AUSTIN — The Third Court of Appeals in Austin ruled May 22 that evidence was not strong enough to warrant a lower court’s decision ordering the emergency removal of children from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-days Saints’ Yearning for Zion Ranch near Eldorado in early April.
The ruling leaves the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and its subagencies, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and Child Protective Services to review the ruling and ponder the next move.
Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, which brought the appeal on behalf of dozens of mothers of YFZ children, hailed the ruling.
The San Angelo-based court of original jurisdiction ordered the state to take the children into custody because of suspected child abuse and forced marriages of minor girls. More than 400 of the children now reside in foster care.
Senate panel eyes YFZ costs
Costs related to the state’s multiagency raid of the YFZ Ranch were the subject of a hearing by the state Senate Committee on Finance.
Committee chair Sen. Steve Ogden, R-College Station, called for a detailed accounting of the costs at the May 20 hearing.
Albert Hawkins, chief of the Health and Human Services Commission, estimated the cost of the multi-agency response at $5.26 million.
Thomas Suehs, the agency’s deputy executive commissioner, reported details such as $2.4 million for goods and services, $1.7 million for overtime costs, $1.1 million for travel and $1 million for buses.
As the specter of costs continued to rise during the hearing, Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, suggested that the state pursue the assets of the fathers of YFZ children.
Judge Ben Woodward, 119th state district court, said Schleicher County and Tom Green County do not have the money to fund the multitude of YFZ cases pending.
Woodward, who also serves as a local administrative judge for Tom Green County, told the committee he suspects a $2.25 million estimate for legal costs is low and that it does not include hourly attorneys’ fees. Some 300 lawyers presently involved will expect to be paid, he said.
Scott McCown, director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin, expressed concern about adding to Child Protective Services’ caseload. The agency is presently handling 30,000 clients, McCown said.
The Dallas Morning News reported May 19 the Health and Human Services Commission estimated it would cost Texas taxpayers $21 million to care for the children over the next year.
Child custody status hearings began May 19 in the Tom Green County courthouse in San Angelo for families of children removed from the ranch.
The hearings are scheduled through June 5, with parents of the children, their attorneys and caseworkers with Child Protective Services present.
Meanwhile, on May 21, YFZ ranch gate guards turned away CPS workers who asked to search the facility after receiving notice that more children still may be living there.
Nuclear waste application is OK’d
On May 21, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality voted 2-1 to approve Dallas-based Waste Control Specialists LLC’s application for a license to dispose low-level radioactive waste at an underground site in West Texas.
The disposal facility is to be located near the New Mexico border along Highway 176, about 30 miles west of the city of Andrews.
AG settles in Vioxx class action
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on May 20 reached a $58 million settlement with Merck & Co. Inc. over the marketing of the prescription drug Vioxx.
Merck pulled the drug from the market in 2004.
The settlement resolves a three-year investigation by 30 states that joined in a lawsuit against Merck for not adequately warning consumers of the health risks of the drug marketed as a painkiller and anti-inflammatory.
Texas’ portion of the global agreed judgment will exceed $4 million, Abbott’s office said.
New sales tax holiday debuts
Texas held its first-ever sales tax holiday for energy-efficient products on Memorial Day weekend, May 24-26.
The “Energy Star Sales Tax Holiday” applied to the purchase of air conditioners, ceiling fans, dishwashers, light bulbs, refrigerators, clothes washers, and other appliances.
Texas shoppers will get another break from state and local sales taxes Aug. 15-17 in the state’s annual clothing sales tax holiday.