Naked City

Beyond City Limits

When it rains, it pours. Hays Co. citizens spent last Tuesday moving from one meeting place to another to sound off on two separate but related matters concerning -- as usual -- water. First, about 150 Ruby Ranch homeowners and nearby residents voiced opposition to a proposed asphalt plant to be built behind the upscale subdivision in the aquifer recharge zone. Board members of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District were sympathetic, but the asphalt company isn't seeking water-pumping privileges, so there isn't much BSEACD can do. (On a brighter note, the state has since granted Ruby Ranchers a public hearing on the company's air-quality permit application.) The masses then moved to Buda City Hall to try to halt a proposed multimillion-gallon water deal; the Buda council delayed a decision on whether to ink a contract with CHA Utilities Ltd. to buy 100 million gallons of aquifer water per year -- at a whopping $2.12 per thousand gallons -- for the next 20 years. Buda currently pays 17 cents per thousand gallons to the BSEACD to draw water from the aquifer. -- A.S.

Graduate students and members of the Texas State Employees Union met July 26 at the union's South Austin HQ to discuss forming a statewide organizing committee that would recruit new members while fighting against cuts to student-workers' health care. This year, state legislation enacted 50% cuts (about $160 monthly) to grad student-workers' health care coverage and 25% cuts in coverage for their dependents. So far, UT-Austin and the University of Houston have agreed to make up for students' benefit losses, says TSEU legislative director Caroline O'Connor, but students at universities without fiscal resources -- or a union -- will likely see their benefits slashed. TSEU, whose membership comprises nearly 12,000 workers in 53 state agencies and at 24 universities, hopes to organize at UT-El Paso, Texas Tech, and other campuses this fall. -- L.A.

A dozen of the original Killer D's made a guest appearance at the AFL-CIO convention Saturday morning, partly to return the favor, as Waco Rep. Jim Dunnam noted, "When we went to Ardmore, the first people that trekked up to visit with us were labor folks." Dunnam said they had met their three goals in breaking the House quorum in May: "not to get caught, to kill that divisive redistricting bill imposed by Tom DeLay, and to energize people in Texas and all over the country." Mild-mannered pharmacist Chuck Hopson, D-Jacksonville, recalled an Ardmore conversation with a DPS trooper. "What kind of authority y'all got here?" "Not much," the trooper replied. "Well, what are you carrying?" asked Hopson. "A .357," said the trooper. Hopson said he opened his coat and responded, "Well, I've got a .45." There was much more in that vein, to the delight of the partisan labor audience, and Houston's Garnet Coleman summarized, "We don't have any laydown folks up here. ... We did what we did because we know that we're the only people standing between you folks and those tyrannical assholes who want to take our country." -- M.K.

According to an annual report released July 27 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (an arm of the U.S. Dept. of Justice), the nation's prison population jumped 2.6% in 2002, the largest increase in three years. Combined, the nation's prisons -- including federal, state, local, private, and juvenile facilities -- added an average of 700 new inmates per week, for a total population of 2,166,260 inmates by the end of 2002. Texas' prison population rose to 162,003 -- fewer than 1,000 inmates behind the combined federal prison system, and a mere 314 behind California, which has 10 million more residents. As of Dec. 31, 2002, black males between the ages of 20-39 accounted for one-third of all prison inmates; in Texas, private prison operators held nearly 17,000 inmates, more than 10% of the state's total prison population. For more on prison stats, see "Latinos, Texas, and Justice," p.17. -- Jordan Smith

Weed Watch: On July 23 a record 152 representatives (including 15 Republicans) voted for an amendment (ultimately defeated) that would ban the U.S. Dept. of Justice from using federal tax money to prosecute medical marijuana patients. Drug-law reformers are heralding the effort -- the farthest any progressive drug-reform legislation has made it through Congress. The amendment -- introduced earlier this year by Reps. Dana Rohrbacher, R-Calif., and Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y. -- sought to prevent the feds from "arresting, prosecuting, suing," or otherwise harassing "doctors, patients and distributors" using medical marijuana in compliance with state laws. Since 2001 the Bush administration has reportedly ordered more than 40 raids against patients and providers in California, despite state law that permits and regulates medical marijuana use. Among the 152 votes for the amendment were Texans Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin; Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio; Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston; and Ron Paul, R-Surfside. -- J.S.

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