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July 27th, 2007:

Craddick to former parliamentarian: Shut up!

Vince has a copy of a letter (PDF) written by House Speaker Tom Craddick to his former parliamentarian, Denise Davis, in which he tells her that she can never speak about anything she did in that job because she’s a lawyer and he was her client. Vince explains why this is baloney:

Denise Davis served not only as Parliamentarian but as Special Counsel to the House. In her capacity as Parliamentarian, she no doubt advised not only Speaker Craddick–who appointed her–but also other members of the Legislature, committee staff, and more. Although Davis is an attorney and special counsel, her duties as Parliamentarian are not necessarily governed by the same requirements as her service as Special Counsel.

Does attorney-client privilege apply to parliamentary advice given to the Speaker or other members merely because Davis is an attorney and also Special Counsel? Probably not. Her ruling papers are public record (and we’ve published some on Capitol Annex before).

Craddick, by sending this letter, is doing his best to attempt to muddy the waters between the positions of Special Counsel and Parliamentarian.

Why?

The answer should be obvious: Craddick clearly does not want Davis to ever say publicly how she advised him on rulings on motions to vacate the chair. Again, one may ask, “why?”

While Davis has never publicly acknowledged that she likely advised Craddick he had to recognize those who moved to vacate the chair, it is clearly obvious that she was in such disagreement with his decision not to recognize House members for such motions that she resigned.

Obviously, Craddick doesn’t want the public at large hearing from his former Parliamentarian that he disregarded her professional advice and instead turned to lackeys Terry Keel and Ron Wilson to bail him out of a political jam.

Also, given it was pretty clear from the outset that the matter would either end up in Court or before the Texas Attorney General’s Office, Craddick clearly didn’t want Davis submitting a reply brief to the Keffer/Cook Opinion Request. Why? Because she would likely “tell it like it is,” and hammer nails all over Craddick’s already lined political coffin.

Craddick appears to be trying to use attorney-client privilege to paint, with a very broad brush, everything Denise Davis did as parliamentarian as legal advice to him personally rather than what it was: serving out the duties of the appointed office of Parliamentarian.

The sad thing is that AG Greg Abbott may be buying into Craddick’s logic, since he has not solicited a brief from her to help him make his ruling on the Keffer request.

One person Abbott did solicit was former Speaker Rayford Price, who took issue with the assertion made in Craddick’s brief that the Speaker could only be removed by impeachment. As Price points out (PDF), that means the House has to depend on the Senate to complete that process.

The AG is now accepting briefs from “any interested parties”, so perhaps Ms. Davis will directly challenge Craddick’s interpretation of their relationship. And who knows, there may be other input that’s worth reading. We’ll see. In the meantime, Burka reviewed Craddick’s arguments about what he calls “the divine right of Speakers”, and declares “I do not believe that the Craddick brief makes a persuasive case that the speaker can be removed only by impeachment”.

Judge overturns Hazelton anti-immigrant law

Back in June, I noted that a ruling in a lawsuit against the city of Hazelton, PA over anti-immigrant ordinances was expected this summer. That ruling came down yesterday, and it’s a win for the plaintiffs and a loss for places like Farmers Branch.

A federal judge’s decision Thursday to rule unconstitutional a landmark municipal law that cracks down on illegal immigrants could set a precedent for similar ordinances proposed in dozens of cities throughout the country.

Advocates for illegal immigrants hailed the ruling against a law in Hazleton, Pa., as a victory and powerful reminder that immigration is a federal issue Congress must ultimately deal with by passing comprehensive reform. But supporters of stricter immigration enforcement said the local ordinances have not been defeated and will eventually make their way to the Supreme Court.

Both sides have said the ruling highlights the federal government’s inaction on immigration.

“I think this ruling is a win for common sense,” said Jose Luis Jimenez Jr., Houston district director for the League of United Latin American Citizens. “Hopefully, other elected officials and other city councils and boards heed the warning not to try to do something that is not their responsibility.”

In a strongly worded ruling, U.S. District Judge James Munley said the ordinance was pre-empted by federal law and violated due process protections in the Constitution.

Munley wrote in his opinion that “in its zeal to control the presence of a group deemed undesirable,” Hazleton violated the rights of those people and others.

“Whatever frustrations … the city of Hazleton may feel about the current state of federal immigration enforcement, the nature of the political system in the United States prohibits the city from enacting ordinances that disrupt a carefully drawn federal statutory scheme.

“Even if federal law did not conflict with Hazleton’s measures, the city could not enact an ordinance that violates rights the Constitution guarantees to every person in the United States, whether legal or not,” the judge added.

Good. And keep that phrase “the city could not enact an ordinance that violates rights the Constitution guarantees to every person in the United States, whether legal or not” in mind when you hear folks from Farmers Branch talk about “the will of the people”. If a law does something illegal or unconstitutional, it will be thrown out, no matter how it was enacted in the first place.

Under the law, passed last summer, landlords would be fined for renting to illegal immigrants and businesses would be denied permits for hiring them. Tenants would have been required to prove they are legal residents and pay for a rental permit. Hazleton is expected to appeal the ruling.

Fine by me. Let’s settle this once and for all.

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to hire Accenture again

Back in June, I noted that the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) was gearing up to hire a replacement for Accenture to do basically what Accenture had been doing so well before we terminated their contract. Judging from this Texas State Employees’ Union release, one has to wonder if we’ve really learned anything from our prior experience.

The Health and Human Services Commission in May issued a Request for Information (RFI) seeking input from vendors about how to resurrect its failed attempt to provide health and human services through call centers. In June, HHSC held a vendor conference to provide more information about the RFI and its call center plans.

HHSC’s presentation at the vendor conference made it clear that it has learned little from its disastrous experiment last year to create a privately operated call center-based health and human services eligibility system. In January 2006 HHSC and its contractor Accenture implemented a call center-based eligibility system in Travis and Hays counties.

People applying for food stamps, Medicaid, and public assistance in the Travis and Hays service area were required to do so through the so-called “modernized” call center-based eligibility system. But call centers made access to services more difficult.

[…]

[T]hree months into the experiment HHSC pulled the plug, returned most of the eligibility work being done by Accenture and its subcontractors back to state employees, and postponed further rollout of the call center-based eligibility system.

At the time, HHSC indicated that Accenture needed to work out some technical problems and provide better training to its call center staff. HHSC indicated that when Accenture fixed these problems rollout of the call center eligibility system would resume.

But Accenture never fixed the problems, and there is every reason to believe that the problems are not fixable.

HHSC in March 2007 canceled the Accenture contract, but it appears that HHSC has learned little from last year’s experiment. At the vendor conference, an HHSC spokesperson told the gathering that “the [call center] concept is sound.”

HHSC assertion that the call center concept “is sound” is based on a number of faulty assumptions including the following:

  • Call centers will modernize and improve service delivery
  • Call centers will be more convenient for customers
  • Customers are clamoring for call centers
  • New (Old) business processes will improve access to service
  • Applying for health and human services is easy and most of the initial work can be done by unskilled, low paid data entry clerks
  • A new contractor can make call centers work

The release goes on to challenge all of these assumptions. It’s good reading, and well worth keeping in mind as we re-fight this battle. Check it out.

Further dispatches from the “Good news, bad news” files

Good news:

Plentiful rains throughout Texas the past year led weather officials today to declare an end to drought conditions across the state for the first time in at least a decade.

“We’ve gotten so much rain this year we’ve pretty much made up for the past few years’ drought conditions in several areas of the state,” said John Nielsen-Gammon, the state’s climatologist and a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University.

Only isolated areas in the northern Panhandle, far West Texas and along the eastern margins of the state are still below normal, he said.

Bad news:

“If there’s enough rain to say we’re drought-free, that means there’s enough water around to cause other problems,” Nielsen-Gammon said.

Flooding persists in some areas, and many farmers are struggling to salvage crops that remain under water, he said.

Heavy rains have caused major flooding in several parts of the state since mid-June. At least 16 people have died, and property damage has been widespread. Numerous rivers remain at or above flood level.

Good news:

The same pattern that brought rain has provided cooler temperatures throughout the state this summer, a trend that Nielsen-Gammon said is likely to continue for several weeks.

Bad news: Well, as I said before, all this rain we’ve had means that if any kind of tropical storm were to come through in the near future, I fear that flooding would be way worse than usual. So keep your fingers crossed.

Hurricane season so far: Good news, bad news

You might have noticed that it’s been a quiet hurricane season so far this year. There are good reasons for that, but don’t go drinking all that bottled water just yet.

First, the good news. Scientists had worried about La Nina, unusually cold ocean temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific, developing by now. This pattern, which hasn’t yet appeared, has historically augured a fierce Atlantic season.

Additionally, sea surface temperatures remain near average across much of the Atlantic tropics, providing less fuel for hurricanes. That’s partly because of large African dust clouds that have blocked the sunlight and kept a lid on ocean warming. This dust, largely from the Sahara desert, also inhibits storm formation.

“But this year probably isn’t going to be like 2006. I don’t think we’re going to luck out like that,” [Jeff Masters, chief meteorologist with The Weather Underground,] said.

Compared with last year, the disruptive force of wind shear in the atmosphere is lower. Of still greater concern, in the northwest Caribbean Sea as well as parts of the Gulf of Mexico, the warm waters run deeper than even in 2005.

“This means that a storm moving into the western Caribbean and/or the Gulf of Mexico over the next few months may have a good chance of becoming a major hurricane, as long as wind shear is low in the region,” said Chris Hebert, lead hurricane forecaster for the private, Houston-based service ImpactWeather.

Here are some charts from SciGuy, which show how Gulf water temps compare to 2005. If we get one heading this way, it could really intensify. Remember, it’s August when things start to get busy most years.

What worries me isn’t all that stuff as much as it is all the rain we’ve already had. How bad do you think the flooding would be if even a Cat 1 storm hit us right now? Maybe if we have a few dry weeks, I’ll fret less. Until then, that’s what’s bothering me. Let’s hope our lucky streak continues for another year.

Define “full time”

There was this article in the Chron business section earlier this week about how more women with children are saying they want to work part-time these days. I don’t know a whole lot about that, but it seems to me we could short-circuit a lot of the discussion that’s sure to follow this if we take note of one fairly significant fact that went otherwise unremarked upon:

For Erica Rubach, a 32-year-old mother of two, the findings weren’t a surprise. A year ago she felt she couldn’t keep her head above water, though to others her life might have seemed ideal: two young kids and a job she loved as director of marketing and business development at a television station.

“But I knew there just wasn’t room for both in my life,” she says. “It was killing me.”

So she left her job, with its 60-70 hour weeks, and with fellow mother Joani Reisen founded MomSpace, a networking site devoted to matching mothers with services in their communities. The two now work on their own schedules.

Well, there’s your problem right there! Sixty to seventy hours a week isn’t a fulltime job, it’s a fulltime job plus a parttime job. You cannot work 60-70 hours a week and be a primary caretaker for a child, at least not without being under enormous pressure, the kind of pressure that makes most people break. I couldn’t have done that – I’d never see my kids if I worked those kinds of hours. Maybe if her job had entailed only 40 hours a week of work – which, let’s be honest, is all they were paying her for; people with titles like “director of marketing” don’t get overtime – she could have handled this.

The irony is that she’s probably working about 40 hours a week at MomSpace now. And that probably feels like a part time job to her. I’d say that’s a pretty significant part of the problem here, wouldn’t you?