Texas' medical marijuana bill (HB 1491), nuclear 'socialism,' and GEO immigration detention center revisited

Green-leaf relief

Anyone hunting for any hint that the medical marijuana movement had reached Texas can be forgiven for missing HB 1491, filed on February 17 by Austin-based House Representative Elliott Naishtat. The rep hasn’t exactly been banging the gong this session. His website shows zero press releases have been issued (compared to some reps out there that clog our pipes daily). But there’s another problem: unless you happen to spell weed m-a-r-i-h-u-a-n-a, as Naishtat and other state reps do, the Lege’s online search engine fairy will report no dope-related bills in flux. In fact, marijuana law is in play in many ways this session. Naishtat’s HB 1491 is a standout, however, as it would allow those with “bona fide medical conditions” (read: cancer, migraines, stiff knees, boredom) to possess pot with physician’s approval. It would also forbid law enforcement from conducting investigations on doctors that may have “discussed marihuana as a treatment option” or suggested “the potential benefits of marihuana would likely outweigh the health risks for a particular patient.”

But Naishtat’s team isn’t brimming with Positive Mental Attitude. “I don’t think it will pass,” said Naishtat’s Chief of Staff Dorothy Browne. Why? “Because it has the word marijuana in it, even if it is misspelled in the statute.”

Another co-traveler on the sane-pot-policy express is Houston Representative Harold Dutton Jr., who proposes in HB 548 to reduce possession of an ounce (the weight of five quarters, er, five 25-cent pieces) or less of cannabis to a Class C (from Class B) misdemeanor. When it comes to prosecution, Texas still ranks among the toughest in the Union for pot possession prosecution (six months for a joint, really?!) spending an estimated $655 million annually enforcing pot laws, according to recent analysis for the Bulletin of Cannabis Reform. Chilling out to Class C would make possession of an ounce or less a $500 fine.


Nuclear ‘socialism’

About the same time our editor was suggesting that NRG Energy’s nuclear “road show” wasn’t welcome around San Antonio, CPS CEO Doyle Beneby decided to put our assertion to the test by telling the Express-News’ editorial board and a few pre-cleared scribes that he’d like CPS Energy’s Board of Trustees to reconsider our relationship with the project.

Silly us. We expected our $32-billion lawsuit and allegations of fraud and manipulation on NRG’s part (which is what it took to break San Antonio’s 50-50 partnership in the proposed new nukes down to a 7-percent share) would be enough to keep the topic off the table. Though certainly aware he’s playing with political dynamite, Beneby would like to consider proposals from NRG for San Antonio to invest in STP 3&4 at a deeper level or sign up for a long-term power purchase agreement. Beneby favors the PPA approach, Lewis said, but so far no hard numbers have been shared.

On the threshold of billions in federal loan guarantees for the project, NRG has promised shareholders they would not build the reactors unless they could round up clients for 1,000 megawatts from the proposed reactors, said company spokesperson David Knox. As a “well-respected utility,” a commitment from CPS would boost NRG’s chances with customers elsewhere. “We’re working with `Austin`. We’re working with others, but I can’t go into any details about who the others are.”

Groups opposed to nuclear power are busy trying to develop a collective response (the sound of barfing amplified by megaphone is said to be a top contender). But meanwhile, others have found the ultimate irony that “free market” deregulated Texas could be the setting for a minor nuclear revival built on federal loans from the U.S. and Japan. “NRG cannot support the project, nor would the free market in Texas support the project. The economic consequences of this project are disastrous,” said Mark Cooper, of Vermont Law School’s Institute for Energy and the Environment. “`NRG` is looking for three non-market funders: the federal government, the Japanese banks, and now they’re looking for captive customers. … It is the quintessential example of nuclear socialism.”

Beneby is being so cautious in the conversation that Lewis said he literally did not open the letter from NRG until he was cleared to do so by the board this week. However, as Cooper suggests: “If San Antonio does its due diligence and sets up a competitive bidding process, I think nuclear socialism is done, blown away by market forces,” Cooper said. One thing recent history has taught us: nuclear isn’t getting cheaper.


GEO revisited

Over a dozen Texas civil and immigrant rights groups sent a letter to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano last week protesting the new privately run immigration detention center slated for construction in Karnes County, saying the move goes against the department’s promises to reform the immigrant detention system.

The new U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s “civil detention center” was announced in December, 2010, and contracted out to private-prison company the GEO Group (see “Prisons for profit,” February 16, 2011). The groups — including the ACLU of Texas, La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), Southwest Workers Union, and the Texas Civil Rights Project — told Napolitano that they were “disappointed to learn that ICE has used its mandate for reform to construct new detention facilities for people who should be released on bond or into alternative programs.” The groups said ICE should be focused on seeking “more humane, more effective, and more cost-effective alternatives to detention programs.”

In an effort to address years of allegations of abuse at immigrant detention centers, DHS announced a series of reforms to its immigrant detention system in 2009. Many human rights groups, however, have charged that ICE’s reforms don’t go far enough, saying instances of abuse still plague ICE jails.

Last month, local ICE spokeswoman Nina Pruneda denied any knowledge of problems at GEO prisons in Texas, including a lawsuit filed against the company days before the new Karnes County contract was approved.

In the letter, the groups urged DHS to end the Karnes County contract with GEO.

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