Politics

By Ian White

APPELLATE judge Terry Jennings has ripped up an appeals-court order telling Galveston County leaders Mark Henry and Lonnie Cox, right, to go to mediation in their battle for control of the county’s justice administration department.
Sitting alone in the state’s first district court of appeals, Jennings was responding to an objection by 56th-district-court judge Cox to the mediation order, which was handed down on July 20, four days before the anniversary of the action that led to the case.
That action was the summary firing by county judge Henry of JAD director Bonnie Quiroga, a decision that has had Henry and his fellow county commissioners locked in legal battle with Cox and the county justice center’s judges ever since.
The appellate court ordered mediation after the commissioners appealed a July 6 injunction preventing them from breaking up the department and keeping Quiroga out of her office.
The injunction had been ordered by visiting judge Sharolyn Wood pending a contempt-of-court trial against Henry set for January 11.
In appealing the injunction, the commissioners held that doing so automatically stayed their need to comply with its conditions and the mediation order represented an attempt by the appeals court to resolve the issue in a less adversarial manner..
As reported exclusively by The Post in its July 29 edition, Cox filed a motion objecting to the mediation order on July 27. In his motion, he claimed that the commissioners’ refusal to obey the injunction was a delaying tactic that represented more than just intransigence and he called on the Houston court to exercise its jurisdiction in the case without delay.
The commissioners did not object to mediation and submitted no response to Cox’s motion. As a result, the appeals court will consider their appeal against Wood’s injunction after both sides have submitted their briefs. As reported – again exclusively – in Sunday’s edition, Jennings last week gave
the commissioners until August 26 to submit their brief and Stevens told The Post on Monday that he will submit his response very swiftly thereafter.

Cox, Lonnie 2014-2               Lonnie Cox

Bernard, Lora-Marie               Lora-Marie Bernard

TEXAS’ senior US senator, John Cornyn, said IRS leaders run a gross political culture after a senate-committee report claimed the agency had targeted conservative groups for three years.
“The committee’s findings confirm what the American people already know about this scandal – a pattern of gross politicization and targeting of conservative groups by top IRS officials that is completely unacceptable,” he said on Thursday.
“The IRS must ensure this toxic culture of targeting organizations solely for their political beliefs has been eradicated from their ranks.”
Last week, the US senate finance committee released its findings in a bipartisan report. The committee said the IRS had led a deliberate attempt to target nonprofit applications from organizations whose titles included the phrase “Tea Party” or appeared conservative-leaning.
More than 32 IRS and treasury employees were interviewed for the report, whose investigators studied nearly 1.5 million pages of documents before finishing their report on June 30. The committee, which conducted more than 30 congressional hearings on the subject, released the report on August 5.
The investigation was delayed for more than a year after the IRS said it could not recover some documents after a computer hard drive used by its nonprofit-exempt division chief, Lois Lerner, crashed in 2011. Lerner became a prominent figure in the scandal and the report noted that the IRS had “belatedly informed” committee members about the crash.
“By failing to locate and preserve records, making inaccurate assertions about the existence of backup data and failing to disclose to congress the fact that records were missing, the IRS impeded the committee’s investigation,” the report stated.
On Wednesday, the committee levied the blame at an unchecked Lerner. The report said that, under her leadership, the nonprofit-exempt division began at least seven “poorly planned and badly executed initiatives” to obstruct applications from the Tea Party and other groups.
“Every one of those initiatives ended in predictable failure and every failure resulted in months and years of delay for the organizations awaiting decisions from the IRS on their applications for tax-exempt status,” the report said.
Not only was Lerner unwatched, the report said, but her supervisors also had not been engaged with her.
“Few, if any, of the managers were concerned about the delays in processing the applications, delays that possibly harmed the organizations’ ability to function for their stated purposes,” it said.
It added that Lerner also failed to inform her superiors when she became
aware of the numerous Tea Party applications.
Utah senator Orin Hatch, the committee’s chairman, stood behind the allegations that Lerner had a political agenda. Meanwhile, Oregon senator Ron Wyden, a
committee Democrat, said the report revealed no political agendas.
“The results of this in-depth bipartisan investigation showcase pure bureaucratic mismanagement without any evidence of political interference,” he said.
“Groups on both sides of the political spectrum were treated equally in their efforts to secure tax-exempt status. Now is the time to pursue bipartisan staff recommendations to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
Meanwhile, Texas’ junior US senator, Ted Cruz, said the tax system no longer benefits the American taxpayer and has a labyrinth of deductions and exemptions that stifles economic growth.
Speaking at an IRS target hearing a week before the committee made its report public, he said: “It keeps small businesses from becoming big businesses.”
Cruz, a presidential candidate running on the Tea Party platform, said the agency had taken a dark turn and evoked 1969-74 president Richard Nixon’s attempt to use the IRS to target his enemies.
Cruz said the IRS had not buckled then and had refused to follow the 37th commander in chief but that things had changed in the meantime.
“The last six-and-a-half years, unfortunately, the IRS did not demonstrate that same courage, that same integrity, that same willingness to stand up to political demands,” he said.
Committee members also found the IRS culture showed little value on customer service and that the service’s management did not conduct effective operations over tax-exempt-status applications.
Agency leaders said they looked forward to the report, even if it said they had abrogated their responsibility.
“We appreciate the work of the senate finance committee on this extensive report, and we look forward to reviewing it along with the recommendations,” a department news release said.
IRS leaders said they want to regain taxpayer confidence, improve fairness and rebuild integrity.
“We have already taken many steps to make improvements in our processes and procedures and we are pleased to have other suggestions from the committee to help us in our continuing effort,” the press release said.
The senate finance-committee recommendations include restricting political activity. The report said IRS, treasury and chief counsel employees should not be active in politics or partisan campaigns either on- or off-duty.
It also called for the agency to make decisions on applications no later than 270 days after their receipt. Any employees or managers who don’t make decisions within the timeline should be disciplined, it said.
Other recommendations were that employees should track backlogs early in the process and address them and that a list of over-aged applications should be sent to the commissioner each quarter.
The report also said the exempt organizations division should track requests for assistance from both the technical branch and the chief counsel’s office to ensure the timely receipt of that assistance.

Senator wants new mental illness law

A BILL introduced by Texas’ senior congressional politician seeks to boost the way in which law-enforcement agencies throughout the nation deal with mentally ill people.
The mental health and safe communities act was introduced last week by US senator John Cornyn to enhance the ability of community responders to identify and treat individuals whose mental illness could lead them to dangerous acts.
“While potentially dangerous mentally ill individuals are often known to law enforcement and local officials, gaps in existing law or inadequate resources prevent our communities from taking proactive steps to prevent them from becoming violent,” Cornyn said last week.
The senator said his bill would fix the existing background-check system without expanding it. Other provisions call for an increase in the use of treatment-based alternatives for mentally ill offenders and improved crisis response and prevention by local officials.
Several groups have endorsed the bill, including National Rifle Association, National Alliance On Mental Illness and National Association Of Police Organizations.
“This legislation will strengthen programs that promote preventative screening and crisis-response training so that we can better understand and treat the factors that may endanger public safety,” Cornyn said.
“By giving our communities the resources necessary to recognize and prevent acts of violence, we not only protect American families but help those affected by mental illness,” he said.

 

Cornyn, John web ready             John Cornyn

Lerner, Lois                 Lois Lerner

hatch, orin Utah Senator edited                   Orin Hatch

Wyden, Ron 1 cropped                 Ron Wyden

 

Could a new law on mental illness help prevent the type of crime associated with these six men?

adam_lanza_edited                   Adam Lanza

 

Dylann_Roof_mugshot edited                   Dylann Roof

 

elliot rodger 052414_anhq_massshooting_640 edited                       Elliot Rodger

 

(FILES) James Holmes appears in court at                   James Holmes

 

Jared Lee Loughner alg-az-shooter-mug-jpg edietd                       Jared Loughner

 

david conley edited                      David Conley

 

Sterling,Ed             Ed Sterling

EVEN IF the Texas legislature did not intentionally pass a voter identification law that illegally discriminates against voters who are black, Hispanic or poor, the practical effect of the law is discriminatory and violates the federal voting rights act, a court has ruled.
In a 49-page opinion by a three-judge panel of the US fifth circuit court of appeals issued last week, the panel ordered that much of the case be remanded to a federal district court in Texas for further consideration.
When the legislature passed senate bill 14 in May 2011, plaintiffs led by then-state representative Marc Veasey of Fort Worth filed suit, naming the governor, at that time Rick Perry, the secretary of state and the chief of the Texas department of public safety as defendants.
The plaintiffs argued that the intent of the law was to suppress the minority vote and that the law’s requirement that a voter, to cast a ballot in person, must first present one of several forms of photo identification in addition to his or her voter registration certificate, amounts to an illegal poll tax. The US district court for the southern district of Texas agreed and top state officials, acting on behalf of the state, appealed.
In its multi-part ruling, released on August 5, the fifth-circuit panel:
• Vacated the plaintiffs’ claim that the law is discriminatory in purpose and remanded that issue to the district court for further consideration;
• Affirmed the district court’s finding that the law does have a discriminatory effect, and thus is in violation of section two of the voting rights act, but also remanded that issue to the district court “for consideration of the proper remedy”;
• Vacated the district court’s holding that SB 14 is a poll tax and rendered judgment in the state’s favor; and
• Dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims that SB 14 violates two amendments to the US constitution – the first, protecting freedom of speech, and the fourteenth, guaranteeing equal protection.
After the court’s opinion was released, Texas attorney general Ken Paxton said: “Today’s ruling was a victory on the fundamental question of Texas’ right to protect the integrity of our elections and the state’s common-sense voter ID law remains in effect.”
Current governor Greg Abbott said: “In light of ongoing voter fraud, it is imperative that Texas has a voter ID law that prevents cheating at the ballot box. Texas will continue to fight for its voter ID requirement to ensure the integrity of elections in the Lone Star state.”
The Texas Democratic Party issued a statement saying: “On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the voting rights act, the United States court of appeals for the fifth circuit ruled that Texas’ discriminatory voter ID law – passed by Republican lawmakers and signed by governor Rick Perry – violates section two of the voting rights act.”
Party chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said: “Texas Democrats believe that our nation and democracy is stronger when everyone is invited to participate in our electoral process.”
He added: “We remain confident that the courts will find justice for Texas voters and ultimately strike down this racist and discriminatory law.”

Texas-identificationPhoto identification is needed as well as a voter registration certificate in order to vote in Texas.

 

Abbott: We want jobs, not clean air

GREG ABBOTT has attacked the federal government’s latest anti-air-pollution plans, saying they “will cost thousands of jobs”.
President Barack Obama announced the finalization of “America’s Clean Power Plan” last week, calling it “the biggest step we’ve ever taken to combat climate change”.
Making the announcement on August 3, he said: “This plan sets the first-ever carbon pollution standards for power plants while providing states and utilities with the flexibility they need to meet those standards.”
Abbott reacted immediately. Calling the plan “an environmental rule imposing steep cuts on greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants”, he said: “Not only will this rule result in higher energy prices for consumers; it will cost thousands of jobs.
“As we have in the past, Texas will lead the fight against an overreaching federal government that seems hell-bent on threatening the free-market principles this country was founded on.”

Schools’ ratings released

THE STATE’S education agency has released its 2015 state accountability ratings for more than 1,200 school districts and charters, as well as the more than 8,600 campuses statewide, and said the ratings reveal that 94 percent of school districts and charters across Texas have achieved its “met standard” rating.
School districts, campuses and charters receive one of three ratings, “met standard”, “met alternative standard” or “improvement required”.
Districts, charters and campuses can appeal their ratings and, based on the outcomes of any such appeals, final ratings will be released in late October or early November, education commissioner Michael Williams said when the ratings were released on August 7.
The ratings can be accessed at ritter.tea.state.tx.us/perfreport/account/2015/index.html.

ANOTHER POST EXCLUSIVE

By Ian White

COUNTY JUDGE Mark Henry and the county commissioners have suffered another loss in their legal battle with district-court judge Lonnie Cox over control of the county’s justice administration department.
However, the latest judicial decision against them is unlikely to affect the outcome of the case and is more a matter of procedure than overpowering legal opinion.
An appeals-court judge sitting alone in Houston’s first district court of appeals on Thursday denied the commissioners’ motion to split their current appeal in the case in two.
They wanted the court to separate two parts of their appeal against an injunction preventing them remodeling the department before Henry faces a contempt-of-court trial in January next year.
The contempt charge follows the commissioners’ refusal to bow to an order Cox issued from his 56th-district-court bench in September last year. That order declared Henry’s firing of department director Bonnie Quiroga in July last year null and void and instructed the county not to proceed with hiring a replacement for her.
After the commissioners failed twice in the appeals court and once in the state supreme court to have the order overturned, they sought to resolve the issue in June by giving Cox and his fellow judges their own staff in a much-reduced department while withholding four of its key services from judicial supervision.
They also refused to give Quiroga her job back after Cox had reinstated her at the county justice center in Galveston, leading him to apply for the contempt order, which visiting judge Sharolyn Wood signed at the beginning of last month.
The commissioners appealed for an emergency stay of the decision and for a ruling on jurisdiction in the case. Although the two requests referred to the same order, they asked the appeals court to create a separate docket number for the jurisdictional appeal and it was that request that justice Terry Jennings denied on Thursday.
He refused to abate the date for the commissioners to submit their brief in their emergency-stay appeal until September 8 but granted them an extension from Thursday, their original deadline, until August 26.
Meanwhile, the commissioners are still refusing to pay Quiroga and have locked her out of both the office she previously occupied and the county’s computer and e-mail systems.
But Henry says that does not mean she is being kept from employment within the county system.
“The office that is locked has been assigned to the commissioners’ court and is not for anyone else’s use now,” he told The Post on Friday.
“The commissioners have budgeted and assigned office space and five staff positions to Judge Cox but he is refusing to occupy the space or fill the positions.
“Instead of keeping Miss Quiroga in unpaid limbo, he could employ her as the head of his new department and we would be required to pay her and provide the services necessary for her work.  But, until that happens, we can’t pay her because she is not a county employee.”
Cox said he and his attorney, Mark Stevens, would have been surprised if Jennings had not denied the commissioners’ motion to split the appeal.
“When you appeal, you put everything in and the court considers it all at once,” he said. “That’s standard procedure and it would have been shocking if the court had decided otherwise.”
He said the motion had been a delaying tactic by the commissioners and that Jennings had not fallen for it.
“Mr Stevens and I would love the case to move faster, not slower like the commissioners,” he said. “Unlike them, we’re ready for the appeal now.”
Asked about his role in Quiroga’s employment status, he said: “Under the terms of the injunction that the commissioners are ignoring, I can’t alter the status quo ordered by Judge Wood.
“We will follow the court order in the injunction and Bonnie will be in the office on Monday. We are both confident that we will win our individual cases against the commissioners when they are heard in court.”

Sterling,Ed           Ed Sterling

NEWS EMERGED at the weekend that a Collin County grand jury last week indicted state attorney general Ken Paxton on charges of securities fraud.
It was expected that the indictment, said to include two first-degree felony counts, would be unsealed sometime on Monday. It had been sealed on Tuesday, July 28, the day of the grand jury’s decision.
Paxton, below left, once a state representative from McKinney, is accused of encouraging investments in a McKinney-based technology company without telling investors he was a stockholder in the company or that he was making a commission on their investments.
It is also alleged that he had not registered with the state’s securities board, a third-degree charge.

Paxton, Ken

Panel hears testimony in wake of jail death

THE TEXAS house of representatives’ committee on county affairs met on Thursday to hear testimony on Sandra Bland and jail standards.
Bland, 28, was pulled over by a state trooper in Hempstead on July 10. Soon after, she was placed in the Waller County jail and was found dead in her cell on July 13.
Investigators ruled the death a suicide. The story, covered by local, state, national and world news agencies, has emerged in the context of other tragic outcomes involving black citizens and law-enforcement agencies.
“How does someone get pulled over for not signaling and end up dead three days later? It just does not compute,” said committee chairman Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat, in opening the hearing. Coleman called for discussion on how such an event might affect the Texas department of public safety’s training of officers and how the state’s county jails might adjust their practices in the incarceration of mentally ill inmates.
During the hearing, Brandon Wood, director of the Texas commission on jail standards, said mental health has become the commission’s top priority and that state funding to add beds for inmates with mental issues is forthcoming.
He testified that there have been 140 in-custody suicides in Texas since 2009, with 22 in 2014. He recommended enhancements to mental-health screening processes, such as the addition of personnel who are qualified to assess mental health and deliver mental-health care.
Public-safety department director Steven McCraw said the FBI and Texas Rangers are investigating the arrest and death of Bland and suggested that the public release of the arrest video was an act of transparency on the agency’s behalf.
Yannis Banks of the Texas branch of National Association For The Advancement Of Colored People testified, suggesting that transparency issues include official documents that could be altered and video recordings that do not capture everything that happens. Several audience members spoke about their personal experiences related to racial profiling by law-enforcement officers.
Greg Hansch, public policy director of National Association Of Mental Illness in Texas, called for the state to better address racism in law enforcement. While acknowledging increases in the Texas legislature’s attention to mental-health issues generally over the past couple of legislative sessions, he said Texas still has long way to go in addressing needed improvements in its mental-health system.

PUC: Power demand is too high

THE PUBLIC utility commission of Texas wants consumers to conserve electricity because of record demand and higher-than-normal temperatures throughout the state.
Last Thursday, the agency urged residential and business customers to adjust air-conditioning thermostats at least two degrees higher, turn off unnecessary lighting and run dishwashing and laundry appliances after sunset or later.
According to the PUC, electricity usage peaks between 3:00pm and 7:00pm in hot weather.

‘Cavalier’ Planned Parenthood investigated

THE STATE’S senate committee on health and human services met last Wednesday to receive invited testimony concerning Planned Parenthood and its Texas affiliates in light of recent news about the organization’s attitudes to the post-abortion use of fetal body parts.
In opening the hearing, committee chairman Charles Schwertner, a Republican from Georgetown, said: “I am sure all of you have seen the recent videos and news stories showing top Planned Parenthood executives casually discussing donation and potentially to sell fetal tissues and organs.
“The cavalier attitude portrayed in these videos was alarming and disturbing to many people throughout the nation and of course here in Texas.”
State attorney general Ken Paxton testified that Texas is conducting its own investigation of Planned Parenthood affiliates in the state and that a federal investigation of the organization is in progress as well.
Representatives of Texas’ department of health and human services testified about the agency’s role in regulating abortion practices and explained that it has no authority in the sale or donation of fetal tissue but can report suspected abuses to agencies that do have jurisdiction over such activities.