News Roundup: Deer Park Chemical Fire Extinguished

Our daily look at Texas headlines.

By Kristen CabreraMarch 20, 2019 2:28 pm

The Standard’s news roundup gives you a quick hit of interesting, sometimes irreverent, and breaking news stories from all over the state.

In Deer Park, crews have extinguished a massive chemical fire that burned for three days.

As Houston Public Media’s Davis Land reports, responders continue to spray foam and water on the site.

Intercontinental Terminals Company says they’re trying to keep the area cool to prevent any of the remaining material from reigniting. The fire sent a giant plume of black smoke into the air for three days, but health officials said it remained high enough in the atmosphere to not cause problems with air quality. Still, the ominous cloud caused widespread concern, and people near the fire started calling out of work. Multiple school districts canceled classes out of caution and remain closed. Company officials say steam and smoke from the fire may still be visible as the site cools down.

Three Native American inmates have won the right to let their hair grow long in Texas Prisons, the Houston Chronicle reports. The inmates sued the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on religious grounds, arguing their Native American beliefs view hair as an extension of the soul.  

Voting rights advocates say a wide-ranging voting bill currently in the Texas Senate would increase penalties against voters who make mistakes.

KUT’s Ashley Lopez reports groups say Senate Bill 9 could lead to voter suppression ahead of the 2020 election.

Among other things, SB 9 would increase the criminal penalties on any voter who makes an error on their voter registration form. Right now that’s a Class B misdemeanor, but under SB 9 it would become “a state jail felony.” James Slattery, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, says anyone who tries to vote and isn’t eligible would be subject to criminal penalties. That’s even if, he says, they didn’t know they couldn’t vote. Slattery says this means the state is raising the stakes for honest mistakes at the polls.

“We are coming out of this last election where we had increased voter turnout, we had more people wanting to vote and participate in democracy than ever and then you have this bill that at almost every turn instead of making it easier for those people to vote, makes it harder,” Slattery says.

He’s also concerned about another part of the bill allowing law enforcement officials to commit crimes while conducting investigations or prosecutions into election-related crimes. He says that means state law enforcement would be able to essentially conduct undercover sting operations of civic engagement groups or political parties.

The total population of monarch butterflies is on the rise, according to a Texas A&M senior researcher. The recent increase comes after five years of a steady decline. Researcher Craig Wilson estimates about 300 million of the butterflies are in population. The figures were gathered as the monarchs begin migrating north, passing through Texas. Central Texas has an abundant amount of milkweed according to Wilson and is the primary diet for monarch caterpillars.