Category: Law & Politics

What Happens to Dream Deferred: DACA Recipients Face an Uncertain Future

By Ashley Ephraim, Arielle Landau, Brennan Patrick, Imienfan Uhunmwuangho and Kali Venable

While most college students nearing graduation are busy envisioning the lifetime ahead of them, Anayeli Marcos and Samuel Cervantes can’t see past the next three years.

Marcos, a graduate student studying social work and Latin American Studies, and Cervantes, a junior government major, are both undocumented students at the University of Texas at Austin. They are “Dreamers,” or recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. As the status of DACA hangs in the balance, Marcos and Cervantes are preparing for an uncertain future.

DACA is a remnant executive order from the Obama administration that was signed into law in 2012. The program, under very specific circumstances, grants undocumented children who were brought to the United States before June 12, 2007 some benefits otherwise unavailable to undocumented people like a driver’s license, work permit and social security number. Recipients must renew every three years or risk deportation.

Since President Donald Trump was elected in 2016, maintaining DACA has been an uphill battle. The president officially rescinded DACA on Sept. 12, 2017, blocking all renewals/new applications that were sent after Sept. 5. However, the repeal was short-lived. On Jan. 9, 2018, a federal judge from California ruled that the Trump administration was required to resume DACA renewals. Weeks after the court’s decision, the government shut down after failing to finalize the budget, including funds for DACA.

“The fact that a lot of people are actually losing their status right now is very daunting,” Marcos said. “My mom has asked me a lot [of questions] like “what are you going to do?” I don’t have the answers for her.”

Congress agreed to end the shut down without making any progress on immigration. If the government does not reach a deal by March 5, Dreamers like Marcos and Cervantes could be deported back to Mexico.

“It’s not far fetched to say that ICE can come in with their warrant and that someone who is undocumented could be deported,” Cervantes said. “That’s a true reality that undocumented people have.”

Marcos and Cervantes came to the U.S. at the ages of 6 and 5, respectively. Neither have returned to Mexico since they first crossed the border. Marcos and Cervantes came to the U.S. at the ages of 6 and 5, respectively. Neither have returned to Mexico since they first crossed the border. Marcos came with her mother to find her father, who was already living in the U.S., and Cervantes came with Pasadena, Texas with his mother and father.

Pieces of the journey have stayed with Marcos: the river they had to cross, the “coyotes” or smugglers that separated her from her mother, and the moment she saw her father for the first time. Cervantes cannot remember as much. He only recalls the bright lights of Pasadena, Texas, and the difficult transition into a new life that followed.

“I think what I remember the most is going to school for the first day and not knowing English,” Cervantes said. “I knew how to speak Spanish, but I was also learning English. It was hard for me to balance.”

Marcos and Cervantes didn’t become fully aware of their status until they got older and realized they were missing out on certain rites of passages, like getting a driver’s license or a part time job. Marcos and Cervantes received DACA in 2014 and 2012, which helped make these things possible for them, but the process is ongoing and difficult.

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Johana De Leon, a paralegal community advocate at the Equal Justice Center, a small firm that has taken in over 3,000 DACA cases, said that the process for securing DACA has always been strenuous.

“It usually takes about three months for an application for DACA to be adjudicated, but of course it always depends how busy the processing centers are,” De Leon said. “Sometimes we’ve gotten approvals within a month and a half and sometimes we’ve waited over a year for an application to be processed.”

Although DACA allows undocumented students to legally live and work in the U.S., Marcos and Cervantes still receive backlash when they are open about their citizenship status. From threats on Twitter to conversations with supervisors, it’s often hard to gauge how people will react.

“One of the things that I really struggled with was admitting my status to my [academic] advisor,” Marcos said. “I couldn’t really tell her because I didn’t know if she was open to undocumented students. I didn’t want my academic advisor to hate me.”

Marcos eventually opened up to her advisor and received the resources she needed. Support for undocumented students on campus has been instrumental to Marcos and Cervantes’ success and survival. The Monarch Program, an organization dedicated to creating a community where undocumented students can thrive by providing mentors and academic assistance, is one of the main resources for DACA students at UT Austin.

“What we see the of most is financial assistance, textbook assistance, or tutoring assistance,” Monarch Program director Rodolfo Jimenez said. “And then, once they trust us, they’re able to open up a little bit more. [I hope] they feel that they have another home here.”

The Monarch Program is able provide resources for undocumented students, mostly through donations. But much like the status of Dreamers, Monarch’s future is also in limbo. The program is scrambling to figure out what its next move will be.

“We discussed this last time when the government shutdown and they opened back up again,” Jimenez said. “There was nothing about [DACA] or anything included. We put out [a statement], and we were hesitant because we know it’s going to come up again.”

The Equal Justice Center also feels the pressure. Since the court decision in January restarted the renewal process, Johana said the firm has been trying to help as many applicants as possible, as long as renewals are available.

“Since the court decision came out, we’ve gone all sorts of crazy,” Johana said. “Since then we’ve had over 80 clients come in. Every day I talk to DACA clients. When I’m not on the phone, I’m having client appointments.”

As of now, Marco’s DACA status will expire in April, just a month shy of graduation. After opening up to her supervisor, she thinks she will be able to keep her job for the remainder of the semester. Being honest about her status and asking for help, Marcos said, has been the key in navigating this difficult time.


“A lot of undocumented students stay really quiet about what’s going on in their lives, but I found that telling people that I need help has really opened a lot of doors for me,” Marcos said.

If Marcos cannot renew her application, there is a chance she will have to leave behind the life she’s made and go back to Mexico—to distant relatives she only recalls in photographs and a country she hasn’t been to since she was six-years-old. But like most DACA recipients, she tries not to think about that chance.

Cervantes chose not to disclose when his DACA expires, though he thinks about the date often. Similarly to Marcos, he tries to focus on the positive.

“’I’m anxious and sad at times. I can’t sleep because I’m thinking about it constantly, but there’s only so much that I can do thinking about how unfortunate my situation is and I’d rather be proactive,” Cervantes said.

Currently, Cervantes is working in Washington D.C. as part of UT’s prestigious Archer Fellowship program. He is making plans to apply to graduate school and hopes to become a lawyer one day, despite the chance that he can’t practice in the United States if DACA becomes a thing of the past.  

On Feb. 15, the Senate rejected four separate proposals that would incorporate DACA into the national budget. With the March 5 deadline looming, Marcos and Cervantes aren’t sure if they can settle down or prepare to uproot their lives.

“Right now I’m a very optimistic person,” Cervantes said. “No one really knows what’s happening with both parties, but I am hopeful that a deal happens before March 5.”




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After Zoë was raped by her coworker, she went home to her empty apartment and cried for hours.

She felt confused. She didn’t think of the incident as rape until weeks later. She still doesn’t like to say the word aloud.

“It just sounds, like, so horrible,” Zoë, now 22, said. “I can’t bring myself to say even though I know that’s what it is.”

In the weeks following the incident, Zoë, who at the time was enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin, found herself calling UT’s crisis hotline.

I think I remember being like my room in my apartment and having a panic attack,”  Zoë said. “They were trying to talk to me, trying to calm me down and give me resources.”

With the hotline’s help, she scheduled an emergency meeting for the next day at UT’s Counseling and Mental Health Center.


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Third year neuroscience major Jackie Roth was friends with Haruka Weiser prior to Weiser’s disappearance and death in April of 2016. Weiser’s murder shocked the UT community and jump started discussions about campus safety. Jackie says that Weiser’s death was not a reflection of holes in the UT’s safety policies, but rather a rare event that is a result of wider systemic issues facing the community.



The counseling center is one of many small pieces that make up a great puzzle of prevention programs, counseling, advocacy services and reporting options at UT. In addition to asking why students often choose not to report incidents of sexual assault or rape, our reporting team set out to make sense of this puzzle and ask whether these programs are effective.

Sexual assault and rape are not rare incidents among college students. In March, UT released a survey showing that 15 percent of undergraduate women at the university say they have been raped. The survey of 280,000 students found that 18 percent of students said they experienced “unwanted touching,” and 12 percent said they experienced attempted rape.

The lead researcher of the survey and many of the people interviewed for this article have stated the statistics provided by the report are unfortunately unsurprising. They are reflective of national data, both on college campuses and of the general population.

“UT is a microcosm of what’s happening around country, the world,” said Katy Redd, the associate director for prevention and outreach at the CMHC. “Gender based violence is all too common.”

The survey also says very few victims — 6 percent — disclosed incidents to someone involved with the university. Of the 32 percent of victims who said they told someone about the incident prior to taking the survey, 4 percent reported to the CMHC. Just one percent reported to the University of Texas at Austin Police Department.

“I think there’s a whole host of reasons [for non-reporting],” Redd said.

Breall Baccus is a Title IX prevention coordinator and confidential advocate at UT. She said students may feel hesitant to come forward “because they don’t know what the next steps would be.”

“They might also not realize what happened to them was assault,” Baccus said.



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The university hired Baccus in January to fill a gap in the Title IX office. By law, the university must comply with Title IX, which “prohibits sex discrimination in education,” according to UT’s Title IX information page. Unlike other members of UT’s compliance team, Baccus is not required by law to open incidents for investigation. When students come to her to disclose an incident, Baccus can explain their options, which could include filing an official report depending on how the student chooses to go forward.

The university amped up security and sexual assault prevention efforts following the on-campus sexual assault and killing of freshman Haruka Weiser last spring. In addition to increasing police presence, the university’s Be Safe campaign has used social media and student art to promote safety messages such as walking in well lit areas and not walking alone.

“It’s just a softer way of addressing things that are going on in campus and the way to increase their safety,” said UTPD Sgt. Samantha Stanford.

Stanford’s hire, like Baccus’s, was in part to address issues of interpersonal violence on campus. As a detective, she has received specialized training to help victims of sexual assault or rape. UTPD also offers free self-defense courses for women upon request, and Stanford said the department is looking into holding separate self-defense classes for men.

UTPD’s jurisdiction ends beyond the campus borders, and Stanford said that incidents in a private residence or in West Campus might be transferred to the Austin Police Department. Stanford also said sometimes the legal definition of sexual harassment or sexual assault differs from what the university or community may use. Despite these limitations, Stanford said she is available to meet with students to answer questions or explain the legal process.

“We’re trying to… brainstorm on how we can make the process a little bit easier for victims of sexual assault to come forward and feel comfortable with reporting to us,” Stanford said.

“I think that every student should have a right to feel safe and get the education that they want to get,” Breall said, “and not have a traumatic experience get in the way of that.”



For those with mental illnesses, health care is not always within reach

Photos by Elise Cardenas
Article by Selah Maya Zighelboim

Standing on the southern steps of the Texas State Capitol, Texas state representative Garnet Coleman addressed a crowd about the importance of funding for mental health care. For Coleman, who spoke in a lineup that included other state politicians, activists and health workers, the fight to improve access to mental health care is personal.

Coleman has bipolar disorder. He attributes his ability to have a successful life today to his access to the care he needs.

“What I hope to be at any time is an inspiration to people, so they know you can manage your illness,” Coleman said. “You can recover, you can do the things you want to do in life, just maybe with a few more pills than other people.”

The crowd cheered and waved signs with slogans like, “Decriminalize Mental Illness,”  “Mental = Physical Health” and “We Matter.” Several hundred people — those with mental illnesses, their family and friends, healthcare professionals and activists — had come to spend the day at the Texas State Capitol on Feb. 8, where they participated in advocacy training, attended a rally and met with legislators.

Though sometimes forgotten about in conversations involving health care, individuals with mental illnesses make up a significant percentage of the populace. According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, 1 in 5 Americans will have a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year, an estimated 57.7 million people.


Video by Elise Cardenas and Yelitza Mandujano

The concerns these individuals have  as diverse as them. They include tackling stigma, providing more resources in schools for children with mental illnesses and making sure people with mental illness don’t wind up in jail.

“People who need services deserve access to them,” said Greg Hansch, public policy director at the National Alliance for Mental Illness Texas. “No waiting lists. People need individually tailored services that meet their needs. People need access to community-based treatment. People need access to inpatient services. People need crisis services.”

Mental Health America, a mental health non-profit, ranked Texas 45, out of 51 states and the District of Columbia, in terms of mental health care accessibility.

Daniel Dawes, healthcare lawyer and author of 150 Years of Obamacare, says that the main obstacles in accessing mental health care include high costs and a need to integrate mental health services into primary care. Perhaps one of the biggest problems is simply a dearth of available mental health workers.

Rally attendees, like University of Southwestern Medical resident psychiatrist Sarah Baker, expressed a frustration with this lack in treatment options.

“There’s a huge shortage of psychiatrists in the states, so the patient load for psychiatrists can be really high, especially in the public sector,” Baker said.

According to Dawes, the Affordable Care Act has a number of elements to it that specifically bolser mental health care. These include provisions such as integrating mental health care into primary care, requiring rehabilitative and habilitative coverage and strengthening mental health parity. Mental health parity is a requirement for health insurance companies to provide coverage to mental health care at the same level they do other types of health care. Since 1996, health parity has been a requirement for employer-provided health insurance plans, and the Affordable Care Act expanded this to other types of health insurance as well.

“We actually strengthened the parity law,” Dawes said. “Not only should parity apply to the employer-sponsored coverage, it should also apply to any plan you buy in the Obamacare exchanges. It should also apply to Medicaid and Medicare and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.”

Dawes says he isn’t sure what to think about a potential repeal and replace of the Affordable Care Act. On one hand, he says, President Donald Trump had indicated his support for mental health care during the campaign. On the other hand, he does not find the leading plans to repeal and replace promising.

At the moment, the future of mental health care is uncertain. Potential solutions to this uncertainty may be strengthening access on a more local, state level. For example, Allison Mohr-Boleware and Monica Villarreal, fellows at the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health and the Center for Public Policy Priorities, said that Texas should have its own mental health parity law. That way, even if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, all health insurance plans will still be required to provide mental health care at the same level as other types of care.

“It has taken us 150 years to get to where we are today, in terms of mental health reform,” Dawes said. “That is something [legislators] need to seriously consider, if they care about this issue of mental health, about addressing the opioid issue in our country. There are now provisions in [the Affordable Care Act] that will help us tackle that. If we get rid of them, imagine how much further behind we are going to be.”


Finding Acceptance in Peer to Peer Communities
Audio by Julie Gomez


A Step in the Right Direction for Women’s Rights

Written by: Mackenzie Palmer

The day after Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, women and men untied across the nation to march in protest of his administration, policies and overall disregard towards women’s rights.

What started as a mere Facebook post by Teresa Shook, a retired lawyer and first-time activist, soon turned into a movement that gained over 10,000 followers in one night.

On January 21, more than 5 million people participated in the Women’s March on Washington.

Video: Women’s Day March in Austin on January 21, 2017 // Taylor Gantt


“We knew it would be a fairly large turnout, but no one knew for sure what the numbers would be,” Shook said. “To see the reality was just mind-boggling.”

Shook said the purpose of the march was to demonstrate solidarity within all communities and to stand for the protection of women’s rights, safety, and health.

Organizers and supports believe that this past election allowed for demonizing, insulting, and threatening language towards women, minorities, immigrants of all statuses, those with diverse religious backgrounds, the LGBT community, and those economically impoverished.

“This march is the first step towards unifying our communities,” Shook said. “To create change from the grassroots level up.”

The Women’s March on Washington prompted more than 300 sister marches around the world. Official marches were planned in all 50 states in the U.S. and more than 10 international countries including Puerto Rico, Canada, and London.

In Austin, an estimated 50,000 people attended the march, which led from the Texas State Capitol all the way to Congress Avenue. The event gathered Austin locals and those traveling miles to get to the capitol via 35 chartered buses.

“This march is the first step towards unifying our communities”

The city added 14 extra buses and saw a bump of more than 2,400 additional mobile tickets purchased on its app. According to Austin B-Cycle, it registered 839 rentals compared with a typical 435 on a Saturday in January.

Melissa Fiero, one of the organizers for the march in Austin, stated that this isn’t about being anti-Trump.

“It’s about being part of a historic social movement and sending a bold message that women’s rights are human rights,” Fiero said.

Inspired by the Women’s March on Washington, Fiero said that she decided to bring the movement to Austin. She said she spent many nights at the kitchen table, planning and organizing, with a powerful group of dedicated women.

“We were up early, stayed late, held down jobs, took care of families, all just to make it happen,” Fiero said. “That is just what women do.”

Around the world, prominent activists, such as Angela Davis, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, actresses America Ferrera and Scarlett Johansson, and many more were invited to speak on behalf of the movement.

In Austin, Former Texas Senator Wendy Davis spoke to the growing crowd and stated that it is time for women have it all. She was joined with U.S. Congressmen Llyod Doggett who stated the importance of staying joined together.

“We are joined together to say no to racism, sexism, homophobia, and Islamophobia,” Doggett said.

Protestors marched toting their signs in the air. Many expressed their desire to reclaim power to their bodies.

When asked why she marches, Olka Forster, from Baltimore, said it is to reject the new administration.

“It means standing up for ourselves and for other people that the people who are now in power have said that they are not worth anything,” Forster said.

Fiero thanked more than 100 local and national sponsoring partners that helped achieve the goal of this march, especially Planned Parenthood.

Among the many reasons to march, sustaining funding to Planned Parenthood is of the groups main motives.

Under President Trump’s administration, protesters fear his ability to cut funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides free breast cancer screening and health services for women and men.

“We’re here today to thank generations of organizers and troublemakers and hell raisers who formed secret sisterhoods and demanded the right to control their own bodies,” Richards said.

After the marches and protests ended, many organizers and activists vowed to stay involved.
The Hear Our Voice Campaign was unveiled, where there would be 10 Actions for the first 100 Days. This effort would keep those who supported the march focused on future joint activism.

In the presidents first 100 days, huddled groups will meet throughout participating cities weekly to push for change in women’s rights. At these events women are encouraged to give their testimony and share how to effectively make changes by calling and writing lawmakers.

“Our focus is to take actual action after the march instead of just making our statement a one time event. Marching is just a small piece of the action we want to take,” Austin Regional Clinic Doctor and group leader, Serena Hon said.

Many activists have taken the initiative to create their own equal rights movement. Jessica Daniel, the starter of Love Letters for Social Justice, hosted a letter-writing event to protest against Governor Greg Abbott and his reactionary laws towards women’s rights.

Jessica Daniel at Love Letters for Social Justice // Mackenzie Palmer

Jessica Daniel at Love Letters for Social Justice // Mackenzie Palmer

Activist writing letters to Gov. Greg Abbott // Mackenzie Palmer

Activist writing letters to Gov. Greg Abbott // Mackenzie Palmer

“Governor Abbot has required cremation or burial for any aborted fetuses, which is an overwhelming expense,” Daniel said. “The government should not have its hands on my body.”

Daniel said protesting and attending events such as these are important for women to have their voice heard. Moving forward, Daniel said it is necessary to give the government harassment in order to have their voices heard.

“Keep calling senators. Keep calling your congressmen. Get on Facebook and social media and look for events like these,” Daniel said.

What started as a small Facebook post has turned into a movement that will not be silenced. Men and women of all backgrounds have decided to dedicate themselves to the continued fight for equal rights.

The organizers of Women’s March on Washington have taken the next steps to put on another event, “A Day Without a Women.” On March 8, International Women’s Day, they are calling women of all backgrounds and nationalities to come together, and “withdraw from corporations that harm us and find ways to support the businesses that sustain us.”

“In 2017, we are going to get together and we are going to be heard,” Daniel said. “We are going to stand up for ourselves and we will not be pushed around.”



- Group project by: Mackenzie Palmer, Taylor Gantt, Kathryn Miles, Peyton Yager

The Dirty Truth: Bar Closures on “Dirty Sixth” During Texas Relays

Planned Parenthood Loses Medicaid Enrollment In Texas

By: Vanessa Pulido, Alex Wilts, Michael Baez, and Jessica Stovall

When Traci Kirby, a University of Texas nursing student, started experiencing vaginal irritations this summer, Planned Parenthood was not the place she thought she would get treatment.

Kirby had previously visited multiple health clinics to help solve her medical issue, but the doctors had all prescribed her antibiotics, which weren’t working.

“I got on the Internet and looked for different places and I found Planned Parenthood,” Kirby said. “I thought they only did abortions, so I was surprised to see that they actually have full women’s clinics. I went there, and it wasn’t expensive at all.”

According to Planned Parenthood, abortions represent only 3 percent of its services despite popular belief that it’s the only medical procedure the women’s health group offers.

On Oct. 19, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that Texas would end Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid enrollment following the release of controversial videos of group officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue.

Texas Capitol

“The State has determined that you and your Planned Parenthood affiliates are no longer capable of performing medical services in a professionally competent, safe, legal, and ethical manner,” said a letter addressed to state affiliates from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission’s Office of Inspector General.

According to the commission, Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas receive a sum of approximately $3 million to $4 million a year in Medicaid reimbursements through the state. U.S. law tightly restricts applying federal funding to abortions.

Kathleen Morgan, the former president of Texas Students for Life, a pro-life organization on UT’s campus, said she is happy Texas has cut the Medicaid contract since Planned Parenthood makes most of its money off of abortions.

“Usually abortion goes for about $450 apiece, so that’s their money maker,” Morgan said. “They say that only 3 percent of their services are abortions. However, we know from people who have left the abortion industry, like Abby Johnson, that this is a skewed statistic.”

The Planned Parenthood on E 6th Street.

The Planned Parenthood on E 6th Street.

Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director in Texas, has argued that the organization has unbundled services so that someone who visits once and receives a pack of birth control, an STD test and a cancer screening is counted as having visited the clinic three separate times.

Democratic legislative director Stephanie Chiarello said the Texas government does not actually have the ability to cut Planned Parenthood out of its funding stream because the organization’s financial support stems from Medicaid dollars, which come from the federal government.

“So the state gets a certain amount of money from the federal government and then they allocate it to providers,” Chiarello said. “Planned Parenthood is a provider like anybody else.”

She said Texas has the option to cut itself off from the Medicaid program, but it is not feasible to cut off funding to a specific health provider.

“[State politicians] know they will score political points by saying [the government will] defund Planned Parenthood,” Chiarello said. “So they’re saying that they’re doing it even though they can’t.”

Medicinal Marijuana is (Barely) Legal in Texas

Cover Photo_Medicinal Marijuana Package

Texas may not join the states that have legalized recreational marijuana anytime soon, but medicinal marijuana reform will continue to be a discussion among legislators and advocates this next legislative session.

By: Morgan Bridges, Erin Griffin, Erin MacInerney, Jamie Pross

Texas lawmakers can’t blow smoke when it comes to marijuana laws anymore.

Texas voter views have changed dramatically in the last several years regarding marijuana use and decriminalization. A statewide poll by Texas Lyceum found that 46 percent of adults support legalizing marijuana completely. 28.5 percent of those who oppose legalization stated they would be in favor of decriminalizing it instead. Only 20 percent of Texans oppose reform in every way.

“Polling shows over and over again that Texans are ready for reform,” says Heather Fazio, a spokesperson for Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. “This isn’t a taboo issue anymore, it’s a very serious public policy issue.”

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Texas legislators will not convene for the 85th session until January 2017 but many advocates of marijuana reform say the critical planning has already begun.

“Because Texas only meets to change laws every two years, if we do not act decisively in the 2017 session, we will be significantly behind the rest of the nation,” says Jax Finkel, Executive Director for Texas NORML, an organization that works to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults. “Our legislators need to come to terms with the fact that this is the change that Texans want.”

The 84th Legislative Session had roughly ten marijuana-related bills proposed but only one managed to pass.

“The fact that there were that many bills is really encouraging,” says Fazio. “It demonstrates there is an agreement that laws need to be changed.”

All of the marijuana-related bills passed out of the house, and several were able to pass out of committee but due to the time constraints of the legislative system, they died when the session ended.

“For HB 507, the Civil Penalties bill and HB 557, the Research Hemp bill, the clock ran out,” says Finkel. “For HB 3785, the Whole Plant Medical bill, the Chairwoman of the Committee would not let a vote be held on the bill, therefore killing it.”

The majority of these weed bills may have burned this session but supporters aren’t letting them cash out for good.

“We had authors come on board after the hearings last sessions,” says Fazio. “Next session, we would like to see fewer bills but with more people standing behind each of them.”

As for the bill that did pass, SB 339, otherwise known as The Compassionate Use Act was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in June therefore legalizing the limited use of marijuana extracts to treat severe forms of epilepsy.

Texas now stands among the list of 23 states who have legalized medicinal marijuana but before Texans start fearing reefer madness to strike again, they should know the strict regulations of this new law.

The act makes it nearly impossible for those needing the treatment to qualify, or find doctors willing to write the prescription since it exposes them to federal criminal sanctions. Doctors would potentially be opening themselves up to committing a felony since prescribing a schedule one drug is still illegal. Doctors in other states that have legalized medicinal use the method of “recommending” or “certifying” the drug instead.

“The primary tenets that need to be changed for this law to work are expanding the qualifying conditions, expanding the number of strains allowed and altering the legal language to allow doctors to certify patients instead of prescribing,” says Fazio.

To qualify, a patient must have intractable epilepsy and can only access “low-THC cannabis” or that containing less than .05 percent THC.

A patient can only obtain the medicine from a licensed dispensary and to no surprise, none currently exist in Texas. The Department of Public Safety is required to license at least three dispensaries by September 2017.5 pills

There are thousands of different strains of marijuana plants and the current law prohibits using the psychoactive element of the plant.

But Fazio argues “that part is very important, that’s what helps the patient from suffering from the condition. Lawmakers want to keep it out because they think patients will get high.”

Currently, the Texas law limits the use to those whom suffer from severe epilepsy but studies have shown there are countless other illnesses and diseases that could also be helped.

“We all know someone who has been affected by a debilitating condition,” says Fazio “And if there is a natural medicine choice instead, more Texans would be willing to get the government out of the doctors office.”

Texas NORML wants to see more cannabinoids available for therapeutic use for patients. They also aim to pass another bill that will offer a more comprehensive whole plant program.

Finkel says she expects to see “an expansion of the Compassionate Use Program in 2017 and that we will likely see a civil penalties bill pass. I think that Texas is more likely to have a full retail market implemented in 2019.”

The first set of rule reforms for the Compassionate Use Act are expected to be released mid-November of this month.

In Texas, many electoral decisions are made during the primary elections which are coming up in March 2016.

“Our districts often know what political party will win in advance because of the gerrymandering of district lines. This means that the most competitive and active races are actually at the primary level,” says Finkel. “Since Texas is limited in how we can change laws, it is very important that we make sure that our state representatives and state senators are educated and compassionate when it comes to this issue.”

Advocates from Texas NORML say that the election period is a great time to talk to candidates about their stances and keep the conversations going.

While most candidates publicly announce their stance on issues like education and border security, many avoid sharing their opinions about the controversial drug. Representatives seeking re-election may not be able to stay neutral about the topic anymore.


A Grave Matter

Everything’s Bigger in Texas, Including It’s Carbon Footprint


Khalil Elharam uses a shovel to turn his compost. Turning the compost introduces oxygen and speeds up production. “I produce enough compost for my entire yard,” he says. Photo by Erin MacInerney

Do you recycle? If not, you might want to pay attention to Austin’s new regulations regarding food diversion and waste recovery.

By: Morgan Bridges, Erin Griffin, Erin MacInerney, Jamie Pross

Austin, Texas: politically known as the little blue dot in a sea of red. Environmentally speaking, it could also be called the little green dot in a sea of brown.

Or black. Or gray. Or whatever color pollution can be deemed.

Or it could be known as the capital of a state ranking dead last for overall environmental quality.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the carbon boot prints Texas is leaving makes it the least green state overall. Yet Austin, ranks among the top ten sustainable cities in America

This month, the city entered the third phase in a five-year recycling and organics diversion program. The Universal Recycling Ordinance is part of the city’s goal of having Zero Waste by 2040, or keeping at least 90 percent of discarded materials out of landfills.What We Waste

By 2017, all properties will be required to provide access to recycling for tenants and employees and by 2018, all food enterprises must have a food diversion program in place.

Despite Austin’s ranking, there is still progress to be made in waste reduction to meet these goals, according to the Austin Resource Recovery Center’s Waste Characterization Study.

Some initiatives, like the plastic bag ban meant to decrease the amount of grocery store bags in landfills, have not had the intended outcomes.  Reusable bags designed to be used up to 100 times or more are being thrown out after a few uses.

So how can Austin businesses and individuals meet the new requirements?

Barr Mansion, the nation’s only certified organic event facility, is a prime example of a business with a working diversion plan already in place.

As a platinum member of Austin’s Green Business Leaders, Barr Mansion reaches 98% sustainability by growing their own produce, collecting rainwater, using solar panels and composting all organic materials.

“Brides and grooms book us because of our practices,” says Caroline Hunt, Sales Manager for Barr Mansion. “We do the grunt work and they get the good feeling that their wedding was sustainable and didn’t hurt the environment.”

Hunt believes that being considered an ethical company adds more depth to their brand which ultimately increases business.

One way the venue manages waste is by not providing trash cans on the grounds. Guests are encouraged to leave their trash on tables so that a staff member can properly deposit it into the correct bin. This saves visitors from the guesswork of figuring out what bin their waste should go in and saves the staff from having to sort through the trash after events.

“We are very serious about how we throw things away,” Hunt says. “It is a process, so it is something you have to sit down and discuss but setting up and researching how compost’s work is not that hard.”

Hunt says some businesses may be weary of the costs associated with implementing a new recycling plan but their company has actually saved money with their practices.

“We have the same amount of staff as most venues,” Hunt says. “We don’t have to pay the staff more, just instilling in them that it is important, so more training for the staff.”

Businesses will financially benefit from composting with a reduction in trash and associated fees according to Compost Coalition of Austin. The grass-roots network of volunteers is helping individuals and businesses connect to the resources they need to divert organic materials from landfills.

“In Austin, we have at least three different commercial compost contractors and are likely to see more which should help to keep pricing competitive,” says Heather-Nicole Hoffman, leader of Compost Coalition. “We also hope to see more and more decentralized composting efforts which will include on-site composting for some businesses and volunteer collective composting efforts such as the
Compost Coalition program Ground to Ground or the Austin Materials Marketplace.”

For smaller restaurants or those short on space, Hoffman assures there are still ways to meet the requirements.

“There are small systems such as bokashi or wormbins that work well indoors and can take up as little as a square foot of floor or counter space,” says Hoffman. “Or, store those kitchen scraps in your freezer until you are ready to transfer to a compost spot.”

A food diversion plan for an Austin restaurant could also mean using organizations like Keep Austin Fed to meet their requirements. The local group picks up surplus food and distributes it to area charities.

“The City of Austin, may not be the first [to implement this ordinance],” says Hoffman. “But they are working hard to be a role model for all the other cities which will soon realize the importance of recovering organics as a resource instead of forever managing them as liability.”



Zero Waste Plan-4

Navigating Policy & Perspectives: Campus Carry at UT Austin

Cassandra Jaramillo | Jade Magalhaes | Sandy Marin | Jan Ross Piedad

At the Oct. 5 open carry forum, members of Gun Free UT display a banner that states: "300 UT Faculty Refuse Guns In Our Classrooms."

At the Oct. 5 open carry forum, members of Gun Free UT display a banner that states: “300 UT Faculty Refuse Guns In Our Classrooms.”

To carry or not to carry?

This is the question many Texans are asking after the deadly shooting at a community college in Oregon, a state which allows concealed handguns on campuses.

After Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 11 into law this summer, Texas became one of eight states in the U.S. to allow those with concealed handgun licenses to bring guns into buildings on college campuses. The law does allow, however, some areas to be designated gun-free zones.

SB 11 states that university presidents may “establish reasonable rules, regulations or other provisions” regarding guns in common areas such as dorms, classrooms, and dining halls. Those regulations must then be passed by the school’s governing board.

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Claire Christensen, a government junior and supporter of campus carry at UT Austin, said the legislation will make her feel more comfortable in school.

“As a woman, and as a student, I feel safer if I know that other people can defend me too if they have guns,” she said. “If something was to happen out of the blue, then I could also protect myself if I have a gun on me.”

While administration at the University of Texas flagship makes its decisions, the number of faculty members already refusing to allow guns in their classrooms is steadily increasing.

When Gun-Free UT held a protest against campus carry on Oct. 1, about 163 faculty members already signed a petition refusing to allow guns into classrooms. In less than a week, support has more than doubled to 330 names on the list.

“The number is going up quickly as more faculty learn that there are options to speak out,” Joan Neuberger, a history professor and a leader in the Gun-Free UT community, said in an email.

A person must be at least 21 years old to obtain a concealed handgun license, meaning the majority of university students will not be eligible to carry.

At public events like protests and forums, as well as in published articles, professors have expressed a similar message: a small number of students granted more freedom by the law is not worth the larger impact campus carry may have on the university.

Professors who teach controversial subject matter said they are worried students will be afraid to speak out in class, while others expressed concern with discussing grades if students are permitted to bring guns into offices.

Jason Baldridge, an associate professor of computational linguistics at UT, said that campus carry could affect potential recruitment of future faculty and students, as the legislation goes into effect next fall.

“This is an amazing university with tons of top faculty from all over the world that do great stuff. But having campus carry is going to make it harder to recruit faculty members. It’ll be harder to recruit top graduate students,” Baldridge said. “That is not for the better of the university. And it’s also not for the better of the state of Texas.”

Baldridge started teaching at UT in 2005 but took off two-and-half years to cofound the startup People Pattern, an audience insight software company. A few months after he agreed to return to the university as a part-time professor, the campus carry legislation passed in the state. Baldridge said his wife expressed concerns with him teaching in front of students who may be carrying guns.

In fact, Baldridge said he was personally looking at “other options” as UT administrators decide on specific regulations regarding campus carry legislation.

He said he isn’t alone.

“There are going to be people looking at their options elsewhere,” Baldridge said.

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