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Permitless carry of handguns in Texas almost law after Senate OKs bill
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The Republican-led effort to allow Texans to carry handguns without any kind of license cleared what is likely its biggest remaining hurdle Wednesday in the Capitol, when the Texas Senate moved in a nail-biter vote to bring the measure to the floor and then gave it preliminary approval.

Pending final approval, the measure — already passed by the Texas House — heads to a conference committee for the two chambers to hash out their differences, unless the House accepts the Senate amendments. Then the bill heads to Gov. Greg Abbott, who said last week he would sign the permitless carry bill into law.

House Bill 1927 would nix the requirement for Texas residents to obtain a license to carry handguns if they’re not prohibited by state or federal law from possessing a gun. The Senate initially approved the bill in a 18-13 vote, less than a week after it sailed out of a committee created to specifically to tackle the legislation.

Proponents of what Republicans call “constitutional carry” argue that Texas should follow the lead of at least 20 other states with similar laws on the books. Meanwhile, gun control advocates are sounding the alarm about making it easier to carry firearms after repeated instances of gun violence — including 2019’s massacres in El Paso and Midland-Odessa.

Under current state law, Texans must generally be licensed to carry handguns openly or concealed. Applicants must submit fingerprints, complete four to six hours of training and pass a written exam and a shooting proficiency test. Texas does not require a license to openly carry a rifle in public.

“This bill, to me, is a restoration of the belief in and trust of our citizens,” said state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, who is carrying the legislation in the upper chamber. “We cannot allow another session to come and go where we pay lip service for the Second Amendment by failing to fully restore and protect the rights of citizens granted by the Constitution.”

The bill’s fate remained uncertain heading into debate on Wednesday morning and led to a rare case of the GOP-controlled Senate taking up a bill with unclear odds at passage. Ultimately, every Republican supported the bill, but a handful of key senators admitted in debate that they reservations about certain provisions — namely a lack of support from law enforcement.

Patrick and other Republicans who were on the fence were under immense political pressure from conservatives and gun rights advocates, who have for years lobbied the Texas Legislature for permitless carry but historically struggled to win support.

Leaders in both chambers previously held permitless carry at arm’s length, but the cause quickly gained momentum this year in the House, adding pressure to the Senate.

Patrick has expressed reservations about permitless carry in the past. Ahead of the 2015 session, he said he did not think there was enough support among lawmakers or the public, a sentiment he reiterated in 2017 while citing law enforcement concerns with “anyone being able to walk down the street with a gun and they don’t know if they have a permit or not.”

A solid majority of Texas voters don’t think permitless carry should be allowed, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll.

During Wednesday’s debate, several Democratic senators raised concerns that repealing the licensing requirement would allow people to carry handguns without a background check or training. Texas does not require background checks for private gun sales.

“This will be the first time … that we will not look to training or background checks or law enforcement or the authorities to know who they are dealing with,” said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, adding that permitless carry is a “huge departure from where we’ve been before.”

Schwertner argued that gun safety is a personal responsibility.

“The [licensing] requirement is what is being set aside; the obligation on the part of the citizen who owns a potentially dangerous weapon to understand gun laws, to become proficient in their handling of their gun, is not absolved,” Schwertner said.


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'This is not about me': Gregg County women’s ministry aims to improve job, life skills

The Christian Women’s Job Corps of Gregg County started in 2019 with a belief that God would provide.

“We didn’t even have a location yet,” board Vice President Susan Green said Wednesday, telling the story of how the nonprofit organization was founded.

Although it was unable to make a public debut until the end of April because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Green and Executive Director Julie Wiebracht said they have seen how their prayers have been answered.

“I think the whole process of the Christian Women’s Job Corps has been, for me, a process of surrender,” Wiebracht said. “This is not about me, this is not about what I envision. God does not work my way — he works His own way.”

The mission of the Christian Women’s Job Corps of Gregg County is to encourage women to know Jesus Christ while equipping them with job and life skills in a supportive, Christ-centered environment, according to the organization. The ministry is part of a national organization that includes the Christian Women’s Job Corps and the Christian Men’s Job Corps.

The goal is to start a men’s ministry in Gregg County.

Wiebracht was working in ministry at the Gregg County Jail when she was contacted by the job corps about becoming executive director.

“I had a passion for that work because in my teen years, I really made a lot of mistakes,” she said. “I turned my back on God at a young age and had gone a really, really wild, wild, wild route.”

Wiebracht said she became pregnant at 17, had been using hard drugs, suffered from an eating disorder and was living in an abusive situation.

“That put me in a situation where I was desperate, where I realized my need for Jesus,” she said.

She added that her struggles were similar to those of the women she ministered to at the jail.

“I wasn’t arrested but could have been if I had been caught,” Wiebracht said. “So I had a heart for sharing Jesus with the inmates there.”

She had attended a meeting on behalf of her pastor about forming Christian Women’s Job Corps of Gregg County, and at the time, she said she wasn’t interested in volunteering.

“I was like, you know, it sounds like a good ministry. I might refer one of my inmates or something like that,” Wiebracht said. Green called her, and Wiebracht was unable to return the call for several days, prepared to say that her plate was full between her ministry and working for her husband.

“I finally got around to calling her, and I was standing in my kitchen and I just felt like God was telling me — I didn’t hear an audible voice — but I felt like God was telling me don’t immediately say no,” Wiebracht said.

After thinking on the job, discussing it with her husband and praying about it, she accepted the executive director position.

Green was familiar with the Christian Women’s Job Corps in Henderson, which has been around for about 20 years, as well as other chapters in Tyler and Lindale. When Green and Wiebracht attended training, they both met directors and leaders of other organizations.

Getting a chapter started locally begins with a needs assessment for the community, Green said.

“It’s different here than, say, Henderson,” she said. “We’re not trying to reinvent things that are already happening. We’re trying to fill some gaps.”

Volunteers worked to renovate the rented space at 323 B North High St, which has enough room for a kitchen, lunchroom, offices, classrooms and computer lab and boutique as well as storage and room to grow.

Computers were donated by another job corps location and furniture was donated by other nonprofit groups.

Green said the organization has been able to network with other nonprofit organizations in East Texas to best meet the needs of the community.

“We’re not just a ministry for women who have criminal backgrounds,” Wiebracht said. “Anybody is welcome.”

Free jobs and life skills classes are offered to women 18 and older of all educational levels. At the completion of the program, each woman is paired with a mentor to work with.

Examples of classes offered include skills such as making a resume and interviewing, job coaching, basic computer skills/keyboarding, self-esteem/identity in Christ, freedom from habitual sin, abortion recovery/education, anger/conflict resolution, introduction to exercise and health, healing from abuse, boundaries in relationships, parenting, exploring the Bible, finances and more.

The organization held its official ribbon cutting April 26.

The next semester begins Sept. 14 and will run for 10 weeks, from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Lunch is provided.

The current group of women in the program are set to graduate May 15 at Northwood Church in Longview.

Christian Women’s Job Corps of Gregg County also will hold its first celebration fundraiser 6 to 8:30 p.m. May 21 at the Summit Club with dinner and a program, including a silent auction and more. Tickets are available for $25.

For information on the Christian Women’s Job Corps of Gregg County, visit cwjcgreggcounty.org or call Wiebracht at (430) 625-7128.


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Iconic Bodacious on Mobberly temporarily closes as pitmaster departs to open new BBQ joint

As pitmaster Bryan Bingham departs Longview’s iconic Bodacious on Mobberly to start his own barbecue venture, the longtime restaurant is temporarily closing its doors to make repairs and updates to its building.

Bingham plans to open Sunbird Barbecue in about two weeks at Heritage the Market at Green Top, 7486 U.S. 259 in Longview. Opening day will be announced soon, pending final inspections.

“When I first got into cooking and into barbecue, it’s always been my dream to open up my own place,” Bingham said Wednesday. “It just felt like it was time.”

Bingham and his wife, Kimmy, along with David Segovia, all of whom worked at Bodacious on Mobberly, have left the restaurant to venture out on their own together. Their new business comes in partnership with brothers Nishil and Vivek Patel, owners of Heritage Wine & Spirits and Heritage the Market at Green Top.

As Bingham departs Bodacious on Mobberly, the restaurant that has been serving some of Longview’s best-loved barbecue for more than 50 years is taking the opportunity to make repairs and perform maintenance and updates.

“We apologize to our customers for any inconvenience this may cause, and we want to remind them that there are several Bodacious locations close by for them to get their BBQ fix,” own Nancy Lindsey said, as she noted Bodacious locations on Loop 281 in Longview as well as in Gladewater, Hallsville, Marshall and Tatum that are open. She added the Sixth Street Bodacious location in Longview plans to reopen in a few weeks after being closed since a September fire.

“We look forward to reopening in the near future to continue delivering that same great Bodacious flavor our fans have enjoyed for over 50 years,” Lindsey added.

The late Roland Lindsey, founder of Bodacious Bar-B-Q, first opened the Mobberly location in 1968.

Because of Roland Lindsey’s declining health, he closed the Mobberly Avenue location in December 2013. With Lindsey’s blessing, former pitmaster Jordan Jackson reopened the restaurant in June 2015.

The restaurant has received numerous accolades throughout the years, including ranking fourth on Texas Monthly’s barbecue list in 2017 with a rating of 4.75 out of 5.

Bingham began working at Bodacious on Mobberly shortly after Texas Monthly’s 2017 list was released. He credits his wife with first helping him become interested in cooking.

A former self-described lover of “chicken nuggets and French fries,” Kimmy Bingham helped her husband expand his palate to become more adventurous. When she did, Bingham discovered a love for foods and flavors that would lead him to culinary school at Kilgore College.

After stints at a couple of other restaurants in town, he was approached by Jackson to come work at the restaurant. Bingham started there in August 2017 and was pitmaster for two years after Jackson’s departure.

What started as an idea to open his own barbecue joint is transforming into a reality. Sunbird Barbecue will initially open with a large-scale trailer setup at Heritage the Market at Green Top. While it likely will open initially serving just to-go orders, Bingham said plans already are in place to add outdoor seating in the near future.

Bingham said that, in conjunction with Segovia, he’ll be smoking the traditional barbecue meats that East Texans have grown to love. They’ll also continue to make their own sausage and create a variety of specials while Bingham’s wife will bake desserts and help prepare sides.

The goal is to become a place that the community can gather, he said. In addition to outdoor seating, it’s likely that in the future there could be some outdoor games, such as cornhole, and other events at the location.

While Bingham has traveled to collaborate with numerous other restaurants over the years, he’d like to see Sunbird Barbecue bring in pitmasters and chefs from across the state and nation to Longview for similar collaborative efforts.

“We really want to draw attention and draw crowds to Longview,” he said. “A big focus for us is to bring people here and show them what Longview has to offer.”

Bingham said he’s grateful for his time at Bodacious on Mobberly, but he’s also excited to start his own business.

“I’m very thankful for the opportunity that they gave me. They entrusted me with their legacy,” he said. “I hope nothing but the best for them.”


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Pandemic affects results of Gregg County homeless count

While the number of homeless residents in Gregg County decreased during a January count, officials said the annual survey doesn’t show a full picture because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Texas Homeless Network Data Coordinator Kyra Henderson said it’s important to remember that unsheltered homeless residents were not counted in this year’s survey.

“There is no 2021 data on the folks who are staying outdoors, streets, cars, etc.,” Henderson said. That means the count only shows a portion of the homeless population in Longview and Gregg County.

Chesley Knowles, North East Texas Homeless Consortium representative, said it was more difficult to get an accurate count this year even inside area shelters, and the results are not a true indicator of the prevalence of Longview-area homelessness.

The 2020 count found 308 sheltered and unsheltered homeless residents, including 205 who were sheltered.

This year’s survey counted 180 sheltered homeless residents, and, of those, 147 were adults and 33 were younger than 18. Twenty-five veterans also were among that total.

“The changes to the count — and the pandemic itself — made it harder to get a more accurate count,” Knowles said.

Henderson noted that COVID-19 presented barriers to this year’s survey of sheltered homeless residents.

For safety reasons, the Continuum of Care Board voted to cancel the unsheltered count for 2021.

“There were so many uncertainties leading up to the count, so I tried not to have any preconceived expectations,” Knowles said. “We just had to go with the flow and do our best to ensure that the count took place, while also emphasizing the safety of volunteers and the population being counted.”

In Gregg County, individual shelters conducted the count internally as people filled out their own surveys, without North East Texas Homeless Consortium volunteers going inside the facilities and meeting with people face-to-face, as normal.

Some shelters had fewer beds because of COVID-19 safety precautions.

“I would not say there was a decrease in sheltered homelessness,” Henderson said. “There were fewer people accessing shelters due to fear.”

Texas Homeless Network conducts the yearly survey over a 24-hour period to gauge homelessness across the state. The 2021 count occurred Jan. 28. It not only collects data about the number of community members experiencing homelessness but also notes characteristics of the people and their circumstances.

“Some might not have opted in to the shelter or were not in the shelter at that time when the count was taken,” Henderson said.

Statewide statistics are not yet available.

The January 2020 count found 27,229 people in Texas were experiencing homelessness on a single night, with 51% sheltered and 49% unsheltered.

“I think that the point in time count is a tricky measure in general based on the weather, volunteers,” Henderson said. “When you are trying to estimate, it will never account for every single person.”

Other forms of homelessness, such as “couchsurfing” with friends and people staying in hotels and motels, are not counted.

The survey is intended to improve understanding of the needs and circumstances of people experiencing homelessness. The survey provides data including gender, age, ethnicity and veteran status. The results also show what groups are affected so programs can better provide assistance.

“Housing and homeless service providers rely on funding from federal, state and local levels,” Knowles said. “Having an accurate count helps to ensure that communities receive the funds necessary to decrease episodes of homelessness.”

Henderson expects the network will have to conduct some type of unsheltered count this year, but it is unclear how the count will work as vaccines continue to be distributed in communities.

“I think that it will be closer to normal, but we won’t really know until September,” Henderson said.


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