Thursday, March 30, 2017

From the Texas Tribune: Senate bill would let Houston voters weigh in on fix to pension crisis

The question is, should they?

- Click here for the article.

If the Texas Senate gets its way, Houston city officials could have to get voter approval for a plan to partially shore up massive, multi-billion-dollar shortfalls in some of the city’s public pension funds.

The Senate on Wednesday voted 21-10 to give preliminary approval of a bill that would require voters to sign off before cities issue pension obligation bonds, a kind of public debt that infuses retirement funds with lump-sum payments. Issuing $1 billion in those bonds is a linchpin of Houston officials’ proposal to decrease the city’s unfunded pension liabilities that are estimated to be at least $8 billion.

Houston Mayor
Sylvester Turner told The Texas Tribune earlier this month that if the bill becomes law and voters reject the $1 billion bond proposition, a delicate and hard-fought plan to curb a growing pension crisis would be shrouded in uncertainty. He also argued that the debt already exists because the city will have to pay it at some point to make good on promises to pension members.

But lawmakers said voters should get to weigh in when cities take on such large amounts of bond debt.

From the Texas Tribune: Judge orders Ken Paxton trial moved out of Collin County and delayed

For 2306, and our look at the executive and judicial branches - and the criminal justice system.

- Click here for the article.

The judge in the securities fraud case against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has ruled that the trial should be moved out of Collin County and delayed.

The ruling to change venue is a major victory for prosecutors, who had argued Paxton and his allies had tainted the jury pool in Collin County, where he lives.

Judge George Gallagher said the trial, initially scheduled for May 1, will now be postponed until a new venue is determined.
Gallagher on Thursday denied two other motions: to dismiss the case and to delay it until prosecutors can get paid.

Paxton is accused of misleading investors in a company from before his time as attorney general, a legal saga that began more than a year ago. He recently beat a federal, civil case involving similar allegations, but the state charges remain — and they are more serious, carrying a potential prison sentence of up to 99 years.

Gallagher's ruling on the venue is somewhat surprising. Weeks ago,
Gallagher had signaled that he had wanted to at least try to move forward with the case in Collin County, where jury selection had been set to begin in a few weeks.

In court, prosecutors had sought to show collusion among Paxton, his team and his supporters aimed at creating a sympathetic jury pool. Paxton's lawyers had argued they had no ties to the alleged effort and that it wasn't affecting public opinion even if it existed.

From the NYT: ‘We Must Fight Them’: Trump Goes After Conservatives of Freedom Caucus

Trump has a new enemy.

An example of the relatively new concept of primarying.

- Click here for the article.

President Trump declared war on the conservatives of the House Freedom Caucus on Thursday, suggesting Republicans should “fight them” in the 2018 midterm elections if they do not back his agenda.

“The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast,” Mr. Trump said Thursday morning on Twitter, escalating a fight that began when the conservatives from the caucus
blocked his Affordable Care Act repeal last Friday.

“We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!” Mr. Trump wrote, apparently making good on suggestions that he would support Republican challengers to lawmakers in his own party who oppose him, a stance advocated by his chief strategist,
Stephen K. Bannon.

Friday’s loss on health care rekindled a long-running civil war between the party’s establishment, represented by Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who drafted the original bill, and anti-establishment conservatives in the caucus, who thought it preserved too many elements of the Obama-era program.

For more:

House conservatives call Trump an ungrateful bully after threat to unseat them in 2018.
- Trump can’t stop the Freedom Caucus. He has GOP gerrymandering to blame.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

For 2306 today

- Abbott looks to conference committee to sort out pre-K dispute.

Gov. Greg Abbott is looking to the budget conference committee to sort out a dispute over his prekindergarten initiative as it becomes clear he cannot rely on the House and Senate to fully fund the program in their spending plans.

"The House has a plan. The Senate has a plan. The governor has a plan," Abbott said Tuesday in a speech to the Dallas Regional Chamber. "Anybody who knows anything about how the Legislature works realizes that the real plan that’s going to come out is the one that’s going to come out in conference committee, and that will be sometime in late May."

- After immigration and bathroom fights, House votes to keep Railroad Commission functioning.

The Texas House gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a bill that would keep the agency that oversees the state’s oil and gas industry functioning until 2029 — but only after members dragged controversial topics like immigration and bathroom restrictions for transgender people into what should have been a routine debate.
House Bill 1818 by state Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, would keep the Texas Railroad Commission's name — instead of the re-naming it the Oil and Gas Commission — while giving the agency more oversight of pipeline construction in Texas.

- House panel hears bills for open carry without permit.

Two measures that would make it easier for Texans to access guns were up for consideration by the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.
House Bill 375 by state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, would allow Texans to openly carry a handgun with or without a license, making it optional for people in the state to obtain a permit or take a class. Stickland filed the same bill in 2015, but it was never heard in committee.
“I don’t think the government has the right to say, 'You have a Second Amendment right, but only if you take this class and pay this fee,'” Stickland said as he laid out his bill. “If someone can legally possess a firearm, they should be able to carry that firearm.”

- Texas Senate approves its budget, shifting school costs to local taxpayers.

The Senate proposal actually strips about $1.8 billion in state funds for education but uses local property taxes and other revenue to make up the difference. In total, Nelson said, her proposal would boost public school funding by $4.6 billion compared to the prior budget, including a $2.6 billion provision to cover student enrollment growth.
"Under our formula, the local share of education funding fills up the bucket first, as local property tax collections go up, the state share goes down," Nelson said. "But in the aggregate, funding for education is going up every year."
At the same time, the Senate is advancing controversial tax cut proposals that critics say would make it more difficult for the state and local governments to pay for schools. Last week, the upper chamber passed Senate Bill 2, which seeks to curb the growth in property taxes, and Senate Bill 17, which would cut the franchise tax paid by businesses in future years.

- Bills to plug public information "loopholes" breeze through Senate.

The Texas Senate cleared a pair of bills Tuesday aimed at plugging "loopholes" in public records law that have left taxpayers in the dark about key details of some government contracts.
Senate Bills 407 and 408 both breezed through the chamber and will head to the House. Filed by Sen. Kirk Watson, they push back against two 2015 Texas Supreme Court rulings that immediately made it easier for private companies involved with government contracts to keep parts of those contracts secret.
“What we’re trying to do is to make sure the public has information as to how its tax dollars are being spent,” Watson said.
Some businesses have lined up against the bills. The Texas Association of Business is among those who have voiced concerns over the bills.

From the Texas Tribune: Analysis: One (Texas) official to rule them all

Is there a plot underway to concentrate power in the states?

- Click here for the article.

In the old days — we're talking way back, in the pre-2015 era — every mayor in the United States of America wanted to be governor and then president and then the face on a nickel or a dime or a two-dollar bill.
Maybe the office of governor should be the end game for every lowly politician who looks at the mirror in the morning and sees a superstar smiling back. Greg Abbott seems to be arguing for a consolidation of political power, what with his goal of moving federal power to the states and with his strong new pitch to make him a sort of mayor-in-chief of all the cities, towns, settlements and camps in the state.

Read on.

For more: Mega-rich conservative donors are behind Texas' obsession with amending the Constitution.

. . . experts say for the first time in decades, the convention of states movement may stand a remote chance of becoming reality thanks, in part, to the support of mega-rich conservative donors who have given millions to Abbott and other Texas Republicans.
“It’s a realistic possibility. It’s terrifying, but it is a realistic possibility,” said Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas, a nonpartisan government accountability group that opposes the convention of states movement.
Mark Meckler, president of the Convention of States Project, said he learned of the governor’s fervor for the convention during that speech and offered his organization's help. The Convention of States Project is a nonprofit that launched in 2013 to gin up support nationwide for a convention that would limit federal powers.

Dunn — both individually and through Empower Texans, a political action committee that is primarily funded by him — has contributed more than $5 million to far-right Texas Republicans since 2010, according to campaign finance records. Dunn donated $30,000 to Abbott. Empower Texans gave more than $25,000 to Sen. Brian Birdwell, who is championing the convention legislation in the upper chamber. And Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has gotten nearly $650,000 from Dunn and Empower Texans.
The influence of Dunn and Empower Texans has been most palpable in the Texas House. Last year, Empower Texans plowed more than $1.4 million into campaigns for ultraconservative House candidates.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

From the Texas Tribune: Will Texas universities face perfect storm of cuts?

This might be of interest to all of you.

- Click here for the article.

Higher education leaders entered the 2017 session of the Texas Legislature expecting some dark days. Two-and-a-half months in, they're now focused on warding off a perfect storm.

In addition to
potential state funding cuts, which are being discussed like they're a virtual certainty in the Capitol, schools are staring down efforts to freeze tuition and slash federal funding for higher education. If all three happen, the universities' three biggest sources of money would be reduced or frozen for 2018.

That's a scary thought to advocates of public higher education, who warn that Texas' need for strong state universities will only grow in the coming years. Tuition, state funding and federal cash make up a combined 75 percent of Texas public university revenue.

"All alumni and business leaders in our state should be up in arms and outraged about these proposals being considered," said Will O'Hara, co-interim director of the Texas Exes alumni group for the University of Texas at Austin.

Persuading elected officials to reverse course could be difficult, however. There's
less money for the state to spend overall this year than in previous sessions. There are also other pressing needs to compete with, like reforming the child protective services and foster care systems. And many lawmakers are frustrated with what they view as a lack of fiscal discipline among the state's universities.

Average tuition
has climbed 147 percent in Texas over the past 15 years. And most of the state's universities have increased tuition since 2015, when the Legislature added $2 billion to the budget for higher education.

The scrutiny is especially pronounced in the Senate, where presiding officer Lt. Gov.
Dan Patrick named halting tuition growth one of his top 20 priorities for 2017. Patrick, a Republican, has thrown his support behind Senate Bill 19, which would impose a four-year freeze on tuition increases.

Meanwhile, senators are expected to vote Tuesday on their proposed budget. If they pass it as currently written, which is highly likely, they will send the House a bill that would impose hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of higher education cuts. Each school would face a loss of 6 percent to 10 percent of its state funding in the Senate plan.

From the Washington POst: Attorney General Jeff Sessions repeats Trump threat that ‘sanctuary cities’ could lose Justice Department grants

An example of coercive federalism?

- Click here for the article

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday threatened to strip some “sanctuary cities” of coveted Justice Department grants for state and local law enforcement, saying those places that did not comply with a particular federal law on immigration would not be eligible for money.

“I urge our nation’s states and cities to consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to enforce our immigration laws, and to rethink these policies,” Sessions said from the White House. “Such policies make their cities and states less safe, and put them at risk of losing valuable federal dollars.”

Sessions’s announcement follows President Trump’s executive order in January that gave the attorney general the authority to sanction any city that doesn’t readily hand over undocumented immigrants for deportation.

This effort to punish cities where local leaders refuse to hand over undocumented immigrants for deportation is the latest effort by the Trump administration to crack down on illegal immigration.

Sessions said the Justice Department will take steps to “claw back any funds awarded to a jurisdiction” that violates federal law. The Justice Department will award more than $4.1 billion in grants to state and local jurisdictions this fiscal year.

From the Texas Tribune: U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of Texas death row inmate

For our look at federalism and civil liberties in both 2305 and 2306.

The case is Moore v Texas.

- Click here for the article.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Texas death row inmate Tuesday, sending his case back to the appeals court and invalidating the state's current method of determining if a death-sentenced inmate is intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for execution. Texas' method relies on decades-old medical standards and a controversial set of factors.

high court's 5-3 ruling in the case of Bobby Moore, a 57-year-old man who has lived on death row for more than 36 years, said Texas’ refusal to use current medical standards and its reliance on nonclinical factors violates the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the opinion, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissenting.

As the court has previously instructed, "adjudications of intellectual disability should be ‘informed by the views of medical experts.’ That instruction cannot sensibly be read to give courts leave to diminish the force of the medical community’s consensus," Ginsburg wrote.

. . . In 2014, a Texas state court used current medical standards to determine Moore was intellectually disabled and could not be executed. But the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overruled the decision, claiming the lower court erred by using those standards instead of the state’s test.

The test, commonly known as the Briseno standard, was established by the Court of Criminal Appeals in 2004, two years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing the intellectually disabled was unconstitutional. The court defined the test using a medical definition from 1992 as well as several other factors to help courts determine adaptive functioning. The Court of Criminal Appeals claimed, based on those factors, that Moore doesn’t have the disability.

Included in those factors is a controversial reference to Lennie, a character from John Steinbeck’s novel “Of Mice and Men.” The Briseno opinion written by the Court of Criminal Appeals said most citizens might agree a person like Lennie should be exempt from execution. The state has argued the reference was an “aside;” critics say it exemplifies the arbitrariness of defining intellectual disability in Texas.

For more:

- Scotusblog: Moore v Texas.
- The decision.
- Oyez: Moore v Texas.

Monday, March 27, 2017

From the Texas Tribune: Gov. Abbott: This country isn't the "United States of Municipalities"

For 2306

- Click here for the article.

Gov. Greg Abbott raised many eyebrows last week when he threw his support behind a "broad-based law" that pre-empts local regulations, a remark that did anything but calm the already contentious local control battles at the Texas Capitol.

On Monday, Abbott did not back away from the idea, saying that the country is not called the "United States of Municipalities." But he offered a little more detail about what exactly he meant.

"It would be far simpler and frankly easier for those of you who have to run your lives and businesses on a daily basis if the state of Texas adopted an overriding policy and that is to create certain standards that must be met before which local municipalities or counties can establish new regulations," Abbott said at a lunch event, characterizing the proposal as a "broad-based ban on regulations at the local level unless and until certain standards are met."

"The goal here is to make it far easier for businesses to conduct operations in the state of Texas that deal with cross-city and cross-county lines," Abbott said.

The Washington Post: White House installs political aides at Cabinet agencies to be Trump’s eyes and ears

For 2305

- Click here for the article.

The political appointee charged with keeping watch over Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and his aides has offered unsolicited advice so often that after just four weeks on the job, Pruitt has shut him out of many staff meetings, according to two senior administration officials.
At the Pentagon, they’re privately calling the former Marine officer and fighter pilot who’s supposed to keep his eye on Defense Secretary Jim Mattis “the commissar,” according to a high-ranking defense official with knowledge of the situation. It’s a reference to Soviet-era Communist Party officials who were assigned to military units to ensure their commanders remained loyal.
Most members of President Trump’s Cabinet do not yet have leadership teams in place or even nominees for top deputies. But they do have an influential coterie of senior aides installed by the White House who are charged — above all — with monitoring the secretaries’ loyalty, according to eight officials in and outside the administration.
This shadow government of political appointees with the title of senior White House adviser is embedded at every Cabinet agency, with offices in or just outside the secretary’s suite. The White House has installed at least 16 of the advisers at departments including Energy and Health and Human Services and at some smaller agencies such as NASA, according to records first obtained by ProPublica through a Freedom of Information Act request.
These aides report not to the secretary, but to the Office of Cabinet Affairs, which is overseen by Rick Dearborn, a White House deputy chief of staff, according to administration officials. A top Dearborn aide, John Mashburn, leads a weekly conference call with the advisers, who are in constant contact with the White House.

For 2306 today

A classroom used as a prayer room at Liberty High School in Frisco got the attention of the Texas attorney general’s office last week. The office sent a letter raising constitutional concerns about the room. The Frisco superintendent called the letter a "publicity stunt" and said the prayer room has been in use for several years without complaints.

Prayer rooms are just one way public schools in Frisco and across Texas accommodate students and religion.
. . . “You may hear it said sometimes that prayer’s been kicked out of public schools,” said Joy Baskin, director of legal services with the Texas Association of School Boards.
“In fact, what has been determined by the courts is that schools can’t compel prayer.”
Baskin said prayer rooms in schools are acceptable and legal under the First Amendment. Schools can also give students time to pray, whether it’s during free time or a lunch period. They can give students passes to leave class to pray or leave campus for religious education.
“It’s a concept that courts have looked at for many years,” Baskin said. “It’s called 'release time,' and it’s the idea that in order to follow a tenet of faith, the student is briefly excused. It’s an opportunity to have an excused absence in order to follow a tenet of faith.”

Straus condemns "bathroom bill," talks local control.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus on Friday gave perhaps his harshest condemnation yet of the controversial “bathroom bill” championed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Straus said the bill, which has drawn the ire of Texas businesses and been criticized as discriminatory against transgender people, felt “manufactured and unnecessary.”
“If we’ve gotten to the point in our civilization, in our society, that our politicians have to pass bills about bathroom stuff ... I mean, we’ve gotten really out of control,” he said.
"For it to get this much attention in a legislative session is astounding to me," he added.

- State lawmakers concerned over TABC expenditures, antiquated alcohol laws.

Isaac has been working for two sessions to level the liquor playing field in Texas, but he said he's been blocked by the alcohol industry's grip on the Legislature. Isaac added that TABC officials who enforce Texas’s antiquated liquor laws benefit from keeping those laws in place. 
Isaac filed HB 4233 on March 10 in an attempt to eliminate provisions in the Alcoholic Beverage Code that prohibit publicly traded companies from selling liquor in Texas and limit liquor store owners to five stores. He said he’s not incredibly optimistic about the bill’s chances, though; he filed the same bill last session but did not even get a hearing.
“The ones that are in power have an incredible stranglehold on the Legislature, leading to protecting their business interests, rather than protecting consumers or the free markets,” Isaac said. “I would love to get a hearing in the licensing committee. It’s not been referred yet, but that’s where it went last year. I’d love to get a chance to talk about it.”
Right now, a publicly traded company cannot sell liquor in Texas, but privately-owned companies can — the only such law in the nation. Privately owned companies such as Spec’s are discouraged from going public by this provision, Isaac said.
“If they wanted to grow, and raise capital with an initial public offering, they would have to cease doing business in the state of Texas,” Isaac said.
HB 4233 also would eliminate the five-store limitation. Isaac said a loophole in the law allows large families to exceed that limit by letting each family member put five stores in their names — which he said isn't fair to smaller families.

- Liquor regulators acknowledge Rangers haven't cleared them.

After state liquor regulators got hit with a complaint last year that it violated its own rules when it served alcohol without a permit at a state convention, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission said it conducted a thorough investigation, determined no permits were needed and then forwarded its findings to the Texas Rangers.
The Rangers, in turn, decided no further action was warranted, TABC officials claimed.
That story fell apart on Friday.
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission now acknowledges the Rangers never got the investigative report, and the Ranger who interacted with the agency called the agency’s assertion a “mistake.” Meanwhile, a newly-obtained internal email discussing the liquor service at the convention raises new questions about whether rules were broken.

From The Monkey Cage: President Trump couldn’t pass Obamacare repeal. This is why.

For 2305.

President Trump is coming to terms with the limits of presidential power.

- Click here for the article.

The decision to pull the American Health Care Act (AHCA) from the House floor on Friday is a telling reminder of the limits of presidential power when it comes to leading the legislature. Our separated system makes it hard for presidents to translate their preferences into policy, even on priority matters. As Lyndon Johnson put it, complaining about the Kennedy staff’s inability to get bills moving: “You can’t start yelling ‘frog’ at everybody and expect ‘em to jump!”
A quick review of political science literature on presidential success in Congress gives us several lenses through which to view Friday’s happenings. One consistent finding is that presidential personality — and the schmoozing of legislators, etc. — matters mostly “at the margins,” as George Edwards put it. In a close vote, those margins surely might matter. But systematic factors were also at play:

Read on for detail.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

From GovTrack: A liberal circuit court struck down Trump’s travel ban. This bill would divide that court into two.

Extreme checking and balancing - perfectly constitutional though.

- Click here for the article.

Mere days after President Trump signed a controversial executive order temporarily banning U.S. entry for immigrants or refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries, it was struck down by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. This put national focus on that court, which encompasses both some of the most progressive and conservative states, yet generally issues liberal decisions — making it despised many Republicans.
A new bill in Congress could make it less likely for that court to issue decisions like striking down the Trump executive order.
(Rather than appeal to the Supreme Court as he originally promised, Trump plans to issue a revised executive order that his administration believes is more likely to withstand judicial scrutiny.)
Why many Republicans hate the 9th Circuit Court
Below the Supreme Court on the judicial hierarchy, there are 13 “circuit courts,” which decide cases of federal law in different geographical areas of the country. The Supreme Court takes up cases where two or more lower courts disagree, as well as other cases that raise consequential or novel constitutional issues.
The 9th Circuit Court covers the west coast and covers more than 20 percent of the U.S. population. It encompasses left-leaning states like California, Hawaii, and Oregon, and Washington, but also right-leaning states like Arizona, Alaska, Idaho, and Montana. But its judges clearly lean left: of the 44 judges serving on the court, 28 were appointed by Democratic presidents, and only 16 by Republicans.

From the Pew Research Center: What the unemployment rate does – and doesn’t – say about the economy

For our future look at economic policy in 2305.

- Click here for the article.

Every month, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics releases a flood of data about employment and unemployment in the U.S. And every month, the lion’s share of the attention goes to one figure – the unemployment rate, which was a seasonally adjusted 4.8% in January. (The February report comes out on Friday.)
But the unemployment rate is just one indicator of how the U.S. economy is doing, and it’s not always the best one. Simply being out of work isn’t enough for a person to be counted as unemployed; he or she also has to be available to work and actively looking for work (or on temporary layoff). In any given month, the unemployment rate can rise or fall based not just on how many people find or lose jobs, but on how many join or leave the active labor force.
There are, in fact, five other monthly measures of what the BLS calls “labor underutilization” besides the official unemployment rate, as well as scores of other measurements – labor force participation rates, employment-population ratios, average weekly wages, average hours worked and more. Knowing what those other data points are, where they come from and how they’re calculated is critical in understanding what they do – and don’t – tell us about the nation’s workers.

From the NYT: House Republicans Unveil Plan to Replace Health Law

It begins.

- Click here for the article.

House Republicans unveiled on Monday their long-awaited plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, scrapping the mandate for most Americans to have health insurance in favor of a new system of tax credits to induce people to buy insurance on the open market.
The bill sets the stage for a bitter debate over the possible dismantling of the most significant health care law in a half-century. In its place would be a health law that would be far more oriented to the free market and would make far-reaching changes to a vast part of the American economy.
The House Republican bill would roll back the expansion of Medicaid that has provided coverage to more than 10 million people in 31 states, reducing federal payments for many new beneficiaries. It also would effectively scrap the unpopular requirement that people have insurance and eliminate tax penalties for those who go without. The requirement for larger employers to offer coverage to their full-time employees would also be eliminated.
People who let their insurance coverage lapse, however, would face a significant penalty. Insurers could increase their premiums by 30 percent, and in that sense, Republicans would replace a penalty for not having insurance with a new penalty for allowing insurance to lapse.

House Republican leaders said they would keep three popular provisions in the Affordable Care Act: the prohibition on denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, the ban on lifetime coverage caps and the rule allowing young people to remain on their parents’ health plans until age 26.
Republicans hope to undo other major parts of President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement, including income-based tax credits that help millions of Americans buy insurance, taxes on people with high incomes and the penalty for people who do not have health coverage.
Medicaid recipients’ open-ended entitlement to health care would be replaced by a per-person allotment to the states. And people with pre-existing medical conditions would face new uncertainties in a more deregulated insurance market.
The bill would also cut off federal funds to Planned Parenthood clinics through Medicaid and other government programs for one year.

For graphical looks at what will and wont change:

- NYT: The Parts of Obamacare Republicans Will Keep, Change or Discard.
- WAPO: How the House Republicans’ proposed Obamacare replacement compares.

From 538: The Eight Power Centers Of The Trump Administration

A nice look at the battles within the Trump Administration.

It also provides a great overview of the various groups that exist within each party - in this case the Republican Party

- Click here for the article.

Whenever a new administration starts, top aides to the president battle for authority and power, and the Washington press corps pushes for scoops on the “palace intrigue.” Those senior aides try to get reporters to write profiles that pump up the aides’ influence, while the reporters hope a favorable profile results in a grateful aide leaking them information in the future.
Usually, no part of this process matters to anyone outside of Washington. In 2009, President Barack Obama named a combination of ex-Bill Clinton aides, senior Democratic staffers on Capitol Hill, veteran Washington figures and a few of his longtime allies from Chicago politics to key jobs in the White House and in the Cabinet. The people in top jobs may have been slightly different than if Hillary Clinton had been elected president but not by much. Obama, like Hillary Clinton, was a center-left Democrat from the party’s congressional wing, campaigned as such and picked a team to govern that reflected the prevailing ideology in his party.
But now, White House staffers, cabinet secretaries and other advisers matter. Bigly. President Trump didn’t come from any existing wing of the Republican Party. He didn’t run as a tea party-type like Ted Cruz or in the center-right style of George W. and Jeb Bush. There is no nationalist, Trump-style faction of the Republican Party in Congress that can be plucked to fill out an entire administration.
. . . Indeed, Trump’s administration has at least eight major factions, which has become clear based on statements and decisions by his advisers since the November election but also confirmed by interviews with veteran Washington figures who are dealing with his team. And to understand what is happening and will happen in this administration, it is crucial to understand these power centers, which are cooperating but also competing with one another.

Here's the breakdown:

- The Bannon Wing
- The Pence Wing
- The McCain Wing
- The Friends and Family Wing
- The Party Wing
- The Wall Street Wing
- The Bureaucrats
- Other important figures

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

From Politico: Is Trump’s New Travel Ban Constitutional?

The new version is designed to deal with the court cases brought against the first one. A win for checks and balances.

- Click here for the article.

Version 2.0 of President Donald Trump’s travel ban was written to solve a specific problem: The federal courts were poised to hold the first version unconstitutional. But it’s not at all clear that the new order will survive judicial scrutiny, either.
Yes, Monday’s revised executive order suspending the entry of refugees and restricting entry by people from six Middle Eastern countries is more carefully crafted than its Jan. 26 predecessor. Some of the changes, like the exemptions for children and for people who already have visas, will likely obviate some constitutional objections to the earlier order.
But the darkest constitutional shadow hanging over the first travel ban hangs over the second one as well. If the current order is motivated by anti-Muslim prejudice, it violates constitutional guarantees of religious freedom, equal protection of the laws, or both.
To be sure, it would be highly unusual for the courts to strike down an executive order as purposefully discriminatory. For one thing, federal courts almost never strike down any sort of federal enactment on that ground, if only because federal courts—composed of people nominated by presidents and confirmed by senators—tend to have roughly the same mainstream intuitions about what counts as objectionable discrimination that the federal government’s lawmakers have. (The laws that get struck down as purposefully discriminatory are overwhelmingly state laws, usually from states where the relevant norms don’t quite line up with nationally predominant intuitions.)
Courts are also loath to second-guess executive branch decisions in the realms of national security and foreign affairs. But everything about this case is already highly unusual. The order’s history betrays the discriminatory purposes that today’s revised version is intended to conceal, and some of the new order’s particular content points in the same direction. As the courts will surely understand.

From the Washington Post: Supreme Court sends Virginia transgender case back to lower court

More policy change due to the change in the White House.

- Click here for the article.

The Supreme Court on Monday vacated a lower court’s ruling in favor of a Virginia transgender student after the Trump administration withdrew the federal government’s guidance to public schools about the controversial bathroom policy.
The justices were scheduled to hear the case later this month. But after the federal government’s position changed, the court said the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit should reconsider the dispute between the Gloucester County school board and 17-year-old Gavin Grimm.
The 4th Circuit had relied on the federal government’s guidance that school should let transgender students use the bathroom that corresponds with the student’s gender identity.
The Trump administration withdrew that guidance, which was issued by the Obama administration.
Both the school board and Grimm’s attorneys had asked the Supreme Court to let the case proceed, saying it presented a reading of the civil rights law Title IX that the court ultimately will have to settle.

Grimm, whose birth gender was female, has become a celebrated figure in the transgender-rights community because of his lawsuit, with profiles in national media. His case was thought to be an important milestone on the issue.
While the Obama administration said anti-discrimination laws required allowing transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice, the Trump administration said it needs more time to study the issue and put forward its own view of the law.

For more:

- NYT: Supreme Court Won’t Hear Major Case on Transgender Rights.
- ScotusBlog: Justices send transgender bathroom case back to lower courts, no action on same-sex marriage cake case.

ScotusBlog has a full record of the case here: Gloucester County School Board v. G.G.

From the Texas Tribune: Analysis: A political fishing guide for the 2018 elections in Texas

For our look at elections in Texas.

- Click here for the article.

Election numbers recently released by the Texas Legislative Council point to some soft spots in this red state’s political underbelly — places where Republicans hold office now but where Democrats at the top of the ticket have recently done well.

Specifically, they are the districts where Republicans won federal or state legislative races in 2016 while the same voters electing them were choosing Democrat Hillary Clinton over Republican Donald Trump.

Trump won Texas, but not by as much as Republicans normally do.

The non-prediction here is that every single one of these officeholders might win re-election next time they’re on the ballot.

On the other hand, a political fishing guide, in this instance, would tell you that these are districts Democrats should examine if they’re trying to win seats in the congressional delegation or in the Texas Senate or House.

The November results are more a commentary on the voters themselves — and on the Republican candidate who became president — than on the Texas candidates. These aren’t districts where everything was nominal except for the Texans. They’re districts where — for Republicans — something wasn’t working according to plan.

From the Texas Tribune: Republicans expected to revise Texas "bathroom bill"

The changes are presumably to make the bill more likely to pass.

- Click here for the article.

With the measure scheduled for a committee hearing Tuesday, Texas Republicans are expected to offer a new version of the controversial “bathroom bill” with two significant changes.

The modified bill removes a section that would have increased penalties for certain crimes committed in a bathroom or changing facility, according to a copy of a committee substitute obtained by The Texas Tribune. It also adds a new “legislative findings” section that would write into statute the reasoning that the bill's lead author, Republican state Sen.
Lois Kolkhorst, has provided in pushing for the bill.

Senate Bill 6 would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities that match their “biological sex.” The measure would also pre-empt local nondiscrimination ordinances that allow transgender residents to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.

Those regulations are largely unchanged in the substitute language expected to be presented tomorrow, but the modified bill does not include a lesser-known section that would have increased penalties for certain crimes in bathrooms by one degree. That would have meant that the punishment for an individual who commits an assault, for example, would have been higher if the assault occurred in a bathroom versus a parking lot or on a sidewalk.

The new “legislative findings” section appears to be intended to lay out the purpose of the bill. That section states that the “federal government’s mandate to provide students access to bathrooms, showers and dressing rooms based on an individual student’s internal sense of gender is alarming and could potentially lead to boys and girls showering together and using the same restroom.”

That appears to be an apparent reference to since rescinded guidelines issued by the Obama administration that directed public schools to accommodate transgender students. The Trump administration pulled back those guidelines on Feb. 22.

From the Texas Tribune: To fight anti-"sanctuary" bill, Democrats may highlight "sanctuary industries"

For the many 2306 students looking at "sanctuary city" legislation. Some strategy to attempt to derail it.

- Click here for the article.

As Texas Democrats strategize how to continue pushing back against state-based immigration proposals, they’re considering a tactic often embraced by some far-right members of the Republican Party to assist their efforts.

“I would just say that all options are on the table to expose the hypocrisy of only focusing on immigrants and not on Texas businesses that rely heavily on them,” state Rep.
Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, told the Tribune. “There may be a multi-tiered strategy to expose the hypocrisy and bring business to the table.”

Anchia, the chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, made his remarks last week, a day after he was in the middle of a bruising debate on the House floor. Anchia unleashed a six-minute tirade on the floor after state Rep.
Mark Keough, R-The Woodlands, offered an immigration-enforcement amendment to legislation that would create a new system of monthly payments for relatives caring for children in their families who have been abused or neglected. The amendment would have prevented undocumented families in the same circumstances from receiving state aid.

“If this is how the session’s going to go, and you guys want to talk about ‘illegals’ and you guys want to talk about immigrants and you guys want to talk about sanctuary cities, well, we’re going to start talking about sanctuary industries,” Anchia said during the debate, coining a new term about businesses that don’t fully vet their employees’ legal status.

Monday, March 6, 2017

A couple items about criminal justice reform.

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, on Thursday filed House Bill 2702, dubbed the Sandra Bland Act.
The exhaustive piece of legislation would expand what qualifies as racial and ethnic profiling; mandate people experiencing a mental health crisis and substance abuse be diverted to treatment over jail; and create more training and reporting requirements for county jails and law enforcement.
The legislation is named in honor of Sandra Bland, a black, 28-year-old Illinois woman who was found dead in an apparent suicide in the Waller County Jail in 2015.

- Texas Senate to vote only on law enforcement-related bills Monday.

Next Monday is the first day that the House and Senate can consider non-emergency items, and it will be all about law enforcement in the Senate, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick announced Monday.
Bills on other subjects will not be considered Monday, Patrick said.
"All of our first responders, every day, when they go to work, commit to do something that none of the rest of us do in Texas," Patrick said. "So we need to do all we can to make sure we're always for them, 'cause they're always there for us."

From the Texas Tribune: Tensions mount between Dan Patrick and the Texas House

No one likes being checked.

- Click here for the article.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick celebrated a milestone Wednesday: His Senate had acted on all four of Gov. Greg Abbott's emergency items with many more days to go in the 85th legislative session.
"It's the earliest ever that anyone knows of that either body ... has already passed all the emergency items," Patrick said in a radio interview. Abbott's top priorities are "out and done" in the Senate, Patrick boasted — a not-so-subtle contrast with the Texas House, which tackled its first emergency item this week.

It's not the only bone Patrick has to pick with the House these days. As its resistance to some of his top priorities has come into focus in recent weeks, the lieutenant governor has become increasingly vocal about the tension between the two chambers.

"The brow-beating — I think the volume's up a lot higher than we've seen in the past," said state Rep. Lyle Larson, an ally of House Speaker Joe Straus, a fellow San Antonio Republican. "Using a brow-beating approach in governing never bodes well for anybody."

From the Texas Tribune: House proposal aims to limit increases in Texas property tax bills

Some 2306 students are focusing on property tax reform for their papers.

- Click here for the article.

Saying there needs to be more transparency in how property taxes are assessed in Texas, the head of the House Ways and Means Committee unveiled legislation Friday that would reduce the maximum increase allowed in taxes on individual properties.
House Bill 15, dubbed the “Property Taxpayer Empowerment Act” and authored by state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, would reduce the maximum increase in taxes for a property — from 8 percent to 4 percent. The legislation would also require local governments to annually publish a “No New Taxes Rate" — which is the rate that would raise the same amount of money as the previous year — and restrict debt service taxes to debt that has been approved by voters.
“Government only works when citizens can hold their leaders accountable, and accountability begins with transparency,” Bonnen said in a news release. “Our property tax system is needlessly confusing and discourages citizens from taking an active role in the local rate-setting process. The Property Taxpayer Empowerment Act will give Texans the information and clarity they need about their tax bill to hold local leaders accountable.”

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

From the Texas Tribune: Texas Supreme Court Justice, House Corrections Chair Want to End ‘Unconstitutional’ Practice of Debtors’ Prison

We discussed whether the constitutional ban - in the Texas Constitution mind you - against debtors prisons is routinely violated when people are sent to jail for unpaid tickets. Apparently some in the legislature agree.

- Click here for the article.

Drive with an invalid license, drink one too many beers in public or let your dog run free where leash laws say you can’t, and you could get hit with a fine. If you don’t have the money to pay, you could end up serving time in jail instead.

Republicans, including the Texas Supreme Court chief justice and the chair of the House Corrections Committee, want to dismantle that practice, which they say violates the U.S. Constitution and traps thousands of indigent Texans in a cycle of debt.

Jailing a person for his or her inability to pay a fine is illegal under state and federal law, and multiple
U.S. Supreme Court rulings have declared the practice unconstitutional. The Texas Constitution states, “No person shall ever be imprisoned for debt.” Yet de facto debtors’ prisons still operate across the state.

During his
State of the Judiciary address earlier this month, Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht said more than half a million minor offenses resulted in defendants sitting out fines in jail last year. Texas judges presided over 7 million such cases, which produced more than $1 billion in fine revenue in 2016, he said. The majority of defendants paid and moved on with their lives, but in 640,000 cases, defendants ended up behind bars.

“It’s very problematic when we’re confining people who cannot pay,” state Representative James White, R-Hillister, who heads the House Corrections Committee, told the Observer. “We’ve got constitutional issues, cost issues, common sense issues and compassion issues here.”

From the Texas Tribune: Texas Supreme Court to take up same-sex marriage case

Traditionalists in the state are finding ways to push back against Obergerfells v Hodges.

- Click here for the article.

Almost two years after same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide, Texas Republicans are still fighting the ruling — and they’re getting another day in court.
The Texas Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on Wednesday in a Houston case challenging the city’s benefits policy for married same-sex couples. Though such policies have been in place since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 2015 ruling in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, Texas conservatives are betting the Houston case opens up a path to relitigate the high court’s decision.
“This particular opinion will go to the U.S. Supreme Court and is a potential vehicle for overturning Obergefell given the changing composition of the court,” said Jared Woodfill, one of the lawyers leading the lawsuit filed against Houston on behalf of two taxpayers, and a prominent conservative activist in the city. “Ultimately, I would like to see Obergefell overturned.”
At the center of the Houston case is whether Obergefell, which legalized same-sex marriage across the country, requires the city and other governmental agencies to extend taxpayer-subsidized benefits to same-sex spouses of government employees.
In Obergefell, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 ruled that bans on marriages between couples of the same sex are unconstitutional and that states must recognize same-sex marriage as legal. Following that ruling, public employers in the state quickly extended benefits for same-sex spouses of public employees.
But opponents argue that interpretation was far too broad.
“Obergefell may require states to license and recognize same-sex marriages, but that does not require states to give taxpayer subsidies to same-sex couples — any more than Roe v. Wade requires states to subsidize abortions or abortion providers,” lawyers challenging the Houston policy wrote in a filing with the Texas Supreme Court.
They argue that the right to marry does not “entail any particular package of tax benefits, employee fringe benefits or testimonial privileges.” (In a separate case against the state’s now-defunct ban on same-sex marriage, the Texas Attorney General’s office actually argued that marriage is a right that comes with benefits the state is entitled to control.)
A spokeswoman for Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner declined to comment on the upcoming hearing, saying the city prefers “to offer our arguments in the court and our filings.”

Update: Treat same-sex couples the same as others, Texas Supreme Court told.

Monday, February 27, 2017

For 2306 today - and tomorrow

All from the Texas Tribune: 

- Texas proposal would keep cities from restricting short-term home rentals.

A legislative proposal that would limit local government control of short-term home rentals in Texas has reawakened a fight over regulations that has already played out in cities across the state. Senate Bill 451 by state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R- North Richland Hills, would prevent Texas cities from banning or restricting short-term rentals. Austin, San Antonio and Fort Worth are among the cities that have enacted such restrictions. Critics of the bill said it would lower property values and allow Texans to rent houses to people who might host disruptive parties and increase traffic in their neighborhoods.

- Unlikely allies: some homeschoolers fighting to kill school choice bill.

Nicki Truesdell is a product of homeschooling and would never enroll her four younger children in a public or private school. Corrine French has spent the last five years serving on the board of a rural public school district in North Texas. Both are terrified a "private school choice" bill will pass this legislative session. The longtime friends say they were surprised to find themselves on the same side of an education policy fight as state senators consider a bill to give parents debit cards to pay for private school and homeschooling, using taxpayer money. The polarizing issue has brought together unlikely allies, with some homeschoolers, rural conservatives and public education advocates fighting what they see as an encroachment on their schools.

- Analysis: In bathroom bill, politics disguised as policy.

The proposed bathroom bill percolating in the Texas Legislature doesn’t do what its supporters say it is supposed to do. Here’s the caption — the legal description at the top of Senate Bill 6: “relating to regulations and policies for entering or using a bathroom or changing facility; authorizing a civil penalty; increasing criminal penalties.”
That’s pretty straightforward, because it has to be, but the rhetoric around the bill is more florid — and misleading. It purports to protect Texans answering nature’s calls from people of the opposite sex. It has a logical flaw, however, because it doesn’t protect them in most of the public restrooms in the state — only the public restrooms in public buildings.

- The Brief: Bill banning wrongful birth lawsuits heads to Senate committee.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

From the US House of Representatives: Presidential Vetoes 

A summary of the history of vetoes.

- Click here for it.

Article I, section 7 of the Constitution grants the President the authority to veto legislation passed by Congress. This authority is one of the most significant tools the President can employ to prevent the passage of legislation. Even the threat of a veto can bring about changes in the content of legislation long before the bill is ever presented to the President. The Constitution provides the President 10 days (excluding Sundays) to act on legislation or the legislation automatically becomes law. There are two types of vetoes: the “regular veto” and the “pocket veto.”

The regular veto is a qualified negative veto. The President returns the unsigned legislation to the originating house of Congress within a 10 day period usually with a memorandum of disapproval or a “veto message.” Congress can override the President’s decision if it musters the necessary two–thirds vote of each house. President George Washington issued the first regular veto on April 5, 1792. The first successful congressional override occurred on March 3, 1845, when Congress overrode President John Tyler’s veto of S. 66.

From GovTrack: A review of the 2015–2016 Congress, the last Congress of the Obama Administration

A summary of the 114th Congress

- Click here for the article.

The 114th Congress, the session that ran from January 3, 2015 through January 3, 2017, was historic. Republicans regained control of the Senate for the first time in eight years. After four years in which Republicans controlled the House, President Obama for the first time faced a Congress where both chambers were run by the Republicans. Yet some pieces of meaningful legislation were still enacted, and there were many others which didn’t quite cross the finish line due to election-year caution or presidential vetoes, but should be viewed as trial runs for successful versions to come in 2017–18 under President Trump.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A grab bag of items from Congress

Sen. Susan Collins said she thinks the Intelligence Committee could subpoena President Donald Trump’s tax records as part of its investigation into Russian interference in last year’s election if that’s where the evidence leads. “I don’t know whether we will need to do that,” the Maine Republican said Wednesday. “If it’s necessary to get to the answers, then I suspect that we would.”

- Brat Gets an Earful at Virginia Town Hall.

Judging by the reaction of the crown, Rep. David Brat, R-Va., might not have accomplished his mission in a town hall meeting on Tuesday. Brat was heckled and booed in a restaurant conference room in Blackstone when he defended President Donald Trump and his stances on health care and immigration, The Associated Press reported. “People are very nervous and anxious after the Trump win,” Brat said. “So my goal tonight is to help allay some of those anxieties.”

- Supreme Court Nominee Gorsuch’s Hearings to Begin March 20.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley announced Thursday that the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch will begin March 20. Grassley's office indicated in a statement that the opening statements will take place on Monday, March 20, and Gorsuch will face the committee the following day. The hearings are expected to last three to four days and include testimony from outside experts.

From NBCNews: Assault Weapons Not Protected by Second Amendment, Federal Appeals Court Rules

This will very likely end up in the Supreme Court.

- Click here for the article.

Maryland's ban on 45 kinds of assault weapons and its 10-round limit on gun magazines were upheld Tuesday by a federal appeals court in a decision that met with a strongly worded dissent.
In a 10-4 ruling, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, said the guns banned under Maryland's law aren't protected by the Second Amendment.
"Put simply, we have no power to extend Second Amendment protections to weapons of war," Judge Robert King wrote for the court, adding that the Supreme Court's decision in District of Columbia v. Heller explicitly excluded such coverage.
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, who led the push for the law in 2013 as a state senator, said it's "unthinkable that these weapons of war, weapons that caused the carnage in Newtown and in other communities across the country, would be protected by the Second Amendment."
"It's a very strong opinion, and it has national significance, both because it's en-banc and for the strength of its decision," Frosh said, noting that all of the court's judges participated.
Judge William Traxler issued a dissent. By concluding the Second Amendment doesn't even apply, Traxler wrote, the majority "has gone to greater lengths than any other court to eviscerate the constitutionally guaranteed right to keep and bear arms." He also wrote that the court did not apply a strict enough review on the constitutionality of the law.
"For a law-abiding citizen who, for whatever reason, chooses to protect his home with a semi-automatic rifle instead of a semi-automatic handgun, Maryland's law clearly imposes a significant burden on the exercise of the right to arm oneself at home, and it should at least be subject to strict scrutiny review before it is allowed to stand," Traxler wrote.
National Rifle Association spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said, "It is absurd to hold that the most popular rifle in America is not a protected 'arm' under the Second Amendment." She added that the majority opinion "clearly ignores the Supreme Court's guidance from District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment protects arms that are 'in common use at the time for lawful purposes like self-defense.'"

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

File this under fact checking.

Number 3 might be the most important fact listed.

- Click here for the article.

Donald Trump made crime-fighting an important focus of his campaign for president, and he cited it again during his inaugural address in January. With the White House and Justice Department announcing steps to address violence in American communities, here are five facts about crime in the United States.

1- Violent crime in the U.S. has fallen sharply over the past quarter century.
2 - Property crime has declined significantly over the long term
3 - Public perceptions about crime in the U.S. often don’t align with the data.
4 - There are large geographic variations in crime rates.
5 - Many crimes are not reported to police.

From the National Law Journal: Order to Reveal Detainee Names May Grow List of Plaintiffs Challenging Travel Ban

More checking and balancing of the Trump Administration from the courts.

- Click here for the article.

A Brooklyn judge's ruling for the Trump administration to produce a list of travelers who were detained under a controversial travel ban it issued in January may help plaintiffs' attorneys in the New York case challenging the ban to grow their clients' ranks.
Eastern District Judge Carol Bagley Amon ruled on Tuesday that the government has until 5 p.m. on Thursday to submit the names of all those held by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents under the Trump administration's executive order from 9:37 p.m. on Jan. 28, when Eastern District Judge Ann Donnelly issued a ruling to stay deportations, to 11:59 p.m. on Jan. 29.
In a news release, Healy Ko, a law student intern for Yale Law School's Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic, said Amon's order was an "important step in the fight to repair the damage done" by the executive order.
"We are aware of reports that CBP officers deliberately ignored the court's order in the hours after the decision came down, and are confident that the court's decision will help to identify individuals that were unlawfully removed and provide them a chance to return to the United States," Ko said.
In addition to counsel from Yale Law, the plaintiffs are also represented by the National Immigration Law Center, the International Refugee Assistance Project, the American Civil Liberties Union, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton.
The Justice Department did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Amon's order partially granted a motion to compel filed by the plaintiffs, who include doctors, refugees and students affected by the order. The plaintiffs have also moved for class certification, but there has been no ruling on the motion.
The plaintiffs' motion to compel also contained a proposed order for the government to return any individuals who were removed from the United States as part of the order.

- Click here for the Judge Amon's Wikipedia page.

From the Texas Tribune: Judge: Texas can't kick Planned Parenthood out of Medicaid

Here's a current example of cooperative and/or coercive federalism - depending on your ideological point of view.

- Click here for the article.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks ruled Tuesday afternoon that Texas clinics affiliated with Planned Parenthood can continue to care for patients under the state’s Medicaid program, a phew-worthy victory for reproductive rights advocates and a loss for the state's GOP leaders.
In a 42-page ruling, Sparks wrote that the state's arguments in the case were "the building blocks of a best-selling novel rather than a case concerning the interplay of federal and state authority through the Medicaid program."
"After reviewing the evidence currently in the record, the Court finds the Inspector General, and thus [the Texas Health and Human Services Commission], likely acted to disenroll qualified health care providers from Medicaid without cause," the ruling read. "Such action would deprive Medicaid patients of their statutory right to obtain health care from their chosen qualified provider."
The ruling comes more than a year after Planned Parenthood first sued Texas to stay in the joint federal-state health insurance program for the poor and disabled. Texas had begun the process of kicking Planned Parenthood out — even though its participating clinics provided reproductive health care and cancer screenings, not abortions — in October 2015. But the state did not send a final notice to those providers until December 2016. The affiliates in the lawsuit include Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast and Planned Parenthood of South Texas.
. . . Shortly after the ruling, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a news release he was disappointed with the decision and plans to appeal. He said the videos provided sufficient evidence and "exposed a brazen willingness by Planned Parenthood officials to traffic in fetal body parts."
"No taxpayer in Texas should have to subsidize this repugnant and illegal conduct," Paxton said. "We should never lose sight of the fact that, as long as abortion is legal in the United States, the potential for these types of horrors will continue.”
In court, Planned Parenthood attorneys argued that not allowing the reproductive health provider to stay in the Medicaid program, which is largely funded by the federal government, would severely curb access to care for poor Texas men and women seeking preventive and sexual health services. The attorneys also argued that the state did not have the capacity to deliver these services in the same way Planned Parenthood does and reiterated that state and federal law already prohibit taxpayer dollars from being spent on abortion services.

- Click here for the ruling.
- Click here for Judge Sparks' Wikipedia page.

Monday, February 20, 2017

From GovTrack: A constitutional amendment to reapportion House seats based on citizenship, not residency.

Here's focus on a resolution introduced to change a key component of the Constitution.

- Click here for the article.

Seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are apportioned based on the number of residents of each state. That includes undocumented immigrants, green card holders, and other non-citizens. House Joint Resolution 30, introduced by Rep. Steve King (R-IA4), is a proposed constitutional amendment that would change House apportionment to be based upon citizenship instead of residency.
What the constitutional amendment would do
A 2015 Congressional Research Service report analyzed the effect such a change would produce, using 2013 citizenship figures. Compared to the current numbers, California would lose four House seats, while Texas, Florida, and New York would each lose one. Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Virginia would each gain one seat. The total of 435 seats in the House is fixed by a 1929 law.
The report also adds: “Using citizenship status to apportion the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives tends to benefit states with smaller immigrant populations and cost states with larger immigrant populations.” This is likely the real motivation here, as King has also introduced the Birthright Citizenship Act, which would end the policy of automatic citizenship to anybody born on U.S. soil regardless of parental citizenship.
The bill failed in years past, but the tide may turn under Trump
Rep. Candace Miller (R-MI10), who served until this past year, introduced a similar amendment three times before, in 2005, 2007, and 2009. If cosponsors are any indication, the idea actually became less popular by the year, as the amendment received 37 cosponsors, then 31 cosponsors, and 28 cosponsors. The resolutions proposing the amendment never received a vote in the House Judiciary Committee, and no member of Congress introduced it after that — until this year.
But now has the tide turned? The populist election of President Trump and a newly emboldened and more-conservative Republican congressional majority are resulting in new policies taken against non-citizens such as a Muslim refugee ban and withholding federal funding from sanctuary cities.

Texas Republicans like President Trump

And they suddenly like the direction the country is headed.

Big surprise. Both stories are from the Texas Tribune.

- UT/TT Poll: A new president, popular with Texas Republicans.

- UT/TT Poll: A change in party control prompts a change in Texans’ moods.

From Mother Jones: Trump Expected to Sign Executive Orders Hitting the EPA

I'm posting this because it contains the following quote:
"I read the constitution of the United States, and the word 'environmental protection' does not appear there."

- Click here for the article.

Scott Pruitt will almost certainly be the next head of the Environmental Protection Agency. The Oklahoma attorney general's nomination is expected to sail through the Senate—possibly as soon as Friday—despite Democrats' protests that he is unfit to lead an agency that he has repeatedly sued. The administration has already imposed a freeze on the EPA's social media, halted its rulemaking, and reportedly mandated that all agency research be reviewed by a political appointee before being released to the public. But next week, once Pruitt is sworn in, the real frenzy will begin.
According to Reuters, President Donald Trump plans to sign between two and five environmental executive orders aimed at the EPA and possibly the State Department. The White House is reportedly planning to hold an event at the EPA headquarters, similar to the administration's rollout of its widely condemned travel ban after Defense Secretary James Mattis took office. While we don't know what, exactly, next week's orders will say, Trump is expected to restrict the agency's regulatory oversight. Based on one administration official's bluster, the actions could "suck the air" out of the room.
Trump may have hinted at the forthcoming orders in his unwieldy press conference on Thursday. "Some very big things are going to be announced next week," he said. (He didn't make clear whether or not he was referring to the EPA.)
Former President Barack Obama's array of climate regulations, including the Clean Power Plan limiting power plant emissions, are certainly high on conservative activists' hit list. So, too, is the landmark Paris climate deal, in which Obama agreed to dramatically cut domestic carbon emissions and provide aide to other countries for clean energy projects and climate adaptation. The EPA's rule that defines its jurisdiction over wetlands and streams is also a prime target. As attorney general, Pruitt launched lawsuits against a number of these regulations.
"What I would like to see are executive orders on implementing all of President Trump's main campaign promises on environment and energy, including withdrawing from the Paris climate treaty," said Myron Ebell, who headed Trump's EPA transition and recently returned to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, in an email to Mother Jones.

From C-Span: Presidential Historians Survey: 2017

Just in time for Presidents Day.

This is the first with Obama - he ranks 12th according to the historians

- Click here for the list.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

From the Texas Tribune: Federal judge sanctions Texas in voter registration lawsuit

More on both voter registration, and conflict between the state of Texas and the national government.

- Click here for the article.

A federal judge has ordered sanctions against the state of Texas for blowing past deadlines and ignoring a court order to hand over thousands of pages of documents in a lawsuit challenging its voter registration practices.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office’s “months-long delay” in producing the documents “has been disruptive, time consuming, cost consuming” and has burdened plaintiffs in the lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia of San Antonio wrote in an order signed Thursday. Garcia ordered the state to pay some of the plaintiffs’ legal fees, including those tied to the sanctions request.
The Texas Civil Rights Project last March sued on behalf of four Texans who allege the Department of Public Safety denied them the opportunity to cast a ballot — and violated federal law — by failing to update their voter registration records online.
The group, hoping for quick action during the 2018 election cycle, argued in a motion for sanctions last month that foot-dragging from Paxton’s office was hampering its case. State lawyers turned over less than 2 percent of the 55,000 requested pages by Jan. 17 — a court-ordered deadline set after Texas asked for several extensions.

A very worthwhile rant

So to be completely honestly I can rant on and on about a number of things, but I guess Ill just pick one for this assignment. I'm going to complain about makeup companies and their shade ranges. Now I know that every single makeup company cannot have a shade for every single skin color in the whole universe but come on now. There are so many makeup brands that come out with foundation or concealer that only have like 6 colors and are only for white people. Like its getting ridiculous. There are so many brands of foundation I would love to buy but their darkest color is called “deep” but I'd really actually just for someone with a tan. I take it very offensively because they are making it seem like the black community doesn't wear are up as much so let's just not even give them shade options. Now I'm not saying give one for every shade of black there is but at least make an effort to have some options for the darker complexions. You know what works my nerves even more than not having darker shades at all? It is when the brand comes out with a shade that says “deep” or “ebony” but it is my skin color… like I am not even that dark that is absolutely ridiculous. That's just being stupid because in what world is a light skin person considered deep or ebony.

From the Monkey Cage: Trump wants voter registration investigated. This is how 20 states are already doing it.

Here's a topic that bridges 2305 and 2306.

- Click here for the article.

In a Wednesday morning tweet, President Trump returned to his campaign refrain of widespread electoral problems and called for “an investigation into voter fraud, including those registered to vote in two states.”

Within hours, it was revealed that at least five people close to Trump — daughter Tiffany, son-in-law Jared Kushner, adviser Stephen K. Bannon, treasury nominee Steven Mnuchin and press secretary Sean Spicer — are registered to vote in more than one state.
They are not alone. A 2012 Pew Charitable Trusts report estimated that 2.75 million Americans were on the voter rolls in more than one state and that 1.8 million dead people remained on the rolls.
Like Trump’s family members and associates, these are people who registered to vote legally, but when they moved or passed away, their names were not deleted from voter lists.
It’s not illegal to be registered to vote in more than one state, but it is illegal to vote more than once. By holding more than one registration, a voter could conceivably drive across state lines to cast ballots in different places. Or a voter could request an absentee ballot in one state and vote in person in another state. Such scenarios, even if only a few instances have actually occurred, concern many Americans.
Whose responsibility is it to ensure that voter lists are accurate?
Is it the job of the voters? When they move and register in a new state, should they remember to contact the clerk’s office in their former state to cancel their registration? Should relatives or friends of a person who just passed away be charged with notifying the county clerk?
Some diligent Americans do this. But most expect that the state will find out about a move or a death through government records. This is where the system breaks down.

From the Pew Research Center: A basic question when reading a poll: Does it include or exclude nonvoters?

In some 2305 sections we've been discussing polling. Here's an important reminder of what can throw polls off.

- Click here for the article.

The early days of a new presidential administration produce not just a blizzard of news but a blizzard of numbers. Pollsters of all stripes race to get and report Americans’ first impressions of their new president. But, frustratingly, those reports don’t always match up as precisely as the Type A among us might wish.
Take the past three weeks of polling on President Donald Trump. Depending on the poll, Trump’s approval rating between Feb. 5 and 13 could have been as high as 53% or as low as 39%. So which was it?
There are a number of possible reasons for polls arriving at different estimates – from the mode used to collect data to how people are selected for a survey – but here we’ll tackle one of the most basic: Did the poll include or exclude the 45% of adult Americans who didn’t cast a vote last November?