- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

San Antonio Express-News. Feb. 1, 2017.

San Antonio has made some serious inroads in the last five years on the long-range goals laid out in SA2020, the city’s community agenda, but there is still much work to be done.

Mayor Julián Castro launched the brainstorming on the city’s ambitious agenda in 2010. Following a series of public forums, community surveys and online participation by thousands, a plan targeting five dozen areas of improvement for the city was laid out in 2011.

Eleven of those targets have been met or exceeded. Another 28 show progress or are on track. The rest remain at baseline, are in development, remain flat or are getting worse, according to the latest report card released by officials of the nonprofit created to oversee the decade-long project.



The highlights: SA2020’s annual report notes the city of San Antonio has increased voter turnout and volunteerism. There are higher high school graduation rates and employment. Downtown housing and employment are trending upward, along with the economic impact of downtown employment.

Other positives are a decline in homelessness, the crime rate and emergency response times. There is an appreciable increase in the number of people with health insurance, and the diabetes rate is declining, as is teen pregnancy and the number of confirmed child abuse cases.

The news is not all good. Education has always been at the center of SA2020’s goals, and it is an area that still needs work. There have been gains in kindergarten readiness, but third-grade reading skills and college readiness are not where they should be. The city is expanding the number of job opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math, but it is not doing so well on increasing the number of professional certificates awarded. The poverty rate, underemployment, the obesity rate, public transit use, commute times, air quality and philanthropic giving are also problem areas.

We have much to be thankful for, but there is still much work to be done. Some of the lofty goals laid out in the long-range planning guide are unlikely to be met in the prescribed time, but the city should make a strong effort.

Meeting the targets in SA2020 would provide the city a solid foundation that will make the area ready for the 1.1 million additional residents expected to make Bexar County their home by 2040.

___

Abilene Reporter-News. Feb. 3, 2017.

Hooray for Greg Abbott.

While much of what we hear coming about of Austin for the 85th legislative session fails to make the top of our to-do list, the governor has zeroed in on a priority.

Among his four “emergency objectives” listed in his State of the State address is fixing Child Protective Services. The state of how we help children in need in Texas is not good.

It will take money, of course. And just as importantly, guidance on what to do with that money.

“The primary goal of government is to keep its citizens safe and secure. That goal is even more important when it comes to our children,” he said.

We couldn’t agree more. As the Reporter-News documented last year, the problems are not just elsewhere but very real right here. Understaffing stretches good staff too thin; low pay sends them to other jobs and cuts deeply into the experience level. Bad decisions have been made, and we need look back no further than 2012, when a 22-month-old girl died of neglect. That sad story, upon review, seemed greatly preventable.

These are demanding jobs, both on time and emotions. The rewards, however, can be great. A life saved is the highest reward.

Abbott noted that more than 100 youths in CPS care have died … just in the past year.

The agency needs to be overhauled, he said. We couldn’t agree more.

While other “issues” will makes headlines, such as the so-called “bathroom bill,” addressing what the governor called a “rickety system” of child care must at the top of lawmakers’ list.

This is one issue that crosses party lines. We believe an exercise in unity on fixing CPS not only will bring success, it could spill over to other issues.

Let’s work together to get this done.

___

Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Feb. 6, 2017.

What a relief to hear that the $930 million Harbor Bridge replacement project won’t be upended because federal and state officials were bickering over relocation reimbursements for displaced Hillcrest residents. The project is too important to the future of the Corpus Christi region to let it be hung up by what in retrospect will seem like nickels and dimes.

Helping to relocate Hillcrest residents whose daily lives would be disturbed by the path of the new bridge was part of the deal to allow the bridge project to proceed. The point of the agreement was to be fair to people whose neighborhoods have been treated as expendable by history-making major transportation projects such as this.

The relocation project fell into a stalemate when the state balked at the prospect of paying relocation expenses for absentee property owners and undocumented immigrants. The concept, viewed out of context, sounds like an outrage against taxpayers.

Indeed, it sounded as if rent collectors would receive government money for a Mayflower move they would never make (apologies to other moving companies for the choice of adjective). That’s a gross exaggeration. While absentee owners themselves aren’t moving, It’s not unusual for landlords to have movable property stored on their rent properties. That’s a big, outrage-deflating difference.

Also, no immigrants here illegally have been identified thus far among the people eligible for relocation, so that should be a moot point. Unfortunately, these days immigration is an incendiary current political topic from City Hall all the way to Washington, D.C. When the Texas Department of Transportation raised the specter of having to pay reimbursements to people here illegally, it really was only spectral - and still is. But TxDOT is bound legally to reimburse Hillcrest residents who agree to move based on them being Hillcrest residents affected by the new bridge - period. The neighborhood residents’ immigrant status isn’t part of the negotiation.

What we said earlier - that no immigrants known to be here unlawfully have been identified - bears repeating. But it’s one of those facts that we fear won’t matter to those who are predisposed to believe it - and those predisposed to exploit their predisposition.

Which brings us to the role of U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi. The first word of the recent agreement to end the dispute between TxDOT and the Federal Highway Administration came from Farenthold’s office in the form of a news release. We are grateful to Farenthold for getting the word out. It was important for his constituents to know that this project can move forward. The new bridge will be its own tourist destination like the Brooklyn and Golden Gate bridges. It will be safer for motor vehicle and water traffic and will accommodate pedestrian and human-powered traffic. And unlike the bridge it will replace, it will be tall enough not to obstruct the largest ships from passing under it.

Being first with the news was an opportunity for Farenthold. Unfortunately, he took the opportunity to attack people and political ideologies unfairly and incorrectly. His release said the federal government “under President Obama had attempted to force TxDOT to pay relocation benefits to illegal aliens in violation of state and federal laws.” Actually, it was in compliance, not violation, of existing federal law.

Not only that, but someone who ought to know better by now is still calling people “illegal aliens.” Labeling people this way vilifies and exploits them for political gain of the worst demagogic sort. And the predictable comeback - dismissing our objection as political correctness — is another transgression of the same sort. There’s nothing political about it. Being politically incorrect is being just plain mean.

In the two years that the Hillcrest relocation has been an issue of major concern to the community, Farehthold’s news release was Hillcrest residents’ first inkling of his involvement in any capacity whatsoever, according to one Hillcrest leader. This issue is worth Farenthold’s time and best effort. His focus should be on bringing people together, not driving wedges. His announced agreement was a mutual victory to be celebrated by all sides.

___

Houston Chronicle. Feb. 8, 2017.

“Would you love me more if I was dirtier?”

That’s Jeffrey Clark’s tongue-in-cheek question to Texas political leadership. Clark serves as executive director of the Wind Coalition. Looking at the stats on wind production in our state, you’d think that the industry would be up there with oil derricks, Gulf Coast seafood and Blue Bell ice cream as symbols of state pride. After all, we’re the nation’s largest producer of wind energy, and what Texan can pass up another opportunity to brag about everything being bigger?

But instead of touting those wind farms, plenty of politicians confuse the Panhandle landscape for the California coast.

“Everybody is on board to invest until I say, ‘oh and by the way I don’t produce any CO2 and I don’t contribute to climate change,’?” Clark told the editorial board.

Anything with a tint of green has a way of turning off voters and politicians in our red-hued state. Call it partisanship, tribalism or identity politics, but something is deeply wrong with the way Texans prioritize our policies.

Last year, half of all electricity in the United States was produced by wind or natural gas - the Texas two-step for energy production. As their share of the energy pie continues to grow, dirty coal gets the squeeze.

The Lone Star State should celebrate as our electrical grid is powered by indigenous gas and wind. But as Clark summarizes the political feedback he hears up in Austin: “Well I’m a Republican and I believe in coal.”

Republicans used to believe in business, too. Companies like GM and Facebook are going out of their way to buy Texas wind. Even Dow Chemical uses wind to help power its chemical plants. The stable prices and low pollution are simply good for the bottom line and so are the 25,000 jobs wind has created in Texas.

Things aren’t much better up in Washington, where the Texas delegation is largely lined up behind Donald Trump’s agenda to save the failing coal sector.

The shale boom’s cheap natural gas continues to undercut the need for coal. In fact, domestic demand could fall by 40 percent by 2040, according to the International Energy Agency. But that hasn’t stopped the industry from expecting gifts from the government. Congress recently voted to ease anti-pollution regulations on coal mines, allowing them to dump waste into streams.

However, there are options to consider other than keeping Obama-era regulations or staking out a position on the opposite extreme. In a Wall Street Journal column titled “A Conservative Answer to Climate Change,” former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Former Secretary of State George Shultz advocated for an across-the-board carbon tax. That sort of policy would be a boon to clean Texas energy and help prevent the emission of greenhouse gas.

Environmentalism doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game in politics. Energy markets, however, only have room for so many producers. Each move to help coal is a push against natural gas and wind. Texas politicians need to choose a side.

___

The Dallas Morning News. Feb. 13, 2017.

When President Donald Trump recently offered to “ruin the career” of the Texas lawmaker pushing civil forfeiture reform, the ensuing political maelstrom made headlines for days. But far more important than the president’s remarks, which seemed to have been offered at least half in jest, is the question of whether the laws need changing in the first place.

Boy, do they. Civil forfeiture as practiced in Texas and many other states is an affront to even the most basic notions of due process and of presumed innocence. It’s also a direct assault of property rights.

In Texas, the government routinely seizes cash, cars, homes and other valuables for people suspected of certain crimes, especially those related to drugs. A suspected drug dealer may have a satchel of cash seized. Or a parent whose adult child is accused of dealing drugs in the home may even have the house seized.

The scandal is that the government often gets to keep the money even if the suspects are never convicted or, as in many cases, never even charged.

If the property belongs to someone else - say, the suspect had borrowed a car or lived with a parent or friend - the true owners must at their own considerable expense prove they were “innocent owners.” That’s a burden of proof higher than what it takes to convict a defendant.

If they can’t prove it, they lose the property - whether they had anything to do with the crime or not.

This system ought to offend anyone, liberal or conservative, who values property rights, respects due process or values simple fairness.

It’s true that local departments have come to depend on money from these forfeitures. Federal agencies reported more than $4.5 billion worth of seized property in 2014, with some paid back to victims but much more shared with local, state and federal law enforcement. In Texas, the annual total seized by state and local officials was over $63 million in 2013. Local officials have been dinged in the past for violating rules on how to spend the money, too.

No wonder officials like Rockwall County Sheriff Harold Eavenson like the program. But his decision to squander his time with the president to complain about reform efforts was a poor one.

The bills filed to fix this situation need help, not scorn. Perhaps the best bill this session has been filed by Sen. Konni Burton, a Colleyville Republican. SB 380 would require that seized property be returned unless the suspect is convicted of a crime. Even then, the owner would be entitled to a hearing to determine whether the value of the seized properly is massively out of proportion to the crime itself.

The bill, which reasonably includes a dozen or so broadly worded exceptions, also would require the government to return property to third parties who were not convicted, unless it can show they were somehow involved or had knowledge of the crime.

Civil forfeiture is a national scandal, and reforms are needed by Congress too. But Texas lawmakers have the chance to clean up our house first, and they should do so while the current Legislature meets.

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