TIME Crime

Cops Find 100 People in Texas Home in Apparent Smuggling Bust

Suspected Human Smuggling Houston
Authorities search people, Wednesday, March 19, 2014, in southeast Houston. Cody Duty—Houston Chronicle/AP

Police in Houston find more than 100 people crammed into a 1,500-square-foot, single-family house while searching for a woman who was reported missing. Most are from Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador

Houston police searching for a woman who had been reported missing by her family discovered a house overflowing with more than 100 people Wednesday in what appeared to be part of a human smuggling operation.

Police discovered the home just outside Houston while searching for a 24-year-old woman who had been reported missing, along with her two young children, the Associated Press reports. When they searched the home, they found 94 men—all in their undergarments and without shoes—and 15 women (including the missing woman and her children) in a 1,500-square-foot house. The people were lying in filth in several small rooms with access to only one bathroom, the AP reports.

Police spokesman John Cannon said most of the people had been in the home for a few days, and one woman said she had been there more than two weeks. “It was just filth, very squalid-like conditions inside,” Cannon said. “Trash bags with clothing piled as high as you can see. … Some were just sitting on top of one another because there was just no room.”

Houston police handed over investigation of the matter to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which said the people in the home were primarily from Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador. A pregnant woman and a man were taken to the hospital for treatment, and all others will be fed and questioned. A spokesman for ICE told the AP it was too early in the investigation to say whether the house was part of a human trafficking operation, but it appeared that way.

The ICE spokesman also said it has been years since police discovered a house in the Houston area with that many people inside; in 2012, police found a house containing 86 people.

[AP]

TIME Transportation

People in California Are Using Their Cars Less

A new California Department of Transportation report shows that walking, biking, and public transportation trips have more than doubled since 2000.

California residents, long known for taking to the freeways, have dramatically reduced their dependency on cars, according to a new report.

The report by the California Department of Transportation indicates that almost 23 percent of California household trips are made by walking, biking, or using public transportation, more than double the rate in 2000. The results are driven by what the department calls a “dramatic increase” in walking trips, which have jumped from about eight percent to about sixteen percent of household trips. Still, the vast majority of trips are still in cars, vans, and trucks.

It’s “a shift with real benefits for public health that also cuts greenhouse gases and smog-forming pollution,” Mary Nichols, chairman of the California Air Resources Board, said in a statement.

The study surveyed more than 42,000 households and nearly 109,000 Californians. The information is a cause of celebration for environmentalists who have seen mixed trends nationwide, as the number of car miles driven annually peaked about a decade ago, the Los Angeles Times reports. But congestion has risen recently due to the recovering economy.

TIME Drug Policy

Heroin Deaths Spike in Cleveland Area

A Cleveland police officer looks over bags of heroin at a news conference in Cleveland, Ohio, in 2010.
A Cleveland police officer looks over bags of heroin at a news conference in Cleveland, Ohio, in 2010. Amy Sancetta—AP

New figures released by a Cleveland medical examiner show heroin-induced deaths in the metropolitan area hit a record 195 last year, well above the 161 in 2012, highlighting what Attorney General Eric Holder calls an “urgent and growing public health crisis"

Heroin-induced deaths have risen sharply in the Cleveland metropolitan area to a record 195 last year, a local medical examiner said Thursday.

The 2013 heroin-related death toll in Cuyahoga County in Ohio was a significant increase from 161 overdose deaths in 2012 and just 40 in 2007, Cleveland.com reports, and the latest example of what Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday called an “urgent and growing public health crisis.”

“It was my hope that 2013 would see the number of heroin fatalities decrease, but that was not the case,” said Dr. Thomas Gilson, the Cuyahoga County medical examiner. There were more heroin-related deaths than homicides.

Authorities across the country are confronting a resurgence in heroin, fueled partly by a larger, cheaper supply from Latin American cartels and a bigger market for opiates driven by prescription painkillers.

In his address earlier this week, Holder announced that the Justice Department would combat the epidemic through a mix of enforcement and treatment efforts. Heroin use has been rising nationwide since 2007, growing from 373,000 yearly users to 669,000 in 2012, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Heroin overdose deaths have also spiked, increasing 45 percent from 2006 to 2010, according to the most recently available data from the Drug Enforcement Administration.

[Cleveland.com]

TIME Law

Colorado Court Says Pot Convictions Could Be Overturned Under New Law

Convictions that were under appeal when the new law allowing recreational weed took effect can be thrown out, a Colorado court ruled Thursday. The decision could impact hundreds of people who were jailed for pot possession

An appeals court in Colorado ruled Thursday that some people previously convicted of marijuana possession could have their convictions overturned after voters in the state legalized recreational marijuana in 2012.

The Colorado Court of Appeals, considering the case of a women convicted of multiple drug charges, said convictions for possession of small amounts of marijuana that were under appeal when the law took effect could have their convictions reversed, the Associated Press reports. The ruling could impact hundreds of people who were jailed for possession of marijuana, marijuana legalization advocate Brian Vicente told the AP.

The office of the state Attorney General said prosecutors are reviewing the opinion to determine any next steps.

[AP]

TIME States

Arizona Governor Won’t Seek Re-election

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer Bill Clark—CQ Roll Call/Getty Images

Brewer's announcement ends speculation that the Republican might mount a legal challenge to allow her to run for a third term. The state's conservative governor is best known for signing a controversial immigration enforcement measure into law

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer announced Wednesday that she won’t run for re-election this year, closing the door on a possible legal challenge that might have allowed her to run for a third term.

Brewer, a Republican, had previously cited “ambiguity” in the state constitution’s two-term limit for governors because she completed former Gov. Janet Napolitano’s term before winning her own full term in 2010. But she ended speculation about running again during a speech in Phoenix, the Arizona Capitol Times reports.

“Serving as governor of Arizona has been the privilege and pleasure of my life,” Brewer said. “However, there does come a time to pass the torch of leadership. So, after completing this term in office, I will be doing just that.”

Brewer rose to national prominence in 2010 after her support for a controversial immigration enforcement bill. Under intense pressure from gay rights groups, the business community and many Republicans, she recently vetoed legislation that would have protected business owners who denied services to gays and lesbians on religious grounds.

The GOP is likely to hold the governorship in the conservative state, and several candidates had already started mounting campaigns even before Brewer’s announcement.

[Arizona Capitol Times]

TIME Law

Mothers Team Up to Fight Stand Your Ground Law

Sybrina Fulton of Miami, Fla., mother of Trayvon Martin, wipes her eyes during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Stand Your Ground" laws Oct. 29, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Sybrina Fulton of Miami, Fla., mother of Trayvon Martin, wipes her eyes during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Stand Your Ground" laws Oct. 29, 2013 in Washington, DC. Win McNamee—Getty Images

The mothers of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis -- the two teens who lost their lives in actions that put the controversial law center stage and sparked national debate -- are helping to lead a protest Monday at Florida’s State Capitol for the law's repeal

The mothers of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis are working together to end Florida’s infamous “stand your ground” law.

“These two moms are going to make positive change to make sure that ‘stand your ground’ doesn’t continue to happen,” Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin told CBS News.

Stand your ground” laws allow people who fear for their safety to use deadly force against their agressor and override any legal obligation they have to retreat. Fulton and Lucia McBath—the mother of Davis—both lost their sons to men whose actions put the law center stage and sparked national debate, though they didn’t necessarily use the law as part of their legal defense. Martin was killed by George Zimmerman in 2012 and Davis was shot and killed by Michael Dunn during a dispute over Davis’ music volume. Martin was acquitted, while Dunn was convicted of attempted murder but the jury hung on more serious murder charges.

Fulton and McBath are helping to lead a protest Monday at Florida’s State Capitol for the repeal of stand your ground. They argue the law gives killers the excuse to “shoot and kill someone and then ask questions later.”

But Florida is preparing to expand the law to allow people who feel their life is in jeopardy to fire a warning shot, CBS reports. Proponents of this addition say it will protect people like Marissa Alexander, who says she fired a warning shot in 2012 that killed her abusive husband. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Alexander’s family is joining the march in protest of the law.

[CBS News]

TIME Gay Marriage

Don’t Make ‘Religious Freedom’ a Pawn in the Culture Wars

Jan Brewer
Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer speaks at a news conference announcing her veto of SB1062, Feb. 26, 2014, in Phoenix. Ross D. Franklin—AP

Gay marriage and religious freedom can co-exist, but recent bills at the state level have plotted the wrong course.

Recently the state legislatures of Arizona and Kansas, seeking largely to protect the rights of religious objectors to gay marriage, have considered expansions of their states’ definitions of religious liberty. Both bills failed. The Kansas bill passed the House but not the Senate, and the Arizona bill was vetoed by Governor Jan Brewer. But as other states – reportedly including Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee – now consider similar legislation, it’s important to examine the core principles at stake.

In recent years something interesting has been happening in the U.S.: As gay unions have been recognized, so have the rights of religious objectors.

For example, when New York’s legislature recognized gay marriage in 2011, the law also insulated religious organizations that object to gay marriage (or any marriage) from both private lawsuits and government penalties. In Maine, a successful ballot initiative in 2012 permits gay marriage, but also permits organizations to refuse to host weddings to which they object on religious grounds, without facing a threat to their tax-exempt status. Similar protections for religious and religiously-affiliated organizations have accompanied legislative victories for gay marriage in other states.

Were any of these results perfect, from the perspective of either marriage equality advocates or advocates for religious freedom? Of course not. Did they achieve real gains for both sides? Yes.

This recent American dynamic of expanded gay rights in tandem with stronger guarantees of religious liberty offers important lessons. First, it reminds us that no right is absolute. Even a fundamental right exists only in relation to, and often in tension with, other important rights.

Second, it shows us that in politics, as in much of life, the best outcomes tend to be the results of negotiated compromise, in which each sides gives as well as gets. Declarations can be a good starting point, but ultimately there must be a conversation.

Third, it shows us that, even in this hyper-partisan era, very diverse groups of Americans can actually find creative ways to live together.

The bills recently debated in Kansas and Arizona and being considered in other states represent a sharp departure from this path. For example, in 25 states, Kansas and Arizona among them, there is both a constitutional ban on gay marriage and no underlying state law protecting citizens from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in areas such as housing and employment. Neither Kansas nor Arizona permits same-sex civil unions or domestic partnerships.

So what, exactly, in the area of gay rights and gay unions, were religiously motivated Kansans and Arizonans being protected from? When there’s only one legally recognized set of rights, there’s little to negotiate and almost nothing of substance with which to compromise. It’s difficult to engage the “other” when, in effect, you are talking only to yourself and only about your needs.

The Kansas bill was quite extreme. Its terms would protect all religious objections not only to gay marriage, but also to gay civil unions, gay domestic partnerships, and “similar” arrangements. And for good measure, it specifies that religious objections to gay unions always win, regardless of the cost to same-sex couples.

Arizona’s bill was different. It was an expansion (some proponents would say clarification) of the state’s existing law protecting religious freedom. In Arizona, as in 17 other states, that protection is based on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which provides important protections for religious believers in cases of state over-reach – for example, when a city seeks to require the removal of crosses and statues of saints from cemeteries.

At the same time, the Arizona bill was often described by friend and foe alike as a way to counteract the same-sex marriage movement – in a state that, like Kansas, already denies any legal recognition of gay unions. More importantly, like the Kansas bill, the Arizona bill would seemingly have expanded the scope of protection from religious organizations to every individual and private business in the state – a shift so broad and open-ended that it clearly raises troubling questions regarding basic fair treatment. Would the new law increase protection for a restaurant owner with a religious objection to serving gay couples?

It didn’t have to be this way, and it need not be this way in the future. The important American value of religious freedom doesn’t have to become just another pawn in a no-compromise, winner-take-all culture war.

Legislators in Kansas, Arizona and 23 other states who are properly determined to protect religious freedom can begin by asking themselves: Does any religious conviction justify denying lesbians and gays a basic legal promise of non-discrimination in hiring, public accommodations, and housing? Surely the answer to this question is no. Correcting that inequity would begin the process of recognizing that both sides – gay couples and religious objectors – have rights and that reasonable accommodation is possible only when both sides have something to gain.

Leah Ward Sears is a partner at the law firm of Schiff Hardin LLP in Atlanta and was a former Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court. David Blankenhorn is president of the New York-based Institute for American Values.

TIME States

‘Take Me Home Country Roads’ Is Now the Official West Virginia State Song

"Almost heaven, West Virginia"

A resolution proposing that “Take Me Home Country Road” by John Denver become the official state song of West Virginia passed Friday, tghe West Virginia Metro News.

TIME States

Idaho Advances Bill to Allow Guns on College Campuses

Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter delivers his State of the State address inside the house chambers at the state Capitol building on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Boise, Idaho.
Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter delivers his State of the State address inside the house chambers at the state Capitol building on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Boise, Idaho. Otto Kitsinger—AP

New legislation has passed the state's House and landed on the desk of Republic Gov. C.L. 'Butch' Otter, who is likely to sign the measure into law

Idaho lawmakers voted Thursday to allow concealed guns to be carried onto college and university campuses, so long as the weapons stay out of the dorms or large entertainment venues seating more than 1,000 people.

The legislation, which passed the state House 50 to 19, is now on the desk of Republican Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, who supports the proposal on Second Amendment grounds, the Spokesman-Review reports.

While the proposal has broad support in the state legislature—the Senate passed the bill in February, 25 to 10—there is overwhelming opposition among members of the Idaho education community. All eight public university presidents, the state Board of Education, faculty senates and student associations oppose the measure, according to the Spokesman-Review. Greg Hampikian, a professor of biology and criminal justice at Boise State University, penned an op-ed for the New York Times titled “When May I Shoot A Student?

But the proposal passed Idaho’s conservative state assembly, in which Democrats control a fourth or less of the House and Senate, with the strong support of the National Rifle Association.

[Spokesman-Review]

TIME Religion

Giving Away Guns For God

Kentucky Baptists attract nonbelievers to church with the promise of free firearms

Correction appended, March 7

Last year, almost 400 religiously unaffiliated men converted to Christianity at East Bay Calvary Community Church in Traverse City, Mich., over two days. What convinced these men to give church a try? The chance to win one of 80 guns in a church-organized giveaway.

East Bay Calvary is one of dozens in the Midwest giving away firearms to entice nonbelievers, especially men, to attend services, and Chuck McAlister is often there to preach to them.

A pastor for 35 years, McAlister starred in the Adventure-Bound Outdoors television show on the Outdoor Channel and now works for the Kentucky Baptist Convention. He’s regularly invited to speak at church gun giveaways, something he says has become increasingly common in the Midwest.

(MORE: A Church-Shaped Hole in Our Lives)

“Because of the recent discussion of Second Amendment rights, it’s fueled an interest for unchurched men,” McAlister says. “The church is interested in going after them. They’re recognizing that a bridge can be built to the community through the Second Amendment.”

McAlister participates in “affinity evangelism,” which uses community activities to attract people to church and possibly convert them to Christianity. Churches within the Kentucky Baptist Convention, which has 2,400 members, often use quilting groups to reach women. Others use archery or softball tournaments. But statewide, churches are trying to piggyback off the popularity of hunting and increased discussion of the right to bear arms.

In the last two months, McAlister has spoken at about a dozen churches that handed out guns while addressing not just the Gospel but Second Amendment rights. Last year, he says he spoke in about 40 churches and saw 1,700 people turn to Christ, thanks in part to the gun giveaway. While some offer just one firearm as a door prize, a few–like the East Bay Calvary Community Church in Traverse City—give away dozens.

Churches eager to use firearms as prizes typically find a business willing to purchase the gun or donate money for one, and will then hold a giveaway in the church, often just for guests. Although they’ll display a gun—normally a hunting rifle or shotgun—for churchgoers to see, the winner actually receives a certificate to a local gun shop, where they’ll be required to go through the usual background checks and registration.

(MORE: Gabrielle Giffords Plans Book on Gun Control)

While church gun giveaways seem to be growing in popularity, they’ve been happening in small-town churches throughout the Midwest and South for decades. A few years ago, an Oklahoma church planned to give away a semiautomatic rifle to teenagers but later canceled the event. McAlister acknowledges that not everyone is happy with churches offering incentives, let alone guns, to attend church.

“Those who push back deserve to be listened to,” he says. “But people have had their sensitivity raised to Second Amendment challenges nationally, and churches are recognizing it and addressing it in a way that helps them.”

Correction: The original version of this story stated that church officials raffled off guns. They are given away as door prizes.

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