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April 19th, 2014:

Saturday video break: Beautiful

Another installment of Same Name, Different Song. The song is “Beautiful”, and our first contestants are G. Love & Special Sauce, featuring Tristan Prettyman:

I do love me a good duet. G. Love has a new album out that you can download from Noisetrade if you like what you heard.

For a different Beautiful song, here’s the one and only Carole King:

Did you know there’s now a Broadway musical based on the life of Carole King, called “Beautiful”? I learned that when I went trawling YouTube for this song. Here’s Jessie Mueller, the actor who plays Carole King in this musical, channeling her on The Today Show:

Pretty fair impersonation there. Did you hear at the end where one of the Today Show ladies said that Carole King needed to see “Beautiful” on Broadway? Well, I’m sure you can see this coming:

Moments like that are often staged, but even without King’s assurance that they had no idea she was there, it’s obvious from the surprise and delight on the cast members’ faces that they were truly in the dark. It’s quite a moment, worth watching even with the choppy editing. Here’s the YouTube link, which has more about the show, for those of you that might want to see it.

Council approves hoarding ordinance

I think they’re on the right track.

HoardersOne

The Houston City Council unanimously approved an anti-hoarding ordinance Wednesday without a clear idea of how it will be enforced.

The ordinance, which does not apply to single-family homes, clarifies when police can seek a warrant to enter a home and prioritizes mental health treatment before turning to daily fines of up to $500.

The ordinance does not specify how deep piles of apparent junk must be, nor how long neighbors can be expected to battle insect or rodent infestations while city officials seek treatment of a suspected hoarder and a clean-up of the property.

To a large extent, Mayor Annise Parker said, enforcement will be at the discretion of responding police officers.

Internal policies outlining possible hoarding thresholds, how agencies will coordinate a response and who will have a final say in the decision still must be written.

[…]

Council members said they expect the ordinance to reinforce the existing relationship between HPD and the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County, who often perform joint welfare checks.

MHMRA Executive Director Stephen Schnee said the agency would complete assessments and recommend treatment, but not be involved in enforcement decisions.

[…]

Despite the ordinance, Parker said enforcement by authorities is not her preferred first choice for dealing with hoarders.

“Having the ability to say to a family member, ‘This is against the law. If you don’t do this, if you don’t work on this issue, if you don’t seek the help you need, there will be a police intervention,’ is one more tool that can help resolve the issue,” she said. “The goal is never to write a citation for something like this because we understand it’s a mental health issue, but this gets us in the door.”

See here for the background. For what it’s worth, as someone who was a fan of Hoarders on A&E, in nearly every episode the hoarder in question had to be backed into a corner before agreeing to get help and do some cleanup. Often, this included some kind of threat from local authorities to impose fines or even condemn the property. One gets the impression that this kind of leverage can be very useful to help persuade someone who doesn’t believe he has a problem to do something about the situation at hand. As the story notes, in the past the only legal leverage the city had was if there was a credible complaint about animal abuse. This gives them another way to open the door and assess the condition of the residence, and hopefully connect the person inside with the resources they will need to help them address the problem. I’d like to see the city revisit this in a year or so, and if it’s getting results to see about extending the ordinance to include standalone houses. I think they are pointing in the right direction, and I hope this works. Texpatriate has more.

The explosion in West will change nothing

That’s just how we roll around here.

A year after the blast killed 15 people and injured hundreds, Texas lawmakers have yet to propose or put into action any major reforms in an attempt to prevent future industrial accidents, whether it’s at a small, rural fertilizer retailer or a petrochemical plant along the Houston Ship Channel.

The disconnect reflects a state famously wary of government regulations. Even in West, about 120 miles north of Austin, some residents sound more concerned about the length of freight trains rolling through town than the absence of new rules for chemical plants.

It’s impossible to know whether stricter rules would have prevented the disaster, but some say the lack of action is putting lives in jeopardy.

“The bottom line is, there hasn’t been any effort to do things that would prevent such a tragedy in the future,” said Elena Craft, a Texas-based health scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund. “It seems wrong that lives were lost in vain.”

Key lawmakers say changes are coming, but any new regulations likely will be tailored to improve safety at the 82 facilities permitted to store and sell ammonium nitrate, the nitrogen-rich compound that was involved in the devastating blast. It’s unlikely the yet-unseen agenda will involve sweeping legislation that alters the handling of hazardous materials at all chemical plants.

“We just cannot do business the same way,” said state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, who chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety. “I want to turn the ought-to-dos into statute. But I want something that even the staunchest anti-regulation people say it’s a good idea.”

[…]

Pickett said he would like to assign authority for overseeing the handling and storage of fertilizer to one agency, most likely the state fire marshal’s office. There were eight state agencies with some oversight of the West plant or the explosion, and critics believe the patchwork regulatory approach allowed the West plant to slip through bureaucratic cracks.

For example, plant managers submitted to state and local agencies a document, known as a Tier II report, that shows how much ammonium nitrate is stored on site for sale to farmers. But no one flagged the large stockpile at the West facility, which reported in 2012 that it had at least 270 tons of the dangerously combustible chemical.

Pickett said he wants the Tier II reports to go directly to the state fire marshal’s office, which also would be responsible for inspecting facilities and instructing plant personnel on best safety practices. He also wants additional funding for training firefighters.

[…]

The Environmental Defense Fund’s Craft is skeptical about the Legislature’s willingness to produce significant reforms.

“I don’t think they see what happened in West as a real problem,” she said. “They kind of think of it as a one-off event and that it probably won’t happen again.”

Until the next one, that is. Can we at least agree that this is a problem?

Pickett also indicated a willingness to consider strengthening rules on the storage of ammonium nitrate. Connealy, the State Fire Marshal, said today that 46, nearly half, of the state’s 96 ammonium nitrate plants are housing the fertilizer in combustible wood-frame structures—just like in the West disaster. At the West fertilizer plant, the fire originated in the seed room and spread rapidly to consume the wood structure and the wood fertilizer bins.

“We have to keep fire away from ammonium nitrate,” he said. Connealy said requiring sprinkler systems or, alternatively, mandating that ammonium nitrate be stored in non-combustible storage bins made of concrete, stone or metal could go a long way toward avoiding another West-like disaster.

“I still worry about the 46 that are dangerous wood structures and we have no authority right now to go in and say change ‘em,” Pickett said.

Please tell me this isn’t too much to ask. I really didn’t expect much, but surely this is doable. Right? The DMN has more.

The equal pay issue in SD10

Just as the issue of equal pay has become a big deal in the Governor’s race, so is it an issue in the race to succeed Sen. Wendy Davis in SD10.

Libby Willis

In the battle for Senate District 10, [Konni] Burton and [Mark] Shelton head to a May 27 Republican primary runoff to determine who takes on [Democrat Libby] Willis in November.

Davis has represented the district since 2009.

Burton, a leader in the NE Tarrant Tea Party, said Willis is pushing issues like this while avoiding “tackling serious issues facing Texans,” like the “crippling” impact of Obamacare.

Shelton, a pediatrician and former state representative who lost a bid for this seat in 2012, said no more legislation is necessary.

“Equal pay for equal work is the law of the United States and the state of Texas,” he said. “Current law should be enforced and additional laws are unneeded.”

Willis said something must be done.

“Republicans, Democrats and independents support equal pay for women,” she said. “Equal pay is not only a fairness issue, it’s a family economic issue.”

To whatever extent this issue has salience in the statewide race, it ought to have a similar effect in SD10. Maybe more, since the SD10 Republicans have a harder edge than Greg Abbott. I think Abbott would rather just have this issue (and most others) go away, while Burton and Shelton will campaign loud and proud against the Ledbetter law. Whatever it takes, because it sure would be nice to hold onto this seat. Between Donna Campbell, Don Huffines, and whoever wins the special election to succeed Tommy Williams, the Senate is stupid and mean enough already. Let’s not make it any more so.

Endorsement watch: The not-so-special SD04

Before we get to the primary runoffs, we must first settle the special election business in SD04. The Chron attempts to pick the best of a mostly sorry lot of candidates to replace Sen. Tommy Williams.

Gordy Bunch

Residents of state Senate District 4 through the years have shown a penchant for electing big men to represent them. We mean that both literally and figuratively.

From 1977 until 1995, it was Carl Parker, a liberal Democrat from Port Arthur who was an outsized force for public education, the environment and industrial safety, all while serving, unofficially, as the Senate’s resident wit. (Parker: “If you took all the fools out of the Legislature, it wouldn’t be a representative body anymore.”)

From 2003 until last fall, it’s been Tommy Williams, a conservative Republican from The Woodlands who left the upper chamber after a decade in office to serve as the vice chancellor of federal and state relations for his alma mater, Texas A&M University. Williams, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, earned a reputation as a smart, no-nonsense lawmaker willing to cooperate with the other side of the aisle, despite his strongly held conservative views.

Williams and Parker both cut a wide swath through the Capitol (again, literally and figuratively). Unfortunately, the four candidates seeking to succeed Williams in a May 4 special election come nowhere close to the caliber of the senator they would succeed.

[…]

Our endorsement, almost by default, goes to Richard “Gordy” Bunch, a Coast Guard veteran, CEO of The Woodlands Financial Group and treasurer on The Woodlands township board. He also serves as chairman of The Woodlands Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Bunch touts his business experience and his township track record of lowering property taxes below the effective tax rate and paying down city debt. In addition to his township experience, he seems to have a good grasp of issues that affect the district, including education needs in Beaumont and Port Arthur and transportation needs throughout the area.

Early voting begins April 28 and ends May 6. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be necessary.

My expectations are low for this race. Tommy Williams was hardly the end of the rainbow, but at least while he was Senate Finance chair, he proved to be less awful than someone from that district might have been. That’s about all I can ask for. I have no plans to get my hopes up that Gordy Bunch can meet that threshold, or that he can make it to the runoff, but if the Chron’s opinion is to be believed, at least I have a reason to check the election returns on May 10.