Ruling Issued on Policy Regulating Use of Starr Co. Facilities
RIO GRANDE CITY – Starr County rules are set to change by this year’s November elections.
The policy addressed who can use the property and in which ways. Some residents challenged the county. A federal judge said part of it must change.
Elections in any county are busy, but in Starr County they also include food and crowds.
“It looked like a cook-off competition quite frankly,” said Victor Canales, an attorney in Starr County.
Canales explained he and other officials believe it was an intimidating atmosphere for voters.
In response, they created two policies addressing county building and property use. It restricted access to the parking lots, set an age and limitations for those wanting to pass flyers on sidewalks.
Hilda Gonzalez Garza, an attorney, serves as a precinct chair in the Democratic Party. She was passing out flyers last year, but was stopped.
“Two officers came over and they said, ‘you need to leave,’” she said.
The officers were enforcing the policy which stated anyone who violated it, could face prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.
A federal judge changed that. The policy will still be enforced.
Instead of prosecution, now, people will only be removed from the premises.
Canales says they’ll allow distributing materials on certain public sidewalks near the courthouse.
Last year, a candidate couldn’t get on the premises. He wasn’t old enough to request a permit to pass out election materials.
“Distribute materials politically for his run for commissioner because he was under the age of 21. So, even if he wanted to apply for a permit, he couldn't do so,” explained Gonzalez.
The county will now have to allow anyone 18 years and older to request a permit for use of county property.
Canales says this was a result of broader changes they felt created much-needed standards.
"We have a lot of buildings in the county that were being used without any regulation whatsoever. It was kind of unfair where some people would have to pay rent, others wouldn't. It was kind of arbitrary,” said Canales.
The judge’s order will allow most of the policy stay intact.
Come next year, Gonzalez plans to head out to the sidewalks, distribute materials that reflect her political standing and wait to see what happens.
Canales says they will be making changes to the policy to comply with the judge’s order.
A status hearing is scheduled to take place soon and see if a trial will be necessary.
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