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January 13th, 2014:

Interview with Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg

Let’s talk about the Harris County District Attorney’s race for a minute, shall we? We all remember what happened in 2012, when perennial candidate/yahoo Lloyd Oliver won the Democratic primary for DA because he had some name ID for having run for things before and because presumed candidate Zack Fertitta did not adequately connect with enough voters to overcome that. Oliver was exactly the candidate in the general election that we knew he would be, and as a result Mike Anderson won easily. The office of DA is on the ballot again this year due to the tragic and untimely death of Mike Anderson, and once again Democrats have a choice in their primary between a highly respected and well-qualified candidate, and Lloyd Oliver. That highly respected and well-qualified candidate is Kim Ogg. Ogg is a former prosecutor, she has been the head of Crime Stoppers and the city of Houston’s anti-gang task force, and she has a long history in politics as the daughter of former State Sen. Jack Ogg. She’s also been saying smart things since announcing her candidacy about reinstating the trace case policy and ensuring the DA isn’t needlessly contributing to jail overcrowding. We talked about those things and a lot more in the interview.

Please, please, let’s make sure we don’t suffer the same fate as in 2012. Tell everyone you know to make sure they vote for Kim Ogg in the primary. No knock on Devon Anderson, who is a well-qualified DA herself, but we deserve a real choice this November. Kim Ogg gives us that choice, Lloyd Oliver does not.

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2014 Election page.

New accountability standards, more schools on the failing list

Not a good headline.

The number of officially faltering public schools in Texas almost doubled last year, in part because of higher accountability standards imposed by state education policy.

The Texas Education Agency released Thursday a list of 892 schools that fell short of minimum standards and which have been placed on the Public Education Grant list. Students at schools on the list are allowed to transfer to other schools if their parents wish, and the schools accepting them get additional funds to educate them.

Districts are required to notify parents of children who attend a school on the list that they can request a transfer, including transfers to another district. However, districts are not required to accept such transfer requests.

The Houston Independent School District had 53 schools on the list, nearly triple the number from last year when 18 schools were deemed struggling. District officials could not be reached for comment late Thursday.

[…]

For a school to be placed on the list, more than 50 percent of its students have failed to meet the minimum threshold on accountability tests in two of the last three years, or it has been rated “academically unacceptable” in 2011 or “improvement required” last year. (No accountability ratings were given in 2012.) Those are the lowest categories in the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills and the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness test that was implemented in 2013.

In 2012, the list included 456 schools. Schools can remain on the list for three years, meaning some whose students performed above the minimum performance threshold last year could still be on it.

DeEtta Culberson, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency told the Associated Press that, “historically, when changes are made to the accountability system, the number of schools that are included in the list tends to rise.”

I suppose that’s to be expected, and I certainly hope the schools on that list can work their way off of it this year. You can see the list here. I don’t remember the names of the former North Forest ISD schools, so I don’t know how many of them are present. The schools I did notice included a couple in my neighborhood – Helms Elementary and Hogg Middle – both of which were also on the probation list for magnet schools; there were a few others on both lists as well. I presume this list came out too late in the day to get a reaction from anyone for publication, but I’m sure that HISD’s leadership will focus its attention on that list. As I said, I hope it’s substantially smaller next year.

Sexual assault in the Harris County jail

This sounds very bad, but there are some questions about how the numbers were determined.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, defending his staff against a federal study that found startling levels of sexual abuse at one of his jails, testified Wednesday that his sprawling corrections system was constantly working to better protect inmates.

Garcia was called to testify before the U.S. Department of Justice’s review panel on prison rape because one of the four buildings of the Harris County Jail was found in a DOJ-commissioned study to have one of the worst rates of sexual assault in the nation.

The study’s results, released in June, found the rate of sexual assault in the lockup at 1200 Baker St. was 7.6 percent, more than twice the national average, and the third-worst of 373 jails studied.

Garcia was sharply critical of the study in a written response to the panel, but he focused his testimony Wednesday on his department’s efforts to improve inmate protection.

He said, “I took exception to the results of your study. But … all such studies are opportunities” to evaluate and improve operations.

[…]

When panelist Gary Christensen asked Garcia to speak about his objections to the survey, the sheriff demurred, saying he’d rather discuss how he was working to improve the jail.

But in writing, he savaged the study, calling it “flawed and misleading.”

He said not enough inmates responded to meet the survey-takers’ own criteria, noting the response for 1200 Baker Street had to be “weighted” to provide “imagined feedback from non-respondents.”

He wrote that the Bureau of Justice Statistics admits it doesn’t know how to factor for false accusations by inmates in the anonymous survey, and pointed out that the survey’s rules do not permit follow-up investigations or substantiations.

The national average rate of inmate-on-inmate victimization is 1.6 percent. The average at 1200 Baker was found to be 6.2 percent. But the county’s other three facilities’ rates were 1 percent, 0.9 percent and 0.0 percent.

Garcia said bemusedly afterward, “We could be testifying at the next hearing” – which was on “low-incidence jail facilities.”

You can see the report here. I get that self-reporting by inmates about being assaulted may not be the most accurate method, but what other alternative methods are used for things like this? Sheriff Garcia is certainly correct that he has taken action on numerous fronts to deal with disciplinary issues with his staff. It’s also true that in recent years when the jail population was high and the number of guards was lower than it should have been due to budget constraints, there would have been less supervision of inmates, which might allow more assaults to happen. Things are better in that area now, but with the jail population being in large part determined by judges and the DA’s office, it’s always going to be a concern. I have only glanced at the report, and I have not seen the Sheriff’s written response to it – I’ve sent an email asking for a copy but have not yet received a response – so I don’t have much more to say at this point. Sheriff Garcia has done a lot to clean things up and improve discipline and inmate safety, but there will always be more to do. As he said, it’s an opportunity that I’m sure he will take. Grits has more.

UPDATE: Via email from Alan Bernstein, you can see Sheriff Garcia’s written testimony and written response here.

Utah will not recognize same sex marriages

Not until they are forced to.

RedEquality

Utah Gov. Gary Herbertannounced Wednesday that the state will not recognize the 1,000-plus same-sex marriages performed in the state since Dec. 20, when a U.S. district judge ruled that the state’s ban on gay marriage violated gay and lesbian couples’ constitutional rights.

“The original laws governing marriage in Utah return to effect pending final resolution by the courts,” the governor’s office said in a memo issued to his Cabinet.

“We’re not going to do anything to undo marriages,” said Missy Larsen, spokeswoman for Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes. “If they have a driver’s license with their marital name on it, it stands. But wherever they were in the process, it’s frozen.”

That means that same-sex couples who have gotten married since the Dec. 20 ruling and who are in the process of applying for benefits for spouses or adopting children will have those actions put on hold.

Same-sex couples who have gotten marriage licenses but have not yet had weddings are not legally married, Larsen said. “The ceremony had to have taken place. It had to have been solemnized.”

Gov. Herbert’s chief of staff, Derek Miller, sent a memo saying state law not only prohibits same-sex marriages but also prohibits the state recognizing them.

Utah is not commenting on the legal status of the same-sex marriages already performed, the memo said.

They will at least allow county clerks to continue processing paperwork from couples that did get married before SCOTUS stepped in, for which I don’t feel like scrounging up a snarky comment. Just because Utah doesn’t want to recognize these marriages doesn’t mean anyone else has to follow their lead, and indeed on Friday the Obama administration announced that they would recognize all of Utah’s marriages.

“I am confirming today that, for purposes of federal law, these marriages will be recognized as lawful and considered eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a video message which was shared with TPM. “These families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their status as the litigation unfolds.”

Good for them. The Human Rights Commission had asked for this a day earlier, and I’m glad to see it happen without any dithering. In the meantime, while we wait for the Tenth Circuit to hear the appeal, the ACLU is planning to file a lawsuit against Utah to force it to uncover its eyes and recognize these marriages as legal pending the outcome of the original litigation. We’ll see what gets an enforceable ruling first.