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Census apportionment numbers are in

Texas will gain two seats in Congress, which is one fewer than had been expected based on population growth estimates.

Texas will continue to see its political clout grow as it gains two additional congressional seats — the most of any state in the nation — following the 2020 census, the U.S. Census Bureau announced Monday.

Thanks to its fast-growing population — largely due to an increase in residents of color, particularly Hispanics — the state’s share of votes in the U.S. House of Representatives will increase to 38 for the next decade. The new counts reflect a decade of population growth since the last census, which determines how many congressional seats are assigned to each state. Texas is one of six states gaining representation after the census. The other five states are each gaining one seat.

The 2020 census puts the state’s population at 29,145,505 — up from 25.1 million in 2010 — after gaining the most residents of any state in the last decade. More detailed data, which lawmakers need to redraw legislative and congressional districts to reflect that growth, isn’t expected until early fall. But census estimates have shown it’s been driven by people of color.

Through 2019, Hispanics had accounted for more than half of the state’s population growth since 2010, a gain of more than 2 million residents. And although it makes up a small share of the total population, estimates showed the state’s Asian population has grown the fastest since 2010. Estimates have also shown the state’s growth has been concentrated in diverse urban centers and suburban communities.

With its gain of two seats, the state’s footprint in the Electoral College will grow to 40 votes. But Texas will remain in second place behind California for the largest congressional delegation and share of Electoral College votes. California is losing a congressional seat but will remain on top with 52 seats and 54 votes in the Electoral College. The other states losing seats are Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Florida, Colorado, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon will each gain one seat.

[…]

Texas ultimately fell short of the three congressional seats it was projected to gain based on population estimates. Census Bureau officials on Monday indicated the state’s 2020 population count was slightly lower — a difference of about 1% — than the estimates.

In the lead-up to the census, Republican Texas lawmakers shot down any significant funding for state efforts to avoid an undercount in the 2020 census, leaving the work of chasing an accurate count to local governments, nonprofits and even churches. Texas is home to a large share of residents — Hispanics, people who don’t speak English, people living in poverty and immigrants, to name a few — who were at the highest risk of being missed in the count.

I’ve been blogging about this for a long time, so go search the archives for the background. We’ll never know if some effort from the state government might have yielded a higher population count, but other states with large Latino populations like Florida and Arizona did not get the apportionment gains they were expected to, while New York only lost one seat and Minnesota didn’t lose any. California grew by over two million people over the past decade, by the way, but its share of the total population slipped, and that cost it a seat. Yes, I know, it’s crazy that the US House has the same number of members it has had since 1912, when each member of Congress represented about 30,000 people (it’s about 760,000 people now), but here we are.

The Chron goes into some more detail.

“We’ll have to wait for more granular data, but it certainly looks like the Texas Legislature’s decision not to budget money to encourage census participation combined with the Trump administration efforts to add a citizenship question cost Texas a congressional district,” noted Michael Li, an expert on redistricting who serves as senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

Census Bureau officials said Monday they were confident in the results, noting the state’s actual population was within 1 percent of the estimates.

The new population figures come as lawmakers in Texas prepare to redraw political boundaries, including for the state’s congressional delegation, which will remain the second-biggest in the nation as it adds two more members, for a total of 38. That trails California, which is set to lose a seat for the first time in state history, and will have 52 members.

Republicans will control the redistricting process and are expected to use it to reinforce their control of the delegation.

[Mark] Jones at Rice University said the party now just has to decide how safe or risky it wants to be with the new seats. Republicans can play it safer by tossing the new districts to Democrats while shoring up GOP votes in the 22 seats they hold now, which would keep them in control of the delegation. Or they could use the new seats to break up Democrat districts and try to gain ground.

[…]

Li expects the two additional seats to bring “demands for increased representation of communities of color, which will be at odds with the party that will control redistricting.”

Li said chances are high that the maps Texas Republicans draw will end up in court for that exact reason, something that has happened each of the last five decades.

“That’s almost a certainty,” Li said. “Every decade, Texas’s maps get changed a little or a lot because it’s never managed to fairly treat communities of color.”

Of course, we have a very hostile Supreme Court now, and no Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. It would be very, very nice if the Senate could find a way to pass the two big voting rights bills that have been passed by the House, but until that happens we’re looking at a lot of sub-optimal scenarios. I’ve been saying what Prof. Jones says here, that the approach the Republicans take will depend to a large degree on their level of risk aversion, but never underestimate their desire to find advantage. There will be much more to say as we go on, but this will get us started. Daily Kos, Mother Jones, and the Texas Signal have more.

Postal service update

Just a reminder, destroying the US Postal Service has real effects on real people.

Delays in mail sorting and processing are leaving Houston-area businesses, brides and voters wary of the coming months. Whether it’s essential medication, ballots or important letters and business items, the USPS is relied upon to deliver in a timely manner. Yet, many Houstonians are already feeling the effects of the slowdown, including month-long wait times and undelivered mail.

Melissa Palacios Gonzalez, a U.S. Navy veteran, runs an accessories and clothing shop out of her home in Spring. When customers place online orders of jewelry or sunglasses, shimmery metallic sandals or distressed baseball caps from Aesthetic Glam, Palacios Gonzalez drops them off at the U.S. post office nearby.

But over the summer, she and other Houstonians noticed shipping delays as first the coronavirus strained delivery times, then systemic cutbacks by the new postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, reduced the USPS’s delivery capacity.

A USPS Priority Mail order of flip flops, which was supposed to be delivered in one or two days, took a week to reach its destination, Palacios Gonzalez said.

“If it becomes a routine problem —” she started to explain, then stopped and sighed. “Even if I say, ‘Oh, sorry that happened, here’s a percentage savings on me,’ I’m still potentially losing money and a customer.”

[…]

Due to delays in the U.S. Postal Service, Adrienne Lynch’s baby’s clothes often come weeks late.

The East Sunset Heights resident said her 20-month-old daughter is growing so fast, she often has to order new clothes. Care packages from the toddler’s grandmother also normally come much later than originally estimated by the post office.

Lynch’s mail service is in constant flux, she said. Some weeks, she notices deliveries every day. Other weeks, the household won’t receive mail for a few days.

Lynch first noticed the delays in March and April. They have continued and worsened since then, she said.

“Sometimes our outgoing mail may not be picked up for a day or so,” she said. “Or on the package tracking, you will see that your package is out for delivery, but it’s sent back to the post office at the end of the day because the carrier’s shift is over and they can’t do overtime.”

Uju Nwankwo, 27, sent about 100 to 130 wedding save-the-dates through the mail on July 19 for her February wedding. Almost a month later, many of her Houston friends have yet to receive the letters.

“There seems to be no rhyme or reason, so I don’t really get it,” Nwankwo said of the sporadic deliveries.

When the soon-to-be bride contacted USPS, she said she was told her area was experiencing sorting delays. Now, with no way to track her letters, Nwankwo just has to wait it out.

Neither Nwankwo nor Lynch blame postal workers for the delays.

Carriers have a “really tough job” in worsening conditions, Lynch said. She’s started leaving bottles of water and thank you notes in the shade for postal workers to show her appreciation for their work.

“I think the delays we are experiencing locally are directly related to the system,” Lynch said. “Postal workers and their union want to serve the country, but their hands are tied.”

See here and here for some background. The potential consequences for some folks can be quite serious.

Operational changes at the U.S. Postal Service are causing delays in mail deliveries all over the country. A man in Humble said he had to go without his daily heart medication for a week due to the delays.

Don White, 82, said he has been tracking the package and said it remained at a north Houston mail processing facility for 10 days. He’s hoping to get in on Monday.

He said he’s irritated by the situation because his mail-order medication has never been this late before.

“There have been a few times in which it’s taken a week, week and a half, two weeks, but this is the first time I actually ran out and checking with the post office didn’t do much good, even though I had a tracking number on it,” White said.

He said in the meantime, his daughter has helped him get the medication at a local grocery store pharmacy.

Lucky for him he has someone nearby who can help him like that. Not everyone would be so fortunate.

There are lawsuits.

Let the Postal Service lawsuits begin. There are plenty of plaintiffs, including states. At least 20 state attorneys general are going to court over U.S. Postal Service delays and the threat to the November election, The Washington Post reports. “We’re trying to stop Trump’s attacks on the Postal Service, which we believe to be an attack on the integrity of election. It’s a straight-up attack on democracy,” Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, a Democrat, said in an interview. “This conduct is illegal. It’s unconstitutional. It’s harmful to the country. It’s harmful to individuals.

“We’re asking a court to make him stop,” he said. The ”we” in this case comprises Frosh’s fellow attorneys general from Washington State, the lead state in the case, as well as Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. This suit names Donald Trump and Louis DeJoy, the postmaster general, as defendants. It and another suit from Pennsylvania, California, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, and North Carolina, among others, will argue that DeJoy and the Postal Service broke the law by making operational changes to slow service without the approval of the Postal Regulatory Commission. They will also argue that these changes, which they are seeking to reverse, will impede the states’ ability to run free and fair elections. All of the attorneys general signing on to these cases are Democrats, of course. They have all the standing they need: The Constitution gives states and Congress the power to run and regulate elections. “States have the right to conduct mail-in elections if they choose,” Frosh said. “Trump is trying to undermine that.”

Not Texas, of course. Our Attorney General doesn’t object to this kind of lawbreaking. But at least one prominent Texan finds this all disgraceful.

Austin resident Carolyn Lewis, a George W. Bush-era presidential appointee and 2009 chair of the USPS board of governors, told The Texas Tribune in a series of email and phone interviews Monday and Tuesday that she has been disturbed by reports of sweeping cost-cutting measures that led to a slowdown in the mail and raised concerns that the postal service will not be able to handle an influx of mailed-in ballots amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Mr. DeJoy is failing to fulfill the mission of the USPS to provide prompt and reliable mail delivery at a time when that mission is as important as it has ever been,” said Lewis, who served on the USPS board of governors from 2004 to 2010, in a Monday email interview with the Tribune. “He is also destroying confidence in the organization that will only make its long-term viability even harder to achieve. If he does not change course immediately I hope the [board of governors] makes a change in leadership quickly.”

[…]

Lewis’ tenure also marked a moment of transition for the postal service. With the onset of modern technology, like email, the era marked a call for modernization in order to preserve the USPS’ mission to deliver the mail to all reaches of the country in a timely fashion while also remaining financially viable.

But DeJoy’s approach to modernization “feels different in several ways,” she said.

Alluding to a dysfunctional confirmation process within the U.S. Senate that for the last 10 years left gaping vacancies on the board, Lewis said that the postmaster general and the current board members “are very new and have none of the institutional knowledge that is usually there when you have more staggered terms of Governors.”

“Yet they seem to be rushing ahead to make changes before having time to fully understand the impact of those changes on all the stakeholders and there are many: employees, mailers, Congress and the American public,” she said.

She also has not seen “evidence that the current leadership has communicated their overall plan and goals that are driving the specific actions they are taking,” and “there is clearly not a priority on ensuring prompt and reliable mail delivery or fulfilling the mission” of the USPS.

“I do not know for certain the motivation of the [postmaster general] and the Governors, but their actions are certainly inviting questions, and legitimately so,” she added.

It took a couple of days, but this issue now has the full attention of Congress.

Houston Democratic congressional delegates on Tuesday announced they will propose legislation that would give the U.S. Postal Service an emergency loan and reverse recent cutbacks.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced Tuesday afternoon that he would suspend all recent changes to the postal service until after the November election.

“Even with the challenges of keeping our employees and customers safe and healthy as they operate amid a pandemic, we will deliver the nation’s election mail on time and within our well-established service standards,” said DeJoy in a statement. “The American public should know that this is our number one priority between now and Election Day.”

The postmaster general’s move did not satisfy Democratic lawmakers, who said legislation is needed to ensure the postal service can continue to operate at full capacity beyond November.

“What he’s proposing is not acceptable,” said U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of DeJoy’s statement. “We need the changes to be reversed in totality forever. And that’s what the legislation is about.”

[…]

Previous legislation that passed in the U.S. House of Representatives would have provided the loan. Trump said he would block the funding.

The coming bill, also supported by U.S. Reps. Sylvia Garcia, Al Green and Lizzie Fletcher, would also make administrators within the postal service cease and desist from making any more cuts.

Jackson Lee said she will help oversee an investigation of the extent of recent reported actions directed by DeJoy, such as terminating mail sorting machines, reducing staffing and cutting back overtime at post offices across the country.

“We need to know whether there have been any civil rights violations or criminal acts taking place,” said Jackson Lee.

DeJoy will be testifying before Congress on Friday, and I hope it’s a painful experience for him. But clearly, simply agreeing to stop wrecking the place is insufficient. If I’m caught hauling bags of money from a bank vault, it is not sufficient for me to say “okay, fine, I won’t take any more money from the vault”. Vandals are expected to make restitution, and that should very much include Louis DeJoy. Daily Kos has more.

Where have all the Christmas tree farmers gone?

They’re not growing them like they used to.

Across the U.S., Christmas tree farmers are getting out of the business. Illinois lost dozens of farmers in recent years, dropping from 212 growers in 2012 to 182 farmers in 2017, according to the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture census data.

James Farmer, an Indiana University professor who led a study that looked at farmers in the Hoosier state, said younger farmers aren’t taking the place of those who are retiring. Most growers in Indiana have plans to stop growing or planting trees in the next five years, Farmer said.

“The average farmer was 64 years old. A lot of folks get into Christmas tree farming and start planting trees when they are older. Most of them have smaller operations. But by the time they hit their mid-70s, they get out,” Farmer said.

The physical demands of tree farming can discourage growers from continuing the business, as can the amount of time it takes to turn a profit. About 30 percent of Indiana farmers reported revenues of $10,000 or less in 2017, the study found. And selling Christmas trees is a part-time endeavor for most growers.

[…]

Christmas tree farmers have also been hit by another competitor. Artificial trees sales have been steadily increasing, with 24 million purchased last year compared to about 21 million purchased in 2017, according to data by the National Christmas Tree Association.

“In the last few years, they have taken over a large percentage of the market. It’s hurt us more than we realized,” said Doug Hundley, a seasonal spokesman for the association.

Last year, the average price of a live Christmas tree was $78, and the average cost of an artificial one was $104, according to the 2018 consumer report by the association.

Older consumers who no longer have children living in the household tend to shift to artificial trees or don’t put one up, Hundley said. But there is demand from younger families who drive to farms to pick and cut their own tree. According to the association, 28 percent of the live Christmas trees purchased in 2018 were bought at farms.

“We think sales increase is coming from millennials,” Hundley said.

Hey, something millennials aren’t being blamed for – nice. This was a wire story from the Chicago Tribune, so I went looking to see if Texas Christmas tree farmers are making the same complaints. Far as I can tell, they’re doing fine, though there have been some tree supply shortages, which can be blamed on retirements, the 2008 recession, and hemp. Make a note to get your tree earlier next year, to mitigate against these risks.

Letting 17-year-olds vote

Sort of.

Hoping to fuel the next crop of young voters, state lawmakers filed bills that would allow 17-year-olds to vote in some primary elections if they are going to turn 18 before the general election. The 17-year-olds would only be allowed to vote for state and county offices — not in federal races, such as U.S. congressional or presidential elections.

If the legislation passes, Texas would join nearly 20 states that allow some form of voting at age 17, including Illinois, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina and Virginia.

Supporters say changing the law in Texas will get young people in the lifetime habit of voting, while critics – including some county elections officials – say implementing the policy could confuse more 17-year-olds than it would empower.

State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, who is attempting to pass the bill for the third time, said last session it did not even receive a hearing. This year, Howard filed House Bill 512, and state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, filed an identical bill in the Senate.

Since passing similar legislation in 2013, Illinois has seen “an influx of younger voters,” according to Cook County’s March 2018 post-election report. At 29 percent, turnout in the 2018 gubernatorial primary – the second to include the 17-year-old vote – was the highest since 2002 for a gubernatorial primary in the county, Illinois’ largest.

In Texas, however, experts on political participation say allowing primary voting at age 17 would only marginally impact turnout, since a fraction of voters cast ballots in primaries. Statewide, overall turnout was 17 percent in the 2018 primary and 30 percent in the 2016 primary, according to the Secretary of State.

“This wouldn’t spike turnout by any large margin overall, but you might see some improvements or small improvement on the edges,” said Jay Jennings, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at UT-Austin.

[…]

Chris Davis, president of the Texas Association of Elections Administrators, said the association is opposed to the bills as written because the change would confuse 17-year-olds regarding which elections they can and cannot vote in.

“One of the predominant challenges is that there are quite a few elections that can occur between a primary, where we’re allowing that 17 to vote … and the general election in November later that year where they’d be 18,” said Davis, Williamson County Elections Administrator. “It makes for a complex situation … the implication being that when other elections happen in their county, in their city, in their school district … these voters would not be able to vote, only to be allowed to vote again when they become 18.”

If the legislation passes, Davis said county elections officials and poll workers will have to deal with a “log jam” of confused 17-year-old voters.

“What’s nice and neat and clean about the law as it exists, is when you’re 18, you can vote for any election that you qualify for,” Davis said. “This bill would only allow the 17-year-olds to vote in one election and they’re gonna be confused and they’re gonna think if they voted in that one, they can vote for a whole bunch of other elections when they see campaign signs come up in their neighborhood.”

Here’s HB512. On the one hand, I approve of efforts to expand the franchise, even in a not-all-the-way fashion. Some cities allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in their municipal elections, and I fully support that. That said, the way this is presented I do think it’s confusing and possibly unsatisfying to the very voters it would enable. The hottest primaries last year were for Congress, and none of the 17-year-olds in question would have been able to vote in them under this bill, as that’s a federal race. To me, the best way to do this would be to change the law to allow anyone who turns 18 in a given year on January 1 of that year to vote in all elections. That would require a federal Constitutional amendment, which needless to say ain’t gonna happen. I’m open to discussing what this bill wants to deliver, but I’m skeptical.

Census lawsuit proceeds

Good.

A federal judge in New York on Thursday allowed a lawsuit challenging the addition of a citizenship question to the Census to move forward. U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman’s decision rejected the Trump administration’s request to dismiss the lawsuit, which was brought by numerous states and localities.

The judge said that the court has jurisdiction to review Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s decision to add the question, rejecting the administration’s arguments that Ross could be insulated from judicial review.

Furman said that while Ross indeed had the authority under the Constitution to add the question, the judge concluded that the exercise of that authority in this particular case may have violated the challengers’ constitutional rights.

At this stage of the proceedings, Furman is required to assume the challengers’ allegations are true, and he must draw any inference from those allegations in the challengers’ favor. In doing so on Thursday, Furman said that the challengers “plausibly allege that Secretary Ross’s decision to reinstate the citizenship question on the 2020 census was motivated by discriminatory animus and that its application will result in a discriminatory effect. ”

See here, here, and here for the background. Nothing really new here, just another chance for me to say that this absolutely was motivated by discrimination and that it would be very nice to have it halted by the time the counting actually begins. Daily Kos and NPR have more.

Census lawsuit may proceed

Good.

A federal judge said Tuesday that there was a “strong showing of bad faith” by the Trump administration in adding a controversial question about US citizenship to the 2020 census. The judge hinted that he would allow the case to move forward over objections from the administration, and senior administration officials will be subjected to questioning under oath about why the question was added.

Judge Jesse Furman of the Southern District of New York, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, said the administration “deviated from standard operating procedure” by adding the question with no testing. Furman ruled that the plaintiffs challenging the question—including the state of New York and the American Civil Liberties Union—can depose senior officials from the Commerce Department and Justice Department as the case moves forward.

The census has not asked respondents about their citizenship status since 1950. Civil rights groups say the citizenship question will depress response rates from immigrants, imperil the accuracy of the census, and shift political power to areas with fewer immigrants. The census determines how $675 billion in federal funding is allocated, how much representation states receive, and how political districts are drawn.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, approved the citizenship question in March, saying it was needed for “more effective enforcement” of the Voting Rights Act. Ross said at the time and in subsequent testimony before Congress that he approved the question after the Justice Department requested in December 2017 that it be added.

However, Ross stated in a memo he filed to the court on June 21 that he first considered adding a citizenship question to the census after he was confirmed as commerce secretary in February 2017, months before the Justice Department requested the question. He wrote that he had approached the Justice Department about the question, not the other way around, after consulting with “other senior Administration officials” who had “previously raised” the citizenship question.

Furman cited Ross’s memo to question his truthfulness and the administration’s motives in adding the question. “It now appears these statements were potentially untrue,” Furman said of Ross’ claims that the question was added at the Justice Department’s request. “It now appears that the idea of adding a citizenship question originated with Secretary Ross and not the Department of Justice.”

See here and here for some background. The judge did subsequently allow the lawsuit to go forward, while also granting the motion for discovery. I for one can’t wait to see what bits of treasure that digs up. Time is of the essence here, so I hope there’s a speedy schedule to get us towards a resolution.

Multiple cities and states sue over Census citizenship question

Good.

Seventeen states, the District of Columbia, and six major cities sued the Trump administration on Tuesday over the addition of a controversial new question about US citizenship to the 2020 census. This is the third major lawsuit against the administration’s action, after California and the NAACP sued last week, marking a major escalation of the legal and political battle over the census. Civil rights advocates say the question is designed to spark fear in immigrant respondents and will cause many immigrants not to be counted, diminishing the political power and financial resources of the jurisdictions where they live.

“This is a blatant effort to undermine the census and prevent the census from carrying out its Constitutional mandate,” said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who organized the multi-state lawsuit, at a press conference in lower Manhattan. New York has the third-largest immigrant population in the country, after California and Texas. More than 1 in 5 New York residents are foreign-born. “This is an effort to punish states like New York that welcome immigrants,” Schneiderman said.

The lawsuit says the new question “violates the constitutional mandate to conduct an ‘actual Enumeration’” of the country’s entire population, not just citizens, as well as a provision of the 1946 Administrative Procedure Act barring federal agencies from taking “arbitrary, capricious” actions.

The lawsuit was filed by New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia, and joined by the cities of Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Providence, San Francisco, and Seattle. The bipartisan US Conference of Mayors, which represents the 1,400 cities with a population of 30,000 or more, also joined the suit.

[…]

Past leaders of the Census Bureau and current advisers to the bureau have also blasted the question. Six former bureau directors, who served under Republican and Democratic presidents, told Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in January that “an untested question on citizenship status at this late point in the decennial planning process would put the accuracy of the enumeration and success of the census in all communities at grave risk.” Members of the bureau’s Scientific Advisory Committee, who are appointed by the director, blasted the decision at a meeting of the Census Bureau last week.

“I want to say in no uncertain terms that I think this is an absolutely awful decision,” said D. Sunshine Hillygus, a professor of political science at Duke University. “I am dumbfounded that this decision is coming in at such a late date. My view is that this is going to have severe negative implications for data quality and costs.”

She began her PowerPoint presentation at census headquarters with the phrase “W.T.H.,” short for “what the hell.”

The Commerce Department, which oversees the census, said the new question was needed to better enforce the Voting Rights Act, but Vanita Gupta, the former head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under Barack Obama, told Mother Jones that was “plainly a ruse to collect that data and ultimately to sabotage the census.”

See here for some background. Even with the involvement of the US Conference of Mayors, I say every city of decent size should want to get involved, because it’s their residents who are going to be undercounted as a result of this malevolent policy, and that will cost them in terms of funding, representation, and more. This is a big, serious deal and it needs to be treated as such. Think Progress, which also looks at the effect of this policy on Texas, has more.

Uber drivers sue over employment status

This will be worth watching.

Lawyers for 19 Texas drivers for Uber on Friday filed a federal class-action lawsuit in Houston, claiming the ride-hailing app company’s oversight and control of supposedly independent drivers is so pervasive, they should be considered employees.

If successful, the lawsuit could mean the thousands of local drivers for the company suddenly would be Uber workers instead of independent contractors, upending what some have considered an innovative business model and others have called modern-day servitude.

“The primary issue is, are these guys employees or independent contractors,” Houston lawyer Kevin Michaels said. “Uber tracks every move that a driver makes… As long as they are on the app, they are under Uber’s control.”

Uber officials Friday afternoon did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Lawyers said in the filing to the U.S. District Court for the Southern Division of Texas, the drivers made less than minimum wage when their time awaiting fares is calculated, despite the company’s claims in promotional materials that drivers could earn $100,000 a year.

“Given the current fare structures, an individual would have to drive an exorbitant number of hours on a daily, weekly and monthly basis to even approach gross fares totaling this amount, much less earn this amount,” the lawyers wrote. “Uber knew such statements were fraudulent and misleading and also knew that individuals would rely on such misrepresentations when deciding to become Uber drivers.”

[…]

The lawsuit filed Friday makes claims similar to those in various courts across the nation. A number of cases in California, Illinois, Massachusetts and other states already have drawn wide attention that could put the question on a path to the U.S. Supreme Court, should various circuit courts rule in different ways.

“It is definitely going to be years,” said Wilma B. Liebman, former chairwoman of the National Labor Relations Board.

It is the second lawsuit filed on behalf of drivers by Michaels. The first, filed by three drivers, prompted Friday’s filing, which adds claims that drivers should be considered employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

As noted, there are several of these lawsuits around the country. I think the California one is the oldest, but none have had any decisions rendered as yet. I can’t say I actually believe the drivers will win, but who knows what could happen. The DMN has more.

Inmates and Medicaid

Other states are doing what Texas has declined to do.

go_to_jail

Being arrested in Chicago for, say, drug possession or assault gets you sent to the Cook County Jail to be fingerprinted, photographed and X-rayed. You’ll also get help applying for health insurance.

At least six states and counties from Maryland to Oregon’s Multnomah are getting inmates coverage under Obamacare and its expansion of Medicaid, the federal and state health-care program for the poor. The fledgling movement would shift to the federal government some of the more than $6.5 billion in annual state costs for treating prisoners. Proponents say it also will make recidivism rarer, because inmates released with coverage are more likely to get treatment for mental illness, substance abuse and other conditions that can lead them to crime.

“When someone gets discharged from the jail and they don’t have insurance and they don’t have a plan, we can pretty much set our watch to when we’re going see them again,” said Ben Breit, a spokesman for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office.

The still-small programs could reach a vast population: At the end of 2012, almost 7 million people in the U.S. were on parole, probation, in prison or locked up in jail, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. About 13 million people are booked into county jails each year, according to the Washington-based National Association of Counties.

[…]

Medicaid expansion also enables more prisoners to have coverage when they are released. States that don’t expand it can help inmates get subsidized coverage in the insurance exchanges created under the law when they’re released.

Counties in about half the states are responsible for some level of indigent care at hospitals, so getting inmates enrolled can reduce costs, said Paul Beddoe, deputy legislative director for the National Association of Counties.

Cook County has been operating a pilot project to enroll prisoners in Medicaid since April under a federal waiver, while states including Connecticut, Illinois and Maryland and counties such as Multnomah, which includes Portland, have helped hundreds of prisoners apply for coverage under the Affordable Care Act since it took effect Jan. 1. California, Ohio, San Francisco and other jurisdictions are starting programs or considering them.

About 90 percent of inmates are uninsured, and many have never had treatment for their illness, Osher said. They have disproportionate rates of communicable and chronic diseases and behavioral disorders, he said. About 488,000 people in U.S. prisons and jails suffer from a mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Arlington, Virginia.

[…]

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, which plans to start enrolling inmates during the next two months, expects that it will save $18 million a year on hospitalization alone, said Stu Hudson, managing director of health care and fiscal operations.

Ex-prisoners who have insurance will be more likely to get treatment that would help them avoid committing crimes that got them locked up in the first place, Hudson said.

“They’re provided good continuum of care from incarceration through their release into the community and onward,” Hudson said by phone.

We’ve discussed this before. Putting aside the considerable cost savings to the state, the potential impact on the many people that regularly intersect with the criminal justice system who have treatable mental illnesses could be huge. We could save a bunch more money just from the reduced rate of recidivism. There’s really no downside to this. Unfortunately, without a change in state leadership, there’s also no chance of it happening. I don’t really care about the day to day vicissitudes of the Governor’s race. This sort of thing is the prize I keep my eyes on.

So where are the jobs he’s been trying to poach?

There’s an obvious question to ask about this story, but I don’t see it being asked.

Where do they make corndogs, anyway?

Where do they make corndogs, anyway?

After a couple of high profile job-poaching trips to California and Illinois, Gov. Rick Perry is planning a new raid — this time on the Big Apple.

And he’s putting big money behind the state’s big mouth: $1 million for a TV advertising campaign promoting the Lone Star State’s pro-business approach and strong economy, officials say.

Perry is scheduled to travel to New York on Sunday, June 16, and also plans a stop in Connecticut during the four-day trip, the governor’s office is announcing Monday. The message will be identical to the one he has taken to other states: Texas wants you — namely your jobs and investment capital.

“The governor’s job recruitment trips are doing exactly what we intended — getting the word out about the low taxes, smart regulations, fair legal system and skilled workforce that have made Texas a beacon for employers,” said Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed. “We have a formula in Texas that has made us the best state in the nation to live, work, raise a family and run a business — and it’s a formula other states and our federal government would do well to replicate.”

The 30-second ads will feature Texans from a variety of professions — from filmmakers to doctors — extolling the virtues of the state’s economy. They will run on CNBC, FOX News, CNN, ESPN and the Discovery Channel, according to the governor’s office. The spots are scheduled to run for a week, and begin airing Monday, aides said.

The New York ad buy, which dwarfs the ones purchased earlier this year in California and Illinois, appears to be the most aggressive campaign yet by the state’s economic development marketing team.

[…]

While marketing a state’s economic climate to businesses in other states and countries isn’t a new concept, Perry has taken it to a new, confrontational level. When he went to California in February, Perry met with business leaders, talked up Texas to reporters and was featured in a radio ad criticizing the Golden State.

“Building a business is tough. But I hear building a business in California is next to impossible,” Perry said in the ad. “See why our low taxes, sensible regulations and fair legal system are just the thing to get your business moving to Texas.”

The swaggering Texas governor ratcheted up the rhetoric in an ad directly appealing to Illinois’ business leaders, telling them their state’s business climate was “designed for you to fail.”

“With rising taxes and government interference on the upswing, your situation is not unlike a burning building on the verge of collapse,” Perry says in the ad, which urges business leaders to take an “escape route” to Texas. The Illinois ad campaign, which included print and radio spots, cost about $80,000, according to published reports.

The recruiting trips have prompted some eye-rolling scorn in the states where he’s conducted them.

After Perry’s trip to California, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown called the state’s $24,000 ad buy targeting the California businesses “barely a fart” and said it would have no impact on the state’s economy. (When a maker of firearms gear, Shield Tactical, announced in May it was relocating operations from California to Texas, Perry attributed it directly to the recruiting trip and ad buy.)

And right there is the critical point that is being overlooked. Shield Tactical, which calls itself a “family business”, is the only business named that has actually paid heed to Perry’s call to come to Texas. How big a business they are I can’t say – neither their website nor Perry’s press release mentioned their size – but the point is that they’re it so far, after two high-profile ad buys and a ton of press coverage of them. If that’s the case, then by any reasonable metric, Perry’s ad campaign has been a miserable failure. Maybe the New York buy will produce better results – they are spending more money there – but if so it will be a big change from the previous ad campaigns. The Trib article says that “no tax dollars are being used in connection with the marketing trip or ad campaign”, and for the sake of simplicity I’ll take that at face value, but clearly there’s a significant part of the story being missed here. Like with most things Rick Perry does, there’s a big splash up front, then little if anything to show for it once the cameras stop rolling.

Well, okay, there is one thing to show for it:

“This kind of strategy in which you use free media has always been a hallmark of Rick Perry’s public profile,” said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s hard not to see this as an ongoing branding effort for the next stage of Rick Perry’s public career.”

I must admit that by that measure, this has been a success. Any actual businesses lured here would be a bonus. Trail Blazers, Texas Politics, Hair Balls, and BOR, all of which have videos of the ads in question (and may I just say again what an awesome “Democrat” Farouk Shami was and is), have more.

Amazon complains to the SEC about Texas trying to collect taxes on it

Poor dears.

Amazon said in a regulatory filing this week that the SEC is looking into its dispute with Texas, which began last year when the Texas comptroller’s office sent Amazon a $269 million assessment for four years of uncollected sales taxes.

“In March 2011, the SEC staff notified us of an inquiry concerning this assessment, and we are cooperating with the staff’s inquiry,” Amazon said in its SEC filing.

The company gave no additional information. An SEC spokeswoman declined to comment on the investigation Friday.

[…]

In an earnings conference call this week, Amazon Chief Financial Officer Tom Szkutak sought to downplay the potential impact if more states put an end to tax-free online sales. He said Amazon generates more than half of its revenue in places where it already collects sales or consumption taxes, including markets outside the U.S.

However, in Amazon’s SEC filing, the company wrote that additional tax obligations “could create administrative burdens for us, put us at a competitive disadvantage if they do not impose similar obligations on all of our online competitors, and decrease our future sales.”

Whatever. If the only reason Amazon is viable is because they have this tax advantage over brick and mortar stores, then they’re not really viable at all. Does anyone believe they’ll go down the drain if they have to pay sales taxes? I don’t either. Quit whining, Amazon.

On a related note, Amazon is pulling out of another state over a sales tax dispute.

On the heels of a legislative vote in South Carolina that rejected Amazon’s plea for a sales tax collection exemption, Amazon said it won’t open a distribution center in the state, a project that included a one-million-square-foot building already under construction and 1,249 jobs.

“As a result of today’s unfortunate House vote, we’ve canceled $52 million in procurement contracts and removed all South Carolina fulfillment center job postings from our (Web) site,” said Paul Misener, Amazon vice president for global public policy, according to a report on The State newspaper website.

[…]

Amazon’s “our way or the highway” strategy suggests Amazon thinks it will easily find other alternatives to fulfil the company’s needs to open more distribution centers to keep those boxes of goods flowing. Maybe so. But it remains to be seen if this is a sustainable strategy, given the fact that Amazon currently doesn’t collect sales taxes in half the U.S. states.

Amazon this week said it plans to open 11 distribution centers, maybe more, as the company tries to keep up with demand from consumers who have flocked to its website looking for deals on books, music and other merchandise.

But Amazon also has played hardball in states where Amazon does not collect sales taxes from those sales. In March Amazon announced it was closing its affiliate program in Illinois, a day after the governor signed a law requiring Amazon and other online retailers to collect sales taxes on goods sold in the state.

Via Dwight. I’ll say it again, this really needs to be resolved at the federal level, and the sooner the better.