Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Houston a Focal Point as Advocates Target Sex Trafficking by Ashley Hickey, Medill News Service April 29, 2014
Houston a Focal Point as Advocates Target Sex Trafficking
- by Ashley Hickey, Medill News Service, The Texas Tribune
WASHINGTON — As a new survey shows large counties across the U.S. identifying human sex trafficking as a major problem, lawmakers and advocates have pointed to Houston as a critical city in their efforts to address the issue.
Thirty-three Texas counties were among 400 polled in a nationwide April survey of county sheriffs and police departments that revealed 48 percent of counties with more than 250,000 residents consider human sex trafficking a major problem. Nearly 90 percent of those counties said sex trafficking is a problem to some degree. The poll was released Tuesday by the National Association of Counties.
Human sex trafficking can refer to the recruiting, harboring, transportation or receipt of people for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Children, some as young as 12, are often the victims.
“Human trafficking is modern day-slavery,” said U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, who has co-authored a bill with U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., that aims to reduce demand for domestic sex trafficking and provide aid to trafficking victims. The House is expected to vote on the bill in May.
The bill would impose a $5,000 fine on anyone convicted of crimes related to trafficking and establish a fund within the Treasury Department to collect these fines and use them to award grants to organizations providing support to victims.
Every year as many as 300,000 children in the U.S. are at risk for sexual exploitation, including sex trafficking, according to a 2011 Justice Department report.
Poe, a former judge who co-founded the Congressional Victims’ Rights Caucus, said that Houston is a hub for sex trafficking and is often a starting point for victims to be taken to other areas of the country.
The city’s proximity to the border and seaports make it a hub, according to Texas-based nonprofit Children at Risk, an advocacy and research organization that focuses on human trafficking in Texas. Robert Sanborn, president and CEO of the organization, said more must be done to end the demand that fuels trafficking.
“There are a lot of things we can do — raise awareness, go after traffickers and put them away, treat the victims,” Sanborn said. “But the only way to really end it is end demand.”
Sanborn says Houston could decrease demand by continuing to push for stronger regulation of sexually oriented businesses such as strip clubs and massage parlors, where minors are often hidden away and victimized.
Increased police presence on internet sites selling adult and escort services can also help decrease demand, Sanborn said, citing success the Dallas Police Department has had posting ads warning that such sites are being monitored for anyone advertising services involving children.
In his March 20 testimony before the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee in a hearing on human trafficking, Houston Police Department Chief Charles McClelland spoke of the seriousness of this issue in Houston and measures his department is taking to address it, including the formation of a human trafficking unit intended to consolidate police resources for better tracking, quicker response and more thorough, focused investigations.
The public also has a role to play in alerting authorities to suspicious businesses that could be a front for a sex-trafficking operation, Sanborn said, many of which will have a combination of features like blacked-out windows, multiple video cameras, stickers supporting the local chamber of commerce and an iron gate behind the front glass door. These features may or may not indicate a sex trafficking operation, but Sanborn encourages the public to report them to local authorities.
“The best thing the public can do is call the city council and county commissioners, and be specific that these places need to be shut down,” Sanborn said. “The more pressure that gets put on the city council, the more action we see out of our police department.”
And would-be traffickers and purchasers notice when the police take action.
“If they hear people are getting arrested and the police are engaged in this, that really has an impact on demand,” Sanborn said. “We have to make it difficult and a shameful experience where you have to jump through lots of hoops and obstacles to buy and you’re afraid.”
During a panel discussion on the issue Tuesday at the National Press Club, a trafficking survivor identified as Jessica M., 29, of California said her tale of abuse began when she was 11 years old and took her all over the country.
“I was even trafficked in front of the White House on K Street,” she said.
Jessica, who now mentors other victims of sex trafficking, spoke of the “recurring nightmares” and “shattered self-worth” she and other victims experience, adding that it is painful to hear victims referred to as “child prostitutes.”
“Don’t call us prostitutes,” she said, noting the term doesn't acknowledge the abuse the victims suffered and suggests consent was involved.
“Children cannot consent to sex,” Poe said. “They aren’t prostitutes. They are victims of a crime and need to be rescued.”
The Medill News Service is a content partner of The Texas Tribune and is providing reports from Washington, D.C.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/04/29/houston-focal-point-fight-against-sex-trafficking/.
Lawmakers Urged to Reform Parole With Technology
- by Cathaleen Qiao Chen, The Texas Tribune
The solution to saving money on the state prison system may be more spending on technology, experts and lawmakers mused at a Tuesday panel on criminal justice policy.
In light of Georgia's success using new technologies in parole and probation, experts at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative Austin-based think tank, are urging Texas lawmakers to follow suit. Reforming the methods of community supervision for nonviolent offenders, they said in a report published in conjunction with the panel, could reduce incarceration costs and recidivism.
Georgia uses a voice recognition technology that allows low-risk offenders to check in with their parole officers through self-reporting. The state also eliminated parole offices in favor of virtual workspaces. With the technology, along with GPS monitoring and increasing the amount of time officers spent with their cases because they no longer have physical offices, parolees were much less likely to be revoked to prison or arrested for a new offense, the report said. Ninety-seven percent of offenders supervised under voice recognition successfully completed parole and those under cell phone-based GPS electronic monitoring were 89 to 95 percent less likely to be revoked.
“The offenders are one of the biggest advocates of our system,” said Michael Nail, the executive director of the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles. “They feel that they now have a stronger relationship with their parole officers.”
Nail, a panelist, said that in the three years since implementing the reforms, which also included conducting parole hearings via teleconference, parole officers increased contact with offenders by 22 percent.
The report by Marc Levin and Vikrant Reddy, policy analysts at the TPPF's Center for Effective Justice, recommended that Texas lawmakers consider not only Georgia’s efforts but also new methods of risk assessment and alcohol detection aimed to stop substance abuse.
Aside from following Georgia's lead, the report recommended developing risk assessments that would help officials determine what kind of monitoring would work best for individual parolees. Such a screening would predict the likelihood of recidivism and assign the appropriate level of supervision for each offender.
The report also suggests using additional tools to help parole officers detect alcohol over a telephone or through the sweat on an offender's ankle. Texas parole officers already use an ignition interlock device that prevents a car from starting if a second-time DWI offender's breath indicates a higher-than-allowed alcohol content after the parolee blows into a machine attached to the dashboard.
“If Texas can move more low-level, nonviolent offenders from incarceration into community supervision, the benefits to taxpayers would therefore be considerable,” the report said. “Technology may provide that opportunity.”
But Carey Welebob, a panelist who runs the community justice assistance division at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said the standardization of technologies at the state level might not be feasible or appropriate for Texas.
“It’d be challenging because we’re such a diverse state,” Welebob said. “It’s really going to depend on the local department and what their needs are.”
Welebob said that whereas Georgia's parole system is centralized, Texas is the opposite. Some counties, she said, may be paperless, while others rely on older technologies.
Texas already has made progress in terms of using technologies like using video conferencing for parole hearings, Welebob said. And the state, she said, uses a constantly evolving assessment process to sort offenders on parole as low, medium or high risk for revocation.
Still, Welebob and the other panelists agreed that there is much to be done to improve parolees' success. Sixty-two percent of all Texas inmates return to prison within three years of their release. In 2012, incarcerating one offender cost the state $50.04 per day — and that’s a low estimate, according to the report.
Spending on criminal justice totals more than 6 percent of the state’s general revenue budget, said state Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, the final speaker on the panel.
Rodríguez highlighted recently approved legislation relating to community supervision, including Senate Bill 2340, passed in the 81st legislative session, which authorized counties to use an electronic monitoring system that saves money and preserves jail cells for dangerous offenders. He also discussed a bill that has failed in the last two sessions that would allow certain nonviolent offenders to be released under electronic monitoring or house arrest.
“We have a lot of work to fix in this field,” Rodriguez said.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/04/29/lawmakers-urged-reform-criminal-justice-technology/.
Perry Baptized Anew in Historic Creek
- by Jay Root, The Texas Tribune
Before he launched his bid for the presidency three years ago, Gov. Rick Perry drew thousands of worshipers to an air-conditioned stadium in Houston, where Christian conservative activists prayed for the nation and the soon-to-announce candidate proclaimed his faith in God.
Perry is still said to have his eyes on the White House, but the religious event he staged last month was nothing like the flashy “prayerpalooza” at Reliant Stadium in 2011.
With only close friends and family looking on, the born-again Christian governor was baptized outdoors, in the spring waters once used to wash the sins off Sam Houston, the first elected president of the Republic of Texas and one of the most colorful political figures in American history.
When Houston emerged from Little Rocky Creek near Independence, Texas, in 1854, he was reported to have proclaimed, “I pity the fish downstream.”
There’s no word yet on what Perry said after he was dunked, but his office confirmed that the ceremony took place last month. And the pastor whose congregation still uses the creek for baptisms recounted the governor’s subsequent visit to the nearby church, where he said Perry played a soulful hymn on the organ and soaked up the rich local history.
“Gov. Perry has a deep and abiding faith in God,” Perry spokesman Felix Browne said in a written statement. “Like many people of faith, the governor wished to reaffirm his commitment in a way that holds great personal meaning.”
Though Perry’s recent expression of faith took place away from the media spotlight, the governor has not shied away from pushing religion into the public square.
In 2005, he stirred controversy by using a Fort Worth evangelical Christian school to stage a bill-signing ceremony where he affixed his signature to legislation restricting abortion and a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage. A few years later, in the midst of a punishing Texas drought, Perry issued an official proclamation calling on Texans to pray for rain.
Perhaps Perry’s boldest and most overt melding of politics and religion came a week before he announced for president in 2011. An estimated 30,000 worshipers flocked to Houston for his modern-day revival, called “The Response,” a boisterous prayer meeting with gospel music and Christian rock, emotional sermons and a clear boost for Perry in the days leading up to his announcement.
Over the ensuing months, religious overtones reverberated through the campaign, like the moment when Dallas megachurch preacher Robert Jeffress called eventual Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s Mormon religion a “cult.”
Then, right before he flamed out for good, Perry provoked public derision and private turmoil inside his campaign for running a TV ad perceived as anti-gay that highlighted his Christian faith while lamenting that “gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.”
The "Strong" ad was a final indignity in a campaign already on the ropes after Perry’s infamous "oops" moment, when the governor famously forgot — during a nationally televised debate — the third federal department he wanted to shut down.
Perry is again flirting with a run for the White House, but he seems to have tamped down his notorious Texas swagger a bit. He’s taken to wearing comfortable loafers instead of cowboy boots, sports studious black glasses and comes off as more of an elder statesman than the Tea Party rebel he channeled in 2010 and 2011. Last week, he told CBS This Morning that his 2012 run was a “humbling experience,” but said he learned and grew from it.
"I think how people respond when they've been knocked down is a better reflection of their character than if everything is all blue sky and the wind behind your back," he said. "I've had the wind in my face. I've been knocked down, and I'm ready to move on."
Perry’s recent baptism appears to be in keeping with his new, lower-key approach, but it could also signal spiritual preparation for another national political endeavor. He chose the exact same creek where Houston, who lived in the Texas Governor's Mansion nearly a century and a half before Perry moved in, became a God-fearing Baptist.
Houston served as governor of Tennessee in the late 1820s and then became the first elected president of the Republic of Texas in 1836, after helping lead Anglo settlers to victory in their war of independence from Mexico. When Texas became a state, Houston represented it in the U.S. Senate and later became governor. In 1861, the pro-Union governor famously refused to pledge loyalty to a Confederate Texas and was promptly replaced.
Houston, at the urging of his Baptist wife, was baptized in Little Rocky Creek on Nov. 19, 1854, by Rev. Rufus Burleson, the founder of Baylor University. The creek has served for well over a century as the natural baptistery for Independence Baptist Church, founded in 1839 and considered the oldest continuously operating Baptist church in Texas, said the church’s pastor, Phil Hassell.
The creek has suffered from the lingering Texas drought and these days is often covered with algae and lily pads. So before Perry went to be baptized, Hassell said he asked the local volunteer fire department to spray off the gunk to clear a good spot for the Texas governor.
Mac Richard, pastor of Lake Hills Church in Austin, presided over the baptism ceremony, according to the governor’s office.
Richard did not return a phone call Monday.
Hassell said Perry asked that it be a strictly private event, but afterward he stopped by the church and local Baptist museum before taking a tour of the town. Hassell showed the governor around the tiny church, where he got to see the pew in which Houston had carved his initials and those of his wife, Margaret Lea Houston.
“He had his parents with him and his sister and a couple of guests, just a few. It was very low key,” Hassell said. “I never met him before, but he was personable, kind of down to earth.”
While at the church, Perry played a gospel hymn on an 1874 pump organ, which makes sound with the help of foot-operated bellows.
“It’s not easy to play a pump organ. You’ve got to move your feet while you play,” Hassell said. “I thought he played well.”
Former Perry aide and speechwriter Eric Bearse said he wasn’t surprised that Perry renewed his faith in a private, intimate ceremony.
“Baptism is a very personal expression of faith,” Bearse said. “He has a deep and abiding faith, and it influences his view of the world and how he lives his life, but not every expression of faith is meant to be a public ceremony.”
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/04/29/perry-baptized-anew-historic-creek/.
Supreme Court's Air Pollution Ruling Goes Against Texas
- by Neena Satija, The Texas Tribune
Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
The state of Texas, which has fought the federal government over several environmental regulations, lost a major battle Tuesday, as U.S. Supreme Court justices ruled in a 6-2 vote to reinstate a regulation that aims to limit the effects of air pollution across state boundaries.
Texas was one of a number of states, joined by industry and labor groups, that had sued the Environmental Protection Agency over the Cross-State Pollution Rule in 2011.
Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling means that Texas and 26 other "upwind" states in the South, Midwest and Appalachia will have to reduce some of their emissions that contribute to air pollution in East Coast states like New York. Coal plants are among those likely be the most affected, particularly as they are already dealing with new limits on their carbon dioxide emissions.
"This is a big decision," said David Spence, a professor of business and law at the University of Texas at Austin who specializes in federal environmental law. "It's one of many things that is putting pressure on coal-fired power."
He added that the EPA, whose attempts to regulate cross-state air pollution date back to the Clinton administration, has gained some clarity. Nearly 15 years of legal challenges to such rules are now over; the only way they could change now is if a presidential administration orders the EPA to go in a different direction.
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality spokesman Terry Clawson said the agency is disappointed with the ruling. But, he added, “we’re encouraged that the court clearly acknowledged … the complexity of the interstate transport problem.”
In their legal challenge of the rule, industry and labor groups had argued that the EPA's consideration of cost-effectiveness in deciding how states should limit their emissions was unfair. Texas added that the agency had not given states enough time or guidance to follow the new regulations.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals had agreed and ordered the EPA to go back to the drawing board. But the Supreme Court reversed the court’s decision and dismissed both complaints, calling the agency's use of cost-effectiveness "permissible, workable, and equitable."
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the majority, added that nothing in the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to give the extra guidance or time that Texas had insisted was necessary to follow the rules. “EPA is not obliged … to postpone its action even a single day,” she wrote.
Environmental groups hailed the ruling as a victory for clean air, noting that the EPA estimates the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule would save 30,000 lives a year. But Texas and other states that challenged it, including Louisiana and Alabama, said it would devastate their economies. Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court’s swing vote on many issues, and Chief Justice John Roberts, one of the court’s most conservative justices, joined the court’s four more liberal justices in ruling in favor of the EPA.
Abbott has sued the EPA multiple times. A federal court dismissed a lawsuit last year that challenged the agency for taking over Texas’ greenhouse gas permitting program. The state lost another lawsuit protesting the EPA’s definition of greenhouse gases as a danger to public health and welfare, and the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal.
The fate of another challenge by Texas and industry groups to EPA regulations will soon be decided. The Supreme Court heard arguments in February against the agency’s greenhouse gas permitting rules and will issue a ruling in the coming months.
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.
*Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to the United Mine Workers of America as an industry group.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/04/29/texas-loses-fight-against-epa-air-pollution-rule/.
Livestream: Keeping the Lights On in Texas
- by Emily Ramshaw, The Texas Tribune
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/04/29/livestream-keeping-the-lights-on-in-texas/.
Monday, April 28, 2014
Sunday, April 27, 2014
Playlist Now with Alex NOW WITH ALEX WAGNER 04/25/14 Poll: Wendy Davis within striking distance from Abbott A new poll shows Wendy Davis just seven points away from her Republican revival, Greg Abbott, while Texas women are left with little access to reproductive health and no equal-pay legislation. Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-TX) and Jess McIntosh discuss.
Saturday, April 26, 2014
Obama Administration Cracks The Whip On Crappy Teacher Preparation Programs 12:09 AM 04/26/2014 Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2014/04/26/obama-administration-cracks-the-whip-on-crappy-teacher-preparation-programs/#ixzz303JU7fiI
Shahien Nasiripour Become a fan firstname.lastname@example.org Email RSS Sallie Mae Under Fire For Death-Induced Defaults Posted: 04/25/2014 11:49 am EDT Updated: 04/25/2014 1:59 pm EDT
Friday, April 25, 2014
WEB ONLY / FEATURES » APRIL 24, 2014 Scathing Report Finds School Privatization Hurts Poor Kids Rocketship, a fast-growing chain of charters, is serving low-budget, stripped-down schooling. BY RUTH CONNIFF
Shale boom: Texas set to be world’s second largest oil producer 11:46 AM 04/25/2014 Michael Bastasch Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2014/04/25/texas-set-to-be-worlds-second-largest-oil-producer/#ixzz2zxittJcw
HARRIS: How a Progressive Democratic Ag Commissioner Will Improve Texas http://womensissuesnetwork.com/calendar/
HARRIS: TDWHarris - A Conversation With Lisa Falkenberg of the Houston Chronicle http://womensissuesnetwork.com/calendar/
Thursday, April 24, 2014
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Third Chief In A Month To Be Named at Juvenile Justice Department
- by Terri Langford, The Texas Tribune
The Texas Juvenile Justice Department is set to name its third leader in a month at a meeting of the board that oversees the agency on Thursday.
Linda Brooke, the current interim executive director, is leaving TJJD for a job in Fort Worth, Jim Hurley, the agency's spokesman, said Wednesday.
"It's simply a timing issue," Hurley said, indicating the departures had little to do with the agency itself, but rather with opportunities elsewhere.
Brooke worked with the former Texas Juvenile Probation Commission before it merged with the former Texas Youth Commission to form the current agency, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.
She became interim executive director on April 1, filling the vacancy left by executive director Mike Griffiths, who retired.
A special board meeting is scheduled for Thursday to consider and possibly approve David Riley as Brooke's replacement.
If confirmed, Riley, who is currently chief juvenile probation officer for Bexar County, would start on May 12.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/04/23/third-chief-month-be-named-juvenile-justice-depart/.
Sex Offender Agency's Presiding Board Member Quits by Terri Langford and Brandi Grissom April 23, 2014
Sex Offender Agency's Presiding Board Member Quits
Amid controversy over the placement of dangerous sex offenders who have completed their prison sentences, the presiding member of a board that oversees a little-known agency that manages civilly committed violent sex offenders resigned on Tuesday.
In a resignation letter to Gov. Rick Perry, Dan Powers wrote that the three-member governing body's small size made it less effective and that in recent weeks, the workload at the embattled agency has become too much. The agency is responsible for overseeing the treatment and housing of sex offenders who have been civilly committed, deemed too dangerous to live at liberty in society.
"With only a three-member board it is impossible to provide the appropriate oversight required for such an important agency," Powers wrote. "Although I have been proud to serve the State of Texas, in recent months the time commitment has gone way beyond the expectations of a volunteer and my job and has suffered."
The agency has been in search of a long-term home for some of its sex offenders since the private operators of a halfway house for parolees on the Beaumont Highway in Houston said they could no longer live there.
State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, has called for an investigation into the Office of Violent Sex Offender Management and for the firing of its executive director, Allison Taylor, after the Houston Chronicle reported that the agency had a secret plan to build a center for violent sex offenders in Liberty County. The move to build a facility in Liberty County came after Whitmire and state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, expressed outrage that the agency had moved offenders to a Houston neighborhood without informing local officials or neighbors.
"I just have lost confidence in the agency and its director to do what's in the public interest," Whitmire said in an interview Tuesday.
Rich Parsons, a spokesman for Perry, said that Taylor remained in her job on Wednesday.
Turner said lawmakers must take action to find suitable housing for the offenders that the state has decided must remain under supervision. He said he would ask state leaders to convene a special meeting of legislative budget writers to seek a solution.
The agency, Turner said, should not become a scapegoat for state lawmakers' inability to find suitable housing for the sex offenders.
"The state has not lived up to its responsibility," Turner said. "As a result, they are like a group of people that no one wants."
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/04/23/sex-offender-agencys-presiding-board-member-quits/.
Abbott Calls for More Local Control of School Options
- by Alexa Ura, The Texas Tribune
Unveiling his latest education policy plan, Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott on Wednesday proposed giving school districts and parents more control of students' education by tossing out state mandates and regulations that promote “one-size-fits-all solutions.”
Abbott’s plan, which he presented at Northbrook High School in Houston, proposes letting parents more easily petition the state’s education commissioner to change campus management of poorly rated schools, increasing parents’ access to school performance data, and offering school districts the ability to opt out of state mandates of day-to-day operations, including calendars, food and beverage services, and transportation.
“There are 31 chapters in the Texas Education Code that govern the public education system through a plethora of regulations and mandates,” Abbott’s proposal reads. “As a result of this seemingly endless array of regulations and mandates, there is very little leeway for meaningful decision-making at the school district-level, much less the family level.”
While the plan largely focuses on moving away from “centralized” control of school districts, it also proposes the creation of the Texas Achievement School District, which would take control of underperforming elementary schools from local districts and would be tasked with improving the schools' performance.
The new district, which would be led by an independent superintendent who would have “broad discretion over personnel” and the school’s operations, would oversee the bottom 15 public or charter elementary schools in the state that have received an F rating under the Texas Education Agency’s accountability rating system for two consecutive years.
On Wednesday, before Abbott released his proposal, the campaign of his Democratic opponent, Wendy Davis, went after the Republican over his choice of location for the announcement.
Northbrook High School is part of Spring Branch ISD, which is among the more than two-thirds of Texas school districts that are fighting the state in an ongoing school finance lawsuit over $5.4 billion in spending cuts to public education that the Legislature made in 2011.
As the state’s attorney general, Abbott has represented the state in the lawsuit against the school districts, which claim that the state’s funding system is inadequate.
“Perhaps the problem is that Greg Abbott is having trouble locating a school district in the entire state of Texas that’s not currently fighting him in a courtroom lawsuit,” Davis spokesman Zac Petkanas said in a statement.
Davis, who has attempted to make education a key issue in the governor’s race, has repeatedly criticized Abbott for defending the school finance system and has called on him to settle the suit.
In his proposal, Abbott also calls for increased funding for teacher preparation programs.
The plan recommends increasing support of teacher internship programs like UTeach, which recruits and trains undergraduates to become teachers. Abbott's proposal would provide up to $2 million in funding for the upcoming biennium “as needed” to promote the creation of similar programs.
Abbott also proposed increasing state appropriations to the Texas Education Agency in the upcoming biennium from $12 million to $15 million to support Teach for America, which recruits college graduates to teach in underserved areas, and its expansion into other regions of the state.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/04/23/abbott-calls-more-local-control-school-options/.
FRONTLINE TB Silent Killer ADD Aired: 03/25/201401:23:41Rating: NR Tuberculosis was once thought to be a disease of the past. But with virulent new drug-resistant strains emerging faster than ever, TB -- passed simply by a cough or a sneeze -- is the second leading cause of death from an infectious disease on the planet. In TB Silent Killer, FRONTLINE presents an unforgettable portrait of the lives at the pandemic's epicenter.
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Banks to student loan debtors: sorry your co-signing parent died, but now YOU are in default 3:24 AM 04/22/2014 Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2014/04/22/banks-to-student-loan-debtors-sorry-your-co-signing-parent-died-but-now-you-are-in-default/#ixzz2zgAUDXXx
Under fire from critics, Louisiana Republican withdraws bill to make Bible the state book By David Ferguson Tuesday, April 22, 2014 10:12 EDT
A Republican state representative in Louisiana has pulled his controversial bill naming the Christian Bible as the official state book. According to NoLa.com, Rep. Thomas Carmody (R-Shreeveport) abandoned the effort because it had become “a distraction…
GOP Candidate Says Christians Must Pull Their Kids Out Of 'Godless' Public Schools The Huffington Post | by Rebecca Klein Email RSS Posted: 04/22/2014 2:14 pm EDT Updated: 04/22/2014 2:59 pm EDT
Report recommends A/C for Texas prisoners Summer conditions here unconstitutional, UT rights clinic says By Mike Ward and Lauren McGaughy April 21, 2014 | Updated: April 22, 2014 10:35am
Affirmative Action: SCOTUS Upholds Michigan Ban The Supreme Court is upholding the right of states to ban racial preferences in university admissions. With affirmative action programs at risk in 7 other states, Marc talks with legal experts & breaks down what implications this ruling will have. Originally aired on April 22, 2014 Hosted by: Marc Lamont Hill
Monday, April 21, 2014
Sunday, April 20, 2014
TribLive: A Conversation With Marco Rubio http://www.texastribune.org/2014/04/16/video-a-conversation-with-us-sen-marco-rubio/
TribLive: A Conversation With Marco Rubio
- by Evan Smith, The Texas Tribune
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/04/16/video-a-conversation-with-us-sen-marco-rubio/.
TribLive: A Conversation With Mike Collie http://www.texastribune.org/2014/04/17/triblive-a-conversation-with-mike-collier/
TribLive: A Conversation With Mike Collier
- by Evan Smith, The Texas Tribune
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/04/17/triblive-a-conversation-with-mike-collier/.
Inside Texas Politics: Rattling the Bones
- by Ross Ramsey, The Texas Tribune
On this week's edition of WFAA-TV's Inside Texas Politics, I talked with host Jason Whitely and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Bud Kennedy about incumbent David Dewhurst's prospects in the May 27 runoff against state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, for the lieutenant governor seat. We talked about Dewhurst's ad last week, highlighting Patrick's name change and past financial difficulties, about whether putting TV ad buys behind it might move some voters, and about longtime Dewhurst ally Texans for Lawsuit Reform's shift to his opponent.
Also: Jason and Bud got the insiders' take from Matt Mackowiak and Jason Stanford, Republican and Democratic consultants respectively; Dallas-area white collar defense attorney Victor Vital talked with Jason about the grand jury investigation of Gov. Perry and explained how that process works; opinions pieces on pre-K schooling for Texas children and that standoff between the Feds and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy; and finally, Kathleen Sebelius' resignation as Health and Human Services Secretary may explain why being thrown under the bus is covered under Obamacare.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/04/20/inside-texas-politics-rattling-bones/.
Brazos Watermaster Hotly Contested by Neena Satija April 20, 2014 http://www.texastribune.org/2014/04/20/brazos-watermaster-hotly-contested/
Brazos Watermaster Hotly Contested
- by Neena Satija, The Texas Tribune
For decades, water wars have been rare in East Texas, where annual rainfall can be twice that of West Texas. But as drought keeps its grip on the entire state, the Brazos River is bucking that trend, forcing regulators to scrutinize its users in ways that could have implications for many in-demand Texas waterways.
The Brazos' lower basin, which flows from west of Fort Worth through Waco and down to the Gulf Coast, has been the subject of some of the most contentious water fights of the last few years. In response, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality decided last week to appoint a watermaster to the lower Brazos basin — an overseer who will interact daily with river users like farmers and manufacturers and require them to report their water use in real time.
While watermasters are meant to help prevent usage disputes, the debate over this regulatory scheme has only deepened divisions on the Brazos. Dow Chemical, the river’s largest user, was the driving force behind creating the new position. Upstream cities and agricultural users strongly oppose it, fearing it will put too much power in the hands of a few, drive up costs and cater to powerful industries. Texas has just three watermaster programs today, all in South and West Texas — areas far drier than those where the Brazos flows.
“I personally was opposed to this watermaster and generally am opposed to most watermasters,” said state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, who is chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee and worked to block efforts in the 2013 legislative session to create a watermaster for the Brazos. “I’m concerned that we’re giving too much power to one person.”
Like most other rivers, the Brazos has for decades been managed largely through an honor system and educated guesswork. There was little need to enforce the river’s appropriation system, in which some users — mostly notably Dow — have more senior water rights and get first dibs if water is limited.
Things changed in 2009. As a result of the sustained drought, the Brazos’ flows were so low by the time the river reached Dow’s sprawling industrial complex in Freeport that the company’s pumps could not operate. For the first time in the river’s history, Dow issued a priority call, asserting its senior water right and requiring users upstream to cut back.
Tension mounted between Dow and upstream farmers, who had to stop irrigating their crops. Though upstream cities originally faced the same water cuts as farmers, state officials tried to exempt them, prompting farmers to sue the state in a lawsuit that is ongoing.
In theory, a watermaster will help avoid such fights by collecting daily data on how much water Brazos River users are pumping. Supporters say the program will also hold junior water rights holders accountable if they take more than their share of water before it flows downstream to Dow. They argue a watermaster will protect all users on the basin, not just industries.
“A watermaster will be able to proactively manage the water resources and water rights on the Brazos River and be able to take action to address a shortage before a crisis occurs,” Trish Thompson, a Dow spokeswoman, said in a statement.
But opponents say most of the lower basin’s roughly 1,000 water rights holders are against the idea. And because the program, which will cost more than half a million dollars annually, will be financed by water users by way of staggered annual fees, those upstream say they are being forced to pay for a program they do not support.
“It’s an overreach of the government,” said Jerry Atkinson, general manager of the Bell County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1, which delivers water from the Brazos to more than 300,000 municipal customers in the fast-growing area. “Where is the justice? Where is majority rules?”
Atkinson said the Bell County water district could be forced to pay up to $20,000 a year for the watermaster. Farmers’ fees are likely to be lower, but they will also have to install meters at the point where they divert water from the Brazos and report readings to the watermaster daily.
Sidney Kacir, who grows pecans and small grains in Bell County, said he would have to pay more than $1,000 to install the meter. Yet he has hardly been able to irrigate at all in the last few years because of Dow’s priority calls, he said, and now his water supply has been so unreliable that he cannot get crop insurance for his pecan trees.
“Our water supply as we know it is going to change drastically,” he said.
It is hard to forecast the success of the Brazos watermaster by looking to the state’s other programs, which were established under varying circumstances.
The Rio Grande watermaster system is highly regarded, but its water rights are unlike those on the Brazos. There, the watermaster always fulfills municipal needs before irrigation needs as a result of more than a dozen years of litigation in the 1950s.
The South Texas watermaster program has also existed for decades, with few major complaints. But the office’s decisions are not without controversy, since its goal is primarily to protect holders of senior water rights. Industrial users there have forced junior water rights holders, including cities, to severely cut back their use in recent years.
The Concho River Basin in West Texas got its watermaster in 2005 after years of debate. In that case, farmers petitioned for its creation, claiming that the city of San Angelo was unfairly taking their water despite having a junior right. Today, both sides accuse the watermaster of catering to the other.
“It’s a huge deal to put up with,” said Brian Treadwell, a real estate broker who grazes cattle and grows hay on two small farms on the South Concho River. “In theory, it’s probably a good idea. But there’s too much politics.”
Though they are controversial, watermasters are likely to proliferate across Texas if the drought continues. The next stop may be the Colorado River, where Austin is battling downstream rice farmers and fishermen for water supplies.
“When you get in a drought, people’s suspicion goes up astronomically,” said Ron Kaiser, a professor of water policy at Texas A&M University. “Probably within the next 10 years, if we stay under dry conditions, we’re going to see watermasters in other rivers.”
And in the long term, watermasters provide little help for Texas rivers if it does not rain. “It won’t put more water in there than nature,” Kaiser said.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/04/20/brazos-watermaster-hotly-contested/.
Saturday, April 19, 2014
The Playlist: Fight Night by Reeve Hamilton April 19, 2014 http://www.texastribune.org/2014/04/19/playlist-fight-night/
by Reeve Hamilton, The Texas Tribune
April 19, 2014
In honor of a heated televised debate between state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, and San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro on immigration policy, we kick off this week's news-inspired playlist with "Fight Night" by Migos.
The easiest way to enjoy the playlist is to download Spotify, which is a free program. But even without it, you can still follow along. Here are this week's other selections:
A report alleging potential criminal wrongdoing in the handling of private student information on the part of University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall was referred to Travis County prosecutors, so our second song is Liz Phair's "Take a Look."
Next up is OK GO with "Hello, My Treacherous Friends," which was added as a nod to Texans for Lawsuit Reform's defection from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's band of supporters to that of Patrick, his runoff rival. Then we have "The Crude Oil Blues" by Jerry Reed, included because domestic drillers are ramping up their calls for the repeal of U.S. laws banning most overseas crude exports.
The Tribune's Jim Malewitz chronicled a dispute before the Public Utility Commission over the installation of power lines, so we have Nancy Griffith's "The Power Lines." That's followed by "Calculator" by Micachu and the Shapes, added in light of concerns about a new rule requiring eighth-graders in Texas to have graphing calculators or tablets for certain standardized tests.
This week also prompted reflection about the one-year anniversary of a fertilizer explosion in the town of West, so we have "One Year Later" by The Get Up Kids. Terri Langford's story about renewed discussion over whether those on military bases in Texas should be able to carry concealed handguns inspired the addition of My Chemical Romance's "Gun." A report was released detailing the reasons for a dip in the rate of uninsured adults in Texas, so we added "I Got Insurance" by Dan Sartain.
Finally, because a political action committee inspired by this song sparked controversy this week, we included "Boats and Hoes" from the 2008 movie Step Brothers. Warning: Listening to this song is not recommended for the easily offended.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/04/19/playlist-fight-night/.
Friday, April 18, 2014
2 Dallas abortion doctors’ hospital privileges temporarily reinstated http://www.dallasnews.com/news/community-news/best-southwest/headlines/20140417-2-dallas-abortion-doctors-hospital-privileges-temporarily-reinstated.ece?utm_source=nar.al&utm_medium=urlshortener&utm_campaign=FB
Anti-Corruption Unit Chief: No Davis Docs Passed to FBI
The agency charged with prosecuting state public corruption cases wrapped up an investigation into state Sen. Wendy Davis last year without finding any issues worth pursuing, its director said, and did not uncover anything it believed it should refer to the FBI.
The Public Integrity Unit closed an investigation into a complaint made against Davis’ law firm last year. The Dallas Morning News reported Friday that documents related to Davis’ legal work as a lawyer for the North Texas Tollway Authority are part of an FBI inquiry into the agency's board members, citing a letter from the Public Integrity Unit about its own closed investigation into Davis.
Gregg Cox, the Public Integrity Unit's director, said his agency obtained documents from the FBI, not the other way around, when the Public Integrity Unit launched an investigation into Davis in 2012. The Public Integrity Unit is run by the Travis County District Attorney's office, which is led by Democrat Rosemary Lehmberg. It is tasked with prosecuting public corruption cases statewide. Its investigation into Davis was prompted by a complaint filed against her by then-state Rep. Mark Shelton, who was running to unseat Davis in the Senate.
Shelton’s complaint alleged that Davis had allowed her firm’s work with the NTTA to influence her votes on bills that impacted the agency. Davis has long said she never let her legal work or clients influence her public service. Her campaign said Friday that she had no reason to believe she was the target of any investigation.
Travis County prosecutors had seen news reports about an FBI investigation into NTTA board members and asked the federal agency for any relevant records.
“The FBI was looking into the NTTA so we reached out to them and, you know, law enforcement to law enforcement, they shared stuff," Cox said.
Cox said his unit did not find anything worth pursuing in its investigation into Davis and that his unit did not provide any documents to the FBI.
“We shut it down before it ever went to the grand jury,” Cox said. “It became obvious that if anything happened, it all happened in the Metroplex. We didn’t have venue or jurisdiction over that so we shut it down.”
Cox said that whenever his agency finds information that could be useful for a case in another venue, his office typically refers that information to the relevant agency, such as a local district attorney’s office or federal authorities.
“I know we didn’t refer anything in this case,” Cox said. “We didn’t refer anything to anybody else.”
Davis' law firm is based in Fort Worth. Melody McDonald, spokeswoman for the Tarrant County District Attorney, which has jurisdiction over crimes committed in Fort Worth, said her office is “not pursuing or involved in any investigation” involving Davis or her law firm.
The Dallas Morning News requested files in March related to the Public Integrity Unit’s investigation of Davis, which closed in August 2013. The unit sought approval from the Attorney General's office to keep the records private — primarily because they were the product of a confidential investigation, and, in the event they needed a secondary defense, Cox said, because "we needed to protect records to an investigation by another law enforcement agency."
"We felt we had a duty to protect that information," he added.
The language was stronger in the letter the Public Integrity Unit sent to the Attorney General's office making that plea. An assistant county attorney wrote that the information was “the subject of an open investigation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation” and that release of the information “would interfere with the FBI’s prosecution of the crime underlying the information.”
It is longstanding practice for prosecutors to withhold investigative files, which may contain unproven allegations that are gathered as part of a grand jury process. In its response to the county's request to withhold the records, the Attorney General's office said the request from The Dallas Morning News did not present "a novel or complex issue" and ruled that the records could be withheld.
The FBI has never publicly acknowledged the existence of an investigation related to the NTTA. The investigation became publicly known due to NTTA documents and comments from NTTA officials. Reached Friday, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Dallas office declined to comment.
NTTA spokesman Michael Rey said his agency is not a target of an FBI investigation but that “one or more current or former board directors were.”
“An attorney for former director David Denison said last year that he had been cleared of investigation,” Rey added. “That is the only information I have about the investigation.”
Just as they did in 2012, the details of Davis’ legal work for the NTTA have emerged again in her current campaign for governor. The Greg Abbott campaign’s allegations against Davis have echoed those of Shelton’s earlier complaint, particularly the focus on two bills that Davis voted on as a senator relating to how toll agencies can handle drivers who decline to pay their tolls. Shelton alleged that Davis changed her position on the issue in order to win a collections litigation contract with the agency. Both Davis and the NTTA said at the time that there was no connection between the bill and the agency’s hiring of her law firm. Davis said that she didn't change her position but voted for the bill that offered a “better solution.”
On Friday morning, Abbott’s campaign accused Davis of hiding ethical misdeeds.
“Texans deserve to know the truth about Sen. Davis' involvement in a matter the FBI is investigating,” campaign spokesman Matt Hirsch said.
Zac Petkanas, a Davis campaign spokesman, said the campaign is not aware of being the target or subject of any investigation.
“Abbott knows this is an old political charge that was started by Wendy Davis' opponent in the 2012 campaign and that anyone who looks at this matter will conclude that Wendy Davis has always fought in the best interest of her constituents,” Petkanas said.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/04/18/anti-corruption-unit-head-no-davis-docs-given-fbi/.
Thursday, April 17, 2014
The Brief: Veto Investigation Could Affect Perry's National Ambitions by John Reynolds April 17, 2014
The Brief: Veto Investigation Could Affect Perry's National Ambitions
- by John Reynolds, The Texas Tribune
The Big Conversation
The grand jury investigation into Rick Perry's veto of funding for the Public Integrity Unit has now drawn coverage from The New York Times, bringing some unwelcome national attention to the outgoing Texas governor who is weighing a return to the presidential sweepstakes.
"Mr. Perry," wrote the Times' Manny Fernandez, "has gone to great lengths to show he is not the same man he was during his disastrous 2012 presidential bid, including wearing designer eyeglasses to enhance his statesmanlike appearance. But in recent days, Mr. Perry’s final months in office have been interrupted by a political and legal problem at home, one that could haunt him on the campaign trail should he run for president and that his Democratic critics are using to accuse him of punishing his political enemies."
Meanwhile, follow-up coverage of Perry's hiring of prominent criminal defense attorney David Botsford has revealed that taxpayers will likely pick up the tab. "Botsford will be paid $450 an hour to be Perry’s defense lawyer — money that will come from the state’s budget — 'because this inquiry concerns actions by the governor while acting in his official capacity,'" reported Tony Plohetski of the Austin American-Statesman. The news that Botsford's bill would be paid for with general revenue was first reported by Peggy Fikac of the San Antonio Express-News earlier this week.
The Day Ahead
• The Democratic candidate for state comptroller, Mike Collier, drops by for a TribLive conversation at the Austin Club. We will livestream the event beginning at 8 a.m.
• Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst addresses the 21st Annual Luncheon and Business Expo for the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at noon at the Hilton Americas hotel.
• The Senate Intergovernmental Relations Committee holds an interim hearing at 10 a.m. at the University of Houston to look at the topic of bond debt. (agenda)
Today in the Trib
At Debate, Patrick's Immigration Tone Seems to Soften: "During a debate on immigration this week, Republican lieutenant governor candidate Dan Patrick appeared to move away from divisive immigration rhetoric that has drawn fire in the past."
DPS Suspends Use of New Handgun Over "Concerns": "The Texas Department of Public Safety has stopped using its newest service firearm after state trooper recruits who were the first to use new Smith & Wesson M&P 9 mm handguns reported 'concerns' about the weapon."
Transparency Committee Proceeds Cautiously as Emotions Rise: "Following the release of a special counsel's report laying out possible grounds for University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall's impeachment, a legislative committee is proceeding cautiously as it determines its next steps."
PAC to Shut Down After Name Draws Furor: "Houston consultant Allen Blakemore on Wednesday evening confirmed that his firm’s bookkeeper created a political committee called Boats 'N Hoes PAC. Blakemore said the committee will be immediately dissolved."
Judge Denies Relief for El Paso Abortion Clinic: "A federal judge has denied an El Paso abortion clinic temporary relief from a new state requirement that physicians who provide abortions obtain hospital admitting privileges."
After nearly silent, Dewhurst goes on the offensive against Patrick, Houston Chronicle
Hall, Ratcliffe in tight race for donors, The Dallas Morning News
Cruz endorses OK Senate candidate as he walks primary tightrope, The Dallas Morning News
Ted Cruz fundraising drops post-shutdown, Politico
Unusual campaign loans dog Canseco in tough U.S. House race, Houston Chronicle
Garcia: Castro's boldness made Patrick cautious, San Antonio Express-News
Faced with conservative opposition, lottery commission delays bingo vote, Austin American-Statesman
Quote to Note
"They believe elections are being done properly. They believe redistricting is being done properly. They don’t have the same concerns they did eight or nine years ago when I voted for it."
— U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Irving, framing his decision not to back reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act as voting his district
Trib Events for the Calendar
• Slate's Live Political Gabfest in Austin at Scholz Garten, 4/23
• A Panel Discussion on Keeping the Lights on in Texas at St. Mary's University in San Antonio, 4/29
• The Texas Tribune Festival On the Road presents a one-day symposium on STEM Education at UT-Dallas, 5/5
• A Conversation With Rep. Dan Branch, Candidate for Attorney General at the Austin Club, 5/8
• A Conversation with U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway at Midland College in Midland, 5/13
• A Conversation With Steve Patterson, UT Men's Athletic Director at the Austin Club, 5/15
• A Conversation With Sen. Glenn Hegar, Candidate for State Comptroller at the Austin Club, 5/29
• Save the date for the 2014 Texas Tribune Festival: 9/19-9/21
Abortion Doctors Sue Hospital Over Revoked Privileges by Becca Aaronson April 17, 2014 http://www.texastribune.org/2014/04/17/abortion-doctors-sue-hospital-revoking-privileges/
Abortion Doctors Sue Hospital Over Revoked Privileges
- by Becca Aaronson, The Texas Tribune
In a lawsuit filed Thursday, two Texas abortion doctors allege a Dallas-area hospital revoked their admitting privileges shortly after it became the target of anti-abortion protesters.
The plaintiffs, Dr. Lamar Robinson, owner of Abortion Advantage, and Dr. Jasbir Ahluwalia, the medical director of Routh Street Women’s Clinic, allege that University General Hospital in Dallas revoked their admitting privileges four days after the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled new abortion regulations requiring doctors to have nearby hospital admitting privileges were constitutional. The lawsuit does not seek monetary relief but asks the court to require immediate reinstatement of their admitting privileges.
Dallas County District Judge Sheryl Day McFarlin granted the doctors' request for a temporary reinstatement of admitting privileges and scheduled a hearing on the merits of the case on April 30.
New abortion regulations passed by the Republican-led Texas Legislature last summer require doctors who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of where the abortion is performed, among other terms. The rules took effect in November.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a constitutional challenge to the rules in March. In the opinion issued by the three-judge panel, Justice Edith Jones wrote that the state's "articulation of rational legislative objectives, which was backed by evidence placed before the state Legislature, easily supplied a connection between the admitting-privileges rule and the desirable protection of abortion patients’ health." The court also stressed that Texas law prohibits hospitals from discriminating against doctors who perform voluntary abortions when they grant admitting privileges.
Four days after the 5th Circuit’s ruling, University General Hospital in Dallas sent a letter to the doctors saying that their admitting privileges had been revoked because the plaintiffs “perform ‘voluntary interruption of pregnancies’ as a regular part of [their] medical practice” at other facilities, according to the lawsuit. Robinson was first granted admitting privileges by the hospital in December 2013, and Ahluwalia received admitting privileges in January 2014.
University General Hospital could not immediately be reached for comment. A receptionist said the hospital was conducting an all-staff meeting.
In March, anti-abortion protesters targeted University General Hospital for granting Robinson admitting privileges and demanded that the hospital revoke the privileges of any doctor who performs voluntary abortions.
A Catholic blogger who helped organize the protests commended the hospital on March 28 for revoking Robinson’s privileges.
Correction: The Dallas County district judge who approved the temporary reinstatement of admitting privileges is Sheryl Day McFarlin.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/04/17/abortion-doctors-sue-hospital-revoking-privileges/.