Today's Fair Shots - May 18th, 2017

1-Even When We Are Focused on Legislature, Trump Sure Has a Way of Stealing the News Cycle

2-Texas Legislature Reaches the Tipping Point

3-'Buy American' Bill Goes to Conference Committee; Changes Expected

4-Senate Approves Bill Taking Away Right of Cities to Regulate Uber, Lyft and Other TNCs

5-Casar: Why SB 4 Has Produced So Much Opposition

6-Moeller in Montana, Yip-e-i-o-kai-yay; She Was There to Campaign for Underdog Congressional Candidate

1) The appointment of a special counsel of the stature of former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III places President Donald Trump in uncharted territory.

  The accumulated list of off-the-wall actions and remarks with respect to Russia by this president today reached a level that prompted Trump's own Justice Department to hand the investigation over to Mueller, a respected lawyer who ran the FBI under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama. 

  The "I" word is prominent, even making local newscasts. U.S. Rep. Al Green, D-Houston, was first to the podium in calling for impeachment.

  We are entering a new stage in an extraordinary political period in our nation's history. The New York Times, noting that we no longer have independent counsels, reports Mueller will actually work under Trump. 

  What could possibly go wrong?: 

  The Justice Department has appointed Robert S. Mueller III, the former F.B.I. director, to serve as a special counsel to oversee its investigation into Russian meddling in the election, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein announced on Wednesday.

  The appointment of Mr. Mueller dramatically raises the stakes for President Trump in the multiple investigations into his campaign's ties to the Russians. It follows a swiftly moving series of developments that have roiled Washington, including Mr. Trump's abrupt dismissal of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, and the disclosure that the president urged Mr. Comey to drop the bureau's investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn.

  "I determined that it is in the public interest for me to exercise my authorities and appoint a special counsel to assume responsibility for this matter," Mr. Rosenstein said in a statement. "My decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted. I have made no such determination."

  While a special counsel would remain ultimately answerable to Mr. Rosenstein - and by extension, the president - he would have greater autonomy to run an investigation than a United States attorney would. Mr. Mueller will be able to choose to what extent to consult with or inform the Justice Department about his investigation as it goes forward. 

  Mr. Mueller is viewed by members of both parties as one of the most credible law enforcement officials in the country. He served both Democratic and Republican presidents, from 2001 to 2013, and was asked by President Barack Obama to stay on beyond the normal 10-year term until Mr. Comey was appointed.

  Inside the F.B.I., he is known for his gruff, exacting management style - and for saving the institution. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, there were calls to break up the F.B.I. and create a separate domestic intelligence agency. Mr. Mueller, who came to the agency just one week before the attacks, beat back those efforts and is credited with building the modern F.B.I. He led the investigations into Al Qaeda while simultaneously transforming the agency into a key part of the national security infrastructure.

  Read more: 

2)  Every Texas legislative session, the "Big Three" - Governor, Lieutenant Governor and House Speaker - get together at the climax and settle how things are going to be on major legislation.

  This inevitably happens after enough goes wrong to spur predictions of a special session. Today, a lot has been going wrong. Sometimes it all works out. Sometimes it doesn't.

   Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said today he would force as many special sessions as it takes to pass a property tax bill along the lines of SB 2 and a "bathroom bill" along the lines of SB 6. Gov. Greg Abbott supports both bills, but only he has the power to call a special session. House Speaker Joe Straus opposes SB 6 strongly. Patrick has two pieces of leverage: the state budget and a "sunset catch-all" bill aimed at keeping state agencies from expiring. If the budget fails, a special session is a certainty. If the sunset bill fails, a special session is all but a certainty.

  Unfortunately, Patrick's conditions for avoiding a special session involve legislation that the United Labor Legislative Committee has opposed.

  One of those bills, SB 2, would undermine the ability of local governments to pay for basic services in the name of property tax relief. The House is working on a milder version than what the Senate approved and is scheduled to debate the bill tomorrow.

  SB 6, the "bathroom bill," is discriminatory and would harm Texas alongside SB 4, the "sanctuary cities" bill.

  A special session would confer no advantage on working people - none whatsoever. It might even reopen topics that are rightly dying on the vine in the 140-day regular session. 

  Amid all the Catch-22s, the Dallas Morning News lays out an interesting perspective from Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington:

  House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington, called Patrick's special session threat over the bathroom bill a "Donald Trump-style temper tantrum." He said the bill is "unnecessary" and "harmful" and criticized Abbott for allowing Patrick to bully him into supporting the measure.

  "The lieutenant governor and the governor have decided to govern by what polls well with Republican primary voters," Turner said.

  Read more:

3) Despite the best efforts of the Texas AFL-CIO, the Senate voted not to concur in House amendments to SB 1289, the "Buy American" bill on iron and steel, and will instead take the bill to a conference committee. The Senate conferees are Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, chair (and bill sponsor); and Sens. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, and Charles Perry, R-Lubbock. 

  Creighton said he plans to adopt a compromise on whether the measure will cover water development projects. A study will determine the fiscal impact of the preference for American iron and steel on such projects, and the data from that study could trigger inclusion of such projects in the "Buy American" provision in 2019. Meanwhile, the bill would continue to include a "Buy American" provision for state-funded projects.

  The decision to further consider the bill arrives after word spread that Canada has lobbied against the House version of the bill, which would have kept water development projects under the "Buy American" provision.

  Next step is for the House to name its participants in the conference committee. 

4)  The Texas Senate yesterday gave final approval to HB 100, which preempts the ability of local governments to regulate Transportation Network Companies like Uber and Lyft.

  Those companies, awash in billions of dollars, appealed to the libertarian streak in the Senate. In fact, the gist of the criticism against the bill during debate came from the right, with Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, arguing the state should not regulate TNCs or taxis at all. HB 100, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, imposes broad regulation that Uber and Lyft are fine with. The two leading TNCs had pulled out of Austin and other cities that imposed closer regulation, including fingerprinting of drivers to check for criminal backgrounds.

  Uber even tried to write its own ordinance in Austin, spending $10 million on a special election referendum only to get trounced in one of the great voter uprisings in Texas. All that doesn't matter with passage of HB 100. Austin's ordinance is about to die and Uber and Lyft are about to return to the capital.

  The 21-9 final Senate vote (changed afterward from an announced vote of 20-10) means the measure will take effect as soon as Gov. Greg Abbott signs it.

  Special note: In criticizing the long-standing local regulation of taxis, Schwertner made reference to "taxi unions and their industry."  He also declared drivers to be "independent contractors," a legal assertion that is much disputed across the country.

  The United Labor Legislative Committee opposed HB 100. The Austin American-Statesman's Ben Wear reports on the latest developments:

  A bill that would take ride-hailing service regulations statewide got final approval Wednesday in the Texas Senate, putting Austin's homegrown ordinance one step closer to oblivion.

  The signing of House Bill 100 by the governor would immediately render Austin's ride-hailing law inoperative, and pave the way for Uber and Lyft to resume passenger operations in Austin. A spokesman for Uber confirmed Wednesday that the company will begin operating again in Austin upon the governor's signature.

  Late Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted a link to a news story about Uber's pending return, adding, "Buckle up. Coming soon."

  The industry leaders turned off their apps here last May after voters rejected a substitute ordinance that the companies liked better than what the Austin City Council had put in place in late 2015...

  HB 100 would override the state's 20 or so municipal ride-hailing ordinances and instead put such companies under the oversight of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. It would require companies to pay an unspecified fee to that department, sufficient to cover the cost of regulating the industry, the bill says. Drivers wouldn't have to buy an individual permit.

  It requires the companies to conduct criminal background and sex offender checks for drivers, but doesn't demand (as the Austin ordinance does) that the drivers be fingerprinted for such checks. This would allow the companies to use the name- and document-based background checks they prefer.

And it lays out a number of criminal offenses that, depending on when they occurred, could render a potential driver ineligible to provide ride-hailing services.

  Uber and Lyft have spent several million dollars on lobbyists in each of the past two legislative sessions, but failed to get a statewide law in 2015. Later that year, Austin passed the local ordinance that the companies opposed. Uber and Lyft, through a surrogate political action committee, within a month completed a petition drive to force an election in Austin on a city law to their liking.

  Read more:

5) Austin City Council member Greg Casar posted a column today in The New York Times on SB 4 and why many Texans (including the Texas AFL-CIO) are fighting the newly signed law:

  The bill, which Mr. Abbott signed May 6, represents the most dangerous type of legislative threat facing immigrants in our country. It has been called a "show me your papers" bill because it allows police officers - including those on college campuses - to question the immigration status of anyone they arrest, or even simply detain, including during traffic stops.

  This provision resembles those in laws passed in Arizona and Alabama in recent years, both of which inspired national scorn and were partially struck down when challenged in court.

  But Senate Bill 4 goes even further. It essentially requires local law enforcement agencies to act as extensions of federal immigration authorities. The law provides for jail time, fines and removal from office for Texas authorities who refuse to take part in the immigrant deportation system in the way the law requires...

  I'm the son of immigrants, and I represent a district where more than one-third of residents are not citizens. I've seen firsthand the terror that this type of anti-immigrant legislation will cause in communities like mine.

  During one of the immigration raids that took place in Austin this year, I sat in the living room of a constituent, an undocumented immigrant, talking to her young children. That day, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers had knocked on their door. The children were confused and fearful that they were going to lose their parent. The trauma of that day will stay with them.

  As a consequence of Senate Bill 4, I fear that many children in our community will to experience this terror every time they see an Austin police officer. This is wrong. We fund our police to protect us from danger and defend our rights, not to tear apart families.

  Read more:

6)   Former Texas AFL-CIO President Becky Moeller remains active politically, to say the least. Recently, she volunteered for a stint for Rob Quist, who is running an underdog campaign in a special election for Montana's at-large seat in the U.S. House.

  Moeller shows up in a slideshow posted by the Montana AFL-CIO on the block-walking, phone-banking and other activities the labor movement in the Treasure State has launched on Quist's behalf. Also volunteering on what must have been a fascinating road trip: retired teacher and Union Sister Elaine Jones.

  See the slideshow: