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May, 2013:

Friday random ten: The city never sleeps, part 8

I don’t know about elsewhere, but all eyes remain on Austin around here as the legislative season goes into overtime. There are no Austin songs on this list, but there is a song about a suburb just north of Austin.

1. Pflugerville – Austin Lounge Lizards
2. Philadelphia Freedom – Hall and Oates
3. Riga In The Fall – Gavin Guss
4. Road To New York – Jim Malcolm
5. The Rocky Road To Dublin – The Chieftains and The Rolling Stones
6. Rumble In Brighton – Stray Cats
7. Santa Ana – Bruce Springsteen
8. Santa Ana Woman – The Bobs
9. Say Goodbye To Hollywood – Billy Joel
10. Southside Chicago Waltz – Black 47

One of my classmates at Trinity was one of the Pflugers of Pflugerville. Every time I attended a Lounge Lizards show I was tempted to mention that to the band afterward, but never got around to it. I guess I wasn’t sure how to continue the conversation after that opener. What cities are you singing about this week?

The special session won’t be so short

The original idea behind the special session on redistricting was that it would be a quickie – gavel in, vote to adopt the interim maps as permanent, maybe vote on a few wingnut wish list items, and gavel out again. That may yet be the basic timeline, but it will take more time than first thought.


At the first hearing of the special session, Chairman of the Select Committee on Redistricting Sen. Kel Seliger laid out an expanded meeting schedule that includes a possible joint public session with the House on Saturday.

If all goes according to plan, Seliger hopes to push a bill out of committee on June 12, setting up debate and a final Senate vote by the end of that week.

“That, right now, tentatively looks like our target date,” said Seliger, R-Amarillo.

Gov. Rick Perry called lawmakers into a special session Monday, immediately after the Legislature gaveled out of its regular session. He sent lawmakers back to work with the specific mandate to ratify a set of voting maps drawn last year by a three-judge panel in San Antonio.

It’s unclear how long it could take the House to bring a bill to the floor. The lower chamber will hold its first hearing Friday.

The timeline Seliger laid out bucked the general thinking at the Capitol, where observers expected Republicans to use their strength in numbers to certify election maps by next week.

Along with Thursday’s hearing and one scheduled for Saturday, the Senate committee will now hold a total of three additional public sessions, including a pair specifically for civil rights groups to air concerns.

Seliger also opened the door for amendments to be floated by June 10 — the first indication that Republicans are open to even considering tweaks to the interim maps. Up until now, the narrow scope of Perry’s call for the special session had raised questions as to whether Democrats could even bring up amendments.

Greg, who remains in Austin because of the special session, was there to liveblog the Senate hearing, and I trust will liveblog the House hearing as well. A few points of interest:

– If the Lege slows things down and allows amendments, alternate maps, and public input at other hearings around the state, it’s almost certainly because the Republicans have come to realize that to do otherwise would be to repeat some of the behavior from 2011 that got them cited for discrimination. First Reading discusses how Democrats are setting them up for this (scroll down to the section that begins “Stop. Don’t. Come Back.”), and it’s clear from the questions at the Senate hearing that they’re laying down a paper trail for future litigation. We’ll see if the Republicans can avoid the trap – the Senators appear to be at least somewhat aware of the danger – or if they come under pressure to just get it done and leave all the worrying about the legal stuff to Greg Abbott.

– As Greg notes, if the floor is open for amendments, it is also possible that the Rs might want to tweak the Senate map, which is now acceptable to Sen. Wendy Davis. However, if that happens, it seems likely that they would all have to run for re-election in 2014; Sen. Royce West brought that up in his questioning. If so, that could put a damper on some Senators’ plans for the future, since at least three of them are thinking about running statewide – Hegar and Williams for Comptroller, Dan Patrick for Lite Guv. Hegar and Williams drew four year terms at the start of the session, meaning they could run for something in 2014 without putting their seat at risk if nothing changes, while Patrick drew a two year term and would have to make a choice.

– It’s not clear to me if the longer timetable for redistricting makes it more likely that Rick Perry will add to the call of the session, as Trail Blazers suggests, or less likely. Arguably, since there will be empty days between the committee hearings and the votes, Perry could add other items that could fill in the voids. Against that, the session is 30 days long, and we’ll be well past the halfway point by the time the maps are voted on at the current pace, which is almost two weeks later than originally projected. If the Rs do put more effort into taking public testimony, especially if they hold field hearings around the state, they’ll be hard pressed to do much else while redistricting is on the menu – and remember, Perry has basically said not to ask about anything else until redistricting is done – and they’d have a short horizon for anything else afterward. Not impossible, of course, and Perry can always call a second session if he wants – it’s all about what he wants, after all – it’s just not clear which way is more conducive to an expanded call for anything remotely controversial. As always, we’ll know when he wants us to know.

Lots to watch for, and lots to think about. Texas Politics and Texas Vox have more.

A bumpy ride for an equality resolution in Dallas

The saga begins when Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings unenthusiastically agreed to putting a resolution in support of marriage equality on the Dallas City Council agenda.

On the right side of history

After weeks of sidestepping the question, Mayor Mike Rawlings says he will vote next month in favor of a Dallas City Council resolution supporting the right of same-sex couples to marry.

“I will vote for this resolution as written,” he told me during a conversation last week. “This is an important issue, and I did not want to turn this into a sound bite.”

The resolution was proposed for council consideration last month by council member Scott Griggs, who said he has enough votes to get it passed.

Rawlings didn’t exactly put on a poker face to conceal his irritation at the timing. Griggs’ announcement came less than two weeks before the May 11 elections, in which Griggs was running against fellow council member Delia Jasso for the same seat because of a redrawing of district boundaries.

Jasso was among those who supported the amendment, but Rawlings suggested that Griggs — who ultimately won the race — wanted to shore up support among gay and lesbian residents in Oak Cliff.

“To do this for what seem to be political reasons is not good judgment,” Rawlings said earlier this month. He characterized what he viewed as a symbolic debate on a divisive constitutional issue as a “misuse of the council’s time.”

Griggs politely responded that he felt the issue was “timely” and “relevant” and that he looks forward to the resolution’s passage.

Now, with council elections in the rearview mirror, Rawlings says he has decided to join the council majority supporting the measure.

But that was before one of the Council members that supported the resolution flip-flopped on bringing it to a Council vote.

Lame-duck Dallas City Councilwoman Delia Jasso, defeated in the May 11 election, has abruptly withdrawn her support for an LGBT equality resolution, meaning Mayor Mike Rawlings is no longer required to place the resolution on the council agenda.

According to an email from the city secretary to council members on Tuesday, Jasso has pulled her signature from a memo in support of the equality resolution that she signed in April. Jasso was one of five council members who signed the memo, the required number to force Rawlings to place the resolution on the agenda under the city charter.

The Morning News explains why that matters.

For Griggs, getting five signatures on his marriage equality and anti-discrimination resolution was crucial. Under the city charter, only the mayor or city manager can singly place items on a voting agenda. But five council members together have the power to force a vote.

Mayor Mike Rawlings has strongly opposed having the council take up the debate — not because he’s against gay marriage but because he doesn’t want the council to spend its time on politically charged issues over which it has no control.


Rawlings has said that if the resolution did make it to a council vote, he would support it. But now that Griggs’ resolution lacks the needed five votes, the mayor has no intention of placing it on an upcoming agenda, said his chief of staff, Paula Blackmon.

“The mayor has continually stated he believes this is out of the realm of the City Council and does not plan to keep it on the agenda,” Blackmon said.

That throws the plan for a council vote into doubt — at least for now.

But in an interview with the Dallas Voice, a publication serving the city’s gay community, Griggs said he believed the resolution could still move forward.

“I think we’ve got the votes,” he said.

If the current council is unable to take up the issue, it’s not clear whether the new council, which will be seated in June, will agree to support — or even debate — gay marriage.

In addition to Hunt and, until her about-face, Jasso, those who supported Griggs’ resolution were Pauline Medrano and Monica Alonzo.

Hunt is leaving the council, but both candidates vying to replace her, Bobby Abtahi and Philip Kingston, support the resolution. Adam Medrano, who succeeds his aunt, Pauline Medrano, is also expected to be supportive. Alonzo was re-elected.

It’s not clear where council member-elect Jennifer Staubach Gates stands on the issue. Lee Kleinman, who is succeeding council member Linda Koop, said he agrees with the mayor that the issue is not one the City Council should take up.

The story isn’t clear on this, and I don’t know Dallas city politics, but my interpretation is that while Griggs may have five supporters among the new Council members to force a vote again, he may or may not have the eight votes needed to get it passed. Resolutions like these don’t carry any weight and thus don’t have any practical effect like an anti-discrimination ordinance or domestic partner benefits (even if you can’t call them that), but they do matter, as an expression of one’s values. The more clear you can make what the real consensus, mainstream position is, the better. It’s clear now that it would have been better for Mayor Rawlings to have agreed to do this sooner rather than later, when it also might have helped provide some support for pro-equality measures in the Legislature. I have no idea what happens from here, but I wish CM Griggs the best of luck in picking up the pieces and trying again.

Justice Department engaged in North Forest closure

A possible ray of hope for supporters of North Forest ISD, which is still hoping to survive past July 1 when the TEA’s order for it to be subsumed into HISD takes effect.

The chief of the Justice Department’s voting section wrote a letter to the Texas Education Agency saying federal officials need to know how HISD plans to redraw its school board boundaries to encompass North Forest. The Justice Department must sign off on the annexation to ensure fair treatment of minority voters under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

TEA spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe said state officials believe HISD must send a letter to the Justice Department explaining its plans for redistricting.

David Thompson, an attorney for HISD, said the district can relay some options to the Justice Department but he thinks it would be premature for the school board to take official action until the annexation is official.

“It’s a little bit of the chicken or the egg,” said Ratcliffe of the TEA.

The State Office of Administrative Hearings ruled last week that the annexation could proceed, but the TEA also needs clearance from the Justice Department.


Chris Tritico, an attorney representing North Forest in its effort to block the closure, said he was optimistic the Justice Department ultimately would deny the annexation. He noted that all seven of the North Forest school board members are black, while HISD’s nine-member board includes four Anglos. But like those in North Forest, the majority of students in HISD are black and Hispanic.

The Forward Times has a copy of the letter from the Justice Department. Hard to know what to make of this, and as with everything else it may be affected by the forthcoming SCOTUS ruling on the Voting Rights Act. The NFISD Board of Trustees has refused an order from the TEA to terminate its teachers in anticipation of the IHSD takeover, so one way or another there’s still a lot of action to take place.

Houston keeps on growing

Sounds good to me.

Among large American cities, only New York added more people than Houston in the year ending July 1, 2012, according to new census figures released Thursday. In addition, the Census Bureau reported, eight of the 15 fastest-growing large cities – those with more than 50,000 residents – were in Texas, including Conroe in the Houston area.

The report covered cities and towns, not broader metropolitan areas.

Margaret Drain, a senior researcher at Houston Community College, said the strong growth in Houston and other Texas cities was not surprising.

“I think this is going to be a nice incline kind of ride,” Drain said.

From July 1, 2011, to July 1, 2012, Houston added 34,625 residents to rise to a population of 2,160,821. This represented a 1.6 percent population increase for the year, compared with New York’s 0.8 percent growth.

Houston’s growth rate was exceeded by those of other major cities in Texas. Austin grew by 3 percent and jumped two spots to become the nation’s 11th-largest city; Houston remained in fourth place behind New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Dallas and San Antonio also grew by higher percentages than Houston.


In the Houston area, Conroe was the fastest-growing metro, increasing by 4 percent to 61,533 people. It was the 10th-fastest growing city in the country among those above 50,000 population.

See the Census press release and tables here. I’m glad to see this talk about cities and not just metro areas, though it does that as well. Note that by these figures we were comfortably above 2.1 million people as of 2011, so despite the grumbling in some corners it was clearly the right thing for us to expand and redistrict City Council in 2009 rather than wait any longer. Note also the difference between absolute growth and growth rate. Conroe’s four percent growth, if that’s an exact figure, represents an increase of 2,367 people, far less than Houston’s total but much larger as a percentage since they started with so much smaller a population. Austin Contrarian has more.

Many questions at the redistricting hearing

From the Trib:

The Legislature is currently considering whether to ratify maps drawn by the three federal judges and used in the 2012 elections. It became clear during Wednesday’s hearing that the judges and the lawyers in the case agree that the Legislature probably can’t make changes to the maps during the special session — given the charge for that session from Gov. Rick Perry.

The judges didn’t decide anything, though they asked the lawyers several questions about where things stand and how the cases should proceed. Questions include:

  • If the Legislature adopts the court’s lines as its own, should the litigation underway in San Antonio stop and leave future arguments to other courts?
  • Should objections to the state-drawn maps extend to similar lines in the court-drawn maps?
  • Should new information about elections and demographics be used in putting new maps together if it wasn’t available to lawmakers when they first drew maps in 2011?

That’s all open to argument, which is why the court asked the lawyers to file briefs. Lawmakers have said they could be finished in a week to ten days. If that’s so, the judges could be free to decide their own next move knowing what the Legislature wants to do. The lawyers have until next Wednesday to file their briefs, and the judges said they’ll call another hearing sometime after that.

Texas Redistricting goes into more detail.

Hispanic and African-American plaintiff groups took strong issue with the State of Texas’ argument that the case would essentially begin anew.

Jose Garza, counsel for the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, told the three-judge panel that, if the Legislature were adopt the interim maps as permanent, the plaintiffs would be amending their pleadings to include claims based on those maps – and that case law supported the court’s retention of jurisdiction in those circumstances.

And they argued that because the new legislative maps would not really be new maps but rather a variant of the legislatively enacted maps that the court previously considered, the court’s work would essentially pick up where it left off when the interim maps were adopted.

At various points in the hearing, the narrowness of Gov. Perry’s special session call came into question.

Although the state’s lawyer David Mattax said that he could not say whether the call would restrict consideration of alternate maps, lawyers for plaintiff groups – and Circuit Judge Jerry Smith – suggested that it did – and plaintiff groups said that was further evidence that not only were the maps not new, but that Republican leaders had predetermined the outcome – and once again excluded meaningful input from minority groups.

But in a sign of how complicated and unprecedented the current scenario is, Garza and lawyers for the other plaintiff groups said how the court went about its work would depend on whether section 5 survives Shelby Co.

If section 5 is upheld, they said the court would need to consider whether adjustments to the maps would be needed to incorporate the D.C. court’s preclearance findings – a position that Mattax agreed with notwithstanding his position that the maps would be new enactments.

And, if section 5 is struck down, the court would need to address the plaintiffs’ section 2 and constitutional claims, giving preclusive effect to the D.C court’s ruling on issues like discriminatory intent.

The preclusion question drew opposition from the state and extended questioning from Judge Jerry Smith – but no resolution today.

I presume the reason why the plaintiffs want the court to consider the interim maps as the same as the legislatively drawn maps is that most of the groundwork has already been done, so if the interim maps are just variations on a theme then this could all quite reasonably end up with new, more plaintiff-friendly maps in time for the 2014 elections. If we have to start from scratch, however, it’s hard to see how everything could be done in time for the December filing season. That could mean delayed primaries again, or it could mean we keep the interim maps for 2014 and aim for resolution in 2016. Once you see it in those terms, it’s clear why the plaintiffs want to pick up where we left off, and the state wants a do-over.

As for the question about whether the interim maps could be amended during the special session, this isn’t rocket science. Greg Abbott has been calling for the interim maps to be adopted since March, as a piece of strategy to bolster his legal defense of the maps. Discussion was never part of the plan. The irony is that the Republicans were slapped after the 2011 redistricting for ramrodding the process and avoiding input and feedback from minority groups. You’d think they’d learn, but then no, you wouldn’t. Anyway, MALC Chairman Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer sent a letter to House Redistricting Chair Drew Darby, asking to bring the Governor’s office and the AG’s office to the hearings to ask about the agenda and why there’s no apparent room for input in the session. That ought to be fun if Darby accedes to the request.

Finally, everyone officially agreed that the Senate map needed no further changes, so the court will enter an order to that effect and award attorney’s fees to Sen. Wendy Davis once everything else is settled. Going by the briefing schedule the next hearing will be in August, after the Shelby decision is handed down.

Combs not running for re-election

And a domino falls.

Susan Combs

Susan Combs

Comptroller Susan Combs opened up the logjam that has been statewide office in Texas by announcing Wednesday that she will not seek election in 2014.

Announcements were immediately flying with state Rep. Harvey Hildebran, R-Kerrville, throwing his green eye-shades into the race.

Combs, 68, was first won the comptroller’s post in 2007, after having become the first female Agriculture Commissioner. She also served in the state House as a Republican from Austin.

In her announcement, Combs said she wanted to return to ranching and continue her work on private property rights.

“In the summer of 1994, I marched up Congress Avenue with hundreds of Texans in support of private property rights—and I’m not done marching,” Combs said.

Combs has almost $8 million in the bank and was looking at a run for lieutenant governor, which was dampened when David Dewhurst said he would run for re-election.

This will be the first open seat in the big six statewide offices in more than a decade and the scramble is already on to fill the post.

Besides Hildebran, other potential candidates include tea party activist Debra Medina and Sen. Glenn Hegar, R- Katy.

You can see her full statement here. The Trib also lists one-term former State Rep. Raul Torres as a potential candidate, and Sen. Tommy Williams is also considering it. Williams, Hegar, and Hilderbran would probably be OK, Medina is a nut, and Torres is unlikely to be able to compete with any of them. I’m sure others will jump in as well. Combs was at one time reported to be running for Lite Guv, but that never went anywhere. She wasn’t nearly as feisty as Carole Keeton Strayhorn when it came to pushing back on Rick Perry – speaking of the Comptroller Of Many Names, has anyone asked what she’s up to these days? – and her tenure was marred by her role in promising public funds for F1 racing in Austin as well as her gross mis-estimation of the state’s revenue in 2011, the result of which was far more drastic cuts to spending than was needed. I give her credit for (mostly) not being overly ideological, but some more competence and independence would have been nice. Texas Politics, PDiddie, Texpatriate, and Juanita have more.

Hooray for the hotels

We’re going to have a lot of people coming into town for Super Bowl LI. We’re going to have to put them somewhere.

Mayor Annise Parker said Thursday that hosting the 2017 Super Bowl will be another step in Houston’s evolution as a designation city of international prominence.

Speaking to the Hotel & Lodging Association of Greater Houston at The Houstonian Hotel, Club and Spa, Parker praised the industry’s role in gaining the coveted bid this week and touted the city’s continuing efforts to attract more visitors.

She said Houston is gaining worldwide recognition.

“We are now saying, ‘What can we do that is uniquely Houston to bring people to the city?’ ” Parker said.

Greg Ortale, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, applauded the local hoteliers for exceeding the NFL’s requirement for how many rooms Super Bowl host cities must set aside for those attending the event.

Ortale explained that during the bidding process, the NFL asks area hotels to make long-term commitments to ensure rooms will be available and guests won’t be charged exorbitant rates. The NFL asked cities submitting bids for the Super Bowl to commit 19,000 rooms. Houston’s hotels exceeded that number.

I imagine there’s a certain amount of latitude to the definition of “exorbitant”, but never mind that. Like I said, there will be a lot of people coming in to town. You may be wondering what we plan to do with them all while they’re here. The GHCVB has a plan for that.

Those grand plans include a “rocket ship ride” in Discovery Green that aims to blow away the zip line ride over downtown Indianapolis that impressed so many during the last Super Bowl. “We’re going to have something like a rocket ship,” Houston Super Bowl bid chairman Ric Campo promised as the full scope of the Bayou City’s winning Super Bowl vision emerged Wednesday.

“. . . It’s not fully baked,” Campo said after a pause, allowing that many more details will have to be worked out before the pretend rocket blasts off.

Still, the rocket ride speaks to the grand scale of these Super plans for 2017. The renderings on display at One Park Place included a tall, high-tech looking, free-standing structure in Discovery Green that Campo later described to CultureMap as something of a “Space Needle.” By the time it’s fully unveiled, it’s likely to have a more Bayou City fitting name, but there is little doubt that the Super Bowl organizers hope to have NASA involved.

What clearly already blew the NFL owners and officials away is the Houston vision of turning the Super Bowl from a one-week party into a 10-day event. As Campo describes it, the Super Bowl action, which has typically started heating up on the Tuesday of game week, will instead begin the Thursday before the NFL’s typical off weekend — a full 10 days prior to the big game’s kickoff.

“No other city had that as part of their proposal,” Campo said.

Campo admits that will require more money and more big-time events to fill up what’s essentially an extra four days. After many other reporters had left One Park Place following the close of the official press conference, Campo told CultureMap that the early plans call for major concerts (much like the 2011 Final Four, only even bigger acts) and themed days that highlight Houston’s diversity.

“We’ll probably take a page from the Rodeo there,” Campo said of the themed days and making sure all 10 days have major draws. “. . . We’re creating a festival experience for people without tickets.”

The organizing committee estimates that more than a million people will visit Discovery Green during the 10-day “festival.”

Dale Robertson wrote a column before the NFL made its decision that talked about how Discovery Green was a key component of Houston’s bid. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the programmers have in mind. The potential is there for some really awesome events.

One more thing, from the original story:

“Welcome to Boomtown, USA,” Parker said. “We know how to handle a boom because we’ve been through a bust. We don’t want to screw it up.”

I believe the proper expression is “Oh, Lord, please grant me one more oil boom. I promise not to piss this one away.”

Texas blog roundup for the week of May 27

The Texas Progressive Alliance hopes their legislators get to go home soon as we bring you this week’s roundup.


Why a special session on redistricting won’t resolve anything

From Texas Redistricting:

Intentional Fragmentation 

In the other parts of the map, redistricting plaintiffs contend that the Texas Legislature intentionally diluted African-American and Hispanic voting strength by fragmenting cohesive communities.

This fragmentation, they argue, is especially pronounced in the DFW Metroplex, where the court-drawn interim map (Plan H309) adopted the Texas Legislature’s map (Plan H283) without any changes.

For example, prior to the 2011 round of redistricting, HD 101 was a compact district in eastern Dallas County, taking in all but small parts of Mesquite plus the adjacent town of Sunnyvale and heavily African-American and Hispanic Balch Springs.


However, under the plan adopted by the Legislature and incorporated by the court into its second interim map, the city of Mesquite was split into three districts, with part of the city’s non-Anglo population drawn into HD 107 and other parts drawn into HD 110 and HD 113. The city of Balch Springs, where non-Anglos now make up nearly 75% of the population, was similarly split.


On the other side of Dallas County, the oddly shaped taproot in the redrawn HD 105 is another example cited by the plaintiffs of fragmentation.


The portions of the city of Grand Prairie to the west of the taproot include African-American neighborhoods separated out from African-American neighborhoods within the taproot.

The result is that HD 104, a Hispanic opportunity district represented by State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, becomes 19.2% African-American CVAP, while HD 105, a seat represented by an Anglo Republican Linda Harper-Brown, becomes several points less African-American than under the court’s initial interim map.

The plaintiffs’ pleadings point to other examples of fragmentation in Harris, Fort Bend, Bell, and McLennan counties.

The plaintiffs say this “purposeful fragmentation of minority voters … violated the equal protection principles laid down” by federal courts.

If the court agrees, it would have broad power to fix the fragmentation, much as it fixed similar fragmentation in the congressional map by creating CD-33 in the Metroplex.

This was part four of a series looking at the remaining disputes with the maps – see here, here, and here for the first three, here for Part Five, and click over for more on the legislative maps. The San Antonio court will hold a hearing today to begin to decide what to do with the legislative and Congressional maps, once they have direction from SCOTUS. The idea of making the interim maps the legislatively-passed maps is that it would strengthen the state’s hand in defending them, since these maps were drawn by the court in the first place. But the San Antonio court, which originally drew maps that were much friendlier to the Democrats, were constrained by a SCOTUS ruling that said they had to give deference to the original Lege-drawn maps. With the DC court’s ruling that there was intentional discrimination in these maps, I don’t think the hastily-drawn interim solutions will hold up. But I’m not a lawyer, so what do I know. Point is, we’re nowhere near the end of this fight.

Calling to add to the call

The special session is just a day old, and already legislators are lining up to extend its agenda to cover things that didn’t get done during regulation time.


Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, and Senate Transportation Chairman Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, have filed a resolution that would ask voters to approve diverting some of the revenue that traditionally goes to the state’s savings account into the state’s highway fund.

“We’ve talked to Perry’s office about it,” Williams said. “They like it. I think they’ll be very supportive of it.”

Last week, days before the end of the regular session, Williams proposed the same plan to House budget leaders, who were not receptive to considering it so late in the session.

Williams is now hopeful that Perry will add the issue to a special session agenda that so far only covers redistricting issues. At a news conference Tuesday, Perry did not rule out adding other issues to the special session agenda.

“Unlike water for the last decade, we have addressed transportation, so there’s been some important movement in the transportation side,” Perry said. “Is it enough, from my perspective? No, but, again, I think it’s a little bit premature, with less than 24 hours since we’ve called this special, to be addressing whether we’re going to be adding anything to the call or not.”

Transportation funding was one of those issues that just sort of went away at the end of the session, as there was no consensus on how to proceed. I’m skeptical that Perry will accept the use of Rainy Day funds for this purpose, even if ratified by the voters, and I’m even more skeptical that the teabagger contingent will go for it, but of all the things that could be added to the call of this session, that would be among the more constructive items. Among the less constructive items are bills that have been re-filed for more guns and fewer abortions. Perry isn’t saying yet what if anything else he might add to the call, but as I’ve said before, it’s hard to see how going full metal wingnut hurts him.

So for now at least, the special session is limited to redistricting, and in particular to passing bills to make the interim maps permanent. That hasn’t stopped Democrats from filing their own redistricting plans, but don’t hold your breath waiting for them to have a hearing. As with the existence of this session, filing these maps is about the ongoing litigation. Via BOR, Rep. Garnet Coleman sums it up:

“Governor Perry has called us back into special session in order to adopt the interim maps as the permanent maps for the State of Texas.

Based on the narrowness of the Governor’s call, no alternative plans may be considered. The interim maps were clearly intended to be only temporary so that the state of Texas could hold elections; they were not intended to address all of the Legislature’s failures in adhering to the Voting Rights Act under Sections 2 and 5.

House Committee Hearings on the interim maps are set for this Friday and Saturday, which is not enough notice to allow the public to provide adequate testimony on the interim maps. Even if this were enough time, the narrowness of the Governor’s call means that publicly requested changes could not be adopted, effectively shutting out the opinions of Texas citizens.

The San Antonio three-judge panel has previously shown with plan H302 that they are able to draw maps that adhere to Sections 2 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act and allow for adequate minority representation. I am going to file this plan as a demonstration that an alternative plan can be drawn that satisfies the Voting Rights Act. I shall file an additional plan later this week that will also accomplish these goals.

During the first call of the special session of the Legislature, members of color will once again demonstrate that the Texas Legislature is pursuing a course to deny effective representation of racial and ethnic minorities and communities of interest.”

The San Antonio court will once again have its hands full, and not much time to deal with all the issues before them. June is going to be a hell of a month.

Does the Super Bowl doom the Dome?

The Texican ponders what the announcement about Houston landing Super Bowl LI means for everyone’s favorite unused arena.

At long last, is this the end?

So what does this mean for our Dome?

A parking garage would be an ignoble end for the Dome, though I am sure many would settle for parking somewhere in the former lodge section if it meant they wouldn’t need to watch pieces of it be hauled down 610 on the backs of flatbed trucks.

Tacking on millions upon millions of dollars onto what will already be an expensive enterprise such as a Super Bowl just isn’t feasible, or even sane, in order to keep the Dome alive and kicking. Can you imagine the thing still sitting there as it is in 2017 during that big game? People will start thinking it an art installation.

Wait, that could work….

Right now would be the time for everyone with those great open-air ideas for the Dome to step forward and begin shouting about your grand schemes. I am rooting for Ryan Slattery myself. Keep reminding the Harris County Sports and Convention people that your plan is worthy.

Slattery’s vision of skeletonizing the Dome for a pavilion concept is exciting, and you make use of the structure without completely demolishing history.

But then there are the rubs.

RodeoHouston needs more space, and they have said as much in the press. The Dome sits like a tumor inside the rodeo festivities, making people have to walk around the building to get to more places to spend money. And people in Houston do not like walking a few extra yards to spend that money.

The Houston Texans wouldn’t balk at having more space. As it is on game days, their fan parties have to line up next to the Dome, and the Dome somehow angers you more just looking at it after a tough loss.

Even as an unrepentant Domer, a person who collects anything I can get my hands on related to the building, I still see the thing being torn down piece by piece in the next few years though, if Slattery’s plan or that of others is not enacted.

Look, I know I didn’t grow up here and thus don’t have the emotional attachment to the Dome that folks like The Texican have. I get that people love the old behemoth, which was the first of its kind, and want to preserve it, which is a strange sentiment in a town like Houston. It’s just that there’s no precedent for doing anything other than applying the wrecking ball. I mean, they tore down Yankee Stadium, which with all due respect has a bit more of a claim to significance than the Dome. Most of the Astros’ former colleague in the National League are playing in stadia that were built after the stadia that were built to replace their historic parks were torn down. Nobody even remembers Crosley Field, Forbes Field, or the Baker Bowl, and surely no one mourns Riverfront, Three Rivers, or Veterans stadia. The only historic venues that have been preserved are the ones that are still actively used – Fenway, Wrigley, Lambeau, Madison Square Garden. If there is a feasible and practical thing to do with the Dome then great, let’s do it. If not, then let nature take its course. I don’t see any other way.

Be that as it may, the people who helped land the Super Bowl bid say that the Dome was not and is not a factor in their thoughts or deeds.

“We had a process in place before the bid, and even after the bid, the same process applies,” said Kevin Hoffman, deputy executive director of the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation.

Nor is there an agreement – written or secret – that Houston’s selection hinged on converting the former baseball-football stadium into a parking lot, those planning Super Bowl LI and those working to save the iconic structure agreed.

“Not at all,” said Greg Ortale, bid committee member and president of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We addressed the Astrodome with the NFL early on. We told them it would not be part of our bid and there was a process in place to be determined with voters voting.”


Proposing to make Super Bowl LI the longest, largest football party to date only increases pressure on local leaders to ensure the celebration is not dampened by traffic congestion and cars jousting for that last open spot.

Chris Alexander, of Astrodome Tomorrow, said that does not necessarily strengthen the arguments of those seeking to tear down the Astrodome.

Alexander, whose group wants to renovate the Dome into a high-tech entertainment and exhibition space, said their proposal includes expanding parking by building a garage on the Kirby lot.

He believes the plan for the county to review all proposals after the June 10 submission deadline, have the commissioners court choose the best option and then possibly have voters approve it clearly takes the decision out of the NFL’s control.

County Judge Ed Emmett agreed.

“It’s a totally separate question,” he said.

One we still have to come to terms with ourselves. KUHF gets some further clarity from Judge Emmett.

This is Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.

“If there’s no private interest that has a reasonable financial backing, then on June 25th, the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation is to present their best idea of public use of the Dome to Harris County Commissioners Court and our capital improvements planning session. From that point, it will be in the hands of County Commissioners Court.”

Emmett says the Astrodome saga will likely end at the ballot box, with local voters ultimately deciding what to do with an aging Houston icon.

“It’s very likely to require a bond election. That would be presented to the voters, but I’m told we’re not allowed to put options, so it will be a real clear, this is the best idea of what to do with the Dome. If you’re not agreeable to this, then the Dome comes down. And all of that will be occurring in the next year or two years.”

First, Commissioners Court has to decide what that one clear non-demolition option is. I look forward to seeing the choices they will have for review. Campos has more.

North Line on track to open early


Metro’s North Line light rail extension will open ahead of schedule in December, officials said Thursday, providing the first new light rail service in Houston in almost 10 years.

The announcement at the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s monthly board meeting followed a series of delays and setbacks for the agency’s light rail expansion project, authorized by voters in 2003. The Main Street “Red Line” opened Jan. 1, 2004.

Better-than-expected construction progress means the North Line is scheduled to open before Christmas, Metro officials said Thursday. The line runs from the University of Houston Downtown, the northern end of the Red Line, along Main and Fulton streets to Northline Commons north of Loop 610.

Officials said they are ecstatic the $756 million line is ahead of the construction schedule established in 2011.

“You under-promise and over-perform,” said Metro chairman Gilbert Garcia. “We’re very pleased to be bringing this in.”


To meet the December opening date, a lot of work remains, but it is not dependent on weather or other factors Metro can’t control, officials said.

“Very shortly, you’re going to see us powering up the system,” interim Metro president Tom Lambert said.

Rail and concrete for platforms are in place, and most of the remaining construction involves electrical work, landscaping and finishing the eight stations along the 5.3-mile extension.

At the Burnett station under construction north of Interstate 10, workers were laying communications wiring and placing the glass panels at the passenger platforms Thursday.

By June, work will shift to internal components such as electrical connections for the overheard power wires and communications among the train signals, Metro’s downtown headquarters and Houston TranStar, where the system is maintained.

Metro will test the line by running trains without passengers. The first test is scheduled for Tuesday, when Metro plans to drag a train car along the tracks with a special sled vehicle that’s essentially a tractor. The test will make sure a train car doesn’t strike any of the overheard wires, station canopies or other items, project manager Michael Krantz said.

Work continues, meanwhile, on the East and Southeast lines, both set for late-2014 openings, Lambert said.

It’s exciting to know that this will be ready to go in just a few months. We’ve been waiting an awfully long time. Metro will be doing some testing on the line beginning today as a “shuttlewagon” tows a light rail car along the North Line – imagine a tugboat pulling a barge behind it, except on train tracks. I trust someone will get a photo of this as it’s happening. Anyway, great news about the North Line. Hopefully we’ll hear some equally great news about the other lines someday soon. Swamplot has more.

Wrapping up the rest of the regular session

So as we now know, a special session on redistricting has been called, though we don’t yet know what if anything else may be added later. I covered that last night, so let’s cover what else got done at the end of the regular session, beyond what I noted below. First of all, the budget passed, though not without some late drama.


The Texas House approved the 2014-15 budget bill and sent it to Gov. Rick Perry on a vote of 118-29, a lopsided vote that belied the teeth-gnashing and nail-biting over the past few weeks as budget-writers crafted the final deal.

One of Perry’s top priorities — “significant tax relief” — faced the threat of a filibuster by state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, Sunday night because his language mandating a periodic review of the $43 billion in tax credits had been stripped from House Bill 500.

When the bill came up around 10:30, Ellis could have killed it by talking until midnight. He did not, but voted against it and predicted that lawmakers were carving a hole in the budget that would have to be filled in future sessions.

Toppling HB 500 would not have undercut the entire budget, but could have prompted Perry to put tax relief on the agenda if he calls lawmakers back after the regular legislative session ends Monday. A special session is considered a near-certainty to deal with redistricting and perhaps other issues.

Senate Bill 1, the two-year budget bill, spends $94.6 billion in state general revenue — up $7 billion — over the next two years on public schools, prisons, parks and health care for low-income children and the disabled. Including federal dollars, the budget bill totals $197 billion, a 3.7 percent increase over the current budget.


Many Texans also would be getting a break on their electric utility bills after both chambers agreed to eliminate an $800 million fund that was created to help low-income Texans and senior citizens pay their bills in the summer months. House Bill 7 repeals the fee that fed that fund, which brings ratepayers about $150 million a year in relief. The remainder of the fund will be paid out over the next three years to provide a discount to people who are eligible.

“I believe this will be the only bill going through this legislative session where customers, mom and dad, individuals who are working, will receive a direct tax rebate that they can feel, they can see and that will be meaningful and tangible for them,” state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, said.

Texans served by municipal or cooperative electric providers, including many in Austin and other Central Texas communities, were never subject to the fee.

Businesses could be in line to get about $1 billion in tax breaks.

HB 500 would cut the tax rate for the franchise tax, commonly called the margins tax, by 2.5 percent in 2014 and 5 percent in 2015. The second year tax cut is dependent on state funds being available.

The bill also makes permanent a $1 million exemption for small businesses that have less than $1 million in gross receipts.

Its biggest change, championed by state Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, allows businesses to deduct up to $1 million in expenses once they pass $1 million in gross receipts.

See here and here for more on the gyrations regarding the System Benefit Fund, which had been the biggest source of budget shenanigans in the past, as it collected millions that were never appropriated so its revenue could count towards “balancing” the budget. One way to look at all this is that it was an attempt to meet Perry’s demand for $1.8 billion in tax “relief”. Whether he accepts this or not will help determine the agenda of a special session, if one is called. The Observer has more on the budget details, and a statement from Sen. Ellis about HB500 is beneath the fold.

One item that largely went below the radar but that could have required attention in overtime was the fate of the Railroad Commission. Not the failed renaming and attempt to impose more stringent ethics requirements on it but the sunset bill reauthorizing its existence, which nearly ran aground in the session’s twilight.

If lawmakers do not act soon, the agency that regulates oil and gas in Texas could disappear.

A legislative review of that agency, the Texas Railroad Commission, failed this session, and a measure that might be used to keep the agency alive until 2015 or later doesn’t include any reference to the RRC.

“It means the Railroad Commission will go away,” said state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton.

Bonnen chairs the Sunset Advisory Commission, which is charged with periodically assessing and renewing the charters of state agencies. The RRC’s “sunset” legislation failed in 2011, and lawmakers extended the life of the agency until this year. It didn’t work; the legislation that would have renewed the agency’s charter and made additional changes has already failed again.

What’s more, House Bill 1675, this year’s version of the “safety net” that rescued the RRC and other agencies last year, doesn’t include the Railroad Commission this time. Unless lawmakers add it in the final days of the session, the agency will go out of business.

Despite Bonnen’s pessimism, others say that there is a way forward for the agency. Lawmakers who meet in conference committee to reconcile House and Senate versions of HB 1675 could take special measures to extend the life of the RRC for two more years.

“I’m confident that we will get it solved,” said state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, who noted the importance of the agency. “There are a couple of vehicles to resolve it.” One is the conference committee on House Bill 1675, he said.

“Obviously [we’d] like to get it resolved in the regular session,” Fraser said.

In the end, the RRC was added back into HB1675 via the committee report. I sometimes think cats are envious of how many lives some pieces of legislation get every other year.

The things that did not get done in regulation time are redistricting, about which we know what happened; transportation funding, which just sort of quietly slipped off the radar once Perry stuck a shiv into a bill that would have raised vehicle registration fees; and all of the wingnut wish list items like abortion and gun rights and what have you. This as I’ve said before is simply a matter of what Rick Perry wants to do. There’s plenty of speculation about what Perry may do and what may or may not be good politics for him to do. All I know is we’ll know when he tells us. Rick Perry does what he thinks is best for Rick Perry, and that’s all there is to it.


Testing and charter bills pass

A lot of stuff gets done at the last possible minute in the Legislature. The two big education bills were examples of this.

The session’s two biggest school reform bills, one from each chamber, have danced the House and Senate in the session’s closing days—a stalemate that broke Sunday night as both bills passed each chamber around the same time.

Members of the lower chamber began with their own House Bill 5, which reduces the required high school tests from 15 to 5, creates a new set of graduation plans for high schoolers, and lets the state rate its schools on an “A to F” scale. The final version of the bill is closer to the House’s proposal than the one passed by the Senate.

Its author, House Public Education Chair Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen) urged a quick finish for one of the session’s centerpiece bills, and one that saw hours of debate on the House floor in March. “Let’s just vote it,” he said tonight.

Rep. Mark Strama—who voted against HB 5 when it passed the House—spoke in favor of the bill this time, devoting his final speech on the House floor to the proper role of testing in education policy. (He’s announced he won’t seek reelection.)

“HB 5 is an improvement over current law,” Strama said, but he defended the standardized testing movement of the last 20 years, crediting it with helping African-American and Hispanic students to close the “achievement gap” with Anglo students. ”The problem with testing in Texas was the stakes we had attached to those tests,” he said.

Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) said he’d vote for the bill too, despite his concern that that it doesn’t go far enough to help “the kids that are going to be on the bottom, I don’t care which test you give. … If we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we will keep getting what we’ve been getting.”

The House voted unanimously in favor of the bill.

Senate Bill 2, which would let the state approve around 100 new charter school operators in the next six years, had a less certain fate in the House, where charter expansion bills have died in the last two sessions.


That bill passed 105 to 41, with no votes from a handful of Republicans along with Democrats. The Senate passed SB 2 without debate, on a 28-3 vote.

See here, here, here, and here for the background. The Trib breaks down what’s in the bills:

HB 5

  • High school students would take a foundation curriculum of four English credits; three science, social studies and math credits; two foreign language credits; one fine art and one P.E. credit; and five elective credits. They would add a fourth science and math credit when they select one of five diploma “endorsements” in areas including science and technology, business and industry, and the humanities.
  • To qualify for automatic college admissions under the top 10 percent rule and state financial aid, students must take four science credits and algebra II must be among their four math credits.
  • The state will require five standardized tests in English I, English II, algebra I, biology and U.S. history. School districts will have the option of offering diagnostic exams in algebra II and English III that will not count toward their accountability rating.
  • Districts will get an A through F rating; campuses will remain under the existing exemplary, recognized, acceptable and unacceptable labels.

SB 2

  • The state cap on charter contracts will increase by about 15 a year to 305 by 2019.
  • Dropout recovery and charters created by a school district would not count toward that cap. High-performing charter schools from out of state would. Up to five charters focused on special needs students would not count toward the cap.
  • School boards would have the authority to vote in favor of converting low-performing campuses in their districts into charters.
  • The Texas Education Agency, not the State Board of Education, would oversee the charter approval, renewal and closure process.

Given the late changes and the broad scope of these bills, it’s going to take awhile to fully understand what they mean, and to uncover any hidden secrets in them. The Legislative Study Group gave a favorable recommendation to HB5 but an unfavorable recommendation to SB2. Their analyses are always a good starting point. For what it’s worth, I was inclined to support SB2 and I was uncomfortable with the removal of Algebra II from the recommended curriculum. What do you think about these bills?

Some last minute good news from the Lege

From Equality Texas:

On the right side of history

On May 15th, the Texas House passed an amendment by Rep. Matt Krause of Fort Worth that would prohibit state universities from requiring officially-recognized student organizations to abide by campus non-discrimination policies.

The official vote on the Krause amendment to SB 215 was close, with 78 voting in favor and 67 opposed. To see how your State Representative voted,please click here.  If you don’t know who represents you, look them up here.

The Krause amendment was one of several amendments added by the House to Senate Bill 215. On May 20th, the Senate refused to concur with those House amendments and a conference committee was appointed.

Equality Texas was actively engaged throughout the conference committee process working to strip the Krause amendment from the bill’s final version.

On May 24th, the Conference Committee filed its report and removed the objectionable amendment that had been added by Rep. Krause. See page 69 of the Conference Committee Report.

On Saturday, May 25th, the Senate adopted the Conference Committee Report on a 31-0 vote, and on Sunday, May 26th, the House adopted the Conference Committee Report on a 135-5 vote.

Thanks to the members of the Conference Committee on SB215, especially House Chair Rafael Anchia of Dallas for their support of equality for all Texans.

See here, here, and here for the background. Sometimes the last-minute changes work against you, and sometimes they work for you. I’m glad this was an example of the latter.

Double secret illegal Medicaid amendment amended

Yes, I know, it’s all so confusing.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

The House on Sunday night accepted Sen. Jane Nelson’s and other lawmakers’ clean up of an amendment by a freshman state representative from Collin County that would require a rubber stamp from the Legislature before Medicaid could be expanded to cover more able-bodied adults.

Basically, they feared Rep. Jeff Leach’s provision could screw up two things — some shifts of the state’s most disabled individuals between so-called “Medicaid waiver programs,” as the bill attempts to improve and shrink the cost of their long-term care services; and the scheduled addition to Medicaid of foster children through age 26 and a subset of youngsters now on the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Under the federal health care law, some current CHIP recipients — those ages six through 18 and just over the poverty line — will have to be shifted to Medicaid. That and the extension of coverage for former foster children are noncontroversial requirements of the federal health care law.

The long term care bill, which would expand use of managed care in Medicaid, received final House approval and was finally sent to the governor. The vote was 146-1.

Last week, Leach, R-Plano, added the provision to the measure by Nelson, R-Flower Mound. Effectively, it would have barred the Texas Health and Human Services Commission from accepting anyone into Medicaid who was not eligible under this year’s rules as of Dec. 31. Leach said he wanted to make sure lawmakers, not just Gov. Rick Perry, have a say on whether Texas expands Medicaid to cover uninsured adults of working age. Texas currently covers almost none.

Rep. Richard Raymond, a Laredo Democrat who was House sponsor of Nelson’s bill, said the new language added by House-Senate negotiators makes sure Leach’s amendment does no collateral damage.

“We have been able through the years to get waivers” for disabled and elderly Texans to stay out of nursing homes and large group homes, he said. But the bill will put those services under managed care, he noted.

See here for the background. Basically, the committee report clears up the aspects of Leach’s amendment that could have caused real problems, and leaves the largely symbolic “do nothing without the Lege’s OK” provision in place. As I said before, it’s not like Medicaid expansion is going to happen without major changes to the state government, if it ever does.

Special session is called

And no one is surprised.

With the ink barely dry on the bills passed during the 83rd Legislature’s regular session, Gov. Rick Perry called lawmakers back into an immediate special session to consider redistricting measures for the Legislature and the Texans who serve in the U.S. Congress.

Speculation had been mounting for days that Perry would follow Attorney General Greg Abbott’s recommendation to reconvene the Legislature so lawmakers can approve the court-drawn maps currently in place for legislators and members of the U.S. House. Republican leaders believe it will help the state’s case in court and forestall any delays of next year’s primaries.

For now, the agenda for the 30-day session only includes redistricting, though that could change. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who is anxious to burnish his conservative credentials after his loss in the U.S. Senate race to Tea Party firebrand Ted Cruz, wants Perry to add to the agenda a host of conservative measures that failed during the regular session. Dewhurst also says he will not adhere to the so-called two-thirds rule, which the minority party can use to block divisive legislation.

Many conservative activists have advocated for the state Senate, where the GOP has a 19-12 edge, to jettison the rule, which has kept many of their initiatives bottled up but also has reduced the threat of open partisan warfare.

In a letter to the governor Monday, Dewhurst said he needed to the flexibility to pass a variety of pet conservative issues, including abortion restrictions, expanded gun rights and school vouchers.

“Given that a number of members from both chambers have demonstrated their unwillingness to find consensus on these important legislative items, I can see no other alternative than to operate under a simple majority vote in the special session,” Dewhurst wrote.

That pronouncment is already causing a stir. Though the two-thirds tradition has been lifted in redistricting measures during special sessions, Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said it generally remains in place for other issues. Watson said the Legislaure shouldn’t be used to bolster Republicans’ political fortunes with issues that failed to get approved in the regular session.

“Middle class Texans have a lot on their plate right now,” said Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. “What they don’t need is to worry about somebody’s party primary. We need to be doing the business of the state and not wasting taxpayer dollars trying to carry out a political agenda just because they didn’t get it achieved during the regular session.”

So far, the call is only for redistricting, but Perry can add other items at any time, or call other sessions as he sees fit. The issue of the 2/3 rule, which as I often noted was frequently described as being “not in use” for special sessions, is already an issue as noted by BOR.

Initially, Dewhurst told reporters that the 2/3rds rule would not be in effect for a special session. During tonight’s floor discussion, Senator Kirk Watson attempted to determine if the 2/3rds rule would be in effect for the special session.

Watson also asked specifically about “blocker bills,” which are passed out of committee quickly to occupy the top spot on the calendar and thus force Senators to suspend the rules to bring up any other bills, which requires 2/3rds of the Senators to vote for the suspension.

Dewhurst claimed that there would not be blocker bills and that there hadn’t for 10 years; Watson countered with actual historical examples of blocker bills in previous special sessions. If there is no blocker bill, then there is no need for the 2/3rds rule to be used to bring a bill up for a floor vote.

Much of this early questioning is about potential future redistricting litigation.


Watson’s request to clarify the 2/3rds rule and [Sen. Rodney] Ellis’s motion to get it in the record is in response to previous cases in which the Federal courts slammed Texas for departing from traditional procedural norms to force through a discriminatory map. Should Dewhurst ignore the 2/3rds rule during the special session, that hands Democrats — who would be on the receiving end of any partisan redistricting malfeasance — a huge weapon to use in a future lawsuit against whatever maps might pass without it.

At this point it’s not clear to me what the rules are for the special session. The Senate is now in recess until Thursday, though the House will gavel in tomorrow for no clear reason. The Senate Redistricting Committee will meet Thursday morning, but beyond that we’ll have to wait and see what happens. Even if the Senate adopts a two-thirds rule at the beginning, it can always remove it later, by passing the blocker bill or by other means. If Perry wants to grant Dewhurst’s wishes, then that is what will happen.

Sine die, mofos

Animal speaks for me:

There may be a special session on redistricting or any number of other things, or there may not be. In a just world, everyone would get to go home and enjoy the summer. Unfortunately, this is Rick Perry’s world, and we’ll just have to wait and see what he wants.

Boy Scouts go half gay

There are compromises that actually resolve disputes, and there are compromises that exacerbate them. The Boy Scouts gay compromise is an example of the latter.

The Boy Scouts of America on Thursday ended its longstanding policy of forbidding openly gay youths to participate in its activities, a step its chief executive called “compassionate, caring and kind.”

The decision, which came after years of resistance and wrenching internal debate, was widely seen as a milestone for the Boy Scouts, a symbol of traditional America. More than 1,400 volunteer leaders from across the country voted, with more than 60 percent approving a measure that said no youth may be denied membership “on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”

The top national leaders of the Boy Scouts, who pledge fealty to God and country, had urged the change in the face of vehement opposition from conservative parents and volunteers, some of whom said they would quit the organization. But the vote put the Scouts more in line with the swift rise in public acceptance of homosexuality, especially among younger parents who are essential to the future of an institution that has been losing members for decades.

The policy change, effective January 2014, is unlikely to bring peace to the Boy Scouts as they struggle to keep a foothold in a swirling cultural landscape, with renewed lobbying and debate already starting Thursday evening.

The Scouts did not consider the even more divisive question of whether to allow openly gay adults and leaders. This drew criticism from advocates for gay rights, who called the decision a breakthrough but vowed to continue pressing the Scouts to allow gay members of all ages.

Some conservative churches and parents said the Scouts were violating their oath to be “morally straight” and said they would drop out.

This AP story goes into the fallout from both sides.

Dismayed conservatives are already looking at alternative youth groups as they predict a mass exodus from the BSA. Gay-rights supporters vowed Friday to maintain pressure on the Scouts to end the still-in-place ban on gay adults serving as leaders.

“They’re not on our good list yet,” said Paul Guequierre of the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights group. He said the HRC, in its annual rankings of corporate policies on workplace fairness, would deduct points from companies that donate to the Boy Scouts until the ban on gay adults is lifted.

In California, gay-rights leaders said they would continue urging passage of a bill pending in the Legislature that would make the BSA ineligible for nonprofit tax breaks because of the remaining ban.


“Frankly, I can’t imagine a Southern Baptist pastor who would continue to allow his church to sponsor a Boy Scout troop under these new rules,” Richard Land, a senior Southern Baptist Conference official, told the SBC’s news agency, Baptist Press.

Land advised Southern Baptist churches to withdraw their support of Scout troops and consider affiliating instead with the Royal Ambassadors, an existing SBC youth program for boys that combines religious ministry with Scouting-style activities.

Baptist churches sponsor Scout units serving more than 100,000 of the BSA’s 2.6 million youth members.

The Assemblies of God, which oversees units serving more than 2,000 Scouts, said it could no longer support such units and suggested its own Royal Rangers youth group as a “positive alternative.”

John Stemberger, a conservative activist and former Scout from Florida who led a group opposing the policy change, said he and his allies would convene a meeting next month in Louisville, Ky., to discuss creation of a “new character development organization for boys.”

“We grieve today, not because we are faced with leaving Scouting, but because the Boy Scouts of America has left us,” Stemberger said. “Its leadership has turned its back on 103 years of abiding by a mission to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices.”

There is a template for forming a conservative alternative to a major national youth organization. American Heritage Girls was formed in 1995 as a Christian-oriented option to the Girl Scouts of the USA, and it now claims more than 20,000 members.

For the record, the Girl Scouts claim 3.2 million members, counting both girls (2.3 m.illion) and adult volunteers, so it’s hardly the case that this separatist group – which I for one had never heard of before now – has had a negative effect on them. I have a hard time feeling much sympathy for the Boy Scouts for the simple reason that if they had dealt with this in a forthright manner twenty years ago as the Girl Scouts did, they wouldn’t be in this situation today. The more they resisted the inevitable and the longer they took to get to this unsatisfying midpoint, the more tumultuous and divisive it all was. All that for a policy that still doesn’t resolve the real issue, too. I don’t know how long it will take them to revisit their revision and go the rest of the way, but my advice would be sooner rather than later. The biggest homophobes are likely to have turned tail and run by then, so it shouldn’t be as big a deal. They may as well get the full benefit of their decision.

If it is the case that all the homophobes leave the BSA and form their own organization where they’re free to continue wallowing in fear and ignorance, that will be unfortunate for them. We’ve seen repeatedly that the best antidote to homophobia is exposure to actual gay people, especially gay people with whom you have an established relationship. San Francisco Giants pitcher Jeremy Affeldt showed how that happens in his well-timed book that explores among other things his recovery from homophobia. I find Affeldt’s description of homophobia as something he had rather than something he was to be instructive. It’s a lot easier to get rid of an affliction, or disease, or habit, than to change who you are. Maybe that’s a better way to view homophobia.

Of course, being regularly exposed to ordinary, everyday gay people is no guarantee that you will come to see them as ordinary, everyday people, full stop. I’m quite certain that Rick Perry knows plenty of gay people, but that hasn’t helped him to not be ignorant and intolerant. But just because exposure isn’t a panacea doesn’t mean that it isn’t optimal. The ultimate endgame in all this is not just for individuals like Jeremy Affeldt to realize that they’re wrong, but for religious institutions to realize it as well. Needless to day, that is a much longer term project. For now, even half-steps in the right direction help. Take the rest of that step sooner and not later, Boy Scouts. You’ll be better off if you do. BOR has more.

Weekend link dump for May 26

There are some professions that you can’t list on LinkedIn.

There will be twelve new stop-motion animations of the “Peanuts” characters coming soon.

“Perhaps I should share the secret of the show’s 1981 Soviet wig technology with the CIA,” says the woman responsible for the awesome wigs on The Americans.

The oldest monkey fossil has been found.

Want to avoid putting more money in the Koch Brothers’ pockets? There’s an app for that.

Even the cicadas know that prime numbers are where it’s at.

The key question about Yahoo! acquiring Tumblr.

Prosperity for all is much better than prosperity for a few.

“[Michelle] Rhee simply isn’t interested in reasoning forward from evidence to conclusions: conclusions are where she starts, which means that her book cannot be trusted as an analysis of what is wrong with public schools, when and why it went wrong, and what might improve the situation.”

RIP, Ray Manzarek, keyboardist for The Doors.

“When it comes to the 501(c)(4s), we aren’t talking about tax audits.”

Death of the era of declaring things dead predicted. Film at 11.

An unknown mathematician proves a big result about twin primes.

It’s probably too late to warn people to be careful about the data they share about themselves, but consider yourself warned anyway.

“[Sen. Rand] Paul’s outrage is more than a little hard to take here since it’s people like him that have been so successful at preventing Congress from writing a decent corporate tax code in the first place. His only concern is slashing taxes, not rationalizing them, and if someone introduced a bill to make Apple pay its fair share into the voracious federal maw, Paul would undoubtedly be grandstanding yet again with another filibuster.”

Medicaid and Medicare will cost a lot less than we once thought they would.

Kids today still totally use Facebook, though Twitter and Instagram are seeing growth.

Two words: OKCupid Juggalo. You’re welcome.

Two more words: Food replicators. It’s maybe not quite as cool as “Star Trek: The Next Generation” would have you believe.

“I suspect this is yet another attempt in a series of long-term attempts to fundamentally change the landscape for purchasing and controlling the work of writers in such a manner that ultimately limits how writers are compensated for their work, which ultimately is not to the benefit of the writer.”

Our falling deficits are nothing to be happy about.

Security through absurdity is not a good model.

Homer Hickam is a mensch.

The next time someone tells you that Obamacare will be too expensive, point them to California and tell them to explain that.

Happy tenth birthday, WordPress.

Perry vetoes “dark money” bill

Not a surprise.


Gov. Rick Perry has vetoed a divisive measure that would have forced some tax-exempt, politically active nonprofits to disclose their donors. That effectively kills the measure for this session; lawmakers stripped a similar amendment from an Ethics Commission reform bill on Friday.

In his veto statement — the first of the session — Perry said the bill “would have a chilling effect” on donors’ constitutional rights to freedom of speech and association.

“At a time when our federal government is assaulting the rights of Americans by using the tools of government to squelch dissent it is unconscionable to expose more Texans to the risk of such harassment, regardless of political, organizational or party affiliation,” he said.

House lawmakers passed Senate Bill 346, a “dark money” bill that would’ve applied to nonprofits falling under 501(c)(4) of the tax code, earlier this month. They did it in a hurry, leaving in a provision many of them disliked that exempted labor unions in an effort to deny the upper chamber its request to revisit senators’ original vote to pass it.

The measure has faced ardent opposition from far-right activists like Michael Quinn Sullivan, whose conservative group Texans for Fiscal Responsibility is a 501(c)(4). He has argued that SB 346 is an unconstitutional attempt to harass protected donors.

Supporters of the legislation “will subject to threats and intimidation donors to Tea Party groups, home-school organizations, right-to-life advocates and civil rights causes,” Sullivan wrote in an op-ed published in The Dallas Morning News on Wednesday.

See here for the background. Perry and Sullivan are of course shedding crocodile tears – people don’t intimidate Sullivan, people are intimidated by him and the millions of dollars he has at his disposal from anonymous donors. You can see from Noel Freeman’s comment in my earlier post that there were issues with this bill that would have caused problems for organizations that don’t cause the kind of trouble that Sullivan’s do, and perhaps because of that the veto is for the best. Let’s just be clear on the prevarication in Perry’s and Sullivan’s words, and let’s hope someone tries again with a better bill in the next session. The Observer and Texas Politics have more.

Eiland will not seek re-election

This is a tough break for the Democrats.

Rep. Craig Eiland

Rep. Craig Eiland

State Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, will not seek re-election, he announced in a tearful personal privilege speech on the House floor Wednesday night.

Eiland, who has served in the Legislature for two decades, said it has been hard being away from his wife and children, but that he would deeply miss being a member of the Texas House.

Eiland said he even liked serving in a session with an exceedingly large number of freshmen legislators, though he joked that “some of them are crazy.”

The Galveston legislator and attorney was first elected to the Legislature in 1993. He won a sometimes tough campaign for re-election last year in which his work on windstorm insurance became an issue along with his residence in Austin. Eiland has a $3 million home in Austin. An early ad from his Republican opponent attacked Eiland as someone who got wealthy “as a trial lawyer suing Texas businesses” and for living in a city well outside the district.

Rep. Eiland is a veteran member with a lot of expertise and experience, and he won in a district that has been trending away from the Democrats for a long time. I identified him as potentially vulnerable way back in 2011, and indeed HD23 was Republican overall – Eiland was the only member of the House to win in a district that was carried by the Presidential candidate of the opposing party. While it’s not clear to me that his district would have been any less hospitable in a non-Presidential year, it is certain that he’d have had another tough race ahead of him. With the seat being open, it automatically moves it from being Lean Dem, on the strength of Eiland’s experience, abilities, and campaign bank account, to at best a tossup for the Dems, if there’s a decent candidate waiting in the wings. The good news is that according to QR, there are several good potential candidates – former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski, District Judge Susan Criss, and former Galveston County Commissioner Pat Doyle. I’ve already heard a rumor that Criss plans to run. Like I said, this will be a tough race, but having a good candidate at least gives us a fighting chance.

Rep. Eiland joins Rep. Mark Strama in calling it quits; there’s already a hot primary for the open HD50. One thing Eiland’s retirement has in common with Strama’s is that it will surely mean fewer Anglo Dems in the Lege in 2015. Regardless, I wish both outgoing Reps all the best with whatever comes next for them. Thank you for your service, gentlemen.

Getting all of the courts ready for e-filing

I confess to being a little confused at first when I read this.

District Clerk Chris Daniel

A half-dozen Harris County departments will spend the rest of the year scrambling to fulfill a Texas Supreme Court mandate that all civil courts accept only electronic filings, starting next January.

In a ruling issued last December, the high court said large counties must get the job done by Jan. 1.

As it stands, Harris County is behind schedule and waiting on Commissioners Court to approve $5.4 million in funding so workers can begin the project, which will involve increasing the county’s bandwidth to accommodate up to 10 times the amount of electronic documents, as well as setting up servers to store them.

Officials, however, said they are “fairly confident” they will be able to get the job done in time.

Kevin Mauzy, chief deputy of the district clerk’s office, which is overseeing the project as the primary department affected by the mandate, said it took months to meet with all the affected agencies and figure out what it would take and how much it would cost to fully digitize filing in the civil court system.


The portion of the project officials are most concerned about getting in done in time, however, is not part of the court order.

The first few steps in the $5.4 million package presented to commissioners last week includes digitizing 16 million active family and juvenile court records, a job estimated to take six months.

[District Clerk Chris] Daniel, however, said that will allow the courts to avoid an inefficient, and more costly, “hybrid” paper-electronic system.

It would take $20 million to scan every court record, both old and active, a task commissioners decided against during budget hearings last fall.

My first thought upon reading this was “Aren’t all of the civil courts already doing e-filing?” I contacted Daniel’s office to ask about this, and was told that while that is true, other courts such as family, juvenile, and probate courts are not as yet. The main focus for the county at this point is getting current cases from family court digitized, since they have a high volume of paper and as noted in the story they want to avoid a “hybrid” system. County courts at law are also subject to this Supreme Court ruling, but that’s the County Clerk’s problem.

Making the world a better place, one baby at a time

This is awesome.

The $400 Rice CPAP machine

Conditions associated with premature birth, often related to breathing problems, are responsible for about 30 percent of neonatal mortality. In the developed world, these conditions can be treated using bubble Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine. But these CPAP machines cost $6,000 and are out of reach of most hospitals in Malawi.

So five engineering students at Rice, in the 2009-10 school year, built their own bubble CPAP machine out of spare parts. It worked. In the last two years they’ve found a manufacturer and tested a machine that costs just $400. Thanks to a grant from USAID, the machines are now being distributed to more than two dozen hospitals in Malawi.

Again, this was developed by undergrads at Rice, and it’s just the vanguard of technologies that the professors and their students are rolling out of the design kitchen.

The professors got the prize for their inventions and pioneering efforts to deliver low-cost technological innovations to improve health care in developing nations. After receiving the award they said all the right things about how it was a team effort, thanking the students and the doctors, nurses and patients in Malawi who they worked with.

And then they did something about it.

The professors in question are Rebecca Richards-Kortum and Maria Oden, and the prize is the $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation. Read the whole thing, it will make you feel better about humanity in general. Well done, professors.

Saturday video break: I Feel For You

Song #18 on the Popdose Top 100 Covers list is “I Feel For You”, originally by Prince and covered by Chaka Khan. Typically, Prince videos are not easily available. Here then is as reasonable a facsimile that I could find:

It’s the bow ties that really sell it to me. If you like, there’s also an interpretive sign language version of the song out there, but with the audio muted due to copyright issues. Now here’s Chaka Khan Chaka Khan Chaka Khan…you get the idea:

Some months ago when we were checking out dogs for adoption, we came across one fellow by the name of Rufus. We ultimately went a different direction, but I made a solemn vow at the time that if we did adopt him, we would then have to find a second dog that we could name Chaka Khan. I get an irrational amount of amusement from that thought. Anyway, great version and great video, though I think it needs more bow ties. What do you think?

Don’t count your victories too soon

While I wouldn’t call this legislative session anything to be terribly happy about, it could have been far worse. That’s because a whole lot of nasty red meat bills never got voted on, and Democrats are justifiably happy about that. I’m happy, too, but not quite ready to do a victory dance about it.

All abortion-related bills were stopped before they could reach the Senate or House floor this session, marking a rebound for Democrats after Republican efforts successfully scaled back family planning funding and abortion resources in 2011.

“Democrats stuck together very well this session and made strong arguments and strong advocacy on behalf of a woman’s right to choose,” said Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, who leads the Democratic caucus. “Just this week, I’ve had pressure from leadership pushing to bring up bills in an almost threatening way, and we have stood up to that. … Now we’re at the end of the session, and they’re dead.”

At least 24 abortion-related bills were filed this session, some of which garnered the support of Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. Three marquee proposals for anti-abortion lawmakers failed to gain traction: a bill that would have banned abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, a bill that would increase regulations for abortion facilities and a bill that would require doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges to a hospital within 50 miles.


The bills were somewhat different from last session, Watson said, but Democrats were victorious on women’s health issues this session. “I feel very strongly that we won,” he said.

Maybe. I sure hope Sen. Watson is right. But as I worried about two weeks ago, the real danger is in a special session. While we appear to have avoided the need for a special session on the budget and other major priorities, the buzz now is that there will be a special session on redistricting. If that’s all it’s about, then there’s nothing to worry about. But special sessions are about what Rick Perry wants, and to a lesser degree what the people who have Rick Perry’s ear want. One of those people is David Dewhurst, who needs as much of a boost to his wingnut credentials as he can muster, and he’s urging Perry to call a special on all the wingnut business that went unfinished.

Dewhurst told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Thursday that Gov. Rick Perry should call lawmakers back quickly to pass several other conservative-backed bills that have stumbled in the regular session.

In addition to redistricting, Dewhurst said lawmakers should return to take up measures on abortion, school choice, guns on college campuses, drug testing for welfare recipients, the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association and the state’s constitutional spending cap.


“I’m mad at the partisanship that blocked these bills, and I’m particularly mad at some of the things that happened over in the House,” he told the Star-Telegram’s Dave Montgomery. “But at the end of the day, I think that everybody’s here trying to do the best they can.”

Though Perry threatened a special session if lawmakers failed to send him a budget that contained $2 billion in water infrastructure funding and $1.8 billion in tax relief, he has so far stayed quiet about calling for overtime on other issues. Perry’s office said on Thursday that the governor would not make any announcements until the regular session concludes.

But Dewhurst said he had urged Perry on Wednesday to call lawmakers back. “I think he’s seriously considering doing that,” Dewhurst said.

Dewhurst almost certainly feels like he needs a special session to score some wingnut victories to help him win his next primary, especially after his loss to Ted Cruz. of course, just because Dewhurst is asking doesn’t mean Perry will answer. He has his own stuff to deal with, and he’ll do whatever he thinks is best for himself, as he always does. But it’s hard to see how calling a wingnut special hurts Perry, especially if he is running for something, in 2014 or 2016. Despite progress made in this past week, there’s still a lot of unfinished real business, and nay failures there definitely opens the window for a special. If that happens, then all bets are off. I remain very concerned about this. Burka has more about Dewhurst.

Lege passes a Lilly Ledbetter bill

This is some fine work, but it’s a little early to be giddy about it.

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson

A bill that seeks to prevent pay discrimination against women narrowly passed the Texas Senate on Wednesday.

“Employers who are doing the right thing and treating women fairly don’t view this bill as a threat,” said state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who sponsored the bill in the Senate. “Equal pay decisions should be made in the CEO’s office rather than a courtroom.”

House Bill 950, by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, would make Texas law mirror protections of the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. It sparked a gender fight in the House last month, and it squeaked out of the Senate with a vote of 17-14. Senators added two amendments to the bill, which means it must return to the House for approval if it is to go to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk for approval.

The measure clarifies that pay discrimination claims based on “sex, race, national origin, age, religion and disability” accrue whenever an employee receives a discriminatory paycheck. Under the measure, a 180-day statute of limitations for filing an equal-pay lawsuit resets with each new discriminatory paycheck.

Texas is the 43rd state to pass such an act.

The bill would change Texas Labor Code by making the state statute of limitations the same as the federal law, giving those who have been discriminated against more time to collect damages.

One change to the bill, made by state Sen. Robert Deuell, R-Greenville, would limit the equal protection rights to wages, and not to benefits or other compensation. Another change came from state Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, and it would require that the act apply only to claims that occur on or after the law takes effect in September.

I don’t want to minimize the achievement of Rep. Thompson, who’s worked to pass a bill like this for ten years, or Sen. Wendy Davis, who shepherded this through the Senate, but I fear this bill will be a juicy veto target for Rick Perry. It’s a Democratic bill, expressing Democratic values, modeled on legislation passed by the most Democratic Congress in recent memory in response to a very business-friendly SCOTUS ruling. I guess Perry could get some warm fuzzies for being sensitive to women’s issues by signing this, but how does this help him in a primary against Greg Abbott or in the 2016 Presidential primary, assuming he’s interested in one or both of these races? If it really is his plan to get on board the right wing gravy train ride off into the sunset then sure, maybe he’ll sign it. If not, or if he is the petty little SOB we all think he is, then he’ll veto. I hope I’m wrong, but that’s what I expect. A statement from Sen. Davis is here, and BOR has more.

Fewer tests in the future

If you’re tired of standardized tests, this will be good news for you.

Under House Bill 866 by state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Humble, which passed the Senate on Tuesday night, students who do well on state exams in third and fifth grades could skip exams in fourth, sixth and seventh grades. All students would be tested in math in the third and fifth grades, on reading in third, fifth and eighth grade, on writing and science in fifth and eighth grades, and on social studies in eighth grade.

Senators approved an amendment on Tuesday night adding writing tests back in for fourth and seventh grades, meaning the House will have to sign off before the bill hits the governor’s desk.

Speaking to reporters after the legislation passed, Sen. Kel Seliger, the Amarillo Republican who carried the bill in the Senate, said that the governor was “very open-minded” about the bill when he and Huberty met with him earlier. The upper chamber approved the bill with only two no votes — Sens. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, and Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury.

To avoid losing federal funding, the legislation would require state education officials to request an exemption under the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires 14 exams in grades three through eight.


Another measure addressing testing in younger grades, HB 2836, also passed the upper chamber Tuesday. But not before the Senate made significant changes to it, including adding SB 1718 to it after the bill died earlier that day in the House. The bill, from Rep. Bennett Ratliff, R-Dallas, originally eliminated fourth- and seventh-grade writing tests and required exams in lower grade levels to be reworked so that most students can complete them within two hours. The Senate version instead orders a study of the state’s curriculum standards and limits the number of benchmark exams school districts can administer locally.

I had previously blogged about HB2836. Looks like the two bills started out as much the same before HB2836 got altered, though the latter now no longer contains SB1718. I suppose Huberty gets the advantage of seniority here. The basic idea of allowing students who tested well one year out of testing for the next was first floated by Scott Hochberg in 2011, and I think it’s sensible. We’ll see if Rick Perry agrees. In the meantime, several other education bills remain works in progress as time runs down. Texpatriate has more.

Collecting compost from restaurants

The city of Austin takes another step on its path towards zero waste.

Austin restaurants and other food businesses will have to compost food scraps starting in 2016, under new rules the City Council OK’d Thursday.

Food service businesses — including fast-food chains, caterers, cafeterias and bars — that are bigger than 5,000 square feet will be required to separate out organic and compostable materials from other trash and have them picked up by private haulers.

Smaller food businesses will have to comply starting in 2017.

Food trailers will be exempt for now, because the city needs to spend more time developing rules unique to them, said Bob Gedert, director of Austin Resource Recovery, the city of Austin’s trash and recycling department.

Under the rules passed Thursday, large food service businesses also will have to recycle several materials, including paper, plastics and aluminum, starting next year. Smaller food businesses will have to comply later.

The new rules aim to help the city meet its so-called zero waste goal of dramatically reducing the trash sent to landfills by 2040, Gedert said.

Food scraps and other compostable goods make up 40 to 50 percent of the trash that restaurants generate, Gedert said. Keeping those goods out of the landfill will go a long way toward achieving zero waste, Gedert said.

The policy passed Thursday builds on rules that the city enacted last fall, when it began requiring large apartment properties and office buildings to recycle more materials.


Don “Skeeter” Miller, co-owner of County Line restaurants and president of the Greater Austin Restaurant Association, said the membership was initially skeptical of the compost rules but is now mostly supportive, mainly because the rules won’t take effect for a few years.

Austin already has a pilot program for curbside composting for residences. Restaurants are obviously a big source of food waste, so bringing them into the picture ought to make a significant difference. Here in Houston, the One Bin For All plan will deal with compostable refuse, but that is just for residences. Going back through my archives, it’s not clear to me if “residences” means just the places currently covered by city of Houston trash pickup or if it also includes apartments, but in either case it does not include businesses, particularly restaurants. I would like to see Houston extend its vision to include businesses and office buildings as well. One thing at a time, I understand, I’m just noting this for the record. I wish Austin all the best in this effort.

Friday random ten: The city never sleeps, part 7

I’ve been in a different city (Austin) all week for a training class, but I’m headed back to my own city (Houston) today. None of these songs are about either of those cities.

1. Miami 2017 – Billy Joel
2. Mission To Moscow – The Hot Club of Cowtown
3. Mobile – Marcia Ball
4. Montreaux’s Theme – Yes
5. New York City Serenade – Bruce Springsteen
6. New York Minute – Don Henley
7. The Night Chicago Died – Paper Lace
8. Odessa – The Mollys
9. Oh Atlanta – Little Feat
10. Opelousas (Sweet Relief) – Maria McKee

As I said, none of these songs are about Austin or Houston, but “Odessa” is a city in Texas, “Cowtown” is a nickname for Fort Worth though none of the original members of The Hot Club of Cowtown is from there, and of course Marcia Ball is an Austin icon. So there you have it. Have a great Memorial Day weekend, y’all.

We appear to have a budget

Took them long enough.


After days of jockeying and one-upsmanship, the Texas House and Senate each approved measures Wednesday evening critical to passing their next two-year budget.

“The results of these two bills together is a good conservative budget, and it’s something we can all be proud of,” said Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands.

With just five days left in the legislative session, both chambers needed to at least tentatively pass separate measures by midnight as part of a larger budget deal agreed to by leaders from both chambers last week.

The Senate voted 29-3 for House Bill 1025. Sens. Dan Patrick, R-Houston; Ken Paxton, R-McKinney; and Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, voted against the measure.

Senate Joint Resolution 1 passed the House 130-16, meaning it crossed the 100-vote threshold to avoid coming up for a second vote on Thursday.

The measure approved by the House would ask Texas voters to amend the state Constitution to create a new fund for water infrastructure projects. The Senate passed a $5.4 billion supplemental budget bill that would, among other things, put $2 billion in that new fund.

The negotiations over how exactly to approve the two measures exposed deep tensions between the House and Senate as lawmakers on both sides pushed for the other chamber to move first out of concerns that the other side might not keep its word.

I didn’t follow the ins and outs of this little soap opera because it was low comedy even by legislative standards, and in the end either it was going to get done or it wasn’t. Rick Perry could still blow it all up if he wants to, but that has always been the case. The bill to provide “relief” from the margins tax was substantially altered in the Senate and is in conference committee, and it’s not clear that either that or whatever crumbs have been thrown to TxDOT will meet Perry’s goals for avoiding a special session, at least for something other than redistricting. But at least the Lege hasn’t deliberately sabotaged things. Take your victories where you can. The Observer, Burka, and EoW have more.

Abbott is gearing up for Governor

I have two things to say about this.

Still not Greg Abbott

Gov. Rick Perry hasn’t yet said whether he’s running for re-election — but Attorney General Greg Abbott doesn’t appear to be waiting for him to make up his mind.

Abbott is collecting résumés and assembling a gubernatorial campaign team. He’s shaking hands, giving speeches and edging his way onto the covers of small-town newspapers across the state. He also just opened a new campaign headquarters — an entire floor of the Texas Association of Broadcasters building in downtown Austin, according to a Republican consultant familiar with Abbott’s campaign.

And he’s building up his grassroots infrastructure online, collecting supporters via email blasts, web petitions and increasingly partisan and vociferous social media messaging.


While Abbott is waiting for Perry’s decision, expected to come in June after the gubernatorial veto period ends, he isn’t biding his time.

He’s sitting on an $18 million war chest — trumping Perry’s at last count.

He has used Twitter to brandish campaign mailers depicting handguns in holsters — aimed at staunch Second Amendment advocates — and to document his gubernatorial-style visits to the scenes of the West fertilizer depot explosion (he was the first statewide elected official there, surprising even his own staff) and the Granbury tornado.

On his Facebook page, Abbott implores supporters to sign a petition to “save religious liberty from the IRS’ wrath” and another to demand answers from the Obama administration on the “truth surrounding Benghazi.” Those were just two of many he has posted in recent weeks to collect email addresses and build a viral grassroots network.

He’s pressing the flesh in person, too, hopping from Tea Party meetings to ladies’ luncheons, from Fort Bend County to Beeville.

Of late, every pronouncement and ruling from the attorney general seems to be a campaign battle cry.

Last month, Abbott issued an opinion arguing that the Texas Constitution prohibits government entities from recognizing domestic partner insurance benefits. He told a crowd in Waco that he would sue the Obama administration to protect Texans’ gun rights if the U.S. joins a global United Nations arms treaty.

This month, he called for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS’s scrutiny of Tea Party groups applying for tax-exempt status. He also threw the weight of his office behind grassroots activists concerned with an alleged “anti-American” slant in the lesson plans of CSCOPE, the state-developed curriculum management system used by many Texas public schools.

1. I’m still not convinced that Rick Perry will go quietly. If he’s still deluded enough to think he can run for President in 2016, I don’t see how making himself a lame duck in 2013 and a private citizen in January of 2015 helps him with that. Of course, losing in next March’s primary wouldn’t help either, but if he thinks he can win in 2016 then surely he thinks he can win in 2014, or he thinks Abbott will abide by their “agreement” to not run against each other. Basically, I just don’t see it in Perry’s character to stand down. I freely admit I could be wrong about this, but Perry strikes me as being like an aging formerly-elite athlete who maybe doesn’t have the most objective view of his own skill level but still shouldn’t be underestimated. I just wonder what kind of campaign he’d run against Abbott, who is nothing like KBH was in 2010. What case could Perry make to Republican primary voters to turn them away from Abbott? He must have some dirt somewhere, but would that be enough?

2. Unless you’re one of the 1.5 million people who voted in the 2012 or 2010 GOP primaries, Greg Abbott isn’t interested in talking to you. He doesn’t need your vote and doesn’t particularly care about your vote. He’s not making any pretense about being Governor of all of Texas. Rick Perry isn’t exactly a model of consensus and bipartisan outreach, but even he has had a few feints in that direction during the thousand or so years he’s been in the Governor’s mansion, most notably when he called on his fellow Aggie John Sharp to design and sell the margins tax back in 2006. As bad as Perry is, and Lord knows he’s terrible, I believe Abbott would be even more alienating and divisive as Governor. If that thought doesn’t scare you, it should.

Someone attempted to do something about MBIA and the Sports Authority

And others expressed their disapproval about it. What the “it” is, and who it was that was trying to do “it” remain unclear.

Who dunnit?

Who dunnit?

A surprise legislative maneuver has local government lobbyists scrambling to defend the agency that pays the debt on Houston’s sports stadiums against an alleged takeover attempt by the company that insures its bonds.

The insurer, MBIA, has hired lobbyists to circulate language that would prevent the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority from spending money on anything other than debt service and legally required payments without its creditors’ approval.

Sports Authority chairman J. Kent Friedman said the draft, which names neither the Sports Authority nor MBIA, appears innocuous at first glance.

“It’s extremely well done. You have to be an insider to know what this really does,” he said. “In effect, they would take over running the Sports Authority. I’m convinced they’ll try to stick it on some other piece of legislation at the end of the session, on the floor so it’ll get as little notoriety as possible, and try to slip it through.”

A Houston-area lawmaker had considered attaching the language to a pending financial transparency bill, Friedman and others said, but quickly dropped it when a lawyer whose feedback he had sought realized its implications. The legislator could not be reached Friday.


Harris County lobbyist Cathy Sisk called the legislative maneuver “bizarre,” saying the insurer appears to be trying to get lawmakers to do what a judge did not.

“We’ve pretty much alerted everybody in the delegation to watch for it,” Sisk said. “I’d like to think that means it doesn’t have much of a chance of being attached to anything, but you never know. Anything can happen in the Texas Legislature.”

City of Houston lobbyist Kippy Caraway said her team also is on alert.

Kevin Brown, a spokesman for MBIA affiliate National Public Finance Guarantee Corp., said what the firm seeks in its lawsuit against the Sports Authority and the goals of the draft amendment are different.

“The legislation that we have been promoting seeks to achieve greater transparency and accountability from certain governmental entities that are in financial distress,” he said. “The Sports Authority’s opposition to that legislation should raise serious questions for Houstonians and other stakeholders about the authority’s financial condition and the reasons for its objections.”

The draft amendment runs two pages and would apply to a “political subdivision in condition of financial stress,” as defined by five points that describe the Sports Authority.

The amendment says such an entity “may not, unless authorized by (its) creditors” spend money on anything other than debt service, payments required by law or a contract, or to maintain its assets. The draft also would, among other things, require the entity to submit to its creditors a plan stating how it will address its financial woes.

See here, here, and here for the background on MBIA and the Sports Authority. Frankly, the most important piece of information in this article is that the Chair of the Sports Authority is now being referred to as “J. Kent Friedman” again, after a brief run of being called “Kenny Friedman”. Whether this represents a return to copy-editing standards on the part of the Chron or the documenting of a brief midlife crisis on Friedman’s part also remains a mystery.

Things that the story left a mystery:

1. The identity of the legislator. Why wouldn’t you just say who the legislator was? So what if he couldn’t be reached for a comment by the time the story went to print? The fact that this amendment was drafted and this legislator was shopping it around before pulling it back isn’t in dispute, so no one’s reputation is on the line. What purpose is being served by holding back this information?

2. The full text of the amendment. Reporter Mike Morris has clearly seen it, since he quotes from it, but it runs two pages and all we get is a couple of sentence fragments. The amendment was apparently not filed, since I can’t find it via an amendment search using the phrase “political subdivision in condition of financial stress” or a combination of the words. But clearly it exists, so a document could be made of it and uploaded somewhere for the rest of us to see.

3. The bill that the unnamed legislator was going to try to attach it to. At this point in the session, it could only be attached to a Senate bill, and if adopted it would thus require a conference committee to get the different versions straightened out for final votes. If we knew the Senate bill in question, we could then ask the Senate author what he or she thinks of this maneuver. Given all of the sturm und drang we’ve seen recently, that might have made for a more interesting story than the one we got.

As it happens, from prior communication I’ve had with MBIA representatives, I was able to get answers to these questions. The bill in question was SB14, specifically the committee substitute CSSB14, authored by Sen. Tommy Williams. The House legislator was Rep. Jim Pitts, who was the House sponsor for the bill. I don’t know how you can call Rep. Pitts, who is based in Waxahachie, a “Houston-area lawmaker”, but I suppose that’s a minor quibble at this point Rep. Jim Murphy. The amendment, which was drafted but not officially filed, is here. Again, I’m not sure why this information wasn’t in the story. Be that as it may, MBIA disputed Friedman’s contention that this was an attempt to “take over” the agency, saying that the main purpose of the legislation was to enhance transparency and accountability. At last report, a point of order had been sustained against CSSB14 in the House, so this is all likely moot at this point. But we still should have known more about what was happening at the time.

UPDATE: I have since been informed by Judge Emmett’s office that the legislator was Rep. Jim Murphy, not Rep. Jim Pitts. I suspect this was a matter of confusing one Jim for another.