News Roundup: Lawsuits, Laws, and Plea Bargains
Brian Rodgers vs. COA, Abbott vs. women's rights, etc.
By News Staff,
7:00AM, Mon. Jun. 15, 2015
In this week's News Roundup, Brian Rodgers files a lawsuit claiming the city of Austin is withholding public information; Texas businesses warn that anti-LGBTQ discrimination will hurt Texas business; Greg Abbott signs a law restricting abortion access even further; and more.
• Rodgers Sues for Records: On Thursday, June 11, Brian Rodgers filed a lawsuit in the 98th District Court against the city of Austin for allegedly withholding records and documents Rodgers requested concerning three matters: 1) correspondence between city officials and the Downtown Austin Alliance concerning last year’s defeated urban rail project; 2) records concerning the inception and development of the Decker Lake golf course proposal; 3) records concerning the city’s tentative and withdrawn proposal to buy state-owned land at 45th and Bull Creek that – according to the pleadings – “could have been developed as a public park.” In the characteristic stylings of Rodgers' attorney, former county judge Bill Aleshire, the petition says “the claim by management of the city of Austin that it is dedicated to ‘transparency and accountability’ is a farce.” The suit argues that the city has systematically delayed, denied, or redacted responses to Rodgers’ requests, and asks the court for an expedited hearing, all the requested information, and court costs and attorney’s fees. – Michael King
• A duo of anti-LGBT Texas House members were simply elated to learn that they had been slapped with failing grades from gay rights advocacy group, Equality Texas. The A+ to F- rankings took into account votes and filed legislation during the 84th legislative session that impacted the LGBTQ community. “I am very happy to represent the pro-family values in my district,” wrote Rep. Molly White, R-Belton, on Facebook, with an accompanying link to the list. White – who ranked No. 1 among the Top 10 worst representatives – drew criticism earlier this year when her staff refused to meet with constituents lobbying for gay rights. Resident former fetus and ardent foe of equality Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, similarly wrote on his page, “Proud to receive an ‘F-' from Equality Texas again! Sometimes failing is #winning.” (Thankfully, the Lege didn’t gain enough momentum to pass any substantial anti-LGBTQ measures this session.) Stay classy, haters. – Mary Tuma
• Rainbow Corps: A business coalition organized this year to combat discriminatory, anti-LGBTQ legislation, Texas Competes announced last week that 270 companies, including 15 Fortune 500 companies, had signed its nondiscrimination pledge, saying discriminatory laws contemplated (and defeated) during the just-ended 84th Legislature “would have been harmful to the pro-business Texas brand.” “Texas businesses proactively took a leadership role on equality this year …” said Jessica Shortall, managing director of Texas Competes. “Now we must keep the momentum going. The more elected officials at all levels hear from business on LGBT issues, the more Texas becomes a magnet for talented workers and entrepreneurial innovation.” According to the organization, recent pledge signers include Dow Chemical, RetailMeNot, JetBlue, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Salt Lick BBQ, and Flo’s Bail Bonds. Inaugural signers included the Texas Association of Business, American Airlines, Texas Instruments, Dell, Marriott, Southwest Airlines, Dallas Mavericks, and many others. Lyn Herr, VP for worldwide human resources at Silicon Labs, said, “As a company headquartered in Austin, we are stakeholders in the state’s economy and believe it’s essential to speak up via the Texas Competes pledge. … We want Texas to be welcoming to LGBT people.” The full list of corporate signees is available here. – M.K.
• Convicted baby-killer Cathy Lynn Henderson pleaded guilty to intentionally killing three-month-old Brandon Baugh in 1994 after 20 years spent claiming that the murder was an accident. On Friday, she accepted a 25-year prison sentence and waived her right to appeal the conviction.
Henderson, 58, was babysitting Baugh at her Pflugerville-area home when she killed him. Instead of calling for help, she took off with his body and buried him in a field in Bell County before running off to her home state of Missouri. She claimed for years that Baugh died when he slipped through her arms and fell four feet onto a concrete floor.
Henderson was once on death row, and was originally scheduled for an April 2007 execution. But a postponement granted by Judge Jon Wisser gave her defense a chance to prepare an appeal that argued “new” science indicated the death could have been an accident. An evidentiary hearing prior to the appeal found former Chief Medical Examiner Roberto Bayardo detailing the ways which the science concerning head trauma has in fact changed, and that there was no way to say with any medical certainty whether the incident was an accident or not. Wisser recommended that Henderson be granted a new trial, which, until her Friday admission, had been set for Sept. 21.
“Because of the change in testimony by former Chief Medical Examiner Robert Bayardo regarding how the child may have sustained the injuries and the deaths of several key witnesses, we felt the 25 year sentence on a plea to intentional murder was a just result, and spared the victim’s family the anguish of another trial,” lead prosecutor Beverly Matthews said in a statement. – Chase Hoffberger
• Gov. Greg Abbott (a little too) quietly signed HB 3994, a draconian package law restricting abortion access to minors, Friday afternoon. The multi-part legislation dramatically limits judicial bypass, the complex legal process typically abused or neglected minors navigate to obtain abortion without consent from a parent. Among the obstacles imposed by HB 3994: Increases the burden of proof of abuse for minors; prolongs the period a judge can rule on bypass from two to five business days; and prevents minors from obtaining bypass in an outside county (unless there are fewer than 10,000 residents in their home county). Many of the minors that have used the bypass process did so because they had no relationship with their parents due to death, drug abuse, abandonment, or jail.
Jane’s Due Process, which assists minors through the process, say the law flies in the face of U.S. Supreme Court guarantees that ensure judicial bypass remain “anonymous, expeditious” and grants an “effective opportunity” for an abortion. “This legislation throws out a constitutional law that protected abused teens and replaced it with an unconstitutional one that obstructs teens who are seeking help,” said Susan Hays, Jane’s Due Process legal director. “If abused teens cannot get help, more harm will come to them.” It’s highly likely the law will be met with a legal challenge, sharing the same fate as other conservative-led efforts to restrict women’s health, such as the state’s pre-abortion sonogram law; a rule to exclude Planned Parenthood from a Medicaid program; and the omnibus abortion-restrictive House Bill 2, upheld earlier this week by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.– M.T.
• The Public Safety Commission heard testimony from the chiefs of staff of the fire department, police department, and ATCEMS last week concerning potential fall-outs and zapped services should each incur a 2.5% cut in their respective budgets. AFD anticipates the closure of one fire station and a reduced service contract for funding wildfire fuel mitigation efforts; APD expects to see the elimination of its Office of Community Liaison as well as 38 positions in its highway enforcement division (currently responsible for the department’s DWI and motorcycle units); and ATCEMS foresees, among other things, losing its American Heart Association-accredited CPR/First Aid certification program altogether. A full list of expected cuts can be found below. The three departments say the reductions would save the city more than $12.9 million annually.
• Reduce overtime expense which will result in reductions in services such as the number of fire technical inspections performed and the number of community events coordinated.
• Eliminate five temporary civilian positions in administrative functions and specialized functions such as building maintenance, tracking EMT certifications, and documenting continuing education.
• Reduce service contract funding for wildfire fuel mitigation efforts, which will reduce total acreage treated for wildfire prevention by 50%.
• Close a fire station and hold 16 vacant firefighter positions unfunded.
• Eliminate the district representative and the five sergeants and 39 officers who coordinate with other city departments and non-governmental agencies to address community concerns and quality of life issues.
• Eliminate the Office of Community Liaison and the 11 full-time civilian positions.
• Eliminate 38 positions in Highway Enforcement.
Emergency Medical Services
• Reduce the EMS Chaplain program by 50%.
• Reduce funding for safety-ware and uniforms for sworn personnel.
• Eliminate a position in the Warehouse & Supply unit, slowing the distribution of medical supplies and equipment to support field staff.
• Eliminate temporary staff positions and funding for software maintenance.
• Eliminate two positions and reduce funding for small tools and equipment, limiting the department’s ability to adequately address routine fleet and facility maintenance.
• Eliminate the American Heart Association-accredited CPR/First Aid certification program.
• Eliminate funding for medical training equipment, reduce travel for city business, and eliminate two sworn positions and a civilian position related to ensuring field staff are prepared physically and trained properly to care for patients in high-risk environments.
• Eliminate three sworn positions, impacting the department’s ability to respond to PIRs, coordinate regional emergency responses to large scale events, and meet requirements of the EMS labor contract regarding sworn personnel disciplinary investigations, and actions. – C.H.