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Angry crowd opposes tollway link between Bush Turnpike, I-30

Lara Solt/ Staff Photographer

ROCKWALL — A large and often angry crowd provided almost unanimous opposition Monday night to a proposed toll road that would link Bush Turnpike with Interstate 30 near Greenville.

Neal Barker of the Texas Turnpike Corp. was interrupted repeatedly at the nearly full 1,500-seat Rockwall High School Performing Arts Center as he tried to present an overview of the Northeast Gateway toll project.

On the sensitive issue of eminent domain, which the company can impose, Barker stressed: “We want to be good neighbors. … We want your feedback.”

But when he said the turnpike corporation had to follow the same procedures as public entities, some in the audience shouted, “Bribery.” And when Barker described the eminent domain process, another yelled, “You’re a crook.”

Finally, Michael Morris, who heads the transportation department for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, took the microphone.

“Hold it, hold it, let them finish their presentation, and then we’ll turn it over to you,” he said, to a smattering of applause.

Barker waded back into the eminent domain issue, describing the process: the appraisals, negotiations with property owners, and, after 30 days, a final offer.

“That’s the law; that’s not our intent. Our intent is to negotiate for any property we need. If no agreement can be made — at that time and only at that time — could the project developer begin eminent domain proceedings,” Barker said, as the calls from the audience began again.

“Look, you came here, we’re going through this as quickly as we can,” Morris said. “You’ll get your chance.”

When that chance came, speaker after speaker unloaded on the four- to six-lane 27-mile toll road project, on Morris and on the Council of Governments.

Christine Hubley, who lives along a possible route for the toll road, asked Morris and others on the stage what she was supposed to comment on, because the feasibility study for the project hasn’t been completed.

It won’t be completed until after the Regional Transportation Commission of the Council of Governments decides whether to include it in its transportation plans, she said.

“You tell us there’s no public money, but this study was paid for with public money,” she said. “Why waste our money if the study isn’t needed?

“And you want to ‘no build’ or ‘build anything’ in the plan,” Hubley said. “You haven’t once broken out this toll road. How about you show us a ‘build everything but this toll road option?’”

Another speaker questioned the need for the road, arguing that claims that the proposed toll road will alleviate traffic on other roads, including Interstate 30, are false.

“If you’re really looking out for the public, put this on the ballot and let us vote on it,” she said.

Rockwall Mayor David Sweet said the toll road could touch portions of Rockwall, the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction and Rockwall County — a proximity the city doesn’t want.

“The city of Rockwall strongly opposes the route,” he said. “Transit options should be left to local governments.”

The members of the public who spoke on the project overwhelmingly opposed it.

John Holloway, who lives near Wylie, talked about the home he shared with his wife and a 102-year-old great-aunt.

“We were lucky enough to buy that home back in 1990 at a very reasonable price,” Holloway said, and they subsequently renovated it to provide a home for their elderly relative.

“If my house is taken, and it’s very close to the Pleasant Valley route, I’ll have to try to find another single-story house with a handicapped bathroom in it,” he said. “Trust me, it doesn’t exist. Or we’ll have to find another house and renovate it. Will you pay for those renovations?

“I don’t think that’s part of your plan.”

Voter ID finishes Corpus Christi stage today

Voter ID finishes Corpus Christi stage today


CORPUS CHRISTI – Texas’ attorneys and opponents of the state’s voter ID law will make their final pleas to U.S. Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos on Monday, but it’s unlikely that Ramos will have the final say on the matter because the case is expected to be appealed.

By Matt Woolbright

Tuberculosis tests on Providence babies start today

Photo: Rudy Gutierrez–El Paso Times

El Paso health officials today will begin testing babies who may have been exposed to tuberculosis at Providence Memorial Hospital over a 12-month period.

The El Paso Department of Public Health will begin doing TB skin tests at its main offices at 5115 El Paso Drive in Central El Paso on Monday, department officials reported.

The department has moved services provided at that site to other locations until the TB tests and evaluations are done, which may take several weeks, said Armando Saldivar, a spokesman for the department.

Officials with the health department and Providence announced Friday that 706 babies delivered at Providence from Sept. 1, 2013 through Aug. 16, 2014 may have been exposed to TB by a Providence health-care worker who was found to have an active case of the disease.

Forty-three Providence employees also may have been exposed to the disease. Those employees are being tested by the hospital, Saldivar said.

The babies will first get a TB skin test, which health officials said, should be given as soon as possible. That test will be read by a nurse in two-three days after the test is taken. Chest X-rays also will need to be done on babies, but those will be done at an outside lab or at Providence, Saldivar said.

By Vic Kolenc / El Paso Times

A new, sillier ‘battle of the Alamo’

As we’ve been reminded in several instances this year, far-right paranoia surrounding the United Nations can get a little unnerving, at times, even counter-productive to U.S. interests. But once in a while, the manifestation of this paranoia can get a little silly.
Recently, for example, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization decided to grant World Heritage status the Alamo, giving the Texas historical site the same status as other American treasures such as Independence Hall, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and the Statue of Liberty. It would seem like the sort of thing that Texans could be proud of, and which might even help boost tourism in the area.
But it’s not quite working out that way.
Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, whose office oversees the Alamo, had two key words Wednesday about rumors that the state shrine could fall under control of the United Nations.
“Horse hockey,” Patterson, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, said Wednesday in a statement.
Rumors have circulated in recent weeks, via email and social media, that the U.N. would manage the Alamo if it – and San Antonio’s four other Spanish colonial missions — are granted World Heritage status.
The conspiracy theory apparently started with George Rodriguez, the former president of the San Antonio Tea Party, who warned that ownership of the Alamo could be transferred from Texas to the U.N. It was soon after picked up by Alex Jones.
In an especially interesting twist, the right is going after San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, saying he “may have started a new ‘battle of the Alamo,’” even though the mayor’s office has literally nothing to do with the state-run site or surrounding national parks.
“Castro is a liberal who believes in a ‘global society,’ and apparently he sees no problem with the U.N. influencing or even managing the Alamo,” Rodriguez wrote. He added that “a blue U.N. flag may fly above the historic shrine of liberty once it falls under U.N. control.”
None of this is even remotely true, but local conservative activists are apparently worked up about this and state officials are doing their best to explain that the conspiracy theories are wrong. With Alex Jones keeping the right agitated,
I don’t envy the Texas Land Commissioner’s office.

By Steve Benen

Perry Declares His Legacy

The Associated Press 

Republican Gov. Rick Perry says Texas adequately funded public schools on his watch and still believes in offering in-state tuition rates to students who are living in the country without legal permission.

Perry on Sunday sat for a wide-ranging interview at the Texas Tribune Festival about the highs and lows of his record 14 years in office.

One surprise was his deferential tone about whether Texas should continue his signature economic incentive programs after he leaves in January. Handing over millions in taxpayer dollars to private companies has grown unpopular in some Republican circles.

Perry said the next Legislature should have a conversation about whether those programs should continue or not.

Perry is weighing another White House run in 2016 but says he won’t announce a decision until next year.

The Associated Press

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SpaceX To Break Ground On Texas Rocket Launch Site

Photo: AP File 

Gov. Rick Perry will attend as SpaceX breaks ground on the state’s southernmost tip for the company’s first commercial site for orbital launches.

The Monday ceremony will mark the start of construction of the $85 million site at Boca Chica Beach, east of Brownsville. The site will be used to launch commercial satellites.

Perry is providing $2.3 million from the Texas Enterprise Fund toward the project, and the state offers another $13 million from the Spaceport Trust Fund to pay for infrastructure development.

California-based SpaceX is expected to create 300 jobs at the site. The company already has a rocket testing facility in McGregor, in Central Texas, that employs 250 people.

SpaceX says it plans 12 launches a year from the South Texas oceanfront site.

By The Associated Press 

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Opinion: Are We Prepared For An ISIS Threat At The U.S.-Mexico Border?

By Nelson Balido

The president’s recent address on the threat of the Islamic State terrorist group and its effect on U.S. security resulted in a mixed bag of post-speech analysis and commentary, and it should affect the way policymakers consider U.S.-Mexico border security in the future.

The departing director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Matthew Olsen, has said there is no credible information pointing to an Islamic State-led terrorist attack in the U.S. or Europe, nor is there any indication of an Islamic State cell operating in the U.S.

Mexico doesn’t want to be a beachhead for terrorists any more than we do. Approaching our southern neighbor as a friend and ally first will help keep the cross-border communication lines flowing freely.

– Nelson Balido

But then in a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, a Department of Homeland Security undersecretary testified that members of Islamic State have discussed via social media the possibility of infiltrating the U.S. via our border with Mexico. The DHS official, Francis Taylor, went on to say that his department was “satisfied that we have the intelligence and the capability at our border that would prevent that activity.”

So is there a threat? And if so, are we prepared for it, especially at the border?

Whether real or imagined, the infrastructure is in place for terrorist networks to exploit gaps in U.S. border security. This summer’s experience with thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America streaming across the border shows that human smuggling rings and drug cartels can easily adapt their perverse supply chain management techniques for new paying customers. Coyotes and kingpins don’t perform background checks on their clients.

Congress and the administration could meet this challenge by passing spending bills to pay for a human chain of Border Patrol agents from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas, or they could build a wall from coast to coast, but both are terrible uses of taxpayer dollars.

A huge expansion of Border Patrol’s ranks might appease some in the close-the-border camp, but it would divert resources away from the security of our ports, which are just as vulnerable to acts of terror. Certainly more infrastructure expansion, as many engineering and construction companies may claim, simply is more money down the drain without focusing on the actual problem.  And a fence or wall would result in little more than years of headaches as land owners and the feds duke it out in courtrooms. ISIS won’t wait that long.

There has to be a better way.

America’s technology firms are home to some of the nation’s best and brightest minds on security, and they’re ready to help. There are exciting new developments and tools that can be force multipliers and reduce costs for our border agencies. Cameras, satellite imagery and sensors are just a few of the gadgets at DHS and other law enforcement agencies’ disposal available for quick deployment.  And with new spectrum technologies emerging taking advantage of older and abandoned 2G bandwidth from cell phone companies, there are many of today’s functions that can be accomplished at a fraction of the cost.

In addition to technology, we need a robust intelligence network in Mexico. Already private sector firms are using sophisticated preemptive behavior monitoring software to determine the best times for freight shippers to cross the border while sharing information with customs authorities to better understand the inspection process. These same methods could be adapted to other border security applications.

Finally, even though the executive branches in the U.S. and Mexico often portray their relationship as one wrapped in the pomp and circumstance of things like official state visits and obscure sounding reports, we can’t lose sight of the importance of friendships and information sharing. Mexico doesn’t want to be a beachhead for terrorists any more than we do. Approaching our southern neighbor as a friend and ally first will help keep the cross-border communication lines flowing freely.

Policymakers should shift to war footing on the border, but that doesn’t mean slowing down travelers on holding up shipments. Technology and intelligence are the keys to a secure border. In light of a new and emerging terrorist threat, their importance has only increased.

Nelson Balido is the managing principal at Balido and Associates, chairman of the Border Commerce and Security Council, and former member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council.  Follow him on Twitter: @nelsonbalido

Straus Says He’s “Awfully Sick” of UT Regents Drama

Photo by: Bob Daemmrich

*Correction appended.

Speaking at the University of Texas at Austin on Saturday, House Speaker Joe Straus said he’s “awfully sick” of the drama between regents and legislators that is making it the “only campus in the state of Texas that gets this much attention.”

“I think we’re hopefully about to work our way through this,” Straus, R-San Antonio, said in an interview at The Texas Tribune Festival, suggesting that a new governor would appoint some new regents. “I hope that a new governor … will be mindful of where we’ve been. I think we’ll find, the regents will find, that the Legislature wants a better relationship with them.”

Straus was referencing an ongoing faceoff between a House committee that voted to admonish and censure University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall — who was waging a personal investigation into lawmaker influence in the UT-Austin admissions process — and system regents. The UT system has commissioned an outside review of those same types of allegations.

Straus, who has acknowledged writing letters on behalf of applicants he saw as qualified, said he hopes the state isn’t headed to a point where students don’t want lawmakers to recommend them. He called the allegations of improper legislative influence in admissions “a manufactured issue.”

Higher ed wasn’t the only topic Straus touched on Saturday.

Asked about whom he might support in the 2016 presidential cycle, Straus wouldn’t say directly, but hinted strongly that he was a big fan of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and added that the Bushes were close family friends.

On his own political ambitions, Straus wouldn’t say how long he hopes to stay in his position. But he added that he’s hopeful that he’ll be elected to a fourth term — and acknowledged that his early challenge, from state Rep. Scott Turner, a Frisco Republican — was “a little distracting” from legislative business.

Straus said that even though there will be big turnover after the November elections, “my prediction for the session is it’s going to be orderly and not as scary as some people are predicting.”

He also said that while outside groups have begun to play an outsized role in Texas politics, inside the Texas House, partnerships and relationships are the same as they’ve ever been.

“I reach out to other members. I don’t close the door on anyone,” he said. “I don’t think bipartisanship is a four-letter word.”

One thing that could be different in the upcoming session, Straus suggested, is how the Legislature decides which news organizations qualify for media credentials. He said he’d like to see a press committee get involved in devising new rules for reporters.

“Those that have a political point of view, that then engage in campaign politics, are political consultants during the off year, maybe fit under a different definition,” he said.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here

Correction: A previous version of this story said UT system regents had commissioned an external investigation. The UT system commissioned the investigation. 

Weeks After Davis Revelation, Dukes Says She Had Abortion

Photo: The Texas Tribune 

*Editor’s note: This story has been updated throughout.

Two weeks after news emerged that state Sen. Wendy Davis terminated two pregnancies for medical reasons, another Texas legislator talked about her own abortion during a heated debate Saturday on women’s health.

During a panel discussion at The Texas Tribune Festival, state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, revealed that she has had an abortion. After Dukes argued that there are false perceptions about the psychological effects of abortion, Republican Molly White, who is running unopposed to represent House District 55, said that women who have not had abortions don’t have the same understanding about the effects of the procedure.

“To the world, I had an abortion,” Dukes shot back, adding that she had not suffered from any psychological effects because of the procedure. White, who has had two abortions, said her experience had led to drug and alcohol abuse and suicidal thoughts.

During the panel, Dukes also criticized recent abortion regulations passed by the Republican-led Legislature, saying the argument that the regulations are about women’s safety is false.

My statement was 2 counter that abortion causes women 2 become alcoholics/drug addicts,” Dukes wrote on Twitter after the panel in response to a reporter. “FALSE! Those women need counseling period.”

The politics around abortion became a focal point last summer when lawmakers proposed a new abortion law, which eventually passed as House Bill 2. The law bans abortions after 20 weeks, requires doctors who perform abortions to obtain admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles, and requires abortion facilities to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers, including minimum sizes for rooms and doorways and having pipelines for anesthesia.

Davis filibustered the original abortion legislation last summer during a special legislative session, temporarily derailing it, but it was signed into law weeks later at a second special session.

Supporters of the law say that it offers protections that will improve women’s safety when obtaining an abortion. But opponents argue that it is only serving to shutter dozens of clinics across the state and is intended to reduce access to the procedure in the state.

A provision of HB 2 is being challenged in federal court. Days before it was set to go into effect, a federal judge overturned the admitting privileges provision. It remains unenforced, but state attorneys have asked the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals for permission to enforce the law as the law­­suit goes through the appeals process

If enacted, the final provision of the bill could leave only six or seven abortion facilities open in the state.

On Sunday, the day after her panel, Dukes posted on Facebook that she was grateful that “a safe and legal means was available when as an adult woman, I had to make the decision to have a medical procedure performed.”

“My reason for making this decision was private and will remain private — end of story,” she wrote. “Folks have about as much right to know why as they have a right to know when/why you have a pap smear, rectal exam or root-canal — none whatsoever.”

Eva Longoria producing drama loosely based on Vogue story about Castro twins

Photo By Charles Dharapak/Associated Press 

Eva Longoria is producing a drama loosely inspired by a Vogue article about Julián and Joaquin Castro, according to Deadline Hollywood, a website that reported will explore the “lies, blackmail and manipulation” it takes wield political power

The idea for the project came from a March 2013 Vogue magazine article about S.A.’s Castro brothers.

“The colorful and cutthroat world of Texas politics will serve as backdrop of a Latino family drama from Eva Longoria’s UnbeliEVAble Entertainment and Condé Nast Entertainment, which has landed at ABC,” the website reported.

ABC Entertainment publicist Janet K. Daily confirmed a political drama for the network is in the works.

The drama — to be called “Pair of Aces,” taken from the headline in the Vogue article profiling the twins, “Pair of Aces: Rising Democratic Stars Julián and Joaquin Castro” — is loosely inspired by that article. The story profiled Democratic rising star Julián Castro, who was mayor at the time and presently is the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and his brother Joaquin Castro, then-newly elected U.S. congressman.

“After reading the VOGUE article, I thought, ‘What if we did a show about brothers on opposite sides of the political spectrum,’ ” Longoria said by email. “And with a dark family history that is full of skeletons. So actually it’s the opposite of the Castro brothers! Haha(.) I think Texas politics are as big as national politics so it was an interesting background for a show.”

Deadline reported that the project is “described as an operatic family drama” and “revolves around brothers Chris and Alex Reyes, Latino golden boys who are both best friends and rivals. They are rising stars in Texas politics whose destiny is engineered by their manipulative mother Maria. She is determined to turn the Reyes family into the most powerful dynasty modern politics has ever seen.”

How does the Castro twins’ mother Rosie Castro feel about the plot description?

“I’m not going to take it personally. It’s an interesting concept, and I wish (Longoria) luck,” she said. “This is fictional, and I think any author or writer takes pieces from here and there to create a drama and build on it. ... You need manipulative people because every good story has to have conflict.

The Vogue profile by Jacob Weisberg featured the twins and their mother and focused on the brothers’ background, and their close relationship now to each other as family and as political allies.

“It’s not that the Castro brothers are interchangeable: They have separate lives, interests, and careers in public service ... But as a political phenomenon, they are a two-for-one package, halves of a joint enterprise focused on expanding the kind of educational opportunity that has enabled their own, mutual rise. They’re each other’s closest advisers, best friends, and top supporters,” Weisberg wrote.


Staff Writer Jeanne Jakle contributed to this report.