The State of Texas: June 29, 2015
Quote of the day
“Do we get a senior discount? … Best $90 we ever spent.”
– Dallas newlywed George Harris, 82, picking up a marriage license with his partner, Jack Evans, 85.
Wedding Reception – Three days after the SCOTUS decision, and gay marriage is still legal in all fifty states (and Puerto Rico!). Not so fast, says Texas attorney general Ken Paxton. In a completely nonbinding legal opinion (i.e., not legal in any way, shape, or form), Paxton said that “religious freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment ‘may allow accommodation of their religious objections to issuing same-sex marriage licenses,’” according to the Dallas Morning News. His office offered pretty-much-only-moral support for finicky clerks, although he did warn them that they “may well face litigation and/or a fine.” Fear not, because Paxton also helpfully pointed out that there are lawyers out there ready to offer their services, “in many cases on a pro-bono basis.” Barring any real legal standing, both Paxton and Governor Greg Abbott have “vowed … to make protecting religious liberty ‘the next fight,’” according to the Houston Chronicle. Regardless, Texas is still issuing licenses; for example, Travis County “issued more than 300 marriage licenses … the vast majority of them granted to same-sex couples,” reports the Statesman.
Broken Bell – Circling back around to a different story that’s captivated headlines this summer: Blue Bell is under scrutiny for withdrawing—rather than recalling—product. “While the state health department called the withdrawal acceptable, some food safety experts are questioning why the public was not made aware of Blue Bell’s issues sooner,” writes the Morning News. The paper spoke to a number of food experts, and “they were unaware of any past cases in which a withdrawal, rather than a public recall, was used in a case in which a pathogen such as listeria was found in a ready-to-eat food.” A withdrawal is completely legal and fine, if—if—“the company could guarantee that it could account for 100 percent of the product that left the plant,” said food experts. That’s a big hurdle, and one which the company would like not to talk about. “Asked if that means 100 percent of the amount distributed was reclaimed, and that none of the product ended up in the hands of consumers, the company declined to comment, citing pending litigation.”
Business Is Booming – It hasn’t been easy for officials trying to gather evidence and build a case around the Waco Twin Peaks shoot-out that left nine dead. It also hasn’t been easy for the public to get information. And lord knows it hasn’t been easy for the horde of bikers who’ve been arrested, held, and questioned. But you know who is doing gangbusters? The post-jail industry. “Waco’s Recovery Healthcare Corp. and local bail bond companies have chalked up banner profits,” reports the Tribune-Herald in a fascinating side story about the shoot-out’s aftermath. Of the 163 bikers released on bond, “123 were ordered to wear GPS ankle bracelets, installed and monitored by Recovery Healthcare, as a condition of their releases.” How does that stack up? Those “ordered to wear the ankle bracelets must pay $355, which includes a $100 installation fee, and then $255 a month for as long as they wear it.” And there are “75 others wearing the monitors now. Normally, there are about 65 defendants a month hooked up to the devices,” said the office manager for Recovery Healthcare, who also remarked, “Let’s just say we have been busy.”
Nueve-Uno-Uno – If our state demographer is right, we’ve only got 29 years before Texas is majority Hispanic. Yet despite the increasing Hispanic population, only El Paso requires its 911 operators to understand and speak Spanish. That might be a problem. The good news is that as “the state’s demographics lean toward a multi-language speaking population, some big cities are attempting to manage an increased demand for bilingual 911 call-takers,” reports the Texas Tribune. The real challenge is “adequately staffing 911 call centers after background investigations, testing and vetting…let alone when bilingual requirements are added, said Beth English, president of the Texas chapter of the National Emergency Number Association.” Obviously, the demand is easier to meet closer to the border, but Houston and Dallas say they are “actively recruiting Spanish speakers.” Interestingly, there is also a slight issue with certain “Winter Texans,” specifically those French-speaking Canadian border-jumpers who come down for the weather. The good news is that “the Texas Telecommunicator Emergency Response Taskforce … is working to beef up its ability to provide bilingual assistance to emergency centers and call centers during natural disasters or other periods during which emergency calls may spike.” For those unable to call 911: carry duct-tape. It solves most problems.