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Upshur
Gilmer kicks off Fourth of July with fireworks

Local
Rain today should not put a damper on Fourth of July festivities

From staff reports

The weatherman forecasts a 20 percent chance of showers and thundershowers before 1 p.m. today for Longview, but no need exists to take a rain check on Independence Day.

The rain should not put a damper on afternoon barbecues or take the spark out of evening fireworks displays.

The National Weather Service also forecasts mostly cloudy skies with a high today near 90 degrees today, and partly cloudy skies with temperatures dipping to a low around 73 tonight. Skies are expected to stay clear throughout the weekend with temperatures cresting near 93 degrees Saturday and lows near 74 degrees.

With nice weather, Fourth of July celebrants want to make sure today’s holiday is a bang and not become a bust, such as an arrest. That means staying sober behind the wheel in both cars and boats and driving within the posted speed limits, law enforcement officials warn.

The Texas Department of Public Safety is conducting two traffic operations simultaneously through Friday as part of Operation CARE (Crash Awareness and Reduction Effort) and Operation Holiday.

DPS troopers will be looking for drivers violating the state’s Move Over, Slow Down law, along with those driving while intoxicated, speeding and failing to wear a seat belt.

Operation Holiday runs in conjunction with the Fourth of July and is geared toward traffic law violators. During the 2018 campaign, troopers issued more than 57,000 citations and warnings, including 1,023 tickets for seat belt and child safety restraint violations. DPS efforts also resulted in 256 DWI arrests, 212 fugitive arrests and 204 felony arrests.

Operation CARE focuses on violations of Move Over, Slow Down, with the Texas Department of Transportation helping in a nonenforcement capacity. From Jan. 1 through June 25, DPS conducted 13,988 enforcement actions for Move Over, Slow Down violations.

The law, which passed in 2003, requires drivers to move over or slow down when certain vehicles — including police, fire, emergency medical services and TxDOT vehicles and tow trucks — are stopped on the side of the road with emergency lights activated.

Rules also apply to the state’s waterways.

Texas game wardens and thousands of law enforcement officers will be on heightened alert for people violating under-the-influence laws applying to boating. The efforts to crack down on impaired boaters will continue through Sunday during the annual Operation Dry Water weekend, a nationally coordinated, heightened awareness and enforcement campaign focused on deterring boaters from being under the influence of drugs or alcohol.Operating a boat while having a blood alcohol concentration above 0.08 percent is an offense that can lead to fines, jail and the loss of a driver’s license. In 2018, Texas game wardens issued 162 citations for boating while intoxicated.

Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in recreational boater deaths and a leading cause in recreational boating accidents. Where the primary cause was known, alcohol was listed as the leading factor in 19 percent of deaths, according to the 2017 U.S. Coast Guard Recreational Boating Statistics.

Law enforcement agencies in every state are expected to participate in Operation Dry Water weekend, focusing on detecting impaired boaters and educating the public about the dangers of boating while under the influence. Since the campaign’s start in 2009, law enforcement officers have removed 3,532 boat operators under the influence from the nation’s waterways and made contact with more than 1.3 million boaters during the three-day holiday weekend.


Local
LEDCO updating bylaws, a first since its 1991 inception

Conner Cupit

LEDCO board chairman

Longview Economic Development Corp. is updating its bylaws for the first time since voters created the agency 28 years ago.

“A lot has changed structurally (and) organizationally,” LEDCO Board Chairman Conner Cupit said about the rules that establish regulations and rules. He has set a goal for the board of directors to vote on a final draft of updated bylaws at its next regular meeting on July 26.

“There’s been one amendment since (1991) to change officer titles, but other than that, we have very old, outdated bylaws,” Cupit said, “so we are bringing those current.”

LEDCO was created to manage economic development for the city of Longview and help companies that are interested in expanding in or into the Longview market. Over the years, the agency has opened two business parks, helped train the local workforce and has partnered financially in other ventures such as funding of the East Texas Advanced Manufacturing Academy and the Guthrie Creek shared-use path now under construction.

Despite a number of decisions and changes from LEDCO’s independent board of directors, those changes haven’t been reflected in the organization’s bylaws, President/CEO Wayne Mansfield said.

“They were never incorporated into the minutes,” Mansfield said. “They were just separate resolutions, so we’re incorporating them to make them part of our bylaws.”

On Friday, LEDCO directors were each presented copies of the bylaws with red- and blue-lettered updates. Cupit has asked each director to pass along any suggestions or tweaks they might have to Board Vice Chairwoman Claire Henry, a local attorney.

The Longview City Council, which appoints directors to the LEDCO board, must given final approval to the updates before the bylaws can be official. Council members have been notified of the updating process, and the updates will be reviewed by LEDCO’s legal counsel and the City Attorney’s Office, Cupit and Mansfield said.

“We will take the entire month between now and our July meeting to have any board member at any time and through any means submit their feedback to Claire and Wayne,” Cupit said, “and the expectation would be that … we have our bylaws in position to vote on them to bring them current.”


Local
Hemp vs. pot: ET DAs say new law won't stop prosecutions

District attorneys in Gregg, Upshur and Rusk counties said Wednesday a new law setting a high technical bar to prosecute misdemeanor marijuana cases will not stop them from trying defendants.

The tough-on-pot stance contrasts with that of some urban prosecutors, who are dropping hundreds of marijuana cases filed since June 10, when House Bill 1325 took effect with Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature.

The law, an agriculture bill legalizing the growing of industrial hemp in Texas, comes after the 2018 federal Farm Bill made hemp legal in the United States. But the sudden law leaves crime labs, including those with limited funds in East Texas, in a quandary, because testing to tell the difference between hemp and pot is either not available or not affordable.

Hemp vs. pot

Hemp and marijuana are close cousins, two distinct strains of the same plant — known botanically as Cannabis sativa — and both contain the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC. THC is the intoxicating ingredient that makes pot smokers high.

However, hemp has lower concentrations of THC and more cannabidiol, or CBD, which is a growing market in East Texas and across the state. Hemp also is used in other products, including textiles, fuels, rope and chemical absorbents.

The market for hemp — from textiles to seeds to CBD oil — has grown from a few million dollars in 2015 to $820 million in 2018, and about a third of that is from hemp-derived CBD, according to New Frontier Data, a cannabis market research firm.

House Bill 1325 says if a Cannabis sativa plant or any product made from it contains no more than 0.3 percent THC, it is hemp. If it the plant or a product contains more than 0.3 percent THC, it’s marijuana.

A major problem the new law imposes for law enforcement officials is that the testing equipment necessary to detect three-tenths of 1 percent THC so far isn’t available.

Indeed, most crime labs across Texas don’t have the equipment, the testing methods, the capacity or the accreditation to determine the percentage of THC in a sample, said Peter Stout, president of the Houston Forensic Science Center, which provides lab testing for Houston police and other local agencies.

“I think (the Texas Legislature was) trying to construct a law that didn’t legalize marijuana while allowing for hemp to be produced legally. But it created some unintended consequences,” Stout said.

Before the legislation was passed, the Texas Department of Public Safety indicated it could cost the agency up to $20 million to hire and train new staff and buy equipment.

Testing for plant-based substances such as pot itself could require merely recalibrating existing instruments, Stout told the Houston Chronicle. But testing THC content in nonplant seizures — such as vape pens, gummy bears or CBD oil — will require mass spectrometers that cost from $300,000 to $400,000, he said. And he said he knows of one only lab — NMS Labs in Pennsylvania — that’s now accredited in Texas for that kind of testing.

Prosecution dilemmas

Marijuana possession in Texas is a misdemeanor at 4 ounces or less.

Possession of less than 2 ounces is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. Possession of 2 ounces to 4 ounces is a Class A misdemeanor, with a maximum punishment of one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Because of the new law, the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office in Fort Worth has dismissed 234 misdemeanor marijuana cases and said that all future cases must have a lab result showing the THC concentration. The Harris County District Attorney’s Office in Houston has dismissed 26 misdemeanor marijuana cases.

That office, along with the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office in San Antonio, this week signed a letter saying they will stop accepting misdemeanor marijuana pot cases that don’t have a lab test result showing the THC concentration.

Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore in Austin announced Wednesday afternoon that her office is dismissing 32 felony cases involving possession or delivery of marijuana or THC because of the new law. Moore said it will be eight to 12 months before crime labs with Austin police and the DPS can test for THC concentrations.

Gregg County District Attorney Tom Watson said Wednesday he’s not ready to go that far just yet.

“I don’t want to just start dismissing cases, because I truly believe the intent of the law was not to decriminalize marijuana,” Watson said. “But they really put us in an awkward position. ... It’s been a surprise on us, about why it was rushed, signed and put into effect immediately. I just don’t understand that.”

Unless bills have some sort of urgency surrounding them, they typically take effect on Sept. 1 after a legislative session.

Watson said he expects an adjustment period as the expensive testing riddle is solved.

“I’m anticipating a backlog till we get the testing,” he said. “Then it just becomes a question of budgeting — can we afford to use those private labs? ... I haven’t talked to our (Department of Public Safety) lab over in Tyler yet, but I intend to do that.”

Rusk County District Attorney Micheal Jimerson and Upshur County District Attorney Billy Byrd also said they intend to keep prosecuting.

Jimerson in Henderson reported Wednesday “no change in policy” regarding misdemeanor pot prosecution by his office. He also he has been in communication with the offices of state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, and state Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches.

“Possession of marijuana is still illegal,” Jimerson wrote in an email to the News-Journal. “Since the Legislature created this problem, it is incumbent upon them to provide a solution.”

Cops told to carry on

Watson and Byrd said they have sent messages to local law enforcement.

“Let’s be business as usual in Upshur County,” Byrd wrote to his local agencies. “The Department of Agriculture has not had time to develop administrative rules on licensing and transportation of hemp. On our side of things, the labs will have to purchase and create new testing procedures. In the meantime, we can assume that all marijuana is still illegal.”

Watson said he is asking local officers to “use their discretion” when weighing whether to issue new marijuana possession charges — at least until private labs are identified or the Texas Department of Public Safety facility “gets up to speed to do the testing.”

“But as far as changing anything right now,” he said, “we’re still rolling along.”

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Atplay
@play redesigned with sharper focus on East Texas entertainment

@play, your guide to entertainment across East Texas, has been redesigned to include the region’s most complete events calendar and a new focus on the best of our region each week.

The new section, which begins today on Page 7B, zeroes in on the coming week’s main events so you can beginning planning with each Thursday’s edition.

Today’s section focuses on Longview’s Fireworks and Freedom Celebration and other Independence Day observances and events across the region. Other stories clue you in to a display of classic World War II aircraft that can be seen through the weekend in Tyler and a vintage fashion exhibit set to open Tuesday at the Gregg County Historical Museum.

You’ll still find the weekly @best bets, putting a focus on the rest of the week’s top events.

The heart of the new section is its @calendar section, which has been expanded to include special and continuing events across East Texas. Today’s calendar begins on Page 8B. The complete expanded calendar is online at news-journal.com/features/atplay .

In Friday’s News-Journal, you’ll still find @play plus, which will continue bringing you reviews on the latest movies in the theaters, on TV and streaming.

We hope you enjoy your new @play — and we’ll be looking for you out at the best events of East Texas in the coming week.