Tag Archive: 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.
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.
Last night around 1:00 a.m. residents were woken by some breaking in to their shed. Chambers County Sheriff’s Department was called and responded immediately.
Be diligent and watch over yourselves and your neighbors. Be your own Neighborhood Watch. If you see something suspicious report it to the Sheriff’s Department.
For non-emergency Phone: 409-267-2500 or call 911 in the Old River-Winfree area in case of an emergency.
Be diligent and take a few precautions that we all know, but need to be reminded of from time to time.
1. Lock your doors
Keep all doors and windows locked. It may sound obvious, but many burglaries are actually unforced – meaning thieves gain entry through back doors and open windows.
2. Invest in an alarm
House alarms are a great deterrent – but only if they are switched on! A false alarm is better than having treasured possessions stolen or being woken by someone in your home during the wee hours.
3. Scare thieves with a sensor light
Motion sensors put burglars off as crooks don’t want to be under the spotlight when up to no good. The higher up you place them, the wider the area they illuminate.
4. Hide any valuables
Don’t leave valuables such as laptops, iPads and games consoles out in full view. Thieves want easy and valuable targets they can grab and carry. Portable devices are just what they are looking for.
5. Keep keys out of sight
Keep your keys away from the front door. A small hand or a bent piece of wire through the letterbox and a skilled thief could snatch your house and car keys.
6. Unplug electricals
Electrical items such as hair straighteners, irons and clothes dryers are a fire risk if left switched on and unattended. Unplug electricals and check things are switched off before you head out.
7. Fake it
Give the illusion that someone is home by drawing curtains and using timer switches to bring lamps on at different times and maybe a radio to help foil anyone who may be nosing around.
8. Don’t make their lives easier
Ladders and tools can come in very handy and make the job of breaking in a lot easier for a visiting burglar. Make sure you store them out of sight.
9. Lock up any garden furniture
Garden furniture, outdoor toys, bikes and expensive potted plants are all very tempting. Ensure sheds, gates and garages have secure locks and fix gaps in fences to prevent opportunistic crooks from getting access.
10. Look out for each other
Let neighbours know when you go away, so they can keep an eye on things. But, resist bragging about travels on social media – you never know who is just waiting for an opportune moment.
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.
New Video Will Be Shown in Driver Ed Features Teens Talking To Peers
AUSTIN — The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has released a sobering video aimed at motivating teens and young adults to follow simple safety guidelines while boating. It debuts in the wake of an unusually high number of drownings and fatal boating accidents across the state in recent weeks.
“The video, ‘Never Happens: True Stories From Texas Boaters and Swimmers,’ is a compelling reminder to be safe on the water by wearing a life jacket, learning to swim and closely supervising children to prevent drowning,” said Tim Spice, TPWD’s boater education manager. “Thanks to the Texas legislature, which mandated the new video and directed that it to be shown in driver education classes, the message will be reaching some 225,000 15- and 16-year-olds annually.”
In the video, which will be shown to all teenagers taking driver education courses, several teenagers who witnessed or survived a boating accident or drowning tell their tragic stories.
A Jet Ski accident changed the life of one of the teenagers in the video, Zack Parker.
“Their jet ski crushed my knee into eight pieces,” recalls Parker in the video. “Lacerated my spleen, liver and pancreas. My aorta had… torn. I’m alive because I was wearing a life jacket.”
Parker survived. A friend of Katy Copeland did not.
“They tell you what they did, how hard they tried, and that she just wouldn’t, she just wouldn’t come back,” Copeland said. “And that’s what happened.”
Since May 9, at least 24 people have lost their lives on Texas waters in boating or swimming accidents worked by Texas game wardens, an unusually high number of fatalities.
Last year in Texas, 146 accidents were reported by the U.S. Coast Guard, 31 of which ended with deaths. Statistics show many of these tragedies could have been prevented.
“The Coast Guard says that 90 percent of the people who drowned in a boating related accident would be alive if they had a life jacket on,” Spice said. “That’s significant.”
State law requires that a personal floatation device is available for each occupant of a boat, and children under 13 years of age are mandated by the law to wear one while the boat or paddle craft is underway or drifting.
The video resulted from HB 673, authored by Rep. Tan Parker, with help from Rep. Lyle Larson to secure funding for the project.
Stressed in the video are four basic precautions for boaters of any age:
- Wear a life jacket. Most persons who have died in a boating accident would be alive today if they had worn a life jacket.
- Use the ignition safety switch. Commonly called a “kill switch,” it stops the engine if you fall overboard. Don’t be stranded, or run over by your boat.
- Learn how to swim.
- Take a Boater Education course from TPWD: It could save your life.
TPWD produced a 2:41 video news report about “Never Happens” for use by news outlets. View the news video on YouTube at http://youtu.be/P1TMSoS4OVo
For a high resolution download of the news video, go to
http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/files/video/, and look for the file “May VNR_Never Happens.”
To see the full 10:36 “Never Happens” video, as it will be shown in driver education classes, go to the TPWD webpage at http://www.tpwd.texas.gov and click on Boating and Safety.
It is mandatory for anyone born on or after Sept. 1, 1993 to obtain a boater’s education certificate before they can legally operate a vessel with a rating of more than 15 horsepower. Anyone supervising the operation of a vessel by another must be 18 or older and exempt from the boater education requirement (born before 1993) or have a boater education certificate.
For information about boater education courses, visit:
Boaters with the online course certificate may receive a discounted rate from their boating insurance provider.
“You never think it’s going to happen to you or anybody you care for,” says Jessica Montez, who lost a friend to drowning.
Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.
The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.
The ceremonies centered around the mourning-draped veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Various Washington officials, including Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, presided over the ceremonies. After speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home and members of the GAR made their way through the cemetery, strewing flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns.
Local Observances Claim To Be First Local springtime tributes to the Civil War dead already had been held in various places. One of the first occurred in Columbus, Miss., April 25, 1866, when a group of women visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle at Shiloh. Nearby were the graves of Union soldiers, neglected because they were the enemy. Disturbed at the sight of the bare graves, the women placed some of their flowers on those graves, as well.
Today, cities in the North and the South claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day in 1866. Both Macon and Columbus, Ga., claim the title, as well as Richmond, Va. The village of Boalsburg, Pa., claims it began there two years earlier. A stone in a Carbondale, Ill., cemetery carries the statement that the first Decoration Day ceremony took place there on April 29, 1866. Carbondale was the wartime home of Gen. Logan. Approximately 25 places have been named in connection with the origin of Memorial Day, many of them in the South where most of the war dead were buried.
Official Birthplace Declared In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the “birthplace” of Memorial Day. There, a ceremony on May 5, 1866, honored local veterans who had fought in the Civil War. Businesses closed and residents flew flags at half-staff. Supporters of Waterloo’s claim say earlier observances in other places were either informal, not community-wide or one-time events.
By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation. State legislatures passed proclamations designating the day, and the Army and Navy adopted regulations for proper observance at their facilities.
It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May, as were some other federal holidays.
Some States Have Confederate Observances Many Southern states also have their own days for honoring the Confederate dead. Mississippi celebrates Confederate Memorial Day on the last Monday of April, Alabama on the fourth Monday of April, and Georgia on April 26. North and South Carolina observe it on May 10, Louisiana on June 3 and Tennessee calls that date Confederate Decoration Day. Texas celebrates Confederate Heroes Day January 19 and Virginia calls the last Monday in May Confederate Memorial Day.
Gen. Logan’s order for his posts to decorate graves in 1868 “with the choicest flowers of springtime” urged: “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. … Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”
The crowd attending the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery was approximately the same size as those that attend today’s observance, about 5,000 people. Then, as now, small American flags were placed on each grave — a tradition followed at many national cemeteries today. In recent years, the custom has grown in many families to decorate the graves of all departed loved ones.
The origins of special services to honor those who die in war can be found in antiquity. The Athenian leader Pericles offered a tribute to the fallen heroes of the Peloponnesian War over 24 centuries ago that could be applied today to the 1.1 million Americans who have died in the nation’s wars: “Not only are they commemorated by columns and inscriptions, but there dwells also an unwritten memorial of them, graven not on stone but in the hearts of men.”
To ensure the sacrifices of America ’s fallen heroes are never forgotten, in December 2000, the U.S. Congress passed and the president signed into law “The National Moment of Remembrance Act,” P.L. 106-579, creating the White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance. The commission’s charter is to “encourage the people of the United States to give something back to their country, which provides them so much freedom and opportunity” by encouraging and coordinating commemorations in the United States of Memorial Day and the National Moment of Remembrance.
The National Moment of Remembrance encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation. As Moment of Remembrance founder Carmella LaSpada states: “It’s a way we can all help put the memorial back in Memorial Day.”
The American PEOPLE will never forget your sacrifice and that of your families who waited and those who still wait!!
AUSTIN—Since May 9, at least twelve people have lost their lives on Texas waters in boating or swimming accidents worked by Texas Game Wardens, an unusually high number of fatalities before the Memorial Day weekend. With the big weekend approaching, Texans are heading to lakes, rivers and coastlines to enjoy the water. Game wardens and boater education experts are doing everything they can to make it a safe boating season, but could use a little help.
Last year in Texas, 146 accidents were reported by the U.S. Coast Guard, 31 of which ended with deaths. Statistics show many of these tragedies could have been prevented. Nearly 85 percent of boating accident victims were not wearing life jackets.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” said Cody Jones, TPWD Assistant Commander for Marine Enforcement. “Wearing a life jacket increases your chances of surviving on the water and can prevent your trip from turning into a tragedy.”
State law requires that a personal floatation device is available for each occupant of the boat, but only children under 13 years of age are mandated by the law to wear one while the boat or paddle craft is underway or drifting.
Despite this law, last year in Texas, more than 700 citations were issued for children not wearing a life jacket.
It is mandatory for anyone born on or after Sept. 1, 1993 to obtain a boater’s education certificate before they can legally operate a vessel with a rating of more than 15 horsepower. Anyone supervising the operation of a vessel by another must be 18 years of age or older and exempt from the boater education requirement (born before 1993) or have a boater education certificate.
In 2013, 208 citations were issued in Texas to boaters who were intoxicated. And five of the state’s boating deaths in 2013 were alcohol-related, highlighting the importance of not drinking while operating a boat.
“If you want to drink before heading out on the water, remember to be responsible and assign a designated driver,” said Jones. “Wardens will be patrolling the waters and anyone found operating a boat while intoxicated will face possible arrest and time in jail.”
For information about boater education courses, visit:http://www.tpwd.texas.gov/learning/boater_education/internet_courses.phtml
Boaters with the online course certificate may receive a discounted rate from their boating insurance provider.
Our lakes and rivers are under attack by zebra mussels.
Don’t Be a Carrier: Clean, Drain, Dry
Prevent the spread of zebra mussels by always following these steps:
CLEAN off any vegetation, mud or foreign objects on your boat, trailer and gear before you leave the lake. Adult zebra mussels attach to hard surfaces such as boat hulls and motors.
DRAIN all water from your boat and gear. Zebra mussel larvae are invisible to the naked eye and can hide in the water in your motor, bilge, live wells and bait buckets.
DRY your boat and trailer for a week or more before entering another water body. It’s a surefire way to kill any remaining zebra mussels.
Visit TexasInvasives.org/ZebraMussels to find more information.
Thank you for doing your part to stop the spread of these destructive invaders.