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Recent editorials from Texas newspapers

May 28, 2019

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

Amarillo Globe-News. May 28, 2019.

The impact local journalism can have on daily life came into plain view late last week when a bipartisan group of Texas lawmakers tackled child care reform with a series of bills aimed at bringing greater oversight and long-overdue resources to ensuring accountability for day care facilities across Texas.

The legislative focus was, in part, the result of a powerful Austin American-Statesman series entitled “Unwatched,” a 12-part investigative report that revealed almost 90 children had died of abuse and neglect in Texas day care sites over the previous decade, that another 450 were sexually abused and that the state was many times lax and ineffective in dealing with wayward day care operations.

An outflow of this intense journalistic scrutiny is a package of reform measures, two of which have reached the governor’s desk and two others needing minor differences worked out before they head that way. Equally impressive, the state budget for the 2020-2021 cycle includes $2 million for the state to hire 20 new employees who will be dedicated to a specific day care-related issue.

Regulators will have more tools such as stiffer fines and the ability to crack down on facilities that violate safety rules; the aforementioned new employees will be responsible for ferreting out illegal day care operations, which is where the majority of child deaths took place; oversight in the form of regular inspections will increase for what are typically known as family homes, the least regulated aspect of the legal day care spectrum; and the Health and Human Services Commission will collect data on injury rates and classroom size - historically a safety-prediction metric.

“The concerns highlighted by the Statesman’s investigation provided the necessary momentum to make significant strides,” Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) said in our story. “But our work is far from complete, and the Legislature will have to maintain regular oversight and continue the discussion on how we can address the affordability of child care.”

Shining daylight into corners of society where few others look is one of the most important functions of a free press, and the day care series demonstrates how excellent community journalism can be an agent of change as well as a logical voice of advocacy.

The state’s problems concerning day care safety fall into two main areas — struggles to enforce standards at the child care centers and licensed day care homes that are regularly inspected and a failure to keep track of numerous smaller home-based operations that inspectors do not see until it a tragedy has taken place.

This should not be taken as a blanket indictment of Texas day cares, only an endorsement of legislative efforts to ensure that all operators abide by a standardized and enforceable set of rules — every time. We applaud the overwhelming majority of day care operations that provide a loving, nurturing and educational environment for the children with whom they are entrusted.

“The majority of child care operators and specialists realize the importance of this, but there is still a small contingent of providers who are resistant to any kind of change,” Melanie Rubin, director of the Dallas Early Education Alliance, said in our story.

Parents across West Texas and the state drop off their children at day care centers every day. They deserve peace of mind and confidence that their youngsters will be kept safe, given attention and treated compassionately every day. Beyond that, they should also know there are serious and immediate consequences for that small minority of operators who do not do these things.

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Houston Chronicle. May 28, 2019.

Hurricane Harvey dumped 51 inches of rain on the Houston area, flooded hundreds of thousands of homes and left $125 billion in damage. In its aftermath, it was hard to think of anything but making sure that kind of catastrophic flooding didn’t happen again. But as we rightfully pay attention to flooding, we must also widen our focus and ask, what if the next big storm is different?

It’s hard to forget Harvey, but we must remember Ike.

More than a decade after the Category 2 storm battered the region, killed 43 people and caused almost $30 billion worth of damage, we remain vulnerable to storm surge coming up Galveston Bay and into the Houston Ship Channel. The proposed Coastal Spine project to be built by the Army Corps of Engineers — currently a system of sand dunes and gates at the mouth of Galveston Bay — is still in the study phase and is not expected to be finished until 2035 at the earliest, with a cost of about $31 billion.

Its development is an important step in helping protect our region, but we should see it as a part of a multi-tiered effort for a problem that has no single solution. Support for the Coastal Spine shouldn’t stop us from looking at complementary ideas, such as the Galveston Bay Park Plan.

The proposal, developed by Rice University’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education & Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED) Center, would create a 25-foot-high wall up the middle of Galveston Bay as a series of islands, extending from Houston Point down the ship channel to Texas City.

If initial permitting work begins this year, the project could be completed as early as 2027 and would help protect the bay’s west bank, which is home to 800,000 people, 2.2 million barrels of refining capacity and the hundreds of chemical plants along the channel, said Jim Blackburn, an environmental attorney and co-director of the SSPEED Center.

Part of what makes the project stand out is its multi-purpose nature, with its construction resulting in 10,000 acres of public land that would be open for recreational use. Illustrations for the project show areas for camping, fishing, a marina and event space.

“Right now, there is little access to Galveston Bay. There’s one park, Sylvan Beach, but most of it is private shoreline,” Blackburn said. “This would open up Galveston Bay, it would open up a waterfront.”

The Corps of Engineers views the plan as complementary to the Coastal Spine and it could even piggyback off the Port of Houston’s anticipated efforts to deepen and widen the ship channel, using the dredged materials to build the barrier islands.

The project’s price tag is between $3 billion and $5 billion, with a variety of funding options being considered. The SSPEED Center is working with the economics department at Rice University on the viability of social impact bonds, where private money is invested in a public project, as well as grant money and other public-private partnerships. Energy interests along the ship channel and some insurance companies have shown interest, Blackburn said.

The biggest hurdle moving forward is getting a local government sponsor to apply to the Army Corps of Engineers to begin an environmental study. A permit application is not a commitment to build, but it comes with a price — about $2 million for an engineering plan and to ensure the project’s feasible.

If the plan is as viable as it seems, it will serve as a first line of defense years before the Coastal Spine is ready. In the meantime, a high enough storm surge could wipe out refineries and storage facilities, an economic and environmental disaster from which the community would spend decades recovering.

Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia hosted a recent public presentation of the plan and liked what he saw. While he hasn’t yet committed to pushing for county sponsorship, he welcomes the effort for a multi-pronged approach to dangerous storms such as Hurricane Ike.

“I want to see plans that will protect the community and the industry. Eleven years later with nothing to show for it is an embarrassment,” he said.

We agree.

Harris, Galveston and Chambers counties, individually or in partnership, should sponsor the needed permit. Refineries and other firms that will benefit from its protection should help pay for it. The Galveston Bay Park Plan is a creative, timely solution that deserves to be fully explored.

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The Dallas Morning News. May 28, 2019.

There are few more joyful experiences of Texas than cheering for the home team at a small-town football game. The shops and restaurants decorate to get ready, the band plays, cheerleaders and spirit squads make noise, teachers and moms sell Frito pie and other delicacies and it seems everybody shows up, even if their only connection to the school is paying property taxes.

Winning is a big deal to students and the town. There’s a spirit of community that needs to be felt to be understood.

We love this rite of Texas autumn because we’ve felt it. And because we’ve felt it, we also know it’s about so much more than the final score.

It appeals to something deeper and better in us. It has to, or it won’t be the same.

What the school board in Mount Vernon did when it voted to hire Art Briles as coach might help them win. But it won’t make their football program better. It won’t make their town better.

Mount Vernon is a dot of 2,662 people on the route to Texarkana. Briles is the disgraced former Baylor University football coach whom media reports and an internal investigation exposed for covering up accusations of rape aimed at players. Briles didn’t report the allegations to police or university leaders, allowing the alleged abuse to continue. Though he was not accused of any crime, his ethical choices were contemptible, putting the football program over victims and ultimately hurting everyone involved as well as Baylor itself.

Mount Vernon, which plays at the 3A level, announced on Friday it had hired Briles because, according to Superintendent Jason McCullough, “He is passionate about investing in the lives of young people and helping them to succeed both on the field and in life.”

It is hard to find evidence that is true. In fact, Briles’ time at Baylor is evidence of just the opposite. His failure to put students who were hurt or even were suspected of being hurt by his players above his desire to protect those players represents the sort of moral failure that should disqualify someone from being welcomed to a high school campus.

Winning is important, and no one doubts Briles is a winning coach. But if winning at any cost is the point of high school football in Texas, then you can keep it.

We believe the lights go bright on Fridays to teach our young people something more. They turn on to help them learn about grit, about playing to the end, about being part of a team, about struggling, sweating and giving all they’ve got to one another, and then, at the end, however it comes out, being able to walk across the field and shake the other team’s hands knowing they played hard and played fair.

That’s the sort of winning that is worth it. That’s the sort of losing that is worth it, too.

Whatever happens in Mount Vernon under Briles, whether they take home a state championship or go bust — it will be sullied. It won’t be the game the kids deserve.

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