Other Voices: What Texas editors are saying

It’s lawmakers’ mess

Austin American-Statesman

Looking at the mess state officials have created with marijuana enforcement, the Pottery Barn rule comes to mind: You break it, you fix it.

In voting last year to legalize hemp, Texas lawmakers inadvertently smashed the tools police have long used in marijuana arrests. Simple field tests, drug-sniffing dogs and even an officer’s expertise cannot distinguish between marijuana, which remains illegal, and its now-legal cousin, hemp. Both plants contain the euphoria-inducing ingredient THC, just in different concentrations.

With those tools gone, prosecutors in many jurisdictions have stopped prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana cases. They said they would need lab reports confirming a substance is pot, and most counties don’t have that testing capability. Getting such testing, which can run hundreds of dollars per case, reeks of an unfunded mandate at a time the state is squeezing local communities with lower property tax caps that limit city revenue.

The state broke it. The state is responsible for fixing it. And until Texas officials provide the technology and funding for marijuana lab tests — or better yet, a more sensible approach to marijuana cases — the Austin Police Department should stop writing citations that can’t be enforced. ...

The courts have tossed all the marijuana citations APD officers have written since last summer. Travis County Attorney David Escamilla has declined to prosecute any cases without lab reports. In most cases, before their first court date rolls around, defendants receive a letter saying the charge was rejected, Justice of the Peace Nick Chu told us.

Chu said marijuana citations are down significantly since last summer, as the sheriff’s office and other police departments saw no point in writing them. “APD is kind of the outlier,” Chu said.

This isn’t just a Travis County phenomenon. A year ago, about 5,600 misdemeanor marijuana possession cases were filed per month across the state, according to The Texas Tribune. By November, after the hemp law fiasco, that number was less than 2,000. ...

What we have on the books now isn’t worth the enforcement costs and the burden of an arrest record for defendants caught with a small amount of pot.

Abbott’s error

El Paso Times

Here are a few things to know about Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision not to participate in the government’s refugee resettlement program:

■ It has nothing to do with border security. These refugees are here legally, welcomed to the United States after having been investigated thoroughly by this country and international agencies. Our government recognizes that their lives would be at risk if they were to be returned to their countries of origin. Some are from countries south of our southern border, but most aren’t. They’re here fleeing religious, ethnic and/or economic persecution, just like native-born Americans’ ancestors.

■ They don’t strain Texas’ resources. To the contrary, Abbott, in effect, turned down federal assistance for these people if they come to our state, which they actually are free to do if they would rather be here, without aid, than in another state participating in the program that is willing to host them. Refugees actually tend to be much greater assets than liabilities to the communities where they settle and rebuild their lives. ... Abbott’s decision runs so contrary to his own religious faith that the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops rebuked him for it. “As Catholics,” the bishops said in a letter, “an essential aspect of our faith is to welcome the stranger and care for the alien.” They reminded Abbott that Jesus and his parents were refugees.

■ The decision contradicts the actual meaning of “Texas.” The state’s name was derived from the Caddo word for friends.

■ Abbott was the first and, as of this writing, only governor to opt out of the program. The reason Abbott had to declare yea or nay whether Texas would participate in refugee resettlement is that President Donald Trump, by executive order, required governors to opt in or out by Jan. 21. Thus far, 40 states have opted in, including 18 led by Republican governors.

A federal judge in Maryland has blocked the Trump policy temporarily. While we await the outcome of this lawsuit by immigrant advocacy groups, let’s just say there are no good reasons for Abbott to have done what he did. There is only a bad reason, and that’s to exploit and vilify refugees as a pander to the worst xenophobic impulses of anti-immigrant supporters of Trump and himself. ...

In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo explaining his decision, Abbott wrote: “Texas has been left by Congress to deal with disproportionate migration issues resulting from a broken federal immigration system.” You could argue that this statement is correct. But to say it in the context of the refugee program suggests that somehow the refugees are to blame and that refusing to participate in the program is a step toward a solution, when in fact neither one is true.

Abbott also noted that Texas took in “roughly 10% of all refugees resettled in the United States” during the past decade. He didn’t bother to point out that Texas has more than 9% of the nation’s population and that, therefore, Texas’ participation is roughly proportionate to its size.

Abbott betrayed the spirit of Texas, the United States and his Catholic faith. ... He compounded those transgressions by making devious statements in his letter to Pompeo, taking the refugee program out of its true context and portraying it, instead, in the false context of this country’s immigration policy failures.

Today's Bible verse

“But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me.”

— Psalm 22:19

Get news sent to you!

Sign up to get our newsletters emailed to you.

Upcoming Events

Featured Businesses