Thursday, July 28, 2016

KXAN: Gov. Abbott appoints, then pushes out acupuncture board member

The appointment process ain't always easy.

Who knew we had a Texas Board of Acupuncture Examiners.

- Click here for the article.
Gov. Greg Abbott thought twice after appointing a leader of a health care board because of concerns about the doctor’s history.
On May 12, Gov. Abbott sent out a press release detailing the appointment of Dr. Daniel Brudnak to the Texas Board of Acupuncture Examiners.
Dr. Dan Brudnak of Gorman is a private practice family medicine and acupuncture physician. He’s a fellow and diplomat of the American Academy of Family Practice and diplomat of the American Board of Medical Acupuncture.
On June 21, he resigned after details emerged from his past.
In 2011, the State Medical Board cited him for inappropriately prescribing stimulants and not keeping appropriate records.
The governor’s Press Secretary John Wittman said, “After our office was made aware of the seriousness of these violations, Dr. Brudnak tendered his resignation and we accepted it.”
In his letter of resignation, Dr. Brudnak mentioned his missteps.

From the UK Indepedent: Texas governor Greg Abbott ‘secretly’ proposes rule requiring burial and cremation of aborted fetuses - The governor will bypass state legislation to implement the rule

A twist on the rule making process.

- Click here for the article.
Only days after reproductive rights advocates celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn a law that would have shuttered the vast majority of abortion clinics in Texas, Gov Greg Abbott quietly proposed new rules that would require aborted foetuses to be buried or cremated.
Mr Abbott published the proposal 1 July to be available for public comment for 30 days. Following that period, the new rules could easily be implemented, bypassing a vote by state legislators.

“Governor Abbott believes human and foetal remains should not be treated like medical waste, and the proposed rule changes affirms the value and dignity of all life,” the governor’s spokesperson, Ciara Matthews, told theAssociated Press.

In Texas, state agencies can implement new rules without receiving formal approval from lawmakers. Although, it is unusual for governors to propose the rule themselves, but agency staff. Along with his appointed director of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, Mr Abbott proposed the new rules without formal review period with the agency.
Abortion rights advocates see the move as yet another effort by the anti-abortion governor to make abortion inaccessible for Texas women, and the new rules would bring non-medical ceremonial, non-medical processes into medical regulation.

“I think the biggest point is you have [a state] agency, through the governor’s fiat, propose his own idea of tradition and ceremony into a space where it doesn’t belong,” legal counsel for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas Blake Rocap told The Independent.

From the Texas Tribune: Latino Voters Sue to Bolster Influence on Electing Judges

For our look at civil rights, elections, and the judiciary - among other things.

Should Texas' top courts be elected in single member districts?

- Click here for the article.

The state’s most powerful courts don’t exactly resemble the population outside of their chambers.
Though Latinos make up more than a quarter of the state’s voting-age population, just one — Justice Eva Guzman — sits on the nine-member Texas Supreme Court. The same goes for the nine-member Court of Criminal Appeals, where Judge Elsa Alcalapresides.
Seeking to bolster their chronically sparse representation, seven Latino voters are suing Texas, arguing that its longtime method of electing statewide judges dilutes the voting power of a rapidly growing racial group.
“This is a very important case,” said Jose Garza, an attorney representing the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed last week in a U.S. district court in Corpus Christi. “Latino voters don’t have a say in who gets elected to the Texas Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals.”
For more than a century, judges on the state’s high courts run have run in at-large partisan elections, vying for votes across the state. They serve staggered six-year terms. In a bright-red state like Texas, that voting system yields staunchly Republican courts, limiting election drama to primary races.
The plaintiffs — six voters in Nueces County and one in El Paso — argue that the current system prevents Latinos from choosing the candidates they prefer. Latino candidates would more consistently nab places on the courts, they suggest, if Texas carved up the courts geographically, creating single-member districts.

From the Texas Tribune: Paxton Opinion Slams Schools' Transgender Policies

Doing what he is constitutionally authorized to do.

A great example of conflict between the three levels of government.

- Click here for the article.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Tuesday issued an opinion saying the Fort Worth school superintendent who made headlines for formulating guidelines to accommodate transgender students exceeded his authority. Paxton also said that a portion of the guidelines instructing district employees not to out transgender students to their parents might violate state law.
Citing a part of the Texas education code, Paxton wrote that school district boards of trustees — not superintendents — are required to adopt policies while superintendents can only implement those policies “by developing administrative regulations.”
Attorney general opinions are not legally binding, and Paxton's interpretation has no direct legal impact on the Fort Worth district.

The Fort Worth ISD guidelines are in line with a directive from the Obama administration — issued after the guidelines were adopted — that instructed school districts across the country to ensure that transgender students are not discriminated against. Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick requested the opinion three weeks after calling for Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Kent Scribner’s resignation.

From SA Current: Governor's Office is Clearly Not Happy About Bush's Handling of the Alamo

Tensions within the plural executive.

- Click here for the article.

One of the Texas GOP's rising stars — a Bush, no less — is taking heat for settling a battle over thousands of Alamo artifacts with the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.  Last Friday, the Associated Press reported that the Texas General Land Office resolved a lawsuit with the Daughters of the Republic over a vast collection of history: approximately 38,000 books and relics. GLO also agreed to pay $200,000 in attorneys fees to the Daughters as part of the settlement.
GLO Commissioner George P. Bush, who has been heralded as a promising politician since winning elected office in November 2014, fired the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, who managed the shrine for 110 years, as custodians of the Alamo a few months after he took office in 2015. Days later, the Daughters sued the GLO.
An internal memo obtained by the Houston Chronicle this week shows that Governor Greg Abbott's chief of staff Daniel Hodge is not happy with the settlement reached by Bush's office, calling it "regrettable" and "avoidable."
"Had the General Land Office more vigorously defended the State's interests in this matter, the agency would not have found itself in a position in which the (Daughters of the Republic of Texas) can demand this settlement," Hodge wrote in the memo obtained by the Chronicle.
Hodge goes on to say that the only reason Abbott approved the settlement was out of deference for the "independent constitutional officeholder requesting it."
Since Bush took office, he has been embroiled in all things Alamo. The City of San Antonio and the GLO have teamed up to come up with a new master plan for the historic site that could change the landscape surrounding Alamo. The GLO and the city left the Daughters of the Republic of Texas out of the advisory board coming up with the plan.
However, Bush's problems have extended beyond his battle for the Alamo.


From the Texas Tribune: It’s Joe Straus’ House — at least until 2019 — after Tuesday’s Texas GOP primaries

Straus maybe have wrapped up another term as speaker last March.

- Click here for the article.
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus and his allies outpaced expectations in Tuesday’s primary, sustaining only scattered losses while holding onto most of their seats and picking up a couple of new ones.
Fears that populist winds and the outsider candidacies of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz would somehow turn the higher turnout of a presidential year into a bad thing for Team Straus proved just that — unfounded angst.
While off-year elections and, in any year, GOP runoffs may be hazardous to the speaker’s side, this year’s primary produced very decent results for Straus.
Oh, yes, he struck out at unseating the most vociferous, irritating backbenchers in his caucus, such as Reps. Jonathan Stickland of Bedford, Matt Rinaldi of Irving and Tony Tinderholt of Fort Worth. Impressively, Stickland and Tinderholt cruised to re-election each with 58 percent of the vote; and Rinaldi, with more than 53 percent.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

From the Texas Tribune: Charges Dismissed Against Anti-Abortion Activists Who Made Video

Lot's to chew on here.

Activists on the left and the right should celebrate the decisions since it makes it easier for them to shine a spotlight on the inner workings of organizations they think necessary.

But there are concerns that the elected district attorney felt political heat due to the coming election, which led to the decision to drop the charges.

- Click here for the article.
Criminal charges against the anti-abortion activists behind undercover recordings of a Houston Planned Parenthood facility were dismissed Tuesday.
David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, the videographers who infiltrated Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, had been charged with tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony charge that carries up to 20 years in prison. A court clerk confirmed that the Harris County district attorney's office filed the motion to dismiss the case against Daleiden and Merritt.
Harris County DA Devon Anderson said in a statement that Texas limits what can be investigated after a grand jury term gets extended, which happened in this case.
"In light of this and after careful research and review, this office dismissed the indictments," Anderson said.
Daleiden and Merritt were accused of using fake California driver’s licenses to enter the Planned Parenthood facilities where they recorded staff discussing the costs of providing fetal tissue for research.

The tampering with a governmental record count was the last remaining charge against the activists. A Harris County judge in June tossed a second charge against Daleiden — a misdemeanor charge for offering to sell or buy fetal tissue — because of a technical problem with the indictment filed by prosecutors.
Daleiden’s team had asked a judge to dismiss his indictments, alleging they were a result of improper proceedings by prosecutors and that the grand jury — originally asked to investigate Planned Parenthood, not the videographers — exceeded its authority.

From the Texas Tribune: Texas Cemetery Scraps "Whites Only" Policy

Seems about time. Enforcing equal protection gets tricky when it affects the private sector.

Note the use of the courts as a remedy.

- Click here for the article.
After drawing ire for its alleged “whites only” policy, a Texas cemetery conceded its refusal to bury Latino residents is discriminatory and violates federal and state law.
Lawyers for the cemetery association, which oversees the San Domingo Cemetery in the tiny, rural town of Normanna, admitted defeat in court on Friday as part of a lawsuit filed after Dorothy Barrera was unable to bury the ashes of her husband, who was Latino, in the cemetery.
As noted in a court filing, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund accepted the cemetery association’s “offer of judgment,” proposing that a judge should enter a ruling against them for the policy and should declare their “rule of discriminating” based on race and national origin as “void.”
MALDEF brought the lawsuit after Barrera found herself at the center of a modern-day desegregation fight. After the death of her husband of more than 40 years, Barrera, who is white, realized she would be unable to be buried beside her husband Pedro because of the cemetery’s whites only policy.

Trib + Water

When we walk through Article 3 of the Texas Constitution I like to note the inclusion of large number of bonds approved by the voters for water development projects. The availability of water has been a dominant issue for much of Texas' history.

As a way to underscore the range of issues the state faces concerning water, you might want to peruse through the various items on the subject the Texas Tribune has posted over time.

- Click here for the article.

From the Texas Tribune: Tensions Erupt at Texas Democrats' Convention Breakfast

For our ongoing look at political parties in Texas. Unity ain't easy.

- Click here for the article.
A contentious scene unraveled here Tuesday morning at a meeting of Texas delegates after one criticized Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and a favorite of Lone Star State Democrats.
The tension erupted while delegates supporting Bernie Sanders, Clinton's primary rival, were arrayed on the stage at a daily breakfast convened by the state delegation. It was meant to be a show of unity, with one of them, Russell Lytle of Denton, speaking hopefully of dialogue with Clinton supporters.
However, several minutes into his remarks, Lytle took a sharp turn against Clinton in what other Sanders delegates later described as an isolated incident.
"We want to be clear," Lytle said. "We are currently condemning our current presumptive nominee."
That touched off an angry reaction from some in the crowd, sparking loud boos and bringing Clinton backers to their feet. One of the people who rose pointed his finger at the stage.
"Stop this nonsense!" he said. "You need to grow up!"
Former Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, the Clinton campaign's top representative in Texas, took the microphone and tried to calm the room. He asked Clinton loyalists like himself to remember what it was like in 2008, when they arrived at the Democratic National Convention facing pressure to support presumptive nominee Barack Obama.

Texas Democrats, Mauro said, need to put their egos aside as they welcome new people to the party. That did not go over well with some Clinton supporters in the crowd, who said Sanders had lost and it was his backers who need to put aside their egos.

From the DMN: Dallas County property values see record increases. Will officials cut taxes or keep the cash?

Building of the post on property taxes below:

- Click here for the article.
Property values rose more than 10 percent across Dallas County this year, the highest jump in at least two decades.
The increases mean steeper tax bills for many property owners and unexpected jackpots for local governments, prompting debate among officials over whether to keep the cash or cut tax rates.
"Our middle class didn't get raises like this, and they can't afford these increases,"
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said Tuesday. "We can always find a way to spend a windfall, but it's best in this economy for us to give people back their money."
Jenkins cited a Dallas Morning News analysis that found the rising preliminary property values increased disproportionately for middle-class homeowners. It's unclear whether that disparity remained after property owners' protests ended and many won reductions. The official numbers were released this week, though some properties remain in dispute.
The potential tax windfall far exceeds the budget predictions of many government entities, such as the county, the city of Dallas and Parkland Memorial Hospital. Dallas Independent School District, meanwhile, anticipated a greater increase.
"It's the largest increase we've seen since I have records," said Ryan Brown, the county budget director. The records date to 1989. The closest the county has come was in 2008, when values rose 9.8 percent before plunging during the recession.
This year, the average home valued at $149,000 would cost nearly $400 in county taxes alone -- an increase of $37 from last year.
Government bodies across the county will set tax rates in September.

From Watchdog: Commercial lawsuits blow back on Texas taxpayers

For our discussion of local government and taxes - who bears the burden of property taxes in the state?

- Click here for the article.
Lawsuits over commercial property appraisals are on the rise in Texas, and taxpayers are footing an ever-bigger legal bill.
In Austin, 413 lawsuits are pending against the Travis Central Appraisal District. Property owners are contesting $11.3 billion in values.
Of the nearly 4,000 cases tried in the past 12 years, commercial property owners won an overall 7.5 percent reduction in tax exposure.
In San Antonio, companies sued Bexar County over $19.4 billion in appraisal disputes last year, more than double the amount litigated in 2012. Thus far, lawsuits shaved the valuations to $17.5 billion.
The rising tide of lawsuits comes as large commercial entities contest double-digit increases in property values that produce correspondingly bigger tax bills.

From the Texas Tribune: Texas vs. the Feds — A Look at the Lawsuits

Add this to our look at federalism.

- Click here for the article.
Since President Obama took office in 2009, the state of Texas has sued his administration at least 42 times, according to a Texas Tribune analysis of state data — a point of pride for the state's Republican leaders.

Former Texas Attorney General and current Gov. Greg Abbott filed 31 of those lawsuits. His successor, Ken Paxton, has mounted 11 such legal challenges since taking office in 2015. Paxton's office has provided cost estimates for 39 of those cases, which as of mid-2016 totaled about $5.9 million.

So what did Texans get for their money? So far, there have been seven cases in the win column for the state, with 12 losses, nine cases withdrawn and 14 pending. (Scroll down to see details on each case.)

In the state's most recent win, a split U.S. Supreme Court decision struck down Obama's executive order that would have provided relief from deportation to millions of people. But the outcome of that case could change after a new justice is appointed. Texas' most recent loss came in June, when a district judge in Dallas dismissed a lawsuit over the resettlement of Syrian refugees here. When the ruling came out, Paxton said that his office was "considering our options moving forward."
Many high-profile cases are still making their way through the legal process, including lawsuits over new limits on smog, directives on bathroom use in public schools and climate change policy.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

From the DMN: Speaker Joe Straus, never a conservative favorite, faces fewer haters at Texas GOP convention

For our look at the Texas House.

- Click here for the article.
House Speaker Joe Straus took less heat. Some brickbats aimed at him sailed wide of the mark. He stuck to his script as an old-style fiscal conservative.
Then he got the heck out of Dallas — mostly unscathed.
The biennial gathering of the Republican Party of Texas has become a minefield for Straus.
Ironically, the San Antonio businessman hails from one of the modern GOP’s oldest families of activists.
In recent years, though, he has become a pariah among many staunch conservatives. Business-oriented and pragmatic, he’s a soft-spoken aberration as smash-mouth politics and culture war tactics hold sway in an increasingly dominant state GOP.
This past week, Straus absorbed a few hits as the party debated its platform and delegates re-elected state GOP chairman Tom Mechler, whom the speaker supported.
Former Harris County Republican chairman Jared Woodfill, Mechler’s unsuccessful challenger, blasted Straus in his campaign literature, accusing him of helping squelch legislation last year that would’ve hurt public employee unions and helping county clerks and justices of the peace resist same-sex marriage on religious grounds.

DNC Rules Committee Meeting

For 2306 today

- Major Ken Paxton donor paying $3.5 million settlement after Medicaid fraud probe.

A North Texas company whose president gave state Attorney General Ken Paxton $100,000 last year to fight his felony fraud indictments will pay $3.5 million after allegations it skimped on services to Medicaid and Medicare patients while over-billing the government.
A former employee who brought the original lawsuit against Preferred Imaging LLC, a medical diagnostic company headed by James H. Webb of Frisco, alleged the company was performing services that require the oversight of a supervising doctor without one on-site.
The story link to the part of the Texas Penal Code that cover bribery: click here for it.


- As the GOP Convention Begins, Ohio Is Purging Tens of Thousands of Democratic Voters.

Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted says more than 2 million voters have been purged since 2011. From 2011 to 2014, 846,000 were struck for infrequent voting and 480,000 for moving. “Of the 2 million purged, 1.2 million are questionable purges,” says State Representative Kathleen Clyde, a Democrat from Kent who has led opposition to the purge. “We shouldn’t be playing games with people’s voter registrations and fundamental right to vote. Instead we should be trying to get them to the polls.”
The purge works like this: If a voter misses an election, Ohio sends them a letter making sure their address is still current. If the voter doesn’t respond, Ohio puts them on an inactive list, and if the voter doesn’t vote in the next two elections they are removed from the rolls.

Wade Emmert: Abbott's police protection act is a well-intentioned slippery slope.

Gov. Greg Abbott is the latest state leader to propose extending hate crime protections to law enforcement officers in the wake of the recent police shootings. Louisiana did it earlier this year, and similar proposals are being considered in Massachusetts, Kentucky and Wisconsin.
The desire to provide greater protections to police officers is a perfectly understandable response to a seeming epidemic of violence against police. But we should objectively evaluate legislation crafted as a response to a horrible tragedy.
With the recent slayings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, there is no better time to reinforce the public bond between the men and women who put their lives at risk each day and the citizens they protect.
Nevertheless, however well-intentioned the proposal, designating these crimes as "hate crimes" does not actually provide police officers with any greater protection than current law.

- Judge Orders Voter ID Fix for Texas House Runoff.

Voters in Bexar County will be the first to cast their ballots under relaxed regulations after a federal appeals court ruled that Texas’ strict voter identification law discriminated against minority voters.
Signing off on a deal struck by Texas and opponents of its embattled law, a federal judge on Saturday gave voters new options for identifying themselves at the polls.
The order from U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos applies only to the special runoff election for Texas House District 120, which includes San Antonio's east side. But it could foreshadow broader efforts to redraw the 2011 Texas law — Senate Bill 14 — to comport with the Voting Rights Act.

- Texas budget still works despite economic turbulence, comptroller says.

The slumping energy industry is dampening Texas’ economy just as lawmakers face a new obligation to pour billions of dollars into transportation, the state comptroller told legislative leaders Monday.
But Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar didn’t sound an alarm in his presentation to the Legislative Budget Board, which is headed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.
The state still has a cushion of money that lawmakers left unspent when they last met in 2015, and it’s in a better position than a number of other energy states, Hegar said.
“The budget continues to work,” he said after his presentation. “If you look at us compared to others, we should be very thrilled we are not in a recession.

From the Monkey Cage: Can Bernie Sanders change how the Democratic Party chooses presidential nominees? Here’s what you need to know.

An account of the process the DNC went through to alter their rules of procedure.

- Click here for the article.
The Democratic National Convention’s rules committee convened Saturday to consider the report that it will present on the convention’s opening day in Philadelphia. The meeting was dominated by the controversial issues of the lengthy Democratic primary campaign: the role of superdelegates, the role of caucuses and, in general, how open the Democratic nomination process should be.
Here is what happened at the committee meeting:
After a series of uncontentious votes and a short recess, the committee began to consider amendments to the charter of the party and the rules of the nomination process. This began with amendments affecting the influence of superdelegates — including an amendment to abolish them and another to reduce their number. All of these amendments failed by a ratio of about 3 to 2.
At that point, committee members from both the Clinton and Sanders teams called for a recess. The ensuing three-hour break produced a unity amendment that created a post-convention commission to examine not only the superdelegate process but the other perceived shortcomings of the process. This “Unity Reform Commission” would be the successor to the Democratic Change Commission of eight years ago.
If the full convention approves the rules committee’s report on Monday, here is what will happen:
1 - No more than 60 days after the election of the next chair of the Democratic National Committee early next year, the chair will establish the Unity Reform Commission (URC).
2 - Its membership will include Clinton surrogate Jennifer O’Malley Dillon as commission chairwoman and Sanders proxy Larry Cohen as vice chair. Clinton will fill nine additional slots, and Sanders will fill seven. The next DNC chair will select three members.
3 - The URC will meet during 2017 with the goal of producing a set of rules recommendations for the Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee by Jan. 1, 2018.
4 - The normal procedure is for the Rules and Bylaws Committee to consider those recommendations before sending them — potentially in an amended form — to the full Democratic National Committee for a final vote. That procedure remains intact. However, the URC retains the ability to place its recommendations before the full DNC if the Rules and Bylaws Committee “fails to substantially adopt” any of them.

Monday, July 25, 2016

From Vox: Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigns as Democratic National Committee chair

For our look at the organization of political parties.

- Click here for the article.
On the eve of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz abruptly announced that she will resign her position after the convention as part of the fallout from emails leaked from the DNCon Friday night. Donna Brazile, the veteran Democratic operative and well-known television commentator, will serve as interim chair.
Wasserman Schultz says that she plans to "address our delegates about the stakes involved in this election not only for Democrats, but for all Americans," and then step aside. Just a few hours earlier the plan had been for Schultz, somewhat anomalously, to not speak at her own party’s convention. Now she is out from the DNC entirely, a key concession to Bernie Sanders and to his supporters and allies as Hillary Clinton tries to put a united Democratic Party behind her for the fall election.
Sanders called it the "right decision" in a statement.
As Vox’s Tim Lee noted, none of the emails contained a smoking gun demonstrating that the primary was rigged for Clinton — or even that DNC officials set in motion any of the plans to derail Sanders’s candidacy.
But the emails do strongly suggest that some DNC leaders personally regarded Sanders as an outside threat and that they wanted him to lose.

More on the 85th session

Within hours of the recent ambush killings of five Dallas police officers — and again 10 days later, when three Baton Rouge officers were killed — messages of respect and support for law enforcement coursed through the nation's social media, filled the airwaves and prompted countless press releases.
As politicians nationwide rushed to reiterate their support for police, Texas elected officials figured prominently in the calls for a greater societal embrace of officers and more protections for first responders who perform some of the toughest jobs.
"As Texans and Americans mourn the loss of our men and women in uniform, we must continue to remember that police officers put their lives on the line every day to ensure our safety and our freedoms," Abbott said in a statement a day after the July 7 Dallas shooting.
But while grateful for the rhetoric, law enforcement groups have seen some disconnect between the professions of support and the track record of Texas elected officials in listening to their concerns.
Most notable was the 2015 legislative session, when lawmakers — including Patrick and Abbott — enthusiastically approved the open carry of handguns by licensed Texans despite opposition by many of the state's law enforcement officials.
As the 2017 legislative session approaches, law enforcement groups say they'll be asking lawmakers to consider revising the open carry law, as well as looking at restoring funding for programs that help police do their jobs. They say they'll focus on bread and butter issues like funding officer training and maintaining retirement and death benefits.

In School Choice Fight, a Fresh Force Emerges.

An ambitious new player has emerged in the controversial effort to use taxpayer dollars to help Texas parents send their kids to private or religious schools.
Texans for Education Opportunity, whichlaunched in May, supports all forms of “school choice,” including charters and traditional public schools, said Executive Director Randan Steinhauser, an Austin-based school choice activist and public relations consultant who co-founded the nonprofit advocacy organization.
But she said the group’s main goal is to get Texas lawmakers to create “education savings accounts” — a program under which the state would dole out taxpayer money directly to parents via debit card to cover approved education-related expenses, like private school tuition, tutors or homeschooling materials. About a half-dozen other Republican-dominated states, including Florida and Arizona, have already created such programs, although most of them target specific student populations, including disabled and low-income students. (Nevada is an exception, offering assistance to all students.)

Literature provided by Texans for Education Opportunity, which appears to be the first statewide organization focused solely on school choice, suggests the state offer up to $7,800 for any student pursuing an alternative schooling route. That is about 90 percent of what the state provides on average to traditional school districts per student for annual maintenance and operations, the pamphlet says.

Cruz is in some hot water.

- After Cleveland Speech, Cruz Faces Isolation in Texas GOP.

After upending Donald Trump's Republican National Convention with his conspicuous non-endorsement of the presidential nominee, Cruz is confronting isolation and unease in his home-state GOP, which has largely been moving toward Trump even as he continues to withhold support.
"The isolation is increasingly rapid, and it seems to me only the most fervent Ted Cruz supporters are hanging on," said Carl Tepper, former president of the Texas Republican County Chairmen's Association and an at-large delegate from Lubbock.
More than 36 hours after Cruz left the stage in Cleveland amid thunderous boos, very few prominent Texas Republicans were rushing to his defense. In fact, more could be seen and heard bluntly voicing disagreement with the attitude Cruz took toward his party's presidential nominee.

"It was just painful. It was not what I would consider what we needed at a convention," state Sen. Charles Perry of Lubbock said in an interview Thursday on Lubbock radio.

- Trump Says He Plans to Launch Super PAC Against Ted Cruz.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump says he will probably create a super PAC with the aim of hobbling the political future of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
Trump, a mercurial businessman whose promises have often been subject to deep skepticism, confirmed the plan in an interview set to air Sunday on NBC. He was asked about a report Friday that said he wants to set up a super PAC, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, to go after Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, two former Republican primary opponents who have not endorsed him.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Analysis: The Long and Winding Road to the Texas Ethics Commission

A look at the convoluted appointment process for the Texas agency responsible for overseeing campaign finance, the regulation of lobbyists, and a number of other items.

- Click here for the article.
The Texas Ethics Commission is a dog that doesn’t bite.
It’s designed that way. 
It’s the regulatory agency in charge of politicians and legislators. You think those folks want to give it real teeth?
That said, it’s also a strange place when it comes to appointing commissioners.
Most executive branch agencies in Texas are overseen by elected officials or appointed boards and executives. The elected leaders are your own fault, assuming you’re a voter. The appointments are mostly made by the governor, with a handful assigned to the lieutenant governor or the speaker of the House.
The eight-member ethics panel, however, is unique.
The governor appoints four members, and the lite guv and the speaker appoint two each. But wait, there’s more. Each of them chooses from lists of potential appointees provided by legislators in the House and the Senate. Not done with the rules yet: Those lists are split by party.
In practice, that means the political caucuses in the House and Senate have the first cull when it comes to who serves on the state commission that regulates the political activities of candidates, officeholders and lobbyists.

The story links to anther which looks at the current backlog of appointees to executive agencies.

More than 300 Gubernatorial Appointees Have Expired Terms.

Is Donald Trump really a conservative?

For this week's 2305 written assignment.

It's a commonly asked question - especially by real conservatives. There are a variety of ways to approach the question, but one way is to ask whether the positions Trump outlined in his acceptance speech at the convention mirror those in the official party platform,

- Click here for the text of the speech.
- Click here for the platform.

For more:

- On The Issues: Donald Trump.
- The Atlantic: Donald Trump Is No Conservative.
- New York Magazine: Donald Trump Jr. and the Future of Conservative Populism.
- The National Review: Trump’s Speech Makes It Official: It’s Democrat v. Democrat in 2016.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

More on the agenda of the 85th Texas legislative session

I just typed "85th session" into Goggle's search engine, and here's what came up:

- TACC: On the Road to the 85th Legislative Session.
- Texas Smart on Crime Coalition Legislative Agenda for the 85th Legislative Session.
- Texas Higher Education Board: Preliminary LegislativeRecommendations to the85th Texas Legislature.- Texas Family Council: 85th Session Legislative Agenda.
- Texas Association of Counties: Preparing for the 85th Legislative Session.

From the Texas Tribune: Texas Voter ID Law Violates Voting Rights Act, Court Rules

We discussed this in a lecture class today. Nice to see it in the news.

- Click here for the article.

Texas’ voter identification law violates the U.S. law prohibiting racial discrimination in elections, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed previous rulings that the 2011 voter ID law — which stipulates the types of photo identification election officials can and cannot accept at the polls — does not comply with the Voting Rights Act.
The full court's ruling delivered the strongest blow yet to what is widely viewed as the nation’s strictest voter ID law. Under the law, most citizens (some, like people with disabilities, can be exempt) must show one of a handful of types of identification before their ballots can be counted: a state driver's license or ID card, a concealed handgun license, a U.S. passport, a military ID card, or a U.S citizenship certificate with a photo.
Texas’ losing streak continued in its efforts to defend its law, fighting challenges from the U.S. Department of Justice, minority groups and voting rights advocates.

- Click here for the decision.

For more:

Courthouse News Service: Fifth Circuit Strikes Down Controversial Texas Voter ID Law.
Ballotpedia: Voter identification laws by state.
NCSL: VOTER IDENTIFICATION REQUIREMENTS | VOTER ID LAWS.
Frontline: Why Voter ID Laws Aren't Really about Fraud.

From the Texas Tribune: Analysis: For Some Texas Republicans, Useful Distractions Back Home

More on the divisions between the state and national Republican parties.

- Click here for the article.

This year’s general election ballot doesn’t offer many shady spots to a Republican trying to escape the presidential campaign’s glare. But for those who want to stay out of that national conversation — the speaker of the Texas House, to name one — there are a handful of races at home that offer plausible excuses.
Joe Straus told the Texas delegates at the Republican convention in Cleveland that he’ll be busy this election cycle helping a half-dozen Republican incumbents who have real challenges in the general election.
It’s a dodge. A thin dodge.
There are only a handful of races up in the air in Texas, if by up in the air you mean “yeah, maybe.”
But Straus talked local in Cleveland when he was ducking reporters’ questions about whether he was endorsing Donald Trump. “I know there’s some tension over the presidential nomination, but not everything that happens at a nominating convention is about the top of the ticket," he said. “There are a whole lot of people here working where I am on down-ballot races.”
Straus did say he won’t be supporting Democrat Hillary Clinton, but didn’t say he would vote for Trump.
No matter how the presidential race goes in Texas, few of the candidates running down-ticket races have much to worry about. Officeholders left voters with district maps that take away voters' real choices over who serves in legislative or congressional office.

From the National Review: Trump leaves Texas Republicans morose and anxious.

Texas is not excited about their candidate, or what he might mean for the future of the party's coalition.

- Click here for the article.

“We are in trouble,” says Artemio “Temo” Muniz, chairman of the Texas chapter of the Federation of Hispanic Republicans. Muniz is the evidence for both sides of the immigration debate: He is the son of an illegal alien, a goat-herder from near San Luis Potosi and a beneficiary of the 1986 Reagan amnesty. He probably took a job or two that a native-born American might otherwise have taken, but he also created a lot of them, having started a mattress-manufacturing company that is now one of the largest home-furnishings businesses in the region, employing about 90 people. Muniz works for the family business and has just finished law school. When I ask about the lack of Hispanic participants in the convention, he says my observations are accurate. “The chairman says he wants a convention that looks like Texas, but we have a long way to go to get there.” (The Texas GOP leadership is not exactly covered up with Hispanic officers.) There are a number of problems facing Republicans looking to court Hispanic voters, starting with the fact that the target demographic is about 70 percent Mexican American while the Hispanic-outreach consultants are about 100 percent Cuban American. South Texas isn’t South Florida, but then South Florida isn’t South Florida anymore, either: Republicans lost the Cuban-American vote in the 2012 presidential race for the first time.

From the Washington Post: George Will: With Texas, a wall too high for the GOP?

A perennial topic - will Texas ever turn blue?

- Click here for the article.
Political conventions are echo chambers designed to generate feelings of invincibility, sending forth the party faithful with a spring in their steps and hope in their hearts. Who would want to be a wet blanket at such moveable feasts?
Steve Munisteri would. Although he calls himself “the eternal optimist,” he respects reality, which nowadays is not conducive to conservatives’ cheerfulness. He served as chairman of the Texas Republican Party from 2010 to 2015 because he discerned “a seismic shift in demographics” that meant his state could “turn Democratic sooner than most people thought.”
The fact that Republicans have won every Texas statewide office since 1994 — the longest such streak in the nation — gives them, he says, “a false sense of security.” In 2000, Republican candidates at the top of the ticket — in statewide races — averaged about 60 percent of the vote. By 2008, they averaged less than 53 percent. And Republican down-ballot winners averaged slightly over 51 percent.
Texas is not wide open spaces filled with cattle and cotton fields. Actually, it is 84.7 percent urban, making it the 15th most urban state. It has four of the nation’s 11 largest cities — Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Austin. Texas’ growth is in its cities, where Republicans are doing worst.
Dallas has gone from solidly Republican to solidly Democratic. A recent poll showed Harris County (Houston), which is 69 percent minority, with a majority identifying as Democrats. The San Antonio metropolitan area is about three-quarters minority. Travis County (Austin, seat of the state government, the flagship state university and a burgeoning tech economy attracting young people) voted 60.1 percent for Barack Obama in 2012.

Parties in Texas

For review
|
- Texas Democrats.
- Texas Parties.
- Texas Republicans.

The 2016 Republican Party Platform

- Click here for it.

Critics call it exceptionally extreme.

- LA Times.
- The New Republic.
- The New York Times.

Monday, July 18, 2016

For GOVT 2306's paper topic

I asked you to write about what might be on the agenda of next year's regular session of the Texas Legislature. Over the past few months I've posted a handful of stories related to the topic. You might want to review a few in order to get started.

- Click here for pasts tagged with 85th Session.

From the Houston Chronicle: In race to fill Sen. Rodney Ellis' seat, tenure a top issue

There's much background to cover with this story - we will hit it soon.

- Click here for the article.

Amid frantic wooing of Democratic precinct chairs, the unconventional sprint to succeed state Sen. Rodney Ellis is boiling down to an argument over tenure: Is it better to move a seasoned legislator to the Senate, or preserve House experience by sending a relative newcomer to the upper chamber?

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson argues the former, touting her 44 years in Austin, as former Houston City Controller Ron Green makes a case for the latter.

Ten-year state Rep. Borris Miles casts himself as the Goldilocks of the bunch, seeking to leverage his experience while asserting that Democrats would lose too much in the House by promoting Thompson.

Houston's Senate District 13 opened up nearly three weeks ago after local precinct chairs tapped Ellis to replace late Precinct 1 Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee, forcing the 26-year state senator to remove his name from the November ballot for his legislative seat.

The urban district's 95 precinct chairs - 78 from Harris County and 17 from Fort Bend County - are set to meet Saturday to choose the party's replacement nominee.
Ellis was unopposed, meaning Democrats' replacement candidate is all but guaranteed to take office in January.

2016 Texas Primary Election Results

For class discussion: Click here for the results from March.

- Click here for results from the Texas Secretary of States' office.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

From the Republican Partyof Texas: Texas Delegate Selection Process to Republican National Convention

These are the official rules.

- Click here for it.

From Politico: 'Never (Again) Trump' sets sights on 2020 - Grass-roots conservatives and party leadership are finding a common cause: Limiting Republican primaries to registered Republican voters.

This seems to call for a change to Texas' open primary rules.

- Click here for the article.

Conservatives, still reeling over the looming nomination of Donald Trump, are pushing new Republican primary rules that might have prevented the mogul’s victory in the first place: shutting out independents and Democrats from helping to pick the GOP nominee.
Trump romped in “open primaries” where non-Republicans voted by the thousands and may have influenced the outcome — especially in early states that set the tone of the entire race. Trump’s most successful rival, Ted Cruz, thrived in states with closed primaries where only Republicans were permitted to participate.
Now, Cruz’s allies — hundreds of supportive convention delegates that he helped elect — hope to use the national convention in Cleveland to shove states toward closing their open primaries. And if they’re successful, it will not only go a long way toward warding off a Trump-like candidacy, it will tilt the primary toward conservative candidates in 2020 and beyond.
The advocates are finding a sympathetic ear at the very top of the party. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has long supported closed primaries, but has never had a constituency to back him on it. "I believe that only Republicans should vote in Republican primaries," he said Friday at a Politico Playbook breakfast event, though he added that he respects the right of states to set their own primary rules.

The Empire Strikes Back!

A few items on the Texas Delegation to the Republican Convention


Every four years, prominent Texans show up in large numbers to the Republican National Convention.
But this year in Cleveland, with some Texas Republicans openly refusing to endorse their party's presumptive nominee, Donald Trump, the Texas footprint may be noticeably smaller.
To be sure, plenty of Texas Republicans plan on attending the convention, which starts Monday, including two recent presidential candidates — former Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who is expected to be one of the convention speakers.

Also planning to attend: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Attorney General Ken Paxton, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus and most of the U.S. House committee chairmen from Texas.

 WFAA: Texas delegates to lead rebellion at RNC to deny Trump nomination.

A rebellion is underway in the Bexar County Republican party, led by some San Antonio delegates headed to the Republican National Convention, who want to deny Donald Trump the GOP presidential nomination.
The anti-Trump, last-minute effort is considered a long shot by many since Trump has 1,542 delegates of the 1,237 needed to clinch the GOP nomination. Those delegates will be officially awarded to the billionaire businessman at the July 18-21 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.
Rogue GOP delegates, including Grant Moody of San Antonio, are calling for a rule change before the convention delegates start voting. They're asking the national party for a "conscience clause," that would free the delegates to vote for any Republican.
“There is a high duty and responsibility for the delegates,” Moody said. “My hope is we will choose a nominee who can beat Hillary Clinton in November because I don’t think he can.”
Moody said that he not only fears losing the White House to Democrats, but also control of the Senate. Additionally, he doesn’t believe Trump is fit to be president.

My Statesman: Herman: Who is sponsoring the Texas delegation at the GOP convention?

Welcome to the GOP convention’s Texas delegation, brought to you in part by folks who bring you cars (foreign and domestic), chemicals, cable TV, beer, dental insurance and a movie. Corporate sponsorship at political conventions is a tradition, yet another conduit for big-hearted corporations to show their appreciation for our hard-working party officials and their partying devotees.
This year, however, is a bit different. Not enamored with Donald Trump, some corporations that sponsored the 2012 GOP convention have opted out this year. And that comes amid increased need for cash because Congress in 2014 yanked the plug on what would have been about $19 million each party would have received for the 2016 conventions.
The Texas GOP delineated “various sponsorship opportunities” for its delegation. Such generosity knows no legal bounds.
“Please note that the Republican Party of Texas is able to accept unlimited corporate, PAC or personal funds for our national convention expenses,” would-be sponsors were assured.

TribTalk: Trump's in charge, but he shouldn't take it for granted.

Ted Cruz's suspension of his presidential campaign in early May changed the dynamics of the Texas GOP convention held in Dallas two weeks later. While the vast majority of delegates to the state convention remained Cruz supporters, there was a notable shift in attitude toward presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump.
When Cruz still remained in the race as an active candidate, Cruz forces in Texas were poised to make sure that all of the Texas delegates to the upcoming Republican national convention in Cleveland were Cruz loyalists, even though Trump was entitled to nearly one-third of the delegates under convention rules. While Trump delegates from Texas would have been obligated to vote for Trump on the first two ballots, they would be free to vote however they chose to on any disputes that arose at the national convention relating to the platform, rules or credentials. Had Cruz stayed in the race, the Texas delegates for Trump effectively would have been "Trump in name only."
That didn't happen. Once it became clear that Cruz no longer was actively running for president, the mood shifted at the Dallas GOP convention. The delegate selection process for the national convention followed a more typical pattern of picking statewide elected officials, party regulars and grassroots activists to represent the Texas GOP in Cleveland. While the majority of delegates remain Cruz supporters — and some of those delegates remain part of the "never Trump" movement — the vast majority of the delegates seem ready to move on from that fight and do what is necessary to defeat Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, in November.
That effort to unite the party was particularly helped by the convention speech of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who encouraged the delegates to get behind Trump. The Trump campaign also made a shrewd decision to bring Sen. Jeff Sessions from Alabama as a surrogate speaker. Sessions, who is very popular with Texas conservatives, gave a substantive speech that was well received by those delegates still in attendance on the last day of the convention.

From Reason: Remembering The Mann Act or, How Prostitution Killed The Constitution

A look at the gradual increase of federal power over the states' control of criminal law. It all boils down to the commerce clause.

- Click here for the article.

The Mann Act was the real beginning of the Bureau of Investigation (later, the F.B.I.), which then used Prohibition to extend its power. The bureau secured five thousand Mann Act convictions in the 1920s. Bureau chief J. Edgar Hoover personally led mass raids, and acquired information that compromised public officials. The act (like the income tax laws) was used to get gangsters who could not otherwise be convicted, and often targeted blacks who traveled with white women (most notably black heavyweight champion Jack Johnson), political dissidents, and other unpopular minorities.
The Mann Act showed how far the federal police power had been extended. Federal power “to regulate commerce among the states” had been extended to moral regulation, and might therefore be extended to any other kind of regulation. This went beyond the attempt to prohibit interstate shipment of things, as Attorney General Philander Knox put it, “noxious or dangerous in themselves,” which had heretofore been widely regarded as the limit of the police-power extension of the commerce power. In the Mann Act, there were neither things nor commercial activity involved. Chief Justice John Marshall provided a famous definition of what “commerce among the states” meant in 1824. Commerce, he said, “undoubtedly, is traffic, but it is something more: it is intercourse.” Only the most extravagant extension of this definition of commerce could reach cases...of consensual if illicit trysts. After the New Deal swept away the last vestiges of constitutional limitations on Congress’ powers, later legislators would not even bother to give pretexts to their attempts to regulate gun possession, domestic violence and, now, health care.

For more:

- Making a Federal Case out of a Death Investigation.
- The Expanding Federal Police Power.
- Regulating Intrastate Crime: How the FederalKidnapping Act Blurs the DistinctionBetween What Is Truly National andWhat Is Truly Local.

From Vox: Turkey’s coup, explained in under 500 words

Can a coup defend democracy?

- Click here for the article.

On Friday afternoon, an as-yet unidentified faction of the Turkish military launched a coup attempt aimed at toppling President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.
The coup leaders, claiming to speak for the entire Turkish Armed Forces, said they’d done so in the name of protecting democracy — despite the fact that Erdogan and his party were democratically elected.

"Turkish Armed Forces have completely taken over the administration of the country to reinstate constitutional order, human rights and freedom," the statement said.
This may sound crazy to American ears, but it makes at least a little sense in the Turkish context. The modern Turkish Republic was founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a former military officer deeply committed to a form of democratic nationalism and hardline secularism now called Kemalism.
The Turkish military sees itself as the guardian of Kemalism, and has overthrown four Turkish governments since 1960 in the name of protecting Turkey’s democracy from chaos and Islamic influence. Each time afterwards, the military has returned the country to democracy — though in a degraded form.
Erdogan is clearly a threat to Turkish democracy and secularism. He leads the AKP, a moderate Islamist party that has "reformed" Turkish schools along Islamist lines. He’s cracked down on Turkey’s freedom of the press and pushed constitutional changes that would consolidate dangerous amounts of power in the president’s hands.

For more on Kemalism, click on the wiki.

Video from Brookings: How to pick a Vice President in 2016

I'll post a few items on Mike Pence later.

- Click here for video on the selection process.

From Brookings: Federal Preschool Development Grants: Evaluation needed

An example of federal grants, as well as policy evaluation. Brookings is a think tank, so file this under interest groups as well

- Click here for the article.

In December 2014, then Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan announced that $226 million had been awarded to 18 states under the Preschool Development Grants (PDG) program. Duncan said that expanding access to high quality preschool programs was critically important, and that the states receiving funding would serve as a model for others. The goal for these programs is to close the “opportunity gap.” However, no part of the $226 million included an independent and objective evaluation of the variety of programs states implement or their short- or long-term effectiveness. This paper reports on the dangers of continuing to implement an elementary school-based program in terms of its likely longer term effects and advocates for a serious evaluation of this policy so that it does not have the same fate as others that have been tried.

A description of the grant from the U.S. Department of Education:

The Preschool Development Grants competition supports States to (1) build or enhance a preschool program infrastructure that would enable the delivery of high-quality preschool services to children, and (2) expand high-quality preschool programs in targeted communities that would serve as models for expanding preschool to all 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families. These grants would lay the groundwork to ensure that more States are ready to participate in the Preschool for All formula grant initiative proposed by the Administration.

Based on the information provided, I can't determine whether this qualifies as a categorical or block grant.

From Vox: Bernie Sanders is right the economy is rigged. He’s dead wrong about why.

The author thinks the problem is occupational licensing, which is primarily a function of the states.

- Click here for the article.
The first step on the path to wisdom is to give up on the idea that there’s any such thing as the economy, exactly. What we have instead is a dizzying array of interlocking markets that function (or don’t) to meet consumer demand for specific goods and services, and a vast body of law that defines these markets and regulates their operation.
The economy is the sum of this incomprehensibly complex ecosystem of human exchange, and is far too variegated and decentralized to "rig" all at once. So it gets rigged little by little, one market and one jurisdiction at a time.
The story of how the economy gets rigged is therefore a bunch of homely little stories of people with nice watches screwing over people with less-nice watches. But it’s not class war. It’s not the mega rich against the rest of us. It’s insiders seeking and then protecting special privileges that give them a leg up.
Dentists rig the system against dental hygienists by working to make it illegal for hygienists to clean teeth without totally unnecessary supervision by dentists. Taxi medallion oligopolists rig the system against regular folks with cars who would like turn a buck giving people rides. Beauty school cosmetologists rig the system against hair braiders and sidewalk hair-clipper artistes. "Massage therapists" rig the system against anybody with strong hands who might want to give back rubs for cash.
About 30 percent of all jobs in the United States today require some sort of occupational license, up from 5 percent in the early 1950s. This rather dramatic shift is evidence that the economy has indeed become increasingly rigged — which is really just another word for "regulated."

Click here for Texas' Occupations Code.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Videos from Brookings: How do conventions actually work?

Just in case you want to know.

- Click here for the videos.

From Marijuana.com: Congress OKs Medical Marijuana for Military Veterans

The times they are a-changin'

Hat tip to CJT.

- Click here for article.

The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives both took action to increase military veterans’ access to medical marijuana on Thursday.

By a vote of 89-8, senators approved a bill containing language preventing the Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) from spending money to enforce a current policy that prohibits its government doctors from filling out medical marijuana recommendation forms in states where the drug is legal.

The House
approved an amendment to accomplish the same goal by a vote of 233-189 earlier in the day.

“We are pleased that both the House and Senate have made it clear that the Veterans Administration should not punish doctors for recommending medical cannabis to their veteran patients,” Mike Liszewski, government affairs director for
Americans for Safe Access (ASA), told Marijuana.com. “Combat veterans are disproportionately affected by several conditions that medical cannabis can effectively treat, including chronic pain, PTSD and traumatic brain injury. We anticipate this amendment will reach the president, and once signed, it will give V.A. physicians another tool in their toolbox to treat the healthcare needs of America’s veterans.”

The provisions are now part of a larger bills to fund the V.A. and other government agencies through next year. The medical cannabis language was attached to the Senate legislation last month in
bipartisan vote of 20-10 in the Appropriations Committee, and did not require a separate vote on the floor.

From the Texas Tribune: Analysis: A Friend With a Check is a Friend Indeed

What is the difference between a contribution and a bribe?

- Click here for the article.

If it's legal to give money to a state officeholder without violating Texas bribery laws — as is apparently the case with gifts reported by Attorney General Ken Paxtonfor use in his legal defense — what keeps rich folks from sprinkling money on their favorite public officials?
It’s not really a question about the attorney general, even if he’s the one who raised the point for conversation. In his most recent personal financial disclosure — a report required of elected state officials — Paxton brought to light an idiosyncrasy in Texas ethics law.
“$100,000 gift for legal defense from family friend who meets independent relationship exception,” Paxton reported in an entry noting money received from James Webb of Frisco. That was the largest of two dozen such gifts totaling $329,050.
Paxton’s fundraising hasn’t raised any legal objections outside of the usual partisan noise. He’s the poster boy in this not because of the way he’s paying his lawyers but because he has lawyers to pay. Paxton is facing federal and state securities fraud charges related to his work as a private attorney and businessman and not to his state job.
Paxton is fighting indictments on allegations that he was steering people to investments without revealing he was being paid to do so. He also faces related federal civil fraud chargesfrom the Securities and Exchange Commission. He and his lawyers contend the charges are politically motivated and have no merit.

From the Texas Tribune: Ag Commissioner Takes on Weighty Issue

Regarding the regulation of intrastate commerce:

Plus a look at part of the plural executive.

- Click here or the article.
Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller is working on a roundup. Instead of cattle, he's eyeing wayward herds of retailers who may have neglected to register their scales with the state of Texas.
A year ago, the agency quietly launched "Operation Maverick," an attempt to corral errant businesses that weigh consumer goods. Everyone from pecan sellers to pawnbrokers and buffet operators to barbecue joints is supposed to register so state inspectors can ensure there's no tipping of the scales in the seller's favor.
"We're about protecting the Texas consumer," Miller said.

Most Texans know the state regularly checks gas pumps, but scales that measure salads, yogurt, candy, luggage or coffee beans are also regulated by the agency. Some 17,725 retailers, including grocery store chains, airlines, coffee houses, laundries and brisket purveyors, use scales to measure what they sell to the public.
Since June 2015, about 1,000 retailers have been notified they need to register their scales, which, depending on the industry and type of scale, can cost anywhere from $12 to $400. Business owners aren't being fined, just told how to get their scales registered. Once registered, their scale has a sticker issued by the agency.

From Vox: The controversial GMO labeling bill that just passed Congress, explained

The latest example of federal preemption.

- Click here for the article.
For months, Congress has been agonizing over what to do about labels for genetically modified foods. Various states have debated labeling for years. But the issue suddenly gained urgency on July 1, when Vermont became the first state in the country to require GMO labels in grocery stores.
Many food manufacturers despised Vermont’s law; they’ve been pulling their products from the state’s shelves and lobbying Congress to stop the law. Their big complaint was that if states enact their own GMO labeling laws, it would create an unworkable "patchwork" of local rules.

Now we're close to a resolution of sorts. On July 7, the Senate voted 63-30 to pass a bill that would preempt state laws like Vermont’s and replace them with a single national GMO labeling standard. On July 14, the House approved the bill by a 306 to 117 vote.
The new bill will require all food manufacturers to disclose any GM ingredients in their products. But there’s a twist: Companies can place a disclosure directly on the package. Or, if they think those labels too inflammatory, they can instead offer a digital QR code on the package that consumers would have to scan with their smartphones to get information on GM ingredients (something few people tend to do).
The bill now just needs to be signed by President Obama — and the White House has already signaled that he will do so.
Various industry groups are pleased with the Senate's bill — since it eliminates the messy patchwork — but others on both sides of this issue are displeased. Pro-labeling groups think the QR codes will be too easily ignored and say this will kill off opportunities for stricter labeling in the future. Opponents of labeling, meanwhile, argue that the whole issue is ridiculous, given the ample science showing that GM foods are just as safe to eat as regular foods.

From Vox: The convention coup attempt against Trump, explained

For our look at national parties, conventions, and the 2016 presidential election.

- Click here for the article.
Original story: It’s been a really tough few months for the GOP’s #NeverTrump movement. Donald Trump won a clear majority of delegates who are bound by party rules to back his nomination at the convention — seemingly ensuring that he’ll be the Republican presidential nominee. Game over, right?

Yet the most fervent anti-Trump campaigners have long held on to one slim reed of hope that there’s still a way to stop him. Namely, it’s theoretically possible for those convention delegates to vote to change the party’s rules and "unbind" themselves, so they can vote for whomever they want. And if they manage to do that, they could just ... well, nominate somebody else.
So in recent weeks, a small group of delegates and a slightly larger group of outside operatives and commentators have been publicly pushing for this to happen, under the slogan "Free the Delegates" (or, if you prefer, "Dump Trump").
They’ll make their case to their fellow delegates on Thursday and Friday of this week, when the convention’s rules committee meets in Cleveland.

Update (9:55 pm Eastern): As expected, the proposal to unbind the delegates was overwhelmingly defeated by the convention rules committee. And the Free the Delegates supporters also seem to have fallen short of the threshold they needed to force a vote on their proposal by the full convention. One of the last obstacles to Trump's nomination is now gone.

For more on the subject:

- Can Trump’s opponents manipulate the convention rules and defeat him? Here’s the problem.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

From the Texas Tribune: PAC Mobilizes to Defend Vaccine Exemptions in Texas

A look at elections, interest groups, and public policy making in Texas. A possible agenda items for the 85th Session next year.

- Click here for the article.

Texans For Vaccine Choice’s mission, according to Schlegel-Polvado, is to guard parents’ rights to opt out of vaccine requirements — whether that means targeting legislators who seek to close non-medical exemptions or pushing for policies that otherwise protect parents who choose not to vaccinate, like preventing physicians from excluding them from their practices.

In this year's primary elections, that meant going after state Rep.
Jason Villalba, the Dallas Republican who filed the bill.

“The animus that was leveled against me for that was very surprising to me,” said Villalba, who ultimately won his race. “These people, they literally said it to my face — they hate me. That was troubling. Because I get it, they care about their children — but I care about my children too, and the children of the community.”

When he filed the bill last session, Villalba, a father of three, said he expected it to be non-controversial. Like other lawmakers around the country who have pushed to re-examine vaccine laws — including in California and Vermont, which last year successfully limited provisions allowing non-medical exemptions — he was motivated by recent outbreaks of diseases like measles and whooping cough that
medical officials attributed to growing numbers of parents choosing not to vaccinate their children.

. . . Pediatricians — many of whom have watched with dismay as the number of parents choosing not to vaccinate their children has climbed — widely support the elimination of non-medical exemptions to immunization requirements.

"In my opinion, there are no good, valid reasons for deferring vaccinations or not vaccinating based on religion or philosophical objection," said Dr. Jason Terk, a pediatrician at Cook Children's Hospital in Keller. "It is my firm conclusion that vaccines and the benefit they provide to individuals and the rest of the public is well founded."

Terk said low immunization rates brought an undeniable risk of otherwise preventable deadly disease outbreaks.

"That is not a theoretical argument; that is something that we’ve seen occur in the parts of U.S. where the frequency of non-vaccination is significantly higher, and those locales are precisely the places where we’ve seen outbreaks," he said.

But for parents like Schlegel-Polvado, who have children they believe have been harmed by vaccines, any proposal to end exemptions is a battle call.

“You come after parental rights, we are going to fight back,” said Schlegel-Polvado, who discontinued vaccinating her younger two children after concluding that a childhood
DTaP immunization led to brain damage in her now-15-year-old daughter, Ashlyn.

During the 2015 legislative session, Villalba said he quickly became acquainted with the passion of the anti-vaccine movement’s supporters, many of whom believe the undue influence of pharmaceutical companies has led to an overabundance of immunization requirements that come at the expense of children’s health.

“This is a group that is very dedicated, very organized; this issue is very important to them,” he said.

From Mother Jones: 10 More States Sue Federal Government Over Transgender Bathroom Rules

Regarding federalism, specifically the use of federal funding to impact state policy:

- Click here for the article.

Ten more states sued the federal government Friday over a rule allowing transgender kids to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity—rather than the sex listed on their birth certificates—in public schools. They join a group of 13 other states already suing the Obama administration over the same mandate.

A May 13
directive from the Department of Education and the Department of Justice, which does not carry the force of law, said schools that forced transgender kids to use bathrooms matching their birth sex would be violating Title IX and could lose federal funding.
"The recent action by federal agencies to require showers, locker rooms, and bathrooms to be open to both sexes based solely on the student's choice, circumvents... established law," wrote Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson.

The lawsuit filed Friday is being brought by the states of Nebraska, Arkansas, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wyoming. They argue the Obama administration's directive was an overreach and a misinterpretation of Title IX.

"The recent action by these two federal agencies to require showers, locker rooms, and bathrooms to be open to both sexes based solely on the student's choice, circumvents this established law," Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson wrote in a
statement. "It also supersedes local school districts' authority to address student issues on an individualized, professional and private basis. When a federal agency takes such unilateral action in an attempt to change the meaning of established law, it leaves state and local authorities with no other option than to pursue legal clarity in federal court in order to enforce the rule of law."

On May 25,
another lawsuit was filed against the federal government over the same directive by the states of Texas, Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Utah, and Georgia; the governor of Maine; the Arizona Department of Education; and school districts in Texas and Arizona. Kentucky and Mississippi later signed on to that lawsuit.