- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Houston Chronicle. June 24, 2016.

Inexcusable: State policymakers have failed for decades to fix Texas’ foster care system

Say you live in an apartment with thin walls, and you think you hear a child being abused. It’s a judgment call as to whether you notify Child Protective Services on the first night or wait to be sure. Now say, you are an elected or appointed official in Austin with responsibility for the foster care system and you get a trusted report that outlines problems in the system and resultant harm to children. Is it reasonable to take a year to fix the problem? Two? Three?

The state has been on notice of major problems in its foster care system for two decades. Meanwhile, every day and every week, when poverty, mental illness and/or addiction spin out of control, and the wheels fall off of a family’s bus, children are taken into state custody. If circumstances don’t improve in a year, the state assumes permanent control of children’s lives through a program widely considered to be institutionalized child abuse.

Two decades of lack of effective action is too long in terms of an issue like energy inefficiency. But two decades is inexcusable when the issue is Texas children’s future. One night is forever in the life of an abused child.

Against this background, nine children filed a lawsuit in 2011 on behalf of all children in permanent child care in Texas, alleging that our state violates their constitutional right to be reasonably safe from harm while in government custody.

In December, a federal judge agreed, finding that rape, psychotropic medication, instability and abuse were the norm - let us repeat, the norm - in Texas permanent foster care. In her scathing opinion, Judge Janis Graham Jack of the Southern District of Texas describes a system where child-on-child physical and sexual abuse is typical, common and widespread. She notes that “the already staggering number of abuse and neglect incidents (around 2,000 a year).is likely much higher because foster children either do not know who to contact, do not feel that anything will be done, or fear retaliation.” This for a system that is supposed to be a safe haven for children?”

Jack’s opinion goes on for more than 250 pages, and while some changes have been made, abuse undoubtedly is still going on. Enough’s enough!

However instead of cooperating with the judge to put an end to pervasive child abuse, Texas has fought the judge every step of the way. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed the judge’s original ruling, and now is appealing the judge’s decision to appoint masters to help her hash out remedial orders in the suit.

Moreover, the recent Texas appeal relies in part on a state’s rights defense. We were slack-jawed when we read in the Dallas Morning News that Paxton deems good care of maltreated children “a solemn responsibility” of the state but is choosing not to cooperate with the judge in order to defend an important principle about federalism, according to spokesman Marc Rylander.

The proud state of Texas wants the right to abuse children if it sees fit? Really? Paxton’s attempt to hide behind state’s rights when children are being harmed is cowardly and wrong. We get it that state officials sitting in their offices hear the crackle of paper and not the cries of children being abused. But our elected officials should be able to put themselves in the shoes of the powerless.

Abused children are more likely to experience teen pregnancy, experiment with drugs, engage in criminal behavior and be homeless. Adults who were abused as children are at high risk of suffering from at least one psychological disorder. And, guess what? The cycle of abuse continues. Abused and neglected children often abuse their own children.

So what do we get from Texas lawmakers? A study, of course. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus have directed their minions to study how to improve child care. That’s nice, and CPS workers caseloads have improved slightly. But gradual change is not enough.

Consider this: “Many of the things we need can wait. The child cannot. Right now is the time his bones are being formed, his blood is being made, and his senses are being developed. To him we cannot answer ‘Tomorrow.’ His name is ‘Today.’” That quote from Nobel Prize winner Gabriela Mistral comes from another Texas study, one in 1996, when George W. Bush lived in the Governor’s Mansion.

We don’t need more studies. And House Speaker Straus has vowed to make this a top priority next session. Until then, Texas should drop its frivolous appeals and become part of the solution - today.

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El Paso Times. June 25, 2016.

Deadlock on immigration

The Supreme Court handed down a widely anticipated split decision that effectively blocks President Obama’s executive actions on immigration enforcement.

The decision is perhaps the best illustration yet of the policy paralysis of our largely dysfunctional federal government.

Our nation’s immigration system is broken, a fact that virtually no one in government disputes. But deepening partisanship has prevented any congressional action.

Obama, frustrated by the inaction on immigration reform, issued executive orders that essentially clarified the enforcement priorities when it comes to deportation. Convicted criminals, national security threats and those who recently entered the country illegally were the top priorities; longer-term migrants with children who are U.S. citizens would not be deportation targets.

Obama acted under the executive branch’s longstanding authority to set priorities on clearly executive functions such as law enforcement.

The state of Texas and 25 other states sued to block the executive actions, and conservative-leaning federal courts ruled in favor of Texas.

The administration appealed to the Supreme Court. But it became clear after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia that the court was likely to divide 4-4 on the case, and that’s precisely what happened.

As a result of the tie, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling blocking the executive action stays in place, and a final determination will be left to a future Supreme Court.

The Republican-controlled Senate has refused to even consider President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to replace Scalia. Garland likely couldn’t have been confirmed in time to participate in this case, but Republican leaders see the 4-4 split as vindication of their obstinance.

Political paralysis is now feeding on itself.

This editorial board for years has urged that Republicans and Democrats work together to craft an immigration reform plan that would enhance border security, clean up disjointed policies that make it difficult for U.S. companies to attract needed talent, and create a path to legal status for millions of undocumented immigrants who have been contributing to our society in the shadows.

It is a position reiterated by Catholic Bishops Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces and Mark Seitz of El Paso in response to the Supreme Court deadlock.

“When Pope Francis visited our country and addressed Congress, he reminded lawmakers that ‘when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and errors of the past,’” the bishops said in a statement issued in conjunction with the Border Hope Institute. “Today’s sad ruling reinforces our commitment to work for truly comprehensive, permanent immigration reform. We call on Congress to do the same.”

Of course, there is no chance at all that Congress will take on immigration reform this year. Perhaps something may happen after this year’s election, but it’s difficult to see how this fierce campaign will lessen our nation’s partisan divide.

At some point, however, this nation and its political leaders will have to address its challenges. A convoluted and broken immigration system is at the top of the list.

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San Antonio Express-News. June 26, 2016.

Senate must act on court vacancy

It has been more than three months since President Barack Obama nominated federal Judge Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia the month before. And the GOP-controlled Senate, playing pure politics, has refused to act on the nomination until after the November election.

On Thursday, a 4-4 Supreme Court failed to reach an opinion on a case that tested the administration’s authority to use the discretion it has always had to prioritize the deportation of those most in need of removal. The president’s executive action would have allowed millions of undocumented immigrants - the parents of citizens or lawful permanent residents - to avoid deportation and obtain work permits.

The deadlock means a Texas federal judge’s injunction on the program, affirmed by an appeals court, remains in place. Deferral for undocumented immigrants brought here as children remains in place, though an expansion of it is also stalled.

The absence of an opinion throws back into limbo - and back into the shadows where they can be exploited - people without criminal backgrounds who simply want to work.

Imagine scenarios in which the families of children who are U.S. citizens are torn apart when parents are deported.

The deadlock brings into stark relief the result when the Senate shirks its constitutional obligation to deny or confirm a nominee for the high court. It has refused to give Garland a hearing.

Senate Republicans might be just fine with the outcome in this particular case. But they weren’t so happy when the high court in March deadlocked on a labor case that favored public employee unions. And they are likely unhappy with another court deadlock Thursday that leaves intact tribal courts’ ability - in a civil case - to hold Dollar General Corp. and one of its nontribal-member employees liable for a child molestation.

There is a lot of injury to go around here.

There are, of course, families living in fear because of this ruling and because of congressional failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform. This lack of reform is what prompted the president to launch his deferral programs.

But there is also the injury caused simply because the Supreme Court cannot do its job without a tie-breaking vote. Laws and actions go uninterpreted, and this lack of clarity disrupts lives.

The Senate must do its job. Give Garland a hearing.

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The (Brazoria County) Facts. June 24, 2016.

Sit-ins all about spin

When congressional Democrats took a seat on the floor of the House of Representatives to protest the chamber’s inaction on gun control, their tactic was roundly criticized by Republicans as nothing more than a publicity stunt.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, had a news conference to promote what he saw was the true motive of the opposition party, and it wasn’t to draw attention to the 49 people who were killed at an Orlando nightclub or other mass shooting.

It was all about money, Ryan said, holding up a printout of a Democratic fundraising letter.

“We are not going to allow stunts like this to stop us from carrying out the people’s business,” Ryan said Thursday morning in dismissing the protest.

Ryan should be able to recognize a political stunt, since he was part of one staged by Republicans that stopped the same chamber from carrying out the people’s business in 2008. Back then, the motive was to approve a measure to expand oil and gas drilling to combat $4-a-gallon gasoline prices.

It didn’t take as long for Republicans to make their point, dropping their sit-in after five hours. The Democrats’ gun control stalemate lasted more than a full day, ending after 25½ hours.

What was similar is how the party in power reacted. Then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2008 turned off the C-SPAN cameras, chamber microphones and even the lights. Republicans were called morons and reporters were kicked out of the speaker’s lobby, Politico reported at the time. Pelosi also called the sit-in a stunt.

With the advantage of live-streaming from mobile devices this time, the Democrats called their sit-in a victory when they gave up the tactic Thursday. They promise to renew the gun control fight, believing they have the support of average Americans.

Whether that is true, the sit-ins both of eight years ago and this week demonstrate just how intransigent both sides are, and how politics is now less about accomplishment and more about theater. Sadly, the political plays are nothing but farce.

___

Amarillo Globe-News. June 22, 2016.

Gun control compromise is possible

Compromise in Congress these days is rare. Locating “Bigfoot” or the “Loch Ness Monster” is easier than finding politicians in Washington, D.C., more motivated by a unified sense of logic and common sense than grandstanding for votes or Twitter “likes.”

For example, lawmakers in the U.S. Senate were unable to pass four pieces of gun control legislation this week.

While it is debatable whether any of this legislation would have prevented recent mass shootings, there are some gun control ideas that make sense - and should be considered.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, recently offered a bill that, among other things, prohibits individuals on a “No Fly” list from purchasing firearms.

This is a logical and common-sense piece of legislation that Congress can hopefully find agreement on and support.

Here is why Collins’ bill makes sense: If an individual is deemed too much of a security risk and/or threat to board an airplane in this country, why should this individual be allowed to purchase firearms? Obviously, such an individual should not.

According to www.theatlantic.com, Collins’ bill also includes other provisions, such as prohibiting the sale of guns to individuals on two terrorist watch lists. Again, according to www.theatlantic.com, “Collins noted that the total number of people on the two restricted lists is roughly 100,000, most of whom are foreign nationals.”

Some might want to categorize this as profiling. We prefer to call it logical and common-sense.

According to a CNN/ORC poll, most Americans support prohibiting those on a terror watch list from purchasing firearms, and this includes 90 percent of Republicans, which is 5 percent more than Democrats.

However, as is the case far too often these days, the attributes of logic and common sense are lacking in the nation’s capital.

It remains to be seen if Congress can muster the will to look past vote pandering and social media pats-on-the-back and approve a gun control measure that represents not only compromise, but national security.

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