AUSTIN, Texas — The Austin City Council made a bold move this week: voting to stop arrests and ticketing in most low-level marijuana cases. But that's not the only big news this week.
Three things to know in Texas politics
Under the City's new policy, Austin police can no longer spend resources on what City leaders call expensive tests to confirm the THC level of a substance when there is a small amount of it.
This testing became necessary after Texas lawmakers legalized hemp last year. Hemp and marijuana look and can smell the same, but hemp – by law – can't have a THC concentration of more than 0.3%. Crime labs across the state aren't yet equipped to test the level of THC – only whether the psychoactive compound is present. So, prosecutors all over Texas announced they would no longer take on low-level possession cases, including the Travis County District Attorney. But Austin police were still arresting people. Now police leaders and the council are at odds over the new policy.
And speaking of hemp, while it is legal in Texas, farmers can't grow it – yet. But they're getting close.
Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller held a public hearing in Waco on Wednesday to get feedback on the proposed state rules regulating hemp. The State plans to start permitting farmers to grow hemp in the next few months.
Gov. Greg Abbott is back in Texas after leading an 11-day economic development mission in Israel and Switzerland. Texas is a leading exporter to both countries and Abbott's visit was intended to strengthen relationships and business development.
While at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Abbott shared a moment with President Donald Trump. The governor posted a video on Twitter.
Victor Harris, candidate for U.S. Senate
Early voting for the Texas March primary begins in about three weeks – and Democrats have a large pool of candidates to choose from in the U.S. Senate race.
Ashley Goudeau sat down with U.S. Army Reserve Colonel Victor Harris to discuss his campaign.
Ashley Goudeau: Tell our viewers a little bit about yourself and why you're running for the U.S. Senate.
Victor Harris: "OK so, my name is Victor Hugo Harris. I am born in the United States, raised in Mexico. Came back to the United States after a stint in Mexico when it was time for me to get a formal education at about age six. I was raised in the Rio Grande Valley. Went through elementary school and high school and graduated high school and went to college in San Antonio. Some of that period of time, I needed to – I knew I needed a college education and so, I started going to school. Trying to work my way through school and pay for school, I ended up joining the National Guard. Spent a couple of years in college but my grades weren't all that great because I was working about 60 hours a week and trying to take a full load of college, so I ended up joining active duty. I went to the 82nd and I made two deployments with the military to the Middle East and soon after, I was awarded an academic scholarship from the Army. I attended St. Mary's University and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Army as a helicopter pilot. Since then, I've been a helicopter pilot, I've been an intel analyst, a counterintelligence special agent and I am now a cyber warfare officer."
Goudeau: Why are you running for the U.S. Senate?
Harris: "Well, I'm running because I have concerns. I have concerns about immigration, border security. I have concerns when the current administration threatened to close the border. That affects my family and the families down in the Valley because we regularly go back and forth between Mexico and the U.S., and that's our part of the American Dream and he was really messing with that. The other thing is the wall. That's a big issue. Closing walls, closing out the United States, that's just not the way we've normally been. We've been an open country, accepting immigrants from all over the world. And the way that we're processing these immigrants, especially the children, is very concerning to me.
So, I thought, 'This needed to be fixed.' It's been a problem for quite some time and the only time anybody really looks at it is every two or four years when people are running for office, elections. They go down there, they look at it, they say it's a problem and then they leave and they do [not do] really much about it. I have the ability, I have the qualifications to make change. So, rather than asking somebody else to do it, I'm going to do it myself."
Goudeau: Is there something specific about Sen. John Cornyn that made you decide you wanted to challenge him and go after his seat?
Harris: First, I don't think he's doing well for the people of Texas. He just sits behind whoever's talking, most of the time I see him, he's behind whoever's talking and just nodding his head and agreeing with whatever somebody spits out. Most of the time, it's whatever Ted Cruz is spitting out. Or he'll back up the president on things that are obviously unethical. And his voting record is terrible. I just don't think that – his game has kind of fallen since he first got elected, how many years ago, 18 years ago or something."
Goudeau: When you think about what's happening in our country right now as far as Washington, the biggest thing that everyone is talking about obviously, the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. Tell us your thoughts on his actions and whether or not he should be removed from office.
Harris: "Well, first, it's a political process. It started as a political process, it's going to end as a political process. We're not going to get to the truth of what happened. We're not going to know what really happened because each party's only presenting what they want to show. So, in the end, I thought it was a bad move by the Democrats strategically to even start the process because, you know, in combat, you don't want the opposing force to have the last move. And when they started the impeachment process, everybody knew that Donald Trump was eventually going to get impeached. Everybody knew that it would go to the Senate. And I think everyone knows that he is going to be exonerated no matter what the evidence.
So, if it was me, I would have just strategically done an admonishment where the House has the last move and makes a final decision instead of giving that power to the opposition. So, it's unfortunate but it's all political and I don't know what to believe sometimes when I'm listening to what went on or what the thoughts were."
Goudeau: I want to get your thoughts on what the president has proposed this last week with expanding the travel ban to several countries in Africa and other parts of the world and then putting a travel ban on pregnant women who he believes would just be coming to visit the U.S. solely to give birth to their children. What are your thoughts on these tactics?
Harris: "Of course I have concerns that there might be nefarious reasons for people doing that, trying to obtain dual citizenship so they can in the future do something bad to our country. But it just doesn't seem right, as an American and being someone who's lived near the border most of his life, that we would pick and choose who can come and can't based on, you know, being pregnant or not. The additional regulations he's placed about keeping other countries from flying in, if those are based on security concerns, I think that's fine but if it's based on subjective reasons of a certain country they don't like or a certain religion, I think that's completely wrong."
Goudeau: Perhaps one of the biggest issues impacting people here in Texas is health care or the lack thereof. We have the highest rate of both adults and children without health insurance in the country. What are your thoughts on how we begin to address the health care crisis?
Harris: "So, two big social issues that are big for us is health care and education – very important for our society. Especially as advanced as we are. So, on health care, of course I don't believe we're going to be able to just say, 'Hey, out everybody on Medicare for all.' That will burden the system and you'll end up with the same issues that the Veterans Administration ended up with. And we don't want that, that's the last thing we want. So, I would think that we incrementally lower the age of Medicare and then increase the income for Medicaid. Try to squeeze towards the middle so we get everybody included and then in the center right now we should be using a public option. Kind of like the Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, was not a 100% program that was just working great, obviously. But it was close. It's got the framework. We needed to tweak it. And not all documents that come out of D.C. are always perfect when they first come out. The Constitution has 27 amendments. So, I think what we needed to do was just adjust some of the things that work for America, for Texas and start tackling it that way. Because if we don't start doing it, we're never going to do it. And we can't wait for a 100% solution, we have to get incrementally, 70%, 80% and work our way to a system or a program that actually works for us."
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