Category Archives: Latest

Medical marijuana in Texas: What you need to know

Texans can now access medical marijuana legally because of a law signed by Governor Abbott.

In compliance with the Compassionate Use Program, the first dispensary will soon open in Schulenburg, Texas.

Knox Medical officials said the Department of Public Safety makes weekly inspections as they prepare to open.

Founder and CEO of Knox Medical, Jose Hidalgo, said they chose Schulenburg because it is almost right in the middle of San Antonio, Austin and Houston. They are on schedule to begin deliveries next month.

“We’ll go to the major treatment centers and talk to the physicians and find out, ‘Do any of your patients qualify for medical cannabis?'” Hidalgo explained.

What will they be licensed to make?

According to DPS, they are authorized for Low-THC Cannabis as the plant Cannabis sativa L., and any part of that plant or any compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, preparation, resin, or oil of that plant that contains:

A. Not more than 0.5 percent by weight of tetrahydrocannabinols; and
B. Not less than 10 percent by weight of cannabidiol.

Who will get access to cannabis?

The Compassionate Use Program is limited to patients in Texas with intractable epilepsy of any age.

However, Texas Children’s Hospital is planning a different approach.

“A pharmaceutical-grade medication in a clinical trial, with the proper regulations and safety considerations, is something that we would propose as a better pathway than just making an oil and giving it to children,” Dr. Clark said.

Clark said he thinks it’s only a matter of time before a drug showing promise in clinical trials (Epidiolex) will be approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Clark said he will wait and prescribe something like that instead of ordering something from a licensed dispensary.

“There is an abundance of studies done out there. None of them are going to fit what an FDA clinical type trial are,” Hidalgo countered. “The reason why the Texas legislature passed CBD cannabis like other states is because the parents of these very, very sick children are demanding it.”

Who determines if you’re eligible for cannabis?

A patient may be prescribed low-THC cannabis if:
The patient is a permanent resident of Texas;
The patient is diagnosed with intractable epilepsy;
The qualified physician determines the risk of the medical use of low-THC cannabis by a patient is reasonable in light of the potential benefit for the patient; and
A second qualified physician has concurred with the determination.

Dr. Clark warns that just like all medications, CBD oil has limits. It’s not a miracle cure and does not work for everyone.

Clark said researchers are not sure why it shows benefits in some patients and not in others.

The FDA still classifies medical marijuana as unsafe.

Is smoking the plant legal in Texas?

No. Smoking is specifically excluded as a medical use, according to DPS.

What do Houston parents think?

Max and Kelly Beatty’s daughter is currently taking Epidiolex in a clinical trial.

“Given the choice, I would take the FDA drug and give that to Scarlett every time but that’s not an option for everyone right now,” Max Beatty said about his daughter with a severe form of epilepsy. “I just want the other families in Texas who are dealing with what we’re dealing with and worse, I want them to have a shot at what we get. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t.”

The Beattys said Epidiolex is helping their daughter, Scarlett, to maintain smaller doses of her medication.

She has fewer seizures and she’s more alert.

“She gets to do so much more now than she ever did before so she’s happy now, I think,” Kelly said.

For more frequently asked questions, click here.

Posted in Latest, State | Comments Off on Medical marijuana in Texas: What you need to know

Harris County deputy suspended after striking handcuffed man after chase

A veteran Harris County Sheriffs Office Deputy will face disciplinary action and re-training after an incident that happened while a suspect was in custody.

Deputy Tu Tran, currently assigned to the Gulf Coast Violent Offenders Task Force, will face a three-day unpaid suspension because of his actions following a multi-agency police pursuit Oct. 12 that covered 85 miles and ended with the suspect’s arrest in Jefferson County.

WATCH: East Freeway suspect apparently punched in throat

“Deputy Tran also has been ordered to undergo additional training and he is on a 90-day probationary status,” wrote Harris County Sheriff’s Office Senior Deputy Thomas Gilliland.

On video captured by Sky 2, Tran appears to strike the handcuffed suspect, Mohmed Abu-Shlieba, 25, in the throat as he is places him into an unmarked police vehicle.

“Obviously, my thoughts are the officer overreached his boundaries. It wasn’t necessary. The man was in custody and handcuffs,” Brian Coyne, Abu-Shlieba’s defense attorney, said by phone.

Tran has not been charged with a crime, and the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office declined to file charges, according to Gilliland.

Abu-Shlieba, who has prior criminal convictions, is most recently charged with evading arrest.

Tran shot and killed a man with a gun outside a Houston nightclub in July 2015.

A friend of the man said at the scene that Juan Adolfo Ibarra, 24, was trying to leave the scene and should not have been shot.

A Harris County Grand Jury declined to indict Tran in March 2016.

 

Posted in Latest, Local | Comments Off on Harris County deputy suspended after striking handcuffed man after chase

Woman with F-Trump sticker adds Sheriff Troy Nehls to display on truck

The driver of a truck featuring a sticker with an expletive directed toward President Donald Trump made some new adjustements by adding, “F*** Troy Nehls and F*** You for Voting for Him” after being arrested on an unrelated, outstanding charge.

Karen Fonseca, 46, walked out of the Fort Bend County Jail with her husband Thursday night after she was taken into custody just an hour after KPRC spoke with her Thursday.

She was released on a $1,500 bond.

State Rep. Ron Reynolds and Fonseca will be holding a press conference at 10 a.m. Monday to discuss the injustice against Fonseca at the Fort Bend County Justice Center.

‘We have to protect people’s First Amendment Right to Free Speech,” Reynolds said. “A difference in political views does not give Sheriff Nehls the right to target citizens. These actions by Sheriff Nehls could be an abuse of his law enforcement authority.”

Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls said he was “not surprised” by the sticker, and “thinks it’s disgusting.”

Fonseca’s truck was pictured in a post on Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls’ Facebook page. Nehls posted a photo of the back of a white pickup truck with a tinted back window and a large sticker that reads, “F*** Trump, and f*** you for voting for him.”

Here was Nehls’ caption of the photo:

“I have received numerous calls regarding the offensive display on this truck as it is often seen along FM 359. If you know who owns this truck or it is yours, I would like to discuss it with you. Our Prosecutor has informed us she would accept Disorderly Conduct charges regarding it, but I feel we could come to an agreement regarding a modification to it.”

WATCH: Fort Bend County sheriff speaks about Facebook post on anti-Trump sticker

The post went viral, gaining more than 10,000 shares within hours.

Just a day after the post was made Thursday, Nehls had deleted the post. His office issued this statement:

“The Sheriff made the post on his Personal page. The objective of the post was to find the owner/driver of the truck and have a conversation with them in order to prevent a potential altercation between the truck driver and those offended by the message. Since the owner of the truck has been identified, the Sheriff took down the post. Due to the hate messages he has been receiving towards his wife and children, the Sheriff will not be commenting on the matter further.”

WATCH: Full interview of truck owner with F Trump sticker

Fonseca said in the 11 months that she has had the sticker on the truck she has had no problems.

Posted in Latest, Local | Comments Off on Woman with F-Trump sticker adds Sheriff Troy Nehls to display on truck

Abbott calls White House’s latest disaster aid request “completely inadequate”

President Donald J. Trump and Gov. Greg Abbott.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday panned the White House’s latest disaster aid request, calling it “completely inadequate” for Texas’ needs in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

Unveiled earlier Friday, the request seeks $44 billion from Congress to assist with the Harvey aftermath, as well as the recoveries from other recent hurricanes in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. While not final, the number is far less than the $61 billion proposal that Abbott had submitted for Texas alone to Congress last month.

“What was offered up by Mick Mulvaney and [his Office of Management and Budget] is completely inadequate for the needs of the state of Texas and I believe does not live up to what the president wants to achieve,” Abbott said at a Capitol news conference called to unveil a $5 billion grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“The president has told me privately what he’s said publicly, and that is that he wants to be the builder president,” Abbott added. “The president has said that he wants this to be the best recovery from a disaster ever.”

Abbott said the $44 billion request is less than what was offered in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy — which hit the East Coast in 2012 and was “half the storm of what Hurricane Harvey was.” If Trump wants to see through the “biggest and best recovery ever,” Abbott added, the effort is “going to necessitate both more funding but also better strategies.”

Abbott was joined at the news conference by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who also made clear he was less than pleased with the White House’s latest disaster aid request. Asked whether he was ready to free up a top OMB nominee whose confirmation he has been blocking as leverage to secure more Harvey aid, he replied: “I’m not satisfied. We have to have further conversation.”

At the press conference, Pam Patenaude, Deputy Secretary for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, announced that the department will award Texas $5 billion for Harvey recovery. The money will be used to rebuild hard-hit areas throughout the state and be overseen by Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush. Apart from the new grant, Bush’s General Land Office is currently managing six other community development block grants that total about $4 billion.

Bush said the preliminary plan of action for the $5 billion HUD grant is complete. As of now, the money is planned to go toward temporary housing and fixing damaged homes.

“We are now tasked with the largest housing recovery in American history,” Bush said.

Posted in Latest, Local, National, State | Comments Off on Abbott calls White House’s latest disaster aid request “completely inadequate”

Former United Airlines pilot pleads guilty to running prostitution ring

Former United Airlines pilot Bruce Wayne Wallis appeared before Harris County Judge Jim Wallace to plead guilty to running a prostitution ring.

The judge gave Wallis five years’ probation. He could have faced up to 20 years in prison if found guilty at trial.

“Even though what you did is certainly despicable, you didn’t endanger, as far as I know, anyone’s lives. You didn’t force anyone to do anything that they didn’t want to do,” Wallace said.

As part of the agreement, Wallis agreed not to ask that his commercial pilot’s license be reinstated while he is on probation.

He also must complete 150 hours of community service and pay a $2,000 fine.

The judge allowed him to keep his flight school open. If he successfully completes the probation, he will avoid a criminal conviction.

“I think that he recognized that while there was a crime committed, that Mr. Wallis should have an opportunity to make a living and contribute, so we’re happy with the result, absolutely happy with it,” defense attorney Dan Cogdell said.

Wallis was arrested in 2016 in one of the 17 raids across Houston in connection to a prostitution ring. Prosecutors said the ring involved 20 female prostitutes at more than six brothels.

“We’re hopeful that he will learn his lesson and that he’ll move on from there. It’s been a long road to get us to this point. There’s been a lot of work and difficulties and there’s been a lot of harm that’s taken place. I’m glad we’re getting to an ending point,” prosecutor Lester Blizzard said.

 

Posted in Latest, Local | Comments Off on Former United Airlines pilot pleads guilty to running prostitution ring

Abbott, Patrick push back on TxDOT’s plans for financing new toll projects

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick before hitting the gavel to begin a Senate session Aug. 15, 2017, the day before the end of a first called special session of the 85th Legislature. 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told state transportation leaders Thursday they should abandon plans for using an accounting maneuver to get around a constitutional prohibition on some toll projects. Patrick said the idea has left lawmakers “very unhappy” with Texas Transportation Commission members, who appear “to be going in a direction that opposes the will” of legislators and Texas drivers.

Comments from Abbott and Patrick came hours after The Texas Tribune reported that the commission, which oversees the Texas Department of Transportation, is considering funding highway rebuilds and expansions in corridors that would also feature managed toll lanes.

Some of those projects could be partially funded with billions of tax dollars that Texas voters overwhelmingly agreed to spend on highway projects. Ballot language that steered those funds to TxDOT also said the money would not be used on toll roads or toll lanes.

TxDOT, though, is considering accounting maneuvers that would still allow toll lanes to be built. Their idea: Voter-approved funds would be spent on the non-tolled main lanes, while the new toll lanes next to them would be funded through gas tax revenue or federal loans that don’t come with restrictions on using them for toll projects.

“It is surprising and disappointing to learn that TxDOT created a plan to add managed toll lanes to virtually every major roadway under consideration,” Patrick told transportation officials in a letter Thursday.

Bruce Bugg, who chairs the transportation commission, told the Tribune Wednesday that Abbott’s office is aware of the idea to use accounting maneuvers to help fund rebuilds that would be next to toll lanes. He also said that he believes the practice would not violate the state constitution.

Abbott appoints the five commissioners that oversee TxDOT and promised Texans that highway capacity would be added throughout the state without new toll lanes financing construction.

“The governor and his staff have been in constant communication with members of the Texas Transportation Commission and TxDOT staff to express their desire to not include new toll roads” in long-term state transportation plans, Abbott spokeswoman Ciara Matthews said Thursday.

TxDOT officials could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday.

Meanwhile, State Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, has asked the state attorney general’s office to weigh in on whether the accounting idea is legal.

Lawmakers in recent years have fiercely opposed toll roads and managed toll lanes as their constituents have complained about the increasing number of such projects, especially in North Texas. Collin County lawmakers successfully got regional planners there to drop plans for turning carpool lanes on Central Expressway into managed toll lanes. And the Texas House earlier this year killed a major transportation funding bill, largely because projects within it would have included toll lanes.

TxDOT officials’ idea comes as they prepare to update the state’s long-term transportation plan next year. Many of the projects being proposed for the plan include managed toll lanes, which run alongside non-tolled main lanes and generally charge drivers rates that vary based on usage. The tolls increase as more people use the managed lanes. Those increases are meant to prevent the lanes from becoming more congested.

Transportation officials say funding the managed lanes with federal loans backed by toll revenues, while adding non-tolled main lanes with tax dollars, would help the agency build more capacity with limited funds. In meetings, TxDOT documents and interviews, state officials have also indicated that regional planners from the state’s major urban areas are pushing the idea of using managed toll lanes.

Once toll revenues pay off construction costs, the excess funds that drivers would still pay could then be used to maintain existing roads or pay for expanding or building roads in the same areas.

“These local communities are trying to identify solutions to manage and mitigate their traffic congestion throughout their respective areas,” TxDOT project planning and development director Lauren Garduño told transportation commissioners last month.

Posted in Latest, State | Comments Off on Abbott, Patrick push back on TxDOT’s plans for financing new toll projects

Trial dates set for ex-deputy, husband charged in John Hernandez’s death

The trial dates have been set for a former Harris County deputy and her husband who were arrested in connection with the death of John Hernandez.

Chauna Thompson, who was fired from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, and her husband, Terry Thompson, were in court Thursday, where a judge set the trial dates – May 18, 2018, for Terry Thompson, and June 1, 2018, for Chauna Thompson.

There was a heavy presence of law enforcement at the courthouse as the Thompsons arrived. The couple ignored questions from reporters as they walked to a waiting elevator.

Family, friends and supporters of Hernandez were also present. They said they believe the trials could take up to two years to complete, and are willing to be there every step of the way.

The Thompsons were each charged with murder in connection with the May 28 confrontation with Hernandez outside of a Denny’s restaurant. Video of the incident appeared to show Terry Thompson using a chokehold and lying on top of Hernandez while Chauna Thompson held down one of Hernandez’s arms.

Posted in Latest, Local | Comments Off on Trial dates set for ex-deputy, husband charged in John Hernandez’s death

Cities race to annex land before new Texas law goes into effect Dec. 1

A road sign outside of Mesquite city limits in Dallas County. Mesquite has rushed to annex land outside its city limits before Dec. 1, 2017, when a new law would require some cities to get the consent of residents before annexing their property.

DALLAS COUNTY — On a recent afternoon, Michelle Singleton played with her dogs behind her house. The pets’ barks and the chirps of crickets were the only sounds on the 15-acre property, which Singleton and her husband, Stan, bought more than 30 years ago. There, outside the North Texas city of Mesquite, they have hosted bonfires, hunted doves and watched their three children grow up.

But now, Mesquite plans to annex their land, and the Singletons are afraid it will ruin their way of life.

Mesquite is among several cities across Texas, including McKinney and Pearland, that have tried to annex land before a new law goes into effect Dec. 1, requiring certain cities to get the consent of a majority of property owners before annexing their land. City governments have said they are responding to the needs of urban growth and normal development. But residents say they just want to be left alone.

“We’ve survived this long without them,” Michelle Singleton said of city officials. “And we don’t need them to survive now.”

Against the clock

City officials in Mesquite and Pearland acknowledge the law has rushed their annexation plans but say annexation had been on their radar long before Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law in August. Mesquite Mayor Stan Pickett said developers who own land outside the city asked early this year to be annexed in order to provide city services to future subdivisions.

Mesquite City Council members added that the annexation was aimed at controlling inevitable development in the area, not taking over current residents’ homes. The city has dramatically reduced the amount of land under consideration for annexation in response to the negative outcry from private landowners. During an Oct. 26 public meeting, Mesquite City Council member Bruce Archer said if he could annex land without any independent homes, he would.

“Our desire has never been to take in a bunch of homes out here,” Archer said at the meeting. “But I think all of our desire is to do something very nice out here and to make sure things we don’t want don’t come out here.”

Pickett said Mesquite has reached out to residents, offering city staff to help them navigate the annexation.

But state Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Terrell, a House sponsor of the new law, Senate Bill 6, said he and his constituents in Kaufman County would not negotiate with city hall because “they don’t have anything we want.” Gooden said the point of the measure — which applies to cities in nine of the state’s most populous counties, plus Henderson County — was to protect Texans who do not want to be annexed by neighboring cities.

“This is the first issue in my three terms of office that I have ever seen 100 percent of people on the same side,” Gooden said. “There’s not one person in this area in Kaufman County that wants to be annexed.”

City codes on country homes

In the Houston area, Caye and Gerard Hauser are in a situation similar to the Singletons’. The couple first moved to a plot of land outside of Pearland almost 40 years ago to escape the city and start afresh. They, like most of their neighbors, started with a small mobile home on a few acres and eventually constructed a house.

Like the Singletons, the Hausers have raised their children on their land and hope to pass it on to future generations. Caye Hauser said they also have livestock and fear annexation could force urban codes on a rural setting.

“These are not just places that we just popped out two or three years ago and lived and hoped that somebody would annex us,” Hauser said. “We’ve been out here. And we’ve been surviving on our own all this time.”

Mesquite Mayor Stan Pickett speaks during a public meeting on annexation on Oct. 26, 2017.
Mesquite Mayor Stan Pickett speaks during a public meeting on annexation on Oct. 26, 2017. Laura Buckman for The Texas Tribune

Residents around Mesquite have similar concerns over potential city regulations. At the city council meeting about annexation last month, property owner Mack Beam said that after his land was annexed into Mesquite 11 years ago, officials cited him for violating codes based on “city living.”

“Within 72 hours after we were annexed, we got our first heaping helping of city services, which were code enforcement people coming in up and down the road out there because our hay meadows weren’t cut to suit the city,” Beam said.

Pickett said that was before his mayoral tenure and that he has no desire to change people’s ways of life. Pickett added that it’s “just not practical” to enforce the same codes used in the Mesquite city center out in rural areas.

In Pearland, however, council member Keith Ordeneaux had a different take. In an email to Hauser’s family obtained by the Tribune, Ordeneaux disputed Hauser’s characterization of their land as “country.” While he said people in annexed areas will have to abide by city codes, prohibiting bonfires and fireworks, he disagrees there will be a serious effects on residents, as the land has already developed into a suburban area. Ordeneaux said in an email to the Tribune that the land had always been subject to possible annexation and the new law simply sped up the process.

Several residents have said annexation will increase their taxes for services they will not use. Property taxes for both Mesquite and Pearland are about 69 cents for every $100 of property value, so about $690 per year for the average Mesquite household, in addition to county and school district taxes.

Ordeneaux added that areas planned for annexation already receive some city functions, such as fire and emergency medical services, without paying city taxes.

“I … do not understand the argument of country living ending once you are annexed into a city,” Ordeneaux wrote in the email to the Hausers. “Besides having to pay city taxes, what concerns do you have about your way of life?”

The state intervenes

The office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has intervened in some annexation efforts. The office sent a letter on Nov. 6 to officials of the North Texas city of McKinney, arguing they did not properly follow state annexation procedure. McKinney has since canceled its annexation plans.

Pickett received a similar letter on Nov. 9 from Paxton’s office, arguing Mesquite may have failed to properly notify residents and hold public meetings with sufficient notice. Some property owners said they never received notifications and learned of the annexation efforts through friends and neighbors. Pickett said the city mailed notifications to property owners in early September and posted announcements on its website, as required by state law.

Shortly after Paxton’s office sent the letter to Pickett, a state district court ordered Mesquite to delay its annexation efforts in Kaufman County. But the order does not apply to Dallas County, including the Singletons’ property.

This week, a Texas appeals court denied a request from Mesquite to cancel the order. A delay could cause the city to miss the Dec. 1 deadline — precisely what residents and Gooden hope will happen.

“They say you can’t fight city hall,” Gooden said. “But we are, and we’re winning and we plan to win.”

Posted in Latest, Local, State | Comments Off on Cities race to annex land before new Texas law goes into effect Dec. 1

A “glitch” on U.S. Sen. John Cornyn’s website asked for visitors’ Social Security numbers

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn joins fellow Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Tribune CEO Evan Smith for the closing day of The Texas Tribune Festival on Sept. 24, 2017.

An error on U.S. Sen. John Cornyn‘s website last night required constituents to submit their Social Security number when filling out the comments box on the website.

Normally, Cornyn’s website only requires people to submit their Social Security numbers when they are requesting help with a federal agency. The error last night required it, along with their name, address and contact information, even when leaving the Texas Republican a comment.

A spokesperson for Cornyn said the required field was a “glitch.”

“It was an inadvertent glitch and our website vendor has fixed it,” Drew Brandewie wrote in an email.

As of Tuesday morning, the field has been removed from Cornyn’s website on the “Discuss an issue” page but remains if constituents are seeking help with an agency.

Most other members of the Texas delegation in Congress have similar forms to submit comments on their webpages but do not require a Social Security number for those solely trying to contact the member’s office. However, many use a specialized privacy form that requires a Social Security number for those requesting help with a federal agency.

Posted in Latest, National, State | Comments Off on A “glitch” on U.S. Sen. John Cornyn’s website asked for visitors’ Social Security numbers

Greg Abbott Declares War on Moderate Republicans

Representative Sarah Davis, Governor Greg Abbott  via Sarah Davis, Patrick Michels

In the latest episode of Texas Politics, God’s dumbest reality show, Governor Greg Abbott celebrated the beginning of Republican primary season by going to war — against a popular incumbent lawmaker in his own party, in a district that Hillary Clinton won by 15 points. On Monday morning, Abbott issued a fatwa of sorts, calling for the replacement of state Representative Sarah Davis, a moderate pro-choice Republican, with primary challenger Susanna Dokupil, a right-wing lawyer and board member of the Seasteading Institute, which exists to build libertarian cruise ships and permanently station them in international waters, free from the laws of man.

If that information is hard to make sense of, so are most recent events on Texas Politics. Conservative activists hate Davis, the least conservative Republican in the House. Davis is a generally reliable vote for abortion rights, gay rights, public schools, vaccines, etc. But Abbott’s decision to weigh in against a party incumbent breaks an unwritten rule, and the political logic behind it is hard to parse. House District 134 covers much of Houston’s upscale west side, including Bellaire and West University Place, went for Clinton by 15 percentage points in 2016, and was held by Democrat Ellen Cohen before Davis won it in 2010. Davis is probably the GOP’s best chance to retain the seat, so Abbott’s decision to join the fight seems to put his own desire to unseat Davis ahead of the party’s interest.

Furthermore, Dokupil does not appear to be a particularly strong candidate. In many ways she’s a fairly run-of-the-mill party hack, a lawyer with ties to the Federalist Society, the American Enterprise Institute, the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Harris County Republican Party. She co-chaired the national finance committee for Ted Cruz’s 2012 Senate campaign. Then there’s the Seasteading Institute, a political project of Silicon Valley’s chief cryptofascist, Peter Thiel. Seasteaders seek to construct “floating communities in the ocean based on the principles of contract and radical consent” — Burning Man meets Waterworld.

Susanna Dokupil  Courtesy

Dokupil is an enthusiastic supporter of the project. In December 2015, she interviewed the Seasteading Institute’s chief guru, Joe Quirk, who calls himself a “seavangelist” and an “aquapreneur,” for an episode of the institute’s podcast, “Seasteading Today.” Over the course of a surreal half-hour, Dokupil exhorts listeners to join in on the creation of Quirk’s new “seavilizations,” utopian leviathans with “start-up mentalities,” ranging the “floating frontier,” free from the harsh yoke of “land-based government.”

We’ll see, in time, how that flies in west Houston. So, again, why is Abbott getting behind this? It may simply be that he knows Dokupil personally — she was an assistant solicitor general when he was Texas attorney general. Or it may be that he’s keeping his promise from the session that any legislator who crossed him would be put on a “list.”

But it’s worth considering the broader conservative political project here. If Abbott’s goal is an ideologically uniform House caucus, then it’s genuinely preferable to lose Davis’ seat than to allow her to continue to win. Beating Davis in the primary — even if it cedes the seat to a Democrat — removes the only openly pro-choice Republican voice from the caucus, and it pushes other lawmakers who show an independent streak back in the herd.

Because the Republicans are in no real danger of losing their overall House majority anytime soon, it’s better for Abbott and friends to have a smaller, purer GOP caucus. And in Davis’ case, a gentle nudge might be enough to do it — for years, Democrats have talked idly about convincing her to switch parties, a prospect that may now be more enticing. (Harris County Republicans had been set to debate a motion to censure Davis for her too-liberal voting record on Monday night; it was apparently withdrawn after Abbott’s endorsement.)

House Speaker Joe Straus’ retirement gives Abbott and others the opportunity to try to force conformity on the House. That’s going to lead to a lot of strange dynamics in the next four months, as the Republican primary heats up. For one thing, Straus has promised to use his ample campaign funds to push hard for his candidates this cycle, which means Davis’ district provides an opportunity for Straus and Abbott to butt heads.

Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio on May 6.  Sam DeGrave

It would be hard to overestimate the importance of the speaker’s election in 2019 on Texans’ lives, and the outcome of that depends entirely on what happens in the next six months of the Republican primary and next year’s general election.

What makes the outcome of the next speaker’s race so difficult to game out — apart from the fact that our world broke at some point in the last couple years — is that there are three strong competing phenomena in the House right now. The first is simply that Democrats may be approaching a wave election. The Democrats have a meaningful chance of winning more seats in the House next year than they’ve won since 2008. That could be helpful in the effort to select a Straus-type speaker.

The second is that Republican primary fights between moderates and conservatives will be especially vicious this year, particularly if Abbott puts the weight of his political machine behind it. That could be good for Democrats, but it also diminishes the chances of selecting a moderate speaker, because the casualties of the primary will include at least a few more experienced moderates, replaced in the ranks by pliable freshmen, as they always do.

The third is that the Republican circle is tightening. The GOP and affiliated organizations, such as Texans for Lawsuit Reform, are pushing hard for Republican candidates to pledge to select the next speaker without Democrats. This leads to a paradox: It’s plausible that House Democrats emerge from next year’s election stronger than they’ve been in years, yet more powerless than ever before.

The post Greg Abbott Declares War on Moderate Republicans appeared first on The Texas Observer.

Posted in Latest, State | Comments Off on Greg Abbott Declares War on Moderate Republicans

He thought he had a free court-appointed lawyer. Then he got a bill for $10,000

The Hill County Courthouse in Hillsboro.

After Kelly Unterburger and his girlfriend were pulled over for speeding in 2011, a state trooper searched the car and found what was described in court documents as a bag dusted with white powder. Unterburger was arrested for possessing less than a gram of a controlled substance and brought before a North Texas court.

The U.S. Constitution says people too poor to afford a lawyer should be appointed one paid for by taxpayers. And Unterburger — who said he was wrongly accused — was told he would be. So he was surprised when, years later, a bill arrived saying he owed thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees.

“If I’d known they were going to charge me,” he said, “I would have spent more time screening lawyers.”

In Texas and across the country, defendants are sometimes asked to repay part or all of the costs of their court-appointed lawyer through a practice called recoupment. Texas counties recouped more than $11 million from poor defendants in 2016, 4.5 percent of the total amount spent on indigent defense statewide.

Critics argue the practice can seem “untoward, to say you’re given this [constitutional] right but we’re going to charge you for it,” said Beth Colgan, a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law. But proponents say it’s sound public policy and a way to tamp down on a ceiling-less mandate borne largely by local taxpayers.

Since 2001, when Texas drastically revamped its public defense system, the costs of assigning lawyers to poor defendants has skyrocketed, from $91.4 million to nearly $248 million in 2016. County coffers have paid the most. Last year, the state allotted around $32 million to indigent defense; counties together paid $216 million, 87 percent of the overall amount.

“Small, economically disadvantaged rural counties like Hill County, we have limited budgets, and we spend a significant amount of money on indigent defense,” said David Holmes, the county attorney there. It “is just and right to ask that if you offend the laws of the state or victimize citizens of this county – and the taxpayers of the county provide you with a lawyer that you don’t have to pay for up front – if you at some point have the ability to do that, you ought to do it.”

Depending on the court, defendants in Texas can be deemed indigent if their income is less than $49,200 for a family of four.

Some defendants are told at the outset of their case that they may be liable for their court-appointed lawyers’ costs. But Unterburger says he wasn’t. He says he didn’t know what seemed like the guarantee of a free lawyer could be rescinded. And he was especially shocked when the bill came in 2014, and it said he owed nearly $10,000.

Policies differ from court to court

Data maintained by the Texas Indigent Defense Commission shows wild variation in how much money Texas counties recoup from poor defendants. Johnson County, where Unterburger was charged, recouped nearly 15 percent of the money it spent on indigent defense last year. According to the data, Andrews County made back nearly 70 percent of its public defense costs in 2016, while 51 others recouped nothing at all.

County-to-county discrepancies aren’t unique to Texas, Colgan said. Recoupment policies differ from court to court but are often part of a “package of economic sanctions” tied to a case’s resolution, she said. Lawyer’s fees are sometimes included in plea deals or listed as a line item alongside administrative court costs that defendants are asked to pay at sentencing.

Colgan, who has researched recoupment policies in different states, said some jurisdictions use a flat fee to make back lawyer’s fees, while “in other places, it’s targeted at the amount of expenses actually incurred.”

Before levying lawyer’s fees, the court is supposed to determine that a defendant can afford to pay them. Critics say that determination does not always happen in a formal way, and they worry defendants may waive their right to counsel if they think they’ll receive a bill for that representation later.

On average, attorneys appointed by Texas courts are paid $200 for a misdemeanor case and $600 for a non-capital felony, said Wesley Shackelford, the Texas Indigent Defense Commission’s interim executive director. Cases that go to trial, like Unterburger’s, can incur significantly higher costs.

With the help of an attorney at the Texas Fair Defense Project, Unterburger was able to have the nearly $10,000 bill dropped.

Unterburger spent about three years imprisoned as he took his case to trial, and then appealed the guilty verdict.

“I didn’t even know that’s a law,” said Unterburger, who now does irrigation and landscaping work. “I worked really hard to stay up with everything,” including paying hundreds of dollars in probation fees.

“It doesn’t seem like it’d be fair,” he said of the recoupment practice.

Emily Gerrick, the lawyer who assisted him, says she argued the court had made a mistake in ordering the $10,000 bill. But “for a lot of people they really aren’t able to challenge it, because they don’t have a lawyer to help them or the court is just going to refuse.”

Donnie Yandell, Caprock Regional Chief Public Defender, said counties’ efforts to receive reimbursement for lawyers’ costs are often fruitless.

“Judges tell you about [setting up] payment plans for these people,” said Yandell, who is based in Lubbock. “You don’t get any more money out of them.” Many of his clients “scrape by,” and “just don’t have the money to start out with.” He added, “You can’t get blood out of a turnip.”

A new state law

A state law that went into effect Sept. 1 extends the period during which defendants can be asked to repay their lawyer’s bill. While that window used to close at sentencing, defendants can now have their financial status re-evaluated at any point while they serve out their sentence. Whether in jail, prison or on probation, it’s a period that sometimes lasts years.

Shackelford says the law has “safeguards” to protect defendants’ due process rights. Judges must first provide defendants with written notice that they’re on the line for lawyer’s fees and offer them a chance to rebut with evidence their ability to pay.

The law was enacted in “an effort to protect the collateral victims of crime: that being the law-abiding, taxpaying citizens that are having to absorb all these costs when it was unnecessary,” said Mark Pratt, the district attorney of Hill County, who weighed in on an early version of the legislation.

That rendering of the bill, filed in 2015, failed to pass. State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, authored the 2017 law.

Pratt says if a poor defendant later comes into funds — wins the lottery, say, or gets an inheritance — it makes sense from a public policy standpoint for that person to reimburse the county. The law allows for the reverse, too: If a defendant loses a job while on probation, their financial status can be re-evaluated so they pay less. Defendants can’t be asked to repay more than the county paid.

In a statement, Birdwell said the law was passed “with the simple intent of clarifying that a defendant’s status as indigent can change over time throughout adjudication and serving a sentence.” He added that it “gives judges additional discretion to protect both taxpayers and defendants during the duration of the judicial process.”

Enough precautions have been taken “to ensure that this will be properly used to recover additional funds from those that are able to pay and it’s not used as any form of punishment for those that cannot,” said James Allison, general counsel for the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas. He doesn’t expect the statute will be heavily used and said counties are “not interested in wasting our time and resources pursuing people that can’t pay.”

Allison said increased funding from the state for indigent defense is needed to alleviate the burden on counties. Across the country, Texas ranks among those that spend the least per capita on indigent defense – with most of the funds coming from counties, according to a 2008 National Legal Aid and Defender Association report and a 2010 American Bar Association report respectively.

“I think the idea behind it is a pretty good idea,” Yandell said of the new law. “I just don’t know how well it’s going to be implemented.”

Posted in Latest, State | Comments Off on He thought he had a free court-appointed lawyer. Then he got a bill for $10,000

Man fights to prove he’s alive after bank reports him as deceased

Jose Antonio Lopez is not only alive and well, he invited Channel 2 into his home in Cypress to prove reports of his death by a credit card company have been greatly exaggerated.

“I even asked them, Synchrony Bank. I said, ‘Do you have on record my death certificate?’ And even, ‘You don’t have a death certificate because you are talking to me on the phone. How are you going to be talking to a dead person?'” he said.

For Lopez and his family, the last 10 months have been no laughing matter.

He showed us paperwork from Synchrony Bank — from which he has several credit cards — that mistakenly reported him as deceased in January.

The mix up has caused Lopez’s credit rating to plummet because over the past several months his accounts have accumulated interest and late fees — but he couldn’t pay them because he was listed as dead.

“They have charged me interest, they have charged me late fees,” he said. “And like I say, they report on the credit bureaus charge off, which is a negative.”

Ironically, Lopez is a loan officer and understands the implications of a poor credit rating. All he’s asking for now is a clean slate.

“Is somebody there? Anybody that I can call or anything that I can do to fix this situation?” Lopez asked. “Because it’s really affecting me. Affecting me … and I don’t know what else to do.”

Channel 2 reached out to Synchrony Bank on Monday evening and are waiting for a response on Lopez’s situation.

Posted in Latest, Local | Comments Off on Man fights to prove he’s alive after bank reports him as deceased

Scam costs Friendswood man thousands of dollars

It’s a scam that started with a simple voicemail followed by a phone call.

The scam ultimately cost a Friendswood senior citizen thousands of dollars.

The victim who was scammed said, “A little over $12,000. It even hurts me to say it.”

The caller said they were looking to refund the victim $500 from a software company that was going under that he had recently purchased a product from.

But in order to do that, they needed access to his computer.

“Of course he had a code and everything, to get in the computer I had to type in the code he gave me, my computer. Which meant he was in there,” said the scam victim.

Little did the victim know the scammers had also accessed his personal information and ultimately his bank account.

Something else the victim says he didn’t realize, the scammers moved $5,000 from his savings into his checking account claiming they had deposited.

The victim said, “I made a mistake it’s suppose to be $500, you’ve got to send me that $4,500 right away.”

The victim was then told to purchase thousands in gift cards to send the money back to them.

And it happened more than once.

“I was scared to the point I was trembling. I felt like if I don’t do what he tells me, I’m going to get wiped out,” the victim said.

When the victim finally realized it was all just a big scam, he contacted authorities and froze his bank accounts, but not before being out a lot of money.

He now has a warning for others.

“They’re very good at what they do and people need to be aware that this stuff is going on,” the victim said.

Posted in Latest, Local | Comments Off on Scam costs Friendswood man thousands of dollars

At the Texas Capitol, victims of sexual harassment must fend for themselves

Disgust overwhelmed her when she felt his tongue on her hand.

A capitol staffer, she had been at a large party celebrating the end of a legislative session a few years ago and was on her way out when a male lawmaker she had never spoken to reached for her.

“You can’t leave yet,” the staffer remembers the lawmaker telling her as he held her hand tightly. She thought he was going to bring her hand to his mouth and kiss it. Instead, he licked it and refused to let go.

“It was in a crowded place,” said the staffer, who no longer works at the Capitol and spoke to The Texas Tribune on the condition of anonymity for fear it would affect her current job. “Maybe it was so subtle that no one else saw anything [but] the audacity of someone to do that and think it’s OK — it just boggled my mind.”

As sexual misconduct accusations pile up against men in power across the country, interviews with more than two dozen current and former lawmakers and legislative aides indicate sexual harassment not only is pervasive at the Texas Capitol but also regularly goes unchecked. Most of those interviewed described how men at the Capitol — some of them lawmakers — engaged in a wide range of harassment, including degrading comments and gestures, groping and unwanted sexual advances.

Yet not a single formal complaint of sexual harassment has been filed in either the House or Senate since 2011, according to a review of public records and interviews with officials responsible for fielding complaints. Even though sexual harassment policies have been in place for two decades, few employees interviewed by the Tribune even knew they could file a formal complaint.

The policies themselves are outdated — both reference a state agency that no longer exists — and rely on Capitol officials with little incentive or authority to enforce them, particularly in cases of harassment by lawmakers.

“Well, you know we can’t fire them. The people get to fire them,” said Patsy Spaw, of elected officials. As the secretary of the senate, Spaw’s duties include resolving complaints in the chamber.

“There’s nothing to talk about”

Many of those interviewed spoke of a Capitol culture that offers little support for victims and expressed fears that speaking out would lead to retaliation or career sabotage. Instead, women who work in the Legislature said they try to protect one another by quietly exchanging stories. They pass along the names of men to stay away from and the hallways in the Capitol to avoid.

“You either created a distance or didn’t place yourself in situations where you had to interact with them,” said a former staffer who dealt with unwelcome advances from a lawmaker on the Senate floor and at an end-of-session party.

Another former staffer described the Capitol as a place where sexual harassment is “as common as a hello,” where powerful men can prey on employees with impunity. She recounted greeting several guests at a lobbyist’s party who were sitting at a table. Among them was a lawmaker, who in a “split second” shot his hand up her skirt.

The staffer said she pushed his hand away and quickly left the event in distress. She remembers being thankful for wearing the “right underwear,” noting that otherwise he could have penetrated her.

Feeling powerless, she said she didn’t disclose the incident to anyone. “To be able to have success in this world, you’ve got to keep quiet,” she said.

In accounts published last week in the Daily Beast, other women, including journalists, reported their own experiences being sexually assaulted by Texas lawmakers.

The House and Senate have had a sexual harassment policies since 1995. Both generally state that sexual harassment will not be tolerated and lay out basic procedures for reporting any misconduct.

The House policy directs employees to make complaints to the chair of the House Administration Committee — an influential position set by the House Speaker and currently held by Republican state Rep. Charlie Geren — or to the manager of the House payroll and personnel department. Over in the Senate, complaints would be reported to Spaw, the Senate Human Resources office or supervisors in individual offices.

But those officials have little to no authority over lawmakers who are ultimately elected by voters back home. In the Senate, a legislator could be reprimanded privately or publicly if they were found to have sexually harassed someone, Spaw said. In the House, the state Constitution gives lawmakers “the power to punish a member for disorderly conduct and, in extreme cases, to expel a member,” Jon Schnautz, the chamber’s ethics adviser, said in a statement.

Several former staffers said they would not have reported their experiences with sexual harassment to House Administration because they had no confidence that the member-led committee would be objective.

“I probably would never even have felt like that was an outlet that I could trust, but I didn’t even know that was a process that existed,” said Genevieve Cato, a former House employee who has spoken publicly about harassment at the Capitol.

Another staffer said she didn’t feel Geren’s committee was a “safe place to report that.”

Geren, a Fort Worth Republican who’s served in the House for almost two decades, refused to answer questions from the Tribune about how his committee would handle a sexual harassment complaint because, he said, the committee had not received any.

“There’s nothing to talk about because we don’t have any,” Geren said. “I don’t deal in ifs. When there’s one I’ll handle it. And that’s it.”

Asked if the policy needed revision, Geren said he would not further discuss the issue. “I don’t have any more comments about it,” he said.

For her part, Spaw said any complaints filed in the Senate would be taken “really seriously,” though she said a resolution would also depend on the Senate Administration Committee and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to take action.

“Each situation would be individual,” she said. “But it is a conundrum … I’m thankful I’ve not had to deal with it.”

Labor and sexual discrimination law experts say the chambers’ policies offer few assurances that complaints will meet adequate resolutions.

Having lawmakers in charge of investigations is “absolutely problematic,” said Elizabeth Boyce, an attorney for the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault. Without an independent and impartial entity to investigate any claims of sexual harassment, Boyce said, it’s too easy for personal judgments to come into play.

“I don’t think that [an investigation] can be fairly done by someone that they’re likely friends [with] or working together in other capacities,” she said. “There’s a conflict of interest there that I think would impede any impartial investigation.”

Legal experts also raised concerns that the House policy says victims may first confront harassers to tell them to stop the behavior.

“This is treating a sexual harassment complaint different than any other kind of complaint,” Boyce said. “If there was an employee stealing from the company, for instance, you wouldn’t expect the person who caught them … to tell the person to stop before they make the complaint.”

The Senate’s policy doesn’t explicitly suggest victims should confront their harassers, but staffers have been instructed to do so. During a 2016 in-person training seminar on sexual harassment in the Senate, a trainer laid out “strategies for confronting sexual harassment on the job” that included instructions to “clearly let the harasser know you don’t welcome any advances,” according to a video recording of the training a reporter viewed on the Senate’s internal employee system.

It’s not unusual for policies to ask employees who encounter sexual harassment to address offenders about their behavior before reporting it, said Audrey Mross, a Dallas-based employment attorney. But it is crucial those policies emphasize this is only applicable in cases of mild behaviors and only if they are comfortable having those conversations, she said.

“This needs to be in big capital letters,” Mross said.

A power imbalance

The task of reporting workplace sexual harassment at the Capitol is further complicated by concerns that speaking out could damage relationships essential to the legislative process.

“The sexual harassment at the Capitol is not just, ‘Hey, you’re cute’ — it’s about power. And some of the people in power are bullies,” said a former female chief of staff.

Early in her tenure in the state Senate, Wendy Davis remembers having a conversation at a political event with an older man who happened to be a recently elected, first-term House member. Unaware she was a fellow lawmaker, he reached forward, as though to pat her arm, and instead reached between her arm and breast and cupped her breast.

“It wasn’t an accidental brushing,” the former state senator said. “It was a purposeful touching of my breast.”

Davis told her colleagues in the House about the incident and “as a consequence of that, he had a challenge getting anything passed,” she said.

Finally, he apologized. But Davis, the Fort Worth Democrat who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2014 after serving in the state senate for six years, acknowledged that her position gave her a form of recourse not available to other women working in the Capitol.

”This is the problem for young women who are working in settings of power differentials,” she said. “They don’t have the power to create the same consequences. And in places like that, we have to be sensitive to creating an avenue for consequences that will not penalize the young women who stepped forward.”

Another female staffer said she questioned what good making a complaint would do after she was harassed by a state senator. After cornering her at a political reception and saying they should “get together,” she said the senator tracked down her cell phone number and called her the next morning.

She wasn’t aware of a formal complaint process, but she decided against even telling her boss, a House lawmaker, because she worried about the effect it could have on the bills they were working on when they went through the Senate.

The staffer was further resolved not to speak out by how the people who witnessed the incident responded. Some seemed so accustomed to the lawmaker’s treatment of women, they simply thought “it was funny.”

“I just shook it off,” she said. “I still have to work with all of these people. For my own sanity, I’m going to pretend like it never happened.”

But even when their bosses are supportive, staffers may balk at filing a formal complaint.

State Rep. Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat in the House since 2006, recounted an instance when a Capitol staffer told her about a state senator who had made “humping motions” toward her while they were alone in an elevator. Howard said the staffer did not want to be named in an official complaint, so she reported the behavior herself to Geren and House Speaker Joe Straus’ office in case there were any future issues with the senator.

“I said ‘I would like to be able to report this’ — she didn’t want to,” Howard said. “Part of the problem with reporting is that women don’t want to come forward because they often become embroiled in things that make them look like they’ve done something wrong when they haven’t.”

Howard, who said she looked up the House’s sexual harassment policy after a Tribune reporter asked about it, called it “totally insufficient.”

“There’s just nothing here,” she said. “It’s disturbing to learn more about it myself.”

Hoping to facilitate the reporting process for her staff, state Sen. Sylvia Garcia said she created an additional sexual harassment policy specifically for her Senate office that instructs staffers to go directly to the chief of staff or Garcia if they’ve been subjected to harassment.

The Houston Democrat said she would have been “shocked” to learn there was even a single formal complaint of sexual harassment in the Senate, noting the culture around the Capitol is far from supportive of staffers who may fear retribution or being ostracized if they report such behavior.

After speaking with the Tribune, Garcia said she was considering legislation to form an independent entity to oversee complaints in both chambers. She also pointed to a recently passed measure in the U.S. Senate, requiring mandatory sexual harassment training for all senators and their staff, as a possible model.

But even with those possible solutions in mind, Garcia acknowledged it is more difficult to confront sexual harassment at the Capitol — where lawmakers who may be harassing staff have all of the power — than the average workplace.

“The whole officialdom is a totally different animal,” Garcia said. “We’re not employees. We’re elected. A lot of the rules don’t apply to us.”

Abby Livingston contributed to this report.

Posted in Latest, State | Comments Off on At the Texas Capitol, victims of sexual harassment must fend for themselves

Human Rights Lawyer on How Government is Complicit in Mexico’s Drug War

Cover image for the “Human Rights Abuses in Coahuila, Mexico” report.  University of Texas School of Law

More than a decade into a violent conflict that seems nowhere near being resolved, Mexico is a country haunted by the missing. The Mexican government estimates that more than 32,000 people have disappeared in the last decade — a statistic that is likely far too low, since it comes from a federal database that relies on flawed data.

In 2010, University of Texas law professor Ariel Dulitzky was appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council to a five-person working group tasked with investigating the spike in kidnappings. What he found was a government unwilling to tackle the growing problem, which was highlighted by the unsolved 2014 mass kidnapping of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College. In their new report, “Human Rights Abuses in Coahuila, Mexico,” Dulitzky and his students investigate another unsolved tragedy: the March 2011 kidnappings of at least 300 men, women and children by members of the Zetas cartel in the Cinco Manantiales region in the Mexican border state of Coahuila.

University of Texas law professor Ariel Dulitzky.  Mari Correa/©maricorrea

In 2016, Dulitzky, director of the Human Rights Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law, tasked his students with analyzing witness testimonies from three federal trials in San Antonio, Austin and Del Rio that involved key members of the Zetas. One of the report’s most troubling conclusions is that, according to witness testimonies, the Zetas paid two powerful politicians — Humberto Moreira, the former governor of Coahuila, and his brother Ruben, the state’s current governor — several million dollars in bribes so that they could operate with total impunity.

In the report, Dulitzky and his students conclude that both the Zetas and elected officials are to blame for the violence in Coahuila. They also argue that U.S. law enforcement, through its debriefing of numerous witnesses in the United States, is more than likely holding vital information that could help grieving families in Mexico locate the remains of their missing loved ones, or at the very least, help them confirm their deaths. Dulitzky spoke with the Observer about the new report’s findings and his continuing fight to find justice for the families of the disappeared in Mexico.

What does this new report tell us about the conflict in Mexico?

One thing it tells us is that through corruption and intimidation, many state authorities worked for the Zetas and coordinated with the Zetas and let them operate without any obstruction. This finding is not new, but what is new is that [it comes] from the testimonies of insiders in the Zetas and they were very explicit.

And there are a couple of other things: There is a clear presence of Zeta operatives in Texas and in other parts of the United States, according to their testimonies. They are present not only in Texas, but in other states including New Mexico, Oklahoma, California, Illinois and Georgia. It’s also very clear that what is happening in Mexico is not just a Mexican problem alone. The testimonies are clear that the weapons are bought here, especially in Texas, and transported to Mexico. And the drugs come from Mexico to the United States. The main responsibility lies with Mexican authorities, but the U.S. government should also do more because of the transnational aspect of the Zetas’ operations.

What is the current status of the recovery of bodies in Coahuila from the 2011 massacres?

The state government established a special prosecution office to deal with the disappearances. They have periodic meetings between the prosecutors and relatives of the disappeared, but there’s no coherent plan to search for the missing. Three weeks ago, the Mexican Congress passed a very comprehensive law that creates a national system for the search for the disappeared. We hope it will have a positive impact, but first it needs to be implemented. It will be a challenge because the testimonies indicate that with some of the people who disappeared their bodies were incinerated or dissolved in acid. So those bodies are never going to be recovered.

How do you hope Mexican authorities will respond to this report?

We hope that our research and others doing this type of research will better help with the implementation of the new law on the disappeared. And that more concerted efforts will be made to search for the missing. We also want to make clear that corruption is an integral element of the violence happening in Mexico. So when we talk about disappearances, our main focus is that dealing with corruption is a way to prevent more of them from happening.

In the report, you conclude that U.S. law enforcement has vital information about the massacres that hasn’t been made public.

What is clear is that some of the U.S. law enforcement agents who testified in the trials received from witnesses they spoke to much more detailed information on victims and human rights abuses and potential locations where bodies could be. U.S. law enforcement says it gave that information to the Mexican authorities, but the Mexican authorities said they couldn’t find the addresses or the places were too dangerous for them to go to. So that information was never made public. It was never given to any human rights organizations or to the families who are searching for their relatives. We hope that U.S. law enforcement will give that information to human rights groups.

You’re Argentine, and many South American countries have dealt publicly with the disappearances in the ’70s and ’80s during the dirty wars [of state-sponsored terrorism]. Mexico also had a dirty war, but there was never any acknowledgment or reconciliation. Now, once again, the Mexican government seems unwilling to acknowledge the missing. Why is Mexico such a tough case?

That is a very good question. When I visited Mexico with the UN working group on enforced disappearances, we looked both at the disappearances during the dirty war in Mexico in the ’70s and ’80s and the current disappearances. We found at least two elements that were common in both periods. First, there is this pattern of structural impunity, and the second is the presence of the military conducting domestic security operations.

One of the main differences between Mexico and [Argentina] is that in Argentina, there was a clear break between the dictatorship and the new democratic government. There was also a change in the entire state apparatus from the judiciary to the executive branch. This type of break from the past has never happened in Mexico. It was a slow process where at first the opposition started to win local government races, then the majority in Congress and eventually the presidency in 2000. But the PRI [the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which ruled Mexico for 71 years] still remains one of the main political actors and now they are in the presidency again, so that transition was very different from Argentina’s. In Mexico there are many constraints on accountability for what happened in the past.

Editor’s Note: On Tuesday, November 14, Ariel Dulitzky and his students will present the report “Human Rights Abuses in Coahuila, Mexico,” at 4:30 p.m. at the University of Texas School of Law. Observer reporter Melissa del Bosque will also participate in the panel.

The post Human Rights Lawyer on How Government is Complicit in Mexico’s Drug War appeared first on The Texas Observer.

Posted in Latest, National, State | Comments Off on Human Rights Lawyer on How Government is Complicit in Mexico’s Drug War

‘Sean Hannity Show’ fans smash Keurig brewers over pulled ads

Supporters of conservative host Sean Hannity’s Fox News Channel show are responding to a decision by Keurig to stop advertising on the show by smashing Keurig coffee makers.

The company announced Saturday it had pulled advertising from “Hannity” after several Twitter users questioned the company’s support for the host, citing Hannity’s coverage of sexual misconduct allegations against Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama. Moore is accused of having sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl four decades ago when he was in his 30s.

It’s unclear when Keurig stopped advertising on “Hannity.” The Waterbury, Vermont, company didn’t respond to a request for further comment Monday.

The move prompted several people to destroy Keurig products in protest and post videos to social media. Blogger Angelo John Gage promoted what he called the “Keurig Smash Challenge” while posting a video of himself taking a hammer to his brewer.

Another user posted a video of a Keurig brewer being tossed to the ground from the second story of a building. Hannity commented “love it” while retweeting one video of a man teeing off on a coffee maker with a golf club.

Liberal media watchdog group Media Matters for America has been putting public pressure on Hannity’s advertisers for months. The group’s president, Angelo Carusone, told The Associated Press it again called for companies to stop supporting Hannity’s program after the Moore allegations came to light Thursday in a Washington Post story.

Carusone said that while he feels bad for Keurig, Hannity’s encouragement of the protest against the company “demonstrates to other advertisers to run for the hills.”

Several other brands, including DNA testing company 23 and Me , women’s clothing label ELOQUII , food delivery service Hello Fresh and natural supplement maker Nature’s Bounty also said they don’t advertise on “Hannity.”

Nature’s Bounty said it hasn’t advertised on the show since the summer but declined to give a reason. Hello Fresh said it last advertised on “Hannity” in August and added that it doesn’t advertise on certain shows “for a variety of reasons.” It’s unclear if 23 and Me and ELOQUII previously advertised on “Hannity,” and the companies didn’t immediately return requests for comment.

Realtor.com posted on Twitter on Saturday that it doesn’t run ads on “Hannity” and wouldn’t do so in the future. That tweet was later deleted, and the company posted a statement on its website Sunday stating it would “continue to place ads across a broad range of networks, including Fox News and its top shows.”

Realtor.com declined comment on the reason for the change.

Realtor.com and Fox News are both owned by News Corp.

Fox News didn’t immediately return a request for comment Monday.

Posted in Latest, National | Comments Off on ‘Sean Hannity Show’ fans smash Keurig brewers over pulled ads

Another woman accuses former President George H.W. Bush of groping

Another woman has stepped forward to accuse former President George H.W. Bush of inappropriately touching her.

Roslyn Corrigan told Time magazine that she was 16 when Bush grabbed her buttocks as she posed for a photo with him in 2003 at a gathering of CIA officers north of Houston. She attended the event with her mother and father, who was an intelligence analyst.

“My initial action was absolute horror. I was really, really confused,” she told the magazine. “The first thing I did was look at my mom and, while he was still standing there, I didn’t say anything. What does a teenager say to the ex-president of the United States? Like, ‘Hey dude, you shouldn’t have touched me like that?'”

A spokesman for the 41st president, Jim McGrath, said in a statement Monday that Bush regrets any offensive actions.

“George Bush simply does not have it in his heart to knowingly cause anyone distress, and he again apologizes to anyone he offended during a photo op,” he said.

Time spoke with seven people who said they had been told by Corrigan about the encounter in the years afterward.

Corrigan is at least the fifth woman to claim Bush groped her. Time reports that a sixth woman, a retired journalist in Pennsylvania, posted to Facebook last month that Bush touched her from behind during a 2004 photo opportunity.

The stories came to light after television actress Heather Lind said last month that Bush, now 93, touched her from behind and told a dirty joke while they were posing for a 2014 photo. McGrath at the time explained that Bush has been in a wheelchair for about five years “so his arm falls on the lower waist of people with whom he takes pictures.” Bush, who served as president from 1989 to 1993, has vascular parkinsonism, a rare syndrome that mimics Parkinson’s disease, and he uses a wheelchair for mobility.

“To try to put people at ease, the president routinely tells the same joke – and on occasion, he has patted women’s rears in what he intended to be a good-natured manner,” McGrath said.

Bush was standing alongside Corrigan for the photo taken in 2003. McGrath’s statement Monday did not elaborate.

Posted in Latest, Local, National | Comments Off on Another woman accuses former President George H.W. Bush of groping

Student sent home from school bruised, claims PE teacher slammed him onto concrete

The mother of a child with special needs alleges a PE teacher attacked her son, slamming him onto concrete, leaving bruises from his face to his hands.

“This scar that’s right here. He has scratches on his chest,” said Ashley Degrate, describing the bruises over her son, Cavontrell Smith.

Smith, 10, is enrolled in fifth grade at the Aldine Education Center at 1702 Aldine Bender Road. The center is considered an alternative school. Cavontrell is there, his mother says, because of a behavioral and emotional disorder.

“Whenever he has an outbreak from his emotions they’re supposed to be trained to deal with it in a proper manner,” Degrate said.

It was not her son that caused a problem, Degrate alleges. Rather, it was a PE teacher, who allegedly whispered obscenities into Cavontrell’s ear during the attack. Cavontrell said the attack occurred after a run-in with another student on the playground.

“Blood was coming out of my eye because he hit me multiple times and then when I put my hand here there was a big old knot,” Cavontrell said.

The alleged attack occurred Thursday. Degrate told KPRC2 the school’s principal called her to tell her about Cavontrell’s injuries, but left details short.

“He told me that my son had fractures and bruises on his face that it might look bad but it’s not as bad as it looks,” she said.

Degrate said what the principal told her on the phone could not have been further from the truth. She said she saw the extent of her son’s injuries once the school bus dropped him off at the end of the day.

“When he got off the bus — oh my god!” she said.

A spokesman for Aldine ISD released a statement to KPRC2, which read, “Aldine ISD is aware of the allegation and the incident is currently under investigation. Once the investigation is complete, the district will take appropriate action.”

While the school district would not go into further detail, Degrate said the teacher was suspended, a ruling Degrate thinks was not strong enough.

“I just want them to take action. It’s not right. Nobody’s child should have to deal with this. No parent should have to deal with this. It’s just not right,” Degrate said.

Posted in Latest, Local | Comments Off on Student sent home from school bruised, claims PE teacher slammed him onto concrete

Gov. Greg Abbott endorses primary challenger to state Rep. Sarah Davis

Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, speaks to media regarding her request to add Ethics Reform to the special session on Aug. 2, 2017.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday endorsed a primary challenger to a fellow Republican, state Rep. Sarah Davis of West University Place, following through on his promise earlier this year to play a more aggressive role in the 2018 election season.

Abbott released a video throwing his support to Davis opponent Susanna Dokupil, who worked under Abbott when he was the state’s attorney general.

“We need leaders in Austin who will join me to build an even better future for Texas,” Abbott said. “That’s why I’m so proud to support Susanna Dokpuil for state representative of House District 134 in Houston, Texas.”

Davis, who chairs the House General Investigating and Ethics Committee, had clashed with Abbott over the summer over the governor’s decision not to include ethics reform among a list of 20 items he directed lawmakers to tackle during a special session. Heading into that special session, Abbott had raised the prospect that he could back challengers to incumbents who were less than supportive of his agenda. Dokupil is the first primary challenger to an incumbent he has endorsed this cycle.

Dokupil served as assistant solicitor general in the attorney general’s office.

Abbott made his first endorsement in the 2018 House primaries last week, backing state Rep. Paul Workman, an Austin Republican who had authored legislation for Abbott’s special session agenda. Workman faces a primary challenger from his right, Jay Wiley.

Posted in Latest, State | Comments Off on Gov. Greg Abbott endorses primary challenger to state Rep. Sarah Davis

Analysis: A media exec in Texas politics, not quite ready for prime time

Bruce Jacobson is vice president of media for LIFE Outreach International and executive producer of Life Today TV.

Editor’s note: If you’d like an email notice whenever we publish Ross Ramsey’s column, click here.

Today’s column is brought to you by the Bureau of First Impressions. That agency, like the “Bruce Jacobson Jr. for United States Senate from Texas” campaign, is an imaginary entity that may or may not really exist.

Candidates started officially filing for the 2018 election cycle in Texas over the weekend. Some were doing their prep last week — and one of them forgot to hang an “under construction” sign on his website and his campaign.

Jacobson, an executive in Christian TV in Tarrant County, told reporters earlier this year that he was “prayerfully considering” a primary challenge against Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

He’s still thinking, apparently, but someone in his camp is working on his website.

Publicly. Awkwardly.

It’s like turning on a microphone with nothing to say, or a camera with nothing to see.

Here’s what it said on his brucefortexas.com website on Friday afternoon.

“This test website is merely a temporary platform for a federal candidacy that may or may not be announced shortly. This beta website does not constitute an announcement of a candidacy and does not indicate support or opposition for any announced candidate.”

That tells us that there’s a lawyer hiding in there somewhere. Here’s a translation: “We haven’t filed our paperwork, campaign finance information, etc. Please don’t spank us.”

The earlier version, snagged by the Texas Tribune’s alert political editor, Aman Batheja, was much less lawyerly, and much, much more entertaining:

“This Website is Under Construction.

“This is highly likely going to be the website for Bruce Jacobson, Jr. for his possible upcoming campaign for the United States Senate. This website is currently going undergoing testing.

“Had this website been live, you would have seen information about Bruce Jacobson, Jr., about his positions on the issues for the 2018 United States Senate campaign that impact the great State of Texas.

“Had this website been live, you would be given area to donate to this possibly upcoming almost official campaign for the State of Texas representative who could be serving Texas in the United States Senate.

“Had this website been live, you would most likely be viewing the Bruce Jacobson, Jr. For United States Senate announcement video which is of course, currently being edited for a highly possible announcement and press release about Bruce Jacobson, Jr. most likely to be announcing next week and then serving as the Senator from the great State of Texas after a peaceful non-combative primary with the 34th U.S. Senator from Texas Ted Cruz. Senator Cruz will be defeated and we would really, really love your support in the primary and the general election, provided we announce sometime next week.”

It’s a small mistake — the sort of thing that happens when the effervescent marketing arm of a campaign gets ahead of things. Some of the website looked last week like it will probably look if and when the Jacobson juggernaut leaves the runway. His biography is up. There’s a page where supporters and curious political reporters can throw their names onto the campaign’s email list.

The place to take donations isn’t live yet — this isn’t a campaign yet, right? But the “Nationbuilder” template for the site is there, along with setup instructions for larval campaigns like this one: “Accepting donations requires a couple of steps… Be sure to delete this information or replace it with a short reason to provide financial support for your efforts.”

Why would he run? What would his positions be? That’s unknown for this maybe-maybe not effort. One page is set up for “United State Senate Issues for Texas in 2018,” but all it says, after the typos, is “Stay Tuned.”

Okay. There’s time. We can wait.

Posted in Latest, National, State | Comments Off on Analysis: A media exec in Texas politics, not quite ready for prime time