Editorial Roundup: Texas

Houston Chronicle. December 3, 2022.

Editorial: Abbott’s big flip-flop on fentanyl could save lives

Decriminalizing the potentially life-saving strips is needed but why did it take so long?

For too long, many believed that fentanyl wasn’t a Texas problem. “There’s no sense of urgency,” paramedic Daniel Sledge complained to the Chronicle last year. As one of the people who saw the drug’s deadly impacts on the state, he knew better than most the damage the potent, highly addictive drug could do.

But his efforts to save people, many of whom weren’t even aware they had ingested fentanyl, were hampered by the state’s own underfunded lifesaving drug overdose treatments and restrictive policy that demonized fentanyl testing strips as illegal “drug paraphernalia.”

Now, as fentanyl deaths rise in the state and nation, Gov. Greg Abbott finally seems to have woken up to the reality of the crisis.

Though he’s touted his $4 billion-and-counting Operation Lone Star as a response to the deadly wave, he’s historically eschewed the changes that harm-reduction advocates say could make an immediate difference on the streets, including decriminalizing testing strips that would help users confirm whether fentanyl is in other drugs they buy.

“I was not in favor of it last session,” Abbott admitted after a visit to the University of Houston, where researchers have developed a vaccine that could potentially inoculate people against the effects of synthetic opioids, according to the Texas Tribune.

But times have changed — and lives have been lost, including 1,672 Texans in 2021, according to the state’s estimates. “There’s going to be a movement across the state to make sure we do everything that we can to protect people from dying from fentanyl, and I think test strips will be one of those ways,” he said.

We hope he’s right, and we applaud the governor’s change of heart. It may indeed save lives. As many as half of overdose deaths are due to drugs laced with fentanyl without the users’ knowledge, according to a 2019 estimate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But how many lives could have been saved already in Texas if the governor hadn’t resisted the test-strip solution in the first place? Parents who have lost children in this crisis should be asking that question. Abbott’s about-face, welcome as it is, is just another example of our state leaders rejecting science and the advice of health advocates until the political winds are favorable to such changes.

It’s the same thing we’re hearing now from Republican lawmakers who are signaling that they’re ready to consider adding some nuance to the state’s extreme abortion ban after so many instances of women imperiled as doctors weighed what kind of intervention was needed with what was still allowed under the law.

Why does it take carnage and suffering and tragedies ripping through families for Texas leaders to see the wisdom in policies that have been no-brainers in other states for years?

Sadly, we know the answer. In our state, top Republicans don’t make policies based on what can help the most Texans, but what can help the Texans who matter most: their donors and voters. The cold truth is that the horrors of fentanyl became a convenient political issue for Republicans, not just because enough Americans of all stripes were dying from the crisis, but because it was helpful in distracting from safety concerns about gun violence and in whipping up people’s anxieties about border security.

In the past, we’ve written about how Operation Lone Star’s particular approach to the border misunderstands the realities of how fentanyl is made and transported, including that analysis suggests that most of the people arrested at the border bringing it into the country are U.S. citizens. But it’s not just a matter of misplaced strategy. While Republican lawmakers have touted past legislation that directed funds to treatment and to increasing the availability of naloxone, the anti-overdose medicine, state efforts have been inconsistent and have not kept pace with the need. In January, when the federally funded state program “More Narcan Please” ran out of funding, advocates pointed out that the state should be supporting the use of the lifesaving medicine with its own funds.

Hubris and the political expediency of a tough-on-drugs stance seems to have outweighed any interest in the actual lives of Texans.

For now, Abbott’s statement on supporting test strips is just a promise. And it will never undo the harm of his previous stance. It was Abbott, after all, who vetoed legislation in 2015 that would have ensured that people who called 911 to report an overdose wouldn’t be penalized even if they also had illegal substances. Lawmakers eventually passed an “all but useless” version of the legislation without protections for people with prior drug convictions.

This session, lawmakers will have the chance to move forward on at least one bill that would decriminalize fentanyl testing strips, thanks to legislation filed by Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio).

It’s admirable, and too rare, when politicians can change their minds with new information. But the information — that testing strips can be lifesaving or that we should encourage lifesaving behaviors — isn’t the new part.

We’ve known that for years. All that’s changed is the politics, and the number of Texans who died while Texas leaders refused to do the right thing.

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San Antonio Express-News. November 28, 2022.

Editorial: An open letter to Operation Lone Star troops

To troops deployed for Operation Lone Star: We hope you had a happy Thanksgiving despite being away from your families and homes. With any luck, you had time to enjoy a good meal, some camaraderie and relaxation — better yet, some time off.

Thank you for what you are doing. We know you have put your lives on hold in service of your state and nation. We respect your sacrifice, but we also wonder — what exactly are you doing out there?

We’ve heard how more than 5,000 of you are stationed along the southern border with Mexico. From time to time, we see images of you standing near a Humvee and looking toward the river, but we don’t know much more than that, and we’re interested in what you are doing.

Sadly, most Texans, especially those with no ties to the Department of Public Safety or Texas Military Department, have no understanding of your work — or how it’s impacted your lives.

Operation Lone Star has incurred costs Texas can never repay.

We are sorry 10 of your peers have died during this operation. They are in our thoughts.

We also think about your mental and physical health, and we hope you have the resources to take care of yourself.

Then there is the $4 billion — and rising — cost of deploying thousands of troops to the border. As taxpayers, we deserve to know what our money is going toward. Unfortunately, the state rarely gives the media access to the people or mission.

We wonder why. State leaders should want to win the hearts and minds of those paying the bills.

We’ve seen Gov. Greg Abbott’s statistics about migrant apprehensions, busing, arrests and seized fentanyl.

We wonder — is this success? What difference does it really make? And how much of it could have been done without Operation Lone Star?

And we don’t really know what that means for you. How are you? How are the living and work conditions? Your leadership? What’s day-to-day life like? Are you finally getting paid correctly? Do you have enough cold weather gear? How are your families? How’s the food? Are you keeping busy, or is there a lot of “sit around and wait”? Are you getting enough support from the state?

Is the mission worthwhile? We heard Abbott declare an “invasion” and how the state is escalating “unprecedented security efforts.” He also declared Mexican drug cartels “foreign terrorist organizations” and outlined a “compact with other states to secure the border.”

That sounds intense.

We read about armored personnel carriers, increased aircraft flights, gunboats, border walls, and how the National Guard will “repel and turn back immigrants trying to cross the border illegally.”

That’s serious talk that makes part of America sound like a war zone. Does it feel like a war zone? Many of you have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. How does this compare?

Last week, we saw that Abbott and Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw served Thanksgiving meals and tamales to some of you in Edinburg. Hopefully, you got the opportunity to ask questions.

We wish we could say you are going home soon, but with the state’s “escalation” talk, that doesn’t seem likely.

Maybe someday federal officials on both sides of the aisle will knock down their imaginary walls to reform border security and immigration laws. Until then, it seems thousands of Texans will remain deployed to … Texas.

We appreciate you and we look forward to your safe return home.

Best wishes during this holiday season.

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Dallas Morning News. December 4, 2022.

Editorial: The PUC has a plan to fix the Texas grid. Legislators need to listen

Extreme weather isn’t the grid’s biggest problem.

Last month, the Public Utility Commission released an analysis about how Texas needs to change its deregulated energy market to ensure we have enough power for future needs.

The criticism piled up, with a focus on the fact that the analysis didn’t account for a freak weather event like the 2021 winter storm.

Criticism about the way the state failed in the run-up to the storm is warranted, but this analysis is the wrong place for it.

Instead, we urge lawmakers and the public to carefully consider what the PUC has put forward, because it represents the most serious look we have at how the state can fix its energy problem.

We aren’t talking about the problem that led to the outages during the 2021 winter storm. It’s actually more severe than that.

During the winter storm, Texas should have had the energy it needed. But state regulators failed to ensure that energy companies had adequately weatherized their equipment. Wellheads and turbines froze. Natural gas plants went offline. That was shameful. Regulators must ensure that it never happens again by holding energy producers to account.

The bigger problem is this: Texas is not going to have enough power for the future unless we do something about the current energy market. That is the problem the PUC’s report is attempting to address.

Texas has done a fantastic job creating renewable energy. We are the nation’s leading producer of wind power. But as more low-cost wind power has come online, there has been less incentive to develop natural gas plants or any other dispatchable power that’s available anytime.

The plan presented by the PUC would create a market incentive for the production of additional dispatchable power through a credit sale and purchase program between electricity generators and retail electric companies. Generators would earn credits by demonstrating they can meet a reliability standard that would meet the state’s energy needs. Retail electric companies would purchase the credits in a public market to supply capital and incentive for generators to invest in more dispatchable power.

In the short run, that new power would most likely come from natural gas. Over time, it could come from battery storage. The plan was devised to be resource neutral, or as PUC chairman Peter Lake put it, “as long as it has an on-and-off switch.”

The plan has a cost of about a half billion dollars a year. That would be shared among consumers at a few dollars a month on the power bill for what the PUC estimates would be a tenfold increase in overall reliability. If anyone has a serious idea how to fix the system at zero cost, we would love to hear it. It doesn’t exist.

So it would be wise for legislators who care about the state’s energy future to set aside a few hours to read this report. It is a smart place to start on how we can make sure Texas has the energy it needs to continue to grow and prosper.

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