The State of Texas: February 20, 2015
Headline of the Day
“Pot backers roll out at Texas Capitol, hoping for a joint agreement”
— Kudos to the Dallas Morning News for getting two weed puns in a single headline
A Marriage? – If you’re superconfused about whether two Austin women made history by becoming the first same-sex couple in Texas to be married, you’re not alone. Not even those involved can agree on whether the marriage is actually binding. To review: Suzanne Bryant and Sarah Goodfriend were married by court order by a Travis County judge because of “time urgency, and the other circumstances in this case,” i.e., Goodfriend is almost certainly dying of ovarian cancer. As the Houston Chronicle’s Lauren McCaughy explains, “while the judge’s order applied only to the couple, the Texas Supreme Court granted Attorney General Ken Paxton’s request later Thursday to stay the issuance of licenses to couples in similar situations. The license is invalid because it was ‘issued due to the erroneous judicial order,’ he said.” An attorney for the couple, however, said, “Paxton’s claim doesn’t impact his clients.” This decision isn’t without precedent. “Courts made a similar exception in Indiana for a lesbian couple in April because one of the women was dying of cancer and wanted her partner’s name on her death certificate. A federal appeals court overturned Indiana’s ban in September,” according to the Associated Press.
Drought Déjà Vu – As if the recent threat of an upcoming “megadrought” wasn’t bad enough: “About 16 percent less water is dependably available during drought in the [Highland] lake system than previously thought, water planners said Wednesday,” writes the Austin American-Statesman. “With the new forecast, officials at the Lower Colorado River Authority are coming to grips with the devastatingly low amounts of water that have reached lakes Travis and Buchanan the last half-dozen or so years.” But the big issue is that authorities won’t be able to sell as much water. “There is no danger that taps around Austin will suddenly go dry, but it means the river authority can sell less water to cities and industry out of the lakes and other points along the Colorado River.” Just to be clear about how bad the situation has become: “Water flow into the lakes was worse in 2008 to 2014 than in the worst seven years of the 1947-1957 drought.”
Pay up – BP will likely never give up trying to avoid repaying the damages it has caused, but no matter, since the company keeps losing in court. “A federal judge has rejected an attempt by BP to lower the fines it faces from its catastrophic Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier on Thursday agreed with government lawyers that BP should face paying up to $4,300 for each barrel of oil spilled,” according to the Associated Press. “BP wanted Barbier to cap the amount at $3,000 per barrel, the same amount set by the Clean Water Act in 1990 for gross negligence fines. But federal prosecutors argued that those amounts need to be adjusted for inflation and Barbier agreed. The ruling leaves BP facing up to $13.7 billion in civil fines for the spill.” After the decision, BP said it “continues to believe” that the fines shouldn’t be inflated, which is probably barely veiled code for “we’re going to keep fighting this.”
All at Rest – The defense rested yesterday in the “American Sniper” murder trial, but it’s not exactly over yet, as the prosecution may bring in rebuttal witnesses today. For its big finale, the defense put a forensic psychiatrist on the stand, who said that Eddie Ray Routh “was exhibiting signs of psychosis in the weeks leading up to and on the day of the shooting deaths” of Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield, according to the Dallas Morning News. “[Dr. Mitchell] Dunn said that Routh was displaying signs of schizophrenia as early as 2011, when he was first taken to the mental hospital.” The psychiatrist also said that “he doesn’t believe Routh has post-traumatic stress disorder.” Perhaps oddly for someone looking to prove their innocence by reason of insanity, Routh (and his lawyers) made the rather sane choice not to put him on the stand. The case is expected to go to the jury by Monday.
We Don’t Need No Education – Good news, high schoolers! All those grades and tests may be completely meaningless. “State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, is looking to fast-track a bill that would give school officials the option to graduate students who have failed state exams,” reports the Texas Tribune. And how many students are we talking about? Somewhere in the range of 28,000. To be fair, it’s not like every class dunce will be given a pass. “To graduate under the legislation’s alternative route, a student must have a minimum 2.0 grade point average, pass all courses required for graduation and receive a unanimous vote from the review panel.” The legislation is just another effort to get the kids to the finish line. During the last legislative session, the number of required tests was dropped from fifteen to five, and those who fail were given a chance to retake the exam.