- Associated Press - Monday, October 19, 2020

San Antonio Express News. October 17, 2020

Righteous anger, disgust at treatment of foster kids

In the nearly decade-long fight to reform Texas’ broken foster care system, it’s easy to understand the ire of U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack, the jurist overseeing the effort.

It began with a class-action lawsuit in 2011, brought by a New York children’s rights group on behalf of the 10,000-plus children in long-term foster care in Texas. The suit charged the system harms youth more than it helps them, so much so that it violates their constitutional rights.

Jack ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in 2015 and ordered the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and the Health and Human Services Commission to fix a plethora of problems so that children, especially those in large foster care homes, might be better protected.

The ruling placed the state under federal court supervision, with two monitors, appointed by Jack, to serve as her eyes and ears. State officials appealed. A few of Jack’s reforms were overturned, but many survived.

Since then, it’s been one roadblock after another as the state has dragged its heels in enacting the fixes Jack demanded. Fixes to improve the lives of children needing shelter from the storm.

In November 2019, she ruled the state was in contempt of court for failing to comply with her order that large foster homes have 24-hour, awake supervision to keep kids safe from abuse during the overnight hours. Jack rightfully fined the state $150,000 for its dereliction of duty.

And last month, she ruled the state was in contempt a second time, for not complying with a host of orders meant to increase oversight at large residential facilities, improve the timeliness of state investigations into abuse and neglect in foster homes, and create software to alert workers of child-on-child sex abuse. State agencies that license homes and facilities that house large numbers of youth still aren’t communicating as they should, she found.

Again, Texas stands to be charged thousands of dollars for its noncompliance.

More than most judges, Jack has been vocal in her frustration - her disgust - with how the state has failed to act.

At the September hearing, according to news reports, she said, “I actually am stunned by the noncompliance of the state, but I keep being stunned every time we have one of these hearings.”

She fumed that H-E-B does a better job of tracking produce than Texas does tracking foster kids.

Fueling her anger was a report by those court-appointed monitors, released in June. It found kids in foster care contract COVID-19 at almost double the rate of the general population. And many are still in danger, especially in large private foster homes, where they’ve suffered injuries and the use of physical restraints.

In one Houston residential treatment center with a history of deficiencies, a teen died in February from a pulmonary embolism. Staff waited more than half an hour before calling 911.

The state stopped placing children at the center, but the center has remained open for months after the death, and the state has yet to pull its license. In fact, DFPS officials allowed the owners to open a new residential treatment center in Corpus Christi.

Closer to home, in September the state suspended the placement of foster youth at the Whataburger Center for Children and Youth, which serves as a temporary home for hard-to-place children in permanent foster care.

The center is overseen by the Children’s Shelter, a local nonprofit that is part of a statewide experiment to privatize most of the functions of foster care, with Bexar County being one of the first regions to do so.

The troubled center was deemed unsafe, with kids running away, punching holes in walls, refusing therapy and other deficiencies.

In December 2019, Gov. Greg Abbott appointed yet another person to lead the state agency that’s supposed to care for foster kids - the fourth commissioner in 10 years.

We’ve watched the foster care drama unfold since Jack got involved, and we share her deep frustration and disgust with state officials who seem to fight reform every step of the way.

Yes, some improvements have happened - thanks to the lawsuit. But why is it a fight to improve the lives of wounded children?


The Dallas Morning News. October 17, 2020

Why can’t we accomplish a national census without partisan manipulation?

The chaos of this census can be placed at the feet of the Trump administration

Our nation’s Founding Fathers instituted the national census as a count of all people, an enumeration that is the basis of federal funding, the distribution of political representation among the states and even private sector decisions, such as whether to open a store in a community.

Those reasons should cry out for accurate counts. But after more than two years of political meddling from the White House in the census process, the Supreme Court, without giving a reason, allowed the Trump administration to stop the 2020 census count before it was scheduled to end on Oct. 31.

Even without a pandemic limiting personal interactions, getting an accurate count is daunting. So that’s why the Census Bureau extended the deadline from Aug. 15 to Oct. 31.

The abrupt shutdown of the count about two weeks early probably will not make a major difference in the outcome. However, that misses a bigger point: Counting all who live within our borders should be a nonpartisan data collection exercise conducted without political interference.

All of us should be angry. If the census isn’t accurate, then the country has to live with the consequences until the next count takes place 10 years from now. States and cities that have experienced explosive population growth in the past 10 years won’t have that growth fully reflected in their share of federal funding, political representation and countless other services. More than 75% of the $1.5 trillion in federal funding allocated to the states based on census goes to Medicare and Medicaid, according to some estimates.

Texas, which has added residents faster than any other state in the past decade, might not see that growth reflected in additional seats in Congress. Failing to count just 1% of the people in Texas would cost the state $300 million in federal funding per year for the next 10 years. And we already know that communities with large numbers of Black or Hispanic residents, immigrants, low-income households and children under 18 have been undercounted previously.

The chaos of this census can be placed at the feet of the Trump administration, starting with a misguided attempt to add a citizenship question into the census, a ham-handed move that civil liberty organizations criticized as an attempt to discourage immigrants in the country legally or illegally from participating in the count. The administration compounded matters by ending data collection early and by seeking to exclude all immigrants without legal documentation from the census reapportionment process used to determine congressional representation and district lines.

These roadblocks were erected for partisan purposes. This nation should be able to complete the census count in good faith without partisan manipulation. When that doesn’t happen, the politicians win, and average folks who need services lose.


The Monitor. October 15, 2020

Special penalties for protests unnecessary threat to dissent

Say what?

Our nation’s founders recognized the value of dissent - in fact, they considered it essential to progress. Frank discussion of opposing viewpoints, they frequently wrote, is the best way to determine the best policies and solutions to problems. They thought so much of protecting the people’s right to disagree that the very first item in our Bill of Rights - the very first amendment to our Constitution - not only guarantees our right to speak freely, but it also has other provisions specifically protecting our right to protest, and to protest against our government.

Gov. Greg Abbott, a lawyer and former state attorney general, might need to reacquaint himself with our right to protest before he considers any legislation that specifically targets public protests.

Speaking at a news conference at the Dallas Police Association headquarters, the governor announced several measures that would strengthen existing crimes and create new ones for people participating in any activity that police might categorize as a riot.

Under the proposals, anyone who causes injury or damages property during a protest could be charged with a felony, as would anyone who points a laser beam toward a law enforcement official. Blocking emergency routes such as entrances to hospitals also would be felonies. The governor asserted that anyone who threw a water bottle could spend a minimum of six months in jail if that bottle hit a police officer.

Attacks on or injury to first responders already are prosecuted as hate crimes under a law Abbott promoted and signed in 2017.

Special laws against protesters shouldn’t be necessary if the primary intent is to address violence. Laws against such violence already exist, and there should be no reason to address the same actions differently because they occurred during a public protest; people who damage a car, for example, during a constitutionally protected protest should not face more severe charges than revelers who flip over vehicles after their team wins the national championship.

Perhaps the greatest concern is the fact that anti-protest legislation creates the kind of laws that historically have led to extreme enforcement that goes beyond lawmakers’ intent. We can’t be surprised if, using the rationale under which accomplices are prosecuted, several peaceful protesters are arrested and charged with felony crimes because one of them threw a rock through a store window - or at a police officer.

People seeking office should know that they always will face criticism for their actions, no matter the intent of those actions, or even their results. Some officials, however, at all levels - local, state and federal - have proven to be thin-skinned and taken great umbrage against even minor criticisms. Creating laws specifically for protests would give them a powerful weapon to use against critics, even when the criticisms are valid.

We hope that in the two months leading up to our legislative session, Gov. Abbott comes to recognize the can of worms, and constitutional concerns, anti-protest legislation could create, and rethinks his proposal that could silence valid - and sometimes necessary - protest and criticism.


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