Texas Legislature

  • Texas bill would ban ‘patient dumping’ by mental hospitals

    raquelpadilla1Express-News Reporter Karisa King wrote a follow-up story today about mentally ill patients who are dropped off at bus stations and left to fend for themselves. There’s now a bill in the Texas Legislature that attempts to fix the problem. If the bill becomes law, it will require the state’s mental hospitals to devise a specific transportation plan for each patient released from their care.

    The bill, written by state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, is a response to an article we wrote earlier this year about the death of a patient who had been released from the San Antonio State Hospital:

    No one knows how Raquel Padilla died. Not police. Not medical examiners. And not her family members, who had entrusted her to the San Antonio State Hospital for people with serious mental illness.

    About the only thing clear about her final days is that Padilla, who was 54 and had schizophrenia and mild mental retardation, had been in the care of state hospital workers Dec. 20 when they handed her a bus ticket home to Del Rio and dropped her off at the downtown Greyhound Bus Station.

    Three days later, she was found dead.

    Uresti’s Senate Bill 2079 passed the senate and is currently winding its way through the Texas House.

  • Local officials try closing loophole in San Antonio’s tree ordinance

    Last week, state Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, and Mayor Phil Hardberger announced an effort to fix a city ordinance that was meant to protect San Antonio’s diminishing tree canopy from urban sprawl. A loophole in the ordinance allows real estate developers to bulldoze trees for ranching and farming.

    Press conference about loophole in San Antonio s tree rules   YouTubeFor those who want to learn more, here’s a YouTube video of the April 3, 2009, press conference, and a collection of news stories that followed the twists and turns of this issue:

  • The original news story illustrated how the owner of the Village at West Pointe leased his land to a rancher, who bulldozed thousands of trees. Then a company tied to the owner filed plans to develop the property. The story examined ties between the property owner, Hugo Gutierrez Jr., and mayoral candidate Diane Cibrian.
  • There were several follow up stories:

  • Mayor Hardberger and Cibrian pledged to fix the tree ordinance.
  • Columnist Jaime Castillo followed up on rumors that Cibrian had spent a weekend in Cancun at a condo owned by Gutierrez, and had appointed a man with business ties to Gutierrez to the San Antonio Zoning Commission.
  • After days of questioning, Cibrian acknowledged going to Cancun at the invitation of Gutierrez’s daughter, who she described as a longtime friend. Reporter Guillermo Garcia wrote a story about Cibrian amending her financial disclosure form to reflect the trip.
  • This year, Villarreal filed House Bill 2016 in an attempt to give San Antonio the legislative authority to close the loophole. Here’s a story about the bill, a story about the news conference and Cibrian’s absence, and news video from KENS 5. Political Editor Scott Stroud blogged about the press conference, and Jaime Castillo wrote a column today about the power of the mayor’s bully pulpit.
  • Villarreal and Hardberger don’t think the bill has a very good chance of becoming law at the Texas Legislature, where the real estate industry has a strong lobby. You might ask them, why bother? And you might ask the journalists covering this issue, why bother writing about it if nothing is going to change?

    As the reporter who learned about the loophole, I still think it’s a public service to figure out what’s going on at West Pointe, and share that information with a few hundred thousand of my closest friends who read the newspaper.

    Really, that’s all journalism is about, despite what you may have heard from Rush Limbaugh. It’s about digging up facts, putting the pieces together, learning something new about how the world works, and telling people about it.

    That, in itself, is a worthy cause.