Dallas Morning News. Feb. 8, 2021.
Editorial: Yes, panhandling is out of control. The Legislature can help Texas cities get a grip. State should revisit the exception allowing charitable contributions in road medians
It surprised no one Wednesday when one of the toughest issues cities face pulled the Dallas City Council back into debate.
Panhandling has been an almost impossible problem for cities around the country to seriously address since the U.S. Supreme Court broadly limited how municipalities can govern street soliciting in its 2015 ruling in Reed vs. Town of Gilbert (Ariz.).
In Texas, though, one reason this has become such a problem goes back even earlier, to a foolish 2005 decision in the state Legislature that permitted charitable solicitations in road medians. Anyone who has ever put spare change in a firefighter’s boot knows the effect of this exception to the law.
Well, as it turns out, if the law considers it safe for a firefighter to stand in a median and ask for money, the law is likely to deem it safe for a panhandler. In the wake of Reed and other rulings, cities are reluctant to distinguish a firefighter passing the boot from a panhandler holding a cardboard sign.
Firefighters successfully lobbied for this exception. But the impact on cities is too serious to permit it to continue. The state should revisit this law and remove any exceptions to soliciting in roadway medians, where most panhandling takes place.
If the state determines it isn’t safe to be soliciting in the median — and it clearly isn’t — police can then begin to remove people who won’t move along. As panhandlers are removed from medians, the money that can be made from the trade will diminish. Drivers, meanwhile, will be faced with fewer people stepping off the median into traffic where they can be hurt or cause accidents.
No one wants a heartless approach to this serious social problem. And few believe that we can arrest our way out of it. But permitting panhandling to continue unabated might well hurt panhandlers most of all.
It is reasonable to conclude, as OurCalling executive director Wayne Walker told the Dallas Observer, that panhandling fuels the drug and sex trafficking industries. There are also strong indications, as Dallas City Council member Cara Mendelsohn suggested, that at least some panhandlers are part of organized groups that have made an industry of this work.
Residents throughout Dallas, not just in wealthier ZIP codes, have complained about aggressive panhandlers shaking them down. Many of us have witnessed panhandlers approach cars where a lone passenger, often a woman, is intimidated. That isn’t the act of someone down on his luck who just needs a little help.
Cities desperately need legal tools to manage panhandling. The Supreme Court took some of those away with Reed.
The least the Legislature can do is revisit median soliciting to give municipalities and their residents a chance to gain back some control.
Brownsville Herald. Feb. 11, 2021.
Editorial: Hiding places: Many officials keep working to avoid public accountability
We are constantly reminded that our country is built around a “government of the people.” From City Hall all the way up to the hallowed halls of our nation’s Capitol, we elect the people who enact the laws under which we live. If their performance doesn’t reflect the voters’ interests, those voters are free to toss them out at the next election and replace them with people who promise to better abide by the public’s wishes.
Obviously, voters can’t make those decisions if they don’t know what their elected officials are doing, and how they’re spending the ever-increasing amount of tax money they take from the people at all levels of government.
But that money attracts people who would like to take a share of that wealth for themselves, or who might be receptive to a gift from a friend, relative or business who would like a lucrative government contract or grant steered their way.
Dozens of officials in the Rio Grande Valley alone have been convicted of bribery, bid rigging and other charges. Such malfeasance is harder to do against the “disinfectant” effect of public scrutiny, as Supreme Court Justice William Brandeis called it.
As in countless sessions before, bills have been filed in the current Texas Legislative Session to eliminate or weaken the requirement that government bodies publish notices of meetings, changes in tax rates, bid requests and other matters in their newspaper of record.
Several bills seek to replace such notices with simple postings on their websites. History has shown that while honest officials already do that, and place them in prominent places, others have buried such notices under layers of pages, making it difficult for people to find — unless, perhaps, they’re a preferred bidder who’s been told where to look.
One of the current bills would allow the requirement to be met if notices were posted in other documents such as school newspapers, free specialty publications or even homeowners’ association newsletters. All of these have limited reach and would leave most of the public uninformed.
But that seems to be the intent of such legislation — reduce the number of people who can comment on officials’ actions and make informed decisions on Election Day.
One bill seeks to eliminate the public notice requirement for sales, auctions or other actions to dispose of seized or unclaimed property. This seems counterintuitive, since the competition from larger crowds usually raises sales prices, and thus revenue for the government body — unless, of course, the officials’ objective is to keep the price low to benefit an official’s friend or family member.
That is why all states including Texas as well as the federal government have laws that require government bodies to maintain public access to the decision-making process and to the records of all their activities, contracts and expenditures, specifically to keep officials honest.
We can only hope that honest officials will continue to outnumber the bad, and that the bad come to learn that the air of honest, open government will always be fresher and sweeter than the dank, dark corners of hidden dealings.
Amarillo Globe-News. Feb. 12, 2021.
Editorial: Education, information keys on vaccine decision
State officials have begun the imposing chore of educating millions of Texans on the importance of getting a COVID-19 vaccination. Theirs is an upstream swim against tides of misinformation, mistrust and misgivings.
That makes their efforts urgent so at the point when vaccine supply catches up with demand, more people will be in line to “take the shot,” as promotional spots from the recently launched Texas Department of Health Services campaign implore.
The $2.3 million awareness campaign is in its early phase, geared to educate the public about the vaccine. More visible and widespread messaging is planned when the vaccine supply chain stabilizes. As of earlier this week, 8 million people in the state were eligible for the shot with fewer than 3 million receiving at least one dose, according to the Texas Tribune.
“At this point, the demand for vaccine is much greater than the supply,” DSHS spokesperson Chris Van Deusen told the Tribune. “We’ll increase the resources we’re committing to promoting vaccination as the supply increases and as more people become eligible to be vaccinated.”
There is a fear that too few Texans will be vaccinated, which will complicate the ongoing efforts to emerge from a pandemic that has disrupted life for almost a year now. Health experts suggest so-called herd immunity, which would stop the spread of the virus, can only be reached with at least 75% of the population immunized.
Similarly worrisome is the fact that some may think it’s time to relax as case numbers, hospitalization rates and other metrics decrease. The numbers have been moving in the right direction across West Texas recently, but local officials continue to stress the need for vigilance and observing public-health protocols. In other words, there is still a ways to go, and the vaccination efforts are an important part of the approach against a virus that has led to the death of some 39,000 people across the state.
National surveys regarding the vaccine have commonly shown a large number of people indicating they may choose not to be vaccinated. Among the most often cited reason for hesitancy is the speed with which vaccines were brought to market. The answer, according to experts, is to provide consistent, accurate messaging to complement adequate vaccine supply.
Education and awareness efforts are coming from numerous corners. The Tribune’s report said the Ad Council, which was instrumental in the polio vaccine gaining public acceptance in the 1950s, has unveiled a project called the COVID-19 Vaccine Education Initiative. Its primary thrust is addressing vaccine hesitancy. The Ad Council conducted a recent survey that indicated public health officials are among the most trusted sources for vaccine information.
People, particularly those in populations most vulnerable to the virus, need to do their own research, using trusted health information sources. While the COVID-19 vaccine was brought to the public in record time, health experts agree it is safe.
Toward that end, Texas released its COVID-19 Vaccination Plan last October with a focus on the vaccine’s safety and why it’s important to be vaccinated. Likewise, the DSHS website includes a list of answers to common questions as well as information regarding eligibility and vaccination sites.
Supplies will be accelerated in the weeks ahead, and more and more people will become eligible. Now is the time to get information, education and to get questions answered.