The State of Texas: December 1, 2015
Special prosecutors wrapping up Sandra Bland investigation, the Paxton brawl begins, and refugee relief group thumbs its nose at state.
Quote of the Day
“Do I think there’s anything we could have done to change the outcome? No.”
— The always optimistic Mayor of Houston, Annise Parker.
Black Comedy Tuesday
Last Friday’s fatal shooting at a Colorado Planned Parenthood was a shocking tragedy. So, of course, leave it to The Onion to perfectly satirize all the violent nut jobs out there. In this particular case, the publication “reported” from Amarillo, managing to get in a two-for-one punch playing off the Texas Lege’s obsession with getting rid of women’s reproductive health clinics altogether. The headline pretty much says it all—”Frustrated Gunman Can’t Believe How Far He Has To Drive To Find Nearest Planned Parenthood Clinic.” The quick hit is ruthlessly effective satire.
Almost Complete — It’s been almost five months since Sandra Bland’s controversial arrest and subsequent suicide at the Waller County jail. Now, the special team of prosecutors looking into the case say they’re near the end of their investigation and are expected to present their evidence to a grand jury by the end of the year. “The grand jury had its first meeting on Nov. 12, but prosecutors discovered they needed more information, [said one of the five special prosecutors],” according to the Associated Press. “Among the information sought — but so far not found — is the identity of the person who took a second video of the arrest that was posted online.” Although the footage was also collected on the arresting trooper’s dashcam, prosecutors are really hoping that the second mystery person comes forward. As the story notes, the special prosecutors’ investigation is just one of several surrounding the case. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards completed its investigation, saying that Bland wasn’t “properly monitored while in the jail; the Texas Department of Public Safety has said the trooper who arrested Bland … didn’t properly follow guidelines when he pulled her over” and “the Waller County sheriff has said the results of an internal investigation could result in discipline against jail employees.”
Paxton’s Positioning — The defense and prosecution are rolling up their sleeves and cracking their knuckles Tuesday as they start a two-day hearing over Ken Paxton’s legal troubles. It’s the next verse, same as the first, as Paxton tries to have the two felony charges against him dropped. But before diving into specifics on Paxton’s case, they’ll have to determine whether cameras will be allowed in the courtroom, the Houston Chronicle notes. Paxton’s lawyers said its their understanding that Collin County, where the hearing will take place, does not allow cameras and they “continue to disagree with the presiding judge over media coverage of the hearing.” It sounds like it could be a relatively exciting beginning to the actual courtroom proceedings. “When asked what the Paxton team would do if they entered the courtroom Tuesday and a camera was present, [Paxton attorney Bill] Mateja added, ‘I’m not going to comment any further. We’ll take that up if that situation arises.'” Based on the Austin American-Statesman‘s write-up, it’s pretty clear the press is hankerin’ for some footage of the proceedings. “Prosecutors and defense lawyers [are] trading insults and accusations of reckless, desperate and bombastic behavior in written back-and-forths to the judge,” and the “bare-knuckles back-and-forth exceeds tensions that are typically present when prosecutors and defense lawyers interact, exacerbated by the high-profile nature of a criminal case against the attorney general.” In other words, get your popcorn ready!
Campus Drop — Based on the growing number of institutions taking a stand, the Lege all but ignored the wishes of schools when it opened up the state’s gun laws to include campus carry. Rice University joins the ranks of other private institutions to “opt out” of the new law set to go into effect next year. “Rice follows Texas Christian University, which announced Nov. 13 that it would opt out,” according to the Texas Tribune. “Administrators at multiple private schools, including Trinity University, Paul Quinn College and Southern Methodist University, have indicated they plan to opt out, too.” In an email to students, Rice President David Leebron was pretty clear about the university’s stance. “There is no evidence that allowing the carrying of guns on our campus will make the campus safer. The most knowledgeable professional groups believe that guns will make campuses less safe.” The downside? The universities opting out of the law will miss all the protest fun when #CocksNotClocks gets going at campuses such as the University of Texas-Austin.
Refugee Game of Chicken — At least one refugee relief group is calling the governor’s bluff that Texas will sue any group’s effort to accept Syrian evacuees. “[Heath and Human Services] Executive Commissioner Chris Traylor warned the Dallas office of the International Rescue Committee that it would be in violation of its contract with Texas if it did not comply with Abbott’s order to stop accepting Syrian refugees, and could face legal action,” the Los Angeles Times writes. In a letter the Dallas IRC’s executive commissioner, Traylor wrote that “we have been unable to achieve cooperation with your agency. Specifically, your agency insists on resettling certain refugees from Syria in the near future. … Failure by your organization to cooperate with the state of Texas as required by federal law may result in the termination of your contract with the state and other legal action.” The organization responded to say that “officials at the International Rescue Committee’s headquarters in New York [saying] they would not stop resettling Syrian refugees in Texas despite state leaders’ opposition.”