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The Brief: Aug. 19, 2015

A new interim committee will begin hearings next month on what can be done to better safeguard those entering the criminal justice system.

Flanked by sheriffs Brian Hawthorne of Chambers County and Andy Louderback of Jackson County, State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, announces state hearings on jail standards at the Texas Capitol on Aug. 18, 2015.

The Big Conversation

When Sandra Bland was found hanged in her Waller County jail cell last month three days after she was arrested during a traffic stop, the tragedy brought renewed attention to what more can be done to better safeguard inmates with mental health or suicide concerns.

On Tuesday, Senate leadership announced an interim study on the topic with hearings to begin next month.

According to the Austin American-Statesman's Chuck Lindell, Senate Criminal Justice Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, told reporters at a morning press conference that “I think we have an emergency. ... When people enter the criminal justice system, when we take their liberty away from them, we have a responsibility to make sure they’re safe.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick emphasized the rarity of jail suicides in his remarks, wrote the Tribune's Terri Langford"It's a very small percentage and a very small number, but they are human lives and we should do the best we can to protect those lives in those jails," said Patrick.

The Houston Chronicle's Mike Ward reported that Patrick had other questions about jail procedures, such as why some jails don't check on inmates at regular intervals, why other jails don't perform mental health screenings and why traffic offenders are thrown in jail in some counties but not in others.

The goal here would be to push changes before lawmakers return in 2017. Ward noted that past efforts to reform jail safety standards in 1985 and 2010 ran into problems because of the costs associated with the changes in procedures.

Trib Must-Reads

Trial Begins Over Undrinkable Water in Webb County, by Neena Satija — The blame game over who's responsible for the problems 8,000 border residents have with their drinking water is playing out in a Laredo court, as Webb County water treatment plant workers face charges of falsifying records to hide contamination from state regulators.

Attorney General Paxton Re-Indicted in Fraud Case, by Jim Malewitz — After re-filing indictments against Attorney General Ken Paxton in his securities fraud case, two special prosecutors are pushing back against criticism from Paxton's attorney, who says Tuesday's action raises questions about the case. 

Perry Lawyers Ask Appeals Court to Dismiss Last Charge, by Patrick Svitek — Lawyers for former Gov. Rick Perry are asking the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to throw out the remaining count in the indictment against him.

Obama Proposal Targets Methane at Oil and Gas Sites, by Jim Malewitz — The federal EPA on Tuesday proposed another set of rules aimed at battling climate change. These would slash oil and gas sector emissions of methane, which often leaks from well pads, compressor stations, processing plants and other equipment used in production.

Prosecutor: State Cancer Official Deceived Agency, by Edgar Walters — A Travis County prosecutor on Tuesday asked a jury to convict Jerry Cobbs, a former high-ranking official with the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, of securing an $11 million grant for a biotechnology firm “by fraud.”

Rick Perry Campaign in Triage Mode, by Abby Livingston — On the Iowa campaign trail, Rick Perry and his band of unpaid staffers were upbeat after a week of bad headlines about the financial state of his campaign. But Texas’ longest-serving governor is in a race against time.

Today's 31 Days, 31 Ways Story

Millions Slated to Hire More Border Troopers, by Julián Aguilar and Jolie McCullough — The Texas Department of Public Safety will receive hundreds of millions of dollars to bolster its ranks along the Rio Grande, adding 250 new troopers and support staff. Local law enforcement agencies fear higher state salaries will lure away their employees.


Donald Trump Paints Republicans Into Corner With Hispanics, The New York Times

Trump immigration plan riles the border, Houston Chronicle

Texas AG Ken Paxton received 7 emails of support after news of his indictment, The Dallas Morning News

Texas again ordered to pay lawyers’ fees in redistricting case, Austin American-Statesman

State oversight of EPISD to end next week, El Paso Times

Jailhouse Snitch Claims Secret Deal in Death Case, The Marshall Project

Photos of 'persons of interest' in anti-Semitic vandalism at Jewish centers in San Antonio released, San Antonio Express-News

Analysts: Oil patch will come roaring back to life in 2017, Houston Chronicle

Quote to Note

"I don't think voters will like one or two people controlling the financing of a presidential campaign. If there's just one sugar daddy behind a candidate, I can't imagine that person being elected."

Brian Ballard, a Florida lobbyist and Jeb Bush supporter, predicting that candidates in 2016 who are dependent on the largesse of just a handful of rich benefactors won't succeed in the long term

Today in TribTalk

End Texas' voter confusion epidemic, by Pete Gallego — We cannot and should not accept that thousands of Texans didn't vote in 2014 simply because they were confused by new rules. It's time to take action.

Trib Events for the Calendar

•      The Texas Tribune's Trivia Night on Aug. 30 in Austin 

•      A Conversation with Austin Mayor Steve Adler and San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor on Sept. 4 in Austin

•      A Conversation on The Road from Hurricane Rita on Sept. 22 in Beaumont

•      The Texas Tribune Festival on Oct. 16-18 at the University of Texas at Austin

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