Final Hearing On Harris County Bail Settlement, Bus Service To HISD’s Alternative High School Cancelled, And Decline In Oil And Gas Jobs

Interior of Harris County’s Criminal Court at Law 13, inside the county’s Criminal Justice Center located in downtown Houston.

Final Hearing On Harris County Bail Settlement

U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal held Monday a final hearing on the settlement of the lawsuit over Harris County’s bail system.

Rosenthal, who has already given the agreement preliminary approval, listened to final arguments for and against the settlement.

Under the agreement, nearly all misdemeanor defendants would be released on personal recognizance bonds that require no money be paid, usually within a few hours after being taken into custody.

But people facing certain types of misdemeanors, including domestic violence and a second or subsequent driving while intoxicated charge, wouldn’t be automatically released and would have to appear before a magistrate judge.

A staffer with Rosenthal’s court told News 88.7 she will make a final ruling at a later date, but didn’t specify when the decision could be announced.

A Houston ISD CE300 school bus
A Houston ISD school bus.

Advocates Worry About Canceled Bus Service To HISD’s Alternative High School

The Houston Independent School District has cut off bus service for high schoolers assigned to an alternative campus in Greater Fifth Ward and advocates are worried their risk of dropping out is even higher.

HISD students are sent to the Secondary Disciplinary Alternative Education Program, or DAEP, school if they get in trouble at their neighborhood schools.

“If they’re not able to get there, they’re even more likely to drop out and have very negative school and then life outcomes, so it was very concerning,” said Sarah Beebe, an attorney with Disability Rights Texas.

Beebe has written a letter to HISD’s Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan asking the district to either restore the bus service or let the high school students return to their regular school.

Houston Public Media has reached out to HISD for comment.

An oil pumpjack.

Decline In Local Oil And Gas Jobs

The outlook for Houston’s oil and gas sector is increasingly grim. The industry is on track to finish out the year shedding almost all the jobs it’s added since the start of 2019, according to the Greater Houston Partnership.

Local employment in oil and gas appears to have hit the high point of its current cycle in June. Patrick Jankowski, senior vice president of research at the Greater Houston Partnership, said he expects things to get worse over the next year.

Jankowski said the long-term outlook isn’t much brighter. “We have most likely seen peak employment for the oil and gas industry,” he said. “That occurred in 2014, and we will probably never get back up to those levels of employment in the industry.”

The region’s oil and gas employment hit an all-time high of roughly 300,000 people at the end of 2014. The downturn that followed lasted into 2016.

DHHR announces foster care ombudsman, retains legal counsel in lawsuit

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources has appointed its first ombudsman, who will be responsible for investigating cases involving foster children and parents.

Pamela Woodman-Kaehler previously served as a Child Protective Services worker in the agency’s Harrison County office, as well as an executive director for medical equipment and supply companies in three states.

Monday’s news comes as the Department of Health and Human Resources prepares for a lawsuit regarding the agency’s handling of children in foster care.

As a foster care parent, Woodman-Kaehler said knowing both sides of foster care will help her with her job.

“It really helps me have that perspective for many points on the circle, if you will,” she said. “I think it helps in objectivity. I think it helps that I’ve had that personal experience, and I will put every bit of that toward doing a good job in this role for the folks here in West Virginia.”

More than 6,800 children are currently in the system, with the number increasing because of the state’s drug crisis.

“It’s going to be a busy office, for sure,” Woodman-Kaehler said. “We will do our best to staff it accordingly so that people who interact with us will have timely service and feel well-attended to.”

The department is planning to hire additional staff, but interim Inspector General Jolynn Marra said the positions have not been finalized.

“In the meantime, what we plan on doing is having Ms. Kaehler establish policies and procedures so that when we are awarded those staff and we’re ready to recruit for them, we have policies and procedures in order so then we can hit the ground running,” she said.

The department also announced Monday it has retained Brown & Peisch LLC as legal counsel in a lawsuit regarding the foster care system; A Better Childhood, Disability Rights West Virginia and law firm Shaffer and Shaffer are suing the agency over allegations of moves outside of the state in addition to issues with institutionalisation, available mental health services and overextended caseworkers.

The plaintiffs name multiple state officials, including Gov. Jim Justice and Bill Crouch, the department’s secretary.

Physically-challenged lady accuses airline of damaging wheelchair

Physically-Challenged Lady Accuses Airline Of Damaging Wheelchair | Photo: Twitter/blizz1122

Blessing Mary Ochiedo, a disability rights advocate has accused a passenger airline, Asky Airlines of destroying her motorised wheelchair and refusing to take responsibility for the damage.

On the 15th of August, 2019, Ochiedo flew the Togo-based airline from Abidjan to Abuja. On landing at Nnamdi Azikwe Airport, she discovered that the wheelchair’s hand control was shattered. Ocheido said she notified an official of the airline of the damage and he reluctantly agreed to repair.

A month later, on the 13th of September, an Asky staff brought the hand control claiming that it has been fixed but Ocheido discovered that it was just a paper tape wrapped around the shattered hand control.

After that incident, Ocheido said she called Asky about fixing the damaged hand control of her wheelchair.  

Eventually, she was told to find someone to fix it while they would pay. However, it was later discovered by the repairer that the wheelchair’s hand control was damaged beyond control and would need to be replaced.

Ocheido’s chat with an Asky representative

On October 16, Ocheido forwarded the invoice sent by the repairer to Asky Airline. In a chat with the Airline contact person, Ocheido stated that she had to travel to Cairo without a wheelchair, which was an inconvenience and something she had never tried before.

Her messages were left unattended to. According to Ocheido, Asky later called her to say that the manager had received the invoice and “they will see what can be done about it”.

Ten days later, Ochiedo went to the Asky counter to ask for an update on her wheelchair. She explained to them how their negligence had cost her two important meetings and the stress she had had to endure since August. 

Ochiedo, the founder of Ramp Up Nigeria said the situation with Asky Airlines was one of the most “cruel and insane things” she had ever gone through in her life.

“Asky has treated me despicably without an iota of consideration for my rights and welfare. I intend to stage a protest upon my return.”

She is also no longer asking for the repair of the wheelchair’s hand control but for a new motorised wheelchair as compensation for the pain and disrespect she had had to endure to since August.

“I am no longer demanding that the hand control be fixed as it looks irreparable,” Ochiedo said.

“I’m asking to be compensated with a brand new motorised wheelchair considering the trauma and disregard I’ve endured since August 15, 2019.

“Everyone knows how expensive motorised wheelchairs are and I’m far from rich, so I cannot just up and buy another one.”

The cost of a motorised wheelchair ranges from N504,700 to N4,686,500.

Ocheido is also asking that Nigerians come to her aid in the fight against Asky Airline’s gross disregard for persons with disabilities.

“I’m calling on all well-meaning Nigerians to help me fight this aviation company that believes persons with disabilities do not count, from the way our mobility aids are manhandled to how cases of damaged properties are resolved.”

When The Guardian contacted the airline’s headquarters in Togo, our reporter was directed to its Nigerian offices in Abuja and Lagos. The officia who spoke to The Guardian said she knew nothing about the damaged wheelchair.

An official of the airline in Abuja, where Ocheido landed, said the Lagos office was in a better position to answer questions relating to the incident.

The two phone lines provided for the Lagos office were not available as at Wednesday morning.

Over 1,300 tickets issued to disabled parking abusers

THE shameful practice of illegally parking in disabled bays has resulted in over 1,300 fines being issued to drivers in Donegal in the past four years.

Since 2015 Donegal County Council has dished out penalties worth €136,800 to motorists choosing to ignore the law and pulling into spots clearly designated for wheelchair users.

The figures were released ahead of Spina Bifida Awareness Day which was  marked across Ireland on Friday.

Abuse of parking bays has been an emotive topic for years with repeated attempts by disability support groups to combat it. In answer to appeals for assistance from groups like the Irish Wheelchair Association, the Department of Transport announced in March last year that it was raising its fines from €80 to €150.

But in 2018 Donegal County Council still had to write tickets for 287 motorists. And this year already 226 drivers have been pulled for their illegal parking.

Letterkenny man and disability rights campaigner Frank Larkin has Spina Bifida and relies on disabled parking bays to allow him to go about his daily business. He said the abuse of the specially-designated parking spaces was “constant” and “all day everyday”.

Figures provided to the Donegal News show that by far the highest number of tickets handed out has been in Letterkenny. Since 2015 almost 600 drivers have been hit in the pocket. Second in the league when it comes to fines is Donegal Town (286) followed by Buncrana (201), Bundoran (122), Ballyshannon (82) and Ballybofey (62). But in Ramelton only a single motorist has been written up for abusing a disabled bay in the past four years.

Revealing what it is like for a wheelchair user on a daily basis, Frank Larkin said, “The figures do not surprise me in the slightest because I see it on a daily basis. And when I say a daily basis, I am not talking about once per day but all the time. It’s constant. “For example, there are spaces at the Market Square but on any given day you could find a van delivering cash to the bank, you could find a lorry delivering goods to shops or it could just be a member of the public. It is right across the board.

“I remember some time back I drove down to go the post office. I ended up driving around the town five times before I gave up and went home. That was for a straight forward message to the post office but it could have been for a doctor’s appointment, a prescription, something vital.” Mr Larkin said that when challenged motorists will often say they were only gone for a short while or that they will be “back in a minute”. But that minute can make all the difference to someone in need of a disabled space.

As to whether the authorities are doing enough to bring people to book, Frank Larkin believes they are doing what they can with the limited resources they have. “Having spoken to the traffic wardens, it is clear that they are under-resourced. They are doing what they can but is enough being done, that is another question.

“I often get asked if there are enough disabled spaces. If they weren’t being abused then the answer to that question is straightforward, yes.” Donegal County Council described access to parking was an “essential lifeline” for both disabled drivers and passengers. “Accessible spaces are situated in convenient locations, close to shops, churches or banks and they are also larger than other parking spaces,” said a spokesperson.

One of Letterkenny’s disabled parking bays. Abuse of the bays remains a serious problem, according to latest figures.

“When accessible parking spaces are not available, motorists with disabilities may not be able to operate a passenger lift, open a door wide enough to enable transferring in and out of the vehicle, or get access to a mobility aid. “Donegal County Council is keen to remind motorists that abusing designated disabled parking bays is just not acceptable. “Donegal County Council’s Parking Section along with our traffic wardens take the issues that disabled drivers and passengers face very seriously and are extremely proactive in pursuing these offences which can range from parking on a footpath, blocking a pedestrian way and parking in a disabled bay without displaying a disabled badge.

Those who abuse disabled parking bays or disabled parking permits are regularly issued parking fines and every effort is made by the Council
to pursue those fines up to and including Court proceedings. “We are urging all motorists to respect the Disabled Parking Bays in Donegal and to remind Disabled Parking Permit holders of the need to respect the conditions attached to the permits.”

WI tribes, disability rights groups raise ‘significant’ concerns about adoption bill

WI Assembly’s Committee on Family Law

MADISON, Wis. – Proposals that aim to improve Wisconsin’s adoption process will likely be changed amid opposition from Wisconsin tribes, disability rights groups and the state’s Department of Children and Families.

“We are still listening to people that have concerns about the bills and inviting those people to make their recommendations and help us make this legislation better,” State Rep. Barbara Dittrich, R-Oconomowoc, said Tuesday at the state Capitol.

Dittrich chaired a task force that traveled around the state to hear from adoptive families, social workers and other stakeholders about how to improve Wisconsin’s adoption process. The panel had four mandates: to examine the termination of parental rights, identify ways to shorten the timeline for adoptions, reduce the costs of adoptions and increase adoption awareness and resources.

The state Assembly’s Committee on Family Law held a public hearing Tuesday on the eight adoption bills, many of which center around trying to terminate parental rights more quickly.

Currently, there are 12 grounds in Wisconsin that would allow a court to terminate a biological parent’s rights. Some of them are felony against a child, homicide, abandonment, continuing need of protective services and continuing parental disability.

One of Dittrich’s bills creates new grounds to terminate parental rights if a child is exposed to drugs or alcohol while the mother is pregnant, unless the parent is enrolled in a treatment program within 90 days of the child’s birth. The bill also creates a new ground to terminate parental rights if a parent is incarcerated and likely to stay in prison for most of the years that the child is a minor.

The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families is opposed to seven of the eight adoption bills. A written testimony from the department says that, as a whole, the bill package runs against the ideas of supporting and strengthening birth parents.

“Our goal is to keep kids safe in their home, that removal of a child is not the first act but the last resort in order to maintain a child’s safety,” said Jeff Pertl, the department’s deputy secretary.

The adoption task force co-chair, state Rep. Lisa Subeck, told the committee that toward the end of the process, the bills had drawn a partisan divide.

Subeck, D-Madison, said Democrats were not shown the bills before they were introduced and she believes the process was rushed, leading to the now widespread opposition.

“We heard from our native tribes, we heard from disability rights organizations, we heard from social service organizations and we heard from attorneys that they had significant concerns with many pieces of many of these bills. I wish we could have gotten some of that ironed out before we got to this point,” Subeck told the committee.

The Ho-Chunk Nation opposes the adoption bills, saying in a news release that the proposals remove rights from the birth family and give more rights to adoptive families, thereby “reducing the probability that a child can remain with family.”

Subeck authored the only bill that the Department of Children and Families supports, Assembly Bill 564. It aims to ease the financial burden of certain kinds of adoptions by expanding eligibility for adoption assistance.