Fort Worth Star-Telegram. May 16, 2014.
Legislators push RR Commission to take charge
Earlier this week, the Texas House Subcommittee on Seismic Activity told the Railroad Commission something its members should already know by now: it's time for some precise findings on what is causing the earthquakes in Tarrant and Parker Counties.
Since last November, things have been a bit shaky in Azle and Reno, as a series of small tremors rolled through the area.
While no significant quakes have been reported since January, there is still understandable concern among area residents who feel efforts to pinpoint and address the earthquakes' causes have been shallow.
The Railroad Commission regulates the state's oil and gas industry, and Monday's House subcommittee hearing set out to consider exactly what role that industry might be playing in the recent seismic activity in North Texas, and what might be done in response.
These are questions to which many, including Reno Mayor Lynda Stokes, believe there are obvious answers. And she contends that the state has the information it needs to act.
But Craig Pearson, the newly-hired seismologist who went to work for the Railroad Commission just last month, was equivocal. He testified that he "hopes" to have "a definitive statement" regarding the source of quakes within a year. At that point, the state could determine what regulatory changes might be needed.
That's not exactly a consolation for those who are living with constant anxiety that the earth will move again — and not in a good way.
Azle Mayor Alan Brundrett said that the experience of the people in Azle could be summed up in one word: frustration, adding "Everyone seems genuinely concerned, but there is a disconnect among the various stakeholders."
Those stakeholders include legislators, geologists, state regulators, private industry and the people of North Texas.
The frustration is likely to continue until the commission returns its findings. But it is encouraging to see legislators pushing that body to take charge and keep the trains moving.
Galveston County Daily News. May 16, 2014.
Prayer and free speech: Are they really the same?
The Supreme Court says public prayer before city council meetings is OK.
That's got to be a victory in the culture wars. But, will people who are deeply religious be happy with the notion of prayer as a form of free speech?
The subject of prayer before governmental meetings wouldn't be contentious except for one fact: Prayer is occasionally used not to invoke blessings and guidance from the Almighty, but as a weapon to hurt other people.
Local governments in Galveston County have had problems with this concept.
Perhaps the low point came a few years ago in a lawsuit involving the Santa Fe school district. Prayers and instruction were used in a way to ridicule and demean a student who was Jewish. The court also was appalled about things said of Mormon students.
The problem isn't isolated. It wasn't long ago you could hear prayers at public meetings across much of rural Texas that were overtly anti-Catholic.
Last week, the court essentially ruled prayers at government meetings are a matter of free speech, meaning that government bodies can't really edit the content.
If the person saying the prayer before the city council meeting wants to make a sectarian attack on another sect, there's just nothing the local government can do.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority in the 5-4 ruling, put it this way: "To hold that invocations must be nonsectarian would force the legislatures that sponsor prayers and the courts that are asked to decide these cases to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech, a rule that would involve government in religious matters to a far greater degree than is the case under the town's current practice of neither editing or approving prayers in advance or criticizing their content after the fact."
That raises an interesting point: While government can't criticize the content after the fact, individual citizens sure can.
One of the widely accepted rules of free speech is if you allow some people to say something, you have to allow others to respond. That's particularly true if you allow people to say something cutting, hurtful or vicious.
And so, if you open a public meeting with a form of free speech that can be construed as hurtful, mean or bigoted, it's only fair to let people point that out.
If the idea of a chorus of dissenters offering critiques of the content of prayers said at public meetings offends your notion of what prayer is, take that up with the U.S. Supreme Court.
For many religious people, prayer is the expression of a private conscience toward a higher power. That expression is deserving of profound respect and reverence.
Prayer as depicted in this ruling is something else. It's just another form of free speech, legally in the same category as the kind of thing you hear at the coffee shop or on talk radio.
Profound respect and reverence do not necessarily follow.
Longview News-Journal. May 18, 2014.
Justice is served in Tiede's release
In the United States, the rule of law is indivisible.
The Constitution is our governing and most important set of laws, but it's only the beginning. Congress and every state legislature pass laws of all kinds for all purposes. Some are good, others have been proven to be poorly crafted and repealed over time. But even those, while in force, are the law. All are to be followed, even when we are not in total agreement.
We bring this up as it relates to the case of convicted murderer Bernie Tiede, who was released on bonds earlier this month while the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals considers a motion that would set his sentence at "time served" in the shooting death of Marjorie Nugent of Carthage.
Many may believe "murder is murder," but that isn't how Texas law sees it. In fact, the range of punishment prescribed by law for first-degree murder shows that those who wrote the laws grasped the importance of circumstances.
A person convicted of first-degree murder, as Tiede was, can receive a sentence from five years (and that can be probation) to 99 years in prison. Sentencing for second-degree murder ranges from two to 20 years in prison.
Panola County District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson said in court this month that had he known of Tiede's long history of being molested as a boy and how it played into the circumstances of Nugent's shooting, he would have charged him with second-degree murder. How much difference would that have made? It almost certainly would have meant Tiede would have been free years ago.
As Davidson said: "I think I might have put 80 years on Bernie that he didn't deserve."
Since he was released, we've heard complaints that Tiede is "getting off," but nothing could be further from the truth. He has served 15 years in prison, an amount of time that is not inconsequential.
Tiede was certainly guilty of killing Nugent. He admitted as much to police and in court testimony. He deserved punishment that included a significant prison term for what he did.
And that is just what he got.
Perhaps we would not be so convinced the right course of action was being followed if there was any disagreement among any of the parties involved. Obviously the defense is interested in seeing Tiede released, but so is Davidson, who has never been known to be soft on crime. Judge Diane DeVasto, a former appellate judge, also has shown no reluctance to move this matter on to the next level.
The law determines the limits of justice, despite what our own emotions may tell us. When emotions become involved, the rule of law — and justice — is always endangered.
In the Tiede case, the law is telling us what is just, and we should listen to what is being said.