An estimated 10,000-12,000 marchers crowded the streets of Austin Monday to protest proposals pending in Congress to tighten restrictions on illegal immigrants. The attempts at legislation, all of which have stalled out thus far, have been described as "draconian" by immigrant rights advocates. See p.26. (Photo By Jana Birchum)
Quote of the Week
"Hoy marchamos, mañana votamos" Rallying cry of Monday's pro-immigration protesters. ("Today we march, tomorrow we vote.")
Millions of people marched, demonstrated, and rallied across the country over the weekend and on Monday, April 10, in support of immigrants and in opposition to the draconian anti-immigrant legislation recently passed by the U.S. House. Speakers vowed to fight the legislation and build a voters' movement in support of just immigration reform. See p.26.
The Democratic and Republican primary run-offs concluded Tuesday night, with a tiny turnout: state House District 47 wins for Valinda Bolton (Dem) and Bill Welch (GOP), and a Court of Criminal Appeals loss for former District 47 Rep. Terry Keel. For more, see p.20.
Judge John Dietz refused to grant a temporary injunction against Advanced Micro Devices in the lawsuit brought by Save Our Springs Alliance to stop work on AMD's planned campus on Southwest Parkway. Dietz ordered 30 days of mediation but allowed the company to acquire city permits to begin construction.
Public debate began over the Austin Water Utility's plan to move the downtown Green Water Treatment Plant to Guerrero Park on the Colorado River, as AWU director Chris Lippe presented the proposal Tuesday to a skeptical Parks and Recreation Board, and an even more skeptical audience of Eastsiders. Following public hearings, City Council is expected to consider the proposal in late May. See "Naked City."
The third special-called session of the 79th Legislature commences Monday with returning legislators meeting to consider the public school finance reform proposal proposed by Gov. Perry and developed by the tax reform commission chaired by former comptroller John Sharp. The Supreme Court ruled late last year that the Lege has until June 1 to reform what has become an unconstitutional state property tax. See p.30.
The Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park was revealed as the planned site of a new water treatment plant by the City of Austin Water Authority Tuesday, amid angry opposition, at a meeting of the Austin Parks Board. Citing the decrepitude of the existing downtown Green Water Treatment Plant and a somewhat urgent need for more drinking water supplies by 2011, a review by city staff described the economic, security, and geographic advantages of the location at Lakeshore and Pleasant Valley to an increasingly hostile audience. Seen by many as another undesirable facility relegated to East Austin, the usurping of 30 acres in the long-planned park was especially onerous, particularly since one of the stated objectives of the move is to free up solid-gold downtown real estate for development. Parks board members and many attendees freaked when the city refused to disclose any alternative Longhorn Dam-area sites it had considered, citing confidentiality rules. Angry residents and parks advocates promised a fight, vowing to make the topic a key city council campaign issue. The parks board meets again April 17 to discuss and possibly vote on the plan, which goes before city council May 25. Before that, the plan goes before the Environmental Board April 26 and the Water and Wastewater Commission May 3, and a public outreach meeting is scheduled for May 10 at the Conley-Guerrero Senior Activity Center. To find more on the proposed plant, go to ci.austin.tx.us/water. Daniel Mottola
After months of inter-agency wrangling, Out Youth will reopen its youth drop-in center one day a week. The center provides peer and community support to GBLT youngsters and their straight allies. Beginning April 16, the center at 909 E. 491Ú2 St. will be open to youth 12 to 19 years of age, Sunday evenings from 4:30-8:30pm. The center closed in January due to financial difficulties, and subsequent bickering between Out Youth's board members, volunteers, and clients raised doubts that the center would reopen at all. With board members and volunteers once more cooperating, the agency hopes to raise money to keep the center open more days in the near future. Emily Pyle
The AISD Board of Trustees on Monday named the new Young Women Leadership Academy after former Governor Ann Richards. The YWLA, an all-female school serving grades 6-12 and emphasizing math and science, will be housed in what is now Porter Middle School after the Porter students are scattered to four other South Austin middle schools. Richards, herself a former AISD teacher, said that single-sex education was good for young women's self-esteem and helps them focus on their tests rather than the nearby testosterone. Rachel Proctor May
The city is supposed to know by Saturday which Hurricane Katrina evacuees for whom Austin has been paying rent and utilities with Federal Emergency Management Agency funds will continue receiving federal rent assistance and which evacuees won't, said Paul Hilgers, director of the city's Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Office. "That gives us two weeks to notify landlords, and it gives them time to give 30-day notices," Hilgers said. May 31 is FEMA's current deadline for transitioning all qualifying evacuees from its indirect assistance program to its individual, direct assistance program. Evacuees who don't qualify for individual assistance will have to start covering their own rent and utilities as of June 1. Those who qualify for direct assistance will continue receiving FEMA rent money but will have to start paying their own utilities. (To avoid interruptions in electric and gas services, evacuees should make sure their accounts are transferred from being under the name of their apartment complex or landlord to being in their own names.) Hilgers said the city will assume the rent and utility program has been extended another month if it doesn't hear anything from FEMA by April 15. "Austin is not in the eviction business," Hilgers said. FEMA told the city that about 25% of the evacuees receiving rent assistance through Austin aren't eligible for direct assistance, meaning about 400 families will be without federal rent funds, he said. Cheryl Smith
In other evacuee news, the local chapter of the NAACP is taking displaced Louisiana voters in two 55-seat buses to Lake Charles, La., polling places this Saturday, April 15, for the last day of early voting in the April 22 primary election. The buses depart at 5am from the NAACP's office at 1704 E. 12th. Seating is first-come, first-serve. For more info, call local NAACP President Nelson Linder at 454-6161 or 476-6230. C.S.
Beyond city limits
Also concerning evacuees, the last of the Federal Emergency Management Agency Disaster Recovery Centers opened in Texas in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita those in Houston, San Antonio, Beaumont, Orange, and Dallas close Saturday April 15. The centers were operated jointly by FEMA and the state. Austin's DRC closed in January. For more about FEMA programs call 800/621-FEMA (TTY 800/462-7585) or go to www.fema.gov. For info on state and local programs, call 211. C.S.
The Texas Parent PAC batted three for four in the primary run-offs on Tuesday night, ending up in the win column on races to replace departing representatives Bob Hunter in Abilene and Suzanna Hupp of Killeen, along with incumbent Rep. Scott Campbell, who has had a number of brushes with the law up in San Angelo, including a complaint of indecent exposure filed by a masseuse at a local day spa, according to accounts in The San Angelo Standard-Times. The one loss for the Texas Parent PAC was a failure to put the former Lewisville school district board president in the seat being vacated by Rep. Mary Denny. Carolyn Boyle, who runs the Texas Parent PAC, said the candidates were not simply education candidates but also good all-around candidates who happen to have a pro-education stance. This brings the number of winners to nine for the Texas Parent PAC, which also endorsed incumbent Reps. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, and Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock, against challengers backed by San Antonio millionaire and voucher supporter James Leininger. (For more election coverage, see p.20.) Kimberly Reeves
Strike up the band. Gov. Rick Perry is revving up efforts to sell Texans on a new tax plan that lawmakers will begin considering on Monday, the opening day of the special session. The new tax proposal has gained support from at least two dozen professional associations, including the Texas Association of Business. Moreover, a new group called Texans for Taxpayer Relief has formed to take the Perry-Sharp show on the road to drum up statewide support, the Quorum Report reported this week. The group hopes to raise $6 million to fund the PR campaign. The Texas Oil and Gas Association is a ringleader in this effort, and here's a clue why: loophole. "We got more than we asked for," Morris Burns, executive vice-president of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association, told the Midland Reporter-Telegram. "We asked them, if they instituted a business tax, that we get to deduct the severance tax." Missing from the cheering squad is the Texas Medical Association, which apparently didn't get anything it asked for. "Unfortunately, the Republican majority doesn't need us right now," TMA President Robert Gunby Jr., told the Chronicle. "Big insurance and big business have all the money, and they can give them as much money as they need, so we're sort of an irrelevant source." Lawmakers are leaving the docs high and dry just when they need them the most, Gunby added. "We really need help from the Legislature with things like Medicaid and the uninsured and with CHIP [Children's Health Insurance Program], which the Republican majority is not really that interested in." It should be noted that legislators including Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick aren't nearly as enthusiastic about the tax proposal as Perry and company. And House Ways & Means Committee Chair Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, raised concerns earlier this week about TMA's objections, indicating there was still room for negotiation. (See Clouded Prospects for more on the tax proposal.) Amy Smith
Vowing to let House members "vote their districts, their hearts and their consciences," state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, kicked off her campaign Monday to unseat House Speaker Tom Craddick in January. The straight-talking Thompson is the longest-serving woman and longest-serving African-American in state legislative history. She credits Craddick's leadership of the last three years for motivating her to run for the post, citing his iron-clad control over the House and the subsequent demise of bipartisanship and healthy floor debate. "The celebrated bipartisan nature of the Texas House came from speakers allowing members to vote their districts," Thompson said, referring to Craddick's penchant for wringing votes from reluctant members. Thompson has her work cut out for her if she's serious about toppling the incumbent. Craddick says he already has lined up more than 100 pledges from House members, although many reps still need to clear the November elections before returning to the Capitol in 2007. A.S.
House and Senate committees will hold a joint hearing on the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission's Sales to Intoxicated Persons sting program next Monday, which just happens to also be the first day of the special session. The TABC's SIP program, intended to target intoxicated patrons before they leave bars and restaurants, has been the subject of strenuous protests and some complaints, especially in the Dallas area. In the meantime, TABC has agreed to temporarily suspend the SIP program, although TABC administrator Alan Steen reiterated his commitment to the program and its results in a letter to Rep Kino Flores, D-Palmview, who chairs the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee. Under the SIP program, undercover officers survey patrons at bars and restaurants and make arrests of those that are deemed to be "a danger to themselves or others." In the last six months under the program, more than 2,200 criminal citations have been issued for public intoxication, about double the number of citations in the same period last year. K.R.
The Health and Human Services Commission has delayed the official rollout of state call centers for enrollment in the state's social services program. Executive Commissioner Albert Hawkins says the agency remains committed to the new system which replaces most in-office visits and consolidates enrollment in social service programs but that there are enough issues to delay the rollout. The Austin-San Marcos region is serving as the dry run for the call center program, which was proposed under House Bill 2292. "We will not roll out if we are not absolutely confident that we're ready," Hawkins said. "We will closely monitor our progress and adjust as needed to ensure a smooth transition to a better, more cost effective system." This decision could delay the layoffs of 2,900 eligibility workers, who received notice last October that they would no longer be needed under the new program, beginning in May. Hawkins said the call center program will be reassessed in another 30 days. K.R.
The pollution level inside a school bus can be five times higher than that in the air outside, putting kids at risk, according to new report "A Breath of Fresh Air: Reducing Diesel Pollution Inside Texas School Buses," released recently by the nonprofit Environmental Defense. The report detailed how diesel engines emit nearly 40 toxic substances and contribute to a slew of health problems including asthma, chronic bronchitis, and cancer risk. The report urges the Texas Legislature to use available funds to help local districts replace older buses and to install new high-tech filters, capable of eliminating toxins, such as fine particle pollution, on buses with years of remaining service. Environmental Defense's Ramon Alvarez, an author of the report, told the Statesman that AISD should install filters on buses at least six-years-old, about a third of its fleet of 445, something he said could cost up to $8,000 per vehicle. "We need the Legislature to see that this is one of the most tangible air quality projects it could fund," said Betin Santos, another of the report's authors, in a statement. Read the report at environmentaldefense.org/documents/colin/TexasSchoolBusReportApril2006.pdf D.M.
"The Bush administration's lax new gas mileage standards are unfortunately going to keep America addicted to oil for a long time to come and accelerate impacts from global climate change," said Peter Galvin, Conservation Director with the Center for Biological Diversity. The San Francisco-based group filed a lawsuit last week in California's 9th Circuit Court of Appeals alleging that the new National Highway Traffic Safety Administration fuel economy standards for light trucks and SUVs, announced Mar. 29, are far below what is technologically possible and in violation of a 1975 law requiring fuel economy to be set at "maximum feasibility standards." The new rules require around 22 mpg for 2006 and 2007 models, increasing to 24 mpg in 2011. The group argues that by using readily available, cost-effective technology, fleetwide fuel efficiency of 38 mpg is achievable by 2015 resulting in oil savings of 1.1 million barrels per day, more than five times more oil than the Bush administration proposal. Trucks and SUVs account for more than half of new vehicle purchases. Attorneys general from California, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maine, Vermont, and Oregon oppose the new standards and are asserting states' rights to regulate auto emissions to protect public health and the environment. D.M.
Utah officials on April 6 filed felony rape charges against polygamist prophet Warren Jeffs, the fugitive leader of breakaway Mormon sect, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Jeffs has been on the lam for nearly a year, dodging Arizona charges that he illegally arranged a marriage between a teen girl and an older married man and a federal charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution; combined, the FBI and Arizona officials are offering $60K for info leading to Jeffs' arrest and prosecution. The new charges allege that Jeffs acted as an accomplice to rape; both charges are first-degree felonies, each punishable by up to life in prison. Jeffs hasn't been seen publicly since early 2005, when author Jon Krakauer (who detailed the rise of Mormon fundamentalism in the book Under the Banner of Heaven) snapped a shot of the prophet presiding over a ceremony at the FLDS' gated Yearning for Zion ranch in the West Texas town of Eldorado, consecrating the site where the group's first-ever temple now stands. (See "Meet the New Neighbors," July 29.) Jordan Smith
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