Editorial Roundup: Texas

Dallas Morning News. Sept. 10, 2021.

Editorial: PBR World Finals is moving to Fort Worth, where rodeo belongs

On Aug. 31, the Professional Bull Riders organization announced that its most prestigious event, the PBR World Finals, will move to Dickies Arena in Fort Worth starting in 2022. That’s the right decision and hopefully a precursor to another announcement.

Last year, after both the PBR and National Finals Rodeo moved to Arlington from Las Vegas due to COVID-19, we argued that there’s an undeniable connection between rodeo events and Texas. It’s a pairing that just seems right.

PBR officials seem to agree. PBR co-founder and Vice President Cody Lambert called Fort Worth “the center of the universe of western sports.”

“Fort Worth since the early 1900s has been a central place for cowboys and in the past couple of years they have been doing even more. This is huge for Fort Worth, as well as for PBR,” Lambert said. “Texas is all about rodeo and bull riding, and it always has been. They proved that in a big way last year with the PBR Finals and the NFR being able to continue and go on because Texas was willing and able.”

PBR World Finals is different from the National Finals Rodeo, which has also made overtures about moving permanently to Fort Worth. A NFR spokesperson declined to comment this week, but Steve Rempelos, chief marketing officer for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, told us after this summer’s successful event, “We made some great friends in North Texas and we’re looking forward to keeping those friendships.”

From where we sit, PBR and NFR are both high-powered rodeo events that make more sense in Texas than in anywhere else. We hope last month’s announcement is a sign of more things to come.

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San Antonio Express-News. Sept. 9, 2021.

Editorial: History won’t judge kindly Texas’ voter suppression law

Consider, if you will, two photographs of legislation being signed in carefully staged ceremonies. The subject of both pieces of legislation is voting, a citizen’s most powerful tool in the workshop of democracy. The men signing the documents are both Texans.

Fifty-six years separate the two photographs, but the distance between the intent of the two pieces of legislation is much greater. The first was a voting rights bill, the second a voting restrictions bill.

In the first photo, President Lyndon B. Johnson, on Aug. 6, 1965, signs into law the Voting Rights Act, or VRA, a bill that not only was the crown jewel of the civil rights movement but was the culmination of 178 years — since the writing of the Constitution, which limited voting to propertied white males — of efforts to expand that right to vote.

Too slowly, too painfully and against too much resistance, that expansion would include, chronologically, Black men (the 15th Amendment), women (the 19th Amendment) and all the barriers still disenfranchising Black people (the VRA). In 1971, it would expand that right to 18-year-olds through the 26th Amendment.

The thread running through all fights to expand the vote was the understanding that elections have integrity only when the ballot box is easily and equally accessible to all eligible voters. That was the accomplishment activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis, and politicians such as LBJ and Sen. Everett Dirksen, R-Ill., celebrated with the VRA’s signing.

In the second photo, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, on Tuesday, signs into law Senate Bill 1, the purpose of which is to suppress the vote by making it unnecessarily restrictive in a state that already has the most restrictive voting laws in the nation — and just completed a fair and accurate election.

No feature in this new law — not the bans on drive-thru voting, 24-hour voting and the distribution of mail-in applications; not the new ID requirements for voting by mail; not the enhanced partisan poll-watcher protections; not the new rules and possible criminal penalties for voter assistance — is in response to any problems during the 2020 primary and general elections. These are elections the Texas secretary of state called “smooth and secure.”

LBJ and his bipartisan supporters, including Dirksen, the Republican minority leader, were moved to correct injustices, but Abbott and his colleagues in the Republican-led Texas Legislature appear afraid they can’t honestly compete for all votes.

Abbott signed SB 1 in Tyler, home of the bill’s main author, Republican Sen. Bryan Hughes. Throughout the ceremony, Hughes seemed almost giddy.

To get to the VRA in the summer of 1965, the Edmund Pettus Bridge had to be crossed in Selma, Ala., and women and men were beaten, and lives were lost.

Sacrifices and suffering led to the passage and the signing of the legislation.

What bridges were crossed to get to Tyler in the summer of 2021? How many bodies were beaten? How many lives were lost?

What sacrifices and suffering did the smiling Hughes and preening Abbott endure to make it harder for fellow Texans to vote?

The 1965 photograph preserved a moment when historic figures gathered to expand the democratic promise of the United States.

The 2021 photograph captured a moment when small, unimaginative elected officials responded to the falsehood of widespread voter fraud with very real voter suppression.

Fifty-six years from now, the latter won’t hold up as well as the former.

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The (Harlingen) Valley Morning Star. Sept. 11, 2021.

Editorial: Welcome change: Adding UIL adaptive sports opens opportunities to many

Amid the several controversial new laws enacted this year by the Texas legislature were some good bills that deserved, and got, bipartisan support. One especially welcome law that took effect Sept. 1, and originated in the Rio Grande Valley, expands school athletic programs to include adaptive sports for special-needs students.

It’s a welcome, and valuable, expansion, and those who helped make it a reality deserve applause, and thanks.

Senate Bill 776, named Zariah’s Law for the Brownsville student who inspired it, is the first of its kind in the country. It charges the Texas Education Agency and the University Interscholastic League, which supervises school athletics in the state, with establishing and governing adaptive sports programs just like current varsity sports programs. Those steps will include getting input from federal agencies, professional adaptive sports programs and the schools themselves to offer competitive sports programs at Texas public middle and high schools.

Meeting the needs of people with disabilities has long been a battle for many people, and much progress has been made. Adaptive facilities are becoming more common at parks in the Valley and elsewhere, and more efforts are being seen to enable people with special needs to be a greater part of everyday society.

Unfortunately, that attention is fairly recent, especially at many schools where the relatively small minority of special-needs students often means inadequate attention, and funding, to their needs. In the past, some schools simply separated students into special education classes where their abilities at times weren’t developed adequately. In the worst cases, special-needs students essentially were warehoused in their own rooms, and some schools made little effort and invested few resources toward addressing their needs and abilities.

Brownsville resident Sergio Zarate, whose daughter and the law’s namesake, Zariah, is a freshman at Veterans Memorial Early College High School, The father, working with local experts and advocates, helped create Down by the Border to create and promote local competitive programs for special-needs residents. They inspired state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, to sponsor SB 776, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law in June.

The programs created under Zariah’s Law are a welcome, and logical, extension of programs that began with Eunice Kennedy Shriver created the Special Olympics in 1968. That program has widespread support, and some school districts even have support programs and play host to Special Olympics events. However, the infrequency of those events are evidence that we could do more to promote physical development among people with special needs. Surely progress has been made, but the fact that Zariah’s Law, the first such endeavor in the country, comes 53 years after Special Olympics began, makes it clear that we can do more.

We’re glad that our state lawmakers, whose most recent session was known for its acrimony, were able to unite behind this worthy endeavor. We hope Zariah’s Law inspires similar action across the country, and helps bring more attention, and better opportunities, to a segment of our population whose needs haven’t been adequately met.

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Austin American-Statesman. Sept 12, 2021.

Editorial: Texans deserve day in court against rogue federal agents

Federal Judge Don Willett, a Trump appointee to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, was outraged by his own court’s ruling.

“If you wear a federal badge, you can inflict excessive force on someone with little fear of liability,” Willett lamented in a March opinion as the appellate court, bound by prior rulings, blocked a lawsuit against a federal agent outside Houston who engaged in an appalling abuse of power.

“Middle-management circuit judges must salute smartly and follow precedent,” Willett added, even when that means “private citizens who are brutalized — even killed — by rogue federal officials” can find no relief in the courts.

We find that outcome as intolerable as Willett does. Texans, indeed all Americans, should expect the rule of law to apply to federal agents, too. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide in the coming weeks whether to take up the Texas case of Byrd v. Lamb in its next term. We urge the justices to do so and set this matter right.

The case centers around a 2019 altercation between Kevin Byrd and Ray Lamb in a Conroe parking lot. Byrd was visiting the scene of a recent car crash involving his ex-girlfriend and Lamb’s son, trying to piece together what happened. Lamb, apparently incensed that Byrd was sniffing around, stepped in front of Byrd’s car to prevent him from leaving. Then, according to court documents, Lamb “pointed a gun at Byrd, tried to smash his driver’s side window with a gun, and threatened to ‘put a bullet through (his) f------ skull’ and ‘blow (his) head off.’” Then Lamb pulled the trigger. Byrd believes he could have been killed, had the gun not jammed.

Unquestionably an assault like that would land anyone else in legal peril. But Lamb happened to be an agent with the Department of Homeland Security. Even though the altercation had nothing to do with Lamb’s duties as a federal officer, he flashed his badge at the police who came to the scene, and the officers detained Byrd instead. Fortunately for Byrd, the parking lot had a security camera that captured video of the entire encounter. Once police saw Byrd had done nothing wrong, he was released.

With the support of the nonprofit Institute for Justice, Byrd sued Lamb for using excessive force and unlawfully detaining him. But Lamb’s attorneys argued that as a federal agent, he had qualified immunity. In March, relying on Fifth Circuit precedents, the federal appellate court agreed — even as Willett acknowledged the injustice of “allowing federal officials to operate in something resembling a Constitution-free zone.”

In the landmark Bivens case 50 years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that people could sue federal agents who violated their Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures. Over the years, however, appellate courts have disagreed on what kinds of cases can seek that relief. Even the Supreme Court in recent years has been reluctant to expand the right to sue beyond the limited circumstances of the Bivens case, which involved federal narcotics agents searching a man’s home without a warrant and handcuffing him in front of his family.

The patchwork of rulings by different appellate courts means a lawsuit that would be allowed to proceed against a federal agent in Pennsylvania, Florida or Arizona would not clear legal hurdles in, say, Minnesota or Texas. That conflict alone begs for resolution at the Supreme Court.

More importantly, however, citizens deserve an avenue for redress when a federal agent’s conduct is blatantly and dangerously outside the law. Byrd’s case does not involve second-guessing an officer’s split-second decision in the line of duty. It demands consequences for a rogue agent whose badge should not be a shield from accountability.

Byrd’s case may have a ring of familiarity for Austinites who remember the case of former Austin police detective Charles Kleinert. After fatally shooting an unarmed man named Larry Jackson in 2013, Kleinert sidestepped a manslaughter charge by virtue of belonging to a federal task force. While Kleinert’s case involved protection from criminal charges, and Byrd v. Lamb involves protection from lawsuits, both illustrate how court precedents allow reckless federal agents to act with impunity.

The Supreme Court could bring much-needed clarity to the civil side of the problem by taking up Byrd v. Lamb in its next term. Americans’ rights under the Constitution become meaningless if the courts fail to protect them.

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Victoria Advocate. Sept. 11, 2021.

Editorial: Don’t penalize good pet owners, pets

People love their pets. They see them as members of the family – no matter how many people and pets are in the household.

They shower love and attention onto their dogs and cats just as they would for their children.

Yes, for the most part Fifi and Boomer live the grand life.

In return, the pet or pets give years of unconditional love and protection to their human family.

Recently the city/county animal control department recommended changing the city’s ordinance to limit the number of dogs and cats a single household can own to four cats or four dogs or a combination of six dogs and cats.

In the same ordinance the animal control is proposing charging surrender fees when people bring their pet to animal control to give it up.

We believe the proposal as it stands is not well thought out. Most pet owners in the city are good responsible people who take care of their pets no matter how many they have.

An animal control spokesman said they can’t write the law for one group of people but must address the issue across the board.

Responsible pet owners should not be penalized because others cannot or will not take care of their pets.

If this proposal becomes law, what will happen in a multifamily household where everyone has their own pet, and the total exceeds the limit?

Are people expected to give up perfectly healthy animals that are part of the family to follow the ordinance that the animal control said will be difficult, at best, to monitor?

Will this ordinance, if approved by the City Council, force people to drop off their animals in the country and increase the already present stray and wandering dog population in the rural areas?

As the result of public response to the proposal, City officials have promised a revised ordinance before it is voted on by the council.

The city is seeking more public input by hosting two town hall meetings this week. The public is encouraged to attend one of the meetings to give your constructive feedback on the proposed ordinance and ideas for handling the dog and cat situation in the city without causing bigger problems of pets running free.

After the meetings, the city will need to continue to do their homework and research the ideas brought up and decide from here how the ordinance needs to be updated, if any at all.

The city is doing a good job going to the public for input on projects or to help correct a problem. A recent example was the neighborhood meetings concerning the rebuilding o Crestwood Drive. After gaining input, the city and contractor were able to work out a solution for the residents.

The city has also hosted meetings concerning broadband and has held numerous meetings to gain input on proposed master plans for infrastructure, parks, the Main Street Program and others.

We encourage the city to continue to have these public input sessions so residents can continue to have a say in their city’s future.

For now, the public needs to let the city know their ideas on keeping Fifi and Boomer safe at home with their family.

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