Politics

By Lora-Marie Bernard

GREG ABBOTT’S letter to president Barack Obama seemed like an about-face for the state as it was dispatched almost at the same time international news agency Reuters was reporting that Texas is among the top states to accept Syrian refuges so far this year.
So far, the United States has admitted a total of 1,682 Syrian refugees during 2015. Along with Texas, California and Michigan are the top states to support the immigrants.
Obama’s Monday-morning comments highlighting America’s response to the Paris attacks came in a Turkish news conference that included a plea to separate the plight of Syria’s war refugees from the actions of Islamic State terrorists.

Texas governor's mansion 2015Greg Abbott tweeted this picture on Saturday with these words: “New flag at governor’s mansion shows Texas solidarity with France against cowardly terrorist attacks.”

Speaking to reporters from around the world at the end of the G20 summit in Antalya, he said it was un-American to discriminate against the refugees.
“We also have to remember that many of these refugees are the victims of terrorism themselves – that’s what they’re fleeing,” Obama said.
“Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values. Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both.”
Despite the president’s prompting, however, Abbott was not alone in closing his state’s doors to Syria’s refugees. Among more than a dozen other governors who followed his lead were Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, Mike Pence of Indiana, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Phil Bryant of Mississippi.
Their actions came three days after a Syrian passport was found near the body of one of the Paris terrorists. Although some security sources said it could be fake, news reports cited claims he had entered through a Greek border station notorious for being lax in its review of immigrants.
The Islamic State militant group has claimed responsibility for the deaths of the 129 people killed in Paris through a series of coordinated attacks that stunned the world.

A NEW ORLEANS appeals court drew plaudits from state governor Greg Abbott last week after siding with a Texas judge against the federal government’s implementation of an amnesty program for illegal immigrants.
On Monday, November 9, a three-judge panel of the US fifth circuit court of appeals affirmed a Brownsville federal district judge’s February order forbidding the implementation of the program, which defers deportation of the illegal-alien parents of children who are Americans or lawful residents.
The following day, Abbott reacted to the fifth-circuit ruling, saying: “The court’s decision is a vindication for the rule of law and the constitution. The president’s job is to enforce the immigration laws, not rewrite them. President [Barack] Obama should abandon his lawless executive amnesty program and start enforcing the law today.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest, meanwhile, said the Obama administration would file an appeal of the ruling with the US supreme court.
In affirming the lower court’s order, the fifth circuit sided with Texas and 25 other states that had sued on three grounds to prevent the implementation of the program, known by its acronym, DAPA, for deferred action for parents of Americans and lawful residents.
They claimed the program violated the procedural requirements of the federal administrative procedures act as a substantive rule that did not undergo requisite notice and comment.
They argued that the federal department of homeland security lacked the authority to implement the program even if it followed the correct rule-making process.
And they claimed that DAPA was an abrogation of the president’s constitutional duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed”.
The trial court and subsequent appellate court actions stem from the department’s implementation of a 2012 executive order by Obama that deferred legal action against children arriving in the country illegally.
According to the fifth-circuit majority opinion, under that program, known as DACA, at least 1.2 million people who are “lawfully present” in the USA could qualify for social-security retirement payments, social-security disability benefits and health insurance under part A of the Medicare program, whereas those who are “unlawfully present” are generally not eligible to receive federal public benefits.

New panel to study mental health

SPEAKER Joe Straus wants a select committee on mental health to study the state’s behavioral health system for children and adults.
Straus, speaker of the Texas house of representatives, formed the panel last week, instructing it to study substance-abuse treatment and recommend how to improve early identification of mental illness.
He also called for recommendations on how to increase collaboration among entities that deliver care, methods to measure and improve treatment outcomes and ways to improve care in underserved and rural areas and for armed-forces veterans and the homeless.
The panel members include Republican representatives Four Price of Amarillo as chairman, Greg Bonnen of Galveston County, Sarah Davis of Houston, Andy Murr of Kerrville, Kenneth Sheets of Dallas and James White of Woodville, plus Democrats Joe Moody of El Paso as vice chairman and Garnet Coleman of Houston, Rick Galindo of San Antonio, Sergio Muñoz of Mission, Toni Rose of Dallas, Senfronia Thompson of Houston and Chris Turner of Grand Prairie.

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SCOTUS to rule on state’s abortion law

A LAWSUIT challenging the constitutionality of Texas’ 2013 house bill 2, which revised the state’s abortion law, will be reviewed by the US supreme court in 2016, the court announced on Friday.
In Whole Women’s Health et al v Texas Department Of Health And Human Services commissioner Kirk Cole et al, the plaintiffs are contesting the new law’s restrictions requiring an abortion-performing doctor to have admitting privileges at a hospital no more than 30 miles from the clinic and requiring clinics that provide abortions to meet strict guidelines as ambulatory surgical centers.
Planned Parenthood Texas said that, if the high court does not reverse a fifth-circuit appeals-court ruling that allows HB2 to stand, “it would leave the 5.4 million women of reproductive age in Texas with only 10 health centers that provide safe, legal abortion in the entire state, down from approximately 40 health centers before the passage of the dangerous law”.
Texas governor Greg Abbott announced an initiative calling for the elimination of taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers on October 19.

By Lora-Marie Bernard

PRESIDENT Barack Obama this week pushed forward his environmental agenda while US senator John Cornyn lobbied to pass a joint resolution he hopes will kill a key piece of the legislation.
Calling on fellow senator to reject the clean water act during senate-floor debate on a resolution to modify part of the act, Cornyn said: “This rule represents the single-largest private-property grab, perhaps, in American history.”

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The act seeks to increase quality regulation of waters, streams, bayous and wetlands. Supporters consider it part of the Obama administration’s long overdue “net benefit goal” for natural resources.
Opponents, who refer to it by the acronym WOTUS, for Waters Of The United States, say the legislation represents a federal overreach into waters and lands owned either by private residents or by individual states. They refute several of its waterway definitions and claim the entire act needs to be rewritten.
The rule has created tenase legal wrangling with more than half the states occupying the federal environmental protection agency in court trying to defend it.
The senate passed SJ resolution 22 on Tuesday with a 55-43 vote, nullifying the act’s definition of “waters of the United States”.
Cornyn, whose comments align with the attitude of American Farm Bureau Federation, said the bipartisan coalition that pushed for the resolution had sent a clear message to Obama, above.
The senator said the agricultural economy is suffering with the rule, including farmers in his state. In Texas, about one in every seven jobs is agriculturally based.
“Texas farmers, ranchers and landowners have time and again found themselves in the crosshairs of this administration and the EPA’s draconian rule regulating our nation’s waterways is no different,” he said after the SJR 22 vote.
Meanwhile, perhaps as a counter move, Obama delivered a memorandum to five federal agencies giving them specific instructions to increase environmental mitigation on federal projects.
He sent it on Tuesday to the secretaries of defense, the interior and agriculture and the administrators of EPA and the national oceanic and atmospheric administration.
In the memorandum, the president calls for the agencies to minimize, avoid and reduce harm to water, wildlife and other ecological resources during federal actions and permitting. The agencies should also mitigate projects before they begin to ensure no environmental harm is done.
Obama levied direct orders to develop policies and guidelines. The department of agriculture’s forest service division has 180 days in which to develop additional manual and handbook guidance on mitigation. The bureau of land management and the fish and wildlife service each have one year in which to finish their mitigation policies.
The fish and wildlife department must also create a policy that addresses mitigation under the endangered species act and provide more conservation education and guidance about endangered animals so the states and private landowners can take action before the federal government intervenes.
The memo also included examples of positive environmental mitigation projects in Minnesota and Baltimore.

By Lora-Marie Bernard

RANDY WEBER and 22 other Texas members of the US house of representatives have told the state its electricity grid needs urgent protection.

Weber, Randy 2014 Web Ready

They have written to governor Greg Abbott, below, calling for rigorous action to protect the standalone grid, saying it is vulnerable to physical and cyber attack and to space weather.
Weber, above, said it is also affected by electromagnetic pulses, or EMPs.

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Noting that the US power grid is routinely attacked, he said he and others from the Texas delegation to Washington want to be sure the state’s grid is not compromised.
“The United States’ power grid is pervious to physical or online attacks roughly once every four days,” he said.
“We must do what we can in our authorities to protect our vital infrastructure.”
A 2012 report from the state’s public utility commission and the federal energy department that examined cyber security on the Texas grid noted that funds to fight cyber attacks would run out within the decade and that it was unclear where new funds would be found.
Weber said the state’s elected representatives want to support and protect the state’s power supply from domestic and foreign threats as well as from severe weather.
“Texas has already taken the steps in ensuring the fortification of the electricity grid and I encourage continued leadership in this endeavor,” he said.

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The letter was written on the heels of a report from ERCOT, the body that operates the grid and is responsible for the reliability of three quarters of Texas’ electricity industry. The report said that the forced retirement of 4,000 megawatts of coal-fired generation capacity could make the grid unstable.
The report analyzed the effects of the federal environmental protection agency’s clean power plan, which received a final ruling from the federal government in August. ERCOT chief executive Trip Doggett, left, said the new regulations could drive Texas’ electrical costs up by 16 per cent or more by 2030.
The goal of the federal plan is to move away from coal-fueled energy to solar- and wind- generated power, which means an overhaul for the state’s electricity grid.

“We continue to have concerns about the potential impacts on planning and operation of the ERCOT power grid,” Doggett said.
He said the grid operator is “especially concerned about reliability risks associated with” the retirement of several coal-fired units “within a short timeframe”.

SHERIFFS throughout Texas have been told they won’t receive grants from a governor’s fund unless they comply with requests to detain criminal immigrants on a federal agency’s behalf.
Governor Greg Abbott wrote to the state’s sheriffs’ departments last week after clashing with Dallas County sheriff Lupe Valdez over her office’s policy “of not detaining all criminal immigrants” in line with the detainer program operated by the US immigration and customs enforcement department, known as ICE.
Abbott wrote to Valdez on October 26, calling on her to reverse the policy, and followed that up with a letter to all state sheriffs on November 4 warning them not to follow her lead.
In last week’s letter, Abbott wrote: “As governor, I simply will not allow CJD grant funding administered by this office to support law-enforcement agencies that refuse to cooperate with a federal law-enforcement program that is intended to keep dangerous criminals off Texas streets.”
The letter read: “Beginning now, all criminal justice division grant awards will require that sheriffs’ departments fully honor ICE’s detention requests for criminal immigrants.
“Any applicant that cannot certify that their office will honor all ICE detainers for criminal immigrants will be ineligible for CJD funding. Further, any applicant that certifies full compliance with ICE detainer requests but subsequently fails to honor an ICE detainer will be subject to claw-back provisions and must refund the full amount of their CJD grant award.”

Tax revenue was down last month

THE STATE’S sales-tax revenue in October was $2.28 billion, down 5.4 per cent from the figure for October 2014 despite growth in construction and other areas of the
state economy.
Announcing the figures last week, Texas public-accounts comptroller Glenn Hegar said they were “was depressed, as expected, by declines in spending in oil and natural gas-related sectors.”
He said: “Other major sectors of the Texas economy, including construction, information and services, continued to show growth in tax remittances.”
The dip will not affect the state’s tax-collecting entities until next month as this month’s allocation is based on sales made in September by businesses that report tax monthly, and sales made in July, August, and September by businesses that report
tax quarterly.
Hegar said he is sending cities, counties, transit systems and special-purpose taxing districts $731.7m in local sales-tax allocations for November, 1.2 per cent more than they received in November 2014.

Constitutional ballot – the voting figures

VOTERS approved all seven ballot measures in Texas’ constitutional amendment election last week.
Proposition 1, to increase the homestead exemption from public schools’ ad-valorem taxation, passed with 87.5 per cent of the statewide vote and 90.1 per cent of the total in Galveston County.
Proposition 2, to provide ad-valorem tax exemption for disabled veterans’ spouses, passed with 91.5 per cent statewide and 93.8 per cent in the county.
Proposition 3, to repeal the requirement that state officers must reside in Austin, passed with 66.8 per cent statewide and 67.6 per cent in the county.
Proposition 4, to permit professional sports-team charitable foundations to conduct raffles, passed with 68.8 per cent statewide and 73.2 per cent in the county.
Proposition 5, to authorize certain counties to construct and maintain private roads, passed with 82.8 per cent statewide and 84.3 per cent in the county.
Proposition 6, to recognize the right for people to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife, passed with 81.6 per cent statewide and 84.0 per cent in the county.
Proposition 7, to dedicate certain taxes to the state highway fund, passed with 83.9 per cent statewide and 81.3 per cent in the county.
Total turnout on November 3 was slightly more than 11 per cent of the state’s nearly 14 million registered voters.

Straus puts law makers to work

SCHOOL finance, federal environmental regulation and the impact of falling oil prices are among the subjects named by Texas house speaker Joe Straus for potential debate in the next legislature.

Straus, Joe Texas house representative cropped
Last week, Straus, above, assigned interim charges to several house committees that will study issues in preparation for the state’s next regular legislative session, which will convene in January 2017.
Among the subjects to be studied are regulations and taxes, competition with other states, the impact of declining oil prices, school finance, college funding and governance, education and career opportunities for veterans, government transparency, money sitting in accounts, state water plan funding, emergency preparedness, cyber security and the repair of state parks from flooding and wildfires.
Straus also announced the formation of a house committee on federal environmental regulation “to take a comprehensive look at how an array of rules from the Obama administration will affect Texas and its economy”.
Straus said on November 5 that the committee will look at recently proposed or finalized rules from the federal environmental protection agency, including its clean power plan, national ambient air quality standards, “waters of the United States” rules and new standards regulating methane emissions from the oil-and-natural-gas industry.

Dozens join lawmakers’ UT amicus brief

FIFTY-THREE members of the Texas legislature, all of them Democrats, signed a “friend-of-the-court” brief with the US supreme court last week, offering support to University Of Texas in a case that has been in litigation since 2008.
Attorneys for the plaintiff in the Fisher v University Of Texas case contend that the university’s admissions policy violates the “equal protection clause” of the fourteenth amendment because it allows an applicant’s race to be considered as a factor in the university’s admissions process.
In his summary of the amicus curiae brief, Houston senator Rodney Ellis wrote that the university’s policy in effect furthers “equal access to higher education and unfettered pathways to leadership and opportunity in the state”.