orangeleader.com (Orange, Texas)

May 2, 2013

Authorities: Texas blast probe may be done May 10

Associated Press
The Orange Leader

AUSTIN, Texas — An investigation should be finished within the next two weeks into what caused a massive explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant that killed 14 people, state authorities said Wednesday.

Texas State Fire Marshal Chris Connealy told lawmakers during a legislative hearing that his office is targeting May 10 for investigators to complete their probe into the origin and cause of the fire and explosion at West Fertilizer Co. Authorities have not hinted what might have caused the blast April 17 in the rural farming town of West.

Most of the dead were firefighters and paramedics, and about 200 other people were injured.

"We literally have to sift through all the soil — all the items that exploded out of the plant, collect those, try to reconstruct the facility," Connealy said. "We are well down that path. But (May 10) is an approximate date. Don't hold us to that."

Connealy raised the possibility that authorities might never uncover the cause, but expressed hope that a team of 80 investigators that have conducted 300 interviews would make a determination.

"Everything will be touched. It will be analyzed and it will be looked at," he said.

Connealy said investigators are combing through a 14.9-acre area and compared the work to an archaeological dig. He said the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has so far spent $500,000 on the investigation and expects that price tag to double.



Lawmakers advance penalties for wage theft

AUSTIN (AP) — Employers would be fined for stealing wages from workers under a bill advancing in the Texas Legislature.

The House Committee on Economic and Small Business Development advanced the proposal in a 6-2 vote on Wednesday. Though the bill has cleared the Senate, the negative votes indicate it may be subject to debate in the House.

Under current law, the Texas Workforce Commission can penalize companies that withhold wages in "bad faith." But it issued penalties in less than 12 percent of the 1,028 cases last year.

The bill by Democratic Sen. Jose Rodriguez of El Paso would define acts of bad faith to include repeat offenses, retaliation against workers, reckless disregard of the law and failure to pay multiple workers. It would require fines of up to $1,000.



House Oks service dogs for veterans with PTSD

AUSTIN (AP) — The Texas House has passed a bill allowing military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder to have service dogs.

The proposal by San Antonio Democratic Rep. Jose Menendez was sent to the Senate on Wednesday by a 120-21 vote.

In addition to expanding who can get service dogs, the bill ensures that the animals are allowed into restaurants and food stores.

It includes a fine of $300 and community service for discriminating against a disabled person.



George W. Bush library opens to public

DALLAS (AP) — The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum opened to the public Wednesday, with the 43rd president greeting 43 area schoolchildren who were its first visitors.

"It was amazing seeing one of our nation's leaders who left an eight year legacy behind him," said Eduardo Borrego, a 6th grader Mark Twain Elementary in Richardson. He added, "I was like, 'I can't believe he's here.'"

The library and museum, along with Bush's policy institute, are housed in the George W. Bush Presidential Center on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas. The center was dedicated last week during a ceremony that featured Bush, President Barack Obama, and former Presidents Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, who is Bush's father.

The 43 Dallas-Fort Worth area students were chosen by their superintendents to be the first visitors to the museum Wednesday, said library and museum spokesman John Orrell. He said about 300,000 visitors a year are expected.

The museum includes exhibits on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, the Florida recount and other historical events. There is also a replica of the Oval Office, where the Bush met with the students.