under any event, in the current circumstances its application is unconscionable.”

[…]

As part of that fight, the Texas Democratic Party also filed a federal lawsuit arguing that holding a traditional election under the conditions brought on by the coronavirus — with current rules for mail-in voting in place — would violate several constitutional protections for voters, including the 26th Amendment.

But the newest lawsuit zeroes in wholly on a violation of the 26th Amendment in asking a federal judge to declare age restrictions for voting-by-mail unconstitutional to allow voters under the age of 65 to use that voting option.

“To be sure, some number of Texans will need to vote in person in these coming elections, even if mail voting is widely available,” the lawsuit reads. “But foreclosing this option to millions of members of the electorate simply on account of their age is facially unconstitutional.”

See here for more on the TDP’s federal lawsuit; there is now an order from the state lawsuit that would end this 65-and-over-only restriction. Shortly after I saw the news item for this lawsuit, the TDP announced that it had filed a motion for a preliminary injunction in the federal suit. We’re going to get some kind of action on this front in short order.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a lawsuit like this before, and didn’t think much about it. Mark Joseph Stern breaks this down:

Although it is often viewed as a simple promise that Americans can vote upon turning 18, the 26th Amendment is actually a broad ban on age-based voting restrictions. It declares that the right to vote “shall not be denied or abridged” for citizens 18 and over “on account of age.” In other words, the amendment does not just protect 18-year-olds’ ability to vote. It also forbids any law that abridges adult citizens’ right to vote because of their age. The amendment established a policy against laws that burden an adult’s suffrage due to their youth, reflecting a national consensus that younger adults deserve fully equal access to the ballot. As Yael Bromberg detailed in her groundbreaking study

Initially, courts adopted this view of the amendment. For instance, when striking down a policy that disenfranchised students living on campus, the New Jersey Supreme Court wrote in 1972 that the amendment “clearly evidences the purpose not only of extending the voting right to young voters but also of encouraging their participation by the elimination of all unnecessary burdens and barriers.” And the U.S. Supreme Court’s only 26th Amendment decision, Symm v. United States, struck down a county policy that singled out college students for special scrutiny when they registered to vote, forcing them to reveal personal information that ostensibly helped the registrar determine whether they qualified. Other courts invalidated similar laws that made it more difficult for college students to vote, even when they did not fully disenfranchise them. of the 26th Amendment, Congress said as much when considering the amendment in 1971: The Senate expressed its desire to remove “special burdens” on “young voters,” while the House of Representatives sought to abolish any voting law that had “the purpose or effect of discriminating on account of age.”

It is impossible to reconcile these decisions with contemporary laws that forbid adults of a certain age from voting by mail. In fact, it is remarkable that such laws remain on the books nearly a half-century after the ratification of the 26th Amendment. Today, most litigation over the amendment involves overt efforts to suppress college students’ suffrage—as when Florida attempted to outlaw early-voting sites on university campuses. (A federal judge blocked the rule as an unconstitutional age-based voting discrimination.) But the Constitution provides no lesser protection to voters age 18–64 who wish to vote absentee. As voting rights expert Joshua A. Douglas told me on Wednesday: “This is a strong claim. The 26th Amendment not only forbids states from denying the right to vote on the basis of age over 18. It also prohibits them from ‘abridging’ the right to vote based on age. Yet the Texas law does exactly that: impose discriminatory voting rules on the basis of age.”

Well, voting rights advocates have had a rough go of it lately in federal courts, but this approach may just work. I very much look forward to seeing how this plays out. The Chron has more.

More on the potential delay of redistricting

Some further details from the Statesman.

On Monday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced that, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, all Census Bureau field operations would be canceled until June 1, and the agency would not be able to complete the count until Oct. 31.

Ross wants Congress to enact legislation delaying the deadline for delivering apportionment counts to President Donald Trump from Dec. 31 to April 30, 2021, and for delivering redistricting data to the states from March 31, 2021, to July 31, 2021. Ross said he couldn’t rule out further delays.

That would mean that Texas lawmakers would not have the numbers they need to redraw political districts in the upcoming 140-day regular session, which ends on May 31, 2021.

The Texas Constitution requires that the Legislature redraw state Senate and House maps “at its first regular session after the publication of each United States decennial census.”

But, with the delay, that would not be until 2023, too late for the 2022 elections.

“Texas will have to have a special session to do redistricting,” said Michael Li, the former Dallas attorney who is now senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, where his work focuses on redistricting, voting rights and elections.

Depending on the census count, Texas is expected to add three seats to the 36 it already has in the U.S. House. Li said that, under federal election law, if new maps have not been drawn in time for the 2022 election, any new seats would be elected at-large.

“Or alternatively, a court might draw maps,” Li said.

The same likely would be true if the Legislature fails to draw state House and Senate districts in time for the 2022 election.

[…]

[If] the Legislature were able to take up redistricting in the 2021 session, Republicans would be well situated even if the House and Senate were unable to pass a state legislative redistricting plan that was signed by the governor, because responsibility for devising a plan would then fall on the Legislative Redistricting Board made up of the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the House, the Texas attorney general, the state comptroller and the land commissioner. Unless Democrats take control of the Texas House in 2020 and elect a Democratic speaker, all those officials are Republicans.

That Legislative Redistricting Board provision does not apply in a special session.

The provision in the Texas Constitution means that even if the Legislature, meeting in special session, drew new state legislative lines in 2021, it would have to repeat the process when it convenes in regular session in 2023, said Eric Opiela, an election lawyer and former executive director and associate general counsel to the Texas Republican Party, with long experience in redistricting.

That means that Democrats, who have made flipping the Texas House the centerpiece of their 2020 campaign, “might have two bites at the apple” — the 2020 and 2022 elections — to gain control of the House in time for the last word on redistricting, he said.

The 120-day delay makes redistricting in time for the March 2022 primary, “tough but still manageable, but if there are further delays, then you start bumping into the filing period for candidates and potentially the primary,” Li said.

“The extension is in everyone’s interest, however,” Li said. “Texas is behind in census responses, and it’s important from the standpoint of Texans that the bureau have the time to get the census as right as possible.”

See here for the background. The relevant Constitutional amendment is this one. The 2013 Legislature did indeed revisit the House and Senate maps following the 2011 special session that drew them, but that was also for the purpose of amending the maps to conform with the interim districts the federal court had already drawn for the 2012 election. There are two scenarios where Dems have real leverage. One is in 2021 with a Dem majority in the House. The Legislative Redistricting Board can draw most maps if there’s no agreement between the House and the Senate, but it can’t draw a new Congressional map. That would go to a three-judge panel if all else failed, and it’s not hard to imagine the Republicans not wanting to roll the dice on that. In that situation, there would be lots of room for some horse trading, with legislative maps and a Congressional map that all cater to incumbent protection over maximal partisan gain. I’m not saying this would happen, but it could.

Alternately, Democrats could win or maintain the House in 2022 and win enough statewide offices, including Governor, to force a redraw in 2023 or direct it if a redraw is mandated because the previous exercise had been done in a special session. It should be noted that the same opportunity exists for Republicans, who start out in a much stronger position to make it happen – they would just need to take back the House (this situation only applies if they didn’t have control of the House in 2021) and re-elect Greg Abbott. I definitely have some fear of this scenario playing out, as it is not at all far-fetched, and the 2003 experience shows that they have no shyness when it comes to a bit of mid-decade map-drawing.

All this is getting way ahead of ourselves. For now, the main point is that any delay in the Census has a big ripple effect in Texas, thanks to the legislative calendar and our early-in-the-year primaries. Such a delay is almost certainly necessary to get an accurate count, but it doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and we need to be aware of what would happen as a result. This is a subject we will come back to again and again between now and January.

The Jerry Davis situation

Someday, this is going to be taught in political science classes. And possibly law schools.

CM Jerry Davis

The ongoing election dispute in District B has put Jerry Davis in a peculiar position, seemingly caught between two provisions of the Texas Constitution as he challenges longtime incumbent state Rep. Harold Dutton in the March 3 Democratic primary.

And it is unlikely to change until the courts clear the way for voters to cast ballots in the long-delayed runoff for his council seat.

Until then, Davis is stuck in the council seat he was supposed to leave in January because of term limits.

[…]

With no new council member seated by the first of the year, Article XVI, Sec. 17 of the Texas Constitution kicked in, requiring Davis to remain in the District B seat until his successor can be elected and seated.

“All officers of this State shall continue to perform the duties of their offices until their successors shall be duly qualified,” the provision reads.

When Davis filed Dec. 9 to challenge Dutton for the District 142 seat in the Texas House, it raised another constitutional clause, this one found in Article III, Sec. 19.

That provision says no public official who holds a “lucrative office… shall during the term for which is he elected or appointed, be eligible to the Legislature.”

Texas Supreme Court rulings have held that any paid public office, no matter how small the compensation, is considered “lucrative.” Additionally, the high court has ruled that the eligibility requirement extends to one’s candidacy.

A Houston city council salary is around $63,000 a year.

To date, no one has challenged Davis’ eligibility.

The councilman said he believes he is in the clear because his elected term ended in January. Democratic Party officials, tasked with determining eligibility for primary candidates, say they believe he qualifies because his appointed term as a hold-over should end long before he would join the Legislature next January if he wins.

And Dutton has not lodged any complaints or challenges. That could change, should Davis prevail in the March election.

Buck Wood, an authority on Texas election law who has represented clients in landmark Supreme Court rulings on the subject, said the law holds that candidates have to be eligible while they are running for office, not just on the date they take it.

Since Davis still is on the council, someone could make the case that he is not eligible, he said.

“The problem is, the court has also held that you have to be eligible as of the date that you file,” Wood said.

The interaction of those two constitutional clauses is an open legal question, left unresolved for now by Texas judges.

“The courts have not ruled on that hold-over provision,” he said.

It gets deeper into the weeds from there, and I’ll leave it to you to read up. For now, all is well and legal and good. Until such time as someone files a lawsuit – either Dutton over Davis’ eligibility to be on the ballot (an irony that may wash us all into the sea), or a city resident alleging that some action Davis has taken since January 1 as Council member is invalid, or maybe some other claim I can’t envision right now – there are no problems. Maybe we’ll make it all the way to the (we hope) May runoff in District B and there will still be no problems. It can all come crashing down at any time, and if that happens it’ll tie up the legal system for years, but for now, make like Wile E. Coyote and keep on running. As far as you know, the end of that cliff has not yet arrived.

(Note: this story ran, and I drafted this post, before the ruling in the District B runoff lawsuit. The fundamentals are the same, as Davis will still be serving till we have a runoff winner.)

Flynn officially on HD138 primary ballot

Score two for formerly-booted candidates.

Josh Flynn

In mediation last Friday, [candidate Josh Flynn and the Harris County Republican Party] agreed that Flynn would appear on the upcoming primary ballot [for HD138].

[HCRP Chair Paul] Simpson said in a statement that he challenged Flynn’s eligibility to “protect the integrity of the ballot,” and continued to dispute that Flynn should be allowed to run.

“As Texas law also requires, we agreed that Mr. Flynn’s name will remain on the primary ballot, even though he is ineligible to run,” Simpson said.

An attorney for Simpson and the party echoed that.

“We’ve left (Flynn) on the ballot because the law requires us to do so, but unless a judge rules otherwise, he’s still ineligible,” said Trey Trainor, an Austin-based attorney.

Regardless of the outcome of the primary, lingering ambiguity about Flynn’s eligibility could be bad for the Republican Party, Rice University political science Professor Mark Jones said.

If Flynn wins the primary, Jones said, his Democratic opponent in the general election could seek to have him declared ineligible. And they would be able to use the Republican Party’s own words to bolster that claim.

The Texas Supreme Court then would need to rule on whether Flynn was allowed to run, and clarify what is or is not a “lucrative office.”

If such a decision goes against Flynn, local precinct chairs would appoint a replacement candidate, which Jones said could be seen as a subversion of the voters’ will.

Even if a court sides with Flynn, Jones said, the legal dispute could cost valuable time, money and resources in the race for House District 138, which GOP Rep. Dwayne Bohac won by only 47 votes in 2018. Bohac announced late last year that he would not seek reelection.

See here and here for the background. I don’t have much else to add – I thought Flynn had the stronger case, and I think the Lege ought to clarify this situation. How much any of this matters, in March and in November, I have no idea. If the district is still on the razor’s edge, then every little bit does count, but given the way things have been going, maybe it’s all academic. As with all the other races of interest, let’s see what the finance reports tell us.

Flynn stays on GOP primary ballot for now

There’s still litigation to come, but I think he’s got a good case and will probably win.

Josh Flynn

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has weighed in on a lawsuit accusing the Harris County Republican Party of improperly declaring a candidate for the Texas legislature ineligible because he previously held a “lucrative office.”

At issue in the suit is the candidacy of Josh Flynn, a Republican who is running for House District 38 and who, until earlier this month, had been a trustee for the Harris County Department of Education.

Though trustees earn just $6 per meeting, the Texas Supreme Court has ruled that “an office is lucrative if the officeholder receives any compensation, no matter how small.”

Flynn was previously declared ineligible for the race by county GOP Chairman Paul Simpson, who said that Flynn had submitted his resignation as a trustee to the wrong person at the county education board.

Flynn sought a temporary restraining order that was granted this week by a district court judge.

In a separate filing, Paxton stopped short of siding with Flynn, but wrote that “the law in Texas is clear that a candidate who effectively resigns from the conflicting office may be a candidate for the legislature.”

[…]

Flynn, meanwhile, will have to wait until their next scheduled court date in January to move forward with his candidacy — though his attorney, former Harris County Republican Party Chairman Jared Woodfill, said he is confident that Flynn will prevail.

See here for the previous update. I don’t think anyone is questioning that Flynn had to resign – if that were the issue here, I’d be fully in support of Paul Simpson’s position – it’s basically a question of whether he handed in his resignation letter properly. That to me is too thin a reason to disqualify him, and even though it gives me a rash to agree with Jared Woodfill, I think he’s right about how the case will go.

On the broader resign-to-run question, I am generally in favor of reforming the system we have now, which requires some officeholders – mostly county officeholders, like sheriff and commissioner and constable – to resign to run for other offices, with some legacy variations in there for obscure offices like HCDE Trustee. Because only some people have to do it and not others – like state legislators, for example – it provides an advantage to one class of incumbents, and that feels wrong to me. On balance, I think letting most officeholders serve while running for something else would be better. I doubt the Lege will address this – the current system benefits them, after all – but I would be in favor if they did.

Another “resign to run” question

Reply hazy, ask again.

Josh Flynn

A state law that deems certain officeholders ineligible for the Legislature is raising questions about whether Texas House candidate Josh Flynn is allowed to run for the seat while keeping his current position as a Harris County Department of Education trustee.

Flynn, one of three Republicans to file for the House District 138 primary in March, joined the HCDE board in January after winning the Position 4, Precinct 3 election in 2018. The board elected Flynn president at his first meeting.

The law in question is a section of the Texas Constitution that deems “any person holding a lucrative office under the United States” ineligible for the Legislature. The law does not define “lucrative office,” but a 1992 Texas Supreme Court opinion issued by then-justice John Cornyn determined that “an office is lucrative if the office holder receives any compensation, no matter how small.”

Flynn and his fellow HCDE trustees receive $6 per meeting, as required by state law.

The Constitution and the Supreme Court opinion do not appear to specify when “lucrative” officeholders must resign in order to be eligible. However, a 1995 attorney general letter opinion determined that the law “does not disqualify the holder of a lucrative office from running for the legislature … if the officeholder resigns from the lucrative office before filing for the legislature.”

Asked about his resignation plans, Flynn wrote in an email, “If I were to win the election in November of 2020, then I will resign my position with the HCDE.”

[…]

Kay Smith, a former HCDE trustee, resigned her position on the board in November 2015 to mount an unsuccessful run for House District 130 the following year. Eric Dick, a current board member, is running for Houston City Council and was able to retain his seat, department officials confirmed to the Chronicle earlier this year. The constitutional “lucrative office” provision applies to the Legislature and does not reference municipal offices.

In a statement, Paul Simpson, chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, said, “We have not yet certified any candidate for the ballot, and will evaluate any challenges as required by law.”

Am I the only one who remembers Roy Morales, who not only did not resign to run for City Council in 2007, or for Mayor in 2009, or for Congress against Gene Green in 2010? I don’t remember there being a question raised about whether or not Morales needed to resign for any of those races, but I admit it’s long enough ago that I just might have forgotten. I suppose if “the Legislature” is the only office that one could seek where this provision matters then it wasn’t an issue. Sure seems like this would be a good thing to clean up in the next Lege, along with that question about the rights of felons who have completed their sentences. In the meantime, we’ll see what the county GOP says about this.

You really have to plan for every election

Whether or not they actually happen.

Judge Michael Keasler

For months, Democrats Mark Watson and Mike Snipes have been running 2020 campaigns for Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Place 6. They’ve raised money, filed official paperwork, gathered signatures, traveled to far corners of the state, devoured East Texas delicacies, created Facebook pages, won endorsements, launched websites and given interviews with journalists.

There’s just one problem: There is probably not going to be an election.

The current occupant of that seat, Republican Judge Michael Keasler, is 77, and according to the state’s mandatory retirement law for judges, he must finish his decades of service on the state’s highest criminal court by the end of next year at the latest. State law permits him to finish four years of the six-year term he was elected to in 2016.

According to the Texas Constitution, Keasler’s seat will become vacant at the end of next December, and Gov. Greg Abbott is empowered to fill judicial vacancies. But the little-known and rarely relevant law seems to have led to some confusion: Would Keasler’s seat be filled in 2021 by the governor, or in 2020 by the voters?

If the Democrats were confused, they certainly weren’t the only ones.

In August, when an official from the state Democratic Party emailed state elections administrators to ask whether there would be a race, a lawyer for the secretary of state’s office reported that there would.

“I figured it out,” wrote Christina Adkins in an Aug. 15 email obtained by The Texas Tribune. “Judge Keasler is subject to mandatory retirement so his position is on the ballot in 2020.”

The race was included on the state’s list of offices up for election in 2020, posted earlier this year, and remained there as recently as Wednesday morning. Later that day, a Texas Tribune journalist emailed the agency to ask whether the seat would be up in 2020. As of Thursday, it was no longer listed on the state’s website.

A spokesman for the agency said Friday that “there is no vacancy until December 31, 2020, and the office is not already on the ballot.”

The story includes a before-and-after screenshot from the SOS website, which one day did list CCA6 as a 2020 race and then the next day did not. At this point, I’d have to say that barring anything unexpected this race will next be on the 2022 ballot as currently scheduled. At least Watson and Snipes will be ready to hit the ground running when that time comes around.

2019 election results: State

Nine out of ten Constitutional amendments are on their way to passing.

Amendments to the state constitution that would make it harder to enact a state income tax, stabilize funding for state parks and allow retired law enforcement animals to be adopted by their handlers received wide support from voters Tuesday.

Supporters of one of the most contentious issues on the ballot — Proposition 4 — proclaimed victory within hours of the polls closing, with about three fourths of voters supporting the proposal in early voting returns.

[…]

The only item on the ballot that looked as though it might not pass was Proposition 1, which would permit elected municipal court judges to serve multiple municipalities at the same times. With votes still being counted late Tuesday, returns indicated that it had received just over one-third of the vote.

The other propositions were poised to pass easily. Proposition 5 would stabilize funding for state parks and received overwhelming support. The proposition allows money accumulated from existing sales tax on sporting goods to be used for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission. Current law allows the Legislature to allocate that money however they see fit.

Proposition 10, which had the highest level of support, amends the state constitution to allow retired service animals, such as dogs or horses, to be adopted by their handlers or other qualified caretakers. These animals are currently classified as surplus property or salvage and can be “auctioned, donated or destroyed.”

Prop 4 is terrible, but that usually doesn’t stop us. I just hope it’s not as bad as I fear it may be.

Meanwhile, in Fort Bend:

Eliz Markowitz

A Democrat and a Republican were leading in unofficial returns Tuesday night in a nationally targeted special election for a historically Republican Texas House seat.

Democrat Eliz Markowitz — the only Democrat in the race — was in first place, while Republican Gary Gates was in second, according to unofficial returns. The race will head to a runoff if no candidate gets over 50%.

Gates was one of three serious GOP candidates out of six total. The two other viable Republicans in the race, Tricia Krenek and Anna Allred, were third and fourth, respectively. Allred appeared to concede at about 10:30 p.m., saying she was “disappointed with the results” but “pleased with our campaign.”

The race for House District 28 — where former state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, stepped down at the end of September — was one of three contests Tuesday to fill state House seats. The two others happened in solidly Democratic districts where runoffs were also looking likely, based on the early vote and initial Election Day results.

In House District 100, where former Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, vacated his seat earlier this year after becoming Dallas mayor, Democrat Lorraine Birabil had a wide lead over three Democratic rivals but had not clinched more than half the vote. James Armstrong III, Daniel Davis Clayton and Sandra Crenshaw were in a close race for second place and a spot in an expected runoff.

Here are the results from Fort Bend County for HD28, and Dallas County for HD100. The SOS election night results webpage is bizarre and not up to date, so skip it for now.

Markowitz got 39.1% of the vote, with Gates getting 28.5%, Tricia Krenek 18.1%, and Anna Allred 9.3%. While I expect Republicans to unite for the runoff, I can’t help but feel that Gates was their third best choice in this race. His main asset is that he’s loaded and willing to spend on himself, which I figure helped him in this race. How much he’ll excite voters as that kind of candidate in December is the question. I feel very certain he won’t have a clear path to the GOP nomination in the March primary. Here’s the Chron story on this race.

I’m saving the HD148 race for last, because of the delay in Harris County results (see here for why that happened.) As of 5 AM, we still didn’t have full results. The best I can tell you at this time is this:


Eastman     1,870  17.87%
La Rotta    1,818  17.37%
McConnico   1,266  12.10%
Garcia      1,261  12.05%
Leal          904   8.64%
Shaw          853   8.15%
Watt          667   6.37%
Camarena      473   4.52%
Carmona       433   4.14%
Block         311   2.97%
Nunez         185   1.77%
Denson        165   1.58%
Trevino       140   1.34%
Mundy          71   0.68%
Isaacson       49   0.47%

There’s still a lot of votes out as of this post, so things can change quite a bit. My initial speculation that some people may vote for Adrian Garcia based on the belief that he’s the County Commissioner appears to have had some validity. Beyond that, we’re just going to need to wait and see what the final tally says. Note that the total Republican vote is 34% – Ryan McConnico got 32% against Jessica Farrar a year ago. Put a pin in this one, we’ll come back to it. Oh, and as with the Republicans in HD28, I don’t think Anna Eastman (assuming nothing weird happens between now and the final count) will have a clear path in March, either.

2019 election results: Elsewhere

I think we can all agree that this was the most important race on anyone’s ballot.

Shelley Sekula-Gibbs

One of the most contested elections in the brief history of The Woodlands Township Board of Directors came to a close Tuesday night, as Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, Ann Snyder and Bob Milner claimed unofficial victories over challengers for the three open seats on the seven-member board.

[…]

The battle for the Position 5 seat to replace retiring director John McMullan featured the most money raised by candidates of any of the three seat races in 2019, with both Shelley Sekula-Gibbs and Rashmi Gupta spending more than $20,000 each on the race while Walter Cooke spent more than $11,000 on his campaign.

At the end of early voting, Sekula-Gibbs has a sizable lead over both Gupta and Cooke with more than 1,600 vote lead over both before Tuesday’s ballots were counted.

With the results from Tuesday counted, Sekula-Gibbs easily nabbed an unofficial victory despite having only resided in the township for less than 20 months compared to her opponents, who combined have lived in The Woodlands more than 53 years.

A former three-term member of the Houston City Council, Sekula-Gibbs also holds the dubious distinction of being a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for one of the shortest time periods in U.S. History, serving about seven weeks but having only less than 10 days of duty in office. Her term in Congress was result of being elected in a special election in late 2006 to replace outgoing former Speaker of the House Tom Delay. Sekula-Gibbs is listed as having served seven weeks in the House of Representatives.

sniff The great ones always have one more run in them. We missed you, Shelley. I know we can expect big things from you.

In all seriousness, the big news nationally were the Democratic sweeps of the Virginia legislature, a result that may ultimately mean new life for the long-dormant Equal Rights Amendment, and the amazing victory in the Kentucky Governor’s race by Andy Beshear over extreme Trumpite Matt Bevin. Other results of interest came from Tucson, AZ, which just elected its first female and first Latinx Mayor, Regina Romero, Plymouth, NC, which just elected its first black Mayor, and Delaware County, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia, which elected a Democratic county government for the first time before the Civil War. And last but not least, there’s this:

Juli Briskman, who famously flipped off President Donald Trump’s motorcade in a viral 2017 photo, won her race Tuesday night for a seat on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors in Virginia.

God bless America.

Endorsement watch: Constitutional amendments

As you know, there are ten constitutional amendments up for a vote on the November ballot. They will be on everyone’s ballot, and depending where you are may be the only things on your ballot. The Chron makes their recommendations on them. I’ll highlight three of the ten:

Vote no on Proposition 1. To allow certain municipal judges to be elected to more than one office at the same time. We urge voters to reject the amendment. Even in small communities, candidates running for local office ought to be local residents. Existing law already allows for elected municipal judges to be appointed to serve in another court, but expanding that laxity to elected positions as well is unnecessary and unwise.

Vote no on Proposition 4. To ban outright an income tax for Texas.

There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead, as any fan of the cult classic Princess Bride knows well. If you’re mostly dead, Miracle Max the Wizard can work up a chocolate-covered pill to bring you back to life. If a person is all dead, the wizard says there’s only one thing to do: “Go through his pockets and look for loose change.”

Proposition 4 was designed to make sure that the wildly unpopular notion of a statewide personal income tax in Texas is not just mostly dead but all dead.

Voters already approved a constitutional amendment in 1993 that prevents lawmakers from enacting an income tax unless voters agree to it.

Proposition 4 would ban an income tax outright.

Yet, while that sounds awfully final, Miracle Max could still find a way around it. Say Prop 4 passes and becomes part of the Constitution. Any constitutional provision can be changed by a two-thirds vote in the Legislature and a popular vote.

In the end, though, it’s unclear why a change is needed. What’s more, some argue Prop 4’s wording of “individual income tax” is vague enough to draw a court challenge that could extend the ban to businesses, which could cost the state billions in revenue. Why take that risk?

We say vote “Against” and leave dead enough alone.

Vote yes on Proposition 9. To create a tax exemption for precious metal stored in the Texas Bullion Depository. Texas is the only state with a state-run metal depository, but some legislators thought allowing property taxes on precious metals puts the state at a competitive disadvantage. In one way, the amendment is superfluous, in that counties already don’t enforce property tax on precious metals. But by putting that exemption in law, it could boost the chance of the Texas depository joining COMEX, the leading marketplace for precious metals exchange. That’s a good thing and we urge voters to support this proposition.

See here for further discussion of the amendments. The Chron recommended a Yes for the rest; I agree with that, and with the No on Prop 4. I lean towards a Yes on Prop 1, and I’m a definite No on Prop 9. The whole Texas Bullion Depository thing is ridiculous, and I refuse to legitimize it in any way. The vast majority of these pass, usually with a strong majority, so to some extent this is just an expression of one’s feelings more than an exercise in democracy. But you never know, and some of these really do matter. Read up and do your duty.

More on the Constitutional amendments

I found this while answering a question from a reader, and figured it was worth publicizing to a wider audience.

Ten proposed constitutional amendments will be on the November ballot. The Texas League of Women Voters has compiled a nice list of the amendments along with important voting deadlines. Compare the pros and cons of each proposed amendment, and prepare to cast your vote on Election Day, November 5, 2019.

Proposed Constitutional Amendments

  1. Municipal Judges

  2. Assistance for Water Projects in Distressed Areas

  3. Tax Relief for Disaster Areas

  4. Personal Income Tax

  5. Sporting Goods Tax to Support State Parks

  6. Cancer Prevention & Research

  7. Funding Public Education

  8. Flood Control

  9. Tax Exemption of Precious Metals

  10. Law Enforcement Animals

See here for previous blogging on the topic. The links above go to League of Women Voters of Texas pages, each with For and Against arguments for each item, and a video explaining it. I’d have gone deeper on the reasons to vote against Prop 4, and I’d definitely have mentioned the “individual” versus “natural person” loophole that may make this thing a whole lot more expensive than it looks, but overall the LWV did a good job. In the meantime, the Trib and the Chron have written about the proposed amendments, Prop 5 is being pushed by environmentalists, and the latest edition of the H-Town Progressive podcast features Andrea Greer and host Rob Icsezen discussing them. Read – or listen – up and know what you’re voting on.

A look at the Constitutional amendments we will see this November

There are ten of them, including a couple I will vote against as hard as I can.

House Joint Resolution 4 would let the Texas Water Development dole out dollars from a flood infrastructure fund — created by Senate Bill 7, which would spend $1.7 billion from the rainy day fund — to be used for planning, seeking permits for or constructing flood-related projects. SB 7 is awaiting Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature.

If approved by voters, the flood infrastructure fund would be created at the start of next year.

HJR 34 would let the Legislature temporarily lower tax rates on property damaged during a disaster declared by the governor. House Bill 492 would set the initial tax exemption rates, up to a full exemption, according to the extent of the damage.

HJR 38 would ban the creation of a state income tax, doubling down on a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1993 that requires voters’ permission for the Legislature to create a state income tax.

[…]

HJR 95 creates a tax exemption for precious metals held in the Texas Bullion Depository, which opened in North Austin in June 2018 with its permanent location in Leander expected to open in December.

While that depository made Texas the only state to have a state-operated depository, HJR 95 author Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, said it is at a competitive disadvantage because it is also the only state allowing local property taxes on precious metals.

HJR 72 intends to ease the pressure put on smaller communities to find municipal judges by allowing one person to be elected to multiple cities’ judgeships. Currently a person can only hold multiple municipal judgeships by being appointed to each one.

Senate Joint Resolution 32 would let police dogs and other law enforcement animals retire in their old age to live with their handler or other caretaker. The state constitution currently prevents law enforcement from transferring valuable property to a private person or organization for free.

The other four are HJR12, HJR151, SJR24, and SJR79, all of which are financial in nature. As you know, I’m going to cast an enthusiastic but almost certainly futile vote against HJ38, the double secret illegal anti-income tax proposition. HJR95 also looks ridiculous to me – the whole Texas Bullion Depository thing is ridiculous, so it comes with the territory, while HJR72 and SJR32 seem reasonable. The rest I’ll figure out later. The ballot wording should be set in August. What do you think about these?

We’re going to vote on making an income tax double secret illegal

It’s definitely time for sine die.

Sen. Pat Fallon

Texas voters will decide in November if they want to bar the imposition of an income tax, following approval of the constitutional amendment by the state Senate on Monday.

The Texas House had approved House Joint Resolution 38, which prohibits the imposition of an individual income tax, earlier this month.

The seemingly anodyne proposal ran into pushback Monday from some Senate Democrats who suggested the bill could cut business taxes, a major source of state money.

There appears to be no threat of an income tax currently — no such bill appears to have been filed, let alone have reached the floor of either chamber, where it would be political kryptonite. And a 1993 constitutional amendment already holds that Texas can adopt a state income tax only if voters approve and that the money would go for the “support of education.”

But Senate Democrats on Monday sparred with Republicans over a seemingly arcane bit of language that could carry big budget implications.

The resolution says that the Legislature may not impose a net income tax on “individuals.”

Democrats, pointing to an analysis by the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Budget Board, said that could be interpreted by courts to apply to businesses, especially because the measure’s language uses that term rather than “natural persons,” which is often used in statutes.

The business levy, long a target of Republicans eager to shave taxes, brings in about $8 billion per biennium, helping to fund public schools.

“The term ‘individuals’ is not defined and could be interpreted to include entities that are currently subject to the state’s franchise tax,” the Legislative Budget Board analysis reads. “To the extent the joint resolution might exempt some entities from the franchise tax, there could be a loss to state revenue.”

[…]

Earlier during the debate, [author Sen. Pat] Fallon said the constitutional amendment would firm up the state’s opposition to income tax.

“I’m always in fear of an income tax,” he said. “Every day I wake up, the thought of Texas having an income tax makes me shudder. Physically shudder, not metaphorically.”

Seriously? Mere words cannot adequately express my reaction to Sen. Fallon’s delicate sensibilities, so mark me down as being somewhere between here and here. I do hope you sleep better tonight, Senator, and if not I recommend warm milk and a bedtime story, preferably one with a happy ending. As for my reaction, here it is:

“Why would pesky LBB fiscal facts be any help when discussing a major source of state revenue for schools?” Eva DeLuna Castro, a budget analyst with the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities, wrote on Twitter. “I mean, it’s not as if major business conglomerates have highly paid tax lawyers waiting in the wings to explain why they are ‘individuals’ too.”

What could possibly go wrong? The Trib and the DMN have more.

McLeod wants back on the bench

That’s fine. He’s got ten months to make his case to Democratic primary voters.

Judge William McLeod

The Harris County Civil Court At Law judge who inadvertently resigned his post in March, and unsuccessfully lobbied Commissioners Court to allow him to remain on the bench, said he plans to run for his former seat in 2020.

Judge Bill McLeod also blasted the three Democratic members who decided to replace him, whom he says had already made their decision before McLeod pleaded for a reprieve at the April 9 Commissioners Court meeting.

“The manner in which commissioners handled it was really a disservice to Harris County voters,” McLeod said Sunday. “I want to take my bench back.”

[…]

McLeod’s resignation spurred a special election in March 2020 to fill the remainder of his term, which runs through 2022. McLeod told Commissioners Court he abandoned his plans to run for the state Supreme Court, and instead wishes to regain his old seat.

Briones said she will campaign next year to remain in the post. Her first day on the bench is Monday.

McLeod said he will make a formal announcement May 15, and plans to return to private practice as a civil litigator until the election.

See here and here for the background. I said my piece in those two posts and don’t have anything to add to that. I have no preference at this time for who should sit on that particular bench. Briones and McLeod will make their cases for themselves, but with all due respect there are other races higher on my mind right now.

Looks like we’re headed for a vote on Daylight Saving Time

Ugh.

Rep. Lyle Larson

On Tuesday, The Texas House passed the first proposal in a two-part legislative plan that would kill twice-a-year time changes and let voters decide in November on Texas’ permanent time. The measure passed on a 133-9 vote.

Proposals to end the back-and-forth time changes have often failed because Texas lawmakers can’t agree on what the state’s permanent time should be: year-round daylight saving time or year-round standard time. Daylight saving time would provide an extra hour of sunlight in the evening whereas standard time would offer an extra hour of sunlight in the morning.

“We shouldn’t be subject to our own prejudice or preference on this. We should allow voters to make the decision,” said San Antonio state Rep. Lyle Larson, the author of the resolution. “I think it’s time to allow the voters to make the decision on whether they want standard time or daylight saving time.”

If both parts of the legislative package are approved by the Legislature, then Texans will see two propositions on their ballots this November.

The first proposition — which would be added by House Joint Resolution 117 — would ask whether a referendum on daylight saving time may take place. The Texas Constitution does not permit a statewide referendum on the issue, so this first question would be necessary for voters to weigh in on the second proposition.

The House will debate the second part of the legislative package on Wednesday, which would prompt the second ballot question: voters’ preference between year-round daylight saving time or year-round standard time.

No matter what Texans pick, the legislative package would nix the current twice-a-year time changes.

While voters would get to weigh in and decide the future of Texas time, there’s a key caveat. If they chose year-round daylight saving time, the state of Texas would need federal approval for this decision — but pending legislation in Congress could squash the need for that approval.

See here for the background. I’m a little confused here – if the first proposition fails, what exactly happens? Does the vote on the second proposition matter in that event, and what if anything changes? I mean, I fully expect that first proposition to pass – lots of people have an irrational hatred of the system, and I can’t envision a pro-DST group springing up to urge its retention – but a clearer explanation would have been nice. Whatever does happen, I wonder how long it will take before people start complaining about whichever system we do adopt. One way or the other, I hate this already.

UPDATE: For clarity, the status quo is not an option.

The ballot language on whether Texas should go year-round to either Daylight Saving Time or Standard Time won tentative approval from the House Wednesday — but not before a vigorous tussle between two experienced and influential Republicans.

If Rep. Lyle Larson’s proposed referendum on time wins a final House nod and then the Senate’s blessing, state voters on Nov. 5 would face this question on the ballot:

“Which of the following do you prefer? Observing standard time year-round. Observing daylight saving time year-round.”

On Wednesday, veteran GOP Rep. John Smithee of Amarillo tried to amend Larson’s enabling bill that would spell out the fine points of how the referendum would be conducted.

Under Smithee’s proposal, voters would be given a third option — as he said, “Leave things as they are, where we switch.”

[…]

On an unrecorded “division vote,” the House shot down Smithee’s attempt to give voters the option of keeping the status quo, 72-70.

Terrible, just terrible. It will be up to the Senate once this gets final approval on Thursday. Call your Senator and demand that if we must vote on this stupid thing, we be given the option of keeping things as they are. As it is, this isn’t a choice at all.

Commissioners Court replaces Judge McLeod

Unfortunate, but understandable.

Judge William McLeod

A divided Harris County Commissioners Court declined to give County Court At Law Judge Bill McLeod a reprieve Tuesday after he inadvertently resigned last week, opting instead to appoint a replacement.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said letting McLeod remain as a holdover judge until a special election for the seat in 2020 was too risky, since he almost would certainly have to recuse himself from cases to which the county was a party, as Commissioners Court would have the power to remove him at any time.

Instead, the court voted 3 to 2 to appoint Houston lawyer Lesley Briones to hold the seat through next year, on the recommendation of Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia.

“I think voters deserve a judge who can be absolutely independent, as he was elected to be,” Hidalgo said. “This would put us in the untenable position that he would no longer be an unbiased person, because he would be beholden to Commissioners Court.”

Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack and Precinct 4’s Jack Cagle voted against the appointment. Cagle told Briones he could not support her since the nomination was made just minutes earlier and he did not have a chance to review her qualifications.

Briones, a Yale Law School graduate and general counsel to the Laura and John Arnold Foundation until December, accepted the appointment on the spot.

“I have deep respect for the law and I respect that you made a hard decision, and I respect the consternation in this room,” Briones said. “But know that I will work extremely hard for everyone.”

See here and here for the background. There were some good legal arguments in favor of retaining Judge McLeod, while Judge Hidalgo’s point is worth taking seriously as well. In the end, I didn’t have a strong opinion one way or the other; I think either decision was defensible. JUst a couple of thoughts to keep in mind as we go forward:

– McLeod’s point that the state constitution is incredibly long and arcane is unquestionably true. It’s also kind of disingenuous coming from a judge. More to the point, this is why potential candidates should talk to a political professional or two before making any public statements about running for office, because there are various weird rules related to candidacy that are easy to stumble over if you don’t know what you’re doing. I can think of a dozen people off the top of my head who could have pointed this out to McLeod before he filed his designation of treasurer. You gotta do your due diligence.

– Not to belabor the point, but there’s a reason why basically nobody had been felled by this problem before. As I said in my first post, nearly every story about then-Sheriff Adrian Garcia’s rumored candidacy for Mayor was accompanied by a discussion of how he couldn’t say anything without triggering the resign-to-run provision. Sheriff isn’t judge, but in this case they’re both county positions. One might well wonder if that provision applied to one job, would it apply to another?

– All that said, let’s not get too high and mighty at Bill McLeod’s expense. Yes, this was a dumb and avoidable mistake, but it’s not like this particular cul-de-sac of our word salad that is the state constitution was a cornerstone of our inviolable values as a state. County court judges have to resign to run for another office, but district court judges and appeals court judges don’t. All five Democrats who ran for statewide judicial positions last year were sitting on a bench while running for something else, and last I checked our state didn’t collapse. The fact that Bill McLeod had to resign is a quirk and not a principle, and it’s at least as dumb as McLeod’s unfortunate action. I’m sorry this happened to him. I’m sure we’ll all take the lesson to check and doublecheck whether “resign to run” applies to whatever office one holds before stating an intention to seek another, but maybe we should also take the lesson that these same rules are arbitrary and ought to be reviewed to see if they still make sense. Campos has more.

They’re coming for Daylight Saving Time

Mark me down as opposed.

Rep. Lyle Larson

A powerful House committee chief on Monday said he’s building support for a constitutional amendment that would stop twice-yearly clock changes.

Rep. Lyle Larson laid out his legislation that would commit the state to following Daylight Saving Time year-round or exempting the state from it, which would make Standard Time the year-round practice.

On Nov. 5, Texans would choose between the two options. The measure would be on the ballot in an off-year, low-turnout constitutional amendment election.

Larson said in an interview he expects the tourism industry, which mostly supports Daylight Saving Time, “might spend some money to educate folks.” Potential opponents include parent and teacher groups, which are concerned that Daylight Saving endangers children by making them wait in the dark for school buses, he said.

Larson’s constitutional amendment and enabling legislation received a hearing before the House State Affairs Committee. The panel didn’t take a vote. Larson, a San Antonio Republican who is head of the House Natural Resources Committee, said he will press for one next week.

“I haven’t heard of any opposition in [State Affairs] committee,” he said.

Martha S. Habluetzel of Ingleside, with the Campaign to Opt Out of Daylight Saving Time in Texas, testified the bill has a least two big defects.

“Congress hasn’t passed a bill to allow year-round Daylight Saving Time,” she noted. Under current federal law, a state only may opt for year-round Standard Time, she said.

Potentially, Larson’s amendment could lead to a bad outcome, Habluetzel said. On Monday, the sun rose at 7:25 a.m., she noted. On Christmas Day, if Texas somehow managed to get itself on year-round Daylight Saving Time, sunrise would be at 8:25 a.m., she said.

“I don’t want the sun coming up at 8:25,” she said.

There is also a joint resolution in the Senate to abolish Daylight Saving Time, which would also require a public vote to be enacted. I’m one of those people who goes to work at a stupidly early hour. It might be daylight when I arrive in the middle of summer, especially if we abandon DST, but otherwise it’s always dark for me in the morning. As such, I appreciate having as much daytime as possible when I get home, which is when it is best experienced. I hope this effort fails, but I fear that sooner or later someone is going to succeed at killing off the late summer sunsets that I so enjoy. Whatever you think, please note that it’s really not DST that you hate, it’s standard time. Please let us not attempt to fix that which is not broken.

More on McLeod

Here’s the Chron story on the bizarre accidental judicial resignation.

Judge William McLeod

The Harris County attorney’s office was notified in March that Judge Bill McLeod, a Democrat presiding over Harris County Court at Law No. 4, had filed a transfer of campaign treasurer appointment with the Texas Ethics Commission stating he was seeking the office of chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court.

Unbeknownst to McLeod, this filing triggered Article 16, Section 65 of the Texas Constitution which considers such an announcement by anyone holding a county judicial post an automatic resignation.

“This is insane,” McLeod said Wednesday. “All of the judges are going, ‘You did what? How? We didn’t even know (the constitutional provision) existed.’”

McLeod, who was elected in November, hopes that a different provision of the constitution will help rectify his mistake. Article 16, Section 17 states that a county Commissioners Court is not required to appoint a successor after a county officer resigns, and “may allow the officeholder who resigned…to remain in office” as a holdover. If this happens, McLeod would have to run again in 2020 even though he was elected to a four-year term.

[…]

McLeod is not the first judicial officer to fall victim to this provision. In 2013, Irene Rios, then a Bexar County (San Antonio) court-at-law judge, told county commissioners she intended to run for chief justice of the 4th Court of Appeals, triggering her automatic resignation. Rios remained in her seat for four weeks after her announcement before tendering her letter of resignation, and she continued to make legal rulings during that time.

A 1999 amendment to the Texas Supreme Court judicial code of conduct further affirms that judges can continue to hold judicial office while being a candidate for another judicial office.

[…]

Rodney Ellis, a Democratic commissioner, was noncommittal on McLeod’s future, stating: “I firmly believe that any action taken by Commissioners Court on this matter must uphold the Texas Constitution above all else and that principle is what will ultimately guide my decision on Tuesday.”

Commissioner Adrian Garcia and a spokeswoman for County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the two other Democrats on the court, did not respond to requests for comment.

Republican Commissioner Steve Radack said he would not be receptive to appointing a holdover for a judicial post.

“If he’s resigned then how can you justify having him as a holdover?” Radack said. “That’s certainly not the spirit of the law.”

See here for the background. As the story notes, the judicial code of conduct doesn’t override the Constitution, it just allows judges that aren’t subject to that Constitutional provision to run for other office while remaining on the bench. If you look at Chapter 16, Section 65, all the offices in question are county offices except for District Attorney. It’s a quirk of the code that’s surely a holdover from an earlier time (note the inclusion of public weighers), and when you think about it there’s no real logic to limiting that restriction to just those offices. But that’s the Constitution we have, so here we are.

As to what happens, who knows? Either three Commissioners agree with the argument that it doesn’t make sense to kick McLeod off the bench, thus allowing him to hold over till the 2020 election, or they don’t. Note that if McLeod has his sights on the Supreme Court, he would have to step down after 2020 anyway, as he wouldn’t be able to run to fill the remainder of his term. It’s a coin toss either way, and I don’t envy any member of Commissioners Court the decision.

UPDATE: The Washington Post covers the story, reprinted by the Trib.

UPDATE: Here’s a detailed legal argument in favor of retaining Judge McLeod, sent to me by Adam Milasincic. It’s pretty persuasive.

Please delete April Fools Day from your calendar

I just can’t.

Judge William McLeod

An April Fools’ Day resignation prank? One Texas civil court judge wishes it were so.

A newly elected judge in Houston accidentally resigned on Monday, according to local media and a county official, after he shared plans online to run for the state supreme court, apparently unaware that the Texas constitution considers such an announcement an automatic resignation.

The Harris County Civil Court judge, Bill McLeod, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. Local TV station KHOU 11 News on Monday reported that McLeod declined to comment on the move.

Article 16, Section 65, of the state’s constitution says that a judge’s announcement of candidacy for another office “shall constitute an automatic resignation of the office then held.”

The county attorney’s office will present the matter to county commissioners next Tuesday, First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard said in a phone interview on Tuesday. County commissioners, who can appoint replacements, may decide to keep McLeod in office until there is a special election, KHOU 11 reported.

The judge’s supporters have organized on social media using the hashtag #IStandWithMcLeod. They plan to attend the commissioners’ Tuesday meeting and express their wish that the judge retain his office despite his blunder.

Here’s Judge McLeod’s Facebook page, where I assume this accidental resignation happened. I tried looking for that post, but there were too many posts in support of him to scroll past, so I gave up. Judge McLeod was one of the more energetic campaigners, both in real life and on social media, in 2018 and I’m not at all surprised that people are rallying to his defense. Commissioners Court has the discretion of allowing him to stay in place until the next election, essentially serving as his own appointed interim successor. If he’s lucky, he’ll just have to run again in 2020 – he should have no trouble winning if that happens – and then can run for re-election as usual in 2022. This KHOU story doesn’t mention the April Fool angle, so I’m not really sure if this was a joke that didn’t land or just a foolishly early announcement with unexpected consequences. Either way, it wasn’t the best idea anyone ever had.

(Just so we’re all clear, the Constitutional provision cited in the story applies to the following offices: District Clerks; County Clerks; County Judges; Judges of the County Courts at Law, County Criminal Courts, County Probate Courts and County Domestic Relations Courts; County Treasurers; Criminal District Attorneys; County Surveyors; County Commissioners; Justices of the Peace; Sheriffs; Assessors and Collectors of Taxes; District Attorneys; County Attorneys; Public Weighers; and Constables. That means that among other things, it does not apply to District Court judges or appeals court judges, which is why the Democratic candidates for Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals in 2018, all of whom were sitting District Court judges in Harris County, did not have to resign. Remember how long there was speculation about Adrian Garcia running for Mayor in 2015 before he ever said anything? That was because he had to resign as soon as he did say it. Let’s all be aware of these things going forward, OK? Thanks.)

UPDATE: Here’s a legal defense of Judge McLeod’s actions. It’s more complicated than it first appears.

It’s bill-filing season

Here are some highlights from Day One:

  • House Bill 49, by Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, would get rid of daylight saving time in Texas. Some lawmakers have tried to do this in past sessions.
  • House Bill 63, by Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, would make it a civil offense — not a crime — to be caught with less than one ounce of marijuana. Moody’s bill was one of several filed Monday aiming to loosen marijuana laws in Texas.
  • House Bill 84, also by Moody, would repeal the section of the Texas penal code that lists “homosexual conduct” as a crime. The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that the section is unenforceable, but it remains on the books.
  • House Bill 222, by Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, would prohibit Texas cities from adopting or enforcing ordinances that would require employers to offer their employees paid sick leave. San Antonio and Austin have passed paid sick leave ordinances this year. Soon after Austin passed its ordinance, state Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, announced that he would file legislation banning the ordinances, but Workman was defeated in Tuesday’s election.
  • House Joint Resolution 24, by Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, would propose a constitutional amendment requiring the state to fund at least half of the cost of funding public schools. If the amendment were approved by voters, local property tax collections would not apply to the state’s share.
  • Senate Bill 66, by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, would reduce and eventually eliminate the state’s franchise tax.

My reaction, in order: Oppose, favor, favor, oppose, favor, neutral. It makes me happy that the pro-sick employees faction had to find a new lackey after their original sponsor got tossed. I’ll be following this stuff as usual as we morph into the legislative season.

How many police forces do we need?

It’s an age-old question.

Harris County could save millions of dollars a year by consolidating overlapping law enforcement agencies, from sharing technological resources to reallocating duties from constables to the sheriff’s department, according to a report by the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University.

The report, which was released Thursday, revives several decades-old ideas to combine resources between law enforcement agencies in Harris County, despite likely opposition from the agencies and county government, which would have the ultimate authority in enacting many of the proposed changes.

[…]

Kinder studied the 60 law enforcement agencies that form a patchwork of separate but sometimes overlapping patrols within Harris County, including the sheriff’s office, the Houston Police Department, constables’ offices, school district police departments and smaller municipal police departments. Those agencies spend a combined $1.6 billion per year on law enforcement, according to the report.

“We do have a system that, for all intents and purposes, is working fairly well,” Kinder researcher Kyle Shelton said. “But there are clearly places where there are overlaps and places where we could see what efficiencies would work.”

Among ideas included in the report are a merger of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s police department with the Houston Police Department, and the consolidation of smaller municipal police departments into a larger network.

One of the report’s most aggressive ideas to consolidate would be to move patrol duties from the eight Harris County constables’ offices to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.

Political opposition to that idea would be too difficult to overcome because agencies would have to cede governing power, [County Commissioner Steve] Radack said.

“People can study it and study it and study it, but I can assure you … the people that are really familiar with this are all going to say, no” said Radack, who was formerly the Precinct 5 constable.

You can see the report here. Two points I would add: One, this is not limited to Harris County. Two, the list above leaves out police departments associated with universities, community colleges, and medical schools. There’s a lot of law enforcement agencies out there.

I find it interesting that the main argument against any sort of consolidation is that there would be political opposition to it, as Commissioner Radack notes. I don’t doubt that he’s right, but it’s not a reason, it’s a justification. Some reforms would require legislative assistance – Constables are constitutional offices, after all – while others shouldn’t need anything more than various entities working together. I’m pretty sure that there’s a dollar figure that could be attached to each recommendation in that report. Maybe if we start talking about it, we can decide what if any of these ideas are really worth pursuing, even in the face of political opposition.

Stanart responds to Garcia

From the inbox:

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart issued the following statement in regards to the letter received from Texas State Senator Sylvia Garcia, by way of social media and her attorney, that asserts a County Clerk has the power to order an election:

“I’m flattered that Senator Garcia and her attorney want to bestow upon me the power to order an election; but, frankly everyone from the Secretary of State’s Texas Election Division to the Harris County Attorney’s Office do not believe that I have any such authority.”

“I have been advised by the Secretary of State’s Office and Harris County legal counsel that the responsibility for calling an election to fill a State Senate vacancy lies with other public officials and that this authority has not been granted to a County Clerk under statute or the Texas Constitution.”

“I also understand that in this political season your attorney who sent your demand letter, is engaged to the Harris County Democratic Party Chair, and would like to make some political points by dragging me into this issue. I also understand that the likely reason you want to delay your resignation until after Jan 1, 2019, is to increase your state pension.”

“I won’t get into the legality of your resignation letter, but it seems that rephrasing it to make it clear that you are resigning on a specific date would save everyone a lot of time, money and drama.”

See here for the background. Can’t say this is a surprise, it seemed like a longshot based on an interesting reading of a particular clause in the Constitution. Maybe the argument would work better in a courtroom, but I wouldn’t want to bet my own money on that.

I’ve been reluctant to criticize Sen. Garcia over this because I do think Greg Abbott is being a jackass and the precedent Garcia cites of Leticia Van de Putte’s resignation letter is on point, but we’re past the point of academic debate, and this is not a suitable place for drawing a principled line in the sand. The downside far outweighs any benefit I can think of for winning this contest of wills. Suck it up and submit another letter with the language Greg Abbott is demanding. It’s stupid, but it’s not as stupid as delaying the election. The Chron has more.

If Greg Abbott won’t call a special election in SD06, maybe Stan Stanart will

From the inbox:

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

Dear Mr. Stanart,

My firm and I, together with Robert Icesezen, Esq., have been engaged to represent Sen. Sylvia R. Garcia, individually and as the elected representative of the citizens of Texas Senate District 6. Governor Abbott has wrongly refused to order a special election to replace Senator Garcia, who recently served the Governor with a letter of resignation. Under the Texas Constitution, when the Governor won’t do the right thing, you must do it for him.

[…]

According to the Election Code, “an unexpired term in office” – like that of Senator Garcia – “may be filled only by a special election…” See Election Code 203.002. And, “[i]f a vacancy in office is to be filled by special election, the election shall be ordered as soon as practicable after the vacancy occurs…” Id 201.051(a) (emphasis added). This, someone must order a special election to fill the seat being vacated by Senator Garcia.

Under Section 13 of Article 3 of the Texas Constitution, that obligation falls first to the Governor. The Texas Constitution provides that “[w]hen vacancies occur in either House [of the Legislature], the Governor shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies…” Importantly, under that same section of our Constitution, “should the Governor fail to issue a writ of election to fill any such vacancy within twenty days after it occurs, the returning officer of the district in which such vacancy may have happened, shall be authorized to order an election for that purpose.”

Governor Abbott should have ordered a special election for Senate District 6 by August 20, 2018. He has refused to do so. As the returning officer for Senate District 6 [1], it is your constitutional duty to do it for him. Only you can fulfill the Election Code’s mandate that a special election must be ordered under these circumstances.

See here for the background, and here for the Chron story. The letter is signed by Brian Trachtenberg, and it’s cc’ed to Abbott, County Judge Ed Emmett, and County Attorney Vince Ryan. My extremely-not-a-lawyer’s take on this is that the stated authority for Stanart to call the election seems to hang on the definition of “returning officer”, for which we have this footnote:

[1] – See Election Code 67.007 (a) (“For each election for a statewide or district office, a statewide measure, or president and vice-president of the United States, the county clerk of each county in the territory covered by the election shall prepare county election returns.”)

Someone more lawyerly than me will need to evaluate that. Assuming it is valid, then it becomes a question of whether Stanart will be any more inclined to take action than Abbott has been, and whether a judge would force the issue when the motion is filed. I have no idea what would happen next. And as entertaining as it is to speculate about obscure corners of the state constitution, the situation here is serious, and easily avoidable if Greg Abbott weren’t being such a jackass. Whether Sen. Garcia prevails via this legal gambit or sucks it up and writes another resignation letter, she needs to do whatever it takes to get that election scheduled.

From the “Nothin’ but good times ahead” department

Given the good economic conditions in Texas right now, you’d think the budget outlook would be better than it is.

The Texas economy is growing healthily, but that doesn’t mean state budget writers will have more money at their disposal next year, state officials said Tuesday.

In fact, though unemployment is low and tax revenue is on the rise, big bills coming due for the state’s highways and health care programs are giving Texas lawmakers reason for concern.

“I would like to offer a few words of caution for reading too much into the positive recent economic numbers,” Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar told lawmakers at a Senate Finance Committee hearing.

As they often do, state budget writers last year underfunded Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program for the poor and disabled, which, alongside public education, makes up one of the largest shares of the state’s $217 billion two-year budget.

Then, during a special session called by Gov. Greg Abbott over the summer, state lawmakers shifted another $500 million away from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to pay for public education programs.

As a result, lawmakers could face a $2.5 billion Medicaid bill shortly after they reconvene in Austin in 2019. Then there are the additional drains on Texas coffers from Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts, Hegar said.

That’s bad news for lawmakers given the comptroller’s prediction that the state will only have a $94 million “beginning balance” when lawmakers convene in 2019. By comparison, lawmakers had an $880 million beginning balance in 2017, which was ultimately a tight year for the state budget. Two years before that, lawmakers enjoyed a $7.3 billion beginning balance.

[…]

Another source of heartburn for budget writers is the ravenous state highway fund. In 2015, amid complaints of a highway system in disrepair, Texans voted to amend the state Constitution to require that up to $2.5 billion in sales tax revenue be dedicated to the highway fund.

That means that even as Texas collects more money from sales taxes — Hegar testified that sales tax revenue grew by an average of 10.3 percent over the last three months — the rest of the state budget will not benefit from that revenue since it is earmarked for the highway fund.

That was also an issue for budget writers in 2017. Last year, in order to free up some of that money for other purposes, Senate lawmakers pushed for an accounting trick that delayed a payment to the state highway fund into the next two-year budget cycle. That freed up about $1.6 billion for lawmakers last year, but it means there will be another bill to pay in 2019.

“In short, despite a strong economy and positive outlook for revenue growth in this biennium, it seems likely the next budget will be much like the one crafted in 2017, having to contend with restricted revenue relative to the spending trends of the state,” Hegar said.

Just a reminder: Underfunding Medicaid was a choice. Shifting money away from HHSC was a choice. The amendment to require all that highway spending was ratified by the voters, but it was there to be ratified because the Lege chose to put it there. Deferring that payment to the highway fund was a choice. And though the story doesn’t include it in its litany, spending nearly a billion dollars on boondoggle “border security” stunts was a choice, too.

We’ll probably be fine in the 2019 session, though the potential for shenanigans is always high. But remember, winter is coming, because it always does. When it does, we’re going to have a mess to clean up, one that was caused by the Republicans in charge of our state, one that could have been mitigated in many ways. I hope we’re ready for it.

(Note: This is the inspiration for the post title.)

Endorsement watch: More state propositions

The rest of the constitutional amendments, from the Chron.

State of Texas, Proposition 4: For

Everyone deserves to know if they’re being sued – even the state of Texas. The Legislature passed a bill in 2011 that would have required courts to provide notice to the attorney general if the constitutionality of a state statute was being challenged, and requiring a short waiting period before striking down a law.

[…]

State of Texas, Proposition 5: For

Fans of the Rockets, Astros or Texans are probably familiar with the charity raffles that have become a staple of gametime entertainment. Right now the state Constitution restricts these sorts of lotteries, which have routinely raised thousands for worthy causes, to the state’s 10 major league sports franchises. Voters should approve this amendment to expand the opportunities for charity to all the minor and major league teams in Texas.

[…]

State of Texas, Proposition 6: For

First responders put themselves at risk to keep the rest of us safe from criminals, fires and everything else that goes bump in the night. When one of Texas’ finest falls in the line of duty, we all have a responsibility to keep his or her family safe in return. This means guaranteeing that surviving spouses don’t have to worry about rising property taxes after losing not just a loved one, but also a breadwinner.

[…]

State of Texas, Proposition 7: For

Banks used to hand out toasters to lure first-time depositors. Maybe it’s time to bring that back. More than one-third of the state doesn’t have a simple savings account. About half lack an emergency fund that could last three months.

At this point, we’ll support almost anything that encourages people to open up a basic account and take the first steps to financial responsibility. That includes allowing credit unions and other financial institutions to entice savers with promotional raffles or lotteries.

See here for the first three. I’ve seen some differing opinions on these items, but for the most part I don’t think any of them amounts to much. Take whatever action you deem appropriate.

Endorsement watch: State propositions and Katy bonds

Hey, did you know that there are constitutional amendments on the ballot? It’s true! (Spoiler alert: There are constitutional amendments on the ballot every odd-numbered year.) The Chron has some recommendations for how to vote on them.

State of Texas, Proposition 1: For

This amendment would allow the Legislature to exempt partially disabled veterans and surviving spouses from paying property taxes on a home received from a charity at less than the market value. An exemption has already been granted when homes are given for free, and this opens the door to some cost sharing.

[…]

State of Texas, Proposition 2: Against

Consider it a form of post-traumatic stress. Any time banks ask for looser rules, we get flashbacks to the 2008 economic crisis. Financial institutions granted bad loans, good loans – some even made fake loans – knowing that the instruments would eventually be wrapped into a package and sold off. If the debt went bust, some other sucker would be stuck holding the bomb.

The global economic system ended up as the big loser in that game of hot potato.

Now the Texas Legislature is asking voters to tear down some regulations that help keep lenders in line. We recommend voting against.

[…]

State of Texas, Proposition 3: Against

The governor selects hundreds of unpaid appointees to serve on state boards and commissions, most of which run for four- or six-year terms. But if the term expires and no replacement is appointed, that volunteer is allowed under the state’s “holdover” provision to remain until the slot is filled. This amendment to the state Constitution would force out the incumbents even if there’s no new appointees and render the positions vacant.

We have no quarrel with the current “holdover” rule and recommend voting against.

There are seven of these in total, so I presume this was part one of two. I did receive a mailer the other day in favor of one of these, so there’s at least one active campaign involved. I don’t remember which one it was, though. This is why you need to send more than one piece of mail to ensure that your message penetrates, kids.

Moving a bit outside the usual boundaries, the Chron casts a virtual vote in favor of Katy ISD’s bond referendum.

Katy needs more schools.

That simple fact becomes obvious to anybody who looks at the Katy Independent School District’s explosive growth. During the decade between 2005 and 2015, Katy ISD’s enrollment rose by a whopping 47 percent.

Take a deep dive into the numbers and you’ll discover another telling insight from the state comptroller’s office, which diligently tracks data on Texas school districts. Between 2006 and 2015, Katy ISD’s tax-supported debt per student actually declined by a little less than 1 percent.

Now one of the fastest growing school districts in Texas wants voters to authorize a bond issue allowing them to borrow another $609 million. Katy ISD officials have earnestly made a compelling case for passing this referendum. Even some longtime activists in the district who’ve opposed previous bond issues fully support this one. Voters should, too.

As the piece notes, despite being one of the hardest-hit areas by Harvey, KISD’s enrollment was up this year, highlighting just how rapid its growth has been. This is one of those “you can pay now, or you can pay later” situations, and paying now – especially when interest rates remain low – is almost always the better choice.

Yes, there will be constitutional amendments on the November ballot

They’re not very interesting, which in this environment is a blessing, but they will be there.

House Joint Resolution 21

What will be on the ballot: “The constitutional amendment authorizing the Legislature to provide for an exemption from ad valorem taxation of part of the market value of the residence homestead of a partially disabled veteran or the surviving spouse of a partially disabled veteran if the residence homestead was donated to the disabled veteran by a charitable organization for less than the market value of the residence homestead and harmonizing certain related provisions of the Texas Constitution.”

House Joint Resolution 37

What will be on the ballot: “The constitutional amendment relating to legislative authority to permit credit unions and other financial institutions to award prizes by lot to promote savings.”

House Joint Resolution 100

What will be on the ballot: “The constitutional amendment on professional sports teams’ charitable foundations conducting charitable raffles.”

Senate Joint Resolution 1

What will be on the ballot: “The constitutional amendment authorizing the Legislature to provide for an exemption from ad valorem taxation of all or part of the residence homestead of the surviving spouse of a first responder who is killed or fatally injured in the line of duty.”

Senate Joint Resolution 6

What will be on the ballot: “The constitutional amendment authorizing the Legislature to require a court to provide notice to the attorney general of a challenge to the constitutionality of a state statute and authorizing the Legislature to prescribe a waiting period before the court may enter a judgment holding the statute unconstitutional.”

Senate Joint Resolution 34

What will be on the ballot: “The constitutional amendment limiting the service of certain officeholders appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate after the expiration of the person’s term of office.”

Senate Joint Resolution 60

What will be on the ballot: “The constitutional amendment to establish a lower amount for expenses that can be charged to a borrower and removing certain financing expense limitations for a home equity loan, establishing certain authorized lenders to make a home equity loan, changing certain options for the refinancing for home equity loans, changing the threshold for an advance of a home equity line of credit, and allowing home equity loans on agricultural homesteads.”

You can click over to see the brief explanation of what these mean, but honestly none of it is that interesting. This is the reason why you didn’t hear about any of this during the session. Only a few narrow interests care about any of this, and it’s unlikely there will be much of a campaign for any of it. Don’t expect there to be much turnout in places that don’t have some other elections on their November ballots.

Uptown lawsuit filed

I suppose we should have expected something like this.

The city’s Uptown Development Authority and the economic development zone that feeds it were created in violation of the Texas Constitution, two critics allege in a lawsuit that seeks to void all resulting actions and block Uptown from collecting or spending another dime.

The Galleria-area agency’s controversial, $200 million effort to widen Post Oak Boulevard and add dedicated bus lanes down the middle is a key focus of the lawsuit. It was filed Wednesday on behalf of restaurateur Russell Masraff and condominium resident Jim Scarborough, who was also was a plaintiff in another, since-dismissed lawsuit seeking to block the bus plan.

The suit argues that Uptown officials repeatedly violated the Texas Open Meetings Act in pricing and purchasing land to widen Post Oak – including tracts in which some Uptown board members had a financial interest – and that the agency’s subsequent decisions should be voided or reversed, to the extent possible.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Joe Larsen, said he views the filing as having broader significance beyond the bus plan.

“We’re asking the court to order Uptown to make no further payments because all the money involved has been collected through an unconstitutional tax regime,” Larsen said. “The bottom line is the Constitution requires equal taxation.”

He added that the only reason tax increment reinvestment zones, or TIRZs, “are not unconstitutional is that there’s a different provision in the Constitution that allows them.”

“In order to meet that other provision in the Constitution that allows TIRZs to be constitutional, they have to be in an area that’s ‘blighted, undeveloped or underdeveloped,’ Larsen asserted. “That’s it.”

This is not the first lawsuit related to this project; that one was subsequently dismissed, though without a comment on its merits. In this case, the plaintiffs asked the judge for an injunction blocking the Uptown Development Authority from spending money or issuing bonds while the litigation was in progress, but that request was denied. I feel like it’s also in the Constitution that we cannot have a non-freeway expansion transportation project in this town without at least one lawsuit. I’m not qualified to assess the legal argument being made here, so instead let me bring you a video of “Uptown Funk”, since that song has been lodged in my brain since this story first broke.

With all due respect to “Uptown Girl”, I say this song should be played at the beginning of all court hearings in this case. Who’s with me on this? Swamplot has more.

Two “faithless electors”

In the end, Donald Trump got thirty-six of Texas’ 38 electoral votes.

All but two of Texas’ 38 electors voted Monday to officially put Donald Trump in the White House, with one elector casting a ballot for Ohio Gov. John Kasich and another casting a ballot for a fellow Texan, former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul.

The votes from Texas were the ones that clinched the presidency of the United States for Trump, pushing the real estate mogul past the 270-vote threshold, according to Politico.

Elector Chris Suprun of Dallas had previously announced he would not support Trump. Another elector, Art Sisneros of Dayton, resigned as an elector, also in protest of Trump.

As electors voted, protesters’ chants picked up outside and could be heard from in the House chamber. They appeared to be saying specific electors’ names, followed by, “Save our democracy!”

The vote was unusually closely watched but largely expected: Both Suprun and Sisneros had shared their plans weeks in advance of the meeting. Suprun, however, did not announce until hours before the vote that he would instead vote for Kasich.

It was not immediately known who voted for Paul, the longtime congressman from Lake Jackson and three-time presidential hopeful. The process is secret ballot, meaning electors’ votes are not public unless they choose to disclose them.

According to the Statesman, the other maverick was a fellow named Bill Greene. As far as I know, he has not said why he did what he did. Art Sisneros was replaced as expected, as were three others who were apparently ineligible to serve.

I didn’t expect anything more exciting to happen, mostly because there was no one else out there joining Chris Suprun in his little exercise of conscience. I admit I harbored a teeny bit of hope that the Electoral College would Do Something about this, but I never really expected that. While I believe that the original intent of the founders was precisely for the Electoral College to prevent a man like Donald Trump from winning this election and that any legislative attempts to coerce them into voting a particular way are thus inherently unconstitutional, I agree that referring to such an intervention as being in any way “democratic” was misguided. The Electoral College is what it is, and we either accept that or we amend the Constitution to get rid of it. The extreme divergence between the popular vote and the electoral vote in this race is as strong an argument as one could want to make a change, but don’t hold your breath waiting for it.

You can’t stop the faithless electors

So says Carolyn Shapiro, associate professor at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, where she is co-director of the Institute on the Supreme Court of the United States.

Earlier this week, in a New York Times op-ed, Texas presidential elector Chris Suprun announced that he would not be casting his vote for Donald Trump. Even though Texas voters chose Trump, Suprun—along with a small group of electors from around the country calling themselves “Hamilton Electors”—will vote for a yet-to-be-identified compromise Republican. As Suprun explained in his op-ed, and as I and others have detailed elsewhere, Donald Trump’s conduct since the election has demonstrated that he is dangerously unqualified and unfit to be president.

Can electors legally do this? While the nearly universal expectation is electors’ votes will reflect the popular vote in their states, the Constitution doesn’t require them to. As others have explained, Alexander Hamilton’s justification for the Electoral College in Federalist No. 68 shows that the Framers intended for electors to exercise their own judgment when necessary.

Many states, however, have laws that prohibit these so-called “faithless electors” (perhaps a better term would be “conscientious electors”) from bucking the state popular vote. This week, two electors filed suit in federal court arguing that Colorado’s version is unconstitutional. (Hillary Clinton won Colorado, but the plaintiffs hope that a victory in their lawsuit will effectively invalidate all such laws, allowing electors in Trump states to defect.) In addition to arguments based on the Framers’ intent, there is a strong argument based on constitutional structure and text, and on Supreme Court precedent, that these electors should prevail.

The Constitution gives the states authority over how to choose electors. Article II, Section 1 provides that “[e]ach State shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors…” But the Constitution does not authorize states to tell the electors, once selected, how to vote.

The Twelfth Amendment, which was ratified in 1804, spells out the electors’ duties in more detail. And it, too, defines the duties of electors without giving the states or state officials any role in defining or enforcing those duties. “The Electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President …,” it says, and then goes on to explain that the electors should each cast two ballots: one for president and one for vice president. The electors, and only the electors, are directed to count, certify, and seal their votes, and to send the results directly to Washington. This allocation of responsibilities suggests that the Framers wanted to insulate the electors from the states’ influence or interference once they are appointed.

See here for the background, and be sure to read the rest. I kind of doubt Dan Patrick’s effort to bound electors will go anywhere, mostly because I doubt he’ll care enough to spend time and effort on it when he has much bigger fish he wants to fry, but you never know. What I do know is that I welcome the conversation about the role of the Electoral College, both as originally envisioned and in today’s world. Either we own and embrace what it was designed to do, or we should admit that it’s an anti-democratic anachronism and get rid of it.

City loses in appeal against firefighters’ pension statute

Here’s a pension fund-related litigation update for you.

Houston can’t overhaul a state-governed firefighter pension system that the mayor claims is pushing the city towards insolvency, a Texas appeals court ruled.

Houston sued the Houston Firefighters’ Relief and Retirement Fund in January 2014, seeking a declaration that a state law setting how the fund is operated, and giving the city no control over the amount of its contributions, is unconstitutional.

The city paid $350 million in pensions to firefighters, police and city workers in 2015, but its unfunded pension debt is $6 billion and growing.

A state judge sided with the fund in May 2014 and granted it summary judgment.

The city appealed, pressing its argument that the subject state law, passed in 1997, gives too much power to the pension fund’s board that is comprised of a majority of firefighters who are beneficiaries of the fund, and thus are inherently self-interested in maximizing firefighter pension benefits to the detriment of the city’s financial health.

The 10-member board is made up of six active or retired firefighter fund members who are elected by other firefighters, the mayor or an appointed representative of the mayor, the city treasurer and two citizens who are elected by the other trustees.

Houston claimed on appeal the state law violates the separation-of-powers principle in the Texas Constitution by delegating authority to a nonlegislative entity, the fund board.

The city cited Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Fund v. Lewellen. In that case, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that a foundation established by the Texas Legislature to exterminate boll weevils that were threatening to destroy the Texas cotton industry unconstitutionally gave too much authority to the foundation to tax private farmers to pay for weevil killing.

But the 14th Texas Court of Appeals decided Thursday that the boll weevil foundation is fundamentally different from the pension fund board because the board includes public employees.

“The purpose of that [boll weevil eradication] foundation may be construed as protecting a private industry from a blight, albeit with an indirect benefit to the public. In contrast, eight of the 10 trustees of the fund’s board are current or retired public employees…We would have difficulty classifying the board as a private entity when the mayor and city treasurer also serve as trustees in order to administer benefits to public employees,” Judge John Donovan wrote for a three-judge panel.

The panel also rebuffed Houston’s argument that the state law is unconstitutional because it only applies to incorporated municipalities with a population of at least 1.6 million and a fully paid fire department. Houston is the only Texas city that qualifies.

The city claims the special treatment violates the Texas Constitution’s ban on the Legislature meddling in local affairs.

But the appeals court agreed with the fund’s contentions that Houston is uniquely dangerous for firefighters compared to the other four big cities in Texas—Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and El Paso—so sweeter pension terms are necessary to attract and retain firefighters.

See here for the background, and here for the ruling. There have been multiple lawsuits related in one way or another to the firefighters’ pension fund; it’s hard to keep track of them all because they go multiple months without any news. The city could appeal this to the Supreme Court, but I don’t think they will, for two reasons. One is that I doubt they’ll get a different outcome, and two is that while this lawsuit was filed by the Parker administration, the Turner administration has a much less contentious relationship with the firefighters, and is working on a pension fund deal with them. It would be a show of good faith, if not a bargaining chip, for the city to quit pursuing this lawsuit, and seek to settle or drop any other ongoing litigation for which the HFRRF is an opponent. The Chron story says the city “continues to believe the state statute is unconstitutional because it allows the firefighters’ pension fund to determine contribution levels”, and that the city intends to “seek further review”. We’ll see what happens.

UPDATE: Woke up this morning, and the following announcement was in my inbox: “Mayor Turner will unveil preliminary points of understanding with the Houston Firefighters’ Relief and Retirement Fund, the Houston Police Officers’ Pension System and the Houston Employees Pension System. The proposed plan will form the basis for a package of pension reforms that will be submitted for approval to the governing boards of the pension systems, City Council and the state legislature.” That’s happening today at 2 PM. So maybe this won’t have any effect on the negotiations one way or the other.