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sex crimes

Investigating the Karolyis

I’m fine with this, but I feel like we’re overlooking something.

Nearly a week after prominent USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to prison for the sexual assault of several female gymnasts, Gov. Greg Abbott has asked the Texas Rangers to investigate misconduct allegations at the famed Karolyi Ranch, the U.S. Olympic training facility in southeast Texas, north of Houston, where Nassar treated athletes.

“The public statements made by athletes who previously trained at the Karolyi Ranch are gut-wrenching,” Abbott said in a statement Tuesday. “Those athletes, as well as all Texans, deserve to know that no stone is left unturned to ensure that the allegations are thoroughly vetted and the perpetrators and enablers of any such misconduct are brought to justice. The people of Texas demand, and the victims deserve, nothing less.”

The Walker County Sheriff’s Office confirmed last week that it was looking into the ranch.

Abbott added that the Texas Rangers, the state’s top criminal investigative unit, and the Walker County Sheriff’s Office must collaborate on the case because of the far reach of the allegations, which are spread across jurisdictions and state lines.

There’s more in the Chron, where we find out that Simone Biles is ready to speak to investigators about the assaults she endured. It’s appropriate ti have the Rangers help out with this investigation, as I’m sure they have more resources and experience than the Walker County Sheriff’s Office, and of course we want all of the facts to come out so that everyone responsible can be held to that responsibility.

At the same time, though, I think we need to look past the criminal aspect of this and really ask ourselves how this was happening for nearly 20 years without anything being done about it. Among other things, maybe we need to have a good hard look at how the Karolyis operated for all these years and ask ourselves why we didn’t see the potential for problems all along. The isolation, the dictatorial methods, the extreme pressure on young girls to conform and submit to an absolute authority – is it any wonder a monster was able to flourish under those conditions? Yet as recently as 2016, in the runup to the Summer Olympics, the Karolyis were still the subject of fawning coverage; a lawsuit alleging they had a role in the Nasser scandal – he was forced out of US Gymnastics in 2015, you know – followed a couple of months later. But even before that, former gymnasts led by Dominique Moceanu had been sounding an alarm about their training methods; she was vindicated by an investigator last year. We were warned, well ahead of this recent news. We need to understand why we didn’t heed those warnings.

The Karolyi Ranch

Good riddance.

Once viewed as a beacon of “dreams, desire and dedication” for a generation of young women, now symbolic of years of abuse and betrayal, the Karolyi Ranch north of Houston will no longer serve as the national training center for the USA Gymnastics women’s team.

The federation said Thursday it has canceled its lease to use the gym and housing complex, owned by famed coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi in the Sam Houston National Forest, as the site of monthly training camps for the nation’s elite gymnasts who have won the last two Olympic team gold medals and the last four Olympic all-around championships.

The announcement by Kerry Perry, USA Gymnastics’ new president and CEO, came as a judge in Michigan prepares Friday to sentence former team doctor Larry Nassar, who has pleaded guilty to seven state counts of criminal sexual conduct and is expected to be sentenced to life imprisonment.

“It has been my intent to terminate this agreement since I began as president and CEO in December,” Perry said. “Our most important priority is our athletes, and their training environment must reflect this. We are committed to a culture that empowers and supports our athletes.”

The Karolyis were – allegedly, at least; they deny it – among the many enablers of Larry Nassar. USA Gymnastics is deeply complicit in Nassar’s crimes. Kerry Perry should tear it all down and start from scratch, with a genuine commitment to put the athletes first and to put a much better system of oversight in place. The whole thing is sickening – Nassar had more known victims than Jerry Sandusky, in case you’re wondering – and I strongly suspect there are more sins to uncover. Get it all out into the open and make sure all those who were part of the problem get their comeuppance.

What about Roy?

Who wants to stand with this particular predator?

Texas’ two U.S. senators found themselves under intense pressure Thursday after explosive allegations surfaced that a candidate both men have endorsed pursued underage teenage girls decades ago.

The Washington Post is reporting that Roy Moore, the Alabama Republican nominee in an upcoming Senate special election to succeed U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, tried to become romantically involved with four girls between the ages of 14 and 18 while he was in his 30s.

U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz have both endorsed Moore in his bid.


Cornyn, the second-ranking GOP senator, called the allegations “deeply disturbing and troubling.”

“I think it’s up to the governor and the folks in Alabama to make that decision as far as what the next step is,” he said.

Cruz declined to answer questions as he passed reporters but said in a later statement, “These are serious and troubling allegations. If they are true, Judge Moore should immediately withdraw. However, we need to know the truth, and Judge Moore has the right to respond to these accusations.”

You should also read this. The way some of Cornyn and Cruz’s fellow Republicans have responded to this is quite astonishing, even in this day and age. Remember when the GOP branded itself as the party of virtue and values? Boy, those were the days.

It should be noted that the “if true” formulation here is basically meaningless. There’s not going to be any trial, so there won’t be a formal verdict to hold out for. Unless more women turn up with the same story – always a possibility, to be sure – this is all the evidence you’re going to get. Is that enough evidence? Only you and your conscience and your God can decide. Slate, which reminds us of Moore’s long record of gay bashing as a means of “protecting” children from predators much like himself, has more.

The phony “bathroom” issue

I am so tired of this.


Although Houston’s 36-page equal rights ordinance makes no mention of public restrooms, access to restrooms has become the focus of a raging public debate with the law set to go before voters on election day.

Opponents of the ordinance, largely conservative Christians, have flooded radio and TV with ads saying the law gives men dressed in women’s clothing, including sexual predators, the ability to enter a woman’s restroom. On Tuesday, the group released a TV spot that closes with a man bursting into a stall occupied by a young girl.

Supporters of the law, however, said the ordinance would in no way protect predators, pointing to a longstanding city law that bars someone from entering a restroom of the opposite sex with the intent to “cause a disturbance.” Legal experts agree the equal rights ordinance does not offer any protections to those who commit crimes, such as the oft-cited example of sexual assault, in a bathroom or any other place.

University of Houston law professor Peter Linzer said the law does not mean someone can enter a bathroom with the intent to commit a crime, regardless of gender.

“It’s a phony issue,” Linzer said. “If you commit a crime in a bathroom, you’re going to be prosecuted, and HERO is not a defense.”


Mayor Annise Parker pushed back this week on the idea that the ordinance in any way presents a public safety threat. The law is intended to protect someone’s consistent gender identity, not someone seeking to illegally gain access to a restroom.

“Two-hundred cities, 17 states have the same ordinance that we do or very similar wording that we do,” Parker said. “This just doesn’t happen. It is illegal for a sexual predator to go into a women’s restroom and attack anyone, and the idea that somehow the city of Houston is giving them free license is so offensive.”

Supporters of the ordinance have also questioned the authority of opponents on the issue of sexual conduct, given allegations against one of the group’s leaders.

That of course would be Kendall Baker, who is unironically out there warning people about perverts. I’m tired of talking about the lying and the lying liars who have been doing all this lying, so let’s talk a little about the truth. Here’s some truth about sexual assault from someone who’s spent a lifetime helping people who have been victims of it.

The talking point continues to be one of the most popular right-wing attacks on LGBT non-discrimination laws, and HERO’s opponents have used it relentlessly to weaken support for the measure among women and parents.

But in May 2014, during a public hearing before the Houston city council, HERO supporters gained a powerful voice in their fight against the “bathroom predator” talking point: Cassandra Thomas.

Thomas has spent thirty-one years at the Houston Area’s Women Center (HAWC), an organization dedicated to helping individuals affected by domestic and sexual violence. Aside from serving as HAWC’s Chief Compliance Officer, Thomas is also a member of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center Board and sits on the editorial board of the Sexual Assault Report of the Civic Research Center. She’s won numerous awards for her work on domestic and sexual violence, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

Testifying before the city council, Thomas drew on her decades of experience to dismiss opponents’ fearmongering. “If you really want to stop sexual assault,” Thomas said, “then let’s cut out the scare tactics, and let’s speak the truth.”


The problem with the “bathroom predator” talking point, she explained, is that it fundamentally misunderstands how and why sexual assault occurs.

“Transgender people are not my bogeyman in the closet. My bogeyman in the closet is the man who is a rapist who has a position of power, that everyone thinks, because he has power or because he’s nice or because he’s white or because any of those stupid reasons, that ‘I’m safe from him.’ That is my biggest fear.”

Thomas’ position has been echoed by sexual assault experts in states and cities with similar LGBT non-discrimination policies, and it’s supported by research. Sexual assault is overwhelmingly carried out by people victims know and trust — family members or friends, religious and community leaders, etc. — and not random predators who pretend to be transgender.

“It puts a bogeyman face on a group of people who don’t deserve it at all, who are, by no account, through what we know, are dangers,” she added.

Stereotypical images of shady-looking men sneaking into women’s restrooms — which have become a centerpiece of the anti-HERO campaign — give women a “false sense of security,” Thomas explained. “It makes women think that there are only certain places and certain people that I have to be afraid of and that’s not true. We don’t know what rapists look like. There’s no big R on their forehead. And that misinformation sets women up to be injured.”

When asked about why opponents of HERO had latched on to the “bathroom predator” talking point, Thomas dismissed the idea that HERO’s opponents were seriously motivated by a concern for women’s safety. “If it was about women’s safety then these same people would be involved in the anti-violence movement from the start,” she said.

“If these same people were concerned about the safety of women, they would have come out against any number of issues that have come up about sexual violence over the years, but they have been remarkably silent. So all of a sudden women are in danger because of transgender people? No. They’re not.”


Who cares about Bob McNair?

Another bad decision.


Houston Texans owner Bob McNair donated $10,000 this week to opponents of the city’s embattled equal rights ordinance, entering the political fray over the law headed to voters in November.

McNair, a frequent GOP donor, mailed the $10,000 check to opponents earlier this week, according to Campaign for Houston spokesman Jared Woodfill. He said the donation “was very exciting for us.”

Critics of the law, largely Christian conservatives, object to the non-discrimination protections it extends to gay and transgender residents — the law also lists 13 other protected groups. Supporters of the ordinance, including Mayor Annise Parker, have warned that repealing the law could damage the city’s economy and could jeopardize high-profile events such as Houston’s 2017 Super Bowl.

Woodfill pushed back on that notion Wednesday.

“The HERO supporters have tried to scare people into believing that we would lose the Super Bowl,” Woodfill said. “Obviously, if there were any truth behind that, Bob McNair wouldn’t’ be donating to the folks that are opposed to the ordinance.”

Here’s the longer version of the story. As Campos notes, there is something to that. I’ve always been skeptical about claims we could lose the Super Bowl if HERO is voted down for the simple reason that logistically, it would be very hard to do and would inconvenience a lot of people. The NFL doesn’t want to do that unless it absolutely has to, and I don’t think there would be enough of a national outcry to make that happen. What I do expect is that a defeat for HERO would jeopardize our chances of landing other big events, sporting and otherwise, and would likely cause some planners of events that are already on the calendar here, at the George R. Brown and big hotels, to reconsider and find alternate options.

So Woodfill gets a symbolic trophy, for whatever good it does him. It would be nice if this story went national, as a lot of other HERO-related news has done, as it might put a little heat on McNair and generally serve as bad publicity for him and his team. The Texans aren’t exactly a revered franchise outside of Houston, so a little ridicule there could go a long way. In the meantime, this story appeared in the paper the same day that this full-page ad ran in the local section:


For those who have been trying to claim that HERO is only of concern to the LGBT community, note the presence there of the NAACP, the Greater Houston Black Chamber, the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and among the individuals, the President of the Houston Urban League, Judson Robinson III. There was also this in my feeds from yesterday:

As the Texas director of AARP, a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization for all persons age 50 and older, I am proud that this Association — with 38 million members, including more than 2.2 million in Texas — believes firmly in the fundamental right of all people to be free from discrimination.

Approval of HERO by voters would help ensure that Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, provides its residents and visitors with an environment free of discrimination based on sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, or pregnancy.

There are lots of people talking about why HERO matters, to them and to the city. The Houston Area Women’s Center has been heavily involved to help debunk the dangerous and pernicious falsehoods that liars like Jared Woodfill have been spreading, now with the assistance of a fool like Bob McNair. The Press has more.

Legislative quick hits

This is the time of the session where there’s lots happening, and there isn’t always the time or space to stay on top of it all. So here are a few quick updates on things that are happening in an attempt to at least not be too far behind.

A bill to give Tesla Motors an opportunity to operate in Texas moves out of committee in the House.

The House Business and Industry Committee advanced a bill on Tuesday that would allow Tesla Motors to circumvent the state’s franchise dealer system and sell cars directly to Texans, giving a shot in the arm to the company’s efforts to operate in the state.

Tesla says an exemption from the franchise dealer system is the only way the company can operate successfully in Texas, but the owners of state auto dealer franchises have objected, saying the effort weakens a business model that has been key to their success.

House Bill 3351, by state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, was replaced by a committee substitute that offered auto dealers another layer of protection: If Tesla ever sells more than 5,000 cars a year in the state, it will become subject to existing regulation and must start to franchise its operations.

With Tesla projecting sales of only a few hundred cars a year in the state, the bill’s supporters, including Diarmuid O’Connell, the vice president of business development for Tesla motors, called this a workable approach.

“This would give us the space we need to introduce our technology in the state,” he said.

See here for the background. I’m rooting for this one.

A bill to allow online voter registration has passed the Senate.

[Tuesday] afternoon, the Texas senate approved SB 315, a bill proposed by State Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) to allow holders of unexpired Texas driver’s licenses or state-issued IDs to register to vote online.

Currently, registered voters in Texas may change their addresses online if they move within the same county but must complete a paper application if they are registering to vote for the first time or have moved to a different county.

In testimony on the proposed bill, election administrators said the legislation would both save significant money by reducing the need to manually enter information and eliminate transcription mistakes that happen with the current process.

The version of the bill approved by the Texas senate differs slightly from the original filed version in that the passed bill no longer requires voters to use the address listed on their license or ID as their voter registration address.

A similar bill – HB 313 – by State Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin) is currently pending in the state house.

See here for the background. Another bill I’m rooting for. BOR has more.

Sen. Dan Patrick’s charter school expansion bill had its hearing in the House

Lawmakers didn’t let on too much of their feelings about the bill—but Killeen Republican Jimmy Don Aycock, chair of the House Public Education Committee, said he didn’t consider the bill watered-down, because it allows the state’s charter network to grow. Charter school officials seemed to agree.

The bill still gives charter schools priority access to unused public school facilities, which Kathleen Zimmerman, executive director of NYOS Charter School, said is the bill’s most important improvement. Zimmerman said she has to give up her office for tutoring sessions because unlike public schools, charters don’t get facilities funding.

Under the Senate version, the education commissioner would revoke charters of schools that performed poorly in three out of five years.

Zimmerman said she didn’t focus on those higher standards because she wanted to highlight the positives. But, she said, “as a charter operator, I don’t want poor performing charters either.”

Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) said she’s concerned that charters may have a hard time getting loans because some banks want them to plan to be open for more than five years.

Charles Pulliam, chief development officer of Life School charter in Dallas, said that prospect would undermine the flexibility charters need to test out innovative education strategies.

“It scares me a little,” Pulliam said. “To have one blanket way of determining if they are successful is a mistake.”

The bill is SB 2, and it easily passed the Senate after adding a bunch of mostly Democratic amendments. It is pending in the House Public Ed committee.

Speaking of charter schools, a bill to limit the role ex-SBOE members can play at one has advanced.

A measure to bar former State Board of Education members from taking a job at a charter school or related foundation within two years of serving on the board is headed to the full Senate.

Senate Bill 1725 by state Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, is intended to close the revolving door between the SBOE and charter schools.

An amendment by Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, D-San Antonio, would allow former board members to take a job at a charter school within the two-year period so long as that member did not vote to create that particular school.

The Senate Education Committee passed the bill 6-3 late Tuesday.

The three nays all came from Republicans, which suggests this bill could have problems getting any farther.

The Lege has been trying to change the name of the Railroad Commission to something more reflective of reality for as long as I can remember. They’re still trying, and working on some other reforms as well.

The bill, SB 212 by State Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, embodies a previous Sunset review of the Railroad Commission that didn’t pass in the last legislative session that would forbid certain campaign contributions. For instance, commissioners could not accept donations from a party involved in a contested case hearing. It would also limit campaign contributions to the 17 months before an election and 30 days after. Commissioners are elected to six-year terms.

A contested case hearing is the way citizens protest against an oil and gas company permit or action.

Barry Smitherman, Chairman of the Railroad Commission, said during testimony that the campaign restrictions were “tricky” because the commissioner position is elected statewide, the state is big, travel is necessary and commissioners must raise money.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who sits on the committee, said the Sunset Commission had thought hard about how to put reasonable limits on the campaign financing.

“Sitting there for a six-year term, being able to raise unlimited amounts of money from the industry that they regulate, there clearly is a perception problem,” said Ellis.

The Railroad Commission should be subject to restrictions that differ from other statewide elected officials, like senators and representatives, because the nature of the commission is unique, Nichols said, because the commissioners have six-year terms, they regulate a specific industry and they set rates.

Similar Sunset legislation for the commission originating in the House, HB 2166 by State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, recently passed out of committee, but largely stripped of the campaign and ethics reform, according to Texas Energy Report. That bill could end up competing with the Senate bill discussed Tuesday.


No one testified specifically against the name-change provision. [Commissioner Christi] Craddick suggested the more succinct Texas Energy Commission. State Sen. Glen Hegar, R-Katy, who worked on the Sunset review that failed to pass in the last legislative session, also suggested a new name.

“I’d like to change it to Texas Department on Oil and Gas because it sounds cool … TDOG,” Hegar said.

The official name in the bill is Texas Energy Resources Commission. But I like Sen. Hegar’s suggestion.

We close with two from the inbox. First, from Equality Texas:

Moments ago, the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence advanced House Bill 2403 by Rep. Mary González of El Paso on a committee vote of 5-3.

HB 2403 would remove existing inequity in Texas’ “Romeo & Juliet” Affirmative Defense law. The “Romeo & Juliet” Affirmative Defense is a logical approach to the reality that adolescents sometimes make sexual decisions that adults wish they had not made, but that adolescents have been making since the beginning of time.

Under current law, if teen sweethearts are of opposite sexes, consensual intimate contact remains a matter between parents and their children. However, the “Romeo & Juliet” Affirmative Defense is not currently available to dating teens of the same gender. The state should not intrude on the right of parents to instill their values about sex into their children. Nor should the state interfere if teenage sweethearts make decisions that their parents believe are not what is best for them.

This needs to be a conversation between parents and their children. Not between parents, their children, an arresting officer, a prosecuting attorney, and a trial judge. That is why the “Romeo & Juliet” Affirmative Defense exists.

HB 2301 will ensure that it applies equally to straight & gay teens.

Today’s House committee action follows advancement of identical legislation by the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice. On April 9th, Senate Bill 1316 by Senator John Whitmire of Houston was advanced by the committee on a 4-1 vote. SB 1316 is on the Senate Intent Calendar for Tuesday, April 23, 2013.

See here for more. As far as I can tell, the full Senate has not taken up SB1316 as yet.

Last but not least, a non-good bill from Empower the Vote Texas:

HB 148 by Rep. Burkett is scheduled to be voted on by the full House tomorrow, April 25th. Please contact your State Representative and tell them to vote NO on this bill. If you are not sure who is your State Rep, you can use the “Who Represents Me” lookup tool. Emails addresses for all House members are firstname.lastname @, however phone calls are much more effective.

Attached are the letter ETVT sent to all Representatives opposing this bill along with supporting documents. The original text of the bill as introduced, the new text of the committee substitute, witness list, and bill analysis can be found here.

A copy of the letter is here. The hearing is today, so we’ll see how it goes.

Senate committee votes to repeal state sodomy law

About time.


The Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted on Wednesday to repeal the state’s anti-gay sodomy law, a decade after the U.S. Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional.

Texas, along with Oklahoma and Kansas, will be the only states that still have the law on the books after Montana’s legislature approved its repeal of the measure and the governor pledged to sign it.

Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, authored the bill and said the state was long overdue in taking the measure off the books and that it created confusion among law enforcement.

“This defunct law was the grounds for police to harass patrons of restaurants in my district resulting in a suit against the city of El Paso,” he said, describing a 2009 incident where police arrested a same-sex couple for kissing. “Not only is the continued existence of this law on the books a source of misinformation to law enforcement, but in my own district local governments have been forced to spend their limited resources due to this misuse.”

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said he tried to get the law repealed in 1993, but conservatives in the Texas House blocked the attempt.

“All you’re doing is following court rulings and taking unconstitutional language off the books,” he said.

Sen. Rodriguez’s bill is SB 538. It’s the second pro-equality bill to pass out of this committee so far. As before, the big question is whether either bill can pass the full Senate or the full House, but regardless of that it’s still a step forward. Kudos to Sen. Rodriguez for filing the bill and to Sen. Whitmire for getting it through his committee. Equality Texas, Texpatriate, and the Texas Observer have more.

Romeo and Romeo and Juliet and Juliet

This is a small step forward, but it’s an important step.

In a state where attempts to expand gay rights have hit a wall of conservative Republicans, a Senate committee on Tuesday approved a bill to provide a new legal protection for sexually active gay teens.

Under Senate Bill 1316, gay and lesbian teens who engage in consensual sex with each other can escape prosecution on a felony charge of sexual indecency with a child — as long as they are over age 14 and are within three years of each other in age.

Currently, that so-called “Romeo and Juliet” defense is available only to opposite-sex couples.

Romeo and Romeo or Juliet and Juliet, the bill is being called.

Though controversy was mostly absent from Tuesday’s hearing before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee — chaired by the author of the bill — supporters and opponents predicted the fight will come when, and if, the measure comes up for a vote by the full Senate or in the House.

“If a couple meets age and consent criteria, there should be no difference in the law based on their sexual orientation,” said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, the author.

Whitmire, a conservative Democrat in the more conservative GOP Senate, said he hoped Tuesday’s debate would focus awareness on the unfairness of the current law. While many states allow leeway in prosecuting sexual relationships between teens, supporters of the change in law said Texas is among few with its current “opposite sex” requirement.


The committee voted 4-1 to recommend its passage to the full Senate. Voting yes were Whitmire and Sens. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso; and John Carona, R-Dallas. Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, voted no.

The other three committee members, two Republicans and a Democrat, were absent for the vote.

Asked what it would take for the bill to be considered by the full Senate, Whitmire said, “I’ve got to work the Senate. … It took a pretty good-sized step today.”

Indeed it is. Here’s SB 1316. Sens. Dan Patrick and Joan Huffman were the absent Republican members on the Criminal Justice Committee, and it would be interesting to know how they might have voted on this; I’m just guessing, but I think her time as a judge might incline Sen. Huffman to support Sen. Whitmire’s bill. Sen. Whitmire is undoubtedly correct that he has some work to do to get this to the Senate floor, but just getting it out of committee is an accomplishment.

The Star-Telegram has more:

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, many states have provisions in their sex offender laws allowing some leeway in prosecuting teenage relationships. They range from exceptions to prosecution and sex offender registration to reduced levels of crimes, but Texas appears to be a rarity in its “opposite sex” requirement.

Elizabeth and Michael Hussey, members of the Houston-area chapter of the Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, told the Senate panel their 17-year-old son deserves to be equal under the law.

“I’m a Texas Republican, a disabled veteran who served our country at personal sacrifice, who was doing that for freedoms and liberties of all Americans,” Michael Hussey said. “We don’t want anything special for him, we want equal … I served not for certain groups, certain people, but for everybody.”

Elizabeth Hussey said that just like parents of straight kids, she tries to give her son guidance on sex and other mature issues.

“His sexuality doesn’t change how I parent him, but the law stands in my way sometimes,” she said. “It’s hard as mother to say I want you to wait to have sex until you get married. He can’t get married. The law also says if he does have sex, he could go to prison as a sex offender? I want them to work with me here.”

See, that’s another reason to support marriage equality, so parents can tell their gay kids to wait till they’re married to have sex. Where’s the abstinence education lobby when you really need them?

Anyway. There’s a companion bill in the House, HB3322, filed by Rep. Garnet Coleman, who’s been on this since at least 2009. Despite the step forward by Sen. Whitmire and his bill, I don’t expect anything to come out of this – the troglodyte lobby is still too strong. I’ll be delighted to be wrong about that, and of course it’s always a good time to inform your legislators that you support these bills. Campos has more.

Going after human traffickers

This is a great story about Ann Johnson, the Democratic candidate in HD134 last year, who is now back with the District Attorney’s office fighting against pimps and traffickers who prey on kids.

Ann Johnson

Johnson, a 39-year-old juvenile law attorney, is fluent in the language of the street, rattling off facts about Houston’s tracks, where pimps take prostitutes to pick up “tricks” or dates with johns.

She talks about “gorilla pimps” who control prostitutes with violence and “mack pimps” who use flattery, safety and the promise of love to lure prostitutes.

After cementing the relationship with sex, the mack asks the prostitute to help the “family” by selling sex.

That fluency means she can talk to minors about what they’re going through. And she can also explain that world to a jury.

“It’s such a foreign world, a hidden world and Ann knows about it,” said Jen Falk, a prosecutor who helped put Kentish in prison. “She brings such a unique background, especially in talking to victims who typically just get lost in the system.”


Although domestic child prostitution is not typically considered human trafficking, prosecuting those cases is a top priority and part of a three-pronged attack for newly elected District Attorney Mike Anderson.

“Houston is one of the top five cities in the world for human trafficking,” Anderson said. “We’re going to be busting the people who see this as their business and the mid-management, which are the pimps, and the johns as well.”

Anderson said he expects to see more cases filed against Houston’s cantinas and massage parlors where men and women are brought to Houston from all over the world to work as sex slaves.

“Just as sad, there are runaways here that are recruited with promises of a job or safety and they’re made to be prostitutes,” Anderson said.

After he decided to make trafficking one of his administration’s top priorities, Anderson set out to recruit Johnson. He hired her at a typical chief’s salary of $110,000 a year and said she may soon be creating an entire new trafficking division at the office.

“She’s extremely well respected in that area, she’s passionate about it, and she’s very good at what she does,” Anderson said. “She has a reputation at the courthouse.”

She is also well-known after an unsuccessful campaign last year to unseat incumbent Republican Sarah Davis for House District 134. A Democrat, Johnson lost the race but was widely supported by courthouse insiders, including Chris Tritico, president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association.

“Every dealing I’ve had with her, when she was a prosecutor before and as a private practitioner has been very positive,” Tritico said. “I think the world of her.”

I had the pleasure of getting to know Ann during her candidacy in HD134, and she is indeed a fine person. I have no doubt that she will do a lot of good in this role. Kudos to Mike Anderson for hiring her, and best of luck to her and everyone in her division for the work they do.

On the NCAA hammering Penn State

I’ve been thinking about the punishment the NCAA meted out to Penn State earlier this week.

The NCAA has hit Penn State with a $60 million sanction, a four-year football postseason ban and a vacation of all wins dating to 1998, the organization said Monday morning. The career record of Joe Paterno will reflect these vacated records, the NCAA said.

Penn State also must reduce 10 initial and 20 total scholarships each year for a four-year period.

The NCAA revealed the sanctions as NCAA president Mark Emmert and Ed Ray, the chairman of the NCAA’s executive committee and Oregon State’s president, spoke at a news conference in Indianapolis at the organization’s headquarters.

“In the Penn State case, the results were perverse and unconscionable. No price the NCAA can levy will repair the damage inflicted by Jerry Sandusky on his victims,” Emmert said, referring to the former Penn State defensive coordinator convicted of 45 counts of child sex abuse last month.

The NCAA said the $60 million was equivalent to the average annual revenue of the football program. The NCAA ordered Penn State to pay the penalty funds into an endowment for “external programs preventing child sexual abuse or assisting victims and may not be used to fund such programs at the university.”

With the wins from 1998-2011 vacated, Paterno moves from 409 wins to 298, dropping him from first to 12th on the winningest NCAA football coach list. Penn State also will have six bowl wins and two conference championships erased.

The Penn State athletic program also will be put on a five-year probation and must work with an athletic-integrity monitor of NCAA’s choosing. Any current or incoming football players are free to immediately transfer and compete at another school.

The action was unusual in that there were no allegations of misconduct related to NCAA rules – recruiting violations, that sort of thing – so one could argue that they didn’t really have jurisdiction or justification for intervening. I’m pretty sure no one outside Happy Valley really believed that, however. The usual pushback on NCAA sanctions is that the punishment is being visited on current players, coaches, and students for the actions of past coaches. Here, though, the bad acts went well beyond the coaching staff all the way up to the top of the Penn State administration, and even with them having been swept out and arrested, it’s hard to argue that the school doesn’t deserve any sanction for the extraordinary long-term coverup and abetment of Sandusky’s crimes. My gut reaction is that this time it’s very much all right for the school and its supporters to suffer for awhile, if only to serve as a stark example to other schools that may someday face their own hideous scandal that they might like to keep from coming to light. The school’s culture and self-image were part of the problem, and as such it’s right to make that part of the sentence.

The one thing I don’t like is the erasure of 112 wins from Paterno’s and the school’s record. The NCAA does this routinely for various violations, and I’ve never liked it. I don’t believe in changing history after the fact, which is what this amounts to. The games were played, the players accumulated whatever statistics they accumulated, and there were winners and losers. We shouldn’t claim they didn’t afterward because we disapprove of the actions of one or more of the participants, however heartily and justifiably we feel that disapproval. The numbers are what they are, and we can judge the people behind them separately. I can understand the NCAA not wanting Paterno atop the list of coaching victories, but I don’t agree with their remedy. Leave the numbers alone.

Alan Rosen: A Call To Protect Our Children

The following is from a series of guest posts that I will be presenting over the next few weeks.

Alan Rosen

Every day, the internet opens up new doors for communication, commerce, and the betterment of all our lives. But, with great advances in technology come huge risks and the responsibility rests with each of us to protect our greatest treasure: Our children.

Right here in Houston, a family told Channel 11 that their 12-year-old daughter had been lured into the sex trade by someone chatting with her on Facebook. KHOU reported the girl was taken to an undisclosed location and forced into prostitution. The girl was missing for 48 hours, which must have felt like an eternity to her parents. The family said they were able to finally track her down thanks to GPS on the girl’s cell phone. Technology was what led her astray, but technology is also what brought her back.

These stories make my heart sink – not only as a law enforcement officer, but as a father. I don’t mind telling you it keeps me up at night thinking that something might happen to one of my children. But, worrying isn’t what solves problems. We must all be more proactive and find the best ways to make the lives of our children safer and richer. We shouldn’t close them off from the learning opportunities presented online, but we can’t turn a blind eye to the dangers.

Here at home, I established the first Child Predator Apprehension Team at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. Positive change can happen and it’s simply a matter of actually doing the work. We’ve done the work and it continues to this day. We increased warrant apprehension rates 161 percent and capture rates for the Child Predator Apprehension Team is 84 percent. Those are people who would otherwise be on the streets of Harris County preying on our children.

The next thing we need to do is create an Internet Predator Task Force. We have to take a stand and I propose we do it through the best use of technology. We can keep an eye on these child-targeted sites and let the bad guys know we’re watching them here in Harris County.

Local and state leaders are figuring out that a proactive approach is the best way to get real results. For example, our neighbors to the east in Louisiana are about to start requiring every registered sex offender to include their criminal status in their social media profiles. It may seem like a small step, but it’s a shield in the fight to keep our kids safe. It is up to us to work proactively with families, legislators and community leaders to stay ahead of those who would harm our most precious asset—our children.

Alan Rosen is a Candidate for Harris County Constable-PCT 1 in the July 31st Democratic Party Run-Off Election. His website is

Ray Brookins convicted

Ray Brookins, the former administrator of the Texas Youth Commission facility in Pyote who was indicted on charges of sexually assaulting teenagers at that facility in 2007 was convicted Thursday in Odessa.

The one-word verdict came after a four-day trial and a five-year investigation into a sex abuse scandal that prompted the restructuring of the Texas Youth Commission. A second former administrator, John Paul Hernandez, was also indicted on multiple counts and is awaiting trial.

In two full days of testimony, 11 witnesses testified against Brookins, including the victim himself. Prosecutors also presented DNA evidence that linked the victim’s sperm to Brookins’ office. Brookins did not testify, and the defense offered no witnesses of its own.

If you need a refresher on the TYC scandal, this Observer story by Nate Blakeslee is a great resource. Brookins was sentenced to ten years, and will file an appeal. The trial of Brookins’ co-offender Hernandez will follow later. Grits has more.

Judge Jackson resigns

Harris County Criminal Court At Law Judge Donald Jackson, who was recently convicted of misdemeanor official oppression, has resigned his bench, effective Thursday. Given his conviction, I’d say this counts as no surprise. Jackson was one of many judges up for re-election in 2010, and he had accumulated three primary opponents in addition to Democratic challengers, so the question is who will be appointed to finish out his term. I assume that since this is a county court and not a district court that the responsibility for that falls on Commissioners Court. I wonder if they’ll want to wait till the Republicans have chosen a nominee, which could be as late as April if there’s a runoff, or if they’ll seek out someone who will simply serve out Jackson’s term and won’t run for another.

Judge Jackson convicted

You may recall the case of Harris County Criminal Court-at-Law Judge Don Jackson, who was indicted in August on a misdemeanor charge of official oppression, after being accused of offering a DWI defendant a chance to get out of her charge in return for sexual favors. Today he was convicted of that charge.

The misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Earlier Friday, defense attorneys for Jackson told the jury they were ashamed of the veteran jurist’s behavior in meeting with a drunken driving defendant, but that it was not illegal.

“Shame on him. Shame on you, Judge Jackson,” Dan Cogdell said while pointing at his client during closing arguments. “What he did was wrong, but what my friend and professional colleague did not do was commit a crime.”

Cogdell and Lewis Dickson have argued that Ariana Venegas, 28, manipulated Jackson to get a better court-appointed lawyer to get her DWI case dismissed.

“They keep trying to blame the victim,” Harris County Assistant District Attorney Lance Long said in his closing. “They grilled her for hours and hours about her DWI and her Facebook photos. I hope you were offended.”

Included in the evidence was a photo of Venegas from the popular social network Web site that showed her posing for an informal picture in khaki shorts and a white tanktop.

I did not follow this trial, but apparently there was a bit of controversy kicked up when it was reported that ADA Long had signed a petition for an opponent to Jackson in the upcoming Republican primary. I tend to agree with Murray Newman that such a thing isn’t really a big deal, though as Mark Bennett notes, the situation could and probably should have been avoided. Anyway, having noted this case at the beginning, I thought it was worth mentioning at the conclusion.

Helping teen parents in schools

Interesting article about how HISD high schools helps the moms and moms-to-be among its students. Two points to make:

Most teen moms don’t graduate high school, and national statistics show that far fewer — only 2 percent — go on to earn a college degree before age 30. The problem is particularly profound in Houston — where more girls under 15 give birth than in any other U.S. city, according to a report last week from the research nonprofit Child Trends.

While many pregnant girls used to be shipped off in shame to special schools, districts these days report a full-court press to try to keep expectant students and young moms coming to class.

Like Lee High School, several Houston-area campuses offer free on-site day care, as well as more flexible school hours. Some districts have night classes, for example, while others offer online courses students can take at their own pace.

“The cynic in me might say that because it’s so relatively common nowadays that young people get pregnant that schools are just, out of sheer repetition, better at dealing with it,” said Bill Albert, chief program officer for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Schools must walk a fine line, Albert said, between condoning teen pregnancy and supporting teen parents. “We have to send a message that teen pregnancy is not OK and be able to help young mothers succeed,” he said. “That’s tough.”

I guess I don’t quite get the worry about glamorizing teen pregnancy. I mean, all you really have to do is make sure everyone sees just how much time and effort it takes for these girls to care for their babies while still working towards completing their studies. Seems to me the reality is a stronger message than any a teacher or principal or counselor could give. And not to put too fine a point on it, but I don’t think the girls who are taking care of their business need to be stigmatized or shamed, certainly not by the very schools that are trying to help them graduate. It’s clear they get enough of that from their daily lives – just read the comments on the Chron story (yeah, I know, I should know better, but I couldn’t help myself), where the prevailing opinion seems to be that it would be better to just throw them all out onto the street, for a taste of that. In short, I think there’s more than enough people telling them that they shouldn’t have done what they did.

The other point is what about the fathers of these girls’ children? That’s a complicated issue.

Sylvia Cook, who has overseen Cy-Fair’s program for about a decade, said she thinks even more pregnant girls aren’t coming forward statewide. Some, she said, are scared off because they have to register the baby’s father with the Texas attorney general’s office to get state aid.

I presume that’s because a nontrivial number of those fathers would be in legal jeopardy if their identities were revealed in that fashion. It’s not exactly a secret that a lot of these baby daddies are significantly older than the mommies, which would make them guilty of statutory rape. The reality of that is more complicated than the usual rhetoric would have you believe. If there’s a delicate balancing act that the schools need to do here, it would be in making sure the fathers are taking responsibility as well, at least in the situations where the mother wants them to be responsible.

More on Judge Jackson

Prosecutors aren’t done investigating Harris County Criminal Court Judge Don Jackson, who was indicted this week on charges of official oppression.

Donna Hawkins, a spokeswoman for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, said investigators in the public integrity division want to know whether there are other people who have any knowledge of similar behavior in Jackson’s court.

It seems likely to me that if this charge is true that there are other incidents like it. I suppose it’s possible that a 17-year veteran of the bench, who had a good reputation among the attorneys who argued before him, would become sufficiently obsessed with a defendant to offer her a deal in return for sexual favors, but it strikes me as more probable that such behavior is part of a pattern. That’s assuming the charge is true – Judge Jackson is very much innocent until proven guilty, and we have no idea what his defense will be. But if others come forward with similar stories to tell, it shouldn’t be too big a surprise. Mark Bennett and Miya Shay have more.

Harris County criminal court judge indicted


A Harris County Criminal Court-at-Law judge was indicted Thursday on a misdemeanor charge of official oppression, accused of offering to get a DWI defendant in his court help getting her case dismissed in exchange for a sexual relationship.

According to the indictment, Judge Donald W. Jackson, 59, offered to get the young woman “a different attorney to get her case dismissed if she would be interested in the defendant and enter into a relationship with him that was more than a one-night stand.”

If convicted, the 17-year judge could face up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Although only one incident is alleged, prosecutors said Jackson committed the offense in three possible ways on Feb. 19: unwelcome sexual advances, a request for sexual favors and verbal conduct of a sexual nature.

The subject of the judge’s alleged actions, Ariana M. Venegas, was charged with driving while intoxicated on Feb. 1 and her case ended up in Jackson’s court. The 27-year-old Tomball woman gave a Harris County grand jury a sworn affidavit and is cooperating with prosecutors in the case, her attorneys said.


The charge was handed down amid rampant courthouse speculation fueled, in part, after Jackson recused himself from Venegas’ case on June 3.

Joe Stinebaker, spokesman for Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, said County Court-at-Law Judge Jean Hughes, the administrative judge over the county criminal courts, will appoint a special judge to take over Jackson’s docket.

Stinebaker said the district attorney’s office will notify the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct, which will decide if suspension is appropriate, and if so, whether the suspension should be with or without pay.

Bob Wessels, courts manager for the County Criminal Courts at Law, said Jackson was expected to remain on the county payroll drawing a $140,000 salary while the case is pending.

Jackson posted bail of $1,000. The charge, a misdemeanor, will be handled by the 351st state District Court, a felony court, because of Jackson’s position.

There had been rumors about Judge Jackson resigning from the bench for at least two weeks, which is when I first heard about this. Hair Balls made fun of local defense attorney/blogger Paul Kennedy for jumping on what turned out to be a premature report, then having to retract it. Turns out that Kennedy, who posted a copy of the indictment, got to say that he was right all along. I look forward to hearing what Judge Jackson’s defense is.

Texas Voices update

Grits gives a report.

I was pleased to get to spend a little time with Mary Sue Molnar and the folks at Texas Voices (a group made up of families of registered sex offenders) at their statewide conference here in Austin. By the time I showed up in the late morning there were perhaps 60-70 folks there; I walked in just in time to hear most of their legislative update.

They were, of course, all devastated at Governor Perry’s veto of legislation to allow defendants to petition judges in Romeo and Juliet cases to be taken off the registry. But this was the first legislative session they’d even been involved as a newly formed group and that same bill could probably pass again whenever it’s somebody else’s turn to be Governor. In the meantime, about 100 new people per month are being placed on Texas’ sex offender registry, Molnar reported to the group.

The bill Grits refers to is HB3148; another bill that was favorable to Texas Voices never made it out of committee. blogged about this group before and am glad to hear they are continuing to organize. We spend an awful lot of time, energy, and money punishing people who really aren’t a threat to anyone, and in doing so we cause a lot of harm – to the offenders, to their loved ones, and to the state of Texas, which suffers a large economic loss from all this wasted effort. We’ll be much better off the day we recognize this and do something about it.

No sexting at school

I guess I’m a little surprised this wasn’t already against the rules.

Students in the Houston Independent School District soon could face punishment if they are caught engaging in [sexting] — which, for those not of the wireless generation, means sending racy texts or photos via cell phone or e-mail. On Thursday, the HISD school board is expected to revise the Student Code of Conduct to officially ban sexting.

“It’s a response to an issue that principals brought up,” said Hans Graff, HISD’s assistant general counsel. “A girlfriend sends a picture to a boyfriend, who sends it to a friend, and pretty soon it’s all over the school.

“To the extent it’s an issue,” he continued, “we want to put kids on notice we’re not going to tolerate it.”

Graff acknowledges that policing the behavior will be difficult.

“I don’t see us wanting to go look at kids’ text messages,” he said. “It’s just if it’s brought to administrators’ attention, this (policy) is there.”


The possible punishments for students caught sexting range from a mandatory conference with a parent and administrator to suspension for up to three days to placement in an alternative education program.

In addition, students’ cell phones will be confiscated, and images suspected to violate criminal laws will be forwarded to law enforcement, according to the proposed revisions to the Student Code of Conduct.

While I certainly understand where the principals are coming from, that last paragraph concerns me, given that anyone who is arrested for this behavior could be branded a sex offender for life, which is way out of proportion to the crime in many cases. We are fortunate in that the Harris County DA’s office is reasonably enlightened on the matter, but it would be nice to not have to rely on that. I hope there are guidelines that will help the principals make informed choices about what really constitutes criminal behavior here, lest some of them adopt a “report it all and let the courts sort it out” attitude.

Smith bashes Perry for vetoing HB3148

Rep. Todd Smith takes Governor Perry to task for vetoing HB3148, which would have exempted some teenagers who had engaged in consensual sex with a minor less than four years younger than themselves from having to register as sex offenders.

Gov. Rick Perry vetoed one of the most morally compelling bills I have ever filed in the Texas House.

I authored the bill because of heartbreaking letters received from parents and grandparents describing how their son or grandson has been permanently scarred because of a consensual teenage relationship. All the bill would have done was to give a judge discretion to not place a teen on the sex offender registry for having consensual sex with someone who was at least 14 and not more than four years younger than the defendant.

Perry apparently believes that every teenager who has a consensual relationship with someone more than three years, but less than four years younger should be labeled for life as a sex offender.

The purpose of sex offender registration is to protect children from child molesters. The monitoring and supervision of nonthreatening people wastes law enforcement resources and detracts law enforcement from closer scrutiny of the sex offender for whom registration was intended — those who are dangerous to children.

HB 3148 was passed by a vote of 131-12 in the House and unanimously in the Senate. Sixteen witnesses testified in committee in favor of the bill. There was no opposition.

In his veto statement, Perry said that “sex offenders would be eligible to petition a court for an exemption from sex offender registration, regardless of the age of the victim.” That is simply not true.

The bill expressly stated that the victim must be at least 14 years old with the perpetrator less than four years older. He said he feared this bill would not protect young victims, but it only would allow a judge to grant an exemption when it is in the best interest of the victim. Some of these “victims” are now married to the “perpetrators.”

The bill wouldn’t change the criminality of the offense of statutory rape, which is a punishable crime. It only gave certain teens in consensual relationships an opportunity to ask a judge for an exemption from lifetime registration as a sex offender.

Good for you, Rep. Smith. There’s “tuff on crime” and there’s being smart about crime; HB3148 was an example of the latter, while Perry’s needless veto was the former. The people affected by it deserved better. EoW has more.

And here are the vetoes

Here’s the full list, with links to statements about individual bills, here’s his press release, and here’s his budget statement. A few points of interest:

– Perry wimped out and allowed HB770, the Wayne Christian Homestead Bill, to become law without his signature. Way to lead, big guy. I can’t wait to get Jerry Patterson’s press release about this.

– As already noted, he axed SB488, the Safe Passing Bill. Bicyclists are pissed off.

“We are stunned because he’s our guy, and we feel disappointed, even betrayed by our guy,” said Robin Stallings, executive director of BikeTexas, the educational arm of the Texas Bicycle Coalition. “The bicycling community will never forgive Governor Perry.”

Perry had signed previous bills important for the cycling community, Stallings said.

Stallings said surveys show that 55 percent of the 30,000 active Texas cyclists who belong to a cyclist organization participate in GOP primaries. He said surveys also indicate an estimated 4 million Texans are, at least, casual bike riders.


The governor’s office never expressed any concern, much less opposition, Stallings said.

“The bill was well vetted and had support across the political spectrum. That he would do this and not talk to us (during the session), frankly, we are shocked.”

I’m not. Par for the course, if you ask me. I hope the bicyclists take out their frustrations about this in a big way.

– He vetoed HB3148, which would have allowed some minors who engaged in consensual sex to not have to register as sex offenders, which strikes me as petty and short-sighted. I’ll bet that will annoy Grits.

– Rep. Jerry Madden gets his wish, and SB1440 gets zapped.

– Two bills supported by environmentalists, HB821, which related to recycling TV sets; and SB2169, which would have established a smart growth policy work group and the development of a smart growth policy for Texas, got nixed.

– Perry signed HB4294, the electronic textbooks bill, over the objections of some social conservatives. Credit where it’s due – I thought this was a decent bill.

– He signed SB1410, thus negating West University Place’s ordinance requiring fire sprinklers in some new construction. Local control, schmocal control.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I’m sure there are other gems in there that are not immediately obvious to me, so leave a comment and let me know about them.

UPDATE: Naturally, after I hit publish, I get a couple of releases from Rep. Garnet Coleman about two of his bills that Perry rejected. Here they are, first about SB2468.

Statement by Rep. Garnet Coleman on Governor’s Veto of SB 2468, by Sen. Gallegos | Rep. Coleman

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Governor Perry would veto a bill that closed the revolving door of employees on the local level where individuals have rotated in and out of county government and the private sector. These actions send a bad message to Texans when it appears that their government works for the highest bidder instead of its own constituents.

It could be possible that Governor Perry does not want to draw attention to his own office’s revolving door. He calls the legislation a piecemeal approach to the issue of county lobbbying and claims he wants to avoid creating differing and confusing standards of ethical conduct. This leaves only the standard that his own office has set, which is that of a revolving door. Ethical behavior in one area of government shouldn’t have to wait for the rest of the state to catch up.

I think the Governor is well aware of these circumstances given the number of employees he has had that have rotated from the public sector, to the private sector and back again. He vetoed this bill on the same day he named a former lobbyist that was a former employee of his to his chief of staff position(1, 2).

At least 17 former Perry aides are now registered lobbyists according to a Dallas Morning News report (3). This includes a former state representative that formed a lobby firm, left to be Governor Perry’s chief of staff from 2002 – 2004, and then returned to his lobby practice (4). He was followed by another former state representative that had become a lobbyist and returned to serve as legislative director until returning to the private sector.(5)

1. Press Release: Gov. Perry Names Sullivan Chief of Staff,
2. Texas Ethics Commission Registration, Ray Sullivan,
3. Dallas Morning News, Jan 6, 2009

Here’s Perry’s statement about the veto. This was the “revolving door” bill aimed at restricting Harris County employees from doing county business after leaving government employ. So much for Ed Emmett’s ethics reform plan. Got anything to say about that, Judge?

Next, Coleman’s statement about HB3485:

Statement by Rep. Garnet Coleman on Governor’s Veto of HB 3485

“It is disappointing that Governor Perry vetoed this important piece of legislation. With the addition of the amendment allowing certain rural public hospitals to employ physicians, this bill would have ensured access to physician coverage across rural Texas. Rural public hospitals in Texas find it more and more difficult to attract physicians to their communities and retain them. Many physicians entering practice today prefer an employee relationship, rather than having the responsibility and burden of setting up and managing a small business. H.B. 3485 gave rural public hospitals and physicians who want to practice in rural Texas flexibility. Having the option to employ physicians would have helped rural hospitals improve and preserve access to physicians. Without physicians, these hospitals will not continue to exist.

The Governor alleges that an amendment was added in the final days of session that was neither debated nor discussed. However, prior to concurring with all of the Senate amendments I had multiple conversations with the Governor’s office, one of them with Sen. Ken Armbrister, the Governor’s Legislative Director, as well as another member of the Governor’s staff.

To be clear – I told the Governor’s staff that the amendment in question could be removed if it created any sort of problem or if it jeopardized the passage of this important legislation. Sen. Armbrister assured me that the Governor was fine with the amendment and therefore fine with the overall bill. Tort reform groups were also contacted to assuage any concerns, with their assurances that the groups were neutral on the bill. To Sen. Armbrister’s credit, he did call today to inform me of the governor reversing his position.

The worst part is, the only losers with this veto are the people of the state of Texas and the various counties, with no gain or loss to the tort reform movement.”

Here’s a letter from Rep. Coleman to Governor Perry thanking him for his assistance with the language of the bill; here’s a letter to Governor Perry from the Texas Conference of Urban Counties urging him to sign HB3485; and here’s Perry’s veto statement. How weaselly can you get?

You there! Put down the Internet and slowly back away!

Hair Balls tries to make sense of a Senate criminal justice bill that is currently in committee in the House.

[The bill,] authored by Republican State Senator Florence Shapiro of Plano seems remarkably straightforward: It prohibits registered sex offenders from “using the Internet to access pornographic material.”

It would also establish a means for “a commercial social networking site or Internet service provider” to be provided with a list of said perverts, so such businesses can alert authorities if they’re using those sites to prey on kids.

But what got Hair Balls was that first part — about not allowing these pervs to look at any pornography, or as stated later in the bill, anything deemed “obscene.” (The bill refers to the obscenity section of the penal code, which offers different definitions of obscenity, which include simulated sex.) Even though, as everyone knows, there is hardly any sex stuff on the Interweb, how would something like that even be enforced?

What follows is a confused, albeit amusing, exchange between the Press’ Craig Malisow and Sen. Shapiro. I couldn’t make sense of it, either, but I could find this:

I suppose if you’re a registered sex offender, you shouldn’t have watched that. Sorry about that.

Cohen pulls strip club bill

The battle of the strip club bills is over, as Rep. Ellen Cohen has pulled her bill, thus killing it for the session.

She said “it was clear there was an attempt to find a point of order” — a type of parliamentary maneuver — to kill her measure. So she postponed her measure until after the end of the legislative session, effectively abandoning it. She said she decided to focus instead on fighting for the fee that’s being challenged in court.

The Legislature in 2007 passed a $5-per-patron strip club fee that Cohen proposed. The money was supposed to go toward health insurance for low-income Texans and programs to prevent sexual assault and help victims.

But a judge struck it down, and this year, Cohen proposed tweaking the fee. The state is appealing.

Cohen’s proposal this session was to lower the fee to about $3 per patron and to direct the money only to anti-assault programs, not health insurance. Last year, State District Judge Scott Jenkins found that the state showed a link between strip clubs and sexual violence but failed to show a link between strip clubs and a lack of health insurance.

Judging by what I was seeing on Twitter while this was going on, Rep. Harold Dutton appears to have been the main point-of-order wielder. Even if Rep. Cohen had pressed on, the alternate bill, Rep. Senfronia Thompson’s HB982, which passed the Senate on Tuesday, had a trick up its sleeve.

In a highly unusual vote, the Texas Senate rescinded its earlier final approval of a bill allowing for a new tax on strip clubs — not to fix a wording problem, but to help settle a personal battle in the House.

The issue is between two state representatives from Houston — Ellen Cohen and Senfronia Thompson.

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, the Senate sponsor of Thompson’s bill that passed Tuesday, said Thompson wanted to ensure that her bill prevails over a similar measure by Cohen. Cohen’s bill would add a mandatory $3 entry fee on strip clubs, while Thompson’s proposal — one favored by strip club owners — would impose a voluntary tax.

After getting the earlier vote rescinded — a move that veteran senators said they had never seen happen — Corona made it clear he did it at Thompson’s request, not some “big policy issue out there.

“This is all about Representative Thompson and Representative Cohen. It’s their battle,” Carona said. “Senfronia called on me just because she and I have worked successfully on a lot of bills over the years. I guess she figures I was either dumb enough or tough enough to get it passed. I’m still trying to figure out which one.”

The Senate on Tuesday had given final approval to the voluntary tax, and the bill was on its way to the governor. Then, Cohen’s bill came up for debate in the House, meaning it might pass after Thompson’s bill did.

Since the last bill to hit the governor’s desk prevails, Thompson wanted to ensure that her bill would be last.

Of course, it may get vetoed once it gets there, as the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault opposes HB982, and it counts Anita Perry as a board member, so if her word carries any weight, that will be that. At least one other prominent Republican woman has come out against HB982 as well. We’ll know soon enough.

UPDATE: Well, what do you know? Cohen’s bill may live again.

A compromise being brokered by Sens. John Carona, Royce West and Rep. Ellen Cohen would combine the two bills, one supported by sexual assault prevention groups, the other endorsed by the adult entertainment industry.

Though nothing is firm, the compromise bill being considered would allow the Texas Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of a $5 per person strip club admissions fee, which has been tied up in litigation since that fee was instituted in 2007.

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the state, the fee would stay in effect, but would drop to $3. Clubs that haven’t been paying the fee would not face penalties.

If it is ruled unconstitutional, the fee would be repealed, and the state would charge strip clubs a tax of at least 10 percent on admissions fees. The tax would do what the current fee is designed to do — raise money for sexual assault services. Clubs that have been paying the current $5 fee would be refunded with interest.

It ain’t over till it’s over, I guess.

More on the alternate strip club tax

After publishing about the alternate strip club tax that passed the House yesterday, HB982, I had some correspondence with the offices of Rep. Ellen Cohen and Rep. Senfronia Thompson about the revenue estimates, which I noted seemed quite divergent. Rep. Cohen’s office sent me the following documents:

HB 982 revenue estimates (PDF) – This is a summary of the UT study referenced in the DMN story, which pegged the revenue totals in the $500K – $1.2M range.

Estimates for HB 2070 (PDF) – This is a similar study, by the same folks at UT, for Cohen’s bill that modifies the existing law that was struck down by the district court in Austin, HB 2070. This projects $16.5M in revenue annually from HB 2070.

TEA-Judgment (PDF) – This is a copy of the judgment the strip clubs won against the current law, which was HB1751 from last session. Rep. Cohen’s office asserts that HB2070 addresses the issues that the court specified in its ruling for the plaintiffs.

Rep. Thompson’s office sent me the following statement, which is taken from three separate emails:

The revenue estimate is based on a review of the books of 60 of the 175 strip clubs in Texas. The 60 clubs based on their actual collected cover charges for 2008 would have produced over $3 million. Taking into account the size and revenues of the other clubs it was projected that the clubs alone would produce $4 -$8 million dollars. Because no one is sure what revenue the other SOBs will produce that amount was not included in our estimate. This is a low ball estimate since the previous projection on HB 1751 was so much higher than actual revenue produced.

There is absolutely no reason the money already collected can’t be spent as soon as the AG drops the appeal of HB 1751. If HB 982 doesn’t pass the State is on the hook for more lawyers’ fees ($500,000 for the plaintiffs so far and $180,000 for the AG) plus interest on all money collected by the state so far. The plaintiffs in the suit had committed to Rep. Thompson that if HB 982 passes they will not further pursue the lawsuit against HB 1751 and will drop their tax protest when the AG drops his appeal of HB 1751, allowing the money already collected to be distributed this biennium. Further, the plaintiffs have told our office and Representative Cohen’s office that they will file another lawsuit if HB 2070 passes. It generally takes over a decade for a civil suit to progress from State District Court to a final U.S. Supreme decision. Rep. Thompson’s position has never been that HB 982 will raise more money than HB 2070, but that it will deliver money to these long underfunded programs this year, not next decade.

We would like to point out that Rep. Thompson passed the legislation that established the Sexual Assault Fund in 1993 that all the bills are intended to fund. She successfully fended off two attempts to roll the Sexual Assault Fund into general revenue in 1995 and 1997. She also passed the Omnibus Protective Order bill and the legislation that made the National Domestic Violence hotline possible. Rep. Thompson has a long record of standing up for women’s issues. Rep. Thompson’s concern all along has been that the state stop wasting money in court cases on unconstitutional taxes and concentrate on finding a source of revenue for these programs that will help this year not after a decade long court battle.

So there you have it.

Alternate strip club fee bill passes House

I didn’t realize there was another bill dealing with the strip club fee out there, but there is, and it passed in the House.

Sexually oriented businesses, including adult video stores and nude dancing clubs, would pay a 10 percent tax on their entry fees under a bill tentatively passed today on a voice vote in the House.

The revenue generated is expected to be significantly less than the clubs alone would have paid under last session’s bill that added a $5 per-patron fee. The clubs have successfully attacked that law as a violation of the First Amendment because much of the money was earmarked for low-income health care. The state’s appeal is pending at Austin’s Third Court of Appeals.

The 10 percent tax would raise up to $8 million, compared to an estimated $40 million that budget analysts anticipated from the 2007 law (only $11 million has been paid to Texas so far, and is being held by the state comptroller pending the outcome of the legal challenge).

Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, offered a bill backed by the Texas Entertainment Association, which represents the clubs. The bulk of the money would fund services for sexual assault prevention and victims’ services.

“We’re going to be able to end the lawsuit and allow the state to be able to spend $11 million,” said Thompson.

Rep. Thompson’s bill is HB982, and it passed the House by a near-unanimous vote of 142-1. Rep. Ellen Cohen voted for this bill, but is still pushing her alternative as well.

Cohen has dozens of co-authors on her own replacement bill, which she says would address the courts’ concerns by reducing the per-person charge to $3 and making sexual assault prevention programs the sole beneficiaries. Cohen, whose bill is in committee and has not yet come up for a House vote, said Thursday she would vote for Thompson’s bill – as a supplement to hers and not a replacement. A recent University of Texas study estimated Cohen’s $3 fee would raise between $16 million and $18 million annually, while Thompson’s 10 percent admissions tax would raise between $500,000 and $1.2 million. Thompson says that number is low, and that her bill would raise between $4 million and $6 million annually.

“What we need to do is make sure whatever we’re doing raises the most amount of money for the greatest amount of good,” Cohen said.

Rep. Cohen’s bill is HB2070, and it’s pending in the Ways and Means committee right now. I’m curious about the different financial projections given in these two accounts. There’s a huge gap between “$500,000 to $1.2 million” and “up to $8 million”, or even “$4 to 6 million”. Here’s one possible reason for the discrepancy:

Critics of the bill say topless clubs could simply circumvent the law by removing or reducing cover charges. And, they add, many adult bookstores do not charge an admission fee.

“House Bill 982 is a bill pushed by the strip club industry as a supposed compromise. It raises very little, if any, money,” said Torie Camp, deputy director of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

Well, okay, but I suspect most strip clubs charge a cover fee to raise revenue for themselves, so it’s not clear to me how reducing or removing that fee in order to circumvent a tax would be good business for them. And the original bill didn’t include adult bookstores, so I don’t quite get the objection there, either. Be that as it may, this bill has passed the House while Cohen’s is still in committee, and at this point of the session, with so much more to be done, I think that has to be taken into account, because this may be all that can get done.