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May 22nd, 2021:

GLO to Harris County: Drop dead

Hard to see this as anything but a hatchet job.

Houston and Harris County officials said the Texas General Land Office informed them Thursday they would receive nothing from the more than $1.3 billion in applications they submitted for federal flood mitigation funding the state is disbursing.

Instead, about $1 billion in U.S. Housing and Urban Development funds the GLO is managing will flow to other local governments in 46 Southeast Texas counties that are eligible for the aid. Four smaller municipalities in east Harris County — Pasadena, Jacinto City, Galena Park and Baytown — will receive about $90 million combined.

The snub, delivered by GLO staff in meetings this week, surprised local leaders, who had expected the city and county to receive hundreds of millions of dollars.

“I would like to tell you the meeting was informative and productive. Unfortunately, the meeting was ridiculous,” said Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, who suggested the state had political motives for its decision. “The GLO is saying today that the largest county in Texas, the county home to the most significant elements of our state, local and national economy, does not merit the fair share of billions of dollars.”

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said it was “unconscionable” that federal funds Congress intended for Hurricane Harvey recovery would not flow to the Houston area, by far the most populous affected by the storm.

“Our community needs this federal funding and we have already begun the process of reaching out to the Biden Administration to identify alternatives — including a potential review of the process for this allocation and a direct carve-out going forward,” Hidalgo said.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration said the city was preparing a letter Thursday evening in which it would ask the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to intervene. In a statement, the mayor called on the federal agency to “immediately halt the distribution” of the funds until it could review the situation.

“For the state GLO not to give one dime in the initial distribution to the city and a very small portion to Harris County shows a callous disregard to the people of Houston and Harris County,” Turner said. “And it is unfathomable that the state GLO would redirect most of these dollars to areas that did not suffer much from Hurricane Harvey.”

[…]

An appropriation from the state is crucial to closing a roughly $900 million funding gap Harris County has for its flood bond program. Without it, the county faces the prospect of issuing a new bond, diverting toll road revenue or scaling back the size or scope of flood projects.

Russ Poppe, the Harris County Flood Control District executive director, said he struggled to understand how roughly $300 million in applications his engineers prepared failed to secure a single dollar. He said he thought the county’s projects exceeded the criteria for awards.

“We’re curious to see how the GLO scored our projects, and why they declared us ineligible,” Poppe said. “I just don’t know until I see the numbers.”

See here and here for some background. I’d like to see those numbers too, because I cannot envision a scenario in which absolutely none of Houston or Harris County’s requests made the cut. Hell, if it had been looking likely along the way that Houston and Harris County were coming up short, you’d think it would make sense for the GLO to give them a heads up so they could maybe shore up their applications. Indeed, the exact opposite appears to be the case.

One might argue that the fix was in from the beginning.

It should be self-evident why the state should want Harris County to get its fair share of these funds. For that matter, the same is true for the federal government. As such, I hope Mayor Turner’s letter to HUD has an effect. I know George P. Bush has a primary challenge to run, but there are other concerns to deal with. The Press and the Trib have more.

UPDATE: Said letter to HUD, signed by Mayor Turner and Commissioner Rodney Ellis, can be seen here.

UPDATE: Judge Hidalgo sent her own letter to HUD as well.

News flash: Dan Patrick does not support loosening marijuana laws

In other news, summer is hot and it sometimes floods in Houston.

With less than two weeks left in Texas’ legislative session, medical marijuana advocates are ratcheting up pressure on Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who they say is blocking an effort to expand the state’s Compassionate Use Program.

House Bill 1535, by state Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, would expand the state’s medical cannabis program to include those with chronic pain, all cancer patients and Texans with post-traumatic stress disorder. It would also authorize the Department of State Health Services to add additional qualifying conditions through administrative rulemaking. Current law requires the Legislature to pass a bill to expand eligibility.

The Texas House voted 134-12 last month to send the proposal to the state Senate, where it has languished in a legislative purgatory. The upper chamber received the bill May 3, but it has not yet been referred to a committee, let alone voted on and sent to the floor. Wednesday is the last day the Senate can take up bills.

Patrick, who leads the Senate, has the final say on which bills are considered and to which committees they’ll be referred. His office did not respond to a request for comment.

“It’s difficult to come up with any explanation that makes sense as to why the lieutenant governor would block this legislation,” said Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. She added that the legislation is a “carefully crafted and moderate expansion” with wide bipartisan backing. Fazio said state Sens. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, and Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, who are both doctors, have voiced support for HB 1535.

[…]

Earlier this week, a Texas Senate committee advanced a proposal to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of cannabis. House Bill 2593 would reduce the penalty for possessing up to an ounce of marijuana to a class C misdemeanor with no possibility of jail time. That measure is poised for a vote on the Senate floor.

This is not the first time Patrick has exercised his power to effectively kill cannabis-related proposals. In 2019, he likewise refused to give a hearing to a medical marijuana expansion measure. A Patrick spokesperson told The Texas Tribune at the time that the lieutenant governor is “strongly opposed to weakening any laws against marijuana [and] remains wary of the various medicinal use proposals that could become a vehicle for expanding access to this drug.”

With all due respect to Heather Fazio, Dan Patrick has always been clear about why he blocks bills like these: He thinks marijuana is bad and he thinks that efforts to decriminalize it are dangerous. The mystery to me is why we get so many optimistic stories about reducing penalties and promoting cannabis without any reckoning of this fact. He has a long track record of this behavior, and he has never said anything to indicate that his position is softening. I understand why anyone would not want to take Dan Patrick at his word, but this is one of those places where you should, because his actions speak very clearly and consistently. I will say this again: The only path to real reform of our state’s marijuana laws requires getting rid of Dan Patrick. As long as he holds power, pro-pot bills (with a few very limited exceptions) will wither and die in the Legislature. I really don’t know why this is so hard to understand.

UPDATE: The Trib story now reflects the fact that HB1535 was finally referred to a committee on Thursday, giving it a chance to pass out of the Senate. Time is short, and as noted it took more than two weeks for the bill to even be assigned to a committee. More progressive marijuana reform bills, ones that would reduce criminal penalties, never stood a chance. In other words, Dan Patrick may have given a bit under pressure, but the basic point remains. Marijuana reform doesn’t go any farther than he will allow, and he won’t allow much.

Hurricane season is (almost) upon us

Are you ready?

Be prepared for another busier-than-normal Atlantic hurricane season, NOAA warned Thursday.

The agency is forecasting 13 to 20 named storms. Between six and 10 of those could become hurricanes and three to five could be major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher. Hurricane season starts June 1.

This forecast follows a record-breaking 2020 with 30 named storms (the initial forecast was 13-19 named storms). Of those 30 storms, 13 became hurricanes and six were classified as major hurricanes. Laura, Eta and Iota were retired from the list of hurricane names due to the damages and fatalities they caused.

“It was a mere six months ago that the most active Atlantic hurricane season on record ended,” Ben Friedman, acting NOAA administrator, said during a news conference, “and here we are now on the cusp of a new hurricane season.”

This year is not expected to be as active as 2020, but there are several layered conditions causing the “above-normal” forecast for 2021, said Matthew Rosencrans, a meteorologist at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

One is a warm phase of sea surface temperature in the North Atlantic Ocean. The sea’s surface temperature has cool and warm phases that may last 20 to 40 years, a natural occurrence that has been happening for at least 1,000 years. This current warm phase, which began in 1995, has favored more, stronger and longer-lasting storms.

Adding to this is a stronger west African monsoon. Disturbances that become tropical storms often come from Africa, and a stronger monsoon (more moisture being pulled into Western Africa) means these disturbances are better positioned to become tropical storms or hurricanes.

NOAA also expects that there will be weaker vertical wind shear and a neutral phase of El Nino, with the possibility of La Niña returning later this year. These provide conditions more favorable for storms to develop whereas their opposites (strong vertical wind shear and El Niño) could impede storm development.

See here for some background. As noted before, there will be no more Greek letter names for overflow storms, but maybe we’ll be lucky and stop at or before Wanda – the full list of names for 2021 is here. It’s not how busy the season is, it’s more about how many storms come to shore. Be prepared and hope for the best.

And when I say “be prepared”, I mean now. There’s no time to lose.

A disturbance near Bermuda is likely to become a subtropical cyclone on Friday, which would make it the first named Atlantic storm of the year, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The system was located about 800 miles east of Bermuda Thursday morning. It was forecast to move over warmer waters Thursday night, with a 70 percent chance of forming into a subtropical cyclone in the next two days.

National Hurricane Center forecasters have been issuing regular updates on tropical weather since May 15 — earlier than usual. Hurricane season doesn’t officially start until June 1.

Feels like they’re going to move the “official” start of hurricane season up a bit at some point, doesn’t it?