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March 25th, 2016:

Friday random ten: In the city, part 3

I love geographical lists.

1. Back To Chico – Clandestine
2. The Barn Yards Of Calgary – SixMileBridge
3. Buffalo Gals – Bruce Springsteen
4. Chattanooga Choo Choo – Glenn Miller
5. Chattanooga Shoeshine Boy – Georgetown Chimes
6. Chicago Falcon – The Budos Band
7. Christmas In Hollis – Run-DMC
8. Cold Chicago – Humming House
9. Dallas, Texas – Austin Lounge Lizards
10. Dear Old Stockholm – Stan Getz

Add Chattanooga and Chicago to the list of cities with more than one mention. New York will have its work cut out for it, but I feel confident it will come through.

North Carolina takes a big step backwards on equality

Shameful.

RedEquality

Wednesday was a whirlwind day in North Carolina’s government. The legislature convened a special session, a complicated multi-part bill was introduced, it passed through the House and Senate — both Republican controlled — and Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed it into law. Just like that, North Carolina became the state with the most hostile laws against LGBT people in the country.

Targeting Charlotte for passing its recent LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance, the sweeping legislation preempts municipal nondiscrimination ordinances, essentially making it illegal for cities and counties to extend protections to the LGBT community. Only two other states, Arkansas and Tennessee, have such a law, but North Carolina’s bill goes much further. It also bans transgender people from using restrooms that match their gender unless they’ve managed to change their birth certificate, and prevents civil suits from being filed in state court even when discrimination is documented by the already-poorly-funded Human Rights Commission. On top of all the anti-LGBT measures, the legislation went further and prohibited cities from mandating any employment compensation (minimum wage, benefits, etc.) beyond what is offered at the state level.

Gleefully signing the bill that he openly called for, McCrory claimed that “the basic expectation of privacy in the most personal of settings, a restroom or locker room, for each gender was violated by government overreach and intrusion by the mayor and city council of Charlotte.” Calling the ordinance a “radical breach of trust and security under the false argument of equal access,” he said that he believes it “defies common sense and basic community norms by allowing, for example, a man to use a woman’s bathroom, shower or locker room.”

In a video statement, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest (R) added that “the loophole this ordinance created would have given pedophiles, sex offenders, and perverts free reign to watch women, boys, and girls undress and use the bathroom.”

What is perhaps most troubling about the passage of this law in North Carolina is that it could pave the way for other states to also target the transgender community for discrimination. South Dakota’s may have been vetoed, but Tennessee’s supposedly dead bill has already been revivedthis week as several other states continue to introduce theirs.

Kansas lawmakers are considering a bill that would ban transgender people from bathrooms and allow people to sue schools and government agencies if they saw transgender people in their facilities. Republicans in Minnesota’s legislature have similarly introduced a bill targeting public restrooms — albeit without the lawsuit provision. And when the Michigan Department of Education announced this week that it was considering some protections for transgender students, it prompted a GOP backlash that could result in legislation to either overturn or block them.

What happened in North Carolina could prove to be the deadly recipe that helps these other discriminatory bills actually make it across the finish line.

[…]

The very opposite is happening in Georgia. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) has until May 3 to consider an anti-LGBT bill that has been widely scorned. Just this week, Disney and Marvel promised to pull out of the state if he signs it, following pressure from other companies like Apple and the NFL that have made similar threats, including not bringing the Super Bowl to the state. This was after plenty of public debate during the many weeks the legislature spent considering and amending the bill.

The test for North Carolina will be to see what political and legal consequences there will be for the lawmakers who rushed this legislation through. Democratic National Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) scorned the Republican party for being “stuck in the Stone Age on LGBT equality.” Denouncing North Carolina’s lawmakers for “steamrolling over local officials just because they had the courage to stand up for transgender rights,” she promised that “our friends in the LGBT community deserve better and so do all the people of North Carolina.”

The key, I think, is for the companies and organizations that have been threatening action in Georgia now need to actually take those threatened actions in North Carolina, and they need to do it quickly and with as much fanfare as possible. There have to be consequences – not just at the ballot box, but right now – or else we will see this same sort of bill get pushed through in a lot of other states. And yes, that includes Texas. Our next legislative session is not for another ten months, by which time one hopes it has been made clear that this sort of legislation is Not Acceptable, but we could get a special session on school finance much sooner than that, and there’s no telling what could happen. Our legislative process is not designed to work in this kind of lightning-strike manner, but remember that the 2011 redistricting bills were passed during a special session with minimal public input. I can also easily envision some kind of amendment to a school finance bill that forbids ISDs from enacting anti-discrimination policies or accommodating transgender students. So don’t think this can’t happen here, or that it can’t happen before next year. It can, and it will if we’re not ready for it. TPM, Daily Kos, The Slacktivist, and Slate have more.

Doing more to get tax breaks

We’ll see about this.

BagOfMoney

Companies seeking city tax breaks soon could get a boost if they commit to providing additional community benefits – such as workforce housing, paid internships for low-income students or jobs for those who previously were incarcerated – as part of a retooling of Houston’s tax abatement program before City Council on Wednesday.

The new guidelines harken back to Mayor Sylvester Turner’s campaign proposal to ensure that recipients of city tax incentives pay their employees “decent wages with decent benefits.”

However, the recommended changes suggest rather than require that companies offer those additional benefits, prompting concern among advocates that they could have little impact.

“When you start talking about workforce affordable housing and livable wages, all of those things are critical components as we look to rebuild not only streets, but neighborhoods and communities,” Turner said Tuesday. “I think this is one way of moving the ball further down the field and completing some of the things that I’ve talked about earlier, over the last year and a half.”

Houston’s tax abatement rules already favor companies that commit to offering health benefits, purchasing locally, providing jobs within a designated area or providing opportunities to minority- and women-owned businesses. The city is looking to add to those categories as part of a biennial renewal of its tax break protocol, as required by state law.

[…]

Government accountability advocate Greg LeRoy was more skeptical, saying such preferences need an enforcement mechanism to be effective.

“In this era of economic development, where there’s so much money getting spent and so many recurring accountability problems, soft language doesn’t cut it,” said LeRoy, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based policy group Good Jobs First. “Absent black-and-white requirements, which are carefully monitored and enforced, any kind of community benefits – wage and hour standards, geographic targeting, local hiring, set-asides of any kind – just don’t happen.”

Even Houston’s explicit prerequisites for tax breaks have been set aside in recent deals. Council waived a requirement in at least two of the six tax abatements approved in the last two years.

In backing a $6.5 million tax break last month for Fairway Energy Partners to store oil in underground caverns, council agreed to forgo its typical requirement that a business create at least 25 on-site jobs. Two months prior, council signed off on a $1.5 million tax abatement for oil field services giant Halliburton even though city rules block companies from receiving such deals if they already have announced or begun construction on their expansion plans.

Count me in agreement with Greg LeRoy that enforcement is key, and with Ginny Goldman of the Texas Organizing Project that it shouldn’t be so easy to waive these requirements. I get the argument for offering incentives, but it always feels like the “they’ll locate outside the city” reasoning is granted far more weight than any consideration of whether we’re getting sufficient value in the deal. How about an annual review of each deal, with a public accounting of what was promised, what’s been done, what’s still left to do, and what the timeline is for doing them? I don’t think that’s too much to ask, and if it winds up embarrassing any of the recipients of these incentives, then I submit they needed to be embarrassed. Surely at a time when budgets are squeezed and money is tight, the city needs to do all it reasonably can to ensure it is getting the best return on its investments. Give me a public review of these rebate/incentive deals, or give me a good reason why we shouldn’t just do away with them altogether and let the free-market chips fall where they may.

Local Planned Parenthood joins lawsuit against the video fraudsters

Good.

Right there with them

Right there with them

A Texas-based Planned Parenthood affiliate on Thursday moved to join a federal lawsuit filed in California against the anti-abortion group behind undercover videos of the organization’s clinics.

The lawsuit, filed in a San Francisco-based federal court in January, alleges the Center for Medical Progress engaged in conspiracy, fraud and other activities that violate organized crime law and other federal regulations in its pursuit of secretly recorded videos of Planned Parenthood. Citing recordings of staff at a Houston clinic, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast filed to join the lawsuit as a plaintiff.

The recordings, released by the group last summer, depicted Planned Parenthood staff discussing the procurement of fetal tissue. The group alleged that Planned Parenthood was illegally profiting from the sale of tissue of aborted fetuses — an accusation the organization has vehemently denied.

The lawsuit against the group was first filed by Planned Parenthood Federation of America and seven California affiliates against the Center for Medical Progress, Biomax Procurement Services and several anti-abortion activists, including videographers David Daleiden and Sandra Susan Merritt.

See here for the background on the existing lawsuit, and here for a copy of the complaint. There’s another federal lawsuit against these clowns as well, plus a lawsuit by PP against the state over revocation of Medicaid funds. If these CMP idiots want to be martyrs for their cause, I hope the justice system helps them get there, one judgment (and conviction) at a time. The Chron and the Observer have more.

Collin County grand jury declines to add to Ken Paxton’s problems

He’s got that going for him, which is nice.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

A Collin County grand jury looking into a 2004 land sale tied to a business group involving Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has decided to drop its investigation, a lawyer for the McKinney Republican said Wednesday.

Since November, two special prosecutors appointed by state District Judge George Gallagher of Fort Worth have been looking into criminal allegations related to a sale of land that later became the site of Collin Central Appraisal District. The sale involved a limited partnership that included Paxton, Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis and eight other partners.

Paxton lawyer Bill Mateja said in a statement that the attorney general and his legal team were confident from the beginning that the grand jury would take no action.

“We would like to thank the special prosecutors for their diligence in reviewing all aspects of this matter and for reaching out to General Paxton to obtain his cooperation in their investigation,” Mateja said.

Special prosecutors Bob Gill and Miles Brissette issued a statement Wednesday afternoon confirming the development.

“After reviewing voluminous documents, hearing the testimony of numerous witnesses and conducting an exhaustive examination of all relevant information, the grand jury concluded that no further action was warranted,” they said.

See here and here for the background. Paxton still has plenty of troubles to worry about, but if there’s one person who’s likely breathing a sigh of relief at this, it’s Collin County DA Greg Willis. Regardless, it’s one less thing for Paxton to have to pay his attorneys, and that’s something. Trail Blazers has more.