Category Archives: All posts

Google says it will stop reading your Gmail to sell ads

Google is going to stop reading your Gmail in search of opportunities to sell ads.

The change announced Friday will end a practice that Google has embraced since the company introduced Gmail in 2004. The practice has raised concerns among privacy watchdogs and creeped out some users.

To help finance the free service, Google has been scanning through what Gmail users were discussing and then showing ads connected to some of the topics. Someone writing about running, for instance, might see ads for Nike or Asics shoes.

Google still plans to show ads within Gmail. But instead of scanning through email content, the company’s software will rely on other signals to determine which ads are most likely to appeal to each of its 1.2 billion Gmail users.

The Mountain View, California, company said it would stop the ad-driven scanning of Gmail later this year.

Google says it’s changing course so its free Gmail service operates more like the subscription version that it has sold to more than 3 million companies. The paid Gmail doesn’t include ads, so the company has never tried to scan the content of those users’ emails for marketing purposes.

Despite that, Google said some of its business customers incorrectly assumed the company was scanning those accounts as well. By ending all scanning, Google hopes to end the confusion and sell Gmail to even more businesses.

Gmail now ranks as the world’s largest email service, an indication that most people didn’t care about Google’s scanning methods. Both Microsoft and Apple have publicly skewered Google for having the audacity to mine users’ emails for ad sales, but those attacks didn’t undercut Gmail’s popularity.

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Officer, prisoner injured when taxi hits police cruiser

A Houston police officer and the prisoner he was transporting were injured Monday night when a taxicab crashed into the officer’s cruiser, authorities said.

The crash was reported about 10 p.m. at the intersection of Chenevert and Commerce streets.

Houston police said an officer was traveling north on Chenevert Street while taking a prisoner to a jail facility. They said witnesses indicated that a taxicab ran a red light and slammed into the cruiser.

The officer and prisoner suffered minor injuries in the crash, police said, and the cab driver was not injured.

It was not immediately clear if the cab driver was ticketed.

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Fire destroys 5 cars at southwest Houston mechanic shop

Five cars were destroyed Tuesday in a fire at an auto mechanic shop in southwest Houston, according to firefighters.

The fire was reported at 6:16 a.m. near the intersection of Rampart and Evergreen streets.

Houston firefighters said they are still trying to determine what started the blaze, which produced a lot of smoke.

The fire was extinguished by 7:15 a.m.

No injuries were reported.

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Snap Map’s location services raising safety concerns

One of the most popular apps for social media just added a new feature that’s raising some safety concerns.

Snapchat has a new function called “Snap Map.”

Snapchat introduced the feature last week. It’s an opt-in function that lets people share their locations on a map, posting locations right down to the street they’re on.

“Whenever you’re snapping, wherever you’re at, it’s documenting your location of where you are at,” explains Indiana State Police Cyber Crimes Youth Specialist Stephanie Nancarrow.

Snap Map broadcasts your location not just when you share a snap, but whenever you open the app, essentially showing where you work, where you play, the house where you live.

Read more from WTHR.

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Tuesday is National HIV Testing Day

Tuesday is National HIV Testing Day.

First marked in the United States on June 27, 1995, the annual observance is aimed at encouraging people to get tested for HIV and become educated about their status.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2014, an estimated 1.1 million people age 13 and older were living with HIV. Of those, an estimated 166,000 people had not been diagnosed.

The federal health agency has created a tool that connects people with testing events in their area. Click or tap here to view it.

There are also several agencies in the Houston area that offer free or low-cost HIV testing all year, including AIDS Foundation Houston, Bee Busy, Legacy Community Health and Planned Parenthood.

Click or tap here for more information about year-round testing sites.

Most of the agencies that provide HIV testing will connect people who test positive with resources and support.

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The Brief: One hearing on Texas’ immigration law down, one to go

Good morning and happy Tuesday, folks. Thanks for reading The Brief, our daily newsletter informing you on politics, public policy and everything in between. Forward this email to friends who may want to join us. They can sign up here. — CP

What you need to know

Protesters with posters, Democratic officials and immigrants’ rights groups descended on a federal courthouse in San Antonio Monday, marking the first skirmish in what could be a lengthy battle over the state’s new immigration enforcement law — known as Senate Bill 4 or the “sanctuary cities” ban. Here’s what you need to know

Litigation’s not the “appropriate [place] to decide” this, said First Assistant Attorney General Darren McCarty, speaking in support of SB 4. Attorneys for Texas and the Justice Department said the law — set to take effect Sept. 1 — contained language that was “contextual” and not as consequential as some thought, arguing that the issue had already been settled in 2012 when the U.S. Supreme Court backed a similar state-based provision in Arizona. The measure also wouldn’t require an officer to question a person’s immigration status, supporters said, but instead allows them the opportunity to do so. 

“We think SB 4 is patently unconstitutional,” said Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. Opponents of the measure argued SB 4 would unfairly target communities and serve as the opening act for an eventual police state, where local law enforcement could disregard the federal government’s authority, and said the law had been rushed through the legislative process, resulting in vague language that was hard to interpret. Penalties that could exceed $25,000 also served as another point of contention for plaintiffs, who said the hefty punishment made it “simply unrealistic for any police officer to take a chance” of violating the law. 

Mexico has its doubts, too. Following Monday’s court hearing, the Mexican government announced it was filing an affidavit to express its concerns with SB 4, with the assistant secretary of foreign relations saying the law “further criminalizes the phenomenon of migration.”

• U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia declined to make a decision Monday, and he didn’t indicate when a decision might come. Meanwhile, a federal court in Austin is set to consider Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s request to declare the measure constitutional Thursday

Tribune today

• The U.S. Supreme court delivered a handful of rulings on high-profile cases — including President Trump’s travel ban, a 2010 cross-border shooting death and a Texas death row inmate. Here’s what they could mean for Texas

• How could a Colorado case over “religious refusals” matter to Texas? 

• The Texas Republican Party’s platform is being touted more boldly by the party’s new chairman. 

• Despite the issue not being one of the 20 items Gov. Greg Abbott has told lawmakers to address during the upcoming special session, one state senator is trying to resurrect a bill to eliminate vehicle inspections

Pencil us in

Join us on July 19 for coffee and conversation previewing the 85th special legislative session with state Reps. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, and Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler. 

Register for the 2017 Texas Tribune Festival! Join us for three days of the best conversations in politics and public policy, Sept. 22-24. Register here

What we’re reading

Links below lead to outside websites; we’ve noted paywall content with $.

CBO: 22 million more uninsured under Senate health bill, Politico

Conservatives cheer Gorsuch amid flurry of decisions on final day of Supreme Court term, The Washington Examiner

EPISD defendants ask for mistrial, El Paso Times 

Baylor proposes to release information in sexual assault reports since 2003, Waco Tribune-Herald 

Commerce police chief resigns after Miss Black Texas’ controversial arrest, The Dallas Morning News ($)

Trump’s anti-NAFTA stance is on a collision course with natural gas, The New York Times ($)

Photo of the day

State Reps. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, and Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston, discussed the legislative session that ended in May and the upcoming special session at the Texas Association of School Administrators conference in Austin on June 25. Photo by Austin Price. See more photos on our Instagram account

Quote to note

The issue is a brewing one … It’s been going on everywhere.”

— Lawrence Sager, a constitutional theorist and the former dean of the University of Texas School of Law, about how a religious refusals case the U.S. Supreme Court is taking up could have important implications for the future of the issue in the state

Feedback? Questions? Email us at thebrief@texastribune.org. As always, thanks for choosing The Brief — if you liked what you read today, become a member or make a donation here

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White House warns Syria’s Assad against chemical attack

Syria has denied White House allegations that it may be preparing a new chemical attack, insisting again that it has never used such arms.

Ali Haidar, the minister for national reconciliation, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the White House statement foreshadowed a “diplomatic battle” that would be waged against Syria in the halls of the U.N.

The White House issued a stern warning to Syrian President Bashar Assad on Monday night, saying it had “potential” evidence that Syria was preparing for another chemical weapons attack.

In an ominous statement issued with no supporting evidence or further explanation, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the U.S. had “identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children.”

He said the activities were similar to preparations taken before an April 2017 attack that killed dozens of men, women and children, and warned that if “Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price.”

Several State Department officials typically involved in coordinating such announcements said they were caught completely off guard by the warning, which didn’t appear to be discussed in advance with other national security agencies. Typically, the State Department, the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies would all be consulted before the White House issued a declaration sure to ricochet across foreign capitals.

The officials weren’t authorized to discuss national security planning publicly and requested anonymity.

A non-governmental source with close ties to the White House said the administration had received intelligence that the Syrians were mixing precursor chemicals for a possible sarin gas attack in either the east of south of the country, where government troops and their proxies have faced recent setbacks.

In Moscow Tuesday, a senior Russian lawmaker dismissed the warning as “provocation.”

Assad had denied responsibility for the April 4 attack in the rebel-held Idlib province that killed dozens of people, and Russia, Assad’s key backer, sided with him. Days later, President Donald Trump launched a retaliatory cruise missile strike on a Syrian government-controlled air base.

Frants Klintsevich, first deputy chairman of the defense and security committee in the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, on Tuesday accused the United States of “preparing a new attack on the positions of Syrian forces.”

In comments to state-owned RIA Novosti, he added: “Preparations for a new cynical and unprecedented provocation are underway.”

The U.S. strike was the first direct American assault on the Syrian government and Trump’s most dramatic military order since becoming president months before.

Trump said at the time that the Khan Sheikhoun attack crossed “many, many lines,” and called on “all civilized nations” to join the U.S. in seeking an end to the carnage in Syria.

Syria maintained it hadn’t used chemical weapons and blamed opposition fighters for stockpiling the chemicals. Russia’s Defense Ministry said the toxic agents were released when a Syrian airstrike hit a rebel chemical weapons arsenal and munitions factory. Russia is a close ally of Assad.

The U.S. attack on a Syrian air base came after years of heated debate and deliberation in Washington over intervention in the bloody civil war. Chemical weapons have killed hundreds of people since the start of the conflict.

The U.S. is providing air support and arms to Kurdish-led Syrian forces who are fighting to drive the Islamic State group from Raqqa, the extremists’ self-styled capital.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Tuesday that Washington would continue to provide weapons after the Raqqa battle is over. His comments were likely to anger Turkey, which views the Kurdish fighters as an extension of the insurgency raging in its southeast.

On Monday, Trump had dinner with Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and other top officials as he hosted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the White House.

Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov talked earlier Monday about the need to secure a cease-fire in Syria, fight extremist groups and prevent the use of chemical weapons, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, followed up Spicer’s statement with a Twitter warning: “Any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia & Iran who support him killing his own people.”

Less than an hour after Spicer issued the statement, Trump was back to tweeting about the 2016 campaign, denouncing investigations into potential collusion between Moscow and his campaign aides as a “Witch Hunt!”

__

Colvin reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Josh Lederman, Vivian Salama and Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

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‘America’s deadliest drug’ found on streets of Houston

What has been dubbed “America’s deadliest drug” has been found on the streets of Houston, according to city leaders.

Typically used to sedate elephants, carfentanil is an opioid that is 100 times more powerful than fentanyl and 10,000 times more potent than morphine. It was first manufactured in the 1970s.

Doctors said that the tranquilizer dangerously lowers a person’s heart and breathing rates.

In its powdered form, carfentanil looks similar to table salt. Officials said ingesting a single grain of the drug can be fatal.

Authorities said drug dealers are using the drug to cut their supply of opioids, like heroin, because it is cheaper. They said it has also been added to counterfeit pain medication by traffickers.

Governors and House leaders from across the country have formed a drug addiction task force and have vowed to fight the problem.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Houston police Chief Art Acevedo along with other local and federal authorities will discuss the recent discovery in the Bayou City during a 10:30 a.m. Tuesday news conference.

Click2Houston.com plans to offer a livestream of the event.

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

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New Texas GOP chair starts tenure with big platform push

Back in March, James Dickey, then the chairman of the Travis County Republican Party, showed up at the state Capitol to testify in support of House Bill 1911 — a proposal known as constitutional carry, or the ability to carry firearms without a license. It was a top legislative priority for the state GOP, and Dickey brought a message tailored for the Republicans on the House panel considering it: Don’t forget the platform.  

“The plank which said we should have constitutional carry scored a 95 percent approval rate, outscoring over 80 percent of the other planks in the option,” Dickey said, referring to the party platform — a 26-page document outlining the party’s positions that is approved by delegates to its biennial conventions. Constitutional carry, Dickey added, “is something very clearly wanted by the most active members of the Republican Party in Texas.”

The bill never made it to the House floor, but a couple months later, Dickey ascended to the top of the state Republican Party — a perch he is now using to wield the same platform more aggressively, especially under the pink done. It’s become an early hallmark of his tenure, which is unfolding in the run-up to a special session expected to re-ignite many intra-party debates. 

“I think he wants to try to utilize the party infrastructure to push for the ideas, not just simply elect Republicans,” said Brendan Steinhauser, a Republican strategist steeped in Travis County and statewide politics.

Could that lead to Dickey ruffling feathers at the Capitol? 

“I hope so,” Steinhauser replied, “and I think so.”

Even before Gov. Greg Abbott announced earlier this month a special session beginning on July 18, Dickey sought to put a new emphasis on the platform. A day before the announcement, Dickey and most of the State Republican Executive Committee sent Abbott a letter asking him to use a potential special session to address the party’s incomplete legislative priorities. 

Dickey claimed victory after Abbott announced the special session and its agenda, noting that half the items matched up with platform planks. They included Abbott’s calls for property tax reform, school choice for special needs students and a so-called “bathroom bill” that would regulate which restroom transgender Texans can use.

Days later, Dickey sent letters to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, asking them to identify members in their chambers who could “take point” on the 10 items. 

Now, the party is organizing teams of activists to focus on 15 issues during the special session, including the 10 that relate to platform planks.

The flurry of platform-related activity is not by accident. In an interview, Dickey said he saw delegates working hard on the platform at the last convention, and it was “such a wasted opportunity … in that we weren’t clearly, publicly showing them that we took all that effort seriously, and I wanted to fix that.”

“I absolutely felt like this was something people were looking for, but I’m also a marketing and business guy with a customer service background,” Dickey said, describing the platform as a way to both unify and grow the party. “In business, the easiest way to get extra customers is to show you care about your current customers and listen to what they ask for.”

Dickey’s predecessor, Tom Mechler, was far from absent at the Capitol but was viewed as less willing to push the platform in legislative debates — a disinclination that sparked some criticism as he prepared to step down. His tenure nonetheless saw some notable developments in the party’s platform process: The 2016 convention was the first time delegates voted on the platform plank by plank, and it was the first time they included legislative priorities in the document. 

Mechler “was engaged a lot with us,” said Mike McCloskey, an SREC member from Cedar Park who serves on the legislative committee that is responsible for seeing the priorities through at the Capitol. For Dickey, the platform is “an area that is obviously important to him, and he has placed an emphasis on that,” added McCloskey, who supported Dickey’s opponent, Rick Figueroa, in the chairman’s race earlier this month. 

It remains to be seen how GOP lawmakers are receiving the platform push. In an email to supporters Saturday, Dickey said Patrick had responded to his letter, promising the Senate is “ready to take action.” The party has “received multiple calls and emails from legislators who are willing to take point on Republican platform planks and put those bills in motion,” Dickey wrote.

The likeliest source of resistance is in the House, where leaders have shown no signs of backing down from their opposition to a number of the plank-related items. In just the latest example, state Rep. Dan Huberty, the Houston Republican who chairs the House Public Education Committee, said Sunday that school choice — Plank No. 147 — remains a nonstarter in the lower chamber. 

For those watching Dickey’s early days as chairman, such resistance raises the question of how willing he’ll be to call out lawmakers who do not hew to the platform. In the interview, the new party leader presented himself as a “very much a glass-half-full guy,” saying he is aiming for “meaningful progress toward” the plank-related items and not demanding absolute loyalty.

“I would not expect anyone to know them all, much less than support” them all, Dickey said. “On the other hand, I would be gravely disappointed if anyone was a current Republican officeholder and could not find a few in there that they could not wholeheartedly support.”

While the platform has long included planks supported by the vast majority of Republicans, such as opposing a state income tax, there are other sections that are more controversial. The latest version urges support for a “return to the precious metal standard for the United States dollar” and describes homosexuality as a “chosen behavior that is contrary to the fundamental unchanging truths that has been ordained by God in the Bible.”

But Dickey is far from the first party chairman to grapple with how to best utilize the platform.

“There are debates on the platform and there are heated divisions, but I think it’s more a question of representing the conservative philosophy, which we tried and which was consistent with the platform,” said Tom Pauken, who led the state party in the 1990s. “I don’t think it makes sense to get into every detail of platform because conservatives have differences.”

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Hey, Texplainer: Do I still have to get my car inspected every year?

A bill that would stop requiring Texans to take their cars for inspections every year died during the 85th Texas Legislature — but might come back during next month’s special session.

Senate Bill 5188 was approved by the Texas Senate in May but never made it to the House floor. Now, the bill’s author, Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, says he wants to file a similar version of the legislation during the special session and is asking Gov. Greg Abbott to add vehicle inspections to the list of topics lawmakers will consider when they return July 18.

“I’m committed to getting rid of the safety inspections for vehicles. It’s a ripoff of our time and our money,” Huffines said Thursday, arguing that there are no definitive studies proving that vehicle inspections improve safety.

What is the vehicle inspections bill?

All vehicles registered in Texas have to be inspected annually to ensure they are working properly and complying with safety standards.

Under SB 5188, safety inspections would no longer be required for personal vehicles but would still be mandatory for commercial vehicles. Personal vehicles would still have to undergo an emissions test in 17 counties: Brazoria, Collin, Dallas, Denton, Ellis, El Paso, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Johnson, Kaufman, Montgomery, Parker, Rockwall, Tarrant, Travis and Williamson.

Under Huffines’ legislation, Texans would save the $7 a year they currently pay for safety inspections — which comes to about $140 million per year statewide — but they would still have to pay $7.5o when they register their vehicle.

Huffines says the legislation would put Texas in line with 34 other states that don’t require safety inspections. The federal government stopped requiring them in 1976.

Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, one of the bill’s biggest opponents, cited a study published by the Senate Transportation Committee in November 2016 that concluded: “Vehicle safety inspections should continue to be implemented in order to keep driving conditions safe, until the inspections impact could be proven otherwise.”

According to the study, 292,361 vehicles failed the test in 2014 and 252,299 failed in 2015.

Vehicle inspections also mean jobs for a large number of mechanics, Lucio said.

“These men and women are the first line of defense against fatal vehicle accidents across the state of Texas,” he told The Texas Tribune on Friday. “Because of them, we know that every vehicle that is on Texas roads has working brakes among other vital features, including insurance at the point of inspection.”

What happened to the bill in the regular legislative session?

The Senate approved Huffines’ bill in a 27 to 4 vote. Democrats were torn on the issue: Seven voted in favor of the bill, while four voted against it.

The House Transportation Committee approved SB 1588 on May 17, but the bill didn’t get to the House floor for a vote before the session’s end on May 29.

Will lawmakers get a chance to vote on it during the special session?

Vehicle inspections legislation was not on the list of 20 items that Abbott gave lawmakers to address during the special session, so even if Huffines files a new bill, the Legislature wouldn’t be allowed to consider it without action by the governor.

Huffines said he has asked the governor’s legislative team to include vehicle inspections in the special session call.

“It’s very popular legislation, and I think it’s a matter of convincing the governor’s team that it’s a worthy issue to put on the call,” Huffines said.

Do I still have to take my car to have a safety inspection every year?

Yes, personal vehicles in Texas still have to receive safety inspections every year to make sure they comply with safety standards. The inspection costs $7 in most cases and can be done at locations licensed by the Department of Public Safety.

For more information on safety inspections, visit the DPS website.

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Couple’s Discovery Green proposal caught on camera

After five years of dating, Rajeev Chorgade knew it was finally time to pop the question to his longtime girlfriend Megan Cahill.

They met in college in Pittsburgh as sophomores and Cahill apparently had inklings back then.

“When he met family about three months in,” recalls Cahill, “my mom and my sister, they actually told me that I should marry him. So, now I’m doing that.”

They’re doing it after Chorgade’s proposal Saturday at Discovery Green.

“We decided to take a quick walk around Discovery Green before heading to dinner,” Cahill said. “We were walking down the promenade and we got two thirds of the way down and he sort of stopped. And the next thing I knew he was on his knee proposing to me. And of course I said ‘yes.'”

But things happened so quickly they didn’t have time to capture the moment with pictures.

VIDEO: Proposal caught on camera

Luckily, Cindy Nguyen — who happened to be there with her boyfriend — spotted the proposal and pulled out her cellphone to record video and take pictures.

Nguyen wasn’t able to find the newly engaged couple after Cahill said yes.

After contacting Discovery Green and posting the video on Facebook, a mutual friend was able to connect Nguyen and the happy couple.

“We just want to say thank you,” Chorgade said. “We’re really glad she could’ve been there at the right time and we just want to say thank you so much for reaching out to us and trying to get us those pictures and photos.”

The couple is planning their wedding for October of 2018.

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2-year-old girl struck, killed by vehicle in Montgomery County, investigators say

Montgomery County investigators said a 2-year-old girl was killed after being struck by a vehicle on Monday.

The girl was struck in a driveway near 514 Spring Pines Drive.

The mother of the child had just returned home with her three children as her husband was leaving. He was driving a Dodge truck attached to a trailer with yard debris, according to investigators.

When the mother pulled in the driveway next to her husband, the 2-year-old girl jumped out of the van and was struck by the truck or the trailer, investigators said.

The child died at the hospital.

KPRC will provide updates when they become available.

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Fort Bend County 911 lines restored after temporary outage

After a temporary outage, the 911 lines in Fort Bend County have been restored, according to authorities.

Authorities said they do not know why the lines went down.

Authorities said all calls were being forwarded to the Rosenberg Police Department during the outage.

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State Attorneys: Senate Bill 4 Is ‘Moderate’ Compared to Arizona’s ‘Papers, Please’ Law

Activists gather outside a federal courthouse in San Antonio to protest the state’s new ban on so-called sanctuary cities.  Kolten Parker

State and federal attorneys on Monday defended Texas’ Senate Bill 4 as a “moderate law” that falls within the legal precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Arizona’s notorious “papers, please” law.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia heard about seven hours of oral arguments in San Antonio as lawyers representing several Texas cities asked Garcia to issue a preliminary injunction.

“Senate Bill 4 is a constitutional trainwreck,” said Nina Perales, an attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).

The “sanctuary cities” law, set to take effect September 1, would fine any local official who “adopts, enforces, or endorses a policy” that “prohibits or materially limits the enforcement of immigration laws.” It would also jail sheriffs and other law enforcement leaders who refuse to honor immigration detainers. SB 4 also allows police officers to inquire about a person’s immigration status during a legal detention, such as a traffic stop.

The plaintiffs’ arguments centered on the First, Fourth and 14th amendments.

Prohibiting public employees — or elected officials — from voicing their critical opinion regarding SB 4 is “viewpoint discrimination” that violates the First Amendment, said Perales, adding that the word “endorse” is too broad.

The state argued that the language should be taken in the context of the law and not interpreted as its literal definition. Darren McCarty, a lawyer with the Texas Attorney General’s Office, said SB 4’s “purpose is to avoid a patchwork of immigration laws.”

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said the provision causes a “chilling effect for what I can say” as an elected official.

Wolff pointed out that Bexar County is home to more than 70,000 undocumented immigrants, and argued that SB 4 is going to lead to racial discrimination and a “world of confusion.”

“I am Anglo. You think they’re gonna stop me? Nuh-uh!” Wolff testified.

The state argued that racial discrimination is already illegal in state law, and specifically prohibited in the so-called sanctuary cities ban.

Andrea (left) and Lizbeth (right) stand with several lawmakers, activists and law enforcement officials who oppose SB 4.  Sam DeGrave

Senator Jose Rodriguez, an El Paso Democrat who was in the courtroom for the hearing’s entirety, told the Observer that the law is “racist” and will lead to “anti-Latino” discrimination.

State attorneys repeatedly pointed to Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, the controversial anti-immigrant law that was partially struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012, as proof that some provisions in SB 4 are constitutional.

“[SB 4] does exactly what Arizona v. U.S. says it can do,” said McCarty, adding that Arizona’s SB 1070 “is a far more aggressive law.”

Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the ACLU representing the plaintiffs, disagreed.  

“We don’t think it’s close because the law was very different,” Gelernt told the Observer after the hearing. “That is an essential part of their argument, that the courts have already dealt with this in Arizona.”

Gelernt said that the “papers, please” provision of SB 1070 was ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court, but that it is substantially different from SB 4. For example, the Arizona law required officers to inquire about immigration status when a reasonable suspicion existed that the person is in the country without documentation.

Texas’ law allows, but doesn’t require, police officers to inquire about immigration status during any legal detention, which doesn’t require reasonable suspicion. Texas’ law makes an exception for a victim of a crime or a person who is reporting a crime.

Gelernt said the Arizona law levied fines on agencies, while the Texas law levies fines against individual public officials.

The judge asked both parties what an officer inquiring about someone’s immigration status should do if the person is undocumented. Neither the state nor the plaintiffs had a direct answer, as the law does not address that part of the process. The state said the bill “doesn’t allow for arrest” of someone who does not have proof of citizenship by local police.

Opponents said that was further proof that the law invites constitutional violations and would create “mass deputization” of local police.

Perales said the state’s attorneys were defending the law by “ignoring, dismissing or reading away” certain provisions. She said the law is written so broadly that non-law enforcement public employees could be subject to violations under SB 4.

Garcia told the court at closing that he would review the evidence but wasn’t sure when a ruling could be expected. There is a major redistricting case in his court in July that may push back a decision, he said.

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Attorneys spar over Texas immigration law in federal court

Opponents of Texas’ state-based immigration law told a federal judge Monday that allowing the controversial measure to stand would pave the way for a nationwide police state where local officers could subvert the established immigration-enforcement powers of the federal government.

But the state’s attorneys argued in tandem with their colleagues from the U.S. Department of Justice that the issue was settled in 2012 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a state-based immigration-enforcement provision passed in Arizona.

The day marked the first skirmish in what could be a lengthy battle over Texas’ law, Senate Bill 4, which has been billed as the toughest state-based immigration bill in the country. Known as the “sanctuary cities” law, SB4 allows local law enforcement officers to question the immigration status of people they detain or arrest and seeks to punish local government department heads and elected officials who don’t cooperate with federal immigration “detainers” — requests by agents to turn over immigrants subject to possible deportation. Punishment could come in the form of jail time and penalties that exceed $25,000.

Opponents of the measure, including the cities of Houston, Austin, San Antonio and El Cenizo, as well as Maverick and El Paso counties, have argued the law violates several provisions of the U.S. Constitution, including guarantees of equal protection and freedom of speech. They are seeking a temporary injunction of the rule, which is scheduled to go into effect Sept. 1.

Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union representing the city of El Cenizo, a small municipality in Webb County, argued that the law, as written is vague and provides such little guidance to officers that they will be forced to use a heavy hand when detaining or arresting someone. That, he said, will lead to a broad assumption that they need to ask nearly every minority their immigration status for fear of violating the provision of the law — the aftereffect of which would be an across-the-board erosion of Texans’ rights.

“The overriding point is that the penalties are so harsh that it’s simply unrealistic for any police officer to take a chance” of violating the law, Gelernt told U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia. “[The lawmakers] knew what they were doing when they crafted the legislation.”

As they have since the bill was passed by the Legislature in April, supporters of the measure said it doesn’t require an officer to question a person’s status, — instead, it merely lets them if they feel they need to do so. And it prevents police chiefs and sheriffs from preventing them from doing so, they added, which provides the state of Texas a uniform immigration policy instead of a piecemeal approach.

“There is an ongoing debate in the country about federal immigration law,” said First Assistant Attorney General Darren McCarty. “That is a healthy and appropriate debate, and it should be decided in [state] Legislatures and Congress. Where it is not appropriate to decide it — respectfully, your honor — is in litigation.”

But Gelernt said that the state glossed over the differences between SB 4 and the Arizona measure in an effort to simplify the matter before the court.

“We think there are critical differences,” he said. “One is that the penalties in Arizona, if they came about at all, would only go against the agency, and not against individuals. [And] the inquiries during traffic stops could be made only if there was reasonable suspicion, so you couldn’t just ask. That reasonable suspicion is not in SB 4.”

Gelernt added that in Arizona’s bill, an officer had to alert federal immigration officials if they came across someone in the country illegally. In Texas’ bill however, there is no direction, which is a main reason opponents of the  measure have argued the bill’s intent is vague.

There was also a heavy focus on whether the bill would subject all state employees to penalties for speaking out against the measure. The focus, to date, has been on elected and appointed law enforcement officials, who would be barred from “endorsing” policies that prohibit officers from questioning a person’s status, according to the language of the bill. But Nina Perales, the vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Funs, said the penalties could extend all the way down to employees of local entities that have nothing to do with law enforcement, like a community college district. She used an example San Antonio’s Alamo Community Colleges, which adopted a resolution in support of DREAMers — young undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children.

But deputy attorney general Brantley Starr said the endorsement language is “contextual” and that a professor expressing his or her opinion isn’t the same as a board of trustees adopting a policy that restricts campus police from acting.

The state also took issue with the plaintiffs’ argument that local police officers would choose enforcement of immigration law instead of adhering to their primary responsibilities. He said the bill says officers will only cooperate with federal immigration officers “as reasonably necessary.”

“That’s not Officer Smith in Midland deciding he wants to conduct an immigration raid in a parking lot,” he said.

But Perales said there’s nothing in the law that explains that in detail, adding to the argument that its vagueness opens the door to racial profiling.

“SB 4 is silent on that,” she said. “It doesn’t say at the federal government’s request or under federal supervision.”

There was also a focus on the special circumstances surrounding El Paso County and a settlement it agreed to in 2006. A local resident sued the county that year and accused sheriffs’ deputies of conducting immigration checks at roadside checkpoints. The parties reached an agreement: The sheriff’s office had to “memorialize in writing its policies that prohibits Sheriffs Department Deputies from enforcing civil immigration law.”

El Paso County attorney JoAnn Bernal said SB 4 would place the county in jeopardy because of the dueling mandates.

Toward the end of the day, the plaintiffs tried to show the bill was rushed through the Legislative process and had an obvious racist intent. State Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Houston, was called to testify on the process and told the court that SB 4 was deemed an “emergency item” that created a toxic environment on the House floor. She recalled how her colleague Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, warned their Republican colleagues that Hispanic members shouldn’t be heckled that day because they were fed up with what she deemed anti-Latino sentiment.

Hernandez also became emotional on the stand after explaining that as a former undocumented immigrant, the debate over SB4 had a very personal effect on her.

And at least one elected official seems hellbent on holding out against enforcing the law for as long as he can: Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff. The Democrat testified that he hasn’t researched provisions in the bill that allow local entities to apply for grants to help them pay for housing inmates subject to a detainer. He said that was because he was hoping the law wouldn’t go into effect. He also said he’s heard anecdotally from that the bill has already affected tourism and, in turn, the local economy. He also scoffed at the language in the bill that would try to silence his personal opinions. 

“Endorsement means I have a right to say what I want to say,” he told the court. Later, when asked by an attorney for the state of Texas how he would like to be addressed, Wolff quipped: “I don’t know — you may have to address me as a former public official soon.”

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Silver Alert issued for missing 73-year-old man from Mesquite

The Mesquite Police Department is searching for a missing 73-year-old man with a cognitive impairment, according to investigators.

Bobby Joe Loyd was last seen at 2 p.m. Saturday driving a maroon 2008 Chevrolet Silverado with TX license plate CHH7599.

Loyd is described as black, about 5 feet 10 inches tall, weighing about 170 pounds and has a bald head and brown eyes. He was wearing a black baseball cap, a black and white striped dress shirt and blue jeans.

Authorities believe Loyd’s disappearance poses a credible threat to his own health and safety.

Anyone with information regarding Loyd’s whereabouts is asked to contact the Mesquite Police Department at 972-216-6759.

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Houston named No. 1 place for July 4th festivals, performances

Houston is the No. 1 big city in the U.S. for number of Fourth of July festivals and performances, so says a WalletHub report.

The personal finance website put together a list of the best and cheapest places to celebrate Independence Day following a projection from the National Retail Federation that American households will spend a collective $7.15 billion on Fourth of July food alone.

WalletHub compared the 100 largest U.S. cities based on how well they balance holiday cost and fun.

Not only did Houston rank No. 1 in the festivals and performances category, the city got one of the highest rankings in affordability, too.

With the billions of dollars that Americans will be spending, it’s nice to know Houstonians will only be making a small dent in that number.

Source: WalletHub

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Magnolia man accused of impersonating officer in Tomball neighborhood

Police said they arrested a Magnolia man Friday night after he tried to impersonate a Houston police officer.

Robert Sterling Wells, 39, is accused of telling both neighbors and officers that he was a law enforcement officer.

“The first thing he said to me was he was HPD,” said Christina Rood, whose husband noticed someone unfamiliar outside the empty house across the street from them.

“They [the neighbors] already had someone trying to steal stuff off their property and they don’t live in the house yet and I knew it was strange so I walked over and approached the guy,” Rood explained.

She said Wells was dressed in a K-9 unit shirt with a holster, but without a gun.

“I just made small talk with him and signaled for my husband to call the police and I tried to hold him there as long as I could,” Rood said.

“He said he was there to look at the house, the contractors told him it was about to be done being remodeled and that it was coming up for sale. I knew it wasn’t true because we know the homeowners.”

Rood said she was suspicious because Wells’ truck had Colorado license plates.

She said she started taking pictures.

“He was like, ‘Are you trying to take pictures of me? Of my vehicle? You don’t believe I’m an officer?’ Then he walked up to the truck and flashed the badge and was like, ‘You know it’s illegal to impersonate an officer,” Rood said.

Wells drove off, but officers arrested him at the end of the street.

Tomball police said initially Wells told them he was an officer, but then changed his story, claiming he was dressed up for a Renaissance Festival audition.

Police said Wells told them the same story about wanting to buy the house.

Records show Wells has a criminal history stemming from writing fake checks, burglary and assault.

“It makes you wonder what he’s capable of doing if he would have gotten in the house if somebody lived there,” a concerned Rood said.

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What the latest U.S. Supreme Court rulings mean for Texas

With its current term ending this week, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday delivered a handful of rulings on high-profile cases, including President Donald Trump’s executive order barring entry into the U.S. from several predominantly Muslim countries.

The justices will return to a full plate in October. Meanwhile, here are the highlights from today’s rulings, and what they mean for Texas. 

  • Parts of Trump’s travel ban are back. The Supreme Court ruled that provisions of Trump’s travel ban on six mostly Muslim countries can take effect, and agreed to hear full oral arguments on the case in the fall. Under the ruling, people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen will be barred from entering the U.S. — but only if they lack formal and documented ties to America. While the Texas congressional delegation remained largely mum when Trump first issued the order in January, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton led a 16-state coalition supporting the travel ban and said in a Monday press release that the high court “clearly did the right thing.”
  • The Supreme Court acted on religious freedom issues, too. The high court announced it will consider this fall whether a business should be forced to offer its services to a same-sex couple if its owners object on religious grounds. The issue centers on the case Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v Colorado Civil Rights, where a Colorado baker argued he had a constitutionally protected right to deny a wedding cake to a same-sex couple based on his religious beliefs. The Supreme Court also issued opinions Monday on two other related cases, ordering the state of Arkansas to list the names of same-sex parents on birth certificates and ruling that the state of Missouri can’t deny public benefits to a church just because it’s a religious entity. Those cases might have implications for existing Texas legislation, including this session’s bill permitting the religious refusal of adoptions by certain agencies. 
  • A cross-border shooting case was sent back to a lower court. The U.S. Supreme Court tossed Hernandez v. Mesa, a lawsuit that followed the 2010 shooting death of Mexican teenager Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca, back to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The high court ordered the 5th Circuit to revisit its previous ruling that the victim’s family could not sue the U.S. border patrol agent who killed him. The agent fired across the Rio Grande and killed Hernandez on the Mexican side of the international boundary.
  • A Texas death row inmate could face execution soon. In a 5-4 decision along ideological lines, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Erick Davila, a 30-year-old convicted in the 2008 shooting deaths of a child and her grandmother. The high court decided that lawyers used during the original trial and subsequent appeals should not be treated equally, making Davila’s case ineligible for review in federal court. Davila v. Davis was the third Texas death penalty case the Supreme Court has considered this term, but Monday’s ruling marked the first time the court sided with the state against the inmate. 
  • The high court declined to hear a Second Amendment case. The Supreme Court passed on considering Peruta v. California, a case involving the right to carry guns outside the home. Multiple gun-related proposals were considered during the legislative session that ended in May, including one Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law to significantly reduce the cost to obtain a license to carry a handgun

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2 men injured during motel shootout near Greenspoint area

Houston police are investigating after two men were shot at a motel near the Greenspoint area June 23.

Investigators said two men were inside a motel room at 15420 W. Hardy Road when they started shooting at each other around 5:35 p.m.

When officers arrived, they saw paramedics treating a man for gunshot wounds. He was taken to an area hospital.

The other man left the scene with two women in a black sedan before officers arrived, according to authorities.

The women drove the man to 2800 Aldine Bender Road, where paramedics were called to take him to a hospital for treatment, authorities said.

Anyone with information in this case is urged to contact the HPD Homicide Division at 713-308-3600 or Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS.

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