Recent editorials from Texas newspapers
The Associated Press
Jan. 23, 2018
Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:
The Monitor. Jan. 21, 2018.
While the number of undocumented people living in the United States is often debated and needs to be better quantified, getting that information via the 2020 Census is not the way to do it.
Doing so would jeopardize the decennial Census, which already is being threatened by budget and personnel cuts and technology changes. Adding a citizenship question would likely result in many more people not being counted. This includes those who are afraid of being identified by the federal government and targeted for deportation, and that could be a significant number of people in the Rio Grande Valley.
As Efrén Olivares, racial and economic justice director for the Texas Civil Rights Project, in Alamo, told us: "As a general matter I think it would be a good idea to count and know who is not a citizen because obviously they are overlooked and not counted. . On the other hand, there is a chilling effect that they might not participate in the Census if asked immigration questions. So that in itself already outweighs the pros."
Olivares, whose organization offers free legal counsel to mostly minority clients, said there is already a general distrust of the federal government under the Trump Administration, which has taken a hard line against immigrants and the need for building a wall here on the Southwest border to keep people out.
"This administration is looking for ever more creative ways to identify people who are here undocumented, regardless of their immigration status, and place them in removal proceedings or worse," Olivares told us.
That would not be the application of the Census that our Forefathers had envisioned when they wrote it into the Constitution under Article 1, Section 2. The primary goal of the Census is to count the populous in order to have accurate representation in Congress, and for division of funds to communities based on population and needs .
Diluting the purpose of the Census for nefarious gain would be morally, ethically, and we believe legally wrong.
It's hard to fathom then why the Department of Justice sent a Dec. 12 letter to Dr. Ron Jarmin, acting director of the Census Bureau, asking for a citizenship question on the upcoming Census, saying it would add "important protections against racial discrimination in voting."
The Census is one of our nation's most time-honored and sacred events — one in which the populous has been promised that an individual's information will be kept private. But with a president in office who has openly blasted immigrants, and made disparaging comments about minorities, what promise is there that his administration will not divulge the data from the Census and give it to the Department of Justice to weed out those it doesn't believe belong in this country?
Just like those who signed up and gave their information to the federal government under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — which President Donald Trump has said he wants to end this year — what guarantee do they have that that information will not be used against them?
Trust in our leaders means we believe they will do the right thing. It is obvious that many do not have that faith in this administration right now. Therefore the next full Census should not be altered or changed in any way that could skew the entire count — a count that our nation and local governments and communities rely upon.
Houston Chronicle. Jan. 21, 2018.
What makes Texas famous? Ranches? Oil? Breakfast tacos?
These days, the question worth asking is what makes Texas infamous. The Lone Star State has started making headlines across the globe for maternal mortality.
It's true that far too many Texas mothers die during pregnancy or within a year following giving birth and that African-American Texans are at greatest risk. However, a new study has found that the data underlying these disturbing headlines is imprecise, with the study's co-author noting that she was surprised at "just how bad the data was."
"If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it," Albert Einstein once said. Although maternal mortality is a complicated problem that will require more than a one-minute solution, Gov. Greg Abbott and our local lawmakers need to focus on establishing reliable data if they intend to solve the problem. Our public health system can't effectively work to halt this deadly pandemic if it can't track what's going on.
While bills passed last session supported further research on maternal mortality, the Legislature and our local officials need to go further. The Reducing Maternal Mortality Steering Committee convened by the Houston Endowment has identified several worthwhile solutions.
At the state level, the Department of Health and Human Services should create electronic data linkages between death and birth certificates to better identify pregnancy-associated deaths.
Harris County particularly needs extra scrutiny. Existing information shows that the rate of severe maternal morbidity — health complications that can lead to death — in Harris County is 20 percent higher than the already unacceptably high Texas rate. County Judge Ed Emmett and Mayor Sylvester Turner should cooperate to establish a multi-disciplinary, independent maternal health council responsible for consistently reviewing data on the health of women in our area to guide reforms.
In addition, a registry for data on the quality and safety of hospital care for new mothers should be developed so that doctors and scientists can better understand the key contributors to maternal mortality.
The endowment's steering committee found that a part of the problem is that women's health is considered only after the health of babies. In this great state, there's no reason why we can't try to make headlines for treating mother and child alike with the utmost care.
San Antonio Express-News. Jan. 22, 2018.
State lawmakers need to come up with a long-term solution for funding the health costs of Texas' retired teachers.
Tweaks in the last year will keep the TRS-Care solvent through the 2019 fiscal year, but the plan has a projected $400 million shortfall by the end of 2021.
Balancing it on the shoulders of the more than 250,00 retirees is not the answer. Placing the responsibility on school districts that are already shouldering more of the cost of public education only results in yet another unfunded mandate for local taxpayers.
There are many factors to blame for the funding woes. Early retirement of teachers before they qualify for Medicare, increased longevity, and skyrocketing medical and prescription medicine cost are all playing a role. However, some of the blame rests squarely on the Texas Legislature for creating the program in 1985 with a less-than-stable financial foundation. The plan is supported primarily by contributions from the state, school districts and working teachers.
Many of those contributions are set as a percentage of teachers' payroll, and in the last decade teachers have not enjoyed much in pay raises.
Some retirees have been forced to return to the workforce to cover the escalating premiums and deductibles. Many are going back to the classroom as substitute teachers, but not all retirees have that option. Many suffer from chronic illnesses or are family caregivers.
Retired teachers did not teach for the money. There were promises made along the way about what they could expect come retirement. One of those commitments was health insurance.
The state needs to live up to that commitment.
The Dallas Morning News. Jan. 22, 2018.
Gov. Greg Abbott will ask the Legislature to pass a property tax reform plan that would cap revenue growth in school districts, cities and counties at 2.5 percent a year. So what's not to like about this proposal?
It surely will be politically popular and is likely to be the cornerstone of Abbott's re-election campaign. Yet, while the idea sounds attractive, voters should be aware of what's driving local tax hikes — for the most part, a decline in the state's share of funding public schools.
On a per-student basis, the state pays less for public education now than it did 10 years ago. While throwing money at public schools is not the cure-all for problems, it is a factor. The Dallas Independent School District is at a disadvantage when it comes to hiring teachers, who can draw better pay in the suburbs. Additionally, Abbott's plan is particularly troubling for fast-growing areas needing to build more schools.
The state's strongest tool for slowing the growth of property taxes is to take the pressure off local districts by raising its share of public education costs. In the last regular session, lawmakers allowed state spending for public education to fall by $1.1 billion, before restoring a few dollars in the special session.
Lawmakers also argued without resolve over a proposed local tax cap with the Senate favoring 4 percent and the House 6 percent. Abbott's proposal is even more stringent. Whatever happened to traditional Republican orthodoxy that favored local control?
Abbott's tax cap plan includes one laudable proposal: that the state stop imposing unfunded mandates on local governments. Cities and counties have complained about costs forced on them and then state leaders objecting when taxes go up.
The amount of local tax increase should be for local citizens to determine, and they have a direct role in electing local officials. Additionally, rather than tying the hands of local officials, the state should step up on public education funding.
Abbott is expected to produce an education finance plan before the 2019 session. Let's wait until we see that proposal before deciding whether to embrace his local tax cap plan.
Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Jan. 22, 2018.
Police Chief Mike Markle is right: There is a culture of bad behavior among drivers in Corpus Christi and it needs to change.
The question is how to change it. Traditional policing, which Markle's department has been doing, is part of the solution. But it isn't nearly enough. If it were, the problem would be solved. Speed traps have been done before.
A highly visible patrol car changes driving behavior only in its vicinity, and only for the temporary time it's there being seen. Same goes for the motorcycle officers who are so deviously adept at hiding in plain sight until it's too late for a speeder to slow down. The effects of receiving a speeding ticket wear off eventually, and the recipient is back to his or her old ways.
So, the challenge for Markle is how to use his resources to go beyond the traditional punitive deterrent, to re-educate drivers to be less discourteous. Drilling down to the core problem would be a good start. The problem is not simply that people drive too fast and run stop signs and red lights. Those are symptoms. The illness is discourtesy born of a disregard for one's own and others' safety.
The problem is easy to see. Just watch how drivers approach the bottlenecks caused by street reconstruction projects throughout the city. Two vivid examples are at Shoreline Boulevard near the Emerald Beach Hotel and the one-way traffic on Santa Fe toward the Ayers Street intersection. Drivers who know full well that they will have to merge into a single lane, because they travel that way daily, barrel down the other lane past the drivers who already merged, then play a dangerous game of chicken to sandwich their vehicles into the next lane where the two lanes taper into one.
We'd say that it takes a special kind of recklessness and disregard for others to drive like that. But, unfortunately, it's not all that special. Drivers by the hundreds do it daily in Corpus Christi. Again, speeding is only a symptom. The willingness to endanger self and others to shave a few seconds off a car trip is the culture that needs to change.
Markle's challenge is bigger than traditional policing and he needs to recognize and respond to it, with the resources he controls and the ones he can enlist. We don't know exactly how police officers should go about being ambassadors of courteous driving habits. But that's the real challenge Markle must meet in this complex, modern world.
The role of police officer, and chief, shouldn't be so narrow that it applies only to traditional enforcement. For example, a police chief's opinions about road design should count for something. Markle isn't a licensed civil engineer, but he's stuck with enforcement on roads whose design makes drivers feel comfortable going 20 mph or more over the speed limit.
Those speed-inducing roadways tie together a city whose population density per square mile is, to say the least, loose. We're a sprawling city. Its drivers travel long distances within the city limits. It's understandable that they'd want to compress the time it takes.
We're not saying don't run speed traps. We're just asking what else the police department will do to solve a problem that speed traps have never solved except in small communities with earned reputations for being speed traps. Let's assume we don't want to be that kind of community. Let's also assume that the answer to our question is, by necessity, likely to expand the job description of police chief and officer, for the better. Let's assume that Markle and his officers are up to it.