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Emerging Battle Over Marijuana Laws Between Austin And Texas

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Emerging Battle Over Marijuana Laws Between Austin And Texas


In 2022, eighty-five percent of Austin, Texas, voters approved the Austin Freedom Act, which deprioritizes small amounts of marijuana possession. The act does not sit well with the Texas State Attorney General, Ken Paxton. According to a report from KVUE, his office has filed suit against Austin, claiming cities in the state can’t decide to decriminalize crimes set by the state legislature.

Austin is one of at least sixteen cities or counties in Texas that have stopped enforcing possession laws for small quantities of Marijuana.

According to Normal.org, larger cities like Dallas and El Paso and counties like Bexar and Nueces have done the same.

However, the State of Texas presents a counter-argument. They contend that this decriminalization goes against state law and is illegal, regardless of the community’s approval.

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Austin has responded by saying the policy is working. It is freeing up law enforcement to handle more critical and dangerous crimes. The city also maintains that historically, minorities were disproportionately targeted for enforcement.

The lawsuit was filed with the 345th Travis County District Court, with the AG’s office asking for a temporary injunction before the hearing with Judge Jan Soifar. The judge said she would take time to consider both sides before deciding.

No matter which side you are on, this is a big decision for Texas citizens. It will have lasting effects on the marijuana debate in Texas. Right now, it seems the state is doing everything it can to cool marijuana reform that would eventually lead to legalization in Texas.

Best Cities In Texas To Live

U.S. News and World Report ranked the top 150 cities to live in around the United States. The following 10 cities from Texas made the list. According to U.S. News and World Report, these are the best places in Texas to live.

Gallery Credit: Chad Hasty

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Lufkin Home After Police Standoff

This is the current state of the home after an hours-long standoff with police in Lufkin.

Gallery Credit: Dan Patrick





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Austin, TX

Texas cities, congressman consider hospital safety changes after KXAN crash investigation

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Texas cities, congressman consider hospital safety changes after KXAN crash investigation


Project Summary:

This story is part of KXAN’s “Preventing Disaster” investigation, which initially published on May 15, 2024. The project follows a fatal car crash into an Austin hospital’s emergency room earlier that year. Our team took a broader look at safety concerns with that crash and hundreds of others across the nation – including whether medical sites had security barriers – known as bollards – at their entrances. Experts say those could stop crashes from happening.

AUSTIN (KXAN) – The crashes at hospitals keep coming – and now, following a KXAN investigation, more Texas cities and a member of Congress are looking at ways to stop them.

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A crash through the front window of a health center in Kentucky happened just four days ago. Two other wrecks at medical facilities – in Pennsylvania and Ohio – occurred in just the past month.

A car crashed into a Lexington, Kentucky health center on June 14 (Courtesy WDKY)

They’re now part of a growing list that includes more than 340 similar crashes across the country in the last decade, according to data KXAN compiled from the Texas Department of Transportation and the Storefront Safety Council.

KXAN’s ongoing analysis has uncovered even more crashes here in Texas. The list has grown to nearly 100 incidents involving Lone Star State medical facilities in the last decade, including crashes in Austin, College Station, Friendswood, Navasota and Weslaco.

KXAN shared our investigation – prompted by a deadly crash at St. David’s North Austin Medical Center on Feb. 13 that injured five people, including two toddlers – with more than 50 state lawmakers and a dozen cities with prior medical facility crashes. In response, Austin, League City, Navasota and College Station are now considering policies that could require hospitals to install security barriers, called bollards, to stop cars from driving through.

A map of cities looking into bollard ordinances following KXAN's reporting (KXAN Graphic/Wendy Gonzalez)
A map of cities looking into bollard ordinances following KXAN’s reporting (KXAN Graphic/Wendy Gonzalez)

These types of crashes are surprisingly common due, in large part, to drivers in “distress” coming very close to unprotected ER entrances, according to building crash expert Rob Reiter. He co-founded the Storefront Safety Council, which has tracked nationwide incidents for more than a decade.

“You have increased risk, by virtue of drivers who are not in the best of condition at the time they’re approaching,” Reiter said. “And if you have set people up to be aimed at your door, because that’s where you want them to come, don’t be surprised if vehicles, from time to time, don’t stop.”

car into ER
The immediate aftermath of the Feb. 13 crash at St. David’s North Austin Medical Center (Courtesy Diane Warmoth)

Authorities believe some of the crashes we found – in California, Connecticut and Florida – were intentional.

“This is very interesting,” League City Mayor Nick Long told KXAN, after we sent him a copy of our investigation. “We had not considered adding a requirement for bollards but I will have staff look into it.”

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“Yes, we would be willing to consider looking into this with input from City Council and our community,” said Navasota spokesperson Taylor Hughes, following a crash at a Baylor Scott & White medical facility in that city in January.

Austin City Councilmember Mackenzie Kelly plans to bring forward a resolution, based on KXAN’s investigation into safety measures following the St. David’s North crash, at the July 18 council meeting.

“I had several productive conversations today with my colleagues and that is moving forward,” Kelly said on June 10. “The resolution would direct the city manager to look at the land development code to see where there are places that could be amended to include that as a safety measure on any new hospital builds.”

Changes at St. David’s

A dozen bollards installed after the Feb. 13 crash at St. David’s North Austin Medical Center (Courtesy Howry, Breen & Herman)

St. David’s – one of the largest health systems in Texas – is accused of “gross negligence” for not having bollards at its North Austin Medical Center, according to a lawsuit seeking more than $1 million filed last month by the family of four seriously hurt after being run over inside the ER lobby.

“Per St. David’s HealthCare policy, we do not comment on issues related to pending litigation,” a statement read.

Following February’s deadly crash, St. David’s North installed seven bollards outside its ER entrance. Five more were added to the same area after KXAN’s investigation.

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St. David’s would not say if its new, or existing, bollards are crash-rated – an important distinction, our investigation found, because they can otherwise be “useless” at stopping a vehicle.

The hospital’s former CEO, Tom Jackson, retired on March 20 – just over a month after the deadly accident. KXAN reached out to Jackson for comment but did not hear back. St. David’s said his retirement was unrelated to the February incident.

On June 6, the hospital announced Jeremy Barclay would take over as its new CEO. For the past seven years, Barclay served as CEO of St. David’s Round Rock Medical Center, where he oversaw a $53 million expansion project.

St. David’s North Austin Medical Center’s new CEO Jeremy Barclay (KXAN File)

That facility was one of 34 Central Texas hospitals KXAN visited in March and April. We found 18 hospitals had bollards, nine had partial coverage and seven — including the Round Rock Medical Center ER — had none. However, its Surgery Center/Women’s Center, which has a different entrance, had at least eight bollards in front.

Another hospital, Cedar Park Regional Medical Center, installed at least one bollard after KXAN reached out with questions. It said it planned to add more, citing a “commitment to maintaining a safe environment for our patients, employees, physicians and visitors.”

We requested to interview Barclay but, so far, have not heard back. He took over the new position on June 10.

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“Jeremy’s knowledge of our market and healthcare system, combined with his demonstrated success in managing hospital operations and building positive stakeholder relationships, makes him well-prepared to take on this new role,” St. David’s HealthCare President and CEO David Huffstutler said in a press release touting Barclay’s new position.

‘I just had no idea the severity’

KXAN traveled two hours east of Austin to the home of Republican College Station Councilman Bob Yancy. He watched our investigation and is now considering requiring bollards at new hospitals in his city.

truck into entrance
A truck crashed through the ER entrance at College Station Medical Center on Aug. 7, 2017. (Courtesy KBTX)

“That’s an issue I just had no idea the severity of until I saw your reporting,” Yancy said.

Crashes have happened in his city before – twice.

In 2017, a truck drove through the ER doors at what was then called the College Station Medical Center.

The hospital is now affiliated with St. Joseph Health. During a recent visit in June, KXAN counted 19 bollards across two entrances. A spokesperson said it would take time to research what happened and when bollards were installed since “we did not own the facility at the time of the incident mentioned.”

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car into entrance
A SUV crashed through the ER entrance at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center in College Station on Jan. 29. (Courtesy KBTX)

Days before the fatal crash at St. David’s North Austin Medical Center, a woman drove into the ER lobby at the Baylor Scott & White Medical Center in College Station on Jan. 29.

In a phone call with KXAN, the driver, who was not arrested, said she was suffering from a medical episode at the time and had driven to the hospital to get help.

“Not intentional and not intoxication,” she said. “It was medically related.”

That is the same hospital where Yancy was the inaugural chairman of the board and had served for almost a decade from 2013-2022. He is no longer affiliated with the hospital but called his time there a “wonderful, fulfilling experience” that he still holds “in high esteem.”

Excerpt from January 2024 Baylor Scott & White College Station crash report. It notes the car was able to “push a large stone (barrier) to the side.” (College Station Police Photo)

“Why weren’t there bollards there?” KXAN investigative reporter Matt Grant asked.

“That’s a good question,” Yancy said. “It’s just not an issue that ever really occurred to me. And I think, in a lot of ways, this is how public policy evolves. I think you have good investigative journalism that brings to light a significant safety issue.”

College Station Councilman Bob Yancy watches KXAN’s report (KXAN Photo/Matt Grant)

Nearly six months after that crash, his former hospital has still not installed bollards. Instead, it’s using the same stone blocks as barriers – even though they were proven to be ineffective since the car was able “to push a large stone to the side,” according to a College Station police report.

“I now know from your research and that of Texas Transportation Institute, Texas A&M’s TTI, they’re inadequate to the cause,” Yancy said. “Only through a properly engineered bollard can vehicles be stopped and these injuries and our fatalities be avoided.”

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“If I had the benefit of your reporting when I was serving as chairman of the board of our local hospital,” he added, “this, I guarantee you, would have been a topic of discussion.”

The city hall building where a bollard requirement discussion could soon take place, it turns out, is surrounded by them.

College Station City Hall surrounded by bollards (KXAN Photo/Matt Grant)

As more and more cities look to make changes on a local level to improve hospital security, that momentum could lead to broader safety changes, experts said.

“I think it helps tremendously,” Reiter said. “If you have multiple cities in a given state who start doing their own ordinances, states get a little nervous about that and they’d like to standardize it and make sure everybody’s on a level playing field.”

“I think, without question, it’ll have an impact on the state level,” he added.

St. David’s previously said it will work with policymakers to “ensure compliance with any new laws if they are passed.” That sentiment was also echoed by Ascension Seton, another large healthcare provider in Central Texas.

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Seeking answers, safety fixes

Baylor Scott & White Health did not answer any of our questions, including why its College Station medical center does not have crash-rated bollards, or if any of its other hospitals do.

Baylor Scott & White Medical Center in College Station (KXAN Photo/Matt Grant)

“Baylor Scott & White takes the safety of our patients, visitors and staff seriously,” a statement sent to KXAN read. “We have a number of safety protocols and traffic safety measures at our facilities throughout Texas. We appreciate the open dialogue as we continue our efforts to keep those visiting our facilities safe, and we look forward to working with elected officials.”

“I want to thank you for what I believe is a public service that you, Matt, and your team have done with this story,” Yancy said.

The changes that College Station and Austin are considering will likely only apply to new hospitals, according to Yancy and Kelly.

But, what about existing facilities?

Experts said a lack of awareness and cost are barriers to making changes.

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KXAN reached out to FEMA, the US Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Homeland Security to see if there are any federal grants that could help pay for physical security upgrades to harden hospitals and other vulnerable critical infrastructure since some of the crashes were intentional.

St. Joseph Health College Station Hospital, formerly College Station Medical Center, now has 19 bollards across two entrances. (KXAN Photo/Matt Grant)

FEMA said it does not provide any type of grants for bollards for private hospitals. There is a Nonprofit Security Grant Program through FEMA that provides “physical and cyber security enhancements to non-profits that are at high risk of a terrorist or extremist attack.” Eligible organizations specifically include “medical facilities” but exclude “for-profit hospitals.” Applicants can apply for $150,000 per site, up to a maximum of $450,000 for three separate locations.

HHS has grants to help hospitals with disasters and public health emergencies but the money cannot be used for “construction or major renovation,” according to the most recent Notice of Funding Opportunity. Funding, or any federal action, could require Congress getting involved.

Doggett: ‘You’ve identified a serious problem’

Congressman Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, said he is not aware of any grants for security upgrades at private for-profit hospitals. But he thinks they, not taxpayers, should pony up the cost.

“As the very name entails, these are for-profit enterprises,” Doggett said. “And, some of them, have very substantial profits that should be sufficient to pay for safety issues like this to protect their customers, their patients.”

Installing 20 crash-rated bollards at an ER entrance can carry a price tag of around $30,000, according to the McCue Corporation, which makes bollards for companies across the country, including hospitals, and recently invited KXAN to watch its products get crash-tested at TTI.

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett at KXAN’s office (KXAN Photo/Richie Bowes)

Doggett’s office has been “closely tracking” our series. In an interview with Grant last week, Doggett said our reporting identified “a serious problem” that he was “not personally familiar (with) … until you made these reports.” The day after our interview, on June 11, he sent a letter with a link to KXAN’s investigation to the General Services Administration’s Regional Administrator overseeing Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. In his letter, Doggett asked the GSA, which is responsible for federal facilities, to ensure government buildings – such as Veterans Affairs hospitals and “smaller facilities” like Social Security offices – are properly protected.

Doggett said he wants to ensure “adequate safety measures” are installed at “all locations” providing federal services and is “absolutely” committed to that.

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“A recent tragedy at St. David’s Hospital in Austin, brought to my attention by the in-depth investigative reporting of Matt Grant at KXAN, resulted from a car driven into a hospital emergency room … These troubling incidents have increased calls for action to require the installation of safety bollards or posts to prevent vehicles from crashing into buildings. With growing security concerns in recent years, I would anticipate that federal buildings have such protection,” Doggett’s letter said.

Doggett cited the Storefront Safety Council’s research, which has tracked around 30,000 crashes in the past decade at privately-owned buildings. Based on its research, the SSC estimates there are more than 100 incidents at commercial buildings every day with 6,000 injuries and more than 2,600 fatalities per year. 

“This suggests to me a concern that should be raised about federal facilities to ensure that they’re safe,” he said. “Not just for those in the building as government employees, but for all who approach them … to be sure we’re providing adequate protection to all those who use those federal facilities.”





The congressman now wants to know if “any buildings used by federal agencies” in this US region “lack safety bollards or similar safety measures” to prevent crashes.

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“I think your report is really important,” Doggett told Grant. “And I will pursue (this) with GSA as a result of your report.”

Investigative Photojournalist Richie Bowes, Graphic Artist Wendy Gonzalez, Director of Investigations & Innovation Josh Hinkle, Investigative Producer Dalton Huey, Investigative Photojournalist Chris Nelson, Digital Special Projects Developer Robert Sims and Digital Director Kate Winkle contributed to this report.

Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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A KXAN composite of two College Station crashes involving medical facilities in 2024 and 2017 (Courtesy KBTX)