Editorial Roundup: Texas

Austin American-Statesman. April 21, 2023.

Editorial: House bill rewards companies at expense of our schools

After the Texas Legislature allowed a controversial corporate property tax rebate known as Chapter 313 to expire last year, House Speaker Dade Phelan vowed lawmakers would return to Austin this year with a better plan to lure big business to the state.

The new version would be more transparent and allow for more accountability and oversight than Chapter 313, Phelan said, referring to the now defunct program designed to attract companies to Texas in exchange for school property tax breaks.

Instead, with little more than five weeks left in the legislative session, the House is contemplating passing something worse — House Bill 5, a less transparent and potentially far more costly tax incentive program than Chapter 313, which forfeited tens of billions of dollars in school property taxes in order to lure new businesses to local school districts. Supporters of HB 5, including numerous industry and economic development groups, contend Texas needs another program like Chapter 313 to offset the state’s relatively high property tax burden and compete with other states for jobs and businesses.

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But with no corporate income tax, lax environmental regulation, and a large workforce, Texas can compete for jobs without allowing wealthy companies to get more school property tax breaks. When Texas allows corporations to bypass traditional tax obligations, it forces regular taxpayers — that’s the rest of us — to pay more for schools, roads, health care and other vital services. And when tax incentives are structured like HB 5, without adequate mechanisms for community input and accountability to ensure that corporate promises are kept, state lawmakers should vote against them.

Sponsored by Republican Rep. Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi, HB 5 would provide a 10-year school district property tax break for eligible infrastructure and development projects. Any project that invests $1 billion or more would be eligible, as would national or state security facilities, supply chain infrastructure, water infrastructure or flood mitigation, and manufacturing. Oil and gas projects would also qualify — but not renewable energy initiatives, which thrived in rural areas under the Chapter 313 program. All applicants would have to prove they would create a certain number of jobs based on the county’s population to qualify, while investing a minimum amount of money within the school district where the project is located.

Texans have supported responsible tax breaks to lure businesses to our state, but they also expect corporations to help pay for the public services and infrastructure they rely on, and to help finance public schools that educate our children.

Key differences between HB 5 and Chapter 313 incentive program

Here are some reasons HB 5 is more flawed than Chapter 313:

— While Chapter 313 doled out $31 billion in tax breaks for about 900 corporate agreements since its inception in 2001, lawmakers were required to periodically review it under law, which led to its demise last December. The HB 5 proposal contains no sunset provision mandating review and re-authorization of the program.

— Under Chapter 313, only full-time jobs counted toward a company’s job creation requirement. Under HB 5, 10 temporary construction jobs would count as one full-time job.

— Under Chapter 313, qualifying jobs had to include health care coverage for workers. The health insurance requirement would be eliminated under HB 5.

— Under Chapter 313, only major new manufacturing plants and renewable energy sites qualified. HB 5 would allow expansion of new and existing plants, most of which would presumably expand on-site anyway, to qualify.

— Under Chapter 313, school boards had 150 days to approve an application in their districts, which provided adequate time for public hearings. HB 5 would shorten the deadline to 35 days.

Investing in Texas’ needs will attract strong businesses

If Texas invested more in its faltering electrical grid, subpar education system, failing healthcare programs and aging roads, it would become even more attractive to business without having to offer expensive giveaways that raise the tax burden on ordinary Texans.

Wealthy corporations don’t need tax breaks at the expense of Texas schools, and Texans should not tolerate adopting these incentives, especially without full transparency and accountability. HB 5 is bad for Texas and we urge lawmakers to vote against it.

Dallas Morning News. April 21, 2023.

Editorial: State Bar of Texas not backing down in fight against former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell

The Dallas attorney at the center of the Fox News-Dominion case should still face a sanctions suit.

It’s good to see the State Bar of Texas isn’t giving up its fight to win sanctions against former Donald Trump lawyer Sidney Powell.

Citing mostly procedural errors by the bar, a judge in February tossed out its suit against Powell for allegedly filing “frivolous” lawsuits in four states alleging voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

How disappointing it was to read in Collin County state District Judge Andrea Bouressa’s order dismissing the case. It noted that she was doing so in part because the bar had improperly labeled a handful of exhibits attached to one of its filings. Such an important case should never have been thrown out on such flimsy grounds.

The bar’s Commission for Lawyer Discipline had been silent on what it would do next — whether accept Bouressa’s ruling or fight it. That mystery was solved when the bar recently filed a 1,300-page request urging the judge to reconsider her decision.

The bar’s motion includes both an acknowledgment of its misnumbered exhibits and regret “for any confusion this mistake may have created for the Court.” It notes, however, that the correctly numbered exhibits were already contained elsewhere in the court file, of which the judge obviously had access and easily could have considered.

As if not to take any chances, the bar attached to its motion more than 1,200 pages of documents that included much of the court’s public file.

This case was supposed to go to trial April 24. We advocated repeatedly for this full public airing of Powell’s specific actions in the baseless election fraud suits against the states of Michigan, Arizona, Wisconsin and Georgia.

Such an airing — under oath — is even more important now in light of this week’s $787.5 million settlement between Fox News and Dominion Voting Systems, which had sued the network for defamation.

In her failed suits against the four states, Powell alleged a vast conspiracy among Dominion, foreign actors and other political operatives who fraudulently inflated votes in favor of Joe Biden.

Powell appeared often on Fox News in the days after the election pushing her fraud allegations without evidence, despite Dominion’s insistence they were false. Evidence in the suit showed that Fox hosts continued to invite Powell onto their shows even after they began having concerns about her claims.

Back in Texas, in her response last week to the bar’s request for its sanctions case to be reopened, Powell insists she “did not knowingly file any false or material documents to support the claims in the election fraud suits.” The state bar says there is “ample evidence” that Powell “may have engaged in conduct that, at minimum, involved dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.”

At this writing, Powell still holds Texas bar card No. 16209700 allowing her to practice law in this state. We urge Judge Bouressa to reopen the bar’s sanctions suit against her so that whether she retains that privilege can be decided not based on clerical errors but on the actual merits of the case.

Houston Chronicle. April 20, 2023.

Editorial: On 4/20, remember: expanding Texas medical marijuana law can save lives

Texas’ medical marijuana program is lagging behind other states.

Roughly every four hours, Chase Bearden’s body would remind him to take his pain medication. Bearden, who broke his neck in an accident nearly 30 years ago and uses a wheelchair, had grown accustomed to the routine. His legs would begin twitching, his muscles would ache, so he would head out to his truck and swallow hydrocodone pills to numb the pain.

By 2017, Bearden, 45, had been taking prescription opioids for more than a decade.

One trip to Colorado changed his life. While visiting the state – where marijuana is legal recreationally – with a friend, he tried a small dose of a tincture, a liquid, cannabis-infused product. After 15 minutes, his muscles relaxed and his over-stimulated nerves stopped firing. The next day, he halved his pill dosage. Within weeks, he had shaken a decade-long opioid drug habit. Four years later, owing to Texas’ relatively nascent medical marijuana program, Bearden’s quality of life has improved tremendously.

“Once I was off of opioids, my health rebounded, my eyes were clear, even my mom noticed,” Bearden, now the deputy executive director of the Coalition for Texans with Disabilities, told the editorial board. “That’s why we wanted this program to be regulated, because what’s important about this is it’s removing the stigma from it so that you can work one on one with your doctor.”

At a time when thousands of Texans are dying of drug overdoses and overdose deaths involving fentanyl have ballooned by 399% since 2019, having a state-of-the-art medical marijuana program is not just some glorified marketplace for stoners; it’s a potential life-saving necessity. Several recent studies have found that having access to medical marijuana leads to decreases in prescription opioid use as well as improvements in physical and mental health.

This research is encouraging lawmakers to finally give patients more options for pain management than endless supplies of pills. A bill sponsored by state Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, would allow physicians to prescribe medicinal cannabis instead of opioids for patients battling chronic pain. The bill authorizes the Department of State Health Services to add more medical conditions to the program through the agency’s rulemaking process. Critically, for patients with severe pain management needs, it would also increase the amount of THC — the substance in marijuana that is effective against pain, depression, anxiety and other maladies — to 10 milligrams per dosage unit. The limit is currently 1 percent by weight. Advocates say this volumetric change allows THC to be delivered more efficiently, without the additives of oil or sugar that can cause gastrointestinal issues.

Klick’s bill, which the House approved on a 127-19 vote last week, would be a massive improvement on a program that remains one of the most restrictive in the nation. In the eight years since the Texas Legislature established its Compassionate Use Program, managed by the Department of Public Safety, expansion has been glacial. Despite adding to the list of qualifying conditions in the previous two legislative sessions — Bearden’s spasticity didn’t qualify until 2019 — the program has licensed only three dispensaries to serve roughly 50,000 patients. By comparison, medical marijuana programs in neighboring states such as Oklahoma serve more than 370,000 patients with hundreds of dispensaries to choose from.

The limitations of Texas’ medical marijuana program are excessive. Patients require a doctor’s prescription if they have a qualifying condition but must pay exorbitant out-of-pocket costs for any marijuana dosage, since Texas has such a limited dispensary market and health insurers don’t cover it. Even as lawmakers have expanded the program, many common medical conditions, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s Disease, still don’t qualify. The meager dosage of medical cannabis available to those who need it – the state currently only allows 0.5% THC – means that patients end up paying a fortune for repeat prescriptions just to manage their pain. Some patients may drop out of the program entirely, seeking relief with more readily available and highly addictive prescription pills or other drugs on the black market.

Raising the THC limit alone would make a significant difference, yet some doctors say that even a 10 milligram dosage falls short of the needs for patients in severe pain. During a House committee hearing last month, Matthew Brimberry, a hospice and palliative care physician who is active in the medical marijuana program, noted the irony that he is authorized to prescribe morphine and benzodiazepines that are highly addictive with brutal side effects, yet can’t prescribe a high-dosage cannabis gummy for a cancer patient.

“If I am afforded that leeway with those dangerous medicines, I feel like as a physician, with my medical judgment and knowledge, I should be able to prescribe a concentrated medicine that is safe and effective and not as addictive,” Brimberry said.

We agree, and while we urge the Senate to pass Klick’s bill, the ultimate goal for the program should be to serve every Texan with a substantial pain management need that over-the-counter aspirin or Tylenol can’t fix. Bringing more people into the program would lower the price of prescriptions — which can range from $300 to $1,000 — and allow the state to license more dispensaries that can serve a broader geographic region. The three licensed dispensaries are all in Central Texas. Patients who live elsewhere can get products delivered, though that can also be costly. In January, DPS announced it was opening the application process up to potentially add more dispensaries, which will be all the more necessary if Klick’s bill is signed into law and thousands of chronic pain patients have access to the program.

Texas’ pot prohibitions have long frustrated us and it’s time for a broader public debate about legalization. Having a narrowly-tailored medical marijuana program made some sense eight years ago as it was just getting off the ground. Now that the basic infrastructure is in place, along with a high demand for product, at a minimum, the state should be doing everything in its power to build out a safe, regulated program that allows people with chronic pain to achieve a better quality of life.

Fort Worth Star Telegram. April 18, 2023.

Editorial: Trump conspiracy nuts run off Tarrant elections chief. Now, vote-integrity threat is real

Wanted: Elections administrator who understands the intricacies of state and federal law and can adhere to them while fending off partisan bloodhounds. Requires the ability to listen to conspiracy theorists without laughing. Must cater to the whims of various politicians who refuse to lead on the issue of fake election controversies. Ability to tolerate online harassment, personal insults (including racism) and threats to family members is a plus.

Tarrant County has this impossible job posting to fill, now that Elections Administrator Heider Garcia has announced his resignation. Garcia has been harangued and blasted in his five years on the job. In his letter, he suggested that new County Judge Tim O’Hare, in a meeting with Garcia, outlined a vision of politically influenced election operations.

Neither Garcia nor O’Hare, a Southlake Republican, are talking publicly about the meeting that Garcia mentions, so there’s a lot we don’t know. Perhaps there’s a misunderstanding or a lesser disagreement.

But here’s what we do know: Unsubstantiated fear-mongering from some Republicans on election security is relentless, and party and elected leaders are being pulled along. Rather than defending the integrity of processes and outcomes that have been investigated over and over, they choose to indulge irrational paranoia.

It’s rooted in the cult-like refusal by some voters to accept that former President Donald Trump was unpopular and incompetent enough to lose Tarrant County to Joe Biden in 2020 and win Texas by a tighter margin than any Republican nominee in decades.

If Garcia’s departure is the result of pressure to go along with the latest demands of this crowd, whatever they are, it’s a frightening omen for our future elections.

No level of scrutiny or transparency is enough for the true believers, and someone with the conservative credibility of O’Hare must stand up and say: enough.

Every audit or review has found no substantial problems with Tarrant elections. And Garcia has opened the door as widely as he could without taking the hinges off. Cameras broadcast vote counting. He made room for determined hobbyists to come into the elections office and review ballots and documents of a past election.

Garcia recently testified in Austin against a bill that would eliminate countywide voting, the system by which any voter can go to any polling place and cast a ballot. Texas’ biggest counties all have it, and there are no appreciable problems with it. If it’s been a source of fraud, no one can muster any proof. O’Hare opposes countywide voting, though, and perhaps that was a source of tension.

Or maybe Garcia is tired of attacks on him personally, including his Venezuelan heritage, and threats about which he has testified before Congress, and he didn’t perceive that the new county government would back him up.

O’Hare won resoundingly in both the primary and general elections last year, in part by campaigning on steps to ensure greater election integrity. He, along with District Attorney Phil Sorrells and Sheriff Bill Waybourn, announced the creation of a unit of investigators and prosecutors to attack fraud.

So, O’Hare’s voice on the issue matters, but it is hardly the only one. County commissioners need to find out exactly what happened in the meeting Garcia describes in his letter.

The other Republican commissioners, Gary Fickes of Colleyville and Manny Ramirez of northwest Tarrant County, would do well to ask tough questions. It’s the right thing to do, and they might serve their party, too, by standing up to fevered, false and dangerous assaults on our elections processes.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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