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November 30th, 2015:

Interview with Sharon Moses

Sharon Moses

Sharon Moses

There are six citywide runoff races coming up, with early voting to start on Wednesday. The large fields and high turnout among less-frequent city voters gave rise to some unexpected results in the At Large races, which means those of us who vote in the runoffs needed to do some extra homework to decide who to support in December. One such race was At Large #5, where late entrant Sharon Moses caught a wave and made it into overtime against CM Jack Christie. Moses is a native Houstonian and attorney with a Masters in Transportation Planning and Management from Texas Southern University. She is no stranger to City Council, having served as an Agenda Director and Policy Researcher under former City Council Member Ada Edwards, District D. Since that time, she has worked for the Solid Waste Management Department doing public education and outreach on sustainability, recycling, and the like; she has served as Producer/Anchor/Host of the municipal channel’s Solid Waste Management show on H-TV, “Wasting Time”. Since the November election, she has received the endorsement of the Harris County Democratic Party and some but not all Democratic clubs and like-minded organizations. I myself did not know much about Sharon Moses, so I thought the best way to address that, for myself and for other voters, would be to do an interview with her. I’m glad to have gotten that opportunity. Here’s what we talked about:

A statement issued by the Moses campaign regarding her position on equality and HERO is here. I will post links to interviews I have done with other runoff candidates tomorrow.

Harris County keeps considering vote centers

Perhaps one of these days they will move forward on this.

vote-button

Seeking to making voting easier on Election Day, Harris County officials are considering shifting to a system that would allow voters to cast ballots at any county polling place rather than only at their neighborhood precinct.

These so-called “vote centers,” modeled after the countywide polling sites used during early voting, have been implemented by at least 33 Texas counties, including neighboring Fort Bend, since the state Legislature authorized a pilot program in 2005.

Four of the five members of Harris County’s Commissioners Court said they support the idea, citing a desire to make voting more convenient.

“As a concept, it makes all the sense in the world,” Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said.

[…]

Yet despite broad interest in vote centers, Emmett and Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart cited technological and logistical impediments to making the change soon in Harris County under current state law, which does not allow for adjustments based on county size.

Counties adopting vote centers for the first time are required retain 65 percent of the number of precinct polling places they otherwise would have used for that election. In subsequent elections, they must keep half the precinct polling sites.

That means if Harris County had transitioned to countywide polling places for November’s general election, it would have needed to open 492 vote centers in place of 757 precinct polling locations.

By contrast, the county of 4.4 million residents offered just 41 early voting sites.

“That’s totally illogical. That defeats the whole purpose,” Emmett said.

Explaining that he does not think Harris County would be able to participate without a legislative change allowing them to offer fewer voting centers, Emmett proposed opening 100 countywide polling places for the two weeks leading up to and through Election Day.

“That would make it easier for people to vote,” Emmett said.

See here for previous blogging on this subject. As I’ve said before, I think this is a good idea, and by now we have enough examples, including those of our neighbors in Fort Bend and Galveston, to see how this works. If we need a new law to allow for a more realistic number of vote centers, then let’s crank up the machinery to help make that happen in 2017. While we’re at it, let’s try again for online voter registration, too. Whatever we can do to improve the voting process in Harris County.

Paxton can get others to pay his legal bills

It’s Christmas in November for our felonious Attorney General.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

Texas’ ethics regulator has carved a path for Attorney General Ken Paxton to tap out-of-state donors to pay his legal tab to defend against felony fraud charges.

The Texas Ethics Commission, responding to an inquiry from an anonymous employee at the attorney general’s office, is scheduled Monday to offer guidance for workers at the agency that could have big implications for how Paxton funds his team of lawyers.

A draft opinion circulated ahead of the meeting lays out proposed steps for an employee of the attorney general’s office to take to avoid violating the state’s gift-giving laws while accepting a “benefit” from a donor in certain situations.

The regulators’ preliminary finding: A state worker could accept a benefit from a donor lacking ties to Texas, like residency or business operations, and who is not believed to be subject to the agency’s jurisdiction.

“We conclude that a public servant working for the OAG would not be prohibited … from accepting a benefit from an individual who does not reside in Texas or from an entity that does not operate in Texas if the donor’s only connection with the jurisdiction of the public servant and the OAG is the act of giving the benefit,” according to a copy of the draft opinion obtained by the San Antonio Express-News.

[…]

Experts have said the ethics commission’s opinion could give Paxton and his lawyers the blueprint to make use of big-money donors for legal services. The bipartisan commission’s eight members are appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker.

Whether the attorney general’s office has oversight to regulate or investigate a donor is key to the inquiry. The agency’s jurisdiction is broad, and ranges from defending the state in court to enforcing antitrust laws.

State law prevents an official at an agency like the attorney general’s office from accepting a “benefit” from someone under the agency’s authority.

Lawyers for the anonymous official at the attorney general’s office asked the ethics commission to issue an opinion to clarify a slightly different question: Under what condition could a specific set of out-of-state donors provide a benefit if they were not believed to be subject to regulation or investigation by the agency?

The commission, in its draft, recommended the employee at the attorney general’s office conduct his or her own “diligent” internal analysis of specific facts to avoid conflicts – one that examines pending or contemplated litigation, business records and information directly from the donor. But the draft opinion cautions that “the extent of any necessary inquiry will depend upon what the public servant knows or suspects about the potential donor.”

The eight-member panel of ethics regulators is scheduled to vet the draft opinion for the first time Monday, when a vote could also be taken to adopt the guidance. A copy was circulated ahead of the meeting.

See here for the background. The person who requested this opinion from the TEC is anonymous, and if you believe it’s not Ken Paxton or someone acting on his behalf, then I have some oceanfront property in Midland to sell you. What could possibly go wrong by allowing Ken Paxton’s legal defense to be sponsored by various out of state benefactors who we all pinky-swear have no business in Texas that might possibly fall under the purview of the OAG? Pretty sweet deal, I tell you what. Hope your overlords get their money’s worth from your attorneys, Kenny.

UPDATE: Looks like I spoke too soon on this. Bad for Paxton, good for the rest of us. I’ll do a separate post on this.

Would you like to sit in armed or unarmed?

From Houstonia:

Imagine it’s a Saturday afternoon. You stop into Whataburger to pick up lunch with your kids in tow, the only thing on your mind remembering which kid doesn’t want ketchup on his burger, which kid only wants ketchup on his burger, and whether you want to add jalapenõs to your own. You place your order and are pulling out your wallet to pay when a man walks in with a Sig Sauer strapped to his belt. He’s not in any kind of uniform; he’s not wearing a badge. He’s just a guy with his gun, and you’re just a guy with his kids. Are you okay with this scenario? Maybe so. Or maybe you can’t understand why a guy would need to bring his gun into a fast-food restaurant, and you decide to leave without your burgers.

Whataburger has long bet that a good portion of its customers belong to the latter group, hence its company-wide policy against open carry, which has been legal for years in other states where the chain operates, from Arizona to Arkansas. In advance of the new statewide law that goes into effect in Texas this January 1—the much-discussed House Bill 910 that makes Texas the 45th state to allow residents to openly carry and display their handguns—the Corpus Christi–based company recently reiterated that policy.

[…]

The thing is, there’s still a great deal of confusion surrounding the impending changes, as business associations large and small, reluctant to enter the quagmire of gun control politics, have been slow to provide guidance to private entities that may want to ban open carry. (The Greater Houston Restaurant Association didn’t even return Houstonia’s requests for comment.) As a result, getting those signs up in the first place is proving tougher than expected.

And in fact, rules for the necessary signage are complicated. “Business owners that want to ban guns from their property must post a new sign that adheres to strict wording, colors and text size,” says Terry McBurney, president of the Greater Montgomery County Restaurant Association, one of the few restaurant associations to provide assistance in advance of the new gun laws. Those colors, the Texas Department of Public Safety mandates, must be contrasting. The lettering must be block, and at least one-inch high, for maximum legibility, with the notice in both English and Spanish, posted “conspicuously” at the entrance to the business itself. Any sign that isn’t absolutely perfect, down to the letter, will be null and void.

I would note that State Rep. Diego Bernal of San Antonio has taken it upon himself to help businesses who want to opt out on open carry by printing signs that conform to all of the mandated requirements, which he is providing free of charge. Perhaps one or more of our local legislators could follow that example – I’m sure plenty of businesses would appreciate it. Regardless, I wonder how long it will take before some establishments use open carry as a marketing tool, catering to whatever side they think represents a bigger opportunity for them. I feel reasonably confident saying that there will be more than a few establishments in my neighborhood that feature these signs, and that more than a few of them will not be shy about advertising themselves as such. Should be fascinating to watch.

On a tangential matter:

During a panel [recently] addressing Texas’s new open-carry law, Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson, and City Attorney Donna Edmunson encouraged citizens to ask as many questions as possible.

Mostly, they asked McClelland and Anderson to consider a myriad of hypothetical situations.

For example, many asked, what if you’re just sitting on a bench at a park with your gun in your holster, and some concerned “mad mom” calls the police on you because she and her kids are alarmed by the very presence of your gun? Are the police really going to detain you and ask that you show your CHL even though you’re just sitting on the bench eating a ham sandwich? Isn’t that a bit invasive?

The resounding answer from McClelland and Anderson, to all of the above types of questions, was basically this: we understand your concerns, but you’re just going to have to deal with it.

Chances are, they explained, you’re going to come across a CHL holder openly carrying his or her gun inside of a Walmart, a Taco Bell, a JCPenny (not a Whataburger, which already said it’s not going to allow guns inside). And chances are, for CHL holders, a police officer is going to ask you to show your license once someone’s kids get scared and they call 911, and you’ll just have to comply, because that’s the law—even if you’re just sitting on a bench eating a sandwich.

This is going to be so much fun, isn’t it? There are already plenty of disagreements about what this law means and what if any restrictions can be legally enforced in various places. I suspect the courts are going to be very busy next year, and the Lege will be back to revisit this in 2017.