Dallas Morning News. April 30, 2021.
Editorial: Who are my parents? Texas should give adoptees access to their original birth certificates
In Texas, this story is all too typical. A child placed in foster care at birth is adopted and embarks on a journey to adulthood with a lingering question — who are my birth parents?
Many adults in this position can expect to jump through hoops to obtain their original birth certificates, often without success. Texas law seals a child’s original birth certificate when the child is adopted and the adoptive parents are issued a new birth certificate listing them as the child’s parents.
As adults, the adoptees then must ask for access to their original birth certificate in a court in the county that granted the adoption and demonstrate to a judge that they have a need to know this information. Failing that, adult adoptees often suffer in silence or pursue expensive DNA tests and investigations when easy access to their original birth records would answer what might well be the most important question of their lives.
House Bill 1386 and its identical counterpart, SB 1877, would allow adoptees who are at least 18 and were born in Texas to obtain their original birth certificates from the state without a court order, removing a major hurdle that had been on the books in Texas since 1957.
The national trend toward sealing adoption records began in the 1930s and gained momentum with an increase in out-of-wedlock wartime births. By the 1970s, adoptees began advocating for access to their birth certificates and some states created programs that would allow a court-appointed middleman to appoint someone to confidentially search for birth parents and, if they agreed, arrange contact with adoptees.
In Texas, adoption rights advocates for years have pushed for an easier process for adoptees to obtain their original birth certificates. State lawmakers resisted and said secrecy protected the privacy of birth parents and prevented adoptive parents from confronting birth mothers. The interests of adopted children, who are now adults, clashed with the law.
A birth certificate is more than a piece of paper; it also is a window into a person’s heritage, race and ethnicity and can be useful in establishing family medical history. One adoptee, who wrote to lawmakers in support of the bill, put it this way: “Though family reunification is not the main purpose or goal of the adoptee rights bill, it is not right that legal, tax-paying, voting ADULTS are treated differently under the law just because they were adopted as children. And if there is the possibility of finding members of their biological families, the state of Texas should not hinder that.”
Not all family histories will be pleasant, but the state shouldn’t get in the way of adults making the decision to learn more about their families. In recent years, lawmakers in several states have made birth certificates more accessible. Texas should do the same this session.
Amarillo Globe-News. April 28, 2021.
Editorial: AISD police idea one worth exploring
In considering ways to strengthen its safety and security commitment to students, staff and the community, the Amarillo Independent School District is looking to establish its own police department.
The item to begin that process was unanimously approved by the district’s trustees at their most recent meeting, and it’s an idea that merits serious thought, despite understandable misgivings on the part of some.
According to our recent story, having its own department will allow the two members of the district’s safety and security office to be included in multiple law enforcement jurisdictions such as the city, Potter and Randall counties. If implemented, the decision would address matters of jurisdiction for a district with campuses in both counties.
As Doug Loomis, the district’s superintendent, pointed out, an AISD police department would not alter the district’s school liaison officer program with the Amarillo Police Department that provides 13 officers on campuses across the district. APD officers would continue to follow the chain of command in their department while AISD officers would report to the district.
The district’s relationship with the APD once again proved valuable recently as the two entities worked together to identify students and investigate leads following potential threats made on social media.
Ultimately, the idea is to continue addressing matters of safety, which is a fundamental priority for the board.
“The reason we think we need to start thinking about how we start creating our own police department, not to sever the relationship … is to allow these two officers we currently have (to have) a place to be commissioned,” Loomis said during the meeting.
As it stands, the two are commissioned peace officers under the Randall County Sheriff’s Office. Establishing an AISD police department could allow for their commissioning under the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.
“There is a lot of work that they do that is not in Randall County,” Loomis explained. “In an effort to try to give them the authority to be commissioned and do a lot of the work that they do, we think we ought to figure out a way to commission them.”
The trustees’ decision was only the first step in the process. The approval means the AISD can choose to submit an application to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, and if that application is approved, an AISD police department could become reality as soon as the fall.
“Potentially, we are just going to get stronger,” Loomis said in our story. “All we are doing is enhancing what we are doing. We are not giving up on a very valuable resource with APD, and we are just enhancing those things that we do internally to make sure when we have things like we had a week ago with a social media threat that it’s all hands on deck."
Today, school districts face incredible challenges ensuring a safe and secure learning and work environment day after day. Establishing its own police department would be one more highly visible step in demonstrating a commitment to safety and give the district one more important resource upon which to rely.
(Harlingen) Valley Morning Star. April 28, 2021.
Editorial: In the dark: Officials could be trying again to avoid public notice mandate
Texas lawmakers appear ready to make yet another effort to weaken state laws that keep the people informed of what they’re doing and how they’re spending taxpayers’ money. The latest effort offers an alternative that is both inadequate and a duplication of existing resources.
For the past several legislative sessions, various legislators have offered bills, often prodded by local officials and organizations that represent them, attempting to escape accountability to the public. A popular target is the requirement that public notices such as changes in tax rates and requests for bids be published in the local newspaper of record.
Recent efforts to escape the requirement have promoted the idea of replacing newspaper notice with postings on governmental bodies’ websites. House Bill 2578 would create a public bulletin board on the state comptroller’s website where public notices will be posted. The bill, currently being reviewed by the House State Affairs Committee, currently doesn’t call for the elimination of newspaper notices, but past efforts leave open government advocates concerned that an amendment to that affect could be added as an amendment as the bill progresses through the legislature.
State Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, is on the State Affairs Committee.
HB 2578 would create a web-based listing of public notices from across the state, maintained by state employees. Such a clearinghouse already exists; it’s texaslegalnotices.com, maintained by the Texas Press Association. We certainly wouldn’t claim redundancy — more public notice certainly is better than less — but the comptroller’s listing would add to the state bureaucracy while the TPA site costs taxpayers nothing. In addition, some people likely would have more confidence in a site run by a neutral third party, if only to ensure that the government site is properly maintained and complete.
Neither site, however, fully replaces newspaper publication. Website postings provide a great service to those who actively look of such notices, such as contractors looking for invitations to bid on new projects or public watchdogs who know budgeting calendars or are vigilant for bond announcements, charter change efforts and other issues that are of public interest.
Most people, however, aren’t likely to frequent such sites to see if any public new announcements might be posted. Newspaper publication enables readers to see such announcements as they peruse the pages of their local paper. Such incidental discovery might be the only way many taxpayers learn of government proposals, and voice their opinions, before action is taken.
A state-based listing is welcome if it creates more places where voters can see what their officials are doing and how they propose to spend taxpayers’ money. However, it should not be used as part of an effort to steer such information away from the public.
Houston Chronicle. April 29, 2021.
Editorial: A compassionate ICE? Ed Gonzalez the right pick to help Biden bring balance to ICE
Compassion isn’t the first word on the tip of anyone’s tongue when discussing U.S. immigration policy. But in tapping Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez to head U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, President Biden has wisely selected a veteran lawman who knows when to be tough and when to be humane.
After years of controversy under President Trump, ICE needs serious, pragmatic reform from a solutions-minded leader. And that’s Gonzalez’s record as sheriff here in Harris County, one of the largest, most diverse counties in America where for decades immigration has been central to its success.
As sheriff, Gonzalez has taken responsibility for those in his care inside the largest jail in Texas, which bodes well for oversight of ICE detention centers that have been found to hold immigrants in substandard conditions and that have been hotbeds for infection during the pandemic.
First elected in 2016, Gonzalez was immediately tasked with improving conditions at the overcrowded Harris County Jail. He met that challenge.
Then, as the jail struggled with suicides, five in a two-year period, he implemented protocols that curtailed the problem. Last year, as COVID-19 ran rampant behind bars, he was at the forefront of efforts to reduce the jail population to improve safety.
Gonzalez has also led the way with initiatives such as “cite and release,” which seeks to reduce bookings by treating some misdemeanor charges, such as graffiti and driving with an invalid license, like court citations for speeding tickets. He was also one of the first local officials to back misdemeanor bail reform to ensure that people didn’t remain in jail simply because they couldn’t afford to post bond. The sheriff also made the Harris County jail the first in Texas to offer Vivitrol, a drug that helps curb opioid cravings and prevent relapses, as well as give departing inmates naloxone, which can reverse overdoses and save lives.
Gonzalez, who co-chairs the Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force, is no stranger to ICE or to being outspoken on immigration issues. He has been a strong proponent of “dreamers” and has often blasted the wrong-headed use of local law enforcement in detention and deportation of migrants, which undermines investigative work and makes immigrant communities fearful of authorities.
One of his first actions as sheriff was to end the county’s participation in the 287(g) program, which trained deputies to screen detainees for immigration status and hold them for deportation. The program is still in operation in more than 20 Texas counties.
If confirmed by the Senate, Gonzalez should consider ending it across the country.
Gonzalez would be a stark contrast to his predecessors under the previous administration — seven men, none of them confirmed by Congress — who were either placeholders or seemed to be in a race to the bottom to placate Trump’s hard-line approach to immigration.
While liberal calls to “abolish ICE” were always overblown, the agency’s credibility was damaged by having directors who publicly called for leaders in “sanctuary cities” to be charged with crimes, executed massive workplace raids that upended communities and targeted immigrant families for deportation.
Regardless of the best intentions, change will not be easy. Gonzalez will inherit an agency where much of its workforce is dedicated to arresting and deporting immigrants and which has been emboldened during the Trump years.
Still, he must show the kind of resolve that has served him well and work to reform and refocus the agency to target those immigrants who pose the largest risks to America, such as those whose felony convictions, connections to cartels or other factors make them higher priorities than immigrants who are only here looking for a better life.
“As law enforcement leaders, Sheriff Gonzalez’s track record is an encouraging indication of how he would run ICE — with a balance of security and compassion that makes everyone safer,” said his fellow Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force members. “We encourage the Senate to quickly confirm him.”
ICE needs permanent, steady leadership that will provide that balance. Gonzalez’s record in Harris County shows he’s the right person for the job.