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January 4th, 2014:

Saturday video break: For old times’ sake

Have you ever wondered what the lyrics of “Auld Lang Syne” mean? Well, wonder no more:

More than one verse, too. Hope 2014 is off to great start for you.

City benefits for same sex spouses back on

For now, at least.

RedEquality

A federal judge ruled Thursday that same-sex couples legally married in other states can keep health and life insurance benefits that were extended to spouses of city of Houston employees in November.

[…]

[Noel] Freeman’s husband’s benefits, and those of spouses of four other city employees, were temporarily halted in December after two Harris County Republicans, led by Jared Woodfill, the county’s GOP chairman, sued the city.

The lawsuit claims Mayor Annise Parker’s policy violates Houston’s city charter, the state’s Defense of Marriage Act and the Texas Constitution.

After the lawsuit was filed in family court, state District Judge Lisa Millard signed a temporary restraining order putting the brakes on the administration of the benefits.

Days later, lawyers for the city of Houston had the case moved to federal court. At Thursday’s hearing, U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal declined to grant the GOP’s request for a restraining order.

It was a difference Woodfill seized on after the hearing.

“Judge Millard’s position was that the Mayor’s actions were illegal and unlawful and she immediately restrained the Mayor from going forward,” Woodfill said. “This judge has not decided whether the Mayor’s actions were illegal, so she gave us more time to do additional briefing.”

Woodfill will next try to convince Rosenthal that the case should be moved back to state court. Only after Rosenthal decides if it will stay in her court or be sent back will both sides start to argue over the substance of the case.

See here, here, and here for the background. The next hearing will likely be sometime in February – the story doesn’t specify a date, just that it’s “more than a month away” – so that’s that for the immediate future. But look, does anyone believe that regardless of the outcome of this case that Woodfill is going to prevail in the end? The demise of DOMA and the court rulings in Utah and Ohio have shown that the dam is busted. It’s just a matter of time, and that time is sooner, not later. Jared Woodfill can try to build a wall of sand against the tide, but the tide is going to win. The only question is how much harm he will inflict on people like Noel Freeman and Brad Pritchett, and on the Harris County GOP, before he is forced to accept the inevitable. Texpatriate has more.

Wilson swears himself in

Of course he does.

Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson

Days after a Harris County judge signed a temporary restraining order barring Houston Community College trustee-elect Dave Wilson from taking the oath of office, the perennial candidate submitted notarized documents to the state showing he has been sworn in.

Wilson, 67, a small-business owner and anti-gay activist whose eligibility to serve on the HCC board is being challenged in court, filed oath-of-office papers with the secretary of state’s office on Thursday, the office confirmed.

Spokeswoman Alicia Pierce said it is not legally required for local elected officials to file oath-of-office papers with the state, as it is for statewide elected officials.

HCC lawyer Gene Locke said the college – not the state – is the proper filing authority and also received the documents via fax on Thursday. Locke said Wilson completed the appropriate paperwork newly elected officials must file to be legally sworn in, but whether it must be honored will be decided in court.

“The legal issue is whether or not the temporary restraining order prohibited him from taking the oath of office and, therefore, if the oath of office, the swearing in, is valid,” Locke said. “We’re kind of a bystander waiting to see how this thing plays out.”

[…]

Wilson’s lawyer, Keith Gross, said he did not tell his client to submit the oath-of-office papers because it would be unethical for an attorney to advise his client to violate a court order. Gross also said he did not know Wilson was planning to do so.

“This is something I decided all on my own,” Wilson said. Asked why he did not wait for an official swearing-in ceremony, Wilson said, “I wanted to take that position just as soon as I could.”

Wilson said he figured out what documents needed to be filed at the swearing-in ceremony of two other board trustees just after the Dec. 14 runoff election.

“I was amazed at how simple it was, quite frankly,” he said. “It doesn’t take a legal mind.”

You kind of have to admire the utter disregard for protocol. Dave Wilson just doesn’t care, and he doesn’t care if you care. Who even knew you could self-administer an oath of office? The question is whether anyone besides Wilson and his buddies will take his do-it-yourself oath job seriously. If the TRO is still in effect at the time of the next board meeting on January 16, what do the other Board members do when Wilson shows up and demands to take his seat at the table? I don’t know, but it might make for the most interesting board meeting in the history of forever. My advice to Gene Locke is to be thoroughly read up on all the relevant statutes and case law and be prepared to quote them from memory, because I bet Wilson will have a few cites to throw at you. And a little extra security, just in case, wouldn’t hurt, either. Campos has more.

Murder by numbers 2013

The beginning of the new year means a look back at the homicide count for the previous year.

Homicides are up in unincorporated Harris County, where the Sheriff’s Office is reporting a nearly 20 percent uptick in 2013, preliminary year-end statistics show.

Killings in 2013 totaled 91 as of Tuesday – the second-highest tally in the past five years, and about a 19.7 percent increase from 2012, according to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.

Authorities said the 2013 figure appears to have been driven by a cluster of cases involving multiple victims.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia cited a Nov. 9 case at a Cypress house party where two high school students were fatally shot and 19 others were wounded. He also recalled an incident Nov. 20 in which a gunman shot five people at a northwest Harris County apartment complex. Three died.

“We don’t see that as a particular pattern,” Garcia said of the multi-victim cases. “These are just circumstances that have occurred this year and we hope they never repeat themselves.”

In Houston, preliminary data showed the homicide count was down from 2012, which ended with 217.

As of Dec. 20, the Houston Police Department recorded 199 slayings compared with 207 for the same time last year, according to Homicide Division Capt. Dwayne Ready. HPD’s latest reports show about a 3.8 percent decrease.

If the 2013 total remains below 217, it would be the second lowest since 1965, when 139 people were killed, HPD officials said. The lowest since that date was in 2011, which had 198.

[…]

Violent crime overall has been trending down for several years, both nationally and locally. By and large, crime experts say that violent crime has been experiencing slight fluctuations rather than sharp increases and decreases.

Phillip Lyons, a criminal justice professor at Sam Houston State University, said those decreasing figures may now be leveling off, showing some stabilization in crime statistics.

“We are at that point, where it seems as though there is overall stability, and that obviously means there are going to be some places that are reporting higher numbers than last year and other places that are reporting lower numbers than last year,” Lyons noted. “It all essentially averages out to not much change.”

See here and here for the previous installments of this story. I basically agree with Prof. Lyons, there really isn’t much happening here. The uptick in unincorporated Harris County is likely just statistical noise. If it goes up for a few years in a row, that may be something. A one year bump that isn’t that big in absolute terms and even smaller in per capita terms is not.

Here’s the sidebar to the story with numbers from the past five years:

Annual number of homicides in Houston and unincorporated Harris County in recent years:

City of Houston:

2009: 287

2010: 269

2011: 198

2012: 217

2013: 199 (As of Dec. 20, 2013)

Unincorporated Harris County

2009: 93

2010: 74

2011: 69

2012: 76

2013: 91 (As of Dec. 31, 2013)

If unincorporated Harris is up over 100 for the next couple of years that may be worrisome, but again keep in mind that the overall population there is rising, too. This chart would be a lot more meaningful if it included the number of homicides per 100,000 residents, as that is a number that will be better to compare over time. Consider the statement above about how 199 murders in Houston would be the second lowest since 1965 when there had been 139. Well, the population in Houston in 1965 would have been less than half what it is today, so 199 murders in 2013 is therefore significantly less – back of the envelope, it would have been about 14 per 100,000 in 1965 (I’m assuming a population halfway between the 1960 and 1970 Census numbers, which would be about one million) but only about 9.5 per 100,000 in 2013 (assuming a population of 2.1 million). Putting it that way, the total number of homicides in Houston was probably as low as it has ever been in a much longer time frame. When was the last time you heard someone say that?