State of Texas: Increasing calls for police reform in next legislative session

State of Texas

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas Legislative Black Caucus has asked Gov. Greg Abbott to name policing reforms a priority next session, which begins January 12, 2021.

The governor attended the public memorial for George Floyd in Houston on Monday, June 8.

“One thing the family asked of me is to make sure that they the family, they the victims of the death of George Floyd will be heavily involved as we move forward so the process isn’t going to be hijacked by the politicians, but those who understand the challenges we face,” Gov. Abbott said. “Those who have dealt with the challenges that we face will be the centerpiece as we craft solutions going forward that do bridge the racial divide that we have in our country.”

The governor said he’d heard repeated requests for additional, updated law enforcement training.

The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement has already added implicit bias training to the Basic Peace Officer Training course following Floyd’s death.

President Donald Trump landed in Dallas on Thursday, June 11 for an already-scheduled fundraising dinner for his campaign.

Before dinner, Trump held a round-table discussion with community leaders to address police reform.

“We’re finalizing an executive order that will encourage police departments nationwide to meet the most current professional standards for the use of force, including tactics for de-escalation,” Trump explained.

He said defunding or dismantling the police is not the right option.

“We must invest more energy and resources in police training and recruiting and community engagement. We have to respect our police. We have to take care of our police, they’re protecting us and if they’re allowed to do their job, they’ll do a great job,” he said.

Texas Democrats held a news conference ahead of the President’s visit. They called for more action from the President — and more empathy.

“I’d like for him to sit and share some real understanding of what is being experienced, especially by minorities,” U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson said.

“Don’t just come in and visit with his rich friends and take our $10 billion, and ignore the majority of the area,” Johnson added, referring to the ticket price of Trump’s fundraising dinner, which is more than half a million dollars per couple.

Johnson also said she questioned the sincerity of Trump’s discussion on police reform, especially considering local top law enforcement officers were left out of the conversation.

“It’s difficult to address issues when you don’t invite the elected leadership, nor the persons who are professionally responsible for guiding law enforcement. I certainly didn’t get any kind of invitation and I’m the longest-serving member of Congress in the state,” Johnson said.

Johnson did say, however, that state Republican leaders have shown some promise in reacting to recent protests around the country sparked by the death of George Floyd. That includes Gov. Greg Abbott.

“I do think he has shown some sensitivity of what the depth has meant. He went to the [George Floyd’s funeral] service. He’s indicated he’s open to listening for change. I hope that he can do that with a very good conscience,” she said.

Recently, Gov. Abbott said he is working toward police reform, and will make it a top priority in the next legislative session.

“One thing that police officers need and all law enforcement officers need is better training. Training before they go out on their first day, but training on an annual basis so they know what the standards are, what the update to the standards are,” Abbott said Tuesday, “…make sure everybody is reminded about the correct approach when they do pull over, and stop someone like George Floyd, making sure they don’t use life-threatening strategies that could kill someone like what happened to George Floyd.”

MORE: How the ‘dead suspect loophole’ kept information about Javier Ambler’s death in the dark

A loophole in Texas public records law allowed information related to the death of Javier Ambler, a 40-year-old black man who died in the custody of the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office, to remain in the dark for 15 months.

Ambler died in the custody of Williamson County deputies on March 28, 2019 after a 22-minute chase that began in Williamson County and ended in north Austin. The pursuit began after Ambler failed to dim his headlights for oncoming traffic, according to a police report.

Ambler can be heard on body camera footage recorded by an Austin Police Department officer saying “I can’t breathe” and informing officers that he suffered from congestive heart failure, which was included in his cause of death.

KXAN INVESTIGATES: Denied, an investigative series

For more than a year, little information was released about Ambler’s death or the pursuit until APD, which is investigating the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office use of force, released an eight-minute body camera video from one of its officers that responded to the scene in north Austin.

The silence surrounding Ambler’s death was aided by the so-called ‘dead suspect loophole,’ an exception within Texas public records law that states law enforcement agencies only have to release “basic” information about a suspect if that suspect isn’t convicted or is never placed on deferred adjudication.

The loophole was the subject of the KXAN Investigation “Denied Evidence,” which began in 2018.

State Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) authored a bill last legislative session that would have closed the loophole. It failed, he said, because of opposition from law enforcement groups.

Republicans, Democrats united on stance toward China, but can’t agree on joint investigation

Republicans and Democrats both say the U.S. needs to investigate China for its role in the coronavirus crisis and its efforts to steal American technology, but they can’t agree on how to investigate together.

Texas Republican Michael McCaul is leading the GOP congressional task force investigation into China.

Texas Democrat Henry Cuellar is leading the same investigation, but with a team of Democrats. U.S. Rep. Cuellar says it’s time Congress holds China accountable.

“China doesn’t play by the same rules,” Cuellar said.

Cuellar and the Blue Dog Coalition are asking for an independent commission to investigate China over issues like its role in spreading the coronavirus and how the U.S. can become less dependent on the country for critical supplies.

“Why do we have to depend on a lot of this equipment. We’ve got to make sure we build that here in the United States?” Cuellar said.

U.S. Rep. McCaul agrees, but says he’s already leading the necessary investigation.

“Why is it we are so reliant on China for medical supplies and pharmaceuticals?” McCaul said. “We have already had some very high level briefings from the intelligence community, the State Department, the National Security Advisor.”

Mccaul says House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy invited Democrats to join the task force when it launched in May, but they declined. He says Congress doesn’t need separate investigations with the same goal.

“If any Democrat wants to join us, we have an open door policy,” McCaul said. “It should be a policy exercise, not a partisan exercise.”

But Cuellar says the GOP task force lacks legislative authority. He wants Republicans to stop and join Democrats to avoid sending a divided message to China.

“It is one of those situations that we have to take a bipartisan approach on,” Cuellar said.

The GOP task force is scheduled to release its first report on China next week.

Democrats MJ Hegar, Royce West debate touches on protests, marijuana legalization, healthcare

The two Democrats vying for an opportunity to unseat U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, stepped onto the debate stage Saturday, June 6.

Hegar, an Air Force veteran, garnered 22% of votes in the March Democratic Primary, while West picked up 14%. The winner of the runoff election will face Sen. Cornyn in November. Cornyn has represented Texas in Washington, D.C. since 2002 and is a three-term incumbent. Throughout the debate, his campaign tweeted responses.

MORE: Democrats MJ Hegar, Royce West debate touches on protests, marijuana legalization, healthcare

Ahead of the July 14 runoff election, Democratic candidates for Texas U.S. Senate used the platform of a statewide televised debate to target the Republican incumbent, Sen. John Cornyn, instead of each other.

MJ Hegar, a retired Air Force pilot, and Texas Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) participated in a debate on Saturday that was broadcast to Nexstar Media Group stations across Texas from the KXAN studio in Austin.

MORE: U.S. Senate candidates target Cornyn in Texas Democratic debate

Hegar, who finished first in the Democratic primary with 22.3% of votes, issued the most pointed attacks of Cornyn’s record.

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