Editorial Roundup: Texas

Houston Chronicle. Oct. 1, 2021.

Editorial: What Texas is this? GOP maps ignore huge growth in minority populations

If power reveals character, as LBJ biographer Robert Caro has argued, then what does the power of Texas Republican lawmakers in Austin say about them? When it comes to the proposed legislative maps they’ve released this week, it says elected officials here are plum terrified of the voters in the districts they now represent.

How else to interpret the outrageous maps presented this week, ones that aim to dilute the voting power of growing pockets of minority voters and keep incumbents — especially Republican incumbents — in office no matter how much the voting population in their districts has changed in the past decade?

Texas’ total population grew by 4 million in the last decade. Nearly 95 percent of that growth came from Latino, Asian and Black residents. Those new voters brought change across Texas, including turning many of the state’s largest suburban counties purple and putting Democrats firmly in control of local government in Harris and Dallas counties. Across the state, congressional seats that were reliably Republican in 2012 were fiercely competitive by the end of the decade.

But rather than embrace that competition and fight to persuade new voters that Texas is in good hands under nearly all-Republican rule, Republicans are running from it. In doing so, they aren’t just making it harder to win for Democrats, who currently hold just 13 of Texas’ 36 congressional seats. The proposed maps for the U.S. House and Texas House and Senate released this week also dilute the impact of Texas’ fast-growing minority communities. Minorities often vote for Democrats, but as 2020 showed, especially among Texas Latinos, that’s not a foregone conclusion.

Of the current congressional districts, 22 have white majorities, eight have Latino majorities, one is majority Black and five are without a clear majority. The new map proposes 23 districts with white majorities, seven with Hispanic majorities, none with a Black majority and eight without a majority.

And in the Texas House map proposal released Thursday, it’s the same story. The new maps have fewer Hispanic and Black-majority districts than the current maps, no Asian majority districts, and more white majorities. The Texas Senate map under consideration is marginally better. It doesn’t significantly dilute the racial representation in each district, but still manages to draw boundaries in a way that protects incumbents. While Donald Trump carried 16 of 31 districts in 2020, he’d have won 19 under the proposed boundaries.

Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston and chair of the redistricting committee, said this week race played no role in drawing the new maps. But regardless of intent, the results speak for themselves.

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San Antonio Express-News. Sept. 29, 2021.

Editorial: Heartbeat bill can’t be fixed, must be overturned

There is no fixing Senate Bill 8 and the damage Texas has inflicted to women’s rights.

Even Republican state Rep. Lyle Larson’s House Bill 99, which would provide exemptions for rape and incest survivors, is futile.

It has zero chance of passage. Beyond this, Senate Bill 8 is irredeemable. Sure, Larson’s bill would rightfully provide exceptions to SB 8 for rape and incest survivors. This would fix important concerns, and yet it misses the most important point. There should be no Senate Bill 8. The only acceptable outcome is for the law to be found unconstitutional.

America’s most stringent anti-abortion law — which Larson supported in the House — effectively places legal abortion out of reach for Texas women. But Roe v. Wade has not been overturned, and abortions, legal or not, will continue.

We know HB 99 has no chance of passage because Larson, sadly, lacks any standing in his own party, and Gov. Greg Abbott has said the bill will never reach his desk. Abbott told Fox News on Sunday the draconian law’s goal is to protect the heartbeat of every child.

Senate Bill 8 bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, typically about six weeks into a pregnancy — before most women know they are pregnant. Remarkably, it deputizes every American citizen as a potential bounty hunter.

The U.S. Supreme Court could have intervened before the law took effect Sept. 1, but a majority rejected an emergency appeal from abortion providers.

It’s incredible to think bounty hunters in other states could target women and girls here who are victims of rape and incest. Then again, this is Texas, where the rights of women, especially those who are low-income, aren’t valued.

Jeffrey Hons, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood South Texas, told Express-News reporter Elizabeth Zavala the restrictions were a “monstrous situation.”

These women survivors have enough monsters in their lives without state lawmakers regulating their bodies.

When questioned about why the state should force rape or incest victims to carry a pregnancy to term, at first Abbott denied the bill would require it. That was a lie rooted in a profound misunderstanding of women’s health.

Then he provided embarrassing misogynistic commentary about rape: “Let’s make something very clear. Rape is a crime, and Texas will work tirelessly to make sure that we eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas by aggressively going out and arresting them and prosecuting them and getting them off the streets.”

We used to say Abbott knows better, but that is far too generous for someone so cynical.

Some context about rape and incest: According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, or RAINN, 1 in every 6 American women has been the victim of rape or attempted rape.

Larson’s bill will go nowhere, but it portends a particular legislative fallout from Senate Bill 8 should the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately uphold it. The longer SB 8 endures, the more lawmakers will be confronted with their cruelty and be forced to legislate to reality.

Women who have survived rape and incest will give birth to these children — and will share their stories. Some women will seek out illegal abortions and risk personal harm. Others will give birth at immense personal cost. As the landmark “Turnaway Study” from the University of California in San Francisco has shown, women who are denied abortions are more likely to be in abusive relationships, suffer from pregnancy complications and poor physical health, and live below the poverty line.

All of these concerns are why SB 8 cannot be fixed or made more palatable. It must be overturned.

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Abilene Reporter News. Oct. 2, 2021.

Editorial: Why do we keep driving into the same high water areas?

It seems so simple.

When it rains hard in Abilene, it floods.

We all know the suspect areas. South 14th near Barrow Street, for one.

And our underpasses.

Yet, people drive into those areas. And then there’s trouble.

They don’t stay put until the rain and water subside. They don’t take alternative routes, or side streets.

They launch into flooded areas like Washington across the Delaware.

But he was in a boat. Drivers are not.

All our rain at once

Abilene went from parched to pools of water Thursday afternoon when a 15% chance of mid-afternoon rain made a 100% wreck of the city. That caught us off guard, considering previous better chances of rain brought us nothing.

We had measured 0.40 of an inch through the first 29 days of the second-wettest month. The National Weather Service reported 2.18 inches officially, though amounts were higher at fire stations around the city.

We almost hit our monthly average in one afternoon.

There also was wind, driving the rain and making umbrellas useless.

Much of the city missed rain Wednesday, though it rained at the airport. But it finally came down Thursday, sheets of rain that darkened the day and reduced visibility while driving. It came with some crushed ice-sized hail.

The rain disrupted afterschool pickup, creating logjams.

The Pine Street underpass a block from our office filled quickly, yet vehicles kept plowing through the water. One didn’t make it and, finally, others began turning around.

That brings us to the basic rule: “Turn around don’t drown.”

High water in the street, retreat

“Turn around don’t drown” is even copyrighted.

The weather service reports that more people die due to flooding than any other thunderstorm-related hazard.

What’s second? Walking into flooded areas, to see what you can’t see. Six inches of water flowing at a high rate can knock down the average person.

It takes around 12 inches of water to wash away a vehicle. Two feet for heavier trucks and SUVs.

It’s said that water reaching halfway up the hubcap can lead to engine ruin.

It was that and more Thursday in Abilene but some motorists paid no heed.

Every time it rains like this, we have this problem. People think they can sail through high water ... until they sink.

At best they’re stranded. Worse, their vehicles are badly damaged or ruined altogether. Even worse, lives are at risk in the deepest water.

Motorists need to slow — not speed up to create awesome splashes — and to consider the road ahead. If it doesn’t look passable, it probably isn’t.

Storms create problems, such as downed electrical lines and trees. Lightning strikes could cause fires.

Our first responders become busy enough without having to rescue drivers and vehicles driven into flooded areas.

These situations are avoidable.

Turn around don’t drown.

Two other things to consider

On Friday, did you see all of our trash?

The overabundance of rains both cleaned dusty streets and returned our discarded trash to us. Drink containers. Plastic buckets.

The railroad right-of-way was littered with trash.

The Mockingbird Lane underpass “shoreline” was full of trash.

Perhaps this is why water accumulates. It cannot drain as quickly as possible because the storm drains are clogged.

Should the city invest in some sort of flood warning at underpasses? The flood gauge signs don’t seem to be effective.

Is there some sort of device that could trigger flashing lights to warn motorists that water now is too deep to navigate? Think of the barrier coming down in plenty of time to block motorists from crossing a railroad track, in advance of the train’s arrival.

This would be especially helpful in the dark, when the water isn’t as easily seen by motorists.

To be fair, some motorists are new to the city or visitors are caught in a storm. But the rest of us know the worst areas.

Substantial urban flooding doesn’t happen all that often here.

But when it does, it’s the same routine.

Let’s change our thinking before there is a tragedy.

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Dallas Morning News. Oct. 1, 2021.

Editorial: Is your city keeping its splash pads safe?

Splash pads are everywhere, and little kids love them. These special playgrounds are dotted with nozzles that spray water into the air, and the designs often include whimsical interactive features shaped like flowers, hoops and sea animals. Little water, if any, pools on the surface, making splash pads, or spraygrounds, a popular alternative to swimming pools because they don’t require lifeguards.

But cities and other splash pad operators shouldn’t let their guard down. The tragic death of a child who became infected with a rare disease after playing at a contaminated Arlington splash pad should prompt municipal and county leaders across North Texas to check on their cities’ aquatic features.

Even though splash pads may look safer than pools, these playgrounds also carry risks. They typically recycle water, which can become tainted with germs that wash off children’s bodies.

State law sets standards for how splash pad operators should maintain and inspect these facilities. In the Arlington case, the child who died Sept. 11 became infected with amoeba that officials say likely came from a splash pad where the child had recently played. Arlington city officials have acknowledged gaps in their daily inspection program at two spraygrounds.

The illness that killed the child in Arlington is extremely rare, but that’s no comfort to his family and hardly reassuring to other families whose children frequently use spraygrounds.

Poor maintenance and sanitation at aquatic facilities can make children severely ill. In June, a gastrointestinal bacteria outbreak at a splash pad in Kansas sent several children to the hospital and made dozens of people “violently ill,” according to The Wichita Eagle. And in upstate New York, a sprayground at a state park was responsible for the spread of cryptosporidium, a parasite that made more than 1,700 people sick in 2005. That case was so notorious that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention references it on its webpage on keeping water play areas clean.

An outbreak of the same diarrhea-causing parasite hammered North Texas in the summer of 2008, when Dallas County officials linked about a quarter of crypto cases to spraygrounds.

Today, the city of Dallas manages at least 17 spraygrounds. A city audit in 2016 revealed inconsistency in the inspection recordkeeping of municipal spraygrounds, and Dallas Parks and Recreation committed at the time to make improvements. Sprayground season ended in September, but city officials must ensure that these features are safe when they reopen next summer by checking that staff are properly trained, that they’re following rules and that equipment is working as required.

Lax oversight costs taxpayers. The incident in Kansas sparked a 47-plaintiff lawsuit.

But the people who pay the ultimate price are the families whose children end up in a hospital. City officials must do everything in their power to protect them, and that includes basic, rigorous maintenance of public water features.

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Valley Morning Star. Sept. 30, 2021.

Editorial: Top grade: Valley schools achieve U.S. Blue Ribbon rank

Rio Grande Valley schools continue to exceed traditional perceptions and many expectations with noteworthy performance.

The U.S. Department of Education last week announced its list of National Blue Ribbon Schools. Nationwide, 325 campuses made the list; of the 26 Texas schools on the list, seven — more than one-fourth of them — are in the Valley.

Local Blue Ribbon Schools include Zeferino Farias Elementary in Alamo; Dr. Ruben Gallegos Elementary and Mittie A. Pullam Elementary in Brownsville; South Texas Preparatory Academy in Edinburg; Hidalgo Elementary in Hidalgo; Achieve Early College High School in McAllen; and South Texas ISD’s Rising Scholars Academy in San Benito.

According to the agency, “the recognition is based on a school’s overall academic performance or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.” U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona praised this year’s designees especially for pursuing excellence amid the extraordinary challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I commend … all our Blue Ribbon schools for working to keep students healthy and safe while meeting their academic, social, emotional and mental health needs,” Cardona said while announcing the awards last week at Walter R. Sundling Jr. High School in Palatine, Ill.

“This year’s cohort of honorees demonstrate what’s possible when committed educators, school leaders and staff create vibrant and affirming schools where rich teaching and learning can flourish,” he said, also praising students and parents for doing their part to stay focused on learning despite the challenges and distractions brought on by the pandemic.

Certainly, all deserve the praise, especially the students and their families who overcame the difficulties of remote learning, especially where computer and internet access might not have been always available. Teachers and school administrators also are to be commended for their can-do spirit and creativity in fashioning those remote classes.

The Valley’s latest Blue Ribbon schools continue a noteworthy trend in the program, now in its 39th year. In recent years several Valley schools have made the list.

This progress is welcome in an area that many residents still remember as one that was plagued with low performance and high dropout rates. Today, many area schools boast standardized test scores that are higher than state and national averages.

We trust that trend continues, as educational achievement creates career opportunities that might not have been available to previous generations. We also are confident that the recent growth in higher educational opportunities, with the recent establishment of the UTRGV campus and medical school to the Texas A&M Higher Education Center in McAllen, will inspire students to pursue even higher educational achievement.

We commend all Blue Ribbon schools. May their example motivate other Valley campuses to pursue the highest goals possible.

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