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May 25th, 2021:

Permitless carry passes

It was nice to dream for a minute that the Republicans would fumble the ball short of the goal line on this, but it was never realistic.

A bill to allow the permitless carrying of handguns in Texas is on the brink of reaching Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk after the state House and Senate reached a compromise on the bill.

The author of the legislation, Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, announced the deal in a statement Friday afternoon, and the Senate sponsor, Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, issued a subsequent statement also acknowledging an agreement. Just before midnight on Sunday, the House approved the deal in an 82-62 vote. The Senate is expected to approve the new version soon.

“By working together, the House and Senate will send Gov. Abbott the strongest Second Amendment legislation in Texas history, and protect the right of law-abiding Texans to carry a handgun as they exercise their God-given right to self-defense and the defense of their families,” Schaefer said.

[…]

The text of the compromise was released Sunday. It keeps intact a number of changes that the Senate made to the House bill to assuage concerns from the law enforcement community, including striking a provision that would have barred cops from questioning someone based only on their possession of a handgun. The compromise version also preserves a Senate amendment beefing up the criminal penalty for a felon caught carrying to a second-degree felony with a minimum of five years in prison. Other Senate changes that survived was a requirement that the Texas Department of Public Safety offer a free online course on gun safety.

Once the Senate approves the agreed-upon version, it will head to Abbott’s desk. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in a statement that the HB 1927 compromise “will become eligible for a final vote early next week.” Abbott has said he will sign the bill.

See here for the previous entry. The main hope was that the hardliners in the House would refuse to budge on any of those amendments, preferring to torpedo the whole thing on stubborn principle than give an inch. In the end, I suspect it wasn’t that hard to pressure them into knuckling under, or even if pressure was needed. The Republicans got some protection against the ravening hordes of their primary voters, and the Democrats got an issue that polls a lot better for them than it does for the Rs. They also get to talk about broken promises, as Rep. Joe Moody did:

Give that a listen and share it with your friends. And remember this all next year. The Chron has more.

Think of the kids today

Today, the anti-trans sports bill SB29 is on the House calendar. Hopefully, it will fail to make it to the floor before midnight, which is the deadline for Senate bills to be passed by the House. Whatever the case, spend a few minutes today thinking about the kids who have been targeted by these bills and have had to spend weeks at the Capitol trying to persuade a bunch of uncaring Republican legislators about their humanity, because as much as this session has sucked overall, it’s really sucked for them.

Houston mother Lisa Stanton says every parent’s instinct is to keep their children safe.

When she and her young daughter, Maya, earlier this year traveled to the Texas Capitol to testify against two bills restricting transgender children’s access to transition-related medical care, including hormone therapy and puberty suppression treatment, she worried for her daughter’s well-being — both physical and mental.

“We don’t want our kids to face adversity,” Lisa Stanton said. “And that’s the thing I struggle about the most.”

Maya was scared, too. At just 10 years old, she faced a difficult task: convincing a conservative-leaning group of legislators not to advance legislation that would label her mother a child abuser and revoke the license of her doctor for providing gender-affirming medical care.

The Stantons are among the transgender Texans, parents and advocates who have spent late nights and early mornings fervently testifying, holding rallies and lobbying legislators not to support bills targeting transgender people this session.

Texas is one of at least 20 states that have considered bills limiting access to transgender health care in 2021, according to the ACLU, and one of at least 31 states with bills that would limit the school sports teams they can join. But according to Equality Texas, there have been more anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in Texas this legislative session than any other state.

[…]

While no legislative proposal can be considered dead until both chambers gavel out, those missed deadlines spell doom for some of the major bills focused on transgender Texas children. And it doesn’t leave much time for the school sports bill. But LGBTQ advocates say the mere specter that such measures could become law has already done damage.

In The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 94% of LGBTQ youth responded that recent politics had negatively impacted their mental health. That figure is higher than in previous years, according to Sam Brinton, vice president of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project.

Over the last year, the organization — which offers crisis counseling for LGBTQ youth — has received over 9,400 crisis contacts from Texas.

“Young people are listening,” Brinton said.

There’s more, and the Chron had a similar story a few days back. This is as the story notes very much part of a concerted national effort by anti-trans activists, pushing basically the same bills in multiple states because they think it’s good politics. Writing these posts always takes me a long time because they make me so mad, I have to stop and collect myself every couple of minutes. The level of cruelty and depravity it takes to victimize children – children who are telling you, as loudly and clearly as they can, that you are hurting them – all for political gain, I cannot fathom it. I don’t know how these people sleep at night.

Anyway. Watch the clock today and give a thought to these kids and their parents, who have had it much rougher than anyone should have had over these past few months. And then remember that there will be a special session this fall, currently to deal with redistricting and appropriating federal CIVID relief funds, but there’s no reason there couldn’t be other items on the agenda. We saw that in 2017 with the bathroom bill. These kids won’t be safe until we’re past all of that, too.

Time for a new Constable scandal

This is super duper ugly.

Constable Alan Rosen

Untrained deputies picked for “undercover” vice assignments — only to be molested and traumatized by superiors. Prostitution stings devolving into “booze-fueled playgrounds.” And a concerned Precinct 1 Constable Office’s employee, fired after she reported the alleged misconduct to the department’s internal affairs division.

Those are among allegations laid out in a bombshell 40-page civil rights lawsuit filed Monday morning in federal court against Harris County, Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen, and two of his top-ranking superiors.

Three current and former deputy constables — and one other plaintiff — alleged a wide array of misconduct at the constable’s office, one of the largest in Harris County, including sexual harassment, sexual battery, civil rights violations and retaliation. The alleged incidents took place in 2019 and 2020.

At a Monday morning news conference, attorney Cordt Akers discussed the lawsuit, flanked by three of the plaintiffs in the case: Felecia McKinney, Jacquelyn Aluotto and Liz Gomez.

Rosen, he said, ran, oversaw, and approved an “ongoing free for all.”

“Senior male deputies were given carte blanche to use young female deputies for their own sexual pleasure on these operations without fear of repercussions.”

Rosen’s office has not commented on the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, the supervisors of the constable’s office’s human trafficking unit decided to change operations to perform “bachelor party” stings. The plan was simple, according to the lawsuit: deputies set up surveillance in a hotel room, and male and female deputies — all undercover — pretended to be partygoers, with some of the female deputies posing as prostitutes, potentially enticing sex workers to agree to sell sex for cash — and quickly leading to an arrest.

Three current and former female deputy constables alleged they were picked for the undercover unit despite being inexperienced rookies. Gomez “was continuously subjected to sexual harassment, unwarranted touching, unwanted kissing, molestation, and sexual ridicule during her work on the Human Trafficking Unit,” according to the suit.

The suit also states the female deputies were ordered to purchase and wear revealing clothing for these operations — only to be kissed and otherwise molested by one of their superiors, and that deputies drank copious amounts of alcohol during the so-called “bachelor party” stings.

Attorney Brock Akers — Cordt Akers’ father and another lawyer on the case, said that the case was unique in the many decades he has practiced law in Harris County.

“I thought that I’d seen it all. I was wrong,” he said. “(Precinct 1) leadership gave in to their own prurient turning the female deputies they commanded into the sex exploitation victims they were arguably trying to save.”

There’s more, and there’s a copy of the lawsuit embedded in the story. It doesn’t get any better, and at no point is the question “why did anyone think that ‘bachelor party stings’ was ever a good thing to expend law enforcement resources on” answered. I’m basically at a loss for words here. Constable Rosen’s office hasn’t commented yet, and I suppose maybe there’s something they could say in their defense that might mitigate some of this, but offhand I have no idea what that might be. Here’s what I think should happen, assuming there isn’t some clear evidence to suggest these charges aren’t true: Constable Rosen and the two other named defendants should resign, and the Harris County Attorney’s Office should decline to take any legal action in their defense, other than to negotiate a very generous settlement. The rest of us should once again wonder what the office of Constable is good for these days, and why we still have them as separate elected offices with their own organizations, instead of folding them into the Sheriff’s office.

(The irony of this story coming out on the same day that the House passed the anti-police defunding bill is something, that’s for sure.)

UPDATE: The later version of the story contains this from Constable Rosen:

In a lengthy statement issued Monday afternoon, Rosen said he had a zero-tolerance stance against sexual assault and sexual harassment “and would never allow a hostile work environment” as alleged in the lawsuit. The constable also said when his internal investigators began looking into the matter several months ago, he “immediately” transferred leadership of the Human Trafficking unit to another supervisor, who is still overseeing the unit today.

He said the court filing was “an effort to impugn the good reputation” of his department. Rosen explained in the statement that when he learned of concerns “by a third party several months ago,” he instructed internal investigators to probe the matter.

“We did this even though no one made a formal complaint,” he said, in the statement. “To this day, not one of these plaintiffs has ever made a formal complaint. Each employee interviewed was given the opportunity, in a safe environment, to express any concerns. Their own interview statements contradict many of the allegations in the lawsuit.”

The department’s Administrative Disciplinary Committee found no violations of law or policy, Rosen wrote.

The full statement is here. Make of it what you will.

Two arguments against Abbott’s rollback of extended unemployment insurance

It’s bad economic policy.

“I’m still nervous that we’re bowing out of this program before the labor market is fully healed,” said Dietrich Vollrath, an economics professor at the University of Houston. “The bad consequences of doing too much is limited,” he said, “but the bad consequences of doing too little can really be detrimental.”

About 800,000 Texans were receiving federal jobless assistance at the end of April, according to the most recent data. Nearly half of them — the self-employed or other gig economy workers — will lose all of their benefits at the end of June, when the governor is ending the additional aid. The rest will see a steep drop in their weekly checks.

[…]

While the Texas economy has largely rebounded from the height of the pandemic, when the unemployment rate topped 12 percent, companies across the state are still firing employees at two to three times the normal rate, according to Vollrath. He said that’s a sign the recovery remains fragile.

Labor experts already have some preliminary findings on the impacts of increased benefits during the pandemic. Economists at Yale University found that the $600 unemployment checks approved early on under the Trump administration did not significantly deter unemployed people from reentering the workforce.

Belinda Román, an assistant economics professor at St. Mary’s University, said ending the payments could backfire and instead drive people further into poverty. If it does work, she said, it may force at least some people into underpaid jobs that they have decided are no longer worth the time or health risk.

“My perspective is, pay better and that probably incentivizes a lot of people to come to work,” she said.

See here for the background. Those $600 checks also largely kept the economy from cratering a year ago. Taking away this benefit now, when the economy is still in recovery and lots of people are still not vaccinated and being cautious about going out, will mostly have the effect of making people who are already on the economic margins even poorer.

Also, too, there are other reasons why some businesses are having problems hiring.

Britt Philyaw, executive director of the Heard That Foundation, a Dallas non-profit that provides support for hospitality workers, said she doesn’t know of anyone who has turned down restaurant jobs to stay on unemployment.

“I find it really disturbing some of the things that I’ve seen on social media. I don’t like that the labor shortage is being politicized and how it is being said that people are lazy or they’re making more money on unemployment. I don’t think it’s the truth. The people we’ve worked with throughout the pandemic who were on unemployment and got their stimulus checks were not making ends meet,” she said.

What the pandemic did, in her opinion, was highlight the instability of restaurant jobs. The quirks of service industry work like tips and irregular schedules are often draws for many people in the industry, but they were cast in a different light when the pandemic hit, Philyaw said. Suddenly the things that were once perks of the business were no longer worth sacrificing health insurance, predictable pay and stability for.

“Something that is desperately lacking from the conversation is the fact that 70% of the population that works in the industry are women, some of them single with kids. I think that should be a huge part of the conversation,” Philyaw said.

The service industry labor market was already tight before the pandemic, and with even more jobs than there are workers, Philyaw said employees have the ability to be choosy about who they do go work for, which is making it even harder for employers, some of whom are offering sign-on bonuses and raising wages to attract new hires.

“People in front-of-house and back-of-house [of restaurants] are shopping around,” she said. “And they’re looking for things they value like, ‘Am I going to work in a safe environment? Am I going to work in an environment where I’m not going to be harassed or bullied or forced to work for free?’ So there’s just a lot of things at play, but I really don’t think it’s as simple as the stories that grab the most attention.”

For Andrea Winn, a long-time restaurant industry professional who’s held server, sommelier and wine director positions at Dallas restaurants like Bolsa and Abacus, the decision to leave the restaurant industry came when the downtown Dallas restaurant she was working at reopened over the summer and management did not adhere to capacity limits, mask mandates and other safety protocols.

She took a full-time job as a wine and beer buyer for Whole Foods, stepping away from the industry she loved and had worked in since completing her degree in history and getting out of a desk job she loathed. It wasn’t easy to leave the dining room — she was saying goodbye to higher pay, flexible hours and the ability to travel when she wanted — but the benefits outweighed the cons, she said.

“I have a job now [at Whole Foods] where I am guaranteed a certain amount of hours every week, I know how much I’m going to get paid, and I have health insurance and sick time. The sick time was a really big thing because working in restaurants, unless you are really sick, you are expected to work sick. You’re looked down upon, and your schedule will be threatened if you don’t [work],” Winn said.

There is a common perception that restaurant workers are young, uneducated and in the industry out of necessity, Winn said, and such thinking makes it easy to believe that the shortage of workers is due to an unwillingness to work. But the reality is the industry is made up of seasoned professionals like her who sought out restaurant and bar careers and are now choosing to pursue careers that offer a better quality of life, she said.

Some jobs are better than others. People who have kids at home and no child care available don’t have a lot of options right now. Making them desperate doesn’t seem like a good idea to me.