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In West Texas, Senator Wendy Davis Responds to the Ruling Against House Bill 2

On Monday, September 1,  several Texas facilities providing abortions were expecting to face new regulations from House Bill 2 that may have affected their ability to stay open. But on Friday, a U.S. District judge ruled against those provisions, saying that the law’s ambulatory surgical center requirements “burdens Texas women.”

On the campaign trail in Marfa, State Senator Wendy Davis, the Democratic candidate for governor, pointed to her 13-hour filibuster of the bill last summer. She said she was “pleased” at the judge’s ruling, but that House Bill 2 had already made its mark.

“The first provision has already gone into effect and half of the clinics in the state of Texas closed. With the ambulatory surgical center provision, which was set to go into place on Monday – had the judge not ruled that way – Texas would have had only six or seven clinics left open. And many women – I think a huge percentage of women – would have lived 200 miles or more away from their ability to access safe legal and reproductive healthcare in our state.”


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Texas National Guard troops in Afghanistan (Staff Sgt. Shane Hamann via Wikimedia Commons)

Texas National Guard troops in Afghanistan (Staff Sgt. Shane Hamann via Wikimedia Commons)

National Guard Confirms Two Troops Requested Food Bank Assistance

Reports surfaced Friday that as many as 50 National Guard troops deployed to the Texas Border as part of Governor Perry’s “Operation Strong Safety” had run out of money and were needing assistance with food and gas from the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley.

The Public Affairs Office of the Texas National Guard now tells KRTS there were soldiers who needed assistance, but not necessarily the number originally reported.

The National Guard’s Camp Mabry in Austin now confirms two service members have “requested support,” both of whom were previously unemployed before deployment.

“Both of those soldiers were provided assistance,” the release states.

Lt. Col. Travis Walters of the Texas National Guard explained that the high number of calls were probably not from soldiers but from National Guard assistance staff.

“Here’s where the confusion is coming from: we have family assistance coordinators all over the state…who proactively help soldiers and airmen with all kinds of issues,” he says.

“Since we knew we had significant numbers going down to border, those coordinators go out and proactively scout any resources that may be needed.”

Omar I. Rodriguez, Manager of Communications and Advocacy for the Food Bank of Rio Grande Valley says that he cannot confirm whether the number was 50 or two as of yet.

He did say, though, that hunger in the military is nothing new.

“It is something that is popping up here and there,” Rodriguez says. “You’ll hear the stories of SNAP [food stamps], that use is rising in the commissaries of the national military.”

Rodriguez described the difference between National Guard troops and active-military troops.

“These are people that normally do have jobs and they leave for two weeks out of the year to go help out wherever they are needed, so these are working families as well,” Rodriguez says. “We are seeing that increase in food assistance that military and national guard do need.”

As for the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, Mr. Rodriguez says, “the food bank is ready and willing to help in any regard to food assistance the military may need.”

-Paige Phelps

A Border Patrol veihicle drives past vehicle barriers near Deming, NM. (Jim Greenhill via Flickr)

A Border Patrol veihicle drives past vehicle barriers near Deming, NM. (Jim Greenhill via Flickr)

West Texas Talk: Reporter Details Former Border Protection Watchdog’s Account of Corruption

In June, the head of the internal watchdog office at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was removed from his post and re-assigned, after an independent report revealed the agency didn’t do enough to investigate the Border Patrol’s use of deadly force.

The move was seen as a step toward better transparency, something the CBP’s newly-appointed commissioner Gil Kerlikowske has pledged to focus on.

But in an unauthorized interview this month with the Center for Investigative Reporting, former Chief of Internal Affairs James Tomsheck tells reporter Andrew Becker his removal was instead meant to deflect controversy over the agency’s use of force policies.

We spoke with Becker about those comments, including Tomsheck’s opinion that the deaths of at least 7 of the 28 people killed by Border Patrol agents since 2010 were “highly suspect.”


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Texas state troopers gather at the scene of a drug bust in La Joya (Mónica Ortiz Uribe)

Texas state troopers gather at the scene of a drug bust in La Joya (Mónica Ortiz Uribe)

National Guard Deploys To Bust Drug Crime In South Texas

LA JOYA, Texas — The National Guard is now descending on the South Texas border. It’s part of a law enforcement surge called Operation Strong Safety. Governor Rick Perry ordered the mission to confront the never-ending flow of illegal drug traffic headed north from Mexico.

Working in law enforcement along the South Texas border is anything but boring.

On a sizzling August afternoon, a Chevy sedan crashed into a sign post across the street from La Joya Junior High. Cop cars surrounded the scene. A handcuffed teenager ducked into the back of squad car as plain clothes officers heaved bundles of marijuana into the back of a pickup truck.

Sgt. Bryan Witt of the Texas Department of Public Safety explained it was a routine traffic stop turned drug bust.

“The vehicle evaded, and the driver started throwing bundles out the window,” he said.

Witt had only been in South Texas a few days.  He’s part of Operation Strong Safety. Along U.S. Highway 83 in Starr County state troopers like him are posted at about every three miles.
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(U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

(U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

Free-Market Think Tank Hosts Border Security Panel at State Capital

On Wednesday at the state capital, the Texas Public Policy Foundation held a panel discussion on border security, billing the event with the title “What is Actually Happening on the Border.”

Among the speakers at the event were Texas Ag Commissioner Todd Staples, the head spokesperson for the National Border Patrol Council, and also one of the founders of Texas Border Volunteers, a group of private citizens that conducts “watches” along the border, reporting illegal immigrants to law enforcement agencies and often posting pictures of detained immigrants to its website.

Texas Observer reporter Forrest Wilder was on the scene in Austin. He spoke to us about the group hosting the event and what the speakers had to say.

KXWT_MarkRussell_WEB

KXWT Presents Mark Russell

Comedian and political satirist Mark Russell will be in concert on Thursday, September 18 at 7 p.m. at the Wagner & Brown Auditorium at Midland College.

Tickets are $60 and are general admission.

You can get tickets by calling 432-580-9130
or Click here to purchase them online.

*All proceeds from this will benefit KXWT 91.3 FM

A model of XCOR's Lynx space craft on display in Amsterdam in 2012 (Branko Collin via Flickr)

Can the Private Space Industry Stabilize a Boom-and-Bust Economy?

By early next year, alongside the sound of jets landing at the Midland International Airport, you might also hear sonic booms from space flights re-entering the earth’s atmosphere.

This month, the private space company XCOR broke ground at the airport, where it plans to launch commercial space flights next year. Some hope this new industry will stabilize the region’s traditionally oil and gas-based boom and bust economy.

The airport is still waiting to get the go-ahead from the FAA to launch those flights, but XCOR says despite some delays, it’s likely that will happen before a September 15th deadline.


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Texas National Guard troops in Afghanistan (Staff Sgt. Shane Hamann via Wikimedia Commons)
A Border Patrol veihicle drives past vehicle barriers near Deming, NM. (Jim Greenhill via Flickr)
Texas state troopers gather at the scene of a drug bust in La Joya (Mónica Ortiz Uribe)
(U.S. Customs and Border Protection)
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Native American Student at Seminole School Sent Home for Long Hair

Schools across the nation began classes this week. The school district in Seminole faced a test on its first day, as it balanced its Code of Conduct with its Policy of Non-Discrimination.

The town of Seminole is named after the Native American people – a man in traditional headdress is the mascot for the schools’ sports teams, the “Indians.”

On Monday morning, kindergartener Malachi Wilson was sent home, because his hair was too long.

The five-year-old is part of the Navajo Nation and wears his hair long for cultural reasons.

According to the Code of Conduct: “boy’s hair…may not extend…below the top of a T-shirt.” Malachi’s hair drapes halfway down his back.

“Hair is sacred to us,” the boy’s mother April Wilson told CBS 7. “It makes us part of who we are.”

Wilson returned to the school with certification from the Navajo Nation., and the Seminole School District eventually admitted the boy, citing a policy that allows exceptions to the dress code for religious beliefs.

Wilson says she will be looking into the possibility of hiring a lawyer to pursue a discrimination case against the district, but the district maintains it followed all the necessary and proper procedures for exempting a student from the school’s dress code.

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Governor Rick Perry speaks to reporters at a groundbreaking event for Occidental Petroleum's new Midland campus on Tuesday (KMID)

As the Governor’s Legal Team Fights Charges, Perry Stops in Midland

As Governor Rick Perry’s legal team continues its fight to get a Travis County court to drop the felony charges against him, Perry took to the road for an oil and gas company’s groundbreaking ceremony in Midland.

Houston-based Occidental Petroleum is building a 212,000 square foot campus that will serve as the company’s Midland headquarters. According to the governor’s office, the company is the biggest operator in the Permian Basin.

Still, across the state the focus remains on Governor Perry’s indictment on felony abuse of power charges.

Speaking to local reporters, Perry again asserted that while the state could legally pay for his legal expenses, since the case involves his official duties as governor, his team has decided to pay the cost from his campaign fund.

“I look at this as an appropriate defense of a state official,” Perry said Tuesday, “But just to keep from having folks grouse about it, we’ll pick up the cost as we go forward.”

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Byproduct materials nearing the end of disposal at the WCS Byproduct Material Facility in this photo from October 2013. (Waste Control Specialists)

West Texas Nuclear Dump Can Expand after TCEQ Ruling

This week the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) gave a company storing radioactive waste in West Texas the go-ahead to store more than three times the amount of waste it’s currently allowed to, but the company says it has no plans to actually do that.

Before a ruling from the TCEQ on Wednesday, Waste Control Specialists had a license to store up to 2.39 million cubic feet of what’s called “low-level” radioactive waste.

Now it’s allowed to store up to 9 million cubic feet, but WCS spokesperson Chuck McDonald says the company doesn’t have plans to expand, and that so far it’s only been storing a fraction of those amounts.

McDonald says since the site’s been operating, it’s stored a total of 51,000 cubic feet of waste.

“We are nowhere near even beginning to tap the surface of the current license ability of the site,” he says.

But that’s not easing concerns from environmentalists who worry the expanded capacity is a step toward turning Andrews County into a radioactive wasteland.

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Texas MountainTrail

KXWT/KRTS Weekly Event Roundup Sponsored by Texas Mountain Trail

Check out all the best events from the border to the Basin, sponsored by Texas Mountain Trail.

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(Nickolouse13 via Flickr)

Odessa Explores Steel Pipe Shipping Route Direct from Mexico to Basin Businesses

The Permian Basin’s oil and gas drilling companies have a steady demand for steel pipe. Currently those supplies are shipped to Juarez or Houston and then back to the Basin at significant extra cost. Odessa’s Mayor David Turner has been looking into the feasibility of shipping steel from Chihuahuan factories directly to Odessa and Midland.

But depending on who you talk to, the sound of an 18-wheeler is either the sound of commerce or, for some, disaster.

“You can imagine what it would be like to have potentially 100s of trucks a day rolling right through the center of Alpine,” said Alpine resident Roger Siglin.

Siglin is concerned that an announcement made by Odessa Mayor David Turner and State Sen. Kel Seliger about an exploratory business trip to Mexico signaled another iteration of La Entrada al Pacifico, the failed trade route that was supposed to carry a high volume of goods from the factories of China, to the ports of Mexico, up through the Big Bend and throughout the Basin to U.S.

Mayor David Turner says that’s not what this trip about. La Entrada is no more.

“Basically, from my understanding, that ended in 2007,” Mayor Turner said. “What we’ve done, is the Hispanic Chamber and I went to Chihuahua to talk to some of the businesses, especially metal, pipe, basically the things we need for the economy for the Permian Basin. In this area we’re looking 10 to 15 more years of drilling. We can’t get the pipe from China because it’s not the quality we need, so most of the pipe we need is going to come from Mexico. I was just trying to find our business more of a direct route.”

These types of business trips are not unusual. The mayor of Presidio, John Furguson, took one recently with his economic director to Cualtémoc to explore ways to bring economic activity north of the border there. Now Furguson says he’s been invited to a meeting with Mayor Turner and others, and he’s all ears as to what they have to say.

“Presidio, speciciflly, we’re really somewhat of an empoveished community and we really need to see what we can do to take advange of border commerce,” Mayor Furguson said. “But we have arranged to meet with Mayor Turner, myself, and Presidencia Muncipal Miguel Carreón Rohana, the mayor of Ojinaga.”

But while Mayor Furguson says he has an open mind because, he says, “the city government is barely making it as it is,” in Presidio, there are activities he won’t endorse.

“There are certain things I’m not going to sign on to, especially if they are related to fracking or things like that,” he said. “We’ve seen how things go in Odessa, Midland, a lot of the oil patch communities, they have a lot of issues. And I know there’s lots of money, but I’ll trade lots of money for the quality of life we enjoy in Presidio.”

All elected officials involved in this upcoming meeting stressed this is still an idea in infancy. The Ojinaga bridge expansion project from two lanes to four lanes, hasn’t even begun yet. That type of road and bridge infrastructure would be key to a route like this.

“This is all so early in the process, you know, we need to see if it’s even viable,” said Mayor Turner. “We can use all the steel we can get now in the Basin and we just need a better and more direct route.”

In a phone conversation, State Senator Kel Seliger stressed that those who might be opposed to increased 18-wheeler traffic on the streets of tourist towns in the Big Bend should instead focus instead on the economic benefits.

He said, “”the details? What’s different than last time? That doesn’t matter. What matters is the economy.”

-Paige Phelps

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