- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

The Monitor. March 2, 2017.

We want to commend McAllen Mayor Jim Darling for his clarifying statements regarding the city’s status, specifically pointing out that McAllen is not a sanctuary city and should not be subject to any penalties if one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s legislative priorities should become law.

Darling apparently felt compelled to point out McAllen’s status because of the international attention that is being received for the great work of the Humanitarian Relief Center at Sacred Heart, which is located in downtown McAllen.

With the help of both city and county officials, this way station for immigrants seeking refugee status in our country has rightfully become a symbol of the community’s compassion. But, as Darling has pointed out, such actions come with critics who question why the city would help people who have entered this country illegally? While we believe showing compassion is answer enough, we appreciate the efforts being made by Darling and other city officials to clarify the city’s actions.



First, as the lawyer in Darling has pointed out, the aid that is being provided to these immigrants is being provided to immigrants who have been processed by the U.S. Border Patrol and released into the community.

So while they may have entered into this country illegally, U.S. law provides for people seeking refugee status - the types of people that routinely are being released at the downtown McAllen bus station - to get a judicial hearing before being allowed to stay or being deported.

As such, these immigrants temporarily have the federal government’s legal permission to stay in the country pending an immigration court hearing.

But beyond the legalities, there are practicalities that McAllen city officials have demonstrated, the key being that by helping these immigrants get on their way to relatives in other parts of the country, local officials are circumventing potential problems of homelessness or even criminal problems as hundreds of people are dumped by the Border Patrol onto our city streets, essentially to fend for themselves.

The beauty of this tactic is that a private nonprofit, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, through Sacred Heart Church, is providing the bulk of this relief and absorbing the bulk of the expense - and not McAllen taxpayers.

Therein lies the brilliance of the Darling strategy in aiding these immigrants and the flaw in the legislation being sought by Gov. Abbott.

Abbott seeks to abolish the notion of sanctuary cities or sanctuary college campuses and make clear that local officials should cooperate with federal immigration authorities - or face punitive measures in the form of state funding being removed.

As McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez also recently made clear: his agency already cooperates with federal immigration authorities without acting as deputies of these federal authorities - which is a clear violation of the law.

It’s a fine line that can only be observed through smart policing. It’s the notion, as Rodriguez pointed out, that if local police learn that a person is in this country illegally in the course of investigating and upholding state and local regulations, they will alert federal authorities.

But that does not mean that local law enforcement will and is even allowed to be surrogates for federal law enforcement in determining a person’s immigration status.

In short, the fact that Mayor Darling and Chief Rodriguez feel compelled to clarify that McAllen is not a sanctuary city despite the compassion it shows immigrants in our midst demonstrates that entities can adopt smart policies as it relates to immigrants - and not need heavy-handed dictums from the state.

___

Beaumont Enterprise. March 2, 2017.

Texans who care about better education in this state - that should be all of us - are facing bleak prospects in the Legislature. A House budget proposal would defund all of Gov. Greg Abbott’s ambitious plans for expanded pre-K. At the other end of the education spectrum, state colleges and universities could be facing major cuts in basic funding and research.

If you’re looking for a silver lining in this gloom, keep squinting. The numbers just aren’t there, with state government facing a budget shortfall of up to $7 billion. A budget like that is going to produce cutbacks, and state leaders are committed to increased funding for agencies like Child Protective Services that desperately need it.

If spending cuts for education are unavoidable, so be it. No one wants a tax increase, nor should they. Over time, state revenues will ebb and flow, so state spending should too.

But any reductions in this core responsibility of state government must be as small as possible. Before that happens, lawmakers must be sure that every other line item in the budget has been checked and rechecked for possible savings.

One obvious candidate could be the $800 million spent on border security with questionable results, a sum that was doubled in the 2015 legislative session.

That’s mostly a federal responsibility, and President Donald Trump has made it clear that this is a priority for him. If federal spending along the border is heading up, state spending there should be heading down.

Beyond that, lawmakers need to focus on a real-world challenge like education funding instead of overhyped issues like a Convention of the States, which lost its slim rationale when Trump won the presidency. Or Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s obsession with a bathroom bill that would prevent crimes which aren’t occurring. Or proposals to require the burial of fetal remains, which is just another effort to reduce abortions.

January and February have given way to a new month. The House and Senate should use the remaining time in this session to make the best of a tight budget.

The final tally on education spending will reveal how well they did.

___

The Dallas Morning News. March 2, 2017.

After a wave of marijuana referendums passed throughout the nation in November, the U.S. now has 29 states that allow some form of legal marijuana - covering 1 in 5 Americans.

Texas, of course, is not among them. But progress is coming at the local level.

Since 2007, state law has allowed municipalities, if they so choose, to issue written citations - the equivalent of a traffic ticket - for misdemeanor marijuana possession.

Just last year, Dallas tried to embrace this commonsense “cite and release” policy - and failed. Let’s hope Houston’s new efforts fare better.

Effective March 1, the city decriminalized possession of up to 4 ounces of marijuana. Houston’s policy goes beyond simple cite-and-release. Instead, officers will simply confiscate the drugs if the suspect agrees to take a four-hour drug education class. No arrests, no tickets, no appearances in court.

Why make the move? Officials are persuaded that the new policy will improve public safety and save taxpayer dollars.

Over the last decade, Houston District Attorney Kim Ogg explained, “we have spent in excess of $250 million, over a quarter-billion dollars, prosecuting a crime that has produced no tangible evidence of improved public safety.” Now, that time and money can be used to address more pressing issues - like robbery, sexual assault, murder.

Those are the financial and safety arguments - but the move also has larger societal implications, Ogg said. “We have disqualified, unnecessarily, thousands of people from greater job, housing and educational opportunities by giving them a criminal record for what is, in effect, a minor law violation.” More than 107,000 misdemeanor marijuana cases have been handled in the last 10 years. Officials expect the new policy could divert about 12,000 people out of the criminal justice system each year.

As Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner wrote on Twitter: We’re finding better more cost-efficient ways to address drug misdemeanors that benefit community, offenders while maintaining #publicsafety

You can quibble with some of the details - 4 ounces does seem to be a lot of marijuana, for instance - but Houston’s overall move should be applauded. And Dallas should take note.

By the Dallas Police Department’s own numbers, around half of all drug arrests in 2015 were for marijuana, a drug their own blog acknowledged “is widely used and is seen as a less serious crime.”

And Texans seem ready for a change. According to a recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, only 17 percent of Texans say pot should be criminalized under all circumstances, down from 24 percent two years ago. But more than 80 percent support legalizing at least some use of marijuana, including 53 percent who think Texas should go beyond medical marijuana and allow possession for any use.

Given that this is Texas, we know it’s unlikely that any large-scale marijuana reform will happen overnight. But officials at the state and local levels need to pay attention to public sentiment and experiments like Houston’s. And the next time we talk about DPD’s police officers being overworked, its budget being spread too thin, let’s think practically about what kind of police work we’re prioritizing.

___

Houston Chronicle. March 4, 2017.

Summer jobs were once a rite of passage, a way of figuring out what you did or didn’t want to do with your life. But in 2014 only about a third of young people could find a summer job, according to the Houston Chronicle.

For many Texas youth who live in economically disadvantaged households, the barriers to finding a summer job, especially a meaningful one, are formidable. Their families may lack a tradition of higher education or professional employment. Students may not know how to put together a resume, how to locate internships or how to apply.

Mayor Sylvester Turner and the Greater Houston Partnership have created a program that seeks to remedy this situation. The Hire Houston Youth Program encourages employers to post internship opportunities and trains students on the application process.

While accepting applications from all youth, the program focuses on students in some of the most disadvantaged parts of the city. To buttress interns’ future employment success, the mayor and the partnership have recruited 40 community groups to train the new employees on how they should conduct themselves in a professional work environment before they start work in jobs many have never heard of.

The program aims to place around 5,000 interns this summer - five times more than it did last year. But the business and philanthropic communities should go even higher and adopt the goal that every young Houstonian who wants a job this summer and is willing to work hard should have that chance.

Summer jobs foster a sense of responsibility while allowing students to earn much-needed income and to help families struggling to get by. They give children of poverty hope, but also a life goal.

A robust youth job program broadens the horizons of the participants and meets workforce needs, as well. “If we fundamentally believe that the people of this region are our most important asset, then we should spend the time to make sure they are developed effectively,” Peter Beard, the partnership’s senior vice president of workforce development, told the Chronicle.

Private individuals can help with this effort, too. For a $2,500 tax-deductible donation, Hire Houston Youth will place a young person in a paid internship with a nonprofit organization that needs the extra hands.

The alternative is bleak. People who fail to find work early in their lives run a risk of being unemployed and underemployed into early adulthood and beyond, according to researchers. That’s needless lost potential.

Let’s don’t let Houston’s youth languish during summer’s dog days. Put them to work.

___

Fort Worth Star-Telegram. March 7, 2017.

Fort Worth will be filled with beautiful music this May.

As the 15th Van Cliburn Piano Competition begins May 25, music lovers will have more access to the prestigious competition than ever before.

Thirty pianists, chosen worldwide, will compete for the coveted medals and global recognition. Over the course of 17 days, these talented artists will play multiple recitals. Subscriptions are on sale now; single tickets go on sale March 31.

The event, which stretches over more than two weeks, is the highlight of the summer, but some residents don’t know much about it.

The Cliburn wants to change that.

The organization will host a live final round simulcast in Sundance Square Plaza so anyone who wants can see part of the competition without renting a tuxedo.

The organization is also participating in partnerships with Fathom Events and medici.tv to host simulcasts of the competition.

Fathom Events, which broadcasts plays and sporting events to cinemas, will screen the final competition rounds in 300 theaters nationwide. Medici.tv will host webcasts that will stream live recitals and have supplemental content, like interviews and behind-the-scenes sneak peeks.

The Cliburn wants to give as much access to the classical music competition as possible.

Everyone should get a chance to hear these talented artists. Making that easy is music to our ears.

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