AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott on Feb. 20 established a clemency application specifically for survivors of human trafficking or domestic violence.

The application, crafted in coordination with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, includes a section that affords the applicant an opportunity to provide a statement to the board regarding their human trafficking or domestic violence victimization. 

Human trafficking and domestic violence, according to the governor’s office, often lead victims down a path of offenses that entraps them in a vicious cycle of abuse and associated crime. Abbott’s announcement coincides with the launch of a new public awareness campaign informing survivors that they can submit an application for Board of Pardons and Paroles to review and consider recommending that the governor grant a full pardon for crimes committed while under the grips of a trafficker or an abusive partner.

"Texas is committed to empowering the survivors of domestic abuse and human trafficking, and one of the surest signals of that goal is laying out a true path to redemption and restoration," Abbott said. 

"The gubernatorial pardon plays an important role in this redemption process, because it offers a second chance to survivors with criminal convictions resulting from their abuse or exploitation. I am grateful for our ongoing partnership with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles as we work together to develop a stronger justice system that promotes redemption, restoration and transformation," Abbott added.

In his recent announcement proclaiming January as Human Trafficking Prevention Month, Abbott applauded state lawmakers for passing legislation to provide survivors with “streamlined access to a clean criminal record and a fresh start.”

AG leads in sup­port of act

Some 42 state attorneys general joined Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a Feb. 20 letter expressing support of the Bankruptcy Venue Reform Act of 2019. 

If passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, the federal legislation would prevent forum shopping during bankruptcy litigation. Paxton said such a law would provide protection to consumers, workers, retirees, shareholders and small business vendors “who are currently harmed by the one-sided right for corporate debtors to choose whichever court they prefer.” 

Currently, Paxton said, individuals can only file bankruptcy in their district of residence. Corporations, on the other hand, have a wide choice of possible venues, which can be manipulated to their own advantage, he added.

Update: Coronavirus 

The Texas Department of State Health Services on Feb. 21 announced the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had confirmed three cases of novel coronavirus 2019 in people under federal quarantine at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.

The first was a traveler who returned on a U.S. State Department-chartered flight from Wuhan City, China. The others returned on a State Department flight for passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined in Yokohama, Japan. The individuals are currently isolated and receiving appropriate care at medical facilities.

There were no other reported cases in Texas and officials said the risk of contracting the virus for all Texans remains low. The Department of State Health Services offers information on “COVID-19” for the public, health care professionals, health departments and labs at dshs.texas.gov/coronavirus.

In other news, the DSHS on Feb. 21 reported there have been 15 pediatric flu-related deaths reported this season in Texas. 

The agency urged Texans who have not taken this season’s influenza vaccine to get vaccinated without further delay. More information can be found online at www.texasflu.org.

AG sues over explosion

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on Feb. 21 announced that Texas Attorney General Paxton had filed a lawsuit against TPC Group Inc. and TPC Group LLC for violations of the Texas Clean Air Act and the Texas Water Code pertaining to the Nov. 27, 2019 explosion at its Port Neches plant.  

The lawsuit requests that the court grant injunctive relief, civil penalties, reasonable attorney fees, court costs and investigative costs to the state.

The lawsuit also includes claims that TPC Group caused numerous violations of TCEQ’s air quality program from January 2018 through September 2019.

TCEQ Executive Director Toby Baker and House State Affairs Committee Chairman Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, applauded Paxton for taking legal action. “Through this suit, the state can learn what caused the incident, how to prevent such occurrences in the future and adequately penalize all violations,” Phelan said.

Early voting to end soon

The Texas Secretary of State’s Elections Division has posted answers to common questions relating to voting in the March 3 Super Tuesday party primary elections.

The answers are: 

—Any registered voter may vote early by personal appearance (in person);

—Early voting by personal appearance began on Feb. 18 and will end on Feb. 28; and

—Voters may vote at any early voting location in their county of registration.