- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Fort Worth Star-Telegram. May 1, 2014.

Botched execution should cause states to re-examine death penalty procedures

The scene in the Oklahoma execution chamber Tuesday night was so horrific that authorities pulled the curtains to block spectators’ view.

Condemned murderer Clayton Lockett, who had been declared unconscious after the first drug of a three-drug cocktail was administered, began shaking uncontrollably, gasping, moaning and attempting to raise his body from the gurney to which he was strapped.

The botched execution was halted after 20 minutes, and Lockett died 23 minutes after that - a full 43 minutes after the process began - apparently of a heart attack.

Something had gone terribly wrong, and it was instantly clear that this inmate’s death, which was to have been the first of two in Oklahoma that night, did not pass the constitutional standard of being neither cruel nor unusual, even for a man convicted of shooting a woman he robbed and watching two of his buddies bury her alive in 1999.

Just as bizarre, though, was the process that led to two men being scheduled to die two hours apart in the same chamber.

Lockett and inmate Charles Warner sued the state because officials refused to reveal details about the execution drugs, including from which manufacturer they were obtained. The law allowing the secrecy about the drugs was declared unconstitutional by a trial judge, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court stayed the executions last week.

What followed was a game of political football, with two men’s lives sadly being the trophy. Gov. Mary Fallin declared that she wasn’t bound by the decision of the Supreme Court, which normally hears civil cases, and a state legislator began the process to impeach the five justices who voted for the stay.

The court bowed to pressure and lifted the stay, and the two executions were scheduled for Tuesday night.

Warner’s execution has been postponed for at least 14 days, and the governor has called for an independent review of Lockett’s case to be conducted by the state’s Department of Public Safety, which critics say is anything but independent. Lockett’s body was to be sent to the Dallas County medical examiner’s office for an autopsy.

Ideally a review would be conducted by a non-state agency, and there ought to be a moratorium on executions in Oklahoma until the full examination has been concluded, as some organizations have sought.

Most of the 32 states with capital punishment, including Texas, have become secretive about their drug suppliers as more manufacturers have refused to sell drugs to put people to death. Texas insists its secrecy is due to increasing threats against suppliers, although the state has not produced evidence of such threats.

Officials here say they have no plans to further review the method used to put people to death, noting that since 2012, when the state began using the single drug pentobarbital, 33 people have been executed without incident. A 34th prisoner is scheduled to die May 13.

Death penalty opponents and many attorneys for Death Row inmates say the bungled execution in Oklahoma gives more credibility to those cases in which condemned individuals have demanded more information about the drugs that will be used to kill them.

The Oklahoma example and a case last January in Ohio where a condemned man showed pain during an execution ought to cause all death penalty states to review their protocols, disclose how their drugs work and reveal the sources of those drugs.

A state’s use of capital punishment, its method of execution and even its fights in the courts to ensure that the death penalty is carried out for certain individuals are policies in which politics are naturally part of the process.

But blatant political intervention in a specific execution, as demonstrated in the Oklahoma case, should never be acceptable or tolerated.

The stakes are simply too high for this ultimate act of criminal justice to be guided at the end by political whim.

___

Houston Chronicle. May 2, 2014.

Executing state secrets: Texas needs to be as transparent as possible about the state’s method of killing prisoners

Texas scored a coup with the decision by Toyota Motor Corp. to move its North American headquarters to Plano from California. It’s a plan that could eventually bring 4,000 high-paying jobs to the area.

Gov. Rick Perry has been doing the happy dance since last week’s announcement, suggesting the $40 million incentive paid to Toyota from the Texas Enterprise Fund - a Perry pet project - sealed the deal.

But that’s not at all clear. In fact, Toyota officials said the $40 million was not the deal closer and, while they aren’t turning down the money, was not among the major reasons for the move. Some things money can’t buy prompted the decision, they said, including attributes such as geography, time zone and quality of life for employees.

So why did Texas spend the money if it really was not necessary?

Politics is almost certainly the answer. If the state puts down $40 million from the enterprise fund then Perry - who is angling for another run at the presidency - can say he played a major role in persuading Toyota to consolidate operations in Texas.

We don’t mean to say the business climate Perry has helped create in Texas played no role. It certainly did. But when Toyota officials say the state incentive wasn’t a deciding factor we have to believe them. They have no reason to fudge.

The episode calls into question the real worth of the Texas Enterprise Fund and whether taxpayers should continue to pour money into it. At the very least we ought to consider how big the fund should be and increase oversight on how the money is used. Now, it is totally controlled by the governor’s office with very little transparency.

Other businesses will choose Texas for the same reasons Toyota did, including the fact our governments, from the local level right up to the governor, are supportive.

But supportive does not mean it is necessary to spend $40 million or any money at all, especially at a time our state is failing to keep up with necessary investments in its schools, roads and water supply.

Smaller, less intrusive government certainly is a factor in attracting business to Texas, but we should look again at Toyota’s stated reasons for the decision, which included quality of life. If Texas wants to continue attracting businesses, it will have to provide essential public services that add to the quality of life. That doesn’t come for free.

While we’re thrilled with Toyota’s decision and what it says about Texas, it also points out that a closer watch should be kept on the enterprise fund till. Spending $40 million when it tips the scales in our favor for a huge business is one thing. Throwing it away for show is quite another.

___

Longview News-Journal. May 6, 2014.

$40 million incentive to Toyota raises questions about state fund

Texas scored a coup with the decision by Toyota Motor Corp. to move its North American headquarters to Plano from California. It’s a plan that could eventually bring 4,000 high-paying jobs to the area.

Gov. Rick Perry has been doing the happy dance since last week’s announcement, suggesting the $40 million incentive paid to Toyota from the Texas Enterprise Fund - a Perry pet project - sealed the deal.

But that’s not at all clear. In fact, Toyota officials said the $40 million was not the deal closer and, while they aren’t turning down the money, was not among the major reasons for the move. Some things money can’t buy prompted the decision, they said, including attributes such as geography, time zone and quality of life for employees.

So why did Texas spend the money if it really was not necessary?

Politics is almost certainly the answer. If the state puts down $40 million from the enterprise fund then Perry - who is angling for another run at the presidency - can say he played a major role in persuading Toyota to consolidate operations in Texas.

We don’t mean to say the business climate Perry has helped create in Texas played no role. It certainly did. But when Toyota officials say the state incentive wasn’t a deciding factor we have to believe them. They have no reason to fudge.

The episode calls into question the real worth of the Texas Enterprise Fund and whether taxpayers should continue to pour money into it. At the very least we ought to consider how big the fund should be and increase oversight on how the money is used. Now, it is totally controlled by the governor’s office with very little transparency.

Other businesses will choose Texas for the same reasons Toyota did, including the fact our governments, from the local level right up to the governor, are supportive.

But supportive does not mean it is necessary to spend $40 million - or any money at all, especially at a time our state is failing to keep up with necessary investments in its schools, roads and water supply.

Smaller, less intrusive government certainly is a factor in attracting business to Texas, but we should look again at Toyota’s stated reasons for the decision, which included quality of life. If Texas wants to continue attracting businesses, it will have to provide essential public services that add to the quality of life. That doesn’t come for free.

While we’re thrilled with Toyota’s decision and what it says about Texas, it also points out that a closer watch should be kept on the enterprise fund till. Spending $40 million when it tips the scales in our favor for a huge business is one thing. Throwing it away for show is quite another.

___

The Dallas Morning News. May 2, 2014.

EPA victory is good for Texas air

An analogy for Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling on the Clean Air Act is the smoker who carelessly lights up in a crowded restaurant. His right to smoke does not trump others’ right to breathe clean air.

The Supreme Court correctly drew the line in a 6-2 ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency has jurisdiction to force upwind states - the smokers - to control pollutants that degrade downwind states’ air quality. Upholding the Clean Air Act’s Good Neighbor Provision means that Texas, one of 27 upwind states, must tighten controls on coal-burning power stations and other polluting industries.

This newspaper has long campaigned for tighter state standards. Our concern hasn’t been so much about other states as it has for the quality of the air we Texans breathe. Consider that Dallas-Fort Worth just came in at No. 8 on the American Lung Association’s latest air-quality report. Worse was Houston, at No. 6.

Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott have fought the EPA every step of the way in lower-court challenges. They argue that the state, not a federal agency, should have priority jurisdiction to set air pollution standards over Texas territory. They add that EPA’s timetable is too stringent and costly, particularly for older, coal-burning power plants. They say meeting EPA standards would force such deep budget cutbacks for affected industries that they would be forced to lay off workers.

Their argument appeared to have prevailed when lower courts ruled that the EPA had overstepped its authority by demanding that upwind states steeply curtail emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. Older coal-burning power plants in Texas produce high levels of these emissions, which develop into ozone, harm human health and can cause acid rain.

If the sole argument before the Supreme Court were about states’ sovereign rights to set their own air-quality standards, the decision might well have gone the other way. But most justices were swayed by the fact that pollutants cross borders and degrade other states’ air. Among those siding with the majority was conservative Chief Justice John Roberts.

“EPA’s cost-effective allocation of emission reductions among upwind states is a permissible, workable and equitable interpretation of the Good Neighbor Provision,” the majority opinion stated. In other words, abiding by federal standards won’t kill jobs or corporate profits.

The irony here is that Abbott made the same basic argument - that air quality should take precedence - when he filed a 2010 lawsuit against British Petroleum, charging that the company’s Texas City refinery was “prioritizing profits over environmental compliance.”

The bottom line is that Texas doesn’t meet federal air quality standards, and it can no longer avoid compliance. Jobs and corporate profits are important, but not more so than clean air.

___

Austin American-Statesman. May 6, 2014.

Bring ‘dark money’ donors into light

The first veto Gov. Rick Perry issued last year was to reject legislation that would have required political advocacy groups to disclose the names of donors who give them more than $1,000. A victory for transparency, passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature, proved only temporary, a victim of Perry’s politically opaque pen.

Last week, the Texas House State Affairs Committee held a hearing to explore the resurrection of disclosure legislation when lawmakers again convene in January. Texas voters deserve to know who is being paid to speak for whom, in the form of large, anonymous donations. The rules that apply to other campaign contributors should also apply to nonprofit groups that argue for or against issues and candidates.

Current law allows political advocacy groups that are organized as tax-exempt nonprofit “social welfare” organizations under a perverse interpretation of the tax code to try to influence elections and votes on issues without having to release information about their spending or disclose the names of their big-money donors. The secretive-sounding label “dark money” is applied to these groups for good reason.

By allowing groups to keep their names secret, current rules allow donors to maintain a façade of political neutrality publicly. Meanwhile, behind the scenes their large donations support groups that advocate for potentially controversial positions on various issues. Supporters of donor secrecy say disclosing the donors’ names would allow rival groups to use their contributions against them. The donors might face public harassment or physical threats.

The real purpose of their desire for anonymity is to avoid accountability for their potentially controversial political views and actions. They should have the courage of their political convictions.

Critics of disclosure wrap their support of donor secrecy in the First Amendment, claiming rules requiring groups to make the names of their financial supporters public would have a “chilling effect” on free speech. Secrecy advocates repeat this phrase often - hardly a critique of disclosure attempts is uttered or written without it. Whatever chilling effect disclosure might have on big donors, its effect for voters would be quite warming.

Perry referred to a chilling effect on free speech last May in his veto message, and a variation of the phrase was used last week by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who weighed in on the issue the morning of the Texas House hearing on his Facebook page. Requiring political groups to disclose their donors, Cruz wrote, “would be a disastrous policy that would unconstitutionally chill free speech.”

Curiously, during an April 30 U.S. Senate Rules Committee hearing on campaign finance law, Cruz had expressed support for the “immediate disclosure” of donors’ names - for those who give directly to candidates, that is. Apparently, by Cruz’s reasoning, the public has a right to know the names of donors who give money to candidates, because such disclosure discourages corruption. The public has no similar right to know the names of donors who give money to nonprofit political groups, however, because the groups don’t coordinate campaigns or messages with candidates and there is no risk of quid pro quo corruption.

Nationally, tax-exempt political groups spent more than $310 million during the 2012 election cycle. This year, they are on track to spend three times that amount on local, state and congressional campaigns. That’s a lot of money potentially being spent on a candidate’s supposedly oblivious behalf.

The debate follows in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2010 precedent-killing Citizens United ruling, which flung the door wide open on corporate campaign spending. But Citizens United did not close the door on disclosure requirements. “Transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy, who authored the 5-4 majority opinion in the case.

Disclosure rules require political donors to announce themselves. They do not prevent donors from expressing their views and supporting the candidates and issues of their choosing.

The free speech favored by supporters of donor secrecy is a free speech democracy can’t afford.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide