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June 19th, 2007:

Framed!

Okay, so yesterday we learned that HPD officers are still ticketing cars that have license plate frames, even though the existing somewhat-unclear law on the subject was changed to exempt most such frames this past session. The law doesn’t take effect until September 1, but the issue has been known – and complained about – for awhile now. Turns out that even Mayor White was in violation of the old law, but had so far escaped an encounter with one of the more dedicated ticket-writers. All that may have led to today’s announcement by the Mayor that enough is enough.

Calling the practice a “gotcha system,” Mayor Bill White on Monday said Houston police shouldn’t ticket motorists for having common brackets around their license plates that will no longer be illegal when a revised state law takes effect in September.

The department had been issuing the $98 tickets under a broadly worded state statute intended to prevent motorists from trying to evade authorities by obscuring their plates.

The state’s top appellate court ruled recently that the law’s wording meant that any covering of the plate — even the stars, moon or state nickname — was a violation.

The Houston Chronicle reported Sunday that officers had issued at least 9,500 such tickets since January, including 2,200 since Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill that would allow drivers to have brackets advertising car dealers or touting alumni affiliations.

White said he planned to tell both Police Chief Harold Hurtt and the city’s top prosecutor, Randy Zamora, that motorists shouldn’t be punished if an officer can reasonably determine the state and plate numbers.

“Our law enforcement officers should have better things to do,” White said. “We’re not there to just have some gotcha system. The purpose of these moving-violation citations is to discourage unlawful behavior, not to generate the maximum amount of revenue possible.”

[…]

The mayor’s position is consistent with a bill, authored by state Rep. Bill Callegari, R-Katy, that removes the broad language from the state’s transportation code that prohibited obscuring any design feature of a plate. A motorist also would have to cover more than half the state’s name, generally not an issue with license brackets, to be in violation.

Perry signed a companion version of Callegari’s legislation, offered by state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, May 4.

[…]

Callegari said Monday he was pleased the mayor intervened.

“Somebody might get a ticket today, and three months from now they wouldn’t. That’s certainly not fair,” he said.

Indeed. This is far from the first poorly-written law whose literal interpretation by an enforcement body has led to a bad outcome (four words: “wheelbarrow filled with cash”) and an eventual legislative do-over. In just about every case, a little common sense would have gone a long way, but that’s not how things work around here, as the court ruling that upheld the broad definition of what constitutes obscuring a license plate demonstrates. Better late than never, but far from best.

City prosecutors say they will consider dismissing past citations if motorists come to court and bring a picture showing they’ve removed the bracket, or that it complies with the spirit of the law.

I wonder how much trouble it would be for the prosecutors to set up a web page with a form that would allow you to submit a photo electronically, along with all of the relevant information about your case. Seems to me that it’s the least they could do.

County bonds coming

Get ready for a bond proposition on the November ballot, courtesy of Commissioner’s Court.

Commissioners Court originally thought the bond package would total $500 million to $600 million when it goes before voters in November.

But pressing needs have come to light in several departments, and as much as $962 million in bonds may be required to carry out the projects, according to documents from the county budget office.

Among the massive projects are a $100 million Family Law Center, a $100 million Medical Examiner’s Office, a $245 million jail and booking area and a $110 million juvenile detention center.

[…]

The Texas Commission on Jail Standards cited the county adult jails last year for inadequate staffing and overcrowding. Meanwhile, the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission has found overcrowding at the county’s juvenile detention facilities.

The county could ask voters to spend $213 million on the central processing center, a booking area that also would include a 2,500-bed adult jail and expanded medical and mental-health treatment areas. Voters this year approved allowing the city to contribute $32 million to the project.

The question I have here is the same question I’ve had all along, which is whether or not the county will do something about the underlying causes of our jail overcrowding problem, and if they plan on spending the dough to hire enough guards so that they don’t have to leave cells empty to compensate for the shortage. Because if not, then I hope these bond proposals are broken into separate pieces so I can vote against the one to build more jail space.

Voters may also be asked to spend $76 million to renovate the former adult jail at 1301 Franklin and turn much of it into a juvenile detention facility. Another option could be to raze the building and construct a $110 million detention facility.

Family law judges have been clamoring for a new Family Law Center for several years — a project that would cost $85 million.

Commissioners Court will decide whether to carry out an $84 million expansion and renovation of the current courthouse at Congress and San Jacinto; build a $97 million courthouse on the site of the current courthouse or next to it; or build a $94 million courthouse at Franklin and San Jacinto, across from the current building.

The Medical Examiner’s Office needs more spacious facilities to carry out a growing amount of sophisticated forensic work done in crime labs, Raycraft said.

His office has recommended that the county construct a $114 million, 205,000-square-foot building on Harvin, across from the current office.

At first glance, most of the rest of this sounds okay, but given the build-jails-first, ask-questions-later approach that the Court was adopting earlier, I’ll reserve judgment until I hear more.

“Where’s Orlando?” update

Professors R-Squared remind me that it’s time to check up on our County Treasurer, Orlando Sanchez, and his campaign promise to actually do something with that generally useless office he ran for. I did this last on March 21, at which time I discovered, to my complete non-surprise, that there hadn’t been a single mention of him in the Chron that wasn’t related to efforts to abolish the Treasurer’s office. What have we had since then? A search of the Chron archives reveals exactly one story, and well, it’s not exactly about how he was going to use the Treasurer’s office as a platform to advocate for something.

ALICE Rekeweg, a Kingwood resident, is a member of the Patriot Guard Riders.

Patriot Guard Riders was established in 2005 and is a group of riders from across the nation.

It’s mission is to attend funeral services of fallen soldiers, provide welcome home rides, or send-off escorts but only if the soldier’s family invites them.

“I cry every time I ride,” said Rekeweg, a mother of two sons, one stepson and a grandmother of one.

“Even if I’m just going down the street from the church to the cemetery.”

Rekeweg also is Senate District 4 Chairman for the Harris County Republican Party and president of the Kingwood area Republican Women.

Rekeweg has been on six missions with the group, riding behind Orlando Sanchez, Harris County treasurer.

“Alice asked if she could ride with me,” Sanchez, owner of a 2002 Harley Davidson Road King motorcycle, said.

“Everybody has a different reason for wanting to ride.

“I came from a communist country, (Cuba) so I value my freedom.

“Whether you agree or disagree with this war, these kids signed up to protect us.”

Sanchez and Rekeweg’s most recent mission was March 11.

Nice story, but not exactly demonstrative of the awesome power of the Treasurer-cy. There was nothing else since March 21.

Now you may say, as Kevin did in the comments to my previous post, that just because the Chron hasn’t covered whatever it is Orlando Sanchez has been doing, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been doing anything. And hey, that’s true. I mean, we live in a post-MSM, new-media, citizen-journalism blog utopia, right? Orlando could be generating all kinds of news, and those heartless bastards at the Chron could be simply ignoring him.

Well okay then. Here’s the County Treasurer page, and here’s Orlando’s campaign web page. Note the complete lack of “news” or “press” links. Whatever it is Orlando is doing, it’s nothing he feels the need to publicize. Here’s a Google blog search – if you see anything news-like there, let me know. I kinda liked this post – it’s not about Orlando, but it does have this excellent line, which is why it got picked up in my Google search:

How about a “Straight Talk Express”-like county bus tour with Orlando Sanchez? He lost two mayoral races and a county race. He’s only in office because someone died.

Schweet.

Six months down, six more to go. Will we ever find out what it is that Orlando Sanchez does during the day? Stay tuned!

UPDATE: David Benzion has an amusing take on this.

Chet Edwards?

Right of Texas is reporting that Rep. Chet Edwards of Waco is contemplating a run for Senate. I’ll be honest, this is the first time I’ve heard Edwards’ name in connection with any statewide run – former Rep. Jim Turner is frequently mentioned as a “What about him?” kind of candidate for Senate, but till now Edwards’ name has been absent. Edwards has money, two impressive wins in turf that went 70% Bush in 2004, and a voting record that’s fairly reflective of Texas (read: more conservative than I like), all of which would make him a formidable contender if he chose to get in. All I can say is what I said up front: this is the first I’ve heard of any of this. I’m hearing the same reaction from other folks like me. It seems unlikely to me, but you never know.

While I admire Edwards in many ways, despite some votes he’s made that have left me scratching my head, I don’t want to see him jump into the Senate race. We’d lose his Congressional seat for sure, and we’ve already got a perfectly fine and dandy contender to go up against John Cornyn. I can’t imagine why Edwards would give up a seat on the Appropriations Committee as a member of the majority for something like this, but again, you never know. What I do know is that I’m going to have to hear this from at least one more source before I worry about it.

Abbott’s opinion sought on Craddick’s power

Well, this ought to be interesting.

Two lawmakers asked the Texas attorney general Monday for an advisory opinion on the legality of House Speaker Tom Craddick’s handling of an attempt to unseat him last month.

During the final days of the legislative session, several lawmakers tried to make a parliamentary motion that would have allowed the 150-member chamber to vote to oust Craddick. But Craddick, the presiding officer of the chamber, cited “absolute authority” and kept his seat by refusing to acknowledge any lawmaker to make such a motion. The session ended with Craddick still in power.

“Clearly, the integrity of the Texas House of Representatives is at a critical crossroads as to whether the use of ‘absolute authority’ by the post of Texas House speaker contradicts the state constitution,” wrote Rep. Jim Keffer, who has filed his candidacy to replace Craddick as speaker.

Keffer, a Republican from Eastland, argued that the specific rule Craddick and his parliamentary advisers used to assert their authority allows “the speaker to govern the order in which members are to be recognized, but not whether they will be recognized which seems to be in direct violation of the state constitution.”

Craddick’s critics say his assertion of absolute power is an example of their gripe — an unyielding leader.

A spokeswoman for Craddick said he welcomes the review.

The specific questions being asked are here, and Craddick’s response is here.

I have no idea what AG Abbott will do with this hot potato. Frankly, given how long he sat on the Strayhorn question about the business tax, I’ll be happy if he gives any answer at all before the 81st Lege gets sworn in. We’ll see.

Money will be raised, primaries will be fought. Film at 11.

There’s not really a whole lot of actual news in this Chron story about the beginning of Legislative Fundraising Season for 2008 – Tom Craddick has a lot of money! And a lot on the line! People will be primaried! The next Speaker will be decided! – but there are a couple of bits that merit comment.

All House seats are on the ballot next year, and the uncertainty concerning the speaker could mean a record number of contested primaries. Incumbents who don’t draw challengers or have more money than they need may give some to a fellow candidate.

That right there is the justification for Run Everywhere in a nutshell. You don’t want (say) Phil King to help out the likes of Dwayne Bohac? Then make sure King has something at home to occupy his time and attention (and money). Sure, such a person is unlikely to come within shouting distance of King on election day, but nobody likes to get hit without hitting back. The key, and the reason this has to be seen as a long-term project, is to make sure that the folks you recruit for these kamikaze missions have access to enough funds and talent to have the kind of impact that will make the intended target feel the need to stay home and defend his turf. That will require some serious resources and infrastructure, which is why it’s not just something you can wish for. Still, it’d be nice if someone in a position to do something about this were giving the matter some thought.

Two of the state’s biggest megadonors, Houston homebuilder Bob Perry and San Antonio businessman Jim Leininger, are likely to play key roles in the GOP primaries.

Craddick has supported the issues of Leininger, a school voucher proponent, and Perry, who favors limits on lawsuits against businesses. Perry will continue to support Craddick because of his record on tort reform, said his spokesman.

“Without Craddick, their agenda doesn’t look as good,” [Rep. Warren] Chisum said. “I don’t think they’ll abandon Craddick by any means. In fact, they may just double their effort.”

Didn’t do them a whole lot of good in 2006, but with a new year comes new opportunities. Unlike most recent years, there are groups that push back against the Leininger/Perry axis, and have had success in doing so – ParentPAC, for instance. Perhaps the time is right to run against Tom Craddick in the way that Democrats ran against Newt Gingrich in 1998. He’d make a pretty good symbol for “what’s wrong with the legislature” ads. Something to think about, anyway.

Dyslexia

This is a very good article on the needs of dyslexic students in Houston and how they are not being met by HISD, but I have the nagging feeling that something is missing. Can you tell what it is?

Hundreds of thousands of Texas children who struggle to read aren’t getting the help they’re entitled to because public schools are not following state law.

Twenty-two years ago, Texas passed legislation requiring districts to identify and tutor students with dyslexia, a learning disability that affects 5 percent to 20 percent of all children.

Today, however, schools still are failing to aggressively diagnose and remediate these children, leaving them to fall further behind academically, suffer emotionally and be at greater risk of dropping out of high school.

“This is effectively a national health crisis,” said Eldo Bergman, director of the Texas Reading Institute, a Houston company that tutors hundreds of children who are not getting the help they need in public schools. “There’s an awful lot of wasted human potential.”

The Houston Independent School District is one of the most egregious offenders, with only 256 of its 200,000 students in dyslexia programs this year.

Can you tell what’s not there yet? Maybe this will help.

Despite the billions spent on reading in recent decades, test scores have remained stagnant. Some experts blame teachers’ colleges, which rarely offer instruction on the science of reading.

And while Texas’ dyslexia law was designed to improve the situation, educators say it lacks teeth. The state currently doesn’t even track its number of dyslexic students.

Parents who suspect their child has dyslexia should ask for a special education evaluation, which districts must provide. They should focus on reading rate, accuracy and comprehension results, Bergman said.

They then should push for phonics instruction that will pinpoint their child’s weaknesses, he said.

[Geraldine] Miller, the state education board chairwoman who managed this year’s revision of the Texas Dyslexia Handbook, says a class-action type lawsuit may be the best way to get districts to comply.

The words “class action lawsuit” make me think of West Orange-Cove, which naturally leads to the question of “how is the state gonna pay for this?” We’re pretty much guaranteed to be revisiting this case soon – Burka thinks the 81st Lege will be all about school finance, which is why he referred to Scott Hochberg as Mr. Indispensible. I’m not making excuses for the school districts – they’ve obviously done a piss-poor job of following the law, and should have been called on it long before now – but if the state is going to mandate this sort of thing, it’s going to have to provide for it as well, and that sounds like a big deal to me.