Category: Eye on Texas
Attorney General Greg Abbott Asks Houston City Attorney to Withdraw Subpoenas Seeking Sermons, Other Documents from Houston-area Pastors
AUSTIN — Attorney General Abbott today asked that the Houston City Attorney to immediately withdraw the subpoenas sent last month to several Houston-area pastors seeking sermons, notes and other information.
In his letter to the city attorney, Attorney General Abbott said, “Whether you intend it to be so or not, your action is a direct assault on the religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment. The people of Houston and their religious leaders must be absolutely secure in the knowledge that their religious affairs are beyond the reach of the government.”
|Attorney General Abbott’s letter to Houston City Attorney David Feldman|
October 15, 2014
Mr. David Feldman
City of Houston
900 Bagby, 4th Floor
Houston, Texas 77002
Dear Mr. Feldman:
Your office has demanded that four Houston pastors hand over to the city government many of their private papers, including their sermons. Whether you intend it to be so or not, your action is a direct assault on the religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment. The people of Houston and their religious leaders must be absolutely secure in the knowledge that their religious affairs are beyond the reach of the government. Nothing short of an immediate reversal by your office will provide that security. I call on you to withdraw the subpoenas without further delay.
I recognize that the subpoenas arise from litigation related to a petition to repeal an ordinance adopted by the city council. But the litigation discovery process is not a license for government officials to inquire into religious affairs. Nor is your office’s desire to vigorously support the ordinance any excuse for these subpoenas. No matter what public policy is at stake, government officials must exercise the utmost care when our work touches on religious matters. If we err, it must be on the side of preserving the autonomy of religious institutions and the liberty of religious believers. Your aggressive and invasive subpoenas show no regard for the very serious First Amendment considerations at stake.
A statement released by the Mayor’s Office claims that the subpoenas were prepared by outside lawyers and that neither you nor Mayor Parker was aware of them before they were issued. Nevertheless, these lawyers acted in the City’s name, and you are responsible for their actions. You should immediately instruct your lawyers to withdraw the City’s subpoenas. Religious institutions and their congregants should never have to worry that a government they disagree with will attempt to interfere in their religious affairs. Instead of safeguarding that trust, you appear to have given some of the most powerful law firms in Houston free rein to harass and intimidate pastors who oppose City policy. In good faith, I hope you merely failed to anticipate how inappropriately aggressive your lawyers would be. Many, however, believe your actions reflect the city government’s hostility to religious beliefs that do not align with ci ty policies.
I urge you to demonstrate the City’s commitment to religious liberty and to true diversity of belief by unilaterally withdrawing these subpoenas immediately. Your stated intention to wait for further court proceedings falls woefully short of the urgent action needed to reassure the people of Houston that their government respects their freedom of religion and does not punish those who oppose city policies on religious grounds.
Attorney General of Texas
AUSTIN—In a decision by Judge Jennifer Elrod, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit today lifted the district court’s injunction, allowing HB 2 to immediately go into effect. Lauren Bean, spokeswoman for the Texas Attorney General’s Office, released the following statement:
“This decision is a vindication of the careful deliberation by the Texas Legislature to craft a law to protect the health and safety of Texas women.”
A federal appeals court Thursday allowed Texas to immediately begin enforcing tough new abortion restrictions that will effectively close all but seven abortion facilities in America’s second most-populous state.
A panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court in New Orleans stayed a lower judge’s ruling while it considers the overall constitutionality of key portions of Texas’ sweeping 2013 abortion law, which Republican Gov. Rick Perry and other conservatives say is designed to protect women’s health.
U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled in August that part of the law requiring Texas clinics to spend millions of dollars on hospital-level upgrades was less about safety than making access to abortion difficult.
Yeakel’s ruling in Austin suspended the upgrades requirement. But Texas is appealing, and asked the appeals court to let it enforce the law during that process — clearing the way for the panel’s ruling.
Allowing to go forward the rules on hospital-level upgrades — including mandatory operating rooms and air filtration systems — would shutter more than a dozen clinics across Texas. It means only abortion facilities will remain open in the Houston, Austin, San Antonio and the Dallas-Fort Worth areas.
None will be left along the Texas-Mexico border or outside any of the state’s largest urban areas.
Meanwhile, some clinics have already closed after another part of the 2013 law required doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. That portion of the law has already been upheld by the 5th U.S. Circuit, where the state is now seeking a second outright reversal.
(AUSTIN) — Texas Comptroller Susan Combs reminds shoppers the annual sales tax holiday is scheduled for this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 8 -10.
The law exempts most clothing, footwear, school supplies and backpacks priced under $100 from sales tax, which could save shoppers about $8 on every $100 they spend during the weekend.
Lists of apparel and school supplies that may be purchased tax free can be found on the Comptroller’s website at www.TexasTaxHoliday.org.
This year, shoppers will save an estimated $82.7 million in state and local sales taxes during the Sales Tax Holiday.
The tax holiday weekend has been an annual event since 1999.
Gov. Rick Perry has launched a public service announcement (PSA) to raise awareness of state resources available to help Texas veterans navigate the Veterans Administration (VA) health care system. Texas has increased staffing for the Texas Veterans Hotline in response to failures by the VA system to adequately care for our nation’s veterans.
“Texas has a long and proud tradition of taking care of those who protect and defend our freedom,” Gov. Perry said. “As Texans and Americans, it is our responsibility to step up where others have fallen short and to make sure our veterans know we are grateful for their service and will honor the commitments our nation has made to them. It’s my sincere hope the confirmation of Robert McDonald as VA Secretary begins the process of fixing this broken agency and the broken promises to our veterans.”
In addition to increasing staff for the Texas Veterans Hotline, on June 12, 2014, Gov. Perry asked Texas hospitals and medical clinics to open their doors to Texas veterans who have faced bureaucratic challenges in accessing health care through the VA. More than 300 hospitals and clinics have responded across the state, but cannot begin treating VA patients until the VA gives them authorization and ensures timely reimbursement of the cost of care provided.
The Texas Cable Association and Texas Association of Broadcasters will air the PSA on their respective member networks and on-line throughout the state. The PSA directs veterans to call the Texas Veterans Hotline at 1-800-252-8387 (VETS) for assistance with accessing VA health care benefits.
To view the PSA, please visit here.
The Texas energy boom may be going south – south of the border, that is – as Texas oil and gas companies explore new business possibilities that are opening up throughout Mexico.
The nationalized energy industry of Texas’ southern neighbor and top trading partner is undergoing a sea change. Reversing 76 years of government policy, Pemex (Petróleos Mexicanos), Mexico’s state-run oil and gas monopoly, is opening itself to partnerships – and its fields to exploration and production (E&P) – by private firms. Many Texas-based O&G service companies already subcontract in Mexico, but allowing foreign E&P is a whole new ballgame.
“I didn’t think I’d ever see it in my lifetime,” observed Eric Potter, associate director of the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas at Austin. He and his colleagues have conducted extensive research on various O&G formations for Pemex.
While Mexico is already one of the world’s oil-producing giants, economists believe its E&P growth potential is quite strong, given the country’s vast amounts of untapped deposits. The two big unanswered questions now are how attractive Mexico’s business terms will be and how much oil and gas it can supply reliably and profitably.
In December 2013, Mexico’s state legislatures ratified a constitutional amendment that ended decades of public control over both the nation’s electricity and oil and gas industries. Though advanced by an effective coalition, it was still a hard sell given the government’s longstanding, deep-seated dependency on Pemex. Mexico derives 35 percent of its federal budget from oil and gas revenue, according to Alejandra León, associate director of Latin America – Downstream Oil for global economic analysis firm IHS/CERA. Pemex sends the government 65 percent of its income, according to Potter, limiting what’s available for reinvestment. Indeed, energy stagnation due to a lack of development resources bolstered the argument that Mexico would prosper if it brought in private and foreign investors.
Not surprisingly, some critics continue to suggest that Mexico will be shortchanged in the bargain. As Potter notes, the devil is always in the details. The Mexican congress is slowly modifying numerous laws and enacting new ones to implement the transition. The government also is determining how much of its resources Pemex will retain and what will be up for grabs. The outcomes will determine just how much investing there will be in Mexico’s brave new energy world.
Pemex will become one of many players, Potter said, but it will have more flexibility to sell greater interests in what it retains. This will, in turn, generate more operating capital. Given its historical dependence on oil, the Mexican government may still take a sizable cut of E&P revenue, León said, regardless of who is generating it. Nevertheless, both Potter and León think the initial impact of the new law could benefit firms across the entire E&P spectrum, from independent producers to the major global oil companies, perhaps including some Mexican entrepreneurs as well. Potter added that some investors might even negotiate deals and transfer them to others.
“The overall pie should grow, even though Pemex’s share will decrease,” he predicted.
What’s In It For Me?
While not outright privatization, the new agreements are expected to be more lucrative than the current performance-based service contracts first allowed in 2008, according to analysts at PFC Energy, a subsidiary of IHS.
They expect Mexico to offer three types of contractual arrangements:
- Licenses (permits similar to concessions) and contracts for sharing production and profits. Licensees are paid in oil and gas produced.
- Production contracts, which earn holders a percentage of what’s produced and to which they hold title. Both licenses and production contracts allow booking of reserves. Being more lucrative, production contracts are more likely to be applied to higher-risk operations.
- Profit-sharing contracts. Contract holders are paid in cash based on a percentage of earned profits. They own none of the resources but can book their shares of the revenue.
Potter suggested that the business terms – royalties, taxes, and contractual obligations – that emerge will be key. He said potential investors also will need to consider where the opportunities are located and their types.
The opportunities won’t be immediate, says León, and Mexico’s E&P likely won’t be competitive in the near term. “Pemex must decide what it will keep,” she explained.
To date, in what has been dubbed “Round Zero,” Pemex is opting to relinquish its northern Mexico shale plays and some of its deepwater offshore holdings. Both are expensive enterprises requiring extensive, and very different, expertise.
Potter believes it is too early to predict how attractive Mexico’s shale oil and gas plays will be in areas where the geology is complex and largely untested. Pemex has drilled only a half dozen wells in its portion of the Eagle Ford shale compared to more than 8,000 in Texas, he pointed out. Security also is a concern, given that portions of the formation extend southward beneath areas subject to control by Mexican drug cartels. However, there are other similar shale plays in Mexico that may also lure enhanced recovery firms.
Pemex’s deepwater presence in the Gulf of Mexico is currently next to nothing, so it, too, is ripe for development. But only the more financially sound, technically sophisticated players need apply.
Hurry Up and Wait
Mexico’s energy ministry has until mid-September to decide if Pemex has the capacity to manage and develop the resources it wants to retain or open any of them up to competitive bidding. Then, over the next few years, it must prove itself capable of doing so. Short term, León said, there will be two concurrent systems: one for existing projects and a parallel regulatory framework for newly developed areas. The transition won’t be complete until 2016. Regardless of what the new regulations are, Potter said, they must be administered fairly and ethically in order to work.
The impact on global markets and prices is uncertain. But Potter is confident that the ripple effects in Texas will be positive and pervasive.
While a bit of a mixed metaphor, Potter’s observation is economically true nonetheless: “A drilled well is just the tip of the iceberg.”
There are three positions on the Old River-Winfree City Council coming up for re-election or replacement.
This is your time to make a difference in our community.
No one in Old River-Winfree seems to know these date or doesn’t want to get involved and that is a shame. We need younger people to fill our City Government; to step up with new ideas, fresh perspectives. This will bring new energy into our community and guide us into the future always looking out for the interest of the citizens of Old River-Winfree.
We need the citizens in Old River-Winfree between the ages of 35-55 with life experiences, both personal and business for these three positions.
Question: Can you name the current council members of Old River-Winfree? Do you even know who the Mayor is?
All you need to do is click on the link below and read up on what serving in our town would involve and some rules and regulations.
A couple of quick things to know: To put your name on the Ballot to run for City Council, just go by the Old River-Winfree City Office and ask the City Secretary for an application. Pretty simple really. You must be a resident of Old River-Winfree and pass a background check. Any other information you can glean from the information below.
If you think you or someone you know could really benefit our town, please pass this on to them. It’s either time for a change or to continue with the old status quo (state of affairs of Old River-Winfree continuing the way they have been). Your decision!
Here are the beginning and end dates for filing to get on the ballot:
First Day to File for Place on General Election Ballot 1
Saturday, July 19, 2014 (“first day” does not move)
(NEW LAW: Election Code Sec. 144.005 now provides for a “first day” to file unless otherwise provided by the Election Code.)
Last Day to File for Place on General Election Ballot (for local political subdivisions ONLY) 1
Monday, August 18, 2014 at 5:00 p.m.
How high is demand for welders to work in the shale boom on the U.S. Gulf Coast?
“If somebody came to me on the Gulf Coast, some high-school kid, and said, ‘I don’t know what to do with my life,’ I’d tell him, ‘Learn to weld.’”
So high that “you can take every citizen in the region of Lake Charles between the ages of 5 and 85 and teach them all how to weld and you’re not going to have enough welders,” said Peter Huntsman, chief executive officer of chemical maker Huntsman Corp.
So high that San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Texas, offers a four-hour welding class in the middle of the night.
So high that local employers say they’re worried there won’t be adequate supply of workers of all kinds. Just for construction, Gulf Coast oil, gas and chemical companies will have to find 36,000 new qualified workers by 2016, according to Industrial Info Resources Inc. in Sugar Land, Texas. Regional estimates call for even more new hires once those projects are built.
The processing and refining industries need so many workers to build new facilities in Texas and Louisiana because of the unprecedented rise over the last three years in U.S. oil and gas production, much of it due to shale. Labor shortages, causing delays in construction, threaten to slow the boom and push back the date when the country can meet its own energy needs, estimated by BP Plc to be in 2035.
Worker scarcities are already evident in the unemployment rates of Texas (5.7 percent) and Louisiana (4.5 percent), both below the national average of 6.7 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Thelowest jobless rate of any area in the U.S. in February was 2.8 percent in Houma-Bayou Cane-Thibodaux, Louisiana, because of offshore-oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico.
Companies will spend $35 billion, more than ever, on expansion projects along the Houston Ship Channel by next year, creating a total of 265,800 jobs, a 2012 Greater Houston Port Bureau survey shows. Louisiana, where $60 billion in building projects are planned through 2016, will need 86,300 workers over that time, according to the state’sWorkforce Commission.
“This is an exponentially larger investment period than Louisiana has ever seen,” said Tom Guarisco, a spokesman for the Workforce Commission in Baton Rouge.
The biggest shortages will be for welders, electricians, instrumentation technicians, fabricators and pipe fitters, according to Roger Blackburn, executive account manager at Infinity Construction Services LP, which employs about 2,500 workers on the Gulf Coast. The scale of the projects means costs and delays will probably escalate, he said.
Labor scarcity can erode profit. Cost run-ups and labor shortages have hindered recent energy-boom projects in Canada and Australia. Wages for oil and gas workers in Canada rose to as much as 60 percent higher than U.S. counterparts, labor data show. In Australia, cooks at offshore projects are earning more than A$350,000 ($328,000) a year while laundry hands get more than A$325,000 and barge welders almost A$400,000, imperiling investments in liquefied natural gas, according to the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association.
Enterprise Products Partners LP said March 18 that permitting for a facility east of Houston, in Mont Belvieu, Texas, that turns propane into propylene is running three months behind. In December,Royal Dutch Shell Plc canceled a $20 billion gas-to-liquids plant slated for Louisiana, citing potential cost overruns. Construction for three new U.S. natural-gas-processing plants could go as much as 40 percent over budget and finish nine months late, Sergey Vasnetsov, senior vice president of strategic planning at LyondellBasell Industries NV in Houston, said at a March 12 conference in New York.
“There was some tight availability of qualified labor, and so we expect it to be a significant issue for the industry, in particular in 2016, 2017, where the bulk of the heavy construction will take place in the U.S.,” Vasnetsov said at the conference.
Chevron Phillips Chemical Co., a venture between Chevron Corp. and Phillips 66 based in The Woodlands, Texas, broke ground near Houston this month on ethylene and polyethylene plastics plants whose budget will go $1 billion over the original $5 billion estimate, primarily because of labor costs, Chief Executive Officer Peter Cella said in an interview.
“Where are the workers going to come from?” Cella asked.
The answer: from Canada and other countries, and employers are sweetening benefit packages to attract and retain them. These include higher contributions to retirement savings and tuition reimbursement, said Dani Grant, a human resources manager at chemical maker Noltex LLC in La Porte, Texas.
Other companies are tempting workers with gourmet dining, retention bonuses and smoking areas, which are usually not allowed at chemical facilities, said Russell Heinen, a senior director at IHS Inc., an energy company advisory firm in Englewood, Colorado.
Bechtel Corp., the biggest U.S. construction contractor, offers the amenity of running-water toilets, according to Jim Ivany, executive vice president at the San Francisco-based company’s oil, gas and chemicals unit.
When projects in engineering and permitting stages start construction late this year, wages will rise 15 to 20 percent “almost overnight,” similar to what happened in 2006 and 2007 before the global recession, according to Peter Huntsman of Salt Lake City-based Huntsman Corp.
Pay started to rise in the fourth quarter of 2013, said Mike Bergen, an executive vice president at IIR. The most skilled combo-pipe welders on the Gulf Coast earned $34.75 an hour, 2 percent more than in the previous quarter, IIR data show. Wages will grow by about 12 percent a year, IIR estimates.
Austin Khalili, 22, works in a warehouse but wants to become a welder. That’s why he’s enrolled at San Jacinto College’s twice-weekly 10 p.m.-to-2 a.m. welding class, where he can learn the trade, grab a quick nap and still be at his day job by 4 a.m.
“It’s hard sometimes, but it’s going to be worth it,” Khalili said. “I know it’s going to pay off.”
San Jacinto College built the new welding classroom, with 118 booths, at its central campus two years ago. Enrollment has jumped to 435 students. Each booth has its own welding rig and ventilation fan in the warehouse-sized building.
Wearing heavy protective clothing and visors on a humid spring evening, students practiced behind curtains in the booths. Ghostly blue light and sparks scattering on the floor were the only visible evidence of their work welding seams on metal sheets.
Khalili will be able to start earning as much as $28 an hour after completing the class and getting his certificate, according to Tiburcio Parras, head of the welding program. Wages escalate after that, and Parras said that several of his students have gone on to purchase their own trucks and welding rigs, which allows them to earn as much as $7,000 a week working in places such as the Eagle Ford drilling fields in South Texas.
(AUSTIN) — The deadline is July 31 for Texas families to enroll their newborns in the Texas Tuition Promise Fund® and avoid future increases in tuition and required fees at Texas public colleges and universities. Newborns are children younger than 1 at the time of enrollment.
The Texas Tuition Promise Fund — the state’s prepaid college tuition program — allows participants to lock in the cost of undergraduate tuition and required fees at Texas public colleges and universities based on current prices.
Under the plan, families can prepay tuition and required fees for a four-year degree, two years of community college or just a few semesters at Texas public colleges and universities by purchasing tuition units.
Enrollment in the program at 2013-14 prices closed Feb. 28 for children older than 1. The next annual enrollment period begins Sept. 1, with new contract prices based on Texas public college costs for the 2014-15 academic year.
Complete plan information, current prices, enrollment forms and more are available online at www.TuitionPromise.org, or call 1-800-445-GRAD (4723), Option 5.
Friday, July 11, 2014 • Austin, Texas • Press Release
Securing the Border Must be Top Priority
President Obama’s appropriations request only deals with one aspect of the current crisis on our southern border, while barely addressing its root cause: an unsecured border.
Of the $3.7 billion in President Obama’s request, only a small fraction is directly dedicated to border security efforts, which are absolutely essential to resolving this crisis, and avoiding more such crises in the future.
Everything else is only treating a symptom of a much-larger problem. And as we know with treating symptoms, the problems will continue until the root cause is resolved.
As governor of Texas, I’ve been to the border many times, including a June trip to visit a detention facility in McAllen, Texas. The true humanitarian disaster has to be seen to be understood, which is why it’s essential the president make his own trip there as soon as possible.
The fact is, this is a crisis created by failed federal policy, and a lack of will to dedicate the resources necessary to secure the border, once and for all.
This has been a problem for a long time. In Texas, we’ve spent more than $500 million since 2005 to supplement border protection, fighting transnational gangs and drug cartels conducting criminal activities in the border region. With the influx of immigrants further straining the existing federal resources that already weren’t sufficient for the job, we’ve expanded our efforts to combat those elements seeking to take advantage of the situation.
President Obama should make securing the border the top priority in resolving this crisis. To begin with, he should send 1,000 National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border to support operations until sufficient Border Patrol agents can be hired, trained and deployed.
He should also direct the Federal Aviation Administration to allow drone flights along the border to identify and track those engaging in drug or human trafficking.
Ignoring the core problem will only cause more hardship, encouraging more people to leave their families and risk their lives to cross a desert in the middle of summer.
My hope is that Congress will expand measures that will enable us to finally secure the border, and that President Obama will sign it into law.
Statement by Gov. Perry in Support of Israel
Gov. Rick Perry today issued the following statement supporting Israel in its ongoing conflict with Hamas:
“Israel has an absolute right and responsibility to defend its people against any and all terrorist attacks, including the vicious rocket attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups against civilian targets in Israel’s cities and towns. As Israel’s long-time friend and partner, it’s the United States’ responsibility and honor to stand with the Israeli people during this difficult time. Israel is our closest ally in the Middle East, and we offer our complete solidarity with her today as she faces these attacks with courage and determination. Our prayers are with everyone in danger’s path, as are our hopes for a timely and lasting peace.”
Wednesday, June 18, 2014 • Austin, Texas • Press Release
Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker Joe Straus today directed the Texas Dept. of Public Safety (DPS) to immediately begin law enforcement surge operations on the Texas-Mexico border to combat the flood of illegal immigration into the state in the absence of adequate federal resources to secure the border. State leaders have authorized DPS to fund border security operations at approximately $1.3 million per week.
“Texas can’t afford to wait for Washington to act on this crisis and we will not sit idly by while the safety and security of our citizens are threatened,” Gov. Perry said. “Until the federal government recognizes the danger it’s putting our citizens in by its inaction to secure the border, Texas law enforcement must do everything they can to keep our citizens and communities safe.”
In a joint letter to DPS Director Steve McCraw, state leaders authorized DPS to conduct law enforcement surge operations using any funds appropriated to the agency. DPS surge operations will continue at least through the end of the calendar year. DPS must periodically report the results of the law enforcement surge to the governor and the legislature.
“The federal government has abdicated its responsibility to secure the border and protect this country from the consequences of illegal immigration, but as Texans we know how to lead in areas where Washington has failed,” Lt. Gov. Dewhurst said. “Last year DPS conducted Operation Strong Safety and achieved astounding results. Crime rates related to drugs, cartels, transnational gangs, and illegal border activity plummeted because of the resources we allocated to stop illegal entry at the border. It’s time to make this type of presence on the border permanent.”
The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (USCBP) has apprehended more illegal immigrants in the Rio Grande Valley in the first eight months of the current federal fiscal year (over 160,000) than it did for all of fiscal year 2013 (154,453). In May 2014 alone, USCBP reported apprehending more than 1,100 illegal immigrants per day in the Rio Grande Valley. This year, like last year, more than half of the individuals apprehended at the Texas-Mexico border by USCBP are from countries other than Mexico. Additionally, 34,000 unaccompanied alien children (UAC) have been apprehended in Texas so far this year, with estimates that number will reach 90,000 by the end of the fiscal year. By comparison, 28,352 UAC were apprehended in fiscal year 2013.
“In this current security and humanitarian crisis, the federal government’s failure to secure our border is resulting in serious consequences for Texas,” Speaker Straus said. “To immediately address these issues, today I join with Gov. Perry and Lt. Gov. Dewhurst to direct the Texas Department of Public Safety to use the appropriate resources to keep our state safe.”
Previous law enforcement surge operations in the border region, such as Operation Strong Safety in 2013, have proven effective in reducing criminal activity and violence associated with human smuggling and drug trafficking in the border region.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 18, 2014
Press Office at
AUSTIN – The Office of the Attorney General’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force collaborated with Texas law enforcement agencies that have affiliated with the OAG ICAC program and local and federal law enforcement authorities statewide to conduct “Operation Broken Heart” – a month-long, undercover effort that targeted offenders who used the Internet to target children.
OAG ICAC and affiliate agency officers executed more than 30 search warrants statewide and arrested 23 suspected child predators. The coordinated statewide initiative began May 1 and concentrated on arresting offenders suspected of the following offenses:
- possessing, producing or distributing child pornography;
- engaging in commercial and online solicitation of children for sexual purposes; and/or
- engaging in sex tourism – the act of traveling abroad to sexually abuse foreign children.
“The Office of the Attorney General’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and law enforcement agencies affiliated with the task force collaborated in May to identify, locate and arrest 23 suspected child predators,” Attorney General Abbott said. “The results of Operation Broken Heart demonstrate that cyber predators pose a constant and very real threat to young Texans’ safety and well-being. OAG ICAC officers look forward to continued collaboration with affiliate ICAC agencies and local, state and federal authorities statewide to bring sex offenders to justice.”
“Operation Broken Heart” – OAG ICAC results
OAG ICAC officers collaborated with state, local and federal law enforcement authorities during Operation Broken Heart and conducted nearly a dozen investigations statewide. The investigations stemmed from CyberTipline referrals from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children about suspected predators around the State of Texas. With law enforcement assistance from the Midland Police Department, Odessa Police Department and the U.S. Marshals Service, OAG ICAC officers successfully identified, located and arrested five suspects on child pornography charges and confiscated the suspects’ computers and various devices.
The five suspects arrested by OAG ICAC officers and taken into custody were:
- Perre Alezonder Jones, 26, arrested May 8 in Midland County
- Avery Erik Rodriguez, 19, arrested May 9 in Ector County
- Matthew Lee Weidner, 29, arrested May 9 in Midland County
- Michael Martinez, 22, arrested May 22 in Williamson County
- Christopher Lara, 23, arrested May 28, in Tom Green County
The five suspects arrested by OAG ICAC officers each face charges of child pornography possession. According to OAG ICAC investigators, Lara had child pornography images saved on his mobile phone in his pocket; Jones, Rodriguez and Lara shared images of child pornography on social networking websites; and Weidner accessed and shared online videos of children being sexually assaulted.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office works closely with law enforcement authorities statewide to investigate and prosecute child sexual predators. In 2006, the U.S. Department of Justice designated the Attorney General’s Office as ICAC Task Force for the South Texas Region. As the home of a federally-funded ICAC Task Force, the Attorney General’s Office receives grant funding from the Justice Department for several peace officers. Child predators arrested by the Attorney General’s Office have been prosecuted in both state and federal courts.
To find out more about the Texas Attorney General’s ICAC Task Force and Attorney General Greg Abbott’s ongoing efforts to crack down on sexual predators, visit the agency’s website at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.
The people who answer the call of our nation’s military are a rare breed…people driven by devotion to their community and love of their country. They don’t swear the oath for personal enrichment or individual glory. They’re not looking for special treatment.
They’ve earned it, nonetheless.
In Texas, we’ve long enjoyed a special relationship with the military. In fact, today more than 1.7 million veterans call our state “home,” and it makes no difference whether they were born here or came to love Texas while stationed here – We’re proud of them, just the same.
The recent scandal at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) underscores the need for all of us to remain vigilant in defense of our veterans. All too many veterans were finding themselves stuck in bureaucratic limbo, snarled in long lines, waiting to receive the basic care they deserve.
In Texas, we quickly took steps to provide what assistance we could. For starters, the Texas Veterans Commission added specially-trained individuals to staff the Texas Veterans Hotline (1-800-252-VETS), ready to guide callers through the all-too-confusing VA system. They’re also steering the most urgent cases to the Texas Veterans Healthcare Strikeforce, which will work directly with the VA to help veterans get the answers and care that they need and deserve.
We also worked with health care providers across the state in development of a plan that would expand opportunities for more providers to treat VA patients.
While it’s hopeful Washington will come up with a more lasting solution, this plan, in the short term, would allow providers to get paid through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, rather than waiting through the outdated Veterans Health Administration reimbursement process. The VA would then reimburse the Medicare program for much-needed services provided. This would cut the amount of time necessary to repay providers, which in turn means they can quickly start treating veterans currently waiting in line for treatment the traditional way.
The Texas Hospital Association has endorsed the plan and is encouraging its members to participate, but it would require federal approval to put into action.
We’ve always been willing to think outside the box to support or veterans.
Even before the scope of the VA scandal became clear, we were already putting resources into helping Texas veterans caught in the snare of federal red tape. Years ago, we formed Claims Processing Assistant Teams, staffed by counselors trained to help veterans expedite their VA claims.
Similarly, when we heard stories about veterans getting turned away from jobs they were qualified for – because they lacked certification – we expedited the certification process, cutting the amount of time and red tape it takes for them to put the skills they already had to work.
We also promoted programs like “College Credit 4 Heroes,” which awards college credit for skills and experiences gained in service to our country, as well as the “Hiring Red, White and You” job fairs for veterans held in communities across Texas.
That’s in addition to a variety of tax breaks and educational opportunities we’ve instituted for veterans and their families over the years.
We need to go a lot further to ensure our veterans are well positioned to succeed and thrive in the State of Texas, but we’re off to a good start.
Did you know that distracted driving-related crashes in Texas are highest among young adults ages 16 to 24, followed by adults over the age of 44? That’s one of the statistics Businesses heard at the Texas Department of Transportation Summit.
Corporate executives, small business owners and state officials today joined the Texas Department of Transportation at Circuit of The Americas raceway to consider solutions for reducing driver distractions that caused more than 95,000 traffic crashes last year in Texas.
As summit wraps up, TxDOT tours the state with crashed phone to raise awareness on the dangers of texting, talking while driving (Photos and video can be downloaded here.)
AUSTIN — “With distracted driving responsible for 1 in every 5 crashes in Texas, we want to help business leaders understand what they can do to protect their employees, themselves and other motorists on the road,” said John Barton, TxDOT deputy executive director. “When employees crash on company time while using a mobile device, employers can be held liable for significant damages.”
Among the Distracted Driving Summit participants were national experts who recommended steps businesses can take to improve safety and reduce financial liability. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that employers in Texas spend $4.3 billion every year as a result of on- and off-the-job traffic crashes that can result in medical claims, absences and lost productivity. An employer’s price tag for an on-the-job crash is about $16,000 per vehicle; $76,000 per injury; and $505,000 per fatality. In recent years, numerous plaintiffs have filed and won multi-million-dollar lawsuits against employers when their employee caused injuries due to a distracted driving crash.
TxDOT Tours State with Crashed Phone
In addition to raising awareness of the cost of distracted driving within the business sector, TxDOT also is educating the public on the dangers of such habits. As part of TxDOT’s “Talk, Text, Crash” campaign, the agency is hosting events across the state featuring a car-sized, 750-pound crashed phone as the backdrop for guest speakers who will offer insight about loved ones they’ve lost due to talking and texting while driving.
Researchers at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) say drivers who use a cell phone behind the wheel are four times more likely to get into a crash serious enough to cause injury. In addition, a study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) revealed almost half of Texas drivers have admitted using a cell phone while driving, and almost a quarter of drivers say they sometimes or regularly send or read text messages while driving. Distracted driving-related crashes in Texas are highest among young adults ages 16 to 24, followed by adults over the age of 44. Last year in Texas, 505 people were killed and 19,981 people were seriously injured in distracted driving crashes.
The Distracted Driving Summit is part of TxDOT’s “Talk, Text, Crash” campaign to warn motorists of the dangers of being distracted behind the wheel. While cell phone use is the most recognizable driving distraction, any behavior that takes a motorist’s attention away from the road is dangerous. Distractions can include:
- Checking email
- Eating and drinking
- Programming a navigation system
- Adjusting a radio, CD player or other audio device
For media inquiries, contact TxDOT Media Relations at MediaRelations@txdot.gov or (512) 463-8700.
Information contained in this news release represents reportable data collected from Texas Peace Officer’s Crash Reports (CR-3) received and processed by the Department as of June 3, 2014.
|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEJune 12, 2014||NEWS RELEASE||CONTACT
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Request comes as U.S. Border Patrol say they are “overwhelmed” with the number of minors illegally crossing the border
AUSTIN – Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today requested $30 million from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to immediately deploy state resources to the Texas border. The request comes amid Border Patrol officers reporting a 92 percent spike in minors being apprehended at the border. The influx of child immigrants has so overwhelmed the U.S. Border Patrol that federal agents are devoting time and resources to the humanitarian aspects of the influx, and are not available to secure the border and successfully stop criminal activity.
|Texas Attorney General Abbott’s letter|
Text of the letter:
June 12, 2014
The Honorable Jeh Johnson
Secretary of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528
Dear Secretary Johnson,
Texas is currently dealing with an extraordinary influx of unaccompanied minors illegally crossing our long international border with Mexico. With the Border Patrol’s focus shifted to this crisis, we have grave concerns that dangerous cartel activity, including narcotics smuggling and human trafficking, will go unchecked because Border Patrol resources are stretched too thin. Securing the U.S.-Mexico border is the federal government’s responsibility. Because that simply is not happening, the State of Texas is seeking emergency funding to help support state-based border security initiatives.
In the Texas Rio Grande Valley sector alone, the U. S. Border Patrol made more than 160,000 apprehensions between October 2013 and May 2014, an increase of 70 percent over the same period the year before. Authorities arrested 47,017 unaccompanied minors illegally crossing the border between October and May, up 92 percent from the same period a year earlier. More than two-thirds of these arrests—33,470— were in the Rio Grande Valley sector. A draft Border Patrol memorandum estimates that number could reach 90,000 in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.
This crisis has been accelerated by federal government policies that, as U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen recently wrote, are “rewarding criminal conduct instead of enforcing the current laws.” Federal government policies that release unauthorized immigrants from custody with notices to appear in court, and that reunite minors apprehended alone in the U.S. illegally with family members already present in the country, only encourages the continued influx of unaccompanied minors that has helped create this urgent situation on our southwestern border.
I am appealing directly to you for immediate assistance with border security operations along the Texas-Mexico border. The influx of child immigrants has so overwhelmed the U.S. Border Patrol that federal agents are devoting time and resources to the humanitarian aspects of the influx. Therefore, we are concerned federal authorities are not available to secure the border and successfully stop cross-border criminal activity.
The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) has a proven track record of interdicting, intercepting and disrupting the criminal operations of transnational gangs and international drug cartels—including illegal smuggling operations by those criminal organizations. The Texas DPS is prepared to swiftly launch a significant and proven border security operation once funding is available. The cost for the operation is approximately $1.3 million per week and is necessary to stem the tide of unauthorized entries across the porous U.S.-Mexico border. The operational costs reflect overtime for State Troopers working 12-hour shifts and other expenses such as fuel and lodging, as well as overtime for local law enforcement agencies, which augment the DPS operations. An immediate $30 million directed toward state and local law enforcement would help mitigate the crisis at hand and provide the Border Patrol the assistance it needs to regain cont rol of the border.
The $30 million requested is only two percent of the amount of aid the President is asking Congress to appropriate in temporary aid to deal with the consequences of the porous border. The short-term cost of border security enhancement provided by Texas should lead to significantly lower aid costs incurred by U.S. taxpayers in the future and would ensure law enforcement at the border continues to be available to focus on narcotics interdiction, human trafficking prevention and other cartel activity. Unless the Department of Homeland Security or another federal agency provides funding, the cartels—which are central to this crisis—will prevail because they profit from each illegal border crossing. With the requested aid, though, the Texas DPS can apply its proven record of success to help staunch this cartel-driven border security problem.
In addition to funds for the Texas Department of Public Safety, I urge the Department of Homeland Security to step up its efforts to prevent these illegal crossings before they occur. I applaud the members of the Border Patrol who defend our border, but they are overwhelmed. Since 2010, the number of apprehensions along the Texas Mexico border has increased by more than 90 percent. Our State needs an increased deployment from the Border Patrol to discourage young persons from making the dangerous and illegal journey so far from their homes.
Thank you for considering this urgent request.
Attorney General of Texas
Citing the policies that have made Texas a national energy leader, Gov. Perry today called on President Obama in a letter, to dramatically change his own failed energy policies in order to put more Americans to work:
Dear Mr. President:
In your State of the Union address, you reassured the American people of your commitment to an all-of-the-above energy strategy to bring our nation closer to energy independence while creating needed jobs. Mr. President, your words promise an energy renaissance while your policies are strangling the energy industry. You are waging a war on coal, kicking the can down the road on the Keystone XL pipeline and creating obstacles to onshore and offshore oil and gas production.
Americans deserve affordable and reliable energy and the jobs that come with it. American businesses need stable and predictable regulations if they are to compete globally, and if our economy is to grow. Mr. President, you have given us mandates that will incapacitate – and possibly eliminate – critical sources of energy while stifling job creation and threatening American energy security.
I am deeply concerned that your Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) behaves more like a den of activists than a repository of even-handed regulators. Most recently, EPA has targeted coal plants with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. Coal plants produce about 40 percent of the energy used in American homes and businesses, and were critical in ensuring grid reliability at peak demand during the “polar vortex.” More than 100 coal plants employing 15,000 Americans are closed or closing due to EPA regulations under your administration, and proposed new regulations will directly affect more than 37,000 employees across the nation, in addition to jeopardizing the reliability of our nation’s electrical grid and increasing energy costs for families. This, despite your assurance of a renewed emphasis on American economic recovery.
Your procrastination on the Keystone XL pipeline continues this troubling trend. After five years and a legion of environmental studies, you’ve allowed politics to trump a common-sense decision to build the Keystone Pipeline, a decision clearly in the best interests of our nation. The State Department has concluded that the project is environmentally sound and that construction alone would contribute approximately $3.4 billion to the U.S. economy, supporting more than 2,000 direct jobs and inducing another 40,000 indirect jobs. Your continued inaction on this critical project is delaying opportunity for thousands of American families, and that is simply unacceptable.
Contrary to your administration’s actions, pursuing an all-of-the-above energy strategy requires allowing for the exploration and production of resources both on land and at sea. Your administration has taken credit for the economic benefits of the shale boom, which has occurred largely on state and private lands. For example, while production in Texas has more than doubled in the last five years, production on federal lands has declined, and is further threatened by the Bureau of Land Management’s attempts to usurp state regulatory oversight of oil and gas production. In addition, Mr. President, your administration has locked up 85 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf to energy exploration and production, obstructing huge potential for economic expansion and job creation.
While the domestic benefits of a thoughtful energy strategy are undeniable, we cannot underestimate the global impact these policies would have as well. The U.S. energy boom has dramatically increased our ability to compete in global energy markets. U.S. terminals constructed to import natural gas just a few years ago are now working swiftly to reverse that flow. Expanded Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) exports will provide net economic benefits to the United States, including the creation of thousands of American jobs. However, the current process for approving LNG exports to Non-Free Trade Agreement (NFTA) countries – many of whom are our allies – is outdated and has failed to keep pace with domestic development. Only six applications to export LNG to NFTA countries have been approved, with 24 more still pending. In a world roiled by newfound Russian aggression, the ability to trade our energy resources freely is an urgent diplomatic tool, as well as an economic force that must not be ignored.
One-size-fits-all mandates are blunt instruments, serving only to curb innovation and diminish the opportunity and livelihood of American citizens. Texas employs a true all-of-the-above energy strategy, producing one third of the nation’s crude oil and natural gas and accounting for more than one quarter of the nation’s petroleum refining capacity. Texas produces more electricity than any other state with natural gas, coal, nuclear, wind, solar, biofuel and hydroelectric generation. We’ve also installed more wind energy capacity than any other state and all but five countries. Even as our population has grown by more than 5 million since 2000, we’ve led the U.S. energy revolution while protecting our environment and reducing harmful pollutants in the air like nitrogen oxide by 62.5 percent, and ozone by 23 percent – a reduction that is 12 percent greater than the national average.
The success we’ve seen in Texas shows that energy production and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive. If adopted, the Texas approach could create jobs, contribute billions of dollars to the economy, strengthen our energy security and make the United States a global energy powerhouse today and for future generations. I encourage you to act quickly to free up these resources and remove the barriers to our nation’s economic resurgence and opportunity for families across America.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Consumer Alert: Attorney General’s Office Launches Investigation, Warns Consumers about Thieves Impersonating Attorney General Employees
The Texas Attorney General’s Office has opened a criminal investigation into a scheme by identity thieves who are posing as employees of the Texas Attorney General’s Office in an attempt to steal the identities of targeted individuals – particularly individuals who have applied for a short-term loan.
Just last month, nearly 200 Texans reported receiving repeated telephone calls from criminals posing as employees with the Texas Attorney General’s Office. These imposters typically inform their victims that the Attorney General’s Office has launched a criminal investigation against him or her and claim that an arrest warrant has been issued due to the resident’s purported failure to repay a short-term loan.
Once victims are alarmed about the prospect of a warrant being issued for their arrest, the identity thieves seek to “confirm” the resident’s Social Security number and other personal information such as address and employer. After the unwitting victim divulges this sensitive personal information, the caller claims that the entire matter can be resolved if the victim immediately pays off their short-term loan. The victim is then told to go to a nearby convenience store, purchase a pre-paid debit card, load it with cash, and call back the identity thief to provide the number off the back of the card. After receiving the card number, the imposter can both steal the funds on the card and use the victim’s sensitive personal financial information to steal their identity.
Under no circumstances does a representative of the Office of the Attorney General solicit payments from Texans to pay off a short-term loan or grant immediately – nor does the Attorney General’s Office issue arrest warrants for this purpose. Any person who claims to be from the Attorney General’s Office and demands immediate fees to resolve the resident’s short-term debt or prevent an arrest for that debt is an imposter.
Many Texans who reported this scheme to our office recognized that the payment demand was a scam and refused to share their card number with the imposters. Unfortunately, other residents reported giving more than $2,000 to the imposters. Texans who believe they have been a victim of this impersonation scam should file a consumer complaint with the Office of the Attorney General online at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov. Those who believe the scam put them at risk for identity theft should visit www.texasfightsidtheft.gov for a copy of the OAG’s Identity Theft Kit and also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov.
As with many ploys to obtain individuals’ personal information, it is likely that many of these imposters are actually thousands of miles away – often in other countries and out of reach of U.S. law enforcement. Pre-paid debit cards, the payment form demanded under this scheme, are now preferable to swindlers; the cards are more convenient than a money wire – and just as untraceable.
This impersonation ploy is particularly effective because it causes victims to react immediately out of fear that they are facing criminal investigation by the Attorney General’s Office, rather than taking the time to consider the information being requested.
Again, no representative of the Office of the Attorney General ever solicits immediate payments or issues arrest warrants against Texans due to nonpayment of short-term loans. The OAG typically only pursues arrest warrants against individuals who are wanted for contempt of court because of their failure to make regular child support payments.
Gov. Rick Perry today announced Toyota Motor North America is relocating its headquarters to Plano. The more than $300 million capital investment is expected to employ nearly 4,000 people upon completion, and compliments the company’s existing Texas operations. In exchange for Toyota’s commitment to create these new jobs and capital investment in Texas, the state has offered Toyota an investment of $40 million through the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF).
“Over the past decade, Texas and Toyota have developed a strong partnership that has resulted in good-paying jobs for thousands of Texans,” Gov. Perry said. “Toyota understands that Texas’ employer-friendly combination of low taxes, fair courts, smart regulations and world-class workforce can help businesses of any size succeed and thrive. We’re proud that both the Tundra and Tacoma bear the words ‘Made in Texas,’ and we’re excited our state will be the nexus for Toyota’s North American operations moving forward.”
Toyota’s Texas operations include its $2.3 billion manufacturing facility in San Antonio which supports 2,900 jobs. Combined with its 21 on-site suppliers, Toyota supports 6,000 jobs in San Antonio. The company cited a number of factors in choosing a location for its new headquarters, including the TEF investment, Texas’ low taxes, smart regulations, fair courts and skilled workforce as factors in its decision.
The project is supported by an investment from the TEF, which offers companies incentives to create jobs and invest in Texas. When completed, it will be one of the largest job creation projects in TEF history. The agreement is contingent upon the finalization of contracts and a local incentive agreement.
The Legislature created the TEF in 2003 and reauthorized the fund in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013 to help ensure the growth of Texas businesses and create more jobs throughout the state. TEF projects must be approved by the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House. The fund has since become one of the state’s most competitive tools to recruit and bolster business. To date, the TEF has invested more than $558 million and closed the deal on projects generating nearly 74,500 new jobs and more than $24 billion in capital investment in the state.
For more information about the TEF.
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