AUSTIN - Children the state of Texas removed from a polygamist sect's ranch near Eldorado in early April must be returned to their parents, the state's highest court ruled May 29.
Beginning June 2 children were returned to their parents if the parents first presented identification and agreed to take parenting classes and remain in Texas.
The conditional release arrangements were made after the Texas Supreme Court upheld a ruling by the Third Court of Appeals in Austin. The ruling said the state failed to provide evidence warranting the separation of those children from their parents.
The removal of more than 400 children began April 3 after the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services received word that a girl or young woman had called a crisis hotline alleging abuse by an older male resident of the ranch.
The state obtained a court order to enter the ranch owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a breakaway sect of the Mormon church. Buses transported mothers and children to San Angelo, and from there the state placed children in foster care in homes and facilities across Texas.
In its ruling, the Texas Supreme Court said, "While the district court must vacate the current temporary custody orders as directed by the court of appeals, it need not do so without granting other appropriate relief to protect the children."
So, Tom Green County state District Judge Barbara Walther, whose original order removed the children, now may proceed within her authority to ensure the best interests of each child and that state Family Code is enforced.
The lawsuit seeking relief from the original removal order was brought by 38 Yearning For Zion Ranch mothers with the assistance of the nonprofit group Texas RioGrande Legal Aid Inc. and a private law firm.
Hearing held on cost of college
Texas Commissioner of Higher Education Dr. Raymund Paredes and the chairs of boards of regents at all Texas public university systems testified May 28 at a meeting of the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Higher Education.
The Senate subcommittee is charged with studying the impact of tuition deregulation, passed by the Legislature in 2003, on college participation.
The cost of tuition for a semester at the University of Texas at Austin was $1,975 in 2002. Today it is $4,012.
Paredes estimated that the average public university graduate will owe between $15,000 and $16,000 in student loans.
Paredes said the increase in the cost of a public university education is driving more students to choose community colleges as a place to start.
State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said, "We must find other sources of revenue in order to fund higher education in the state of Texas. It is really important for you guys to start coming up with some ideas. We can't keep taxing the students."
Texans take Cuba trade trip
The United States trade embargo with Cuba has been in effect since 1961. In 2000, Congress passed the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act, allowing the sale of agricultural and medical products to Cuba.
Now the Lone Star State is thinking about stepping up trade with the Caribbean state.
Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and a group of business people traveled to Cuba May 27 to 31 to promote trade with Texas. The group of 24 included farmers, ranchers, commodity suppliers and port officials.
"It is only 900 miles between Houston and Havana but for several decades it might well have been a million miles," Staples said. "This is a great occasion for two nations to work together to improve relations and what better way to do that than through food."
Texas to resume death penalty
A Kentucky case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court put the execution of Texas death row inmates on hold last September. The court ruled that the three-injection system used by Texas and other states is not cruel.
This month, Texas will return to administering the death penalty.