Five stories that have North Texas talking: an EF3 tornado hit Van; the Texas governor has signed a bill to help students who have failed state exams; mourners remember Jim Wright; and more.
The Texas Senate has voted overwhelmingly to allow clergy members to refuse performing marriages that violate their religious beliefs. Monday's vote comes as top Republicans move to further shield Texas from a possible U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing gay couples to wed. The bill requires a final Senate vote before heading to the state House. Democrats quickly pointed out that existing constitutional guarantees separating church and state already allow houses of worship to set their own religious policies regarding marriage ceremonies. The measure raises some of the same issues as "religious objections" proposals that sparked strong criticism nationally after being approved in Indiana and Arkansas. The Texas proposal is less divisive, largely restating existing law. Still, it follows the nation's high court hearing arguments about the constitutionality of gay marriage. [Associated Press]
- An EF3 tornado hit Van in East Texas Sunday night. Two people were killed during the storm. The Tyler Morning Telegraph has more details on the storm, as well as the two who died. David and Brenda Tapley were animal lovers and involved in local animal rescue groups. David was a certified lay minister at Van United Methodist Church, while Brenda was a former church secretary, according to the United Methodist News Service. Meanwhile, Gov. Abbott has issued a disaster declaration for several counties affected by recent storms, including Van Zandt County. KERA's Lauren Silverman visited Van to talk with residents; listen to her story here. [Tyler Morning Telegraph]
- The Texas governor has signed a bill to help students who have failed state exams. The Texas Tribune reports: “Gov. Greg Abbott warmed up his bill-signing pen on Monday, approving a measure ensuring that some high school seniors who fail to pass state exams can seek an alternate route to graduation. ‘The goal of the Texas public education system should be to ensure all students who graduate from high school or college are career-ready,’ Abbott said in a statement after the bill-signing. ‘While it is critical that the state appropriately holds public schools and districts accountable for delivering the best possible education, we must protect Texas students from being penalized as a result of evolving testing standards.’" Read more here. [Texas Tribune]
- The identity of execution drug makers for the nation's busiest death chamber would remain confidential under a bill passed by the Texas Senate. The Republican-controlled Senate approved the measure Monday, a day before a 32-year-old Houston man was scheduled to become the seventh convicted killer executed in Texas this year. An ongoing court challenge already prohibits Texas from disclosing where the state buys execution drugs. That ruling came after manufacturers reported being threatened by death penalty opponents. Momentum is now building to have Republican Gov. Greg Abbott sign a law that would permanently keep the names of execution drug suppliers under wraps. Even the lawyers for condemned inmates wouldn't know the supplier. State officials say execution drug makers will no longer sell to Texas unless their identity is kept secret. [Associated Press]
- Scores of mourners said goodbye Monday to Jim Wright, the former U.S. House speaker. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports: “Hundreds of people filled the pews in the church, wanting to remember the man described as a Texas giant, a faithful Christian and a longtime friend. Many local leaders, including Republican U.S. Reps. Kay Granger and Roger Williams, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and former Fort Worth Mayors Kenneth Barr and Mike Moncrief, were there to honor the man once considered the most powerful politician in the world. During his decades in office, Mr. Wright dedicated millions of dollars to local efforts, from water projects to defense jobs. He was such a champion of this community that President John F. Kennedy once referred to Fort Worth as 'the best-represented city' in America.” [Fort Worth Star-Telegram]