Greene drops nativity lawsuit

Nativity SceneATHENS — San Antonio Atheist Patrick Greene announced this morning he is withdrawing his lawsuit against Henderson County Judge Richard Sanders in connection with the nativity scene displayed on the courthouse lawn each December.

In the lawsuit, Greene said Sanders, “abused his position as judicial head of Henderson County, by giving official governmental permission to private citizens to display this Christian Nativity scene. This also violated Article 1, Section 6 of the Texas Constitution; ‘No human authority ought, in any case whatever, to control or interfere with the rights of conscience in matters of religion, and no preference shall ever be given by lay to any religious society or mode of worship.’”

Greene filed the lawsuit in late December. You can read more about the lawsuit here. You can read more about Greene’s involvement in Henderson County and the nativity controversy here.

Greene said he was dropping the lawsuit “because something far more important has come up.”

“I discovered a woman who is in prison who got there without due process, and I am going to try to get her out,” he said.

The woman is Meagan Adams, who was one of three teenagers to be convicted in 2003 for murdering Adams’ grandmother and guardian. Adams was 16 at the time.

Adams admits to being involved in the crime, but writes, “I do take responsibility for my part in this case, but I feel my sentence was extreme. I was a child and since then I have grown and realized so much. I have so many goals. I have so much that I want to do with my life, but I just need someone who will take a chance on me.”

Greene has decided to take that chance.

Henderson County Attorney Clint Davis said the county was thankful to have the lawsuit behind them.

“We’re thankful for whatever reason that Mr. Greene decided to drop his lawsuit,” he said.

County officials keep an eye on unfunded mandates

Henderson County Judge Richard Sanders.
Henderson County Judge Richard Sanders.

ATHENS — With the 83rd Texas Legislature convening in Austin this week, Henderson County Now asked county officials what issues they are watching the closest … and we received the same answer all around.

“I’m concerned about any unfunded mandates the state might pass,” said County Judge Richard Sanders, “that’s always a big concern.”

Wikipedia defines unfunded mandate as “a statute or regulation that requires a state or local government to perform certain actions, with no money provided for fulfilling the requirements.”

As an example, county officials pointed out the spiraling cost of court appointed attorneys, which have cost local taxpayers about $900,000 the past two years.

“Originally, (the state) was going to fund 50 percent,” said Pct. 4 Commissioner Ken Geeslin. “Now it is basically just enough so they can say they’re in it.”

Sanders said Austin only paid $32,000 to the county last year for court appointed attorneys.

“That is the model for an unfunded mandate right there,” Sanders said.

Pct. 2 Commissioner Wade McKinney said he is watching for “anytime they push down state duties onto the county, where the county has to provide more services with limited revenue.”

He said, “A lot of those regulatory issues are what we really worry about.”

The Texas Association of Counties general counsel Jim Allen fights for counties in Austin, but he’s about the only one, according to McKinney.

“That’s the organization that lobbies on behalf of the counties,” he said. “Very effective, very able gentleman. Those are the type of issues he watches and keeps us informed of.”

As an example of how the county could be impacted, McKinney pointed out how they almost lost $53,000 in road and bridge money during the last Legislative Session.

“It’s a small amount … but still, that’s $53,000 divided amongst the four precincts that we almost lost.”

The 83rd Regular Session of the Legislature will run through May 27.

Daily Brief: Wednesday, Jan. 9

Rain_Rain_Go_Away_1_-_WW_Denslow_-_Project_Gutenberg_etext_18546Rain, rain go away
Come again some other day

Actually, the rain is a good thing for Henderson County. We’ve seen way too much of drought in recent years. Still, when the rain comes down like it did last night — and the way it is forecast for today — that children’s song always comes to mind.

I checked, and that little phrase goes back at least to the 17th century… and a version of it has been around all the way back to Ancient Greece.

So remember to take your umbrella today, and when you unconsciously hum “rain, rain” under your breath you will know you are singing the hits from the 1600s.

The Legislature convened yesterday amid declarations of being different than Washington, D.C.

Here at HCTNow, we had a story about State Rep. Jim Pitts filing legislation to extend the no-cellphone-while-driving-in-a-school-zone rule to the entire school property for elementary and middle schools.

The Athens City Council will be holding its “regular” special meeting today at 11:30 a.m. The council nearly always holds a special meeting the Wednesday afternoon before their Monday night regular meeting.

I used to be bothered by the pre-meeting meeting, but I have since changed my mind. Now I think it is pretty smart. On Wednesday, council members get to learn about what they will vote on Monday night, giving them several days to think about the issue. The setup also gives citizens several extra days to learn what the council is doing.

And with one meeting in the afternoon and one at night, a broader spectrum of citizens have the opportunity to see their council in action.

I call it a win-win.

The county has lowered the speed limit on Mill Run Road from 60 mph all the way down to 35 mph. We applaud the change — we’re all for safety.

Rich Flowers over at the Review has a good story about the change.

 

Keep dry out there … and if you are one of the fans following the TVCC basketball teams to Brenham for their games against Blinn tonight: Be Careful!

UPDATE: TVCC has announced it will stream tonight’s games live online.

PHOTO: Malakoff resident in Austin

ClintMalakoff resident Clint Stutts (far right) stands in the Texas Capitol Tuesday, Jan. 8, before the 83rd Legislative Session convened. He is joined by friends from Ellis and Tarrant counties, most of whom are involved with a bill Stutts helped write to nullify the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. (COURTESY PHOTO)

Pitts files distracted driving legislation

Texting while at the wheel

According to current state law, a driver may not use a cell phone while going through a school zone. State Rep. Jim Pitts has filed legislation that would extend that rule to all the property of an elementary or middle school.

Pitts’ chief of staff, Aaron Gregg, said the legislation arose from a pair of incidents at Red Oak ISD. In each case, a parent texting and driving while on school property bumped into another car.

“Let’s not get some 5-year-old run over because a parent is texting and driving,” Gregg said.

High schools are not mentioned in Pitts’ legislation. Gregg said that was because the lawmaker is looking to extend the current school zone to cover the area where students are dropped actually dropped off.

Gregg said drop off zones aren’t as big an issue for high schools, but added that the proposed bill could change.

The use of cellphones while driving has become a huge problem in Texas. According the the National Safety Council:

Cell phone use while driving is the No. 1 distraction behind the wheel. Almost 70 percentof the respondents to a AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey reported talking on a cell phone while driving during the previous 30 days. Researchers observing more than 1,700 drivers found that three out of every four drivers using a cell phone committed a traffic violation.

In 2010, cell phone use was a contributing factor in 3,387 Texas crashes.