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July 28th, 2010:

Interview with Rebecca Bell-Metereau

Rebecca Bell-Metereau

Next up is Rebecca Bell-Metereau, who is running for SBOE in District 5, which also touches San Antonio and goes north into the Hill Country. Bell-Metereau is also a professor of English, at Texas State University. She is running against former State Rep. Ken Mercer, who was elected to his first term in the SBOE in 2006. Interestingly, current State Rep. Donna Howard ran for this seat in 2002, against Mercer’s predecessor, but she lost by a wide margin. The district is more purple now than it was then, but it remains Republican leaning. So it’s a good thing that Bell-Metereau has done well in fundraising, and will hopefully keep that up. Here’s the interview:

Download the MP3 file

As a reminder, you can see all of my interviews for the 2010 election cycle on my 2010 Election page.

Pushback on the historic preservation ordinance

I’m seeing a few of these signs in my neighborhood:

'Responsible Historic Preservation'

The first ones I spotted were in front of houses on Heights Blvd; this one and a couple of others were on Studewood on an empty commercial lot.

Nothing like putting signs on an empty lot

I’ve since seen a few on Yale and 6th Street. The ResponsibleHistoricPreservation.org site says it is a “grassroots advocacy group primarily concerned with reasonable and sensible preservation of historic property in Houston”, according to their Who We Are page. I was a little suspicious of this, because I didn’t see the names of any people who were responsible for the group. Their Facebook page didn’t have any names, either. So, I sent them an email asking who their founder is and who their board members are, if they have any. I received the following response from Kathleen Powell:

I’m happy our signs are getting attention. Quite frankly, we are surprised at the number of responses we have received from the signs and from our website since Saturday morning. We are overwhelmed by the response to say the least.

I am one of three founders. The other two are Mary Wassef and Bill Baldwin. We have been keeping an eye on this issue since the spring of 2008 and knew the day was coming that we would have to take some action. All three of us are homeowners of old homes. Mary and I live in a current historic district, the Heights East and Norhill respectively, and Bill lives in a district which has applied for historic designation but he personally has already landmarked his home after doing a major renovation to a splendid old home that was in near tear down condition due to neglect. His home now is a show piece for the neighborhood. We all believe in and want historic preservation. We just want to go about it in a different, more sensible, reasonable, and responsible way.

We are an advocate group in the beginning stages and we have no board of directors. From the looks of things, we will think we will quickly need to become a more formal organization however currently, we are much more concerned with getting the word out about what the city is attempting to do and much too busy with that to worry about a board of directors. We are dancing as fast as we can!

That answered my questions, and I appreciate them getting back to me. (Kathleen also pointed me to this link on their page, which identifies her as its author; it’s linked from the main page on the lower right, but I did not see it when I first visited. She says the website is a work in progress and will have more content on it shortly.) The Baldwin house is in the 200 block of Bayland and it is a jewel – I’ve been in it a couple of times for events. I support efforts to update the existing ordinance, and I like what I’ve seen so far, but I’m certainly open to what they have to say. The goal is the best preservation ordinance we can get, so let’s have the discussion and see where it takes us.

County redoes its public defender proposal

Back in April, Harris County Commissioners Court voted to start a pilot public defenders office, contingent on getting a $4.4 million grant from the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense to help cover costs. That initial effort was subsequently criticized for being inadequate, and the TFID gave the county 30 days to improve its grant application. That has been done, and Commissioners Court is trying again.

The county’s previous version of the application received criticism from academics, local ministers, defense advocacy groups and the local state senator who authored the law authorizing the creation of public defender offices in Texas counties. Among the criticisms were that not enough judges planned to participate, that the office would not serve high-level felony defendants and that the office was subject to control by the judiciary and Commissioners Court.

Originally, 11 of 22 district court judges had volunteered to use a public defender on felony trial cases and only three agreed to the new office’s use on appellate cases. Now, 20 judges have bought in on felony trials and 18 on appeals.

[…]

To protect the public defender from meddling by Commissioners Court or the judiciary, an independent oversight board would be established for the office. Judges, attorneys, indigent defense groups, the county attorney and Commissioners Court all would get to make appointments to the board.

In the original application, public defenders would represent felony defendants accused only of low-level crimes such as possession of small amounts of drugs. The revamped proposal would have the public defender take on more serious felony trials. The plan also continues to provide for juvenile, appeals and mental health cases.

The county is also only asking for $4.1 million now, and there were some other changes made as well. It looks like they took the feedback they got seriously, and kudos to them for that. We’ll see how it goes from here.

You think there might be a connection there?

In the middle of this Trib story about the Driver Responsibility Program and the Lege’s efforts to reform it comes a reminder about the relationship between federal and state legislation.

Denise Rose, senior director of government relations at the Texas Hospital Association, says she doesn’t anticipate the new rules will have a large fiscal impact on the Driver Responsibility Program. “The state’s only collecting a third of the surcharges that are out there, so I don’t know that it’s going to make a huge dent,” she says. Even if the state isn’t collecting all it could, she says, the hospital trauma centers that get the money badly need it. Since 2004, Texas trauma centers have received some $380 million from driver surcharges, which helps pay for care provided to uninsured patients. “It seems like a lot of money, but hospitals have reported in the same time frame close to over $1 billion in uncompensated trauma care,” Rose says. Though hospitals acknowledge the surcharge program is not ideal, Rose says they’d rather see it fixed than eliminated. “If the state was funding uncompensated trauma care in a different way, there wouldn’t be a need for things like the Driver Responsibility Program,” she says. “But that’s a whole a different argument.”

Emphasis mine. The Affordable Care Act, which will provide insurance for those trauma victims for which these hospitals have been providing uncompensated care, will do more to close that gap than anything the Lege can or will do. You would think the state of Texas would be happier about that. Here was the federal government finally stepping up to solve a federal problem that was having an outsized impact on state and local governments. The lack of action by the federal government on a similar problem that’s theirs to solve – comprehensive immigration reform – is frequently cited these days (usually by Republicans) as justification for states taking that matter into their own hands. Yet what’s the reaction of these same Republican legislators to this great achievement by the federal government, which among many other things will solve problems like these? Why, they want to repeal it, to file lawsuits against it, to pass laws forbidding their states from recognizing it. One might think they’re not really all that concerned about the federal government solving problems. Funny how these things work, isn’t it?