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Rep. Wu Supports Annual HISD Grads Within Reach Walk

September 11, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Beth Martin – 713-271-3900

Representative Gene Wu Supports Annual HISD Grads Within Reach Walk

On Saturday, September 12, 2015, Representative Wu joins community volunteers and school staff at Sharpstown High School in Southwest Houston in an annual effort to visit the homes of students who have not returned to finish high school and help them explore options toward graduation.

“Volunteering on behalf of our neighborhood schools is one of the most rewarding experiences we can all take part in. Teachers, neighbors, and family members will be knocking on doors this Saturday to encourage dropouts to return to school and complete working toward their graduation. I encourage all Houstonians with time, talent, and resources to get involved and find ways to partner with a school in their community.”

The Houston Independent School District (HISD) has held this annual event every fall since 2002. Last year, nearly 600 volunteers participated by visiting the homes of close to 1500 students across the city. The outreach effort led to the immediate return of 59 students, and many more who re-enrolled later in the year. Representative Wu has previously volunteered at Sharpstown High School, tutoring at-risk youth in the Grad Lab and Twilight programs.

More than 1.2 million students across the country drop out of high school before receiving a diploma. These students are at a distinct disadvantage. According to the PBS Frontline special, “Dropout Nation,” the average high school dropout can expect to earn an annual income of only $20,241 — a full $10,386 less than the typical high school graduate.

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State Rep. Gene Wu Condemns Jeb Bush’s Defense of Term ‘Anchor Babies’

August 25, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 25, 2015
Contact: Beth Martin – 713-271-3900

State Rep. Gene Wu Condemns Jeb Bush’s Defense of Term ‘Anchor Babies’

HOUSTON, TX- Yesterday at a press conference in McAllen, Texas, in an attempt to appeal to ultra-right wing conservatives Jeb Bush defended his use of the term “anchor babies” by saying “frankly, it is more related to Asian people.” State Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston) calls for Bush to apologize for using immigrants as scapegoats for political gain.

“Virtually every American is an immigrant or a descendant of an immigrant,” Wu said. “But, every political season, some politician will think it’s funny to pin the ills of the nation on immigrants because they are convenient targets. America was built and made strong on the backs of immigrant labor. Latinos and Asian immigrants alike have contributed immeasurably to the wealth and prosperity of this great nation.”

Rep. Gene Wu, an immigrant himself, represents Southwest Houston, an area rich in cultural diversity.

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Representative Gene Wu Supports the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO)

August 12, 2015

Houston Unites press conference August 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 12, 2015
Contact: Greg Wythe – 713-271-3900

Representative Gene Wu Supports the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO)

On November 5, 2015, voters in the City of Houston will be asked to vote on a referendum that will determine the fate of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). State Representative Gene Wu offered his support today to the proponents of the measure:

“I’m proud to support Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance. Houston has worked so hard to be known as an international city that attracts businesses from all around the world. Like real heroes, this ordinance protects everyone from discrimination and bigotry. We want the world to know that they will find a warm and welcoming home in Houston; a place where everyone has the opportunity to be successful.”

HERO protects the rights of everyone who lives and works in the City of Houston. The ordinance provides an extra layer of security against discrimination in city employment, city services, city contracting practices, housing, public accommodations, and private employment. The ordinance specifically protects against discrimination based on sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, or pregnancy.

Houston is the among the last major cities in the nation to pass such an ordinance. If HERO is repealed, victims of discrimination would only be able to rely on the federal courts for redress; as the State laws provide little protection against discrimination.

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HERO Support Statement

Wu Issues Second Letter to DSHS Calling for the Release of Information Concerning Policies Denying Birth Certificates to Children of Immigrants

August 10, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 10, 2015
AMY BRUNO / 512-463-0492

Wu Issues Second Letter to Department of State Health Services Calling for the Release of Information Concerning Policies Denying Birth Certificates to Children of Immigrants

AUSTIN, TX – State Representative Gene Wu (D-Houston) issued a second letter to the Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner Kirk Cole asking for details concerning DSHS policy which has left unknown numbers of US citizen children of immigrant parents without copies of their birth certificates. Wu issued an initial letter on July 17th condemning the practice and requesting more information about Department policy, but DSHS has yet to respond.

“Texans deserve to know if, when, and why a state agency began implementing policies that violate the US Constitution,” Wu commented.

According to media reports, a pending lawsuit, and public statements made by DSHS, the Department’s Vital Statistics Unit has been rejecting matricula consular consulate issued identification cards as proof of identity when parents apply for birth certificates. DSHS also will not accept foreign passports unless they have a US Visa stamp. This leaves many parents of US citizens with no viable alternative form of identification to obtain their children’s birth documents under DSHS’ current rules. Over a dozen affected families are plaintiffs in the lawsuit against DSHS, filed by the Texas Civil Rights Project and Texas Rio Grande Legal Aide.

Without birth certificates, parents may face challenges enrolling their children in school, obtaining benefits for their children, or proving a familial relationship. The affected children will also face challenges obtaining identification and proving citizenship later in life. It is unclear when this policy started, and when DSHS began enforcing it. This is the subject of Rep. Wu’s latest inquiry.

“I am asking the Department to be transparent about when and why it initiated this policy,” Wu said. “DSHS is not above the law, and needs to come into compliance with the US constitution and issue birth certificates to all citizens. If DSHS’ motives were discriminatory or political in nature, we want to know that and take appropriate action to hold the agency accountable.”

Several other state lawmakers have also condemned the practice, and urged DSHS to resume issuing birth certificates to all parents of US citizen children, regardless of the parents’ immigration status.

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Fifth Circuit Affirms Need for Voting Rights Act

August 5, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 5, 2015
Contact: Greg Wythe – 713-271-3900

Fifth Circuit Affirms Need for Voting Rights Act

AUSTIN – August 6th marks the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act which was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Most notably, the Act has accomplished greater access to the ballot box by eliminating obstacles used to keep racial and ethnic minorities from registering to vote.

On the eve of this historic anniversary, today, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Texas’ Voter ID law has a “discriminatory effect” that violates Section Two of the Voting Rights Act. This ruling strikes down one of the most onerous and controversial voting laws in the nation.

Representative Wu lends his support to plaintiffs in the Voter ID lawsuit: “Our democracy owes much to the Voting Rights Act for providing greater access to the ballot box. Today’s ruling by the Fifth Circuit affirms the continued need for strong protections of our right to vote.” Wu adds, “We should protect our voting process, but that effort should be weighed carefully against measures that disenfranchise voters because they are poor or live in rural areas.”

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State Representative Gene Wu – a Democrat – represents District 137 in Southwest Houston.

VRA-FifthCircuit_PR

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wu Calls for Reform Following Death of Sandra Bland

July 31, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 31, 2015
AMY BRUNO / 512-463-0492

House Committee Hears Testimony on Jail Standards;
Wu Calls for Reform Following the Death of Sandra Bland

On Thursday afternoon, the Texas House Committee on County Affairs heard testimony on jail standards, mental health, and officer conduct. The hearing followed the disturbing arrest and subsequent tragic death of Sandra Bland in the Waller County Jail.

Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston), County Affairs committee member, said following the hearing on Thursday:

“We had an extremely honest and productive hearing today. I want to thank Chairman Coleman for his leadership in facilitating a candid and open discussion on these pressing matters. Sandra Bland’s death was a tragedy that did not need to happen. I hope we make the effort to learn from this incident and reform the way we operate our jails, and manage our criminal court dockets.”

Approximately 61% of people in Texas county jails are being held pre-trial;[1] meaning that a court has not found them guilty of any crime. Many others sit in jail because they are unable to pay fines and fees assessed by the court. Rep. Wu adds, “Texas jails have become modern debtors’ prisons – those with means can leave, but the poor languish.”

Media reports indicate that Waller County had recently moved to a “fixed bond” schedule, where the amount of the bond is set based on the criminal charge alone, without accounting for individual means and circumstances.[2] Rep. Wu notes, “This type of fixed bond schedule doesn’t take into account the actual nature of the incident or whether the defendant is a danger to others; it ties the hands of prosecutors and judges to make common sense adjustments.”

Wu adds, “We have also discussed for years that criminal courts use personal recognizance bonds (‘PR Bonds’) for anyone charged with a petty offense and pose no risk of harm or flight; yet few courts have done so.”

The hearing Thursday also highlighted pervasive mental health issues in jails. Following Bland’s death, The Texas Commission on Jail Standards found the Waller County Jail to be noncompliant with mental health standards; citing a lack of staff training on mental health and failure to check on inmates every hour.[3] The TCJS has cited Waller County Jail for standards violations multiple times over the last several years.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, suicide is the leading cause of death in local jails, and more than a third of jail deaths occur within the first 7-days after booking.[4] A significant proportion of people in jails have serious mental health needs, and jail conditions can exacerbate mental health issues, cause significant distress, and lead to mental and physical deterioration.

During the 84th Legislative Session, Wu championed efforts to improve jail conditions. He joint-authored HB 549, introduced by Rep. Eric Johnson (D-Dallas), which ensures people held in jail have the opportunity for in-person visits from family and friends; rather than video-only visits. Jails that had already switched to video-only systems will be allowed to continue with those systems due to a compromise needed to pass the bill, but Wu encourages all counties to do the right thing.

“The ability to have direct contact with loved ones helps maintain the mental wellbeing of people in county custody,” Wu said. “We should not save money at the cost of increasing the risk that people will harm themselves.”

Bland’s tragic death highlights injustices in Texas law enforcement and jail systems. Wu vows to work with his colleagues over the interim and during the next legislative session to push for meaningful change.

“We need to reduce the number of people languishing in jail, decrease penalties for petty crimes, increase the use of personal recognizance bonds, improve overall conditions in jails, look at inequalities in our criminal justice system, and address law enforcement training and professionalism,” Wu said. “Texans deserve a smarter and more efficient criminal justice system. We will be asking for the public’s support on these efforts.”

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[1]Texas Commission on Jail Standards. Texas County Jail Population, June 1, 2015. http://www.tcjs.state.tx.us/docs/POPSUMCurrent.pdf
[2] See Neyfakh, Leon. “Why Was Sandra Bland Still in Jail.” Slate. 23 Jul. 2015. http://www.easybib.com/reference/guide/mla/newspaper
[3] Texas Commission on Jail Standards. Special Inspection Report, Waller County Jail. July 16, 2015. http://www.tcjs.state.tx.us/docs/Waller_NC.pdf
[4] Noonan, Margaret E. (2014) Mortality in Local Jails and State Prisons, 2000-2012-Statistical Tables. United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/mljsp0012st.pdf

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Rep. Wu Notes 50th Anniversary of Medicaid and Medicare

July 30, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 30, 2015
AMY BRUNO / 512-463-0492

Rep. Wu Notes the 50th Anniversary of Medicaid and Medicare

AUSTIN – Thursday, July 30 marks the 50th anniversary of two landmark pieces of legislation authored by Texas democrat, President Lyndon B. Johnson. Medicaid and Medicare became law on July 30, 1965 creating health insurance programs for low-income and elderly Americans.

Today, Texas has the highest rate of people without health insurance in the nation. The Affordable Care Act provides states with additional federal funding to expand their Medicaid programs to provide health insurance to low-income Texans. Texas has refused to expand Medicaid or implement a state health insurance exchange leaving many Texans in a coverage gap with limited access to health care.

Representative Gene Wu, a democrat from District 137 in Southwest Houston, made the following statement:

“We have so many people in our district who work 12 and 14 hour days to provide for their families. But when they get sick, we just tell them to ‘tough it out’ because they can’t afford basic health coverage. I believe that every Texan who earns an honest day’s wage should be able to get basic medical care.

When hardworking Americans reach retirement, they have earned the vital benefits of hospital and medical insurance, and affordable prescription drugs. We must ensure that this health coverage is protected for future generations.

I believe that health care is a right, not a privilege. It should be available to all Texans, regardless of their age or income.”

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7.30.2015 Rep. Wu Notes the 50th Anniversary of Medicaid and Medicare

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Rep. Wu condemns DSHS Birth Certificate Denials

July 20, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 20, 2015
AMY BRUNO / 512-463-0492

Wu Condemns Practice of Denying Birth Certificates to Children of Undocumented Parents; Calls on Department of State Health Services for Immediate Reform

AUSTIN – On Friday, July 17 State Representative Gene Wu (D-Houston) issued a letter to Department of State Health Services Commissioner Kirk Cole condemning the practice of denying birth certificates to US-born children of undocumented parents, and calling for the agency to immediately come into compliance with the US Constitution and Texas State Law.

“I am deeply concerned that a state agency has decided, by itself, to re-interpret the US Constitution,” Rep. Wu said in a statement Monday. “If this action was more than a clerical error, then the agency and its employees have violated the highest law of our nation.”

Rep. Wu joined several other legislators who have expressed their objections to the practice, and called for immediate explanation and action from DSHS.

The Texas Observer broke the story last week. It appears likely that DSHS’ Vital Statistics Unit created internal rules to systematically reject Matricula Consular identification cards issued by the Mexican consulate and foreign passports without US visas as valid forms of identification for parents applying for birth certificates on behalf of their Texas-born children. This practice has resulted in countless US citizen newborns left without birth documents.

Children born on US soil are citizens under the 14th Amendment of the constitution, but without birth certificates are left functionally stateless, without proof of identity, nationality, or formal ties to their family.

“I swore an oath to protect the Constitution of the United States as a Legislator, as an attorney, and when I was a prosecutor in Harris County” Rep. Wu said, adding, “I will see to it that DSHS obeys the law.”

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July 18th: Post-Session Legislative Town Hall

June 25, 2015

State Representative Gene Wu

invites you to a

Post-Session Legislative Town Hall

Saturday, July 18
10:00 AM – 12:00 PM

SharpstownCC

Sharpstown Community Center
6600 Harbor Town
Houston, TX 77036

Light refreshments will be provided.

Let us know you’re coming via email at District137.Wu@house.state.tx.us!

Legislators and Juvenile Justice Stakeholders Disappointed that Texas did not Raise the Age of Juvenile Jurisdiction; Commit to Continue Efforts Over the Interim

May 31, 2015

raise the age press conference
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DATE: Sunday, May 31
Andi Gentile // 646.642.3281

Legislators and Juvenile Justice Stakeholders Disappointed that Texas did not Raise the Age of Juvenile Jurisdiction; Commit to Continue Efforts Over the Interim

[AUSTIN, TX]— Representative Gene Wu (D-Houston) expressed disappointment this afternoon that a provision which would have raised the age at which youth are considered adults in Texas’ criminal justice system from 17 to 18 was stripped from a juvenile justice reform bill. A bi-partisan coalition of policy advocates joined Wu and other legislators to affirm their ongoing commitment to moving 17-year-olds out of adult criminal courts, jails, and prisons.

Last week, the House voted to include the ‘raise the age’ proposal as an amendment to Senator Whitmire’s Senate Bill 1630, but the provision was removed from the bill in a conference committee compromise to ensure the original bill’s passage.

“I commend Senator Whitmire for his tireless commitment to juvenile justice issues in Texas, and for his tremendous work on SB 1630, which will greatly reform our juvenile justice system,” Wu said. “While, we are disappointed that ‘raise the age’ was not included in the final version of the bill, we look forward to working with Senator Whitmire and Governor Abbott over the interim so that we can get this done next session. It’s what is best for our youth, counties, and the state; and it’s the right thing to do.”

The Texas House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence unanimously recommended moving 17-year-olds into the juvenile system in an in-depth interim study last year. The House Committee on Juvenile Justice and Family Issues also unanimously approved a bill by Rep. Dutton to ‘raise the age.’  Rep. Wu’s amendment to SB 1630 was a last effort to see the measure pass this session.

Texas is one of only 9 remaining states that charge 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system, regardless of the crime or the teen’s personal experiences. In 2013, 96% of 17-year-olds who were arrested were charged with nonviolent offenses, including: possession of marijuana, schoolyard fights, and liquor law violations.

But prosecution in adult courts will leaves 17-year-olds with criminal records that create lifelong barriers to jobs, housing, and educational. “Research has conclusively shown that youth prosecuted in the adult rather than juvenile system are more likely to re-offend and serve prison time,” Wu said. “Experts note that youth that receive age-specific rehabilitation have much better outcomes.”

Raising the age of jurisdiction would help Texas comply with federal confinement standards designed to keep inmates safe from violence. “Governor Greg Abbott has already made a commitment that Texas will come into compliance with the national Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA),” said Wu. “Without raising the age, many county jails will have to retrofit their facilities in order to comply, or risk expensive lawsuits.” Wu adds, “It is costing Dallas County $80,000 a week to separate 17-year-olds from adults in its jail.”

The Sheriffs’ Association of Texas,  along with Texas Association of Business, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Texans Care for Children, and the ACLU of Texas have all vocally supported the ‘raise the age’ measure.

“The research is clear: 17 year-olds handled in the juvenile justice system do roundly better than those who are not and pose a far lesser threat to public safety upon release.” The Smart-On-Crime Coalition, a nonpartisan group of policy advocates, said in a statement yesterday affirming its support for raising the age in Texas. “Further, the current system exposes counties and the state to unnecessary civil liability, while leading to an inefficient allocation of resources.  We welcome the legislature’s interest in examining – and ultimately correcting – this important matter.”

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