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Recent editorials from Texas newspapers

By: The Associated Press, Associated Press
December 13, 2016 Updated: December 13, 2016 at 8:03 am
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Houston Chronicle. Dec. 3, 2016.

The role of veterinary clinics in the prescription drug abuse epidemic is often overlooked. Because, really, who would think human clients — or, in some cases, a member of the clinic's own staff — might divert a pet's prescriptions? It can happen and could too easily escape our notice.

Data and oversight gaps, together with veterinary workers' ready access to drugs, conjoin to make the veterinary field in Texas particularly rife for controlled substance abuse. The Legislature should act to give the Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners clear statutory authority to monitor the way licensed veterinarians prescribe and dispense controlled substances and to inspect suspicious patterns.

Texas veterinarians have the ability to dispense medications directly to clients, without going through a pharmacy. Veterinarians have no additional limitations on the amount of controlled substances they can administer, dispense or prescribe.

Even though there's a statewide database that collects information on every controlled substance dispensed through pharmacies, more than 6,300 veterinarians in Texas are not required to report the quantity and dosage of their prescriptions of controlled substances. As a consequence, when the staff of the Sunset Commission, a group charged by the Legislature to conduct periodic reviews of state agencies, requested data on overall veterinary dispensing activity in Texas, no state or federal agency was able to provide it.

The statewide data that is available raises questions. Veterinarians made up 124 of the top 300 practitioners prescribing barbiturates in Texas in fiscal year 2015. Of the 124 veterinarians on this list, 15 had prior board orders or disciplinary action, and of these, seven had prior controlled substance violations.

In a bureaucratic disconnect, the board has not established a practice of mining the statewide database to target its inspections or to conduct more thorough complaint investigations as to the top-prescribing veterinarians. Instead of a risk-based approach, investigators use geographic proximity to locate their inspections along with time elapsed since a licensee was last inspected.

Theft and loss of controlled substances is another potential avenue for abuse. Texas veterinarians can keep a fully stocked inventory of most controlled substances in their clinics. Compared to other medical practitioners — not including pharmacies — veterinarians reported the highest dosage units lost or stolen for a single type of controlled substance, tramadol, a pain killer.

This lax and nonstrategic regulatory climate needs to change. The risk of Rover's prescription pain pills adding fuel to the prescription drug epidemic is real.

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San Antonio Express-News. Dec. 5, 2016.

Of the more than 3,781 arrests along the border between June 2014 and September 2016 by the Department of Public Safety, only 6 percent have been for felony drug possession.

One percent was for human smuggling. Drunken driving arrests, however, are 29 percent and misdemeanor drug arrests 28 percent.

This is according to an analysis by KXAN-TV in Austin.

State leaders and DPS said the surge in state trooper deployments to the border was necessary in the interest of border security. In the grander scheme, that means halting cartel drug trafficking and the smuggling of people.

That doesn't appear to be happening. Stopping people at the border is outside the state's purview.

Our hope is that when the Texas Legislature looks at DPS' request next year for an additional $320 million in biennium funding — on top of the $750 million or so from the last session — it will take into account such outcomes.

In other words, is the investment of 250 more troopers in the name of "border security" worth it if the outcomes don't move the needle substantially in terms of arrests of "high threat criminals"? This would be the folks moving and possessing large amounts of drugs and smuggling people.

One can easily surmise that the influx of troopers anywhere in Texas would result in the arrests of more drunken drivers and minor drug users. But the purpose in this border surge — started by Gov. Rick Perry and continued by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — is border security.

In light of President-elect Donald Trump's pledge to beef up border security — for a border already among the most secure in the world — it is fair to question whether the state should be shouldering this burden at all.

Yes, getting more drunken drivers off the highways is always a good thing. But that could be accomplished with this kind of surge anywhere in Texas.

KXAN reported that in Starr and Hidalgo counties, where DPS efforts are concentrated, troopers are parked every few miles along U.S. 83, which runs roughly parallel and near to the border.

Even with the support of Abbott and Patrick, the Legislature must not simply rubber-stamp this expenditure, not with other compelling needs — school financing among them — in the offing.

Take a very hard look. With the new DPS request, this would be $1 billion over four years.

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The Eagle. Dec. 8, 2016.

What a great day it was at Texas A&M when thousands of Aggies and community residents gathered together to celebrate the university's great diversity at the same time a white nationalist was speaking nearby on campus.

It was also a great day for America and for Americans.

A&M proved that by protecting free speech even for those who spew hate we deplore, we promote free speech for the rest of us. It is an important message we need to learn over and over again.

When it was learned in November that national "alt-right" leader Richard Spencer had been invited by a local resident to speak on campus, many Aggies reacted with outrage. They were horrified that a race-baiter would be allowed to speak at their beloved university.

A&M leaders quickly pointed out that Spencer had not been invited by anyone connected to the school and his beliefs certainly are counter to everything A&M stands for. Under the law, however, anyone willing to pay the cost of facility rental, must be allowed to speak on campus. There was nothing A&M could do to stop Spencer's speech.

But A&M President Michael K. Young wasn't about to let Spencer's hateful remarks go unanswered. He announced Aggies United, an alternate event held at the same time as Spencer's talk. It was a celebration of unity, a perfect rebuttal to Spencer's message of hate, division and disunity.

Aggie mean and women, straight and gay, of different faiths, or different colors, of different philosophies and persuasions, joined in to say loudly and clearly, "We are the Aggies and the Aggies are we." The differences don't matter, are to be celebrated and embraced.

Speaker after speaker at the Kyle Field event talked of our commonality, of our need to move forward together, hand in hand, toward a better America.

The positive energy from Aggies United was in stark contrast to Spencer's combative talk in which he ridiculed members of the audience — the few who were there — and defended his beliefs that white men own the country.

Saying white men "conquered the continent," Spencer said, "Whether it's nice to say that or not, we won, and we got to define what America means.

"America, at the end of the day, belongs to white men."

Spencer and his increasingly smaller band of frightened supporters couldn't be more wrong. The days of white men rule are fading ever faster into distant memory. Talent and energy and intelligence have become the coin of the realm, not skin color and gender. There is a ways to go, but Spencer is the ever-tinier voice of the past and Aggies United is the voices of the future.

In a way, though, Spencer got exactly what he wanted: notoriety. Calling Aggies United a "terrible failure," Spencer said, "The more energy they direct towards us, the more powerful we become."

He couldn't be more wrong. Every time he opens his mouth, the hundreds of millions of good, decent Americans are repulsed and eagerly renew their hopes and goals for a better, united America.

The Dec. 6 A&M appearance by Richard Spencer served a useful purpose: It reminded Aggies, it reminded all of us, that together we are stronger than our differences. It is an important reminded.

Chinese Gen. Sun Tzu, more than 500 years before the birth of Jesus, said, "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles."

On Dec. 6, we all got to know ourselves a lot better.

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The Dallas Morning News. Dec. 10, 2016.

Gov. Greg Abbott should be applauded for taking steps this month to try to improve treatment for the state's worst-off foster care children.

His office has issued $8 million in federal grant money for crime victims to go toward a pilot program. The aim is to get 500 children out of psychiatric hospitals and residential treatment centers, where many of them wind up.

The money would go toward housing and providing individualized medical care and mental health therapies at four sites throughout the state.

That's a far cry from the dysfunctional way that hard-to-place kids are handled today. An increasing number of them have even been sleeping in motels and CPS offices because there's no other place to put them.

"By better coordinating the care of our highest-needs children in the foster care system, we will begin to unwind the abuse and trauma they have endured," the governor noted.

That's a good move by the state, and a worthy plan to execute for the sake of these kids.

But it's a small piece of the puzzle. Fixing this chaotic system will take long-term sustainable remedies.

A federal judge, Janis Jack, has put intense pressure on the state to fix the foster care system. She ruled a year ago that Texas has such a drastic shortage of caseworkers and foster homes, and has been so lax at policing its foster-care vendors, that children are at grave risk.

It's stunning that Texas is still fighting that ruling, stubbornly insisting that it can fix its system on its own, without judicial interference. Hundreds of children have died of neglect and abuse waiting on the state to do so. This newspaper has called on the state to drop this fight and work with the feds.

Still, we're glad to see the state move in the right direction.

Texas' Child Protective Services chief Henry "Hank" Whitman's $144.7 million emergency plan is a good start on quick fixes.

And Abbott's pilot initiative is part of Whitman's plan to hire special vendors to care for the approximately 1,000 "high needs" foster children — those who have suffered the worst emotional and medical harm because of maltreatment from their birth families.

Foster-care vendors have been a particular area of concern; some have refused to accept highly troubled children. That's one reason kids have ended up sleeping in state offices.

What's more, it was good to see Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, pre-file a CPS overhaul bill ahead of the start of the 2017 legislative session. It would make the department contract with a nonprofit to set up a regional pilot program with goals similar to the Abbott initiative for case management services for foster children with acute medical and behavior problems.

It's unconscionable that this system has gotten to this point. It's been decades in the making. So, overhauling it won't happen overnight. It'll take aggressive and consistent strategies to protect our most vulnerable citizens.

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The Monitor. Dec. 11, 2016.

We are encouraged by the recent actions of the U.S. Department of Customs and Border Protection to erect a giant tent adjacent to the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge to accommodate an onslaught of immigrants crossing into the country illegally in this region.

The move demonstrates that CBP learned vital lessons two years ago when the unprecedented wave of unaccompanied minors and immigrants with young children overwhelmed authorities and brought international attention to our South Texas border.

CBP undoubtedly has a difficult job in protecting our national borders, made more complex by a volatile political debate over what to do about immigration — a debate that is ever more heightened with the election of Donald Trump who campaigned on a vow to close the border to illegal entries.

But the $3.8 million tent that can hold 1,000 and was opened Dec. 9, just days after its construction, suggest CBP is becoming more attuned to a nuance of immigration policy that can be lost on policymakers: that treating immigrants in a humanitarian manner does not equate to condoning the acts of tens of thousands of immigrants who are crossing our international borders illegally.

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling understands this nuance and his legal background recently allowed him to raise an important distinction as policymakers grapple with what to do about this surge of immigration. He noted in a speech earlier this month for the groundbreaking of a permanent Humanitarian Respite Center in downtown McAllen, that once these people are apprehended and processed by CBP, their status changes to a legal one — however temporary that may be.

Darling also reminds us of the ongoing image battle that this region faces on the national stage that wrongly suggests that the multitude of people coming across pose an acute danger to the Rio Grande Valley.

It is with that context that we caution CBP against the temptation of using the Donna facility as a way to mask any image problem that the agency may feel.

We understand CBP's need for security. But access to other holding facilities, particularly those farmed out to private prison operators, has been extremely limited. Transparency is paramount in how these detainees are being cared for.

Recent media access to the football stadium-sized facility, which has 36 showers, medical staff on hand and will feed immigrants three hot meals per day, was a good start but happened when it was not yet occupied. We also note the humility shown by CBP Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske, who admitted as he toured the facility, that his agents now "are going to deal with this surge in immigration in a much more humanitarian way," admitting lessons learned from 2014.

We all have learned so much in the past two years — CBP, the Respite Center and our community.

We believe that any image problem caused by the multitude of immigrants should not be thrust on any one federal agency or on our region. But rather, it should be thrust on Washington, which is responsible for developing a comprehensive immigration policy that works. And which has failed to do so year after year.

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