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Hundreds Of Mumps Cases In Texas Immigrant Detention Facilities, Controversial State Tax Credit For AIG, More Than 50 Flood Control Projects Underway In Harris County, And More

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

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Top afternoon stories:

This illustration provides a 3D graphical representation of a spherical-shaped mumps virus particle.

Hundreds Of Mumps Cases In Texas Immigrant Detention Facilities

Reports from the Texas Department of State Health Services show 167 mumps cases have been detected in federal immigrant detention facilities in 2019 so far.

That’s in addition to the 117 cases recorded from October 1 through the end of 2018, making for a total of 284 cases stemming from an outbreak last fall. And the numbers keep climbing.

Information requested by News 88.7 from the Texas Department of State Health Services shows that on May 9, 2019, a total of 159 cases were reported for the year. On May 22, that count increased to 167 cases.

“To have this many cases concentrated in this relatively small population is distinctly unusual in the United States,” said Dr. Jody Rich, Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at Brown University.

Asked about their policy of administering vaccines in the case of a mumps outbreak a spokesperson from ICE provided a written statement saying, “The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Health Service Corps (IHSC) recommends that adult immigration detention facilities administer MMR vaccine to detainees with known exposure to at least one laboratory-confirmed person with measles, mumps or rubella. IHSC recommends catch-up vaccinations for minors who are younger than 18 years old.”

Officials did not say outright whether or not vaccines are being administered to detainees in affected Texas facilities.

Houston City Hall.

Controversial Harvey Damage State Tax Credit For AIG

Global insurance company AIG could receive a $2.5 million tax credit from a Texas economic development fund, but some Houston city councilmembers are asking why that money isn’t going to local businesses that were impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

The tax credit is an incentive for companies to promote job growth and capital investments in Texas Enterprise Zones, which are areas with higher poverty rates.

At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Councilmember Mike Laster opposed the decision, saying the selection process should have prioritized local companies over AIG.

“They’re not even in an economic zone,” Laster said. He argued that other Houston businesses should have been urged to apply.

Houston’s Chief Development Officer Andrew Icken said AIG got the nomination because it’s one of the only firms that applied to the city that also met the state qualifications. The deal requires the company to hire locally or create jobs for low income people.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo (left) and Harris County Flood Control District Deputy Director Matthew Zeve.

More Than 50 Flood Control Projects Underway In Harris County

Harris County currently has more than active 50 flood control projects that are part of a $2.5 billion bond program voters approved in August 2018.

Overall, the bond program includes more than 200 projects to reduce flood risk throughout Harris County. They include channel modifications, storm water detention basins and engineering studies of specific watersheds.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced this week the launch of the website www.harristhrives.org. It provides interactive information about the projects, including the location, budget and the current stage of each project.

The active projects are underway in all parts of Harris County, including infrastructure being repaired and built on Brays Bayou, as well as detention basins along Greens and Hunting bayous, and other waterways.

According to Harris County, there are $2.5 billion in potential additional funds provided by the federal government and local entities, and the federal grants that have been approved amount to $1.7 billion.

Montgomery County Judge Sued Over Practice Of Courtroom Prayer

A judge in Montgomery County is facing another lawsuit over the issue of prayer in the courtroom. A national organization is suing both the judge and the State of Texas for allegedly violating a lawyer’s First Amendment rights.

Judge Wayne Mack, a justice of the peace, opens his court sessions with a chaplain-led prayer. Lawyers present have the option of leaving the courtroom if they do not wish to participate in the prayer.

Sam Grover, an attorney with the Freedom From Religion Foundation, represents the plaintiff, an unnamed lawyer who says he felt pressured to participate or risk bias against his clients. “By opening each session of court with one specific person’s religious belief, you’re sending a message to the community that some people are favored while the non-religious are not,” Grover said.

But Mike Berry, of the First Liberty Institute, which represents Mack, said two Supreme Court rulings are on the judge’s side. “We think it’s actually a bit ridiculous that this group has once again decided to continue to fight this rather than just following Supreme Court precedent,” Berry said.

An earlier lawsuit against Mack was dismissed, on the grounds it incorrectly named Montgomery County as a defendant.

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