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May 20th, 2016:

Friday random ten: In the city, part 11

Still more New York! And other places, too.

1. Pflugerville – Austin Lounge Lizards
2. Philadelphia Freedom – Hall and Oates
3. Phoenix Get Cured – Stereogum vs team9
4. Phone Call From Leavenworth – Chris Whitley
5. Riga In The Fall – Gavin Guss
6. Road Movie To Berlin – They Might Be Giants
7. Road To New York – Jim Malcolm
8. The Rocky Road To Dublin – The Chieftains and The Rolling Stones
9. Roswell – Flying Fish Sailors
10. Rumble In Brighton – Stray Cats

One of my college classmates was a Pfluger from Pflugerville. I’ve often wondered what she and her family thought of that song; surely someone pointed it out to them. I was occasionally tempted a Lizards shows when they played that song to mention that fact to Hank or Conrad during a break, like when I was buying a CD or something, but it always felt too weird, even for them. Oh, well.

Locke calls for jail administrator

Some strong words from Precinct 1 Commissioner Gene Locke.

Gene Locke

Gene Locke

Harris County Commissioner Gene L. Locke on Tuesday demanded that a certified jail administrator be hired after learning that four Harris County inmates have died after being assaulted by other inmates or suffered blunt force trauma while jailed over the last year.

The latest of the deaths during the tenure of Sheriff Ron Hickman, who took office in May 2015, came on April 5 after Patrick Joseph Brown, a Katy man arrested for allegedly stealing a guitar, was beaten to death in a crowded jail cell. Two inmates have been charged with aggravated assault in his death.

“Any in-custody death is unacceptable, and to hear that four people died while in jail awaiting trial in Harris County is embarrassing and disgraceful,” Locke said in a press release. “The inmates’ families deserve answers, and the people of Harris County are entitled to know that their public servants are safely operating a place of confinement, which is meant to be temporary, and not a death chamber for inmates who have not been given a bond hearing or convicted of the crimes for which they have been accused.”

Hickman responded via an emailed statement that he shares Locke’s concerns about inmate care and said he welcomed “any additional assistance that can be provided to ease and/or identify problems with staffing.”

“Our position continues to be that we will never tolerate any abuse or improper treatment of any individual under our care or custody and protection of life is always our first priority,” Hickman said. “Many times, we are the first point of access to medical care when individuals who are brought to our facility are found to be ill, needing medical attention, or mental health services.”

See here for Commissioner Locke’s full statement. The idea of a separate jail administrator has come up before, with the proposal originally being put forward by Commissioner Steve Radack and Sheriff Hickman saying he was open to the possibility. I have expressed some skepticism about this idea, partly because I was afraid it was a stalking horse for some kind of jail privatization scheme, but also because we’re very light on the details for this. How exactly would this work? To whom is the jail administrator accountable? There are many questions to answer before we could consider moving ahead.

Commissioner Locke, who invited me to have lunch with him this week to discuss what he has been doing and planning to do as Commissioner, told me that his reasoning for this was simple: Sheriffs have a strong preference for putting more deputies into patrol and investigations, and they cut costs relating to the jail to pay for that. A jail administrator, who would only have responsibility – and budget – for the jail would instead be incentivized to improve jail operations rather than simply cut costs. I’m still not on board with the idea, at least not until some of the other questions are answered, but I can see the logic in that. Whatever the case, it is clear that what we are doing at the jail now is not working any better than it was before, and we need to make significant changes to bring an end to the violence and death we see all too often in the jail. To that extent, I’ll keep an open mind about having a jail administrator if there’s a proposal for one that makes sense and addresses these questions.

Paxton opines on Syrian refugees

Whatever.

Attorney General Ken Paxton sought Tuesday to bolster the state’s thus-far unsuccessful efforts to prevent Syrian refugees from resettling in Texas by issuing a legal opinion that stresses the state’s rights in the matter.

His opinion, which doesn’t carry the force of law, said any conditions placed on the state’s acceptance of federal refugee dollars would likely be unenforceable. He added that there are no laws stopping the state from doing security checks when allocating those funds.

But some constitutional experts were quick to tamp down the gambit’s practical import.

Pointing out that a federal judge has twice rejected the state’s efforts to block Syrian refugee resettlement, some predicted that the opinion, if tested, would meet a similar fate. And experts added that Paxton’s stance fits a broader conservative effort to constrain the federal government.

“It’s not anything particularly new,” said Samuel Bagenstos, a constitutional law professor at the University of Michigan School of Law. “I just don’t think it’s an effort that’s likely to be successful.”

[…]

Paxton said that any conditions attached to federal refugee dollars would likely be unenforceable since few restrictions are found in the text of federal law. Rather, those standards have been established by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement.

“In delegating this authority to a federal agency, Congress itself has failed to provide clear notice to the states about the conditions it is attaching to a state’s acceptance of federal refugee dollars,” Paxton wrote in his opinion.

Bagenstos, a former U.S. deputy assistant attorney general, said that follows an argument that conservative state attorneys general have been making for years, often in relation to federal education dollars. But he said recent case law has rejected that kind of argument.

See here and here for the most recent updates. The state sought but failed to get a preliminary injunction barring the feds from placing refugees here. I haven’t seen any further news to indicate that Paxton has pursued this further in the courts. Clearly, he’ll get a better deal from his own office, and someone asked him for an opinion, so here we are. Hope he didn’t use the good paper printing it out, it’ll be less painful when this has to go to the shredder. The Chron has more.

Board of Disciplinary Appeals suspends Rep. Reynolds’ law license

More bad news.

Rep. Ron Reynolds

Convicted of five misdemeanor counts of illegally soliciting clients to his personal injury law practice, state Rep. Ron Reynolds is now without a license to practice law.

As Reynolds appeals his convictions, the Texas Supreme Court’s Board of Disciplinary Appeals has suspended the Missouri City Democrat’s law license, saying it would render a final judgment when the appeals process is done.

The embattled Democratic lawmaker has spent years fighting accusations of wrongdoing in his work as an attorney in the Houston area. In November, a Montgomery County jury found him guilty of five barratry counts in an “ambulance-chasing for profit” scheme and sentenced him to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Reynolds attended the April 29 Disciplinary Appeals Board hearing in Austin, in which he asked the board to not suspend his law license while his appeal is pending.

Click here for all things Ron Reynolds. You know how I feel, so I’ll spare you the tedium. This action was not unexpected, and all I can say is that I hope Reynolds has a way to provide for his family while he can’t practice law. Both the Trib last week and the Observer this week covered the HD27 runoff, which despite everything remains Reynolds’ to lose. If he does win, then I hope he’s able to actually serve, because despite his continued assertions of innocence and prosecutorial zeaoltry, he’s still got a jail sentence hanging over his head, and Democrats are going to need all hands on deck next session. And I’ll stop here so I don’t violate my promise from the second sentence above. We’ll know soon enough.

Last day of early voting is today

EarlyVoting

Early voting for the primary runoffs is going on right now, but today is the last day for it. See here for the locations – the time is 7 AM to 7 PM – and take advantage of your last chance to vote early. You can of course vote on Tuesday, May 24, at a precinct location – but be aware that many precinct locations will be combined and consolidated, as this is a low-turnout affair. Democratic precinct locations for Runoff Day on May 24 are here, and Republican locations are here. Don’t just assume you can show up at your usual place, or even the place you voted in March. There’s a good chance you will be wrong about that. Check first, then vote.

Remember that you can vote in the runoffs even if you did not vote in a primary. If you did vote in a primary, you may only vote in that party’s runoff, but if you did not vote in March you may choose either, just as you could have chosen either in March. As I said in the first paragraph, turnout has been modest so far. Here are the daily totals through Thursday. A grand total of 40,484 votes have been cast, with 17,305 on the Democratic side and 23,179 for the GOP. Note that in each case, nearly 2/3 of the vote so far has been by mail. Only 6,597 Dems and 8,212 Republicans have voted in person. Given that, I think Stan Stanart’s pre-voting prediction of 50K for the Rs is going to miss by a lot, but we’ll see. The last day of early voting is always the heaviest. Have you voted yet? My wife and I stopped at West Gray on the way home from work yesterday. It was quite dead – there were maybe three other voters there with us, and no doubt thanks to the rain, only three people in the parking lot handing out push cards. What was it like when you voted?