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June 10th, 2009:

Editorialists urge veto of HB770

HB770, the originally obscure bill to grant homestead exemptions to folks who lost their house in Hurricane Ike that has generated a big stink thanks to the self-serving provision inserted on behalf of State Rep. Wayne Christian, is getting panned by editorialists around the state. Here’s a sampling.

From the Chron:

Rep. Christian should be ashamed of pushing stealth legislation that benefits himself. As Tom Brown, president of Texas Open Beach Advocates, told the Chronicle, “it’s a very special bill to benefit a state legislator and that is flat-out wrong.”

For a half century, Texas has had one of the strongest coastal access laws in the nation. Residents who buy beach-front property are well aware that storms and rising sea levels may someday reshape the landscape, putting their investment in peril.

A law allowing homeowners to rebuild at the water’s edge, even if it is restricted to Bolivar, is laying the groundwork for future destruction of property while undermining the principle of open beaches. Texans should join [Land Commissioner Jerry] Patterson in calling on the governor to veto the bill.

From the Statesman:

he amendment makes a significant statement about public beaches and private property. Significant enough to warrant full legislative review, complete with public hearing.

Patterson, never a mincer of words, told the Houston Chronicle: “My opinion is just to say, ‘Screw you, Wayne Christian,’ because the Legislature didn’t pass this, one guy passed this.”

In his e-mail [to us], Christian railed about Patterson’s “cursive language.”

We’re really not sure what “cursive language” is, but perhaps this falls under that header: Perry should veto the damn bill.

From the Galveston Daily News:

The other reason this legislation deserves a quick veto is that it is bad public policy. The Open Beaches Act says that beaches belong to the public. If your land becomes a beach in Texas, you lose it, just as you would lose part of your cow pasture if a river changed course and ran through it. If a river runs through your pasture, you would not get to set up a tollbooth in the river and you would not get to charge bass boats and kayakers to pass.

The river would not be your private property in Texas — and neither would the beach.

Waterways and beaches are public property in Texas. And people who buy beach-front property are warned repeatedly, loudly and often about that provision in the law.

The Open Beaches Act is a good law. The alternative is to live in a state where most of the beaches are owned by the wealthy.

Remember that the initial purpose of this bill was to help folks in Galveston; it’s the reason given by State Rep. Craig Eiland why he voted for it. For the Galveston Daily News to argue for its veto strikes me as pretty powerful.

From Bud Kennedy:

Retired state Rep. A.R. “Babe” Schwartz, a Galveston Democrat, led the 1959 effort to defend public beaches.

After Ike, he talked about beachfront homeowners.

“We’re talking about damn fools that have built houses on the edge of the sea for as long as man could remember and against every advice anyone has given,” Schwartz said.

And who have power in Austin.

From the Star-Telegram:

Does the Open Beaches Act encroach on property rights in cases like this? Every beachfront-property owner knows the risk. If not for the act, eventually much of the Texas coast would be lined with private beaches.

Perry should veto HB 770. While that would hurt property owners in Galveston and elsewhere who want to retain their homestead tax exemptions while they rebuild, the greater good would come from upholding the integrity of the Open Beaches Act.

From the Beaumont Enterprise:

The sanctity of public beaches cannot be compromised in Texas. Homes or businesses cannot intrude onto beaches that belong to all Texans. For those reasons, Gov. Rick Perry has little choice but to veto a bill that contains a provision that would exempt property owners on the Bolivar Peninsula from a state law that bans construction on public beaches.

The Enterprise also had one of the better stories I’ve seen on the issue. Elise Hu has a statement from Rep. Christian that tells his side of it as well.

As of Friday, Governor Perry said he was still studying the bill. I have no idea what he’s going to do, and I daresay we won’t know until the June 21 deadline for him to take action. If you have an opinion, the Governor’s fax number is 512-463-1849; those who are rallying for a veto have been urging their supporters to send faxes asking for the bill to be rejected.

Parker wants to boot Hurtt

And the Mayoral campaign just got a little more interesting.

Mayoral candidate Annise Parker has plans get rid of Police Chief Harold Hurtt if she’s elected.

“I will replace the police chief. I think he’s ineffective,” Parker told the Houston Property Rights Association at a luncheon on Friday. “He doesn’t…” Parker was interrupted by someone in the crowd before she could elaborate. (Hair Balls wasn’t at the luncheon, but we listened to a recording of it.)

That’s all Parker said about Hurtt, but it seems she feels strongly about finding a new chief because her comment was almost unsolicited.

I suppose that’s not too surprising. It is fairly standard for a new Mayor to install his or her own people in the appointed positions like HPD Chief. Hurtt clearly sees the writing on the wall, as he’s publicly spoken about his future, including his job prospects. Still, it’s interesting to see a candidate step out on a limb like that, and it’s even more so when it includes an implied criticism of Mayor White, who’s kind of the 800-pound gorilla in this race. Isiah Carey has more.

Feds’ report on Harris County jails

Still a lot of people dying in the jails here, at least as of the last federal inspection.

Their experiences are detailed in a U.S. Department of Justice report, completed last week and obtained Monday by the Houston Chronicle, which found that conditions at the jail violate inmates’ constitutional rights. Justice officials have declined to release the report, but a jail spokesman last week discussed some of the findings.

The report also found that the downtown lockup, which houses some 11,000 people, has failed four of its last six state inspections and has come under scrutiny for poor medical care, overcrowding and inmates’ deaths.

[…]

The Justice Department issued a series of detailed recommendations for changes to policies and procedures at the jail, and officials said they expect to work with the Sheriff’s Office to implement them. If the changes don’t occur or are insufficient, the Justice Department can take legal action against Harris County.

The report is based on inspections of the jail in July and August and on the review of documents provided by the Sheriff’s Office, which runs the lockup. The report cites the jail for inadequate medical and mental health care and criticizes the Harris County Sheriff’s Office for jailers’ excessive use of force against inmates, noting the “Harris County Jail does not train staff that hogtying and chokeholds are dangerous, prohibited practices.”

Note the first sentence in that last paragraph. This report is based on an inspection done last year, when Tommy Thomas was still in charge. We can consider it the baseline against which new Sheriff Adrian Garcia will ultimately be judged. I have faith he’ll do a lot better – it’s hard to imagine doing much worse, after all. I presume there will be another inspection in the near future, which will hopefully give us a clearer picture of how things are now, and how they have improved. There are some positive early signs:

A spokesman for Sheriff Adrian Garcia, who oversees the jail, noted that the report is based largely on an inspection that occurred nearly a year ago, before he took office in January. (Read the full report here.)

“The report is based on a snapshot of what the jail was like then,” Keir Murray said. “Things are different now and they are going to continue to improve. The sheriff is committed to improving the jail.”

Murray outlined improvements made in each area the Justice Department cited, adding that the report does not reflect some of the changes.

The jail has started using peer review of medical and mental health care, using experts to review the work of jail staff to ensure inmates’ illnesses are detected and treated. Medical staff also must document all interactions with inmates and detail what follow-up care is necessary. Finally, even before Garcia took office, the Sheriff’s Office issued a new policy on when and how officers can use force against inmates.

The report does offer some praise for the Sheriff’s Office, particularly for its cooperation with the investigation. “We appreciate the assistance that they provided us and the candor of their responses,” it says. “Indeed, we were impressed by the level of professionalism exhibited by staff at all levels.”

Glad to hear it. We ought to know fairly soon if conditions really are getting better.

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office has 45 days to convince federal officials it is making progress on protecting inmates’ rights at its troubled jail and avoid a lawsuit to force improvements.

Well, at least that’s a simple enough way to judge the effectiveness of Sheriff Garcia’s mitigation efforts – either there’s a lawsuit filed or there isn’t.

On Tuesday, county officials downplayed the findings and instead focused on changes made since federal investigators toured the jail last year.

“Actually, if you read the report, it is fairly positive,” County Judge Ed Emmett said. “It has some episodic events but it does not show a pattern of problems.”

Nice to know politics aren’t an obstacle to overcome. As I said, I have faith Sheriff Garcia will get the job done. He sure does have his work cut out for him, though.

UPDATE: Grits has more.

It’s only a negative when it’s for something I don’t like

Matt Yglesias writes about one of my favorite people.

Randall O’Toole is a relentless advocate for highways and automobile dependency in the United States. Consequently, I don’t agree with him about very much. But the thing I consistently find most bizarre about him, is that the Cato Institute and the Reason Foundation have both agreed to agree with O’Toole that his support for highways and automobile dependency is a species of libertarianism. For example, O’Toole whines a bunch about how Ray LaHood wants to spend less money on highways and more on transportation alternatives before denouncing this agenda as “central planning.”

Central planning, of course, is the reverse of libertarianism. So if promoting alternative transportation is central planning, then building highways everywhere must be freedom! But of course in the real world building highways is also central planning. The Long Island Expressway is not a free market phenomenon. The Interstate Highway System as a whole reflects, yes, planning. That’s how it works. And beyond the interstates, American cities made a collective decision in the early part of the twentieth century to totally reconfigure their streets so as to become more convenient for car traffic—they’d be paved in an auto-friendly way, and the streets divided into a (larger) cars-only portion and a (smaller) people-only portion. That’s planning. It’s true that proposals to rebalance and make more space for buses and bikes and streetcars and pedestrians is a sort of central planning. But so is the alternative.

It’s just a field that, intrinsically, requires a lot of planning. The question is about what kinds of plans to make.

I don’t think I can add anything to this, except perhaps to note that maybe this is where some of the fervor for privatized toll roads comes from. Even there, of course, it’s not like your private toll road building firms were the ones deciding where the roads would be going. It was central planning all the way down to the point where construction and ultimately operations were to be handed off. Yet somehow that sort of thing never bothers the Randal O’Tooles of the world. One can only wonder why that may be.