Thursday, February 22, 2018

Other Voices: What Texas editors are saying

By The (Clute) Facts
Feb. 8, 2018 at 11:41 p.m.

Cooler, but not enough

The state has finally reached a settlement in a class action suit brought by inmates who were being forced to endure stifling hot conditions — regularly exceeding 100 degrees — in the housing area.

Now the state will install air conditioning at the notoriously sweltering prison: the Wallace Pack Unit, southeast of College Station. The success of the suit means other inmates living and guards working in other state prisons without A/C also could see some relief on the horizon.

The agreement still needs to be approved in federal court, but U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison said he is optimistic it will move forward.

Of course, there never should have been a need to file a suit to begin with, as no human being can be constitutionally subjected to such cruel, unusual and potentially deadly conditions.

In Texas, it should be a no-brainer that A/C is not a luxury. It's a necessity, especially during the summer months when the dangers of heat stroke are all too real. How real? In the past 20 years, almost two dozen prisoners have died from heat stroke in Texas prisons. ...

Bringing A/C to the College Station prison we hope will just be the beginning. According to The Texas Tribune, the state has more than 100 prisons, and almost 75 percent of them don't have air conditioning in the areas where inmates live. That is simply unacceptable, particularly in buildings that typically lack windows or ventilation, and where sweating humans are packed in close proximity to one another.

We are fully aware inmates were sentenced to prison terms in order to be punished, surely not to enjoy luxury resorts or vacation homes. No one is suggesting that be the case. But prisoners should be able to expect not to die from a heat stroke because their living quarters are nothing more than oversized crock pots. A prison sentence shouldn't be akin to dropping a live lobster into a roiling pot of boiling water.

Yet, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice at first fought Ellison's ruling, and appealed the decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Attorney General Ken Paxton even said air conditioning systems in Texas prisons are "unnecessary and not constitutionally mandated."

Paxton should say those words to the grieving families of Texans who died from heat stroke in ovens masquerading as prison cells. On that topic, the settlement also includes resolutions of several wrongful death lawsuits filed by those very families of inmates who perished in the stifling conditions.

While the settlement just covers the unit in College Station, the implications fortunately are more far-reaching, the plaintiff's attorney points out. "Obviously, if the inmates can prevail and get much needed protection from the heat in one prison, there's significance to that for inmates everywhere," Edwards said.

No one expects or wants prisons to include all the comforts of home. But a basic expectation of safety and protection from cruel and unusual conditions should be the standard. It's good to see Texas might be moving in the right direction, even though it took some legal prodding.

That's no disaster

Texas lawmakers have sought to tie necessary disaster-relief aid for Hurricane Harvey with price controls for cotton.

It's a particularly rich maneuver because in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which hit New Jersey and New York especially hard in 2012, so many Texas lawmakers inaccurately criticized relief for that storm as filled with unnecessary pork and other expenditures.

Yet, here we are, with the so-called "cotton fix" somehow tucked into an $81 billion disaster relief package that recently passed the U.S. House. Texas lawmakers apparently see no problem, disconnect or irony.

This is likely because cotton is a big deal in the Lone Star State, generating about $2.2 billion in crop value in 2016, according to Kevin Diaz, a reporter with Hearst Newspapers' Washington bureau. Much of that cotton production is in West Texas, far from the ravages of Hurricane Harvey.

The cotton fix would put the crop back into the Price Loss Coverage program, ensuring a minimum price. Cotton had been removed from the program in the 2014 farm bill after the U.S. lost a challenge with the World Trade Organization. Since then, cotton growers have relied on a special crop insurance subsidy to back up crop prices

Cotton and disaster relief are two separate issues, and should be treated as such. Or as Daren Bakst of the Heritage Foundation told Diaz, "This is a major policy change that shouldn't be buried in some disaster relief bill."

The appropriate venue would be upcoming debate over the farm bill. ...



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