Chad’s Morning Brief: Obama Will Seek Approval Before Action in Syria, New Texas Laws, & More
Here is your Morning Brief for the morning of September 3, 2013. Give me your feedback below and tune in to The Chad Hasty Show for these and many more topics from 8:30 to 11am. Remember, you can listen online at KFYO.com or on your iPhone/Android with the radioPup App.
1. Syria Debate (link)
President Obama will go to Congress and seek approval for action in Syria. It's a big risk for the President and possibly the United States.
The White House is girding for more than a week of battle with Congress over President Barack Obama's plan to launch limited military strikes against the Syrian regime for its alleged use of chemical weapons last month.
To back the administration's position, Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that the U.S. had obtained new blood and hair samples from inside Syria that confirmed President Bashar al-Assad's regime used sarin, a powerful nerve agent, against civilians in an Aug. 21 attack on an eastern Damascus suburb.
Mr. Kerry said he believed this new evidence will help the White House build more support on Capitol Hill and among allies in Europe and the Middle East to take military action aimed at degrading Mr. Assad's ability to conduct chemical warfare.
The leaders of the House and Senate said they would hold votes on the need for military action in Syria during the week of Sept. 9.
The administration quickly began making its pitch to lawmakers. On Sunday, it held a classified briefing on Capitol Hill, and on Monday, Sens. John McCain (R., Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) were invited to the White House for a special briefing. The two, who have pressed for a more forceful strike on Syria than the cruise missile attack telegraphed by the administration, are expected to be key players as Mr. Obama tries to gather support for military action.
The debate is expected to kick off in the Senate on Tuesday, when the Foreign Relations Committee hears testimony during a public hearing from two alumni—Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. The committee has also scheduled a classified session on Wednesday to discuss the White House request for authorization for the use of military force.
Messrs. Hagel and Kerry are likely to be called before other Senate and House committees. The Senate Foreign Relations witness list for Tuesday's hearing also includes Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said the administration needs to use the hearing to explain why military action is necessary and "how it will be sufficiently limited to keep the U.S. from being drawn further into the Syrian conflict."
With lawmakers' reservations already surfacing, the resolution submitted by the White House is already being redrafted in the Senate by aides to Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), a senior aide said. The effort was to address lawmakers' top two concerns— including an explicit ban on committing U.S. troops in Syria and setting an expiration date for the authorization, the aide said.
A similar redrafting effort is under way in the House, where Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.) is a leader of the effort to include a ban on U.S. troops and set an expiration date.
"The resolution presented by the White House is very loosely written and needs to be narrowed in a number of ways that relate to scope of action and duration,'' said Mr. Van Hollen, who served on the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before he was elected to Congress. "I've been working with some of my colleagues on a rewrite."
In my opinion, lawmakers need to rush back to Washington ASAP. Waiting until September 9th to start debate on airstrikes is just silly. I'm not advocating for airstrikes, but I do believe a debate needs to happen sooner rather than later. President Obama should have called members of Congress back early.
One question we must ask is what does this action mean for the future of the United States. If Iran were to use chemical weapons on their people, would Congress demand a debate to be held a few weeks later on whether or not to strike?
If Obama loses the vote, does that weaken America's image to other countries? If Obama loses the vote and launches anyway, what happens?
2. New Texas Laws (link)
On Sunday, more than 600 new laws took effect in Texas.
Some people might not notice until they go to a farmers market, buy a switchblade or are involved in a hit-and-run.
But hundreds of state laws are changing as of today, and some could affect the everyday lives of many Texans.
Lawmakers spent months approving new bills. Gov. Rick Perry signed 1,571 of them into law, and 659 of them take effect Sunday.
The new measures are a mixed bag, ranging from letting Texans sample food at farmers markets to making it legal for the first time in decades to buy switchblades.
Anyone who flees the scene of an accident will face a longer prison sentence and a bigger fine. Underage Texans won’t be able to use indoor tanning beds. And some seeking unemployment benefits will have to be tested for drugs.
“It is likely that most Texans will not even be aware of many of these new laws,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston. “Most Texans will remain unaware of this legislation’s passage and implementation, save a select few.”
Here’s a look at some of the new laws that take effect today:
Switchblades: A new law ends a decades-long prohibition on the knives. Since the 1950s, it had been a Class A misdemeanor to have, make, repair, sell or transport a switchblade in Texas. HB1862
Indoor tanning: Texans under 18 may no longer use indoor tanning beds — even if their parents say it’s OK. Before now, tanners ages 16
1/2 to 18 could use the beds if their parents gave written approval. Supporters say the goal is to reduce younger Texans’ exposure to artificial sources of ultraviolet radiation, which can lead to skin cancer.SB329
Drones: It is now a crime to use an “unmanned vehicle or aircraft” to take photos or videos of people or private property — with the goal of monitoring or conducting surveillance — without permission. This new law makes it a Class C misdemeanor, with a fine of up to $500, to photograph or video private property without the owner’s or occupant’s consent. Law enforcers would have exceptions, as long as they have a search warrant and are pursuing a suspect. “It is critical that we have safeguards in place to protect the privacy and property rights of Texans,” said Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls. HB912
Drug tests: Some Texans seeking unemployment benefits must take drug tests. Texas Workforce Commission staffers will create a system that will lead to drug tests if answers to a questionnaire show potential drug use. People who refuse or fail the test won’t receive benefits until they pass it. “The message is strong,” Perry said. “If you’ve got a drug problem, there are ways that we can help you get that licked, but we’re not going to entice individuals to not be responsible.” SB21
Farmers markets: The next time you visit a farmers market, you may find samples, cooking demonstrations and more. There are now clear standards allowing some cooking and sampling. HB1382
Rape kits: Huge numbers of evidence kits collected from rape victims statewide — left untested for years — may now be analyzed, since lawmakers included $11 million for that in the Texas Department of Public Safety’s funding. It’s included in the state budget, SB1, which takes effect today.
School breakfasts: Children eligible for free or reduced-price school meals would be encouraged to eat breakfast at school to improve their health, boost their academic achievement and improve their “lifelong healthy eating habits.” SB376
Move over: Texas drivers already know to slow down and switch lanes when passing a first responder or law enforcement vehicle on the side of the road. Now motorists need to add Texas Department of Transportation vehicles and tow trucks to that list. Drivers must move over a lane to pass such vehicles or slow down to 20 mph below the posted speed limit if it’s not possible to get in a different lane. SB510
New Year’s Eve curfew: Texas wineries may now stay open after midnight one night a year — New Year’s Eve. They don’t have to close until 2 a.m., helping them market their facilities for New Year’s Eve celebrations. SB131
Driving near schools: Motorists may no longer use cellphones anywhere on school property — even outside a school zone — unless their vehicle is stopped or they are using a hands-free device. Parents need to get off their phones when in lanes and parking lots on school property. HB347
Home bakers: Texans may now make and sell from their homes even more foods — baked goods, candy, fruit butters, canned jams, fruit pies, dehydrated fruits and vegetables, cereal, popcorn, pickles, mustard and more. And buyers no longer have to come to the baker’s home. Home bakers may sell at farmers markets, farm stands and community events. HB970
Hit-and-run: Any motorist who flees the scene of an injury accident no longer faces a third-degree felony with a prison sentence of two to 10 years and a fine up to $10,000. It will be a second-degree felony with a sentence of two to 20 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000. SB275
School buses: Fines for illegally passing school buses when the lights and stop signs are activated will rise from $100-$1,000 to $500-$1,250. If a person has two or more violations within five years, the fine rises to between $1,000 and $2,000. HB1174
Hunting licenses: Out-of-state terminally ill children and adults whose final wishes involve hunting would be eligible for an in-state fee for a hunting license, lowering costs for charities that work to grant final wishes. HB1718
Air bags: From now on, anyone who makes, sells or installs counterfeit air bags — or purposely alters a legal air bag so it no longer meets federal safety regulations — faces more time in jail. The offense rises to a state jail felony punishable by up to two years in a state jail and a fine of up to $10,000. HB38
New drivers: Texans who get a hardship driver’s license will have to follow the same restrictions as other new drivers: They can’t use a cellphone, drive between midnight and 5 a.m. or transport more than one passenger under 21 who isn’t a relative. HB3676
Also noteworthy are new rules to CHL classes. Hours for classroom instruction have been cut in half and you can renew your license online.
3. Guards and Inmates File Lawsuit (link)
You don't often see prison guards and inmates on the same team, but when it comes to heat they are.
The union that represents Texas’ correctional officers has reportedly announced its support of lawsuits filed over the deaths of at least 14 inmates in sweltering state prisons, claiming the institutions should be cooled to relieve unbearable conditions.
Lance Lowry, president of the local American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, said the union intends to join pending litigation, including a possible request for federal court intervention over temperatures inside prisons that purportedly reach 130 degrees on some summer days, the Austin American-Statesman reports.
“These conditions are dangerous to both the employees and the inmates,” Lowry said, noting that it’s highly unusual for officers and convicted criminals to agree on litigation against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. “It’s time for the state to modernize its system … at least to comply with its own standard for county jails that say the temperature can’t exceed 85 [degrees].”
Brian McGiverin, an attorney for the Austin-based Texas Civil Rights Project, said having correctional officers behind the push for air-conditioning systems to be installed could be the final straw to making it a reality, despite the fact that the union has a small membership among the 30,000 correctional employees at 109 state prisons throughout the state.
Prison officials, meanwhile, disputed the suggestion that summer conditions inside prisons are dangerous.
“The well-being of staff and offenders is a top priority for the agency and we remain committed to making sure that both are safe during the extreme heat,” said prisons spokesman Jason Clark told the newspaper. “TDCJ takes precautions to help reduce heat-related illnesses such as providing water and ice to staff and offenders in work and housing areas, restricting offender activity during the hottest parts of the day, and training staff to identify those with heat-related illnesses and refer them to medical staff for treatment.”
The cost of air-conditioning units has been estimated at more than $55 million. Prison officials said several months ago that there are no current plans to install additional units at Texas prisons, where only 19 medical units and special-needs lockups are now cooled.
Lowry said working in temperatures that hover near 100 degrees during summertime can be dangerous – and potentially deadly for officers taking heat-sensitive medication or those who have hypertension.
“It feels like you’re working inside a convection oven,” said Lowry, a 13-year veteran. And the large fans that have been installed in prisons, “just blow hot air … . The noise can drown out cries for help, even calls on the radio.”
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These and many more topics coming up on today’s edition of The Chad Hasty Show. Tune in mornings 8:30-11am on News/Talk 790 KFYO, streaming online at kfyo.com, and now on your iPhone and Android device with the radioPup App. All guest interviews can be heard online in our podcast section after the show at kfyo.com.