Author Archives: Alex Samuels

House Democrat: Abbott supports removing Confederate plaque from Texas Capitol

The "Children of the Confederacy Creed" plaque was highlighted in a letter state Rep. Eric Johnson sent to the State Preservation Board, asking that it be taken down.

A meeting between state Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over Confederate monuments on Capitol grounds ended with the governor expressing a desire to move forward with the removal of a controversial plaque from inside the Capitol, Johnson told The Texas Tribune.

The meeting was arranged after Johnson publicly called for the removal of the “Children of the Confederacy Creed” plaque, which was erected in 1959, located outside his Capitol office. The plaque asserts that the Civil War was “not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.”

“The governor has committed to me that he wants to have the State Preservation Board look into what the procedure is for removing the plaque because he agrees that it’s historically inaccurate and he does not want historically inaccurate information on display in the Capitol,” Johnson said.

Johnson previously said the plaque “has no rightful place in the Texas Capitol,” adding it “is not historically accurate in the slightest, to which any legitimate, peer-reviewed Civil War historian will attest.” The plaque is one of about a dozen Confederate markers or monuments on the Texas Capitol grounds.

During Friday’s meeting, Johnson said his conversation with the governor focused specifically on the plaque though the Dallas Democrat vocalized his opposition to all Confederate markers on Capitol grounds.

Just three days before Johnson and Abbott met, the Dallas Democrat penned a formal request to the State Preservation Board — which oversees Capitol grounds — to remove the plaque.

“I have taken every step legally necessary to request that this historically inaccurate plaque be removed from the Texas Capitol,” Johnson said in a letter dated Oct. 23. “It’s now time for the State Preservation Board to act, and I look forward to its favorable and expeditious consideration of my request.”

Asked earlier this week about Abbott’s meeting with Johnson and whether the plaque will be removed, a spokesperson for the board told the Tribune that “the agency is unable to speculate on what may be the substance of that conversation at this time.”

A spokesperson for Abbott did not immediately return The Texas Tribune’s request for comment Friday, though the governor’s comments to Johnson Friday signal a significant change. Abbott has previously said removing the monuments “won’t erase our nation’s past, and it doesn’t advance our nation’s future.”

Removing Confederate markers from the Capitol is an issue that has crossed party lines. In September, House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, echoed Johnson’s request that the plaque by removed in a separate letter to the State Preservation Board.

“This is not accurate, and Texans are not well-served by incorrect information about our history,” Straus said of the plaque. He added that “Confederate monuments and plaques are understandably important to many Texans” but stressed the importance of such landmarks being “accurate and appropriate.”

Abbott’s meeting with Johnson is part of a larger conversation — both statewide and nationally — surrounding Confederate monuments. After a march defending a Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville, Virginia, erupted into deadly violence in August, some confederate statues in Texas quickly came down after years of debate, including three at the University of Texas at Austin and one in a public park in Dallas.

Despite this, most Texas voters say they don’t want to remove Confederate monuments or put them in museums. According to our latest UT/TT poll, 22 percent think they should be left in place but with added historical context, while 34 percent say they should stay unchanged.

Johnson, who has long tried to start a conversation on the issue, said after Friday’s meeting he is “confident” that Abbott and the State Preservation Board will remove the plaque. Still, there are more than 180 public symbols of the Confederacy around Texas, including about a dozen on Capitol grounds.

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New state law seeks to reduce the number of child brides in Texas

Texas has one of the highest child marriage rates in the county, but a new law seeks to change that.

In May, Texas joined a growing number of states cracking down on child marriage when Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 1705, which bans anyone under 16 from marrying. The law by state Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano — which went into effect Sept. 1 – also requires people under 18 to get a judge’s consent before marrying.

The new law is about “not forcing women into marriage before their time,” said state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, the House sponsor of the measure.

“This gives girls the privilege to grow up and make the decision that they want to get married,” Thompson said.

Thompson also said she hopes the law will decrease the number of child brides.

Previously, there was no minimum age requirement for marriage in Texas. People under 16 could marry with a judge’s consent, and those between 16 and 18 could marry with parental consent.

Between 2000 and 2014, more than 40,000 minors were married in Texas — more than in any other state. Texas also had one of the highest rates of child marriage in the country, coming in fourth overall, and was one of 14 states that gave 13-year-olds the green light to marry.

Concerns about the alarming number of child brides have led 12 other states to ban marriage under the age of 16. In 2016, Virginia became the first state to adopt a policy increasing the minimum age of marriage to 18.

Almost 90 percent of minors in the U.S. who married between 2000 and 2015 were girls 16 or 17 years old, according to Frontline.

“I recognize that we’re a very large state, but I was devastated to learn we had a high rate of these marriages going on. I was physically shocked and absolutely taken aback,” Thompson said.

According to Jeanne Smoot, a spokesperson for the Tahirih Justice Center, a nonprofit that helps abused women and children, cultural and religious drivers may have combined with Texas’ large population to give the state its high number of child brides.

“Texas has an incredibly diverse population and many [families] … may see marriage as a way to prevent or address sex or pregnancy outside of marriage,” Smoot said. She added that in the many family contexts where she’s seen child marriages happen — from multi-generational families to those with a strict religious background — heavy parental involvement in whether, when and whom a child marries is expected.

Smoot also pointed to Texas’ high human trafficking rates as a reason for child marriages.

“Some child marriages result from poor parents who feel they can no longer provide for children, or abusive or neglectful parents who are looking to offload children and cut off any further obligation to them,” Smoot added. “But there are some cases that look like human trafficking, where parents are exploiting children for financial gain.”

Advocates hope this new law can protect children from being forced into marriage and allow them to enjoy their youth.

“I think children will finally get a voice in this process,” said Will Francis, the government relations director for the Texas Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.  

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Hey, Texplainer: How is FEMA distributing money to areas hit by Harvey?

Floodwaters threaten the Grand Vista neighborhood in Richmond on Aug. 28, 2017. Residents were forced to evacuate due rising water from the Brazos River.

Hey, Texplainer: How much aid has the federal government sent Texas for Hurricane Harvey recovery, and how is the Federal Emergency Management Agency distributing that money?

It’s been several weeks since Harvey slammed the Texas Coast and left Houston — the nation’s fourth-largest city — grappling with unprecedented flooding. State officials put the latest death toll at 82, though it may take weeks to determine the exact number of fatalities.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott requested money from the federal government, which has sent more than $1 billion since the federal disaster declaration issued by President Donald Trump on Aug. 25, according to Melaney Rodriguez, a member of Americorps-FEMA Corps, a partnership between The Corporation for National and Community Service and FEMA that helps with disaster preparedness, response and recovery.

FEMA has given the state $364.2 million in individual assistance (funding for individuals and households affected by Harvey) and $181 million for public assistance (money given to cities, counties and municipalities).

Several federal officials have said there’s no telling how long they’ll be in the state offering aid or how much money Texas will need for Harvey relief efforts. Abbott has predicted that Texas will need more than $180 billion in federal aid — $60 billion more than what was needed after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“We’re going to be here as long as we’re needed,” said Deanna Frazier, a FEMA spokeswoman. “Right now, we have 5,400 FEMA workers here in Texas helping to get money to the people of Houston and the cities, counties and municipalities to help recover from Harvey.”

Here’s a breakdown of how FEMA money is allocated:

Individual assistance for Harvey survivors

As of Friday afternoon, 743,676 people had applied for FEMA assistance post-Harvey. Thus far, 288,084 have been approved, a total that’s expected to increase.

When someone registers for FEMA assistance,  they have to meet certain eligibility criteria, such as being from one of the counties in Abbott’s disaster declaration for Harvey.

The immediate assistance Harvey survivors can apply for through FEMA includes:

  • Housing and rental assistance to help people pay rent at another location while they’re displaced
  • Other Needs Assistance, which includes the agency’s Transitional Shelter Assistance that gives housing vouchers so evacuees can temporarily stay at hotels across the state, or its Critical Needs Assistance program, which provides $500 grants for items such as food, water and diapers

Public assistance for cities hit by Harvey

The second way FEMA aid is dispersed is through its public assistance program to help cities, counties and municipalities that may need help rebuilding infrastructure such as bridges, pump stations and roads after Harvey.

As of Thursday, $181 million has been dedicated to Texas, Frazier said.

The money can be used to pay for debris removal, she said, adding, “All of the efforts that cities, counties and municipalities put into safety and life saving measures are also included in that amount.”

Any emergency protective measures that cities, counties and municipalities took prior to Harvey’s landfall — such as building levees to stop floodwaters — is repaid by FEMA in full. Local entities can also receive federal reimbursement for up to 90 percent of any disaster-related costs incurred during and after the storm — through a separate program.

Usually, FEMA’s cost-share is 75 percent, but the amount was increased to 90 percent because of the catastrophic nature of the storm. Local cities and counties are responsible for paying the remaining 10 percent.

Since each project has to be completed before the city, county or municipality can apply for reimbursement, some may not see that money for several months.

The bottom line: Those eligible for individual assistance through FEMA — whether for grant money or housing assistance — will get aid immediately. Any emergency protective measures that cities, counties and municipalities took prior to Harvey’s landfall is repaid by FEMA in full. But the roughly $1 billion committed for Harvey relief thus far is just a small fraction of the expected need on the Gulf Coast.

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Within days, this Austin company hopes to start legally growing marijuana

If everything goes according to plan, Compassionate Cultivation will be an operating medical marijuana dispensary in Austin before too long. CEO Morris Denton, left, and Director of Processing Chris Woods step into a small room where the extraction of cannabidiol will take place.

The winding road that leads to Compassionate Cultivation could easily be mistaken for a dead end. It takes several seconds before drivers get off the main road and end up at a warehouse immediately surrounded by a dirt lot.

In a few months, however, scientists and manufacturers working out of this warehouse in Austin will begin legally growing marijuana.

“Soon we’ll have a variety of products that’ll be available that’ll tailor to the different needs of our patients,” said Morris Denton, the CEO for Compassionate Cultivation.

This comes after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a measure in 2015 to narrowly allow for the growing or sale of marijuana. The Texas Compassionate Use Act legalized the selling of a specific kind of cannabis oil derived from marijuana plants for a very small group of customers: epilepsy patients whose symptoms have not responded to federally approved medication.

The law allows for the sale of oils with low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive element in marijuana, and high levels of cannabidiol (CBD), a non-euphoric component known to treat epilepsy and other chronic medical conditions. The Compassionate Use Act tasked the Texas Department of Public Safety with licensing at least three dispensing organizations by Sept. 1, 2017.

Two weeks after that deadline, only one dispensary has received final approval. Two other dispensaries — Surterra Texas and Compassionate Cultivation — are still “under review for statutory compliance,” according to DPS spokesman Tom Vinger.

“We’re in a matter of days before securing our license,” Denton said. “Assuming we comply and pass the on-site inspection, we’ll receive our final license within about 24 hours of that visit.”

Denton said he’s following the 19-page checklist from DPS to a tee: The building is armed with 71 security cameras and several badge readers to ensure maximum security. And the room that’ll store the medicine has two separate cameras and five different locks on it, even though it won’t be used for at least four months, the time it takes hemp seeds to produce plants from which CBD oil can be derived.

“This is where everything starts,” Denton said. “Both for us and for the the people with intractable epilepsy who need this medication.”

Twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico now allow for comprehensive public medical marijuana and cannabis programs, according to the National Council of State Legislatures. Texas is one of 17 states to pass a law allowing for the use of “low THC, high CBD” products for medical reasons in limited situations.

On Sept. 1, Cansortium Texas became the first dispensary to receive final DPS approval. Along with completing a lengthy inspection report, the dispensary also paid an annual fee to the state of more than $400,000.

“Cansortium Texas is both humbled and honored to have earned a license as a low-THC dispensing organization,” the company said in a statement. “Suffering patients are one step closer to achieving the medical relief they so desperately seek and Cansortium Texas is ready to fulfill this need.”

“We essentially are growing marijuana in here”

As it awaits its state license, Compassionate Cultivation employees gave the Tribune a tour of its dispensary and explained how they plan to create the cannabis oil that they hope a small number of Texans will be able to purchase by January.

The process starts with planting hemp seeds, which are already legal in Texas, in a vegetation room where they will be grown and monitored at a specific temperature and humidity. After a plant has gone through a growing period of several days, it will be brought into a flower room — Compassionate Cultivation has four — where it will finish out the remainder of its growth cycle and later mature into a cannabis plant.

Denton said that, per state regulations outlined by DPS, the three dispensaries are not allowed to have any cannabis containing more than 0.5 percent THC at any time in their facilities. (For context, strains of marijuana legally available in Colorado can have THC levels as high as 28 percent.)  To ensure the plants stay within those limitations, Denton said scientists in his facility will test every plant during each step of the process.

“We’re essentially growing marijuana in here,” Denton said.

Different strains of cannabis have different THC levels.

“Just like wines come from different regions and have different grapes, cannabis has different strains which produce different cultivar,” Denton said. The strain the dispensaries are most interested in are the ones known for producing a high concentration and high potency of CBD.

“We get a strain of a plant that we know is capable of producing strong amounts of CBD, and then we have to grow that plant and put it through its maturation phase, which is typically about 80 to 95 days,” Denton said.

Surrounded by fertigation tanks, Compassionate Cultivation CEO Morris Denton looks into a vegetation room where marijuana plants will begin their growth process.
Surrounded by fertigation tanks, Compassionate Cultivation CEO Morris Denton looks into a vegetation room where marijuana plants will begin their growth process. Laura Skelding for The Texas Tribune

Next up comes the harvesting process, Denton said, which entails cutting and drying the plant. That takes another week.

When all the moisture is removed from the plant, it’s then pulverized and turned into “what almost looks like bags of tea,” Denton said. Once the plant particles have been pulverized, it’s put into an extraction machine that Chris Woods, the director of procession for Compassionate Cultivation, compared to “making a broth or a stew.”

The plant goes through the extraction process until oil is dispensed, which takes about 10 to 12 hours. But the oil needs to be tested, processed and manufactured before it can be used in the products Compassionate Cultivation will sell to its customers. The testing and manufacturing process takes another several days, Denton said.

“Once we have that oil, we test it to make sure it’s exactly what we want it to be, and then that oil can get infused into whatever the products are that we’re going to produce on behalf of our patients,” Denton said.

Denton said his dispensary uses as much of the plant as possible to yield the greatest amount of CBD, and whatever is not used is then pulverized and turned into mulch.

“None of the plant matter is thrown away in any way whatsoever. It can turn into soil,” he said.

A small population seeking relief

Despite the time and effort each dispensary will take to get licensed and begin producing cannabis oil, each will only be serving a select group of individuals.

According to Sindi Rosales, the CEO of the Epilepsy Foundation of Central & South Texas, roughly 160,000 Texans have intractable epilepsy — only 0.57 percent of the state’s total population.

“Even if this ends up only benefiting a small number of people, I think they’re grateful that they have this opportunity,” Rosales said. “Even if it’s a small number, why not provide this medicine if it’s available?”

Other advocates, however, point out that while Texas is making strides in the right direction, an even smaller group — epilepsy patients whose symptoms have not responded to federally approved medication — will be allowed access to the medicine.

“This is kind of a bittersweet time for those of us who are advocating for reform,” said Heather Fazio, a spokesperson for Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. “We’re happy the process is moving along, but it’s such a limited program and we know there are so many other people who could benefit from this if the program was more inclusive.”

Despite the small population of Texans who will actually able to use the medicine, advocates agree that the dispensaries could be life-changing for those who benefit from it.

“We’re just asking for another tool in our toolkit that we can offer people who are desperate and that’s what this is,” Rosales said. This may or may not work, but it should definitely be offered.”

“I think there’s a great deal of compassion in the Compassionate Use Act, and I think that’s very great and very encouraging,” she added.

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After 2015 legalization, Texans may be able to buy medical cannabis oil by January

Gov. Greg Abbott displays SB339 as Rep. John Zerwas, Rep. Stephanie Klick and Sen. Kevin Eltife watch. The bill would allow limited use of medical marijuana oil that will control seizures in epileptic children.

In 2015, Gov. Greg Abbott signed the first bill allowing any growing or sale of marijuana in Texas. The Texas Compassionate Use Act legalized the selling of a specific kind of cannabis oil derived from marijuana plants for a very small group of customers: epilepsy patients whose symptoms have not responded to federally approved medication.

Two years later, Texans still can’t legally buy cannabis oil, but a handful of companies believe they are weeks away from receiving the official go-ahead to become the state’s first sellers.

But even if those approvals go through, it’ll still be some time before any Texans will be able to buy what they’re selling.

The three eligible dispensaries — Surterra Texas, Cansortium Texas and Compassionate Cultivation — are waiting on the final stamp of approval from the Texas Department of Public Safety to begin growing and distributing marijuana. The agency has until Sept. 1 to do so under the 2015 law.

That could put cannabis oil on the market by January, two and a half years after Abbott signed a law legalizing it, according to some potential sellers.

“Let’s say that we get our final license on Sept. 1. Only after that point will we be able to start growing marijuana,” said Morris Denton, a spokesman for Compassionate Cultivation, which is planning a dispensary in the Austin area. “Once we start growing, it’s going to take about four months before we’re ready to dispense medicine because of the extraction and testing process the plant has to go through after it’s been harvested.”

Dispensaries like Compassionate Cultivation will only be able to sell to a small percentage of Texans under the narrow 2015 law, which allows for the sale of oils with low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive element in marijuana, and high levels of cannabidiol (CBD), a non-euphoric component known to treat epilepsy and other chronic medical conditions.

Supporters have praised the Texas law as a historic shift in the state’s policy related to marijuana. But some critics have argued that the THC and CBD levels Texas has legalized are still too low to help many epilepsy patients and provides no help for others who could be helped by medical marijuana in other forms.

“Texas took a very narrow, specific approach focused on epilepsy patients only — which is indicative of the state,” said Adam Sharon, the communications director for Cansortium Texas, which is planning a dispensary in Fayette County between Houston and Austin. (The third dispensary, Surterra Texas, did not respond to a request for comment.)

Twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico now allow for comprehensive public medical marijuana and cannabis programs, according to the National Council of State Legislatures. Texas is one of 17 states to pass a law allowing for the use of “low THC, high CBD” products for medical reasons in limited situations.

“We were very disappointed in how unreasonably restrictive the Compassionate Use Act was written,” said Heather Fazio, a spokesperson for Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. “We’re grateful it was intended for some people to have access to some type of cannabis, but science shows [medical marijuana] can help countless Texans suffering from PTSD, multiple sclerosis and severe pain.”

Texas began accepting applications for dispensing organizations in March 2017. Two months later, DPS announced it had selected three applicants out of the 43 that applied to receive preliminary licenses as dispensing organizations.

Denton said his business is waiting to complete a “fairly substantial inspection report” from the DPS before his dispensary will get the approval needed to begin growing and cultivating marijuana. The report is an 18-page document requiring each dispensary to verify the facility’s lease and permits from local fire marshals, among other things, he said.

“The inspections will confirm the applicant’s’ compliance with the safety, security, cultivation and processing requirements,” a spokesperson for the DPS wrote in an emailed statement to the Tribune.

The House sponsor of the Compassionate Use Act, state Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, said in an interview in the Capitol Wednesday that she expected the first dispensaries would be “up and running” by Sept. 1 and that she’s visited with “a few of the vendors.” When asked why the dispensaries have not received final approval from the state, Klick said she hadn’t heard about that.

Advocates, however, said they believe the state’s slow pace for the past two years reflects a larger issue.

“These folks [at DPS] haven’t known anything other than putting people in jail for cannabis, and now, all of sudden, they have to learn about this plant, establish best practices and execute the rollout,” Fazio said. “That’s a lot to do in a little more than two years.”

Emmanuel Garza moved his family last year from Sullivan City, Texas near the border to Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal, in order to be able to purchase CBD oil and other medical products derived from marijuana to treat his daughter’s seizures. He said he pays nearly $200 for a 100-milliliter bottle of CBD oil, which he said lasts almost a year since she takes such a small dosage.

Denton said there remain too many variables to know how much his Texas dispensary will charge eligible patients for cannabis oil.

“You may have one doctor that prescribes a certain dosing and then another that prescribes a different dosing,” Denton said. “[The price] will pivot off of what a price per gram of the CBD oil will be and then how that gets delivered through different products.”

Shannon Najmabadi contributed reporting to this story.

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State Rep. Dawnna Dukes declines deal from Travis County District Attorney

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, chats on the House floor on August 1, 2017.  Dukes faces a deadline to resign from office or face corruption charges from the Travis County District Attorney's Office. 

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, declined a deal from the Travis County District Attorney’s office Tuesday that would have allowed the 12-term representative to have all corruption charges dropped against her if she had agreed to resign immediately.

In a statement sent to The Texas Tribune after 5 p.m. Tuesday, Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore said she’d had no contact from the attorneys for Dukes.

“The offer to resolve this matter has expired and is no longer available,” Moore said in a statement. “We will be ready for trial.”

As a part of the deal, Dukes would’ve had to also pay $3,500 in fines and restitution and agree to a drug and alcohol assessment. Dukes has previously denied charges that she had her legislative staff run personal errands and that she was compensated for days she did not work at the Texas Capitol.

“It is truly not dignifying this new low that such character assassination has hit in this web woven to influence a court of public opinion,” Dukes wrote in a Facebook post Monday night. “As such, it would be indecorous of me to respond to impertinent allegations.”

When the Tribune asked Dukes about the DA office’s deal Tuesday morning, Dukes said, “I’m not talking about that right now.”

Dukes declining the deal means the district attorney’s office will move forward with the trial, which was set by Judge Brad Urrutia for Oct. 16.

“It’s time to move on. Some form of this deal has been discussed [with Dukes] since September,” Moore told the Tribune on Monday. “We’ve got to go to work, and we’re going to be preparing for trial.”

In January, a Travis County grand jury indicted Dukes on 13 counts of tampering with a governmental record, a felony punishable by up to two years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000. These charges are based on allegations that Dukes made false entries on travel vouchers to obtain money for expenses she was not entitled to.

In addition, she was indicted on two charges of abuse of official capacity by a public servant, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000. Those charges allege that Dukes used her legislative staff to work on the African American Community Heritage Festival and, in one instance, be a live-in nanny for her daughter.

In June, the 12-term lawmaker pleaded not guilty to tampering with a governmental record and abuse of official capacity by a public servant.

Dukes has faced criticism for missing votes and being absent from the House floor during the 85th Legislature’s regular session earlier this year. She was not in attendance when the House voted on the final budget. Despite this, Dukes said in late June that it was a “strong possibility” she’d run for re-election in 2018.

On July 25, two of Dukes’ Houston-based lawyers filed a motion to withdraw as counsel, citing an inability to “effectively communicate with the defendant on matters essential to the representation.”

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This Texan’s daughter needed medical marijuana, so he moved to Colorado

Listen to Emmanuel Garza explain why he wanted House Bill 2107 — which would’ve expanded the use of medical marijuana — to pass.

Madelynn Garza had her first seizure at three months old.

She was born with Aicardi Syndrome, a disease affecting nearly 4,000 people worldwide that caused her infantile spasms and made her legally blind. Now almost two, Madelynn’s parents say they’re not sure whether she’ll ever walk or speak, or how long she’ll live.

To help relieve Madelynn’s pain and curb her seizures, the family bounced from doctor to doctor in Texas and attempted to treat her with pharmaceutical drugs — some of which had negative side effects on her heart and liver.

Before a slate of new laws takes effect Sept. 1, we’re taking a look at a few measures that didn’t pass the finish line during 2017’s regular legislative session — and how those “dead bills” affect individual Texans.

Today’s bill:

House Bill 2107 would’ve expanded the “Compassionate Use Act,” a measure signed into law in 2015. The bill would’ve let qualifying patients with debilitating medical conditions use an oil derivative of medicinal marijuana — specifically low-dose THC. The bill never came up for a vote.

“Once doctors knew she had Aicardi Syndrome, they kind of gave up on us,” said Emmanuel Garza, Madelynn’s father. “We didn’t accept that. We did a lot of research and came across medical marijuana and how it’s helped kids with epilepsy.”

That research prompted the family’s move on Thanksgiving Day from Sullivan City, Texas — a small town near the Texas-Mexico border — to Aurora, Colo., where recreational marijuana is legal.

CBD — a non-euphoric component of marijuana that Texas lawmakers legalized for medicinal use in oil form in 2015 under the state’s Compassionate Use Act — didn’t alleviate his daughter’s seizures.

But THCA oil, which is made from another part of the marijuana plant known to help with epilepsy patients, and isn’t yet legal in Texas, immediately relieved Madelynn’s pain in Colorado.

Moving to Colorado “wasn’t really a choice when you’re talking about the wellbeing of your child,” Garza said. “You do what’s best for your child.”

In 2017’s regular legislative session, Garza hoped Texas lawmakers would open the door for his family to return to Texas by passing a bill authored by state Reps. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, and Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, to expand the use of medicinal marijuana in Texas to components other than CBD.

“We had to move, and it wasn’t really a choice when you’re talking about the wellbeing of your child. You do what’s best for your child.”

— Emmanuel Garza, father of Madelynn Garza

“Although [the Compassionate Use Act] was specifically designed for people like my daughter, the CBD alone did not work,” Garza said. “What do you do then, when the law that was passed in Texas is not going to help you?”

State Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, was one of the co-authors of a measure that would've expanded the use of medicinal marijuana. Despite bipartisan support, the bill never made it to the House floor for a vote.
State Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, was one of the co-authors of a measure that would’ve expanded the use of medicinal marijuana. Despite bipartisan support, the bill never made it to the House floor for a vote. Marjorie Kamys Cotera / The Texas Tribune

House Bill 2107 would’ve allowed health care specialists focused on neurological disorders to administer both low-dose THC and CBD to patients. Patients would’ve only been allowed to use the treatment if two other medications had failed. But despite bipartisan support in the lower chamber — the bill had 77 House lawmakers signed on as co-authors — the measure never made it to the House floor for a vote.

“This isn’t something that’s cooked up in a lab. It’s made like olive oil,” Isaac told The Texas Tribune during the regular legislative session. “It just seems absurd that we can’t give patients the freedom to use this because there’s so many stigmas around the word ‘marijuana.’”

Since the measure didn’t pass in the regular legislative session and is not on Gov. Greg Abbott’s 20-item agenda for this summer’s special session, it’s unlikely the law will change soon. Garza said his family plans to remain in Colorado for another two years. He’s hopeful that in 2019, there will be more momentum to pass a medical marijuana law that would allow families like his to stay in the state.

“At the end of the day, my daughter is not going to be like everyone else. The seizures will slowly kill her,” Garza said. “So if this medicine helps her, you’re doing it to try to save her life.”

Live chat: Talk to our reporters about bills that didn’t make it out of the regular session — and what’s ahead in the special — Friday, July 14 at noon. Ask a question

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North Texas mayors reject protectionist “Buy American” iron and steel bill

The mayors of two North Texas cities are siding with Canadian officials over the potentially negative impact a “Buy American” iron and steel measure could have on Texas-Canada trade relations.

Both Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, who are on a trade mission to Toronto and Montreal this week, said they had concerns with a law that will require large state projects — such as buildings, roads and bridges — to purchase iron and steel from an American supplier if the cost doesn’t exceed 20 percent more than the price of cheaper, foreign imports.

The measure was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott Friday and goes into effect Sept. 1. 

The law has grabbed the attention of several Canadian officials, who wrote in a May 15 letter to Texas senators that they were “deeply concerned” with how the law would impact Texas-Canada trade. They asked members of a legislative conference committee to tack on an amendment that would exempt Canadian steel, but their request was denied.

“I didn’t like that (law),” Rawlings said in an interview on BNN, Canada’s Business News Network. “I think it was pointed at China, but it has some repercussions here in Canada and we need to go back and talk to [Abbott] about that.”

In a statement to The Texas Tribune Thursday, Price said she was concerned with some of the unintended consequences the measure could have on “our positive Texas-Canada trade relationship” and planned to work with lawmakers to “explore potential changes to this law.

“It is critical we support our strong trade relationship with Canada, while also promoting efforts to support the American marketplace and American jobs,” she said.

Senate Bill 1289 by state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, expands a provision already in effect for the Texas Department of Transportation and the Texas Water Development Board. The bill also says that if American suppliers aren’t prepared to supply a project or if there is a compelling state interest, any country’s iron and steel can be used.

Canada is the top export destination for U.S. steel products, representing roughly $9.7 billion in trade last year. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said in a written statement that she had met with both Texas mayors on Monday and was hoping to work with Texas lawmakers to seek an exemption for the province. 

“The strong relationship between Ontario and Texas is long-standing and vital to the economies of both regions,” she wrote. “We are disappointed that Texas has passed discriminatory Buy American provisions.”

Creighton has previously said that the aim of his bill was not to penalize Canada, but to ensure “foreign governments like China and Turkey can’t create a foreign steel market that would gut the American market.

“We stand firm for Texas jobs and manufacturers and against communist China flooding the market to hurt those stakeholders,” he said.

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