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May 28th, 2016:

Saturday video break: Just A Little Lovin’

How about a little throwback country/pop from Dusty Springfield?

Such a great voice. I need to find more of her stuff. For a more modern take on that song, here’s Adrian Lynne:

Very nice, though I kind of like the fact that Springfield does that in about half the time. And for a different song of the same name – dropped “g” in “lovin'” and all – here’s perennial favorite the Hot Club of Cowtown:

I always have some love for what they do.

Anyone want to help me sue the feds?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

When Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced Wednesday that he had filed a lawsuit challenging federal guidelines for transgender students, he said it was to protect a Texas school district that had adopted a policy requiring students to use bathrooms according to the gender cited on their birth certificates.

He didn’t say his office asked the district to pass the policy.

Nor did he say what The Texas Tribune has now learned: that his staff had approached another North Texas school district about pursuing the policy — and the lawsuit — 10 days earlier.

On May 16, two top Paxton aides attended a Wichita Falls school board meeting. The board was considering an agenda item regarding gender-specific restrooms and requesting legal representation from the attorney general’s office.

In a video recording of the meeting, Trey Sralla, the Wichita Falls school board president, introduces Paxton senior adviser Ben Williams and Assistant Attorney General Andrew Leonie, explaining that they are there to answer questions about the proposed policy.

“This has come down from the attorney general’s office, who have asked us to look at a policy here and [said] that they would be willing to on our behalf go and take this to the court system,” Sralla said at the meeting, which came three days after the federal government released guidelines instructing school districts to let transgender students use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

Leonie then fielded several questions from board members, including whether getting involved in legal action would mean the district would lose federal funding.

“I wish I had brought my crystal ball with me but I left that in Austin,” Leonie said. “We are here to reassure you that if you should adopt a policy like is under consideration, we will do what we can to back you and to protect you from the federal government, whether that means being proactive in filing a suit or whether it is responding to a suit, I don’t know.”

After about an hour of discussion, board members ultimately decided against adopting the policy, concluding that the district already had appropriate practices in place to address the needs of transgender students.

“I feel like in this situation we’ve been put between a rock and a hard place by both the federal and our state government where we are the ones who would be the sacrificial lambs effectively in this fight,” said board member Elizabeth Yeager. “I think that would be completely a waste of time and a distraction from our school business of educating students.”

Wichita Falls Superintendent Michael Kurht also came out against adopting the policy, citing legal counsel that the school district’s current policies were in compliance with the new federal guidelines.

“I don’t know that my time and the district’s time is best suited to do this,” he said.

[…]

Asked to clarify how many school districts the attorney general’s office approached about adopting the transgender policy, Paxton spokesman Marc Rylander did not provide a specific number.

I’m sure. There were many questions raised when this lawsuit was first announced, but the question of how many times the AG’s office had to ask and got a No answer is one that ought to be pursued. The fact that they didn’t immediately say “no one else, just Wichita Falls ISD” suggests to me that there was at least one other school district besides them. Let’s find out who they were. There was also a question about whether they looked anywhere other than the Wichita Falls area. Given that Pearland already has the policy in place that Paxton was seeking Wichita Falls ISD to adopt, one wonders why they needed them or Harrold ISD or whoever else they might have pursued. Well, OK, we do know the reason, we just don’t know how vigorously Paxton pursued it before finding his mark. Like I said, that would be nice to find out.

The high-speed rail fight has officially shifted to Congress

Nothing like a little eminent domain action to spur some people on.

In the four years Texas Central Railway unveiled plans to link Dallas and Houston with the country’s first bullet train, officials with the private company have talked a lot about how quickly the line will whisk travelers between two of the country’s largest, fastest-growing urban areas, about how darn Texan the early investors are, about the stellar safety record of the Japanese rail technology they’ll be using.

By contrast, the company has talked very little about its planned use of eminent domain, which is the legal term for when a government, or frequently a private company that has the government’s endorsement, takes someone’s land. When the topic has come up, the company has typically responded by stressing its strong preference for negotiating with landowners to find a mutually agreeable price for their land.

The problem with that response is that it fails to acknowledge some fundamental truths about human beings in general and landowners in the rural areas along the bullet train’s proposed route in particular. People, as a rule, don’t like having their property sliced in two by large infrastructure projects. People in places like Ellis and Grimes counties really, really don’t like having their property sliced in two by a private, Japanese-backed venture whose only benefit for them will be the privilege of marveling at the wondrous bullet-train technology as it zooms by atop a 14-foot berm. If the line is ever going to get built, Texas Central will have to use eminent domain against hundreds, maybe thousands, of landowners.

Texas Central now admits as much. In filings last month with the federal Surface Transportation Board, which regulates the operations of the freight and passenger rail market, the company indicated that it’s ready to start acquiring right-of-way for its track.

“In many cases, that involves negotiating agreements with landowners who are willing sellers,” the company wrote. “Texas Central is already beginning those negotiations. Inevitably, however, some landowners along the route will not be willing to sell, or even negotiate. If some of those negotiations reach an impasse, Texas Central plans to use its statutory eminent domain powers to establish the properties’ condemnation value.”

In the weeks since the filling, the Surface Transportation Board has become the site of a pitched battle between Texas Central and its opponents, with powerful surrogates on both sides. Several members of Texas’ congressional delegation, and about a dozen state legislators, have waded into the debate. Congressmen Joe Barton of Ennis and Kevin Bradyof suburban Houston have filed letters opposing Texas Central while Dallas’Eddie Bernice Johnson and Corpus Christi’s Blake Farenthold offering statements of support.

The stakes are high. Texas Central says it needs Surface Transportation Board approval in order to begin using eminent domain under Texas law, an obvious prerequisite for actually building and operating a railroad.That means the Surface Transportation Board represents a regulatory choke point, a rare point where opponents can conceivably derail the project in one fell swoop.

See here for some background. If you look at Rep. Johnson’s letter, you will see that it was also signed by Rep. Gene Green of Houston. No surprise, since urban Democrats have been big supporters of the rail line so far. The surprise was Rep. Farenthold, as his district isn’t in the path of the train and is more rural than urban. Gotta give him credit for that – he didn’t have to get involved, and having at least one Republican in their corner will help TCR make its case. I don’t know what the timeine is for the Surface Transportation Board, but I agree that this is a potential choke point, and it could have a disproportionate effect on the ultimate outcome. I’ll keep an eye on that.

George Scott hangs on after recount

A win by six votes is still very much a win.

George Scott

George Scott

A longtime Katy ISD board member conceded defeat Tuesday to a district critic in a closely watched race after a recount did not show him closing the narrow margin.

Trustee Joe Adams’ concession means that conservative blogger George Scott will be joining the board of the fast-growing suburban district west of Houston.

Adams has served on the board for 27 years.

Two four-member counting committees began recounting votes at 9 a.m. Tuesday. After mail-in ballots were recounted and votes did not swing Adams’ way, the incumbent conceded the race, not waiting for electronic votes to be recounted.

Before the recount, the district had said unofficial results showed Scott had defeated Adams by three votes out of nearly 3,000 votes cast. The recount showed Scott with 1479 votes to Adams’ 1473.

[…]

Scott blamed Adams for a lack of leadership on the board, though he softened his tone on Tuesday.

“Joe conducted himself with class and dignity in every way he interacted with me. He had a right to a recount,” Scott said Tuesday. “Obviously, I’m very excited. The issues that I campaigned on have not changed … but today is not about the issues. Today is about this incredible process.”

See here and here for the background. Scott had started with a three-vote lead, which expanded to six as the absentee ballots were counted and led to Adams’ concession. Scott’s swearing in date has not been announced, but he has been in attendance at recent board meetings, so I’m sure he’ll hit the ground running. Covering Katy, which includes a statement by Scott in the comments to their story, has more.

Texans say they favor Medicaid expansion

This comes with a huge “but” attached to it.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

More than 60 percent of Texans support an expansion of Medicaid here and plan to take those views into the voting booth in November, a new survey commissioned by the Texas Medical Center Health Policy Institute finds.

The survey results, unveiled Wednesday at the annual Medical World Americas convention in Houston, show the public at odds with the state’s Republican leadership, which has steadfastly refused to consider such an expansion, calling it wasteful and a bad solution.

“I understand people in Austin have been reluctant, but I believe what this survey demonstrates is that people want something done to improve access,” said Dr. Arthur “Tim” Garson, director of the Health Policy Institute. “People are looking for help and their choice seems to be Medicaid expansion. A uniquely Texas solution would be best, but we have to do something.”

The findings further resonate in a state that continues to lead the nation in the number of uninsured. Texas remains one of 19 states that has chosen not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

The second annual Medical Center study gauging public opinion on health care issues covered topics ranging from access to health care to the wisdom of raising the price of foods that contribute to obesity.

Of the 1,000 people polled by Nielsen in five states, close to 100 percent said they feel it is deeply important to have insurance for themselves and their family. In Texas, 96 percent value health insurance.

The study’s margin of error is 3 percentage points overall and close to 5 percentage points in Texas.

Beyond self-interest, 91 percent of respondents in Texas, California, New York, Ohio and Florida said it was important to them that everyone in the nation have health insurance.

The sticking point has always been how to get there.

In Texas, 63 percent of those polled said they support an expanded Medicaid program. Similarly, 68 percent in Florida also favored a Medicaid expansion. These numbers are significant because of the states surveyed, only Florida and Texas did not expand the safety-net program, which is jointly paid for with federal and state dollars.

I couldn’t find a copy of the poll googling around, so you’ll have to take the story at its word. The caveat over this, of course, is that none of it matters until someone loses an election over it. Let me say that again in capital letters, for emphasis: NONE OF THIS MATTERS UNTIL SOMEONE LOSES AN ELECTION OVER IT. Greg Abbott doesn’t care what opinion polls say, and there’s not nearly enough support in the Legislature to push the issue. Various county-level Republicans, who feel the effect of paying for health care for a substantial uninsured population directly, support Medicaid expansion, but again, Greg Abbott doesn’t care what they think. Until someone loses an election because they oppose expanding Medicaid – and by this I mean someone who was otherwise expected to win, not someone who was vulnerable because of varying turnout patterns or other exogenous factors – nothing will change.