AUSTIN (KXAN) — Poncho Nevarez has a lot of influence at the State Capitol. He leads the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee, and is also the vice chair of a select committee looking for solutions to stop mass shootings.
So, the news that he will not run for re-election came as a surprise to a lot of people at the Capitol. The story took a turn Thursday when authorities issued a warrant for his arrest.
Authorities accused Nevarez of cocaine possession. He later admitted he is an addict and turned himself in.
“I do not have anyone to blame but myself,” Nevarez said in a statement. “In a weird way, I am grateful. Grief and addiction were consuming me.”
According to the affidavit, Nevarez dropped a sealed envelope while he was getting picked up at the TxDOT flight facility at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in September.
A TxDOT worker later found the envelope. According to the responding DPS agent, the envelope was filled with cocaine and had Nevarez’s office letterhead on it.
Laura Sovine, executive director of Austin Recovery, said the first step is saying “I’ve got a problem, and I need to go and get some help for it.” Sovine said the stakes get higher for a public person in a trusted office.
“Once a disorder has become to the point of lying and hiding it means that the severity is pretty intense and that this is probably happening often and this is probably happening in places that it shouldn’t be happening and then the stakes get higher and higher,” Sovine said.
This is not the first time Nevarez has been a part of a political controversy. In 2017 he was involved in a near-fist fight on the House floor with Matt Rinaldi. It happened in response to a protest over the so called “sanctuary cities law,” Senate Bill 4.
Changes to how the state investigates claims of child abuse
The Texas House Committee of Human Services met on Tuesday to look into how the state investigates claims of child abuse. This hearing comes after multiple reports of children being taken from their parents as a result of Texas doctors misidentifying abuse.
KXAN reported the story of Jason and Lorina Troy last month who had their children taken away by Child Protective Services after a doctor incorrectly reported abuse of one of their children.
“The judge signed off on the emergency removal of my two sons who were only four and six months old at the time,” Lorina said. “There was never any evidence of child abuse.”
Now, the Troys are speaking out. They shared their story with the House committee, but they are not alone.
Andres and Giselle Guerrero had their seven-month-old taken away after their doctor incorrectly said the baby was being abused.
“I think the problem here is that the doctors here have too much power,” Giselle said. “I know that it’s a very difficult decision for them, but I think that CPS should ask for a second opinion.”
Multiple doctors testified at the hearing and said they work in the best interest of their patients and don’t want to hesitate if they suspect abuse.
Texas Department of Family and Protective Services officials told KXAN they welcome the opportunity to work with legislators to improve the system.
The committee chairman expects to hold more hearings in the interim to find ways to improve the system.
Closer look at two of the top U.S. Senate Candidates
The primary election for U.S. Senate is less than four months away, and so far there are 11 Democratic and two Republican candidates who plan to run for John Cornyn’s seat.
According to a University of Texas and Texas Tribune Poll, the majority of voters don’t know who they are going to vote for yet. However, that hasn’t stopped some of the top Democratic candidates from raising large campaign funds.
Three of the top five candidates – Royce West, Amanda Edwards and MJ Hegar – reported in the last quarterly filing period that they raised over half a million dollars to spend on their campaign.
KXAN sat down with West and Hegar this week to talk about their top issues and how they plan to unseat Cornyn.
West said he has support from the majority of the Democratic Senate and House members.
“What that says is that in all probability most of the leadership that has been elected by Democrats in this state that will form the basis of the Democratic primary, those persons that they’ve elected recognize what I’ve done, my experience factor, and are supportive of me,” West said.
Hegar has raised the most out of the candidates with over $2 million in donations. She said it’s all grassroots individual donations, and she feels the weight on her shoulders from every donation.
“Frankly I hope I never lose that,” Hegar said. “I hope every elected official feels that, because a person’s vote is very precious, and it’s a lot of responsibility. The first thought that comes into my mind is “I’m not going to let them down.”
West said he would make the best candidate to face incumbent John Cornyn because he has been trying to implement change since 1993.
“Well the reality is it’s not like I just started talking about these solutions,” West said. “So, I would make certain that I would be consistent in terms of reaching across the aisle as best possible.”
Hegar said she is not interested in taking shots at her fellow candidates because her focus is 100% on Cornyn.
“My focus is on John Cornyn because he is the one hurting Texans,” Hegar said. “He’s the one voting in a way and legislating in a way that’s hurting my kids.”
KXAN’s new History of Mass Violence Project
An “El Paso Strong” banner hangs off the Walmart where 22 people were shot and killed by a gunman three months ago. The store reopened on Tuesday.
KXAN is rolling out a new project next week called the History of Mass Violence. The five part investigative series launches Monday, and the full story will be linked that same day in the Texas Politics section of KXAN’s website.