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The Brief: Barriers Remain in Grim Task to ID Remains of Migrants

While some progress has been made, hundreds of bodies remain a mystery.

Presiding Officer of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, Dr. Vincent Di Maio during a October 5, 2016 meeting in Austin, Texas

The Big Conversation

Some of the state's top forensics experts had a frank discussion Wednesday on why they are still struggling to identify the remains of hundreds of undocumented immigrants who died in the border region while illegally crossing into the state.

The Texas Forensic Science Commission has made progress but is still struggling to stay on top of the grim task of identifying those who have died crossing into the country. At the Wednesday hearing, commission member Sheree Robyn Hughes-Stamm said lack of access to genetic material provided by family members to help establish a tie between them and the deceased complicates the agency’s task.

“This major limitation, why this is so low, is because we don’t have access to those reference samples,” Hughes-Stamm said. The commission said it is working on agreements with governments in Mexico, Argentina and elsewhere in Central America to ensure that everyone is using the same collection methods.

But even with this remedy there’s still the issue of funding — which is used to perform autopsies and train non-medical examiner justices of the peace to examine bodies. And as the Tribune’s Julián Aguilar reports, this won’t be an easy problem to fix. While the commission can make recommendations for funding, it’s ultimately up to the county commissioners to set budgets and decide how to allocate resources.

Trib Must Reads

Analysis: Holding Texas Lawmakers Accountable Isn’t So Simple, by Ross Ramsey — The state government has been stable for long enough that those in charge should get tagged with what that government is doing wrong.

Poverty is Going Down in Texas, but Food Stamp Need Isn't, by Alexa Ura — While incomes have gone up and poverty has gone down, the drop in the share of households receiving food stamps in 2015 has been less significant.

Execution of Man Who Killed Neighbors First in Months, by Jolie McCullough — Barney Fuller's execution Wednesday for the 2003 shooting deaths in rural East Texas ended Texas' longest gap between executions since 2008.

AG Ken Paxton Asks to Jump Into Austin Rental Fight, by Brandon Formby — The attorney general is siding with the Texas Public Policy Foundation in a challenge to Austin's limits on short-term rentals.

Houston Hurricane Protection Plan Still in Limbo, by Alex Samuels — Researchers and scientists are at odds about how to protect the Houston Ship Channel, and Texas legislators will try again to reach a consensus in 2017.

Texas Senator Calls State Ethics Commission "Arrogant" and "Haughty", by Jim Malewitz — “If you are untouchable, we’ve got a problem,” Sen. Brian Birdwell told the chairman of the commission, which is charged with making sure public officials and campaigns obey state ethics and elections laws.

U.S. Supreme Court Seems Receptive to Death Case Appeal, by Jolie McCullough — A psychologist testified at Duane Buck's trial that blacks are more dangerous than whites. Buck wants a new sentencing trial.


(Links below lead to outside websites; content might be behind paywall)

Justices blast Texas’ attempt to block appeal of race-based death sentence, The Dallas Morning News

Hurd ad with city officials no longer running, San Antonio Express-News

56 people illegally in US found in 2 Texas apartment units, Houston Chronicle 

George W. Bush encourages people to vote in 'Tonight Show' clip — alongside cast of 'Hamilton'The Dallas Morning News

Greg Abbott pledges to push anti-abortion laws next session, Austin American-Statesman

Ted Cruz vows to do ‘everything humanly possible to defeat Hillary Clinton’, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Ex-Baylor official: School undermined sex assault probes, The Associated Press

Homicides in San Antonio spike to the highest level since 2008San Antonio Express-News

Quote to Note

“Y’all are going to have to decide whether you want these laws enforced or not. There’s enough liars in politics that we ought to know who’s telling the lies.”

— Attorney Steve Bresnen, at a Texas Ethics Commission hearing Wednesday after encouraging lawmakers to pass legislation strengthening the state's ethics laws

Today in TribTalk

Texans will not abandon refugees in their hour of need, by Aaron Rippenkroeger — The thousands of compassionate Texans who have helped resettle refugees for over four decades in the Lone Star State will not abandon them in their hour of need.

News From Home

•    Getting to know you: We’re conducting a survey of Texas Tribune readers. Your responses will help us get to know you — and how we can serve you — better. Do you have 10 minutes to help The Texas Tribune? Take the survey now.

Trib Events for the Calendar

•   The Texas Response To Zika on Oct. 18 at BCBSTX Headquarters in Richardson

•   A Conversation with U.S. Rep Michael McCaul on Oct. 25 at The Austin Club 

•   "Along Came Kinky" Screening and Conversation on Oct. 27 at the LBJ Library

•   A Conversation with U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke on Nov. 4 at The Austin Club 

•   A Conversation with state Reps. Andrew Murr and Jason Isaac on Nov. 14 at Schreiner University in Kerrville

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