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House passes emergency funding bill for migrant care crisis

From wire reports

It took last-minute changes and a full-court press by top Democratic leaders, but the House passed with relative ease Tuesday night a $4.5 billion emergency border aid package to care for thousands of migrant families and unaccompanied children detained after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

Meanwhile, the acting head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection resigned Tuesday amid an uproar over the discovery of migrant children being held in pitiful conditions at one of the agency’s stations in Texas.

The bill passed along party lines after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quelled a mini-revolt by progressives and Hispanic lawmakers who sought significant changes to the legislation. New provisions added to the bill Tuesday were more modest than what those lawmakers had sought, but the urgent need for the funding — to prevent the humanitarian emergency on the border from turning into a debacle — appeared to outweigh any lingering concerns.

The 230-195 vote sets up a showdown with the Republican-led Senate, which may try instead to force Democrats to send Trump a different, and broadly bipartisan, companion measure in coming days as the chambers race to wrap up the must-do legislation by the end of the week.

“The Senate has a good bill. Our bill is much better,” Pelosi, D-Calif., told her Democratic colleagues in a meeting Tuesday morning, according to a senior Democratic aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private session.

“We are ensuring that children have food, clothing, sanitary items, shelter and medical care. We are providing access to legal assistance. And we are protecting families because families belong together,” Pelosi said in a subsequent floor speech.

The bill contains more than $1 billion to shelter and feed migrants detained by the border patrol and almost $3 billion to care for unaccompanied migrant children who are turned over the Department of Health and Human Services. It seeks to mandate improved standards of care at HHS “influx shelters” that house children waiting to be placed with sponsors such as family members in the U.S.

Both House and Senate bills ensure funding could not be shifted to Trump’s border wall and would block information on sponsors of immigrant children from being used to deport them. Trump would be denied additional funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention beds.

“The President’s cruel immigration policies that tear apart families and terrorize communities demand the stringent safeguards in this bill to ensure these funds are used for humanitarian needs only — not for immigration raids, not detention beds, not a border wall,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.

The White House has threatened to veto the House bill, saying it would hamstring the administration’s border security efforts, and the Senate’s top Republican suggested Tuesday that the House should simply accept the Senate measure — which received only a single “nay” vote during a committee vote last week.

“The idea here is to get a (presidential) signature, so I think once we can get that out of the Senate, hopefully on a vote similar to the one in the Appropriations Committee, I’m hoping that the House will conclude that’s the best way to get the problem solved, which can only happen with a signature,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

A handful of GOP conservatives went to the White House to try to persuade Trump to reject the Senate bill and demand additional funding for immigration enforcement such as overtime for border agents and detention facilities run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to a top GOP lawmaker who demanded anonymity to discuss a private meeting. Trump was expected to reject the advice.

House Democrats seeking the changes met late Monday with Pelosi, and lawmakers emerging from the Tuesday morning caucus meeting were generally supportive of the legislation.

Congress plans to leave Washington in a few days for a weeklong July 4 recess, and pressure is intense to wrap up the legislation before then. Agencies are about to run out of money and failure to act could bring a swift political rebuke and accusations of ignoring the plight of innocent immigrant children.

Longtime GOP Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma said Democrats were simply “pushing partisan bills to score political points and avoiding doing the hard work of actually making law,” warning them that “passing a partisan bill through this chamber won’t solve the problem.”

Lawmakers’ sense of urgency to provide humanitarian aid was amplified by recent reports of gruesome conditions in a windowless Border Patrol station in Clint, where more than 300 infants and children were being housed. Many were kept there for weeks and were caring for each other in conditions that included inadequate food, water and sanitation.

And Tuesday, more than 100 undocumented immigrant children were returned to the Clint facility.

A Customs and Border Protection spokesperson confirmed that more than 100 children had been returned to the facility in Clint, a small town just east of El Paso. The news was first reported by The New York Times.

The Border Patrol reported apprehending nearly 133,000 people last month — including many Central American families — as monthly totals have begun topping 100,000 for the first time since 2007.

Federal agencies involved in immigration have reported being overwhelmed, depleting their budgets and housing large numbers of detainees in structures meant for handfuls of people.

Changes unveiled Tuesday would require the Department of Homeland Security to establish new standards for care of unaccompanied immigrant children and a plan for ensuring adequate translators to assist migrants in their dealings with law enforcement. The government would have to replace contractors who provide inadequate care.


Local
Longview ISD students learn about courthouse jobs

Students taking part in Longview ISD’s summer enrichment program took a tour Tuesday of the Gregg County Courthouse, including the sheriff’s office, and learned about jobs including sheriff’s officer dispatcher and justice of the peace.

The district’s summer enrichment program includes instruction in core areas such as reading, math, science and social studies to help students get a jump-start on the next school year.

The program includes hands-on activities and weekly field trips. It’s for students in grades two through 12, and all students are eligible for the program.

The programs are held at Bramlette Elementary School, Forest Park Middle School and Longview High School.


Local
Longtime employee Killingsworth retires from Gregg County Health Department

Fred Killingsworth is retiring after more than 35 years as a Gregg County employee, including the past decade as the Health Department administrative assistant.

Killingsworth’s last day is Sunday. His replacement, A.J. Harris, joined the county June 17 and has spent much of the time working with Killingsworth as part of the transition.

“A.J. is going to have my cellphone” number, Killingsworth said, “and he’ll call, and the other guys will call if they need something.”

Killingsworth joined the county in 1985 as a reserve deputy for the sheriff’s office. He moved to the public health division more than 14 years ago before later becoming administrative assistant to County Health Authority Dr. Lewis Browne.

“He’s going to be sorely missed,” Browne said. “He has been a tremendous asset to the county because he has been so knowledgeable in the fields that he does. He’s knowledgeable in the people that he knows, and we’re losing that. And we will get through that, but that’s a tremendous loss.”

Harris joins the county after previously working in emergency medical services for the University of Texas Health-Northeast. He holds a master’s degree in public health.

His goal, he said, is to help residents live healthier lifestyles through public health programs to ultimately cut medical costs for families and for the county.

“I’ve always been interested in public health and taking care of the community,” Harris said. “I feel like if you help the community have a better lifestyle, that cuts costs that need to be cut, and they don’t have to depend so much on other means to provide them health care.”

Killingsworth said the Health Department has been an extended family that he will likely drop in on every once in a while to see how they’re doing.

From animal control officer to water and sewer system inspector, Killingsworth has shown versatility in his job, Browne said.

“He’s been the dogcatcher,” Browne said with a chuckle, “so he’s just had a lot of hats, and it’s going to be hard to replace him.”


Local
Longview effort collects items for migrants on border

Longview-area residents are being asked to donate canned goods, diapers, hygiene products and other necessities for migrants on the Texas-Mexico border

The Democratic Women of East Texas is collecting items during a debate watching party at 7:30 p.m. today on the porch at Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, 310 E. Hawkins Parkway in Longview, party official Mary Lou Tevebaugh said Tuesday.

“They need, like, shoes and shoelaces,” said Tevebaugh, who led a five-vehicle caravan of East Texas relief to the border a year ago. “Last time, the response (of donations) was overwhelming. ... Soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, water, diapers, canned food, formula, baby food are good. And a few toys, because the kids don’t have any toys.”

Tevebaugh said U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials do not accept such donated goods, but nonprofit organizations bringing aid to the growing number of migrants accept the items.

The goods will be added to supplies a Smith County Democratic activist is driving south Monday. Delila Reynosa, who is active with the East Texas chapter of Justice for Our Neighbors, said a United Methodist charity called the Holding Institute will meet her vehicle in Laredo to take the items.

Reynosa said people who would like to donate to contact her through social media or the Justice for Our Neighbors-East Texas phone number at (903) 920-1273.

CBS News reported Tuesday that the Office of Refugee Resettlement, an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services responsible for minor migrants, had returned about 100 children to a privately run detention center in Clint near El Paso.

Those children were among some 350 removed from the Clint facility recently after reports of unsanitary, crowded conditions. Reynosa said she plans to attend a rally protesting such conditions.

A check with local Republican officials Tuesday did not produce news of any organized relief plans for migrants on the border.


Local
Residents ask state Rep. Jay Dean for highlights, details of recently concluded legislative session

The state lawmaker from Longview faced a small, friendly gathering at a town hall meeting Tuesday, hearing more praise for big-picture successes in the recent 86th Legislature than criticism.

“Why didn’t you get any further as far as fighting for life?” one of the baker’s dozen attendees at Forest Park Middle School in Longview asked Dean. “And why didn’t we get something like the heartbeat bill?”

A heartbeat bill, like those passed this year in Louisiana, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio, prohibits abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually after six weeks’ gestation. Such a measure did not reach floor debate in either legislative chamber in Austin during the 140-day session that ended Memorial Day.

Dean replied that Republicans, who are more likely to support abortion restrictions, lost the supermajority they enjoyed in 2017. Their 83-67 advantage over Democrats during the recent session was insufficient to push through the most socially conservative measures.

“Do the math,” he said. “We have to be realistic. You want to see that change? Get more Republicans voted in.”

Dean, whose House District 7 encompasses all of Gregg and Upshur counties, was hosting his second town hall wrapup of the recent session, after a slightly larger crowd greeted him Monday in Gilmer.

He said his Austin and district offices fielded about 3,500 phone calls, letters, emails and Facebook queries from constituents during the session. And he invited the audience to continue contacting his staff at either (903) 238-8452 or (512) 463-0750.

Dean said Gov. Greg Abbott played a more visibly active role in the session than during Dean’s freshman session in 2017.

“He considers himself a Longview guy,” Dean said of the Republican governor, who went to grade school in Longview.

And Dean touted accomplishments backed by Abbott during the session, including securing a $4,000 average pay raise for teachers and a $5 billion infusion to schools for lowering tax rates. Lawmakers also are optimistic they solved a decades-old school finance riddle.

“This was a huge lift,” he said. “Some of the school finance formula was 40 years old.”

He praised House Education Committee Chairman Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, who was persuaded to come back for a fifth term by new House Speaker Dennis Bonnen specifically to lead school finance reform in the House.

Per-student spending increased significantly in “every school district in HD 7,” Dean said.

“We now are going to fund 100 percent of pre-K,” he said. “Everybody got raises. Hopefully they’re smiling.”

Noting that more than $8 of every $10 in the two-year, $251 billion state budget is for public education and the Health and Human Services department, Dean acknowledged the increase from $217 billion for 2018-19. School finance reform, with its accompanying property tax relief, and dealing with damage from Hurricane Harvey justified the increase, he said.

“We had a pretty big increase in the budget — about 15 percent,” he said, noting an additional, $9.9 billion “supplemental budget” lawmakers had to pass to balance the 2018-19 spending plan.

And he sung the praises of another element of property tax reform in Senate Bill 2. Starting next year, property owners will see annual tax bills that show details of the levy individuals pay from one year to the next.

“It’ll lay out what each taxing entity in your city is charging,” Dean said. “And, ‘This is how much money the county’s going to get, the city is going to get, the school district is going to get.’”

Lawmakers had failed during the session to extend the life of the State Board of Plumbing Examiners. Before the town hall, Dean said Abbott’s executive order extending that regulatory body to the 2021 legislative session was a good fix. He said he still plans a July 11 fish fry with area plumbers.

“We are still going to talk about it,” he said. “Because I still want them to know what happened and why it happened.”