Monday, September 26, 2016

A Conversation with Joe Straus, Speaker of the Texas House of Representa...

From the Texas Tribune: Analysis: A Game of Chicken Between Texas, Its Biggest School District

More on the purpose of the proposition that will be offered to HISD voters related to capture - and some useful commentary on the problems posed by confusing ballot language.

- Click here for the article.

Voters in Texas’ biggest school district in Texas might do what the nine Republicans on the state’s Supreme Court wouldn’t do: Force the Legislature to overhaul the way it pays for public education.
Such a move would require some daring. Voters in the Houston Independent School District will have a choice in November to approve spending $165 million raised locally from school property taxes on other, poorer school districts in the state.
The ballot language is opaque, and a pretty good argument for improving the writing skills of the people in charge of state and local governments: “Authorizing the board of trustees of Houston Independent School District to purchase attendance credits from the state with local tax revenues.”
The actual choice presented by that ballot measure? Vote “for” spending $165 million of the district’s money in other districts, or vote “against” spending that money and risk taking $18 billion of the district’s commercial properties from the tax rolls and assigning them to the tax rolls of another district.
A “No” vote in November — urged by many of the HISD’s trustees, the city’s mayor, and others — would spark some political drama.
About one Texas school district in four spends some of its locally raised money to help educate students in districts that can’t raise enough money from their own tax bases. It’s called recapture by the policy wonks, but because it takes from “property rich” districts and gives to “property poor” districts, it’s more commonly called the Robin Hood system.
When a district’s voters refuse to go along — something that hasn’t happened — the Texas Education Agency is required to move part of that district’s property tax base to another, poorer district.
The agency obviously doesn’t move the real estate, but it would assign some of one district’s biggest commercial property taxpayers to pay taxes in another district. The law gives a preference to closer districts.
In HISD’s case, a “no” vote would mean taking an estimated $18 billion in property from that district’s rolls. The TEA would start with the most valuable properties and work its way down until it has taken away enough property to cover the $165 million or so that HISD owes under the Robin Hood system.

From Brazoria County: County Offices up for Election in 2016

For 2306's look at both county governments and the upcoming election.

- Click here for it.

To get an idea of what was on the ballot in 2014, click here for the election results.

From the Texas Tribune: Analysis: "Smitty," a Texas Lobbyist for the Small Fry, Retiring After 31 Years

While John Boehner begins his lobbying career in DC, another ends his in Austin.

As you'll see below, Smith advocated for issues that tend to cut against the grain of Texas' political culture. It's worth noting that the organization he headed was originally set up by Ralph Nader - not a Texan. The Wikipedia on Smith - see the link below - Mentions that he serves on the boards of the following advocacy groups: Clean Water Action, the Texas Wind Power Coalition, Texans for Public Justice, and Campaigns for People. All pro-regulation.

- Click here for the article.

In the early 90s — the heyday of consumer rights legislation and regulation in Texas — Robert Cullick, then a reporter at the Houston Chronicle, gave Tom “Smitty” Smith of Public Citizen Texas an unofficial title: Everybody’s Third Paragraph.
Smith, 66, announced his retirement Tuesday from his official post after 31 years, ending a long run of organizing and lobbying on behalf of consumers and citizens on a range of issues like utilities, insurance and political ethics. He was often the voice of the opposition in legislative fights and in the media, which earned him that reporter's epithet.
He’s from that part of the Austin lobby that doesn’t wear fancy suits, doesn’t drive the latest luxury cars and doesn’t spend its time fawning over and feeding elected officials. Smitty has a beard, an omnipresent straw hat and, often, a colorful sheaf of flyers making his points on whatever cause he’s pushing at the time.

Smitty has been a leading voice for government intervention and regulation of big industries and interests in the capital of a state with conservative, business-friendly politicians from both parties who pride themselves on light regulation, low taxes and a Wild West approach to money in politics.
. . . His causes over the years have included food security, decommissioning costs of the nuclear reactors owned by various Texas utilities, insurance regulations, ethics and campaign finance laws. He’s lobbied on environmental issues and product safety.
He counts the ethics reforms of 1991 as one of his big wins. As unregulated as Texas political ethics and campaign finance might seem today, things were a lot looser before reformers used a flurry of scandals and attendant media coverage to force changes. Smith is proud of a medical bill of rights that gave consumers some leverage with their doctors and their health insurers.
Public Citizen was a key player in the creation of the State Office of Administrative Hearings, which took administrative courts out of several regulatory agencies and put them in a central office, farther from the reach of regulated industries and elected officials. Smith now points to the Texas Railroad Commission, which still has its own administrative hearings, as an example of a too-close relationship between regulators, the companies they regulate and the judges supposed to referee their differences.

For more:

- Tribpedia: Tom "Smitty" Smith.
- Wikipedia: Public Citizen Texas.
- Public Citizen: Tom "Smitty" Smith.
State Office of Administrative Hearings.- Sunset Review: State Office of Administrative Hearings.
- Government Code: State Office of Administrative Hearings.
- Texas Ethics Commission.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

From the New York Times: Former House Speaker John Boehner Joins Washington Law Firm

For our look at lobbying and the revolving door.

- Click here for the article.

John A. Boehner, the former speaker of the House who left Congress and his leadership post last year, is joining Squire Patton Boggs, a Washington-based law firm long known for its lobbying work.
However, Mr. Boehner, who served as speaker for four years and as a Republican representative from Ohio for 24 years, will not lobby in his new role at the law firm. Instead, he will serve “as a strategic adviser to clients” in the United States and abroad on global business development, according to the firm’s announcement.
“I left the private sector and got into public service decades ago because I wanted to help remove government barriers to economic growth and job creation, and that’s still the mission that drives me,” Mr. Boehner said in a statement on Tuesday.
This month, Mr. Boehner, a cigarette smoker, was appointed to the board of the tobacco giant Reynolds American, which is currently fending off more regulation of the industry, including regulation of e-cigarettes. He is to serve on the board’s committee for corporate governance, nominating and sustainability.
He has kept a relatively low profile since stepping down from the Republican leadership in September 2015, drawing occasional attention, as when he described Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, as “Lucifer in the flesh.”
In April, Mr. Boehner made a surprise video appearance with President Obama — with whom he had scorching political battles, including a lawsuit House Republicans filed accusing the president of abuse of his official powers — in a humorous vignette for the annual dinner of the White House Correspondents’ Association.
In it, Mr. Boehner offered a cigarette to President Obama, who once smoked but says he gave it up; he stuck to that stance in the video.
In his new law firm role, Mr. Boehner will not be working with political adversaries but with a cadre of his former staff members. They include two longtime aides, John Criscuolo and Amy Lozupone, who will join the firm, forming a team that also includes the former speaker’s deputy chief of staff, Dave Schnittger, and former policy adviser, Natasha Hammond.

An opinion piece from the Houston Chronicle: Robbing HISD - Voters should say 'no' to putting district under the Robin Hood recapture plan.

For 2306 mostly - this touched on single purpose governments, education policy, and referendum elections.

- Click here for it.

Voters will face a test on Election Day, and whether they answer correctly will determine the future of the Houston Independent School District. It should be a simple question, but it's written in the obtuse vernacular of lawmakers who really don't want voters to understand it.
The ballot provision will ask voters to authorize the board of trustees of HISD to purchase attendance credits from the state with local tax revenue. That sounds like a good, progressive measure, but be warned - it is a trick question.

The ballot is really asking whether HISD should submit itself to state recapture and send $162  million in local property tax dollars to Austin. The correct answer is "NO."
If this misleading ballot provision passes, HISD will not only be required to send $162 million in local property tax dollars to the state next year. The district will also likely face higher annual payments for the foreseeable future under the state's broken school finance system.
The mandate comes about because rising property values have made HISD subject to "Robin Hood" provisions under the Texas Education Code. All those skyscrapers and rapidly appreciating homes have apparently pushed HISD over the top.
As Texas schools are financed through property taxes, the recapture provisions (what we know as Robin Hood) were supposed to provide a way to equalize school funding across the state - for poor and wealthy schools alike.
In May, the Texas Supreme Court held that this system of school finance is marginally constitutional. Consider that assessment a D-minus grade. The fact of the matter is that the state's school funding formula fails to accomplish its intended goals of helping poor school districts.
Technically these recaptured funds are supposed to help schools that need the resources. If the provision worked like a true Robin Hood, it would "rob" from the rich and "give" to the poor. But in reality, the system robs from the poor and gives to legislators so that they don't have to raise state taxes. There's no guarantee that poor schools will receive a single extra dime if HISD pays up.
How does this work? Simply put, the state keeps two bank accounts: one for general revenue and one for the recaptured Robin Hood sums. Every dollar that the state pays from Robin Hood frees up general revenue money that the state otherwise would have to spend to help poor schools. So instead of giving extra money to needy districts, any HISD money will essentially be spent on highways, border security or some other appropriation besides education.
If this passes, then HISD is projected to send more than $1 billion of our local property taxes to the state over the next four years. Not only does that hurt HISD, but it looks an awful lot like a state property tax - which is prohibited in the Texas Constitution.
Houston's economy is strong and diverse, but to maintain that edge Houston needs well-educated students. If HISD has to pay recapture, it will face a $95 million budget deficit in the next budget cycle.
In an ironic twist, that budget deficit will end up hurting the very students that Robin Hood is supposed to help. More than 75 percent of HISD students are disadvantaged. It is a sign of our bizarre and busted school finance system that the district with the largest number of poor families will have to give away critically needed resources.
Voters can block this preposterous outcome. By voting no, Houstonians will keep their money and instead authorize the commissioner of education to detach $18 billion worth of commercial property from HISD and assign it to other school districts. This has never happened before, and such a radical move would give the Legislature an opportunity to rectify the situation.
A "no" vote won't end the problem. However, it will give the Legislature the entire 2017 session to fix school finance in Texas and keep local taxpayer dollars in our HISD schools.
It is a tricky question, but the answer is simple. Vote "No" on attendance credits.

From the Houston Chronicle: Precinct 4's evidence destruction scandal part of larger pattern in constables' offices

For 2306, and our coverage of county offices.

- Click here for the article.

With Harris County's Precinct 4 Constable's Office mired in scandal over the improper destruction of 21,000 pieces of evidence, serious evidence cataloging and control problems also have been uncovered in the constables' offices in Precincts 3,6 and 7, according to interviews and audits obtained by the Houston Chronicle.
While there is no proof yet that evidence has been unlawfully destroyed in those other three offices, 2,000 items were initially reported missing in Precinct 3; guns, jewelry, electronics and cash were misplaced in Precinct 6; and Precinct 7's evidence room has been described as "a shambles."
In Precinct 4, where the evidence destruction scandal is still unfolding, prosecutors so far have dismissed 100 criminal cases and are still determining how many convictions could be affected by years of careless work blamed on a corporal fired for illegally disposing of drugs, guns and evidence. The episode remains the subject of a criminal probe.
Only time will tell whether chaotic evidence handling practices reported in Precincts 3,6 and 7 will result in case dismissals, appeals or further investigations.
Harris County auditors in May 2015 uncovered evidence problems - never made public - in a review of the overstuffed property room inside the Precinct  6 Constable's Office in the East End. There, auditors reported finding 28 percent of the evidence missing along with $54,000 in cash in a review of a sample of 799 items, the audit shows. Their visit to the office came only months after the previous constable, Victor Treviño, resigned after pleading guilty to misappropriating money from a charity he ran out of his office.

From the New York Times: Will the Left Survive the Millennials?

An opinion piece.

For our look at ideology, free speech, and public opinion.

- Click here for the article.

When I was growing up in the ’60s and early ’70s, conservatives were the enforcers of conformity. It was the right that was suspicious, sniffing out Communists and scrutinizing public figures for signs of sedition.
Now the role of oppressor has passed to the left. In Australia, where I spoke, Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act makes it unlawful to do or say anything likely to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate,” providing alarming latitude in the restriction of free speech. It is Australia’s conservatives arguing for the amendment of this law.
As a lifelong Democratic voter, I’m dismayed by the radical left’s ever-growing list of dos and don’ts — by its impulse to control, to instill self-censorship as well as to promote real censorship, and to deploy sensitivity as an excuse to be brutally insensitive to any perceived enemy. There are many people who see these frenzies about cultural appropriation, trigger warnings, micro-aggressions and safe spaces as overtly crazy. The shrill tyranny of the left helps to push them toward Donald Trump.
Ironically, only fellow liberals will be cowed by terror of being branded a racist (a pejorative lobbed at me in recent days — one that, however groundless, tends to stick). But there’s still such a thing as a real bigot, and a real misogynist. In obsessing over micro-aggressions like the sin of uttering the commonplace Americanism “you guys” to mean “you all,” activists persecute fellow travelers who already care about equal rights.
Moreover, people who would hamper free speech always assume that they’re designing a world in which only their enemies will have to shut up. But free speech is fragile. Left-wing activists are just as dependent on permission to speak their minds as their detractors.
In an era of weaponized sensitivity, participation in public discourse is growing so perilous, so fraught with the danger of being caught out for using the wrong word or failing to uphold the latest orthodoxy in relation to disability, sexual orientation, economic class, race or ethnicity, that many are apt to bow out. Perhaps intimidating their elders into silence is the intention of the identity-politics cabal — and maybe my generation should retreat to our living rooms and let the young people tear one another apart over who seemed to imply that Asians are good at math.

From the Pew Research Center: 5 facts about illegal immigration in the U.S.

For fact checking:

- Click here for the article.




1 - There were 11.1 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. in 2014, a total unchanged from 2009 and accounting for 3.5% of the nation’s population 
2 - Mexicans made up 52% of all unauthorized immigrants in 2014, though their numbers had been declining in recent years.

3 - The number of unauthorized immigrants from nations other than Mexico grew by 325,000 since 2009, to an estimated 5.3 million in 2014.
4 - Six states accounted for 59% of unauthorized immigrants in 2014: California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Illinois. But some state populations had changed since 2009, despite the stable trend at the national level.
5 - A rising share of unauthorized immigrants have lived in the U.S. for at least a decade.


From the Pew Research Center: Biggest share of whites in U.S. are Boomers, but for minority groups it’s Millennials or younger

A change is a gonna come:

- Click here for the article.

Most common age in U.S., by race and ethnicity



There were more 24-year-olds in the U.S. than people of any other age in 2015. But for white Americans, 55 was the most common age, according to Census Bureau data.
 
In the histogram above, which shows the total number of individuals of each age last year, non-Hispanic whites tend to skew toward the older end of the spectrum (more to the right), while minority groups skew younger (more to the left).

Saturday, September 24, 2016

From the Texas Tribune: Texas Appeals Voter ID Rulings to U.S. Supreme Court

For our look at federalism, as well as voting rights.

- Click here for the article.

Texas wants to take its voter identification battle to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Texas Attorney General
Ken Paxton on Friday asked the justices to hear his arguments about why the state’s photo ID requirements for voting do not discriminate against Hispanics and African-American voters.

“Safeguarding the integrity of our elections is essential to preserving our democracy,” the Republican said in a statement. "Texas enacted a common-sense voter ID law and I am confident that the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately reinstate it.”

Texas officials say the voter ID law bolsters the integrity of elections by preventing voter fraud, which Gov.
Greg Abbott has called "rampant." But the U.S. Department of Justice and other plaintiffs — backed by court rulings — have pointed out that in-person voter fraud is incredibly rare.

In July, U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals
affirmed lower court rulings that the 2011 law, considered the nation’s strictest, violates the federal Voting Rights Act. In a 9-6 ruling, the conservative court agreed that narrowly tailored requirements disproportionately affected minority voters — those who were less likely to hold one of seven types of photo ID. Those include: a state driver's license or ID card, a concealed handgun license, a U.S. passport, a military ID card, a U.S citizenship certificate or an election identification certificate.

Experts have testified that more than 600,000 Texans lack such identification, though not all of them have necessarily tried to vote.

Paxton is appealing to a Supreme Court that still has just eight members, following the February death of Justice Antonin Scalia. If the justices agree to hear the case — and if they do so without a replacement for Scalia — Paxton would need five votes to overturn the appeals court ruling. A 4-4 split would allow it to stand.

Friday, September 23, 2016

From the NYT: Obama Vetoes Saudi 9/11 Bill, but Congressional Override Is Expected

As expected.

- Click here for the article.

President Obama vetoed legislation on Friday that would allow families of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to sue the government of Saudi Arabia for any role in the plot, setting up an extraordinary confrontation with a Congress that unanimously backed the bill and has vowed to uphold it.
Mr. Obama’s long-anticipated veto of the measure, known as the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, is the 12th of his presidency. But unless those who oppose the bill can persuade lawmakers to drop their support by next week, it will lead to the first congressional override of a veto during Mr. Obama’s presidency — a familiar experience for presidents in the waning months of their terms.
In his veto message to Congress, Mr. Obama said the legislation “undermines core U.S. interests,” upending the normal means by which the government singles out foreign nations as state sponsors of terrorism and opening American officials and military personnel to legal jeopardy. It would put United States assets at risk of seizure by private litigants overseas and “create complications” in diplomatic relations with other countries, he added.
“I have deep sympathy for the families of the victims of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, who have suffered grievously,” Mr. Obama wrote. But enacting the measure “would neither protect Americans from terrorist attacks nor improve the effectiveness of our response to such attacks.”
Mr. Obama issued the veto behind closed doors on Friday without fanfare, reluctant to call attention to a debate that has pitted him against the families of terrorism victims. Not long before he did so, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, who had previously backed the measure, confirmed that if she were in the Oval Office, she would sign it.
The leaders of both chambers, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, have said they expect the override vote to be successful, which requires a two-thirds majority.

From Jurist: 'Sister Wives' family appeals polygamy ruling to Supreme Court

From the cutting edge of equal protection.

Polygamist got a boost when the Supreme Court ruled that the "fundamental" right of marriage could not be denied to same sex couples under equal protection clause. If sexual orientation is protected, might polygamy?

If the Supreme Court accepts the case we will find out. The question is whether a compelling public purpose is served by the limit.

- Click here for the article.
A polygamous family on TLC's "Sister Wives" [media website] reality TV show filed a request [cert. petition, PDF] on Monday with the US Supreme Court in an attempt to legalize polygamy. Kody Brown and his four wives filed the appeal after the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit [official website] threw out a constitutional challenge [opinion, PDF; JURISTreport] to Utah's anti-bigamy laws [text]. They specifically want the Supreme Court to review a lower court decision upholding part of Utah's polygamy law banning cohabitation with other partners even when the man is only legally married to one woman.
In 2014 a judge for the US District Court for the District of Utah [official website] refused to dismiss the case as moot and proceeded to the merits, striking down [JURIST report] portions of Utah's anti-bigamy statute. While polygamy is recognized in most of Africa and the Middle East, it is illegal in most of North and South America, Europe and China. In 2005 the US District Court for the District of Utah rejected a similar lawsuit[JURIST report] brought against Utah's Anti-Bigamy Statute, reaffirming the 1879 US Supreme Court case Reynolds v. United States [opinion, text], which upheld a conviction under an anti-polygamy law as constitutional.

Lots of links to follow above.

- Click here for the 10th Circuit Court's refusal to rehear the case - which is why they are taking it to the Supreme Court.

The Catholic News Agency doesn't think the Supreme Court will approve polygamy - assuming they even take the case.

- Click here for that.

Robin Williams? Another rant of the day

My rant is that Professor Jeffries looks too much like Robin Williams. Of course, this is
debatable that he even looks like him, but it really, really bothers me walking into class every other day of the week and then get a small glimpse of Jefferies walking in through the door and I get this tiny little glimmer of hope that it actually is him and that he didn’t commit suicide two years ago but no, it’s just false hope when I realize it’s merely my Texas Government professor. And not only that, but because of the alikeness the two have, I end up mourning Robin Williams even more and I feel like binge watching all of his films from Good Will Hunting to Dead Poet’s Society to Aladdin or maybe even Mrs. Doubtfire for the heck of it on my phone but nooooOOOOOooooo I need to pay attention in class and act like everything is okay even if Jefferies isn’t jumping on the desks like Williams did in Dead Poet’s Society. The amount of sadness that I have walking in the class knowing that I have a doppelganger teaching me Texas Government instead of being a really cool and charismatic genie pulls at my heartstrings so much I feel like they are going to burst at any given moment. So yes, this concludes my rant.

Rant of the day

I agree completely.

It doesn't take much to cause a traffic jam.

I will be ranting about people who drive slow in the passing lane. I lived in Germany for 2 years, over there it is ingrained into society that the left lane is the passing lane, notoriously known as the "fast lane". Every single person abides by this, it is efficient, and it allows traffic to flow smoothly. Granted, I understand that sometimes traffic cannot be reduced, simply because of traffic accidents or construction. However, what I can not seem to understand is how someone can continue to sit in the left lane, next to another car, and reduce the movement of those drivers behind that person. What blows my mind even more is even in the places where signs are posted saying "left lane for passing only", these drivers are still coasting in that lane. On top of that in Texas it is illegal to sit there in the left lane and impede the flow of traffic. If you free up that left lane, and allow cars to flow, then traffic moves efficiently. I dont know if it is old age, ignorance, or lack of situational awareness, but it really grinds my gears. This is especially applicable when traveling long distances in the car. When I would drive from Kentucky to Texas it would never fail, there would always be a vehicle just coasting in the fast lane. Preventing everyone from freely passing and putting their car on cruise control. We need to be more like Germany as far as the left lane, and also maybe add in an autobahn.

Things not to do downtown.


Thursday, September 22, 2016

From the Christian Science Monitor: Prayer and politics in Congress - How prayer meetings on Capitol Hill inspire fellowship and foster bipartisan lawmaking, though some argue it is too much religion under the rotunda.

Does this violate the establishment clause?

Or does it help create unity?

- Click here for the article.

Prayer has always been a presence on Capitol Hill. In the 19th century, religious services were actually held in the House chamber because it was the biggest space in a town still under construction and lacking public buildings.

“The House was used for church services, but it wasn’t a church,” says Donald Ritchie, former Senate historian. “It was used for funerals, but it wasn’t a funeral parlor. It was a space that was available.”
Those practices ended in the 1840s, when enough churches had been built to accommodate lawmakers and their families. What still survives from the First Congress of 1789 to this day – and which many secularists object to – are two chaplains, one for the House and one for the Senate, underwritten by US taxpayers. The chaplains, or a guest, offer a prayer at the opening of each day that Congress is in session, and they minister to the members, their staffs, and their families.
When he was the Senate historian, Mr. Ritchie says he often had to answer queries from outraged citizens and visitors who viewed the chaplaincy and opening prayers as a violation of the separation of church and state. But Article 1 of the Constitution allows the chambers to “chuse” their officers, and the chaplains have always been officers, the historian says. As the current Senate chaplain, Barry Black, notes on his web page, the chamber honors the separation of church and state, “but not the separation of God and State.”
The Supreme Court agrees. In 1983, it held that a chaplaincy and opening prayers in legislatures do not violate the Constitution (Marsh v. Chambers). In 2014, it upheld opening prayers at municipal meetings, so long as the practice is not discriminatory. That ruling could soon get a test. Dan Barker, an atheist who founded the Freedom From Religion Foundation, is suing the House chaplain and speaker for barring him from offering a secular invocation in Congress. The group also objects to the prayer breakfasts, which are organized by the lawmakers.

From Vox: A conservative intellectual explains why the GOP has fallen to Donald Trump

More evidence of the impact Trump is having on the Republican Party.

- Click here for the article.

Samuel Goldman is one of America’s most thoughtful conservatives. A professor of political theory at George Washington University and the executive director of its Loeb Institute for Religious Freedom, he spends his days pondering the ideas that define American politics.
Recently, Goldman has come to an uncomfortable conclusion: The conservative movement has failed. Its traditional package of ideas — free market economics, social conservatism, and an interventionist foreign policy — has long dominated the Republican Party but has clearly failed to win over enough actual voters to secure the White House.
“The great message of Trump is that there really are not that many movement conservatives,” Goldman told me during a sit-down near his office. “Since conservative politicians and policies have stopped delivering peace and prosperity, I think it’s more or less inevitable that voters have become dissatisfied.”
Moreover, he argued, the GOP and conservative movement has embraced a vision of America — Sarah Palin’s “Real America,” more or less — that can’t appeal to anybody but white Christians. A (somewhat controversial) census projection suggests that the US will be a majority minority country in the next 30 years — an unfriendly environment, to say the least, for the GOP.
“If you project yourself as a white Christian provincial party, you're not going to get very many votes among people who are none of those things,” Goldman says. “That's what's happened over the last 10 or 15 years.”

The 1866 Texas Black Codes

For our look at civil rights.

- Click here for them.

For more: TSHA - Black Codes

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

From the Christian Science Monitor: Politics is crippling the US economy, Harvard study says - According to an annual competitiveness survey, dysfunction within federal government is the single biggest barrier to economic progress in the United States.

Dysfunction has a real, tangible cost.

- Click here for the article.

Despite somewhat encouraging news this week that the middle and lower-wage workers appeared to see relief in 2015 as the US median household income finally rose, most Americans are much worse off than they were two decades ago.
This is not the product of the natural dips and bumps that typically punctuate our economy. According to a study released Thursday by Harvard Business School, the biggest threat to US competitiveness is our crippled political system and the “unrealistic and ineffective national discourse on the reality of the challenges facing the U.S. economy,” study authors reported.
“A lot of people think that what’s going in is we had a bad recession and that we’re just recovering,” Michael Porter, a study author and co-chair of Harvard’s Competitiveness Project, which conducts an annual survey of US business leaders, tells CNBC. “What we find is that all the major data points that started moving in the wrong direction started in the late 90s and 2000s.”
These data points plot a picture that doesn’t bode well for small businesses and average American workers, whose pay and job opportunities are declining as they’re competing with workers around the globe.
"We used to have the most skilled workers in world; now we don’t,” Dr. Porter says.

From the Washington Monthly: Which Federal Programs Best Reduce Poverty? As many as 1 in 5 Americans would be in poverty without Social Security and tax credits for the working poor.

A few rants went off on welfare programs. I stumbled on the following article that attempts to measure their effectiveness.

They focus on an alternative measure of poverty, and what it would be if one of nine different federal poverty programs did not exist. The one that is generally called "welfare" is FANF - Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

- Click here for it.

poverty-rates2

Rant of the day

You know what really grinds my gears? What really boils my britches? What really un-butters my biscuit? Reality TV shows on channels they don’t belong on, like why should I care about some veterinarians office on Animal Planet, who watches Animal Planet for people? And all these gimmicky cooking competitions on the Food Network, sorry Guy Fieri but I couldn’t care less about your dumb grocery show. But by far the worst offender is the History Channel, Pawn Stars? Really? That’s the best you could come up with? Random people bringing in mildly interesting trivia pieces to haggle? And while we’re on the History Channel let’s talk about Ancient Aliens. I mean seriously how could a channel literally dedicated to history have such a hilariously inaccurate show as one of their main series. When did it become popular to over complicate such simple things? It’s so easy for these channels, Food network; show how to make food, History Channel; show history, Animal Planet; literally just show animals, like that’s it, that’s all you need to do. Now I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a variety of shows on these channels, I love shows like Chopped and what not, but when literally all your shows feature some gimmick or some goofy cast of characters, like what are you doing, why try to reinvent the wheel. Anyways that’s all I’m capable of typing without having a mild brain aneurysm. Now I’m off to sit and think about how far humanity has fallen to have Ancient Aliens on cable TV, or any form of broadcast media for that matter.

From the NYT: Bombing Case Points to Gaps in Trump’s and Clinton’s Antiterrorism Plans

- Click here for the article.

There is nothing in Donald J. Trump’s or Hillary Clinton’s antiterrorism plans that would have had much chance of stopping the bombings in New York and New Jersey that Ahmad Khan Rahami is accused of carrying out.
The subject of how to prevent terrorism will almost certainly be a major topic on Monday night, when the two presidential candidates face off in their first debate. But the truth is that cases like Mr. Rahami’s fit neatly into no categories.
And his journey from childhood immigrant to naturalized citizen to accused terrorist shows that the debate now underway on the campaign trail is too simplistic. It fails to address the hardest and most common cause of radicalization in the United States, when personal demons morph into ideologically driven violence.
Mr. Rahami came to the United States from Afghanistan as a 7-year-old, and later became a citizen. Mr. Trump’s insistence in recent days that he has no problem with ethnic profiling might have led to tougher interrogations of Mr. Rahami when he traveled to Quetta, Pakistan, the center of Taliban power, and returned, or when he came back from there with a Pakistani wife.
The strongest indication of his leanings came in 2014 when the local police and the F.B.I. investigated Mr. Rahami’s father’s claim that his son was a terrorist. But finding no evidence, the authorities did not act. Since Mr. Rahami is an American citizen, the only way he could have been locked up without being charged was with a detention system similar to the way Japanese-Americans were placed in Japanese “internment camps” during World War II.
That was a technique, Mr. Trump told Time magazine in December, that he might or might not have supported at the time. He added that as undesirable as it would be to revive such an arrangement, in an age of terrorism, “war is tough.”
Mrs. Clinton’s approach would be to rely on countermessaging to prevent radicalization and to try to recognize early signs of extremism. But no one seems quite certain how Mr. Rahami was radicalized — on the internet, during trips to Pakistan or perhaps by his new wife. And Mrs. Clinton’s approach, even its advocates acknowledge, is no guarantee — it tries to stem the tide, rather than reverse it.
Mr. Trump, in short, has described a policy of keeping potential terrorists out of the country altogether, even if that means suspending or violating America’s longstanding principles of taking in refugees and not discriminating against immigrants on the basis of their religion. Mrs. Clinton, in contrast, has argued for the vetting of immigrants — about their history or sympathy for radical ideology — but working to counter extremists messages or behavior.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

From the Congressional Budget Office: An Update to the Budget and Economic Outlook: 2016 to 2026

For our look at budgeting in 2305.

- Click here for it.

From Slate: Phoenix Has Beef With Arizona - From guns to puppies, the state keeps telling its citizens they can’t have the laws they want.

Terrific stuff on preemption. Something similar could be written about the Texas legislature and cities in Texas.

- Click here for the article.

Over the past five years, conservative states have been in a lawmaking frenzy to overrule local ordinances on issues as diverse as the minimum wage, taxicab licensing, workplace discrimination, and who may use which bathroom.
It’s called pre-emption, and as I wrote earlier this month, it has become the most powerful statehouse tactic of our time. What began as an industry-driven attempt to abolish cities’ restrictions on guns and smoking has evolved into a reflex to restrain virtually any local initiative that a statehouse doesn’t like.
North Carolina’s homophobic and transphobic HB2, passed by a heavily gerrymandered statehouse to abolish a Charlotte anti-discrimination law, is a notable recent example. But the capital of pre-emption may be Arizona, whose statehouse has been uniquely aggressive in its drive to dismantle local control in Tempe, Tucson, and Phoenix, three left-leaning cities.
Arizona’s Legislature has quashed local laws on everything from puppies to guns. It has pre-emptively pre-empted cities from making laws about plastic bags or employee scheduling (i.e. requiring employers to give advance notice of shift changes). And this year, it passed a law that suspends city funding for services like police and fire if the state attorney general finds conflict between city and state laws.

From National Priorities: President’s 2016 Budget in Picture

For perusal in 2305.

- Click here for it.

Cut to the fancy graphs and pie charts:
















From the NYT: Obama, Pressing Senators, Delays Veto of Bill Exposing Saudis to 9/11 Suits

Veto alert. It has to happen by Friday or the bill becomes law without a signature - as we know.

- Click here for the article.

President Obama is delaying a planned veto of a bill that would allow the families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for any role in the plot, hoping to tap into an unusual well of buyer’s remorse among senators who passed the measure unanimously in the spring.
The measure sailed through the House last week after a surprise last-minute vote, raising the prospect of the first veto showdown between Mr. Obama and a bipartisan coalition in Congress. But an intense lobbying campaign by the White House and Saudi Arabia, among others, has cast doubt on what had appeared to be an inevitable override of the president’s long-expected veto.
Officials have refused to say when Mr. Obama would veto the bill, and he has until next Friday to do so. His advisers are considering whether he should wait until then, after Congress is expected to recess on Thursday for the November elections, which could give him weeks to persuade lawmakers to drop their support for the measure before they return and consider the veto override.
Already, cracks are showing, even among Republicans who generally would love to exercise the first veto override against Mr. Obama.
“I have tremendous empathy for the victims,” said Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, who, like the rest of his colleagues, agreed to the measure in May. “But at the same time, I have concerns about the precedent it would set,” fearing, as many lawmakers now do, that Americans could be sued by other nations in retaliation, or by the families of innocent people killed in drone attacks.
The trepidation about overriding a presidential veto is shared by Republicans and Democrats alike. Many lawmakers apparently had believed that the House would never pass the bill, as it hastily did after the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, encountered families of the Sept. 11 victims at a fund-raiser on Long Island.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

From the Houston Chronicle: Turner: White Oak Music Hall needs a permanent stage

City atuff.

- Click here for the article.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said Wednesday that the White Oak Music Hall development team will not receive a new temporary permit for its outdoor stage.
Turner's statement suggests that unless the developers get a permanent permit and stage for its outdoor venue, the shows scheduled on that stage after Oct. 5 will not legally be able to be held at the new Near Northside music complex.
Turner responded at a City Council meeting Wednesday to developers' comments in a Chronicle article in which developer Will Garwood indicated he planned to take down and then re-erect the temporary stage and request another 6-month temporary permit for the structure. The developers previously told the Chronicle that have "eventual plans" to build a permanent stage but planned to operate the temporary stage in the meantime.
Turner made it clear that plan would not work for his administration.
"No one is going to tear down a stage and come back and get a temporary permit," Turner said. "That's not happening.
"They need to work on a permanent permit and I expect them to take the steps to do that."

http://www.houstonchronicle.com/business/real-estate/article/Mayor-promises-to-investigate-the-White-Oak-Music-7377654.php

http://www.houstonpress.com/music/white-oak-music-hall-owners-insist-theyre-playing-by-citys-rules-8749026

http://www.houstonpress.com/music/not-everyone-is-looking-forward-to-white-oak-music-halls-opening-on-saturday-8305456

From the Texas Monthly: A Hard Look at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office

For our look at counties - plus the upcoming election.

- Click here for the article.
The recent revelation that Harris County deputies improperly disposed of evidence from hundreds of criminal cases—forcing the dismissal of ninety drug cases, with more dismissals likely to come—is merely the latest blow to the county’s embattled district attorney, Devon Anderson. Anderson was appointed to the position in 2013 by Governor Rick Perry following the death of her husband, former District Attorney Mike Anderson. Although she won election to the office in her own right in 2014, Anderson faces a strong challenge this fall from lawyer Kim Ogg, whom the Houston Chronicle endorsed this weekend.
Although she’s only been in office three years, Anderson has faced more than her share of issues, including:
- Jailing rape victims
- Holding a man in jail after his conviction was tossed out
- Questionable behavior by prosecutors
- Stoking racial fears

From the Pew Research Center: Presidential job approval ratings from Ike to Obama

Obama's have been remarkably stable.

- Click here for the article.

Polarization and presidential approval: supporters stay loyal, opposition intensifies

Highs and lows of presidential approval

From the National League of Cities: State of the Cities 2016

For 2306 as we start to look at municipal governments this week.

- Click here for the report.

SOTC2016 graphic 1

From the Pew Research Center: The Parties on the Eve of the 2016 Election: Two Coalitions, Moving Further Apart

This helps explain much of the animosity in contemporary politics.

- Click here for the article.

Ahead of the presidential election, the demographic profiles of the Republican and Democratic parties are strikingly different. On key characteristics – especially race and ethnicity and religious affiliation – the two parties look less alike today than at any point over the last quarter-century.
The fundamental demographic changes taking place in the country – an aging population, growing racial and ethnic diversity and rising levels of education – have reshaped both party coalitions. But these changes, coupled with patterns of partisan affiliation among demographic groups, have influenced the composition of the two parties in different ways. The Democratic Party is becoming less white, less religious and better-educated at a faster rate than the country as a whole, while aging at a slower rate. Within the GOP the pattern is the reverse: Republican voters are becoming more diverse, better-educated and less religious at a slower rate than the country generally, while the age profile of the GOP is growing older more quickly than that of the country.



Saturday, September 17, 2016

From NBC - 2: ACLU reaches out to Collier school district over anthem protestor ban

Possible test case?

Do students have a right to protest?

- Click here for the article.

The Collier County School District is reacting to a principal's announcement that he would ban students from sporting events if they sit during the national anthem.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida has reached out to the school district after what they call a restriction of freedom of speech. In response, the district said it recognizes a student's First Amendment right to express thoughts and ideas as long as the student isn't being disruptive.

NBC2 first told you Wednesday about Lely High School's new policy, but the school district said Thursday it's a misunderstanding, saying Principal Ryan Nemeth's message was taken out of context and he regrets what he said.

Last Friday morning, Lely High students watched as their principal took to the morning announcements to speak about the national anthem.

"You will stand, you will stay quiet. If you don't, you're going to be sent home. No refund."

Is there a constitutional right to protest?

The word does not exist in the Constitution, so it requires interpretation.

- From the ACLU of Oregon:

You have a constitutionally protected right to engage in peaceful protest in “traditional public forums” such as streets, sidewalks or parks. But in some cases the government can impose restrictions on this kind of activity by requiring permits. This is constitutional as long as the permit requirements are reasonable, and treat all groups the same no matter what the focus of the rally or protest.

The government cannot impose permit restrictions or deny a permit simply because it does not like the message of a certain speaker or group.

- More from the ACLU of Northern California.

How far doe this right extend? Did it apply to the Occupy Movement?

- Detail from ProPublica: Just How Much Can the State Restrict a Peaceful Protest?


The First Amendment is not absolute. Government can make reasonable stipulations about the time, place and manner a peaceable protest can take place, as long as those restrictions are applied in a content-neutral way.

But what constitutes a reasonable time, place and manner restriction? "It depends on the context and circumstances," said Geoffrey Stone, a professor specializing in constitutional law at the University of Chicago. "Things like noise, blockage of ordinary uses of the place, blockage of traffic and destruction of property allow the government to regulate speakers."

Stone gave a few examples of impeding ordinary usage: disturbing patients at a hospital, preventing students from going to school, or, more relevant for the Occupy movement, disrupting the flow of traffic for a long period of time.

Protests are fine, occupation is not.

- So says the Federalist Blog.


. . . the federal right to assemble was “to protect the petitioners in their right to get up the petition, circulate it for signatures, and have it presented.” The Supreme Court case of United States v. Cruikshank observed the purpose of assembly was for petitioning government: “The right of the people peaceably to assemble for the purpose of petitioning Congress for a redress of grievances, or for anything else connected with the powers or the duties of the National Government.”

In England, the right of assembly existed from early times and was strictly tied to the right of petitioning Parliament for political purposes, which the crown had always strongly contested. Different acts of the Tudors and Stuarts sought to limit and restrict assembly.

There is a big difference between gathering to draw public attention to some grievance or message through disruption of the public peace and peacefully gathering to address common public concerns and to circulate a petition for signature. The later requires no mob occupation or disruption of the peace or laws.

From a purely historical standpoint, “Occupy Wall Street” is nothing more than rebellion, and as such generally been dealt with by use of the militia to suppress.




From the New Yorker: Colin Kaepernick and a Landmark Supreme Court Case




For 2305 - the right to not be coerced to make displays of patriotism was only established by the Supreme Court in the 1940s. It features a court case central to our discussion of both religious freedom and free speech.

Here's the story:

- Click here for the article.

Kaepernick refused to stand as a form of political expression—to protest, he said, the oppression of African-Americans by the police and others. The Supreme Court case arose out of a related First Amendment right—to exercise the freedom of religion. In 1943, at the height of the Second World War, the court heard a challenge by a Jehovah’s Witness family to the expulsion of their daughters, Marie and Gathie Barnette, from a school in West Virginia. The sisters had been punished for refusing to salute the flag and repeat the Pledge of Allegiance, something state law required of students. (As Jehovah’s Witnesses, the parents did not believe in making such salutes and oaths.) Precedent was not on the Barnettes’ side. In 1940, the Court had heard a very similar case involving Lillian Gobitis, age twelve, and her brother William, age ten, whose parents were also Jehovah’s Witnesses and who were expelled from the public schools of the town of Minersville, Pennsylvania, for refusing to salute the national flag. In an eight-to-one decision in Minersville v. Board of Education, written by Felix Frankfurter, the court rejected students’ claim that their freedom of religion and speech should void the school’s decision to expel them. (Justice Harlan Stone was the lone dissenter.) “National unity is the basis of national security,” Frankfurter wrote. “Conscientious scruples have not, in the course of the long struggle for religious toleration, relieved the individual from obedience to a general law not aimed at the promotion or restriction of religious beliefs.”

What followed, three years later, was one of the great reversals in Supreme Court history. The Court had a new member—Robert Jackson.* More important, even amid the patriotic displays associated with the mobilization for war, the degradations of Nazi Germany had impressed themselves upon the American conscience. The result of the case flipped the result to a six-to-three victory for the family, and Jackson’s
opinion in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette stands as perhaps the greatest defense of freedom of expression ever formulated by a Supreme Court Justice—and, not incidentally, a useful message for the N.F.L.

The core idea in Jackson’s opinion is that freedom demands that those in power allow others to think for themselves. In nearly every line, Jackson’s opinion is haunted by the struggle on the battlefield against, in his phrase, “our present totalitarian enemies.” “Struggles to coerce uniformity of sentiment in support of some end thought essential to their time and country have been waged by many good, as well as by evil, men,” Jackson wrote. “Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard. It seems trite but necessary to say that the First Amendment to our Constitution was designed to avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings.” Such melodramatic phrasing may feel more appropriate for the worldwide crisis of that era than for the present one, but the message of tolerance also resonates on the less fraught setting of a football gridiron.

For more on West Virgina v Barnette click here.

For the decision in the case click here.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Rant of the Day

Lot's to pick from.

I'll post more.

What really drives me insane is slow walkers. My rant is about those type of people. When I go to the mall I plan to shop, not spend four hours walking behind a turtle!! I really do not understand why you would go to the mall and walk slow? There is a million people at the mall why would you want to spend your time walking slow and getting bumped into??? When I go to the mall I want to get what I need and leave, and I do that by speed walking to each store and“shooting the gap”. If you want to walk slow and talk and blah blah GO WALK ON THE BEACH,or even a park, maybe even up and down your street, but the mall is not the place. Ok I understand not everyone can walk fast I know slow walkers like to shop to, and if you are as low walker don’t stand in the middle of the aisle SCOOT TO THE SIDE! It is just like a road there is a fast lane and a slow lane pick your choose and get on with it. Even worse than malls are high schools. When you are in high school and the bell ring you have 10 minutes to get to your next class. I do not want to be stuck behind you and your boyfriend making out and trying to walk, I am trying to get an education here, LIKE GO HOME!! I do not want to be tardy and I really do not want to be watching you and your boyfriend being a little to friendly in school.Thank goodness those days are over and I am in college and that does not happen here…. I hope… So just a little tip to all you slow walkers out there, GET IN THE SLOW LANE 
Ps. Have you even thought about internet shopping? #slowwalkers

Thursday, September 15, 2016

For 2305 today - Public Laws passed by the 114th Congress

- Here's the link.

We will look through a few and compare the process they went through on their way to becoming law with the textbook version.

From the Texas Tribune: Ted Cruz Takes Dead Aim at Obama Administration in Internet Dispute

More checks and balances - staring our junior senator. Free speech concerns play a role here, as well as questions over the legitimate functions of government. In this case it appears the senator is in favor of U.S. governmental control over a key aspect of the internet - one mentioned below.

He has introduced a bill blocking an Obama proposal to let go of ICANN.

- Click here for the story.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz might be laying low politically, but this fall he's taking the lead on an obscure issue that could affect ongoing federal budget negotiations: Who should control how the Internet is organized?

Cruz is fighting an impending move by the federal government to relinquish oversight of a nonprofit organization that determines the way domain names are organized on the Internet.

It’s an issue on the minds of many conservatives, who charge that giving up that power would allow authoritarian regimes like China and Russia to further censor free speech on the Web.
"Once the government's out of the picture, First Amendment protections go away," Cruz said Wednesday morning at a Senate hearing he chaired.
"Why risk it? The Internet works. It's not broken," he later added. "What is the problem that is trying to be solved here?"

But those advocating for the move toward privatization, a group that includes the Obama administration and a number of technology companies, say that the U.S. ceded de facto control of the Internet decades ago and that such concern is overstated.

From XKCD: A History of the United States Congress

One of the great graphics of all time.

It's worth devoting an entire class.

- Click here for the full version.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

From Courthouse News Service: Houston Loses Appeal in Firefighter Pension Fight

For an upcoming look at local government, as well as the judicial system in the state.

- Click here for the article.

Houston can't overhaul a state-governed firefighter pension system that the mayor claims is pushing the city towards insolvency, a Texas appeals court ruled.
Houston sued the Houston Firefighters' Relief and Retirement Fund in January 2014, seeking a declaration that a state law setting how the fund is operated, and giving the city no control over the amount of its contributions, is unconstitutional.
The city paid $350 million in pensions to firefighters, police and city workers in 2015, but its unfunded pension debt is $6 billion and growing.
A state judge sided with the fund in May 2014 and granted it summary judgment.
The city appealed, pressing its argument that the subject state law, passed in 1997, gives too much power to the pension fund's board that is comprised of a majority of firefighters who are beneficiaries of the fund, and thus are inherently self-interested in maximizing firefighter pension benefits to the detriment of the city's financial health.
The 10-member board is made up of six active or retired firefighter fund members who are elected by other firefighters, the mayor or an appointed representative of the mayor, the city treasurer and two citizens who are elected by the other trustees.
Houston claimed on appeal the state law violates the separation-of-powers principle in the Texas Constitution by delegating authority to a nonlegislative entity, the fund board.
The city cited Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Fund v. Lewellen. In that case, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that a foundation established by the Texas Legislature to exterminate boll weevils that were threatening to destroy the Texas cotton industry unconstitutionally gave too much authority to the foundation to tax private farmers to pay for weevil killing.
But the 14th Texas Court of Appeals decided Thursday that the boll weevil foundation is fundamentally different from the pension fund board because the board includes public employees.

Reader needed. Pays $10 an hour.

Here are the details:

Job Description

As a blind student, I need assistance in having government read to me and written for me. I will also need explanations of images from PowerPoint presentations. I am currently taking GOVT 2306. Readers get paid $10 an hour. Your payment will be once a month and will be paid through DARS.

Qualifications

I prefer someone who has passed ENGL 1301 and GOVT 2305. In Fall 2016, I will be available to meet on Mondays and Wednesdays at 11:00 a.m. and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:00 to 9:20 a.m.

If you have any questions or concerns please contact Tamer Zaid at 832-421-1581 or e-mail me at tamerz@stu.alvincollege.edu .

From the Texas Tribune: Documentary Examines 35 Years of Higher Ed Defunding

More on what has driven the rise in college tuition.

More support for the idea that it has primarily been due to a reduction in state spending.

- Click here for the article.

Are public universities nationwide regarded as a public good, or have politicians maneuvered them into becoming business-oriented models where students are the consumers?

That's the central question of "Starving the Beast," a documentary by Austin-based filmmaker Steve Mims that premiered Tuesday night at Austin's Violet Crown Cinema.
The film looks into how Texas officials perceive higher education as a commodity, linking the decrease in state funding — and coinciding increase in tuition and fees — to massive reductions in government spending, an idea introduced by think tanks that have pushed for education reform in Texas and four other states.
“Over time, the burden of the cost is being shifted from the state over to the students,” Mims said in an interview prior to the premiere. “We started shooting interviews from the [House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations], and as we started to do interviews with people we realized the story was bigger than UT-Austin and Texas A&M.”

- Click here for the documentary's website.

From the Fort Worth Star Telegram: What are some of the top priorities for Texas’s 85th Legislature?

- Click here for the article.

Texas’ youth are at the top of House Speaker Joe Straus’s priority list for the next legislative session.
Straus said Tuesday that he wants to help improve the embattled child welfare system, find a better funding system for public schools and ensure that college-bound youths can make their higher-education journey no matter what their family’s financial situation.
Rounding out the top of his 2017 early to-do list are improving the state’s approach to mental health illnesses, encouraging entrepreneurship in Texas and considering property tax reform.
The challenge will be getting both chambers to agree on how best to address these issues, particularly in a year where dollars may be tight due to slumping oil and gas revenues.
“Members of the Texas House certainly aren’t going to agree on everything,” Straus told a crowd of hundreds gathered for a Dallas Regional Chamber luncheon at the Fairmont Dallas hotel. “Texans don’t agree on everything.”
But there is “plenty of common ground.”




Rea
d more here: http://www.star-telegram.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article101612852.html#storylink=cpy

The Science Committee argues that it's subpoena of New York's climate change investigation material is valid

This related to the story below.

The letter contains an exhaustive explanation about why they believe their subpoena is constitutionally valid and does not violate First or Tenth Amendment rights.

- Click here for the letter.

The letter mentions Wilkinson v Unites States, a Supreme Court case which sets out the three prong test that determines whether a congressional subpoena is legal.

- Click here for the case.

For more there's this law review article:

- Congressional Investigations and the SupremeCourt  

From the Washington Examiner: Hearing a showdown between First Amendment and Congress

The story raises federalism issues as well, and highlights recent activities involving the House Science Committee chaired by Texas Republican Lamar Smith.

- Click here for the article.

Wednesday hearing in the House is shaping up to be a battle between First Amendment rights and Congress' subpoena authority in its own investigations.

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing assessing subpoenas issued by Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, to two state attorneys general and a number of scientific groups. Smith issued the subpoenas earlier this summer to get documents related to the climate change investigations of Exxon Mobil by New York and Massachusetts attorneys general.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and a number of scientific groups, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, have refused to comply with Smith's subpoenas. The attorneys general cite federalism concerns, while the groups say their First Amendment rights are being infringed upon.

On Wednesday, four law professors will go in front of the committee and assess whether Smith's subpoenas are valid. A committee aide said the goal is to show the subpoenas are valid and to force the groups into complying with them given that some of them have not shown they're willing to work with the committee.

"We're really seeing an obstruction of a congressional investigation," the aide said.

Eight organizations, in addition to the two attorneys general, received subpoenas from Smith in July. None has complied, though negotiations are ongoing.

Smith will hope to show that the subpoenas are valid under the three-pronged test set out by the Supreme Court for congressional investigations. According to that test, the subpoenas need to be issued by a committee with legislative jurisdiction over the subject matter, have a valid legislative purpose and be asking questions pertinent to the investigation.

Smith argued in a letter to the attorneys general this summer that his committee is investigating if Schneiderman and Healey are taking actions that would have a chilling effect on research and development funding. Research and development funding is, with the exception of military and medical funding, under the committee's purview.

- Click here for the hearing.

The title is: Full Committee Hearing - Affirming Congress’ Constitutional Oversight Responsibilities: Subpoena Authority and Recourse for Failure to Comply with Lawfully Issued Subpoenas.

For news coverage:

House Science Committee Hearing an Attempt to Justify Unconstitutional Investigation.
Constitutional scholars to House climate deniers: No witch hunt of Exxon critics.
Congress should ask what Exxon knew about climate change.

Hearing - Protecting the 2016 Elections from Cyber and Voting Machine At...



If you have a couple hours to kill.

This hearing was held yesterday in response to recent hackings of the Democratic National Committee and the elections officials in Illinois and Arizona.

- Click here for the committee's page on the hearing.
- Click here for the committee's full page.

For news coverage:

- Voting experts call fears of election hacking overblown, insist process is secure.
- LAWMAKERS: HOW SECURE ARE VOTING MACHINES?

From 538: Fancy Dorms Aren’t The Main Reason Tuition Is Skyrocketing

There's an ongoing debate about what is driving up the costs of higher education. Nicer student amenities and higher salaries for administrators are two popular culprits, as is reduced state support.

This author focuses on the latter explanation - the argument applies to Texas as well.

Click here for the article.

At most, about a quarter of the increase in college tuition since 2000 can be attributed to rising faculty salaries, improved amenities and administrative bloat. By comparison, the decline in state support accounts for about three-quarters of the rising cost of college.
Consider Pennsylvania’s four public research institutions,2 one of which is Temple.3 Average tuition revenue per student (adjusted for inflation) increased by $5,880 between the 2000-01 and 2013-14 academic years (the most recent available data). State appropriations per student have declined nearly $4,000 over the same period, from about $7,750 to $3,900. Put another way, if Pennsylvania restored funding for higher education to its 2000 levels, Pennsylvania’s public research institutions could reduce tuition by nearly $4,000 per year without altering their budgets. For students, the impact could be even greater once loan fees and interest were taken into account.
By contrast, imagine that each of these institutions cut per-student spending for student services, administration and instruction back to 2000 levels, then passed those savings on to students in the form of lower tuition. How much would students save? Reducing student services would save each student $380 per year. Dropping all those new administrators would save $150 per student per year. And rolling back spending on faculty salaries would save $850 per year for the average student. Together, those three categories have added $1,380 to the cost of attendance since 2000, about a quarter of the total increase. At least some of that spending benefits students directly: Student-service spending has been found to increase the likelihood of graduating, and increased spending on instruction leads to higher earnings later in life.

Monday, September 12, 2016

From the Texas Tribune: Analysis: Pointing the Finger When It Comes to Low Texas Voter Turnout

Maybe voters aren't at fault. And maybe political leaders really don't want people to vote.

- Click here for the article.

If voter turnout is really going to be used as the measure of civic health in Texas, legislators should make voting compulsory.
You know that’s not going to happen — and that’s okay because not voting is also a way of registering your opinion. Perhaps you don’t care who wins, you don’t put much importance on a particular election or a particular lineup of candidates makes you want to hold a pillow over your face and scream.
So don’t vote if you don’t want to. It’s your franchise, to do with as you will.
Yours, that is, except when lawmakers impose regulations that make voting more difficult: restricting when people are allowed to register to exercise their right to vote, limiting early voting times and locations and which kinds of proof of identification the authorities will allow.
If lawmakers wanted everybody to vote, they would make it easier.
They would be working to find and remove impediments to voting, the same way successful businesses smooth the path between their customers and their products.

For 2306 today - all from the Texas Tribune


Teladoc, the Dallas-based company that sued Texas over its telemedicine regulations, has a new ally in the Federal Trade Commission.
In a letter sent to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court late Friday, the federal antitrust agency sided with Teladoc in the company’s legal battle, criticizing the Texas Medical Board for allegedly misinterpreting case law.
The telehealth company sued last year to block board rules that in most cases require face-to-face contact between a patient and a physician before a physician can issue a prescription.
That threatened Teladoc’s business model, which virtually connects Texas patients to remote, Texas-licensed doctors, some of whom are based out-of-state. The company says its physicians consult patients over the phone for routine medical issues, and patients can upload photos or other information describing their symptoms and medical history.
Teladoc filed an antitrust lawsuit against the regulatory Texas Medical Board in federal courtlast year, alleging that the 19-member board made up mostly of doctors had behaved like a cartel by passing rules intended to limit competition.

- Empower Texans Escalates Battle With Ethics Commission.

The influential conservative group Empower Texans is escalating its long-running battle against the Texas Ethics Commission, accusing a former member of the state watchdog agency of improperly seeking to influence state legislation.
Empower Texans President Michael Quinn Sullivan on Thursday lodged a criminal complaint against Tom Harrison, who abruptly resigned in June as the commission's vice chairman. The complaint, filed with the Travis County district attorney's office, alleges that Harrison illegally gave gifts to lawmakers in his role as deputy director of the Texas County and District Retirement System, one of the state's largest pension funds.
Sullivan says that activity should have required Harrison to register with the state as a lobbyist. And even if Harrison did register, he still would have been in violation of another rule saying lobbyists cannot serve on the ethics commission.

- Lawmakers to Examine Ballooning Cost of Tuition Program for Texas Veterans.

State university leaders have long complained about what they call an underfunded mandate to provide an increasing number of veterans and their dependents a free college education under the Hazlewood Act. After failed attempts in the last legislative session to restrict eligibility, school officials will meet with House lawmakers Tuesday at the Capitol to discuss ways to pay for it, including tapping the state’s savings account.

From the Texas Tribune: Analysis: Texas Politics is So Boring in 2016, Folks Are Already Talking 2018

This deserves special notice.

If we want to increase turnout, lets make the races more competitive.

- Click here for the article.

The presidential race is a big deal, generating plenty of talk. The debates are coming. The ads are coming. The race is on every screen in sight. Polls are everywhere, like candy pouring out of a piñata. Some, like the recent Washington Post/Survey Monkey survey that found Clinton and Trump in a virtual tie, suggest a close race in Texas.
Even if that’s not what happens — and it’s highly unlikely to happen — it’s fun to talk about.
But the rest of the ballot is sort of a snoozer. That flippant assessment comes with a built-in scold: These offices, from Congress to the courts, from regulatory commissions to the Legislature, are important and deserve your attention. Be an adult about it.
But many of them are completely noncompetitive. The candidates and campaigns, as usual, are out-shouted by the national race. But it’s hard to get voters ginned up about the Texas Railroad Commission or the state’s Court of Criminal Appeals. It’s even harder to elicit the interest of normal humans in races that didn’t even interest candidates from the political minority.
In 10 of the races for 36 U.S. House seats from Texas, only one major party entered a candidate. Unless the minor parties — the Greens and the Libertarians — do something historic, those contests are over.
It’s the same down the ballot. Ten of the 16 state Senate seats on the ballot feature only one major-party contestant. The same is true of 97 of the 150 Texas House seats on the ballot.
Whether that brings cheers or lamentations, this is a safe assessment: It’s not the kind of development that generates conversation and excitement leading into an election.

Catching up with Congress

NBCNews: Congress Faces Five Big Issues Following Summer Recess.

- Funding Zika Vaccines
- Tackling Appropriations
- Appointing a Supreme Court Member
- Impeaching IRS Commissioner
- Finally Addressing Gun Control?

Roll Call: Freedom Caucus to Force Vote on IRS Impeachment Next Week.

House Freedom Caucus member John Fleming told reporters Friday that he plans to go to the floor Tuesday to set up a vote on a resolution to impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.
By noticing his intent to file the privileged resolution on Tuesday, the Louisiana Republican would start a two-day legislative time clock for the House to take up the matter, meaning a floor vote on impeachment would occur no later than Thursday.
The expectation is that Democrats will offer a motion to table the matter or to refer it back to committee and that enough Republicans would join them to make the motion successful.

Reuters: Obama to meet U.S. Congress leaders Monday on spending.

U.S. President Barack Obama has invited congressional leaders to the White House on Monday in an attempt to break deadlocks over government spending plans and funding the fight against the Zika virus.
Congress must pass a temporary spending bill by Sept. 30 or much of the federal government will shut down. With the deadline approaching, Obama is set to meet with House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, both Republicans. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and his House counterpart Nancy Pelosi will also be present, White House and congressional officials said on Friday.
Of particular urgency is a program to fight the Zika virus which is running out of money, U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden told reporters.

Roll Call: Congress Turning a New Leaf on Marijuana - Burgeoning business in states with legal sales sparks momentum for reform.

Just two years ago, pot lobbyist Michael Collins was a pariah on Capitol Hill.
Marijuana reform was too much of a risk.

Lawmakers wouldn’t meet with him.

Not anymore.
“I’ve got offices reaching out to me,” said Collins, the deputy director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit group that supports the legalization of marijuana. “It’s definitely a big change.”
Marijuana-related legislation was on a fast track to nowhere until 2014. That was the year Republicans and Democrats alike approved a measure that kept federal authorities from interfering in states that allowed marijuana use for medical purposes.
Since then, both houses of Congress have seen a flood of similar proposals.
Lobbyists, policy experts and lawmakers who spoke to Roll Call said the trajectory is clear: Congress is leaning toward decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level — and it’s going to happen soon.

CNN: Congress looks to end standoff over Zika.

The big battle over Zika could be coming to an abrupt end on Capitol Hill.
A growing number of House and Senate Republicans now expect Congress will soon pass a $1.1 billion funding package to combat the Zika virus without restrictions on Planned Parenthood, a move designed to overcome a filibuster by Senate Democrats and end the pre-election season with as little drama as possible.
Such a move would represent a win for the White House and congressional Democrats.
No final decisions have been made, particularly in the House where the dynamics are more complicated than the Senate. But negotiations have intensified over the last several days and final votes could occur as soon as next week in both chambers, according to senior GOP lawmakers and Republican officials.
The idea: To tie a must-pass bill to keep the government open beyond the September 30 fiscal year deadline with language to fund vaccines and research to combat the spread of the Zika virus. Senators are likely to reach such a deal, and many Republicans now expect the House to go along as well.

Forbes: How Congress Can Make Drug Pricing More Rational.

The public reproach over the price of Mylan lifesaving drug EpiPen is the latest imbroglio in a much broader debate over drug costs. At issue is the rising list price on drugs. But as Mylan argued, these high reported prices often bear little relation to the real price actually paid, after rebates and discounts, by most health plans.
The question is how we can bring more prudence to this complex system, in which drug discounts don’t flow evenly to the patients who need access to these medicines.
Mylan pointed to a long sequence of drug supply middlemen who get a series of rebates, mostly as economic inducements for helping drug makers sell their medicines. To fund these rebates, drug makers push up the list price of their pills, only to furtively pay much of the money back to pharmacy benefit managers later.
This byzantine model for selling drugs aids both parties – the drug makers who use the rebates to buy access on restrictive drug formularies, and the pharmacy benefit managers that take a cut from these rebates to improve their profit margins.