- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

Austin American-Statesman. Dec. 31, 2016.

As the nation starts a new year with soon-to-be President Donald Trump at its helm, it would be a courageous, kind and politically wise move for Trump to ease the anxieties of hundreds of thousands of millennials who fear being deported for a crime they didn’t commit.

He could do that now by making clear he won’t revoke the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that President Barack Obama put in place in 2012 through an executive directive granting temporary protection from deportation to a certain group of undocumented people - those persons who were brought illegally to the country as children.

The so-called Dreamers eligible for DACA number nearly 800,000, with about 236,000 living in Texas - second only to California with about 415,000. Not all who are eligible have been accepted, so estimates for those in the DACA program total over 740,000.

As a whole, they are a talented lot: students, college graduates, techies, health and legal professionals, veterans and soldiers in our military forces, and of course, regular workers who build the country’s roads and bridges.

Consider that Dreamers arrived in the country before their 16th birthday and have continuously resided in the United States since at least 2007. They have passed criminal background checks and paid nearly $500 each in fees to apply for DACA. Having grown up mostly in this country, they would be lost if deported to Mexico, Jamaica, South Korea, Philippines or Poland - some of the top countries from which Dreamers hail, according to data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

By any standard, it would be inhumane to strip Dreamers of protections allowing them to live in the country under a temporary status, which not only shields them from deportation but provides them with the necessary permits and authorizations to obtain driver’s licenses and work legally in Texas and all other states for two years. After two years, Dreamers must renew their DACA status to stay in the program.

Locally, several college presidents - including Gregory L. Fenves of the University of Texas, Colette Pierce Burnette of Huston-Tillotson University, Edward Burger of Southwestern University and Donald Christian of Concordia University - and UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven have signed a statement expressing support for undocumented students on their campuses as doubts swirl about what Trump will do when he takes office on Jan. 20.

Even Trump has acknowledged the unique and challenging circumstances of Dreamers, telling Time magazine, “They got brought here at a very young age. They’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs.

“And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”

To ease their anxieties, Trump could and should tell them now he won’t shut down DACA. Those worries, no doubt, are made worse by the fact that Dreamers, in order to apply for DACA and obtain working permits, have provided personal information to local and national authorities they fear could be used to target and deport them should Trump take a hard line against illegal immigration.

Trump certainly will be pressured by his base to keep his campaign promise to revoke Obama’s directive regarding DACA. But there also is pressure to maintain DACA, even from many Republicans, as witnessed by legislation proposed by Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona. The measure aims to extend DACA’s legal protections for a period to give the Congress time to pass a permanent fix addressing the plight of Dreamers either as a separate law or part of an overhaul of immigration.

The proposed bill could serve as a way forward for Trump, who after taking office could chose to defer action on DACA while signaling Congress to expedite the matter by sending him a bill to sign over the next several months. That would maintain the status quo - and in our view is the best approach.

Such a gesture coming from Trump would send a strong message to the Republican leadership in Texas as it convenes for business on Jan. 10 with an agenda considered unfriendly, if not hostile, to undocumented immigrants. Already, for example, a bill has been filed to ban in-state tuition for immigrants who arrived in the country illegally.

Since 2001, Texas has had a law allowing its undocumented residents who graduate from high school or earn a GED to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities. It’s a law that has been backed and defended by Republican Gov. Rick Perry and other GOP lawmakers. But it has come under fire as the Legislature moves further to the right.

Trump also will have other options in addressing DACA.

Politico reported that GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has proposed phasing out the program by allowing existing work permits, good for two years, to expire.

“For people who already have the permits, you wouldn’t take it away from them and they wouldn’t be allowed to renew it, and that gives us time to find a legislative solution,” Rubio told Politico.

Yes, that would protect current Dreamers. But it would leave thousands of others who are eligible for DACA but not currently in the program in that never-never land Trump cited. And unless the Congress moved swiftly, Dreamers whose papers expired also would be unable to renew their DACA status.

The worst option would be for Trump to immediately repeal DACA before coming up with a replacement. Politically, it would mean further alienating Hispanics from the GOP - a move that ultimately could threaten Republicans’ political futures. Most importantly, it would be immoral to assign these talented taxpaying people - who are as American as the next guy in most every way - to the shadows of society.

We urge Trump to keep protections in place for Dreamers so they don’t wake up in a nightmare.

___

San Antonio Express-News. Jan. 3, 2017.

Medicaid funding cannot be used for abortions in Texas or anywhere. No federal or state funding can be used for this purpose.

Texas, in booting Planned Parenthood and its affiliates from Medicaid funding, says this isn’t about abortion. It’s about the improper use of fetal tissue, which Planned Parenthood doesn’t do, despite what some heavily edited undercover-sting videos purport to show.

Don’t believe the state claim on fetal tissue. It is a convenient dodge.

Texas‘ war with Planned Parenthood is solely and purely about abortion. It is why the state kicked Planned Parenthood from its Women’s Health Program a few years ago, and it is why the organization is regularly demonized, though it does not use any state or federal funds for abortion.

The problem is that this fixation on abortion hurts low-income Texas women.

It hurt them when Planned Parenthood, a major provider in the state of cancer screenings, HIV tests and other well-woman care, including birth control, was kicked out of the Women’s Health Program. And it will hurt them if it and its affiliates are denied Medicaid funding. We note, by the way, that an organization that provides birth control on a regular basis actually prevents the unwanted pregnancies that make abortions more likely. Funding for Planned Parenthood’s abortion services is separate.

But about that charge on fetal tissue.

“Planned Parenthood never has and never would sell fetal tissue for profit,” the group said in a statement after the state announced its Medicaid action. “Planned Parenthood has been already cleared by 13 state investigations (around the country) and an additional eight states declined to even investigate. The state of Texas is once again recycling these false accusations.”

And, tellingly, there was no action by the Harris County district attorney against Planned Parenthood in the case of the Houston clinic, where the sting video occurred.

Texas cited the video by the Center for Medical Progress, which purports to show Planned Parenthood employees in Houston discussing the procurement of fetal tissue. The state said, “These practices violate accepted medical standards and are Medicaid program violations that justify termination.”

Aside from the fact that a video that purports to show what happens in one affiliate shouldn’t be used as proof of wrongdoing statewide, someone is not telling the truth here. And our bet, given the state’s history on abortion rules and legislation, is that it’s Texas.

In the summer, the U.S. Supreme Court pretty much called Texas out on this type of obfuscation. A 5-3 ruling struck down two provisions of Texas‘ restrictive abortion laws - one requiring clinics to upgrade to expensive ambulatory surgical centers and another requiring doctors to secure hard-to-get admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The state said these were necessary to protect women’s health. In his majority opinion, Justice Stephen Beyer wrote, “We conclude that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burden upon access that each imposes.”

In other words, the state’s claims were a fraud.

And that is also at work on the latest rule on disposal of fetal tissue. By requiring burial or cremation of the tissue by clinics, the state says it is about respect for the remains. No, it is about imposing burdens on the organizations providing women with a constitutionally protected medical procedure.

Planned Parenthood is challenging the Medicaid decision in court rather than appealing administratively. It is seeking a restraining order. The federal government, and court rulings elsewhere, say that states will violate federal law by restricting Planned Parenthood from Medicaid funded care for low-income women.

It should be relatively easy for the court to see through the farce on this latest action. The motivation is that obvious. Texas should cease and desist.

___

Wichita Falls Times Record News. Jan. 6, 2017.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has fulfilled his vow to make bathrooms a top priority in the 2017 Texas Legislature, setting the stage for a bitter and needless debate.

Patrick recently had a news conference to introduce Senate Bill 6, which would prevent or repeal local laws and policies requiring bathroom accommodations for transgender Texans; require public schools, universities and government buildings to designate bathrooms for use by people according to their biological sex; and create enhanced penalties for crimes committed in public bathrooms, locker rooms or changing facilities.

The bill is likely to pass the Texas Senate, but faces uncertain prospects in the House. Gov. Greg Abbott has not said if he would sign the law.

The bill has a broad cross-section of critics. The Texas Association of Business has said the legislation, if passed, could cost Texas billions of dollars and more than 100,000 jobs.

Most of the nation’s largest companies recruit diverse workforces, and look to locate in states and communities where their workers feel welcome. Additionally, many sports and tourist organizations have made it clear they won’t conduct events in states or communities that pass discriminatory laws.

North Carolina has already gone down this road, passing a bill last year that contained many of the same provisions that Patrick is proposing for Texas. Several companies announced that they wouldn’t go through with relocations to the state. The NBA moved its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte to Chicago, and the NCAA moved sports tournament events planned for North Carolina.

The problems with such laws are plentiful. They are almost impossible to enforce, and they attack problems that don’t exist.

Transgendered people have been using facilities of their choice, including bathrooms and changing rooms, for decades. Concerns about “privacy” are misplaced, because people know nothing about the stranger in the stall next to them.

There is little if any evidence that people commit sex crimes by falsely posing as the opposite sex to gain entry to bathrooms or locker rooms. And it’s difficult to see how such people would be deterred by SB 6 or similar laws.

“If we’re seriously interested in protecting people and trying to stop predatory behavior, then the target of the legislation should be predators,” Chuck Smith with Equality Texas told the Austin American-Statesman. “The target should not be transgender people because transgender people are more likely to be the victims of crime, not the perpetrators.”

The Texas Legislature has a full list of difficult issues to face this year, including struggling state revenues, a broken Child Protective Services system, and an education system needing improvement and better funding.

The time and energy spent on Patrick’s bathroom bill will be a distraction from those issues, and others.

___

Houston Chronicle. Jan. 9, 2017.

His name is President Joseph Charles, and he’ll remind you that he is of royalty.

Without fail, Mr. Charles shows up nearly every Tuesday at City Council’s public session to claim that he is part of a political conspiracy, or that the city owes him millions of dollars, or some other bizarre allegation.

Mr. Charles has spent years pontificating at City Hall, and somehow he still manages to get his name on the list of speakers to address City Council face-to-face.

That’s how easy Houston makes it for people to confront their elected representatives.

“We are the closest to the people and if they don’t like what we’re doing they have no problem letting us know,” Mayor Sylvester Turner told the Houston Chronicle editorial board last month.

Whether protesting on the steps of City Hall or joining a community meeting, there’s no shortage of ways for dissatisfied citizens to show the anger in their eye or the hurt in their heart that an email or phone call cannot capture.

But if politicians in Austin have their way, that face-to-face contact with policymakers is about to get a whole lot more difficult. We’re talking a four-hour drive with no traffic. At least that’s how long it takes to hop in the car and head up to the home of Republican state Sen. Bob Hall in Edgewood, east of Dallas. Hall is promoting a bill to overrule how cities, such as Houston, regulate plastic bags.

Want to tell him face-to-face what you think? Be ready to weather the traffic on Interstate 45 or book a meeting in Austin during the legislative session.

There’s a litany of other bills floating through the new session that aim to seize local authority. State Sen. Bob Nichols, a Jacksonville Republican, wants to pre-empt cities on rules for transportation network companies, like Uber and Lyft.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is working to undo the will of local voters on non-discrimination ordinances.

And Gov. Greg Abbott has made no secret of his otherwise mysterious desire to take over local regulations on cutting down trees.

After decades promoting local control, now Republicans in Austin have decided there’s no municipal issue too small for state attention. That may help them check off a box on some super PAC scorecard, but it hurts local economies by forcing one-size-fits-all unfunded mandates. And it denies Texans the ability to confront their policymakers face-to-face - unless you can somehow swing a meeting in Austin.

That’s a high bar for your average Houstonian, even if it’s no problem for your run-of-the-mill lobbyist or millionaire donor.

And maybe that’s the point.

___

The Dallas Morning News. Jan. 10, 2017.

It’s time. Time to talk about the mentally ill and their Second Amendment rights.

It was time to talk about it back in 2007, after the Virginia Tech massacre. It was time to talk about it in December 2012, after Adam Lanza emerged from his mother’s basement with an armful of weapons and made his bloody way through Sandy Hook Elementary.

It was time to talk about it last year, when Omar Mateen, with his history of domestic violence and scrutiny by the FBI, opened fire at the Pulse night club in Orlando with guns he had legally bought only two weeks before.

For years it’s been time to talk about the Second Amendment and its limits.

Now it’s time, once more, in the wake of the Jan. 6 bizarre and deadly mass shooting at Terminal 2 in the Fort Lauderdale airport.

Five more people were killed, six more injured. Once again the shooter turns out to have been very much on law enforcement’s radar. Less than two months before the shooting, New Jersey native Esteban Santiago walked into an FBI office in Anchorage, where he was living, and asked for help.

He told agents that the CIA was controlling his mind and he was being forced to watch ISIS propaganda videos. Local police were called, and they confiscated his pistol and ammunition. They checked Santiago into a local psychiatric hospital, where he stayed for four days.

His brother told reporters he has no reason to believe Santiago had received any further treatment. But a month later, after the FBI determined he had broken no laws by his strange behavior, Anchorage police returned his pistol to him.

Why? Why would he get his gun back with no further evaluations or treatment?

We do know that Santiago’s mental state had been deteriorating since returning from Iraq. His family attests to that, and so does his military record, which includes a demotion for unsatisfactory conduct last year, and an eventual discharge. The local police record shows that his girlfriend at the time reported that he had flown into a rage and broke down the bathroom door during a fight.

He wasn’t prosecuted for that outburst, and we can assume he did not lose his right to keep and bear arms. It’s time to ask why that is.

In November, this newspaper published a series of editorials all built around the same desperate plea. The main headline: “Our inability to talk about gun limitations is literally killing us.”

Of course, not every American with mental illness should be barred from owning and keeping firearms. It’s likely that in the vast majority of cases such illness does not render gun ownership dangerous. And Santiago’s story is not just about guns. He needed help long before he entered the FBI office in November. Many, many veterans do.

But it’s time, past time, for us to start asking more questions about gun rights when the owners’ mental state, especially combined with a history of violence, suggests they aren’t stable. Before the next shooting reminds us of our failure to act.

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