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Voting Barriers In Harris County, Texas Ready To Set Age For Tobacco Use At 21, And ‘Flu-Related’ Outbreak At Migrant Processing Center

These are some of the stories Houston Public Media is covering.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

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Alvaro 'Al' Ortiz/Houston Public Media
This August 25, 2018, photo shows a voting sign in Harris County regarding the election on the county’s bond for flood prevention and mitigation projects.

Voting Barriers In Harris County

A new report shows Harris County residents face multiple barriers to getting involved in the political process.

University of Houston researcher Suzanne Pritzker co-authored the new report that found both Texas and Harris County have policies and practices that limit political participation. Civic engagement group Houston In Action plans to use the report to address some of the barriers that were identified.

The Houston In Action study found in 2016 some 38,000 voter registration applications were rejected in Harris County. When looking just at in-person registration applications, 41% of those were rejected in Harris County, compared to 14% of in-person applications statewide and 11% nationwide.

An early voter registration deadline is one of the reasons researchers say it's more difficult to vote in Texas. While 11 other states offer same-day voter registration, Texas has one of the 10 longest pre-election deadlines.

A bill to set the age for tobacco use in Texas at 21 is heading to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

Texas Ready To Set Age For Tobacco Use At 21

Texas is now just one step away from raising the legal age for tobacco use from 18 to 21. The bill has cleared the last hurdle in the Legislature and is heading for Gov. Greg Abbott's desk. The bill covers all forms of tobacco use, including e-cigarettes.

President of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Dr. Peter Pisters, said 18-to-21 year olds have traditionally been major suppliers of tobacco to younger friends.

"More than two-thirds of tenth grade students and nearly half of eighth grade students say it's easy to get a cigarette," Pisters said.

If Gov. Abbott signs the bill, Texas will become the 15th state to raise the minimum age for tobacco use to 21.

U.S. Customs And Border Protection/Getty Images
U.S. Border Patrol agents conduct intake of at the Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas. The center is temporarily closing after the outbreak of “a flu-related illness.”

‘Flu-Related' Outbreak At Texas Migrant Processing Center

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is temporarily shutting down the McAllen Central Processing Center, one of its largest migrant processing centers in South Texas, after the outbreak of what the agency calls "a flu-related illness."

It is the same facility where a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy became ill last week, and died after he was transferred to another Border Patrol station.

"A large number" of migrants were complaining of high fevers and other "flu-related" symptoms at McAllen, CBP said in a statement late Tuesday. The agency says medical staff are providing treatment, but it has decided to suspend taking in more migrants "to avoid the spread of illness."

More than a dozen immigrants interviewed Tuesday at the Catholic Charities Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, described sick children coughing and feverish at the over-crowded processing center — where hundreds of people are kept together in fenced pens or sleep outside in the parking lot.

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