AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Gov. Greg Abbott reached a deal with the governor from Tamaulipas on Friday, coming as the final agreement with neighboring Mexican governors to roll back Texas’ inspections of commercial vehicles at the southern border, which clogged traffic for more than a week.

“We are showing how border governors can lead the way on solving border problems,” Abbott said at a press conference in Weslaco.

Abbott met with Tamaulipas Gov. Francisco Javier García Cabeza de Vaca to discuss further securing the border and increasing traffic between states. Abbott agreed to resume vehicular inspections as usual at ports of entry along the border, on the condition the Mexican states ramp up security measures on their side of the border.

“Clogged bridges can end only through the type of collaboration that we are demonstrating today,” Abbott said on Wednesday in his meeting with Nuevo León Gov. Samuel Alejandro García Sepúlveda.

Last Wednesday, Abbott ordered state troopers to carry out “enhanced safety inspections” of all vehicles coming into the U.S. from Mexico. Entry ports soon became blocked as travelers had to wait for hours for their vehicles to be checked.

The order came as the Biden administration prepares to lift Title 42, a Trump-era policy that expelled migrants back to their home country during the pandemic.

“We knew that as soon as we did what we did on the border that we would be contacted by officials in Mexico, because it is a very high price to pay with regard to what is going on on the border,” Abbott said.

On Thursday, Abbott met with Chihuahua Gov. María Eugenia Campos Galván and Coahuila Gov. Miguel Ángel Riquelme Solís.

Campos outlined the most detailed security plan out of all four Mexican governors, citing a $200 million investment into increased security measures. The plan outlines adding drone surveillance, databases connected to drivers license registries and facial recognition features to better identify cartel leaders.

“It’s a win-win situation if we protect our borders and we protect the security of our state, as Gov. Abbott is doing right now,” she said Thursday.

Abbott said Campos’ proposal was the best border security plan he’s seen from any Mexican governor. But Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke was quick to criticize Abbott for touting the negotiations, citing Chihuahua started this initiative in December.

“Now he wants credit for putting out the fire by announcing these ridiculous ‘security agreements.’ Texans aren’t buying it, and we’ll never forget the chaos Abbott has caused to our economy and our border communities,” O’Rourke said. “We literally got nothing, literally nothing except higher inflation, economic damage to the state of Texas.”

Abbott’s Democratic opponent wasn’t the only vocal critic. The White House, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Republican Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller chalked the inspections up to political theatre and called them unnecessary.

“Your inspection protocol is not stopping illegal immigration. It is stopping food from getting to grocery store shelves and in many cases causing food to rot in trucks – many of which are owned by Texas and other American companies. It is simply political theater,” Miller’s letter read.

Texas A&M international relations professor Aileen Teague said Abbott’s recent immigration measures have highlighted divisions between Republicans and Democrats following the lifting of Title 42.

“Democrats see that the fact that a public health measure is still being used in immigration enforcement, they see that as fundamentally wrong,” Teague said. “On the other end, Republicans believe that without Title 42, it gives them very little other authorization to secure the southern border.”

She said the memorandums of understanding between the Texas and Mexican governors are historic and unprecedented, and only time will tell if they will be enforceable.

“State entities in Mexico are under-resourced at times.” Teague said. “There’s a lot of different factors that go into whether they’re going to be able to meet the standards that Gov. Abbott has mandated.”

“If those expectations are not fulfilled, and we see an increase or even a continuation of the illegal immigration traffic we’re currently seeing, Texas can reinstate the enhanced security measures for vehicles coming across the border,” Abbott said at the news conference with Cabeza de Vaca.

Man’s death highlights concern with Texas ‘Good Samaritan’ law aimed at preventing drug overdoses

An Austin man faces felony tampering with evidence charges after he allegedly failed to call 911 while two people inside the Victory Grill in east Austin overdosed, according to court documents. One of those men died.

Police found paraphernalia and the drugs believed to be involved, which police said were consistent with cocaine. Officers also noted that given the victim’s sudden decline in state, the cocaine was likely laced with fentanyl.

While APD told KXAN no additional information can be released about this case, APD officials wrote that Rolando Ortiz Jr. was charged with tampering with evidence because he “removed evidence from the scene of a homicide investigation,” though Ortiz is not charged with homicide at this time.

Mugshot of Rolando Ortiz Jr.
Rolando Ortiz Jr., 41 (Courtesy: Austin Police Department)

According to APD’s report, Ortiz admitted to observing the two men either “in distress or deceased” and instead of calling for or administering help, he closed and locked the door to the office they were in. He told police he lied because he doesn’t like police and has a previous criminal history, documents said.

Ortiz’ court-appointed attorney did not respond to KXAN’s request for comment.

In 2021, Texas lawmakers passed, and Gov. Greg Abbott signed, a Good Samaritan Law which has been in effect since September. HB 1694 protects some people from getting in trouble for small amounts of illegal drugs or having drug paraphernalia should they seek help for someone who is having a drug overdose.

But as many addiction recovery advocates testified, some is the key word — and the people protected are not the right some.

Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed an effort by Texas lawmakers to pass a Good Samaritan Law in 2015. As a result, Rep. John Raney (R-Bryan) testified last year that he met with the governor’s staff and crafted legislation in 2021 that would satisfy the governor’s fear that the law would be used by repeat offenders.

That’s a concern some law enforcement officials also shared as lawmakers discussed the possibility of this protection.

“How far are we willing to go to waive the burden of criminal responsibility in exchange for getting someone to make that phone call that’s going to save a life?” Hardin County Sheriff Mark Davis told KXAN in 2018, as those discussions were being had. “I think we truly need to make a clear distinction between a person who is an addict and possessing that because they’re addicted to opioids or a substance, versus someone who is a dealer and a trafficker.”

As a product of those concerns, the resulting law disqualifies many people from protection in Texas — most notably, people who have been previously convicted of a drug offense and people who have called for medical assistance for an overdose in the last 18 months.

“When I was still active in my addiction, I can think of three or four times just off the top of my head where I was in a position where I was with somebody who was overdosing,” Joseph Gorordo, who is in long-term recovery and is now the vice president of outreach for Recovery Unplugged, said.

After bringing an overdose victim to the emergency room and being questioned by police, Gorordo says the next time he was with someone having an overdose, he did not bring that person in for medical treatment. That’s is something the Good Samaritan Law hopes to address, but it only works for people who don’t have a history.

“The people who are most likely to be present for an overdose are also the people who are very likely going to have some sort of record,” Gorordo said. “That means that you’re eliminating a big chunk of the individuals who are going to be the primary users of this.”

Gorordo says this law is new, but its loopholes are already on Recovery Unplugged’s list of priorities for the next legislative session.

In the same legislative session that saw the passing of the Good Samaritan Law, lawmakers failed to decriminalize drug testing strips, though many states around the country have.

Rep. Jasmine Crockett, a Democrat from Dallas, tried to push through a bill that aimed to remove criminal penalties for the possession of drug paraphernalia. That bill passed committee on a 6-3 vote but ultimately didn’t make it to the chamber.

That’s something Travis County Judge Andy Brown has recently been outspoken about, specifically when it comes to fentanyl testing strips.

Fentanyl testing strips can be used to test drugs, powders and pills for the presence of fentanyl, which is often more potent than other drugs and can be fatal. The strips allow people to take extra steps to protect themselves or to not take the drugs altogether.

But under the Texas Controlled Substances Act, drug testing equipment is classified as drug paraphernalia which makes it illegal for people to recreationally test.

“It’s something that from what I’ve heard, especially from the harm reduction community, that would save lives,” Brown told KXAN. “We would like to look into the possibility of making them available to the public if they were allowed by state law.”

You can read more about KXAN’s reporting on fentanyl testing strips here.

Texas lawmakers have previously legalized the purchase and carry of naloxone, an emergency treatment that reverses the effects of opioid overdoses. That legislation made the treatment available in Texas without a prescription at many pharmacies like H-E-B, CVS and Walgreens.

“Narcan, when it’s not necessary, there’s no risk of adverse side effects,” Gorordo said. “So you don’t have to second guess yourself, ‘is this person overdosing or not?’ Which means that a lot of individuals without training can carry Narcan and potentially save a life.”

Lawmaker eyes reform for homebuilding regulations and disputes

Texas Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, said in an interview he believes it may be time for the state legislature to take a closer look at the residential home building industry following a KXAN investigation. KXAN found families across the state are dealing with crumbling foundations and years-long disputes with developers.

“It’s something that was attempted to be fixed and addressed more than a decade ago and was not, so it may be time for us to take another look at it,” Sen. Johnson said.

Across Texas, municipalities are charged with coming up with rules for developers who want to build subdivisions, but a KXAN investigation found some of the largest cities in the state don’t require developers to hand over the results of soil tests where they build. Those tests can reveal problematic geographical conditions for building homes.

In Buda, city officials paid nearly $50,000 to investigate why water was coming from the ground for years, destroying home foundations in a large subdivision. Engineers hired by the city found a perched aquifer had developed below the homes there.

The neighborhood was originally developed by Ryland Homes, but in 2017 Lennar Corporation merged with CalAtlantic Group — enveloping Ryland Homes’ developments and liabilities in the process.

Jimmy Fort measures the water level in his sump pump located on the side of his home. (KXAN video/Richie Bowes)
Jimmy Fort measures the water level in his sump pump located on the side of his home. (KXAN video/Richie Bowes)

Soil evaluations on the land before homes were built show engineers warned the original developer homes built over the geologic formation found in the neighborhood often end up with “serious detrimental cracking.” They also warned groundwater might be found during the construction of the subdivision.

In a statement, Lennar Corporations’s Vice President of Communication Danielle Tocco said “Prior to development of the community, all soil and geotechnical reports were reviewed by the appropriate local government agencies as part of the public approval process.”

Over the years, homeowners in the Whispering Hollow neighborhood installed sump pumps to pump out water from under their homes and prevent further foundation damage. More than a dozen homes have had their foundations repaired, city permits show.  

Jimmy Fort, who has lived in Whispering Hollow since 2008, filed a lawsuit against the builder alleging deceptive practices and breach of contract after multiple attempts to repair the foundation did not stop water from collecting under his home — or the cracks from emerging on his walls.  

“I was wronged along with other homeowners here and it’s like I told them at city hall — there are places to build homes and there are places not to build homes,” said Fort in an interview with KXAN in January 2022.

“Lennar stands behind every home we build and honor warranty requests when something is not right. We acquired Whispering Hollow from another builder and have attempted to resolve the concerns of the handful of homeowners who reported issues with the expansive soils that are common throughout the Austin area,” Tocco said.

The City of Buda changed its ordinance in 2014 to require builders to submit the results of soil evaluations before being issued building permits, but many large cities in Texas don’t require it, including Austin, San Antonio, El Paso and Corpus Christi.

In Austin, large developers aren’t required to submit soil evaluation results before building — and a KXAN investigation found nearly 50 permits were approved for foundation repair in a single neighborhood over 11 years.

At least three homeowners filed lawsuits against the developer, Lennar Corporation, alleging it was negligent in constructing its foundation and failed to honor warranties.

A spokesperson for Lennar Corporation said in a statement, “We have built thousands of homes in Austin, and we stand behind all of them, including those in Bradshaw Crossing. We will repair any home that does not meet the commitments we made to our buyers.”

video over a row of homes in the neighborhood
Lennar at Bradshaw Crossing on Jan. 11, 2022. (KXAN Video)

City of Dallas officials’ don’t automatically require soil reports, according to officials. It is required if there is already data available indicating expansive, compressible, shifting or other questionable soil characteristics where a developer intends to build.

The building official with the city would determine whether soil tests would need to be done. The decision is made on “a case-by-case basis.”

This would not be the first time Texas lawmakers tried to tackle home building defects and the long-legal battles that can follow. After only six years in existence, the Sunset Advisory Commission in 2009 shuttered the Texas Residential Construction Commission, which was tasked with regulating homebuilding and resolving disputes between builders and homeowners.

Critics, including Texas homeowners, accused the commission of favoring builders and delaying families in filing lawsuits against developers.

“What the answer is… I don’t know. I do think it’s time to see if we need some sort of state-mandated minimum standards that would give municipalities a reason to perform some of the things they are being pressured not to perform now,” Sen. Johnson said. “I think we could help them out and help cities help their residents.”

Transgender archery champion banned from Texas women’s competitions

A transgender archer winning a state championship resulted in a rule change that bars athletes like her from competing alongside women in Texas.

KellyJeanne Pyne beat only two other competitors to bring home the top prize in the senior women’s freestyle event at the Texas Field Archery Association’s (TFAA) Indoor State Tournament on Feb. 26 near Fort Worth.

According to the results posted online, Pyne finished only one point ahead of the runner-up, Linda Culwell, and 14 points higher than the other contestant, Theresa Murphy. However, she received 81 points for hitting the innermost ring of the target, denoted as an X on the scorecard — 14 points higher than Culwell and 12 more than Murphy got for hitting that part of the target.

“It felt good,” Pyne said about her win. “It felt like I had achieved something, and then that was rapidly taken away.”

After Pyne’s victory, three female archers submitted official protests to the results. The protests essentially objected to Pyne, a transgender woman, competing in the women’s events. According to the TFAA rules, a competitor can file a protest in writing within an hour after a shoot and pay a $50 filing fee, which is reimbursed if a protest committee rules in favor of the reporting party.

Pyne, a disabled Army veteran, said she had never received any official challenges to previous wins in either rifle shooting or archery competitions. She contends she holds no inherent physical advantage because of who she is when it comes to archery, pointing out, again, she only beat the second-place finisher by a point at the state tournament.

“The aim comes from your mental game: can you sit there and focus on that pin or on that dot and keep it in the center until the shot breaks?” Pyne said. “That’s your mental game. It really comes down to a mental game and practice.”

Jay Lindsey, the TFAA president, told KXAN in a phone conversation on April 6 that protests happen “rarely” and usually focus on “minor things,” like the types of equipment competitors use. He also said protests are normally resolved quickly and don’t require the TFAA naming a committee to look into them. However, the protests about Pyne’s state championship resulted in additional scrutiny.

“We’ve never had this particular issue protested before,” Lindsey said on the phone. He declined a later request to appear on camera for an interview discussing this process.

The TFAA named four people to a protest committee, which spent three weeks looking into the complaints and finally emailed its decision to Pyne on April 5. The group decided unanimously Pyne was ineligible to receive the titles of TFAA Senior Female Freestyle Shooter of the Year and State Champion. They also ruled transgender archers could no longer participate in women’s events, but could still vie for men’s titles.

The committee’s three-page decision read, “In the event transgender male to female athletes are allowed to compete as women, the TFAA Protest Committee fears that in 20 years, all female records, in all sports may be held by transgender people, and no female records will be held by biological women. How is that fair to women?”

The protest committee’s chairman, Steve Bergh, declined an on-camera interview, as did the three women who filed the initial protests against Pyne’s win.

As part of their explanation, the committee members pointed to new guidelines from the International Olympic Committee that many LGBTQ+ advocates celebrated as opening the door to more inclusion of trans athletes in elite sports. The IOC framework asserts, among other things, that “athletes should not be deemed to have an unfair or disproportionate competitive advantage due to their sex variations, physical appearance and/or transgender status.”

While the TFAA protest committee’s report acknowledges that aspect of the guidance, the members argue it contradicts another section of the IOC framework that states sports organizations can make their own rules about who can participate “providing confidence that no athlete within a category has an unfair and disproportionate advantage.”

They contend in their report their Texas competition records show “men setting higher records in nearly every division and style of archery.” They also wrote they compared the scores of the archers at the most recent Olympic Games, and those showed the women would have failed to win a medal if they faced the men.

“This additional evidence supports the TFAA Protest Committee decision, that a ‘level playing field’ would not exist if Pyne was permitted to compete as a female,” the committee’s report read.

In the same event on the men’s side, the top three finishers at the TFAA state championship each scored a perfect score of 600. Pyne’s score of 590 would have put her in sixth on the men’s leaderboard.

The protest committee also backed up its decision about Pyne’s participation by citing a Texas law that now requires students to only play on teams that align with the biological sex listed on their birth certificates at the time of their birth.

“Even though the TFAA State Indoor Championship is not covered by that law,” the committee’s decision read, “the TFAA Protest Committee would apply the Texas law policy in this decision.”

The board governing the TFAA unanimously supported these arguments from the protest committee, which removed Pyne from the female division of competition. However, this decision directly contradicted the views expressed by the national organization overseeing competitions.

The rules committee for the National Field Archery Association, or NFAA, voted twice on the Texas protests to Pyne’s win and overturned them both times. KXAN reached out Monday to the NFAA’s executive director to ask what actions the organization may take for Texas not following its decisions.

The NFAA does not yet have an official policy about transgender competitors, but new eligibility rules will go into effect June 1. According to the policy, transgender people can enter into events that match their gender identity if they transition before puberty. Some transgender adults, however, will have to clear some hurdles.

The policy reads that transgender men will be able to compete with other men if they declare their gender identity is male — no other criteria must be met.

To join a women’s competition, transgender women must undergo testing to determine if “her total testosterone level in serum has been below 10 nmol/L [nanomoles per liter] for at least 12 months prior to her first competition” as well as her “total testosterone level in serum must remain below 10 nmol/L throughout the period of desired eligibility.” Athletes must also declare their gender identity is female, and they cannot change that “for sporting purposes, for a minimum of four years.” Failing to comply with these standards will result in suspension from competition for a year, the new rules state.

Pyne said she would be able to meet those criteria to compete with other women at nationally-sanctioned events. However, Texas is not adopting those rules, so she said she instead plans to enter into the men’s competitions in the state.

“If everybody wants me to shoot as a male, OK, now you’re gonna have a woman beating you,” Pyne said, “because I’m a woman. However you want to look at it, I’m a woman, and I’m going to beat you.”

KXAN reached out three times to Bruce Cull, the NFAA’s executive director, to find out what the national organization plans to do since Texas will not follow its newly-adopted rules about transgender competitors. This story will be updated once we receive a response.

The new IOC framework calls for abandoning the practice of monitoring testosterone levels to determine an athlete’s eligibility.

“Criteria to determine disproportionate competitive advantage may, at times, require testing of an athlete’s performance and physical capacity,” the framework reads. “However, no athlete should be subject to targeted testing because of, or aimed at determining, their sex, gender identity and/or sex variations.”

If someone questions a competitor’s gender, the NFAA said its executive committee might name a licensed medical professional to “collect and test blood samples” to see if the aforementioned criteria are met. Appeals can be made, though.

KXAN asked Texas archery officials why the state won’t adopt these national standards and is instead moving forward with outright banning trans women from the female competitions.

“The TFAA Decision has resolved the matter and we have nothing to add or subtract from it,” read a text message from the protest committee’s chairman on April 8.

The pushback to Pyne’s archery championship in Texas echoes debates happening nationally in politics and in collegiate swimming. Lia Thomas, a former Westlake High School graduate and a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, made history in March when she became the first transgender woman to win an NCAA swimming championship. She beat the second-place finisher, Emma Weyant, by 1.75 seconds in the 500-yard freestyle event. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis later said he would issue a proclamation that would name Weyant as the actual winner of the race. Thomas followed NCAA and Ivy League rules since she began her transition in 2019 by starting hormone replacement therapy.

Pyne said she, too, questioned whether Thomas should compete against other female swimmers right now, and she pushed back on assumptions that their cases are similar.

“There’s no physical advantages in archery or any precision sport, so we’re on two ends of the spectrum in this case,” Pyne said. “I don’t believe that Lia should have been swimming in the women’s category either, but, I mean, people are gonna say that I’m kind of hateful now for being a transgender person and going against transgender people. But fair is fair, and that’s just not fair.”

Pyne said she would now like to work with USA Archery, the national governing body for Olympic archery, to develop a policy related to transgender athletes. The NFAA already stated whatever rules USA Archery ultimately adopts will become the official policy for the organization and replace its guidelines set to go into effect in June.