- Associated Press - Thursday, May 4, 2017

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Top Texas Democrats on Thursday criticized Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s muted response to the fatal shooting of a black teenager by a white police officer outside a suburban Dallas house party.

The ire is intensified because Abbott was quick to condemn as “tragic” two subsequent events: stabbings at the University of Texas and the shooting of a Dallas paramedic.

Rising tensions between Abbott and Democrats in the Legislature come as high-profile proposals to discourage shootings by police in Texas - which disproportionately involve black victims - have stalled.

State Rep. Helen Giddings said blacks make up only 13 percent of Texas’ population but constituted 37 percent of the unarmed people shot by police statewide last year.

“This is not a Dallas problem, this is not a Balch Springs problem,” Giddings, a Democrat from Dallas, said Thursday at a news conference at the Texas Supreme Court building in Austin. “It is a dangerous disease that is threatening young black males, most of whom are unarmed.”

Jordan Edwards, 15, and his two brothers and two other teenagers were driving away from an unruly house party in Balch Springs late Saturday night when Officer Roy Oliver opened fire on their vehicle with a rifle. The bullets shattered the front passenger-side window and struck Edwards. Oliver was fired Tuesday.

In a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday, Abbott said his “heart goes out to the Edwards family during this incredibly difficult time.” He added, “No parent should ever have to experience the pain of losing a child, and the Edwards family deserves a fair and full investigation into this tragedy.” It was the first time Abbott had publicly commented on the shooting.

After Dallas paramedic William An was shot and critically wounded Monday, and a University of Texas student was killed and three others wounded in a knife attack, Abbott responded that day by offering “all available state resources to both Dallas and the University of Texas to assist in any effort.”

Dallas Democratic Rep. Rafael Anchia, chairman of the Legislature’s Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, said Texas Republicans, including Abbott, need to do more about police shootings.

“Instead of muted responses, we need full-throated responses to deal not only with this situation but … with this broader problem,” Anchia said.

Added Rep. Chris Turner, head of the Democratic Caucus in the state House: “It’s not simply enough to send our thoughts and prayers. We need action.”

Democrats have sought changes in an effort to address police shootings, but few of the proposals before the Legislature are likely to pass before the session ends on May 29.

One bill is named for Sandra Bland, a black woman died in a jail near Houston following a confrontational traffic stop in 2015. It originally would have revamped racial profiling laws, officer training and other police accountability measures. But it has been watered down substantially in recent weeks - and still may not pass

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CONVENTION OF STATES

The Texas Legislature has approved calling a “convention of states” to amend the U.S. Constitution and impose things like a federal balanced budget requirement.

Gov. Greg Abbott has long supported 34 legislatures, or two-thirds of them nationwide, bypassing Congress and calling a convention that can help combat Washington “overreach.” The House passed it 94-51 on Thursday.

Ten other states have passed similar convention of states calls, and Texas has called for such conventions 16 previous times, without any happening.

Though Republicans control the presidency and Congress, the measure’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Rick Miller said, “This is not a partisan issue” since the federal government’s “out of control.”

The Senate already endorsed the plan but was so worried about a “runaway” convention where delegates could propose unexpected amendments that it mandated jailing any who “go rouge.” The House scrapped that punishment.

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STATE INSPECTIONS

The Texas Senate has approved a bill that would eliminate the state’s mandatory safety inspections for most vehicles.

Texas is one of slightly more than a dozen states that still require safety inspections that test for things like properly-working horns, brakes and brake lights, headlights and seat belts. According to a Senate study, more than 500,000 vehicles didn’t pass safety inspection in 2014 and 2015.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Don Huffines, a Dallas Republican. He notes that other large states like California and Florida have dropped safety inspections and they are no longer required by the federal government.

Commercial vehicles would still face safety inspections, and emissions inspections would still be required in the state’s most populous counties.

The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

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ON DECK

The House is expected to head back into session at 10 a.m. on Friday and also has a legislative calendar for Saturday. The Senate is off until Monday.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Today marks an important step toward restraining a runaway federal government and returning power back to the states and their respective citizens as our Founders intended,” - Gov. Greg Abbott, applauding Texas’ approval of a call for a “convention of states” to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

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