News Roundup: Enrique Iglesias Performance Inspired Bill For Greater Transparency In Government Spending

Our daily look at Texas headlines.

By Becky FogelMarch 21, 2019 12:51 pm

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

Pop singer Enrique Iglesias is known for such hits as “Hero” and “Bailamos.” But his performance at a 2015 Christmas parade in McAllen is part of the push behind a bill the Texas Legislature is considering this session. The city refused to disclose what it paid Iglesias to perform that year. The Texas attorney general’s office also agreed McAllen could keep the information secret. And the sum has still not been revealed even though the city lost hundreds of thousands of dollars on the event.

So, House Bill 81 seeks to close a loophole in Texas Public records law. If passed, it would require government entities to disclose certain information about public events, such as concerts, which rely on some taxpayer funding.

The bill’s author, Edinburg Democrat Terry Canales, kept his description of the bill short and sweet Thursday.

“This bill is about freedom and transparency, members,” Canales said.

The Texas House subsequently passed the bill Thursday.

A community near Houston is once again being told to shelter in place. The city of Deer Park previously issued the same directive on Sunday after a petrochemical facility nearby caught fire. The blaze at Intercontinental Terminals Company was extinguished Wednesday.

Thursday’s shelter-in-place order went into effect early Thursday morning after elevated levels of benzene and other volatile organic compounds were detected in the air.

Luke Metzger is executive director of the statewide environmental advocacy group Environment Texas. He says benzene is a carcinogen, meaning it can cause cancer.

“It and other volatile organic compounds are very toxic. Volatile organic compounds can also contribute to the formation of smog,” Metzger says.

He says it’s concerning that city officials felt it was necessary to tell people to stay inside.

“To get to the stage they’re actually telling people not to leave their homes ’cause of the danger of going outside, that’s a pretty extreme step, so this is not normal, it’s very concerning,” Metzger says.

Metzger says the Intercontinental Terminals fire is one of three incidents at energy industry facilities in the Houston area this week. The other two were a fire at Exxon Mobil Corp.’s Baytown refinery on Saturday, and a shelter-in-place order was briefly issued at Shell’s Deer Park refinery on Wednesday due to low levels of benzene.

State lawmakers are considering a bill this legislative session that would ban red-light cameras in Texas. Those for and against the measure testified Wednesday before the Senate Transportation Committee. Thomas Barattini with the Grand Prairie Police Department says the cameras are crucial to public safety.

“The worst crashes we have tend to be the 90-degree angle crashes that occur T-bone style from the red-light runners. The most recent one that we’ve had involved a seven-day-old baby who was killed from a red-light runner,” Barattini said.

But those in support of the ban say they view the red-light cameras as primarily a way for cities to generate revenue. Gov. Greg Abbott has indicated that he backs banning the devices.