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Recent editorials from Texas newspapers

September 26, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Sept. 22, 2017.

Recently, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, kicked up more dust in the Confederate monument debate.

He said the Confederate plaque on the Capitol grounds is misleading.

“Confederate monuments and plaques are understandably important to many Texans. But it is important that the historical information displayed on the Capitol grounds is accurate and appropriate,” he said. “The Children of the Confederacy Creed plaque on the first floor of the Capitol does not meet this standard. The plaque says that the Civil War was not an act of rebellion and was not primarily about slavery. This is not accurate, and Texans are not well-served by incorrect information about our history.”

In making these comments, he has presented Texans with yet another opportunity to have a thoughtful discussion about how we remember the past. But the odds are, we are all going to continue to yell at each other.

The Confederate statue debate had been divisive. And the complicated question, “what part of history do you keep?” will be difficult to resolve easily.

It has sparked impassioned responses from a significant number of people, and it puts city councils all over the state between a rock and hard place.

Dallas voted to remove the Robert E. Lee statue from Lee Park and a backlash followed. The whole ordeal took too long, was expensive and ultimately made people more frustrated.

We live in a time where everyone wants to bang on their chests to make their point known. That can be effective at ensuring one is heard, but a quiet, reasoned discussion is almost always the better option.

It would be something to consider with the ongoing conversations in Fort Worth and beyond.

Calm contemplation and discussion is being seen as negative, but we can change that narrative.

It’s OK to ask the question “Does this historical monument/leader/name need to change?” and allow people to discuss it reasonably.

Let’s do that in Fort Worth, as with Jefferson Davis Park.

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Victoria Advocate. Sept. 23, 2017.

Recovering from a natural disaster such as Hurricane Harvey is not an easy task for anyone.

For small businesses it is like starting all over again, no matter how long they have been in business.

With the myriad programs available to help the general population, small business owners can turn to the Small Business Development Center at the University of Houston-Victoria for assistance in rebuilding.

It is important for small business owners to partner with the SBDC when rebuilding their businesses because they specialize in such services.

And in a time when finances can be tight, SBDC’s services are free.

They offer the following services to help businesses recover from the effects of Hurricane Harvey:

— Counseling for financial, accounting, marketing and other post-disaster challenges

— Management and technical assistance

— Business planning to help business owners re-establish their operations and plan for their future

— Help in reconstructing damaged or destroyed business records

— Assistance with updating or rewriting business plans

— Assistance with accessing government contracts and procurement related to the disaster.

Many times business owners are more interested in just getting the doors re-opened for business and they fail to look to see if their business is still viable in the changed environment.

Reopening takes planning and capital. Lack of these is the reason behind the majority of small business failures.

When recovering, it is important for business owners to understand their business, to consult their business plan and make sure it is still in keeping with the market.

If the market has changed, they need to be able to change their approach and focus on the new model.

The Crossroads is fortunate to have the SBDC, which serves an 11-county area and is part of a state and federal network of small business development centers designed to help small businesses be successful.

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Austin American-Statesman. Sept. 25, 2017.

When the time comes to teach kids about voting, Austin High School government teachers Rolando Duarte and Stephanie Harris provide students with a robust, engaging lesson plan that includes voter registration drives, school-wide mock elections and daily conversations about current events and hot-button issues.

Their approach, studies suggest, help build the foundation for a habit-voting citizen. Unfortunately, not every kid in Texas has a Mr. Duarte or Ms. Hill at their schools. That doesn’t mean Texas students should receive less.

Teaching students the significance of their vote is vital. By voting, young Texans have the power to become engaged citizens and to shape their communities through local and national elections.

For that reason, schools and the Texas secretary of state must improve the mechanisms in place to teach students the power of their vote. Under a 1985 state law intended to register eligible 18-year-old high school students to vote, the secretary of state is required to implement student voter registration efforts across Texas. High schools are required to distribute voter registration applications from the secretary of state twice a school year and to provide certified voting officials on campuses.

With that state law and one of the nation’s fastest-growing youth populations, Texas is well-positioned to be a leader in youth voting participation. Instead, Texas has the third-lowest youth voter participation in the country, beating only Oklahoma and West Virginia, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

One obstacle, according to a recent report by the Texas Civil Rights Project and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, is that most schools lack information about the state law and its requirements.

The recent report found that just 14 percent of 1,428 public high schools in Texas requested voter registration forms from the secretary of state’s office in 2016. The study also found that most schools received little to no information about their obligations from the Secretary of State office.

Secretary of State Rolando Pablos acknowledged in a statement the “deplorable rate of participation in the past” and promised to work with high school principals to help improve participation. In 2013, a similar study by the Texas Civil Rights Project found that about two-thirds of 250 Texas schools and school districts surveyed were not meeting requirements to distribute voter registration forms to eligible students.

It’s important to note that many school districts, including the Austin Independent School District, look to other sources for voter registration forms. Austin ISD, for instance, receives the forms from the Travis County tax office. Travis County is easy to work with, officials told us.

County officials mail and deliver voter registration forms, said Jessica Jolliffe, Austin ISD’s social studies administrative supervisor. They also deputize staff and provide presentations for students about voter registration.

The secretary of state’s office requires that already overburdened high school principals file official requests for voter registration forms. It’s an unnecessary step, as Travis County has shown. Pablos, with information provided on the Texas Education Agency website on the number of eligible seniors, should waive the request requirement and send registration forms at the beginning of each school year — and accept requests if more are needed.

To ensure Texas reaches as many young would-be voters as possible, Pablos’ office should also establish a system, as suggested by the Civil Rights Project report, to track schools that are not complying with their obligations.

Such improvements, however, would only address voter registration for eligible students. Texas schools also need to do their part to better educate students about the power of their vote. Studies show that involving students in election-related learning, simulations of democratic processes and discussions of current events increases the likelihood that a young person will vote.

That’s easy to do during presidential elections, especially one filled with large personalities like those the 2016 campaign season provided, said Duarte, a 16-year government and history teacher. Getting students interested, however, becomes more challenging during nonpresidential election years, he said. That’s when he has to get creative.

This year, for example, Duarte hopes to energize students with news stories on voter restriction laws in Texas and other states.

Ideally, every Texas student would have a passionate teacher like Duarte who values civic education with an emphasis on voting. Even without one, students are entitled to that kind of instruction. The Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills require that high school students understand the responsibility, duties and obligations of citizenship.

Texas needs its young people to show up at the polls. Registering them to vote is one step. Teaching them the power of their vote is another. Providing both, experts say, increases the likelihood the student will become a voter. And, once a person votes, studies show he or she is more likely to vote again. And again.

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The Dallas Morning News. Sept. 25, 2017.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is moving in the wrong direction by imposing new standards for combating sexual violence on college campuses.

She said in July that she’d launch a listening tour before scrapping federal guidelines put in place in 2011 to ensure that universities comply with Title XI obligations regarding rape, assault and harassment. She indicated in early September that she’d wait to impose new guidance until after a notice-and-comment process.

Yet, she recently announced that schools are now free to demand “clear and convincing evidence” before punishing students accused of sexual assault, rather than the current standard known as a “preponderance of evidence.”

Disturbingly, DeVos continues to show she’s more about dissolving protections than safeguarding victims.

The “preponderance” standard, DeVos has suggested, is unfair to students accused of sexual assault. She’s right that there have been a handful of false accusations, but this is an issue where context matters and the history around this issue is critical.

For years, women have been afraid to come forward because schools have demonstrated their unwillingness to take sexual assault allegations seriously.

Yes, the system must ensure fair treatment for all parties. But the scales have systematically been too tipped at many universities against sexual assault survivors. Documented reports show that women’s stories have been habitually swept under the rug or that administrations reacted to allegations of assault by blaming the female students themselves.

Exhibit A: the Baylor sexual assault tragedy right here in Texas. Other examples abound. A 2017 University of Texas survey found that 15 percent of female undergrads at the Austin flagship said they had been raped.

So precisely what reason is there to trust that hardening the standard of proof is moving the bar in the right direction? This only invites campuses to keep these cases in the dark — because it’s often in their best interest to do so.

We agree that some tweaks to the guidelines are warranted. Some universities are getting tripped up on the mechanics of the mandates; others lack the resources and tools needed to do the work properly.

But that’s no reason to completely water down policies that finally provided long-overdue federal support for victims — especially before hearing all sides of this issue.

DeVos also has eliminated a requirement that investigations be completed in 60 days, instead suggesting they can be “reasonably prompt.” She’s specified that mediation be allowed if both parties agree. Mediation was not permitted under the Obama-administration guidelines because of concerns that women would feel unduly pressured to participate in a process designed to go light on the alleged perpetrator.

DeVos should have left the Obama-administration guidelines in place until the conclusion of her promised listening tour and comment period. Changing the rules mid-process does nothing but create more confusion on how universities should handle these cases.

We fear that though these are described as “temporary” guidelines, they will become permanent. That would be a major setback for protecting victims of sexual assault on campuses throughout this nation.

“We will seek public feedback and combine institutional knowledge, professional expertise and the experiences of students to replace the current approach with a workable, effective and fair system,” DeVos said at a Sept. 7 speech at George Mason University.

DeVos announced then that the department would launch a “notice-and-comment process” to re-vamp the Obama-era policy on addressing sexual misconduct, incorporating the “insights of all parties in developing a better way.”

So why go ahead in late September and announce a whole new standard of proof, prior to the conclusion of the comment period.

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Houston Chronicle. Sept. 25, 2017.

The nation united behind Houston during our time of need after Hurricane Harvey. Volunteers and charity fundraisers from coast to coast rallied the resources to help get us out of the muck and back on our feet. Congress acted quickly to pass a $15 billion recovery bill — double the original proposal — and a more robust bill is expected in October.

Now, even as the debris still remains in the streets, our city has a responsibility to guarantee that this national unity can be sustained and redirected to help the latest victims of tropical fury in Puerto Rico.

Hurricane Maria bombarded the island territory with wind and rain, leaving its 3.4 million residents almost entirely without power. Shortages of food and water are imminent, thousands crowd the airports in a desperate attempt to flee to the mainland, hospitals are running out of supplies, the agriculture industry has been devastated, and parts of the island’s interior have been cut off from all communication.

Puerto Rico faces a humanitarian crisis that threatens to eclipse even Hurricane Katrina, and the United States must act.

Those millions born in Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens, but cannot vote for president and have no representation in Congress, so it falls on the rest of the United States to put political pressure on Washington to deliver federal emergency dollars and other resources.

Federal aid has already started to arrive, and the state of New York has sent skilled experts to work on bringing the power grid back online. But beyond the immediate recovery response, Puerto Rico will require robust federal support to help it rebuild. Even before Maria, the territory had been ravaged by an economic storm that left it with $123 billion in debt and under the oversight of a federal board.

Congress, and the nation as a whole, must start asking the serious questions about how Puerto Rico fits into our representative republic — and that includes considering statehood.

For now, however, Puerto Rico needs quick and decisive action to prevent the island from falling over the precipice. This means manpower and money — from both the private and public sector.

This movement for Puerto Rico will have to be built from the bottom-up, because it looks like leadership at the top has decided to ignore the ongoing crisis.

Rather than reaching out to and advocating for his fellow citizens in the Caribbean, Donald Trump spent the weekend picking a fight on Twitter with professional athletes who protest racial inequality and police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem.

Our fellow Americans across the sea are in a dire moment of need — it is time to unite for Puerto Rico.

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