Houston Boy Scout council votes to continue bigotry

A number of months ago, I wrote an op-ed about how the Boy Scouts need to drag themselves into the 21st century or risk extinction (sort of like the GOP).

As a cursory Google search of my name will show, I am an Eagle Scout. It was unbelievably hard the last few years in the organization, being joined with so much hatred and so much prejudice. My particular troop was affiliated with a Reformed Synagogue, and, to be honest, they could not care less if a member or a leader was gay (or an atheist). That is mainly what got me through, and I could rest assured knowing that the majority of my city agreed with me that bigotry was wrong.

Except, evidently, they don’t. The Chron reports that the local area council for Greater Houston has voted to reaffirm their discriminatory policy expelling any “avowed homosexuals” from the BSA, either as members or leaders. The national council has recently proposed a new policy aimed at mitigating the reactionary nature of such a regulation: it would allow local councils to opt-out from expelling gay members (but not leaders), with the understanding that most kids haven’t definitively picked a sexual orientation at 11, so it would be unfair to punish them for something out of their control only happening later.

However, that is not what the Sam Houston Council did. It voted against the resolution. Even worse, the organization boasted that “75 percent of respondents” in the community approved of the board’s actions.

[expletive deleted]. I refuse to believe it. This is a progressive city, with a very ethnically and racially diverse scouting council. My guess is that this “survey” was nothing more than the old bigots’ friends, handpicked for their opinions.

Just as how the 20th century was imposed upon Southern Bigots in the scouts with the implementation of integration, the 21st century must be imposed upon their descendants with the eradication of this vile, hateful ban on gay membership.

Death penalty should not be sought for Marathon terrorist

Last article of the year from The Justice.

The commonwealth of Massachusetts last put a person to death in 1947 by electric chair. The public was so appalled that, just a few years later, the Massachusetts General Assembly prohibited the sentence except for exceedingly rare circumstances.

In 1984, the Supreme Court of Massachusetts finally declared the death penalty in all cases to be an unconstitutional violation of the right against cruel and unusual punishment. Since that time, William Weld and Mitt Romney, two Republican Governors of this commonwealth, have attempted to reinstate the death penalty. Yet, they both have been rebuffed by the strong spirit of the people of Massachusetts, who stand firmly against the death penalty.

About two weeks ago, two brothers set off bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, and later went on a rampage in both Cambridge and Watertown, Mass., killing four people in all and wounding countless others.

Between the two suspects, the one who was apprehended alive, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was charged with “the use of a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death,” which is a federal crime. Since the federal government has retained the use of the death penalty, Tsarnaev would still be eligible for that sentence under the federal crimes with which he has been charged. Carmen Ortiz, the United States attorney for Massachusetts, now must make the decision, under her prosecutorial discretion, whether to seek the ultimate penalty for the alleged Boston Marathon terrorist.

U.S. Attorney Ortiz would be mistaken to seek the death penalty against Tsarnaev, as it would be incorrect to impose such a penalty in a region that has repudiated it for their community. While I believe the death penalty, in all circumstances, is cruel and wrong, it would be extraordinarily objectionable to impose its use upon a jurisdiction that has disavowed it.

Within recent years, the federal government has executed three people, the most famous being Timothy McVeigh, the terrorist who blew up the Oklahoma City Federal Building. However, Oklahoma has used the death penalty extensively within their judicial systems. The other two committed their offenses in Texas, which, like Oklahoma, locally uses the death penalty quite extensively. As Johnny Holmes, the former district attorney in my home county, Harris County, Tex., once said, “I say without apology that if you murder someone, the state of Texas is going to kill you.” As much as I have a deep-seated philosophical opposition to the death penalty, if the federal government decided to “kill” someone murdered in such a jurisdiction, they would be continuing the tradition and the opinion of the community.

However, such a zeal for retributive punishment is not the opinion of the community in the commonwealth of Massachusetts. While the murder of four people, including a police officer, is surely an indescribably horrible act, the maximum punishment for this crime, if adjudicated in the commonwealth’s courts, would be life in prison without the possibility of parole. Imprisoning Tsarnaev and throwing away the key would not be, as some law-and-order conservatives say, to let him off easy.

Rather, it would force him to face what he did, and not take the easy way out. After all, there is a reason this community wanted Tsarnaev to be taken alive during the infamous manhunt.

Plenty of reprehensible federal crimes do not have the death penalty sought. It would not be especially out of the ordinary to simply seek the life-without-parole penalty for Tsarnaev, as that is the most common punishment for murderers tried in federal court.

Finally, Attorney General Eric Holder has the power of final approval for the punishment other federal prosecutors may request, and President Obama always may commute a death sentence.

The last time the federal government has executed an individual in a jurisdiction that has locally prohibited the death penalty was in 1938.

In that case, an individual in Michigan was put to death by the federal government against the wishes of both the governor of Michigan and the general public of the state. According to a 1998 issue of the Michigan History Museum, the governor reportedly told President Roosevelt, “There hasn’t been a hanging in Michigan for 108 years. If this one is carried out in Michigan, it will be like turning back the clock of civilization.”

That “clock of civilization” risks being set back a number of decades once again. For the sake of not spilling any more blood in this commonwealth, the U.S. attorney should use her prosecutorial discretion to not seek the death penalty against the Boston Marathon terrorist.

Legislative update 4/29

The Senate has approved 27-3 (Hancock, Nelson and Paxton against) a watered-down bill by John Whitmire to loosen the penalties for truancy. Originally, Whitmire wished for truancy to be struck from the list of criminal infractions (Class C Misdemeanors). Facing resistance from Senate leadership, Whitmire amended the bill so that truancy would still be a criminal offense, but the fine would be lowered from $500 to $100, and schools would have to evaluate truant students with counselors before referring them to court. The Texas Tribune has the full story.

Domestic Partnerships
Trib also reporting on a non-binding by the AG (Abbott) on the subject of Domestic Partnerships. Abbott argues that School Districts and Municipalities offering limited benefits to the same-sex partners of their employees violates the (deceptively named) “Marriage Protection Amendment.” This layman’s personal opinion is that Abbott’s opinion is complete garbage. When the amendment prohibted unions “similar or identical” to marriage, they meant California/New York style Civil Unions that were marriage in all but name.

Little kid Exams
The House voted unanimously (well, voice vote) to pass HB 2836, Bennett Ratliff’s (R-Coppell) bill to reduce the standardized testing load for the kids in Primary School. The Trib reports that the bill would ax the writing tests for 4th and 7th graders. Additionally, the remaining tests would could not exceed two hours to complete for the “lower grade levels.” This seems really broad, but I am guessing they mean K-8 (typically what is defined as “Primary” as opposed to “Secondary.”) I am also going to guess they mean two hours per section of the test, not two hours overall. I only attended Public School for one year in the TAAKS era, but from what I remember of the 3rd grade, it took FOREVER. Reducing a whole week of tests to two hours would effectively kill the program, so I doubt that is what was meant.

Guns on Campus
The Chron reports that the “Guns on Campus” bill will be getting a full vote before the House of Representatives. This Saturday, a final vote will be taken, and it will probably be successful. This is, as I have mentioned, the bill that would allow colleges like UT, UH and TSU to opt-out, while allowing private colleges like SMU and Baylor to opt-in. Good news for my friends in Austin, bad news for my friend in Dallas.

I never really expected anything else from this bill in the lower chamber. The real test will be seeing how united Whitmire and the fellow Democrats will stand in blocking this bill from the floor in the upper chamber. Time will only tell.

Gas Chambers
Kirk Watson, the author of SB 360, which last month unanimously passed a bill to prohibit rural counties from using carbon monoxide gas chambers for dog/cat euthanasia, reported on his Facebook that the legislation has passed unanimously in the House as well. A cursory search online shows that the legislation, indeed, passed 135-0. Now, from what I understand, the only step left is for Governor Perry to sign it, since the bill is verbatim identical in the two chambers. Also, I believe that if it is unanimous, the legislation takes effect immediately rather than September 1st.

We have another one for AG

The San Antonio Express-News reports on the Bexar County DA, Susan Reed, and the movement into drafting her to run for Attorney General. Bexar, unlike Harris, elects its DAs in midterm elections, explaining why a Republican still controls such an office. The SAEN article very subtly implies that Cornyn and Hutchison have been the key backers of this “Draft Reed” movement for her to run for the Attorney General’s office.

Again, this all depends upon the dominoes falling correctly. If Perry runs, Abbott might not, and, if Abbott runs for re-election, the GOP will probably not tolerate another competitive primary.

For what it’s worth, no other news source has picked this up.

TPA Blog Roundup (April 29, 2013)

NOTE: The opinions and viewpoints expressed by other blogs are not necessarily the opinions and viewpoints of Noah M. Horwitz or Texpatriate.

The Texas Progressive Alliance would have gotten rid of the entire sequester, not just the part that inconvenienced the few, as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Off the Kuff notes that we might actually get a worthwhile payday lending billpassed this session, if the House follows the Senate’s lead.

WCNews at Eye on Williamson highlights one example of how our when our legislators decide it’s almost always the case that Ideology trumps morality.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme wants you to know that enablers of racism and fear are planning to build more of that d*mn fence!

Greg Abbott is running for governor in 2014, but is Rick Perry? PDiddie atBrains and Eggs turned over the Magic 8 Ball and it said: “Reply Hazy Try Again”.

Over at TexasKaos, Libby Shaw nails Perry on his lethal governing philosophy. Check it out: Texas Recipe for Disaster: Small Government, Lax Regulation, Little Oversight.


And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

I Wish Fifth Ward invites you to reimagine one of Houston’s historic neighborhoods.

Texans for Public Justice tracks the 12 Republicans who went from the Legislature to the lobby since last session.

Nonsequiteuse advises you on getting the most from your fundraiser.

Clay Robison eulogizes Demetrio Rodriguez, one of the earliest champions in the decades-long fight for equity in public school funding.

Harold Cook muses on lizards, henhouses, and snakes in the grass.

Texas Clean Air Matters asks if lax regulations or insufficient oversight are more to blame for the explosion in West.

Flavia Isabel reads “Lean In” and draws some lessons from it.

Pedestrian Pete demonstrates bad parking lot and traffic signal design.

Texas Leftist explains why Barbara is his favorite Bush.

Texpatriate discusses the latest legislative assault on voting rights.

Texpatriate endorses Ed Markey

I have a fair number of readers who hail from Massachusetts. I do apologize to all those individuals, for my coverage is pretty Texas heavy. But I would feel wrong if I completely ignored the big news happening in this Commonwealth in exactly two days.

Since John Kerry (unfortunately) became the Secretary of State, he had to resign his Senate seat. Massachusetts is identical to Texas in how they deal with Senatorial vacancies: the Governor appoints a replacement who serves only until a special election may be held. The Governor, Deval Patrick, nominated a former staffer named Mo Cowan, and he will not be running.

Now, a lot of people, including me, thought that this would be a pretty competitive election, because we thought Scott Brown would be running. Brown lost A LOT of votes last year because democratically leaning moderates didn’t want him to be a hypothetical President Romney’s 51st ally in the Senate. Now, of course, we are certain that both a Democratic President and a Democratic Senate will be around until at least 2014, so there was a very real chance Brown would have pulled some votes from the middle.

As it turned out, Scott Brown decided not to run. This all but assured the seat would stay in Democratic hands. Accordingly, the real contest shifted to the Democratic Primary, which became “tantamount to election” (it’s funny–if I were one generation older, I would be complaining of the Republicans from Mass and talking about tantamount to election in Texas). Thus, the primary is on Tuesday.

There are two Democrats running, both incumbent US Congressmen. Ed Markey, who actually is the Congressman for the neighborhood college is in, and Stephen Lynch, who represents another part of Boston. Lynch is a typical blue-collar, blue-dog Democrat, he is big on the unions and the working class, but is pretty moderate on social issues. Ed Markey, on the other hand, is the quintessential Boston Liberal. He is sort of like John Kerry’s personality and Ted Kennedy’s political views. The unions (mainly the ironworkers) are pulling out all the stops for Lynch, while the students are going hard to Markey.

Even though I am not registered to vote in Massachusetts, and probably never will be, I’ve decided to make a pick in this race for the same reason I picked in the SD06 race: it will have a big affect on us all. It is my sincere belief that Markey would be the better Senator.

The Boston Globe endorsed Markey, and, for the life of me, I can’t come up with many more reasons than they did. Essentially, they argued that both candidates had good, long careers in public service, but they added some complaints of Lynch. Their main one was that he voted against Obamacare. Now, Lynch has since backed away from such a position, but it is still quite a troubling tidbit in history. In the past, Lynch was a hostile opponent of gay rights. Again, it makes it hard to support him.

“You are creating a law that makes good Samaritans criminals”

The Trib is reporting on a bill that recently passed the House which would prohibit “Vote Harvesting,” which evidently is Tea Party lingo for collecting mail in ballots. The above quote is attributed to Gene Wu, who, along with Sylvester Turner, became the major opponents of this measure. The House voted 86-41, mostly along party lines with TWENTY FIVE no shows.

The bill would make it a Class A Misdemeanor to collect more than 10 absentee ballots. Just for comparison, a kid who wants to help out a dozen seniors cast their ballots would face a more severe punishment than a drunk driver. The bill provides an exception for the Military, but not for Seniors or the disabled. I wonder if that has anything to do with what political party each of those demographics overwhelmingly support? Probably.

I find this bill to be one of the most offensive things the legislature has done all session. You see, I had to go through all of the drama of joining the absentee voting community this past year, so I know all the ins and outs of it. Absentee voters can be divided into three different categories: the disabled/elderly, the military and (non-military) out-of-county residents. The out-of-county (fellow Texpatriates) usually don’t need any assistance bringing their ballots to the mailbox, and the law specifically deals with the military as well. That leaves us with the elderly and disabled. The whole reason they vote absentee in the first place is that THEY HAVE TROUBLE WITH MOBILITY. It isn’t exactly a piece of cake for them to take their ballot to the local post office all by themselves. If it were, they would just go to the local elementary school and vote. Accordingly, someone else usually takes the ballots from these people to be mailed.

If the Supreme Court doesn’t strike preclearence, this will be probably be axed, though. Still hoping on the Senate Dems to block it.

University of Houston bans smoking

The Chron (paywall) reports that the University of Houston has will officially ban smoking on June 1st. The ban will include “cigarettes, cigars, pipes, water pipes, electronic cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, snuff, chewing tobacco…” While smoking in all buildings is already banned, the new measures announced the past few days will prohibit smoking in most outdoor areas, except for a few specially marked “designated open areas” for smoking, which are ostensibly far away from sidewalks and buildings.

No good deed goes unpunished, however. The Libertarians, Objectivists and the rest of the cupcake cadets call the regulation “fascism at its worse.” What is really concerning is not only their neurological disorder which prevents them from EVER being told what to do (that is expect, at the point), but the fact that opponents of such a ban dispute the notion that secondhand smoke is harmful. When you start believing the FDA is undergoing some sort of massive conspiracy about secondhand smoke in order to deprive your liberty, then I have a tin-hat I’d like to sell you. This is just another example of how far the goalposts have been moved to the right in this country. I remember an old Lewis Black routine, where he said “I never thought that during the course of my life, a president would be elected who didn’t believe in evolution,” in, of course, an obvious jab to then-President George W. Bush. In similar shock and disbelief, I did not believe we would ever have a significant political movement comprised of so many theoretically educated members that disputes such clear science.

For what it is worth, I find it to be overkill banning smokeless tobacco, but I am very happy to see that there will not be so much actual cigarette smoking on campus anymore. No matter what the idiot Libertarians will argue, secondhand smoke really is quite harmful. Accordingly, when you smoke a cigarette in public, especially in a place with a lot of young people, you are not just physically harming yourself. I tend to make one very strong exception to my rule that “people should be allowed to basically do what they want”: harm to others. If your personal choice carries a strong risk oh physical harm to innocent bystanders, then I air on the side of preventing harm. Hence, why I am pro-Gun Control.

My college up in Boston basically allows smoking anywhere outside (including like 5 feet away from the doors). It is not an annoyance, it makes it painful to walk between the buildings. Also, when it is 10 degrees (farenheit) outside, it does not help to hold your breath and run. When I visited UT last month, I found their smoking ban to be quite nice. It is a good step for UH to follow.

Miscellaneous legislative updates

Some other things happening around the legislature.

I don’t remember covering this earlier, but here it goes. Anyways, a pair of bills that recently passed the Senate unanimously which would make things a lot easier for craft beer brewers, is continuing to advance. The Chron reported on tuesday that the House Licensing Committee voted, once again, unanimously to advance this bill. The only remaining obstacle would be to hold a vote before the full House.

As the Chronicle states, “In what would be among the biggest changes to the state’s beer laws in 20 years, the legislation would allow breweries to sell a limited amount of beer in their own taprooms for consumption on site. Another major provision would allow brewpubs to package beer for sale in groceries and other off-site outlets.” Off the Kuff has more.

The Trib is reporting that Senator Lucio’s SB 379, which would require schools to offer free breakfasts if 80%+ of their students qualified for free lunches, passed the Senate 27-4. The four opponents were Troy Fraser (Burnet County), Jane Nelson (Denton County), Robert Nichols (Jacksonville County) and, last but not least, my Senator, Joan Huffman (Harris County). All opponents were Republicans.

According to the Tribune article, the bill is “cost-neutral and potentially profitable,” I’m guessing, because it’s the Feds and not the State that pays for free school lunches (SNAP). Accordingly, I don’t quite understand why even the Tea Party would oppose this. If the Democrats aren’t too freaking lazy to run a candidate against Huffman in 2014 (like they were in 2012), this is the stuff they should be talking about in their commercials.

Romeo & Romeo
The Dallas Voice reports that HB 2403, Mary Gonzalez’s House equivalent of Sen. Whitmire’s bill to expand the “Romeo+Juliet exception” to both Romeo & Romeo and Juliet & Juliet, has passed the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee 5-3. No idea on the roll call as of now. This means that the legislation has passed committee in both Houses of the Legislature. I can trust Whitmire to force the thing through the Senate, but am less optimistic about the chances in the full House. Time will tell, I suppose.

Senate votes to allow Online Voter Registration

From the San Antonio Express-News. The Senate has voted 21-10 to pass SB 315, which would allow online voting registration.

The bill, proposed by Senator Carlos Urseti (D-San Antonio), would only be applicable to those with Texas Driver’s Licenses, and individuals would register online on a DPS website, and would enter lots of specific, government-issued numbers to prove identity. All of this would take effect on September 1st.

The ten holdouts, you can guess which party they were, were not quoted by any of the news articles as to why they opposed the measure. Among the Republicans that joined all 12 Democrats in support was Joan Huffman. Among those opposed were Dan Patrick and Larry Taylor.

No clue as to what the chances of survival are in the House of Representatives. I have always been big on making it much easier to register to vote, and I know that online registration has been a great success in the states it has been enacted in. Personally, I never found it all that hard to register when renewing your license (I registered on my 18th birthday while renewing my license at the DPS), but I guess people forget about that.

BOR has more.