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July 4th, 2008:

Boot this!

I like the sound of this.

While towing companies are regulated, booting companies are not. They may soon be, as officials craft an ordinance to regulate the practice.

“We’ve seen an increase in this kind of complaint since last summer,” said Liliana Rambo, the city’s director of parking management. “The booting operators came to Houston and found a wide-open market.”

Premier Parking Enforcement Inc. entered the Houston market about 18 months ago. The Atlanta-based operator would be fine with regulation, said their lobbyist, Darryl Carter.

“It would make the business much easier because we would know what is expected,” he said.

Carter said Premier is hired by parking lot owners to patrol their lots to enforce payment.

The lot owners would rather boot than tow because it’s less “intrusive” for the customer, Carter said. Booting — which involves the installation of a bulky metal device on a wheel to prevent an automobile from being driven — can be resolved on site and results in less potential for damage than hauling a vehicle away. Premier charges $100 to remove its boots and guarantees it will remove a device within an hour of payment.

The proposed ordinance could limit removal fees to a maximum $100 and require boot company employees to wear photo identification.

The city also is considering rules for surface lots that do not use automated gates or issue receipts, Rambo said. Those lots are the ones that generate the most confusion and complaints, she explained.

The new rules still are being developed, but could include a requirement that lot owners post signs telling drivers how to pay for parking, the hours and days that booting is enforced, and the telephone numbers of the booting company and the police department.

One proposal would exempt lots from signage rules if they install receipt equipment and automated gates.

All of this sounds eminently reasonable to me. I occasionally park in self-serve lots, and I always have a twinge of doubt as I shove my bills into that tiny slot that I’ll get credit for having paid. Of course, automated gates can be problematic, too. But basically, setting clearly understood rules, and encouraging parking lots to be more user-friendly, is all to the good.

The Experiment Continues to Illuminate

(The following is a guest post from Joe Jaworski.)

This week, we mark 232 years since our nation declared its independence and launched the greatest experiment in democracy the world has ever known.

That experiment continues to illuminate. The Founders were revolutionaries – and we should always think of them so – who designed our government to be an institution answerable to the American people. Our government works because regular men and women stand for election among their peers who, by their vote, grant the ultimate consent to be governed. No matter the great change that has taken place since 1776, our government was designed to survive “politics” because American citizens are able to control their own course.

The mood is revolutionary again because – for the first time in over fifty years – whoever is elected President will be “new” to the White House. Not since Eisenhower’s 1952 election over Stevenson have we witnessed a campaign without the President or his Vice President seeking the office. And since no incumbent is defending the past four years, the 2008 election cycle is about demanding an honest assessment of our condition and finding a new way forward. We’ll find that way forward by voting our conscience.

I take my kids to vote with me because the citizen’s act of voting is the trademark American experience. I’m asking you today to take stock of your vital role as a Texan and an American, and reflect on your commitment to making our democracy work. We’ll have an opportunity to vote in November 2008 in a life changing election for several offices, and each of us has a duty to cast an informed vote. We’ll be voting for office holders who decide matters vital to our family’s well being. While the politicians and special interests hope for minimal scrutiny from the public, and they expect most people to be “tuned out” until just before the November 4, cycle, it’s July 4 and we have four months until election-day. We have the opportunity to learn who the candidates are, study their issues and ask questions. We can afford to be casually indifferent about a few things in life, but casting an educated vote is a vital civic challenge we ought to accept given what’s at stake: the robustness of our economy, the quality of our foreign relations, and – clearly the most important issue – our domestic investment in our next generation’s health, education and welfare. Today’s vote determines our future. We love our children and grandchildren; let’s remember that when we vote.

Amid the many family picnics, fireworks displays, and community parades, let’s take a moment to reflect on the enormity of our American experience and consider the heroes and generations whose shoulders we stand upon. Our commitment this Independence Day is to participate and defend the democratic ideal committed to us by the Founders and the Americans who followed.

Joe Jaworski served as Galveston Mayor Pro-tem and is currently running for the Texas Senate in District 11.

Happy Independence Day, everyone!

Comer sues the TEA

Remember Chris Comer, the former director of science curriculum for the Texas Education Agency (TEA) who was forced to resign over a bogus controversy concerning intelligent design? According to the Observer blog, she has now filed a lawsuit against her former employer.

The suit alleges that Comer’s termination violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. What’s interesting is how the suit reaches that conclusion:

1) Creationism is a religious belief

2) The Establishment Clause forbids the teaching of religion (read: creationism) in public schools. [The suit makes liberal reference to Kitzmiller v. Dover, the landmark 2005 case in which a conservative Bush-appointed judge rejected the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution.]

3) The Texas Education Agency has a tacit policy of “neutrality” on evolution vs. creationism.

4) The”neutrality” policy is in fact an endorsement of creationism – and religion – and is unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause.

5) Comer was fired for violating an unconstitutional policy.

Conclusion: “Comer’s termination… violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution… because it has the purpose or effect of endorsing religion.”

Yeah, that sounds like a big ol’ can of worms being opened to me, too. The suit is here (PDF). Of potential interest is that the firm representing Comer is Patton Boggs, among whose attorneys are likely SD17 candidate Chris Bell. I don’t think that has anything to do with anything, but I figured I’d mention it since I’m sure someone would have eventually. In any event, I can’t wait to see how this one turns out. South Texas Chisme has more.

Deputies arrest plaintiff in suit against Sheriff’s office

In late May, the Ibarra brothers and several other people filed a lawsuit against the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, claiming that its deputies retaliated against people who filed complaints about them. Now one of those plaintiffs has been arrested by Sheriff’s deputies.

A part-time Houston municipal court judge and law professor who is one of five citizens alleging intimidation and harassment in a lawsuit against the Harris County Sheriff’s Office was released from jail overnight after sheriff’s deputies arrested her.

April Jill Walker is charged with evading arrest in a motor vehicle, a felony, said her attorney, Lloyd Kelley.

Walker posted $2,000 bail and was released from the Harris County Jail, according to court records.

The incident occurred Wednesday evening in her Spring-area neighborhood, culminating with Walker’s arrest in her driveway.

“He (a deputy) slammed her to the ground and said ‘I know who you are. You’re the judge’ and he used the ‘n’ word,” said Kelley.

A Sheriff’s Office spokesman did not return calls for comment.

Walker’s two sons, 15 and 17, initially were detained by deputies along with several other teenagers about 8:30 p.m. in their Olde Oaks neighborhood. The teens were placed in the back of patrol cars. One eventually was released and one charged with trespassing, Kelley said.

At the time the boys were taken into custody, Walker went to the area and was told to leave, Kelley said. She then drove down the street to tell a neighbor that her son also was being detained.

When Walker tried to leave the area of her neighbor’s home, a deputy “slammed the hood” of her car with his hand, Kelley said.

The deputy followed Walker as she drove home and arrested her after she pulled into her driveway, he said.

Neighbors reported the deputies were “high-fiving” each other, Kelley said.

That was the story that appeared on the front page of yesterday’s Chron; here’s the KTRK story as well. Today’s version, at the same URL, has the deputies’ version of events, and it’s very different:

In contrast to allegations by April Jill Walker, sheriff’s Capt. John Martin said the arresting deputies were not aware of her office or the fact that she is a plaintiff in a lawsuit accusing members of the Sheriff’s Office of intimidation and harassment.

[…]

Martin said Thursday that Walker, who also teaches law at Texas Southern University, identified herself only as a lawyer during the incident and that the deputies did not know she is a judge or is suing the Sheriff’s Office.

He said the Sheriff’s Office will investigate the high-five allegation, but surmised that if it is true, the deputies may have been celebrating the peaceful end of a high-speed chase through a residential neighborhood.

The incident began after Walker’s sons, ages 15 and 17, were detained about 8:30 p.m. along with several other young people in the Olde Oaks neighborhood where they live.

Martin said a resident who had been asked to keep an eye on a neighbor’s house while the neighbor was away reported that people were in the house.

Deputies came to the house and detained the group. Walker, who lives a short distance away, learned of the situation and drove to the house.

Martin said that Walker saw her two sons in the backseat of a patrol car, opened a door to talk with them and was warned by a deputy to step away from the car. The deputy told Walker that she was at the scene of an active investigation and could talk with her sons later, Martin said.

Walker left and returned several times, Martin said, before a deputy approached her car and told her to leave. He also told her that she was not wearing her safety belts, Martin said, but she backed out of the driveway and went through a stop sign at high speed while still in reverse.

After Walker shifted into drive and sped away, Sgt. J. Cook pursued with his emergency lights engaged, Martin said. He said Walker refused to stop and drove home at 50 to 60 mph.

When confronted in her driveway, Walker resisted before being arrested, Martin said.

He added that her sons and the others who were found in the house were charged with trespassing and possession of marijuana.

Walker said that, although no one in the group lives at that address, her sons are friends of the people who live there and frequently visit them.

And just in case that isn’t enough, here’s KTRK’s latest entry, in which Walker disputes the deputies’ version. All I can say at this point is good luck to the judge and jurors that get the task of sorting it all out.

UPDATE: And here’s the latest Chron story, with more from Judge Walker.