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AMR seeking to improve response times as reporting deadline passes
 Kristin Hoppa  / 

American Medical Services has yet to provide local officials with a report detailing response times to individual calls, but company representatives and the local officials overseeing the EMS provider say they are confident in the services it provides and in improvements efforts underway.

Several emergency responders publicly raised concerns last month with slow AMR response times. The Emergency Medical Services Committee that oversees AMR gave it a Nov. 10 deadline for a report indicating whether it had met contractual requirements for response times in Waco, Bellmead, Beverly Hills, Hewitt, Lacy Lakeview, Robinson, Woodway and unincorporated parts of the county.

“They provided a statement that they were 85.94 percent in their response time compliance,” said Waco Fire Chief Bobby Tatum, who chairs the committee. “To be in compliance, they have to reach a 90 percent response time compliance, but they provided no raw data for that information.”

The committee gave a 90-day grace period starting in August for AMR to formulate local response-time reports after it took over local EMS service from East Texas Medical Center this summer. The statement that 85.94 percent of response times met contractual obligations did not amount to a compliance report since it included no raw data, Tatum said.

AMR officials met with committee members late last week to discuss the continued growing pains. AMR Regional Director Robert Saunders said AMR has increased staffing by 30 percent and is dedicated to smoothing out the transition and coming into compliance by next month.

“AMR has a great deal of experience starting up operations,” Saunders said in a statement. “We’ve fine-tuned the system, staffing levels and units, which we know from our extensive experience would dramatically increase performance. That’s been the case in Waco and we anticipate that will continue.”

Despite the lack of a report, it appears response times are already improving, Tatum said.

“Based on the information from the participating cities, I know they are seeing significant improvement from AMR from the previous month, and that is a good sign that we are moving in a positive direction,” Tatum said. “We still have not received the raw data that AMR is contracted to provide us. That raw data is important so we can have checks and balances, but we are assured from AMR that they will provide it.”

The oversight committee could impose a $500-per-day fine when report deadlines pass, but Tatum said he is confident the committee will receive the reports and that there will be continued improvement in response times next month.

“I do think AMR has a track record in other cities that they have been an exceptional EMS provider, and we have great community support of entities working together to ensure that happens here as well,” Tatum said. “I believe we made the right choice when we selected AMR. I have faith in their leadership.”

Goat naming contest gathers donations for hungry students
 Lauren Dodd  / 

Lake Air Montessori Magnet School faculty, staff and students competed in a goat naming contest to collect food donations for students in need.

“We thought with it being voting season that we would come up with a way for the kids to be able to contribute to the food drive and also help name the goats,” Lake Air counselor Amy Cooper said.

Each donated item equaled one vote for a particular goat name, and the items will help feed Lake Air students through the local nonprofit Pack of Hope.

Cooper and kindergarten teacher Alison Davis were the masterminds behind the “No Goats, No Glory” grant that funded, with the help of the Waco ISD Education Foundation and Lowe’s Home Improvement, Lake Air’s newest furry additions.

Since the goats arrived in September, the formerly nameless trio was referred to as the “Triplet Sisters,” kindergartener Cora Cooper, 6, said.

The goats’ new names are Moana, Rapunzel and Tiana, each a reference to a Disney character.

During a break from the rigor of kindergarten, Cora, Amy Cooper’s daughter, fed the goats grain, and to the goats’ dismay, chased them on all fours while making goat sounds.

Cora especially loves her time with the goats, because she does not have pets at home. Her dad is allergic, Cooper said.

“All the kids are super excited. Miss Davis’ class is giving lessons to other classes on how to handle and treat the animals,” she siad. “We think that learning empathy for others and for animals is really important for the students. That was one of the main reasons we wanted to get the goats and why we wrote the grant.”

While the trio nibbled on grain, Cora sat in the grass, nuzzled and petted her new friends.

The goats also provided a research topic for the interested kindergartner, Cooper said.

“(I learned) they like to (head) butt, and when a momma nuzzles her baby that means she loves the goats,” Cora said.

The goats also provide therapy for teachers in need of a minute to breathe and an incentive for students to behave in class, Cooper said.

Pack of Hope co-founder Jane Bounds said Lake Air’s creative food drive was much needed and appreciated.

“It’s even harder for us at this time of year because there are so many nonprofits feeding families,” Bounds said. “But of course, Pack of Hope is the only group that takes food and puts it actually in the hands of the children.”

More than 28,300 students in McLennan County are food insecure, meaning they lack reliable access to nutritious food, according to statistics from the Texas Education Agency.

Every Wednesday morning, Pack of Hope volunteers bag dozens of individually wrapped food items so students in need have food to eat over the weekend.

A recent food drive at Cedar Ridge Elementary School collected enough food to feed an additional 48 students.

“They had carts in the library just filled with food,” Bounds said. “It filled the truck up completely. It was awesome.”

Every donation Pack of Hope receives goes towards feeding a student in McLennan County, she said.

Pack of Hope has a wish list of food items available at Monetary donations are also accepted through the same website.

GOP seeks last-ditch laws in states where its power slipped

LANSING, Mich. — With their grip on power set to loosen come January, Republicans in several states are considering last-ditch laws that would weaken existing or incoming Democratic governors and advance their own conservative agendas.

In Michigan, where the GOP has held the levers of power for nearly eight years, Republican legislators want to water down a minimum wage law they approved before the election so that it would not go to voters and would now be easier to amend.

Republicans in neighboring Wisconsin are discussing ways to dilute Democrat Tony Evers’ power before he takes over for GOP Gov. Scott Walker. And in North Carolina, Republicans may try to hash out the requirements of a new voter ID constitutional amendment before they lose their legislative supermajorities and their ability to unilaterally override vetoes by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

Republicans downplay the tactics and point out that Democrats have also run lame-duck sessions, including in Wisconsin in 2010 before Walker took office and the GOP took control of the Legislature. But some of the steps Republicans are expected to take will almost surely be challenged in court, and critics say such maneuvers undermine the political system and the will of the people, who voted for change.

“It’s something that smacks every Michigan voter in the face and tells them that this Republican Party doesn’t care about their voice, their perspective,” House Democratic Leader Sam Singh said of the strategizing to control the fate of minimum wage increases and paid sick leave requirements.

The moves would follow midterm elections in which Democrats swept statewide offices in Michigan and Wisconsin for the first time in decades but fell short of taking over their gerrymandered legislatures. That gives Republicans a final shot to lock in new policies, with Democrats unable to undo them anytime soon.

Michigan’s new minimum wage and sick time laws began as ballot drives but because they were preemptively adopted by lawmakers in September rather than by voters, they can be altered with simple majority votes rather than the support of three-fourths of both chambers.

One measure would gradually raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour and increase a lower wage for tipped workers until it is in line with the minimum. The other would require that employees qualify for between 40 and 72 hours of paid sick leave, depending on the size of their employer.

It is unclear how the laws may be changed to appease an anxious business lobby. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce says mandatory sick time — 10 other states also require it — will place “severe compliance burdens” on employers, including those with paid leave policies in place currently. The group also is urging lawmakers to “be pragmatic, not extreme” and revisit the wage hikes that would make Michigan’s minimum the highest in the Midwest.

Republicans seem unfazed by criticism that scaling back the measures would thwart the will of voters who resoundingly elected Democrat Gretchen Whitmer to replace GOP Gov. Rick Snyder, who reached his term limit. The Michigan Senate’s majority leader, Arlan Meekhof, said changes to the laws are needed to “continue to keep our economy on track and not put a roadblock or hindrance” in the way of businesses.

Lame-duck sessions, which are commonplace in Congress but rare among many state legislatures, are frenetic, as legislators rush to consider bills that are controversial or were put on the backburner during election season. Michigan’s 2012 session, for example, produced right-to-work laws and a contentious revised emergency manager statute for cities in financial peril, despite voters having just repealed the previous law.

The lame-duck period may be especially intense this year in Michigan and Wisconsin because they are among just four states in which Republicans are losing full control the governorship and both legislative chambers. Lawmakers in the other two states, Kansas and New Hampshire, will not convene until next year.

Six states with a split government now will be fully controlled by Democrats in 2019, and Alaska will be fully controlled by Republicans.

special report
Report outlined Baylor Title IX failures almost 2 years before 2016 leadership shakeup
 Phillip Ericksen  / 

A report commissioned by Baylor University and completed 20 months before the university fired its president and football coach outlines broad failures to address sexual assault and links the failures to the school’s Baptist values.

Multiple Baylor employees interviewed for the report expressed that Baylor was “potentially contributing to the problem” by not discussing sexual harassment and sexual violence with students. Title IX, the federal law prohibiting educational discrimination based on sex, was “whispered about, but not addressed directly,” and administrators were frustrated by many Title IX training programs because they viewed them as predicated on the idea that sex outside marriage and alcohol consumption are acceptable.

The 118-page report was compiled by Margolis Healy, a consulting firm that specializes in safety at educational institutions, after a five-day visit to campus in May 2014 and a slew of interviews and document analyses. The report, which is dated for September 2014, was obtained by the Tribune-Herald last week.

The review represents a clear picture of Baylor’s compliance failures, which officials acknowledged publicly in May 2016, when the law firm Pepper Hamilton LLP identified campuswide shortcomings in Title IX infrastructure, policies surrounding sexual violence, communication of resources, board governance and a climate of disciplinary failures that was particularly prominent in the football program. The Baylor Board of Regents fired Ken Starr as president and Art Briles as football coach and outlined reform plans when it announced results of the 2016 Pepper Hamilton investigation.

More broadly, the 2014 report shows a culture unfamiliar with a new era of campus regulation surrounding sexual violence that was ushered in by a slate of U.S. Department of Education guidance documents that started in 2011.

“Interviewees routinely indicated that they struggle to address Title IX issues in a way that honors Baylor’s values, but also provides students and other members of the Baylor community with the information and support they need,” the report states.

This struggle resulted in “limited intermittent programs that target women and focus on risk education, rather than primary prevention efforts focusing on consent, bystander intervention, and highlighting available resources.”

University officials now do not shy away from discussing sexual violence, according to a statement from Baylor last week.

“Baylor has candid and regular training and educational initiatives throughout the academic year regarding sexual and interpersonal violence,” according to the statement. “These efforts are manifested in many ways, such as mandatory annual online training for students, faculty and staff; flyers on every single bathroom stall across campus; and seminars put on by the Title IX Office and student groups, just to name a few. Our mission is to educate students in a caring community — this is something we take very seriously.”

Margolis Healy accompanied its report with more than 100 recommendations for Baylor to implement and said Baylor would achieve compliance with them. Additional guidance from the federal government regarding Title IX and the Violence Against Women Act continued in 2014 as Margolis Healy was investigating.

The firm found that Baylor’s education efforts on the subject of sexual assault were focused on students living in residence halls that house women. This practice reinforced the stereotype that men do not face sexual violence and may have sent a message “that sexual violence is a women’s issue and makes them responsible for the victimization,” the report states.

“We have to stop being stupid,” one interviewee told the consultants.

The firm also found Baylor was falling short on its obligations to disclose crime statistics under the Clery Act. The university did not produce a “single, comprehensive document” for its Annual Fire Safety and Security Report required by the law, and there was not an organized unit managing overall Clery Act compliance, according to the report.

The main responses to the firm’s findings, which were presented to the board at the time, were the hiring of a full-time Title IX coordinator and an overhaul of the Baylor Police Department.

Patty Crawford was brought in as the school’s first full-time Title IX coordinator. Margolis Healy found that Baylor’s previous method of designating an administrator with other duties to also handle Title IX responsibilities was insufficient.

Since Starr’s ouster, he has held up the 2014 Margolis Healy investigation as proof that Baylor took campus safety seriously. In his book, “Bear Country: The Baylor Story,” he wrote that almost 2,000 faculty, staff and student workers were trained in Title IX and the Violence Against Women Act between August and October of 2014.

In recent years, Baylor officials have said they have implemented recommendations from both Margolis Healy and Pepper Hamilton, including making improvements to the Title IX office and the counseling center, and increasing training and overall awareness and prevention efforts. President Linda Livingstone, who started in June 2017, has emphasized policy improvements and education efforts.

Jim Dunnam, a lawyer representing 15 women suing Baylor under Title IX, said the Margolis Healy report is “just more evidence of deliberate indifference,” referring to a legal standard he is attempting through the lawsuits to prove Baylor’s past actions fall under. Dunnam also said many of Pepper Hamilton’s recommendations mirror the recommendations Margolis Healy made.

The Department of Education has open investigations of Baylor for potential violations of Title IX and the Clery Act.

Texas pipelines draw attention, expansion plans in oil boom

HOUSTON — Pipelines have traditionally operated as the dull middle man of the energy sector, a business so boring that the hard-charging Enron dumped its pipeline holdings to chase sexier businesses during its rapid, but short-lived rise.

Today, however, the once sleepy industry is where the action is, attracting billions of dollars in investment, launching new companies and spurring a wave of mergers, acquisitions and sales.

Nowhere is the action more intense than in Texas, where companies of all sizes, public and private, are planning to spend more than $40 billion to build or expand almost 10,000 miles of pipelines — long enough to stretch from West Texas to China — to connect booming oil production in the Permian Basin primarily to refining and export markets along the Gulf Coast.

The players buying and building pipelines include the world’s largest energy companies, such as Exxon Mobil of Irving, major Houston pipeline companies like Kinder Morgan and Plains All American, refiners such as Phillips 66 of Houston, and a growing list of startups backed by private equity investors. Over the past few years, analysts count dozens of new pipeline companies entering the market and more than 20 multibillion-dollar projects potentially getting underway.

“They seem to be announcing new pipelines every day,” said Sandy Fielden, director of oil and products research at Morningstar, the Chicago investment research firm.

Texas is at the center of the action, aided by its friendly regulatory climate as well as its vast energy resources. Texas accounts for about 40 percent of the nation’s record oil production — which the Energy Department estimates at 11.6 million barrels a day — with most of it coming from the Permian. Along with oil, energy companies also are producing record volumes of natural gas and natural gas liquids, such as ethane, propane and butane, which feed the petrochemical industry that’s also expanding rapidly along the Gulf Coast.

But the rapidly rising production has outpaced pipeline capacity, leading many companies to leave oil in the ground and burn off natural gas in a practice known as flaring until new pipelines can carry their energy products to market.

“We’re feverishly trying to address the needs of the Permian Basin,” said Jeff Welch, president of NAmerico Energy, a pipeline startup based in The Woodlands. “These pipeline projects can’t come soon enough.”

NAmerico is trying to build the 460-mile Pecos Trail natural gas pipeline that would stretch from the Waha oil field in the Permian to just west of Corpus Christi in Agua Dulce, where it would connect to existing pipelines across the Gulf Coast or into Mexico to feed power plants and liquefied natural gas export facilities. The pipeline carries a price tag of more than $2 billion.

NAmerico, backed by the Dallas private equity firm Cresta Energy Capital, is an example of the flood of private equity money coming into the pipeline. Private equity firms pool money from wealthy institutional and individual investors and seek undervalued and emerging assets that have the potential to yield bigger returns than traditional investments, such as stocks and bonds. Private equity firms snapped up Permian acreage at discounts during the oil bust and, after cashing in, moved into the Eagle Ford shale in South Texas, where drilling activity is picking up, and the Gulf of Mexico, where offshore blocks can be acquired at bargain prices.

Now, private equity is moving more into pipelines, which hold the promise of big payouts through quick and steady cash flow — pipelines make money even before oil and gas is sold — with the potential to flip them for outsized profits.

NAmerico launched in 2014 with big goals. Rather than focus on smaller regional pipeline networks, NAmerico opted for larger, long-haul pipelines, coming up with the first proposal for a major new gas pipeline. Welch joked that he sometimes asks himself late at night why he went that route. Securing the necessary long-term contracts to finance the project is tough, especially when it’s a private startup versus well-known industry players such as Kinder Morgan, Targa Resources of Houston and Williams Cos. of Tulsa, Oklahoma, which have all since progressed competing projects.

“It’s proven somewhat challenging on our part to overcome that stigma,” Welch acknowledged. “We are in a pretty strong footrace.”