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Recent editorials from Texas newspapers

January 29, 2019

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

Longview News-Journal. Jan. 27, 2019.

In its new study on economic drivers in our state’s top metropolitan areas, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas did something long overdue: It embraced the fact Longview and Tyler are connected not just by geography but by shared history and industry — and that together our region’s leading cities cannot be ignored.

Or, as the Fed said in “At the Heart of Texas,” its December study looking at how industry clusters drive growth: “Although Tyler and Longview are separate metropolitan statistical areas, the neighboring communities’ commercial activities overlap and complement one another.”

It was the first time the combined Tyler-Longview metros — which includes Smith, Gregg, Rusk and Upshur counties — have been included in the study. The inclusion is gratifying, and significant.

Through the data it presented, the Fed showed another long-sought goal has been reached: diversification of our regional economy beyond its energy industry backbone.

While the region’s modern economy was shaped by discovery of oil in the 1930s, the new study showed health care now is the dominant employer in Tyler-Longview, accounting for 17.6 percent of jobs. That compared with a statewide average of 11.6 percent.

The sheer size of the East Texas health care industry is significant, a Fed analyst told us, and makes clear Tyler-Longview is the region’s health care hub. More positive news: The East Texas health care industry is outgrowing the state average, making it a key economic driver.

Retail was our region’s second-largest field, with East Texas’ 12.3 percent employment also outstripping the statewide average of 11 percent. That was followed by education, which employs more than 9 percent of our population.

More evidence of success in diversifying our regional economy was found in the Fed’s data on East Texas’ transportation and logistics sector. Already, it is about 10 percent more prominent than the national average — and growing.

Though fourth by total number of jobs, the energy and mining sector remains active and the jobs it provides pay more on average than the top three areas. The Fed said that reflects the legacy of the massive East Texas oilfield and the more recently tapped Haynesville Shale formation, which mostly holds natural gas.

The report also highlighted what it termed our region’s mature machinery manufacturing sector, another well-paying segment illustrating diversity.

There are some areas requiring attention, however. One is that the local population is less educated than the Texas average. The share of the population over age 25 with a bachelor’s degree or more is 22.4 percent compared with 28.9 percent statewide. That may be one reason average wages in East Texas are less than the state average.

Another is the Tyler-Longview labor force participation rate. At 58.9 percent in 2016, it trailed both the state and the nation. While we would prefer to see that improving, our lower rate might indicate success of a sort: Efforts to increase our city’s population by attracting retirees, who live on fixed incomes, may be working.

The bottom line on the new study is that our region’s leading cities work best when working together — and the combined economic clout of their diversifying economies cannot be ignored.

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Houston Chronicle. Jan. 28, 2019.

A measles outbreak health advisory issued last year by the Texas Department of State Health Services is a reminder that this state is walking down a dangerous path by issuing too many waivers to parents who don’t want their children to get immunization shots required to attend school.

Texas is one of 18 states that allows waivers of school vaccine requirements based on parents’ conscience or personal beliefs. Last year nearly 57,000 students claimed a non-medical exemption from taking otherwise mandatory shots to attend school. Houston, Austin, Fort Worth and Plano all rank among the top 15 metropolitan areas in the nation for vaccine exemptions.

Many of these waivers were granted at the request of parents who still believe the debunked theory that childhood immunization may cause autism or other disorders. Despite scientific evidence that the theory is just plain wrong, Texans for Vaccine Choice has successfully lobbied the Texas Legislature to kill any bill that would make it more difficult to get a vaccine waiver.

The state issued a measles advisory after six cases were confirmed in Ellis County, south of Dallas. The advisory noted that one person with the disease went to the movies at a Waxahachie theater last January. It takes 10-12 days for measles symptoms to show. What if a child at that movie theater wasn’t vaccinated? What if that child went to school not knowing he was contagious. That’s how easily an outbreak can spread.

A public health emergency was declared Jan. 18 in Washington state, where 26 measles cases have been confirmed since the month began. The outbreak was mostly confined to Clark County, Washington, where almost a quarter of all public school students are not vaccinated. Officials said 19 of the 23 cases had never received a measles vaccine. Eighteen are children 10 years old or younger.

For most people, measles means a blotchy skin rash, a runny nose, maybe a cough — but the disease can be fatal. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the last measles death in the United States was recorded in 2015. Worldwide, however, the disease kills more than 100,000 people a year, most of them children with no access to the vaccine that could have saved their lives.

Texas needs to clamp down on the number of vaccine waivers this state is granting. Legislators swayed by “preservation of personal liberties” groups like Texans for Vaccine Choice forget that every freedom has its limits. That is especially so when it comes to protecting the lives of vulnerable children.

“Children have a fundamental right to be protected against deadly childhood infections, just like they are entitled to be placed in a car seat or a safety belt,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, head of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. That shouldn’t be so hard for legislators to understand.

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The Dallas Morning News. Jan. 29, 2019.

If you ask City Manager T.C. Broadnax or Police Chief U. Renee Hall about crime in Dallas, they’ll tell you that major crimes are down. But as we peruse the city’s own database two deadly crimes stand out: weapons and drugs.

According to the Dallas Police Department’s weekly report to City Council members, weapons violations citywide are up 69 percent so far this year. Drug and narcotics offenses are up 57 percent.

What brought these statistics onto our radar was the arrest on Saturday of Rene Eduardo Montanez Jr. on a capital murder charge in the death of Joseph Anthony Pintucci, an 18-year-old former Highland Park High School student. Police describe the incident as a drug deal gone bad in a parking garage. Pintucci’s death has drawn a great deal of attention, but a quick review of this newspaper’s files reveal many other such drug-related acts of violence.

Here are the details as we know them about Pintucci’s shooting last week at the Shops at Park Lane. Police said he had used a social media app to arrange a drug sale, according to an arrest-warrant affidavit. He was in his car with two other people when Montanez and two men pulled guns and stole the drugs from him, according to the affidavit. One suspect shot Pintucci, who later died, as the trio fled on foot, the affidavit says.

Drug deals go bad all across the city and often result in violence. Pintucci’s murder, tragic as it is, is not unique in its circumstances.

But it has caused us to reflect on a growing and worrying sense that we hear expressed more and more often in the city. We worry that Dallas is re-entering a period where residents feel less safe. A review of any number of neighborhood social media pages will reveal that crime is, again, becoming the top topic, whether it is theft or threat of violence. Snapshots of horrible crimes like Pintucci’s murder can spread fear beyond the reality of the actual public risk. And our city does remain safer in many ways than it was in different time in history. But in cities, when it comes to crime and safety, perception is reality. And the perception is shifting.

We have seen strong neighborhoods around Dallas rallying dormant crime watches and gathering funds to hire extra officer patrols. These are important and valuable tools to prevent crime. But they also suggest a broader sense that the city isn’t handling fears of crime with the resources it has.

No neighborhood crime watch was going to prevent Pintucci’s death. But the idea a person can be gunned down in the parking lot of a popular shopping center only reinforces creeping fear.

For the city to succeed, the first principle is that the people must feel safe. That is job one of city government. In Dallas, that sense is ebbing.

Whether the city council, the city manager and the police chief are ready to acknowledge it is another question.

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