Texas Matters
12:54 pm
Fri March 21, 2014

What Will We Learn From New Transparency In Privately-Run Texas State Jails?

Texas Matters: A court has ruled that privately-run jails are, in effect, governmental bodies when it comes to Texas open records law, so what will be uncovered from the new level of transparency that these institutions must follow? Will the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association be ready to pay out in the event of a destructive hurricane? Also on this show: Whooping crane populations along the coast and a new ocelot kitten in South Texas.

Privately-run jails must now open up records

What happens in a private state prison in Texas doesn’t stay secret in a private state prison in Texas. That’s the court ruling handed down on Wednesday.

A Travis County district court held that Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s largest for-profit prison company, is a “governmental body” for purposes of the Texas Public Information Act and therefore subject to the “act’s obligations to disclose public information.”

The case was brought by Prison Legal News, a monthly publication that reports on criminal justice-related issues and a project of the nonprofit Human Rights Defense Center.

Brian McGiverin is an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project.

"In Texas and around the nation, the worst abuses that we see are in the context of private prisons. And the big reason is that they don't have the same level of transparency that state-run organizations have -- until this ruling anyway."

Will Texas be ready for the next big hurricane?

Padre Island National Seashore.
Padre Island National Seashore.
Credit Chris Eudaily / TPR News

It has been six years since Hurricane Ike hit Texas and since then the state has seen some quiet hurricane seasons -- some say we are overdue for another big one.

Will Texas be ready? Or more specifically, will the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) be ready?

The beleaguered quasi-government agency is dealing with its share of political scandals, but front and center is the question: Is there enough money or borrowing capacity for TWIA to cover the expected claims in a major disaster?

Seth Chandler is a professor of law at the University of Houston Law Center, where he specializes in insurance law. He also writes the blog Texas Windstorm.

"It is very clear that Texas is not legally on the hook when TWIA goes bankrupt. It is very clear from the law that Texas has no legal obligation to make those homeowners whole. Now, what would we do if we saw some failure of TWIA, would there be some special tax that was enacted on Texans or people on the coast? Nobody knows, but the problem is going to be that that is a terrible environment to make sensible decisions, which is after the calamity hits. The better process would be to address this before the problem hits so that homeowners and businesses on the coast can have some assurance that they are actually going to get paid in the event of a disaster."

Also on this edition of Texas Matters:

Whooping crane on the comeback?

One part time coastal resident who is looking up these days is the whooping crane. It’s North America’s tallest bird and has a wing span as wide as a pick-up truck. Using those massive wings, the birds migrate each year from Canada to winter in the San Antonio bay on the Texas Coast.

The crane is also an endangered species that’s been scratching its way back from the brink of extinction.

The latest word from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the number of birds is up. The new count finds 304 whooping cranes -- a year ago the federal agency estimated there were 257 cranes.

Charles Irvine is a lawyer for the Aransas Project, which has won a federal lawsuit to protect the whooping cranes.

New ocelot kitten has South Texas wildlife refuge excited

Another endangered species population in Texas that’s seeing a sign of hope is the ocelot. What looks to be a two-month-old ocelot kitten borrowed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s trail camera to take a selfie.

Hilary Swarts is a wildlife biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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