Texas winegrowers fear new herbicides will wipe out industry

As Paul Bonarrigo watched his grapevines dwindle, he was confident that heavy-duty herbicides, probably sprayed on crops by a nearby farmer, were drifting into his vineyards. For the past two years, his 44 acres in Hale County — once sprawling vineyards providing fruit for Bonarrigo’s Messina Hof Winery — have not produced any grapes as they wither from chemical damage.

Other Texas winegrowers have seen similar damage, and they blame it on dicamba and 2,4-D, two high-volatility herbicides commonly used on cereal crops, pastures and lawns. Now, the state’s vintners are alarmed that use of the chemicals may soon expand to include 3.7 million acres of cotton fields in the High Plains, where cotton is being invaded by weeds immune to the Roundup pesticide long used.

The wine industry contributed close to $2 billion to the Texas economy in 2013, according to a report by the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association. Bonarrigo said he thinks the industry is now in jeopardy.

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Accreditation woes a distraction for UTRGV students

BY ELENA MEJIA LUTZ AND MATTHEW WATKINS

EDINBURG — Sheena Odoy was studying Tuesday for her finals at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley when an alarming email shattered her focus — her university had been placed on probation by the federally mandated agency that accredits schools in Texas.

Suddenly, finals seemed a lot less pressing.

The accreditation worries have added one more stress for Odoy and her classmates during an already taxing time. Probation means UTRGV’s status as an accredited university could be at risk. And that threatens the academic future of the school’s 27,500 students.

University officials have made clear that nothing will change for the school in the near term; the probation period lasts 12 months, and the school is allowed to continue operating normally in the meantime. But students said they were worried about what would happen long-term.

“Losing accreditation means that your degree would no longer be valid,” Odoy said. “The university has been a little too calm. They need to be realistic and inform students to look for options.”

The loss of accreditation would indeed be devastating for the school. Many employers and graduate schools require applicants to have degrees from accredited schools. And students must attend schools that are accredited in order to qualify for federal financial aid. Currently, 63 percent of UTRGV’s students receive need-based aid from the federal government, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Continue reading → Accreditation woes a distraction for UTRGV students

Texas lawmakers push bipartisan effort for tax-free tampons

Following the political lead of several northern states, six Texas lawmakers have filed bills to eliminate sales tax on feminine health products used for menstrual period hygiene, including tampons, sanitary napkins and menstrual cups.

If passed during the 2017 legislative session, Texas would become the first southern state to implement tax cuts on tampons, joining New Jersey, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New York and Maryland.

State Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, the only Republican to file a tampon tax cut bill, said he began hearing from constituents who saw the headlines when other states passed such laws. Springer said he started receiving emails and was approached by women at town hall meetings.

“They said, ‘We saw what these states are doing, and we’d like to see the same thing happen in Texas,'” Springer said. “We have the ability to say, ‘I’m going to buy a Coke.’ I make that choice freely. Ladies don’t have the same option. [Tampons] can easily be classified as a medical property item.”

Continue reading → Texas lawmakers push bipartisan effort for tax-free tampons

Texas moving forward with budget cuts for disabled kids’ therapy services

BY ELENA MEJIA LUTZ AND EDGAR WALTERS

More than a year after lawmakers originally ordered it, Texas announced Monday it will enact significant cuts to the money that it pays therapists who treat vulnerable children with disabilities in two weeks.

Medicaid reimbursement rates are used to pay for pediatric therapy services provided to disabled babies and toddlers. Carrie Williams, spokeswoman for the state’s Health and Human Services Commission, said that Texas will apply cuts on Medicaid rates on Dec. 15 in attempt to achieve savings directed by the Texas Legislature in 2015.

“The most important job we have is making sure kids have the services they need and that we are responsible with taxpayer dollars,” Williams said in an e-mail. “We will monitor the reduction of rates to ensure access to care is not impacted and that Texans around the state receive the much-needed therapies required to improve their lives.”

Continue reading → Texas moving forward with budget cuts for disabled kids’ therapy services

Both in court and under Trump, Texas Voter ID law faces uncertain future

Five years ago, Texas passed one of the strictest Voter ID laws in the country. The legal fight began immediately and has continued through this day, with critics of the law getting some assistance from the Obama administration’s Justice Department.

Now, with Republican Donald Trump set to ascend to the Oval Office, the law’s future is more uncertain than ever. Among the questions up in the air: Whom will Trump nominate to the U.S. Supreme Court seat left vacant by Antonin Scalia’s death, and how will a Trump-led Justice Department operate compared to the current administration?

“We’re not going to stand idle when a law is discriminatory,” said Leah Aden, senior counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. “The strategy may be different depending on who is in office, but we’ll fight it regardless of who’s in power.”

Continue reading → Both in court and under Trump, Texas Voter ID law faces uncertain future