Beyond City Limits
Similar news out of Dallas this week, where police narcotics officer Mark Delapaz was fired after being indicted on five counts of civil rights violations in connection with the "Sheetrock scandal." More than 80 people in Big D -- mostly Mexican nationals -- were set up by paid confidential informants with fake drugs (including ground-up Sheetrock passing as cocaine) in operations overseen by Delapaz and another officer. Another man whose job is on the line is Dallas Police Chief Terrell Bolton; rumor has it that Mayor Laura Miller, should she win re-election Saturday, will try to force Bolton out. -- M.C.M.
On Tuesday, the House passed HB 15, San Antonio GOP Rep. Frank Corte's "informed consent" anti-abortion bill. Among other things, the bill would require that abortion providers show color photographs of fetal development and other "scientific" information about the potential consequences of abortion -- including bogus links between abortion and breast cancer -- and require a 24-hour waiting period, making it much more difficult for a woman to arrange a timely abortion. Despite numerous failed attempts to amend and angry denunciations from women of the House, including Austin's Dawnna Dukes and Houston's Jessica Farrar -- who said it should be renamed the "Women's Misinformation Act" -- HB 15 passed easily, 96-41, and now moves to the Senate. -- M.K.
Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, is carrying a bill, SB 1361, that would forbid the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality from using citizen-gathered evidence in enforcement actions against polluters. Many anti-pollution measures taken by the state have been initiated by citizen investigation and public pressure, so Staples' bill could greatly reduce Texas' already limited protection of the environment. Last week, after it passed out of committee, Carl Edlund of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wrote TCEQ Director Margaret Hoffman that SB 1361 "could result in inadequate legal authority to implement Texas air-quality programs." Staples says he will work with "all concerned parties" to resolve problems but that his intent is to prohibit "vigilante justice that infringes on the rights of private property owners." John Wilson of the Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention told the Houston Chronicle, "It's a matter of victims' rights. If you are a victim of a crime, you should be able to share that with the government." -- M.K.
The Texas Access to Justice Commission and the Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundations today (Thursday) unveiled a new Web site -- www.texaslegalhelp.org -- to provide legal info and help to low-income Texans. Funded by the Legal Services Corporation, the site features a host of legal info on a variety of topics -- from civil rights law to employment, family, and elder law. -- J.S.
Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, tried to close one of the stupider loopholes in Texas campaign finance law but was partially thwarted by Talmadge Heflin, R-Houston, the powerful chair of House Appropriations. Current law requires candidates to file their contribution reports on the Internet, but they can be exempt if they swear that the staffer in charge of filing does not use a computer. Madden's HB 999 would eliminate this loophole -- but Heflin added an amendment that would exempt all current officeholders. Given the length of many legislative careers, it would be decades before the loophole is completely erased. The bill was sent to the Senate, where it now sits in committee. -- L.N.
The brouhaha over re-redistricting continued this week with a visit to the Lege from U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, who twisted the arms and trunks of leaders all the way up to Gov. Rick Perry. DeLay is determined to eliminate the Democrats' 17-15 advantage in Texas' U.S. House delegation, which he blames on previous Dem gerrymandering (especially by Dallas Rep. Martin Frost). The Bug Man caught hell this week both in Austin and D.C. from minority Democrats after suggesting that Texas urban reps who obstructed his plans cared more about their party than "their people." DeLay's preferred map, which could force out as many as six Dem reps (all Anglo, with Frost at the top of the hit list) while creating a new Latino seat on the border, is still largely the stuff of rumor at the Lege. The bill on the table, by Redistricting Committee Chair Joe Crabb, R-Atascosita, simply ratifies the judges' map. But Crabb has called hearings of his committee for this weekend, during which a "committee substitute" -- with DeLay's prints all over it -- is expected to magically appear, be adopted without discussion, and rocket its way to the House floor. -- M.C.M.