WASHINGTON — Former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison testified on Thursday that she would take a tough stance on Russia if she is confirmed as the new ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
“We are beefing up defenses for an aggressive Russia,” she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, adding that she supports lawmakers considering new sanctions on Russian in response to its cyberattacks at home and abroad. “I think that Congress is doing the right thing.”
Hutchison’s comments were striking given that the man who nominated her to the NATO post — President Donald Trump — continues to cultivate an oddly close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Several senators, including Democrats, said Thursday they found Hutchison’s positions reassuring, and they were anything but adversarial in their questioning of her.
“Kay Bailey, I’m so excited you’re the nominee,” said U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat and 2016 Democratic nominee for vice president. “Your nomination sends a signal the NATO relationship is an important one.”
The Senate has passed Russian sanctions in a near-unanimous vote, but the legislation is stalled in the House amid procedural and partisan infighting. Most members of Congress believe Trump is against new sanctions, setting the stage for a potential veto or veto override in the coming months.
In her testimony, Hutchison called it likely that Russia interfered in the 2016 American elections, a conclusion Trump and many Republicans have yet to fully accept despite a consensus among the country’s intelligence agencies.
Hutchison was one of several ambassador nominees who participated in Thursday’s panel. Texas’ two senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, introduced Hutchison to the committee with high praise.
“She was relentless; she would not stop until she achieved her objective,” Cornyn said of his time serving with her in the Senate. “And most importantly, she always did what she thought was the right thing for Texas. Whether it was working with Republicans or Democrats, that was always her guiding star.”
“As I think about the type of individual best-suited to represent the U.S. on the world stage, I can think of no one better than Kay,” he added.
Cruz, who succeeded Hutchison in the Senate, joked to his colleagues that they preferred her to him.
“You know I agree with the president’s effort to extract more from our allies in support of NATO. I think that’s a positive direction for our country,” he said. “But I think it is also very good to have a U.S. ambassador who has a strong will and a gracious smile to represent America.”
Hutchison is expected to coast to confirmation.
Disclosure: The author of this article briefly worked for Kay Bailey Hutchison more than a decade ago.
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A Washington, D.C.-based environmental advocacy group sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday, arguing the federal government isn’t properly policing air pollution permits the state of Texas issued to some of the largest industrial facilities in the U.S.
The Environmental Integrity Project — founded by former EPA officials — alleges that permits the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) issued to mega-plants across the Houston, Dallas and East Texas regions are illegal because the limits set on their emissions are too high, allowing them to spew too much pollution into the air.
The suit, filed in federal court, also claims the permits are so vague and complicated that TCEQ employees aren’t always sure if a plant is in violation, and therefore fail to adequately punish bad actors.
The Texas Tribune explored that low penalty rate in a recent investigation, findingthat the TCEQ has so far fined fewer than 1 percent of the 3,723 emissions events that occurred in 2016.
“EPA knows that Texas issues unenforceable permits with illegal loopholes that render useless some of the most basic pollution control requirements of federal and state law,” said Gabriel Clark-Leach, a lawyer for the Environmental Integrity Project, which says it filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Texas environmental groups Air Alliance Houston, Sierra Club and TEJAS (Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services).
“EPA’s unwillingness to object to faulty state permits deprives the public of health protections guaranteed by the law,” Clark-Leach added.
The lawsuits the advocacy group filed target permits issued to ExxonMobil’s refinery and chemical plant in Baytown, Petrobras’ refinery in Pasadena, Motiva’s refinery in Port Arthur and SWEPCO’s Welsh Power Plant east of Dallas. The group petitioned the EPA last year hoping the agency would force TCEQ to strengthen the permits for those facilities, but says the federal agency did not respond within 60 days as required.
An EPA spokeswoman said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation. The TCEQ did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Environmental Integrity Project says the complexity of some air pollution permits is one reason why the TCEQ so rarely fines industrial facilities for emitting unauthorized air pollution during malfunctions and unplanned maintenance events.
“Some of the permits do not require monitoring or modern air pollution control equipment and are so inscrutable it makes it hard for TCEQ’s own employees to know when a plant is in violation,” the group said in a news release.
Environmental groups have sued the EPA and TCEQ in the past over permitting issues in Texas, including delaying approval of permits and exempting coal plants from federal air pollution limits.
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Texas legislators could end up passing bills to reform the state’s school finance system and help out retired teachers this special session.
After the Senate voted early Thursday morning to pass a bill keeping several key state agencies alive, Gov. Greg Abbott immediately expanded the special session agenda by adding 19 items — and dramatically expanded the focus of two education-related priorities he had announced last month.
When Abbott announced his call for the special session in June, he said he would ask legislators to increase teacher pay by $1,000, and to establish a commission to recommend improvements to the beleaguered school finance system. The expanded call Thursday would allow legislators to pass bills improving a state-run health care plan for retired teachers and making major reforms to the school finance system, including the extension of a state aid program that would help mostly small, rural school districts.
Patrick proposed a plan, funded through the Texas Lottery, that would provide bonuses for long-term and retired teachers, add $200 million to the Teacher Retirement System, and give $150 million to struggling small, rural districts that lost money through an expired state aid program.
Abbott’s additions of the new items appear to be a nod to the House, where his overall agenda is expected to face the most resistance. In a speech last month, House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, said legislators did not need a commission to tell them how to fix the school finance system, because they have already studied the issue at length. Abbott has pushed back against that notion, questioning why legislators have not come to a consensus if they have examined the issue so thoroughly. But the inclusion of retired teacher benefits, school finance reform and a fix for the expired state aid program in the final call looks like an overture to such skeptics.
State Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, the House public education chairman, welcomed the additions to the special session call — and said that school finance reform was particularly important for legislators to address.
“I look forward to working with my colleagues to address this critical need for our children and parents,” Huberty said in a statement to the Tribune Thursday morning. “The House had made this a priority the last two sessions. I am glad the governor added this to the call as he recognizes we need school finance reform to accomplish property tax reform.”
Educator groups on Monday rallied in front of the Capitol against the governor’s agenda, demanding that the Legislature put more state money into public schools and reform the school finance system.
On Thursday morning, a number of House members took to Twitter to thank Abbott for listening to their chamber and adding their priorities to the call.
Huberty filed a bill this week — mirroring one he filed during the regular session — that would inject state money into public schools and simplify the formulas for funding them. It would also help small, rural school districts depending on the expired state aid program.
Several legislators in both chambers have filed bills to increase benefits for retired teachers.
Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.
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New video casts a glaring light on Baltimore Police practices as the department and city grapple with a distrustful public and record-setting violent crime.
The video reportedly shows what happened during what might otherwise have been a typical drug bust on January 24, 2017. Released by the Office of the Public Defender, the video purports to show a Baltimore police officer planting evidence at the scene of a drug arrest.
The Baltimore Police Department has now launched an investigation and held a news conference releasing several other videos while offering a basic timeline of events.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, seeking to allay public concern, called it “a serious allegation of police misconduct,” saying, “our investigation will ultimately determine what happened, it will identify if any criminal misconduct took place, any administrative procedures were violated and we’re determined to get to the bottom of it.”
The video, recorded on police body-worn cameras, shows the officer placing a plastic bag into a food can then partially hiding it under a piece of debris. Thirty seconds later the audio begins and the officer says, “I’m going to check here. Hold on,” as his colleagues laugh. The officer then gives a cursory look at other items in the debris-strewn lot and appears to stumble onto the drugs in the can.
“Yo!” the officer shouts at his colleagues as he holds up the small cellophane bag containing several pills. One of his police colleagues only shouts back “What’s up?” The video ends a few seconds later.
As the officer searches the lot for evidence, one of his colleagues can be heard saying, “Is that 30?” which was possibly a reference to the way the body-worn cameras used by Baltimore police operate; they record 30 seconds of video, without sound, before the camera is actively turned on by the officer, according to the manufacturer, Axon. Referred to as a buffer, it’s meant to capture crucial evidence that might occur just before an officer activates his camera.
Davis said of the video, “I saw video footage of officers apparently placing evidence and recovering evidence in a way that initially based on what I saw, very narrowly, inconsistent with the way police officers do business.”
One officer in the video has been suspended and the other two placed on administrative duty pending an investigation by the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility.
Police said the arrest involved a drug sale that led to the discovery of two bags of heroin in gel capsule form. One bag was tied off and the second bag had been opened and recovered by officers at the scene. The police chief said, “It’s certainly a possibility that we’re looking into to see if the officers in fact replaced drugs that they had already discovered in order to document their discovery with their body-worn cameras on.”
Baltimore’s Public Defender’s Office said it turned over the video to the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office, which is responsible for prosecuting those charged with crimes in the city.
In a statement, the public defender said the “prosecutor in the case claimed to be ‘appalled’ by the video and dropped the charges in the case.” The Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office added in a statement, “Our office immediately implemented established protocols to not only refer this matter to the Internal Affairs Division of the Baltimore Police Department but began identifying active cases involving these officers.”
The Public Defender also says the officer in question is a witness in 53 open cases and was used recently as a witness by a prosecutor in the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office despite knowing about the questionable behavior captured on video. The Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office did not respond to questions about why the officer in question had testified as a witness in at least one subsequent trial.
In a statement, Debbie Katz Levi, who leads the Public Defender’s Special Litigation Section, said, “Officer misconduct has been a pervasive issue at the Baltimore Police Department, which is exacerbated by the lack of accountability. We have long supported the use of police body cameras to help identify police misconduct, but such footage is meaningless if prosecutors continue to rely on these officers, especially if they do so without disclosing their bad acts.”
Gene Ryan, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Baltimore’s main police union, urged patience. “I’d love for everyone not to jump to conclusions” he said, “and wait for the outcome of the investigation. It will all come out.”
Baltimore Police have been rocked by controversy and stubbornly high crime rates since the death of Freddie Gray in April 2015. Six officers were charged criminally in connection with his death. The trials ended in either a hung jury, or officers were found not guilty or had charges dropped after the state’s attorney was unable to proceed with prosecution.
This year, deaths due to gun violence in the city are up 21% over last year, with 186 killed so far, according to the Baltimore Police. If the pace of killings continues, the city is on track to set a record.
Long plagued by charges of corruption, Baltimore’s police department has struggled to win public confidence. Last March, seven Baltimore officers were federally charged with robbing citizens, filing false reports and claiming overtime fraudulently. Shortly after, in ending plainclothes policing, the police commissioner told the Baltimore Sun he was concerned their methods “accelerated a cutting-corners mindset.”
Since 2011, Baltimore has paid out more than $13 million to settle lawsuits alleging police misconduct. Last April a federal judge approved a consent decree after a Justice Department report found a wide racial disparity in the way the Baltimore Police Department treats its citizens.
This latest episode is another blow for a city still struggling to its feet.
“There is nothing that deteriorates the trust of any community more than thinking for one second that uniformed police officers and police officers in general would plant evidence of crimes on citizens” said Davis. “That’s as serious as it gets.”
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O.J. Simpson’s story represents one of the most dramatic falls from grace in the history of American pop culture.
A beloved football hero in the 1960s and ’70s, he transitioned effortlessly to movie star, sports commentator and TV pitchman in the years that followed.
He kept that role until the 1994 killings of his ex-wife and her friend. A jury acquitted him, but many still believe he carried out the grisly slayings.
Here’s a timeline of major events in the life of Simpson, now 70, who has been imprisoned in Nevada for armed robbery and faces a parole hearing Thursday:
– 1967: Simpson leads all college running backs in rushing in his first season at the University of Southern California.
– 1968: Simpson wins the Heisman Trophy, college football’s top honor.
– 1969: The first pick in the pro draft, Simpson goes to the Buffalo Bills and spends the next nine seasons with the team.
– 1973: He becomes the first NFL player to rush for 2,000 or more yards (2,003) in a season.
– 1979: Simpson retires, having rushed for 11,236 yards, second most in NFL history at the time.
– 1985: Simpson is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
– 1988: Simpson, who had been appearing in TV shows and commercials since the late 1960s, co-stars in the first of the “Naked Gun” crime comedies, perhaps his most popular role.
– February 1992: Nicole Brown Simpson files for divorce after seven years of marriage. It becomes final Oct. 15.
– June 12, 1994: Nicole Simpson and a friend, Ronald Goldman, are stabbed to death outside her Los Angeles home.
– June 17, 1994: Ordered by prosecutors to surrender, Simpson instead flees with a friend in a white Ford Bronco. It’s a nationally televised slow-speed chase across California freeways until police persuade him to surrender.
– June 1995: During Simpson’s trial, a prosecutor asks him to put on a pair of gloves believed worn by the killer. The gloves appear too small, leading defense attorney Johnnie Cochran to famously state in his closing argument: “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”
– Oct. 3, 1995: Simpson is acquitted of murder.
– February 1997: After a trial in a civil suit filed by the victims’ families, a jury finds Simpson liable for the deaths and orders he pay survivors $33.5 million.
– July 2007: A federal bankruptcy judge awards the rights to a book by Simpson, in which he discusses how he could have committed the killings, to Goldman’s family as partial payment of the judgment. The family renames the book “If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer.”
– September 2007: Simpson, accompanied by five men, confronts two sports-memorabilia dealers in a Las Vegas hotel room, angrily telling them that most of the memorabilia they are planning to sell is rightfully his.
– Oct. 3, 2008: A jury finds Simpson and co-defendant Clarence “C.J.” Stewart guilty of kidnapping, armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, burglary and conspiracy charges. The other accomplices had taken plea deals and received probation.
– December 2008: Simpson is sentenced to nine to 33 years and sent to Lovelock Correctional Center in northern Nevada.
– October 2010: The Nevada Supreme Court denies Simpson’s appeal but grants Stewart a new trial. Stewart takes a plea deal and is released.
– July 25, 2013: Simpson asks the Nevada Parole Board for leniency, saying he has tried to be a model prisoner. He wins parole on some convictions but is left with at least four more years to serve.
– June 2017: The parole board sets a July 20 hearing date.
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ROSHARON — Just 30 miles south of the urban epicenter of Houston, the scene around one of Texas’ oldest maximum-security prisons has a much more rustic quality.
The brick buildings of the prison have been part of the rural landscape since 1917 and sit among acres of farmland at the end of a long, tree-lined road. Prison officials clad in boots and cowboy hats patrol the grounds on horseback, and inmates are hauled in from work duty in the fields on a wagon hitched to a tractor.
On a recent muggy July morning, visitors and staff at the main gate dropped their identification into a cloth bucket attached to a rope pulley so the guard in the tower could hoist up their cards and approve their entry.
Inside the prison’s main hallway, industrial fans roared against the heavy air. The Darrington Unit, like almost 75 percent of the state’s prisons and jails, has no air conditioning in the inmate’s living areas.
The lack of cooling in Texas prisons has thrown bothcontroversy and an ongoing class-action lawsuit onto the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Inmates at anotherTexas prison claim that the heat constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and argue thatprison housing should be kept at a maximum of 88 degrees.
On Wednesday, a federal district judge in Houston agreed, issuing a scathing order against the department and ordering thatair conditioning be provided for medically-sensitive inmatesat the Pack Unit southeast of College Station within 15 days.
“Each summer, including this one, Plaintiffs face a substantial risk of serious harm from the sweltering Texas heat, and Defendants have been deliberately indifferent in responding to this risk,” Judge Keith Ellison wrote in his 101-page ruling.
The injunction was a big victory for the inmates at the Pack Unit, but the case isn’t over. The state announced Wednesday afternoon it would appeal the judge’s temporary order, which expires after 90 days.
An appeals court is considering whether the underlyinglawsuit can remain a class-action and apply to the entire prison instead of only the plaintiffs. But Ellison said in his Wednesday ruling that the plaintiffs are “likely” to succeed when the case goes to trial, which would result in permanent changes at the unit. Jeff Edwards, an attorney for the Pack Unit inmates, said he expects the trial to beginlater this year.
Edwards said Wednesday’s ruling was “significant” and “makes it clear that the Constitution applies to everybody, which I think is important and frankly can’t be said enough.”
In a statement, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said expensive air conditioning systems are “unnecessary and not constitutionally mandated.”
“The judge’s ruling downplays the substantial precautions TDCJ already has in place to protect inmates from the summer heat,” Paxton said. “We’ll appeal the decision and are confident that TDCJ is already doing what is constitutionally required to adequately safeguard offenders from heat-related illnesses.”
It's also hot at the women's prison...
Fans and ice water
Most of the inmateplaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed in 2014,have medical conditions or are taking medications that makes hot summer days more dangerous.
The lawsuit points to 23 deaths and hundreds of illnesses related to heat in Texas prisons since 1998 and says that elderly, disabled and “medically sensitive” inmates — including those with heart disease, diabetes and obesity, or those taking medications like anti-psychotics that impair the body’s natural cooling system — should be protected from extreme heat.
Judge Ellison ruled that those inmates should have air conditioning.
TDCJ has maintained that there are sufficient measures in place to safely cool inmates.
“The safety and security of not only our staff, but our offenders that we are charged with overseeing is paramount to us,” TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark said from an office inside the Darrington Unit last week. “So we take numerous precautions to ensure that we mitigate those extreme temperatures. And we believe those mitigating efforts are effective.”
The department does have a number of measures in place to combat the heat and humidity in Texas prisons, including unlimited ice water, personal fans, wellness checks for high-risk inmates, and access to “respite” areas with air conditioning — like the chapel or classrooms. Clark said they are continuously monitoring and updating heat protocols each year.
“Each summer we continue to refine our processes better and better,” Clark said.
At Darrington, inmates excitedly mentioned the new addition of large fans in the main hallway and therelatively recent addition of unlimited ice water.
“Now that we’ve got the ice coolers and the new fans, compared to eight years ago it’s a whole lot better,” 29-year-old Anthony Brown said as he cooled off before getting his weekly haircut in the air-conditioned barbershop. Brown has served nine years of a 45-year murder sentence, according to TDCJ records.
Still, there was no denying the heat and humidity building within the prison walls by mid-morning. In the cells, men lay on their beds in boxers with personal fans pointed at them. After about two hours in the prison, Clark indicated it was time to leave and joked to the warden that he “only brought one shirt.”
In his ruling on the Pack Unit, Judge Ellison called the steps taken by the department “the bare minimum.”
“They have implemented mitigating measures that they know, or should know, are ineffective given the extreme heat at the Pack Unit, and they have failed to consider seriously the many more effective options available to them,” he wrote.
Aside from air conditioning for higher-risk inmates, Ellison’s injunction alsorequiresthe temporary addition of new window screens in all housing areas so inmates can let in fresh air without being harassed by mosquitoes and other insects.
The injunction also orders thedepartment toimplement a plan of action for heat waves, citing the heat-related deaths ofat least 10 TDCJ inmates during a heat wave in 2011, according to the ruling.
Cost estimates vary for air conditioning
In the end, the argument comes down to money. TDCJ said that retrofitting the Pack Unit — built in 1983 — to include air conditioning would be an “undue burden” on the state, according to their court filing. The state has spent more than $2.1 million defendingthe lawsuit as of May, according to records from the Attorney General’s Office.
“Prisons built in the eighties and nineties, which were specifically approved by the federal courts…didn’t include air conditioning because of the added construction, maintenance and utility costs,” the department said in its official statement on the ongoing lawsuit.
Estimates for adding air conditioning to the prison vary enormously. In the June hearing, an expert put the cost at $450,000 to install units for the housing areas, and $175,000 in annual costs, according to the plaintiff’s filings. A study contracted by TDCJ put the bill at more than $22 million to install air conditioning in all of the unit, and $477,678 a year to operate.
To install temporary air conditioning for only this summer, the prices differed from the plaintiffs’ expert’s estimate of $108,000 to the state’s $1.2 million.
The judge’sruling called the state’s estimates “overstated,” and Ellison said TDCJ’s large budget should be able to cover the expenses. As a cost-saving option, he said the prison could “re-configure areas that are currently air conditioned to accommodate the heat sensitive, or move them to other facilities in Texas.”
“Even if the remedies ordered would be ‘fiscally catastrophic’ for TDCJ, as Defendants maintain they are, the Fifth Circuit has held that ‘inadequate resources can never be an adequate justification for depriving any person of his constitutional rights,’” he added.
And if the courts eventually rule that the state needs to spend the money to permanently install air conditioning at the Pack Unit, will that lead to similar rulings for the other 77 of Texas’s 106 prisons that lack air conditioning for inmates?
Edwards, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, said while the lawsuit only applies to the one prison, the reasoning behind the lawsuit could “easily apply to any if not all” Texas prisons.
The heat wave continues…
“The Pack Unit is not an anomaly in terms of how hot it gets,” he said.
But that decision won’t be made for a while. Meanwhile, the inmates at Darrington and most other Texasprisons have to deal with the heat.
Robert Stewart, a bald, quiet 50-year-old murder convict with one eye, got a break from the heat of his prison cell awaiting a church service in the prison’s high-ceilinged and air-conditioned chapel.
“After a while you adjust to it,” Stuart mumbled while holding a manila folder labeled “Anger management.” “You don’t have much of a choice, you just have to accept it. It’s not something I’d recommend to anyone.”
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You’re sick, missing work and sitting for hours in a doctor’s office waiting room. Or maybe you’re trying to see a doctor about a chronic condition. Not Daisy Newhook. She knows when she needs to see a medical professional. There’s no need to wait.
Newhook joined a growing health care trend by visiting a nurse practitioner’s clinic for diagnosis and treatment.
“She makes me comfortable. It’s always quick and fast,” Newhook said. “I never have to wait long.”
Delmar Imperial Aubin, the president of Houston Area Nurse Practitioners, said nurse practitioners put special emphasis on educating patients about their conditions.
“A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse who has had advanced training, three additional years to get a masters, you can also have your doctorate, and you’re prepared to diagnose, treat and prescribe,” Aubin said. “When a patient leaves our practice, I hope that they have the right skill set, the right knowledge and the right attitude, so they can cope with their chronic disease.”
Newhook is a regular patient at Rela Neely’s clinic.
“They just call and see me the exact same day, and that goes back to the ease of accessibility,” Newhook said.
Neely treats colds, flu and strep throat, as well as providing vaccines and sports physicals. Neely’s clinic also treats chronic conditions in which patients require a treatment plan.
“(We treat) high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, thyroid, skin conditions,” Neely said.
A nurse practitioner will typically collaborate with a physician to handle more complicated cases, and refer patients for additional treatment if they can’t handle the case alone.
“If I feel there’s something that’s out of my scope, I can readily get on the phone with my collaborating physician and take care of it,” Neely said.
Nurse practitioner clinics take insurance, and patients are billed just like at a doctor’s office.
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Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo made a plea to the public Wednesday, to help finally solve the murder of Josue Flores.
“There’s obviously a reward from Crime Stoppers but that’s not what should motivate. (What should motivate) you is to be part of bringing justice to the Flores family, to that sweet little boy and peace to our community,” Acevedo said during a news conference.
His comments come one day after the Harris County District Attorney’s Office announced they were dropping the murder indictment against 27-year-old Andre Jackson, who was arrested in the case last year.
Evidence tested at the Department of Public Safety crime lab came back inconclusive as a match for Jackson, even excluding him as a suspect in some cases.
Prosecutors said without it, they didn’t feel they could get a conviction.
But Acevedo said DNA evidence is only a part of the puzzle.
The head of a key House oversight committee is calling on the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission to hand over records detailing potential spending abuses and other “misconduct” that may have occurred.
GOP Rep. Sarah Davis, chair of the House General Investigating & Ethics Committee, also wants records documenting the “full background” of the official who led a controversial enforcement action against Spec’s Wine, Spirits & Finer Foods, the state’s largest liquor retailer.
In a letter dated Tuesday, the first day of the special session called by Gov. Greg Abbott, Davis asked for a list of all “outside organizations” TABC is involved in, a full accounting of travel reimbursements made by such groups, information on employees who have been certified as peace officers and the cost and scope of lawsuits in which the agency is involved.
Kevin Lilly, the commissioner that Abbott tapped to clean up TABC, said Wednesday that Davis had made a “reasonable request for the agency to account for the issues raised by” her committee.
“We have made significant changes in leadership and are now responding to the final questions raised in the hearing. We are in communication with Chair Davis and are complying. We are anxious to begin a new chapter for the TABC and thank Chair Davis for her oversight and leadership,” Lilly said.
The Texas Tribune published a series of stories about TABC mismanagement, taxpayer-funded junkets to out-of-state resorts, questionable use of peace officer status, wildly inaccurate record-keeping of state-owned cars, and heavy-handed regulatory actions.
The party at TABC is apparently over...
Davis said her request for information was a follow-up to her committee’s hearing in April, which put the top brass on the hot seat for several hours. A few days later the executive director resigned. By July, a total of seven top agency honchos had left the agency — including the executive director, the deputy executive director, general counsel, licensing director, chief of enforcement and head of internal affairs.
“This hearing was initiated by investigative reporting that revealed a pattern of inappropriate and unethical conduct within the TABC,” Davis wrote. “The response from this hearing was decisive, with multiple top TABC officials tendering their resignations.”
Davis is now pressing the agency to provide records about one of the top honchos still on the executive staff: Dexter Jones, the chief of auditing, who has led a multi-year enforcement action against Spec’s that prompted a rebuke from two administrative law judges.
The judges found the government had failed to prove a single serious allegation of wrongdoing. In a new court filing this week, the TABC is asking them to give what’s left of the case another look and arguing the judges misinterpreted the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code.
TABC spokesman Chris Porter described the latest filing a routine procedural matter.
“We’d do this for any case that would come out,” he said.
Al Van Huff, the Houston lawyer representing Spec’s, says the ongoing regulatory action has become abusive and will cause the company to pay tens of thousands of dollars more to keep fighting the 13 allegations the TABC wants the judges to reconsider. Spec’s has already spent more than $1 million to fight the case, he said.
“It’s akin to beating a dead horse, and beating the dead horse in such a way that Spec’s has to do a detailed analysis and respond to it all, which just costs Spec’s more time and money,” Van Huff said. “I would characterize it as a regulatory abuse.”
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A bill filed in the Texas Legislature’s special session would revoke the licenses of doctors who perform abortions in the state, with limited exceptions.
The measure, filed by far-right Representative Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, would expand the “prohibited practices” that result in a physician’s license being revoked, a category that already includes several abortion-related measures. Under House Bill 86, almost all abortions would be prohibited, with very narrow exceptions for the health of the woman and fetus: when necessary to save the life of the woman or prevent “substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function, other than a psychological condition,” or when the procedure is necessary to ensure the viability of another fetus she’s carrying.
Swanson’s “Texas Physician Abortion Ban” is one of several anti-abortion measures filed for consideration during the 30-day special session called by Governor Greg Abbott, which began Tuesday. Abbott included three anti-abortion measures on his list of 20 must-pass agenda items that failed in the regular session. Swanson’s legislation did not make the list, but critics still fear legislative maneuvers and loopholes could give anti-abortion proposals outside the agenda a chance to pass the Republican-controlled Lege.
At a Texas Tribune event Wednesday, Representative Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, suggested that the sunset bill extending the operation of the Texas Medical Board “is a great vehicle for pro-life measures,” according to anti-abortion lobbyist Emily Horne.
While that bill failed, lawmakers did pass a sweeping anti-abortion measure requiring the cremation or burial of fetal remains and banning the most common form of second-trimester abortions. The law, known as Senate Bill 8, takes effect September 1 and could send people who tangentially assist women in getting these soon-to-be-illegal abortions to jail. Reproductive-rights advocates are preparing a legal challenge this summer.
“The time to end abortion is here,” Swanson told Breitbart in January. “As we approach the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, it is clear from science that the Court erred 44 years ago. While that remains the law of the land at present, Texas should not be in the business of licensing and thus endorsing its practice.”
A fast-moving Senate gave unanimous early approval to critical “sunset legislation” on Wednesday afternoon, using two bills to extend the life of five state agencies held political hostage at the end of the regular legislative session.
The special session’s Senate Bill 20 and Senate Bill 60, authored by state Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, would reauthorize the Texas Medical Board and four other state agencies. Gov. Greg Abbott has said he won’t add other hot-button items to legislators’ agenda until after they keep those agencies afloat.
The Senate will reconvene one minute after midnight, when lawmakers in the upper chamber can take a final vote on both bills.
“I will bring the pizza and the soda pop,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick joked.
If they pass, as expected, they’ll head across the hall to the Texas House, which has made clear it’s not motivated by a speedy timetable.
Senators also announced that several committees would hold public hearings Friday, including on the controversial “bathroom bill” that has yet to be filed.
The House State Affairs committee on Wednesday approved sunset legislation of its own — House Bill 1 by Round Rock Republican Larry Gonzales — which would leave the five state agencies open for another two years. It’s unclear how soon that bill will head to the full chamber.
The House would also need to pass House Bill 2 to fund the agencies.
Andy Duehren contributed to this report.
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They played at Discovery Green during the Super Bowl. They performed with the Houston Symphony at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. And they have entertained crowds at several local hot spots. The Suffers are a big deal in Houston. But they are also getting attention outside the Bayou City.
The band’s lead singer, Kam Franklin, is featured in a national clothing company’s newest social media ad campaign. Modcloth, an Austin-based company, chose Franklin as one of its #styleforall brand ambassadors. A picture of Franklin and an IG video are posted on Modcloth’s Instagram account.
Franklin also posted about it on her Instagram account: “Last month, I spent the morning of my 30th birthday in Austin, playing dress up and talking with the incredible folks at @modcloth. I am one of their #styleforall ambassadors for the month of July, and I’m super excited to share some of these looks with y’all.”
The Suffers calls itself a gulf coast soul band. They have a busy few months ahead, performing in California, New Jersey, New York, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina and Missouri. Their current tour will also take them out of the country to Canada, the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Germany and France.
The next Houston performance for The Suffers is scheduled at the Karbach Charity Pub Crawl on Oct. 7.
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A South Florida couple was arrested Tuesday for the second time in recent months on allegations that they impersonated Adele’s manager, Jonathan Dickins, in order to get free concert tickets and sneakers from NBA players.
The Miami Herald reported that the couple was first arrested in May after they posed as Adele’s manager to get free tickets to Miami’s Rolling Loud hip-hop festival on May 6 to see Kendrick Lamar.
According to a 28-page arrest report, Justin Jayce Lii, 30, and his wife, Angel Lii, 26, purchased the website domains www.septembermgmt.com and www. septembermagmt.com in order to create email addresses that resembled the victim’s actual email address.
Authorities said the couple offered Adele concert tickets in exchange for sneakers from numerous basketball players, including Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook.
Police said the Liis claimed that the sneakers would be auctioned off to benefit charities.
According to their arrest warrants, the accused con artists succeeded in getting sneakers from Paul George, Victor Oladipo and Richard Hamilton.
Authorities said the couple’s criminal activity has been going on for years, accusing them of having tried to get thousands of dollars’ worth of sunglasses and other merchandise for free, and having tried, sometimes successfully, to get free concert tickets.
Police said they have even tried unsuccessfully to get artists such as Chris Brown and Katy Perry to make birthday videos for a “dear friend and assistant” of Adele’s.
The couple now faces more than a dozen felony charges, including identity theft and organized scheme to defraud.
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Passengers on flights from Mexico to the United States can expect longer security checks starting Wednesday — part of a larger US push for extra scrutiny for inbound flights worldwide.
Airlines in Mexico will now subject passengers on direct US-bound flights to extra security checks for portable electronic devices larger than a phone, Mexico’s civil aviation authority said.
This comes three weeks after US Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said his country would soon require all US-bound flights to implement the checks.
Passengers planning to travel into the United States should “show up at the airport three hours before departure to comply with the procedures,” Mexico’s civil aviation authority said Tuesday.
Devices that passengers take with them into the cabin will be subjected to safety checks and should be presented separately from the rest of the luggage, and without a cover or any other protection, the authority said.
The DHS said the extra checks are in response to concerns that terror groups are seeking new ways to circumvent aviation security.
The checks are among other measures, “both seen and unseen,” that will be phased in over time, Kelly said last month. His agency refused to detail all of the new measures for security reasons.
The DHS hasn’t said when the new measures would be fully implemented.
“While some will be required immediately, other measures will be implemented over time, in coordination with our international partners,” the DHS says on its website.
Laptop ban still in effect for Saudi airport
Kelly’s June 28 announcement was in addition to the laptop bans that the DHS earlier imposed on flights from certain countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The ban was put in place because officials feared the devices could be used to smuggle explosives on board.
As of Monday, only one airport — King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia — still was under the ban.
US officials lifted the ban for passengers coming from Cairo, Egypt; Casablanca, Morocco; Istanbul, Turkey; Doha, Qatar; Amman, Jordan; Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates; and Kuwait after airports and airlines implemented heightened security measures.
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Many wondered if Perry had a change of heart on climate change. For more than a decade as Texas governor, Perry had been an ardent climate denier. He argued that calling carbon dioxide a pollutant was “a disservice to the country” and claimed that climate scientists “have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects.” In his 2010 anti-federal screed Fed Up!, he claimed the Earth was experiencing “a cooling trend” and called climate science “all one contrived phony mess.”
Perry was so vociferous in his criticism of climate science that he once noted — perhaps in an attempt to distance himself from his past involvement with Al Gore’s 1988 presidential campaign — that Gore’s “mouth is the leading source of all that supposedly deadly carbon dioxide” and called him “a false prophet of a secular carbon cult.”
So it came as somewhat of a surprise when in his opening statement, Perry acknowledged that the climate is changing and touted the rapid growth of wind energy in Texas during his time as governor. At the hearing, Perry danced around questions from Democratic Senators Al Franken and Bernie Sanders about how human activity contributes to warming and whether he was committed to solving the crisis. But for the most part he emphasized that his views had changed. Perry sailed through the hearing and was confirmed 62-37.
But in the months since his confirmation, Perry appears to have reversed his position yet again, casting doubt on the overwhelming scientific consensus that warming is primarily driven by the burning of fossil fuels and other human activity. In a CNBC Squawk Box interview in June, Perry said the oceans and the environment — not carbon dioxide — were the “primary control knob” for climate change. A few days later at a Senate appropriations hearing, he went further, arguing that climate change “is not settled science.” It was time, he said, to take a “red team/blue team” approach so climate deniers and scientists could duke it out and ?figure out the truth about climate change. “What’s wrong with being a skeptic about something that we’re talking about that’s going to have a massive impact on the American economy?” he asked. The energy secretary’s latest missive has induced groans among scientists.
“Perry’s statements acknowledge climate is changing, but flail between misunderstandings and half-truths about the cause,” said Daniel Cohan, an environmental engineering professor at Rice University. “A red team/blue team review is like reviewing if the HIV virus causes AIDS — the more time we waste questioning settled science, the slower we’ll be to act on it.”
Perry has also applauded Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord as well as the president’s claim that he wants to achieve “energy dominance.” Under his leadership, the Energy Department is considering closing its climate office, a move that Cohan says could further degrade the United States’ efforts to address climate change on the global stage. “That research is crucial to helping the U.S. lead the way on clean energy technologies and profiting from the jobs that come with it,” Cohan said.
A 17-year-old boy was shot Wednesday at a high school house party in southwest Houston.
Police said there were at least 50 people in a rented house in the 5600 block of Edgemoor when three men drove up, got out of a car and opened fire into the house and drove away.
The teen was shot in the back and taken to a hospital. He is expected to survive.
Investigators found at least 13 shell casings outside the house.
A man who had been renting a room in the house for about a month on AirBNB shot video of the aftermath.
He said the party hosts notified him there would be a gathering. He said at some point during the festivities he fell asleep, but was abruptly awakened by gunshots.
“Around I think midnight, I heard gunshots. I don’t know how many gunshots, something like six, seven gunshots,” witness Lawrence Djeukwe said. “I checked out of the windows, I saw people running from everywhere. It was crazy.”
Police said the house, which is often rented for parties, has been a constant problem and they have received numerous complaints from neighbors.
A spokesman for President Trump has declared the story to be “fake news”.
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Kimberly Colwell, of Spring, received a big surprise Tuesday in the form of a letter from TxTag.
She was informed of nine toll tag violations she allegedly racked up in May.
It’s the third time, she says, she’s received erroneous violation notices from TxTag. Each one she’s received has caused the single mother and small-business owner a major inconvenience.
“It’s a pain. It takes up your time. You have to set aside time from work,” Colwell said. “When I come home, I’m dealing with her, but they’re not available because it’s after hours.”
Colwell isn’t the only driver who’s received the violation notices.
Channel 2 has gotten email and phone complaints from numerous drivers, most whom drive along the Grand Parkway on the north side of the Houston area.
The Harris County Toll Road Authority, which administers the EZ TAGs used by TxTag, is aware of the issue and told Channel 2, “We are looking into the matter to further understand what, if any, issues may exist with the transfer of account information between the various agencies.”
Colwell hopes that process clears things up once and for all.
“My time is valuable too,” Colwell said. “I did the right thing as a consumer. I purchased an EZ TAG. I make sure it’s replenished. But now I’m having to pay the consequences by calling and trying to get fees waved because otherwise I’d have to pay the fees and the toll.”
The drivers who contacted Channel 2 say they were told by the Harris County Toll Road Authority that the problem was due either to an equipment failure or a system upgrade.
A spokesman for President Trump has declared the story to be “fake news”.
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It's a big week for Houston sports fans as we look to the future of the Houston Texans while celebrating a past hero for the Houston Astros.KPRC Channel 2 has it all covered in Houston, at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, and at Houston Texans Training Camp in White Sulphur Springs, […]
Derek Fisher drove in two runs just hours after arriving in Philadelphia and Charlie Morton pitched seven innings to lead the Houston Astros to a 5-0 victory over the Phillies on Tuesday night.Jose Altuve extended his hitting streak to 17 straight games with a sixth-inning double to help the AL West-leading Astros improve to an […]
Venus Williams is fighting back against a wrongful-death lawsuit filed against the tennis star, claiming that she isn't responsible for the death of a 78-year-old man after a crash last month near her South Florida home.Fort Lauderdale attorney Robert E. Paradela, who represents Williams in the civil lawsuit, is demanding the autopsy report and medical […]
The Houston Texans will hold the first practice of their 2017 training camp at The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, on Wednesday morning.They will do so without their longest-tenured player, left tackle Duane Brown, who is embroiled in a contract dispute with the team.Brown was officially placed on the reserve/did not report […]
Set an alarm. Tie a ribbon around your finger. Ask your mom to remind you. Texans fans have an important date and time to remember: Thursday at 10 a.m. That's when single-game tickets go on sale for the 2017 Houston Texans home games.The team says there is a limited supply of tickets for individual games […]
Zach Britton set an American League record by converting his 55th consecutive save opportunity, blanking the Houston Astros in the ninth inning the seal the Baltimore Orioles' 9-7 victory on Sunday.Britton struck out the first two batters and issued a walk before pinch-hitter George Springer bounced into a force play to end it.Britton broke the […]
Jordan Spieth is the British Open champion, just like expected, though not like anyone could have imagined.On the verge of another meltdown in a major, so wild off the tee that he played one shot from the driving range at Royal Birkdale and lost the lead for the first time all weekend, Spieth bounced back […]
Marwin Gonzalez stepped in for injured Colin Moran and delivered a pinch-hit, three-run homer in the sixth inning to propel the Houston Astros past the Baltimore Orioles 8-4 on Saturday night.Moran fouled a ball off his left eye and had difficulty standing before being carted from the field. An update on his condition was not […]
Andrew Wenger had one goal and one assist, Alex Lima added three assists and the Houston Dynamo beat D.C. United 3-1 on Saturday night for their first road victory of the season.D.C. United (5-13-3) has lost five in a row, including a 4-3 loss to Seattle - in which United held a 3-0 second-half lead […]
Rookie Yuli Gurriel had a career-high four hits, including a home run, and the Houston Astros received a gritty pitching performance from Mike Fiers in an 8-7 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Friday night.Colin Moran hit his first major league homer and first triple for Houston, and Brian McCann also went deep.The Astros took […]
Galveston City Council on Thursday held a workshop to discuss the city's proposed FY2018 Budget and its Capital Improvement Plan.
Katy Perry and Caitlyn Jenner slam Trump for transgender military ban26 Jul 2017 20:45This is LondonKaty Perry, Caitlyn Jenner and George Takei are among the stars who have publically condemned Donald Trump for banning transgender people from serving in the US military.
A host of celebrities voiced their disbelief and rage on their social media accounts …
NYers Blast Trump Ban on Transgender People in Military26 Jul 2017 20:45NBC New YorkWhat to Know
President Trump announced via Twitter that transgender people will be banned from the U.S. military, sparking outrage
Tri-state Democrats, including Sens. Gillibrand and Booker, blasted the announcement and said they'd introduce …
Turns out Lana Del Rey is responsible for Trump’s stalled agenda26 Jul 2017 20:42SalonWhatever one thinks of President Donald Trump’s brutal policies, race-baiting rhetoric and ongoing depopulation of the entire Executive Branch of the U.S. government, it’s pretty clear that he’s actually gotten very little of what he promised (threatened) …
Following healthcare vote, Trump singles out Murkowski with critical tweet26 Jul 2017 20:42Alaska Public TelecommunicationsU.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks with reporters in Juneau in February. (File photo by Skip Gray/360 North)
This afternoon, the US Senate voted against an amendment to partially repeal the Affordable Care Act in a 55-45 split.
It was one of several …
With all the recent shit about VLC and Revelations being fulfilled, just wanted to clarify how we will be able to know if what we are seeing is government coordinated "soft disclosure". The technology. Since the mid 20th century, the powers that be have had the technology to produce cheap to make and wirelessly distribute, […]
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