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Tue November 8, 2011
Roundup: Federal Court Rejects Texas Redistricting Maps
By BJ Austin, KERA News & Wire Services
Dallas, TX – Texas cannot proceed with elections under new redistricting maps without a trial, a Washington-based federal court ruled Tuesday, saying the state used an inadequate analysis to determine whether new districts discriminate against minorities.
In a brief ruling, the court agreed with the U.S. Department of Justice that the GOP-led Legislature used an improper standard for measuring minority voting strength. The order clears the way for a trial and all but guarantees the 2012 elections will be conducted with temporary, court-drawn maps.
The temporary maps, being drawn by a San Antonio court, are expected to boost Democratic efforts to regain control over Congress. That's because the maps will likely protect minority seats and provide a lifeline to at least one Democratic incumbent who had been imperiled.
The San Antonio court, considering a parallel legal fight over the maps, already has pushed back the start of the candidate filing period to Nov. 28.
The legal fight centers around a requirement in the 1965 federal Voting Rights Act that certain states with a history of discrimination, including Texas, be granted "preclearance" before changes in voting practices can be enacted.
The legal standard is whether proposed changes have the purpose or effect of diminishing voting rights based on race or color.
The Justice Department contends Texas' legislative and congressional maps are retrogressive, meaning minority voters' ability to elect their candidates of choice is diminished.
The state, represented by Attorney General Greg Abbott, contends the plans are legal and will withstand court scrutiny.
New Indictment In Fort Hood Bomb Plot
An AWOL soldier from Richardson, accused of plotting to bomb Fort Hood soldiers, has been indicted on a charge of trying to use a weapon of mass destruction.
A federal grand jury returned a six count "superseding" federal indictment today against Naser Abdo.
He was indicted in August on three charges relating to trying to bomb soldiers in restaurants near Fort Hood.
Officials say they will try him on the six NEW charges first, including attempted murder of officers or employees in the United States. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.
Abdo remains in federal custody in Waco. There is a gag order in the case.
Gas Drilling Waste Well Fire
State and federal environmental officials are supervising the clean up after a fire at a saltwater injection well near Boyd in Wise County. The water and chemicals stored there were used in the "fracking" process during natural gas drilling.
Fire Marshal Mark Dodd says lightning struck a tank early Tuesday morning. And that caused several of the above-ground tanks to explode, sending flames and thick black smoke into the sky for about four hours.
Dodd: The manager of the site actually had just put up some equipment and was driving away from the site, and was about 50 yards away when the lightning struck the tank. A very frightening experience for him, but he's okay.
The well had been shut down for about four years. But Dodd says the owner, Green Tide Waste Water of Austin, had made upgrades and planned to re-open it as early as next week.
There were no injuries or evacuations during Tuesday's fire.
Dallas Idling Restrictions Go Year-Round
Starting today, Dallas is enforcing "idling" restrictions year round. The restrictions had been limited to Ozone Season, which is April to October each year.
Vehicles weighing more than 14 thousand pounds are prohibited from idling for more than FIVE minutes within the city limits of Dallas. Armored cars, police and fire vehicles are exempt. Included in the idling restrictions are 18 wheelers, school buses, delivery trucks, and DART buses.
The fine runs up to 500 dollars.
Garland Police Seek Possible Victims in Child Porn Case
Garland Police are looking for possible victims of sexual abuse connected to a federal child pornography case.
Amber Schmidt and Gary Lee Jackson were indicted last month on child pornography charges. Garland police say it's possible some children who came in contact with Schmidt and Jackson over the past six years were sexually abused.
Detectives are asking possible victims to contact police.
Reward Offered In "Burning Car" Murder
Oak Farms Dairy is offering a ten tho
usand dollar reward for information leading to an arrest in the death of Elizabeth Lightfoot. The 22 year old hair stylist was found dead inside her burning car Friday morning about 2am. Her car had been shoved into a ravine off Preston Road, north of Arapaho.
That location is not far from the salon where she worked.
Police are asking anyone with information to call the Dallas Homicide Unit.
Texas agency votes to workers to carry guns on job
The Railroad Commission of Texas has voted to allow employees to pack a weapon while carrying out agency business.
Spokesman Casey Haney said the commission on Tuesday approved a policy change that will allow workers who can legally carry a concealed handgun in Texas to have their weapons on the job.
Commissioner Barry Smitherman says employees often work alone in desolate areas where they could encounter criminals or dangerous wild animals.
The commission's primary purpose is to approve and oversee the permitting of oil and gas wells. It has no oversight of railroads.
Texas has one of the more liberal concealed handgun laws in the country. Residents who carry a license are also allowed to bring weapons into the state Capitol. License carriers can bypass metal detectors at the entrance.
2nd brother gets prison for East Texas fraud
An East Texas man will follow his brother to prison over credit card fraud involving numbers stolen online and from a restaurant.
Federal prosecutors in Tyler on Tuesday announced Nathan Michael of Malakoff has been sentenced to more than four years in prison.
Michael in May pleaded guilty to access device fraud. He also was ordered Monday to repay more than $95,000.
His brother, Christopher Michael, pleaded guilty in May to access device fraud and was later sentenced to four years in prison, plus must make restitution.
Elizabeth Pickrell, who worked at a Chicken Express in Tyler, pleaded guilty in April to access device fraud and was later sentenced to two years in prison. Charge card numbers were stolen from the restaurant.
A fourth person in the scam awaits sentencing.
NASA moves flight test of Orion capsule up to 2014
NASA says it will flight test its Orion crew space capsule three years earlier than planned.
The capsule will replace the retired space shuttle fleet. It will eventually be used to take four astronauts to nearby asteroids, the moon or Mars.
The first unmanned test flight of the capsule is now set for 2014 and will be on a commercial rocket. Originally, NASA was going to wait until 2017 when its own large rocket would be ready to launch a test of Orion.
But NASA officials said Tuesday they wanted to determine earlier how the Apollo-like capsule returns to Earth after two orbits and how NASA teams recover it from an ocean landing. The capsule will be reused. The additional test will cost about $370 million.