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Utah Bill Seeks to Decriminalize Polygamy

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  • A Utah Senate committee unanimously approved a bill that would make polygamy an infraction rather than a felony, as it’s been considered for 85 years. The bill will now move to the full state Senate.
  • Supporters argue that the current law isolates polygamous groups and creates an environment of fear that makes victims less likely to report abuse. 
  • Those in opposition of the bill worry it would give abusive leaders more power.
  • Opposers also argue that victims are likely to still fear their leaders if polygamy is decriminalized and said the current law should remain in place because it protects them.

New Bill

A bill that could decriminalize polygamy in Utah was unanimously approved by a state Senate committee on Monday. 

Bigamy, the act of two people getting married when one is already married to another person, has been considered a felony in Utah for 85 years. The proposed legislation would change it to be an infraction, an offense aligned with traffic violations. Infractions hold no jail time in Utah. 

Though polygamy has been outlawed in the state for decades, certain religious groups still practice it. For years, the Utah attorney general’s office has declined to prosecute polygamists except when they commit other crimes as well. 

Republican Sen. Deidre Henderson is the bill’s chief sponsor. She believes the current law is essentially ineffective and actually creates more problems like isolating polygamist groups and criminalizing people who otherwise commit no crimes. 

Henderson argued that the current law creates an environment of fear that pushes polygamists into hiding, allowing for more abuse and other crimes linked to polygamy to take place. Supporters of the bill pointed to the case of polygamist leader Warren Jeffs who is currently serving a life sentence for sexually assaulting girls that he considered his plural wives.

“The law is a failure. It hasn’t stopped polygamy at all and it’s actually enabled abuse to occur and remain unchecked,” Henderson said when arguing for her bill.

Support for Bill

Henderson has been backed by multiple individuals and groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah and the Statewide Association of Prosecutors. 

Current and former members of polygamist communities also spoke out in support of the bill. 

“It’s an easy solution to me to bring some people out of the shadows and then let’s aggressively target abuse,” Alina Darger, a plural wife, said.

Shirlee Draper, a former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), shared her story with the members of the Senate committee on Monday. She said she left the polygamous community when Warren Jeffs became the leader.

“But it took me six years to leave because I was swept up with the guilt in the way current statute was written,” Draper said.

Draper works as a victim advocate and argued that while other violent cases from a variety of families and backgrounds are seen as unrelated, polygamists are unfairly assumed to be committing these acts.  

Opposition of Bill

While the bill has received support from a notable amount of people, other former members of polygamist communities have spoken up to oppose it. 

Ora Barlow, an ex-member of the FLDS, argued the current law could be the only thing protecting potential victims because they might still fear their religious leaders. 

“As a child growing up there, I can tell you the only friend I felt like I had was the law,” Barlow said. “When the law did take effect and the leaders were put in prison, I actually felt free. And I know most of my family and my friends and they felt free, from the law having done its job.” 

Melissa Ellis expressed a similar sentiment, saying she worried that abusive polygamist leaders could view the bill as a victory. 

“Those men are going to have more power and more control over their victims than they did before,” she said.

Ellis also noted a recent law that allows money from the state’s crime-victims fund to be given to people leaving polygamist communities, to help them in a time of transition. 

“We need more laws in place that are going to help the victims,” she said. 

Others condemned the bill for its push to make polygamy acceptable, arguing that the practice is inherently oppressive toward women. 

“To make this an infraction? You’re essentially saying this is an OK lifestyle,” said Angela Kelly, the director of the Sound Choices Coalition, a nonprofit against polygamy.

The bill will now move to the full state Senate for consideration. 

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Fox13) (Associated Press)

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Nearly 9 Million Are Without Water in Texas, Some Face Electric Bills up To $17,000

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  • More than 8.8 million people in Texas remained under boil water notices Monday, and over 120,000 had no water service at all. 
  • Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Sunday that the state has distributed around 3.5 million bottles of water, though many of the lines to receive that water were plagued with hours-long waits.
  • Meanwhile, power outages in the state have fallen below 20,000, but many Texans are also beginning to receive astronomical electric bills of as much as $17,000.
  • Both Abbott and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) said those prices are not the fault of customers. While some form of forgiveness is likely, no immediate plan has been outlined yet. 

Millions Without Water

As of Monday morning, nearly 8.8 million people in Texas are still under boil water notices following last week’s snowstorm. That’s about one out of every three Texans.

Despite being a giant chunk of the state’s population, that figure is actually an improvement from 10 million people on Sunday. 

Another 120,000 Texans are still without water service at all.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Sunday almost 3.5 million bottles of water have been distributed across Texas by helicopter, airplane, and truck.

The need for water has been extremely visible. An Austin City Council member shared a video on Twitter Sunday showing a massive line of vehicles waiting for clean water. Some waited for more than an hour before the distribution event began. At another site, she said cars began lining up more than five hours before the event. 

Abbott said the state is bringing in more plumbers to increase repair efforts for damaged water systems. Additionally, Abbott said homeowners without insurance could qualify for emergency reimbursement from FEMA.

Meanwhile, one large-scale effort from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY.) has now raised more than $5 million since first being launched on Thursday. That money will go to several organizations, including the Houston Food Bank, Family Eldercare, Feeding Texas, and the Bridge Homeless Recovery Center.

Texas Electric Bills Soar as High as $17K

All but just under 20,000 Texas homes and businesses have now had their power restored as of Monday morning.

That’s a stark contrast from the more than 4 million that were out of power at one point last week. 

While that’s largely good news, many Texans are now beginning to receive sky-high electric bills. That’s especially evident for those whose power stayed on during the storm. In fact, some people have now told multiple media outlets they’re facing bills as high as $17,000.

One 63-year-old Army vet, who was charged $16,752, told The New York Times that his bill was about 70 times higher than normal.

“My savings is gone,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do about it, but it’s broken me.”

As far as why his and others’ eclectic bills are so high, many people in Texas have plans that are directly tied to the wholesale price of electricity. Usually, that helps keep their costs low, but as demand for power surged during last week’s snowstorm, those prices hit astronomical highs. 

In a statement on Saturday, Abbott said Texas lawmakers “have a responsibility to protect Texans from spikes in their energy bills that are a result of the severe winter weather and power outages,” 

He added that the state Legislature is working “on solutions to help Texas families and ensure they do not get stuck with skyrocketing energy bills.”

In a similar tone, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) said in an interview with CBS on Sunday, “It’s not the consumers who should assume [these] costs. They are not at fault for what happened this week.”

That said, Turner also laid blame at the feet of the Legislature, calling the current crisis “foreseeable” on the part of lawmakers because a similar snowstorm and outages struck Texas in 2011.

Turner added that, at the time, he was part of the Texas legislature and had filed a bill that would have required the agency overseeing Texas’ grid to “ensure that there was an adequate reserve to prevent blackouts.”

“The leadership in Austin did not give it a hearing,” he said. 

While no aid has been fully guaranteed yet, Texas has prevented electric companies from being able to shut off power for people who don’t pay their bills on time. 

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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Texans Still Face Broken Pipes, Flooding, and Carbon Monoxide Poisoning as Million Regain Power

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  • The number of Texans without power fell from 3.3 million on Wednesday to below 500,000 by Thursday.
  • Still, millions are currently under a boil advisory, pipes have burst as they begin to thaw, and some individuals have died or been hospitalized because of carbon monoxide poisoning. 
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency said Wednesday that it has sent generators, water, and blankets to Texas, adding that it’s working to send additional diesel for generators.
  • Gov. Greg Abbott and President Joe Biden have also reportedly discussed the possibility of extra funding for people’s electricity bills, as well as for burst pipes.

Power May Be Back but Problems Persist

Power outages in Texas Thursday morning fell to under 500,000 — down from 3.3 million Wednesday morning. 

According to the state’s main grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the remaining outages are largely weather-related and not connected to problems related to forced outages. 

While that return of power to millions is significant, Texans are still facing a host of other problems.

For example, there have been numerous reports of carbon monoxide poisoning as people still without power try to keep warm in their cars or through other means. An adult and a child were found dead Tuesday after running their car inside of a garage, prompting Houston police to issue a statement warning that “cars, grills and generators should not be used in or near a building.”

Six children and four adults were rushed to the hospital Wednesday night for carbon monoxide poisoning after setting up grills inside their homes. 

Even for those now with power, water has become a major issue. On Wednesday, 7 million Texans were placed on a boil advisory and about 263,000 were without functioning water providers. 

One reporter tweeted out a video of people lining up at a park to fill up buckets of water.

“This is not a third world country,” she said. “This is Houston, Texas.”

The Food and Drug Administration and the National Weather Service have even cited melting and boiling snow as an emergency option if people can’t find water elsewhere, an option many have already turned to. 

For some, all these problems only seemed to compound in the form of burst pipes. One viral video shows water gushing out of a third-story apartment. Others posted images of their broken pipes and the damage they have caused. 

As a result, a number of local media outlets have begun to outline steps people can take once their pipes start to thaw or if they break. 

Amid Problems, Aid is Being Distributed

Alongside the overwhelming amount of problems, there has also been a large aid response.

A FEMA spokesperson said Wednesday that the agency has sent 60 “very large” generators to help keep hospitals and other critical infrastructure open. 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki added that FEMA is preparing to move diesel into Texas to keep that backup power going.

So far, FEMA said it has sent “millions of liters of water” and “tens of thousands” of blankets.

Governor Greg Abbott and President Joe Biden have also reportedly discussed the possibility of extra funding for people’s electricity bills, as well as for burst pipes. That’s because as the storm first hit, electrical demand surged. Since many Texans have plans connected to the wholesale price of electricity, they’re potentially set to be hit with sky-high bills.

Among other issues plaguing Texans is food spoilage; however, that can potentially be reimbursed through renters’ and homeowners’ insurance.

According to an official from the Insurance Council of Texas, “Food coverage is often related to personal property.”

Notably, there are some stipulations depending on individual circumstances and policy. To learn more about how insurance providers accept food spoilage claims, click here.

See what others are saying: (KTRK) (The New York Times) (Houston Chronicle)

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Texas Mayor Tells “Lazy” Residents “No One Owes You” Anything Amid Power Outages

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  • When residents in Colorado City, Texas turned to a local Facebook group to ask if the city or county had emergency shelter plans in place to keep people warm amid power outages, Mayor Tim Boyd shared a Facebook message that sparked outrage.
  • “Sink or swim it’s your choice! The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout!” he wrote before suggesting that those struggling are “lazy.”
  • “Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish,” he added. “Get off your ass and take care of your own family!”
  • Hours later, Boyd said he was speaking as a citizen since he had already turned in his resignation and had not signed up to run for mayor again ahead of the deadline a few days ago. It’s unclear when he actually resigned and he is still listed as mayor on the city’s website.

Mayor Under Fire

The mayor of Colorado City, Texas is facing intense backlash for comments he made on Facebook Tuesday claiming the local government has no responsibility to assist residents struggling amid historic winter temperatures.

The remarks came after community members turned to a local Facebook page asking if the city or county had emergency shelters in place to keep people warm amid widespread power outages.

In response, Mayor Tim Boyd wrote, “No one owes you [or] your family anything; nor is it the local government’s government’s responsibility to support you during trying times like this!”

“Sink or swim it’s your choice!” He continued. “The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout!”

Boyd argued that residents should come up with their own plans to keep their families safe. Those that are sitting at home in the cold waiting for assistance, he said, are “lazy” as a direct result of their raising.

“Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish,” he continued, likely meaning perish in his statement.

He blamed the calls for basic services like heat and electricity a product of a “socialist government where they feed people to believe that the FEW will work and others will become dependent for handouts.”

He closed by telling locals to “quit crying,” adding, “Get off your ass and take care of your own family!”

Source: KTXS

Mayor Doubles Down, Says He Already Resigned

That now-deleted post drew immediate backlash as Texans continue to slam the government for not delivering adequate support amid the storm.

The outrage eventually prompted Boyd to write a follow-up post, which he also later deleted.

In it, he claimed that his comments “were taken out of context” and did not apply to the elderly; however, he continued to double down.

“I was only making the statement that those folks that are too lazy to get up and fend for themselves but are capable should not be dealt a handout. I apologize for the wording and some of the phrases that were used!”

Boyd said he already turned in his resignation and had not signed up to run for mayor again ahead of the deadline a few days ago. He also said he wished he would’ve kept his words to himself or been more descriptive, and he added that all the anger and harassment since his post has caused his wife to lose her job.

Source: KTXS

Ultimately, he said he was speaking as a citizen since he is no longer mayor and called for the harassment of his family to stop.

According to The Washington Post, it isn’t immediately clear if he resigned before or after writing his controversial Facebook post. As of early Wednesday morning, the paper noted that he was still listed as mayor on Colorado City’s website, and city council agendas showed that he had served in that role as recently as last week.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (KTXS) (People)

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