Today's Fair Shots - May 2nd, 2017

1-Hanging Robots? They Could Be Just Around the Corner

2-Protesters Against SB 4 Occupy Governor's Office; Some Are Arrested

3-Why the Sanctuary Cities' Debate Got Emotional

4-Senate Approves Complex Houston Pension Bill That Bears Extremely Close Watching

5-New Travis County Peace Justice Signs Document to Provide Court Employees Additional Workplace Rights

6-Former Texas AFL-CIO Scholarship Recipient Is Drafted by NFL's Ravens

1- In the automaton department, The New York Times reports robot judges are already making rulings and maybe we should get used to it.

  Unlike most occupations that are losing out to robots, however, human judges have a chance to rule the robots out of order, The Times reports. 

  What's next? Robot legislators?:

  When Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. visited Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute last month, he was asked a startling question, one with overtones of science fiction.

  "Can you foresee a day," asked Shirley Ann Jackson, president of the college in upstate New York, "when smart machines, driven with artificial intelligences, will assist with courtroom fact-finding or, more controversially even, judicial decision-making?"

  The chief justice's answer was more surprising than the question. "It's a day that's here," he said, "and it's putting a significant strain on how the judiciary goes about doing things."

  He may have been thinking about the case of a Wisconsin man, Eric L. Loomis, who was sentenced to six years in prison based in part on a private company's proprietary software. Mr. Loomis says his right to due process was violated by a judge's consideration of a report generated by the software's secret algorithm, one Mr. Loomis was unable to inspect or challenge.

  Read more: 

2 - Yesterday, protesters against SB 4, the "sanctuary cities" bill, occupied the entrance of the Governor's Office. 

 Photo by Austin American Statesman

Photo by Austin American Statesman

  From a Tribune report:

  About 50 protesters took over the lobby of the State Insurance Building on the grounds of the Texas Capitol on Monday to protest Senate Bill 4, a measure that would outlaw "sanctuary" jurisdictions in Texas passed out of the Texas House last week.

  The insurance building houses several of Gov. Greg Abbott's administrative offices, including the human resources, homeland security grants and criminal justice divisions. Abbott has urged lawmakers to pass a bill this session that bans "sanctuary cities" - places where local officials do not fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities. 

  The morning began with a modest gathering at the south entrance of the Capitol. Demonstrators made clear their intent to keep fighting the bill, even if it meant possible civil disobedience. Then the protesters told reporters to stay tuned for something more direct and began the march to the east side of the Capitol grounds.

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3- Peggy Fikac of the San Antonio Express-News captured some of the reasons for the high emotional level of last week's Texas House debate on SB 4, the "sanctuary cities" legislation.

  In the Texas AFL-CIO news release, state federation President John Patrick said the debate was one of the saddest days he has witnessed in the Legislature. A parade of lawmakers who have been outstanding friends of working families in this state spoke from the heart about why they took SB 4 personally. Fikac's article captures the source of much of the sadness:

  "A former undocumented immigrant, an illegal alien, is your colleague standing before you today," said Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Houston. "Even though I was just a little girl, I remember the constant fear my family lived with each day."

  Her parents worried as they sent their two young daughters to school, not knowing if an immigration raid might keep them from being there for their girls at the end of the day, she said. Hernandez would shy away when her elementary school mates talked about where they were born, not wanting them to know she wasn't a citizen.

  She and her family became legal permanent residents under the immigration law signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. When she went on to become a naturalized citizen, Hernandez said she was so nervous in her interview that she named Austin as the capital of the United States (she got it right on a second try).

  Hernandez - who previously told her story to the House in 2011, when Republicans also pushed a sanctuary cities bill - was joined in sharing personal stories by numerous colleagues.

  Rep. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, sharply criticized the bill as racist and lauded his late father, an immigrant who came to this country with little education but worked hard and "did very well."

  "I'm the proud son of that immigrant. He was a great man. My father later on in life also was a Republican, but he was a different kind of a Republican. He was a John F. Kennedy Democrat and a Ronald Reagan Republican ... He believed in government that stayed out of his pocket and stayed out of his life," Gutierrez said.

  Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, was in tears as he recalled past restrictions on Chinese immigration and the internment of Japanese-Americans in the United States during World War II.

  "This topic is painful for me, because I'm an immigrant. My parents are immigrants. I represent a district filled with immigrants. Some are here as refugees. Some are here as citizens. Some are here without papers," he said. "But they are all my people."

  Rep. Tomas Uresti, D-San Antonio, said when the schoolchildren taught by his wife play hide-and-seek, the game is called "La Migra."

  "'Immigration's coming. Time to hide' ... It's no longer going to be a game now. If this bill passes, it will be reality. They will live in fear, and their parents will live in fear," Uresti said.

  Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, described the consequences in stark terms for the undocumented immigrants "you walk by without giving a second glance" as they mop floors, do yardwork or build roads.

  "Some of you might even employ them," Anchia told his colleagues.

  "I greet these undocumented immigrants in my community as fellow parents who, like my immigrant parents, are doing everything in their power to give their kids a better life," he said.

  But with the sanctuary cities legislation, Anchia said, "The message that we are sending from this body ... is that once your work is done, you and your families had better stay in the shadows. ... We, the powerful, are telling you we will pick you up."

  Read more:

4-The Texas Senate yesterday approved SB 2190 by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, a measure that addresses the actuarial soundness of municipal pension systems in Houston that affect police, firefighters and other public employees.

  The bill, which passed on a 25-5 vote, is intricate, with many moving parts. The bill continues to be analyzed intensively by several unions, and I have no intention of characterizing the measure at this time other than to say that it might get better and it might get worse. All public employee unions know SB 2190 could set a precedent for the rest of the state.

  On a related note, the United Labor Legislative Committee ENDORSED five pension-related bills that aim to improve benefits. ULLCO:

ENDORSED HB 397 by Rep. Alma Allen, D-Houston, which improves benefits in the Teacher Retirement System;

ENDORSED HB 398 by Allen, the equivalent bill for the Employees Retirement System;

ENDORSED HB 440 by Rep. Armando Martinez, D-Weslaco, which would provide for annual determination of cost-of-living benefits in the Teacher Retirement System;

ENDORSED HB 2810 by Rep. Sergio Munoz Jr., D-Palmview, which would include overtime pay in the calculation of benefits for the Employees Retirement System; and

ENDORSED HB 3190 by Rep. Tomas Uresti, D-San Antonio, which would improve benefits in the Teacher Retirement System.  

5 -Hat tip to Krissy O'Brien of AFSCME for passing along excellent labor-related news involving Nick Chu, who was appointed recently to a vacant slot as Justice of the Peace in Precinct 5 of Travis County. Chu has signed a document that takes the court's employees out of "at will" status, O'Brien reports.

  Chu has been a friend of the Austin Central Labor Council and the Texas AFL-CIO for years, so news that he is taking the high road as an employer is not surprising. Judy Cortez of the Austin CLC reports other officials in the county have also backed job protections for their employees, so I'm passing this along as a marker of best practices. Via Sister O'Brien:

  Nick Chu, AFSCME member and COPE Chair, was recently appointed Judge for Justice of the Peace Precinct 5. Elected officials at the county have the authority to adopt a chapter out of the Travis County handbook to give employees just cause protections. He adopted chapter 9 today on International Workers Day with no exemptions. 

  Nick oversees 25 employees that now have job protection. Without the adoption, the employees would be at-will. 

6-More good news: Claretta Allen of the Smith County Central Labor Council reports that Tyus Bowser, a 2013 recipient of a $1,000 Texas AFL-CIO Scholarship, will soon have a chance to become a member of the NFL Players Association as a 2nd-round draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens.

  Bowser, of course, is from a union family and was an outstanding young man before he went to the University of Houston. We are proud of him, as we are of all our scholarship winners. Recipients of the 2017 Texas AFL-CIO Scholarships will be announced in the coming weeks. From Sister Allen:

Tyree Bowser was the recipient of our 2013 Scholarship from Smith County CLC to the State AFL-CIO.AND HE HAS WENT ON TO BE A Draft Pick NFL Baltimore Ravens!!! this past weekend.
Tyus Bowser
Football player
Tyus Bowser is an American football linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens of the National Football League. He played college football at Houston. 
Born: May 23, 1995 (age 21 years), Tyler, TX
Height: 6 foot, 3 inches
Weight: 227 lbs
College: Houston Cougars football (2013-2016)
Current team: Houston Cougars football (#81 / Defensive lineman)
Date joined: 2013 (Houston Cougars football) 

The Baltimore Sun posted several capsule analyses of the Bowser pick:

Jeff Zrebiec, reporter: The Ravens continue to revamp their defense with another big and explosive athlete. Tyus Bowser is still raw in a lot of ways, but he's explosive and physical. I think USC wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster would have worked well here too, but the Ravens needed a good pass rusher and they got one. Now, it's time to get Joe Flacco some help.

Mike Preston, columnist: It will be interesting to see how the Ravens use Tyrus Bowser. At Houston, he was under used as a pass rusher. He set the edge and dropped into coverage but the Ravens believe he can be a good pass rusher if he is turned loose. The kid looks like a specimen and is a former college basketball player.

Peter Schmuck, columnist: Tyus Bowser isn't exactly a household name, but he's a solid rush linebacker who further deepens a defense that has been the main focus of Ozzie Newsome and the front office throughout the offseason. Pure pass rusher had 8 1/2 sacks for Houston last season and one more in their bowl game against San Diego State. Over four seasons, had 137 career tackles and 22 1/2 sacks. Ravens have had good success with undersized, high-energy linebackers and hope Bowser will extend that tradition.

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