Should Texas Have Confederate Flag License Plates? U.S. Supreme Court Hears the Case Today

Categories: Texas

The proposed plate in question.

Today the U.S. Supreme Court is slated to hear the case looking at whether Texas officials violated First Amendment rights over a proposed Confederate flag specialty license plate. The case, Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc., is a fascinating one because, despite what you'd expect from Texas, the poster child state of all things conservative, the state government has taken a firm stance against allowing the Confederate flag on Texas license plates.

This all started about five years ago when the Sons of Confederate Veterans applied for a specialty license plate showing the Confederate flag along with the name of the group and the year it was established, 1896. Now, you can get a specialty license plate for just about anything, including wild turkeys and Dr Pepper, so it's possible that the Sons of Confederate Veterans (an ardent group that tends to show up at various vaguely Civil War-associated events dressed in thick and fairly historically accurate gray wool Confederate uniforms) never considered that anyone would have a problem with this particular plate.

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5 More Good Bills Filed in the Texas Legislature

thinkstock, monica fuentes

We've already talked plenty these past few weeks about the many alarming bills filed by the members of the 84th Texas Legislature. So far this biennial legislative session has been a good show for those who savor watching one of the most conservative legislative bodies in the country try and shove a well known conservative state even further toward the right. It's an entertaining political circus to watch, right up until you realize that there's a good chance some of that stuff might actually become actual law. And that's when it is time to start looking on the bright side and sussing out the more positive pieces of legislation that are being run through the glorified political sausage machine known as the Lege.

Legislators had from November 10 to March 13 to file their bills for the general session. The filing deadline was last Friday. We've sifted through some of the bills filed and found some bills that are downright encouraging. Despite the fact that there's a ton of legislation focused on making sure all the guns can be openly carried everywhere and an alarming number of anti-LGBT laws of all sorts, there are actual good ideas being worked on. Here are five of our favorites:

5. The one that will protect LGBT youth from conversion therapy. HB 3495, filed by state Rep. Celia Israel, an Austin Democrat, has introduced a bill that will protect young people and their families from conversion therapy, a tactic that -- although it has become a part of the GOP platform -- has been condemned by the pretty much everyone, including the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Israel's bill will make it so that any mental health provider who "engages in unprofessional conduct" by trying to change a child or minor's gender identity or sexual or romantic feelings toward the same sex will be in trouble with the state. Specifically, they'll be subject to disciplinary action "by any state regulatory entity with the power to take disciplinary action against the mental health provider." Pretty nifty, right?

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Four Texas "Reparative Therapy" Options to Help You Get Lone Star Straight

Categories: Texas

Instead of the YMCA, these guys should have tried CHAT (Christian Heterosexual Affirmation Therapy).
Just because Texas Representative Celia Israel filed a bill to outlaw "reparative therapy" (the kind of therapy that "cures" homosexuality) for minors doesn't mean that the gay baby ought to be thrown out with the bathwater. There are still places in Texas where those afflicted with same-sex-sensations can be "cured." Here are a few shameful witch-doctor bastions of bigotry totally reputable reparative therapy locations to help you get Lone Star Straight.

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Beaumont State Rep Files Oyster Reef "Land Grab" Bill

Categories: Environment, Texas

Photo by Daniel Salazar
A bill filed by state Rep. Joe Deshotel may change how water land rights are handled.

Last week, just before the filing deadline, state Rep. Joe Deshotel filed House Bill 3335, a bill innocously described as "relating to the regulation of oyster resources." However, there's a lot more to HB 3335 than that. With this bill, the lease for a controversial project, viewed by supporters as an attempt to save the Texas oyster reefs and by opponents as a bid to control the bulk of the Texas oyster reefs, could become legal.

We're talking about Sustainable Texas Oyster Resource Management, commonly known as STORM.

STORM is the brainchild of Tracy Woody and his father-in-law Ben Nelson, the owners of Jeri's Seafood, a company that oysters from Smith Point, as we wrote in a feature story earlier this year. Back in early 2014, Woody and Nelson set up a separate company, Sustainable Texas Oyster Resource Management (aka STORM). Then they obtained a 30-year lease through the Chambers-Liberty Counties Navigation District for more than 23,000 acres of submerged land in Trinity and Galveston bays. And then, after they had secured the lease, Woody and Nelson started informing the other oystermen who held oyster reef leases in those waters that STORM now held the rights to that submerged land and the oyster reefs on it.

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5 More Crazy Bills Filed in the Texas Legislature

Photo from the Texas Legislature

We always look forward to the biennial Texas legislative session with a mix of gut-gnawing fear and giddy anticipation. This year was no exception and so far, based on the bills filed by the 84th Texas Legislature, the stars of the best political reality TV show this side of D.C. have not failed us..

No, despite some surprisingly smart proposed legislation filed over the course of the legislative filing period -- from November 10 through March 13 -- state lawmakers also cooked up some bills that have given us armchair Lege watchers plenty to cackle over (we laugh because it's so much easier on the mascara than crying). There was a last flurry of activity before the filing deadline Friday and lawmakers came up with some incredibly, shall we say, entertaining bills as a result. We've rounded up five that really caught our attention:

5. The one where business owners will be able to refuse service on religious grounds. HB 2553 filed by state Rep. Molly White, a Republican from Benton, is a real winner. This bill would change the state business and commerce code so that private business owners would have the right not to provide goods or services if doing so would be "in violation of that business owner's sincerely held religious or personal beliefs." The bill would also clear business owners of any liability for refusing goods and services as long as they were refusing on those same "sincere" religious grounds.

There's a lot wrong with this one. First, it comes from White, a regular model of religious tolerance and tact. For those who've already blocked it out, White is the freshman representative who dealt with Texas Muslim Capitol Day by leaving an Israeli flag prominently displayed in her office and informing her constituents via social media that she had instructed her staff to require any Muslim visitors "to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws" if they walked into her office. And now she's pitching a "religious tolerance" law that would basically allow businesses to discriminate against whomever they feel like as long as they can "sincerely" prove that they were doing so because their particular religious teachings demanded it. With language that vague just imagine the possibilities for legal discrimination! They're practically limitless!

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Jockey Indicted for Shocking Horse at Sam Houston Race Park

Categories: Sports, Texas

Via the Paulick Report
Roman Chapa aboard Quiet Acceleration during the $50,000 Richard King Stakes on January 17, 2015.

A jockey was indicted by a Harris County Grand Jury on Wednesday for allegedly shocking a horse to fix a race at Sam Houston Race Park on January 17.

When Quiet Acceleration galloped across the finish line with 43-year-old jockey Roman Chapa aboard to win the $50,000 Richard King Stakes at Sam Houston Race Park on January 17, the photos of the moment captured the victory, but they also showed that Chapa was clutching a small nude-colored object in his left palm. The object, a buzzer, is an electric shocking device that can be used to shock a horse and get it to move faster. Buzzers are banned from racing.

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Daughter of Man Killed at Texas City Refinery Watches USW Strike

Categories: Texas

Photo by Max Burkhalter
Katherine Rodriguez has been following the USW strike, .
Since the start of the United Steelworkers strike at the oil refineries, Katherine Rodriguez has been watching the developments and thinking of her father, Ray Gonzalez. "He would have loved this. He would have been out there on the picket line with them if he was still here," she says.

USW members have been on strike since February 1. Union reps have rejected at least seven contract offers from Shell and pulled more than 6,500 workers at 15 plants -- with about 5,000 coming from 12 oil refineries -- since the strike started. Locally, the strike began when the union pulled union workers out of LyondellBasell, Shell Deer Park and the Texas City refinery where Rodriguez's father was fatally injured more than a decade ago. While the two sides are reportedly butting heads over a variety of things -- including contractors and rules that make sure fatigued workers aren't stuck on the job -- it's the safety issues that hit closest to home for Rodriguez.

Her father was killed by burns sustained in an accident at the then-British Petroleum Texas City refinery in September 2004. Gonzalez lived in the hospital for weeks after the accident and for a long time, Rodriguez and her two sisters and their mother hoped that Gonzalez would pull through. But eventually his body began to fail and his organs started shutting down. The family was together with him at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston when they turned off all the machines.

After that, Rodriguez couldn't even stand to talk about what had happened to her father, but she started researching the industry that employed him for most of his adult life. Only then did she begin to understand what it was really like behind the refinery fence. While he never said a word in front of his daughters about the dangers and the near-misses that were a part of life at the Texas City refinery, Gonzalez would tell his wife about the burns and how careful workers had to be at the refinery, her mother later told her. "He kept that from us because he didn't want us to worry. If we had known we would have worried all the time," Rodriguez says now.

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Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller Voted to Cut Ag Funding But Now He Wants it Back

Photo from the Texas Agriculture Commission
Texas Ag Commissioner thought cutting funding to the Texas Agriculture Commission was a good idea until he actually became head of it.
The Cupcake Crusader has a new cause! And surprisingly it has nothing to do with cupcakes!

That's right, Sid Miller, Texas Agriculture Commissioner, easily won his office last November, and now it looks like he's actually trying to improve the agriculture department. There's just one tiny problem: funding.

"I need a little help. I sure do," Miller said on Friday. "We had some deep cuts in 2011 and I'm simply asking the legislature to restore those cuts."

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Complaints Over Medical Care Presaged South Texas Prison Riot

Categories: Texas

Google streetview
Willacy County's CAR tent prison
In 2007, border patrol officers caught Jesus Manuel Galindo swimming across the Rio Grande to visit family in New Mexico. Charged with and convicted of illegal re-entry to the country, Galindo was ordered to serve 30 months at the Reeves County Detention Center, a sprawling prison complex in Pecos, Texas. In prison, he told officials he had a long history of epileptic seizures. He routinely complained he wasn't being given the right medication, that his seizures had worsened. For some reason he was placed in solitary confinement.

"I already told them (warden and doctor) that I have been here for one month alone and I have gotten sick twice," Galindo wrote his mother two days before his death, according to a lawsuit later filed against the prison. "I've already asked if they can place me with someone else so I won't be by myself anymore."

In December 2008, Galindo suffered a grand mal seizure while he was alone inside his isolation cell. His body was already cold to the touch and showed signs of rigor mortis when staff found him in the morning. Fellow prisoners were outraged when they saw Galindo's body being carted out of his cell. Two inmates set a mattress on fire using wires and an electrical outlet. In the ensuing riot, inmates took some prison workers hostage, set fires across the facility, and caused over $1 million in damage.

The prisoners' demands: adequate medical care.

That same complaint appears to have sparked a riot at another of Texas' so-called Criminal Alien Requirement prisons -- privately-run facilities that contract with the federal Bureau of Prisons to house low-risk non-U.S. citizen inmates. On Friday, inmates at the Willacy County Correctional Center, a South Texas prison operated by private-prison company Management & Training Corp., refused to do their routine chores or eat breakfast, according to the McAllen Monitor. Issa Arnita, a spokesman for the company, told the paper that inmates were complaining about medical care.

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Gov. Greg Abbott's Perfectly Adequate First State of the State

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Gov. Greg Abbott's first State of the State on Tuesday was pretty much the dog and pony show everyone expected it to be, but we couldn't help thinking that something was missing. He sat up there in his first address to the Texas Legislature and we couldn't help pondering how his hair was a little less than perfect and how his rhetoric simply wasn't the inflammatory swaggering we'd grown accustomed to during the past decade.

Abbott kicked things off by painting an aggressively sunny picture of the state of the Lone Star State. "As the sun arises on 2015 the state of Texas is strong and together we are about to make it even stronger," Abbott said, mentioning all of the job creation and the January sales tax numbers without ever acknowledging the potential mess that is the current low oil prices.

He followed that up with a little gloating about the federal judge in Brownsville that halted President Barack Obama's executive order on immigration just hours before Abbott's big speech. "In Texas, we will not sit idly by while the President ignores the law and fails to secure the border," Abbott said. He went on to outline his plans for Texas in the next two years.Specifically, Abbott had five emergency items that he highlighted during the speech - early education, higher education research initiatives, transportation, border security and ethics.

While a lot of this is the same sort of stuff Abbott campaigned on last year, his support of improvements to education was encouraging. Abbott told a joint session of the Lege that he wants to both bolster the state's pre-kindergarten program and to start pulling Nobel laureate-types into Texas universities. (We were hoping he'd cackle and rub his hands together in an evil looking manner when he mentioned this plan, but alas, no such luck). "Our journey begins with striving to create the best education system in America," he said. From his tone of voice -- and the proposed budget that accompanied the speech -- it's just possible that he meant it.

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