COLUMN: Governor communicates stance on refugees to White House

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AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott on Nov. 16 wrote a letter to the White House, informing President Obama “the State of Texas will not accept any refugees from Syria in the wake of the deadly terrorist attack in Paris.”

“Further,” Abbott wrote, “I and millions of Americans implore you to halt your plans to accept more Syrian refugees in the United States. The FBI director testified to Congress that the federal government does not have the background information that is necessary to effectively conduct proper security checks on Syrian nationals.”

Abbott quoted FBI Director James Comey, who last month told the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security, “We can query our database until the cows come home, but there will be nothing show up because we have no record of them.”

So, Abbott said, “Effective today, I am directing the Texas Health & Human Services Commission’s Refugee Resettlement Program to not participate in the resettlement of any Syrian refugees in the State of Texas. And I urge you, as president, to halt your plans to allow Syrians to be resettled anywhere in the United States. Neither you nor any federal official can guarantee that Syrian refugees will not be part of any terroristic activity. As such, opening our door to them irresponsibly exposes our fellow Americans to unacceptable peril.”

In other news, on Nov. 17, Abbott appointed Cecile Young as state refugee coordinator “to ensure coordination of public and private resources in refugee resettlement in the state.”

Young, who has more than 28 years of state government budget and policy experience, has served three governors, an attorney general and a state representative.

Hearing set on ‘sanctuary cities’

State Rep. Byron Cook, chair of the House Committee on State Affairs, on Nov. 18 scheduled aDec. 10 public hearing to address examine state and local laws applicable to undocumented immigrants and analyze the effects of those laws in conjunction with federal immigration laws and the policies and practices followed by ICE, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Cook, R-Corsicana, said the purpose of the hearing is to support Gov. Abbott’s “call to keep Texas streets safe from crimes committed by criminal immigrants and to hold all Texas sheriffs to the strictest ICE standards.”

Cook said he plans to invite sheriffs, heads of state agencies and other key individuals to testify.

AG announces VSO settlement

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Nov. 18 announced a settlement resolving the state’s enforcement action against the Florida-based Veterans Support Organization and four of its principals, directors Richard Vanhouten, Stephen Casella, Robert Cruz and Michelle Vanhouten.

Under the agreed final judgment and permanent injunction, the defendants must cease engaging in unlawful solicitation of charitable contributions in Texas and must dissolve VSO as a charitable organization in our state, Paxton said in a news release.

Legal action against the group was filed in March 2014 in Travis County. Paxton said the state’s investigation found that VSO had raised more than $2.5 million in Texas from 2010 to 2012 and that more than 70 percent of those funds were diverted to Florida, where VSO is headquartered, and to Rhode Island, where it was incorporated, “contrary to the defendants’ statements to Texas donors that the charitable donations would benefit local veterans in need.”

Trout possible for Thanksgiving

Beginning in late November and continuing through March, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department plans to stock nearly 300,000 hatchery-reared rainbow trout at more than 140 sites across the state.

According to a Nov. 18 agency announcement, “Many of the fish stockings will be conducted at small community fishing lakes, state park lakes and popular river tailraces offering easy angling access.”

Parks & Wildlife has been stocking rainbow trout each winter since the 1970s, “providing Texans a simple and economical opportunity to go fishing.”

More highway projects are OKed

Texas Transportation Commission on Nov. 19 announced the approval of nine roadway improvement projects using Proposition 1 funding.

The projects, totaling almost $437 million worth of roadway construction, rehabilitation and restoration, will enhance safety, mobility and connectivity, the agency said. The three-member Texas Transportation Commission has now approved final contract awards on 131 of the approximately 200 planned Proposition 1 projects across the state.

Proposition 1, approved by voters in November 2014, dedicates a portion of oil and gas tax revenue to the state highway fund. Before the measure was passed, those funds were deposited in the state’s rainy day fund.