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Recent editorials from Texas newspapers

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 9, 2015 at 12:01 pm •  Published: June 9, 2015
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The Dallas Morning News. June 8, 2015.

McKinney cop's escalation could have had tragic results

Once again, the nation is fixated on frightening video of a police officer's over-reaction. This time it happened in North Texas. This time no one was hurt.

This time we got lucky.

McKinney police Cpl. Eric Casebolt, in a shockingly wrong-headed decision, determined that a group of unwelcome teenagers at a neighborhood pool was a threat so great that it was necessary to throw a 15-year-old girl to the ground and pin her with both knees — then brandish his gun at two young men who appeared to be trying to help the teen.

Casebolt is shown running around yelling and screaming before putting a full body slam on bikini-clad Dajerria Becton as she sobs, "Call my momma." It's a miracle he didn't wind up bouncing her head off the nearby concrete path.

At least the Police Department had the good sense to respond by placing Casebolt on administrative leave while the city sorts out this scary scenario, captured on a profanity-laced seven-minute video that has been already been viewed millions of times.

The incident took place at McKinney's Craig Ranch, where the homeowners association limits pool use to subdivision residents and two guests per household. Officers responded after residents and a private security officer called police to complain that several teens were at the pool without permission.

The questions are many: Did the kids come in uninvited? Did they refuse to leave? When police arrived, did they they mouth off?

Even if the answer to every one of those questions is "yes," Casebolt's response was still disturbing. There was no need for that level of force. There was no need for him to draw his weapon.

The bigger question: Would this scene have played out differently had the teens been white instead of black?

In contrast to other officers on the video, who can be heard calmly speaking to several teens, Casebolt is agitated from the beginning. Before he grabbed Dajerria, as she walked away from the scene, he'd pulled another teen off his feet then barked at others to "get your asses on the ground."

Rather than seeking to control the situation appropriately, Casebolt let the situation control him, resulting in failure to match the response to the actual threat. It's a giant understatement to note that these unarmed minors, many of them in their bare feet and bathing suits, could have been effectively corralled with far less force.

Instead, a petite teenage girl ended up face down on the ground, and McKinney joins the list of cities suffering a national embarrassment thanks to the action of an over-the-top cop. It's doubly disturbing that any officer would respond this way, seemingly blind to the race-related violence that has ravaged other parts of the country.

Unless there's a lot more to this story than we don't yet know, Casebolt deserves — at least — suspension. And this video belongs in a police training manual as a prime example of what not to do.

Still, as horrific as that video is to watch, perhaps more horrifying is considering the tragic turn it could have taken.

This time we got lucky.

___

San Antonio Express-News. June 8, 2015.

Discretion key to campus carry

The state's new campus carry law, if signed by the governor, will allow concealed weapons on campus — an exceedingly bad idea because it jeopardizes, not ensures, public safety.

Because of how the measure was amended, the law also may bring one or more lawsuits into being. The issue is the level of discretion university officials have in determining where on campus these weapons can be prohibited.

Universities should not use that discretion to ban weapons altogether. But they should be able to employ common sense in narrowly prohibiting them.

Imagine an invited campus speaker who is often a target of hate. Should weapons be allowed at the speech? Common sense dictates not.

On the other hand — though this on the surface also sounds like a bad idea given the party habits of students — it might be unreasonable to prohibit these guns in dormitories. These are essentially students' campus homes, though enforcing secure storage of these weapons is absolutely necessary. Otherwise, we envision thefts and guns getting into the hands of people without even the modicum of training that concealed weapon permits require.

The Legislature enacted this law based on a misinterpretation of the Second Amendment — a bad interpretation to which, unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court has contributed. We harbor the thin hope that Gov. Greg Abbott vetoes the legislation anyway.

Most students behave properly. But campuses are where many youth experience the freedom of life away from home for the first time. The result is too often — as headlines attest — excesses in conduct, including all of the bad judgments that accompany alcohol and other substance abuse.

This requires that university officials have the authority to employ solid, sober judgment on how this law is implemented. That they should have this discretion is beyond question. They just must be reasonable in its application.

___

Houston Chronicle. June 2, 2015.

The 84th Texas Legislature ended its session with key state priorities left unaddressed.

Well, it could have been worse.

In his rookie legislative session as lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick and his red-hot tea-party minions, armed with a mandate and a super-majority, could have taken possession of the pink-domed Capitol and tried to run roughshod over those of a more moderate mien. Fortunately, that didn't happen. Despite his penchant for hyperbole, Patrick was relatively calm — dare we say statesmanlike? — throughout the session. The Senate under his leadership got its work done efficiently while showing respect for the process.

Most of the tea-party noisemakers were in the House, but the noisiest of them, state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, proved to be too much even for his super-conservative colleagues. Like a horse shuddering a fly off its hide, Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, was able to treat Stickland and his fellow blusterers as minor irritants, while serving as a moderating influence on the Legislature throughout the session. Thanks to Straus's temperance and his experience, some of the more controversial items on the tea-party agenda either fell by the wayside or were amended to make them slightly less objectionable. So-called "campus-carry" legislation is one example.

Democrats in both chambers, acutely aware of their perennially diminished status, were able to use the clock in the waning days to fend off some objectionable legislation, but for the most part they went along with priorities laid out in the $209.4 billion state budget. State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, was one of the few who refused to go along simply for the sake of getting along, and we applaud her obstinacy. She's right to insist that lawmakers should have been more responsive to the state's investment needs — in education, transportation and infrastructure, health care, the environment, among others.

Lawmakers leaving town on the wings of self-satisfaction will arrive back home knowing that the Lone Star State still ranks at or near the bottom in addressing the needs of poor children, the mentally ill, the elderly and others. That awareness, however, wasn't enough to prompt them to budget enough money for Medicaid, the joint state-federal insurance program for the poor and disabled. And it wasn't enough for them to relax their irrational opposition to expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which means they continue to ignore billions of dollars in federal aid and continue to turn their backs on several million uninsured Texans.

Greg Abbott, the state's new Republican governor, got most of what he wanted from the Legislature, including more money for pre-kindergarten. It's not enough money, but at least it's a start.

Meanwhile, lawmakers gave him too much money for another of his priority issues: border security. Both chambers were eager to spend millions of Texas taxpayers' money to keep Department of Public Safety troopers and the National Guard milling around on the border at a time when illegal crossings are at their lowest level in 20 years and the federal government is spending millions to combat drug and human trafficking.

On another of his signature issues, ethics reform, the governor got stiffed. In his State of the State address in January, Abbott noted that "rejection of ethics reform will rightfully raise suspicions about who we truly serve — ourselves or the people of Texas."

We are, indeed, suspicious, after lawmakers couldn't end an impasse between those who wanted Texans to know the origins of so-called dark money in campaigns and those who insist that donors have a right to be anonymous. Pressure from the radical right killed any chance at compromise.

Tom "Smitty" Smith, director of Public Citizen Texas, noted the last time lawmakers enacted meaningful ethics reform that Ann Richards was governor. Abbott, Smith charged, did little to end the impasse, despite his avowed interest in the issue.

The governor, the lieutenant governor and the speaker all promised tax cuts — Patrick was the most vociferous — but the tax cut result was more modest than the politicians promised. Businesses that pay the state's franchise tax will see a 25 percent reduction in rates. Most taxpayers won't be getting any cuts at all, although lawmakers did agree to increase the size of property tax homestead exemptions by $10,000, if voters approve. For the average homeowner, that would amount to about the price of a family Astros outing, $126. Renters are out of luck.

Among the legislation that ended up in the ditch, fortunately, was a Patrick proposal for school choice that would have given businesses a tax cut for contributing to a scholarship fund to help schoolchildren attend private schools. Enough lawmakers saw the proposal for what it was- an end run around public support for public schools — to scuttle it.

Also biting the dust, fortunately, were immigration proposals that would have made Texas resemble Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Arizona. Efforts to require local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws failed to pass, as did cold-hearted attempts to repeal in-state tuition at Texas colleges and universities for so-called Dreamers, immigrants brought to this country illegally as children.

Tea-party efforts to legalize discrimination against LGBT Texans also failed.

Bills that should have failed included the ban on anti-drilling ordinances prompted by Denton's effort to control fracking operations within city boundaries. State leaders were more eager to please the oil and gas industry than they were to stand up for their professed belief in local control.

At least, they didn't undercut local control to the extent that the governor wanted. He hoped the state would prevent towns and cities from implementing such local initiatives as bans on plastic bags; to the governor, that was a step toward "California-izing" Texas.

Perhaps the most confounding piece of legislation to pass this session is Senate Bill 11, the so-called "campus carry" bill that lawmakers were hellbent on passing despite opposition from university administrators, campus police, students, parents and faculty. Open carry was pretty much a done deal from the beginning, but campus carry, in the words of state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, "is a solution in search of a problem. With so many priorities left unaddressed, it's a shame that the Legislature has spent so much time and energy on an unneeded law that will cost millions of dollars and result in unintended consequences for years to come."

___

Corpus Christi Caller-Times. June 3, 2015.

Only a little anti-immigrant policy emerged

Thankfully, the ugly anti-immigrant rhetoric of the 2014 election did not translate into as much law as its beneficiaries sought from the 84th Legislature.

Two key pieces of legislation failed. One would have denied in-state college tuition rates to Texas residents who, in many cases through no fault of their own, aren't citizens and may not be legal residents. The other would have overridden local jurisdictions' decisions not to use their law enforcement officers as extension of the Border Patrol.

Unfortunately, the secure-the-border theme will cost Texas taxpayers $800 million in additional Department of Public Safety firepower.

Even former Gov. Rick Perry thinks it's mean-spirited to deny in-state tuition to the class of immigrant young people known as DREAMers. And that's saying a lot, considering how far right Perry is willing to go if he thinks it'll give him a chance in the Republican presidential primary.

As for the so-called sanctuary cities bill, it would have eroded the principle of home rule by usurping local jurisdictional decision-making authority on law enforcement priorities. Local law officers have enough responsibilities without also enforcing federal immigration law. It's not as if the Border Patrol would reciprocate by handing out speeding tickets and catching shoplifters. Local officials know better than those sent to Austin who's menacing their communities. They shouldn't have to check out whether people who aren't menacing their communities are in the U.S. illegally just to conform to state lawmakers' extreme campaign rhetoric.

Neither should taxpayers have to pay for extra DPS officers on the unverified say-so of our state's anti-Obama politicians that the federal government is abdicating its responsibility to secure the border. But they will. They will pay more than six times the amount that Gov. Greg Abbott sought and received from the Legislature to improve prekindergarten, which he declared his highest priority. How's that for misplacement of funding priorities?

It would be one thing if the DPS surge ordered last summer along with the dispatch of 1,000 Texas National Guard troops had been proven effective. But that's not the case. During the session, Rep. Cesar Blanco, D-El Paso, asked some simple questions that pretty much exposed the DPS surge as a sham. He asked the DPS to account for itself, which the DPS did by providing statistics on apprehensions. But when Blanco asked the DPS to separate the DPS's apprehensions from those by other agencies, the DPS stonewalled, saying that the effort was multiagency teamwork.

Call us cynics, but we can't imagine that DPS officials would have withheld stats that made them look good for fear of looking like glory hogs.

As we predicted in an editorial April 12, the DPS got the $800 million without proving its case because the political tide in its favor was too strong.

If the additional DPS troopers were schoolteachers, they'd have been labeled an unnecessary expansion of government jobs. Hence $130 million for pre-K and $800 million for state troopers.

Here's another prediction: Being government workers, and having been scorched by Blanco, DPS officials will know to cook up statistics justifying the $800 million and then some. They'll make border security the new war on drugs. We keep fighting that one and look where it has gotten us.

___

Austin American-Statesman. June 1, 2015.

Relief at legislative session's end

It wasn't as bad as it could have been. And with that terse assessment, we sign off on the 84th session of the Texas Legislature.

The session began in January with a new governor and lieutenant governor for the first time in more than a decade, and with Republicans holding a tighter grip than ever on state government while Democrats scrounged for legislative relevance. It entered the history books with conservatives proudly claiming major victories, and with Democrats (and some Republicans) relieved it wasn't the tea party-led catastrophe they had feared it would be.

As the American-Statesman reported, several analysts see this session as one in which the center-right held against tea party Republicans hoping to tug the Legislature farther to the right. For this reason, many tea party lawmakers — for whom anyone interested in trying to govern is never going to be conservative enough — consider the session a disappointment and already have begun talking about rounding up candidates to challenge Republican incumbents in next year's party primaries.

Yet, make no mistake: This was a conservative session. To say that the center-right held is as much a statement about how far to the right the political spectrum has shifted in Texas as it is about political moderation asserting itself over reactionary ideologues.

The Legislature passed a $209.4 billion budget for the 2016-17 fiscal years that leaves an available $3 billion unspent. Lawmakers cut taxes by $3.8 billion. They expanded gun rights by allowing licensed handgun carriers to openly carry their holstered guns in public and by legalizing concealed handguns on college campuses, with some tepid limits granted universities.

They increased spending on border security by 70 percent, from $468 million to $800 million. By the time the next session rolls around in 2017, lawmakers will have spent around $1.6 billion over the past several years on boosting border security without knowing whether it's delivering results. Yet, somehow, this questionable spending is considered a conservative priority.

And attacking local control became a conservative cause this session. Conservatives used to hold local control in high esteem. Now, they see people who come together to decide what is best for them and their communities as threats to liberty, and they sided with the oil and gas industry over voters who might want to limit fracking in their cities and towns.

A question of personalities loomed over the session when it began in January. Like other lawmakers elected on a tea party platform, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick brought to office a brand of conservatism that challenges the traditional definition of what it means to be conservative. Right away, he eliminated the Texas Senate's two-thirds rule, taking away from Democrats a tool members of the chamber's minority party have used for decades to temper legislation. Patrick governed without stoking open intraparty opposition to his rule, however, and the session's tone was set in no small way by the Senate.

The big unknown entering the session was how Gov. Greg Abbott would react, since he was untested legislatively. Except for his broadside against local ordinances, it appears Abbott mostly worked quietly behind the scenes, nudging legislation this way and that. Abbott is more ideologically aligned with Patrick, but he seems to have aligned himself legislatively with House Speaker Joe Straus to keep the session on as even a keel as possible.

This was Straus' session if it was anyone's. He led a bipartisan coalition of House Republicans who are less reactionary than many of their conservative colleagues and Democrats who have no other place to go but to stick with Straus and hope for the best. As a result, for example, the 2001 state law that allows some undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities survived Senate attempts to kill it. And the House managed to turn back the Senate's plan for private school vouchers, which would have left public schools in tatters.

Supporters of public schools can find relief in an additional $1.5 billion set aside for public education above what lawmakers budgeted to cover enrollment growth, though funding levels for about one-third of school districts will remain below where they were in 2011. And the Legislature, prodded by Abbott, increased spending on prekindergarten education by $130 million — though, again, the boost is less than what Texas cut from pre-K in 2011.

Finally, it was a relief when the session-long attempt to prohibit officials from issuing same-sex marriage licenses, no matter how the U.S. Supreme Court rules this month on the issue, ended with a meaningless resolution praising "traditional" marriage. Don't be surprised if the Legislature's revanchists continue to attack same-sex marriage no matter the legal landscape two years from now.

But until then, a break, and a chance to absorb further what has been wrought.


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