Friday, April 29, 2016

About that final exam

Next week is the last day for ACC classes. We will mostly wrap up and review. Check blackboard for the date of the final - or ready your syllabus - or check on the ACC website.

Your paper - as well as all other work - is due Thursday 12th at noon.

Click here for a review for each test.

- 2305.
- 2306.

About 10 or so questions on the final will be based on events that occurred over the semester, especially those we talked about in class. Here are links to blog posts to events I consider fair game for each class.

Note: I might add a few links prior to Monday - I'll have the test completed by then and will know more clearly what stories are especially useful to you.


- Iowa Caucus Results.
From 538: Scalia Was Almost Never The Most Conservative Justice On The Supreme Court.- A Matter of Interpretation: Federal Courts and the Law Antonin Scalia.
- From Vox: What are “superdelegates,” and what do they mean for the Democratic nomination?
From the Brookings Institute: Angry voters dominate the presidential primaries.
- Politico: Trump's 6 populist positions His challenges to GOP orthodoxy spur soul-searching among party elites about how to snag working-class voters.
- From 538: When Political Parties Splinter.
From the NYT: Republican Leaders Map a Strategy to Derail Donald Trump.
- From the Pew Research Center: Contested presidential conventions, and why parties try to avoid them.
Trump v The Republican Party.
One person one vote rule upheld.


- From the Texas Tribune: Analysis: The Winner-Take-Some Texas Primaries.
From the Austin American Statesman: Appeals court dismisses Rick Perry’s criminal case.
From Slate: John Oliver Explains Our Nation’s “Ghost Governments,” With Help From Some Adorable Kids.
- Will the legislature re-regulate college tuition?.
- From the San Antonio Express-News: 'Dark money' disclosure fight heading back to the Texas Legislature.|
From the Texas Tribune: Republican Presidential Race Fueled Record Primary Turnout.
From Legal Insurrection: Conservative support grows for criminal justice reform.
From the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: Tort Reform is Killing Trial by Jury.
From the Texas Tribune: Courts Rebuff Texas Bid to Slow Foster Care Reform.
From the Houston Chronicle: City bond rating downgrade reflects oil bust, pension problems.
From the Texas Tribune: Multiple Lawsuits Could Spell Budget Doomsday for State.
- From the San Antonio Express-News: Libertarian and Green parties gather for state conventions.
- From NPR: From Fracking Bans To Paid Sick Leave: How States Are Overruling Local Laws.

Good luck - let me know it you have questions.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

From Governing Magazine: Democratic Secretaries of State Most At Risk in 2016 Races Republicans currently dominate the office that holds significant power over elections.

An inside look at a position central to our discussion of elections in the state. Remember that our SOS is appointed

- Click here for the article.

Presidential campaign years are a busy time for secretaries of state, as they’re preoccupied with getting voters registered, working out ballot logistics, and counting and recounting votes. And this year, a number of secretaries of state also have their own elections to worry about.
In 2016, eight secretaries of state will be chosen directly by voters. In virtually all of these races, the incumbent party is expected to face a competitive primary and/or a competitive general election contest.
Currently, the GOP holds 28 secretary of state offices, and the Democrats hold 22. (That includes the handful of states where the lieutenant governor handles the role of secretary of state.)
Of these offices, most -- but not all -- are directly elected by the voters. Of the 39 elected positions, the Republicans currently dominate, with 23 seats to the Democrats’ 16. The parties split the appointed offices, 4-4, while the Democrats lead 2-1 in states where the legislature chooses the secretary of state.
Secretaries of state can wield significant authority over the details of elections, making them of vital importance to both parties. Some secretaries, such as Kansas Republican Kris Kobach, have used the office to advance an aggressive push for ballot security, or what critics deride as voter suppression.

For more:

- The Troubling Partisanization of Elections for Secretary of State.

From the Fort Worth Start-Telegram: Texas comptroller gives Tarrant County school districts a grace period

A bit on conflict over funding K-12 in Texas.

- Click here for the article.

As bad as things appear with the loss of millions of dollars in local property taxes for schools, the financial problems could have been worse if the Texas comptroller’s office had not stepped in to avert a potential double whammy.
The threat of state cuts occurred because of a mismatch between the property value estimates reported by the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts and the Tarrant Appraisal District. State law requires a difference of several percentage points, and fixing the difference can lead to a process in which local entities could lose substantial revenue.
The school districts dodged the potential financial disaster when the state comptroller declared a two-year grace period and used the local appraisal district’s lower property value estimate, instead of its own, to calculate state aid.
“I was sick to my stomach and sweating BBs at the time,” said Jim Schiele, chief financial officer of the Eagle Mountain-Saginaw school district.
Now school CFOs like Schiele are hoping that TAD appraisals will be in line with the comptroller’s estimates in 2016. After next year, the comptroller may not give school districts a pass if TAD’s appraisals don’t appear realistic.
“I don’t have any more get-out-of-jail free cards,” Fort Worth district CFO Elsie Schiro said. “God forbid that something goes wrong.”
The problems were created by the software conversion of more than 1.6 million property tax records at the Tarrant Appraisal District, which resulted in some incomplete appraisals and slowed down appraisal activities for several months.

From the Houston Chronicle: Health care system punishes most important doctors

For our look at health care policy in the state.

- Click here for the post.

Torres' job is to keep her patients as healthy as possible, the most important job in American health care. But her industry treats primary care physicians so badly that their numbers are shrinking, and there are consequences for all of us if conditions don't improve.
Stress, bureaucracy and case load have left 64 percent of doctors with a negative view of their industry, according to a survey commissioned by the Physician's Foundation, an advocacy group for doctors. Less than 20 percent of physicians say they can accommodate more patients.
Primary care physicians are particularly unhappy, facing the heaviest paperwork burden and the lowest pay. Forty-four percent of doctors say they plan to retire early, cut back on patients or seek a job that doesn't involve patients.
"We're at the bottom of the payment totem pole, for sure," Torres said. "The amount of work we have to do is far greater than the specialist. We have to do a lot of tedious work."
Torres calculates she works about 70 hours a week, which is typical, according to the survey. More than 80 percent of Texas physicians work more than 40 hours a week, with some averaging 80 hours or more.
Torres is also one of the shrinking number of doctors who operate as small businesses. Only 29 percent of Texas doctors still own their practice, and nationwide the number has dropped to 17 percent as physicians join large partnerships or work as employees of hospitals where patients are too often seen as statistics.
"The key word right now is efficiency. But do you want someone who is going to listen to you and take care of you, or do you want someone who will be efficient?" she said when asked why she doesn't work for someone else. "I may not be doing financially the best that I can do, but I am able to pay my bills, I'm happy with how I take care of the patients, and that to me is the important part."

From the Atlantic: The Founding Fathers Weren’t Concerned With Inequality Economic disparity is a problem that has grown along with the nation.

As we discuss in class - it doesn't become an issue at all until the 14th Amendment, and even then it is very weakly defined and enforced.

- Click here for the syllabus.

The first Bill of Rights, of course, refers to the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which allowed for, among other things, freedom of the press, the right to bear arms, and the right to a trial by jury. Those rights, at the time, were top of mind among the country’s founders, who were concerned most with getting Great Britain out of their affairs. The founders didn’t concern themselves with what people in their young country would do if they got sick and couldn’t pay their rent. In fact, neither the Bill of Rights, nor the Declaration of Independence, nor the U.S. Constitution talk explicitly about the nation’s role in making sure its citizens have jobs or homes or earned enough to avoid being impoverished. The only line that even comes close appears in the preamble to the Constitution, where “We the People of the United States” pledge to “promote the general Welfare.” But at no point in the founding literature do the founding fathers identify what constitutes general welfare, or how nation should be upholding it.
Founding documents of other countries that were ratified much later, talk more about equality. The Indian Constitution, for example, was adopted in 1949, and includes an article that requires the state to “secure a social order for the promotion of welfare of the people,” which includes instructions to the state to try and eradicate income inequality.
It raises the question: If Americans today are so concerned with income inequality and the “American Dream,” and if FDR believed so strongly in equality of opportunity, why didn’t the founders talk about these concepts at all in the documents that created the nation? Is it really correct to say that America is built on a foundation of opportunity and economic freedom when that type of equality isn’t mentioned at all?

The answer seems to be that there was little economic inequality at that time - political equality was a different matter.

From the Texas Tribune: Lt. Gov. Patrick Slams Universities for Tuition Increases

Another likely agenda item for the next legislative session. The precise reasons why tuition has increased so much is still up for debate.

- Click here for the article.

In his most aggressive terms yet, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick excoriated Texas universities for raising their tuition in recent years, suggesting that the Texas Senate will try to limit tuition growth when it reconvenes next year.

At a press conference Tuesday before a meeting of the Senate Higher Education Committee, Patrick pointed to graphs detailing how total academic charges at the state's universities have grown 147 percent since 2002. Median household income in the United States has grown just 32 percent during that time, he said.

"People did not send us here to Austin to allow universities to raise tuition five times their salaries," Patrick said.

Patrick said "everything is on the table" in terms of legislative remedies if such growth continues.
"What we are asking is for our universities to be as fiscally responsible as we ask ourselves to be and for our agencies to be," he said. "They are not an exception."
He later added, "They need to scrub their budgets like we scrub ours. Every dollar that they spend needs to be scrubbed."
The average total cost at Texas’ four-year universities for an undergraduate taking 15 hours is $4,179. That’s up from $1,693 in 2002.

For more in the subject:

- College tuition on the rise in Texas, far exceeding household income growth.
- Analysis: Raising College Tuition, Deflecting the Blame.
- The Rising Price of Higher Education.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

From ScotusBlog: “Redskins” name defense reaches Court

This involves the controversial name of the Washington's football team. Can a disparaging term be copyrighted?

- Click here for the article.

- Click here for the writ of certiorari.

Lawyers for the professional football team in Washington, D.C., seeking to salvage the owners’ legal right to the exclusive use of the team name “Redskins,” asked the Supreme Court on Monday afternoon to hear that case before a lower court rules on it, if the Justices also take on a new trademark appeal by the federal government.
The new case is Pro Football, Inc., v. Blackhorse. It was filed five days after the government filed its petition in Lee v. Tam (docket 15-1293). Both deal with the constitutionality of a part of federal trademark law that denies the exclusive right to use words or a symbol if they would “disparage” any living or dead individual, institution, belief, or national symbol. That provision was struck down last December in a case involving a rock music band’s request to register a trademark, “THE SLANTS.” The request was turned down as a racist reference to people of Asian ancestry.

The federal Patent and Trademark Office turned down the rock band’s application and, earlier, it cancelled the Washington football team’s several “Redskins” marks. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, in the Tam case, found that the disparagement provision was unconstitutionally vague. While a federal judge in Virginia agreed with the cancellation of the “Redskins” marks, the team has an appeal in that case pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. It is ready for oral argument there after briefing was completed.
The team’s new petition for review by the Justices ahead of any ruling by the Fourth Circuit noted that the government petition in the Tam case raised the single question of whether the disparagement clause is unconstitutionally vague.

Might there be a conflict between the copyright clause - or at least its interpretation - and free speech?

Monday, April 25, 2016

From Supreme Court Review: Justice Kennedy's Jurisprudence

For a discussion of how Anthony Kennedy approaches the Constitution:

- Click here for the article.

It was clear from Kennedy's confirmation hearing that he was not an originalist, as was Bork or Scalia: he testified at his confirmation hearing: "Over time, the intentions of the framers are more remote from their particular political concerns, and so they have a certain purity and a certain generality now that they did not have previously . . . it sometimes takes humans generations to become aware of the moral consequences of their own conduct. That does not mean that moral principles have not remained the same."
For Kennedy, the liberties in the constitution are not strictly limited to the way they would have been applied at the time of the adoption of the constitution, rather they are general moral principles that may require different applications as time passes in order to maintain the generalized concepts of individuality, liberty and dignity that the framers memorialized in the constitution.
Because Justice Kennedy's philosophy is not as capable of being pigeonholed as other justices, Justice Kennedy has often confounded legal scholars who have attempted to extrapolate a rule-oriented jurisprudence from Justice Kennedy's decisions. In general, however, one can say that Justice Kennedy is reliably conservative in most areas except in cases involving individual rights. For example, Kennedy has consistently departed from his conservative colleagues in gay rights cases.

For more:

- Living in Anthony Kennedy’s World.
Anthony M. Kennedy: A Study of His Judicial Opinions.
- Anthony Kennedy turns moderation into power.
- The Key to Justice Kennedy? Why, It’s Liberty!

Here text from the last link:

The key to Justice ­Kennedy’s votes, Mr. Colucci says, is his moral ­reading of the Constitution: He sees the document as an unfolding story of ever greater individual liberty. Thus he ­opposes laws that abridge sexual ­freedom, including laws against homosexual conduct. If an originalist reading of the Constitution does not reveal such a liberty—relying on the received meaning of the ­Constitution’s words at the time they were ­written—Justice Kennedy’s moral ­reading does. But he is skeptical of race-conscious ­programs, too, because they treat applicants as members of a group rather than as individuals who possess the right to be free from group-based policies or rules.
. . . Most valuably, Mr. Colucci shows Justice Kennedy’s judicial philosophy to be a deeply rooted one and not, as one might suspect, the result of varied decisions that require a casuist or law professor to make coherent. He unearths a speech from 1986 in which Justice Kennedy (then an appeals-court judge) criticized ­Bowers v. Hardwick, a case in which the Supreme Court upheld a conviction for sodomy. At the time the judge did not argue, as others had, that the decision ­violated the right to privacy minted more than a ­decade before in Roe v. Wade. He argued instead that the liberty interests of gay Americans had been breached. In 2003, the court overruled Bowers v. Hardwick, and Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion using the rhetoric of liberty rather than privacy.

From the NYT: Virginia Governor Restores Voting Rights to Felons

We discussed Texas' policy on voting rights for felons in class. Many states prevent people convicted of felonies to ever regain the right to vote. Virginia was one. Not any more. The decision has a political dimension to it since it is likely to benefit Democrats.

- Click here for the article.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia used his executive power on Friday to restore voting rights to more than 200,000 convicted felons, circumventing the Republican-run legislature. The action effectively overturns a Civil War-era provision in the state’s Constitution aimed, he said, at disenfranchising African-Americans.
The sweeping order, in a swing state that could play a role in deciding the November presidential election, will enable all felons who have served their prison time and finished parole or probation to register to vote. Most are African-Americans, a core constituency of Democrats, Mr. McAuliffe’s political party.
Amid intensifying national attention over harsh sentencing policies that have disproportionately affected African-Americans, governors and legislatures around the nation have been debating — and often fighting over — moves to restore voting rights for convicted felons. Virginia imposes especially harsh restrictions, barring felons from voting for life.
In Kentucky, Gov. Matt Bevin, a newly elected Republican, recently overturned an order enacted by his Democratic predecessor that was similar to the one Mr. McAuliffe signed Friday. In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, vetoed a measure to restore voting rights to convicted felons, but Democrats in the state legislature overrode him in February and an estimated 44,000 former prisoners who are on probation can now register to vote.
“There’s no question that we’ve had a horrible history in voting rights as relates to African-Americans — we should remedy it,” Mr. McAuliffe said in an interview Thursday, previewing the announcement he made on the steps of Virginia’s Capitol, just yards from where President Abraham Lincoln once addressed freed slaves. “We should do it as soon as we possibly can.”
Republicans in the Virginia Legislature have resisted measures to expand voting rights for convicted felons, and Mr. McAuliffe’s action, which he said was justified under an expansive legal interpretation of his executive clemency authority, provoked an immediate backlash. Virginia Republicans issued a statement Friday accusing the governor of “political opportunism” and “a transparent effort to win votes.”
“Those who have paid their debts to society should be allowed full participation in society,” said the statement from the party chairman, John Whitbeck. “But there are limits.” He said Mr. McAuliffe was wrong to issue a blanket restoration of rights, even to those who “committed heinous acts of violence.”
The order includes those convicted of violent crimes, including murder and rape. There is no way to know how many of the newly eligible voters in Virginia will register. “My message is going to be that I have now done my part,” Mr. McAuliffe said.
Nationally, an estimated 5.85 million Americans are denied the right to vote because of felony convictions, according to The Sentencing Project, a Washington research organizations, which says one in five African-Americans in Virginia cannot vote.
Only two states, Maine and Vermont, have no voting restrictions on felons; Virginia is among four – the others are Kentucky, Florida and Iowa – that have the harshest restrictions.

Everything you ever wanted to know about school finance in Texas

Well, very likely more than you ever wanted to know.

For 2306 - lot's more detail than what you get in the text:

- From the TEA: School Finance 101:Funding of Texas Public Schools.
- From the TTARA: An Introduction toSchool Financein Texas.
- From Texas Code: Texas Education Code.
- Texas Comptroller's Office: Texas School Funding at a Glance.

From Rising debt, taxes dim economic outlook in Texas

The group highlights a study by an influential interest group that is not bullish on Texas' economic prospects./

- Click here for the article.

Texas lawmakers have their work cut out for them if the Lone Star State is to stop its slide in a national economic rating.
The American Legislative Exchange Councildowngraded Texas to No. 12 in its 50-state economic outlook released Tuesday. The state was 11th last year and has never cracked the top 10.
Four states leapfrogged over Texas: Florida, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
“With so many states now cutting taxes, Texas faces more competition than ever,” said Jonathan Williams, co-author of the report and vice president of the market-oriented ALEC Center for State Fiscal Reform.
ALEC’s “Rich States, Poor States” study examined the latest trend lines in economic health. The outlook model scored states using 15 equally weighted policy variables, including various tax rates, regulatory burdens and labor policies.
Williams cited three key areas where Florida, a rival Sunbelt mega-state with no income tax, bested Texas:
- Property tax burden: Florida ranks 27th; Texas is 10 points heavier at 37th.
- Debt service: Texas is the second worst in the country at 49th; Florida places 36th.
- Public employees per 10,000 population: Texas is a middling 30th; Florida boasts the third lowest rate in the nation.
Overall, Florida jumped seven spots in the outlook standings to place eighth in the nation. Tennessee, another state with no income tax, posted the biggest gain — climbing 10 spots to seventh place.
“Rich States, Poor States” ranked Texas No. 1 on economic performance. ALEC calls that index “a backward-looking measure” of gross domestic product gains, population growth and non-farm employment.
Are Texas’ best days in the rearview mirror?

- Click here for the study.
- Click here for the wikipedia entry on the American Legislative Exchange Council.

From the Houston Chronicle: Texas needs to dump its franchise tax and come up with something better

Texas still doesn't know how best to tax its businesses.

- Click here for the article.

The franchise tax dates to 1907 and was premised on the idea that companies should pay something for the privilege of doing business in Texas. Over the years, it evolved into a payment made by some companies in return for state laws that limited their legal liabilities. These fees and costs were generally low and spread out across the business community.
That changed in 2006 when the Texas Supreme Court declared that because the Legislature limited what local authorities could charge in property tax rates - forcing almost all of them to charge the maximum rate - the Legislature had created a de facto state property tax. Since the Texas Constitution forbids such a thing, the court ordered the Legislature to find new ways to pay for things like schools.
The solution was a franchise tax based on margins of revenues, not on income. There are four methods of calculating the taxable margins on gross receipts in Texas, and companies are allowed to pick the one that is best for them. Unfortunately, that requires many companies to make all four calculations using an accountant with specialized training.
Compliance is therefore expensive, but the good news is that with a $1 million exemption, 94 percent of Texas companies will not have to pay any tax.
That doesn't make Texas a low-tax state for businesses, though. Businesses pay 64 percent of the taxes collected in Texas, compared with the 45 percent national average. Texas' effective tax rate on business is 5 percent, higher than the national average of 4.7 percent.
The business community let out a cheer last year when the Legislature came close to eliminating the franchise tax, but Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick insisted on raising the homestead exemption on personal property taxes. Instead, lawmakers only cut the franchise tax rate by 25 percent with a promise to ultimately phase out the tax.
That was 2015, though, when 1,600 oil and gas rigs were drilling in Texas, sales tax collections were jumping and appraisal districts were raising property values at a breakneck pace. Lawmakers know 2017 will be different.

From the Texas Tribune: Ted Cruz Shifts Policy Stances to Suit Fractured GOP

For our look at parties in the state of Texas, coupled with the ongoing campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

- Click here for the article.

At the start of the presidential campaign,Ted Cruz told voters he would be the only “consistent conservative” in a crowded Republican field.
Then he confronted the modern GOP — a fractured party, in which each faction has a different definition of what “conservative” means.
To consistently please all of them, Cruz has had to be inconsistent with himself.
Time and again he has shifted, shaded or obfuscated his policy positions — piling on new ideas, which sometimes didn’t fit with the old.
Cruz, for instance, promised libertarians that he would show a strict respect for the Constitution’s checks and balances.
Then, the senator from Texas promised social conservatives that he would scrap one of those checks and balances, stripping lifetime tenure from Supreme Court justices.
He criticized Donald Trump’s plan for mass deportation of undocumented immigrants. Then he seemed to support it. He appeared skeptical of military intervention in Syria. Then he vowed to find out whether “sand can glow in the dark” there.
Cruz’s maneuvering has helped him build and maintain a base of support among the party’s activist class: If Trump fails to win the GOP nomination outright, Cruz could have enough backing among Republican delegates to win it after the first ballot at the party’s convention in Cleveland in July.
But while Cruz’s rightward shifts might have been politically smart during the primary season, they probably would create major challenges during the general election, putting Cruz far to the right of most voters.

Random posts on taxes in Texas and the Houston area

From HCC: Truth in Taxation.
From the HRO: Major Issues of the 84th Legislature: Taxation and Revenue.
From the LBB: Fiscal Size-Up - 2014-15 Biennium.

From the Texas Tribune: Analysis: Texas Legislative Review Process Needs a Review

The Sunset Review process is falling under criticism.

- Click here for the article.

When the Texas Department of Transportation was up for its periodic legislative review in 2009, the must-pass bill became a magnet for every legislative idea that had not already passed on its own.|
“There were, like, 200 or 250 amendments,” recalled House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, in an interview last week. “I couldn’t even see the parliamentarian for the stacks of amendments everywhere. It was just ridiculous.”
He has a pretty good memory: An aide looked it up and found there were 222 amendments. The most important thing to remember, however, was that after months of work on one of the state’s biggest and most important agencies, that so-called Sunset legislation failed.
“It makes a mockery of the whole Sunset process, and it makes me question whether or not it still serves a useful purpose,” Straus said. “So, let’s give it a try, to try to refocus and instill some discipline, and see how we do.”

From TribTalk: New budget process means unprecedented power for governor

For more on our look at recent attempts to increase the power of the Texas Governor.

- Click here for the article.

The heady days of the Texas Legislature's superiority in state budget writing seem to have come to a close in favor of giving the governor an unprecedented amount of power over how the state spends its money.
On April 14, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson sent out a piece of correspondence that portends major changes for how the budget is written and how bills get passed next session — and probably forever:

"The Senate Finance Committee will be incorporating the principles of zero-based budgeting when drafting our state budget and for transparency purposes will be requesting supplemental programmatic level budget information."
This means that the Senate will file a bill in January 2017 with zeroes for all state agencies and that it will report a committee substitute in approximately April 2017 with line-item program budgets, not the broad — and largely veto-proof — strategy budgets of the last 25 years. This is the next step, technocratic as it is, in a major power change at the Capitol.
The governor never had it so good.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

From Grits for Breakfast: Fair Chance Recap

Here's a story that combines out look at criminal justice reform with pre-emption, specifically with the relationship between local governments and the state of Texas. Should landlords and employers be prevented from asking about criminal history in the initial application?

- Click here for the post.

Cutting to the chase:

Briefly, the arguments on either side of “ban the box”:


- Helps restore civil rights to people who have been incarcerated and puts them and their loved ones on the road to economic stability.
- Lowers recidivism; employment is one of the strongest predictors of desistance from crime.
- Increases applicant pools for businesses.
- Expands tax base for communities and governments.


- Restricts businesses’ freedom.
- Opens businesses up to litigation if they rescind an offer after doing a background check.
- Imposes high costs on employers.
- Without criminal history information, employers will assume criminal histories for black and brown people and discriminate even more than they already do.

From the New York Times: This Is Our Country. Let’s Walk It. In much of Europe, walking wherever you want is perfectly legal. Not in America.

There's lots of undeveloped land in the US - much of it out west - that is privately owned. Which means you can't walk on it legally. This is a policy choice we make here. Other countries do. It might be worth considering what this says about political culture in the US.

We have no right to roam.

But there is a right to exclude.

- Click here for the article.

Might we be better off if we could, like a Scot or a Swede, legally amble over our rolling fields and through our shady woods, rather than have to walk alongside unscenic, noisy and dangerous roads? The organization Smart Growth Americareported that from 2003 to 2012 over 47,000 pedestrians were killed and an estimated 676,000 were injured walking along roads. Our lack of safe and peaceful walking places may also contribute to the nation’s status as one of the more sedentary countries in the world. According to a 2012 study by The Lancet, over 40 percent of Americans don’t get the recommended amount of exercise per week.
If we want to create more safe and scenic walking spaces, we should look to Europe’s roaming laws for ideas on opening up our countryside. But would a European “right to roam” law work in the United States?
Jerry Anderson, a Drake University Law School professor who has studied American and British property law, says that emulating Britain’s right-to-roam laws would be difficult because of the takings clause of our Fifth Amendment, which declares that private property cannot “be taken for public use, without just compensation.”Continue reading the main story
“It’s not impossible,” said Mr. Anderson. “You would have to compensate the landowners, and then the question would be, ‘How much compensation is a public right of access worth?’ ”
The amount of compensation is difficult to determine because Britain and other countries with roaming laws don’t have anything like our takings clause. In Britain, landowners were not compensated when their exclusionary rights were compromised by roaming laws. Laws like those in England, Wales and Scotland would probably be declared unconstitutional here.
America, though, started off with an expansive set of roaming rights and traditions. Brian Sawers, a visiting scholar at Emory University School of Law, says that the right to roam — specifically the right to hunt on private, unenclosed land — was cherished by early Americans because it distinguished them from the English, whose aristocracy held exclusive hunting rights and owned the great majority of the country.Photo
The right to roam “was something we had and lost,” said Mr. Sawers.
Roaming rights began to erode in the late 19th century, according to Mr. Sawers. In the South, states passed trespassing laws for racial reasons, seeking to keep blacks from hunting and fishing so as to starve them into submission. Elsewhere, wealthy landowners of the Gilded Era became concerned with game populations, and trespassing and hunting laws were passed to restrict immigrants, he said.
In 1922, the Supreme Court in McKee v. Gratz ruled that in areas where there is a “common understanding,” the public may be permitted to hunt, fish and travel unenclosed land. However, this right is revoked the second the landowner posts a “No Trespassing” sign, according to Mr. Anderson. This is referred to as a landowner’s “right to exclude,” which, over the years, has grown only more powerful and absolute in a series of Supreme Court decisions.

- Click here for the decision in McKee v. Gratz.

From Vox: These states let police take and keep your stuff even if you haven't committed a crime

A bit more for out look at criminal justice.

- Click here for the article.

Most states in America let police take and keep your stuff without convicting you of a crime.
These states fully allow what's known as "civil forfeiture": Police officers can seize someone's property without proving the person was guilty of a crime; they just need probable cause to believe the assets are being used as part of criminal activity, typically drug trafficking.
Police can then absorb the value of this property — be it cash, cars, guns, or something else — as profit, either through state programs or under a federal program known as Equitable Sharing, which lets local and state police get up to 80 percent of the value of what they seize as money for their departments.
But the restrictions in some states, such as California and New Mexico, make it so they can't keep that property without a criminal conviction under many circumstances, under state law. And, therefore, they won't be able to take people's property as easily for personal profit.So police not only can seize people's property without proving involvement in a crime, but they have a financial incentive to do so. It's the latter that state restrictions on civil forfeiture attempt to limit: Police should still be able to seize property as evidence.

And in case you are curious - and as you would suspect - Texas is one of the states thatcan take your stuff without a conviction.

Are liberals driving working class whites out of the Democratic Party?

Have elites driven away working class voters from a party they once dominated? Here are two thoughts on the subject: 

- Yes: The smug style in American liberalism.
- No: Is Liberalism Really “Smug”?Vox says smugness has reshaped the Democratic Party. How droll

From the former:

Beginning in the middle of the 20th century, the working class, once the core of the coalition, began abandoning the Democratic Party. In 1948, in the immediate wake of Franklin Roosevelt, 66 percent of manual laborers voted for Democrats, along with 60 percent of farmers. In 1964, it was55 percent of working-class voters. By 1980, it was 35 percent.
The white working class in particular saw evensharper declines. Despite historic advantages with both poor and middle-class white voters, by 2012 Democrats possessed only a 2-point advantage among poor white voters. Among white voters making between $30,000 and $75,000 per year, the GOP has taken a 17-point lead.
The consequence was a shift in liberalism's intellectual center of gravity. A movement once fleshed out in union halls and little magazines shifted into universities and major press, from the center of the country to its cities and elite enclaves. Minority voters remained, but bereft of the material and social capital required to dominate elite decision-making, they were largely excluded from an agenda driven by the new Democratic core: the educated, the coastal, and the professional.
It is not that these forces captured the party so much as it fell to them. When the laborer left, they remained.

From the latter:

That liberal smugness might deter the white working class from the Democratic Party seems reasonable, if unfalsifiable. But to suggest that it is a prime mover in their alienation from the party is to ignore the actual dynamics at work. The driving reason working-class whites abandoned the Democratic Party is race. The New Deal coalition Rensin describes was devoured by its own contradictions, chiefly, the racism needed to secure white allegiance even as the party tried to appeal to blacks.

Pressed by those blacks, Democrats tried to make good on their commitments, and when they did, whites bolted. The Democratic Party’s alliance with nonwhites is what drove those whites away, not the sniffing of comedians on cable television. And, looking at the politics of the last seven years, it’s still keeping them away. (It’s worth noting that, up until left-leaning whites and minorities elected Barack Obama president, Democrats suffered little loss with working-class whites outside of the South.)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

From Marketplace: Why Houston keeps flooding

More on the subject. Could be a case study in the difficulties of local governance.

- Click here for the article.

Officials in Harris County, Texas said that 240 billion gallons of rain have fallen in the greater Houston area the past couple of days. After the devastating Memorial Day floods in Houston last year, a professor who studies these things called Houston "the number one city in America to be injured and die in a flood.

Samuel Brody, a professor of marine sciences and planning at Texas A&M University and co-author of a book called "
Rising Waters The Causes and Consequences of Flooding in the United States."

He said the flooding in Houston is an important reminder that putting people, pavement, and structures in vulnerable areas can lead to disastrous consequences. 

"Houston's unique in that it's a low-lying area barely above sea level, it's originally made up of bayous and soils that don't drain too well, and it's a city that's afflicted by flooding from both the sea, saltwater flooding and rainfall based flooding. The problem is not the environmental conditions, the problem is pavement. The city is growing at a tremendous rate over the last fifteen years, we added over 25 percent more pavement in the area, and with pavement and people and structures in environmentally vulnerable places that equates to a lot of flood damage."

The more pavement in former wetlands areas, the more flooding. There's even a formula.

"In the Houston area," Brody said, "every square meter of pavement equates to about $4,000 in extra flood damage. And over the last eleven years, Houston alone has incurred over $3.5 billion in just insured losses to residences and businesses."

From TribTalk: With LGBT issues, Abbott must balance base and businesses

For our look at parties in Texas. State Republican parties are conflicted in their response to last year's gay marriage ruling. Business interests want to pull them in one direction, religious interests in another.

- Click here for the article.

The politics of the Texas GOP leadership’s immediate and no doubt well-planned responses to the court’s validation of same sex marriage echoed the responses by much of the southern wing of their party, and they provided a glimpse of things yet to come in Texas once national politics stabilize after the November elections. But these responses, and their underlying approach to the problem, are not without their share of difficulties.

The recent resistance of GOP-led state governments in Mississippi and North Carolina to local efforts to prevent discrimination against gay and lesbian residents has been met by a very public backlash from corporate actors in sectors ranging from professional sports leagues and banks to tech giants and manufacturers. Their repudiation has highlighted the increasingly familiar friction within the GOP between its socially conservative voting base and the business interests that in many cases play an outsized role in the party’s donor class.

The governors of these and other states have discovered that businesses looking to recruit and retain educated, cosmopolitan employees; to sell their products and services to the broadest possible base of customers, especially young ones; and to avoid pressure from gay and lesbian civil rights groups don’t want to be associated with policies perceived as being discriminatory against the LGBT community. Bigotry is bad for business. The Texas Association of Business has been a loud warning voice on this front, underlining the economic — rather than the ideological — nature of these concerns for many otherwise solidly Republican interests in the state.

This resistance notwithstanding, it is all but certain that the lieutenant governor, his allies and their fellow travelers in the Legislature will resume efforts to pass “religious protection” measures when the next legislative session cranks. These efforts will pose challenges to Republican leaders attempting to keep the disparate elements that make up their party within the GOP tent — especially Governor Abbott.

From Oyez: Crawford v. Marion County Election Board

For 2306 - in 2008 the Supreme Court upheld Indiana's voter ID laws.

- Click here for the page.

The result:

By a vote of 6 to 3, the Court upheld the law, concluding that the photo I.D. requirement was closely related to Indiana's legitimate state interests in preventing voter fraud. The slight burden the law imposed on voters' rights did not outweigh these interests, which the Court characterized as "neutral and nondiscriminatory." Although there was no majority opinion, the Court's decision included concurring opinions written by Justices John Paul Stevens and Antonin Scalia. Justices David Souter and Stephen Breyer each wrote dissenting opinions. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined Justice Souter's dissent.

The court has yet to rule in Texas' voter ID laws, though they have allowed it to be used while the case proceeds.

- Supreme Court Allows Texas to Use Strict Voter ID Law in Coming Election.

From the Economist: Texas's voter-ID law - So, is it suppressing voters?

This is a year and a half old, but the evidence at the time was mixed.

- Click here for the article.

So, is Texas's voter-ID law deterring voters? The answer, so far, is hardly clear. Let's look at the early-voting period, which ended on October 31st: 19.11% of the registered voters in Texas’s 15 most populous counties weighed in, either in person or by mail. During this same period in 2010—the last non-presidential election year—the figure was 20.76%. Though the state has seen a steep rise in registered voters in recent years, the total number of early votes cast had ticked down, from 1,731,589 in 2010, to 1,715,731 this year.

Texas is known for its low turnout rate. Gerrymandered districts ensure few of the legislative races are competitive, and polls suggest that Republicans will once again win all the major races this year by whopping margins. Yet the decline in early voters is notable, as the state’s elections are busier and more exciting than usual this year. After more than a decade with Rick Perry at the helm, the state is getting a new governor; all of the top jobs in state government, in fact, are changing hands. And despite more than two decades of disarray, the Democrats started the cycle in a fighting mood. With Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth state senator, they have a high-profile candidate at the top of the ticket, and a number of impressive other candidates. In 2010 the party didn’t even have a candidate for comptroller; this year they chanced upon one
with a sterling record from the private sector. National Democrats have also made a splashy effort to rally the troops via an initiative called Battleground Texas, which reportedly raised about $6.6m so far this year. Yet Texas voters are apparently failing to respond to all of this hubbub.

Perhaps this means the state's new law is suppressing turnout. Several details seem to confirm this possibility. For starters, the figures from Texas are consistent with patterns evident in other states.
As Nate Silver wrote in 2012, laws requiring photo ID “seem to decrease turnout by about 2 percent as a share of the registered voter population.” It is also intriguing that while fewer Texans voted early in person this year, there has been a spike in the number voting by mail, which allows people to evade the photo-ID regulation as long as they can prove they are either disabled, aged 65 or older, travelling or confined in jail.

For more:

- Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Voter ID Laws.
- Measuring the Effects of Voter Identification Laws.
- Voters Turned Away Because of Texas Photo ID Law.

From Politifact: Voter fraud occurs in Texas, though convictions and guilty pleas are rare

The organization claims that it is wrong to say that voter fraud does not occur - for consideration in 2306 when we look at voting in the state.

- Click here for the article.

. . . Trimble’s sources mostly referred to voter fraud -- deception committed by individual voters, such as voting more than once, impersonating a voter or voting despite ineligibility -- rather than overall election fraud, which encompasses actions by others, such as election officials or campaign workers, who break election laws in ways that could include intimidating voters, publishing misinformation about polling places or possessing ballots not their own.

We dipped into that distinction in an April 2012 fact-check that rated as
Half True a claim from Abbott that he had secured 50 convictions for election fraud. Abbott’s basis was his office’s records on 2002-12 prosecutions for alleged election code violations.

For this fact-check, we asked Abbott’s office for an updated list. County district attorneys and the Texas secretary of state’s elections division usually refer allegations of election code violations to the attorney general. We also called the secretary’s office and several district attorney offices around the state, but found no specific information about how many violations were reported or prosecuted.

Abbott spokeswoman Lauren Bean emailed us records showing that from August 2002 through September 2012, the office received
616 allegations of election-code violations and recorded 78 election-code prosecutions.

By our count, 46 of the prosecutions ended with a conviction, guilty plea, no-contest plea or guilty plea as part of deferred adjudication. Of those, 18 cases appeared to involve fraud committed by individual voters: 12 cases with ineligible voters, five cases of voter impersonation and one case of voting more than once.

So, by our reading of the attorney general’s records, 18 instances of voter fraud have been confirmed in Texas since 2002.

From Slate: Blood Tests and Bad Lawyering. The Supreme Court finds unity in the face of bumbling attorneys and a tough Fourth Amendment case.

Things apparently did not go well at oral for the lawyers in this 4th Amendment case argued yesterday.

- Click here for the article.

Here's a taste:

“So that excuses you from a constitutional requirement?” Justice Sonia Sotomayor says. “We’re now going to bend the Fourth Amendment?”

Justice Elena Kagan jumps in.

“I think what people are asking you,” she says patiently, “is to try to get some sense of the real-world harms here.” Imagine a system where cops could get a warrant within 10 or 15 minutes, Kagan offers. “What would be the problem with just relying on a system like that?”

McCarthy begins to talk about Fourth Amendment complications, and Kagan butts in.

“But I’m asking about your practical needs,” she reminds him. Yet McCarthy continuesto talk about the complexities of Fourth Amendment law, seemingly ignoring Kagan’s question.

“I did not understand that answer!” Kennedy says. “We’re saying: Suppose it takes 15 minutes. What then?”

“Well … ” McCarthy begins, but Kennedy just gives up and starts lecturing.

“You’re asking for an extraordinary exception here,” he tells McCarthy. “You’re asking for us to make it a crime to exercise what many people think of as a constitutional right!”

A flustered McCarthy starts citing cases, but Breyer cuts in again.

“None of us want an answer in terms of law!” he says. “We want to know a practical fact!” Could North Dakota create a workable insta-warrant system—and if so, would a warrant requirement for blood tests be reasonable?

McCarthy says he wants to “step back here” then babbles for a few seconds.

“You’re not answering the question,” Kennedy says flatly.

When McCarthy’s time runs out, he is replaced at the lectern by Kathryn Keena, who is, to everybody’s astonishment, even worse than McCarthy. Keena begins by summarizing her autobiography. “Having grown up 20 miles from the North Dakota border and attending college in the Fargo-Moorhead area,” she tells the justices, who look visibly confused and irritated, “I’m very familiar with what the realities are in the rural area. And yes, it may be possible to get a search warrant in every case. But if that’s what this court is going to require, in Minnesota, we are going to be doing warrants for blood draws in every case. And that is not what this court wants.”

A majority of justices spent the last several minutes suggesting that, in fact, warrants are exactly what the court wants. Everyone looks befuddled.

“What?” Breyer says. “Why?”

And it goes on like this for 10 excruciating minutes, during which Keena accidentally reveals that cops bring drivers to stations for chemical tests anyway—meaning they could easily request warrants on the ride there. I will spare you the bulk of Keena’s outrageously bumbling performance, but I must share this closing colloquy. When Sotomayor gives Keena a brutally frank summary of her untenable position, Keena does not respond.

- Oyez: Birchfield v. North Dakota.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

From Slate: The Primaries Aren’t Democratic? They’re Not Supposed to Be Democratic. The parties are doing what parties are built to do: pick the candidates who best represent them.

A useful reminder of what parties are and what they do. Not that this matters.

- Click here for the article.

. . . Trump wants Republicans and independents, “not the party bosses,” to choose the nominee. Lewandowski complains that in some states, delegates are chosen based on “whether they run for statewide office and how much volunteering they have done,” while other applicants are slighted “because they haven't been involved the last 25 years. That’s everything that’s wrong with the party system.”

Everything that’s wrong with the party system? Dude, that is the party system. A party is an organization. It has every right to award clout based on how much work you’ve put in over the years. Why should drive-by independents get more say than party bosses? I should know: I was one of those independents. In 2000, the Maryland Republican Party allowed people like me to vote in its presidential primary. I voted for John McCain over George W. Bush. McCain was a better fit for people like me. But was he a better fit for the party? And isn’t that the point of a Republican primary—to choose a candidate who will represent the GOP?

From NORML: Congressional Scorecard

In honor of 4/20 of course.

And it provides an example of how interest groups can send messages to supporters, as well as give warning to members of Congress that they are keeping track of them.

- Click here for it.

NORML is pleased to present its 2016 Congressional Scorecard. The Scorecard is an all-encompassing database that assigns a letter grade 'A' through 'F' to members of Congress based on their marijuana-related comments and voting records. The information provided in the scorecard will periodically be updated as needed.
Read the executive summary to learn why the Scorecard is important, how the grades were calculated, and key findings of our research. Then, check out your Congressional members' voting records on marijuana law reform amendments. If you find this tool useful, please consider making adonation of at least $4.20 so that we may continue to work towards legalization and providing you the tools necessary to be an informed voter.

From the executive summary, a list of the votes they took into consideration to determine their grades:

NORML weighed the following votes when determining our grades for US Representatives:
The 2015 McClintock/Polis Amendment: This language, which was defeated by the House, sought to prohibit the Department of Justice from interfering with state-specific, adult use marijuana laws.
The 2015 Rohrabacher/Farr Amendment: This language, which was passed by the House, prohibits the Department of Justice from interfering with state-specific medical marijuana programs that license the production and dispensing of cannabis to qualified patients.
The 2015 Blumenauer Amendment: This language, which was defeated by the House, sought to permit physicians affiliated with the US Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend cannabis therapy to veterans in states that allow for its therapeutic use.
NORML weighed the following amendment votes when determining our grades for US Senators:
The 2015 Daines/Merkley Amendment: This language, which was passed by the Senate but later defeated in conference with the House, sought to permit physicians affiliated with the US Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend cannabis therapy to veterans in states that allow for its therapeutic use.
The 2015 Mikulski Amendment: This language, which was passed by the Senate, prohibits the Department of Justice from interfering with state-specific medical marijuana programs that license the production and dispensing of cannabis to qualified patients
The 2015 Merkley Amendment: This language, which was passed by the Senate but later defeated in conference with the House, sought to prohibit the US Treasury Department from using federal funds to take punitive actions against banks and other financial institutions that provide services to marijuana-related businesses that are operating legally under state laws.

Ballotpedia on the three dominant ways to interpret the Constitution

For tomorrow's dual credit 2305:

- Living Constitution.
- Originalism.
- Textualism.

You might find this useful as well: Theories of Constitutional Interpretation.

From the Texas Tribune: Teacher Group Sues Over Plan to Tie Evaluations to Tests

Still more on education in Texas - this time one that involves interest groups, the courts and civil law.

- Click here for the article.

A teachers group filed a lawsuit Wednesday in an attempt to block the state from implementing a controversial system that for the first time ties assessments of educators to student performance on standardized tests.
In a lawsuit filed against Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath in Travis County district court, the Texas State Teachers Association alleges that the new teacher evaluation system — the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System, or T-TESS — violates state law by requiring school districts to base 20 percent of each teacher's evaluation on “student growth measures” that include standardized test scores.

Those student growth measures may include “value added measures,” or VAM, which “is typically based on a complicated formula that compares actual student test scores to the scores predicted by a mathematical target based on the standardized test scores of similar student populations,” the association explained in a statement.
“TSTA contends that state law … clearly requires a teacher appraisal system adopted by the commissioner to be based on ‘observable, job-related behavior,’” the statement said. “But a VAM model is not ‘observable’ and is not even available to teachers and others who wish to understand the basis for their evaluations.”

From City Lab: Do Local Governments Have a Role to Play in Mental Health?

For 2306's look at local government and public policy.

- Click here for the article.

The advertisements on public transportation don’t usually warrant a second glance, let alone a conversation. But on the New York subway last week, a new series of banners went up, asking people to start talking. “Depression doesn’t define me,” one reads. Another one: “Addiction can affect anyone and is treatable.” At the bottom of all of them is this line: “Let’s talk openly about mental health issues. Together we can heal.”
These notices come not from a special-interest group or a medical institution, but from the City of New York. ThriveNYC, spearheaded by First Lady Chirlane McCray, is a comprehensive program intended to improve access to mental health care across the city and break down barriers to treatment, including longstanding cultural stigma. ThriveNYC, which officially launched last November, has an $850 million budget and will work with 20 city agencies on 54 initiatives. The subway banners are part of one of them, an awareness campaign called “Today I Thrive,” which brings long-silenced mental health issues out into the open.
The ThriveNYC campaign coincides with a growing worldwide recognition that mental health concerns must be addressed. One in four people will be affected by mental health concerns in their lifetime; at a conference held in Washington, D.C. from April 13-14 of this year, the World Bank and World Health Organization brought together hundreds of doctors, aid groups, and government organizations in an effort to move mental health to the forefront of the global agenda. Speaking to NPR, Dr. Shekhar Saxena, who oversees WHO’s mental health and substance abuse sectors, said that a failure to treat just depression and anxiety costs the world $1 trillion per year. “We believe that all countries need to pay more attention to mental health,” he said.

In metropolitan areas like like Houston, the largest provider of mental health care recently has been the Harris County Jail. Probably not the optimal provider.


Some revisions need revising.

- Click here fore the article.

why is the board "streamlining" the TEKS?

Well, the official reason is pretty basic. The curriculum requirements are simply being shortened, Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe said in an email.
"There has been a concern that the curriculum standards for all the core subjects are too long. So the board is appointing review committees that will examine the TEKS to see if some standards can be eliminated or combined with others," she told us.
However, the real reason that the State Board of Education is taking another look at the curriculum requirements for all the core subjects is a little more complicated.

It goes back to the board's epic culture wars in 2009 and 2010 over the science and social studies curricula, respectively. Back in 2009, the state's science curriculum was the subject of a fierce battle between those on the board who were pushing to include creationism as a scientific explanation of how humans came to be here versus those who were fighting to make sure the board didn't toss out Darwinian evolution altogether.
The creationists succeeded in making it a requirement to mention the Bible-centric view of how people came to be on the Earth, but only to a point. Textbook publishers opted to skip the TEKS requirements that would have booted basic tenets of evolution out of the science textbooks.
"The publishers ignored that stuff and published books with real science," says Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network, a grassroots organization that has been focused on the board's approach to textbooks for years.
Teachers have had to find materials outside of the textbooks to teach the stuff not included in the textbooks.

So the textbooks didn't end up reflecting the full extent of the science curriculum, while at the same time the curriculum itself quickly became a problem. The end result of all the bickering on the board was a set of science TEKS so long, detailed and unwieldy that teachers had trouble getting through the curriculum over the course of the school year.

This and That about the SBOE

- Some Texas State Board of Education Members Don't Know What The Big Deal Is With Textbook Misprints.
Over the weekend, social media blew up over the misprint in a Texas social studies textbook that implies that African slaves were brought as "workers." To make matters worse, the wording in that particular section of the textbook fails to distinguish indentured workers from slaves.

McGraw-Hill Education said it “conducted a close review of the content and agree(s) that our language in that caption did not adequately convey that Africans were both forced into migration and to labor against their will as slaves.” The textbook publisher promised to change the caption's wording in their textbooks, which caused some Texas State Board of Education members to say that they didn't understand what all the hubbub was about.

- SBOE Members Question Teacher Prep Requirements.
Texas education officials took an initial step Thursday toward asking the state to reconsider raising the minimum college GPA needed for prospective educators to enter certification programs.

"A little nod ... saying 'we know you can do it, and we support you in this' would be a positive thing," said State Board of Education Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, who added that the change would help restore "pride and value" to teaching.
Cargill made her remarks at a Thursday morning hearing of the SBOE's Committee on School Initiatives, which recommended in a 3-2 vote to reject rules recently passed by State Board of Educator Certification, which oversees the teaching profession in the state.

- Education Board Rejects Panel to Review Textbook Errors.
Weeks after a Houston-area mother sparked an uproar over a caption in her son’s textbook that inaccurately described African slaves as “workers,” the State Board of Education tentatively approved several changes to its textbook adoption process.
However, the 15-member elected board on Wednesday narrowly rejected a proposal that would’ve given it the option of creating an expert panel for the sole purpose of identifying errors in textbooks.

- SBOE: Trustees Can't Hire Just Anyone as Superintendent.
The State Board of Education on Wednesday rejected a rule change that would have allowed school boards to hire anyone they wanted as superintendent — even if the candidate had no public education experience — as long as they had some kind of post-baccalaureate degree and intended to pursue superintendent certification. 
But the 15-member elected board still appears poised to drop a current requirement that would-be school district chiefs have classroom teaching experience. That's something representatives from several teacher groups said Wednesday was crucial to effectively running a school district.

- Outspoken Candidates Could Revive Rancor on Education Board.

Save for some flare-ups in the past few years over what to put in social studies textbooks — and how to handle an error in one of them — the State Board of Education has seen more turbulent days.
The 15-member board in charge of crafting curriculum and textbooks for the state’s more than five million public schoolchildren spent years building a national reputation as the center of raucous quarrels over how — and whether — to teach young Texans about evolution, Islam and climate change.
Now, such charged exchanges are less common. Those who closely watch the board attribute the shift to the dispersion of a cadre of fervent right-wing conservatives, many of whom either retired or were voted out.
But the relative camaraderie could soon come to an end as two more moderate members step aside — and not just among the board’s Republican membership, where nearly all the notorious infighting has occurred.

From the Texas Tribune: Texans in Congress Largely Silent on Hurricane Protection

A look at how the various governing levels approach an issue of mutual concern.

- Click here for the article.

After nearly a decade of bickering and finger pointing, Texas scientists and lawmakers finally seem to agree that building some version of a “coastal spine” — a massive seawall and floodgate system — would best help protect the Houston region from a devastating hurricane.
But with a price tag sure to reach into the billions, the spine will almost certainly require a massive infusion of federal money, state officials agree. Whether Texas' congressional delegation has the political backbone to deliver the cash remains to be seen.
While state officials say the project enjoys the full support of Texans in Congress, almost every member has been silent on the issue, including those who hold the most sway.
“Everything depends on how long it takes us to get Congress,” said Bob Mitchell, president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, a local economic development organization. “We could have a hurricane in three months.”
. . . Building some sort of coastal barrier system around Galveston and Houston would rank as one of the nation's most ambitious public works projects and would be unlikely to succeed without champions in Washington. State leaders and Houston-area congressmen cited U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Kevin Brady of Houston as those most likely to fill the role of standard bearer.

Cornyn and Brady, both Republicans, declined repeated interview requests about the coastal project over a period of months. The state's junior senator, Ted Cruz, is busy running for president, and his staff has said he is waiting results of further studies. Of the 36 members representing Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives, only five agreed to interviews on the subject.
At the state level, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, who has made coastal protection one of his top priorities, said he hopes for support from Brady, who chairs one of the most powerful committees in the U.S. House. He also mentioned Cornyn.

Congressman Randy Weber, a Republican from Friendswood, said he is already pushing the issue, but added that a senator’s support will be critical.

From the Atlantic: How America’s Coastal Cities Left the Heartland Behind St. Louis and other Midwestern hubs prospered for much of the 20th century. Then lawmakers in Washington quietly changed the rules of the economy.

Here's a look at how seemingly unrelated laws passed by the national government can have an impact on the viability of cities. They help some, hurt others. Helps explain why cities lobby the national government.

The article highlights a variety of laws, each is worth a look. The article wraps its analysis around the advertising business that once thrived in St. Louis.

- Click here for the article.

The relative decline of St. Louis—along with that of other similarly endowed heartland cities—is therefore not simply, or even primarily, a story of deindustrialization. The larger explanation involves how presidents and lawmakers in both parties, influenced by a handful of economists and legal scholars, quietly altered federal competition policies, antitrust laws, and enforcement measures over a period of 30 years. These changes, which enabled the same kind of predatory corporate behavior that took the Rams away from St. Louis, also robbed the metro area of a vibrant economy, and of hundreds of locally based companies. This economic uprooting, still all but unaddressed by today’s politicians or presidential candidates, accounts for much of the relative stagnation of other Middle American communities, and for much of the anger roiling voters this election cycle. The rise and fall of St. Louis’s advertising industry stands as a cautionary tale for what ails so many of America’s once vigorous and innovative cities.
. . . While these diverse companies were homegrown and locally based, they often owed their existence as independent entities to government policy, especially in Washington. As all students of high-school history will recall, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries powerful “trusts” run by financiers like J. P. Morgan and Jay Gould grabbed monopoly control of railroads, steel production, meatpacking, electrical utilities, and other industries. Their actions often thwarted local economies—St. Louis a prime example. In 1881, for instance, Gould won control of St. Louis’s famous Eads Bridge, a major crossing point for rail over the Mississippi. The high tariffs Gould charged led rail companies to re-route through Chicago, leading the Windy City to emerge as the Midwest’s dominant industrial center.
The behavior of the trusts ignited the Populist and Progressive movements, which in turn led to a series of laws that safeguarded independent businesses in cities like St. Louis from the predations of monopolists, and encouraged regional equity.

From the Texas Tribune: The Texas Secession Debate is Getting Kind of Real

For out look at state parties and how the rank and file can bring items up the leadership would rather not deal with.

- Click here for the article.

When Texas Republicans assemble for their state convention next month, it's possible they will debate whether the state should secede from the United States.
There's almost no chance Texas Republicans will actually vote in favor of seceding, mind you — not least because most of the party wants nothing to do with this — but the fact we're even mentioning secession and the Texas GOP convention in the same sentence suggests that the once-fringe movement has become a priority for at least some conservative grassroots Texans.
To be sure, that seems to be a relatively small group. The Texas secession movement says 22 out of the 270 county GOP conventions passed some kind of independence resolution this spring. A party official said he'd be "surprised" if that were the case, and the Houston Chronicle was able to confirm only 10 counties. But 10 is a lot more than the one county that passed an independence resolution in 2012.
Texas Republicans say these independence resolutions are just a handful of tens of thousands various resolutions to be considered at their convention. But it does seem like the secession movement is growing, or at least organizing, and may have become too big for party officials to ignore.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Texas Tribune: Texas Asks Feds for Short-Term Medicaid Funds

It would be easier if the state would expand access to health care coverage, but that would mean accepting Obamacare - which the state is unlikely to do.

- Click here for the article.

State health officials confirmed Tuesday they have asked the Obama administration to keep a 15-month lifeline of federal Medicaid money flowing into Texas to help hospitals treat uninsured patients.
That money would offer temporary relief to health care providers who face losing the funds — some $3.1 billion annually — over state leaders' refusal to provide government-subsidized health coverage to low-income adults under the Affordable Care Act, President Obama's signature health law.
Federal officials previously signaled they would stop footing the bill for at least some of Texas’ costs for "uncompensated care" — the burden on hospitals when patients can't pay for their visits. Under the Affordable Care Act, Texas was encouraged to expand its Medicaid program to cover nearly 1 million additional adults living in poverty — a move that would have given more poor patients a means to pay for care. The state’s Republican leadership has vehemently opposed that option, criticizing Medicaid as an inefficient government program.
In a letter dated April 7 and first released to The Texas Tribune on Tuesday, Texas health officials asked the federal government to continue the funding for uncompensated care for one year and to pony up an unspecified prorated amount for an additional three months. It is unclear if the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversee those federal funds, will approve the state's request.
If approved, the funding would briefly extend the life of what was supposed to be a temporary program that safety-net hospitals have relied on for five years to serve poor, uninsured Texans.

From the Dallas Morning News: Judge to decide if Dallas violated Constitution by banning sex expo

Here's a fun story. Is the Dallas Convention Center a private business or a public forum? The answer will determine whether the adult entertainment industry can have an event in it.

- Click here for the article.

Also at issue here is whether the convention center is “a public forum,” as Exxxotica insists, or a private business the city can operate as it sees fit, as the state and Citizens Council maintain in an amicus brief filed at the end of last week.
Fitzwater asked Murray if the city has the right to pull Exxxotica’s permit if another convention in the Kay Bailey Hutchison takes offense at its content and threatens to cancel. Murray said no, saying that would be giving into the so-called “heckler’s veto” often at the center of so many First Amendment cases. Murray said that simply lets a private citizen dictate with whom the city does business — and where.
But the Citizens Council argues that the convention center is a commercial enterprise, not a public forum.
And “city leaders have the discretion they need to reasonably manage the convention center,” said attorney Will Thompson, representing the 80-year-old organization of business leaders. He called the convention center “an economic engine” to which only the city should have the keys. He also said it was “reasonable for city leaders to be concerned about the city’s brand.”
Exxxotica, the Citizens Council believes, will damage that brand.
Banning the sex expo is “what we believe is best for the city,” Dallas Citizens Council President Alice Murray said after the hearing. “Pornography, where it goes above and beyond the First Amendment, has a negative impact — it becomes a health hazard. We’re already in crisis when it comes to domestic violence and human trafficking.”
However, she said, the Dallas Citizens Council will “not be going after sexually oriented businesses” in Dallas. Just this one.

From the Houston Chronicle: Don't blame Mother Nature for flooding. Blame City Council. The disasters are predictable. Why aren't we preventing them?

Rain doesn't necessarily lead to flooding, unless there is nowhere for water to go due to careless development. That seems to be the point of this opinion piece.

- Click here for it.

Man-made, preventable flooding has surged dirty, sewage-ridden water through Houston living rooms three times now in seven years, yet city government fails to prevent these recurring emergencies.
Really? If losing homes, livelihoods, retirement savings, health and sanity (and at least one life) aren't reasons enough to make emergency detention and drainage improvements, what in the world does it take?
Right now, too many real-estate developments do not detain storm water run-off from their new construction, and instead allow it to flow downstream into other neighborhoods, into people's homes. This new development is responsible for unnecessary flooding of neighborhoods that previously weren't flood plains, weren't prone to flooding. That new development is also responsible for flood insurance rising 100 to 200 percent (before the Tax Day flood) in these non-flood plains.
City government is allowing this to happen. Developers use loopholes and grandfathering to avoid doing what the city's laws require them to do. Is it ethical to allow a new office building to flood an entire neighborhood even if a loophole makes it legal?
And why on earth would a developer be allowed to use tax money (yours and mine) to build the stormwater detention required by law as part of a profit-making project? New development on the north side of I-10 and Gessner is using the already-stressed Conrad Sauer detention basin for a spiffy retail/residential complex under construction. The deal is an interesting card trick: They are making a few improvements to the basin, adding a little drainage near it and — especially important — are going to make the basin look pretty with trails and landscape for their future tenants/residents. They'll get paid back $23 million (taxpayer dollars) for doing this. So they really didn't pay for anything.
For seven years Houston homeowners have begged and pleaded with the mayor (previous and present) and City Council members to treat man-made flooding as urgent, as if it were a deadly fire to put out in a hurry. Yet despite hundreds of emails, calls, meetings, petitions from homeowners' associations (at least 18), Super Neighborhoods, civic associations, and person-after-exhausted-person speaking at City Hall, there is more talk about bike trails and recycling than critical, focused action to address our flooding.