Category Archives: Latest

Perry pursuing policy on coal, nuclear power at odds with Texas record

Secretary of Energy Rick Perry testifies at a Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing in Washington, D.C. on Oct 12, 2017.

An unusual coalition of fossil fuel interests, environmentalists and free-market adherents has criticized a proposal from U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry that would prop up coal and nuclear plants across the country. And some of those familiar with Texas politics are wondering if the Perry that served as state governor for 14 years would have opposed the plan, too.

In a 2011 interview, then-Gov. Perry told blogger and radio host Erick Erickson, “Get rid of the tax loopholes, get rid of all of the subsidies. Let the energy industry get out there and find — the market will find the right energy for us to be using in this country.”

That statement was par the course for Perry, who as governor helped oversee the deregulation of Texas’ electrical sector and has championed competitive markets and opposed federal interference.

But to some, his views have shifted since he became President Donald Trump’s Energy Secretary in March.

“The boot is on the other foot,” Perry said at an event in April. “Are there issues that are so important to the national security of this country that the federal government can intervene on the regulatory side? I’ll suggest to you that there are.”

Perry raised eyebrows in September when he urged the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to give certain fuel sources what amounts to a subsidy, but one borne by consumers rather than the government. And at a hearing on Capitol Hill last week, Perry called the notion that there’s a free market in electrical generation a “fallacy.”

“We subsidize a lot of different energy sources. We subsidize wind energy, we subsidize ethanol, we subsidize solar, we subsidize oil and gas,” Perry said at the hearing. “Government’s picking winners and losers every day,” he said later.

Lawmakers on the committee were quick to point to the disparity between Perry’s current position and those during his tenure leading Texas.

“It seems like with your new effort you are gaming the system and not doing what we did when you were governor in Texas,” U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, said at one point.

U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, warned Perry that he was creating the impression that “you prefer government control over the free markets.”

“We both know that’s a pile of Bevo longhorn poo-poo,” Olson said.

Threat of energy outages

Perry’s proposal says generators that can store 90 days’ worth of fuel onsite — like coal and nuclear plants — should be shored up because they can keep the electric grid running in the event of a disturbance.

Many of these generators face premature retirement, Perry wrote last month. Referencing a 2014 “polar vortex” and the hurricanes that have battered Texas and other coastal areas, he said, “It is time for [FERC] to issue rules to protect the American people from the threat of energy outages.”

If approved, critics say the plan would increase residents’ electricity bills, penalize other sources of energy and signify a break from FERC’s free-market tendencies. Perry has asked the independent commission to make a decision on his recommendation in 60 days — a timeline some say is too fast.

But opponents have taken issue with more than the proposal’s pace. A broad coalition has criticized the plan as an ineffective solution put on too hasty a path. Some criticize it as pollution-causing and backward-looking; others say it amounts to a bailout and argue against government putting its thumb on the scale.

Industrial Energy Consumers of America, a group that represents Koch Industries and is supportive of nuclear and coal power, penned a letter saying the proposal would “distort, if not destroy, competitive wholesale electricity markets.”

Pat Wood, a former chairman of Texas’ Public Utility Commission, expressed his antipathy in more colorful language, likening the plan to a “lovely little Christmas turd” while at an industry conference, according to news reports.

Perry “clearly is acting based on what his boss, Trump, would like him to do,” said Lenae Shirley, a senior director at the Environmental Defense Fund. “When institutes that represent the Koch brothers are aligning with environmentalists on this, that sends a pretty strong message that this is not the right move.”

On the campaign trail, Trump promised to revive the coal industry, and his administration has already dismantled some policies favored by renewable energy advocates.

Even companies that support reforming wholesale electricity markets disagree with the specifics of Perry’s proposal.

“DOE is saying we need to have fuel security in the event of some catastrophic failure of the transportation or natural gas systems,” said Abraham Silverman, vice president and deputy general counsel at NRG Energy, which owns the retail electricity business of Reliant Energy in Houston. “That’s not crazy.”

“That said,” he added, “we are not proponents of bailouts. We’re not proponents of subsidies to targeted generators. We think the DOE was on the right path in highlighting the problems, but the specific proposal that they put forward was, I think, problematic.”

“Good for American energy”

At last week’s hearing, Perry said he’s committed to an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy — and pointed to his “real track record” as governor. “But the wind doesn’t always blow,” he added. “The sun doesn’t always shine. The gas pipelines, they can’t guarantee every day that that supply is going to be there.”

He suggested the Obama administration had been biased toward renewables and, in April, he commissioned a study to see if regulations, mandates or other tax policies are “responsible for forcing the premature retirement of baseload power plants” such as coal and nuclear generators.

That report, which had been highly anticipated by both members of the energy industry and environmentalists, noted 531 “coal generating units” closed across the country between 2002 and 2016 and laid most of the blame for those closures on the “advantaged economics of natural gas-fired generation” — with regulations and rising output from wind and solar energy as lesser factors. The study’s authors did not find that such closures had made the grid unreliable.

That trend has been largely borne out in Texas, where Perry, as governor, helped oversee the deregulation of the state’s electricity market. Under Perry, natural gas production surged thanks to technological advances like hydraulic fracturing, and Texas became the nation’s leader in wind energy generation. Data from the state’s largest grid operator shows wind capacity grew from 116 megawatts in 2000 to more than 11,000 megawatts by 2014.

“If we go back in time, I’m sure we could find a dozen quotes from Gov. Perry very excited about these kinds of developments,” said Chrissy Mann, a senior representative of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

Brandy Marty Marquez, one of the state’s Public Utility commissioners who previously served in the governor’s office as Perry’s chief of staff, said Perry “probably was among the first people to coin the phrase ‘all-of-the-above approach’ because Texas is one of the early adopters of renewable energy, specifically wind.”

While Perry long touted free-market principles as governor, he also championed spending millions in tax subsidies for firms relocating or expanding in Texas, programs critics derided as “corporate welfare.” And as governor, he did push for the permitting of new coal plants while other states were scaling back amid pollution concerns.

But those facilities, or Perry’s lobbying for them, weren’t highlighted in a December 2016 op-ed from a former state regulator about why Perry becoming Trump’s Energy Secretary would be “good for American energy.”

Barry Smitherman, the former chairman of Texas’ Public Utility Commission and Railroad Commision, cited the building of new transmission lines for wind energy, the encouragement of more competition in the electric market and the “shale revolution” as “three particular areas where Perry’s leadership led to significant benefits for working Texans, energy consumers and the broader energy industry.”

Coal plants closing

Marquez said Perry’s proposal is a responsible and reasonable way to approach issues with the grid — and that he’s consistently advocated for a diversified energy portfolio. Anybody surprised by his plan “hasn’t been paying attention,” she said. “He sent it over to FERC so that there can be a transparent dialogue, an open dialogue about it,” she said.

But even if FERC adopts Perry’s plan as is, it would largely not impact nuclear or coal-powered plants in Texas.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s largest grid operator, is not under the purview of FERC. “Only action by the Texas legislature or the [Public Utility Commission] would affect our rate structure,” said Robbie Searcy, an ERCOT spokesperson. Diverse energy sources, she added, have helped ERCOT maintain a reliable system and competitive market.

According to ERCOT data, coal made up 22 percent of the state’s generation capacity last year. But the coming closure of several coal-powered plants in the state has set the stage for wind to overtake coal in Texas’ overall energy mix in 2018, according to Joshua Rhodes, a research fellow at the University of Texas at Austin’s Energy Institute.

Vistra Energy’s subsidiary, Luminant, announced earlier this month that three of its Texas coal plants will shutter next year, if ERCOT gives the okay. In environmental groups’ crosshairs for years, the Monticello, Big Brown and Sandow plants have earned the dubious distinction of being among the “dirtiest” in the country. But the plants succumbed to financial, not activists’, pressure, according to company officials.

“The long-term economic viability of these plants has been in question for some time,” Curt Morgan, president and CEO of Vistra, said in a statement. Because a few of the retiring plants were built in the 1970s, Rhodes said they probably needed some capital investment just to upgrade and maintain the facilities.

If ERCOT determines the plants aren’t needed to keep the state’s energy grid reliable, their retirements could prompt the elimination of more than 800 jobs.

“Coal’s powered America for a long time,” Mann, the environmental advocate said; but the closures align with Perry’s proposal. Natural market forces — and for some, an inclination toward renewable sources — means “coal has to get phased out,” Mann said. “Perry’s report recognizes that and is looking for a way to artificially prop up a dying industry rather than finding ways to help transition communities that have relied on coal.”

Bill Peacock, vice president of research at the conservative-leaning Texas Public Policy Foundation, said a better solution is to rid the market of subsidies, rather than adding more. “We support markets as a way to decide which fuel is best to meet the energy needs of America,” he said. “To that extent, we don’t believe in subsidies for wind or solar or coal or nuclear or natural gas. It’s across the board. We’re not trying to pick winners and losers and we don’t think anybody else ought to either.”

Disclosure: The Environmental Defense Fund, NRG Energy, Vistra Energy and the Texas Public Policy Foundation have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Posted in Latest, National, State | Comments Off on Perry pursuing policy on coal, nuclear power at odds with Texas record

Cornyn: Trump assured me more Harvey aid for Texas coming in November

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn speaks at the Texas State Rifle Association general meeting in Round Rock on Feb. 25, 2017.

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate will not add more funds earmarked for Texas’ recovery to a new disaster spending bill slated for a vote this week, the state’s senior senator said on Thursday.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn told reporters on a conference call Thursday afternoon that he spoke with President Donald Trump and his budget director Mick Mulvaney and was assured that a separate spending aid bill would come soon.

“It’s coming in November, and it will be for Texans recovering from Harvey,” Cornyn said. 

Few Texans were pleased with a $36.5 billion disaster relief legislation that passed the U.S. House last week, with some including Gov. Greg Abbott arguing the bill did not do enough for Texas. That is now the bill moving through the Senate chamber and will likely be up for a vote Thursday night or Friday morning.

Many in the delegation worry that the majority of the bill’s funds will go to the most dire hurricane-devastated theater, Puerto Rico. The legislation also largely ignored an $18.7 billion request most of the delegation and Abbott had requested from Congress.

In September, Trump signed into law a short-term, $15.25 billion measure to address the immediate emergency in Texas and in Florida, which suffered serious damage from Hurricane Irma.

Cornyn suggested earlier in the week he would band with colleagues in other areas affected by disasters to add additional relief spending to the current bill. 

“In talking to a number of my colleagues from Florida, some from out west where the wildfires are creating a lot of devastation, I think there’s some interest in seeing whether the Senate should add to what the House has done,” Cornyn said on Tuesday.

In the end, though, he said he would keep the pressure on the president and Congress to act soon on additional Texas aid.

“We don’t want the federal government to kick the can down the road, because as time goes by,” he said. “I don’t want people to forget about Hurricane Harvey.” 

 Claire Allbright contributed to this report. 

Posted in Latest, Local, National, State | Comments Off on Cornyn: Trump assured me more Harvey aid for Texas coming in November

Dallas Fed CEO: Technology, not trade or immigration, is main reason for job loss

A truck travels on TX-281 Military Highway in Pharr, Texas.

SAN ANTONIO — If policymakers and elected officials keep buying into the misnomer that trade and immigration are the keys to job loss, the state’s and country’s leaders are going to craft policies that hinder growth and prosperity, the president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas told business leaders in San Antonio.

“A lot of these job dislocations are being publicly blamed on trade and immigration. Our analysis at the Dallas Fed is 15 years ago, maybe. Today, no,” Robert Kaplan told members of the Texas Business Leadership Council. “More likely, if your job is being disrupted it’s because of technology.”

Kaplan said instead business and education leaders should look at the issues of unemployment and education through an apolitical lens if they don’t want to risk Texas and the rest of the country becoming less competitive.

“We have a big skills gap, not only in Texas but in the United States. This is a big problem because every one of these jobs that goes unfilled [means] lower GDP, lower productivity, lower prosperity,” he said. “If we get that diagnosis wrong, for obvious reasons, we’re going to make very poor policy decisions, which will cause us to grow less quickly than we would otherwise.”

Kaplan also touched on the North American Free Trade Agreement and how further discussions over how to modernize the 1992 trade deal will spill into next year. Mexico’s constitution allows a president to serve one six-year term, so negotiations could take on a new dynamic during Mexico’s 2018 election season if voters rally around a  candidate who has different views on NAFTA than current President Enrique Peña Nieto.

It’s especially noteworthy for Texas because trade with Mexico is predominantly intermediary, Kaplan said. That means some goods and products pass back and forth between the two countries several times.

“That is different than the trade relationship with China. So it pays to segment the trade relationships and think about them in a very strategic way,” he said.

Texas would be the most-affected state if NAFTA is reworked in a way that decreases trade between the two countries. From January to August of this year, more than $366 billion in two-way trade has passed through ports in the United States and Mexico, according to WorldCity, a Florida-based economics think tank that uses U.S. Census data to track trade patterns. That figure represents a 5.85 percent increase compared to the same timeframe in 2016.

About $193.4 billion of 2017’s trade has passed through the Laredo customs district, with another $61.5 billion passing through the El Paso customs district. The ports of Houston and Port Arthur are also in included in Mexico’s top 10 trading partners, ranking fifth with $13 billion and eighth with $3.5 billion, respectively.

On Hurricane Harvey, Kaplan said the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas estimates the costs of damage to homes ranges from $45 billion to $55 billion and damage to businesses is between $15 billion and $20 billion. He said that means the affected areas, especially Harris County, will need an influx of workers to rebuild — causing concerns for leaders because of the current debate over unauthorized migration. He said the bank estimates that as many as 50 percent of the construction workers in Harris County are undocumented.

“Let me put it this way: It’s a concern among leaders in Houston. They are very aware of it,” he said. “One of the big issues in rate of rebuilding is you need a construction force. And you probably need some migration of construction workers to your state. So they’re concerned about it.”

Posted in Latest, State | Comments Off on Dallas Fed CEO: Technology, not trade or immigration, is main reason for job loss

Immigrant Workers in Texas Could Fill Farm Vacancies, but They’re Trapped in the Valley

For the last two years, Bernie Thiel has watched yellow squash rot in his farm fields outside of Lubbock. The crops weren’t diseased, and they weren’t ravaged by pests or pelted by hail, he said. There just wasn’t anyone to pick them. Though Thiel has consistently lowered the acreage he plants to squash — from 160 acres seven years ago to 60 acres now — his aging immigrant workforce just can’t keep up anymore. And there’s no one to replace them.

“It’s very, very frustrating because we can move this product. The demand is there,” Thiel told the Observer. “The labor is just not available.”

Along with squash, Thiel also grows other labor-intensive crops, such as zucchini, tomatoes and okra, which must be hand-picked. He has 35 employees working six or seven days a week. It’s hard, backbreaking work that most Americans aren’t willing to do. That’s why he, like many farmers, largely relies on immigrant labor to get the work done.  

But there’s a problem: Between 50 and 70 percent of immigrant farmworkers are in the country illegally. Texas is home to an estimated 1.6 million undocumented immigrants, and many of those who are available to work on farms live in the Rio Grande Valley, near the Texas-Mexico border. Though large populations of immigrants are clustered in Houston and other urban areas of the state, many already work in non-agricultural industries.

The Valley, however, has a surplus of undocumented labor — Hildalgo County alone has an undocumented population of approximately 100,000, according to the Migration Policy Institute. But to get to Thiel’s Panhandle farm, workers would have to travel on a major highways, past  immigration checkpoints and risk being deported. That’s a chance many of them aren’t willing to take.

Permanent border checkpoints in Texas  Yale Law Journal

Thiel said most of his current workers are beneficiaries of the Reagan-era Immigration Reform and Control Act, which granted amnesty to immigrants who entered the country before 1982. But the workers are getting old (some of them are in their 70s and 80s), and they don’t move as quickly as they used to. Thiel said he’s advertised for domestic workers but has had little luck. If he can’t find more labor soon, “I may just bow out and ride off into the sunset.”   

The pressure to find adequate labor is increasingly being felt across agricultural industries, Texas producers say. In July, Erath County dairy operator Sonja Koke testified to the U.S. House Agriculture Committee that she was struggling to hire year-round help for her 200-cow dairy. “Every day, we try to get people to come work for us,” she said. Proponents of the horse and beef cattle industries have also bemoaned worker shortages.  

Several factors, including relatively low pay and sometimes dangerous work conditions, contribute to farm labor shortages statewide. But especially outside of the Rio Grande Valley, they can also be tied to enhanced immigration enforcement by federal, state and local authorities. In June, the Associated Press reported deportation fears were driving labor shortages in several Texas industries, including agriculture, which has an annual economic impact of $100 billion here. Those fears are exacerbated by the “show me your papers” or “sanctuary cities” bill that was signed into law this year.

President Donald Trump has made it clear he does not welcome immigrants to the U.S. He’s promised to build a border wall, signed executive orders banning travel to the U.S. by people from certain countries, and most recently has held hostage hundreds of thousands of immigrants protected under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in an effort to pass other hardline immigration proposals.

For undocumented workers who dare to travel outside the Valley for farmwork, the stakes are high. If caught by immigration authorities, they could be separated from their families and sent back to their home countries where they have fewer economic opportunities and may face violence, said Daniela Dwyer, managing attorney for Texas RioGrande Legal Aid’s farmworker program.

Jen Reel

“I have heard of workers deciding not to migrate out of the Valley to migratory jobs they used to take,” she said, giving the example of one “migratory stream” that once saw immigrants harvesting crops through Texas and into the Midwest. That stream, and others like it, are in jeopardy. “I have heard of some people, especially because they’re concerned about the checkpoints leading out of the Valley, deciding not to migrate.”

There’s at least one immigration checkpoint on three major highways leading out of the Valley: U.S. 281, U.S. 77 and U.S. 83.

The H-2A visa program, which allows employers to hire foreign nationals for temporary agricultural jobs, is designed to alleviate such labor shortages. But some of the growers interviewed by the Observer said the program’s requirements — that employers provide transportation to the jobsite and nearby housing — are too expensive, and the paperwork that comes with participating in the federal program is a hassle. Despite the fact that Texas has more agricultural production than almost any other state, it doesn’t even break the top 10 in certified H-2A workers.  

This month, U.S. Representative Robert Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican,proposed a bill that would create a new visa program, called the H-2C, that would allow workers to stay in the U.S. for longer but would not require employers to provide transportation and shelter. The bill has been met by opposition from both pro- and anti-immigrant groups. Immigration hawks fear that allowing laborers to work in the country for longer than a year might encourage them to overstay their welcome, while farmworker advocates say the bill would further erode workers’ rights.

Bloomberg reported that a markup on the bill was scheduled for October 4, but pressure from an anti-immigrant group has stalled the measure. Meanwhile, Democrats have introduced their own legislation that would revamp the visa system and offer undocumented farmworkers a path to citizenship.

The post Immigrant Workers in Texas Could Fill Farm Vacancies, but They’re Trapped in the Valley appeared first on The Texas Observer.

Posted in Latest, State | Comments Off on Immigrant Workers in Texas Could Fill Farm Vacancies, but They’re Trapped in the Valley

Texas Cities Embrace a Softer Approach to Pot Possession as State Reforms Stall

State Rep. David Simpson speaks to the Texas House.  Patrick Michels

Remember David Simpson? He was a peculiar kind of conservative lawmaker, about as fundamentalist Christian as they come, while also passionately articulating the Christian case for legal weed at the Texas Legislature.

“The Bible warns about excessive drinking, eating and sleeping,” Simpson wrote, “but it doesn’t ban the activities or the substances or conditions associated with them — alcohol, food and fatigue. Elsewhere, feasting and wine are recognized as blessings from God.”

Simpson’s House Bill 2165, which would have purged any mention of marijuana from state law and left the plant totally unregulated, actually helped make 2015 a banner year for pot reform in Texas. While HB 2165 didn’t pass, Simpson’s bill was one of two measures decriminalizing cannabis that session that got enough votes to make it out of a legislative committee — the first time pot bills had ever cleared a major hurdle in the state lawmaking process. The most significant victory that session came when Governor Greg Abbott signed Texas’ first, extremely limited medical marijuana law. Reformers figured they’d build on those successes in the 2017 legislative session.

Instead, as Heather Fazio with the Texas Marijuana Policy Project put it, “2017 turned out to be a circus.” With the Texas Legislature fixated on “sanctuary cities” and “bathroom bills,” the clock simply ran out on marijuana reform, despite what Fazio called unprecedented support from conservative lawmakers.

At a state legislative committee this past session, families hold up photos of their kids who suffer from debilitating ailments, who they say could be helped by legalizing medical marijuana.  Sophie Novack

But amid state inaction, and with much less notice, reform has finally started to take root at the local level. Over the past year, officials in Texas’ biggest counties and cities have embraced policies that blunt the impact of strict marijuana laws that Texas politicians won’t change. Prosecutors in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and elsewhere are increasingly refusing to charge or jail people caught with small amounts of pot.

“How harshly you’re treated for possessing cannabis in Texas now varies city by city, county by county,” Fazio said.

Even though criminal penalties for marijuana possession in Texas remain some of the most draconian and nonsensical in the country, lawmakers actually gave local law enforcement agencies the option to change how they handle small-time pot possession a decade ago. In 2007, the Legislature passed a bill allowing police to give people charged with certain misdemeanor crimes, such as marijuana possession, a court summons instead of taking them to jail. Austin adopted this policy early on, but years after it went into effect the city’s cops were still arresting and jailing three out of four people caught with marijuana.

The so-called cite-and-release law gave police departments the discretion of whether to arrest people for marijuana, but it didn’t erase the possible six-month jail sentence for low-level pot possession in Texas. Over time, however, that kind of punishment has become much less likely in Texas’ largest counties, where prosecutors now generally offer to drop or reduce your charge if you comply with community service, attend a substance abuse class or pay a fine. After mulling it over for years, Bexar County District Attorney Nico Lahood last month announced that the county — home to San Antonio — would couple pre-trial diversion with a cite-and-release policy that keeps low-level marijuana offenders out of jail. Dallas County commissioners voted to adopt the same policy earlier this week.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg in her office in Houston.  Michael Stravato

In Harris County, the state’s largest jurisdiction, marijuana has been a kind of gateway reform. After making it central to her campaign for office, Harris County DA Kim Ogg announced soon after her swearing-in this year that her prosecutors won’t charge people with misdemeanor pot possession if they take a class and pay a $150 fine. Local officials cheered the county for moving “away from wasteful and inefficient policies of mass incarceration.” Ogg followed up with even more sweeping reforms last month, saying her office would now stop prosecuting so-called “trace cases” involving miniscule amounts of any illegal drug. This week, she outlined even more plans to keep people out of lockup and find them help if necessary. As the Houston Press reports, Ogg called it “more diversion, less jail.”

Fazio sees Harris County as evidence that at least some officials in Texas are starting to see marijuana as the low-hanging fruit of criminal justice reform, something local cops and prosecutors don’t even want to waste their time on anymore. But the result of state inaction, Fazio says, is now an uneven and unfair patchwork of policies across Texas, where the consequences for possessing small amounts of a plant — one that more than half of states have legalized in some form — largely depend on where you live. She says her group will keep pushing for cities and counties to do damage control.

That is, until enough lawmakers in Texas agree with the words of their former colleague David Simpson: “I don’t believe that when God made marijuana he made a mistake government needs to fix.”

The post Texas Cities Embrace a Softer Approach to Pot Possession as State Reforms Stall appeared first on The Texas Observer.

Posted in Latest, State | Comments Off on Texas Cities Embrace a Softer Approach to Pot Possession as State Reforms Stall

This man robbed woman who was 9 months pregnant, shot her husband, authorities say

Authorities are searching for a man who they say robbed a pregnant woman as she stood outside her north Harris County apartment complex in September.

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office said the 26-year-old woman saw a man walking toward her in the 900 block of Cypress Station at around 11:00 p.m. on September 10.

The woman, who was nine months pregnant, walked toward her front door, but the man ran up behind her and knocked her down. He then demanded her cellphone.

The woman screamed outside her front door, and her husband who was inside, confronted the robber.

Authorities say the robber pulled a pistol from under his shirt and shot the woman’s husband, striking him in the upper torso.

The robber got away on foot. It’s unclear whether he got away with the cellphone.

The husband drove himself to a hospital and was admitted in stable condition.

The woman had minor cuts. She was transported to an area hospital for observation.

Investigators believe the suspect may live in the area of the robbery. He is described as 5 feet, 6 inches to 5 feet, 7 inches and weighs 150 to 160 pounds. He wore a black hoodie, a black baseball hat, and jeans.

Anyone with information is urged to call the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Robbery unit at 713-274-9210.

Crime Stoppers will pay up to $5,000 for information leading to the charging and/or arrest of the suspect in this case. Information may be reported by calling 713-222-TIPS (8477) or submitted online at www.crime-stoppers.org.

Posted in Latest, Local | Comments Off on This man robbed woman who was 9 months pregnant, shot her husband, authorities say

Ex-KIPP Explore Academy staffer arrested after accusations of child indecency

A former KIPP Explore Academy staff member was arrested Wednesday after being accused of indecency with a child.

Brandon McElveen was fired from the school after the allegations surfaced, according to a letter sent home to parents Monday.

A spokesman for the Victoria County Sheriff’s Office said that McElveen was in custody at the county jail. Houston police said McElveen was arrested by U.S. Marshals on Wednesday night.

It was not immediately clear when McElveen will be brought back to Houston.

Stay with KPRC 2 and Click2Houston.com for the latest on this developing story.

Download the Click2Houston news app in your app store to stay up-to-date with the latest news while you’re on the go.

Sign up for KPRC 2 newsletters to get breaking news, sports, entertainment, contests and more delivered straight to your email inbox.

Posted in Latest, Local | Comments Off on Ex-KIPP Explore Academy staffer arrested after accusations of child indecency

U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson walks back comments on sexual assault

U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, on Thursday walked back controversial comments about sexual assault she made a day earlier.

The issue has become a topic of national conversation since dozens of prominent women accused film producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment and assault.

Johnson acknowledged her initial comments on the matter “regarding behavior and attire come from an old school perspective that has shaped how some of us understand the issue.”

The flare-up started on Wednesday, in an interview with the Dallas NBC affiliate.

“I grew up in a time when it was as much the woman’s responsibility as it was a man’s — how you were dressed, what your behavior was,” Johnson said. “I’m from the old school that you can have behaviors that appear to be inviting. It can be interpreted as such. That’s the responsibility, I think, of the female. I think that males have a responsibility to be professional themselves.”

In a follow-up question in the same interview, Johnson insisted she meant for the comments to empower women.

“I think we also need to start talking about the power that women have to control the situation. There’s law enforcement, you can refuse to cooperate with that kind of behavior,” she added. “I think that many times, men get away with this because they are allowed to get away with it by the women.”

Johnson’s Wednesday comments met scathing online criticism, both on news sites and on Twitter.

On Thursday afternoon, her office released a lengthy statement pulling back from those sentiments.

“Sexual assault and harassment has no place in our society,” the statement said. “This is something I believe deeply. And at each turn of my professional life, I have made it my mission to fight for women’s rights. I do not blame the victims of sexual assault for the actions of their assailants.”

Johnson came to Congress in 1992. Democrats branded that cycle “The Year of the Women,” as a reaction to the all-male Senate Judiciary Committee panel that held now-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearings.

Posted in Latest, National, State | Comments Off on U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson walks back comments on sexual assault

Who is this mystery man? Galveston woman begins search to find apparent veteran’s identity

Angel Tinnon’s search for a children’s book for her step-daughter at a Galveston Goodwill has morphed into a search of an entirely different kind.

Inside a book Tinnon had her eye on, she found two photos.

“I was just shopping at Goodwill in the book section and when I opened up the book, these pictures fell out,” Tinnon said.

Both pictures featured the same young man: In one photo, he wore in a military uniform, and in the other, he wore a suit.

Now, Tinnon is trying to figure out who the mystery man is and when the pictures were taken.

The only other clues offered from the photos are an old-style phone in the background and a couple of numbers on the back of the photos.

Tinnon has since taken to Facebook in hopes of finding the rightful owner of the pictures.

She says she’s moved to do something because her own father served in the military, and she’d want others to do the same for her.

“Anybody who could be related to this man would recognize him, so that way they can go back to the family,” Tinnon said. “I’m sure that they would want pictures like these. I know I would.”

Posted in Latest, Local | Comments Off on Who is this mystery man? Galveston woman begins search to find apparent veteran’s identity

U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders face off in tax code debate

U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, defended the recently unveiled GOP plan to overhaul the tax code in a Wednesday night debate against U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

“This debate is very very simple, Bernie and the Democrats want every one of you to pay more taxes,” Cruz said during the program, which was hosted by CNN. “And the Republicans want to lower the taxes for each and every person watching this debate.”

The Republican tax framework would reduce the number of tax brackets from seven to three at rates of 12 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent, increase the Child Tax Credit and eliminate most itemized deductions as well as the estate tax.

Sanders argued the plan would cut taxes by $1.9 trillion dollars for the wealthiest 1 percent, increase the national debt and cut welfare programs.

“I do not believe that America is about giving tax breaks to the very, very wealthy and cutting life-and-death programs for the working class,” Sanders said.

Cruz, a polished debater who looked comfortable behind the podium, delivered a practiced message that ultimately promoted every aspect of the GOP’s plan.

Sanders said while his plan might raise taxes, it would be so that more people have access to affordable health care, child day care services and better education.

“We are talking about taxes today, but … this isn’t just about taxes, it’s about a vision for America,” Sanders said.

Their respective visions often took the attention away from discussion over the merits of rewriting the tax code throughout the evening, with the moderators often having to redirect the focus back to the questions at hand. The two senators, standing only three feet apart, constantly interrupted one another, waved hands in each other’s faces and made snide comments.

At one point, Cruz told Sanders that he should “curb his enthusiasm,” and that Larry David’s impersonation of him is “spectacular.”

After Cruz replied to an audience question saying repealing the estate tax would encourage more people to keep their businesses open, Sanders paid Cruz a compliment: “That’s a good speech, but it has nothing to do with reality.”

The town hall was a rematch of sorts for Cruz and Sanders after a previous CNN debate in February over health care. Since their respective runs for president in 2016, the two have become megaphones for their brand of party politics.

Republican president leading the country, Cruz said his party must act.

“We have got to deliver on our promise to cut taxes for working families, for small business, for farmers, for ranchers,” Cruz said. “I’ll tell you what I believe: that you know better how to spend your hard-earned money than the government does.”

Before Congress can even take up the details of rewriting the tax code, they must pass a budget. That vote may come as soon as the end of this week.

Posted in Latest, National | Comments Off on U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders face off in tax code debate

A look back at Colt Stadium, the home of the Colt 45s

As Astros fans cheer on the team’s quest for the World Series, memories from the team’s early days tell a tale of humble beginnings, in what marked Major League Baseball’s first expansion.

Before they were called the Astros, the Houston Colt 45s marked the Space City’s first foray into the national league. From 1962 to 1964, the Colts, as they were also known, played at Colt Stadium, a temporary space, south of what became the Astrodome.

Houston Astros legend Larry Dierker played at Colt Stadium, first as a pitcher for the Houston Colt 45s.

“I was 17 years old when I got there, fresh out of Rookie League,” Dierker said.

Dierker pitched one game at Colt Stadium, on Sept. 22, 1964 — his 18th birthday.

“I didn’t think I was going to get to pitch, but my birthday came up on the 22nd, and so I guess they had an idea to promote it. So, I got to pitch,” Dierker said.

These days, one can find Colts memorabilia here and there. Todd Nelkin, a collector of items from baseball’s past, gave KPRC2 a look at his collection.

“25,271 see Houston wallop the Mets in National League debut,” Nelkin read from a newspaper from The Colt 45s first game against another expansion team, the New York Mets.

“There’s Colt Stadium. Look, it was built shadeless,” he said, turning through the pages of an old program.

Shadeless, hot, and a mosquito trap made Colt fans diehards and players ready for anything.

“Colt Stadium didn’t even have a canopy over it. I’m not sure how they designed an open air stadium in Houston without some sort of shade,” said Mike Acosta, manager, authentication, Houston Astros.

After two years, construction of the Astrodome was completed and the Colt 45s became the Astros.

Dierker had very few memories from the old stadium. Still, he remembers what most do about it, as he cheers the current team on to success.

“It was so hot and humid here. And I remember that.”

Download the Click2Houston news app in your app store to stay up-to-date with the latest news while you’re on the go.

Sign up for KPRC 2 newsletters to get breaking news, sports, entertainment, contests and more delivered straight to your email inbox.

Posted in Latest, Local | Comments Off on A look back at Colt Stadium, the home of the Colt 45s

After Failing to Prop Up Coal in Texas, Rick Perry is Trying Again Nationwide

Rick Perry
Governor Rick Perry speaks at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland.  Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons

In late 2005, then-Governor Rick Perry was in the middle of a protracted battle with a coalition of environmentalists, renewable energy advocates, mayors and local leaders. TXU, the state’s largest utility, had announced that it wanted to build 11 new coal plants. At the time, natural gas and coal made up about 46 and 39 percent, respectively, of the energy mix of Texas’ main grid. The fracking boom had not yet hit Texas, and wind power provided a tiny percentage of the state’s energy needs.

TXU was betting big on coal having a bright future. John Wilder, the utility’s controversial CEO, claimed the new investments would shield Texans from spikes in natural gas prices, in particular because the volatile commodity’s price had quadrupled and experts projected the low prices of the 1990s would not return. The U.S. also had an abundant coal supply, he noted.

Perry loved the plan. It probably didn’t hurt that he was running for re-election at the time and had received about $200,000 from TXU since 2000. On the campaign trail, Perry claimed the coal plants would be cleaner than the national average and ordered the state environmental agency to expedite their review.

Now, 12 years later, Perry and TXU’s plan to invest in coal seems shortsighted. While TXU is moving away from coal investments, as energy secretary Perry is continuing to prop up old and dirty coal plants at a time when scientists are warning that countries need to reduce carbon pollution to stave off the worst effects of climate change.

Texas’ energy mix  Data courtesy ERCOT/Graphic by Naveena Sadasivam

Natural gas prices, of course, dropped considerably and coal has become more expensive to mine. Today, coal only makes up about 29 percent of the energy mix in Texas and the cost of building wind farms has decreased dramatically. Last week, Luminant, a subsidiary of Vistra Energy formerly known as TXU, citing “an oversupplied renewable generation market and low natural gas prices,” announced that it will retire three coal plants — Monticello, Big Brown and Sandow — by early 2018. Once those plants shut down, for the first time, wind will generate more power in the state than coal.

Ultimately, in 2006, facing pressure from environmental groups and business interests, TXU dropped its plan to build eight of the 11 coal plants. Perry’s order to fast-track the environmental reviews was also blocked by a court. And now one of the coal plants Perry wanted to see built — Sandow 5 in Milam County — is among those facing closure. Another, Oak Grove Plant Project in Robertson County, has low cash flows. The plants began operations in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

But Perry doesn’t appear to have learned from his experience in Texas. As energy secretary, Perry has proposed guaranteeing profits to plants in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest that stockpile coal. Perry claims the plan is necessary for grid reliability and cites the 2014 polar vortex as an example of why the government should subsidize coal plants. If the plan is implemented, it will cost taxpayers between $800 million and $3.8 billion every year through 2030 regardless of whether the plants are making money, according to one estimate.

“It’s basically putting your thumb on the scale in favor of coal and nuclear plants,” said David Schlissel, director of resource planning at the Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis. “It’s a gift from the Trump administration to their friends in the coal industry.”

For Perry, the costs are secondary. “I think you take costs into account, but what’s the cost of freedom?” he testified before the House energy subcommittee recently. “What’s the cost to keep America free? I’m not sure I want to leave that up to the free market.”

Even if Perry’s plan to guarantee profits to the coal and nuclear industry is implemented, he won’t be helping Texas coal plants. That’s because the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), Texas’ primary grid, is the only major wholesale electricity market that doesn’t fall under the supervision of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which will be responsible for implementing Perry’s plan.

In 2016, Schlissel authored a report that seems prescient now. He analyzed the economics of running seven Texas coal plants and predicted that the Monticello and Big Brown plants were bleeding money. Continued operation of the two “will be extremely unprofitable for Luminant,” he wrote.

Graph from the Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis

Schlissel based his analysis on two main drivers: the increasing cost of producing coal-fired power and the decreasing price of power on the energy market. As natural gas plants and renewables produce energy at a cheaper rate, there’s less demand for coal-fired power. Since the cost of operating and maintaining coal plants doesn’t change dramatically when they produce less power, utilities then make less money per megawatt of coal energy. The double whammy has made coal uneconomic in Texas, Schlissel said.

“What’s killing these coal plants is not the Obama war on coal,” said Schlissel. “It’s the natural gas’ war on coal and all the wind available on [the grid].”

Schlissel wasn’t alone in predicting Luminant’s decision to shut down the three coal plants. In a 2016 report, ERCOT projected that between 8,000 and 18,000 megawatts of coal-fired plants will be shut down between 2017 and 2031. The group modeled eight scenarios and found that in all cases the Monticello and Big Brown plants would be shuttered.

Robbie Searcy, a spokesperson for ERCOT, said her group will study whether the three Luminant plants are needed for reliability and will make determinations about them by December. Luminant has said it hopes to close the plants by early 2018, but when they’re shut down will depend on ERCOT’s recommendation.

The post After Failing to Prop Up Coal in Texas, Rick Perry is Trying Again Nationwide appeared first on The Texas Observer.

Posted in Latest, National, State | Comments Off on After Failing to Prop Up Coal in Texas, Rick Perry is Trying Again Nationwide

Potential new murder confession delays Texas serial killer’s execution

Larry Swearingen (left) and Anthony Shore

The execution of Houston serial killer Anthony Shore was rescheduled hours away from his pending death after officials began to worry he would confess to another murder.

Shore, 55, was set for execution after 6 p.m. Wednesday, but the district attorney from Montgomery County sent a plea to Gov. Greg Abbott and Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, asking for more time to look into rumors that Shore would confess to a murder in which another death row inmate was convicted.

“This office is in possession of evidence suggesting that Shore has conspired with death row inmate Larry Ray Swearingen and intends to falsely claim responsibility for the capital murder of Melissa Trotter — the crime for which Swearingen is currently scheduled to be executed on November 16, 2017,” Montgomery County DA Brett Ligon said in his letter to Abbott.

Ogg filed a motion to withdraw Shore’s execution date after receiving Ligon’s request. It has been reset for Jan. 18. She said in a statement that Shore’s execution is still “inevitable.”

“It is always the first responsibility of prosecutors to see that justice is done,” she said.

In his letter, Ligon explained that a folder containing items on the Trotter murder were found in Shore’s cell this July. When his office discovered this in September, he called Shore’s lawyer, Knox Nunnally, who said Shore would answer questions from the Harris County District Attorney’s Office regarding other murders on the condition that his written responses would only be revealed by his lawyer after his execution.

A Montgomery County investigator also interviewed a death row visitor, who said Shore told her he murdered Trotter and would not let Swearingen be executed for it, Ligon wrote.

“We remain absolutely certain of Swearingen’s guilt of Melissa Trotter’s murder, but permitting Shore to claim responsibility for that crime after his execution would leave a cloud over the judicial proceedings in Swearingen’s case,” he wrote.

Shore was known in Houston as the “Tourniquet Killer.” In 2003, he confessed to four murders of young women and girls in the 1980s and 1990s, strangling them with rope or cord and leaving their unclothed bodies behind buildings or in a field.

Swearingen was convicted in the death of 19-year-old Trotter, after her decomposing body was found in a forest nearly a month after she was last seen with Swearingen, according to court documents. He has insisted on his innocence in the murder.

Posted in Latest, State | Comments Off on Potential new murder confession delays Texas serial killer’s execution

Texas court halts execution to review claims that co-defendant lied at trial

Clinton Young was sentenced to death in the 2001 murder of Samuel Petrey.

The execution of a man who insists he was framed in a 2001 murder was halted by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday, one week before he was set to die.

The court sent the case of Clinton Young back to trial court to look into claims that Young’s co-defendant, a main witness for the state at trial, lied in his testimony. Young’s lawyers claim four jailhouse witnesses have sworn they heard the co-defendant, David Page, brag about killing Samuel Petrey and blaming it on Young.

“I’m very grateful to the Criminal Court of Appeals for granting this stay and for giving me a chance to prove my innocence in court,” Young told his attorneys on the phone, according to a statement.

In November 2001, Young and Page, ages 18 and 20, took part in a drug-related crime spree that involved fatally shooting Doyle Douglas and Samuel Petrey and stealing their cars over two days on opposite ends of the state, according to court documents. Douglas was shot in Longview on Nov. 24. The next day, Petrey was killed in Midland, more than 450 miles away.

Young was convicted and sentenced to death in Petrey’s murder in 2003, with Page testifying against him. Page took a plea deal and was given 30 years in prison under an aggravated kidnapping conviction, according to court filings. He is currently eligible for parole but was denied release last year.

At trial, Page said Young shot Petrey, but Young has said he was sleeping off a methamphetamine high when the man was killed. Seeking to prove his innocence and stop his upcoming execution, Young’s lawyers filed an appeal earlier this month claiming Page’s testimony was false based on the new witness statements. The statements all include Page mentioning how the gloves he was wearing while shooting Petrey allowed him to blame Young for the murder.

The appellate court sent the case back to trial court to resolve this new claim of false testimony.

“We are confident the court will conclude that Page lied under oath to save himself and that our client is innocent of the crime that put him on death row,” said Margo Rocconi, one of Young’s lawyers, in a statement.

The Midland District Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to comment on Young’s case Wednesday.

Posted in Latest, Local, State | Comments Off on Texas court halts execution to review claims that co-defendant lied at trial

How much are property taxes in Houston going down next year?

The Houston City Council on Wednesday voted to lower the city’s property tax rate, despite Mayor Sylvester Turner’s call to hold the rate steady.

The council voted to decrease the 2018 tax rate from 58.642 cents to 58.421 cents per $100 of assessed property value. That means that on a home valued at $200,000, the owner would pay about $4 less in taxes on that property.

Turner had asked that the rate be kept flat for the upcoming year. Alan Bernstein, Turner’s spokesman, said keeping the rate the same would have resulted in an increase of $7.8 million in revenue for the city, as property values were projected to increase.

However, some expressed concerns about staying below the voter-mandated revenue cap. Other council members said they were worried that property owners affected by Hurricane Harvey will have their property devalued, but would still be paying the same tax rate on the previous value.

The decision comes after Turner backed off his call for an emergency tax hike to help cover the costs of Harvey recovery efforts.

Download the Click2Houston news app in your app store to stay up-to-date with the latest news while you’re on the go.

Sign up for KPRC 2 newsletters to get breaking news, sports, entertainment, contests and more delivered straight to your email inbox.

Posted in Latest, Local | Comments Off on How much are property taxes in Houston going down next year?

Cruz presses Sessions on Trump administration’s “catch-and-release” policy

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at the 30th D.A.R.E. International Training Conference in Grapevine, Texas, on July 11, 2017.

Amid a heavy backlog in immigration courts in Texas and California, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday said the federal government was considering ways to reduce the number of undocumented immigrants who are granted hearings before immigration judges before being deported. While a legislative solution is preferred, he added, his agency was investigating what it could do absent Congressional action.

The comments were made during a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing where U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, pressed Sessions on whether the federal government was still operating under an Obama-era, “catch-and-release” policy where undocumented immigrants are not immediately deported.

“That is highly troubling. When I heard those reports in January and February, I told [U.S. Border Patrol agents] ‘Give the administration some time to get their team in place.’ You can’t turn a battle ship overnight,” Cruz said. “It’s now October.”

“We are looking at if there are any things we can do effectively, short of legislation,” Sessions responded. “But there is no doubt Mr. Chairman, we need legislation on this subject and several others.”

Sessions pushed back against Cruz’s description of the process as a “policy” and said it was instead the current reality because immigration courts are experiencing a record number of backlogged cases. He said that’s due to a “loophole” that allows undocumented immigrants who claim a credible fear of returning home the right to appear before an immigration judge in the United States.

“There are so many people claiming [credible fear] and being entitled to hearings that we don’t have the ability to provide those,” he said. “And they are being released into the community.”

The number of pending deportation cases in the country has more than doubled since 2011, according to data compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. That year there were about 297,500 pending cases but as of August 2017, the number had grown to more than 632,000. More than 100,500 of those cases are pending in Texas, the second-highest number after California’s 118,750.

Advocates argue that the Trump administration’s efforts to make deportations more “efficient” are actually hindering efficiency and jeopardizing due process. In a report released Tuesday, Human Rights First said that an earlier policy of sending immigration judges to the border led to several postponed cases elsewhere and an eventual lack of representation for undocumented immigrants who have access to counsel.

“Recent policies of the Trump Administration have decreased access to counsel in immigration courts and added to systemic inefficiencies,” the report states. “The waves of postponements triggered by the attorney general’s decision to send judges to detention centers ‘along the border’ on detail assignments…have caused lawyers (many of which provide pro bono legal services) to waste their limited resources preparing for hearings that are often cancelled.”

Immigrant rights groups and attorneys are also quick to point out that not everyone who claims credible fear is released while they await a hearing. A recent case out of Texas involved a Mexican journalist, Martin Mendez Pineda, who fled the resort city of Acapulco after he was attacked by Mexican federal officers and later threatened at gunpoint by six armed men, according to case documents provided by his attorney. But after trying – and failing – to be released from immigration detention while awaiting his hearing, he eventually gave up and voluntarily returned to Mexico.

Sessions remarks on Wednesday come a week after the attorney general suggested that immigration judges should have quotas in an effort to reduce the current case backlog. The suggestion didn’t go over well with immigration judges.

“Tying numerical case completions to the evaluation of the individual judge’s performance evaluation specifically interferes with judicial independence and clearly will put immigration judges in a position where they could feel forced to violate their legal duty to fairly and impartially decide cases in a way that complies with due process in order to keep their jobs,” the National Association of Immigration Judges said in a written statement prepared for Wednesday’s hearing.

On Monday, at a forum at the University of Texas, Austin-based immigration attorney Virginia Raymond said the judges’ opposition to the proposal speaks volumes.

“Most of them are former [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] attorneys. It’s not like they are bleeding heart humanists who care about refugees and immigrants,” she said. “And if they are saying this doesn’t work, maybe that’s saying something.”

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Posted in Latest, National, State | Comments Off on Cruz presses Sessions on Trump administration’s “catch-and-release” policy

Federal Prisons Don’t Even Try to Rehabilitate the Undocumented

Flickr/Thomas Hawk

Editor’s note: This commentary was published in collaboration with The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization covering the criminal justice system.

The federal Bureau of Prisons claims its mission is to “provide work and self-improvement opportunities to assist offenders in becoming law-abiding citizens.” When it comes to undocumented offenders, that’s a lie.

The truth is that the BOP discriminates against undocumented people by denying them access to essential drug counseling and job training in prison.

As President Trump threatens to lock up even more undocumented immigrants, it’s time for the BOP to reform these exclusionary policies, which are both ineffective and inhumane.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission reports that about one-third of all the people sent to federal prison each year are “illegal aliens.” In 2016, more than half of all federal criminal prosecutions involved immigration-related offenses.

Despite the BOP’s rehabilitative promises, the agency excludes these prisoners from its best addiction and vocational programs.

The BOP officially bars any prisoner subject to an order of deportation from participating in its “most intensive,” nine-month Residential Drug Abuse Program, as well as from its compensated job-training program, Federal Prison Industries.The BOP similarly shuts out undocumented prisoners from its reentry-focused Release Preparation Program and even from its faith-based Life Connections Program.

The BOP strictly limits the access of undocumented prisoners to its other rehabilitative services. For example, some prisons offer occupational education programs intended to teach inmates marketable skills, but regulations specify that undocumented prisoners may only participate if resources permit after “meeting the needs of other eligible inmates.”

The BOP’s three-month Nonresidential Drug Abuse Program doesn’t officially exclude undocumented prisoners, but officials still sometimes prevent prisoners from participating if they’re subject to deportation.

The only remaining rehabilitative programs are a short drug abuse education course as well as a few literacy and English classes. (Unlike other incarcerated people, however, prisoners subject to deportation aren’t required to attend.)

Even the few programs theoretically open to undocumented people are, in practice, denied to many because the government primarily incarcerates them in for-profit facilities that aren’t required to offer rehabilitative services.

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a memo announcing that it would reduce and eventually end its use of private prisons because the “rehabilitative services” in public facilities had “proved difficult to replicate and outsource” to private ones, which “simply d[id] not provide the same level of correctional services [or] programs.” The Trump administration has since rescinded that memo, so the government’s use of private prisons continues unabated.

These discriminatory policies also deprive undocumented prisoners of early release earned by completing drug treatment, evidence of self-improvement that might help at immigration hearings, and even money to spend at the prison commissary.

Nueces County tablets

The government defends its disparate treatment of undocumented inmates by claiming that it’s not worth it to spend resources rehabilitating people who will just be deported at the end of their sentences. Federal courts have accepted this argument and rejected constitutional challenges to the BOP’s practices, ruling that it is not an equal protection violation to allow United States “citizen-inmates, who must re-enter domestic society,” to participate in rehabilitative programs while “denying that privilege to deportable inmates.”

That logic is cruel on its face, and it becomes less and less tenable as the population of undocumented prisoners grows.

First, denying rehabilitative services to undocumented prisoners hurts everyone. As the BOP itself has observed, addiction treatment improves the prison environment for both inmates and staff by reducing inmate misconduct and improving health and mental health.

Job training offers inmates a sense of purpose, decreasing recidivism and making prisons more livable. By excluding tens of thousands of inmates from these opportunities solely based on their immigration status, the BOP makes its prisons more desperate and dangerous places overall.

Second, discriminating against undocumented prisoners in this way undermines the rehabilitative justification for the prison system as a whole.

Through its exclusionary rules, the federal government has effectively renounced its interest in approximately one-third of all its prisoners. It’s inhumane to lock up so many people so callously. Denying drug and job programming to such a large proportion of the incarcerated population turns our federal prisons into internment camps.

Finally, not all prisoners subject to deportation are actually removed from the United States. Some successfully fight their deportations by, for example, showing that they face persecution or torture or that their countries of origin won’t accept them. Every year, the government releases thousands of people it previously ordered removed.

It makes no sense for the BOP to refuse to rehabilitate such individuals when they may well remain in this country.

As a federal public defender, I’ve seen the harm first-hand. One of my clients legally entered this country as a refugee but was ordered deported after he fell into opiate addiction and crime. When his country of origin wouldn’t accept him, he was released into the United States, still subject to the deportation order. Since then, he has twice returned to federal prison for drug-related crimes. Without addiction treatment, this tragic cycle is likely to continue.

In another case, I represented an undocumented prisoner who was serving double the recommended sentence in part because the judge thought he would benefit from alcohol counseling and job training in prison. Apparently, the judge was unaware that he would be ineligible for these services due to his immigration status.

To live up to its mission statement, the BOP must allow undocumented prisoners access to drug treatment and job training. The Department of Justice also must stop incarcerating inmates in private facilities that don’t offer such programs.

In the meantime, federal judges should account for these policies by imposing shorter sentences on undocumented defendants. As Judge Jack Weinstein of the Eastern District of New York explained, the BOP’s disparate treatment of undocumented prisoners means that “[r]ehabilitative concerns weigh especially strongly against a term of imprisonment where the defendant is subject to deportation upon completion of a sentence.”

The federal government has increasingly turned to criminal law to enforce restrictions on immigration, creating what is now described as a “crimmigration” system. For all the problems with this approach, the least the BOP can do is provide undocumented inmates the most basic resource for surviving prison: hope.

The post Federal Prisons Don’t Even Try to Rehabilitate the Undocumented appeared first on The Texas Observer.

Posted in Latest, State | Comments Off on Federal Prisons Don’t Even Try to Rehabilitate the Undocumented

Three teens charged with murder after missing teen’s body found

A 17-year-old boy was arrested and charged Tuesday in a Bay City teen’s death.

Michael Allen Trevino Jr. 17, has been charged with murder. A 16-year-old and another teen were detained on the same charges.

The body of Devin Lee Davalos was found Friday during a separate investigation of a robbery at a local school, according to police.

Davalos had been reported missing Thursday by his family. Police said his body was recovered near a boat ramp in Brazoria County. His vehicle was found burned out near Old Van Vleck Road in Bay City.

Bay City police developed information on Davalos’ whereabouts after an after-hours aggravated robbery Monday at a Bay City Independent School District school campus.

Officers served a warrant in connection to the case at a residence in the 2000 Block of Herreth Avenue.

Investigators said they determined several suspects drove Davalos in his car and dumped his body.

Texas Rangers are assisting in the investigation.

A GoFundMe account has been created to help Davalos’ family pay for his funeral expenses. Click link to donate.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the Bay City Police Department at 979-245-8500.

Download the Click2Houston news app in your app store to stay up-to-date with the latest news while you’re on the go.

Sign up for KPRC 2 newsletters to get breaking news, sports, entertainment, contests and more delivered straight to your email inbox.

Posted in Latest, Local, State | Comments Off on Three teens charged with murder after missing teen’s body found

Houston serial killer faces execution this week

Death row inmate Anthony Shore.

Houston’s “Tourniquet Killer” is on his way to the Texas death chamber.

Anthony Shore, the confessed serial rapist and strangler whose murders in the 1980s and 1990s went unsolved for more than a decade, is scheduled for execution Wednesday evening. The courts have shot down his latest appeals that argued a traumatic brain injury decreases his culpability, and a plea for relief to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles was denied Monday afternoon.

Shore, 55, has been on death row since 2004, when he was convicted and sentenced to death in the 1992 rape and murder of 21-year-old Maria Del Carmen Estrada. The killing was one of four similar murders of young women and girls and one aggravated sexual assault where the girl was able to escape.

The murders took place between 1986 and 1995, according to court documents. All became cold cases in the years after the bodies of Estrada, 14-year-old Laurie Tremblay, 9-year-old Diana Rebollar and 16-year-old Dana Sanchez were found, dumped behind buildings or in a field, partially naked with rope or cord fastened around their necks like tourniquets.

Finally, in 2003, Houston police matched Shore’s DNA — on file from a 1997 no-contest plea of sexually molesting his two daughters — to Estrada’s murder, according to a court ruling. After hours of interrogation, Shore confessed to all of the killings, telling police he had an “evilness” in him.

“I think if I tell you what I’ve done that it will release the evilness, and I would feel better,” Shore told a police sergeant.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said Shore was a “true serial killer” after the trial court set his upcoming execution date in July.

“His crimes were predatory, and his victims the most vulnerable in society — women and children. For his brutal acts, the Death Penalty is appropriate,” she said in a statement.

Recently, Shore’s legal team has pointed to a previously undisclosed traumatic brain injury, likely obtained in a 1981 car accident, as a reason to stop the execution. Knox Nunnally, Shore’s court-appointed appellate lawyer, said he is not arguing that Shore is innocent or undeserving of punishment, but that courts should look at people with brain injuries the way they look at minors and the intellectually disabled — ineligible for execution based on decreased reasoning skills and culpability.

“We think if a jury had heard that evidence … that it is possible a jury could at least change their decision that Mr. Shore deserves life instead of death,” Nunnally said, referring to the alternative sentence in a capital murder conviction. “Because by no means are we claiming that … a head injury was the only reason he committed these crimes, we’re saying it was a contributing reason.”

The courts rejected Shore’s appeal and the broader argument that brain-injured people are ineligible for execution. It’s a rejection that concerns Nunnally as a combat veteran, he said.

“My fear is that if we’re denying this for Anthony Shore, what’s gonna happen if we have a combat vet who comes up five or six years from now and he has suffered a severe injury from combat?” he said. “The state’s going to use Anthony Shore’s case as an example of precedent.”

On Monday morning, Nunnally said that his team was still looking at other possible appeals in the next two days before the execution but that nothing was currently pending. If it proceeds, Shore’s execution will be the seventh in Texas this year and 21st in the nation.

Posted in Latest, Local, State | Comments Off on Houston serial killer faces execution this week

Insurance company accused of delayed response to storm claims

“You can’t fix anything until insurance comes through. Well, we haven’t heard anything from insurance, so how do you keep moving on? You’re just frozen.”

The sentiments of Jeni Kite are common for many in the aftermath of Harvey.

Talk to anyone in Rockport and Port Aransas and they will tell you rebuilding is at a virtual standstill.

“It’s so slow it’s unreal,” is how David Lee describes the process.

The culprit according to them?

Not so much Harvey, but rather TWIA, the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association. TWIA is an insurance provider serving counties along the Texas coast with more than 234,000 policies totaling $67.6 billion.

TWIA policies only cover wind and hail damage.

While their mission statement touts being committed and reliable, policy holders like Kevin Baker in Rockport told Channel 2 Investigates they have been anything but that.

“I’m on my third claims examiner, my second field adjuster and I have yet to receive their report,” he said.

Baker is not alone.

Kite said TWIA does not have answers — even after an adjuster came to their home and told them to gut it.

“We went to get the information, the adjuster didn’t turn it in, they thought maybe, he took off maybe he moved on we don’t know,” she said.

TWIA scheduled a new adjuster for Sept. 25.

There was one problem, though.

“I have not heard a word from him,” said Kite while standing in the skeleton frame of what is the first home she purchased.

It all comes as blue tarps are now landscape fixtures. Public adjusters like Clay Morrison out of Kemah said TWIA has failed to deliver for customers who paid policies for years.

“We have a lot of files down in Port Aransas and I know numerous people down there and very few have even gotten their first check a month after the storm,” he said.

Morrison represents home and business owners when insurance companies fail to step up.

He is also the former president of the Texas Association of Public Insurance Adjusters, and while he and other adjusters like David Lee are shocked by what they say are grossly low estimates, they say they are more stunned by the actions of private onvestigators hired by TWIA, “I’ve been through several of these storms and I have never, ever seen an investigation unit like this.”

TWIA admits it has been working with Veracity Research Company (VRC) Investigations for years — to investigate fraudulent claims. However, Channel 2 Investigates discovered these private eyes are asking to see contracts between public adjusters and the clients who hired them, “My problem is if they are a private investigation group, they have zero authority in any kind of process of getting any kind of information like that.”

Several Public Adjusters tell Channel 2 Investigates this is simply harassment to disrupt the process and ultimately delay a payment. Morrison says it is also TWIA wasting its customers’ time, many of whom have paid thousands in premiums over the years, “I don’t know why they would be investigating the claims themselves when there are so many people with so much damage that need so much help, it seems counterproductive to me.”

Kite is one of those waiting for help, while she and others feel they should be moving forward at time when their lives are turned sideways, stopped dead in their tracks.

“A normal day is so far out there that you can’t see a normal day coming and that breaks your heart,” Kite said.

Download the Click2Houston news app in your app store to stay up-to-date with the latest news while you’re on the go.

Sign up for KPRC 2 newsletters to get breaking news, sports, entertainment, contests and more delivered straight to your email inbox.

Posted in Latest, Local | Comments Off on Insurance company accused of delayed response to storm claims