Political News

Recent editorials from Texas newspapers

Posted May 16

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

Austin American-Statesman. May 12, 2017.

Reason is a guiding principle in any productive government. But where was reason when Gov. Greg Abbott recently signed into law one of the most divisive and intrusive pieces of Texas legislation in recent history: Senate Bill 4, banning so-called sanctuary cities?

The new law, which takes effect Sept. 1, allows local law enforcement to question a person's immigration status during a detainment, which can include a routine traffic stop. It also subjects local jurisdictions, including sheriffs and police chiefs, to misdemeanor charges and fines if they disregard federal immigration agents' requests to hold inmates who are subject to deportation. If found guilty, local-level elected officials can ultimately be removed from office if they knowingly fail to comply with an immigration detainer request.

Like many in our state — including police chiefs of major cities, faith-based communities, business leaders and local elected officials — we've expressed our strong opposition to SB 4. For many years, this board has called for comprehensive immigration reform. But reforms should come at the federal level. A Draconian attempt to enforce immigration law, SB 4 offers no viable and effective solution.

Sold on the promise to make Texans safer, SB 4 hinders rather than helps law enforcement keep communities safer. It threatens the sanctity of local governance. It's extreme, targeting illegal immigration in an overly broad manner. Giving local law enforcement the power to investigate a person's immigration status can lead to racial profiling, including of people who have a legal right to be here. Bear in mind, too, federal courts have declared that complying with requests from federal agents to hold inmates who might be subject to deportation is voluntary.

Fortunately, Texas is not out of the reach of the nation's system of governmental checks and balances. Legal challenges rightly will and should come. Until then, however, many will be hurt — and Texas stands to suffer economically, too.

The fallout is already swift. The American Civil Liberties Union is warning visitors to our state to expect possible violations of their constitutional rights if stopped by law enforcement, while immigration advocates are branding the Texas measure a "show me your papers law."

Granted, things like that smack of hyperbole for political gain — but they surely don't allay perceptions that the law is anti-immigrant or racist.

If the fate of similar measures is an indication, legal challenges could ultimately derail the new law. Take for instance Arizona's 2010 immigration law, SB 1070. The Supreme Court placed an injunction order almost immediately after it was signed into law. Two years later, part of the law was ruled unconstitutional on the grounds that Congress — not the states — has the authority to create immigration law. The same argument might come into play with SB 4.

Civil rights groups like the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the ACLU promise to bring forward legal challenges. Some Texas municipalities, including Austin, could also file suits.

We can expect Texas and its taxpayers to be up for a protracted and expensive legal battle. For now, all in Texas will pay - directly and indirectly - the consequences. Parents will be separated from their U.S.-born children. Law enforcement officers in some cities could shift their attention to identifying undocumented immigrants, an additional duty that diverts from the job of safeguarding their communities.

Legal jockeying has already begun. Attorney General Ken Paxton asked a federal court in Austin to pre-emptively find the law constitutional, an effort to head off legal challenges. Paxton called the law "a vital step in securing our borders." A federal court judge should examine closely whether the state has overstepped boundaries by undermining rights granted under the Texas Constitution for local jurisdictions to govern themselves.

While the ACLU and others might be quick to single out Texas, the law mirrors the tone set by a congressional majority in Washington and an administration that fans anti-immigrant fears and rhetoric. Proponents, however, hold firm to their argument that the measure is about "getting dangerous criminals off the street."

Except it won't. Instead, it will have a chilling effect on public safety.

Houston police Chief Art Acevedo recently reported that the number of Latinos reporting rape in that city is down nearly 43 percent from last year. Violent crimes reported by Latinos are also down by 13 percent. Officials attribute the decreases to fears over toughened immigration enforcement.

Unreported crimes don't just affect undocumented immigrants. When witnesses and victims don't report crimes out of fear of deportation, criminals are free to roam the communities they live in and beyond for their next victim.

If Arizona's controversial immigration law was an example, Texas also runs the risk of economic repercussions. In the wake of the law's passage in Arizona, businesses lost lucrative contracts while boycotts hurt sports arenas, convention centers and hotels. Six years after Arizona's SB 1070 passed, the construction industry there has yet to recover.

This is a defining moment in our state and national history. How we treat our immigrant communities is a direct reflection of us as a people.

If only reason had been in the room when Abbott carried out his promise to ban sanctuary cities. Instead, he has made Texas more unwelcoming toward undocumented immigrants. All Texans will bear the consequences.

___

Corpus Christi Caller-Times. May 13, 2017.

Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted "BOOM" in celebration when the Legislature made Texas the 11th state to petition Congress for a constitutional convention of the states. "Boom" is right. What Abbott hopes to accomplish would be incendiary.

For years while Abbott was the attorney general and now that he's the governor, the federal government has impeded Texas' authority to suppress voting and women's reproductive rights, discriminate based on sexual preference, pollute itself and neighboring states, and block the working poor from access to health care. Sometimes he was successful in court at thwarting the government's attempts to protect people, often not. Perhaps his most influential victory at the Supreme Court was in blocking the forced expansion of Medicaid and giving individual states the right of refusal. It was arguably the biggest monkey wrench thrown into the gears of Obamacare. And it protected Texas' embarrassing ranking of No. 1 in medically uninsured while tipping the life-and-death struggles of Texas' working poor harder toward death.

But the federal judiciary, Constitution in hand, wouldn't let Texas deny same-sex couples' right to marry, discriminate against registered voters who can't meet the state's overly restrictive photo ID requirements, or use false claims of health and safety to restrict women's right to safe abortions. This constitutional check and balance works like the Founders designed it, but not like Abbott wants it to work — except of course when five of the nine Supreme Court justices vote his way.

In January, at the start of the legislative session, Abbott declared it a priority to pass a petition for a convention of the states. It was one of only four priorities he declared.

A convention of states would require a petition by at least 34 state legislatures. That's a tall order. But the leading issues — term limits and a balanced-budget amendment — are popular. A constitutional convention might not sound like such a bad idea if it stopped there. But a convention, once convened, could go in other directions.

Abbott would like to take a convention in directions we all should be thankful the Founders didn't go. Among his most nuclear ideas are to require a supermajority of the Supreme Court to overturn a state law and allow a two-thirds majority of states to override Supreme Court decisions. These proposals might further Abbott's aim of suppressing all those aforementioned individual rights. But one of our branches of government would lose a significant amount of the authority the Founders gave it. That's too great a cost.

Tyranny is the ironic oft-heard complaint of Abbott and other proponents of a constitutional convention. In their way of thinking, the federal government is oppressive because it limits the states' right to oppress. They see the states as the ultimate authority and the impediments to their authority as the American experiment gone awry. Tyranny by a state against individuals because they're women in their childbearing years, or gay, or too poor to afford one of the forms of ID the state wanted to require of voters, is the American experiment gone awry.

Instead of states' rights, Abbott should have declared individual rights and human rights his legislative priority. Boom, indeed. Put the pin back in the grenade.

___

Amarillo Globe-News. May 15, 2017.

As of last summer, roughly 67 percent of students in Amarillo Independent School District were receiving free and/or reduced lunches.

The percentage is nothing new. It has been this way for some time — the fact that more than half of the students in Amarillo ISD receive free and/or reduced lunches.

To qualify for the free and/or reduced lunch program, students (or their parents/guardians) have to meet various criteria, which primarily includes economic and financial information.

The free and/or reduced lunch program is necessary to provide nutrition to students who may otherwise go without — and going without is certainly not a consideration.

Here is the problem with the free/reduced lunch program, which is not necessarily with the program itself, but the inconsistent message from government at various levels.

Consider this from a recent Washington Post editorial (with the headline "Don't let them eat cake") criticizing the Trump administration for its "decision to slow implementation of stricter nutrition standards for school meals that were championed by then-first lady Michelle Obama."

According to the Washington Post, "obesity (is) a critical problem for millions of American children, efforts to make school menus healthier should not be delayed."

Obesity is a "critical problem" for millions of children in this country? What about the new term that is bandied about by media — "food insecurity?" Use of this term indicates a significant number of children in this country go hungry, which is the primary reason for free and/or reduced school lunches.

See the disconnect? The federal government (or the former first lady) wants to dictate nutrition standards for public schools because too many young students are obese, yet the federal government provides free and/or reduced lunches out of fear students will go hungry. Which is it? Are too many students obese or are too many students at risk of going hungry?

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the obesity rate for every state in 2015 was at least 20 percent, and for the state of Texas, the obesity rate ranged from 30 to 35 percent.

Today's sedentary lifestyle with its cellphones, internet, social media and video games (especially as this lifestyle relates to children) is a primary factor for obesity.

Does this mean we do away with the free/reduced lunch program in schools? Absolutely not. What it means is that a little consistency from government (which funds the program courtesy of taxpayers) needs a consistent message.

Uncle Sam cannot be sticking his nose into school lunch menus claiming the food served at schools is making our children obese while at the same time trotting out terms such as "food insecurity."

___

The Dallas Morning News. May 15, 2017.

There is so much to like about the Salesmanship Club of Dallas.

For almost 50 years, this organization has run the high-profile charity golf tournament named for local legend Byron Nelson.

Wait — stick with us here, even if you don't give a fig about the sport.

Just as Nelson's golf accomplishments made him a home-grown hero, the millions of dollars raised through his namesake tournament have transformed the lives of countless children.

The Byron Nelson financially powers the Momentous Institute, which provides mental health and educational services to about 6,000 kids and their families annually. Momentous also touches thousands more by sharing its practices nationwide.

As we — and the tournament's title sponsor, AT&T — see it, one giant whiff mars the Salesmanship Club's strong community scorecard: it's "men only" membership restriction.

Lori Lee, AT&T's senior executive vice president and global marketing officer, put it well in a recent story by Dallas Morning News business columnist Cheryl Hall:

"From the beginning of our partnership, we've encouraged the Salesmanship Club to make changes to its membership policy so that every child — girls as well as boys — has the opportunity to grow up and become a member of the club that has done so much great work in the community."

AT&T took over in 2015 as lead sponsor of the Byron Nelson, which this month tees off in Irving for the last time before its move to southern Dallas' Trinity Forest Golf Club. While the exact amount that AT&T pays for the title role isn't known, we're talking several million dollars.

So although the Salesmanship Club might feel comfortable politely ignoring our call to open its ranks to women, it can ill-afford to shun AT&T's gentle but firm notice that change is needed on the gender front.

Regular readers will remember that we are big fans of the Salesmanship-funded Momentous Institute, which has long been in the business of improving social-emotional health. As our Bridging Dallas' North-South Gap editorial team seeks to increase these types of resources in the southern half of the city, we've already learned a lot from Momentous.

We can't help but think that Momentous would benefit even more if local men and women are part of the Salesmanship team, whose work includes selling tournament tickets and sponsorships.

AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson, has proven himself to be more than ready to engage on prickly issues. Remember that he provoked a significant conversation about race and violence last September, just a few months after the police ambush in Dallas.

Long an advocate for diversity and LGBT rights, he also played a key role in pressing the Boy Scouts of America to end its ban on openly gay Scouts and leaders.

AT&T has the good sense to know the Byron Nelson partnership sends the wrong message, especially to the young boys and girls whom its sponsorship seeks to help. We hope the Dallas-based telecom giant will successfully press to win women's admission into the club.

___

Houston Chronicle. May 15, 2017.

Paddle a canoe down Buffalo Bayou, and you'll encounter turtles sunning on logs and egrets hunting for minnows, but also sycamore and oak trees dipping low from banks covered in bags of concrete, heaps of rubble and bioengineered vegetation.

The ragtag armor lining the crumbling banks is testimony to man's ineffective attempts to control the wanderings of this centuries-old pathway for flood waters to Galveston Bay. With urbanization, more water - moving faster than ever before - flows from upstream, causing more erosion. Not only is controlling the flow of water difficult, but Buffalo Bayou is also a moving target. The snaking channel has moved more than 350 feet since 1995, destroying forest and riverbank during that time.

The Memorial Park Demonstration Project — permitted by the Army Corps of Engineers in April to mitigate damage along a 1.1 mile stretch of bayou — will showcase a method that doesn't pave, dam or concrete up the bayou. Instead, the plan relies on natural materials — stacked tree trunks — to encourage the waterway to keep its curvaceous shape. We support this effort and believe it should proceed as soon as possible. This does not rely on the highly disruptive methodology of the past. Decades ago the district developed a plan to channel and pave this same stretch of bayou that meanders by or through Memorial Park, the Hogg Bird Sanctuary and River Oaks Country Club. Local activist Terry Hershey — who helped avert that environmental tragedy — went on to found the Bayou Preservation Association. Today, BPA is one of the key supporters of the district's plan to use natural channel design to help alleviate the bayou's distress.

Unfortunately, no intervention happens without some sort of disruption, and opponents contend that the plan will destroy one of the last stretches of riparian forest. It is true that trees will be lost in the process. But we believe that nature will adapt, and we agree with experts who say that Buffalo Bayou will be healed in a decade or so.

This section of Buffalo Bayou meanders at times and rages at times in the middle of the fourth-largest city in the United States. The park has changed many times during the last 200 years, and this fortification is important for its future.

The excessive erosion of late is not a natural, but a man-made phenomenon. The release of waters from Addicks and Barker reservoirs along with other factors causes this portion of the bayou to snake around "like a high pressure water hose left untended on the ground," according to BPA.

Land alongside Memorial Park, the city's crown jewel of green space, can't be left to erode at a clip. The goal of improving nature's long-term health justifies a short-term, environmentally judicious disruption.

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